Misquoting Jesus

Misquoting Jesus

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by Bart D. Ehrman

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When world-class biblical scholar Bart Ehrman first began to study the texts of the Bible in their original languages he was startled to discover the multitude of mistakes and intentional alterations that had been made by earlier translators. In Misquoting Jesus, Ehrman tells the story behind the mistakes and changes that ancient scribes made to the New

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When world-class biblical scholar Bart Ehrman first began to study the texts of the Bible in their original languages he was startled to discover the multitude of mistakes and intentional alterations that had been made by earlier translators. In Misquoting Jesus, Ehrman tells the story behind the mistakes and changes that ancient scribes made to the New Testament and shows the great impact they had upon the Bible we use today. He frames his account with personal reflections on how his study of the Greek manuscripts made him abandon his once ultraconservative views of the Bible.

Since the advent of the printing press and the accurate reproduction of texts, most people have assumed that when they read the New Testament they are reading an exact copy of Jesus's words or Saint Paul's writings. And yet, for almost fifteen hundred years these manuscripts were hand copied by scribes who were deeply influenced by the cultural, theological, and political disputes of their day. Both mistakes and intentional changes abound in the surviving manuscripts, making the original words difficult to reconstruct. For the first time, Ehrman reveals where and why these changes were made and how scholars go about reconstructing the original words of the New Testament as closely as possible.

Ehrman makes the provocative case that many of our cherished biblical stories and widely held beliefs concerning the divinity of Jesus, the Trinity, and the divine origins of the Bible itself stem from both intentional and accidental alterations by scribes -- alterations that dramatically affected all subsequent versions of the Bible.

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Misquoting Jesus

Chapter One

The Beginnings of Christian Scripture

To discuss the copies of the New Testament that we have, we need to start at the very beginning with one of the unusual features of Christianity in the Greco-Roman world: its bookish character. In fact, to make sense of this feature of Christianity, we need to start before the beginnings of Christianity with the religion from which Christianity sprang, Judaism. For the bookishness of Christianity was in some sense anticipated and foreshadowed by Judaism, which was the first "religion of the book" in Western civilization.

Judaism as a Religion of the Book

The Judaism from which Christianity sprang was an unusual religion in the Roman world, although by no means unique. Like adherents of any of the other (hundreds of ) religions in the Mediterranean area, Jews acknowledged the existence of a divine realm populated by superhuman beings (angels, archangels, principalities, powers); they subscribed to the worship of a deity through sacrifices of animals and other food products; they maintained that there was a special holy place where this divine being dwelt here on earth (the Temple in Jerusalem), and it was there that these sacrifices were to be made. They prayed to this God for communal and personal needs. They told stories about how this God had interacted with human beings in the past, and they anticipated his help for human beings in the present. In all these ways, Judaism was "familiar" to the worshipers of other gods in the empire.

In some ways, though, Judaism was distinctive. All other religions in the empire were polytheistic...acknowledging andworshiping many gods of all sorts and functions: great gods of the state, lesser gods of various locales, gods who oversaw different aspects of human birth, life, and death. Judaism, on the other hand, was monotheistic; Jews insisted on worshiping only the one God of their ancestors, the God who, they maintained, had created this world, controlled this world, and alone provided what was needed for his people. According to Jewish tradition, this one all-powerful God had called Israel to be his special people and had promised to protect and defend them in exchange for their absolute devotion to him and him alone. The Jewish people, it was believed, had a "covenant" with this God, an agreement that they would be uniquely his as he was uniquely theirs. Only this one God was to be worshiped and obeyed; so, too, there was only one Temple, unlike in the polytheistic religions of the day in which, for example, there could be any number of temples to a god like Zeus. To be sure, Jews could worship God anywhere they lived, but they could perform their religious obligations of sacrifice to God only at the Temple in Jerusalem. In other places, though, they could gather together in "synagogues" for prayer and to discuss the ancestral traditions at the heart of their religion.

These traditions involved both stories about God's interaction with the ancestors of the people of Israel...the patriarchs and matriarchs of the faith, as it were: Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rachel, Jacob, Rebecca, Joseph, Moses, David, and so on...and detailed instructions concerning how this people was to worship and live. One of the things that made Judaism unique among the religions of the Roman Empire was that these instructions, along with the other ancestral traditions, were written down in sacred books.

For modern people intimately familiar with any of the major contemporary Western religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam), it may be hard to imagine, but books played virtually no role in the polytheistic religions of the ancient Western world. These religions were almost exclusively concerned with honoring the gods through ritual acts of sacrifice. There were no doctrines to be learned, as explained in books, and almost no ethical principles to be followed, as laid out in books. This is not to say that adherents of the various polytheistic religions had no beliefs about their gods or that they had no ethics, but beliefs and ethics...strange as this sounds to modern ears...played almost no role in religion per se. These were instead matters of personal philosophy, and philosophies, of course, could be bookish. Since ancient religions themselves did not require any particular sets of "right doctrines" or, for the most part, "ethical codes," books played almost no role in them.

Judaism was unique in that it stressed its ancestral traditions, customs, and laws, and maintained that these had been recorded in sacred books, which had the status, therefore, of "scripture" for the Jewish people. During the period of our concern...the first century of the common era,1 when the books of the New Testament were being written...Jews scattered throughout the Roman Empire understood in particular that God had given direction to his people in the writings of Moses, referred to collectively as the Torah, which literally means something like "law" or "guidance." The Torah consists of five books, sometimes called the Pentateuch (the "five scrolls"), the beginning of the Jewish Bible (the Christian Old Testament): Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Here one finds accounts of the creation of the world, the calling of Israel to be God's people, the stories of Israel's patriarchs and matriarchs and God's involvement with them, and most important (and most extensive), the laws that God gave Moses indicating how his people were to worship him and behave toward one another in community together. These were sacred laws, to be learned, discussed, and followed...and they were written in a set of books.

Jews had other books that were important for their religious lives together as well, for example, books of prophets (such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Amos), and poems (Psalms), and history (such as Joshua and Samuel). Eventually, some time after Christianity began, a group of these Hebrew books...twenty-two of them altogether...came to be regarded as a sacred canon of scripture, the Jewish Bible of today, accepted by Christians as the first part of the Christian canon, the "Old Testament."2

Misquoting Jesus. Copyright © by Bart Ehrman. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Misquoting Jesus 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 74 reviews.
Davidicus More than 1 year ago
I picked up a copy of this book in the bookstore of UC Berkeley. I was very interested in finding out exactly where this would go. I knew it dealt with the rewritings of the Bible over the years, and I wanted to know the truth as best Mr. Ehrman could provide. At first, I found the autobiography of his youth very interesting. As the book progressed however, it became a bit clinical and textbookish, although the information was very interesting. Finally, when I reached the end and Mr. Ehrman made his announcement of how his faith had been severely compromised through the knowledge he now had in regards to the rewritings of the Bible over the years in less than divine ways, I stepped back. I have always known that the Bible has been rewritten many times. Just look at all the different editions, sometimes they don't even say the same thing. Not to mention all the translations from Latin and Greek don't always even carry the same stories. I have known that for most of my life. No, the Bible is not perfect and has been tampered with many times. But, my faith in God and the words of Jesus were not rocked one bit after this book. My faith has never been based on the Bible. The Bible is a book. Faith transcends much deeper. So, bottom line. I appreciate the very helpful information Mr. Ehrman shared, but I think the book was confused a bit as to whether it was a textbook of information or a testament of Mr. Ehrman's life as he found his faith and then lost it based on his knowledge of the rewriting of the Bible. I believe this book could have been more effective if he had focused his energies on one or the other. Still, this book demonstrates outstanding research, and some very interesting history. Mr. Ehrman's conclusion was more of a mystery to me than anything else, as the book was never really presented as a test of his faith, but more like a college textbook.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Despite some people's anger based perception in some reviews, Bart D. Ehrman is the leading biblical scholar of our time. Mr. Ehrman's thoroughness and thoughtfulness are bright rays of intellectual and scriptural light piercing the darkness surrounding biblical matters. Here's the bottom line - If your concept about what the bible is isn't enlightened by Ehrman's excellent scholarship, no matter what Pastor you have, you do not fully understand what you are reading in the bible. People would and should be horrified to know that their worship of the bible is based on unsupportable theological positions, because of how the bible was written and passed down. In very readable, clear terms Ehrman demystifies the process the bible went through to become what it is today. Ehrman has done the world a great service with this book and all his others as well. The paperback version also has a wonderful addendum with an interview with the author.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Ehrman does a wonderful job in pointing out the numerous flaws in the New Testament. He doesn't go into a long rant about why conservative Christians refute these glaring errors. He just explains them to allow for the reader to make their own conscious decisions. The book is very easy to follow, which means its not a monotonous history lesson like some of his other books. His autobiography at the beginning may or may not be important to read in regards to the book's subject at hand, but this book will enable you to look at the New Testament in a whole different light. The title is somewhat of a misnomer, because the majority of 'errors' he speaks of from the New Testament don't really focus on the sayings of Jesus. This is a great book for anyone who doesn't carry the dubious presupposition that the bible is inerrant. Carrying that belief when reading this book will surely cause you to miss the whole point, which is to exploit errors, as innocent as they may be, in the New Testament. I highly recommend this book for anyone who might question the accuracy of a series of ancient biblical texts with questionable authorship and meaning.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Bart Ehrman is an excellent scholar and offers his own unique perspectives on New Testament authorship and accuracy, as well as, theological and historical implications. As a theological student, I enjoy reading his books, even though I do not subscribe to his interpretation of historical and textual data. As with all scholars, regardless of repute, he brings his own biases which influence his argument and the emphases he chooses to make. To his credit, he does not attempt to disguise his agenda, but openly discloses it in his introduction. I have read countless other books on this subject, and find that this particular book lacks balance. In other words, the biases he mentions in his introduction are evident enough in his treatment of the facts 'through the over-emphasis of some points and the under-emphasis of others' that his biases negatively impact the scholastic value of the book. If you are looking for a better balanced discussion and more scholarly work, I recommend 'The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration' by the same author and also co-author, Bruce Metzger. For a more orthodox perspective, I recommend 'The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?' by F.F. Bruce. For a counter-argument to Ehrman's interpretation, I recommend Ben Witherington's 'What Have They Done with Jesus: Beyond Strange Theories and Bad History-Why We Can Trust the Bible' (another great scholar with an agenda). If you are really interested in obtaining a balanced perspective, I recommend you consider reading each of these works before deciding how best to interpret the data.
JosephNicholas More than 1 year ago
Misquoting Jesus is a fascinating look at the little known details of how the various stories of Jesus became part of the modern Christian scripture. It's a book on what biblical scholars refer to as "textual criticism", but written for the layman. It's one thing to know the scriptures, it's another thing to know how they came into existence. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who's looking to deepen their knowledge of the Christian scriptures.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Ehrman is a respected scholar with a well-earned reputation in the field, but this book does not live up to the standards of his others. His conclusions are speculative rather than well-supported. The very problem with the textual history of the NT works against him -- we simply do not have the autograph (original) texts to establish what was modified and when. Unfortunately for Ehrman's thesis, we do have extra-canonical sources which corroborate the essential content of the texts quite well on a number of points which he calls into question, including the nature of Christ's divinity, early trinitarianism, etc. Usually Ehrman goes out of his way to examine the full context of the texts he studies, but not in this work. A reasonable cross referencing of first and second-century patristic writing, as well as a solid understanding of Second Temple Jewish texts is enough to raise real questions about how much time Ehrman put into this one. It reads far too much like a memoir at points to be taken seriously. That being said, the first chapters contain a solid introduction to textual criticism for the uninitiated. I enjoy Ehrman's other works and recommend them to my university students. I would hate to think that he is selling-out to the fad of flashy books that claim 'this will change everything you think you know.' The truth is that very little changes in Early Christian History -- precisely because we are so limited in our primary sources.
KrisPA More than 1 year ago
I went into this book unfamiliar with Biblical textual criticism and with a vague idea of how the New Testament was created. I haven't read the Bible at any length since I stopped attending church after graduating from high school. What I find most fascinating is that Ehrman isn't telling anyone anything they shouldn't already know, that is, that the New Testament is compromised of manuscripts that are copies of copies of copies, and of course have been changed (either accidentally or intentionally) by scribes making the copies. However, a lot of people are outraged by the book and what Ehrman writes in the book. I don't find any of it to be controversial. He isn't saying that Christianity is a sham, or that Jesus is a fictional person. Ehrman writes that although there are thousands of mistakes and mistranslations, most of them are inconsequential to the reading to the text. Even the changes that are important to how the text is read depend on how you want to interpret the text. If you find your faith to be more of a spiritual, rather than literal Bible-based faith, then you shouldn't be upset by Ehrman's book. I found this book intriguing and it basically confirmed by belief in atheism. The Bible is merely a collection of stories and memories of people who didn't even know Jesus, but wrote stories of what they heard about him. I don't think that is a strong basis for a religion. If I were to worship a god on the basis of a book, I would rather pick Gandalf from Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. At least I have an accurate copy of the original manuscript.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A credible well researched book. Offers a great understanding of how the Bible was written and interpreting it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Great book, well researched, right to the point! Right on the nose! Right on the money! I can see where the Bible Alone, non-NRSV, types that turn the Bible into an idol have trouble with this book. I recommend they meditate on Hebrews 13:17, John 5:39, 1 Tim 3:15-16.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Anyone who has already done research can find much confirmation here. Only the most naive can think that a text that has been tampered with as much as the books of the Bible can arrive unscathed. Everyone knows it was men who wrote it, men who selected and excluded the books, and men who transcribed it. That anyone believes it is ultimately the word of God just goes to prove the greatest adage is 'people believe what they want to believe.' No doubt, the weak in faith will feel threatened.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was the first Ehrman book I ever read. Many faithful Christians read this book then went crying home to their mamas screaming "THE BIBLE IS FAKE!!!!" Calm down, breathe and step away from the ledge man. Ehrman merely writes in laymens terms what New Testament text critics both believers and nonbelievers already knew: there were variances between different NT manuscripts. The essential meanings and doctrines remained the same but scribes changed spelling errors or forrected an earlier scribes mistake in the margins. It's quite a fascinating tale. The problem arises when Ehrman triesbto lead a discussion that essentially states that if scribes fixed errors, then the Bible is made up since God doesn't make spelling errors in the first place. This argument can easily be refuted but the bottom line is that he writes strongest when he doesn't try to pass assumption and opinion as fact. He lost his faith and thinksbyou should losebyours over spelling errors. Once you realize and do a little search into actually HOW errors were corrected and that the so called thousands of errors are actually spelling error (e.g. writing "pin" when you meant "pen") you laugh at Ehrman and realize there's perhaps a story that he hasn't told. Ther's gotta be a better reason than this for him to renounce his faith? This is a great read; don't be afraid of it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
All of Bart Ehrman's books are good reads IMHO. I hope he continues to write for a long time!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A great book! Tells it like it is! This book would be of interest to all people with an interest in Christianity. Some will "take issue" with the presentation, but I think even they will be enlightened by reading the book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Misquoting Jesus attempts to bring into lay terms a very complex subject that in certain circles can raise allegations of heresy. As other reviewers have mentioned, he sticks to the routine books of the traditional bible, leaving out the contextual arguments of the books that have been excluded from the latin vulgate, greek orthodox, and King James versions of the text. Overall the book is well written and can serve as an entry level text for any would be fundamentalist who choose to take the modern biblical text at there literal meaning and in the process fail to see the trancendant nature of all religions.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a very interesting and straightforward discussion of surviving manuscripts for what we know as the 'New Testament' of the Bible. I think it would provide an excellent introduction for anyone who wants to know how Bible scholars practice textual criticism. I also appreciated the author's effort to relate manuscript variations and revisions to the heresies circulating in the early Christian era.
TessSH More than 1 year ago
Although this book maybe reviled by many fundamentalist evangelicals and quite a few Pietists, this book is well thought out presented cogently. Few authors are brave enough to discuss the possible concerns about the history of the New Testamnet and the early Christian church. I've read some of his earlier works and have followed him through his courses from the Teaching Company; I've never been disappointed. If you're someone who can think openly about the possibilities of the gospels being distilled, diluted, even mistranslated and perhaps oral traditions and transcriber's embellishments are probable, you'll be ok. If you are afraid of any other version of the Bible besides the KJV, you'll run screaming heretical rants. But please ponder which makes more sense: Did John the Baptist eat honey and locusts or honey and pancakes?
AhrTJay More than 1 year ago
Well written and organized for the average and above average literate person. I can hear Jerry Falwell and the rest of the irrationals getting their knickers in a knot. R T J
RofSJCa More than 1 year ago
There is enough scholarly "weight" in this book to give it authority, but Dr. Ehrman writes in a very approachable style for the layman. He does not attack the faith, but does demonstrate that we need to be very (very!) careful in how we interpret the Bible. The basis of the King James version is especially interesting. I had never given much thought to how the Bible (especially the New Testament) was passed down to us. I will never again read the good book in the same way.
Mitton More than 1 year ago
Few cows are as sacred to Western thought as the New Testament and dispatching such strongly held ideals can be dangerous. In an earlier century, Bart Ehrman, author of Misquoting Jesus, would very likely have ended up as something less than an academic celebrity. He begins with his own story – his ‘testimony’ in Evangelical terms – and writes about his journey from being a conservative Evangelical to an agnostic academic. Along the way he relates stepwise his surprise that our New Testament is, to some degree (that is the question!) a fiction. He dissects and outlines miscues and midsdirections that are both understandable errors and intentional edits. He spends time walking the reader through the history of textual criticism – that specialty of an academic investigation into the text of Scripture – and then develops a metric by which academics measure the words of the Bible. Any book on this subject will be polarizing but Ehrman’s treatment is respectful and thorough. And without original manuscripts I simply cannot see an argument that his conclusions are wrong. Our best manuscripts were written several centuries after the beginning of Christianity and there is clear evidence that scribes and theologians purposefully altered manuscripts to better fit the story. Ehrman doesn’t sell out wholesale – he admits that though none of the thousands of manuscripts and manuscript parts match any other – that the great bulk of differences are editorial in nature. But, as he outlines, there is ample evidence that the central messages of the New Testament have been molded over time into a specific narrative very likely not found in the original manuscripts. The book is very readable and accessible with little technical terminology. It slows down in the latter chapters as Ehrman walks the reader through specific controversies and could be hard slogging if the subject is of little interest. In all I thought it was a great read. CS Lewis famously argued that Jesus must be one of three things: a lunatic, a liar, or Lord. Ehrman deftly posits a fourth possibility – a legend.
Ski-Bray More than 1 year ago
An Informative Book on the Bible - I read this after reading Jesus, Interrupted, also by Bart D. Ehrman. This book is slightly more technical than the other, and I would recommend reading Jesus, Interrupted first, then this one. Ehrman begins this book by describing how he was raised as a Christian and was so fascinated by the Bible that he began intently studying it, and I do mean intently. He was so interested in it that he learned Greek, Latin, and some of the ancient languages in order to translate the ancient manuscripts himself rather than just relying on others to tell him what they say. In my opinion this book and Jesus, Interrupted should both be required reading for anyone who reads the Bible. Why would you not be interested in how this book came to be what it is today? Ehrman describes the many ways that the Bible has been changed in the process of copying. After being hand copied for more than 1500 years, wouldn’t you expect that there would be variations? In the first 200 years, these manuscripts weren’t even copied by professional scribes. Also, in the early years of Christianity, the literacy rates were very low, and a person might be considered literate if they could just write their name. At one place in the book he describes how a person is copying a manuscript who can’t really read and is simply copying it symbol by symbol, not able to even read it! Ehrman goes over many of the reasons that these variations probably occurred in the Bible – from simple errors to deliberate changes and outright forgery, and the reasons for many of these changes. He also writes about some of the early Christian religions and the conflicts they had establishing their doctrines - for example, whether Jesus was mortal or divine, if Jesus was born of a virgin, the concept of the Trinity, and even if there was one God or many. Some believed there was a god of the Old Testament and a different god of the New Testament. They believed that the Old Testament god was wrathful and vengeful, and the New Testament god was kind and benevolent. Many of us aren’t aware that the early Christian churches didn’t all agree on this, and what we have today is the doctrine that persevered over the others. A statement he made that stands out in my mind is that there are more variants in the Bible than there are words in the New Testament. I also remember him stating that there are more than 30,000 variants. A recommended read for those who are able to be open-minded about a book considered sacred and inerrant by many.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Bart Ehman has taken a complicated subject like textual criticism and presented in a way that the average person can understand it. I have to confess that I wasn't aware of the differences in the gospel accounts of Jesus until I read "Misquoting Jesus". Bart Ehrman has motivated me to read the New Testament again but with a greater eye for detail.
TaffysDad More than 1 year ago
Ehrman covers a lot of scholarly analysis of the New Testament showing how changes were incorporated by chance or design over the years. But the presentation is very conversational and easy to follow. The fact that he became an agnostic, for reasons totally unrelated to the scriptural variations he explores, detracts not at all from his content. He provides good perspective on such texts as the woman caught in adultry and the taking up of serpents and poisons.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I probably normally would not have ordered this book, but the Totalitarian-like hate-filled reviews below suggested that the author had something worth reading. Not disappointed. If you are a Chrisitian with an open heart and who is tired of the hate-filled tripe spewed by the Biblical inerrantists who would have us bury our God given intelligence, this book is for you. Superb read, succinct and backed up with what we know about the thousands of manuscripts.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Often I have wondered about the translation of the Bible into English and this book does a very good job of explaining it. The original form of the Greek is described as is the transcription of the scripture by scribes who did not know how to read, but could do beautiful writing. It explains how the scripture we often think means one thing, may not really mean what we think it does. I found the book fascinating and want to study it further.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago