Hip and Thigh: Smiting Theological Philistines with a Great Slaughter. Judges 15:8

Friday, July 13, 2007

F.J.A. Hort and Seances

Brooke Foss Westcott and Fenton John Anthony Hort were two 19th century Greek scholars who played a significant role in the developmental history of New Testament textual criticism. These two men utilized established textual critical principles of their day, as well as developed their own methods of criticism, in order to produce a fresh New Testament Greek text that incorporated manuscripts discovered in the mid-18th to mid-19th century. A translation committee then used their new text as the textual apparatus to publish the Revised Version in 1881, a revision of the Authorized Version, or King James Version, first published in 1611.

Yet, in spite of Westcott and Hort's contribution to the science of textual criticism, the work of these two men has been scrutinized by their critics. Even while they were in process of producing the Revised Version, the main point of contention raised against their work was the manuscripts they used for their revision.

It was charged that the manuscripts they favored were inferior due to the minority status among the other family of manuscripts available. Both Westcott and Hort were accused of too readily elevating their chosen manuscripts to a superior status when in fact they were so few. The "Received Text," on the other hand, from which the early English translations like Tyndale's, the Geneva, and the prominent King James were translated, is edited from a family of manuscripts clearly in the majority as to number and the most widely copied and used by Christians. Moreover, the two men were accused of exercising heavy influence upon the revision committee when it came to textual critical matters at the exclusion of considering the readings of the "Received Text."

There is certainly room for scholarly criticism that evaluates Westcott and Hort's textual theories. Their work was not perfect and more than likely had room for improvement. However, apologists for King James Onlyism go beyond critiquing their textual critical theories to attacking their personal lives. In fact, many of those personal attacks are entirely ridiculous and out right dishonest.

One of the most fanciful personal attacks against both Westcott and Hort is that they were secret occultists. KJV onlyists specifically point to Westcott's involvement with a college society called The Hermes Club and his brief participation with a paranormal debunking group called The Ghostly Guild. I cannot go into extensive detail about these groups now, but I have written on their involvement with these societies in a previous article and even more information concerning these societies can be found here and here.

The Hermes Club was merely an essay reading group interested in classic Greek and Latin literature. KJV onlyists attempt to seize upon the name Hermes and claim it is a synonym for Satan, but that is a seriously ill comparison. The Ghostly Guild was a group interested in evaluating the legitimacy of people's claims of experiencing the workings of the paranormal. Westcott only had brief dealings with the group and even wrote later in life that the club was a waste of time. But, even though these groups are harmless, KJV onlyists wish to attach some nefarious darkness to them so as to discredit their work as textual scholars.

However, probably the most preposterous accusation leveled against Westcott and Hort's involvement with these societies comes from Gail Riplinger, who charges that these two men were active in the London occultic underground. She essentially alleges that when these two men were not dabbling in their hobby of textual criticism, they were meeting together with other like-minded occultists to prance around a sacrificial altar in sheep leggings. Riplinger has several chapters in her book, New Age Bible Versions, trying to connect these two men to the occult and their true desire to create a New Age Bible translation with their revised Greek text. Yet, try as one might, when a person genuinely examines the written works of Westcott and Hort in light of Ms. Riplinger's claims of their occultic pursuits, one quickly discovers the allegations are entirely false and totally a product of her disturbed imagination.

Now, with that background in mind...

A little while ago I received an email from a friendly, non-KJV onlyists, who thinks he may have found the KJV apologists' smoking gun linking Hort to the occult. He said he was reading through Dr. Hort's two volume biography and collected letters which were published by his son. In the second volume, page 33, there is a letter to his wife dated October 23, 1864 in which he recounts a dinner he had with a group of friends. After dinner, Hort writes,

We tried to turn tables, but the creatures wouldn't stir.

My emailer went on to explain that the phrase turn tables clearly describes a seance, and Hort's words concluding "the creature wouldn't stir" only affirms that the group most certainly performed a seance, but were unable to conjure up a spirit. My emailer wanted to know my opinion about this citation and whether or not I had read any specific KJV onlyist who noted this quote for he had never come across it any of their literature.

I was intrigue with the quote and I wrote him back that I was certain Riplinger had mentioned it in her NABV book; but when I glanced over her sections outlining her charges of satanism against the two men, I couldn't find it. I even did a search of the major KJV only websites and none of them list this specific quote as "smoking gun" evidence that these men were occultists.

So what is my opinion of this quote?

Now, I haven't done an exhaustive search of all KJV literature, so there may be some KJV onlyists who mention this quote, but I find it amazing Riplinger doesn't have this in her groundbreaking book. It is, of course, a book that boasts of being extensively documented and has 50 pages of detailed footnotes. How then could she miss such a damning piece of evidence? How could many other KJV onlyists miss such an important quote like this? I think it reveals that KJV onlyist critical of Westcott and Hort and their monumental work are not as careful with their research as they let on. Though they claim to read their opponents, they must only do so on a surface level, selectively citing passages they think incriminate the two men, or they are just quoting second-hand material through the research of another KJV onlyists. This sort of lazy sloppiness shows me that KJV only apologetics needs to be read with discerning caution.

But what about the quote itself? Does it not prove that at least Dr. Hort was a secret occultist?

Well, not exactly.

First of all, I don't believe we are entirely clear on the context of this comment to his wife. He could very well had intended it to be sarcastic. In other words, maybe Hort was talked into doing the seance, nothing happened, and his comment is sort of his poking fun at the experience for his wife's sake.

I can recall as a college student visiting an alleged haunted bridge on a Friday night. I think we hung out there in the middle of the night for at least 3 hours and nothing happened, except for seeing a freight train go under us as we stood on the bridge. Later the following week, when another friend asked us about our time, I remember telling him something along the lines of, "The ghost never showed up, I was truly let down." Would a person not knowing any better think I believe in ghosts? The truth is, I do not, but visiting a so-called haunted bridge so as to see if something will happen doesn't make me a believer in ghosts any more than Hort participating in a seance makes him an occultist. Granted, there are critics who will complain that such participation does place him in that category, but I think that is being nit-picky for the sake of personal attack.

Secondly, as an historical fact, seances were a popular fad during the mid-1800s, and I am not entirely sure we can judge one's curiosity with group seances, at least during that time, as being intended for the communion with demons as modern day IFB KJV onlyists imply. Granted, I believe Christians should not mess around with seances, but does it necessarily mean that an Anglican Christian in the 1860s who understands seances to be a popular game has evil intentions? Gary Bates is an expert in UFO mythology and abductions. He has an interest in the subject because of its current, modern day popularity, and even attends UFO conferences, but he doesn't believe in UFOs.

Third, let us grant the KJV onlyist's notion. I do not wish to excuse Hort based upon my dislike of KJV apologetics. If this citation is the only reference to him being involved in any questionable un-Christian supernatural activity, then it is rather lame. In order for the KJV onlyist's charge to stick against Hort of being an occultic new ager looking for fellowship with the deceased in the after life, a person will need to produce something more substantial.

If seances were a common part of Hort's spiritual life, then I would imagine he would had written more about his experiences, especially in his private correspondence with his wife. A person genuinely given over to occultism as a worldview will certainly reflect that worldview in his personal letters. There would be much more material to consider than a sparse comment in a biography compiled after his death. Perhaps there are more quotes, I haven't read all of Hort's biography, and to be honest, I don't plan to do so anytime soon because from what I saw, they would make for some extremely boring reading. If someone has more citations like this one, I would certainly take a look at them. Also, as a footnote, my emailer did inform me in one of his follow up responses that a good portion of Westcott and Hort's letters to each other and family members remain unpublished, so if anyone wants to travel to London and dig around in the historical archives where these things are stored, maybe they will uncover more confessions of participation in seances. I personally don't see any KJV onlyist doing that anytime soon.

Finally, the KJV onlyists will need to document how, if at all, Hort's involvement with seances impacts his textual scholarship and translational work. KJV apologists attempt to document an impact, but in reality their evidence is contrived and conspiratorial in nature.

One last question my emailer asked me was whether KJV onlyists should be informed about this quote. Well, I am blogging about it right now. I figure they will run hog wild with what I have written even to the point of generating sensational news headlines that say something like, "King James Critic Admits F.J.A. Hort's Involvement with the Occult!" I guess I'll have to see. In the meantime, I hope they have the courtesy of thanking me for doing their work for them.

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Blogger thomas4881 said...

I think your last blog on fasting could be linked to KJV onlyism. The sermon speaks about the real purpose behind fasting. It would seem most who are KJV onlyist are that way as an outward demonstration of spirituality. They think their is some merit to them being KJV onlyist.

2:46 PM, July 16, 2007  
Blogger Kent Brandenburg said...

Hello Fred.

Attacking Westcott and Hort is not the best approach of defending the preservation of Scripture. The people who put a lot of energy into that are normally English preservationists, who have a lot of problems arguing their position anyway. Changes were made in the text of the KJV between 1611 and 1769 in more than letters and spellings. You know who the Riplinger crowd is and they are tied into the revivalist faction of KJVO---the Hyles group, etc. They don't represent a historical defense of the preservation of Scripture. They have a bigger problem in many instances in that they often preach a false gospel (no repentance, easy-prayerism).

On the other hand, the MVO crowd regularly personally attacks the KJV translators and whole books have been written about King James being a homosexual (I don't think he was) or that he was extremely cruel. In other words, you'll find this approach to the issue on both sides. And you'll also have a monumentally big MVO crowd that uses whatever translation is most convenient for their doctrine (ex. Rick Warren). I'd rather have the strict view of the revivalists than the loosey-goosey view of Warren.

You'll find plenty of blog fodder in the "research" of the English preservationists, but that doesn't affect what God said about His Words and what He would do.

Thomas 4881, I think you're right that this issue can be a replacement for true spirituality. Blogging can be a replacement for true spirituality. Commenting on blogs can be a replacement as well. God knows that anyone of us can take any Christian activity and turn it into a demonstration. Some KJVOs probably do this, even as some rabid debaters for MVO probably do this. What is ironic is that this is a personal shot at these English preservationists that doesn't actually settle anything on the issue, very much like the seance of Hort.

10:27 AM, July 17, 2007  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Wow Kent,
That was refreshingly pleasant to read. I agree with every thing you wrote =-)

If only your perspective could rub off on the Larry Vances and Jeffrey Nachimsons of the fundamentalist world.


10:32 AM, July 17, 2007  
Blogger thomas4881 said...

Kent I agree that anything can be turned into an outward expression of spirituality. When inwardly the person is being a hypocrite. I think the KJV Onlyist are not only lying, but the KJV Onlyist are using the lie as a way to take people captive to their hypocrisy. KJV Only rhetoric is very captivating and difficult to take the time to unmask.

I thank Fred Butler for taking the time to examine the issue and expose KJV Onlyism.

Also, I read this verse today and it inspired me to think more about a broader issue -

Colossians 2: 8See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.

KJV Onlyism is a deceptive philosphy. People are being taken captive to KJV Onlyism through deception. Kent, so your point being that KJV Onlyist don't preach enough on repentance is true. The KJV Onlyism philosphy does not aim at taking people captive for Christ.

Also, Many false teachers can teach sound doctrine extremely well. It's only by the power of the indwelling holy spirit that a human can live according to Gods' word. The false teachers can say what's right but can't live what's right.

3:03 PM, July 17, 2007  
Blogger Kent Brandenburg said...

I actually, Thomas, think that these KJV English preservationists and Ruckmanites have much less devious motives than what you attribute them. Most of them just crave the certainty of a perfect Bible. What they argue for and how has holes in it.

6:42 PM, July 17, 2007  
Blogger Fred Butler said...


I think Thomas has a good point. I will concede that you as a "KJV English preservationist" may not have devious motives, but I don't necessarily see that with Ruckmanites, and even some KJVers like Cloud and Waite. They are most certainly defending a particular spiritual world view that has an unaltered English text as its centerpiece and anyone who departs from using it is considered spiritually deficient. In order to maintain this world view they do have to appeal to deceptive and historical revisionist arguments.

Now, if pressed in person, face-to-face, those KJVers may back away from some of their hard comments against the spiritual state of non-KJV readers. I know Will Kinney, who operates a couple KJV only discussion groups regularly calls individuals I happen to know personally "liars." After I, along with others, have called him on his ridiculous assertions, he reluctantly and half-heartily, retracts his original statement. However, it is my experience that even though they may retract such statements in one context, once they go back to their "people" they just wag their heads and mutter the same criticisms. This is behavior that drawn from a philosophy, and in this case, a man-made one.


6:31 PM, July 21, 2007  

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