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Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why [Paperback]

Bart Ehrman
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Jan. 25 2007 Plus

For almost 1,500 years, the New Testament manuscripts were copied by hand––and mistakes and intentional changes abound in the competing manuscript versions. Religious and biblical scholar Bart Ehrman makes the provocative case that many of our widely held beliefs concerning the divinity of Jesus, the Trinity, and the divine origins of the Bible itself are the results of both intentional and accidental alterations by scribes.

In this compelling and fascinating book, Ehrman shows where and why changes were made in our earliest surviving manuscripts, explaining for the first time how the many variations of our cherished biblical stories came to be, and why only certain versions of the stories qualify for publication in the Bibles we read today. Ehrman frames his account with personal reflections on how his study of the Greek manuscripts made him abandon his once ultra–conservative views of the Bible.


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Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why + Jesus Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don't Know About Them) + Lost Scriptures: Books that Did Not Make It into the New Testament
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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.

From Booklist

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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
48 of 49 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tumbling the temple July 7 2006
By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
It takes no small amount of courage to shed a faith, even more to do it publicly. Bart Ehrman depicts his conversion to evangelical Christianity, with its insistence on Biblical literalism. He goes on to explain how studying the Gospel writings led to questioning the wealth of inconsistencies they contain. From there, he realised that by following what others insisted was "Truth", he had avoided what was indeed true. The stories of Jesus simply failed to present what had actually occurred in Palestine in those years. Putting faith in what the Gospels related was misplaced effort. From his studies, he recognised that there are no "original" texts. What had come down to him and others was the work of imperfect or purposely misleading copyists. How this scenario developed is the theme and purpose of this work.

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.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
By Brian Griffith TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
Ehrman believes the history of our great stories matters. And his exploration of the New Testament's evolution is an enormous accomplishment. This is a work building on hundreds of years of research, for example, Stephanus's 1550 translation with marginal notes identifying variations between 14 different ancient Greek manuscripts. Or John Mill's 1707 comparison of over 100 Greek manuscripts to show 30,000 points of difference. And Ehrman's data base includes over 5,700 manuscripts in Greek alone, which yield a total of between 200,000 to 400,000 varients among them.

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
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Scholar Casts Doubt on Fundamentalist Assertion July 21 2007
By Andre Lawrence TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
Bart Ehrman has written what many believe to be a thought-provoking analysis of the formation of The New Testament. I concur with this opinion, it is indeed intriguing.

The over-riding assumption according to Christian fundamentalist is that The New Testament is inerrant. And, in this state of perfection, there's a unified story amongst the authors on what appears to have happened in 1st century Palestine, the correction of Jewish philosophy and the way to eternal salvation.

These precepts have always been contested, by Jewish scholars, by Christian academics and, as Dr. Ehrman points out, by agnostics, atheists and polytheists of those eras. This book is an attempt to examine the environment in which the later writers (i.e., the scribes) who inherited these oftentimes contradictory stories.

I came to know of this book by way of PBS' The Diane Rhems Show. In that lively hour, Dr. Ehrman discussed his fundamentalist upbringing through his academic disillusionment years. There were many things discussed during that show that is not in the book.

The book spends a disproportionately long time discussing how the traditions were adapted by intentional "corrections", accidental, interpretive or just missing material.

Only sparsely does Mr. Ehrman actually deal with etymology. But, when he does it reveals much. I was also impressed with his addressing certain assumptions that the early Christian community was disproportionately discriminated against by the so-called unbelievers and the Roman community.

The book is very interesting and I recommend it only to those who've read other books that deal specifically with historicity.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars A bit repetitive
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 more
Published 3 months ago by Terrence LeBlanc
3.0 out of 5 stars Could of been a lot shorter
No doubt Ehrman knows his stuff but this book repeats the same theme over and over. It could have a lot shorter.
Published 16 months ago by kjv444
5.0 out of 5 stars mini-review of misquoting jesus
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 more
Published on April 20 2012 by Ted Mallar
5.0 out of 5 stars Enlightening and Considerate
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 more
Published on Dec 17 2011 by Nick
4.0 out of 5 stars A Very Engaging Book
This is the first book of Ehrman's I have read. I found it interesting and well-written for the average person who has little background in Biblical Textual Studies, (which equates... Read more
Published on June 5 2011 by Bart Breen
4.0 out of 5 stars Confirmation and revelation; all good.
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 more
Published on June 26 2010 by Schmadrian
5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful and readable
This book is a fascinating study in how the Bible came into existence and how its contents can be evaluated. Read more
Published on April 11 2010 by S Svendsen
5.0 out of 5 stars Biblical Questions Raised and Answered
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 more
Published on Jan. 17 2009 by John Howard Reid
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