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The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings Paperback – 5 Nov 2007

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Product details

  • Paperback: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Non Basic Stock Line; 4 edition (5 Nov. 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199740305
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199740307
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 2.3 x 19 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,384,370 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"An outstanding introduction. Blends contemporary scholarship, the early Christian world, and attention to the needs of students most skillfully. The best introduction currently available."--Francis J. Moloney, The Catholic University of America"Ehrman's historical introduction to the New Testament is written more clearly than any other I have used; it situates Christianity more honestly in the ancient Greco-Roman world. It does not limit the picture of Christianity to the New Testament but draws on other early Christian writings. Lavishly illustrated."--John L. White, Loyola University --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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This chapter is concerned with some hard but intriguing questions that many people have never thought to ask about the New Testament: Where did this book-or, rather, this collection of books-come from? Read the first page
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78 of 89 people found the following review helpful By J. C. Bailey on 31 Jan. 2002
Format: Paperback
This book is quite well written and closely argued, but as an introduction to the subject matter it fails on at least one important level: Unlike, say, John Drane's "Introduction to the New Testament", it does not introduce us to a representative sample of scholarly thought. Instead it mainly argues the case for Ehrman's own position, and in the process it takes for granted certain assumptions that are more widely contested than he seems willing to admit. In other words, there is a tendency to cite opinions that other equally reputable scholars would contest as though they were established fact.
Another difficulty with using this book as an introduction to the subject is that Ehrman does not give the reader enough assistance in investigating his influences and antecedents. Thus he makes some quite radical assertions (e.g. challenging the traditional view that the oral traditions of pre-literate societies tend to be transmitted reliably) without the conventional footnotes quoting authorities and sources. Apart from some general further reading suggestions at the end of chapters, Ehrman's assertions along the lines that "recent research has shown" or "it is now accepted" have to be taken on his say-so alone.
Actually, Ehrman's antecedents are fairly obvious to anyone who has read theology - he continues the tradition of 19th century liberals like Wrede (and their 20th century disciples like Bultmann) who drew a sharp distinction between (i) the Jesus of history and (ii) the Christ of the Church's faith, and assumes that the Bible can only inform us about the latter. And yet the impressive work of N.T.
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3 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Anne Skjonsberg on 14 Sept. 2010
Format: Paperback
This is a very thourough, interesting and well documented introduction to all the writings in The New Testament. It is easy to read, even for one not too comfortable with the English language.

However, one should not read this book without checking the information given in other books from authors who do not take as a starting point that the gospels and the Pauline letters tell the truth. Ehrman is obviously a Christian believer and as such has as a starting point that Jesus Christ as described in The New Testament was a human being. It is a well known fact that you see only what you believe. I am a sceptic, so I do not see or accept the same argument for Christianity as a believer. Ehrman have many comments that I do not find valid as historical facts. I will here say something about the most striking errors or, maybe I should rather say, misinformation.
Ehrman refers only to the Roman admiral Pliny the Elder when writing about the Essenes, and informs us that this was a group located to Qumran or a nearby area (as told by Pliny), and probably the group behind the Dead Sea Scrolls. Furthermore Ehrman writes that the social arrangements and theological views described in the Dead Sea Scrolls correspond to what we know about the Essenes from other accounts. (See page 48.) I will recommend Ehrman's readers to consult the Jewish writer Josephus and the Jewish philosopher Philo, who both lived in the first century. What they tell us does not correspond with Pliny's story. It should be noted that Pliny tells us that the society he calls Essenes is a society without women. Josephus tells us that the Essenes did not live at a specific place or town and that you can find them in many towns.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 97 reviews
260 of 282 people found the following review helpful
Dream-textbook for teaching the New Testament 12 Dec. 1999
By Stephen - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Bart Ehrman's 'The New Testament' is a superb work for teachers seeking to assign their students a readable, reliable, and challenging introduction to the history of earliest Christianity and its literature. Incidentally, it would also be a fine first stop for intelligent readers who want to know what historians of early Christianity are saying about the birth of this religion and the origins of the New Testament. The work is engagingly written, with an occasional and not inappropriate first-person, and it has the merit of representing balanced, critical positions in the much debated-territory of New Testament studies. Ehrman's disinclination to accept a variety of trendy and dubious by-ways in New Testamental studies can be seen in his treatment of three areas. First, while not neglecting the Greco-Roman context, he positions Jesus squarely in the Jewish context and sees him as an apocalyptic teaching bent on internal reform of Judaism. Miracles are part of the picture, as they were for other charismatic Jewish teachers of the time (cf. the work of Geza Vermes). Ehrman declines to follow the scholars who with zeal and imagination claim to sort out editorial levels (and the communities or theological trajectories) in the hypothetical 'Q' document ('Q' = German 'Quelle' or 'source', i.e., the hypothetical sayings source lying behind the commonalities in Matthew and Luke and not in Mark). Thirdly in this regard, Ehrman refuses the common move of positing the existence of gnostic Christianity (or any 'gnosticism) prior to the first hard evidence for it in the late first or early second century. So this is a book that you can trust to pass on the generally accepted theories and to reject the more speculative moves of the field. For those interested in using this work as a textbook in a New Testament or Early Christianity course, I recommend it highly, having used it for two years in a row with excellent results. It is very readable, has something of a personal tone, and includes Ehrman's own attempts to explain the process of learning to students, e.g., his claim that one learn by comparison. There is a 'history of religions' strain to the book, which comes out in his insistence on religion as an aspect of culture and human life, as well as in his recognition (commonplace in the field) of early Christianity having consisted in a variety of early Christianities. The book comes with nice illustrations, maps, reproductions of ancient art, etc. (limited to B&W, no doubt to keep the price down). The book has what to me is the merit of posing challenging historical questions about early Christianity that make students think hard about religion. At the same time Ehrman, according to his own design, is theologically neutral. He does not feel compared to do theology (or undo theology!) for his readers; he merely states largely accepted theories which the reader or professor is free to use as a basis for developing his or her own questions, be they theological or historical. Would that we had a text of this sort for teaching an introduction to the Hebrew Bible!
113 of 122 people found the following review helpful
A HISTORICAL Perspective 28 July 2005
By The Spinozanator - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
In my view, Bart Ehrman writes with more clarity and strength than any other New Testament scholar. I have heard him speak, listened to his tapes and read his books. He exudes competency, frequently reminding us that his conclusions are those of a historian - then spends a little time explaining what that means. In the case of "The New Testament," it means he will examine authorship issues, content and revelancy of the various gospels, letters and apocolypses - inside or outside of the canon - differently than they might be examined from the pulpit. For example, issues of dogma are extensively discussed, but not endorsed nor advocated. Instead, they are examined for consistency within the whole context of the other books and the political setting in which the early church solidified its views. As a matter of fact, he is so non-committal it is impossible to tell exactly where he stands - although it is obvious he takes a liberal stance of some sort.

I had more than my share of fundamentalist preaching, yet values at home were those of inquiry and evidence toward the world in general. Ehrman's approach is more to my liking than reiteration of a dogma I've already heard, documented by passages from scripture pre-selected to prove a certain view. He compares the gospels, discusses the nuances of their differing themes and considers their probable authorship. The letters are treated similarly and the book of Revelations is subjected to a fascinating analysis. Consider the New Testament subjected to the kind of scrutiny one of Shakespeare's plays might receive from a college professor of western world literature - in which speculation is kept to a minimum and explanation is made as to the historical context of the story.

For example, he compares the teachings of the historical Jesus with the theological views of the apostle Paul: "Jesus proclaimed the imminent arrival of a cosmic judge from heaven, the Son of Man, and urged his followers to prepare by repenting and returning to a faithful adherence to God's law. Paul, on the other hand, insisted that following the Law would have no bearing on one's salvation, that in fact one could be saved only through faith in Christ's death and resurrection. Notwithstanding the broad similarities between these two men, both of them first-century apocalyptic Jews, their differences are striking. Do Jesus and Paul represent the same religion? Or has Paul transformed the religion OF Jesus into the religion ABOUT Jesus?"

Perhaps not for all readers, but certainly for that segment of curious Christians or non-Christians who wish to be exposed to a scholarly account of issues surrounding the New Testament - from a historical point of view - this is your book.
345 of 406 people found the following review helpful
A RATHER ONE-SIDED INTRODUCTION TO BIBLICAL SCHOLARSHIP 25 Jan. 2002
By J. C. Bailey - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This book is well written and closely argued, but as an introduction to the subject matter it fails on at least one important level: Unlike, say, John Drane's "Introduction to the New Testament" or Raymond Brown's more detailed overview from the Catholic perspective, Ehrman does not introduce us to a representative sample of scholarly thought. Instead it mainly argues the case for Ehrman's own position, and in the process it takes for granted certain assumptions that are more widely contested than he seems willing to admit. In other words, there is a tendency to cite opinions that other equally reputable scholars would contest as though they were established fact.
Another difficulty with using this book as an introduction to the subject is that Ehrman does not give the reader enough assistance in investigating his influences and antecedents. He makes some quite radical assertions (e.g. challenging the traditional view that the oral traditions of pre-literate societies tend to be transmitted reliably) without the conventional footnotes quoting authorities and sources. Apart from some general further reading suggestions at the end of chapters, Ehrman's assertions along the lines that "recent research has shown" or "it is now accepted" have to be taken on his say-so alone.
Actually, Ehrman's antecedents are fairly obvious to anyone who has read theology - he continues the tradition of 19th century liberals like Wrede (and their 20th century disciples like Bultmann) who drew a sharp distinction between (i) the Jesus of history and (ii) the Christ of the Church's faith, and assumes that the Bible can only inform us about the latter. And yet this view is already past its sell-by date; from the systematic reconstructions of Tom Wright at the conservative end of the spectrum to the liberal "cherry-picking" of the Jesus Seminar, the energies of the critical community are heavily focused on a "Third Quest" for the historical Jesus. There is nothing instrinsically wrong with Ehrman's scholarship, but once again it is one-sided.
A more serious issue is that Ehrman goes a stage beyond Reimarus, Wrede and so on in his assumptions that first century Christian thought was at least as heterodox as we know second century thought to have been, that the ascendancy of the orthodox "brand" of Christianity was simply by a process of natural selection, and that generations of "proto-orthodox" NT redactors constantly and consciously changed and added to the texts as they went along - their intention being to filter out any ideas that seemed to challenge their prejudices and to provide ammunition in the fight against "heresy". This position is not systematically spelled out in the book under review (for that, see one of Ehrman's other books, "The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture"), but it needs stating here because these assumptions inform his whole approach to the subject.
This is more radical than it may sound, because it would imply that the four canonical Gospels are not necessarily any more authoritative as insights into the historical Jesus than the Gnostic and other apocryphal writings of the second century such as the "Gospel of Thomas". In fact, the very starting point for Ehrman's main discourse is the non-uniqueness of the traditionally-supposed key points of Jesus' life: He begins by recounting the miraculous birth, life, death and resurrection of a man the readers is allowed to assume is Jesus, but then (surprise!) turns out to be Appollonius of Tyana, a mythical miracle worker whose exploits are chronicled in the "histories" of Philostratus.
Ehrman's book has many good points. Its discussion of Marcan priority is the most lucid summary I have read, and its assessment of the historical background to each of the biblical Gospels and the Pauline writings is also outstanding. My problems with the book arise from its shuttered perspective. In the context of a more open discussion, and with greater care in documenting his sources, the author could have argued his own opinions just as coherently and with less danger of giving the inexperienced student a one-sided view of the issues.
30 of 33 people found the following review helpful
A Basic Text about the New Testament 21 Jan. 2006
By Smallchief - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Author Ehrman's "The New Testament" seems to be designed as a textbook for advanced undergraduates. Thus, the writing is accessible and informative rather than inciting and exciting. Ehrman goes through the books of the New Testament systematically, examining the origin and meaning of each. He looks also at some of the writings and traditions that didn't make the "cut" and were excluded. The book contains a goodly number of maps and illustrations. In the wake of the "Da Vinci Code" women will be pleased to see a chapter about women in early Christianity -- although the most famous of them, Mary Magdalene, gets only one mention.

The book is clearly written; the author does not intrude his own beliefs; and the scholarship seems sound. Whether intended or not, Ehrman reinforces my suspicion that Christianity might better be called Paulism, as the Apostle seems to have taken the early Church in directions that its symbolic founder could hardly have envisioned -- and perhaps would not have sanctioned.

For the believer, the greatest miracle of all is that this religion headed by an obscure Jewish peasant and his rag-tag followers survived and flourished. Ehrman offers some insight as to how this miraculous event might have transpired. "The New Testament" is worth your time and can be read cover to cover or dipped into for information on specific topics.

Smallchief
53 of 62 people found the following review helpful
Getting to Know the New Testament with clarity 31 Mar. 2003
By W Fuchs - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
What does Jesus mean to you and why is it important to you as a human being living 2000 years after the death of Jesus? Why is Jesus viewed and interpreted by scholars in so many different ways? How do the four Gospels of the New Testament explain the life and mysteries of Jesus as a man, prophet, messiah and divine being? These and a host of questions of this nature are clearly explained by Professor Bart D. Ehrman in his excellent book, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. This is a thorough examination of the New Testament. Although the title suggests a "historical introduction", it's that and much more.
Too often, scholars tend to express historical events in high brow theoretical frameworks and confusing, elaborate paradigms. As a student or just someone who may be interested in learning about the New Testament, you're presented with a lucid, terse and imaginative outline on the New Testament reading Professor Ehrman's book. All 29 chapters are presented coherently with logical historical descriptions and analysis that clearly explains every facet of what it means to analyze a complex and controversial subject.
It was such a pleasure to read through the material with ease, comfort and with clear explanations. Professor Ehrman carefully walks you step by step through non-canonical and canonical sources for the "creation" of the New Testament. In addition, you're given the ideas behind each gospel and what the "author" of each gospel portrayed using a variety of historical methodologies. You're given a succinct groundwork to help you understand how you get from point A to point B of each gospel and their connections. There are no quantum jumps in theoretical ideas to confuse the reader.
I have thoroughly read 13 other books on the "Historical Jesus" and reviewed 43 other ones. Professor Ehrman's book is by far the best ever written on the subject. Although the book is used as a text book for the Historical Jesus and the New Testament for undergraduate students, it could easily be read as a book on it's own. You learn not only the history of Jesus; from varying sources, but you get in depth lessons on ancient history which connects everything together so well.
I would highly recommend this book over Professors E.P. Sanders', The Historical Figure of Jesus (Penguin Books, 1993), which I feel is an excellent book on the same subject.
The price of the book is worth every penny. You will never read the four Gospels the same way after reading Professor Ehrman's tremendous book. This book along with his other book, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium (Oxford University Press, 1999) can only help the reader to clearly understand the Historical Jesus from so many perspectives with clarity beyond imagination. Any reader who does NOT enjoy this book and/or comes away with a better understanding of this subject has not read other convoluted books on this subject.
The reader would do well to go through the four gospels first (a few times) before reading Professor Ehrman's book so that you can appreciate his analysis as he quotes verses from scriptures in each gospel.
The cliché, "read any good books lately?" certainly applies to this book.
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