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Finished Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don't Know About Them) (4/5) and Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (2/5) both by Bart Ehrman.

The first thing to know about Bart Ehrman is that you should ignore the titles of his books. I don't know if he comes up with him or if it is his publishers, but I do know that the titles are meant to grab eyeballs. The books are much less sensationalistic than the titles or the publisher's blurbs -- Ehrman mostly covers academically mainstream, vanilla views of the Biblical as a historical and literary text. These books, like pretty much anything that looks at the Bible as a historical and literary work, are going to be unpleasant for literalists.

The second thing to know about Ehrman is that he is one of those authors whose books cover the same topic repeatedly from different perspectives. Thus, you probably only need to read one Ehrman book to get the general gist of what he has to say. The other books give more depth for those interested in that.

Misquoting Jesus covers how a disparate set of writing came to be the Christian scriptures. It discusses the canonization of the books of the New Testament and how those texts have been altered through the years. Contrary to what it might seem, these alterations, mostly unintentional scribal errors or attempts to "fix" a text that was believed to have been corrupted by an earlier scribe, are extremely valuable. Like genetic variations within and across species, textual variants can be used to determine what the original text was most likely like. The downside of this book, for me, is that it went into a lot of depth of the story of the analysis itself -- how different variant texts were found and dated, who did the foundational work in this area, etc. This is not bad, but it was more depth than I felt I needed on the single aspect of textual variants.

Jesus, Interrupted has a wider scope. It covers all the highlights from Misquoting Jesus as well as covering questions of authorship, historicity, and the much richer views of the Biblical texts that arise if each text is allowed to speak with its own voice instead of being forced to synthesize with the other texts.

Jesus, Interrupted is a strictly better book than Misquoting Jesus. I would strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in gaining more background on the Bible. In addition to having better content than Miquoting Jesus, Jesus Interrupted has a better style. One particularly nice improvement is that in this book, Ehrman started using a method that encourages more discovery by the reader. Instead of saying, for example, that certain passages are incompatible, Ehrman encourages the reader to place the two passages side-by-side and compare them. It's a fun technique.
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Erika RS

May 2012

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