Book: Misquoting Jesus

A friend lent me Richard Rubenstein's When Jesus Became God a few months ago, and I found it fascinating. It that explained many different concepts were circulating in the early church about the divinity of Jesus, and showed how the orthodox view prevailed. I was raised Catholic and the perception that I always had was that the church exists today in very much same form as when Paul started converting the gentiles. In fact the structure of the church today did not even begin to develop until Constantine converted to Christianity and lent the power of the Roman Empire to the early church.

Bart Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus covers similar but not identical territory. He approaches it through textual studies of the New Testament. The earliest existing manuscripts of the New Testament date from the second century, although the original texts were older they have been lost. What I took from the book is that the Bible shows a significant amount of variation, but that with some hard work and careful thought, a very reasonable approximation of the original can be reconstructed.

I read through many reviews of Misquoting Jesus on Amazon.com, and it is clear that this book provokes many reactions with opposite absolute reactions being common. One is comdemnation from people who believe that the Bible is the 100% accurate word of God. The other is from people who use the variation as evidence that the whole thing must be false. Certainly, neither is Ehrman's view.

I liked the book. It is clear that Ehrman has thought long and hard about his subject. This book is clearly simplified for a general audience, so one cannot evaluate whether he has gotten everything correct, but I believe that he has done a good job at explaining his method and giving an overview of the material.

I am of the opinion that simple answers and absolute certainities are rare, but careful thought and hard work can yield insights and useful knowledge that can improve our lives. It is one of the reasons that I am a scientist, and it appears that Bart Ehrman shares this view.

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4 Responses to “Book: Misquoting Jesus”

  1. You know, I was brought up Catholic and pretty much haven’t thought much about religion once I didn’t have to go to church any more. Although I guess I still take the church history that I learned seriously enough to not be able to suspend disbelief to read The Da Vinci Code. (I also take literary writing seriously enough to not want to read painfully hamfisted prose. The only hamfisted prose I willingly read is my own, thank you very much.)

    I do remember studying how the four Gospels each had different voices. Luke was the artist, if I recall, so I always had a soft spot for his book of the Bible.

  2. I was going to mention that raised as a Catholic I have actually read very little of the Bible. We got those little snatches of the gospel and an epistle at Mass on Sunday and did not think about it again for a week.

    Misquoting Jesus goes into how different the passion is in Luke and Mark. I had no idea.

  3. […] I have blogged about Bart Ehrman’s book , Misquoting Jesus. I found it interesting and based on my reading of the book, I was of the opinion that Ehrman still believed in God although not in the literal words of the Bible. Apparently that is not true. An article in the Washington Post today contains quotes from Ehrman that clearly show he is an agnostic . “I just began to lose it,” Ehrman says now, in a conversation that stretches from late afternoon into the evening. “It wasn’t for lack of trying. But I just couldn’t believe there was a God in charge of this mess . . . It was so emotionally charged. This whole business of ‘the Bible is your life, and anyone who doesn’t believe it is going to roast in hell.’ “ […]

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