Sunday, October 10, 2004

A new term has started at Cambridge but for us graduates that only means we have to dodge undergraduates in the streets. Meanwhile, I am trying to sort out our new home which is proving rather time consuming.

A reader has emailed and asked about Bart Ehrman's work including The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture and Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New millennium. The former must be one of the most ill used books in New Testament studies and is reviewed by JP Holding here. His opinion is that it is not particularly scary. Ehrman shows how orthodox Christians amended a few passages which heretics had been misinterpreting in order to prevent them from being abused. The cases Ehrman presents are, frankly, not exactly earth-shattering and are based on a careful analysis of the various surviving texts. Of course, internet critics have tried to use Ehrman to show that the New Testament is completely unreliable and that Christians were happy to corrupt texts wholesale. In fact, Ehrman demonstrates the reverse - he shows that the changes made were small and largely inconsequential and that the NT has been "reconstructed by scholars with reasonable certainty - as much certainty as we can reconstruct any book of the ancient world."

His second book has also caused concern to some. It is actually far less interesting than Orthodox Corruption as it is simply the latest in a long line of books by scholars that recreate the historical Jesus as they would like to see him. We have had Jesus the cynic sage, Jesus the teacher of wisdom, Jesus the peasant revolutionary and now Jesus the apocalyptic prophet. Essentially, Ehrman takes the bits of the New Testament which demonstrate what he wants to show and ignores all the rest with some flimsy justification. This is exactly what Burton Mack, Dom Crossan and all the rest of the historical Jesus crowd have been doing for years. I don't think we should worry about yet another tome being added to the pile. As I've be saying for ages, historical Jesus studies are a castle built on air and can tell us almost nothing about the real Jesus except a few facts about his life. All the rest of the genre is purely fiction.

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