Bart Ehrman continues to be the premier scholarly public voice of research on the historical nature of the New Testament and the early Christians. In this latest entry, Ehrman explores the various contradictions in the Bible, especially those involving different accounts of the life of Jesus, the emphasis on Jewish Law and the priorities of the faithful, and the ways in which various New Testament authors disagreed on a multitude of issues.

Ehrman jumps into the discussion fast, explaining the historical-critical method of scholarship and why it is applicable to studies of the New Testament. The reader is teased with various Biblical contradictions which are then fleshed out in detail in the next couple of chapters. Difference of opinion between the Synoptic Gospels (Mark, Matthew, Luke) and the last Gospel (John) are profoundly interesting, especially the way the stories of Jesus grew from first (Mark) to last (John) of these.

Following this, Ehrman explains what we know about the Biblical authors, showing the reader that none of the Gospels could have been written by any of the original disciples (for a variety of solid reasons). He details why different authors emphasized different aspects of the teachings of Jesus and often came to different conclusions as to Jesus's ultimate purpose and objective.

The weak part of the book comes next, a chapter on the 'historical Jesus'. I found this section surprisingly at odds with most of the rest of the book, and utterly at odds with most of Ehrman's other writings. In this chapter, Ehrman proclaims that not only does he believe a real Jesus existed, but there are various things we can know about him. Ehrman maintains throughout that only the Gospels provide any solid evidence for Jesus's life (there really is no other evidence for the existence of Jesus), but then goes on to proclaim that, despite the fact that we can't take the New Testament as solid historically for much of anything (as he stated in this book and in numerous others), we can nontheless draw conclusions about Jesus from the books of the Gospels.

I'm really dumbfounded that Ehrman included this chapter, it almost feels like a bit of a peace offering to his critics (of which there are many who are rabidly angry over Misquoting Jesus specifically). This chapter does not jive with the historical-critical examination found in the rest of the book.

Interrupted gets back on track from there, with historical looks at how the canonical New Testament came to be formed (loosely for several hundred years and in various groupings of over thirty known books before being settled into the most common current canon).

A chapter on early Christianity follows and is one of the most interesting of the book, showcasing the development and branching of theology that took place in the first and second centuries as various brands of Christianity struggled to be the ultimate orthodox view. Most Early Christians held substantially different views of their savior and the priorities of the faithful which played out for decades before the dominate (now orthodox) views were widely adopted.

The final chapter is another peace offering (perhaps this time to his wife, who remains a Christian), attempting to reconcile faith with the information obtained through historical scholarship. Ehrman assures the reader that faith is still possible despite the facts and reiterates his point that he himself did not lose faith over this research but instead over the problem of suffering and evil (Ehrman is now agnostic, having started out a hardcore bible-thumping conservative evangelical). This was a really unnecessary addition to an otherwise solid effort (minus chapter five on the historical Jesus).

I personally enjoyed and learned more from Misquoting Jesus than I did from Interrupted, but it is well worth reading as there are many nuggets of great information here. Ehrman is the consummate scholar, a true historical scientist, both passionate and skilled, and his writing style is easy to follow and intensely interesting. Few know the subject better than Ehrman, and so far as I can tell, none of them are writing books for the public. A minor quibble is the lack of an index, and a major quibble is the inclusion of chapter 5 (historical Jesus) and 8 (reconciling faith), but regardless, I highly recommend to anyone wishing to know more about the roots of, and disconnects in, the New Testament. Four stars.

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Fair enough.

I'm not arguing that Ehrman has made claims that he believed Jesus didn't exist, I'm arguing that his treatment of the subject of Jesus in that chapter is quite different from his approach throughout the rest of the book, and the other two I have read completely, God's Problem and Misquoting Jesus (and a couple of debates including the Holy Cross debate with William Lane Craig on the historical nature of the resurrection).

He softens his level of evidence in Chapter 5. I don't recall him accepting the direct testimony of the NT writers as historical proof of anything without some other evidence. He examines theology (not history) contradictions in the first parts of the book (for which NT writers are excellent historical witnesses), and history of The Bible (using numerous sources other than the NT authors). In Misquoting Jesus, he never uses the testimony of the NT authors (that I recall) except when examining theology (comparing versions and changes is not taking the words as historically true). In fact Ehrman spents the greater parts of MJ and JI arging that these guys can't be trusted at face value.

So it feels like Chapter 5 was soft, he only had NT authors to use yet he tries to convince the reader that such testimony is sufficient to know some things about Jesus. I know the non-NT sources are virtually non-existent so he is using what's available, but why is it sufficient evidence for a historical definition of Jesus (such as his birth in Nazareth -- I get the argument for dissimilarity but several authors also agree that Jesus performed specific miracles. The weren't journailsts, they were evangelists).

I think Ehrman is right that Jesus existed, but I have barely a scrap of empirical evidence for such belief. Ehrman argues the entire chapter that we can trust some of what these guys say under his 'Criteria for Establishing the Veracity of Historical Material'. This is the thinest rubric for dealing with very sparse information, and only the historical nature of Jesus appears to catch this break.
I'm not following your rebuttal very well here...

At times you appear to agree with me that Ehrman agrees that the NT authors (and their sources) were not very solid witnesses to the historical nature of Jesus, then you appear to be disputing that very premise.

Again, I'm not arguing about what Ehrman says he believes or that he has changed his mind. I'm also not arguing that Ehrman does not caveat Chapter 5 with some warnings about the source material. Quite the contrary, I'm arguing that his belief in certain facts about Jesus (such as his birth in Nazareth) and his determination that some things are probable comes from sources that in other subject matter covered by the NT (and related sources) Ehrman himself is strongly cautioning us not to accept as reliable.

If they cannot be trusted to tell us Jesus's ancestry, why then are the same sources trustworthy enough to let us know of Jesus's birthplace (for example). Given that Luke and Matthew used Mark as a cheat sheet, why should we trust that Mark 's author knew the truth about Jesus? Even using the criterion of dissimilarity, it is jumping to conclusions to state in the intro to the chapter that "the problem is in part that he Gospels are full of discrepancies and were written decades after Jesus' ministry and death by authors who had not themselves witnessed any of the events of Jesus' life" to the later statement that "but who would make up a story that the Savior came from Nazareth, a litle one-horse town that no one had ever heard of? ... Somehwat ironically, then, it is probably historicaly accurate." I'll admit that he caveats with 'probably', but Ehrman has been so careful in what he claims 'probably' in other contexts that this, to me, is a stronger statement than warranted by the evidence.

I don't have your experience with all of Ehrman's earlier books, so I'll concede that I may not have a whole picture of his view, but that's really not the point. A book is meant to stand on its own. There should be no expectation of having read Ehrman's other works to understand him in MJ or JI.

As to your allusion to Alexander, I'm mostly in agreement, however, the 'proof' for the details of the life of Alexander (specifically) are significantly more concrete than those for Jesus (there are contemporary non-Greek accounts of Alexander and his rule). Shakespeare or Socrates are better analogies, and with those substitutions, I am in total agreement with you.

Anyway, off to bed, thanks for the discussion.
WOW! I am loving the discussion guys!
But my own 2 cents on Ehrman is this: I figured that since he was SUCH a devout believer, he now calls himself agnostic rather than athiest because he just can't totally let go.
He may need to have some personal experience to drive him the rest of the way.
Mind you, I have only read Misquoting, and none of his others.

Just a thought


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