I've been reading through Bart Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. The best short evaluation of the book (as opposed to the several good book-length responses) is Craig Blomberg's review. My general sense so far is that it's a weird mix of:
1. a very readable and helpful overview of the history of textual criticism of the New Testament
2. an excellent guide to standard contemporary textual criticism
3. some particular views along that way that I find too critical for reasons that I find unmotivating (but Ehrman doesn't always admit when his conclusions are controversial, so it might sometimes be hard for a beginner, who will be the typical reader of the book, to separate out claims that derive from standard text-critical consensus and views that Ehrman holds idiosyncratically)
4. the occasional strange argument for a smaller claim that doesn't seem at all to support what he says it supports
I noticed a couple examples in the last category in the last chapter I read, and I wanted to blog about one of them now. The other will probably follow on another occasion.
Chapter 6 of the book deals with textual variants in the manuscript tradition that involve changes that copyists made in New Testament texts for ideological reasons. He highlights three controversies in the early church, and for each controversy he finds instances of changes in the manuscript tradition that were motivated by ideology, usually to prevent an original reading from possibly being misunderstood to teach the opposing view. I have no interest in denying that this happened, but one of the examples he gives seems to me to be very unlikely to have been ideologically motivated.
In I Timothy 3:16, one difference occurs in the manuscript traditions between "Christ, who was made manifest in the flesh" and "Christ, God made manifest in the flesh". Ehrman suggests that the change from the former to the latter was motivated by anti-adoptionist ideology. Adoptionists took Christ to be merely human but adopted by God as his Son due to his being sinless. Such a change would support the anti-adoptionist agenda of those Ehrman calls proto-orthodox. However, it's completely bizarre for him to say this particular change was "made to counter a claim that Jesus was fully human but not himself divine" (p,158), and the reason I say this is because what Ehrman himself says about the case two chapters earlier, a discussion he does refer to in the section at hand.
In chapter 4, Ehrman gives this example in his discussion of early textual critic Johann Wettstein, who apparently was the first modern textual critic to recognize it. What Wettstein observed is that the difference between the texts is a matter of two small marks. The 'hos' is an omicron followed by a sigma, with a rough breather mark before the omicron. The 'theos' is actually abbreviated to 'ths, which is a theta followed by a sigma, with a marker over the two letters indicating it's an abbreviation. So the rough breather becomes the abbreviation marker, and the omicron becomes a theta, which is an omicron with a line through the center. This could easily be explained by a misread rather than a deliberate change, and one piece of information Ehrman notes (on p.113) makes this even more probable. In one very old manuscript, the line making the omicron a theta is much fainter than the rest of the letter, and in fact it turns out to be a bleedthrough from the other side. It's extremely probable that the scribe simply misread the 'hos' as an abbreviation of 'theos'.
So Ehrman has given very good reason to think this was an unintentional copyist mistake due to someone misreading the word in question because of the bleedthrough. Why, then, does he give it as an example of an ideologically-motivated change to defend proto-orthodoxy against adoptionism? Why does he refer to it as "made to counter a claim that Jesus was fully human but not himself divine" when he's just referred to his earlier discussion, which gave every reason to think this was a completely accidental change. That's an extremely strange mistake for someone who is widely regarded as an excellent textual critic to make. Am I missing something here?