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.