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Archive for Saturday, April 8, 2006

Journey of Faith

LHS graduate reveals truth about Bible’s complex history

April 8, 2006

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A young Bart Ehrman, a born-again Christian, set out after high school to learn as much as he could from original biblical texts.

What the Lawrence High School graduate learned shocked him: Not only were there no original texts, but the Bible's words had been changed through the years, entire stories had been added much later, and the Bible's content remained under intense debate among scholars.

Ehrman has spent 30 years attempting to unravel the complicated history of the Bible. His new book, "Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why," relies on those decades of research to explain the evolution of the Bible to the masses.

"Even though scholars have been talking about this stuff for hundreds of years, I realized regular folk don't know anything about it," says Ehrman, a religion professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. "I thought it would be interesting to try to write a popular book more for a Barnes & Noble crowd."

"Misquoting Jesus," Ehrman's 19th book, has earned the 1973 LHS graduate a lot of attention in recent months. The book is seventh on this week's New York Times best-seller list for hardcover nonfiction, and Ehrman has been the subject of profiles in newspapers such as The Washington Post and was a guest on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart."

"He always was a funny guy, and now we'd call him charismatic," says Robin Rowland, a Kansas University communications professor and Ehrman's friend since high school. "He's really carried that out in his teaching and his writing. How many academics would kill to be on 'Jon Stewart'? And yet, he's there."

Changed content

"Misquoting Jesus" offers a series of examples of how the Bible has been altered over time - sometimes, Ehrman says, because those transcribing it had an agenda of their own.

Perhaps the most striking example is the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery. When a crowd wants to stone her to death, Jesus says, "Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her."

Though it's a beloved and oft-quoted passage, Ehrman says it didn't exist in any of the four original gospels. It was inserted into the book of John centuries later.

"I'm not trying to poke holes in the Bible," Ehrman says. "I'm really stating historical facts. It's not a matter of interpretation that we have 5,700 Greek manuscripts and no two of them are alike."

Faith journey

Ehrman, now 50, spent most of his childhood in Lawrence. He and his family attended Trinity Episcopal Church, 1011 Vt., and he was an acolyte through high school.

His first transforming faith experience occurred when he was a sophomore in high school. He attended a Youth for Christ club meeting that, he says, led him to be a born-again Christian.


LHS grad BART EHRMAN, pictured in front of the Chapel of the Cross, in Chapel Hill, N.C., has gained a lot of attention in recent months with his 19th book, "Misquoting Jesus." The book is seventh on this week's New York Times best-seller list for hardcover nonfiction, and Ehrman recently was a guest on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart."

LHS grad BART EHRMAN, pictured in front of the Chapel of the Cross, in Chapel Hill, N.C., has gained a lot of attention in recent months with his 19th book, "Misquoting Jesus." The book is seventh on this week's New York Times best-seller list for hardcover nonfiction, and Ehrman recently was a guest on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart."

His newfound fundamentalism sparked him to attend Moody Bible Institute in Chicago.

"I was interested in knowing what the original words of the New Testament were, since what I thought was that the words had been inspired by God," Ehrman says. "So I wanted to know what the words were."

He later learned Greek at Wheaton College and eventually studied at Princeton Theological Seminary.

Over time, he realized those original words didn't exist, which, along with other biblical inconsistencies, made him shy away from his fundamentalist beliefs. About eight or nine years ago, he decided he was agnostic.

"I ended up becoming an agnostic not because of my scholarship," he says, "but because I finally came to a point where I couldn't reconcile my belief in a benevolent God who is in control of the world with the state of the world. There's so much pain and misery in the world."

Teaching the people

Facing those sorts of faith questions is common for biblical scholars, says George Wiley, chairman of the religious studies department at Baker University.

"Let's say you start out as a believer, you're a religion major in college, and you do graduate study to become a teacher," Wiley says. "You will run into ideas that challenge your faith. Most people absorb it, think about it and keep their faith."

For some, however, there is a breaking point, Wiley says.

Ehrman says his research isn't aimed at a particular audience. He says the field of biblical history should be available to everyone - and not just kept to scholars any more.

"People in the church ought to be given factual information about the Bible they revere," Ehrman says. "But in fact they don't know the first thing about it. They have no clue."

Comments

poolside 8 years, 8 months ago

I am not surprised at word changes throughout history. But I am a little suprised at additions to parables. Time to do some digging of my own.

geekin_topekan 8 years, 8 months ago

The Bible is a "document"? That is synonymous with "law"isn't it?

OldEnuf2BYurDad 8 years, 8 months ago

Good one 75/55. Unfortunately, this article will sound "authoritative" to the uninformed, and will lead some to think that they should reject God because some guy lost his faith and wrote a book.

If 95% of the most ancient texts agree that Jesus said something, then he did say it. If some 4th century text says something "odd" that none of the early texts say, then he didn't say it. Most every Bible will tell you in footnotes when that happens, so this man isn't really "revealing" anything new to any of us.

The Bible is "the power of God to all who believe". What I find ironic is that this man's education "led" him to become agnostic... but the faculty of the Bible school that taught him these things are not losing their faith(s). His loss of faith has nothing to do with his discoveries, it has to do with heart-level decisions he has made.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 8 years, 8 months ago

"People in the church ought to be given factual information about the Bible they revere," Ehrman says. "But in fact they don't know the first thing about it. They have no clue."

And the fact is, most true believers in the infallibility of the bible aren't interested in facts of any kind. That's why someone like Bush can lie through his teeth to these people, and they keep coming back for more.

OldEnuf2BYurDad 8 years, 8 months ago

Bozo, don't you think that "most true believers in the infallibility of the bible aren't interested in facts" is an overly broad statement?

I had enough core coursework hours in religious studies at KU to earn a second degree in Religious Studies when I graduated. All I was missing was some specific prerequisites (languages, etc.) for the degree. Many of us "true believers" are pursuing all the facts we can, and we embrace them. Even Jesus said "the truth will make you free".

What the heck does George Bush have to do with that?

OldEnuf2BYurDad 8 years, 8 months ago

Once again, I have to ask: is this story "news"? Am I to understand that John Stewart had this guy on his show because he wrote something anti-Bible? Whoop-te-do. He can get in line behind the 1,000,000 guys before him who did the same. He hasn't blown the cover off anything. He's not Woodward or Bernstein.

OldEnuf2BYurDad 8 years, 8 months ago

Maybe this guy should have consulted with Mirecki first...

Hey, Ehrman: if you see a red pick-up truck heading your way on a lonely road, don't get out of your car!

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 8 years, 8 months ago

It's pretty common of newspapers to do articles about local kids who've gone on to do well, and being fairly high up on the best-seller list with a book on the bible is definitely doing well.

Christianity was a relatively marginal cult within the Roman Empire until it was coopted as a state religion by Constantine. The texts that became included in the bible commonly in use today, most written decades or even centuries after the deaths of Jesus and his disciples, were much more the result of political expediency and compromise than divine inspiration.

1957 8 years, 8 months ago

"Christianity was a relatively marginal cult within the Roman Empire until it was co-opted as a state religion by Constantine. The texts that became included in the bible commonly in use today, most written decades or even centuries after the deaths of Jesus and his disciples, were much more the result of political expediency and compromise than divine inspiration."

This is currently espoused as fact but really is far from the truth. The Bible as we have it now was understood by the early church fathers of the second and third centuries as scripture. Go back and read their writings. For example read Clement of Rome's "First Epistle of Clements to the Corinthians" written some time around 100 AD and see how many references there are to passages that are from the Bible we have today. The Council of Nicea only ratified what was already understood to be scripture.

I can only scratch the surface of all the evidence that the Bible is trustworthy, fulfilled prophecy, internal consistency, archeological verifications, etc.

But don't take my work for it, check it out for yourself.

Chris Redford 8 years, 8 months ago

"I can only scratch the surface of all the evidence that the Bible is trustworthy, fulfilled prophecy, internal consistency, archeological verifications, etc."

I checked it. I found an inconsistency.

Matt 27:5 and Acts 1:18

Before you give me the typical apologetic response, please read this http://comments.deviantart.com/1/18670482/238844328

Chris Redford 8 years, 8 months ago

crap. You'll need this too. The first comment on this page is my response:

http://comments.deviantart.com/1/18670482/241465770

Chris Redford 8 years, 8 months ago

"but because I finally came to a point where I couldn't reconcile my belief in a benevolent God who is in control of the world with the state of the world. There's so much pain and misery in the world."

I agree 75x55. This is a really weak argument. God could use pain to bring about a master plan in the afterlife. He could restore the pain of those who suffer when they die. So there is a balance. He can still be benevolent (unless he sends people to Hell: http://www.deviantart.com/deviation/24001848/ )

A much stronger denial of a theistic God is a recognition of His origins: human culture. A History of God is a good testament of this. The idea of God has gone through so many iterations it would make your head spin.

Another strong denial is the recognition that a theistic God is in all ways a human being except for being omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. This is highly suspect. So if I had these traits, I would be God? Can the universe really be explained that simply?

A final strong denial is the recognition is that the entire history of the universe including Christianity can be explained quite comfortably without the idea of theism as a real concept.

Chris Redford 8 years, 8 months ago

But calling the enormity of Reality anything like a theistic God is putting it in a box. I don't think it fits so nicely into the theistic category. I think the god/gods concepts don't do it justice.

I am familiar with the ineffable. The higher order, the harmony of the universe. And I don't think it fits into the box of theism.

I find oneness with this creation not by claiming to know its creator. (as if such could possibly be related to on such human terms; claiming that Reality was crafted by a "creator" as we might claim a house was crafted by a builder).

I find oneness through my experience of Reality on completely transcendent terms. There is such an awe to it all. Such a vastness that stretches beyond my wildest desires. I can easily live a meaningful and provocative life in its richness.

I've been peering into this incredible harmony for quite some time. And I find I find theism to be quite an insulting caricature of its fullness. The final and ultimate act of self worship by human beings: claiming that the origin of the cosmos is a being like we are. It turns my stomach.

Because all the wonders of the universe are being attributed to this human likeness. All the explanations are being pigeonholed into the majesty of a human being.

What's at the top of it all? Not truth. Not harmony. Not an ever-expanding and amazing Reality beyond our imaginations. Nope. It's a human being. And he's got a plan. And a Hell. And a judgment. And laws that he gave to people thousands of years ago that will never change.

Yup. That's all there is to life. You can close your science book, you can put your hopes in a jar. Sorry Billy, you worship Jesus or you are going to Hell. Wonders of the universe? Pish. We'll have no more of that New Age talk. Stop looking at the universe and start looking at a Bible. You'll find everything you need to know there. Close up all your truth and put it in a box. Truth has been found. We found the truth thousands of years ago and it was given to us by the Creator Himself.

No more searching. No more questioning. We've found all the answers. It was God who did it all.

Aside from this being a disappointing ending to our search for meaning, it also (thankfully) has no credibility. Because it is putting Reality in a box. Just as you've said. I'm not much for boxes either.

88_stock_CRX 8 years, 8 months ago

While the intellectual exercise of Biblical interpretation and historical fact pattern discovery is interesting, what are you going to do if you happen to solve all the riddles? Sit back and gloat that you are right and everyone else could not figure it out? Assuage the guilt you feel for judging others? Assuage the guilt you feel for hating those who have judged you? Understand the secret to get into heaven when others don't? Be a favorite of God and earn his/her/its recognition as a more righteous Christian than the next? Raise an Army of God's warriors to conquer evil? Biblical literalism is just a tool of fundamentalists to rationalize cultural judgment (from which political machines typically emerge) and in the extreme, violence.

For Ehrman, he may be guilty of throwing out the baby with the bath water though. Maybe Jesus is nothing more than a convenient legend in western culture, but it doesn't matter, at least not to me. Even if the resurrection story is nothing more that an poetic interpretation of the renewal we can feel through love and forgiveness, it is a great poem and if we accept it as a "religious" experience of love, hope and joy in our hearts (possible through other ways in other cultures I accept), then, like Pascal's argument, we have lived as Jesus said to in case we needed to for life after this and have had a better life here and now for it. The Bible does just does not need to be literally true to have a full, wonderful life with your heart centered on love, hope and joy as carried forward through the story of Jesus 2000 years later and as manages to amazingly eek through some part of the Christian experience yet today, despite all the manipulations along the way for various nefarious reasons.

For those with the argument poised on their keyboards, no, I am not accepting moral relativism. In fact the contrary:there is a universal moral code not only of basic behavior, but of how all humans can be happy in life. What I do not accept is that the literal reading of the Bible is the only way to live a truly moral life.

If you are trying to fill an empty heart lacking purpose with a Biblical proof from your brain, forget about it. Go get laid, go get married, go have a kid, go plant a field a wheat and watch it grow, go watch Life is Beautiful by Benigni, go to Free State Brewery on a hot summer night and sit outside drinking an Ad Astra Ale. As a wise person once told me, "embrace the contradictions." Your heart will be much better off and your brain freed from its weight.

Chris Redford 8 years, 8 months ago

88_stock_CRX "The Bible does just does not need to be literally true to have a full, wonderful life with your heart centered on love, hope and joy"

Yes, this is the essence of mythos. The true value of religions that don't mesh well with reality. It is not a bad thing at all. So long as we accept and fully recognize that we are indulging in the mythos and learning from it not because it is true but because of the feelings it inspires.

"As a wise person once told me, "embrace the contradictions." Your heart will be much better off and your brain freed from its weight."

Yes, free from cognitive dissonance.

Wise words.

I came to a sudden realization today listening to a speaker on Christian radio. He was speaking of the sovereignty of "King Jesus", "King of the Universe". Literal believes often accuse nonbelievers of choosing the human route. Nonbelievers want to indulge in their human passions and ignore the sovereignty of the theistic God embodied in Christ.

The irony is that making Reality human is exactly what they are doing. They refuse to accept that while Reality has everything to do with human beings, it is in no way similar to human beings. A true "King" of the universe is a completely untenable idea.

There is a higher power and a higher order. But it is not human. And being a "King" is a very human position. Why would we think the universe orders itself in the same way as medieval feudalism? This is not a universal order. It is a human order. Being mapped onto the whole of existence. The entirety of the universe is being mapped onto a myopic human institution. How could the whole of the universe fit into a transient human experience in Europe that lasted a few centuries?

The universe itself is billions of years old. How could any human experience from the last 200,000 years be a summary of its order? How could the experiences of a single species that has been around for ~0.006% of the universe's existence really be tantamount to the universal order?

Marion "Here's one for you: Does it make any difference whether or not there is an external reality?"

Is this line of thought directed at me? If so, what truth am I missing? If not, forgive me for misinterpreting.

75x55 "There are only two possible answers - either He is the very Son of God, Messiah, and now risen Lord of All. Or he was a mad man."

I strongly disagree. Jesus was an incredible person. If not, we wouldn't still be talking about him. You are leaving out the important possibility that Jesus was a great man who was not the Son of God. Ironically, the best choice available imo. There are far more than two possible answers for the identity of any historical figure let alone JESUS.

verity 8 years, 8 months ago

When I was a child, my brother gave me a book which attempted to prove God's existence through various arguments. It had the opposite of the intended effect. I had never thought to doubt it before then. I still have the same question that I had then---if there must be a supreme being behind the universe, then where did that supreme being come from? What/who created it?

Lepanto1571 8 years, 8 months ago

Verity,

Who/what created matter? If it wasn't created, from where did it come? What naturalistic mechanism of self-sufficiency brought it (and for that matter, space and time) into being?

I don't know why you would doubt God so quickly (excepting that you were looking to) from this perspective, as naturalists must deal with the "problem" of self-sufficiency also.

Chris Redford 8 years, 8 months ago

Well I'm not certain if anyone is reading this anymore but.

75x55

I accept that Jesus may have himself chosen that there were only the choices of Son of God and madman. But even in this case if Jesus was just a great man and not God incarnate then he would not have the authority to make this universal decree.

Lepanto1571

Yes, we must accept that self-sufficiency is an illusive concept. I think it is much more miraculous and awe-inspiring than thinking that a human-like being created everything, honestly. I think the latter lacks imagination.

So as a naturalist, let me make this distinction clear.

Both naturalist and theist agree that there is something greater that created the world. There is a source to matter, space, and time. It is greater than us. It is as of yet beyond our comprehension.

But the theist says that this source must be very much like a human being. And the naturalist says there is no reason to think it is anything like a human being.

The theist says that this source will forever be beyond our comprehension. The naturalist says that it will be out of our comprehension only as much as we give up on trying to comprehend it. The naturalist says that given time, we will understand it just as we understand everything else.

Which attitude will lead to progress for humanity? The one that assumes that all we have learned in the past is all we will ever know? Or the one that assumes that we have not seen everything yet and that there is much more to learn?

self-sufficiency

I think what you are ignoring, Lepanto, is that God does not solve the problem of self-sufficiency.

It does not change anything. Let M be matter/space/time, G be the theistic God, and ? be the unknown source.

Here is the naturalist position:

? -> M

Here is the theistic position:

? -> G -> M

Which perspective is most parsimonious? Obviously, the former. There is no reason to insert God. If we don't know where God came from it does not solve the problem of self-sufficiency but obfuscates a solution. It is like putting a road block between human beings and truth. Giving up on searching for the unknown source and settling for an intermediate solution by forgetting about the problem.

A theist will say that we don't know where God came from and stop there. But a naturalist will continue to search for the source of matter and space and time and likely find something beyond them for which we also do not know a source. And when we find that new thing, X, the theists position will then be:

? -> G -> X -> M

The theist will continue to assert that a human-like God is at the source of it all even as we continue to uncover X and Y and Z that are sources of what we knew before and not human-like at all.

The theistic position does not foster scientific progress because if we accept it, we will never find X. Because the theistic position wants to stop at the assumption of G and end scientific inquiry.

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