Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why Hardcover – Oct 20 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. In the absence of any original manuscripts of the books of the New Testament, how can we be sure that we're getting the intended words and meaning? Ehrman, professor of religion at UNC–Chapel Hill, has devoted his life to the study of such questions and here offers an engaging and fascinating look at the way scholars try to answer them. Part memoir, part history and part critical study, he traces the development of the academic discipline called textual criticism, which uses external and internal evidence to evaluate and compare ancient manuscripts in order to find the best readings. Ehrman points out that scribes altered almost all of the manuscripts we now have. In the early days of the Christian movement, scribal error often arose simply from unintentional omissions of words or lines. As Christianity evolved into an official religion under Constantine, however, scribes often added material to existing manuscripts or altered them to provide scriptural support for Christian doctrine or to enforce specific views about women, Jews or pagans. Ehrman's absorbing story, fresh and lively prose and seasoned insights into the challenges of recreating the texts of the New Testament ensure that readers might never read the Gospels or Paul's letters the same way again. (Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
The popular perception of the Bible as a divinely perfect book receives scant support from Ehrman, who sees in Holy Writ ample evidence of human fallibility and ecclesiastical politics. Though himself schooled in evangelical literalism, Ehrman has come to regard his earlier faith in the inerrant inspiration of the Bible as misguided, given that the original texts have disappeared and that the extant texts available do not agree with one another. Most of the textual discrepancies, Ehrman acknowledges, matter little, but some do profoundly affect religious doctrine. 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. In discounting not only the authenticity of existing manuscripts but also the inspiration of the original writers, Ehrman will deeply divide his readers. Although he addresses a popular audience, he undercuts the very religious attitudes that have made the Bible a popular book. Still, this is a useful overview for biblical history collections. Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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The earliest "gospels" are Paul's letters to various congregations. After establishing many of these groups, he became aware of differences in outlook and practices among them. Many letters must have been exchanged, Ehrman suggests, between individuals and groups. These missives would be copied by those literate enough for the task. It was difficult to understand what the text was imparting since the letters ran together without word spaces or punctuation. With the early texts penned in Greek, many words were easily misconstrued or even changed, some in innocent error, some with a purpose in mind. As the centuries passed, even the role of Jesus was defined in various ways. Those followers who came to be known as "gnostics" [a term Ehrman views with some suspicion], questioned the divinity of the man they venerated. How could a deity be crucified? The opposing camps produced reams of text to support their arguments and oppose that of others.Read more ›
I do not have the credentials of Dr. Ehrman, but I do have the equivalent of a degree in Biblical Literature and have worked in the original languages. My Senior Thesis was doing a textual comparison of the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas discovered at Nag Hammadi with the parallel passages of the Kingdom Parables of Matthew 13. To do that I had to teach myself some Coptic Egyptian and do some translating to form a basis for comparison.
All that said to establish that I have some background to make an evaluation of what is being said in this book.
I also have some common ground with Dr. Ehrman in life history. I too was trained as an evangelical with a very high view of inspiration and further had to struggle as I became aware of how difficult it is to interact with the text in its manuscript and historical form all while becoming painfully aware of the fact that any view of inspiration must tacitly admit that it is a hypothetical basis of faith because as Ehrman states clearly:
1. If the original manuscripts are inspired, we don't have them.
2. What we do have, while overall reliable and fairly easily examined for error, still leaves some serious questions of textual manipulation by scribes that makes several key passages difficult to stand upon for important doctrines.
This is, in fact, not as great a secret as Ehrman seems to imply throughout his book. There are a great number of books from all backgrounds and degrees of belief that acknowledge these types of issues.Read more ›
While comparing manuscripts, Ehrman gives us a parallel history of arguments and riposts among scholarly egos, making this a fascinating human story. We have, for example, the French Catholic scholar Richard Simon who in 1689 produced "A Critical History of the Text of the New Testament", giving a partisan blast at Protestant rejection of Church tradition in favor of reliance on scripture alone:
"The great changes that have taken place in the manuscripts of the Bible ... since the first originals were lost, completely destroy the principle of the Protestants ..., who consult only these same manuscripts of the Bible in the form they are today. If the truth of religion had not lived on in the Church, it would not be safe to look for it now in books that have been subjected to so many changes and that in so many matters were dependent on the will of the copyists."
Do all these differences among ancient hand-copied versions of the Bible make any difference? Ehrman shows thay do at many important points -- concerning Jesus, women, Jews, leadership, and more. And that's the really good part. I think this book is a big step forward in separating wheat from chaff in the scriptures.
--author of Correcting Jesus
Most recent customer reviews
Without going into details, I can safely say that I enjoyed the book. The content is broad, however, so insufficient by itself for an in-depth study. Read morePublished 9 months ago by C E.
Ehrman's thesis was quite clear half way through the book. He made his point with an abundance of evidence that was similar in nature and hence somewhat repetitive. Read morePublished 21 months ago by Terrence LeBlanc
No doubt Ehrman knows his stuff but this book repeats the same theme over and over. It could have a lot shorter.Published on May 9 2013 by Amazon Customer
This book is a very readable and lively introduction to the biblical study of textual-criticism. It shows the importance of the work of these scholarly text-men, and the impact... Read morePublished on April 20 2012 by Ted Mallar
Like Ehrman I've passed through many different phases of my spirituality. As a one time fundamentalist born again Christian I've been for many years both vaguely aware of and... Read morePublished on Dec 17 2011 by Nick
I'm not a Christian. Additionally, even as I do not believe in organized religion ('I'm not a joiner' combined with 'I wouldn't want to be a member of any organization that would... Read morePublished on June 26 2010 by Schmadrian
This book is a fascinating study in how the Bible came into existence and how its contents can be evaluated. Read morePublished on April 11 2010 by Sverre Svendsen
Professor Ehrman has done the world a great service in bringing between the covers of a single book many of the problems and controversies that have plagued Christianity from the... Read morePublished on Jan. 17 2009 by John Howard Reid