2012 Reading reading

Reading 2012: Misquoting Jesus

February 3, 2012

Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why is essentially an introduction to and overview of textual criticism. As such, it is relatively easy to read and easily understandable, considering the topic. There’s even a little humor thrown in every once in a while. Still, the mixture of historical facts with the author’s theories, speculations, and conclusions is not always one that is easily distinguishable.

I took seminary classes at a fundamentalist Seminary , and textual criticism was comprehensively dealt with in two of the courses I took during my time there: New Testament Introduction and Old Testament Introduction. Thankfully, this was not the branch of Christian fundamentalism which espoused a King James Only view of the preservation of Scripture, and the academic rigor of these particular courses seemed to be on par for the subject matter. Having taken such courses, Ehrman’s book was easier to understand than what I recall studying while taking the NTI and OTI courses.

Textual criticism, for those unfamiliar with the term, is the study of ancient manuscript copies (including who transcribed them, where they were transcribed, how they were transcribed, etc.) to determine what the original manuscripts said (and what manuscripts should be included as part of the canon of the Bible). Bart Ehrman is one of today’s leading textual critics, and intended this book to be appropriate for an audience who may have never heard of textual criticism.

The title, though provocative, is perhaps a bit misleading. Much of the discussion is not on the actual sayings of Jesus, but on the transmission and translations of the Bible in general. Overall, the book is helpful on the subject matter (and it’s a subject that anyone who read the Bible should consider  studying), but must be read carefully so as to discern what is genuine history and what is speculative conclusion.

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