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157 of 168 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An agnostic's agenda?, 20 Sep 2009
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This review is from: Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We Don't Know about Them) (Hardcover)
I recall a reviewer of one of Ehrman's books observing the author as merely pushing his agnostic agenda. Fair comment, but for tackling a profound subject such as this what are the alternatives?

Well, and to make a few generalisations, erudite atheists such as Dawkins seemingly want the believer to see sense and start living a secularly productive life away from the restrictions of dogma. Most other atheists categorise believers as deluded, scratch it and get on with their lives (history isn't exactly abundant with wars waged by atheists on countries of faith to 'de-convert' the masses to secularism). So if an atheist were the author how balanced would the book be? Conversely, a believer is compelled to convert the reader to the light and would nigh on find it impossible to remain objective in their interpretation of their book of faith.

So what we have from an agnostic is a thoroughly absorbing book on the origins of the Bible, its authors, its discrepancies and historical context. There is much overlap of topic and narrative with some of Ehrman's previous books so those who have read Misquoting Jesus for example, expect a sense of déjà-vu. But we do learn some new things as Ehrman invites the reader to look at the Bible from an observational stance free from the confines of doctrine, and view it and therefore understand it as a human creation.

The discrepancies in the Bible, both minor and consequential, are many and Ehrman picks some of the highlights for discussion.

Take the nativity story as one of many examples. The first problem is the two significantly differing accounts in Matthew and Luke, of Mary and Joseph's journey, the dates, its reasons and routes taken. Secondly, its lack of corroboration with non-Christian historical sources e.g. there is no other contemporary evidence of Herod's massacre of the innocents. Thirdly, who were the educated scribes documenting this epic journey of two peasants, as they certainly were not eyewitnesses? A similar problem arises at Jesus' trial. Who witnessed and memorised Jesus' famously profound discussions with Pontius Pilate behind closed doors, and who relayed said conversation (who knows how many steps removed) word for word to a foreign scribe some 40 years later?

The point being is that the source subject (i.e. Jesus' life) has been interpreted by the writers and the gospels therefore, to a greater or lesser extent, are inaccurate. This fact is inescapable and once you accept this you simply can't turn a blind eye and must question the reliability of everything, every story and every word. Personally, I simply can't get past this before I can start to marvel at the Bible's 'amazing' similarities (which Christian authors proclaim) let alone base my whole life around it. Nor can I cherry pick the parts I want to hear and either ignore the inconsistencies or validate them with convoluted and clever interpretation (a practice at which Ehrman professes he was once an avid expert).

As to why there exist these biblical discrepancies, alterations, additions, false attributions and so on, Ehrman offers credible explanation as we learn of the developing Church's and biblical writers' possible motives in context of their historical environment. For example Mark was the earliest gospel author and saw Jesus as a great man, debatably not divine but certainly a Jew and a believer in the Jewish route to salvation. Conversely, John is regarded as the most anti-Semitic of the four so his gospel makes particular emphasis on Jesus being God and the only way to heaven - and this is not surprising as, being the last gospel writer some 60 years after Christ's death, John was a reflection of the growing Christian movement being at odds with the established Jewish faith.

Some believers, who are not hung up with the inconsistencies in the gospels, often claim that you have to read all the narratives to get the whole picture. In Ehrman's view this 'averaging' process effectively means you are the creator and editor of your very own 'definitive' fifth gospel and he warns that this patently devalues the originals (whatever 'original' means as the earliest surviving texts of any significance were written around 200CE). Accept each gospel for what it is; a well-meaning narrative of a deeply influential and great man, but a narrative nonetheless, not of eyewitness testimony but in fact based on verbal accounts of illiterate folk passed on through the generations.

So as for Ehrman pushing his agnostic agenda is simply not true. He never attacks faith, indeed he freely references those of his equally scholarly colleagues who have kept their faith; all he goes to say is that his has been lost to the evidence. Furthermore, Ehrman categorically does not deny the existence of God, nor does he deny that Jesus is the son of God; he simply states that the texts that are present in today's Bible are not reliable as evidence to support this belief. I have to agree.
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Tracked by 3 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 17 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 12 Mar 2010 09:21:42 GMT
J Grainger says:
"A similar problem arises at Jesus' trial. Who witnessed and memorised Jesus' famously profound discussions with Pontius Pilate behind closed doors, and who relayed said conversation (who knows how many steps removed) word for word to a foreign scribe some 40 years later? "

It is odd how critics of the Bible apply conditions which they don't require for other ancient texts. One clear example is Thucydides account of the Peloponnesian War. His reporting of Generals' speeches, for example, are probably fabricated according to his expectations of, as he puts it, "what was called for in each situation". In other words, verbatim accounts aren't necessary in order to convey the message behind them.

In reply to an earlier post on 9 Aug 2010 09:17:23 BDT
d mitchelson says:
I'm sure that you are correct. T's account of the conversations of generals may well be inaccurate, but unlike the bible, his account of the war was written well within living memory of the progagonists, is verifiable by other texts and does NOT claim to be the word of an all powerful deity who made the universe.

In reply to an earlier post on 20 Oct 2010 21:07:56 BDT
Last edited by the author on 20 Oct 2010 21:08:18 BDT
J Grainger says:
T's text is NOT verifiable by other texts. The only other contemporary account is Xenophon's Anabasis. However, T's account of the war ends in 411BC. X gives an account of the march to Persia to help Cyrus which took place between 401-399BC, so they recorded different periods of the war.

There are NO other texts to verify his account. In similar vein much of his reportage is based on eye-witness testimony. There is NO way to verify these or check if they are accurate or not.

Whether a deity is involved or not says nothing about whether what was written is accurate. Just because T reports a war doesn't say anything to how accurate his report is. For all we know most of it could be made up. As, indeed, he has admitted concerning the Generals' speeches.

In reply to an earlier post on 20 Nov 2010 11:06:49 GMT
D. gamble says:
The accuracy of T's conversations of the generals is not an appropriate comparison ... today we have a planet packed full of people who claim the bible is special and base their entire existence upon it (and good luck to them if thats what they wish to do) ... nobody does the same for Thucydides account of the Peloponnesian War.

Given that the Gospel texts are the basis for so many lives ... it would be foolish not to examine the content very carefully ... I find nothing odd in any way about the application of such scrutiny ... in fact, given the importance it has, I would find it odd not to take a close look and determine if the content is reliable and credible.

We have 4 distinct texts ... each describing a very different Jesus ... now thats truly odd and worthy of further thought ...

Posted on 23 Feb 2011 12:44:45 GMT
Tobin says:
(history isn't exactly abundant with wars waged by atheists on countries of faith to 'de-convert' the masses to secularism)

No? What about National Socialism, Socialism, or Communism? If I recall correctly, the biggest mass murders have been commited by decided atheists. In order of number of people murdered, they were: Mao Tse Tung, Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler. And all waged often bloody war against the predominant religion in their respective countries.

In reply to an earlier post on 23 Feb 2011 21:26:51 GMT
d mitchelson says:
This is a very old argument which has been refuted many times. Mao Tse Tung, Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler did not commit their crimes BECAUSE they were atheist, Stalin and Mao were against religions bedcause they were a challenge to their totalitarian regeims and infact their charismatic cult status mirrors fundamental theism.
Who said Hitler was an atheist? He made many references to his belief in god.
In Mein Kampf and later in a speech at the Reichstag he said, "... I am convinced that I am acting as the agent of our Creator. By fighting off the Jews. I am doing the Lord's work."
But the conflicts between protestant and catholic, sunni and shea, muslim and hindu have a direct relationship with the belief in diferent gods, or cults of the same gods, and put people at odds when they would have no other cause.
The "Christian" countries have had no problem waging war on others in spite of their professed allegiance to "Gentle Jesus, meek and mild" and their adulation of the 10 commandments, and the Koran is full of advice of how to treat non-muslims. In the Rawandan massacres the majority of Rwandans, and Tutsis in particular, were Catholic, so shared religion did not prevent genocide.
Though there have been many benefits to religion over the years, the disadvantages have vastly outweighed the advantages, and in this age, where there is a slowly rising tide of human rights, good laws and ratioallity, the days of religion are numbered.

In reply to an earlier post on 3 Aug 2011 22:17:22 BDT
Mrs Brown says:
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

In reply to an earlier post on 21 Nov 2011 18:06:45 GMT
Last edited by the author on 23 Nov 2011 10:03:27 GMT
Kim Hatton says:
"If you think this you can't be living in the UK." Rather a Non sequitur but just out of interest why can't the writer be living in the UK? I'm somewhat puzzled - I live in the UK and see no reason why the writer 'can't be'.

In reply to an earlier post on 22 Nov 2011 19:21:19 GMT
d mitchelson says:
I assure you I do live in the UK. What have I written that makes you think I don't?

In reply to an earlier post on 30 Nov 2011 17:19:49 GMT
Gaz C says:
Adolf Hitler was NOT an atheist and almost 50% of his army (many in the SS) were confessing Catholics. He may of waged war on the religion of his country but not in the name of Atheism, it was in the name of yet another ridiculous magic based world view!
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T. Scott
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