1,520 of 1,640 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Very Engaging Book
This is the first book of Ehrman's I have read. I found it interesting and well-written for the average person who has little background in Biblical Textual Studies, (which equates to more than 99% of the population.)
I do not have the credentials of Dr. Ehrman, but I do have the equivalent of a degree in Biblical Literature and have worked in the original...
Published on January 3, 2006 by Bart Breen
1,098 of 1,328 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Theories But Ehrman's Not The Final Word
When I first saw a book with a picture of a Medieval monk laboriously copying Holy Writ with the title of MISQUOTING JESUS, I knew it would get attention. As soon as I read the inside flap, I also knew there would be mixed reviews at best with some seeing Ehrman as shedding much needed light on scripture studies. Others would see it as nothing short of apostasy. I'm not...
Published on May 17, 2006 by Timothy Kearney
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1,520 of 1,640 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Very Engaging Book,
This is the first book of Ehrman's I have read. I found it interesting and well-written for the average person who has little background in Biblical Textual Studies, (which equates to more than 99% of the population.)
I do not have the credentials of Dr. Ehrman, but I do have the equivalent of a degree in Biblical Literature and have worked in the original languages. My Senior Thesis was doing a textual comparison of the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas discovered at Nag Hammadi with the parallel passages of the Kingdom Parables of Matthew 13. To do that I had to teach myself some Coptic Egyptian and do some translating to form a basis for comparison.
All that said to establish that I have some background to make an evaluation of what is being said in this book.
I also have some common ground with Dr. Ehrman in life history. I too was trained as an evangelical with a very high view of inspiration and further had to struggle as I became aware of how difficult it is to interact with the text in its manuscript and historical form all while becoming painfully aware of the fact that any view of inspiration must tacitly admit that it is a hypothetical basis of faith because as Ehrman states clearly:
1. If the original manuscripts are inspired, we don't have them.
2. What we do have, while overall reliable and fairly easily examined for error, still leaves some serious questions of textual manipulation by scribes that makes several key passages difficult to stand upon for important doctrines.
This is, in fact, not as great a secret as Ehrman seems to imply throughout his book. There are a great number of books from all backgrounds and degrees of belief that acknowledge these types of issues. Granted, they tend to be more of an academic nature than what Ehrman has attempted to do here. But they are there nonetheless and have been for centuries.
Jefferson's Bible was an early example (though not necessarily intended for distribution at the time) of how people wrestled with this issue. The means of wrestling with them have improved with additional manuscripts discovered (i.e. the Dead Sea Scrolls and Nag Hammadi to name the better known ones.) Scholarship has improved to where I believe it is safe to say that what we know in this realm today has improved our confidence in most areas of the text.
In fact, the newer translations themselves (The NIV, the NASB etc.), actually have margin notes and some variant readings noted very clearly in just the areas that Ehrman focuses on within his book. That hardly equates to a "cover-up."
In view of this, I think Ehrman somewhat oversteps his points in favor of salesmanship to try and press home his own doubts that have arisen in his personal journey. Most Christians have many tools, books, websites, and Bibles themselves to be introduced to these types of issues (IF they want to be.) This is an issue well within the grasp of the average layman if they should be interested in pursuing it.
There are many conservative scholars with equally distinguished academic backgrounds that match Ehrman's and yet still maintain a higher view of Scripture than he appears to have adopted. I accept that his views are well informed and sincere. I do not accept his conclusion that inspiration of the original text requires equally divine preservation. However, in recognizing that I accept that the onus is on those of my persuasion to provide solid scholarship to demonstrate our case. I believe that is being provided. I would encourage any reading this book to listen to what Ehrman has to say and do some research on what others of a more conservative approach and respect for Scripture have to say as well. In this regard, even Bruce Metzger, Ehrman's mentor to whom he dedicates the book has a somewhat more conservative view and conclusion based on the same criteria.
The primary and most valuable point that I think Ehrman makes in this work, is that there are many Christians in denial either through ignorance or worse, perhaps an unwillingness to face these issues for fear of upsetting their internal house of cards and being forced to admit that there are unanswered questions and room for some intellectual honesty and humility in facing difficult issues related to the Bible.
There are many Christians, unfortunately who prefer denial to honest appraisal. Ehrman very rightly confronts this with his material.
As an evangelical who has retained and maintained his faith in this journey, I haven't found it necessary to resort to denial. There are satisfactory answers to be found. It does, however, require a willingness to adopt some humility and to honestly rethink and modify positions when the facts call for it. That is not a bad thing. In fact, I think it's a good thing and results in a deeper, more understanding, more relevent and intellectually honest faith that can move and interact within our society and culture without apology. I don't believe God intends for his people to be mental midgets or follow their faith mindlessly.
That having been said, I didn't find the text offensive or threatening for that matter. I think he does a good job of raising the points on the major issues without overly sensationalizing them beyond what I have qualified above. His facts are reasonably sound and accurate, even if they are somewhat selective. His conclusions in places seem to be somewhat hastily arrived at, but I'm willing to give him some latitude due to his goal of making this easily grasped by the average person with no formal training.
Worth the read. Hopefully any reading this as an introduction to the field will not stop here but go on to explore and learn more. Metzger is good, Gordon Fee is good. FF Bruce also has some good material, but there are many others if you want to enter the field more deeply and see some differing persepctives.
Evangelicals, (such as myself) need to read and interact with these types of books and enter the field as participants in the debate rather than naysayers throwing verbal salvos from behind our walls of faith, security and (unfortunately at times) ignorance.
Read it and be introduced into an important field of knowledge.
375 of 420 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent starting place for anyone wishing to know about New Testament textual criticism and the problems with the texts!,
Ehrman's book can be described as an introduction to New Testament textual criticism for the beginners, in which he explains the subject in the context of his own background, relating his journey from being an Evangelical Christian to becoming a world renowned New Testament scholar. Besides D. C. Parker's "Living Text of the Gospels," Ehrman's "Misquoting Jesus" seems to be the only book on textual criticism designed specifically for the non-expert readers.
In short, Prof. Ehrman explains the copying practises of the earliest period and how the texts of the New Testament writings were corrupted as they were copied and recopied. He begins by introducing the diverse writings produced by the early Christians, such as gospels, Acts, apocalypses, Church orders, apologies etc. Briefly, the formation of the canon is also discussed and we are informed about the literacy level among the early Christians. Thereafter we are introduced to the world of the copyists and Ehrman explains how the early scribes copied texts and the problems associated with the copying of texts.
It is quite interesting to learn that even pagan critics of Christianity, such as Celsus, were quite aware at an early date that the Christian writings were being corrupted by the scribes and even Origen had to complain about the numerous differences between the gospel manuscripts. Marcion, an early Christian, corrupted the text of certain New Testament writings available to him and Dionysius is quoted who complains that his own writings have been modified just as "the word of the Lord" had been tampered. Marcion, of course, accused other Christians of corrupting the texts. In an earlier writings, "The Orthodox Corruption of Scriptures", Ehrman demonstrated in detail how proto-orthodox Christians corrupted the New Testament writings on occasions. It seems that the early Christians were quite aware that the writings in their possession had underwent corruption and were still being corrupted and they frequently accused each other of tampering with the texts.
I was quite surprised to learn how statistically small additions or deletions within the text changed the entire meaning of passages and even books. Ehrman discusses at length certain examples in this regard and shows that even unintentional changes can result in changes that change the meaning of texts. A previous disgruntled reviewer said that "all of the basic beliefs of the faith are clearly outlined throughout the New Testament and are not in any way in question." However, Ehrman lists a number of theologically important issues which rest upon textually uncertain passages. To quote Ehrman (pp. 207-208):
"It would be wrong, however, to say - as people sometimes do - that the changes in our text have no real bearing on what the texts mean or on the theological conclusions that one draws from them. We have seen, in fact, that just the opposite is the case. In some instances, the very meaning is at stake depending on how one resolves a textual problem: Was Jesus an angry man? Was the completely distraught in the face of death? Did he tell his disciples that they could drink poison without being harmed? Did he let an adulteress off the hook with nothing but a mild warning? Is the doctrine of the Trinity explicitly taught in the New Testament? Is Jesus actually called the "unique God" there? Does the New Testament indicate that even the Son of God does not know when the end will come? The questions go on and on, and all of them are related to how one resolves difficulties in the manuscript tradition as it has come down to us."
The above are just a few problems. Another interesting problem is whether the doctrine of the atonement is taught in the gospel according to Luke? Further, there are immense textual problems with passages such as the sayings on divorce and remarriage in the gospels (not discussed by Ehrman but addressed in detail in D. C. Parker's - The Living Text of the Gospels) and the Lord's Prayer among others. Therefore, it seems clear that the Gospels are not so well textually preserved as some people would have us imagine and that there exist many variations which have profound effects upon the meaning of texts and theological issues.
The previous reviewer - who is clearly upset at some Muslim reviewers and thus provides a link to an irrelevant polemical article in frustration - also talks about the "the oldest Christian manuscripts" and how these are "most reliable" not realizing that Ehrman, and others, have pointed out numerous times that the earliest manuscripts are precisely the most problematic - revealing the most variations, which indicates that the texts of the gospels were in a state of flux in the earliest period of their transmission. A detailed discussion of the manuscripts of the New Testament, based on writings of scholars such as Prof. Ehrman and others, is to be found here:
Moreover, the problem of the "original text" is also discussed by Ehrman and he states that many textual critics are now beginning to doubt even if there is such a thing as an "original" to be restored. In particular, Ehrman explains the problematic nature of the issue and why we cannot get back to the "original" text itself in light of the copying practises of the first three centuries. Therefore, we can only hope to recover early forms of the text, not the "originals," and hope that these early forms are relatively close to the long lost "originals".
Besides the above issues, Ehrman provides a fascinating discussion of how the various New Testament editions were produced, particularly the one by Erasmus, and how Christians reacted when certain individuals here and there stumbled across variant readings. Ehrman also goes on to explain how he eventually came to the conclusion that the New Testament writings were not inspired and that their authors were non-inspired writers.
I would recommend this book to anyone who wishes to learn about the textual criticism and transmission of the New Testament writings! If you know nothing about this complex subject, then this is where you should start. After going through "Misquoting Jesus," it should be much easier for you to read books aimed at those who already know something about the subject.
107 of 120 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Quoting the misquotations,
In that it is based on the notion that the Bible was not handed down verbatim from God, Misquoting Jesus is bound to ruffle some feathers among the most fervent religious zealots. But for anyone else, the book is a fascinating, enjoyable, and accessible read.
The main point of Misquoting Jesus is that because of human error, individual agendas, conflicting interpretations, and translation problems, there are literally tens of thousands of versions of the books of the Bible. And since the original versions are for the most part lost to history, there is no clear consensus as to which is the "real" version.
Generally, this isn't a problem, since the differences are minor and for the most part rhetorical. But some examples -- author Bart Ehrman argues, for example, that the story of Jesus' warning "let he who is without sin cast the first stone" is almost surely a third-century fabrication -- profoundly challenge the very foundation of the Holy Writ.
Mr. Ehrman's points stand to reason, but they are controversial because so much of western culture is based on the lessons taught by these texts. For some people, the Bible is interpreted as a guide to life and ethics to be interpreted as literally as possible. But even for the less fervent it is disconcerting to think that the story of Judas or Lazarus may have at least in part been the product of some forgotten person's imagination.
I don't subscribe to the notion that these discrepancies erode the value of the Bible as a spiritual and instructive document. Instead, I think it shows the important vibrant and human side of the most important book ever written. Each of us puts our own spin on the Bible when we read it. Why is it wrong to think others may have put their spin on it while transcribing it? Every other ancient text -- whether Greek tragedies, Roman philosophical texts, or Beowulf -- has evolved over time. Why should the Bible have been immune to these forces?
Anyone who would guess that Misquoting Jesus was written with its own agenda should not discount the fact that Mr. Ehrman is himself an evangelical Christian. He set out to write a different book and then developed the general theme for Misquoting Jesus after noting so many discrepancies in Biblical source documents.
In sum: those who believe that challenging ones core beliefs is healthy and worthwhile will find Misquoting Jesus a rewarding and interesting read. But those who see the Bible as too personal to be challenged ought to look elsewhere.
1,361 of 1,582 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another home run for Ehrman!,
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In a little over 200 pages, Ehrman gets to the point of how the New Testament came to be what it is today. No, it didn't just appear leather-bound, shiny, and new after Jesus' resurrection; rather, it was painstakingly cobbled together decades after Jesus' crucifixion from copies of copies of copies of (you get the point) the original writings of the New Testament authors, which were slowly altered over time by scribes that handed them down (sometimes by accident or othertimes intentionally by those meaning to "correct" things in the scriptures that didn't make sense). All in all, Ehrman makes his case well, that even if the New Testament scriptures started out as the inspired word of God, we humans have certainly gotten our filthy little hands on it and have made it quite difficult to discern what the "original" writers (whose texts have been lost) actually wrote. Thus, we can only try to piece it together through the challenging art of textual criticism, which is what this book is largely about.
97 of 112 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and absorbing,
In recent years, Bart D. Ehrman has made a reputation for himself as an accomplished history and religion scholar who is able to write reader-friendly books for non-academic audiences without dumbing down the content. In 2003, it was LOST CHRISTIANITIES, a look at the diversity of belief that flourished in the first centuries after Christ. Last year, it was TRUTH AND FICTION IN THE DA VINCI CODE, in which he pointed out the historical flaws in Dan Brown's novel. This time around, it's the New Testament --- specifically, from the perspective of a textual critic.
Simply put, textual criticism is the attempt to restore the wording of a manuscript whose original no longer exists. For New Testament scholars, that means taking the various fragments and manuscripts that do exist --- none dating before the fourth century --- and recreating the text as closely as possible to whatever the original version may have been or, perhaps better, to discover the best possible version. As Ehrman points out, that's a monumental undertaking, given the many discrepancies between the manuscripts and fragments that have survived.
Throughout the book --- which was originally titled THE MONK AND THE MESSIAH --- Ehrman explains why so many discrepancies appear in what Christians consider to be the Word of God. Some are innocent enough: fatigue, a mishearing or misreading on the part of the scribe or the monk, and the not-so-minor problem created by a form of writing that included no punctuation and no spaces between words. Others, though, are more problematic: a monk forced to choose between two distinctly different meanings for the same word would likely be inclined to choose the meaning that best represented his own beliefs. Still others were blatant errors or additions that were introduced to alter the meaning of the text. Ehrman offers clear and compelling examples of each kind of error, enough that even a skeptical reader would be hard-pressed to argue that what we have today is what was written in the first century.
One amusing graphic is a reproduction of a page from a fourth-century manuscript in which one scribe wrote this in the margin, apparently blasting a previous copyist: "Fool and knave, leave the old reading, don't change it!" It's amusing, that is, until you consider the many battles Christians have fought with each other over the accuracy of the biblical text.
So many are the discrepancies that Ehrman states bluntly, "There are more differences among our manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament." Scholars have estimated that there are between 30,000 and 400,000 differences in the text --- a wide range, for sure, but that just shows how complex the field of textual criticism is.
One of the most fascinating insights Ehrman offers is an explanation of the literacy rates at the time of Christ and later, particularly what it meant to be "literate" --- which sometimes meant little more than the ability to copy words. Yet, before the rise of monasticism, it often fell to a "literate" Christian in a given town to copy the gospels or the letters of Paul or other letters and writings of New Testament authors. The potential for error was great, and that did not go unnoticed either within the church or without. Origen, a third-century church father, complained about the many mistakes he had found, while a pagan critic of Christianity wrote that Christian scribes had done their work "as though from a drinking bout." Good reading, this book of Ehrman's.
Despite all my praise for MISQUOTING JESUS, I confess I had a tough time reading past page 13, for what may seem to some readers to be an insignificant reason. But there, right on the page, Ehrman refers to the "Timothy LeHaye and Philip Jenkins series Left Behind." Do I need to point out all the errors in those few words? One, it's LaHaye, not LeHaye. Two, I'm guessing no one's called him Timothy since his baptismal certificate was signed; he's been known as Tim for at least the nearly 40 years he's been a published author. Three, Philip Jenkins? Philip Jenkins? I have to believe that a scholar of Ehrman's stature, a professor who pores over ancient manuscripts with exactitude and precision and accuracy, is not the one who made that mistake; I'm going to assume it was a well-meaning editor. Philip Jenkins is a religion professor at Penn State, and I'm sure Ehrman is well-acquainted with his work. LaHaye's co-author is Jerry Jenkins, not Philip. Oh, and "Timothy" was given the last name of LaHay on page 110, but in the index, it was back to LeHaye. Should I even mention that Hal Lindsey's name was spelled "Lindsay" in that same sentence on page 110?
Maybe those mistakes are intentional. Maybe the editor, or Ehrman himself, was winking at us by underscoring the various ways errors can creep in to a manuscript. Somehow, I think that's not the case. Ironic that an Editing 101 error --- getting the names right --- should appear in a book on misquoting Jesus.
Those errors aside, Ehrman has done an exceptional job of translating complex findings by New Testament scholars not only into language we can understand but also into an absorbing narrative. I'm already looking forward to his next release --- the intriguingly titled PETER, PAUL, AND MARY --- in May.
142 of 168 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Challenge to the Bible Literalists.,
Bart Ehrman, one of my favorite authors, not only knows what he writes about but also how to write it in understandable English. In this book he examines how the New Testament Scripture was altered by successive copying scribes, how we can detect these changes, and why they were made. This is not a new task for Dr. Ehrman, since he published a very similar book ("The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture") in 1993. Whereas the previous one, however, was addressed to scholars, this one has been written for you and me. Perhaps it was written as a response to the growing belief in the literal inerrancy of the Bible that has become so widespread in the last decades. Certainly the book's introduction supports this thought. In it the author describes his personal life travel from a rather theologically-uninterested Episcopal teenager, to a born-again fundamentalist who graduated from Moody Bible Institute and Wheaton College, both in Illinois, before heading for Princeton. This and how he finally shook off literalism makes for a wonderful personal story.
Dr. Ehrman starts by describing the importance of books and letters to the early Christians, but that only a few knew how to read them. So those who knew how, read the Gospels and the letters of Paul to the members of their own church, and made manuscript copies of them to share with neighboring churches. As the years went by the originals were lost or destroyed, as well as their copies, The oldest manuscripts we now have in our possession are copies four or five times removed from the originals. And as these documents were copied, the copying errors in them multiplied, until the ancient documents we now have contain more errors than the number of words in the New Testament. So much for inerrancy.
The rest of the book describes the types of copying alterations that were made: Unintentional copying errors where words or lines were omitted, where the meaning of a word changed because a single letter was miscopied, where abbreviations were misunderstood. And intentional changes made to clarify the meaning, bring the ideas closer to the accepted orthodoxy in the copyists' days, bring the gospels in agreement with each other, explain obscure points. He then discusses how the various Bible translations were carried out and their relative quality. Finally he explains how additional, purposeful changes were made in the Scripture during the first centuries in order to oppose perceived attacks by heretical doctrines. (In this section he occasionally repeats examples previously discussed.)
He concludes with the idea that all texts are interpreted by their readers in the light of their own knowledge, and points out that each evangelist wrote down the information available to him, in his own words as he himself interpreted it. So the four gospels are not meant to be four identical stories, but four different interpretations of whatever each evangelist knew. All in all, this is a very interesting, readable book, and you will learn some fascinating details about your Bible.
(The writer is the author of "Christianity without Fairy Tales: When Science and Religion Merge.")
1,098 of 1,328 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Theories But Ehrman's Not The Final Word,
When I first saw a book with a picture of a Medieval monk laboriously copying Holy Writ with the title of MISQUOTING JESUS, I knew it would get attention. As soon as I read the inside flap, I also knew there would be mixed reviews at best with some seeing Ehrman as shedding much needed light on scripture studies. Others would see it as nothing short of apostasy. I'm not sure I can espouse either point of view but I would like to offer what I see as what the book has to offer and where it has some weaknesses.
First of all I think it's important to state what the book does well. Ehrman is a biblical scholar who has done a great deal of work in textual criticism. Ehrman dedicates the book to one of his mentors, Bruce Metzger whose TEXTUAL COMMENTARY OF THE GREEK NEW TESTAMENT has been a standard for many years. He is a credible scholar. He presents a good amount of material on problem areas in scripture study such as portions of St. Paul's have phrases that use a different style than the main body of the letter; how the story of the woman caught in adultery is stylistically different from most of John's Gospel; and additions to Mark's Gospel just to name some of the textual problems that Ehrman discusses. He also points out faulty sources of the King James version of the Bible and believes there are faults in many of the major translations of the Bible in use today. Readers should not be startled at what Ehrman is saying. The faults in translations have been known for at least fifty years and newer, more accurate translations of the Bible by major publishers are released on a regular basis reflecting recent discoveries and changes in modern languages. As far as St. Paul's letters are concerned, Pauline scholars have long known that the Greek in St. Paul's letters varies, including in the letters themselves, and some of the letters were not from the hand of St. Paul himself. As far as John's Gospel is concerned, basic Bible classes have long taught about this out of place story. Ehrman's findings are not new, but he does bring them together and presents them in a way that a wide audience can understand how intricate the study of scripture can be.
I think if Ehrman had stayed with textual criticism itself, the work would have been helpful, but he then goes from presenting valid problems in the study of scripture to the world of speculation. He spends a good amount of time writing about the flaws of early copyists who either deliberately changed texts or mistakenly miscopied portions of scripture. In theory what Ehrman states could be possible, but it's still just speculation. The more I read the book, the more I began wondering what Ehrman is trying to accomplish in the book. Perhaps his introduction where he tells his religious history: barely practicing mainline Protestant to Fundamentalist to Evangelical to a person who was able to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the Bible didn't help. I found it interesting and well written, but for me it took away his objectivity. It is one thing to say that we have copies of scripture that vary and the variants may be due to human error, it is another to say that all of scripture is wrong. We may have discovered that the Bible has a more human origin than legend would have us believe, but this does not necessarily mean that scripture was not inspired. While Ehrman does not come out and say that scripture is not divinely inspired, pointing out the flaws of copyists and writings about scribes who, at least as far as Ehrman is concerned deliberately rewrote passages of scripture leads to such a conclusion for most people who have a biblically based faith. It also seems to imply that people who take scripture literally or ignore, at least what Ehrman sees as flaws in scripture, they are at best unenlightened but more accurately not all that intelligent and this is a mistake. It's a religious form of the red state/blue state mentality that has overtaken politics and this can be dangerous.
Ehrman could well be the best known Biblical scholar today. He's had a few books that have been popular with readers. He is also at the forefront of the investigation of the Gospel of Judas and his newest book on Mary Magdalene, Peter, and Paul is gaining notoriety. Popularity does not necessarily mean top in the field, but if his credentials were not authentic, he would have been denounced by critics long before now. His popularity may be due more to his ability to write about complex information in an inviting way and the fact he's writing about topics that have been gaining public interest than anything else. I think there's something in us that can be a bit skeptical and wonder if Christianity ahs something to hide. Why else would THE DA VINCI CODE be such a phenomenal success? Also, some who profess to be Christians probably would not be called Christian by Christ himself. Sex abuse scandals, some stances of the so called religious right, and the like have given traditional Christianity a bad name. A book that points to potential flaws in the text that is the basis of Christianity could cause a stir. None the less, just as scripture should not be divorced from a living tradition, Ehrman should not be a final word for any reader. My recommendation to those who read this book is to also look at other writings as well. Balance is important and reading other biblical scholars is important too. One scholar I would recommend would be Luke Timothy Johnson. A few years back, Johnson rebutted much of what was written by the "Jesus Seminar" that questioned the authenticity of Jesus' words in the gospels. Johnson took their concerns seriously but also looked at the role of faith and the importance of the written and lived tradition. His points are relevant for Ehrman's writings too. Pheme Perkins INTRODUCTION TO THE NEW TESTAMENT as well as her writings about early Christianity would also be helpful. K.C. Hansom and Douglas Oakman's PALESTINE IN THE TIME OF JESUS (a favorite of mine) is not a textual commentary, but gives a good overview of daily life in Jesus' day which is imperative to understanding the New Testament. Another good source is the now classic A SHORT HISTORY OF THE INTERPRETATION OF THE BIBLE by Robert Grant and David Tracy. These works do not refute Ehrman but do put his words in perspective and if Ehrman is sincere about his hope that his writings better understand Christianity, perspective would be important.
133 of 159 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Piercing the Veil of "God's Inerrant Word",
Bart Ehrman is one of the world's foremost scholars of Biblical manuscript history -- specifically the written origins of the books we now call the New Testament. By his own admission, Ehrman is now "a happy agnostic," having journeyed from the Episcopal Church (my denomination) through Evangelical and fundamentalist groups to Christian liberalism. He treasures the message of the Bible for mankind, but he doesn't believe the so-called "mythology." Nor does he accept that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God.
"Misquoting Jesus" covers much of the same territory as Erhman's other, more academic-oriented, works. This time, the text is written for a more general audience. His basic message is this: A) We don't have the original Greek manuscripts of the Gospels. B) What we do have are copies of copies of copies. C) Each time the Gospels were copied, they were changed, edited and rewritten, not just by sloppy scribes but also in response to theological debates raging at the time. C) This revision process is documented in thousands of manuscripts and fragments that survive from the years 120 - 1650 AD. D)Our current editions of the Gospels contradict each other in many important ways, while sharing much in common.
Ehrman shows that Biblical revisions (called "redactions" in the academic world) go to some very basic tenets of Christian theology. For example, what did Jesus really say on the Cross? What was the original text of the Lord's Prayer? What did Jesus say and believe about non-Jews? Etc., etc., etc.
Some Evangelicals and fundamentalists will no doubt respond to this book with the old saw: "I believe in the whole Bible, not a Bible full of holes." Of course, that's a poor excuse for refusing to participate in an honest dialogue about scriptural origins. For myself, I value Ehrman's insights, even though I disagree with some of his conclusions. Christian believers who are strong in their faith can certainly read this latest book, and engage the evidence, without abandoning their profound relationship with God.
After all, the Bible is not some flimsy house of cards or computer program that crashes if a single line is out of place. That's only the case if you insist on evaluating it by 21st century technological standards, which is clearly unfair and disingenuous. The reason why the Gospels continue to inspire a billion people 2,000 years later is that their basic message of love, forgiveness, humility and faith is more relevant than ever.
73 of 86 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A well-written, engaging aid for understanding the Bible,
I have always found Dr. Ehrman's work to be clear, sound, and credible. This book is extraordinarily helpful: it is written not specifically for scholars but for laypeople. I'm a professor of religion at a small college and my students (before they hit my classes) have never thought much about how their Bibles were produced; many are not aware that there isn't complete agreement among New Testament texts (or Old Testament texts, for that matter), or that theology can influence the way copyists and translators do their work (just as it influences how readers read).
This is, I think, Ehrman's most personal book. He begins by talking about his spiritual and academic journey, showing how he has moved from a fundamentalist, interrantist position to one in which his understanding of the nature of the Bible is quite different--largely because he was taught undeniably true things about the process through which the Bible was formed that, unfortunately, one seldom hears in church. Although his relationship with the Bible is not the one with which he began, it is still of intense interest to him. This personal reflection is interesting and makes the rest of the book easier to understand.
Ehrman provides helpful and accurate information about how and why ancient copies of biblical books were made, who made them, and the general lack of quality control in the process. His presentation is strengthened by his giving examples of manuscripts having different versions of some verses and passages. He describes how textual criticism is done--its purposes and processes. At times he deals with the words of the Greek text, translating them accurately and explaining their significance in ways that people with no background in the language can easily comprehend. He does all this in language that laypeople can understand--he uses very little jargon--and, even more amazingly, does it without ever seeming to be "writing down" in order to be understood by those outside of his field. His style is clear, concise, and academic without being burdensome. As one who spends a great deal of time reading academic writing (and doing some), let me tell you that this is a hard target to hit.
He also deals with issues involved with the translation process and with movements in early Christianity that were quite opposed to each other, explaining how these disagreements influenced both the writing and the copying of Christian documents. One example of this deals with "Junia," a woman (or a man with a woman's name) who is referred to as "foremost among the apostles" (Romans 16:7); generally translations use the masculine form "Junias" in the belief that a woman could not be an apostle, although there is no instance of that name in Greek literature.
As one who has been active in churches all my life, I think it is a shame that the church does not seem willing to talk about the issues Ehrman discusses, leaving its members to feel shocked and dismayed when encountering them for the first time elsewhere.
This is an informative, fascinating, and well-written book. I encourage anyone who is interested in Bible study to read it.
69 of 84 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I liked Dr. Ehrman's new book, Misquoting Jesus,
Misquoting Jesus is the latest of Bart D. Ehrman's books that I have enjoyed. Although much of the material in Misquoting Jesus is covered in another of his works, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, his intended audience is somewhat different, and I enjoyed the story of his own life that influenced his lifework.
Misquoting Jesus is first and last, autobiographical, and in between the result of his lifework-- that of Bible Scholar. In the beginning the book takes the reader through Dr. Ehrman's early life and his "born again" experience. As a result, he developed a consuming interest in learning about the Bible. In college he studied at The Moody Bible Institute, and later at Wheaton College, which resulted in a career of intensive Bible study.
Writing about the Bible can be a veritable minefield, and the content of both books may undoubtedly anger some readers, while many others will find it provocative and enlightening.
When he began studies at Moody, he was taught, and believed that the Bible is the inerrant Word Of God, dictated precisely to various scribes and prophets who wrote down those words verbatim. Somewhere along the way, he realized that the English translations must not exactly be the literal words that God dictated, so he decided that he needed to learn the actual words that comprised the Bible. He learned ancient Greek, Latin, and Hebrew. He began to realize that there were differences, some of them large among the various copies of manuscripts that became the Bible that we know, starting with differences in accounts in the Gospels of the same episode. His curiosity to find and understand what the original Bible actually said was the beginning of a career that has spanned most of thirty years.
He is now the chairman of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The audience of Misquoting Jesus is the non-Scholar who wants better to understand the Bible. Dr Ehrman's conversational style is easy to read while he outlines the way in which the discipline of textual criticism was evolved and how the Bible texts were changed by scribal copyist error, or doctrinal correction.
If I had not read Misquoting Jesus I would not know that:
· The popular story in John, (7:53-8:12) about Jesus confounding the Scribes and the Pharisees who had brought a woman accused of committing adultery to test him was not in any of the early manuscripts of the Bible.
· The last twelve verses in Mark were not found in the most ancient examples, nor was the last chapter of John.
· Each of the Gospels tells a different story of the Crucifixion, the events leading up to it and the Resurrection. We don't know which is the right one, or if there is a "right" account.
· The King James Version that so many of us prefer, is probably the least accurate translation, being based on manuscripts that were inferior copies.
· The letter, supposedly written by St. Paul to Timothy, was probably, instead written by a follower of Paul's after his death, and Paul did not write the verses that relegated women to being quiet in church and learning scripture from their husbands. (1st Timothy 2: 11-15)
In thousands of other ways, the Bible has been altered, to greater or lesser degrees of importance by mistake or by design.
I would highly recommend this work to anyone who is interested in better understanding what may be the most important book written.
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Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why by Bart D. Ehrman (Paperback - February 5, 2007)