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on 9 March 1999
Ehrman lays out with admirable clarity and directness his thesis: that scribes of the faction of early Christianity which eventually became the dominant one (which has in hindsight been dubbed "orthodox") in the course of its conflicts with the other factions (now called the "heretics") massaged particular scriptural passages as they copied them to either: 1) provide proof-texts for orthodox Christology; or 2) neutralize potential proof-texts for the heretics. My acquaintance with the mechanics of "textual criticism" was only slight before reading this book, but the reasoning and method are so lucid that I've had no difficulty learning a great deal simply by watching Ehrman work. I've found it a surprisingly enjoyable read. It's probably a bit dry for most people's taste -- but if you didn't enjoy "dry" you probably wouldn't be looking at a book with this title anyway, would you?
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on 11 October 2008
This is a difficult book, written for real scholars of ancient Greek, Coptic and Latin texts. The work of writing it was like an archaeological mining operation through mounds of papyrus or parchment. Still, all the sifting and meticulous cross-comparison of handwritten manuscripts yields nuggets of evidence on the shaping of scripture over time. Ehrman finds patterns in the scribal alterations, usually toward conformity with an emerging orthodox doctrine about Christ. The Jewish-Christian references to Jesus as a man, the Gnostic depictions of him as a superhuman spirit, or "adoptionistic" descriptions of Jesus as a man who the holy spirit entered, all receive subtle "corrections" over time. Manuscript 2766, for example, shows an alteration from older versions of Luke 8:28, where "Jesus, Son of the Highest God" is shortened to "Jesus, the Highest God". Without scholarship like Ehrman's it would be far less clear which versions of such lines are most original.

This is arcane raw research, leading Ehrman toward his later books for a wider audience, such as the far more accessible Misquoting Jesus.

--author of Correcting Jesus: 2000 Years of Changing the Story
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on 25 October 2007
I haven't seen the scribes' copies of the New Testament which were compared for this book. I don't read Greek anyway. So that puts me at a severe disadvantage when it comes to judging Ehrman's findings. I trust to Bible scholars to verify Ehrman's accuracy. As to his selection, it seems he has presented a great many examples of changes in the texts that seem made during early Christianty to rule out heretical interpretations. It seems he has done an incredible amount of reading and comparing of these early texts.

There's a lot of scholarly details. Ehrman is sensitive to that: he recommends in the introduction that non-scholars may want to just read the beginning and conclusion of the four chapters that are very detailed. However, a lay reader could profit from reading everything.

Ehrman selected four significant heresies to focus on. Each has a chapter. Each of those chapters presents textual changes that would make sense if scribes were trying to avoid the heresy covered in that chapter. There is also a introductory chapter and a concluding chapter. I was surprised how many textual changes Ehrman was able to present in each chapter. Sometimes it wasn't clear to me how the change led to text less likely to support a heretical view, but many of the changes seem quite plausible. I didn't feel that Ehrman was pushing convenient interpretations on me; it seemed that the textual changes spoke for themselves. But I did appreciate the historical background Ehrman provides. He seems to have a good understanding of the various Gnostic Christian beliefs present during early Christianity.

Elaine Pagel's "The Gnostic Gospels" is a top down look at Christian Gnosticism, with a lot of her conclusions and some selected reference to details. Ehrman's book is instead a bottom up look, that presents a huge amount of details and a brief conclusion. Although it was more work for me to read Ehrman, it felt like I was participating in the process that led him to his conclusions rather than just hearing afterward of the conclusions he had arrived at. I like having so much exposed of what led an author to his/her conclusions, so I value Ehrman for his approach.

Being from an age of print and electronics, I'd never considered that the New Testament texts wouldn't match the originals, but often not quite exact copies made by scribes who may have taken small, but significant, liberties with the text. Because the meanings appear to differ (even if subtly) in most if not all of the examples Ehrman provided, it makes one wonder how literal an interpretation of a modern New Testament can be, as it depended not only on passages changed in the Greek but also translated.
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on 26 January 2015
Outstanding review of how the Christological controversies and other heretical movements impacted the transmission of the text of the New Testament. The book is organised by grouping related unorthodox beliefs and then demonstrating how major and minor texts were altered as a result. While he doesn't always give what each fragment says, it is useful to have this as a background or platform from which to reference.
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on 21 April 2016
Good book
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on 6 August 1999
Considering the mass of this work, this is a fundamentallyintriguing book. I found it a rich read rather than dry. Having a background in New Testament text critical methods such as the Claremont Profile Method and geneological methods, I found the theories very much a commercial ploy to become famous. With the mass of NT manusrcipts with an essentially identical theological core, there is no reason the believe the text as it stands in critical editions today is anything but a very good proximity to the original writers, or is it? Well, that's the problem that makes it all enjoyable for textual critics. Objectively, I suppose books such as these only make it harder for true scholars to do their work.
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