Socraticgadfly's Reviews > Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible & Why We Don't Know About Them

Jesus, Interrupted by Bart D. Ehrman
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it was ok
bookshelves: religious-study-theology

Sorry, but it's just not that good

First, let me "qualify" myself in several ways.

Like Ehrman, I come from a conservative evangelical background, only to get a graduate divinity degree, and at a seminary arguably even more academically rigorous than Princeton. (I did not go on for a Ph.D.; I stopped at the master's level.)

But, like John Loftus, I went past Ehrman's eventual agnosticism.

And, I'm at least a much a "minimalist," if not more, on NT historicity as is Loftus, and more so than Ehrman; this is one area where I see errors of fact as well as interpretation on his part.

I know his book wasn't written at that high of a scholarly level, but he could have talked more, and in a broader as well as deeper academic vein, about discussions of this issue. That, in turn, is one of a few areas where his focus is too narrow.

In page order, here are some of my concerns.

Page 87: The claim that no Jews believed in a dying and rising, suffering Messiah, before Jesus? I think that's overstated. The amount of extrabiblical Jewish writing we have indicate that beliefs that could have led to this belief were around the edges of Judaism. Add in that Gnosticism already had a toehold inside Judaism and that the dying-and-rising savior god of Adonis, etc., had been around the eastern Mediterranean for a millennium or more, and you can see how overstated this is.

Pages 93-94: While contrsting the soteriology, or the "why did Jesus die" angle, of Mark, Luke and Paul, he never explicitly addresses it in Matthew, John, or non-Pauline letters, or what factor it played in their composition. Per the Orthodox tradition's understanding Jesus' death, via the gospel of John's soteriology, as "glorification," this is a major omission.

Page 106: His claim that the gospel writers were "highly educated" compared to the actual disciples? Well, Mark's Greek isn't much better than ninth-grade English of today. John's is so simple that, while it's arguable he's looking for transparency of thought and a certain style, the writing part of his intelligence is by no means guaranteed either. Were they "more educated"? Well, yes, given that they were among a literate minority. But, just how low was literacy then? As people of the book, Jews of antiquity may have had a majority of adult males with at least some functional literacy. Pre-typewriters and modern paper, ability to write was certainly much lower. But, among both Jews and more educated gentile corners of the Roman world, functional writing ability at the level of Mark was surely 5 percent or more. And, the likes of Paul used scribes.

Reliance on oral traditions in antiquity has little to do with literacy rates, either. First, many religions (such as the Brahmans in Vedic Hymns era India) have preferred oral transmission, believing that writing down holy writ diminished it. Second, paper in antiquity (esp. parchment when papyrus wasn't available) was expensive. Third, a written copy of a book could have served as a core to facilitate oral transmission beyond an urban center.

Page 111 and note 10, page 288, to it: Ehrman is one of a massive number of historical-critical scholars, not just conservative ones, to either ignore or be unaware of A.N. Sherwin-White's Roman society and Roman law in the New Testament. Sherwin-White says the "we" passages in Acts are nothing but a literary convention, namely, that in Greco-Roman historical romances of this period, it was convention to write in the first person plural, the "we," whenever the protagonist was on board ship. If you read Acts, except for one text variant, you'll see that every "we" passage starts and ends within a verse or so of Paul getting on or off a ship. Therefore, the "we" passages are of ZERO value for establishing "Luke" as a companion of Paul. That alone would get the book knocked down a star; I'm tired of NT scholars either ignorant of, or ignoring, Sherwin-White.

Page 150: Ehrman accepts the bulk of the "Josephus comma" about Jesus as true, with only some editorial touch-ups down later by a Christian. I think the whole thing is a forgery and internal evidence makes that clear enough.

Page 168: He has an ungrounded belief in the historicity of Judas, based on a poor translation of the Greek word "paradidomi" from First Corinthians.
There, Paul says, in the best way of translating this verb, "On the same night Jesus was arrested...." It has ONLY become translated as "betrayed" because of the Gospels, written years later.
Why, then, did the idea of Judas as betrayer arise? Psalm 110, and the forced interpretation of needing to see a "betrayer" from within the ranks of Jesus' disciples. For Ehrman not to mention this, and I KNOW he knows both of these, is again a big omission. (Also, this reading knocks out yet another prop in the claimed historicity of Jesus.)

Finally, and not on one page, but the Chapter "Liar, Lunatic or Lord": Ehrman never, after briefly referencing the Legend idea, actually discusses it. Or possibility No. 3, that the Jesus under discussion did exist, but is actually the same Jesus crucified a century earlier by Alexander Jannai; this Jesus was an early Pharaisee pietist who pissed off the Maccabee king.

Another reason I've knocked this down from a possible borderline third star that we're at risk of Ehrman becoming the mainstream media's "go-to guy" for modern historical-critical commentary; his Gospel of Judas book is a prime example. And, since I first posted this on Amazon, that statement is only doubled.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
June 23, 2009 – Finished Reading
November 29, 2012 – Shelved
November 29, 2012 – Shelved as: religious-study-theology

Comments Showing 1-1 of 1 (1 new)

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Gabriel Patriarca I'm very disappointed... I just bought this book. Perhaps for a first-timer like me it'll be good enough? Ow well...

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