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Bart D. Ehrman

Extended Book Review.

The subtitle directly addresses a quandary of our age:

"Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don't Know About Them)"

Ehrman is one of those rare people for whom the pendulum of faith has swung in both directions, but not to such extremes that he lost touch with either pole, religious or secular. Jesus, Interrupted, like his "Misquoting Jesus", contains biographical detail. Unlike the extremists on either side of the divide, Erhman is quite respectful of believer and atheist alike. Like a growing number of people, Ehrman characterizes himself as an agnostic, one who can rejoice in understanding both the worlds of faith and logic. His telling point is that the bible is the most influential book ever written, however its writing came to be in and by human hands. For that very reason it deserves deep study--the kind he has devoted his career to and reports here.

Ehrman's life work has been to follow up on the textual analyses of the Bible and its origins. His case is prima facie in that its human origins cannot be disproved. He finds vast enlightenment about the basic good of humanity. His evidence is that although the text was altered through the early ages, the alterations were either incidental errors in transcription or largely with good or reasonable intent even when political. Nearly every page presents dramatic examples of error or contradictions in a very readable style. The textual problems in the Bible are many and most come from literal differences among the various stories of certain events that differ or contradict. There are differences in later interpretations as well. In rare cases, there seemed to be outright forgeries as in 1 Timothy.

Ehrman is quick to acknowledge that his interpretations originated with others, for some centuries in fact. He laments the fact that although most theologians, though fully aware of the history of how the Bible came to be, routinely never bring it out for their own parishioners. That is a shame, because to know the thinking, not only of the original authors but of later interpreters as well, is an enriching experience. Like the fact that the Trinity as a formal explicit teaching. came only with the King James version of the Bible, see I John 5:7. Although all three entities are mentioned earlier in Mathew 28-19-20, their relationship as described in the King James version, was not made. Isaac Newton noticed the addition to John in the King James version, noting that it was not in the earlier versions. After all antiquity is one of the more important measures for true history, but the Trinity does not have it.

On a personal note, Erhman did not become agnostic as a result of all these discrepancies, errors, and later alterations of, or additions to, the scripture that are now apparent. Rather, his doubts arose from the fact that there is so much needless suffering in the world. What kind of God is it who permits that to exist? We too have heard this objection from our agnostic acquaintances.

Now to some of his specifics regarding the canon which he believes will never change:

p 222.
    "When pressed, I do admit there are a few books I wouldn't mind seeing omitted. At the top of my list would probably be 1 Timothy, forged in Paul's name by someone living later, who was so vehemently opposed to women actively involved in the churches that he ordered them to be silent and to 'exercise no authority over man.' If they want to be saved, he indicates, it will be through 'bearing children.' That's great--women have to be silent, submissive and pregnant. Not exactly a liberated view, and one that has done a world of damage over the years. I wouldn't be sorry to see it taken out."

    ...At the end of the day, the canon is the canon, and there's little point in thinking how we might want to change it. Better to figure out how to encourage interpretations of it that don't lead to sexism, racism, bigotry and all kinds of oppression."

During the 300+ years it took for the canon to take shape, there was a great deal of debate and dissension before the elements of the ultimate canon took shape. Only in 367 CE did Athanasius list the twenty-seven books that now comprise the New Testament. This came years after the Council of Nicaea, called by the emperor Constantine to resolve the many conflicts besetting early Christendom. Ehrman put it this way:

    "The decisions that were eventually made were not handed down from on high, and they did not come right away. The canon was the result of a slow and often painful process, in which lots of disagreements were aired and different points of view came to be expressed, debated, accepted and suppressed. Whatever Christian theologians and other believers might maintain about the divine impetus and guidance behind the canonization of the scripture, it is also clear that it was a very human process, driven by a large number of historical and cultural factors." [Some things never change!]

More to the point of our many theses on RoadtoPeace, Ehrman also concluded:
    "They [the church fathers] wanted everyone in the church to agree on important aspects of Christian doctrine. They didn't want troublemakers in their midst. They wanted to be assured that they had one orthodox teaching that had been handed down by Jesus to his apostles and on to posterity. They wanted to know they were right."

This is no less than the Authoritarian Personality we now recognize operating some seventeen centuries later!


Regardless of your persuasion, Jesus, Interrupted is a timeless book for any student of the bible, the human condition or history. The seeds enabling later wars, insurrections, and oppression were sewn early. All it took, here and there, was the occasional sociopath rising to power who hijacked and seduced believers into wars and atrocities. Occasionally also, folks like Martin Luther came along with the skills to mount effective protest.

It is interesting that Islam has followed a roughly parallel path of schism. The three great monotheisms are everything but in agreement--between or among themselves. None is truly peaceful, for like other institutions, each is subject to hijacking by the occasional sociopath commanding and getting excessive obedience which most of us inherit. Sociopathology, it seems, is simply part of the human condition. It has always been so. How we handle this personality type may well determine our destiny.

Further reading:
See Religion, Violence & Sociopathology and links therefrom for some arresting statistics in our time. See also The Clergy Project a confidential online community for active and former clergy who do not hold supernatural beliefs.


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