Biblical revelation

analysis

This short article was written in 2013, one of our first. A response to Roger Stritmatter's idea that the marks in the Folger Library's Geneva Bible were made by the canon author, this turned out to be our most commented article that year and still tops the popularity chart. Repeated claims based on the Stritmatter's thesis caused us to have a much closer look at the mechanics of coincidence. This exposed a lack of validity in any of the claims Stritmatter makes in his thesis. The articles are here.


Oxford did not reveal his hand by unwittingly marking, in his own copy of the Geneva bible, all the passages he cited in the plays. 

In a classic piece of Oxfordian 'scholarship', Dr R Strittmatter tries to link references to the Bible in the plays to the annotations and marginalia in a copy of the Geneva Bible which has a very good claim to have been Oxford's.  Since it passed out of Oxford's family and down through dozens of pairs of hands in the 300 years before it came into the possession of the Folger library, there is no telling who made the marks. 

Graphology can't supply the answer (especially Strittmatter's own amateur graphology). There isn't enough data. There are nowhere near enough complete words on which to base a graphological judgement, so attributing all of them to a single author is specious. The only thing you can tell from the writing cramped into the margins is that it was NOT done by one hand.

If were true that all of the marks Strittmatter claims were made by Oxford and all had some direct relevance to the plays, then the number would still be significantly below the threshold of coincidence. Naturally Strittmatter indulges in statistical jiggery-pokery to try and prove the opposite but the number of solid connections he can make is very small. Yet though he introduces some complex statistical theory, simple arithmetic is all that is required to wipe out his entire argument.

Shakespeare alluded to at least 2000 Bible verses in his works. Roughly 80 of the marked verses have parallels to Shakespeare which are noted by the leading Bible-Shakespeare scholars, Shaheen and Richmond Noble. There are another 120-plus which Roger Stritmatter claims are parallels which previous commentators have overlooked; I have only seen a few of these and find them unimpressive, but for the sake of argument let's accept them. This means that even giving Stritmatter the benefit of the doubt, only about 10 percent of Shakespeare's Biblical allusions are marked in the Bible, and only about 20 percent of the verses marked in the Bible are alluded to in Shakespeare. That doesn't seem like anything more than a random overlap to me, and this impression is confirmed by the fact that you can find a similar overlap with other contemporary authors. 

As Kathman points out, however you add Strittmatter's numbers up, his sample is minute when compared the 4,000 parallels drawn by Baconians between Bacon's handwritten Primus and the the canon.

His analysis of the Geneva Bible is a tale full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. 

It is a light which only illuminates itself.

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Comments (28)

  • knitwitted's picture

    Sorry but you've posted several incorrect statements regarding Oxford's Geneva Bible.

    1. Oxford's Bible has *nothing* to do with Shakespeare's plays. Hence *any* overlap between the two would be significant. There is no reason to expect that every passage cited in Shax would be marked in Oxford's Bible anymore than every passage marked in Oxford's Bible would show up in Shakespeare.

    2. The Geneva Bible was not the only Bible Shakespeare used. He also used the Bishops, Great, and Tomson's N.T. Per Dr. Naseeb Shaheen, there are several passages used by Shax that are *LEAST LIKE THE GENEVA BIBLE*. Of the 29 Shax passages cited by Shaheen as being clearly or most-closely related to the Geneva, only 2 are marked at one verse in Oxford's Bible. Hence, Oxford did *not* use his Bible to write the Shax plays. (See #1 above)

     

    3. As for the idea that multiple people marked the Bible, would different people really be interested in the same few themes? The themes of the marked passages, as identified by Dr. Stritmatter as those which the annotator seems to be clearly interested in, *is* a dominant argument for one main annotator. Several of the identified themes in Oxford's Bible overlap themes in the Shax canon. http://shake-speares-bible.com/bible-faq/

     

    4. As for the paleography, Dr. Alan H. Nelson at first said in 1995 he was 99.44% certain the handwriting was Oxford's. To date, he has yet to render his professional opinion as to why he no longer thinks this.

     

    5. Your: "His analysis of the Geneva Bible is a tale full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." Hardly. Suggest you review Dr. Richard Waugaman's research on the Sternhold & Hopkins' *Whole Book of Psalms* (which is also marked in Oxford's Geneva Bible) which proves to be a *major* source for Shakespeare

    http://nq.oxfordjournals.org/content/56/4/595.full?keytype=ref&ijkey=xh4nzkKGjwHFdUc

     

    Then compare with his article https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B9YH_poTOlrbMzNmMjQyZjgtY2Q0ZC00MGQ5LWFhNDAtZTE0ZDgzZmQzNjEw/edit?num=50&sort=name&layout=list&pli=1

     

    For further information regarding Shakespeare's usage of the Geneva Bible per Dr. Shaheen as compared to Oxford's Bible see http://shake-speares-bible.com/2012/12/07/assessment-of-edward-de-vere%E2%80%99s-genevan-bible/

    Jan 28, 2013
  • alfa-16's picture

    As far as I can see, Professors Nelson and Kathman are willing to accept all of Dr Stritmatter's contentions about handwriting and all of his claimed additions to Professor Nasreen's detected references to the Bible. At the maximum value, the statistical evidence is still much too slight to contribute to any hard and fast connection to the canon.

    The Bible is an important hinterland of influence but not an important sourcebook for Shakespeare's work.
    If this was Oxford's copy of Holinshed and the underlinings related directly to the history plays, then there would be a thesis or three in analysis of the marginalia, probably with grants available, given the current taste among the academic community for metanarrative. There would still be a lot to prove which is not proved in the Geneva Bible Analysis, especially given the variety of owners before it passed into the hands of The Folger Library (which does not support the claims made for it by Oxfordians, incidentally).
    What is asserted in the Geneva Bible analysis, however, is that given the connection between the underlinings and the play's subject matter, coincidence is almost impossible.
    Coincidence, as far as I am oncerned, is the most likely explanation. If you analysed all of the Shakespeare websites out there (not just the authorship sites) and discovered that 30 of them had very similar collections of quotations from the canon, would you be entitled to assume they were written by the same author?
    We are not talking about a 100% overlap with these underlinings or even 20%. We are not, as Professor Kathman points out, even talking about a different sample profile to that which would be obtained by keying the underlinings to any other Elizabethan dramatist.
    Nor does the thesis prove who made the underlinings or when they were made, neither of which should be taken for granted, given the claims resting on the assumptions.

    Jan 25, 2013
  • knitwitted's picture

    Curious... What's your authority for your "The Bible is an important hinterland of influence but not an important sourcebook for Shakespeare's work."? According to Dr. Shaheen (1999, 2011), Shakespeare, in writing his plays, “seldom borrows biblical references from his sources, even when those sources contain many references.” Roy Battenhouse (1986) notes that the Shakespearean tragedy “frequently echoes Bible language or paradigm, even when the play’s setting is pagan.” Similarly, Peter Milward (1973) notes that despite their secular appearance, Shakespeare’s plays “conceal an undercurrent of religious meaning which belongs to their deepest essence.” All of these arguments by prior scholars suggest Shakespeare had an intimate working knowledge of scripture and used the Bible to project his own meanings. The Bible *is* an important sourcebook for Shakespeare.

    Sorry but your "If you analysed all of the Shakespeare websites out there (not just the authorship sites) and discovered that 30 of them had very similar collections of quotations from the canon, would you be entitled to assume they were written by the same author?" makes no sense. Derivative, secondary postings of an author's work over various websites, publications, movies, etc. is an irrelevant argument. You might as well have said "If you analysed all of the Bible websites..." Our concern is with a primary source (i.e. the Bible) as used by one author.

    Dr. Stritmatter also compared the Bible as used by other writers (Bacon, Spenser, Marlowe, as well as Rabelais and Montaigne) and found their usage of the Bible (as per prior authorities) differed from Shakespeare's usage. What formal proof do you have that contemporary writers all used the same Bible passages?

    As for the statistics, again, we have two separate and distinct canons... (1) marked passages in Oxford's Geneva Bible and (2) the Shakespeare canon (i.e. neither has anything to do with the other). Therefore, *any* overlap between the two is significant. Such significance is further enhanced by the thematic overlap between the two canons.

    Jan 25, 2013
  • alfa-16's picture

    The trick that is being played here is the basis of many conjuring tricks (and a number of large fortunes). It relies on the gap between perceived or imagined probablility and actual probability. If you consider the number of grains of rice in a packet, then the number of grains of sand on a beach, then the number of drops water in the ocean; in this progression, the number of atoms in the universe will seem unimaginably large. Yet whatever mathematics are used to calculate the total, the actual number of atoms in the universe can be printed in 12 pt type, as an integer, on half a sheet of A4.

    Calling the example of a single overlap between the markings in the Bible and the Shakepsearean canon 'significant' is statistically permissible.

    However, in exactly the same range of probabilities, I could say that the underlining of a single cosmological reference supported the contention that Oxford believed his Bible had been written by aliens or the underlining of a single spelling mistake indicated that Oxford believed that his Bible proved (or disproved) the theory that it was the random production of an infinite number of monkeys trained to write.

    Professor Kathman compared the analysis profile to other Elizabethan writers and his contention, that Shakespeare's work is not indicated by the mathematics is supported by common sense. Later this year, I hope to support it with rock solid math. The Bible is not a source book. That's a simple observation, not a quote for which I need a source. You can argue, and I have, that the 'resurrection' scene in The Winter's Tale resembles the service of The Mass. You can detect religion's influence in that way in almost everything written in the 16th century. But the existence of printed Bibles outside churches and monasteries was far too recent and their use far too dangerous, for writers to use the Bible as a source book. Shakespeare didn't.

    Like the the Warwickshire countryside it is part of his hinterland. Tacit references are as far as he goes. In the wider sense, it is demeaning to creativity to keep insisting 'this must have come from this'. It is, however, perfectly fair to argue that 'this sounds like that and may have influenced the other'. What is not permissible is to draw extravagant conclusions from statistically insignificant sample data in the hope that people won't follow the calculations. Even if every mark were Oxford's, even if there were 10 times as many, unless you could show beyond doubt that they were all made shortly before the plays were written (and tie them much more closely to the work than anyone has so far), all anyone would have proved is that Oxford was almost certainly familiar with the works of Shakespeare. And I'm willing to grant you that.

    Jan 26, 2013
  • knitwitted's picture

    You may argue that the “resurrection” scene in The Winter’s Tale is religious but per Dr. Shaheen, that scene is based on Ovid’s Pygmalion story. Best of luck proving *Metamorphoses* is Christian in content.

    Good luck to you re your independence from prior Shakespeare authorities.
     

    Jan 27, 2013
  • anon

    I don't think you have understood what alfa has posted.

    Jan 27, 2013
  • alfa-16's picture

    I have, however, made careful note of the fact that 'prior Shakespearean authority' should be taken as gospel.

    After Shakespeare has put his sources through his own creative blender, anything can emerge. Given his audience, he might even use the differences between his source and the finished product for effect. So you can't possibly argue that Ovid meant to say 'this' therefore Shakespeare meant to say the same thing.

    When you order bread and butter pudding at Michel Roux's restaurant or Black Forest Gateau at Heston Blumenthal's, you're going to be really disappointed if what turns up could have been made by your grandmother.

    Jan 27, 2013
  • knitwitted's picture

    Tom, I see he says "resembles" but that's a bit like saying the Kardashians are what's wrong with America and that would be totally unfair to Obama.

    Jan 27, 2013
  • knitwitted's picture

    alfa, I whole-heartedly agree with your assessment that Dr. Shaheen is not giving Shakespeare credit for his creative process. See http://shake-speares-bible.com/bible-faq/comment-page-1/#comment-624 for my further comments.

    My question now is do we further think Shaheen's Shakespearean parallels to the Bible are limited to prior scholarship (Selkirk 1862; Wordsworth 1892; Carter 1905; Noble 1970; Milward 1987)? And that *maybe* he added a few parallels himself?

    Thanks for your input!

    Jan 28, 2013
  • anon

    Its too bad that the poster (Alpha) felt that he was qualified to criticize the de Vere Bible study without even reading it and didn't apparently feel that it was appropriate to provide a link so that readers could do the same. But the dissertation is available online, here: http://www.Shake-speares-Bible.com.

    The first sentence of this posting says a great deal. It implies that somehow it would be predictable that if we found Shakespeare's bible it would contain all those verses, and only those verses, that appear in the plays (or something approaching that). This reveals the poster's lack of familiarity with the realities of literary scholarship. 

    He proceeds from this to accuse Stritmatter of "statistical jiggery-pokery."  Once again, this shows that the poster believes that it is fair to criticize people for saying things they never said and writing things they never wrote. He proceeds from an asumption that he does not owe his readers any informed knowledge of the topic. Insults will do just as well.

    Stritmatter's dissertation does not use any statistics at all because he is not a statistian (the only statistics in the dissertation are those offered  in an appendix by a statistician, Jim McGill, who performed a Chi square analysis on some of the numbers.

    In fact, Stritmatter in his dissertation goes out of his way to make clear that his conclusions do not depend on any statistical operations:

     “Literary reasoning” is the process of the interpretation of literary texts to form conclusions about their meaning and significance.  In literary reasoning, numerical symbols can play a role, but they are never the whole story.  They are also not things-in-themselves; they are subordinate to logic and literary inference, to which they contribute when statistically robust.  No matter how impressive the number of marked verses which demonstrate an influence in “Shakespeare,” the inner story of these annotations is not told by numbers, but in the brief sequence of marked verses (Micah 7.9, Matthew 6.1-4 and Revelations 3.5: see chapter 26) which comment on the condition of a man whose name has been erased from history and which set forth the divine promise of his eventual redemption.  This is a matter of hermeneutics, not calculus.

    Apparently the poster read David Kathman's critique of Stritmatter's research. If he had read even a part of Stritmatter's dissertation he would understand that Kathman is hardly a reliable source on this topic. What he doesn't know about this topic would fill a barn.

    Jan 28, 2013
  • anon

    Unfortunately for the good doctor, Oxford's Geneva Bible is the 1568-70 second edition, not the 1587 Tomson edition with Theodore Beza's translated marginalia (not added until 1576) that Shakespeare drew on (annotations that were never read out in church, quoted in sermons or formed into proverbial phrases, according to Beatrice Groves).

    Jan 28, 2013
  • anon

    An even worse problem for the Oxfordian chronology of Shakespeare's works arises from Shakespeare's use of Holinshed as a major source for his History plays. According to all authorities, he used the second, 1587 edition of Holinshed. It is thus impossible for the History plays to have been written before then. The earliest History plays are normally dated to 1588-90, just as one might expect. Oxford was 37 in 1587, although the Henry VI plays were clearly early works. There is no way these can be accommodated in a non-orthodox chronology, in which Oxford started writing much earlier.

    Jan 28, 2013
  • alfa-16's picture

    I have read chunks of the dissertation and whilst I agree with Messrs Kathman and Veal and with Tom here present and see little need to amplify what they have said, my own two objections are simple.

    The first is that it appears to affect a statistical approach to validating the relevance of the amassed evidence. It's all very well disowning any contribution from the math now but how else did the work of a statistician get in there?

    The second is that while the thesis itself appears to subscribe to academic rigour (and is unquestionably peer-reviewed), much that could be contentious is taken for granted and its conclusions were entirely predictable from the outset. The whole is really a Trojan horse for the recurring Oxfordian theme which seeks to prove there is source material available to Oxford which is provably isolated from Shakespeare. I believe this to be a myth because I have not seen any 'doubter' provably isolate any such source material. Whereas I can easily isolate Oxford from the authorship of up to a dozen of the plays in the canon since he was dead when they were written.

    Jan 28, 2013
  • alfa-16's picture

    I thought you might be alluding to that discussion, though I still don't see where Obama and the Kardashians come into it.

    My own view here is that all discussion of Will's hinterland is interesting and helpful but that all the Biblical references in the canon, even when taken together, don't point in useful directions as far as the authorship debate is concerned. The Bible is not a source book and the majority of quotations are not exact enough to make the sort of concrete links that authorship evidence demands. In other words, I'm not convinced that whatever you think you can prove in the field of Bible references in the plays, you can produce conclusive results which advance Oxford's case or anyone else's.

    Jan 28, 2013
  • knitwitted's picture

    Tom, favor please, would you please post this info on http://shake-speares-bible.com/bible-faq/ . I think this is an important fact which needs to be addressed. Thanks very much for drawing my attention to this argument. Best, Knit

    Jan 31, 2013
  • knitwitted's picture

    alfa, I have zero interest in the Oxfordian theory (i.e. Looney, Ogburn, etc.). I’m seeing your need (plus Veal, Kathman, etc.) to nitpik Stritmatter’s dissertation regarding the Oxf theory and especially the attack on a 5-page appendixed “Statistical Observations” by James P. McGill  proves you don’t have any criticism against de Vere’s usage of his Bible. Your team is blowing smoke regarding the purpose of Dr. S’s dissertation.

    As for Dr. Shaheen, my interest is in whether or not *he* is the final authority on Shax and the Bible. We know he used prior scholars’ works. Did he add his own parallels? For argument’s sake, I’ll say he did. Does that mean that from 1862 (Selkirk) through 1999 *all* Shax parallels to the Bible have been found? I don’t think any reasonable person would agree with this.

    Just the other day, you and I agreed against Shaheen’s idea that Shax would have used a secular/pagan source in its pure form over either a derivative source or Shax’s own new composite interpretation. Why then would we think Shaheen would be the end-all authority on Shax and the Bible?

    Per his dissertation, Dr. Stritmatter has added new Shax Bible parallels to the prior scholars’ database. Per http://shake-speares-bible.com/bible-faq/comment-page-1/#comment-626 : “The fact that one can use the de Vere Bible to discover new dimensions of Shakespeare’s religious imagination is one of the strongest arguments for the validity of the hypothesis that he was Shakespeare.” I suggest your job as a critic is to refute those new parallels.

    Prior critics have pointed out that Dr. S focused on annotations in the de Vere Bible to match w/ Shax rather than going through all of Shax looking for new allusions and *then* matching the new allusions to de Vere. To go through *all* of Shax looking for new allusions was *not* in the premise of his dissertation. The critics have again misled their audience.

    I suggest it would be more productive for you to conduct your dismissal of Dr. Stritmatter’s additions to Shax parallels of the Bible at http://shake-speares-bible.com/bible-faq/ .

    While you’re there, why don’t you be the first to refute my argument that de Vere *did not* use his 1568-70 Geneva Bible to write the plays http://shake-speares-bible.com/2012/12/07/assessment-of-edward-de-vere%E... . Even the mugnificent Tom Reedy has thus far refused that honor.

    Best, Knit
     

    Jan 31, 2013
  • alfa-16's picture

    I can't see why someone would spend time on a site entitled "100 reasons why the 17th Earl of Oxford didn't write Shakespeare's plays" if they have 'zero interest in the Oxfordian theory'.

    You also seem to be responding to posts I haven't made and assuming agreements that aren't agreed. My problems with the Stritmatter dissertation is that before it proceeds to offer evidence of its thesis, its recital attempts to force large amounts 24 carat Oxfordian fiction into the clothing of fact.

    "Whether the traditional and now moribund view of Shakespeare can be kept alive through new life-support technologies to survive the first decade of the new millennium remains an unanswered but significant question at this point in intellectual history. For what is not -- yet – recognized is that there is a third force allied, sometimes without knowing it, to the Oxfordian heretics. A number of prominent academicians, adapting consciously or otherwise to the present threat to orthodox cognitive equilibrium, have adopted epistemic positions on the early modern cultural history of Europe which are inexorably undermining conventional views of Shakespeare. " P1

    This is, excuse me, nonsense. 'Now moribund'?? In his dreams!! And the Third Force is keeping a pretty low profile. It is enough nonsense to colour the validity of any results that might follow. In fact, Stritmatter doesn't prove Thing 1, that the marks were made by Oxford, or even that the marks were made in Oxford's lifetime. I've almost read the whole thing now. He doesn't prove Thing 2, that the marks cast any light on the content of the plays not already identified by earlier scholars. Nor does he prove Thing 3, that the marks were made by the author of Shakespeare's plays. He certainly concludes these things but concluding, demonstrating and proving are all different things.

    It is a light which only illuminates itself.

    Jan 31, 2013
  • knitwitted's picture

    I can't see why someone would spend time on a site entitled "100 reasons why the 17th Earl of Oxford didn't write Shakespeare's plays" if you have zero interest in refuting facts.

    Feb 01, 2013
  • alfa-16's picture

    You can't refute a fact. In The Looking Glass world of Oxfordland, you can refute a fact, it's normal behaviour. But only opinions can be refuted. Facts need to be disproved. The idea that Stratfordianism is (or was) on its last legs, expressed at the start of the Stritmatter thesis, is an opinion.

    In the real world, it's known as 'an untenable opinion'. The claim that Stritmatter doesn't prove that Oxford made the marks in the Geneva Bible is a fact. To be strictly fair, he offered to fund the scientific testing that could have proved the marks were made in the 16C but the Folger Library seemed to be of my opinion, that what the tests would prove would not be worth the risk to the artefact. Oxford died in 1604 and the playwright Shakespeare didn't. That's another fact.

     

    Feb 01, 2013
  • alfa-16's picture

    Oxford didn't write the plays, therefore he didn't use his Geneva Bible 'to write the plays'. QED. Next . . .

    Feb 01, 2013
  • knitwitted's picture

    O hai. Would you please post your response on the suggested webpage where your scholarly slam-dunk would be most fully appreciated. Thanks for your input!

    Feb 01, 2013
  • anon

    If I were to offer you some free advice on your composition technique, it would be this: don't start with your conclusion. It makes everything else that you say literally pointless, by revealing to your reader an a priori prejudice that has clouded your objective appreciation of the facts. But, you will reply, "I have no such prejudice." But you do. Your composition style testifies to it, whatever you say about it. This may be useful in fighting a war. It is not useful in trying to defend a position in a discussion that has in many circles long ago moved past the denialism of this blog entry and is actually starting to grapple with the varied and impressive evidence testifying to Oxford's authorship of the plays. You have a choice. You can go down in history as the shadowy group, operated by the front man Mike Leadbetter, who just didn't get it, or you can start to "get it" and stop starting your argument by accusing other parties of being frauds. So good luck. You're going to need it.

    Sep 24, 2013
  • Hairy_Lime's picture

    I've always wanted to be part of a shadowy group! Outside of the Oxenfraudian information bubble, no one is "grappling" with the evidence regarding Oxenford, because there is none.

    You have ill-informed suppositions based upon half-understood facts.

    Sep 27, 2013
  • alfa-16's picture

    Having popped over there, I note that there is a swaggering challenge from Stritmatter to disprove the contention that his 20%-40% overlap is conclusive. When I suggested higher upon THIS thread that we might take a look at his math in detail, someone immediately appeared here, disowning mathematical process, claiming that Stritmatter's thesis is 'hermeneutic' and not 'statistical'.

    We'll get to it . . . . In here.

    Oct 06, 2013
  • alfa-16's picture

    I'm fairly sure that Roger is capable of understanding facts. He's just committed to his own bizarre, publicity-hungry interpretation and walled himself in with it.

    Have you noticed how he often prefaces his insults with 'if I could offer you some friendly advice'. If I could offer him some, it would be to give up criticising people for starting their arguments from their conclusions. If anyone died laughing at the irony, there might be legal complications.

    Oct 12, 2013
  • knitwitted's picture

    Howdy alfa 4^2

    Just an FYI regarding Jonson and his 1599 Latin edition of the Bible:

    Per *Habits of Mind: Evidence and Effects of Ben Jonson’s Reading* Robert C. Evans (1995, p. 47): “[M]any of the passages he highlights share common thematic concerns. Perhaps inevitably in the Hebrew scriptures, many of the marked passages deal with such matters as genealogy, familial strife, God’s personal grace, and especially divine punishments for sin."

     

    Jan 24, 2014