by Dr. Kenneth G. Arndt
Clash Daily Guest Contributor
Both Confucianism and Christianity have long histories and provenances of the written documents that support their various belief systems. Documents collected, evaluated, lost or destroyed and gathered again. Both belief systems have fractured into sub-sets, often been practiced poorly and have seen scholars contest for differing points of view and interpretations of the documents.
The history of the Confucian documents may be briefly listed as follows:
Confucius was born in 551 B.C. and died in 479 B.C. The Confucian canon consists of four books; the Analects, the Mencius, the Great Learning, and the Doctrine of the Mean. The Analects contain the sayings of Confucius and the first chapter of the Great Learning is attributed to Confucius. The rest of the canon was added over time by others.
Confucianism gained influence on existing Chinese culture and the Han Dynasty (206 B.C. – 220 A.D.), compiled a list of Confucian writings. But his writings were out of favor and burned in 213 A.D., only to be saved by scholars burying them to avoid destruction.
The above is just one example of the rise, fall and change of Confucianism in Chinese history and culture.
The Chinese government has recently funded an extensive project for the Ministry of Education and Peking University to gather all the outstanding documents relating to Confucianism. This was begun around 2005 and will take scholars 16 years to complete gathering and expected to comprise about 5000 books. No doubt they will uncover many ancient books and copies in their searches.
The history of the provenance of Christian documents is as follows:
The Old Testament:
1. Two major sources are the earliest OT manuscripts. The first source dates from about A.D. 980. The second source is The Dead Sea Scrolls found in 1947 which date to about 150 B.C. The two groups of manuscripts are, for all practical purposes identical, testifying to the careful work of the scribes who copied and preserved them.
The New Testament:
1. The oldest NT fragment is the John Rylands Papyrus. It is a quote from the Gospel of John 18: 31-33,37-38. It is part of a codex dated from A.D. 125.
2. The oldest copy of the Gospel of John (two-thirds complete in Greek) dates from about A.D. 150 – 200.
3. The oldest copy of the NT itself found in 1944, is known as the Codex Sinaiticus written on parchment and dated to about A.D. 350.
4. Also interesting is that there exist over 5,300 partial or complete NT manuscripts. There are some differences but mostly these differences are trivial; for instance, the difference between saying “Jesus Christ” or “Christ Jesus.”
5. There are 86,000 quotations of the NT by the early church fathers. From these, all but 11 verses can be reconstructed into a complete NT.
All the above references, both Confucian and Christian, are interesting because the earliest known physical copies of ancient Greek and Roman writers date from around the ninth century A.D. which leaves huge gaps in their provenances. Few scholars contest the claimed authorship of these Greek and Roman documents the way Confucian and Old Testament or New Testament Bible documents are contested:
Pliny the Younger, 7 documents, 750 yrs. after written;
Tacitus, 2 documents, 950 yrs. after written;
Caesar’s “Gallic Wars”, 10 documents, 950 yrs. after written;
Plato ,7 documents, 1,200 yrs after written;
Thucydides, 7 documents, 1,300 yrs. after written;
Herodotus ,8 documents, 1,300 yrs. after written;
Sophocles, 193 documents, 1,400 yrs. after written;
Aristotle, 49 documents 1,400 yrs after written;
Euripides, 9 documents 1,500 yrs. after written.