Tag Archives: Jesus Interrupted
This is the second (and last post) dealing with Bart D. Ehrman’s Jesus Interrupted, which I have finished reading as part of the Ultimate Truth-Seeker challenge. (Part 1 can be found here.) Here, I summarize some of the points made in chapters 5, 6 and 7. Ehrman explains that:
- We have good evidence for the existence of a historical Jesus, and that this evidence indicates that Jesus was a Jewish apocalyptic prophet.
- Historians cannot show that miracles happen, because miracles are the least probable explanation.
- The process by which we got the canon we have today was long and arduous, involving debates and conflicts with groups that had very different opinions, beliefs and books than the ones we see in the Bible.
- The views of Christianity appear to have been developed over time, rather than having been clear and evident from the very beginning.
I won’t be able to properly summarize these chapters, because they cover a very broad range of issues and deal with numerous examples. (The four points above are a frightfully inadequate summary of these chapters.)
Instead, I’ll point out one of the problems I had when engaging with this book. This problem involves Ehrman’s claims about the consensus of scholars on a particular topic. For example, consider what Ehrman writes on p. 155:
“ For over a century now… the majority of scholars in Europe and North America have understood Jesus as a Jewish apocalyptic prophet.”
The problem is that, more often than not, these claims are not accompanied by a citation indicating a survey of works by scholars, nor even a list of scholars which support this position. Understandably, this work is intended to popularize its contents, but it’s a bit frustrating that it offers so few routes for following up on its claims. The same problem attends the arguments Ehrman makes. I’ll stick to the example of Jesus as a Jewish apocalyptic prophet. I don’t know if Ehrman has defended this argument more extensively in one of his other books (perhaps in Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium), but in Jesus Interrupted, this argument is brief, with almost no references (though admittedly presented persuasively). At the same time, I’m aware that there are other positions held by scholars, and I’ve read arguments (especially by evangelicals), that either differ from Ehrman’s position or treat it as a non-factor. Ehrman doesn’t deal with most of these other positions regarding the Historical Jesus, and I don’t know if Ehrman’s argument sounds persuasive only because of my ignorance of these other theories or because it is presented in a vacuum, without any contrary arguments to compare it with.
This is just one example of this problem. There were other places in the book where I felt that more in-depth argumentation or consideration of different perspectives would have been useful and interesting.
I’ll conclude my reading of Bart D. Ehrman’s Jesus Interrupted here. I think I can recommend this book, in spite of my reservations about it, because there’s still much in it that’s worth reading, especially if one is new to critical readings of the Bible.
Next, I will be reading another of the books set by the Ultimate Truth-Seeker challenge, which is William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith.
Earlier this week I wrote that I would be taking the Ultimate Truth Seeker Challenge made back in 2010 by Luke Muelhauser of commonsenseatheism. Now, I’m halfway through Bart D. Ehrman’s Jesus Interrupted. Ehrman is an agnostic and an author of several popular works about early Christianity and the New Testament. Jesus Interrupted is not a book that sets out to debunk Christianity. Rather, its aim is to present an accessible overview of the scholarly consensus in biblical studies about a number of issues, including Biblical authorship, the reliability of the books found in the Bible and the historical Jesus. Ehrman’s aim, as he explains in the first chapter, is to make known to the churchgoing public what is established and uncontroversial to Biblical scholars. He explains that there is a huge difference between what the public learns from their pastors (at least in the United States) and what academics know about the Bible. This point has particular resonance for me, because it parallels my experience with Christianity. Almost none of this basic information about the Bible was, to my recollection, discussed or explained in the hundreds of sermons I’ve heard or the numerous catechism classes I attended. (I was vaguely aware of the New Testament Apocrypha, which were referred to once and twice in a positive way.)
Ehrman, in the first four chapters, makes three important points, which you can read as a quick summary of the rest of this post.
- We don’t know who wrote most of the books in the New Testament. The Gospels were probably not written by eyewitnesses, and there are books or letters whose authenticity is disputed in the New Testament canon.
- The authors of these books had different opinions about who Jesus was, and did not necessarily agree with each other about his teachings. They interpreted and presented them differently, leading to discrepancies between them.
- These books are not inerrant. There are mistakes, later additions by editors and contradictory claims.