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Bart D. Ehrman is an Americanmarker New Testament scholar and textual critic of early Christianity. He is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor and Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hillmarker. He has written about how the original New Testament texts were frequently altered by scribes for a variety of reasons, and argues that these alterations affect the interpretation of the texts.

Ehrman writes about the early Christians, using the term "proto-orthodox" to describe the Christian traditions that would later be defined as orthodox. He describes first- and second-century Christians as not yet having a unified, orthodox tradition.

As a textual critic, Ehrman examines various versions of a text in order to determine what the text originally said. For instance, various ancient manuscripts have different endings for the gospel of Mark (see Mark 16). Ehrman concludes (as many scholars have in the past) that the text originally ended at verse 16:9 and that none of the endings were original. One method Ehrman uses for helping him analyze text is to look for changes that favor the agenda of the scribes who copied the texts. If one version of a New Testament text makes the gospels seem more similar, downplays the role of women, softens statements that are hard to take, or opposes beliefs outside the proto-orthodox sphere, Ehrman says that such versions are more likely to represent deliberate changes on the part of scribes and not to be original.

Career

Ehrman began studying the Bible and its original languages at the Moody Bible Institutemarker and is a 1978 graduate of Wheaton College in Illinoismarker. He received his Ph.D and M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminarymarker, where he studied under Bruce Metzger. He currently serves as the chairman of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hillmarker. He was the President of the Southeast Region of the Society of Biblical Literature, and worked closely as an editor on a number of the Society's publications. Currently, he co-edits the series New Testament Tools and Studies.

Much of Ehrman's writing has concentrated on various aspects of Walter Bauer's thesis that Christianity was always diversified or at odds with itself. Ehrman is often considered a pioneer in connecting the history of the early church to textual variants within biblical manuscripts and in coining such terms as "Proto-orthodox Christianity." In his writings, Ehrman has turned around textual criticism. From the time of the Church Fathers, it was those denounced as heretics (Marcion, for example) who were charged with tampering with the biblical manuscripts. Ehrman theorizes that it was more often the Orthodox that "corrupted" the manuscripts, altering the text to promote particular viewpoints.

Ehrman became an Evangelical Christian as a teen. His desire to understand the original words of the Bible led him to the study of ancient languages and to textual criticism, to which he attributes the inspiration for an ongoing critical exploration of the basis of his own religious beliefs, which in turn gradually led to the questioning of his faith in the Bible as the inerrant, unchanging word of God. He now considers himself an agnostic. Nevertheless, Ehrman has kept ongoing dialogue with evangelicals. In March 2006, he joined theologian William Lane Craig in public debate on the question "Is There Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus?" on the campus of the College of the Holy Crossmarker. In April 2008, Ehrman and evangelical New Testament scholar Daniel B. Wallace participated in a public dialogue on the textual reliability of the New Testament. In January 2009, Dr. Ehrman debated Dr. James White, Director of Alpha and Omega Ministries, an Evangelical Reformed Baptist scholar on "Did the Bible Mis-Quote Jesus?.

He has authored or contributed to more than twenty books. In 2006 and 2009 he appeared on The Colbert Report, as well as The Daily Show, to promote his books Misquoting Jesus, and Jesus, Interrupted (respectively).In 2007, he gave a speech at Stanford Universitymarker in which he discussed the textual inconsistencies of the New Testament, and also took questions from the audience. He has also made several guest appearances on National Public Radio including the show Fresh Air in February 2008 to discuss his book God's Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question—Why We Suffer and in March 2009 to discuss his book Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We Don't Know About Them).

Professional awards received include the Students' Undergraduate Teaching Award, The Ruth and Philip Hettleman Prize for Artistic and Scholarly Achievement, and The Bowman and Gordon Gray Award for Excellence in Teaching.

Works

Ehrman is the author of more than twenty books including three New York Times bestsellers (Misquoting Jesus, God's Problem, and Jesus, Interrupted). Much of his work is on textual criticism and the New Testament. His first book was Didymus the Blind and the Text of the Gospels (1987) followed by several books published by the Oxford University Press, including The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, and a new edition and translation of the The Apostolic Fathers in the Loeb Classical Library series published by Harvard University Press. His most recent book Jesus, Interrupted was published in March 2009 and discusses contradictions in the Bible.

His 2005 best-selling book Misquoting Jesus is about textual discrepancies in the Bible.[216663] Alex Beam, of the Boston Globe, wrote the book is "a series of dramatic revelations for the ignorant (the very definition of a hardcover best-seller, I'd say), Ehrman notes that there have been a lot of changes to the Bible in the past 2,000 years. I don't want to come between Mr. Ehrman and his payday, but this point has been made much more eloquently by ... others." The Columbus Dispatch wrote the book gives readers a good introduction to textual criticism. Tim Callahan of Skeptic wrote the book "throws into high relief the problems faced by those trying to establish just what Jesus actually said." American Library Association writes "To assess how ignorant or theologically manipulative scribes may have changed the biblical text, modern scholars have developed procedures for comparing diverging texts. And in language accessible to nonspecialists, Ehrman explains these procedures and their results. He further explains why textual criticism has frequently sparked intense controversy, especially among scripture-alone Protestants." Charles Seymour of the Wayland Baptist Universitymarker in Plainview, TX wrote "Ehrman convincingly argues that even some generally received passages are late additions, which is particularly interesting in the case of those verses with import for doctrinal issues such as women's ordination or the Atonement." Neely Tucker of The Washington Post wrote the book is "an exploration into how the 27 books of the New Testament came to be cobbled together, a history rich with ecclesiastical politics, incompetent scribes and the difficulties of rendering oral traditions into a written text."

Scholars who believe in Bible inerrancy have been critical of the book's thesis. Daniel B. Wallace, Executive Director of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts, wrote, "Unfortunately, as careful a scholar as Ehrman is, his treatment of major theological changes in the text of the New Testament tends to fall under one of two criticisms: Either his textual decisions are wrong, or his interpretation is wrong." Wallace also wrote, "One almost gets the impression that he is encouraging the Chicken Little in the Christian community to panic at data that they are simply not prepared to wrestle with." Wallace also wrote that "Most of the book (chs. 1–4) is basically a popular introduction to the field, and a very good one at that." Craig Blomberg, a conservative evangelical at Denver Seminary in Coloradomarker, wrote that "Most of Misquoting Jesus is actually a very readable, accurate distillation of many of the most important facts about the nature and history of textual criticism, presented in a lively and interesting narrative that will keep scholarly and lay interest alike." On his blog, Ben Witherington III criticized the book's research writing "It is not sufficient to reply that Bart is writing for a popular audience and thus we would not expect much scholarly discussion even in the footnotes. Even in a work of this sort, we would expect some good up to date bibliography for those disposed to do further study, not merely copious cross-references to one’s other popular level books."

In 2009 Ehrman published Jesus, Interrupted. According to Rich Barlow, of the Boston Globe, the book is a critical approach to the Bible to understand its early origins.

Major themes of his works and useful terminology

Two major themes run throughout nearly all of his books and lectures. First is the desire to analyze the historicity of claims made by ancient texts used in the creation of the New Testament, as well as many books left out of the Christian canon, and subject them to a series of criteria. Second is the desire to reveal the thousands of differences and changes in the texts some people take to be the inerrant and literal "Word of God," who it was that changed the originals (none of which have survived), and what motivations or theological benefit could lie behind such changes being made.

Historicity of New Testament tradition

The first major theme in his books and lectures is to analyze the historical accuracy of ancient religious texts used in the creation of the New Testament. Ehrman subjects them to a series of specific criteria. The criteria are as follows:

  1. Criterion of independent attestation - the more sources that mention an event, the more likely it is to be historically accurate. Multiple witnesses are better than one witness. This is akin to corroborating evidence in modern trials. It is worth noting here that since Matthew and Luke took many stories from Mark, those instances cannot be considered independently attested. It is also worth noting that just because an event or saying is found only in one source, that alone is not evidence that it is historically inaccurate. This criterion will, however, assist in determining where the information is on a spectrum of more or less likely to be authentic.
  2. Criterion of dissimilarity - the more a witness or source makes claims counter to their vested interests, the more that testimony is likely to be true. This criterion is the most controversial of the three, and does not always properly apply to ancient sources, but is valuable nonetheless as one of the tools to evaluate historical reliability. In short, if a supposed saying or deed of Jesus seems to go against or does not support the supposed agenda of its record's author, then it is considered more likely to be historically accurate.
  3. Criterion of contextual credibility - states that "the sayings, deeds, and experiences of Jesus must be plausibly situated in the historical context of first-century Palestine to be trusted as reliable." Whereas the first two criteria serve to place a tradition on a spectrum of more or less historically reliable, this criterion is used exclusively to argue against the historicity of a tradition.


What changes were made, by whom, and why?

A second major theme that runs through his more recent works is the analysis of why such biblical variations are there. The vast majority of the hundreds of thousands of differences are due to the mistakes of scribes; these have little or no effect on the meaning of the passages or core tenets of Christian dogma. Ehrman argues however that some changes could not have been mistakes, but were purposeful alterations by early church writers to support their interpretation of Christianity.

Two key examples illustrate the critical nature of the variations. According to Ehrman, two of the most striking additions occur in the last 12 verses of the Gospel of Mark, and in 1 John 5:7-8, known as the Comma Johanneum.

Ehrman points out that the last 12 verses of the Gospel of Mark are not found in the earliest manuscripts, an omission which is noted in the New International Version (a translation used by many Evangelicals), and argues that these verses were added on to the original text many years later.

In the King James Version of the First Epistle of John 5:7-8 there is a passage often taken as an explicit reference to the doctrine of the Trinity. Ehrman points out that this section does not appear in any Greek manuscript before the 9th century.

Views on Biblical inerrancy

In an interview with the BBC, Ehrman said:
I think that there is no doubt that the Bible is filled with human error. Both the copies that we have which are changed by scribes, there is nobody who can doubt this. All you need to do is take two manuscripts and compare them with one another and they’re different: hundreds, maybe thousands of places.When asked if the Bible is the Word of God, his usual answer is by asking: "Which bible? Is it the Bible that you buy in your local bookstore? Is it the Bible found in manuscripts? If in manuscripts, which manuscripts?"

Personal life

Dr. Ehrman grew up in Lawrence, Kansasmarker and attended Lawrence High School, where he was on the state champion debate team in 1973. He is married to Sarah Beckwith, Marcello Lotti Professor of English at Duke Universitymarker, and has two children, a daughter, Kelly, and a son, Derek. He lives in Durham, North Carolinamarker.

Bibliography



References

  1. Ehrman, Bart D.. Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. HarperCollins, 2005. ISBN 978-0-06-073817-4
  2. "In the church of his youth in Lawrence [Kansas], with nearly every pew at capacity last week, Bart D. Ehrman, chairman of the department of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, announced that he was an agnostic. He joked that atheists think agnostics are wimpy atheists and that agnostics think atheists are arrogant agnostics." "Agnostic's questions have biblical answers," Vern Barnet, Kansas City Star, 23 April 2008
  3. Is There Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus? From the website for The Holy Cross Center for Religion, Ethics and Culture.
  4. Scholars to debate Bible, faith Nolan, Bruce. The Times-Picayune. 2008-03-30. Accessed: 2008-03-30 Reference archived at WebCite)
  5. http://benwitherington.blogspot.com/2006/03/misanalyzing-text-criticism-bart.html
  6. Wallace, Daniel B, "The Gospel According to Bart: A Review Article of Misquoting Jesus by Bart Ehrman," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, June 2006 (also available at Bible.org)
  7. http://www.bible.org/page.php?page_id=4000
  8. Ben Witherington, "Bart Interrupted: a detailed Analysis of 'Jesus Interrupted' Part One"
  9. Ehrman, Bart (2002) "The Historical Jesus" Lecture 9. The Teaching Company Lectures.
  10. Ehrman, Bart (2002) "The Historical Jesus" Lecture 10. The Teaching Company Lectures.
  11. "The Book of Bart." Tucker, Neely. The Washington Post, 2006. Profile of Bart Ehrman, focusing on his personal beliefs and how he came to be an agnostic. Accessed: 2008-04-01
  12. (The footnoting system is described in Chapter 2.)
  13. BBC Radio 4 programme "The Oldest Bible"


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