I just finished Misquoting Jesus tonight.

The first half of the book is informative and interesting; textual criticism introduced in a very basic fashion.

Toward the end of the book, Ehrman’s low view of scripture is painfully obvious, with liberal arguments that are not uncommon (i.e., Paul’s view of women, Christian anti-Semitism in the early church, etc.)

In his conclusion, he finally ties it together with deconstructionism, in saying that the scribes who were given the task of transmitting/copying the New Testament were merely doing what any one of us does when we read a text; we change it to fit our understanding of life. Here is a portion from page 217,

Texts are interpreted, and they are interpreted (just as they were written) by living, breathing human beings, who can make sense of the texts only by explaining them in light of their other knowledge, explicating their meaning, putting the words of the texts “in other words”. 

Once readers put a text in other words, however, they have changed the words. This is not optional when reading; it is not something you can choose not to do when you peruse a text. They only way to make sense of a text is to read it, and the only way to read it is by putting it in other words, and the only way to put in other words is by having other words to put it into, and the only way you have other words to put it into is that you have a life, and the only to have a life is by being filled with desires, longings, needs, wants, beliefs, perspectives, worldviews, opinions, likes, dislikes-and all the other things that make human beings human. And so to read a text is, necessarily, to change a text. [my emphasis]

Ehrman is correct at one point-what we read is inherently influenced by our worldview and community. But what he neglects to address (and logically so, right along with his attempt to prove that the books of the NT are not the product of just one Author) is that every text does in fact have an author, and every author had an intention behind his writing.

I would recommend this to someone as a very interesting read, and as an introduction to textual criticism, but with making sure s/he knows where Bart Ehrman is coming from.

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  1. Stephen (aka Q) says:

    I don’t know whether Ehrman ever uses the word “postmodern”, but that’s the worldview he’s espousing.

    The background of postmodernism is a paradigm shift within the scientific community. Increasingly, scientists doubt that objective knowledge is possible. All perception is subjective and therefore all knowledge is relative.

    Carried over to the humanities — notably history and literary criticism — the new paradigm has given birth to postmodernism. James Dunn summarizes the postmodern world view in just a few pages in Jesus Remembered:

    “The assumption that historical texts refer to a reality outside of themselves [is] called into question. …

    “The main impact of postmodernism, however, has been … to bring the reader to centre-stage in the hermeneutical process. …

    “This hermeutical shift is epitomised in reader-response theory, which no longer sees meaning simply “in” the text, let alone in reference “behind” the text, but meaning as created by the reader in the act of reading.”

    You write, what [Ehrman] neglects to address … is that every text does in fact have an author, and every author had an intention behind his writing.

    I agree (and so does Dunn, in case you’re wondering). But perhaps Ehrman doesn’t just fail to address it; perhaps he would actually deny what you affirm.

    I haven’t read Misquoting Jesus but I’ve heard the same criticism elsewhere: the first half of the book is a great introduction to textual criticism, but the second half of the book is a big disappointment. He’s a fine writer, but unnecessarily sceptical in his conclusions.

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