Saturday, June 17, 2006

Book Review: Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why by Bart D Ehrman

I read the book Misquoting Jesus by Bart D Ehrman right after Simone was born (the timing was not on purpose - that's just when the library had a copy available). I'd been looking for a book like this for quite some time and was excited to get my hands on it.

It's basically a book that relates how Bart Ehrman undergoes a transformation from a born again Christian to whatever he is right now (agnostic I believe, but he didn't say in his book), and why. The "why" is the interesting part. (Note: Bart Ehrman is a big-wig at Princeton, so he's not just some hack dissing the bible.) He lays out a quick history of the scriptures and how they arrived from their original form to what we have today - copies of copies of copies of copies of copies (of copies). He talks about how the scripture has changed over time, and methods scholars use to try to determine which versions of the old copies of scripture are closer to the "original" (if that even has any meaning). Pretty good stuff.

Actually, to get a quick overview of the book, listen to the Fresh Air interview with him. It's actually a decent summary of the book, you don't even have to read it.

In the book he goes over several key passages in the bible ("this is my body, broken for you...", Jesus and the leper, the story of the two women finding Jesus' body missing after his resurrection, Jesus dying by God's grace or apart from Him, the story of casting stones at the adulteress, and mothers), and he shows you why he thinks a particular version is more original. He does, however, say that many scholars disagree on various passages, and that you should not necessarily take his word - but to read as much as you want/can and make up your own mind. So I give him credit for that.

I did look for some reviews to see what others thought of his book. I found this long review (here's a shorter version) of the book. The long version goes into detail refuting a couple of Ehrman's points, and simply dismissing or minimizing Ehrman's other points. And then at the end he slams another work that Ehrman contributed to (the fourth edition of Metzger├é’s Text of the New Testament) for no apparent reason. Oh, even better, at the end of both reviews, the critic offers readers of the review to check out a soon to be published book that has a better (supposedly more accurate) view of the scripture. Of course that is a plug for a book the reviewer has helped write (he's one of the authors).

I may or may not read this critic's book. While it might have some good information and contrasting opinions, I really didn't care for the tone of his review. He tries to paint it as though writing the review was difficult, "It gives me no joy to put forth this review." But there were a few cheap shots in there.

But maybe I didn't get the message of Ehrman's book. What I took from it is that the following truth changed Ehrman's life: the bible has changed over time, sometimes by mistake, sometimes by intentional changes (motivated by theology, societal pressures, or to clear up/clean up the wording). That's it. The book was well written, very easy to read, and chocked full of interesting and thought provoking ideas.

And to think, I liked the book and I'm not even a believer.

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