|Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (Plus)
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For almost 1,500 years, the New Testament manuscripts were copied by hand––and mistakes and intentional changes abound in the competing manuscript versions. Religious and biblical scholar Bart Ehrman makes the provocative case that many of our widely held beliefs concerning the divinity of Jesus, the Trinity, and the divine origins of the Bible itself are the results of both intentional and accidental alterations by scribes.
In this compelling and fascinating book, Ehrman shows where and why changes were made in our earliest surviving manuscripts, explaining for the first time how the many variations of our cherished biblical stories came to be, and why only certain versions of the stories qualify for publication in the Bibles we read today. Ehrman frames his account with personal reflections on how his study of the Greek manuscripts made him abandon his once ultra–conservative views of the Bible.
- Misquoting Jesus: The Book Everyone Influenced By Christianity Must Read!
Bart D. Ehrman's "Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why" is simply the most enlightening title I have ever read! Par with his other works, Ehrman condenses centuries of relevant biblical history into this remarkably informative and accessible volume. As one of the world's leading biblical scholars, and chair of the department of religious studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Ehrman's qualifications and experience empower him to deliver candid and noteworthy insight into the most provocative topic the world has ever known. In his luminous book, "Misquoting Jesus", Ehrman reveals the academic and historical truth about the New Testament texts and their turbulent rise to become our society's most influential--and controversial--body of spiritual knowledge. This book is sure to prove itself an imperative revelation for any Christian seeker, and a comprehensive examination of fact-versus-fiction for the inquisitive reader. "Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why" is, without doubt, one of the modern world's most significant and important contributions to the effective understanding of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ....more info
- an informative book on how the bible was corrupted
Bart Ehrman demonstrates in this easy-to-read, yet very informative piece of writing about the early churches, and how the bible was gathered. The book discusses many gospels that were rejected and why, as well as the
sorts of corruptions in the bible and how the manuscripts differ from one another.
In his shocking book, Bart Ehrman demonstrates how the early writings were gathered and proliferated in days where there was no machines, no printing presses, no spell check, and not even dictionaries.
An example of text manipulation in this informative book, is that Ehrman mentions that the story of the woman caught in adultery in the gospel of john is a fabricated story and that the early manuscripts did not have this story. This story starts showing up in the later manuscripts and is written in a different style that does not match well with the gospel according to john. However, this is a sample of what you may read about. There are way much more other topics that can be very surprising to some people covered in this book, "misquoting Jesus".
Once you finish reading this book your idea of a perfect infallible bible may be totally destroyed. Bart Ehrman talks about the various important topics from early christianity to the canonization of the bible.
As you read the book, you would encounter many interesting insights many biblical scholars may have not paid attention to.
This book is a great starting point for people who have very little to no knowledge about the ancient times and dark side of the bible's history.
However, this book is so informative that almost everyone who reads this book might be intrigued in a big way....more info
- It is not "right" to misquote Jesus
I think this man did a remarkable job with his research, but he is extremely repetitious. It is painful to keep finding the same information. He is daring in his writing and I think he is probably right about a great deal of it. I have shared his opinion for years....more info
- The problem with Ehrman
is the same problem with Christian fundamentalists ... they are extreme. Ehrman was a fundamentalist. He believed the Bible literally. Now he's a fundamentalist secularist. He believes nothing in the Bible ... or at least that nothing can be taken as truth. How both sides can be so certain of their position astounds me....more info
- Good reading - did not agree with the author's conclusion though.
This is an interesting book. I enjoyed reading it. I almost didn't buy it because I was concerned that it might be too technical and above my head. The author has published a number of academic papers and books on the subject.
However after reading the first few paragraphs I realized that my concerns were unfounded. The book was easy to follow and understand. I didn't particularly agree with the author's conclusion that the Bible contains errors, but enjoyed reading his perspective and point of view.
I would recommend this book to anyone that is curious about the Bible and how the original texts were transferred to us. After reading this book I now want to read other books on the subject....more info
- Clear & Concise Explanation of New Testament Origins
Erhman's book provides a clear and concise explanation of new testament history.
This history shows the finger prints of humanity on the authorship of the Bible.
The Bible we have today is the result of one version of early Christianity winning the battle for orthodoxy over competing factions. The victors declared the losers heretics and wrote the "word of God" to support their views.
- Down and dirty in the scriptorium
This is a wise book, a judgment I seldom give to either Christian or anti-Christian books. Professor Bart Ehrman would say his book is neither pro nor con, and that is correct at one level.
At a deeper level, of course, if the text of the Bible as we have it is inaccurate for any reason, that will be deeply corrosive of any Christianity. More so, of course, of sects that claim to believe in scriptural inerrancy.
Inerrancy is a strange beast. The last words of Jesus in Mark are nothing like the last words of Jesus in Luke, and it doesn't take a book by Ehrman to show that. The Fundamentalists think to hedge their claims by saying that the Bible was given inerrantly in the "original autographs." That's a dodge, since we don't have any original autographs.
What Ehrman does is show why we don't (because copyists always make errors, and sometimes introduce fake readings on purpose); and how these can be detected (sometimes); and explained (more rarely).
"Misquoting Jesus" is beautifully and clearly written, on the Army instructional principles of KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) and doing everything in triplicate (say what you intend to say, say it, say you've said it).
Only the wilfully obtuse could mistake Ehrman's purpose. Judging by the negative reviews here at Amazon, the wilfully obtuse are numerous.
"Misquoting Jesus" is aimed, simultaneously, at two very different audiences. One is the kind of Christian that Ehrman himself once was, the simply credulous believer who accepts -- incorrectly as it turns out -- that his Bible is a more or less accurate record of whatever it was that was set down in the first century.
The other is the general reader who perhaps accepted the text without much drama but would be interested in its origins and some of the curious ways the message was changed over the years.
Ehrman says, truly I suppose, that most Americans have no idea about textual criticism. It is applied also, however, to unsacred texts. Students of English literature learn something about it when studying Shakespeare, whose texts also have many doubtful passages.
In this respect Ehrman makes a statement I quarrel with. After asserting that any hand copied texts will accumulate errors, he says that once the printing press came along, texts were locked in. It took hundreds of years for printing practices to reach that point, and now, with computerized text setting, the problem is again as acute as it was in the Middle Ages -- nothing you see on the screen is guaranteed original in the 21st c.
(Ehrman makes only one other statement that I seriously quarrel with: He mentions Matthew 27:24-25 ["His blood be upon us and our children"] and comments that this verse played "such a horrendous role in the violence manifest against the Jews down through the Middle Ages." Why he stops at the Middle Ages is a mystery. The verse still plays that role.)
"Misquoting Jesus" is a mere introduction, not a comprehensive attempt to list and deconstruct the misquotations in the New Testament.
Ehrman's approach is interesting, in that he treats the NT as largely authentic with occasional deliberate or accidental bad readings. This is in contrast to the Jesus Seminar, which counts among its members scores of biblical experts. They polled themselves as to which verses they believe reflect genuine sayings of Jesus, and their conclusions (in "The Five Gospels") were just the opposite: the NT is mostly invented, with a small fraction (around 20%) the authentic words of Jesus.
There can be no quarrel with Ehrman's contention that the Bible is the most important document of Western civilization. However, it does not follow that a more correct text helps. It was the incorrect text that guided the development of the civilization.
Besides, as he says, texts do not speak for themselves.
- Excellent - read it twice.
Bart Ehrman is an excellent writer and his ideas/arguments have been very helpful in my theological questions and search for truth (he has definitely been the most influential...and I have read from a variety of sides such as Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Lee Strobel, Ravi Zacharias, J.P. Moreland, etc.). Thank you for writing these books and bringing your classroom to the general public. "God's Problem" was very informative and excellent as well (also read it twice). ...more info
- Excellent research, but...
This book is so well researched that I hate to give it less than five stars. However, its readability for a non-scholar is very difficult. The author is obviously a brilliant man who knows his subject incredibly well. I wish he could have conveyed it in a more reader-friendly way. I found myself skimming rather than reading. ...more info
- Very Good Scholarly History of Scripture Text for Lay readers
`Misquoting Jesus' by leading New Testament scholar, Bart Ehrman is `must reading' for anyone who questions the need for textual criticism of Biblical texts, possibly believing, as Ehrman did in his early years of seminary study, that such critical interpretations were heretical, since they gave the appearance of questioning the absolute authority of scripture. In a nutshell, the book is a history of the documents containing the Christian `New Testament' scriptures.
Ehrman has become something of a scholarly celebrity, as a result of his writing several books on early scriptures for the lay audience, of which this is one of his most interesting. This celebrity must not obscure the fact that Ehrman is also one of the very best scholars working with scripture and other early Greek texts. For example, several of the volumes of Greek translations in the Loeb Classical Library published by Harvard are edited and translated by Professor Ehrman.
Ehrman begins with a heartfelt story of how he came to be a Greek Biblical scholar, motivated by his dedication to a Fundamentalist reading of scriptures. His epiphany regarding the nature of his task came when he did a scholarly paper on a famous passage from his favorite Gospel, the Gospel of Mark, regarding Jesus' citing the episode (Mark 2:25 - 26) of King David requisitioning sacred loaves of bread from the temple (1 Samuel 21:1 - 6). There is some inconsistency between these two passages, and young Bart worked up an elaborate explanation attempting to preserve the veracity of Mark. The moment of illumination came when his professor, a pious scholar, flatly stated that `...perhaps Mark made a mistake'.
The lion's share of the book deals with descriptions of mistakes made in copying and editing early Biblical texts. Some mistakes lasted long enough to even affect our most important English translation, the King James Bible. Ehrman cites numerous documentary facts about early Christian copyists which reveal that rather than being rare, mistakes were probably quite common, leading to hundreds of changes in the text. This is why our modern authoritative Greek text is a synthesis of 300,000 different sources! One of the most famous editing changes is the augmented ending to Mark, which tacks on twelve verses which are not found in the very earliest texts.
After the initial surprise, a bit of reflection should tell us these facts are quite consistent with the way things work in the world. One can even look at some scriptures themselves and find evidence of real editing at work from the earliest times. The prologue to The Gospel of Luke, for example, gives us the author stating that his work is an (implied) correction of several earlier accounts, emphasizing an historically more accurate telling of the story.
A second `chaotic' influence on the content of our scriptures are the modifications made by groups of early Christians which held theological positions which were contrary to the strongest factions in the church. The earliest and most famous of these was the canon of Marcion, who espoused a doctrine very close to the Gnostic Christians who pop up in so many popular works these days on alternate Gospels. Marcion `published' the very first canonical collection of Christian scriptures, including a bowdlerized version of Luke, removing all of the direct quotes from the Hebrew Scriptures.
The book ends with an interview with Ehrman where he states that his studies over the years lead him away from a belief in the Bible as the inerrant word of God to a more mainstream position. He now finds himself a `happy agnostic'. Oddly enough, I believe there are thousands of both professional and lay students of the scriptures which know all the same facts, but who do not find their reasons for abandoning the Christian faith. Like the quintessential scholar who insisted on the importance of scripture, Martin Luther, there are elements of Christian faith which are irreducibly mysterious. One can accept errors in the scriptures, and accept a certain open-endedness of certain ideas such as the trinity and the dual nature of Christ, and Christianity will be just as rewarding, as or maybe even more rewarding than the uncritical reading of scripture.
Ehrman's presentation of his material is lucid, in spite of some neatly hidden scholarly accessories. Anyone who has a passing familiarity with Biblical texts will have no trouble. Those who know the Bible well will get even more from the discussion.
- Great read
This is a great read. I enjoyed the story of Ehrman's own inevitable journey out of fundamentalism and his scholarship seems impeccable....more info
- Excellent research and facts!
I was interested in reading a book that discusses the true history of the Bible, how it came to be, and what actually happened during the translations of this sacred book of literature. This book is excellent! It explains the history and origins of the Bible very well. I was tired of hearing/reading about what people "believe" the Bible to be, I wanted to read about what it actually is. This is an excellent book for anyone interested in accurate, intellectual research about the Bible. It is a book that informs you about how the Bible came to be, and the author has truly done a fantastic job in explaining the history of the bible. Fundamentals will not be able to argue with this book because their beliefs are no match for the facts given in the book! ...more info
- About Time
This is the kind of study that is long overdue. Ehrman does much to solidify the foundational idea that the Bible is a human construct...as is religion itself. I still feel compelled to say that sure, there is wisdom in it...but I must also assert that, it's filled with much inaccuracy, illusion, and misinformation....leading to a loss of original meaning and intent. That the Bible is not a science text book for example, is already well established....and it is very far from unerringly accurate in most other areas as well. Like humanity itself, it is filled with self-contradiction.
Ehrman strikes against the historic underpinnings of "the Word"...and the word in question is fundamentalist literalism....which has led to so much trouble and heartache through history. It's long overdue to take a hard look at all the changes, inaccuracies, and errors in such an influential work.
This book does not tell the whole story...i.e., that of the spiritual truth and inspiration of the Bible, but within its given parameters, it's long overdue to give the Bible this type of rational critique. As there's still much truth in the Bible, it will certainly survive such treatment.
I think the author does a comprehensive and thorough job in this necessary task. Casting aside illusion and ignorance is, in the long run, beneficial to believer and non-believer alike. One day it could even help to bring humanity together once again.
- How to square Biblical inerrancy with textual revisions?
Ehrman follows up on his 2003 study of The Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew by turning his eye for Biblical criticism on those books that did make it into the canon.
Ehrman talks briefly about textual criticism as applied to New Testament source manuscripts, suggesting that the currently accepted canon has been revised inadvertently and intentionally over in over 30,000 places. He provides a handful of examples, and provides a very elementary introduction to the discipline.
Not that compelling. Most interesting is his introductory biographical essay, telling of his boyhood in the Episcopalian (thanks for the correction in a comment to my review) faith where Bible study wasn't encouraged, to a teenage born-again experience, to his scholarly studies which have made him pull back and refer to "born again" in quotes.
The most interesting question he raises is how to square Biblical inerrancy with textual revisions, some of which have surely taken place, although none of his main examples are faith-shattering. His point, well taken, is that if you believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God, then having the actual words of the original writers is vitally important, and needs to be considered seriously as a theological question....more info
- If you think the Bible is without error, read this book.
This is a fascinating book, the product of great scholarship. As can be seen in the other reviews, it drives Christian Fundamentalists over the edge because it seriously undermines the concept of inerrancy of scripture....more info
- Another Crit
Definitely an interesting read for anyone who wants to know more about the history of the New Testament, but the text itself is a rather dull read, coming across as more of a literary journal read than a causal read for an armchair religious critic. Nevertheless, anyone interested in the topic will find Misquoting Jesus an informative, if difficult, read. ...more info
- Misquoting Jesus
A challenging book that most fundamentalists simply will not agree with, given that it concentrates on the historical people and events that shaped the books which were ultimately included in our Bible today, from one of the foremost scholars of early Christianity....more info
- Poor premise leads to invalid conclusions
While many of Mr. Ehrman's assertions sound good, he tries to apply modern ways of thinking to men who lived centuries ago. This is not a reasonable thing to do.
For example, he is very concerned about the fact the scriptures were hand-copied for centuries, as were all books. Yet he completely ignores the fact that there were people who made their living copying books. They are called scribes. This profession disappeared with the advent of the printing press, but prior to that it was a very important skill. A scribe who could not accurately, and beautifully, copy text would not be able to work. Mr. Ehrman's contempt for this profession is both obvious an intellectually dishonest. After all he trusts other works, such as the writings of Ptolomy that predate the printing press, just not the Bible.
This book is simply not worth the space it takes up on a bookshelf. But if you do want it, it should be displayed prominently next to other books that say the Apollo moon landings were faked, UFOs are really are from other planets and world will end next week.
- Getting to Know Bart Through Christian Disillusionment
This is Bart Ehrman's most personal work to date. He discusses his own spiritual autobiography, going into some detail about the academic meanderings he has been through. The moral of his story is that the manuscripts we have of the Bible do not match each other. As someone who once went to a school so pro-Bible that everyone at it had to sign a statement indicating that he or she believed the Bible to the inerrant Word of God, Bart Ehrman found this realization to be shattering. The meat of this book deals with what most Christians would consider disturbing discrepancies in biblical manuscripts. He goes into some detail on each, and he does a good job of staying on message throughout the book.
I liked the book, but there are two flaws in this book that annoyed me.
1) The first flaw is that Ehrman gives us his religious background, which is a fairly good read, but then he goes into his current religious philosophy, which is just frail. When psychoanalyzing Bart - a privilege which the reader is almost begged to indulge in with this book - it was fairly easy for me to come to the conclusion that his understanding of the universe was stunted by his teenage foray into fairly extreme Christianity. Indeed, this is the age where Ehrman stopped searching for answers in places outside of the Bible.
Now, he again finds himself searching for answers outside of the Bible for the first time since he was a teenager, and his answers are, somewhat predictably and somewhat sadly, no further developed than they were during his late teens. He offers little more than the argument of "If God is good, why do some people in the world starve?", an argument that's not all that compelling to people over 16 years old who have spent more than an hour or so thinking about it. The argument is a fine argument to start with, I suppose, but what about some very basic questions that follow from that? For instance, "If there is no God, then how do we have a world in the first place?" It's not that he can't believe what he wants, but I can check out Plato from the library for free and study 100 layers of esoteric questions like this that Bart Ehrman is scratching his way through the first few layers of. Like many academics who are great at connecting the dots but still can't tell what the picture is, Ehrman is a brilliant Greek scholar, but ask him to reason through the logic of what he's studied and he gets no further than any other moderately intelligent, moderately educated American. His personal philosophies just aren't compelling, and the fact that this book reads like a justification of them serves to slightly undermine its good, objective scholarship.
2) The second flaw here is that, while Ehrman devotes significant portions of the book to trying to convey how vast the quantity of errors in biblical manuscripts is, he delves into precious few of them in very much detail.
On second thought, this may have been a stroke of genius: whereas I personally could read his work for weeks and never get bored with it, most of his non-academic market thinks that shorter is better. This book is the best yet of any of Ehrman's books when it comes to marketability to the masses. As much as it annoyed me, the fact that this is Ehrman's most personal book to date probably is what finally pushed him into widespread mainstream notoriety. Ehrman had long been regarded as one of the premier academic authorities on the Bible in the United States, and he'd written something like 20 books before this one. His other books aren't terribly complex, and he really is the author that Christian bookstore goers would read if they actually wanted to get smarter rather than just reinforce their previously held beliefs or find someone to tell them everything will be ok. With Ehrman telling his own emotional tale of spiritual unrest, he may have finally forged the personal connection with the heart of the Christian bookstore audience that he needed to get a bestseller. As someone who prefers substance over emotion in a book, I considered his works Lost Gospels and Lost Christianities to be better books.
This book gets five stars from me because I find its subject matter enthralling, it is logically assembled, and Bart Ehrman is just a really, really good scholar. The quality of the scholarship far and away overshadows his philosophical shortcomings, and there were plenty of footnotes for further reading for those of us with a long attention span. I do thank Bart for sharing a very personal and somewhat touching element of his personality. I'll definitely read more of his books.
If you don't find its subject matter enthralling, then you probably won't like it because of the flaws noted above: it's esoteric conclusions are unremarkable and the depth of the study is not complete. But, then again, if you're not interested in the subject matter, you're probably not reading this, are you?...more info
- Why Is the Bible a Best-Seller?
Bart D. Ehrman obviously believes the Bible is such a popular book because most buyers feel it contains God's own inspired words. Many foolish or simple-minded people would even go so far as to declare that every word in the Bible is inspired by God. The problem with this latter viewpoint, as Ehrman most insightfully points out, as that we no longer have access to the original, "inspired" words. The New Testament's were lost nearly 2,000 years ago. I always ask people who stand on the rock of the Bible's inerrancy, "What Bible?" The majority cite the King James version. A few brave souls claim that all Bibles are the same. So I ask what version they use. Good old King James usually surfaces again in most cases, although a few will prefer the Revised Standard. What it boils down to, as Ehrman states in his concluding chapter, is that many Fundamentalists believe that God inspired the King James translators, rather than the Bible's original authors. Yes, many people honestly feel that Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul and Peter often misunderstood the Holy Spirit and got God's words wrong. And that being the super-patient, super-tolerant God that He is, He then waited 1,600 years to correct Paul and company's idiotic mistakes!
What can you do when faced with these problems? One solution is to attempt to reconstruct the original texts, as I have done with Mark's Gospel in More Bible Wisdom for Modern Times: Selections from the Early New Testament and with John's Gospel in Essential Bible Wisdom: GOOD NEWS by John, the Beloved Disciple, and John, the Elder....more info
- Exellent Introduction to the Textual Criticism of the New Testament
Bart D. Ehrman's book "Misquoting Jesus" is an excellent read for those looking for an outlook on the New Testament that you don't get in Sunday school. Ehrman explains some of the basic tenets of textual criticism, applies them to the New Testament, and demonstrates how a couple of important verses that support basic Christian doctrine, such as 1 John 5:7-the only place in the Bible that clearly mentions the trinity,were indeed late additions to the Bible. Aside from this, Ehrman also paints a very vivid picture of the early Christian church that places the authorship of the New Testament into its proper context. Ehrman packaged all of this work based on years of scholarship into a popular book aimed for the masses, which makes the book a very easy read.Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (Plus)...more info
For anyone seeking truth about the Gospels, this book is a must read. Mr. Ehrman is to be congratulated on his research. He has explained in a convincing manner how the scriptures were altered and why. The scriptures are not infallible. To take the bible as the literal word of God will continue so long as one chooses to turn a blind eye to truth.
I didn't get the impression that this book was written to turn anyone against Christianity, but rather to find answers to the many unanswered questions.
- Translations and Interpretations
Bart D. Ehrman is a Professor of Religious Studies at the UNC at Chapel Hill. Google his background to know that he is a Subject Matter Expert when it comes to the Bible. The man has dedicated most of his life to understanding the Bible. In his book, he explains he learned Greek and Hebrew so that he can study the Bible in the "original language". So his credibility is solid.
I have always wondered the same things that Dr. Ehrman, and have always used the example of William Shakespeare, whose plays, sonnets, and poems have been interpreted in every language. They were written (in English) from the late 1500s to early 1600s, and yet scholars do not agree on the interpretations.
So, if we cannot agree on what was said 400 years ago, how can we be so sure of what was said over 2000 years ago? If the biblical scholars (doing the translations) were "inspired by the Spirit" then why do they not say the same thing?
This is why this book is so interesting. It sheds light on some of these things and I commend Dr. Ehrman for his research and insight....more info
- Walk Your Dogma
I found this book an arduous but extremely enlightening read. Ehrman is a serious bible scholar and parts of this book were a little too scholarly for me, so it took me quite a while to slog through it.
I have always felt that although the Bible has important lessons for mankind, that ultimately it was written by men, and copied over and over again by other men and therefore is a nice book for trying to guide a reader to live a spiritual life, but that it cannot and should not be taken literally or even as "The Word of God".
I won't embark on a discussion of texts inspired by God in this review. The preceding paragraph is just to give you an idea of where I am coming from so you can gauge the rest of my review accordingly.
Ehrman discusses the original bible texts, how scholars determine which are "good" texts, (meaning closest to the originals) and which texts have been changed over the centuries. He argues that texts have been changed for any number of reasons: scribes that copied the texts and tried to make them clearer and easier to understand when they copied them; scribes who changed the texts to reflect their own beliefs/sect; scribes who changed texts to try to get a different message across; etc. Ehrman goes into detail about the various Christian sects and how their beliefs differed and why they might have changed verses of the Bible until it has reached its current incarnation. Throw away your King James Bible - it's the worst (furthest from the original texts) version in existence.
Ehrman raises some thoughtful questions, to which we may never know the answers.
A very good history lesson on the origins of Christianity and a thoughtful discussion about the Bible.
C.A.Wulff ...more info
- Bible de-mythologized
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
"Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why" by Bart D. Ehrman
This is a book I read at Borders while drinking coffee over the course of a year or so. I thank Borders for alowing this use of their space and books.
The interesting part of this book is that the Bible is not what we think of as "The Bible", it is various interpretations of various writings. It is best read in the language that the books were written in, but how many of us can do that? It also significant that the Bible is not simply a book that has stood the test of time, but also has adjusted according to the interests or politics of the scribe. I remember hearing that in the Dead Sea Scrolls, there are parts of Old Testament books that have not been seen in the last thousand years that may answer or qualify some New Testament parts that refer to them. How much else is lost or left out we may never know, but it is important to understand that even if we could accumulate all the pieces of the Bible, parts of it would not pass religious muster to be part of the Canon we call the Bible....more info
- Inquiring minds want to know
Let me state right off that I am NOT a biblical scholar; I studied Gothic Art History at university thus did a whole lot of reviewing of religious art (my only claim in this area). I found the book to be well-written and interesting - at no time did I flip to the back to see how it ended.
Dr. Ehrman is a pedant, and writes like one; however his notes are mostly informative and useful, thus don't annoy. The book is divided into different logical sections and he writes about the origins of the Bible and where, when, and how it was modified. He makes an almost irrefutable case that the Bible we have today is very different from the original written texts.
I did not come away from this book feeling that he was on the attack, but rather that he had a need to inform people about the problems and issues with a blind faith that the Bible is the 'inerrant word of God'. Two arguments of the book were particularly interesting to me. One was the fact that many of the changes made to the texts were done to forward the biases of the scribe and the times in which he/she lived (as opposed to erroneous copying) and the other - more telling argument - is the position that if God wanted the Bible to remain in its original form, He would have insured that happened. This latter is of importance since, of all the religions extant at the time the biblical texts were being written, only the Judaism and Christianity were literary religions. The Egyptians did have The Book of The Dead, but that was an instruction manual on how to get to 'heaven' rather than a compendium of faith. Ehrman also makes this point (albeit differently).
I enjoy any book from which I can learn, and this one qualifies. Not only did I learn about the origins of the texts, I learned about the origins of biblical scholarship, biblical criticism and exegesis (a new favorite word).
I do wish he had included a bibliography rather than scattering source throughout his notes, but that's my only quibble.
Overall, for people interested in the origins of the Bible, this book is a must read IMHO.
- A readable book that reveals the actual history of the New Testament text
This book is an enlightening and satisfying read! It should benefit three kinds of people:
First, Christians who want solid knowledge concerning the text of the New Testament; not just some blithe and mind-closing ideology of "it's the Word of God and it's all inspired;" but a literary and historcal appreciation of the text. Ehrman leads the reader though the maze that constitutes the history of the text that became the New Testament. He reveals - for the ordinary person - the nuances and complexities of the Greek text (the language in which the New Testament was written) in a way that anyone can understand. If you care about the Bible as the Word of God, then you need to become familiar all of the various versions of the books of the NT. This book will help you do this.
Second, if you are someone who is not religious but who nevertheless sees the the Bible as an important literary text in the history of Western culture, and who wants to understand it, this book will help you grasp the development of the New Testament in its original context and then its transmission across several centuries, showing what happened to it in that process. Understanding what the New Testament is; how its texts were composed - where and when - and how it came to be in its present form are essential for knowing that the New Testament is.
Third, if you are a recovering Christian - especially a recovering fundamentalist, charismatic, or evangelical - and you are still haunted by the mystique of the Bible as some monolithic "Word of God" that people used to hold over you and threaten you with, this book will help you to break free of that ideology (as will most of Ehrman's books). It will help you see the Bible for what it is; a very human book with limitations. The best way to break free of a narrow-minded religiosity is to learn what the Bible really is. Ehrman's book will be for you a good first step in that process.
- A great introduction to textual criticism
Misquoting Jesus is a great book on the alterations that have been made to the texts of the New Testament.
Dr. Ehrman discusses the beginnings of Christian scriptures, copyist practices in early centuries, the texts of the NT, the attempts at reconstructing the originals, and the alterations made within the texts (both unintentional and intentional).
Such a book, given its scope, must have been very, very difficult to write. In little over two-hundred pages, Dr. Ehrman covers a great deal of information, history, and findings. Much praise to him for accomplishing it. He did a fine job.
The book is easy to read, and very accessible to people with little or no background in textual criticism. I would recommend Misquoting Jesus to anyone who is interested in the history of the NT....more info
- Misquoting Jesus
I PAID FOR THE BOOK AND NEVER RECEIVED IT. WHAT DO I DO TO REMEDY THIS?...more info
- Interesting Pop Theology
This book is certainly an attention grabber. It would be entertaining were it not for the fact that some people will actually buy into his arguments. Just like other hoax-like books (DaVinci Code), this volume will confuse people who are uneducated concerning legitimate theology. I am sure that Mr. Ehrman will sell books. Dog Bites man attracts more attention than Man Bites Dog.So controversy sells. Readers interested in really getting at the truth will do well to read some works by Tim Keller and W.T. Wright. While Mr. Ehman's book was a hoot, people serious about Christianity will need to look elsewhere.Darrell Bock is also a good choice....more info
- An Excellent Look at Textual Criticism
Back in college, I took a very interesting course that focused on an in-depth examination of the gospel of Mark. In that course, I learned that the last twelve verses of the gospel are not original. In fact, they are a later addition to the text, most likely to "fix" the rather abrupt original ending to the gospel with something more clear and orthodox. This was one of my first experiences with textual criticism of the Bible and it is a subject I have pursued with some interest ever since.
Of course, Professor Ehrman is a master in this field which made his book one I very much wanted to read. Fortunately, his book more than met my expectations. It is, in fact, one of the most insightful, user-friendly volumes on the subject I have come across. Without talking down to the reader, he makes this very challenging and controversial field easy to understand. Anyone can read this book and walk away with a good picture of the ways in which the gospels have been changed and why it happened.
The why is really very straightforward--the original manuscripts were copied by hand. To make matters worse, the earliest copies weren't even copied by professional scribes. They were copied by volunteers. Thus, many mistakes were simply accidental. Then, as orthodoxies developed, changes crept in to "correct" mistakes or "clarify" passages that might possibly lead readers into error. Ehrman does an excellent job of explaining these changes and giving us powerful examples (though I was saddened to learn that the story of the woman taken in adultery is a later addition). In addition, he takes us through the history and controversies in the field: talking us through the creation of various manuscripts both well-known and less-known, and how these changes were ferreted out by scholars.
This is the first book by Professor Ehrman I have ever read. I have to say that I am quite impressed. It is an interesting and balanced account of the development of the gospels. I was also impressed by his introduction to the book, where he outlines his change from a young, Biblical-literalist to an older, textual critic. Personal stories like this are risky but he pulls it off fairly well. I think it helps that we've seen his "illusions" broken as he moves ahead to break ours. In any case, it is well done. I am definitely planning on going back and reading some of his previous books....more info
- A Terrific, Highly Accessible Primer on Textual Criticism
MISQUOTING JESUS is a highly accessible primer of textual criticism that is of immense value beyond its immediate topic, i.e., categorizing the textual differences among the 5,000 or so surviving manuscripts of early Christian scriptures that make up the New Testament. Students of textual criticism of other traditions, e.g., traditional Chinese literature, will greatly benefit from perusing this book.
When I first studied Qing dynasty and modern Chinese textual criticism as a graduate student, my wise teachers not only encouraged us to read Chinese- and English-language treatments of the Qing philological tradition (including kaozhengxue [evidential learning] and textual criticism), but also had us read about Western traditions of text scholarship as well, even to include the relevant articles in the (older versions of the) Encyclopaedia Britannica. Had Ehrman's book been available at the time, I think this would have been an extremely useful addition to our reading list.
Most people, however, will be drawn to this book for the specific topic addressed by Professor Ehrman. As Ehrman notes, the content of the book is by-and-large not new, but his presentation of the material, put in layman's terms, aims to make it interesting and understandable to a larger readership. In this goal he succeeds easily. Obviously, had the title been something like NEW TESTAMENT TEXTUAL CRITICISM, the book would unlikely have made it on the best seller list. So the fact that the book, despite not having new material, is controversial insofar as it makes plain the inherent and sometimes, for Christian theology, highly problematic differences in the received texts of the New Testament, and out of this controversy gains publicity for such a work of scholarship is, as far as I'm concerned, a very good thing. Christians need to acknowledge the textual problems in the Bible and should relish the opportunity to try to understand them.
Professor Ehrman personalizes his book by describing his faith journey prior to his exploration of textual criticism at Princeton Theological Seminary. In short, he had early on embraced a Christian fundamentalism that had made literal inerrancy of the Bible the central tenet of faith, and subsequently found his faith challenged by his later studies of the Bible. I was much taken by Ehrman's story, and yet had misgivings about his personalizing the topic, aware through the press coverage attending this book that his religious journey has most recently led him to agnosticism. Though Ehrman notes in a postscript to this edition of the book that his agnosticism does not directly stem from the textual problems of the Bible (it has to do rather with his difficulties with theodicy, which he is addressing in his next book), there will be those who will use his lack of faith as an ad hominem attack on the book. On the other hand, those same people would probably look for any excuse to attack the book because it challenges their fundamental beliefs.
Professor Ehrman has a terrific way of making difficult concepts easy to grasp and, what's more, remember. (Those who are not fortunate enough to be his students can experience something of what his lecturing must be like in the audio courses offered by The Teaching Company; I highly recommend his course on the Apostolic Fathers (AFTER THE NEW TESTAMENT). Anyone with an interest in comparing texts (which, incidentally do not have to be ancient: see the problem with "whimper" and "whisper" on the last page of D.H. Lawrence's SONS AND LOVERS) with the goal of resolving difficulties should read this book.
- Well-researched Book That Should Make People of All Stripes Think
Misquoting Jesus has a lot in common with one of Ehrman's other works, Jesus, Interrupted. If you read that and enjoyed it, I would recommend this book.
By examining different iterations of the New testament, Ehrman argues which texts he believes represent the earliest representation of Christian beliefs, and which, in contrast, were later add-ons. One of the startling things in the book, for example, is the claim that the Christians of Jesus' own day probably did *not* consider him divine, or believe in the resurrection.
The Jesus that Ehrman describes, naturally, comes out looking very different from the one which most people grew up with. In one particularly jarring example, Jesus actually *rebukes* a leper who he then heals. In John 1:18, Ehrman understands the text to be talking about Christ as the "'unique Son' (sometimes mistranslated as 'only begotten Son')". That certainly puts a different spin on the Gospels!
As enjoyable as I found it, the book is not perfect. If you read Jesus, Interrupted first, you might be disappointed with all the ground Ehrman retreads. Even if you haven't read that book, you'll notice that Ehrman tends to repeat his points a little bit too much. It's not to the point of being tiresome, but you get an extremely strong sense of deja vu in some parts of the text.
All in all, I would highly recommend this book to those who are curious about the historical background of the New Testament's composition....more info
- Not exactly the wow I was looking for
I was expecting to learn much more than I did from this book. Having grown up in an environment where we were not expected to take the Bible literally, I wasn't exactly wowed to learn from Bart Ehrman that there were mistakes in the Bible--errors that could be traced back to the 4th century A.D. I suppose this could shake someone else's faith, but I already understood that what we know as the New Testament, was decided at the Council of Nicea, and plenty of other gospels and letters were shut out of the process.
While I found some of Ehrman's findings amazing--and he had me running to our various Bibles to look up different translations--i also was bothered by the way he brushed off the Gnostic gospels.
Scholar Elaine Pagels wrote some wonderful books about these gospels that were left out of the Bible, but Ehrman makes the whole Gnostic movement sound like a religion for loonies. They were hardly that. It had a long and intellectual history. The Gnostic movement started long before Christianity; it just melded with the new religion. By ignoring this information, I think Ehrman cheats his audience.
But most readers probably aren't that well-read when it comes to early New Testament hot topics, so the material in "Misquoting Jesus" is earth-shattering enough.
There's a Q-and-A in the back that is enlightening because it probes Ehrman's personal beliefs....more info
- 101 Myths Better, But This is Solid Back-Up
See my review of 101 Myths of the Bible for both extended comments and a list of two DVDs and several books that capture my history of reading of about religion.
With so many other reviews, this one is primarily to highlight and summarize the book for those that use me as a surrogate browser of non-fiction.
What struck me most about this book and its learned "born again" Christian was that it deconstructed the Bible so ably, but strives to retain the immutability of the Bible.
The author excels at telling his personal story of discovery, and doess a better job than 101 Myths at capturing and explaining:
+ We have no originals
+ The Bible is copies of copies over centuries
+ The Bible is a human book, full of mistakes
+ The Bible has been consistently revised by generations inserting their own historical contexts and agendas
+ Radical (the aurhot's word) alterations abound.
This book is a scholarly work that respects the contributions of a number of key scholars, but strangely makes no reference I could find to 101 Myths.
I value the book for the above, but if you buy only one book, I recommend you consider The Complete Conversations with God (Boxed Set) and ideally also 101 Myths.
Religion has been fradulent and abusive. I agree with Rabbi Lerner, author of The Left Hand of God: Taking Back Our Country from the Religious Right, on the importance of reintegrating a culture of compassion back into our social and political lives, but I am now inclined to reject all organized religion as a form of organized crime, cult, and theater....more info
- Jesus saves, but Ehrman scores!
Ehrman is a wonder. A fervent evangelical who graduated from the Moody Bible Institute, he had the intellectual courage to further his Biblical studies. He wanted to read the Bible in its original languages, which required he attend a real university. The courage of his evangelical convictions led to his becoming a world-leading Biblical scholar and textual critic, but not before losing his faith in the Bible as the "inerrant Word of God" and being a divinely inspired rather than a thoroughly human endeavour.
His is the first book to explain to lay people why textual scholars may be confident in asserting the things they do, for example, that the Nativity Gospels were manufactured, and that the doctrine of a Virgin Birth is entirely founded on a mistranslation, perpetuated by the fact that Matthew relied on the faulty Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) because he could not read it in the original language. Ehrman has no such limitations and he gives it to us straight. He lets us know that there are more "differences" in the surviving texts of the New Testament than there are words in the New Testament. He also gives detailed examples of how these differences, while almost always trivial to the meaning and intention of the Gospels, are not always so.
In fact, mistaken and deliberate changes to the Biblical text have, over the ages, contributed to or established major theological claims, like the divinity of Jesus, for one outstanding case. Clear writing, impeccable credentials, respected by Bible Bashers and even evangelical scholars, loads of Bible-based corroborative evidence - Ehrman is yet another example of the surest way to doubt Biblical inerrancy: study the Bible....more info
- A good introduction to New Testament textual criticism
That's what this book offers. Don't go in expecting that 218 pages will change your whole reading of the New Testament (though it certainly will get you thinking). This is a popular survey of the scholarly discipline of textual criticism and in essence provides an introductory level overview of the problems and possible solutions involved.
I've listened to several of Dr. Ehrman's Teaching Company lectures on the Historical Jesus, the Apostolic Fathers, and the early disputes over "orthodox" belief. He's an excellent lecturer and is clearly an expert in the field. I've also read a few of his books, including this one, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, and his New Testament introduction.
There is a very interesting discussion in Misquoting Jesus concerning the early Christian sects and the Christological theories of Adoptionism, Docetism, and Gnosticism. These come up in all three of Ehrman's texts that I've read. But though there is some repetition, it's understandable given the impact of these sects on early Christianity. In order to get a good picture of what was going on behind the scenes as Christian thought crystallized, it is very important to understand these other groups.
This is especially true with regard to alterations of the text made by scribes in direct response to the supposedly "heretical" views of these sects...which is, of course, the focus of this book. In terms of the editing process that occurred especially during the formative years of the Christian movement, Ehrman summarizes the who, what, when, and how, without going into the kind of depth that would render this a text book.
There is also discussion of early New Testament changes pertaining to how involved women could be in the congregation. Further points are made concerning a trend toward anti-semitism among some of the early Christian scribes.
Overall, this is a good introduction to the problems of New Testament studies in general and textual criticism in particular. ...more info
- An Eye Opener
This book is written by a noted scholar that is also an excellent college instructor As a result of his years of dedication to Christian studies, the author discovered that scribes during the second and third century took opportunities to change Bible manuscripts as well as making many honest mistakes in copying earlier manuscripts. This book should not endanger or challenge one's faith, but educate us on how the Bible was created and changed over time. ...more info
- factual but not judgemental
Excellent review of the hazards and potential errors of the early transcription process. Erhman provides a surprisingly unbiased account of the reasons for transcription errors, both accidental and intentional, without imposing his own personal and theological judgement. Wonderful illustrative arguements are documented to support all aspects of transcription modifications. The reader is left to draw his/her own theological decisions, but now with a more open and more complete understanding of how the original words of the New Testament can never be fully known. Easy for the uninitiated in textual criticism to follow....more info
- It's more like `creating' Jesus according to the scribes.
`Misquoting Jesus' is a must read for people who are interested in biblical criticism.
"Example: A crowd readies itself to stone an adulterous woman to death. Jesus leans down, doodles in the dust. Says, let the one without sin cast the first stone. The crowd melts away. It's one of the most famous stories in the Bible. And it's most likely fiction, says Ehrman, seconding other scholars who say scribes added the episode to the biblical canon centuries after the life of Christ."
Ehrman makes a good case that many of the biblical stories and biblical beliefs have been added either intentionality or by mistakes.
- Scholarly Look at the Bible: Determining Scribes Misinterpretations and Possible Expansion of Scripture
This is a fascinating book that required extensive research and comprehension of diverse languages in written form besides great knowledge of the bible. Ehrman writes and analyzes not as one intent on challenging beliefs but his intention is to find original gospels and letters as they were originally written and from that, understanding the author's original intent. Of particular interest is how scribes, long before the printing press, appear to have made errors in their writings and in some cases their interpretations. For example Ehrman even identifies slight differences in a Greek letter that misinterpreted totally changes the intended word that has now been misprinted. It is reasonable to assume that over the first many centuries that there were many errors, many innocent, made with written transcription. Other fascinating detail is the discovery that different copies of the bible at different time periods show conflicts with the earliest known text that weren't even the original. Some of these different texts differ dramatically in specific passages. One contention is that the story of Jesus challenging an alleged adultress' accusers by saying "let those who have not sinned cast the first stone", was not originally in the gospels but later added at some point during a later transcription. A pretty bold assertion since this episode is one of the most frequently quoted part of the bible. Ehrman's analysis includes studies of writing patterns, word use, sentence and paragraph structures along with comparison's to the earliest known text. In addition, he contrasts the writing of the four apostles that write the gospels and finds variations of the some episodes in Jesus' life that may be exaggeration or different perceptions but sometimes are in stark contrast. The latter chapters are quite fascinating particularly as the author studies conflicts between the Christian early groups that have different opinions on when Jesus became divine, the role of the pagans in the Christian church and he early divisions between the early Christians and the Jews. Also, the author provides fascinating facts about certain individual(s) that printed copies in the format that they self promoted, the second century philosopher-teacher Marcion is a prime example. A quite compelling book for broad minded individuals who accept a well presented argument. Compact book in just over 200 pages but one that is more entertaining for the serious reader. ...more info
- Less than I expected
Well, I learned a few things from reading this book, but, at the end, I came away asking myself, "so what?" I suppose if I had gone into this believing that every word in the New Testament was exactly right, I'd come away from this book thinking differently. But that's not how I came to it. I found this much less thought-providing than, say, the Gospel of Thomas. After I finished reading this book, I offered it to several Christian friends, but no one wanted it--apparently the author's reputation as a Christian-turned-agnostic prompted an "I don't want to read this and have that happen to me" attitude....more info
- Doesn't Do What It Says On the Tin
A previous reviewer gave this punchy one sentence summary of Ehrman's book:
"A born again Christian discovers the flaws in his avowed 'inerrant' spiritual handbook and describes the truth he found."
What he ignores is the fact that this is NOT just one book, but two (or even three - see below).
The first book has, entirely fairly, been described as a beginner's guide to textual criticism", or for American readers: "textual criticism 101."
On this count, Ehrman is a leading textual critic, and he does a very good job of describing his field of study.
But books on textual criticism don't hit the bestseller lists, which is presumably why this book carries such a misleading title when in fact it deals with very few "Jesus quotes".
This second book is in fact nothing more than Ehrman's very personal opinions about the contents of the New Testament - and how he came by those opinions. I personally thought I detected yet a third layer to the book - a very dog-in-the-manger attempt to sell the idea that having lost his own faith, the author now wanted to persuade his readers to follow him into a spiritual desert.
Even the claim that he had once had "a bona fide born-again experience" is open to serious question since it seems to have made not one whit of difference to Ehrman's habit of relying exclusively on his own intellect, with no reference out to any other form of help. We aren't told that he ever consulted a pastor at any crisis point in his "journey". And isn't it rather remarkable that this self-proclaimed "born again Christian" never once mentions praying for help or seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit?
In fact the real selling point of this book is the shock value of the title "Misquoting Jesus", and the most significant part of the whole book is actually the "Plus" section - the 22 pages AFTER the Index. For example:
- The last two pages list "Top Ten Verses That Were Not Originally in the New Testament."
And what do these verses include? Well, 5 of them are marked off as doubtful in every version of the New Testament I've checked. Of the other 5, NONE make any difference to our understanding of Jesus and his work. Thus Ehrman CLAIMS that 1 John 5:7 is the ONLY place in the whole of the New Testament where there is direct reference to the Holy Trinity - and that looks like an addition to the original text. Fine, let's say it was. But that doesn't explain away Matthew 28:19-20 which clearly does refer to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit as being a SINGLE entity (i.e. these three have but one name).
That looks like quite a selective oversight for a textual critic. But it's only part of the story.
On a personal note, which I mention only because Ehrman himself chooses to open the book on a very personal note:
- On page 246 Ehrman talks about:
"... evangelical Christianity that emphasizes a personal relationship with God. When I was an evangelical Christian I felt that God was a part of my life ..."
Yet the whole of the next paragraph is devoted to the proposition that:
"This belief in God involved a number of doctrinal commitments and beliefs... They also involved certain views about the Bible ..."
Which prompts the question: Just WHO or WHAT was it Ehrman claims to have had a "personal relationship" with? The doctrines, the book, or God?
He ends that paragraph with the statement: "... I began to see that the foundation of my faith was not nearly as secure as I had assumed it was."
But from his own words, did Ehrman ever have a relationship with God at all? Is his criticism really levelled at genuine Christianity, or is he merely protesting that true Christianity didn't match up to what he thought it ought to be?
More worrying than that, however, is Ehrman's apparent unwillingness to take full responsibility for his own actions.
Thus, on page 259, having claimed that almost no-one criticised the book (by e-mail or in a letter - thus ignoring a number of swingeing reviews by people in a position to measure the true worth, or otherwise, of his book) - Ehrman concedes:
"To my knowledge, the single greatest objection to the book has come from biblical scholars (and only from evangelical ones, as far as I know), that 'Misquoting Jesus' will leave people with the impression that there are far more problems with the New Testament than there actually are. What most struck me about this objection was that it has to do with the 'impression' left by the book rather than about anything I actually 'say' in the book. In fact, in the book I regularly point out the facts that the very scholars who raise the objection want to emphasize - for example, that most of the textual variants in the manuscript tradition of the New Testament are of no real importance: they don't change the meaning of the text or have any bearing on its interpretation. The majority of changes have to do simple with spelling mistakes. But why would I want to devote most of the book to discussing textual differences that don't matter for anything? They don't matter for anything." pages 259-260.
Sounds terribly innocent doesn't it? But check this in detail.
1. Why does it matter whether the critics are evangelical or not? Why mention this at all? Either the criticism is valid or it isn't - it makes no difference whether it was put by evangelicals, Jews, Roman Catholics or the janitor. If the criticism is valid, it's valid. If it isn't it isn't.
2. Ehrman claims the objection is NOT about "anything I actually say in the book. But having read several of these objections, Ehrman really isn't giving us the full skinny.
The objection centers on his frequent use of the claims that "there are more differences than there are words in the New Testament" and "the texts we depend on now are centuries removed from the originals".
But if most of the differences are indeed trivial (about 99% or more - a base figure Ehrman is careful never to quote) then WHY MENTION THEM AT ALL? Why keep repeating the claim all the way through the book if they really don't matter?
Moreover, if Ehrman himself thinks the changes have hopelessly obscured the wording of the original texts why does he continue to work as a textual critic? By his own definition he would, if the claim were true, have been wasting 30 years of his life on an impossible task.
In fact the author's choice of words, and his choice to repeat these claims over and over again, seem designed to create the strongest possible negative impression. Otherwise, to mirror Ehrman's own question:
"... why would I want to keep mentioning textual differences that don't matter for anything? They don't matter for anything!"
By the same token, why does he harp on and on about how far removed extant copies are from the original documents
"Not only do we not have the originals, ... we don't even have copies of the copies of the copies of the originals" page 10, etc.
Likewise in a newspaper interview (Charlotte Observer, Dec. 17, 2005) he stated that:
"We have copies that were made hundreds of years later - in most cases, many hundreds of years later".
Yet Ehrman also acknowledges that our earliest texts date to the late second century A.D., barely ONE century after the originals are thought to have been written!
In short, whilst Ehrman has a high reputation for his abilities as a textual critic, this particular book ultimately fails, IMO, because the good stuff ends up being twisted out of shape to serve the purposes of a personal agenda.
For a far more detailed and expert rebuttal I recommend "Misquoting Truth" by Timothy Paul Jones....more info
- A layperson's easy introduction to textual criticism for the New Testament.
The above is a decent, if dull, title for this book. The book is not about misquoting Jesus. Most of Ehrman's examples are not quotes from Jesus, and as for those the discrepancies pale besides the differences between the gospels. Nor is the book about who changed the Bible (on purpose). It only bears on the New Testament, and we are three quarters into the book before we get to a chapter on the topic of the subtitle, chapter 5, "Theologically Motivated Alterations of the Text".
So, the actual object of this book is the title I used. According to Ehrman, and I'll take his word for it, "there [has been] scarcely any single book written about [textual criticism] for a lay audience." (p. 15).
Ehrman clearly masters his topic, and as an expositor he is remarkably patient, careful and clear. The book is also short. I recommend it (under the amended title) for any non-specialist even vaguely interested in the question of New Testament textual criticism -- that is, the establishment of a Greek text for the New Testament that is as close to possible to the originals of the books included in it, by painstaking analysis and comparision of available manuscripts, quotations in other works and, eventually, ancient translations, using a variety of methods. (The New Testament was entirely written in Greek.)
With its actual title, the book rates two stars, because so little space goes to the title topics. But as a lay introduction, etc., it rates five, especially if read in conjunction with Wikipedia (which includes a full Bible).
Only the last chapter gets into the matters the title leads one to expect. It is limited to three questions, but they are important: Anti-feminist modifications, anti-Jewish modifications and modifications made to deprive pagan anti-Christian debaters of an argument.
Besides the title, the main limitation of the work is that, at least in North America, the great majority of interested non-specialists have had a fundamentalist or evangelical education, and will tend to stick to it. As Ehrman explains in his introduction, he himself came to the topic from precisely that background. So he handles his topic very delicately and avoids delivering much more than what the prospective reader asked for. (See below -- this was Ehrman's expectation, and mine, but we were in fact wrong about the readership.)
Thus, if on the one hand the book must be praised and promoted because of its competence, facility and great clarity, on the other hand anyone but fundamentalists will reach the end with a list of glaring omissions. No surprise: like the last chapter I just described, most chapters are built around three examples of what is being explained. What falls outside the examples usually falls outside the book entirely. The material delivers a very general understanding of the chapter's topic, and a decently detailed understanding of the few examples. The main area, between the very general and the decently detailed examples, is simply absent.
However, this edition is not the first, and Harper adds a "Plus" section after the index, provoked by reader reactions. It makes the book much more useful than it was without it. It is far freer than the main text, rather in the style of an e-mail exchange, and it deals with brass-tacks topics. From back to front the Plus section includes a list of the "Top Ten Verses That Were Not Originally in the New Testament" (not especially useful if one hasn't read the book), a serious list of famous manuscripts, a comment by Ehrman on his readers' response, and a Q&A with him.
The "Response" section notes that the book had a surprising success, and that, more surprising to Ehrman, the feedback from readers was overwhelmingly positive. (In other words, he was probably much too prudent in the book itself.) It ends with "a kind of summary of what I am trying to convey", which is helpful too.
The Q&A holds a revelation. Seven years before, Ehrman, who had long quit with biblical literalism, became an agnostic because of the problem of evil. He plans a later book with Harper to explain this. That he became an agnostic is a personal question, but that he says so in print, and will expand on that in a later book, is a gesture of great honesty and not a little courage....more info
- corruption in the bible
Many people lived and died believing in the fable that the bible is the authoratative infallible book that has been preserved. It just happens to be that this is not the case at all.
This book discloses the fact that there are many trasmissions, corruption, and intentional changes in the bible that in many cases we do not know what the original authors wanted to say.
The bottom line is that there are no original copies of the bible. All we have are manuscripts from the 3rd and 4th century CE that are marred by centuries of scribal errors and intentional changes.
The King James Bible which was believed to be 'inspired' and 'infallible' by many representatives of fundamentalist christianity was in fact based on later inferior and corrupted manuscripts!
This caused the production of the 'Revised Standard Version' of the bible and revisions of the bible continue to this day.
This book is a lay person introduction to textual criticism, changes in the bible, and how we got the 'errant' bible we have today....more info
- Great Book, But Could do with Less Bias
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, as it has opened my eyes to the field of textual criticism, and actually motivated me to teach myself Greek so that I could read the various codices myself. With that said, the book is very clearly seething with bias about how much credibility the author puts in the various manuscripts. This isn't necessarily a terrible thing, as the author makes it very obvious that he is biased. At the same time, it gets a little old after a while, and it would have made for a better book if he also included some counter opinions from other colleagues in the field. The book also seems a bit alarmist in its attack, as Ehrman highlights many of the significant issues with scripture. What he fails to convey, however, is that these are by and far the worse cast examples in the field. Of the 200,000 - 400,000 variations he claims in new testament scripture, I'd say a vast majority of them are minor and insignificant. Outside of the content covered in this book, there appears to be very little issue with the rest of scripture. His book motivated me to sit down and read some of the scans of manuscript he had been referring to, and so I think any book that motivates people to think for themselves is obviously a good one. I entirely disagree with his conclusions, and think he's gone from being a textual critic to a textual skeptic - and based on my conversations with other scholars in the field, his conclusions do not appear to represent the majority. Approaching this book understanding this, however, will give you an enjoyable experience nonetheless....more info
- just a reviewer
To appreciate the force of an argument, you have to understand one's particular worldview. Therefore, if you're Bart Ehrman, a noted liberal theological historian, you will conclude that a materialistic response composed of conspiracies, collusions, and redactions is a most appropriate solution given the fanatic desire of scribes to preserve the integrity of the scriptural "message." As such, you will reasonably conclude a "taint" on the New Testament as it comes to us today. Because the scribes, as Ehrman himself, only approached their subject from an ivory tower and were outside the influence of virtues like righteousness, honesty, hope, and love. You know, all the important things the scriptures teach us how we should order our lives through Christ.
If you're more sympathetic to traditional interpretations (though doesn't require you to have always been), you'll say that even through what appears to be materialistic explanations (as it is, we inhabit a material world, not a supernatural one) that God's purposes are worked through human agency, using fallible means to produce infallible results, then you'll obviously attach meaning to a higher view of inspiration. You won't give into flawed logical arguments that state because we can explain how something came to be that this proves it is wrong and not worth our consideration (the genetic fallacy).
But what you should NOT conclude is that both views being at odds are right. One view could STILL be right and the other wrong, even if we can't get to it immediately. The peculiar inheritance of our postmodern world (thanks to the Age of Reason) is to cast doubt on anyone or anything that would dare to speak authoritatively to the exclusion of someone or something else. For some reason, we have convinced ourselves of our own greatness, that our ancestors lived inauthentically, and were continually robbed of the peace of "reasoned living" in support of fantastic allegories and myth. I think this is where philosophy is highly informative in making interpretations of the evidence.
Further, you have to wonder --- was it the evidence he discovered that swayed Ehrman from a traditionalist's interpretation of scripture? Or was it something working in conjunction? Read the "way" he presents conclusions. I suspect it was more than his pledge to intellectual impartiality. As a former critic of evangelical Christianity myself, perhaps it was the unenlightened hordes of Christians who sat with him in the same pews and who unreflectively regurgitated everything their pastors told them that offended his higher sensibilities? From the interviews I've read, he may appear to loathe the unenlightened masses, while at the very heart of scripture there is an appeal to the lowly, the meek, the unwanted, and cast out. It is an appeal to put away ourselves in favor of the unlovely. It tells us we don't all have to be theologians and intellectuals to get at the heart of God's truth.
Or better still: How real is Bart Ehrman with Bart Ehrman when it comes to the message injecting his own life and spiritual conscience? (I'm just using Ehrman as an example). Only he can answer that. That's the real question. There's plenty of skeptics out there trying to debunk Christianity or provide the latest spin on textual criticism. But when you ask them if they've taken the time to supplant themselves from their intellectual framework and seek God, I mean REALLY seek God, through the very MEANS God prescribes on how he reveals himself in the world, they mock the suggestion, say they have, or call it a smokescreen against true intellectual research and honesty. If God's revelation to humanity was appropriated by knowledge, I guess we'd all be Gnostics...too bad then for most of the world's population. But then again, that may be a possibility Ehrman, a Gnostic sympathizer, could live with!
True Ehrman SAYS he was an evangelical at some point, but we shouldn't think because his original theological commitments didn't hold up, that this counts as decisive evidence against it.
Psychological profiling doesn't answer the questions we want to know - namely, is there reasoned knowledge of who God is. A path that apparently only takes us so far. Perhaps, it's why, at the end of the day, the scriptures consistently point to faith, not reason, as the mechanism whereby we encounter God through Jesus Christ in this world.
Can we expect Ehrman to reverse his opinions? With the tremendous reputation he's built for himself as a liberal Christian, it's hard to say. Given the amount of books he's written and the praise he's enjoyed, self-image would be a huge stumbling block for anyone. Such a turn would require an equally tremendous amount of courage (to summon Tillich) to reclaim the theological commitments that first brought him to Christ.
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