Wednesday, April 05, 2006

BOOK REVIEW - Misquoting Jesus

Misquoting Jesus
Bart D. Ehrman
242 pages
HarperCollins, 2005

I have not done too much writing about religion on the Opiate except to say that I believe religion, or rather faith, is one of the most glorious things about us as humans and has the power to change the world for good. Sadly we are too mired in our sectarian debates and us versus them attitudes to see past our differences and rise above mere humanity. I plan on an extended essay on what I believe, however I want to spend some time researching and meditating upon my beliefs before I put them out there for you people to tear down. One of the biggest problems I have with current Christian theology is that it takes the Bible as the inerrant word of God (and then promptly ignores the parts that are inconvenient to the personal prejudices of the person in question) rather than taking a slightly more critical view of the Bible in its current form. The idea of the Bible as something other than the inerrant word of God first arose in my mind during my RCIA classes (which, sadly, does not stand for the Roman Catholic Intelligence Agency, which I will tell anyone I can when discussing my conversion to Catholicism) where the origins of the Bible were discussed. At that time my concerns were centered around the books commonly referred to as the Apocrypha. What made the books included in the Bible more valid than those left out? What was in these books that were deemed unworthy of being in the Bible? Were there temporal forces at work in these decisions? As I read a little on the subject I quickly ran up against the problem which Ehrman tackles in this book, which is subtitled The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why.

This book begins with an excellent introduction to the field of textual criticism, which is the study of ancient manuscripts in the attempt to determine what the original text actually said. Erhman then gives the reader an overview of the development of the Bible in the western tradition. After this Erhman dedicates the final chapters of the book to tackling the different reasons the Bible was changed, which include theological and social motivations. Throughout the book he offers multiple examples where the extant texts do not agree and walks the reader through the process he used in each instance to determine what the “original” text would have said. All in all this is a fascinating book which is rife with examples of changes made to the text of the Bible, some of which go right to the heart of some of the earliest doctrinal debates within the Church, such as the divinity of Jesus. Erhman does nothing to attack Christianity in this book, though I am certain some people will see it as an attack, but rather approaches the subject as a detached academic who is passionate about the work rather than the answers themselves. For anyone who is interested in religion I cannot recommend this book enough and I think this is something that every Christian should read. Personally I am intrigued enough to pick up some of Erhman’s works on early Christianity.

Next Up: No God But God by Reza Aslan

Note: You may have noticed that my last four posts were all book reviews. This represents the last couple of weeks of reading and I am finally caught up on my book reviews. Yay!

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