26 December 2014

Misquoting Jesus by Bart D Ehrman

I have had Bart Ehrman's MISQUOTING JESUS: THE STORY BEHIND WHO CHANGED THE BIBLE AND WHY on my list for longer than I can recall. I suspect I added it back in 2009 when I developed a mild interest in comparative religion and textual criticism. Somehow or another, its turn finally came, so I got it from the library and slogged my way through it.

That makes it sound like more of a chore than it was. While it was no page-turner like some of my favorite books this year have been, it was far from boring. Indeed, Ehrman went out of his way to make the book both accessible and interesting for the layperson, which I certainly am.

MISQUOTING JESUS is, at its heart, a scholarly work, identifying the ways in which early scribes affected the transmission of the text of the New Testament, the reasons they sometimes had for doing so (in those cases where it was intentional), and the ways scholars use to study when and why these changes might have been made.

Certainly, as in many scholarly fields, disagreement abounds, but Ehrman lays out the tools of textual critics clearly: centuries of analytical techniques; caches of documents found over the years, some remarkably preserved over the centuries, others of a suspect provenance; litmus tests for determining which readings are more likely to be authentic, based on internal and external evidence; and, maybe most importantly, a willingness to dive deeper into a text that many people are reluctant to examine as anything other than the Literal Word of God.

I noticed the book generated a number of responses, many of which seemed to view MISQUOTING JESUS as anti-Christian. I wonder if any of those people actually read the book, because Ehrman seems to come a cross as a man of very committed faith, who nonetheless takes the study of his faith seriously and believes the deepest faith can be found by studying the words the faith was founded on.

It was a fascinating book, and I made it through it in about a week (pretty quick for non-fiction, for me). Up next, I have five (FIVE!) books from Andrew Smith's back catalog. As he's pretty much become my favorite author, this is a truly exciting end to the year.