- Hardcover: 256 pages
- Publisher: HarperOne (Nov. 1 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0060738170
- ISBN-13: 978-0060738174
- Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.3 x 22.9 cm
- Shipping Weight: 481 g
- Average Customer Review: 18 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #271,671 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why Hardcover – Nov 1 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 the Paperback edition.
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. The Christian canon was a long time in development, and when one was finally chosen as "orthodoxy" it was enforced by imperial fiat. Orthodoxy became a legal matter.
The predominance of Roman authority in Western Europe led to the Latin Vulgate bible issued in the Fourth Century C.E. Not for another millennium did a Greek text emerge. It was produced by the Dutch monk, Desiderius Erasmus in the midst of the Protestant Reformation. It lasted for nearly three centuries. More importantly, it was the foundation for the widely used "King James Version" produced in English a century later. Erasmus, in his haste to provide a Greek text, used a "mere handful of medieval manuscripts" which were woefully inadequate as reliable "originals". The copying techiques that had been used were hardly unblemished. The "Greek Bible" thus rested on highly questionable authenticity.
Among the problems raised by Erasmus' version of the Jesus story is that of the "Johannine Comma". This passage is the sole reference in the Vulgate that defines the triune nature of the deity, Jesus and the resurrected "spirit". This definition is missing in the available Greek texts and the nature of the "Trinity" must be derived from a multitude of various passages put out by a spectrum of authors. Since Erasmus didn't include the Johannine Comma text, there was outrage expressed by the theologians of his day. If the concept of the "Trinity" is without foundation, a mainstay of Christian orthodoxy thus collapses. It took another century for biblical scholars to examine and compare the available Greek texts. The result, particularly a study by a John Mill, who spent three decades at the task, to compile a list of thirty thousand variations in the writings. The ensuing scandal exceeded even that of Erasmus' day. With so many errors, how could the texts be "divinely" inspired?
According to Ehrman, most of the errors were simply innocent mistakes. Nodding scribes in monasteries, skipping a passage or reading one twice, poor penmanship leading to "wrong" words and just plain ignorance was often responsible. More serious were those changes imposed by copyists to "correct" a passage. The meaning was incorrect or a citation listed in order to make a point. One significant insertion referred to Jesus' genealogy as coming directly from Abraham. Another is the variations in the portrayal of Joseph, Mary's husband. Or "betrothed" as some scribes depicted him. The difference hinged on whether Joseph was Jesus' biological father, which impacted the concept of "virgin" birth.
Ehrman goes on to describe the rise of the "Higher Criticism" in the 18th and 19th Centuries. Calling this text analysis movement "The Quest for Origins", he describes the work of such scholars as Richard Simon, Richard Bentley, Johann Bengel, Johann Wettstein and others. Each was a serious analyst, bent on devising new analytical techniques. As these methods were successively applied, yet more revelations emerged. Inevitably, some of these were theological, with fresh characterisations of Jesus resulting. Certain texts depicted him as either angry or compassionate in a given circumstance. Others portrayed him in conflicting views of his confronting his end. Some of these depictions again raised the issue of what kind of being Jesus was. In an aside, Ehrman considers how the "gospels" changed the view of Christian society toward its own women and that regarding the Jews. Ehrman notes the irony of Jesus being born and living as a Jew, yet whose life and supposed sayings were tranformed into one of the most Jew-repressing forces in history. It was a simple matter, Ehrman shows, to change texts to present an anti-Jewish orthodoxy.
Ehrman's book, which is derived from an earlier and larger text, is one of the first to delineate the issue of modifying sacred texts. His style is light and conversational. It must be a delight to attend his lectures. Since he documents his sources and explains the changes in the text as far as he can follow them, the book is a valuable resource. That there are those who will condemn him for raising these issues is undeniable. Yet, so is the case he presents. It's a book well worth reading - perhaps more than once. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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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