Friday, August 29, 2008

Book Review: Misquoting Jesus

Ehrman, Bart D. (2005). Misquoting Jesus. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.

Photo source: LibraryThing

Misquoting Jesus is the most cogent book on the Bible I have ever read. Bart D. Ehrman began his study of the bible as a newly-reborn evangelical Christian. His intellect soon led him to conclude that we can’t treat the Bible as the word of God unless we know what the actual words were.

This quest lead him to learn the ancient languages of the original texts. In so doing, he noticed what others, going back to before King James, had: that the texts differ—sometimes significantly—in terms of the actual words used and sometimes in actual meaning. By 1707, John Mill had identified more than 30,000 discrepancies. Today, that number exceeds 200,000.

But the strength of Misquoting Jesus derives not from an exhaustive list of discrepancies, but from the all too human story of how these discrepancies came to be. For example, myth holds that King James Bible was translated into English based on original Greek manuscripts. Not only were the “original manuscripts” nonexistent, the text used for translation was a collection of manuscripts that just happened to be in Western Europe, where Latin text, not Greek, had been collected. In a rush to press (to beat the official Catholic Church collection to the market), at least two of the books of the New Testament were translated into Greek from Latin texts at hand.

But Ehrman goes even further back, explaining how some of the changes and additions to the texts were used to further the theological, social, or political aims of the editors, while others attempted to resolve discrepancies between different authors or were simply transcription errors. In the examples and explanations, Ehrman provides an overview of textual criticism—the logical search to find the original words of the author by comparing derivative editions.

Misquoting Jesus is a fascinating read. I used an entire pad of sticky notes marking passages and highlighting key concepts. This book really deserves to be a best-seller. If you haven’t read it yet, you should, no matter what your religious orientation is.


Dragonfly said...

I think this one will have to go on the Amazon list.

Lee said...

I hope you find it as fascinating as I did.

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