Review: Misquoting Jesus

Editorial Review - - Marcia Ford

In recent years, Bart D. Ehrman has made a reputation for himself as an accomplished history and religion scholar who is able to write readerfriendly books for nonacademic 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 ... Read full review

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Well it reads nicely but one wonders if he has ended up with a hypothesis and now anything that supports it will do. For example, he appears to have lost his faith in God but nevertheless make statements about what God could or would or must do (p11). He also totally to my mind misses the point of scripture being a message and turns it into a matter 'words' so for him some kind of exact wording is necessary to understand what God is saying and that exact wording must be exactly preserved not the message itself. He also assumes that no one understood Greek or Hebrew even though the Tanach was in Hebrew and the Greeks had been in Judea for 300 years though what other language he was thinking of is anyone's guess. Later he goes on about books and bookishness and how it was necessary to have books read to the congregations (p19 etc) as if in 2nd or 3rd century one could just fire up Amazon and get them delivered next day in hard copy or as an eBook. On p31 etc he has a peculiar argument that Luke for examples regards Jesus' word as on a par with scripture and then gives examples where Jesus quotes the OT. Its not so much that what he say is necessarily wrong as such but it borders on tendentiousness being bent as far as it will go to propping up his own hypothesis and why any one needs to prop up a lack of faith is a mystery. 

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Being a Sunday School Teacher of adults for over 30 years (as a layman) in the Reformed & Presbyterian churches, I read this book with great interest.
My suggestion for any reader of this book is to
get an excellent perspective from the writings of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI), especially his FOREWORD to "Jesus of Nazareth" ISBN 978-0-385-52341-7, which looks at the whole area of Biblical inspiration and the understanding of the Gospel records.
Ratzinger states on page xxii of that FORWORD, ". . . I wanted to try to portray the Jesus of the word. I am convince, and I hope the reader will be,too, that this figure is much ore logical and, historically speaking, much ore intelligible than the reconstructions we have been present with in the last decades. I believe that this Jesus -- the Jesus of the Gospels -- is historically plausible and convincing figure."
I personally have found Ratzinger's book, "Jesus of Nazareth" the most helpful writing on the person of Jesus, the Jesus we known throughout the ages by the Roman, Greek Orthodox and mainline Protestant members of the People of God (Ratzinger's term).
Respectfully submitted,
Floyd W. Heideman

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Excellent detailed account of who changed the Bible and why.

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I saw this guy on The Daily Show, and his book sounded like a really interesting idea - study the ways in which, over the last two thousand years, the text of the Bible has been altered. Sometimes by mistake and sometimes on purpose, but altered nonetheless.
What makes this interesting is the author's background, which he explains in detail in the introduction. In his teens, Ehrman became Born Again, filling the void in his life with 100% Jesus. He threw his heart and soul into Bible study, convinced that the book was the inerrant, incontrovertable Word Of God.
The only problem was, if you look at the Bible for a few minutes, you begin to see that it isn't really all that inerrant at all. And when you're serious about studying the Bible - the kind of person who learns Greek and Aramaic in order to get at the source texts, you start to see even more "errors" in the texts. Like the famous story of the adulteress, where Jesus gave his "Let he who is without sin" speech. It doesn't show up in the earliest and best texts, but gets wedged in a few centuries later. Or the bit in Luke where Jesus sweats blood? That, too, appears to have been a later addition to an otherwise well-constructed section of that Gospel.
This book covers a whole lot of ground in 218 pages - Biblical history, Christian history, textual criticism, politics, sociology.... The history of how the New Testament came to be the way it is today is a complicated and fascinating one, and Ehrman casts it in an interesting light.
You see, rather than spend 200 pages noting the history of alterations in the book, he doesn't say, "And that's why we should just throw it the hell out!" Rather, he encourages readers to look at the New Testament as an ornate human creation, a text (or, more accurately, a collection of texts) that has survived the millennia by being complex enough to survive interpretation after interpretation. The inerrant Word Of God? No. But still key to understanding human history in the last two thousand years, and worthy of study.

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A noted Biblical scholar and textual critic, Dr Ehrman explains the method by which the Bible was copied by scribes, how scholars track which versions (among thousands that exist) are the oldest or most authentic, how disparant versions were reconciled at different times depending on what beliefs were the most prevalent (such as during the Nicene deliberations), and how copying errors are discovered. One of the chapters discusses the Greek translations that were later used by the group who prepared the King James version. When some refer to reading the Bible 'in the original Greek' they are usually referring to this particular translation which was prepared in the 11th century, using manuscripts that were later found to NOT be the oldest or most faithful to the oldest known copies. The King James, which is the most popular English-language translation, was based on Middle Ages manuscripts that were known, both now and in the 16th century, as being more error-ridden than other better documented copies. Dr. Ehrman is quite readable and makes history interesting. 

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An introduction to textual criticism of the Christian Bible, for a lay audience. (By lay audience I mean: unlike the author's scholarly work, this book doesn't assume that the readers know any of the relevant ancient languages.) Or more specifically, it's an introduction to textual criticism of the Greek New Testament. The Latin translation that the Western Church used for most of the middle ages is outside the scope of this book—possibly because the author just wanted to limit the scope of the book to give it a manageable size, and possibly also because there is so much less textual variation in manuscripts of the Vulgate that there isn't a much reason for textual analysis. Most English readers are familiar with the Christian Bible via the “King James” version and its descendents. The King James translation of the New Testament was based on what was then the generally accepted Greek text, the “textus receptus” that had evolved over the 16th century. And the textus receptus, in turn, was largely just a series of minor refinements of Erasmus's edition, the first printed version of the Greek New Testament. Before the age of print it doesn't really make sense to talk about an accepted text, since every manuscript is by definition unique. Starting in the 18th century, scholars began to reexamine the original Greek manuscripts and discovered that Erasmus hadn't actually done a very good job. He based his work on a single Greek manuscript, sometimes making corrections from the Vulgate, so he didn't realize just how much textual variation there was between different manuscripts. It shouldn't be surprising that there was variation: there are always errors when a manuscript is copied, and it's especially likely that there would be variations in this particular case. Ancient Greek manuscripts were written without punctuation or spacing between words, many words were abbreviated and many common abbreviations looked similar, and the earliest manuscripts of this text were copied by people who didn't have professional training as scribes or scholars. What is more surprising is that these aren't just minor variations: some manuscripts have the story of Jesus and the woman taken for adultery and others don't, for example. Some sentences that are crucial to the Nicene Creed just don't exist in early Greek manuscripts. These technical textual questions have real theological significance for anyone who considers the Christian Bible to be a sacred text. One fascinating question is why the textus receptus was generally accepted for more than a century, why it took so long for scholars to notice these issues! But once scholars discovered or rediscovered textual variation in Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, they started trying to catalog those variations and, when possible, determine which reading is more likely to be authentic. That's the subject of this book.  

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