Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Book Review: Jesus, Interrupted

Title: Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don't Know About Them)
Author: Bart D. Ehrman
Rating: ****1/2
Tags: jesus, bible, new testament, biblical scholarship

I really like Ehrman's writings. He is a very thoughtful writer on subjects that aren't discussed much in public because they involve, for some people, a radical reinterpretation of the Bible. In fact that is one of the reasons he wrote the book: so few lay people have been taught anything about the last 200 years of Biblical scholarship.

The book is something of a sequel to his previous work Misquoting Jesus. In both he points out that a view of the Bible as literally true and inerrant has been made impossible by facts. We do not have the original Biblical texts, first of all. Secondly, there are thousands of existing copies made prior to the invention of the printing press, and no two are alike... they all contain errors, some major, most minor, some deleting text found in other versions and some adding text. The errors in all of these copies add up to more words than are in the Bible.

Ehrman points out, however, that many if not most Biblical scholars are believing Jews or Christians, that knowing the Bible is not inerrant by no means mandates a loss of faith. Ehrman is candid in revealing that he has become an agnostic himself, but says it had nothing to do with the issue of inerrancy, but rather the issue of suffering (which he addressed in a different book).

Ehrman reconstructs the New Testament (he is a Greek scholar, not a Hebrew scholar, so does not treat the Old Testament), discussing who wrote the various books, which are forgeries, when they were written, etc. He talks some about the process by which the canonical books of the New Testament became canonical. Prior to this, around the fourth century, there were many competing Christianities (discussed in more depth in his book Lost Christianities). In some Christians had to follow Jewish law, in others they were not to do so, and then there were the Gnostics, a wholly different kettle of fish. Each group had its own set of works it considered sacred.

Ehrman has an extensive discussion of the value of reading the books "vertically" (comparing the same story in different books), rather than "horizontally" (reading the books in order straight through). By doing so the unique viewpoints of the authors come out. Mark, for example, was the earliest of the Gospels to be written, and is one of the sources for Luke and Matthew. Mark's view of Jesus is that he is the one who atones for the sin of the world, and so his emphasis is on Christ's suffering.

Bart Ehrman has produced another excellent book on Biblical scholarship for the lay reader.

Publication HarperOne (2009), Hardcover, 304 pages
Publication date 2009
ISBN 0061173932 / 9780061173936

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