If You Quote The Bible, You Should Study Textual Criticism.

Author/Professor Bart Ehrman’s field is called New Testament textual criticism.  This field is not about what the Bible means.

It is, instead, the study of ancient hand-written New Testament manuscripts.  The goal is to figure out what the most original copy or document said.  And, it is to try to figure out why these hand written manuscripts changed from one copy to the next.  Was it carelessness, or, did people’s thinking and culture change causing the scribe to think he could improve what he was copying?

I was surprised to learn:

1.) There are no original copies of the New Testament.

2.) There are thousands of later surviving hand-written copies, written in Greek, of the New Testament.

3.) Of these thousands, no two copies are exactly alike.

4.) There are hundreds of thousands of mistakes.  There are more mistakes than there are words in the New Testament.

5.)  There are passages in the New Testament manuscripts where no agreement has been reached as to what was written in the original work.

Most of the mistakes are unimportant, things like spelling errors and typos most of us make.  The interesting changes are word replacements that took place both over hundreds of year and between copies made within the same few years.

Most of those who quote scripture in any forum, including on the comment page of this blog, consider themselves well qualified to determine the meaning of that which they quote.  What they quote, however, may be something quite different from what was originally written.


Hey you local readers, the Freethinkers potluck is this Sunday, March 17, Fargo Public Library, 1 PM, Fercho Room.  Bring a little something to share and yak with the locals.

84 Responses

  1. Mike Pfaff

    I was once involved in a test on human perception. The first part consisted simply of 30 people in a circle. Person #1 was shown a statement on a slip of paper and asked to whisper what it said to person #2. This was repeated till it reached #30 who was asked to write what he heard on another slip of paper. To everyone’s surprise what #30 had written in no way resembled the original message after only 5 minutes and without leaving the room. There is no chance anything in the Bible is remotely accurate for any historical or scientific purpose. There is just no way.

    1. Wanna B Sure

      This is an old parlor game that has been around for many years. About thirty years ago, I had eighteen people pass on a very short story in the same manner for a comparison. Only this time they were given the story on paper, and instructed to carefully copy on paper the same story word for word, then pass it on with the same instructions. At the end the story came back the same as given, with the exception of a missing period, and capital letter at the start of a sentence.

    2. Stanta

      Big difference between writing, especially by trained copies ts as they had then, and aural by amateurs. Even the aural story tellers were highly trained since in any audience there would be others who had at least part of the scriptures memorized. To be corrected by the audience was not good for your reputation. This was long before the printing press and it was considered the only way to hold onto history. These were not considered entertainers as in later times.

  2. Henry

    Jon: “Bart Ehrman’s field is called New Testament textual criticism.”

    It seems that a more accurate description of Bart’s work would be higher criticism, not textual criticism.

    1. entech

      Your own specialty is blinkered criticism. Blinkered by the bound mind and seen through the veil of scripture.

      1. Henry

        JE was speaking of trolls the other day. I think we found one on March 14, 2013 at 2:16 am. I am sure he will correct you on this one.

          1. entech

            Questionable Content (abbreviated QC) is a slice of life webcomic written and drawn by Jeph Jacques. It was launched on August 1, 2003.

            Thanks Henry I learn lots of new things around here. It is quite humereous but perhaps a little young for a grumpy old bugger like me (b… used in the more general sense)

    2. entech

      Start again. What do you mean by “higher criticism” in this context.
      I have noticed that you have a tendency to criticize everything and anything that does not agree with your own religious viewpoint. Just an observation and with no desire to cause offense, and I guess there is an element of similarity in some of my posts.
      tu quoque, ego quoque 🙂

      1. Henry

        Higher criticism – “endeavor to establish the authorship, date, and place of composition”. This seems to fit Erhman.

        1. entech

          In which case I apologise, misunderstood it as one of your bits of sarcasm.

          PS I had to look up troll as well as questionable content.
          Looked up QE because I wasn’t sure what you could mean there either, nothing questionable about my comments, when they are intended to be rude and insulting they usually succeed.

          Reminds me of an old sailors joke:
          Two sailors walked into a bar with two rather disreputable looking women. The barman said,”I can’t serve those two, they are of questionable morality and doubtful characters.” “Doubtful”, came the reply,”They are living certainties”.

  3. Candyman

    Hello Jon-
    sounds like you got your work cut out for you here, Jon. If you are going to slam the NT writings, I would encourage you not to copy someone else’s biased critique? We would ask you if you have any of your own original contentions? when stating fact, please cite reference, name and date or just save us your shots from the cheap seats, please. thank you.

    1. Candyman 2:43 “I would encourage you not to copy someone else’s biased critique…please cite reference, name and date…”

      These are mutually exclusive aren’t they? Or, else I’m not understanding your request. I made reference to Bart Ehrman in the text of my blog. At the bottom I posted his web site. I would seem obvious to anyone reading my blog I got the information about the Greek versions of the New Testament from Ehrman. The advice I made to people who quote scripture was mine.

      I hope you have looked at the video you posted with a more critical eye. It really is a bad piece of propaganda. There is one way you, or anyone else, can put to rest the notion Moses and the exodus never happened. It is simply to find clear evidence of the exodus with no reference to the Bible. That would end the controversy.

        1. entech

          Couple of a real archaeology example, first is a 5 minute excerpt, the second a full 50 minutes episode of The bible unearthed.



          Ronald Eldon Wyatt (1933 – August 4, 1999) was an adventurer and former nurse anaesthetist noted for advocating the Durup?nar site as the site of Noah’s Ark, among other Bible-related pseudo archaeology. His claims were dismissed by scientists, historians, biblical scholars, and even by leaders in his own Seventh-day Adventist Church, but his work continued to have a following among some fundamentalists and evangelical Christians.

          1. entech 4:15 “Couple of real archeology examples, first is a 5 minute excerpt, the second a full 50 minute epicsode of the Bible unearthed.”

            A fascinating part of the second video is the explanation that the “God of Israel” and “The Law” (Ten Commandments, etc.) had the same source as all other gods we know of. “The god of Israel” was created for a political purpose of uniting the god, the ruler and his government into one seamless package. It has always been easier to get people to die for a country if the ruler and the god are the same. And, having just one god works better than having several.

            The video presents evidence that the story of Moses and “the law” was written about five centuries after the exodus was supposed to have happened. The cities listed in the story were ones that existed when the story was written, but did not exist at the time the story was supposed to have taken place. That’s why the conclusion is, the story of the exodus was written for a political purpose and there is no historical or archelogical evidence it ever actually happened.

            When the story of the exodus is determined to be a hoax, it takes out much of the Christian story as well.

        2. Candyman 3:34 “rewatch! if you dare. The Exodus.”

          I hope you dare to watch the two entech posted. Here is one:

          You have two choices. One is to admit right now the exodus did not happen. The other is to wait awhile, then admit it did not happen.

  4. Brad

    The Bible, just like everything else that is man-made, is far from perfect. Anyone who believes the Bible is the “inerrant word of God” is wrong.

      1. Brad

        It’s just a fact. Every single word in the Bible was written by a human being, therefore it is impossible for the Bible to be perfect and the inerrant word of God.

        1. entech

          That is what I say, Brad, that is a definite; not only not inerrant, not consistent and not without contradiction.

        2. Dustin Metzger

          If God is all powerful, like the Christian faith teaches, then nothing is impossible. God could easily lead the humans writing and organizing the Bible through His Holy Spirit.

          1. entech

            Getting very close to a circular argument with that one.
            The Christian faith teaches that with God nothing is impossible, even the guiding of the thoughts and pens of the men who wrote the book. It is this book, this book that is completely true and reliable in every way that is the basis of the Christian faith. The Christian faith teaches … .

          2. Dustin 1:18 “If God is all powerful, like the Christian faith teaches, then nothing is impossible.”

            Dustin, have you ever noticed Jesus did not grow new arms and legs or people who lost them? That’s because it is impossible.

          3. Wolfy32

            There’s also the issue of interpretation. What if these are people’s perceptions, cultures, and lives.

            Take someone from 2000 years ago and ask them to describe modern day society in a book…
            Would they be able to do it and how would things be described? Probably in ways we wouldn’t understand correctly at all.

            Yet, we’re doing the opposite trying to take something people wrote 1500 years ago, and trying to make sense of it. We can’t relate to how they lived, yet, we can find similarities.

            People still lie, cheat, thieve, and do perverse things. Just like the bible says they did 1500-2000 years ago.

            Just maybe it’s not supposed to be so much a historical document of every detail that happened in that period of human history, but, more of a document of how can we relate to each other? People had some of the same issues then as we do now, we can see how they dealt with them and maybe learn from them. So we don’t have to repeat the past over and over…

            And if we find a spiritual purpose is in it.. So be it, if not… Some of us can find comfort in seeing how maybe people of the past handled life.

            And I’ll reiterate? Does it matter if these things happened in the exact way they are perceived to have happened? Is not the concept more important?

          4. entech

            Wolfy: And I’ll reiterate? Does it matter if these things happened in the exact way they are perceived to have happened?

            To me it does not matter if they happened as written or (more likely) never happened at all. What does matter is that too many people take as having literal meaning and should be used to dictate to believers and non believers alike.
            Is whatever you think is the concept one which everyone should submit to, whether they accept it or not? Should all Hindus be obliged to become Christians?

  5. Rifle

    Jon, your answer is true. Jesus didn’t grow new limbs for people who lost them. But if you want to come up with a bunch of things he did not do out of the thin air, maybe you should look at what he did do: Gave the blind sight, the paralyzed walking ability, the deaf hearing, and raised the dead. I’d say that qualifies as things considered “impossible”

    1. Rifle 2:06 Thank you for your first time post. All comments and observations are welcome here.

      “Gave the blind sight, the paralyzed … raised the dead.”

      We have no independent varification any of these miracles happened. For whatever reason, the Biblical authors made up stories about corpus’ walking out of graves en masse, but not regrowing limbs.

      1. Wolfy32

        Haven’t you seen “Walking Dead”? Could happen…
        And it’s not just rising out of graves it’s “Meeting God in the air”.

        As his temple descends upon Earth and the armies of earth turn from fighting each other and turn their weapons upon God.

        Maybe Stargate: SG1 got things right. 🙂

  6. David

    The title “Red River Freethinkers”, I catch the blog in our local paper. As I read the posts, I see the constant attacks on Christianity. I do not see any positive posts promoting the Atheist advantages, rather negative posts on Christianity. Why none on Islam, Bubbhism, or Hinduism? Negative posts turn people off to what you are trying to promote. I do not hear Christians constantly going on against Atheism. Why not explain the positive aspects of Atheism, and why a person should believe in what you do. Christian have been attacked through out the ages, yet Christians still exsist.
    I see God every where, look at all the beauty in nature. I saw God, as I watched my child being born. I see God when I look into my childs eyes. God is evey where, just stop and look. Your postings against Christianity are nothing new.
    God loves you. Have a nice day.

    1. David 2:09 Thank you for the first time post. I hope you return to post again.

      “I see constant attacks on Christianity….Why none on Islam, Buddismor Hindusism?”

      Christianity, almost exclusively, has tried to put its dogma into government in the U. S. That is why I write mostly about Christianity.

      1. Wolfy32

        Jon, there’s a lot of Christians worried about the Muslim movement. Worried that Islam and Muslims are gaining political and cultural favor in the US.. Christians fear that Obama is actually Muslim and invoking Muslim idealogy in our laws.

        Most of that is driven by irrational fears, however, would you turn from attacking Christians to Attacking Muslims if in say 10 years the political climate changed and the government invoked a policy that said we must pray three times a day and have national sirens going off to indicate prayer times?

        I agree that dogma is not healthy for a nation. I don’t agree with removing God from our influences. I believe if we turn our backs on God, he will turn his back on us. Though, he did say in the end that men’s hearts would grow hardened against him, and those that were with him would be closer to him. (paraphrasing).

        So, there will come a time of transition. Maybe its simply necessary for us to realize the importance of the unseen spiritual battles going on around us every day.

  7. Dustin Metzger


    “We have no independent varification any of these miracles happened.”

    Actually, we do have independent verification; the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all talk of the miracles performed by Christ. 4 individuals. Indepedant acounts. Individual books. Obviously, you would say these books are made up story’s of the same political group, or something to that affect, which you have absolutely no proof of.

    Your basis of knowledge is comparing things to the political envirnment you served in, 2000 years after the fact, and books you’ve read that are written by other skeptics or athiests, or people that lack faith.

    Human beings will never be able to give “proof” for Christianity because a defining characteristic of Christianity is FAITH, for which there is no “proof”. You can’t have true faith, if you need proof to have it.

    1. Wolfy32

      Yeah, there’s not much we can prove in life. Technically we can’t even prove we’re alive…

      If you were to break down our bodies into their atomic equivalents, we’re 70% water.. Water is comprised of two hydrogen and one oxygen atom.

      Everything in existence, all matter, living and non living, can be broken down into atoms and molecules. Are molecules living? So far, we can’t prove that any atom is a living material.

      Yet, every bacteria, cell, plant, or animal variety is comprised of atoms. So, is a desk, and so is a concrete wall. Cars, etc are also atoms… So, what proves that we’re alive and not just a bunch of atoms doing whatever agenda our piles of atoms are “programmed” to do in the universe.

      We can’t prove that atoms are living objects, therefore, how we define living material?

      Last random thought… Ever wonder.. Electrons orbit their perspective atoms, moons orbit their perspective planet, just as electrons orbit their atoms. Planets orbit their suns, and suns have some type of orbit within their galaxy. All in some motion.. What if we’re just some tiny autonomous system working for a much larger machine… We’re actually the size of atoms in relative size to what atoms are to us. And our universe is just sitting on someone’s desk as a decorative object?

      Everything’s in perspective. We can’t prove or disprove that we’re not a universe just sitting on someone’s desk…

      I saw a couple astrophysicists that indicated that within the next 20-30 years we could have the capability to create our own miniature universe in a lab environment. It may exist for a split second, and it would be near microscopic, but, there’s a possibility science could make that happen. If astro physics theories around “Multiverses” (multiple universes in existence) hold true.

      We’re probably more like a 100 years from something like that, but, if we prove it’s doable, then we have no way of proving or disproving that someone hasn’t created our universe.

      If an Athiest’s premise / belief system in life is to only believe in what is provable / seeable for themselves.. Then, I kinda feel sorry for them.. There’s not much that is provable in life.

      You can’t prove to me there isn’t an infinite number of universes. You can’t prove to me that Maybe Jesus was a time travelor when we develop time travel a 1000 years from now and for some reason human history needed to be changed and they picked that point in history to change it. We can’t prove or disprove that any more than we can prove or disprove what the bible says through science.

    2. Dustin 4:51 “Human beings will never be able to give ‘proof’ for Christianity…is faith.”

      That is correct. The problem comes in using the Bible to justify “faith”. There are too many things we do actually know. First, none of the four gospel writers saw the events they wrote about. Second, the original copies of their writing has disappeared–what eventually became the Bible is was writen by people we do not know who were not there. Third, the literal account of Noah could not have happened unless God had a hose to pump more water down onto earth and then suck it back up–there is not enough water in the earth’s surface or atmosphere to cover the earth the way the Bible describes it and Fourth, there is no evidence of the Moses saga.

      There are so many others–many corpses walking out of graves at Easter–I can’t stop. I don’t argue with people who say they have had a personal encounter with the god. It helps them. What I argue with is treating the Bible as if it were something other than the political and religious leadership of that time and today uniting to control people.

      1. Henry

        Jon: “there is not enough water in the earth’s surface or atmosphere to cover the earth the way the Bible describes it”

        Your premise is founded on assumption that the geology/topography we have now is the same as it was at the time of the flood. You don’t know that. A worldwide flood is theoretically possible with the water we have available now. This has been covered before.

          1. entech

            Jon it couldn’t have happened I agree, all of Henrie’s red deer corpses would have blocked up the drain holes.

          2. Henry

            That would be the evalootionist’s deer corpses. They need a lot of deer to transition to an elk or vice versa. They should be stacking up.

        1. entech

          The subject has been covered before, OK, but I still think here was not enough water for the earth to be covered, space in the ark for the animal population to be covered or credibility for doubts to be covered. Although Noah’s naked backside was covered later and look at the problems that caused.

        2. T

          Henry (March 14, 2013 at 10:15 pm) “A worldwide flood is theoretically possible with the water we have available now.”

          Interesting you should say that Henry, after you said this…

          Henry (March 11, 2013 at 12:57 pm): “Melting of the north pole ice will raise the sea level 0?-0?.”

          1. entech

            T. Henry is one of those rather strange people that really do believe that with God anything is possible, and without nothing is.
            Hence literal Adam and Eve and flood = easy, evolution = impossible.
            Some people think evolution is possible and God’s doing – even adds to his glory.
            Creationists think it would detract from their personal glory.

          2. T

            Entech, I’m sure Henry will be able to easily reconcile these two contradictory statements as well. I’m looking forward to what he has to say…

          3. Henry

            T, ice floating in water when melted does not raise sea levels. Melting ice floating in water is unrelated to changing topography, therefore not contradictory. So sorry. Better luck next time. Crack those science books a little more.

            Enjoy your upcoming global warming. It is coming soon with the days getting longer.

          4. T

            Look at a map of the arctic, Henry. There be land up there! With ice on it! So where does all this water for a biblical flood come from? If melting polar ice cannot raise global sea levels 2-3 feet, where does to water come from to flood the entire planet?

          5. entech

            The main land mass is actually at the antarctic, but all the same if you say ice floating in water when melted does not raise sea levels you forget a simple relationship ice when melted does not float in water it is water.
            I think that this time you are trying to use opposite sides of the argument to make the same case, not even a clever presenter like you could achieve that. But I am sure that with the Help of the Lord, with whom all things are possible, you will succeed, even if it means making a statement and leaving it at that.

          6. Henry

            Mr. T, no land at the north pole (the original reference) or close to it. You have to go south a ways to find glaciated land. Nice try though. Keep cracking those books.

            Mr. T: “where does [the] water come from to flood the entire planet?”

            Again, there is adequate volume of water on the earth to cover the earth. You are thinking statically.

          7. T

            I never said the north pole, Henry, I said the arctic. And like Entech said, there is the antarctic too.

            And please don’t call me Mr. T. I don’t resort to juvenile re-naming when I am conversing with you.

          8. entech

            there is adequate volume of water on the earth to cover the earth why then is there so much that is uncovered?

          9. Henry

            T (honorific dropped due to sensitivities): “I never said the north pole, Henry, I said the arctic.”

            T (honorific dropped due to sensitivities), you are trying to hang me out to dry for what you perceived as “contradictory statements.” The one comment of mine for which you cited specifically referenced the “north pole ice”. That statement of mine was the original basis for the argument. You later brought up “arctic” “ice” and tried inserting this as the new basis of your argument in lieu of “north pole ice”, and have now chastised me for your moving of the goal post. Do you approach all your scientific work/teaching with this level of intellectual dishonesty? It appears this may be the case.

          10. T

            Henry, you are very good with word games as well as deflecting issues and making yourself out to be offended party in any and all circumstances. The readers of this blog, even the ones who don’t comment, can probably easily identify your strategy. I’m afraid I’m done debating with you. Intellectual honesty and civil discourse is all but impossible with you. Don’t take this as a victory on your part, which I know you will nevertheless. I simply have better things to do with my time.

          11. Henry

            You aren’t owning up. Stamp your little feet and run off. My “word games” consisted of me using rather precise language that you took and generalized, hence moving the goal post. Then you excoriated me for not following your later generalization.

          12. entech

            Welcome to the Club T. (but I think you have been here before)

            A little while ago Jon rather jokingly suggested that Henry should donate to the running of the blog as he was having so much fun.
            I wonder if we will ever know what Henry really thinks about anything he is so busy saying anything for scoring points. Much more fun once you know not to try and take him seriously.

          13. Henry

            entech: “so busy saying anything for scoring points.”

            Well, if you were really paying attention, it was Mr. T who was concerned about keeping score. He was previously denying victory when none was claimed: “Don’t take this as a victory on your part,”

          14. Henry

            entech: “as he was having so much fun.”

            Better that than to be an atheist in sweat pants with a scowl on his face in his mother’s basement.

          15. entech

            I am well over 70. My mother died years ago. I have never lived in a house with a basement (we tend to have attics) and I certainly don’t have sweat pants (unless you mean the training clothes that are always ether at the gym or the laundry. Still waiting for your definition of an atheist, even though I now accept it as a default designation along with other words I am not sure what you mean by – god, christian, and so on, coming from you they could mean anything.

            But as always I accept whatever you say Henry, whatever __ YOU __ say.

            Oops nearly forgot, scowl, the main time I would do that is when I forget and try to take you seriously.

            Better add the 🙂 don’t want you to think this serious.

          16. Henry

            entech: “Still waiting for your definition of an atheist,”

            This has already been done for you previously. For your benefit:

            Atheism – the frothy mixture of godlessness and hate that is sometimes the byproduct of idolatry.

          17. entech

            idol•a•try noun
            Definition of IDOLATRY
            1: the worship of a physical object as a god
            2: immoderate attachment or devotion to something .

            That sounds very like your relationship to a certain book?

            god•less adjective
            Definition of GODLESS
            : not acknowledging a deity or divine law
            — god•less•ness noun

            frothy adjective
            Definition of FROTHY
            1: full of or consisting of froth
            2a : gaily frivolous or light in content or treatment : insubstantial (lacking substance or material nature)
            b : made of light thin material

            Think I’ll take the insubstantial bit about lacking a material nature, quite close to a definition of a god

            hate noun
            Definition of HATE
            1a : intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injury
            b : extreme dislike or antipathy : loathing

            That sounds like your relationship to homosexuals?

            Apart from godless they all seem to apply to you, interesting.

            Put these together and we can say Henry is almost an atheist, about 75%.

          18. entech

            Could be, I thought your definition was questionable, so I questioned it. Came up with an answer you didn’t agree with.

    3. entech

      You can’t have true faith, if you need proof to have it.
      Sounds like something Kierkegaard would have said. “true faith comes in spite of proof to the opposite”.

    4. Matt

      there are recorded verified miricles in modern times-check out the lives of the saints-padre pio being one of the best examples.

      1. Matt 10:57 “there are recorded verified miricles in modern times..”

        Did a scientist call those miracle, or religious people? Are all events which do not have known explanations miracles? A lot of times someone with a terminal illness gets well. When it happens, it seems like we could call it either something we don’t have an explanation for or a miracle.

        1. entech

          Jon, your right who verified these things and under what circumstances. What we we need is verifiable miracles, someone to walk into the Smithsonian or similar and do the same thing several times under observation. Perhaps the City Morgue it would be a good spot, but I am not sure whether people would be impressed or petrified by that one.

          I heard Neil Tyson talking about alien visitors and similar rubbish – he said if there were extra terrestrials arriving in a spaceship (we don’t know what it is so it would be described as an unidentified flying object) and all they could do was crash in the desert somewhere he would not want to meet them, wait till someone competent came by – or if they were stupid enough to pick strange people in strange dark country roads in stead of landing on the White house lawn, same deal.

        2. Matt

          well jon when several medical professionals from one of the most advanced hospitals in italy at the time all comfirm the same thing, i would say it is pretty legitimate.

          yes, when it happens at random then i guess we could either call it something we dont have an explanation for or a miracle, whichever we prefer.
          However, when countless instances of healing and other unexplainable events come at the hands of one man(padre pio in this instance) through prayer to one god….there is obviously something devine hapening….its simple logic…

  8. Brad

    “If God is all powerful, like the Christian faith teaches, then nothing is impossible. God could easily lead the humans writing and organizing the Bible through His Holy Spirit.”

    Yes, and I could write something, and simply say that I was led by the Holy Spirit, so therefore it is the word and work of God. Who is going to prove me wrong?

      1. entech

        First we need to prove scripture correct. So much contradiction, inconsistency and error: Where would we start?

        I didn’t mean it, the devil made me write it 👿

        1. Henry

          entech”:“So much contradiction, inconsistency and error:”

          With your ability to bend scripture to inconsistency, you would do well at Westboro. You constantly make the claim of contradiction and inconsistency, but the few times you try to point out an example of such, you pretty much miss the mark.

        2. entech

          Start at the beginning, prove it correct. Any attempts at reconciliation of the funny stuff only compromises the rest/

          1. entech

            Second thoughts you know what is wrong with it all better than I do, I just look for the odd mistake, you have to spend all your time trying to escape from them and maintain your impossible beliefs.

          2. Henry

            entech: ““maintain your impossible beliefs.”

            It is indeed impossible for me to keep the Law. That is why the Gospel of Jesus Christ is very dear to me. Christ provides in His grace.

    1. entech

      Of course you are perfectly correct in your extension of the “if God is all powerful” hypothesis. An all powerful God would have prevented you from writing anything that was not inspired by the Holy Spirit.

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