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Initial post: Mar 21, 2006 7:28:45 AM PST
As someone who has studied religion in college and read a great deal on the development of the Bible, I wonder if there is really anything new in this book. From the reviews and the description, I don't think so. Anyone who has studied the development of language knows that the modern Bible is inherently different from the original, due to losses in translation and the changing meaning of words throughout time (such as the fact that the word "virgin" originally referred to an unmarried female, not a person who has not engaged in sex). It's been established repeatedly by other scholars that sentences and phrases have been altered throughout history (such as how the wording in Exodus 22:18 was changed by Constantine from "poisoner" to "witch"). Any thoughts?

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 29, 2006 11:04:17 PM PST
I think your larger point - viz., what's really new here? - is correct, but that the reasoning that got you there (or, at least, the argument you outline and the examples you provide) is (are) flawed.

As to "What's really new here?" - perhaps not much, if you're familiar with Ehrman's other efforts, that is. Of course, I've read accounts (the veracity of which I simply cannot assess) which argue that Ehrman's work is derivative (that is, not-exactly-original), but one could argue that such respondents also have axes to grind. As far as I'm concerned, however, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture and Lost Christianities are insightful, thought-provoking, and meticulously researched efforts. Misquoting Jesus is just a neat, punchy, and highly readable conflation of these and other Ehrman texts.

I also think you miss the point of Ehrman's book - and I can't help but think that you're willfully doing so. (Or that you simply haven't read the book.) Ehrman isn't just arguing that the Bible (or, more specifically, the New Testament) has been accidentally or unintentionally changed as a result of transcription errors, translation difficulties, or punctuation problems (although he does argue that such errors do help explain a lot of the more than 200,000 identified New Testament variances) - he's arguing that in many cases the text of the New Testament was *intentionally* changed, altered, or (in exegetical-speak) corrupted. "Corruption" of this kind takes a number of different forms - e.g., tendentious use of punctuation (superimposed on text that was not itself punctuated), the surreptitious addition of a word or more, or - in some cases - whole cloth fabrication. You want motive? Here and elsewhere, Ehrman has argued that such corruption was intentional because (in almost every case) it served to bolster proto-Orthodox interpretations of scripture as well as refute or pro-actively head-off heretical (that is, heterodox) accounts.

Ehrman probably isn't perfect. I'm not a Biblical scholar, and - while I've read fairly extensive in comparative religion and philosophy - I simply don't have the expertise to vet (much less adjudicate) many of his claims. But his scholarly work (of which this title is not representative) *is* meticulously footnoted. More to the point, it's been my impression that, in his scholarly work at least, he tends to err (perhaps overly so) on the side of caution - such that his work, at least as I read it, is not in any sense a stretch (so to speak) - but is instead cogent and well-grounded. It's interesting to note, too, that Ehrman's wife is a practicing Episcopalian, and that she herself apparently did not share in her husband's retrograde leap of faith. Perhaps the following (excerpted from a Washington Post profile of Ehrman) helps explains why his work threatens some (including many evangelicals) and doesn't threaten others (such as Ehrman's wife):

"Bart was, like a lot of people who were converted to fundamental evangelicalism, converted to the certainty of it all, of having all the answers," says Dale Martin, Woolsey Professor of Religious Studies at Yale University, and a friend of three decades. "When he found out they were lying to him, he just didn't want anything to do with it."

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 4, 2006 9:56:20 AM PDT
I've read this book twice and what amazes me is that this is perceived and presented as being "radical" when, in fact, his conclusions about the preservation of the biblical text aren't that different from most respectable conservative-evangelical scholars. (Note that I state his conclusions "about the preservation of the biblical text"---his conclusions about Christian origins differ radically from evangelical scholarship.)

To wit: (1) The preservation of the New Testament has been imperfect and some of the changes in the texts were intentional. (2) Nonetheless, there were a sufficient number of manuscripts copied that it is possible to reconstruct a reasonable approximation of the original documents. "I continue to think that even if we cannot be 100 percent certain about what we can attain to ... , that it is at least possible to get back to the oldest and earliest stage of the manuscript tradition for each of the books of the New Testament" (MJ, 62).

The book really has nothing to do with "misquoting Jesus." In fact, in the end, Ehrman only comes up with a handful of significant changes in the biblical manuscripts. And, though he tries valiantly to demonstrate that they are theologically earthshaking, they simply aren't. Even if he's correct, for example, that Jesus threw someone out of the synagogue in anger---a rendering that stretches the texts a bit but which is entirely possible---this does not destroy a theology that recognizes Jesus as uniquely divine. It differs very little in ultimate import from the texts in which Jesus throws merchants out of the temple.

Here are a handful of interpretative flaws in the book ...
> Bart Ehrman sets up a false dilemma: Every word is inspired; therefore, if we don't have those precise words, all is lost. "Think of all the sermons preached on the basis of a single word in a text: what if the word is one the author didn't actually write?" (MJ, 56). If so, the preacher was irresponsible, not to have checked the commentaries to make certain that this word was indisputably present in the most ancient and reliable texts.
> Another false dilemma: "If Paul dictated the letter, did he dictate is word for word? Or did he spell out the basic points and allow the scribe to fill in the rest?" (MJ, 59). Either way, Paul would have approved it at the end, before having sent it out (Gal. 6:11).
> Especially unfair is Ehrman's claim that one motive for the scribal changes was to make the Bible "more vigorously oppose heretics, women, Jews, and pagans" (MJ, 149). In its context, the New Testament was an incredibly liberating book for women and never encouraged anything action against heretics, Jews, and pagans beyond a loving presentation of what Christians perceived to be truth.
> Ehrman refuses to acknowledge that differences in theology between biblical writers might be complementary rather than contradictory. One example: "Luke ... has a different understanding of the way in which Jesus's death leads to salvation than does Mark (and Paul, and other early Christian writers). ... Jesus's death is what makes people realize their guilt before God" {MJ, 167} ... But Luke's emphasis is different because of his different audience; Gentiles were familiar with the "dying God" motif; what impressed them more was the idea that someone righteous would willingly embrace something as disgusting as the cross. A different emphasis does not equal a different theology; Luke simply highlights a different aspect of Jesus's death.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 23, 2006 12:58:31 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 23, 2006 1:21:50 AM PDT
I recently finished the book and have been interested in this subject since I was in college oh-so-many years ago. I think there are two answers to your question.
First, for those of us who already know something about the subject, no, there is not that much new in the book. Some of the details were interesting and new to me, but anyone with any serious intellectual interest in the Bible already knows that (e.g.) the King James version is a less than perfect translation. However, most Americans, unlike you and me, have not bothered to learn anything about the history of the Biblical texts. For them (i.e., for most of our fellow citizens) the contents of "Misquoting Jesus" will be news indeed.
The second answer is that I think that Ehrman is hinting at a broader point: the willingness of the early Christian copyists to alter the texts ought to cause one to suspect that just maybe the original authors were also fast and loose with the truth. If that is, as I think, one of his key points, I wish he had made it more explicit instead of leaving hints for the perceptive reader.
Although I like Ehrman's books, he always gives me the impresssion that he would prefer to hint at any truly radical conclusions rather than come right out and present them explicitly and therefore risk angering hard-core fundamentalists. I think that is a mistake -- he ought to say what he thinks and let the chips fall where they may.
Of course, he lives in North Carolina... maybe he has reason to be discreet in what he says about fundamentalism!
Dave Miller

In reply to an earlier post on May 22, 2006 8:34:25 AM PDT
I agree with David Miller. I have heard a lot of this before in fragments, but Ehrman has pulled it together in a readable, interesting format. Somehow, I think that if one wants to be truly an expert, in this or any other subject, one has to read a LOT of works which will sometimes agree and sometimes disagree with one another. There is certainly a place for a book that is not for scholars, which was Ehrman's point.

Posted on Dec 26, 2009 4:20:19 PM PST
bogtrotter says:
David Miller's "second answer" seems to go a bit off track. It is not even clear to me what he can mean by "...Ehrman is hinting...the original authors [maybe] were fast and loose with the truth," since this would alienate not just fundamentalists [of North Carolina] but faith itself, and I very much doubt Ehrman intended any such inference to be discernible. Aside from newness being relative to the lay readership (and of course this field is important primarily, as it always has been since various scholarly committees acted as translators and editors, for its impact on the views of the laity), I think the views of S. Swoyer are more accurate: Ehrman wants to undermine the traditional conservative view of orthodoxy and encourage more attention to non-canonical texts, this much is clear from just the ads for some of his writings. That such a purport is "earthshaking" only to the theology of a conservative traditionalist only indicates that what is earthshaking is, like newness, also in the eye of the beholder. In this sense the views of T. Jones only support the same conclusion.

Posted on Jan 5, 2013 11:16:01 AM PST
jpl says:
Is there anything new here?

jpl: You mean now? . . . how about now? . . . or maybe now . . .
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Participants:  7
Total posts:  7
Initial post:  Mar 21, 2006
Latest post:  Jan 5, 2013

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Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why
Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why by Bart D. Ehrman (Hardcover - November 1, 2005)
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