This book is worth reading just for the prayer in Gethsemane.
After reading The Amber Spyglass, I was surprised by the commonly promulgated analysis that the His Dark Materials trilogy was an atheist answer to C. S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia, I guess because I was expecting such an atheist tract to read like something from Richard Dawkins or the other New Atheists, who dismiss religion as merely fictional. But if religion is merely fictional, then why be so bothered to write a novel about it? In other words, if the Authority doesn't exist, then why do you need to go kill him?
Upon further reflection, I think the distinction between Philip Pullman and the New Atheists is precisely that Pullman is a novelist. He understands the power of fiction, and thus cannot dismiss religion as "merely" fictional: literature surely has a great power to change the course of human events, perhaps even as much as science does.
And it is that attitude that makes this book so powerful. This is not an atheist who isn't interested in Scripture and never made an effort to understand it. This is someone who knows the stories as well as anyone, and it is only someone who has really carefully thought about them that could be so angry: someone who understands how these stories could be a force for good, and so often haven't.
I'm not quite sure what the title's getting at (besides getting the passer-by's attention, in which case it worked), because "scoundrel" always makes me think of Han Solo, and is not the word I would choose for this character. Nor am I convinced that "good man" is appropriate, either.
Nor can I figure out what the story about the colored cloth is doing....more
My main trepidation in approaching this book is the use of the word "believe" in the subtitle. (Jon Stewart provides a primer on tAs seen on BioLogos.
My main trepidation in approaching this book is the use of the word "believe" in the subtitle. (Jon Stewart provides a primer on the proper use of the word "believe" around the five-minute mark in this video.)...more
This book seems to be mostly for people who care about what the Bible has to say (because otherwise why would you care that it has contradictions?), yet have never bothered to read it very carefully. (Did you know that in some places in the Noah story, he collects two of every animal, but in others, he collects seven?!)
This book is at its strongest when it doesn't just point out contradictions, like the one above, but also includes a little analysis on what work the two different versions are doing for the text. Two examples:
In the Christmas story according to Matthew, Jesus is born in his house in Bethlehem, and despite (or possibly because of) the wise men's decision not to go back and report to Herod, Herod decrees the slaying of the infant boys, and so Mary and Joseph flee with the baby to Egypt. When they come back to Judea, just to be on the safe side, they raise Jesus in Nazareth, not Bethlehem.
In the Christmas story according to Luke, Mary and Joseph travel from their home in Nazareth to Bethlehem in order to participate in the census. During the trip, Jesus is born, and then the family returns home to Nazareth.
Even though these stories don't have much in common, they both explain that Jesus, whom everyone knows is from Nazareth, was actually born in Bethlehem, as the prophets predicted the Messiah would be (crisis averted). (Most Christmas pageants decide to include all of the parts: both the manger and the flight to Egypt, both the wise men and the shepherds, although such an account, of course, does not exist in the Bible.)
Second example: in the passion according to Mark, Jesus really suffers. He is completely friendless: even the two other criminals being crucified mock him. He appears to have no idea why his ordeal is happening to him, and his final words are of confusion and despair: "My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?" At that very moment, the veil in the Temple is torn (because, Ehrman interprets, Christ's suffering has atoned for our sins, and because of that, we don't need the veil anymore because we can have a direct, unimpeded relationship with God). In other words, Jesus suffered because it was part of God's plan all along. He died for our sins.
Contrariwise, in the passion according to Luke, Jesus doesn't seem to feel forsaken at all. He reassures the criminal on the cross next to him, and his final words are "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit." (Luke also includes the story of Barabbas: Ehrman makes the argument that in Luke, God didn't kill Jesus (as in Mark), humans did, and not just any humans: Pilate washes his hands of it (Rome isn't responsible), leaving the blame with Jewish people. It wasn't that Jesus died as part of God's plan; it was that the Jews rejected Jesus and killed him, which can justify anti-Semitic policies.)
(This at least explains where the phrase "Christ-killers" comes from: I could never figure it out, because I thought that Christ's getting killed was part of God's plan all along. Turns out that's only in some Gospels.)
Trying to combine the four gospels into one narrative of "what really happened" thus not only is misguided, but also runs the risk of missing the literary message of each Gospel....more