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5.0 out of 5 stars Ehrman: Jesus Interrupted, 19 Mar 2012
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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) (Paperback)
Bart Ehrman's "Jesus Interrupted" will be "old-hat" to Bible scholars, but for its intended audience, the general church-going public, may well be, as the Boston Globe reviewer suggests, "... a grenade tossed into their tidy living rooms of religious faith". Ehrman's aim is to demonstrate to such people that the Bible, far from being a single, inspired work of Scripture that is wholly self-consistent, is in fact a conpendium of diffreent theologies which often conflict with one another, creating obvious inconsistencies and contradictions. No-one is better placed than Ehrman to undertake this task, for he begins by describing his own painful journey from his initial position as a dyed-in-the-wool literalist to his current liberal stance in which he takes the Bible to be largely metaphorical.

It is impossible to summarise the book adequately in such a short review. Let me simply pick on a few salient points. In Chapter 1 he outlines and champions the "historical-critical" method of studying the Bible. Rather than taking the Bible as the literal Word of God which must be taken literally, we should examine in detail how it was put together, the purposes of the many different authors, their intentions for their particular communities, their sometimes contradictory theologies, and so on. Ehrman laments the fact that although all the mainstream denominations require their clergy to be exposed to the historical-critical method in their initial studies prior to ordination, most of them fail to pass on what they have learned, and are content to keep their congregations in blissful ignorance.

In Chapter 2 Ehrman begins to apply the historical-critical method, turning first to the matter of contradictions, which fundamentalist Christians deny exist. When we look carefully, the existence of such contradictions is glaringly obvious. For example, in Matthew's Gospel (26:32; 28:7,10) Jesus insists on the disciples meeting him in Galilee after the resurrection, whereas in Luke 24:49 he commands them to stay put in Jerusalem until he has ascended and they have received the Holy Spirit. There are literally scores of other contradictions in the gospels alone.

In Chapter 3, Ehrman shows how the different New Testament writers, using a common stock of pre-gospel traditions, often take radically different theological stances, and see Jesus in different ways. We therefore need to study each book of the Bible in its own right in order to determine what each particular author was trying to convey to his particular community. When we simply pluck verses from the air willy-nilly, we simply sow the seeds of confusion.

Chapter 4, "Who Wrote the Bible?" challenges the assumption that all the books were written by those to whom they are ascribed, while Chapter 5 demonstrates the virtual impossibility of arriving at the real heart of the historical Jesus. All we can know about him is what his first disciples tell us, and that inevitably distorts the picture. Chapter 6 provides us with a potted history of how the 27 books of the New Testament came to be selected for the "canon" and pronounced scriptural. The story is one of centuries of development; there was no such thing as "the Bible" until the sixth century A.D., and even then, transmission depended on several centuries more scribal copying prior to the invention of printing, with all the scope for error which that afforded.

As I noted above, this book is not aimed at Bible scholars and teachers who know (or should know) all this already, but at a largely evangelical church-going public. My main concern, as with all books of this kind, is whether the intended audience will ever pick it up, let alone read it. Most evangelicals are complacently content to live out their faith without ever wishing to turn to critical questions of this kind, and my fear is that Ehrman will be a voice crying in the wilderness. Still, if there are any evangelicals out there reading this review - please! - pick up Ehrman's book and give it a go. It may change your entire attitude to the Bible.
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