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Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why is a book by Bart D. Ehrman, a New Testament scholar at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hillmarker. The book introduces lay readers to the field of textual criticism of the Bible. Ehrman discusses a number of textual variants that resulted from intentional or accidental manuscript changes during the scriptorium era. The book, which made it to the New York Times Best Seller list, is available in hardcover and paperback.

Summary

Ehrman recounts his personal experience with the study of the Bible and textual criticism. He summarizes the history of textual criticism, from the works of Desiderius Erasmus to the present. The book describes an early Christian environment in which the books that would later compose the New Testament were copied by hand, mostly by Christian amateurs. Ehrman concludes that various early scribes altered the New Testament texts in order to deemphasize the role of women in the early church, to unify and harmonize the different portrayals of Jesus in the four gospels, and to oppose certain heresies (such as Adoptionism). Ehrman contends that certain widely-held Christian beliefs, such about the divinity of Jesus, are associated not with the original words of scripture but with these later alterations.

Reviews and reception

Alex Beam, of the Boston Globe, wrote that 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."

Doug Brown of Powell's Booksmarker wrote: "the biblical literalists might better spend their energy keeping folks away from Ehrman ... For believer or atheist, I recommend Misquoting Jesus to anyone with an interest in where this ancient anthology that has helped shape our culture came from." The Dallas Morning News wrote: "Whichever side you sit on regarding Biblical inerrancy, this is a rewarding read." Columbus Dispatch wrote that the book gives readers a good introduction to textual criticism. Tim Callahan of Skeptic wrote that 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 that 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."

Daniel B. Wallace, in review of Misquoting Jesus says the book "comes up short on genuine substance about his primary contention. Scholars bear a sacred duty not to alarm lay readers on issues that they have little understanding of. Unfortunately, the average layperson will leave this book with far greater doubts about the wording and teachings of the NT than any textual critic would ever entertain." Wallace also says Ehrman is selective in his use of evidence and ignores the views of scholars that disagree with him and he avoids giving his readers enough information so they can fully understand the issues and make up their own minds.; Wallace concludes, however:

"I grieve for what has happened to an acquaintance of mine, a man I have known and admired—and continue to admire—for over a quarter of a century. It gives me no joy to put forth this review. But from where I sit, it seems that Bart’s black and white mentality as a fundamentalist has hardly been affected as he slogged through the years and trials of life and learning, even when he came out on the other side of the theological spectrum. He still sees things without sufficient nuancing, he overstates his case, and he is entrenched in the security that his own views are right. Bart Ehrman is one of the most brilliant and creative textual critics I’ve ever known, and yet his biases are so strong that, at times, he cannot even acknowledge them."


Craig Blomberg, of 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." Blomberg also wrote that Ehrman "has rejected his evangelicalism and whether he is writing on the history of the transmission of the biblical text, focusing on all the changes that scribes made over the centuries, or on the so-called 'lost gospels' and 'lost Christianities,' trying to rehabilitate our appreciation for Gnosticism, it is clear that he has an axe to grind."

References

  1. Interview with Bart Ehrman, Publishers Weekly, January 25, 2006.
  2. Publisher's website. HarperCollins.com.
  3. http://www.bible.org/page.php?page_id=3452
  4. http://www.bible.org/page.php?page_id=4000
  5. http://www.bible.org/page.php?page_id=4000


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