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Clif's Book World

Adventures from reading books captured within short reviews.

Jesus, Interrupted

Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible & Why We Don't Know About Them (audio CD) - Bart D. Ehrman, Jason Culp I recommend the review of this book by Trevor at the following link:

The following is my review written five months ago:
There is nothing new or revolutionary in this book for anyone who has studied bible in a mainline seminary or divinity school (or in my case, listened to Ehrman's lectures from the Teaching Company). The problem is that most ministers use the Bible only as a source of devotional material, and refrain from telling their parishioners about what they know about historical critical study of the Bible. The following is a quotation from the first chapter of the book:

"... this material is widely taught in seminaries and divinity schools. But most people in the street, and in the pew, have heard none of this before. That is a real shame, and it is time that something is done to correct the problem."

If there's something revolutionary about this book, it is the fact that the author, Bart Ehrman, is trying to "correct the problem." Knowledge of the historical-critical approach to Bible scholarship does not take away its use as devotional material. It can enhance the devotional experience by providing a more knowledgeable and mature perspective on the source of Biblical materials.

This book provides a readable overview of the subject of critical study of New Testament history. It is information that has been around for a long time and should be common knowledge. The reason it is not widely known has many reasons, one of which is that everybody is happy picking and choosing the parts they choose to believe. Mr. Ehrman says the following about that:

"Everyone already picks and chooses what they want to accept in the Bible. The most egregious instances of this can be found among people who claim not to be picking and choosing"

I think the historical subjects covered by this book are broader than the subtitle indicates. The subtitle refers to "Hidden Contradictions In The Bible." That subject was covered in Chapter 2 of the book. I think a more descriptive subtitle would have been, "The Diverse and Contentious History of Early Christianity." The following is a list of chapter titles which can give an indication of the wide range of subjects covered:

1. A Historical Assault on Faith
2. A World of Contradictions
3. A Mass of Variant Views
4. Who Wrote the Bible?
5. Liar, Lunatic, or Lord? Finding the Historical Jesus
6. How We Got the bible
7. Who Invented Christianity?
8. Is Faith Possible?

In Chapter 6 he revisited some of the same material covered in his previous book, Misquoting Jesus, and responded to some of the objections made by critics of that book. He goes on to discuss the long, contentious and uncertain history of the formation of the biblical canon. Mr. Ehrman reminds readers that the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed make no mention of the New Testament as being an important part of Christain beliefs. As a matter of fact, the New Testament canon was not fully formed when these creeds were written. That's hard to imagine in today's era of "bible believing Christians" where many understand the New Testament to be the central core of Christianity.

In Chapter 7 Ehrman provides an interesting description of the step by step elevation over many years of the concept of Christ's divinity until it finally resulted in the doctrine of the trinity. By the time of Constantine, whether one accepted the doctrine of the trinity became the supreme test of orthodoxy. Ironically, it's a doctrine that was probably not articulated by anybody for the first couple hundered years of church history. And so "Within three hundred years Jesus went from being a Jewish apocalyptic prophet to being God himself, a member of the trinity. Early Christianity is nothing if not remarkable."

In the first and last chapters Ehrman talks about his own faith journey and that of others who have been involved with biblical scholarship. He argues that the historical critical method can deepen one's faith, making it more knowledgeable and mature. He says the goal of this book is to make serious biblical scholarship available to all.

I puzzled for a long time over the meaning of the word "Interrupted" in the title. In answer to that I found the following quotation of Bart Ehrman in a March 19, 2009 N.Y. Times article:

"The book is about how the voice of Jesus gets changed by all these other messages, and how these different voices are impeding the voice of Jesus. But some people have made jokes about coitus interruptus."

I guess his joking like that proves that he is a "happy agnostic" which is what he called himself in the same article.