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Reliability Of New Testament Paperback – Aug 2 2011
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About the Author
Bart D. Ehrman is one of the most renowned and controversial Bible scholars in the world today. He is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and is the author of more than twenty books, including the New York Times bestsellers How Jesus Became God; Misquoting Jesus; God s Problem; Jesus, Interrupted; and Forged. He has appeared on Dateline NBC, The Daily Showwith Jon Stewart, CNN, History, and top NPR programs, as well as been featured in TIME, the New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Yorker, and other publications. He lives in Durham, North Carolina. Visit the author online at www.bartdehrman.com.
Robert S. Stewart, Jr., Ph.D., is a retired U.S. Army officer and currently an Associate Professor of Biology and Director of the Biotechnology Division at Stephen F. Austin State University.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The volume reproduces transcripts of Ehrman and Wallace's remarks. (I assume that they are transcripts because they contain a few bracketed insertions that apparently represent corrections to the spoken lectures.) These are quite short; Ehrman's takes up just 14 pages, while Wallace's takes up 19 pages. Although their remarks are lively and interesting, they break no new ground and the points made will be familiar to many readers. If you are unfamiliar with Ehrman and Wallace's work, then these selections provide a brief introduction, otherwise you will probably find them disappointing. These selections are followed by 13 pages of questions and answers. Apparently, this is a transcript of the live Q&A session with the audience. Some of the questions and responses are interesting, but a number of the questions are off the main topic: Wallace's critique of Ehrman. Ehrman and Wallace never engage each other directly. In other words, there is no dialogue! This is quite disappointing. In his remarks, Wallace raises some important questions about Ehrman's work, particularly about the extent to which Ehrman believes it is possible to recover the original wording of the New Testament and the extent to which the wording of the New Testament as we have it represents changes meant to reinforce orthodox views. In this volume, Ehrman doesn't respond to ANY of Wallace's critiques.
This forum is apparently part of an ongoing series, the Greer-Heard Point-Counterpoint Forum in Faith and Culture. I would strongly urge the organizers of this forum to rethink its format. There should have been an opportunity for Ehrman and Wallace to engage each other. Just giving them an opportunity to restate their views without any dialogue doesn't serve much purpose.
The remaining 120 pages in the volume -- in other words two-thirds of the volume -- is given over to papers by other scholars. Some were apparently delivered at the forum, some were written later. As a group, they are interesting, but rather academic. I have never read an academic theology journal, but these papers are what I imagine is typically published in such journals. Most of the papers make at least passing reference to Ehrman's work, but, of course, there is no rebuttal from Ehrman included -- if, in fact, he even read these papers.
So, all told, this volume contains some interesting perspectives on the reliability of the New Testament. But it is not at all what the title advertises it to be. I would give it 3 1/2 stars.
However, this debate only fills up about one third of the book. The remainder is a collection of presentations and papers which discuss issues raised within the debate. As with most collections, the contributions are hit-or-miss. For example, William Warren's essay, "Who Changed the Text and Why? Probable, Possible, and Unlikely Explanations" was short and sweet; it got right to the heart of the issue while staying objective as possible. On the other hand, K. Martin Heide's essay on the stability of the New Testament was very tedious.
Overall, while the essays were enjoyable, they seemed to be a bit one-sided. While some were fairly neutral, the majority seemed to be critiques of Ehrman. A little more balance would have been nice. Or a little more discussion about what "reliability" actually means (and why it's important) would have added a lot.
Nevertheless, I think both conservative Christians and die-hard Ehrman fans will be surprised at some of the things that can be learned in this volume. For that reason, I definitely recommend this as a good introduction to the topic.
Despite the book's subtitle, the featured article was less a dialogue between Ehrman and Wallace and more a Q and A session with each making an opening statement and then answering questions put to him by an audience...there was not any real-back-and-forth or point-counterpoint which I found disappointing. Overall it was a decent collection of essays which provided a variety of viewpoints (though it was definitely tilted toward the "The New Testament is reliable" position).
The presentations by Ehrman and Wallace in some ways are the least interesting parts of the book. Neither digs too deeply into genuine scholarly engagement with the txts of the New Testament, but simply summarizes conclusions they've presented in other books. Wallace does extend his a bit in other to show why he finds Ehrman's work lacking as a complete account of the NT texts, but it's a very skimpy one. If you haven't read Wallace's or Ehrman's scholarship in detail you won't be given much depth here. Of course, the scholarly discussion has become clouded through the proliferation of works popularizing & sensationalizing Ehrman's work, some by Ehrman himself.
In my opinion, William Warren's essay, "Who Changed the Text and Why? Probable, Possible, and Unlikely Explanations" was the best at explaining the status quaestionis for the non-scholar; it showed how Ehrman's research, mostly done a decade or so ago, has been seen to be only a partial account of the tradition of manuscripts in late antiquity. The most scholarly off the essays is undoubtedly K. Martin Heide's essay, "Assessing the Stability of the Transmitted Texts of the New Testament and the Shepherd of Hermas." Essentially, Heide does a statistical analysis of the extent of textual variation across early centuries in NT manuscripts, and then the same with manuscripts of the extra-canonical text, The Shepherd of Hermas. His stats for the NT manuscripts show an average textual stability of 92.6%, the spread of results for individual manuscripts ranging from 87.1% to 99.7%. To achieve some perspective, Heide then conducts the same sort of analysis of extant manuscripts of Shepherd of Hermas (the single most frequently copied extra-canonical text, and more frequently copied than most canonical texts in the first several centuries). The average stability is about 86%. Heide notes that this doesn't "even reach the worst value of the New Testament texts, as represented by P45 [the Chester Beatty Gospels codex]." Heide's statistical analysis puts to rest the worried notion popularized by Ehrman that the texts were irretrievable corrupted through copyist actions. The fact is that no other ancient text was copied as faithfully as the New Testament texts.
The other essays look at a variety of aspects of the NT scribal tradition. They are all good, but the best is Heide's definitive dismissal of Ehrman's worried notion.
I give it four stars, not due to any internal defect, but because as a sober scholarly work, the jive that the publisher has heaped on it ruins its presentation to the reader.