- Paperback: 304 pages
- Publisher: HarperOne; Reprint edition (February 2, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0061173940
- ISBN-13: 978-0061173943
- Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.7 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 566 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #70,737 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don't Know About Them) Reprint Edition
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“Ehrman’s ability to translate scholarship for a popular audience has made the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor and Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill a superstar in the publishing world” (IndyWeek)
“For both scholars and the masses who read about religion, Bart D. Ehrman needs no introduction . . . He adds the personal to the scholarly for some of his works, detailing how he went from a Moody Bible Institute-educated fundamentalist evangelical to an agnostic . (Durham Herald-Sun)
“There’s something delicious (for nonbelievers, anyway) about the implacable, dispassionate way that Ehrman reveals how the supposedly “divine truth” of Christianity was historically constructed.” (Salon.com)
From the Back Cover
The Human Story Behind the Divine Book
In this New York Times bestseller, leading Bible expert Bart Ehrman skillfully demonstrates that the New Testament is riddled with contradictory views about who Jesus was and the significance of his life. Ehrman reveals that many of the books were written in the names of the apostles by Christians living decades later, and that central Christian doctrines were the inventions of still later theologians. Although this has been the standard and widespread view of scholars for two centuries, most people have never learned of it.
Jesus, Interrupted is a clear and compelling account of the central challenges we have when attempting to reconstruct the life and meaning of Jesus.
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The book takes a slight dip in chapter 5, when Ehrman introduces the “other” sources for the alleged events of Jesus’s life, namely by using the Q hypothesis. While the hypothesis of the Q document is still probably the current scholarly consensus, the fact of the matter is that Q does not exist. In fact, more recent scholarship has essentially refuted the hypothetical Q source (see Mark Goodacre’s “The Case Against Q” for an in depth refutation of the Q hypothesis). Many still cling to the hypothetical Q source due to the fact that there are simply no contemporary sources outside of the epistles and the unreliable gospels (demonstrated in the first 4 chapters) that tell us anything about Jesus at all, so inventing a source was the supposed answer. Making matters worse, Ehrman relies on other hypothetical sources, namely M and L for alleged sources used for Matthew and Luke. It’s important to note that when the reader sees these hypothetical sources used as support, the reality is that these sources are completely made up … imaginary. They do not exist. Most of the arguments for these hypothetical sources are rooted in confirmation bias seeking to extrapolate from the gospel texts, anything that might “look” sourced to support the conclusion already determined (that the source existed). In other words, supporters of Q, M, L and the like, have started with a conclusion (that Jesus existed and historical information about him is verifiable) and then have poured over the texts to create and craft hypothetical support for their unsubstantiated conclusion. That’s poor methodology. In reality, recent scholarship reveals that the gospel texts contain mostly mythologized stories, and Matthew and Luke both borrowed from Mark, while Luke (written later than Matthew) borrowed from Matthew as well and changed what he saw fit to change. There’s no need to invent imaginary sources beyond possible oral tradition (which itself, is an unlikely source given that well educated men crafted the gospels in polished Greek, far separated from Aramiac oral lore), especially when a less ad hoc assumption explains the data. So the reader should be aware that when Ehrman says “multiple independent sources,” what that honestly and truly means is, multiple imaginary sources. Having said that, one can’t really fault Ehrman for using these hypothetical sources, given that the current consensus still leans that way. It’s simply a matter of the consensus not yet catching up to the more recent, better scholarship concluding otherwise, albeit the consensus is slowly moving away from them.
Ehrman then moves back into the meat of this book as he shows in chapters 6 and 7, exactly how we ended up with the books making up the New Testament canon, who wrote them, who approved them and just how divided the early Christian church was as scripture texts were being vociferously debated. He gives many examples of the so-called heretical books that once were a part of scripture and then removed, and vice versa. He shows how the various Christian factions fighting one another over doctrine and scripture led to vast corruption and numerous forgeries – even some forgeries that made it into our current canon. Ehrman discusses the battle for theological dominance and how the ultimate victor became the orthodox view that sought to denounce all other views as heresies (even the original Christian theology) and extinguish any dissident literature that did not hold the orthodox view – in short, history, even church history, is written by the victor. As Ehrman states, the victorious Christian sect “acquired more converts than any of the others, eventually stamped out all of its competition, declared itself orthodox, argued that its views really were those of Jesus and the apostles, claimed that it had always been the majority view, and then – as a final coup de grace – rewrote the history of the conflict.” (p. 214)
Ehrman continues through chapter 7 to discuss the evidence of just who invented Christianity, and how such fundamentals of Christianity, such as a suffering messiah, were never a part of the Jewish (Old Testament) scriptures or doctrinal traditions, but were adopted later. He points out that the supposed prophecies of Jesus were not that at all, but were retroactively reinterpreted as the people created stories about Jesus – typical legendary development using irrelevant scriptures from the Old Testament to craft their messiah narrative. As chapter 7 progresses, Ehrman discusses how Christianity developed into a distinctly anti-Jewish religion (literally being the originator of antisemitism), and along the way adopted and created other views formerly foreign to Jesus and his followers, such as Jesus’ divinity (whether he was god) and the confusion over when he ‘became’ the son of god, the battles over the trinity idea, and the evolution of heaven and hell with the resulting transformation of the failed apocalyptic theology. As Ehrman concludes, “In short, with the passing of time, the apocalyptic notion of the resurrection of the body becomes transformed into the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. What emerges is the belief in heaven and hell, a belief not found in the teachings of Jesus or Paul, but one invented in later times by Christians who realized that the kingdom of God never would come to this earth.” (p. 266)
Ehrman brings the book to its conclusion in chapter 8, moving through a very brief summary of the preceding content, and then addressing whether such content does or should have any impact on faith. While he approaches this with an appreciated gentleness, there’s a slightly disjointed conclusion that upon learning of the deeply flawed, human forged theology and pseudo-history of the bible, that somehow that doesn’t have to have a negative impact on faith in the Christian doctrines. However, one finds that to be an odd conclusion when considering why one would have faith. Shouldn’t that faith have some sort of trustworthy grounding? Well, when one finds out the reality behind the origin and creation of the New Testament, that removes it as a trustworthy source of grounding for any faith in believing it’s true. If one’s epistemology is not based on sound, credible sources, one should be incredibly hesitant to place faith in anything as being true from such a source, hence, upon learning the checkered past of the bible and the specious origins of Christianity, there should no longer be any grounding for faith in its doctrines. Yet, Ehrman treads so softly on this issue of faith still being possible in spite of the damning information that the historical-critical study of the New Testament brings, that he risks coming across as an apologist not just for the Christian faith, but as though he meant to soften the blow of the preceding chapters in some conciliatory nod to faith. And maybe that’s what he wanted to do. No harm done, but it wasn’t the strongest way to conclude the book. Instead, I’d like to end this review with a quote from chapter 7 that I think best sums up what is communicated in the book. Ehrman states:
“Whether one stresses the continuities or the discontinuities in the development of early Christianity, it is clear that the beliefs and perspectives that emerged among Jesus’ later followers were different from the religion of Jesus himself. Paul was not the only one responsible for this set of theological innovations, this invention of what we think of as Christianity. He may not even bear the greatest responsibility among those who transformed the religion of Jesus into the religion about Jesus. There were numerous Christians involved in these transformations, the vast majority of them lost in the mists of antiquity, unnamed Christians, thinkers, and preachers who reinterpreted the traditions of Jesus for their own time, whose reinterpretations were guided and molded by historical and cultural forces that we, living later, can sometimes only surmise and ponder.
Christianity as we have come to know it did not, in any event, spring into being overnight. It emerged over a long period of time, through a period of struggles, debates, and conflicts over competing views, doctrines, perspectives, canons, and rules. The ultimate emergence of the Christian religion represents a human invention – in terms of its historical and significance, arguably the greatest invention in the history of Western civilization.” (pp. 267-268)
Until recently, I've always been kind of wary of Dr Ehrman because of his agnostic leaning and I thought this would come through in his writing. I can happily say I was wrong. He even explains that his shift from faith isn't because of his findings while researching the NT texts and contradictions, rather he is not able to reconcile the problem of evil with aloving God. While I believe his presuppositions of who God is supposed to be is the main issue, nevertheless he states more than once that the textual issues needn't interfere with ones faith. I agree with this statement as my faith in Christ isn't solely packaged in a collection of ancient texts.
This book will inevitably rustle the theological jimmies of more fundamentalist Christians as they need the Bible to be literally factually true in order for their belief system to stay intact. Unfortunately for this group, facts don't lie, and as more and more research is conducted, they do and will find themselves increasingly appealing to "mystery", "tension", and "paradox" in order for them to remain theologically obtuse to the facts that are presented.
If you can understand that the Bible is imperfect, written by people who are just as fallible as you or I, then I feel this will be a rewarding read. In fact, knowing about the different motivations of the different authors has actually brought the text more to life as applicable spiritual lessons rather than a cold, dead literalism. This my first book by Dr Ehrman, and it won't be the last.
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