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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 1 September 2010
What a read, it is one of those books that looks behind the "stories" that have built up around the bible. Don't read this if you are a believer otherwise it may shake your convictions and start you questioning your faith.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 24 November 2012
Very good reading with this one. Even for a believer like myself. Erhman is the best writer about the bible in my humble, although he concentrates on the NT. He does a really good job of examining the NT, and brings out things which can be disturbing and difficult to read, but worth the effort. It makes you think about who Jesus was. And you get to study the gospels in depth, and see the way in which the various writers wrote, according to who they were, and what they believed and who they were writing for, and when. Although Erhman avoids any comment much on John's gospel.. which is perhaps a bit too much of an avoidance, anyway, it is not investigated much.
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on 23 April 2015
A thoroughly excellent book. It is very well-written and easy to follow.
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10 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 8 May 2012
Cards on the table: I'm a Christian, but I don't believe in the Divine Inspiration of Scripture, and hold traditional doctrines eg Trinity, extremely lightly.

BUT I'm afraid to say i find Bart Ehrman's expositions by far the least convincing of the texts I have read in this area (and I have read a lot). Just a few examples (and like I say, I have no wish to defend an "Evangelical" view of "what happened"):

- differences within the Synoptic tradition: various examples are given, but none strike me as being of any real significance (unless you wanted to defend "verbal inerrancy")
- the Synoptics not presenting Jesus as divine. Certainly they are less clear cut on this than John, and to be honest I don't really know what my own view is, but but the Synoptics frequently refer to Jesus as Lord (which I understand to be a technical equivalent to YHWH), and certainly imply that Jesus saw himself as being the Son of Man descending on the clouds at the Final Judgement
- the textual mis-transmissions over time seem highly exaggerated. Ehrman suggests that the entire doctrine of the Trinity depends on the mis-translation of one single verse. Whatever you believe about the Trinity (and for myself, I don't know), this assertion is simply absurd and it is beyond me how he could have made it, nor how it wasn't edited out of the book. It is the only significant example he gives however, of the point about mis-copying.
- the late date given for the formalisation of the New Testament Canon is frankly disingenuous. As I've already said, I don't believe in the Divine Inspiration of Scripture anyway, and if it was left to me, I'd chop and change it around quite a bit, but that's a different point. To all intents and purposes, most of the canon was agreed and accepted at a much earlier date. Who cares whether Jude and 2 Peter were included or not? Admittedly James is more significant (although of course Luther wanted to expunge it from the list 1500 years later).
- to talk of ancient pseudoepigraphia, like the Pastoral Epistles, in modern category terms like "forgery", is not something I've ever found supported in any other book on the subject
- likewise, to depict the Oral Traditions as Chinese Whispers seems unjustifiably pejorative (consider eg the way the Jews re-enacted key moments - or myths - from their history, so that the traditions would be passed on intact through many generations. Likewise perhaps the Eucharist).
- he makes the reasonable point about the Resurrection, that it can never be proved as a historical event. It is rather a faith position. This much is obviously true. But what he actually seems to want to be saying is that by definition the Resurrection can never be proved, therefore by definition it didn't happen. He doesn't actually put it quite like that, but his treatment of the topic seems to be trying to say that - and that goes beyond what is reasonable to say.

Having said all that, he does make some good points as well:
- a good exposition of the different quasi-Christian groups in the First Century, and making the point that the "Retrospective Orthodoxy" we ended up with was by no means the only possible outcome
- he nakes the point (frequently) that it is a shame that the fruit of modern scholarship is seldom presented in Churches, and with that I would heartily concur.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 9 October 2011
I find Erhman's books to be absorbing and well worth reading.
Ehrman's fascinating book is required reading for anyone interested in the truth about the Bible and the dubious origins of Christianity's sacred texts.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
This is a very interesting popularization of current scholarship on the New Testament. Most importantly, Ehrman takes what he calls a historical-critical perspective, i.e. he approaches the Bible as a scholar analyzing a text written by men rather than a sacred document that emanated directly from God. This is exactly what I was seeking, i.e. a secular treatment of the Bible as a religious document - the most important ever in the West - rather than the unquestionable (and perfect) word of God.

He begins with a rather dry chapter comparing the versions of events and theological notions between different texts as well as within them. In this way, it leaves absolutely no doubt, in my opinion, that the Bible is not infallible or even necessarily coherent, but is a work of literature that should be used as such. Ehrman goes on to prove that there are fabrications, authors faking their identities, and not least, a huge array of "gospels" that did not make it into the canon but which may well good sources on early Christianity. That means it was men who chose what was in the canon, i.e. the Bible is a human document and Christianity is a human religion.

Interestingly, Ehrman states that he has become an agnostic, but not because of what he concludes about the origins of the Bible. (It was the meaningless suffering of good people that did that.) He is steadfastly consistent in stating that, even as a human religion, everyone - even an atheist like me - can find much of value in the Bible. Again, I completely agree with this perspective, indeed I am fascinated by the figure of Jesus and the preachings attributed to him. I just don't believe they emanate from a God.

Once that is established, in about 140 pages that are a bit of a slog, the book gets extremely interesting as Ehrman seeks to explain the fundamentals of the Christian faith, including the nature of Jesus himself. Early Christianity, for example, had a number of different possibilities for the way Christianity might develop. There were 1) Ebionites, who argued that those who became Christian essentially had to become Jewish; 2) Marcionites, who "spurned all that was Jewish" and believed that the Old Testament proved the inferiority of the Jewish God, Yahweh, who was wrathful and vengeful rather than forgiving; 3) Gnostics, who believed that secret rites as revealed by Jesus would ensure salvation within a bizarre cosmology that argued that were many, perhaps hundreds, of Gods, including the deformed and flawed one that created horrible conditions on an earth that must be left behind through transcendence; 4) the proto-orthodox, who eventually won out, with a divinity of Christ that was "separate yet similar" to God.

Along the way, the reader witnesses how Christianity transformed itself from a Jewish sect into an anti-Jewish religion, how the notion of Christ's divinity was established (at a surprisingly late time), how heaven and hell were grafted on when the world did not come as prophesied. Most interestingly, Ehrman argues that Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet that advocated a strict version of Jewish law and was viewed as human by himself and his followers, not even the son of God. He lost credence with the Jews, according to this logic, because his gruesome death proved that the reign of paradise on earth would be ushered in by him. It is a valuable portrait, leavened with Ehrman's reminders of how little we can know because the sources were written, then transmitted and added to, decades or centuries after the death of Christ, i.e. unreliable as historical sources.

As a non-believer, I was comfortable with this perspective. I can see how believers would feel defensive about it, but Ehrman is at pains to introduce fundamentalists to the value - and respect - of his methods. I warmly recommend this book to atheists, agnostics, and believers.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 11 September 2011
A very interesting read for those who do not know the history of how the 27 books of the New testerment came to be chosen, written and compiled over many years, we see how the historical Jesus evolves perhaps into something he never claimed to be.

Paul as the first Christian writer, writing only around 35 years after the death of Jesus only seems interested in the divine Christ and says very little indeed about the historical Jesus, why ? Did he know next to nothing of the historical Jesus or did this just not interest him and why so little if anything from Paul on the 'virgin birth' ? We learn here that only Luke and Matthew construct a birth narrative, maybe this was unknown to Paul after all a divine exit should also shorely require a divine entrance ? As Ehrman says Mark was the first gospel to be written circa 70 AD 15 or so years after Pauls letters, but I would have liked to see a little more of what came before this first Gospel - collections of other writings must have existed, a passion gospel, a sayings gospel, a parable collection ?

The 1st century was hardly a media intensive age, perhaps once the author of Mark had gavered together all his material, finished his gospel he threw everything else away - in exactly the same way we would today, gather our material choose what we do and don't want to suit our purpose and there's our finished product ! Unfortunetely if there was a loose collection of material before Marks gospel ( the lost Q gospel for example ) everything has been lost, yes some or it is contained is Marks gospel but what else was available, when did it date from and who wrote it ? Could some of Jesus followers have dictated material which was passed down ? We will never know which makes the wider debate and detective work in this book so interesting - perhaps this will provided the subject for a forthcoming Ehrman book as I have to deduct 1 star as he does tend to revisit the same or very similar material over several different books.
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on 7 November 2014
A necessary reading for the devout.
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on 7 March 2015
Arrived quickly and as described.
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on 3 July 2014
Interesting, discussion provoking
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