Thursday, August 25, 2016


Bart D. Ehrman's Jesus, Interrupted applies the historical-critical method to the Bible.

The historical-critical method is the same approach scholars use with any literature--Shakespeare, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Mark Twain, or Dashiell Hammett.

They seek to understand the time, place, and thinking of the writers and their writing. They try to determine whether the manuscripts are close to or far removed from the originals. They look at things like the difference translation makes, how authors quote other authors, whether the work is authentic or a forgery, and much else.

Boring, right? Not with Ehrman. He writes about the most common method of teaching the Bible in mainline seminaries. But Ehrman makes the facts come alive.

Are there substantial differences between the way Mark and Luke see the crucifixion? Is John the only Gospel in which Jesus claims to be God? How many of the Biblical letters of Paul did Paul actually write? And how do scholars (who often disagree with one another) think they know all this?

Were the Gospels According to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John?

This is not the kind of book fundamentalists love. According to Ehrman, ministers often avoid talking about these things from the pulpit. Instead, they preach a "devotional" approach to the Bible.

The truth is that the Bible is many books written by many authors over many centuries. And the books have contradictions. The words of Jesus are hard to come by because they have been filtered through different authors, each with his own view of who Jesus is and what he did. These authors wrote years later.

As most of you know, every once in a while, I read (and write about) religious books. Religion is one of my abiding interests though my faith is no longer traditional by any means.

Bart D. Ehrman is among my favorite writers. He writes clearly. He gives abundant specific examples. And he explains things I had forgotten I ever heard when I was in seminary.

So, if you, like me, have an interest in religion and the Christian scriptures, you might want to read Jesus, Interrupted.

PS I struggled with the meaning of the title. I came to see it as Jesus, Short-Circuited. Jesus was a particular kind of prophet with a particular message. To what extent does the Bible and the church today reflect that message? Or was Jesus’ message interrupted by the very people who tried to preserve it?

I listened to this book as an audio book checked out electronically from our local library.

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