Bart Ehrman’s “Jesus Interrupted”

Gary Kamiya offers an interesting discussion of Professor Bart Ehrman’s latest book–Jesus Interrupted at Salon, which includes an interview with Ehrman. As Kamiya notes, the new book will not be well received in many corners:

Ehrman’s new book, “Jesus, Interrupted,” will not lead many evangelicals and conservative Christians to invite him to talk to their Bible study groups. Picking up where “Misquoting Jesus” let off, it goes beyond the Bible’s textual problems to look at deeper doctrinal inconsistencies and contradictions. Ehrman points out that Mark and Luke had radically different attitudes toward Jesus’ death: Mark saw him as in doubt and despair on the way to the cross, while Luke saw him as calm. Mark and Paul saw Jesus’ death as offering an atonement for sin, while Luke did not. Matthew believed that Jesus’ followers had to keep the Jewish law to enter the kingdom of Heaven, a view categorically rejected by Paul. The conventional response to this is to try to “harmonize” the Bible by smashing all four Gospels together. But as Ehrman argues, this only creates a bogus “fifth Gospel” that doesn’t exist.

Ehrman’s critique is far from over. He points out that many of the books in the New Testament were not even written by their putative authors: only eight of its 27 books are almost certain to have been written by the people whose names are attached to them. He writes that scholars have tended to avoid the word “forged” because of its negative connotations, but argues convincingly that much of the Bible is, in fact, forged.

Then there’s the problem of “which Bible?” As Ehrman notes, there were many other Gospels floating around in the days of the early Christians, many of which claimed to be written by apostles, and there’s no historical reason to believe that some of these non-canonical gospels were any less worthy of being part of the Bible than the books that made it in. Later Christians excised some texts and included others for various reasons. Once one begins to look critically at what was left out and why, it becomes impossible to deny that the biblical canon was constructed by humans for human purposes.

Finally, and most devastatingly, Ehrman points out that “some of the most important Christian doctrines, such as that of a suffering Messiah, the divinity of Christ, the trinity and the existence of heaven and hell,” were not held by Jesus himself and were not contemporaneous with him. They developed later, “as the Church grew and came to be transformed into a new religion rather than a sect of Judaism.” The doctrine of the trinity only appears once in the New Testament, and the doctrine that Jesus is equal but not identical to God is found in none of the four Gospels.

Read the full article (and interview) here.

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