NOTE: This article was not originally part of my initial series addressing the arguments of King James Onlyism. I wrote it a year or so after I finished my series. I thought I would re-post it now because the subject matter was relevant to my last post addressing the claim that Westcott and Hort were heretical apostates.
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.
Those 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 language 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 those 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, was 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 those groups now, but I have written on their involvement with these societies in a previous article and even more information concerning those 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 those groups were harmless, KJVO apologists 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 both men were active in the London occultic underground. She essentially alleges that when they 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 Westcott and Hort 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 their written works 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 KJVO 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 that citation and whether or not I had read any specific KJV onlyist who noted the 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 Westcott and Hort were occultists.
So what is my opinion of this quote?
Now, I haven’t done an exhaustive search of all KJVO literature, so there may be some KJVO apologist out there who mentions the quote, but I do find it amazing Riplinger doesn’t have it 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 apologist. This sort of lazy sloppiness confirms for me that KJVO 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 the 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 KJVO 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 they are stored, maybe they will uncover more confessions of participation in seances. I personally don’t see any KJV onlyist doing that anytime soon.
The person will also 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.