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Jun 26 2010

How the Bible was made

From Christians, we often get letters quoting scripture and telling us the Bible is god’s word. From atheists, we sometimes get letters asking us about how the Bible came to exist–usually because they’re in a debate with a theist online who is making claims about evidence of textual reliability.

When I was a Christian, I was swayed into accepting the religion by a set of claims put forward by professional apologist Josh McDowell. I was a naive 15-year-old living in the days before the Internet, and the claims Josh made that were impressive to me had to do with the meticulous record of Biblical texts and the reliable methods of reproduction of those texts. His foundational argument is that the Bible stories are trustworthy–in so far as accurately representing honest reports by the authors. That is, what people wrote is what they believed they saw. And we can trust the book we read today matches the original texts nearly flawlessly. His further arguments all springboard off Biblical claims. So, the resurrection then requires an explanation–because obviously the events in the gospels are accurately reported–so what did people see to make them think a resurrection had occurred?

Bear in mind most churches do not teach classes on how the Bible came to exist. And before the Internet, unless a child thought on their own to go and look for this information, they would surely be impressed by someone who is describing these events and scenarios in a way that made him sound informed and scholarly. In other words, a kid in this class would be impressed by perceived authority and accept, very likely, these claims without question–having never been told anything different.

It wasn’t until I went to college that I actually met anyone who wasn’t a theist (at least openly). Prior to that, everyone I met was some brand of Christian. And eventually, at college, I was challenged on my parroted claims from Josh McDowell’s courses. In an effort to prove my fellows wrong, I ended up spending hours and hours in the basement of the UCF library where the “religion” section was then housed. It was there I first learned I’d been hoodwinked. From church histories produced by Catholic societies, to secular scholarship, they all agreed on the relevant facts: The origins of the Bible are quite opaque until centuries after the events they record–where they then surface as quite murky for some time further. What is recorded leaves any person with a working mind with the understanding that there is no basis for taking these texts at face value.

It was still many years later until I finally became an atheist. Eventually I found Bart Ehrman’s book Misquoting Jesus. I loved it because it was as though he took all the research I had done and bound it into an easy-to-read, short book–and then added even more that I hadn’t found, since, unlike him, my life’s work has not been to study these texts in their original languages in great detail.

I’ve recommended this book to many people over the years who have expressed an interest in Bible origins. But I’m always disappointed when I realize that many people simply aren’t readers. Now, however, I’ve found a way to remove all excuses and make, what took me many nights and hours in a university library basement, easy for you. On Youtube there is a 10-part lecture by Bart Ehrman on the topic of Bible origins, where he talks about the information in “Misquoting Jesus.” Even if you don’t have the stamina to sit through all 10 parts, I promise you the first two will be sufficient for you to grasp the point.

If, after viewing this, there is any doubt in your mind as to the level of (un)reliability of the Bible’s content–then you have a mighty faith, indeed!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7cK3Ry_icJo&feature=related

Enjoy!

30 comments

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  1. 1
    Omer

    link not working on chrome for me. Here's a link for the first vid: http://www.youtube.com/watch#!v=7cK3Ry_icJo

  2. 2
    tracieh

    It works as a link in Firefox, by both clicking on it and also copy/paste…? Thanks for the heads up, though.

  3. 3
    Maxwell

    Works in Chrome if you replace the '#!' with a '?'.

  4. 4
    minus

    I've read Misquoting Jesus and Jesus Interrupted. Enjoyed them thoroughly. Great resource for when the Christians come knocking at your door. I found the youtube lecture to be very entertaining. Bart is a good speaker and fun to listen to. I wish one of the podcasters would sit him down for an in depth interview.

  5. 5
    Guillaume

    It is amazing on how much Christians take things for granted when it comes to the Bible, among other things that sincerity is evidence in itself. There are also a lot of (massive) misconceptions regarding authorship and how it worked in primitive societies. That the Gospels were attributed to Matthew, James, John and Luke does not mean that these people were contemporary, that they ever existed or that they were single authors. I mentioned before on another post, I find very frustrating to debate with Christians who believe everything that was chewed to them in their childhood about the historical acuracy of the Bible.

  6. 6
    Cafeeine Addicted

    "that sincerity is evidence in itself." You see that sentiment a lot, which is why many Christians I've discussed with have such a problem with the concept of the 'honest skeptic', who looks at their religion and simply disbelieves it on its face. They cannot accept that I am sincere, since I disbelieve what they sincerely believe.

  7. 7
    Hank Nash

    Ha. So what does the dead sea scrolls mean to you guys ? Maybe you should do some actual research and put down the da vinci code. Compare the bible to any piece of historic documents … any….. Alexander the great , Plato, Aristotle homers illiad, and its in a completely different category. Do your homework. Bart ehrman is incorrect and foolish. He went to seminary so he could write a book as an 'atheist '

  8. 8
    Murphy

    I really enjoyed that lecture, as early Christianity and biblical accuracy is something i'm pretty interested in. Thanks for the link Tracieh.My only complaint about it is that it was focused entirely on textual reproduction accuracy as the books were copied and translated through the ages… but it really doesn't matter if it were translated 100% accurately for the last 2000 years, because that doesn't give us any indication as to whether the original text was a complete fiction, a true first hand account, or something in between.Particularly, he didn't bring up the synoptic problem which I thought would be a massive point of contention as far as his originally stated lecture subject of “how the bible came about”. If he thinks the crucifixion happening both the day before, and after passover is a contradiction in the new testament, or that the Greek wording about the Sabbath can't possibly be translated back into Aramaic, then surely huge slabs of text being copied word for word, from one gospel into the next must set off a few alarm bells? Possibly even calling into question the very authenticity of many of the original books?I suppose its not a huge problem as an isolated lecture focusing on the issue of textual tradition, but I got the impression from the way Dr Ehrman talks about things Jesus may or may not have actually said or done, that he does accept the presupposition that Jesus was a real person, and that the original individual books all stand on their own, and the broad events in the gospels more or less portray events that actually happened. I personally haven't been convinced of these three things based on the evidence i've seen myself. Just out of interest, his wikipedia page surprisingly doesn't say given his subject matter, but do you know if he's a theist or not?

  9. 9
    Dances_with_the_beast

    The best bit in this video series is the last anecdote that can be used when a fish wielding born again christion is trying to convert you. The notion of "being born again" has two problems from John 3:7 onward.1. The writing in greek quotes jesus using a greek word that is a double entendre. That could mean "from above"(heaven) or "again". He then clarifies the word to mean "from heaven" and not "born again". After his listener protests that it is impossible for an old man to be born again from the womb.2. Jesus spoke aramaic and did not know greek. In aramaic this double entendre does not occur in the language therefore this passage was a fabrication by greek theologians.So the whole doctrine of born again christians is based on forgery and misunderstanding.

  10. 10
    Findo

    If, after viewing this, there is any doubt in your mind as to the level of (un)reliability of the Bible's content–then you have a mighty faith, indeed!Nah, it's just I don't have so much faith in Ehrman's extrapolations. Anyone who reads the footnotes in their bible will be aware of the things he points out, only he seriously overplays their significance, and throws a bit of dodgy exegesis in there for good measure.http://mmcelhaney.blogspot.com/2009/04/bart-ehrman-gets-owned-on-colbert-show.htmlbesides, his own book has, via his own methods, millions of variants, so we can't know what he wrote, either ;Phttp://atheismisdead.blogspot.com/2009/11/bart-ehrmans-millions-and-millions-of.htmlEhrman is interesting, and dynamic but I'm wary of someone who doesn't go through the usual academic editorial processes and instead publishes sensationalist books to make a lot of money.. but that's just me.http://benwitherington.blogspot.com/2009/04/bart-interrupted-detailed-analysis-of.html

  11. 11
    Marella

    I listened to these lectures earlier in the year and they are very interesting. Also Dr Ehrman has a lovely voice which is easy to listen to.

  12. 12
    ls

    >Nah, it's just I don't have so much faith in Ehrman's extrapolations. Anyone who reads the footnotes in their bible will be aware of the things he points out, only he seriously overplays their significance, and throws a bit of dodgy exegesis in there for good measure.<Perhaps, but I'd still have to say his points are valid and are not a matter of faith. You can go read the NT and see for yourself; Ehrman even explains some of the methods you can use for doing so. You don't have to take his word for it.So clearly, The Lord has had a _great_ deal of terrible trouble maintaining the fidelity of His message over time. Even his most _devout_ followers can do little better than the rest of us when it comes to avoiding mistakes and the temptation to revise/distort/delete in personally beneficial ways when making copies of His word. Not something you'd expect from a deity of his supposed power and skill.The other striking thing about this to me is how little people have changed in the interim. I.e. the entire profession of theology is basically a big patch job on the problems with the bible when it's considered to be a body of truth and knowledge. And as Ehrman points out, when you smash the gospels together, you're basically writing your own version of the gospels and propagating them as such. Stroll into any Xian church on a Sunday morning and finding this kind of thing going on is probably like shooting ducks in a pond. Seems The Lord's followers are still doing the same old crap here 2000 years later as they've always done. You'd think that problem would have been solved by now….So a sober, textual criticism of the NT without all the theological excuse-making weighing it down is, in my view, extremely valuable. That's sure to raise the ire of biblical devotees, but then again you can't much argue with the facts (once the toothpaste is out of the tube….).Finally, Ehrman is probably seemingly out there on his own outside the mainstream of biblical scholarship because The Lord's people have fought so hard to keep what he's saying quiet and/or massaged into something palatable for their targets. This is the last thing God's People want out in the open and available for all to see, for obvious reasons….LS

  13. 13
    ls

    >his wikipedia page surprisingly doesn't say given his subject matter, but do you know if he's a theist or not?<I believe BE is now an atheist:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Ln-S7ZraUcand etc in other interviews.The truly blasphemous thing is that he arrived at that position _because_ of his biblical studies. I just love that…I've always considered myself an atheist _because_ of a foxhole for similar reasons. When push has come to shove in my life the sheer ineffectiveness of faith and prayer spoke for itself. Well, it sounds like a truly sober reading of the bible produces similar results for biblical scholars as well!L

  14. 14
    Grey d'Miyu

    Playlist with the 6 of the 10 videos covering up to the beginning of the Q&A section:http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=C854F4FF72E1C071I'll get the other 4 into the playlist here in a few hours.

  15. 15
    Tristan D. Vick

    Advocatus Atheist: Here's my own article on the development of the Biblical Canon:http://advocatusatheist.blogspot.com/p/development-of-biblical-canon.html

  16. 16
    Guillaume

    @Hank Nash-I think I should coin the expression "Argument at Dan Brown" to give a name to the fallacious argument you are using, basically trying to discredit our point by trying to label us as Dan Brown influenced conspirationists. You know zilch about how Ancient texts, or indeed Early Modern texts, were written. Modern notions of authorship, authenticity of the account or acuracy were either very different or inexistent. Copists were as much rewriters and the texts were written as propaganda to convince of Jesus's divinity, there was little if no concern for historical acuracy. As a matter of fact, the Gospels, just like the Old Testament, were widely inacurate on a number of things. It's not like Bart Erhman came out of the blue on that, the unreliability of the Bible as a historical text has been widely demonstrated and accepted by historians, including Christians ones.

  17. 17
    Guillaume

    I also notice that apologists, when it comes to defend the historicity of the Bible, are quite fond if the argument from authority. They often care more about the title of a historian than the evidence, the scrutiny of the research and the quality of the argument. They will most gladly mention the title of Pr. Whoever, the fact that he taught at Oxford (or that he did his PhD there), then quote him saying such thing as "there is just as much evidence that Jesus existed and the Gospels are genuine that Julius Caesar existed and that he went in Gauls", without even looking at what brought the academic to make such a claim and looking at what it is based on.

  18. 18
    tracieh

    Hank:>Ha. So what does the dead sea scrolls mean to you guys ? Maybe you should do some actual research and put down the da vinci code. Compare the bible to any piece of historic documents … any….. Alexander the great , Plato, Aristotle homers illiad, and its in a completely different category. Do your homework. Bart ehrman is incorrect and foolish.Uh, for the record, Bart says Da Vinci code is not realistic. Does that mean as you agree with him, that your incorrect and foolish?Also, hate to burst your bubble (assuming your post wasn't just atheist bating by a bored teenager), but the Dead Sea Scrolls have nothing to do with "Jesus" as they don't impact the New Testament–which is Bart's focus.Fail.

  19. 19
    tracieh

    Geoff:>but it really doesn't matter if it were translated 100% accurately for the last 2000 years, because that doesn't give us any indication as to whether the original text was a complete fiction,As we can only guess what the "original" was or said, the question is moot.>from the way Dr Ehrman talks about things Jesus may or may not have actually said or done, that he does accept the presupposition that Jesus was a real personAnd that would put him squarely in the company of most historians who also give benefit of the doubt to the existence of Jesus. Ehrman isn't radical. It's like he said, what he presents has been known for centuries. It's not new or diverging from general scholarship. It's just not very well known by lay people–which is unbelievable considering the interesting our Western culture has on this religion.>Just out of interest, his wikipedia page surprisingly doesn't say given his subject matter, but do you know if he's a theist or not?In Misquoting Jesus, he discusses his fall from fundamentalism. Others have indicated to me he has made stronger statements about his (non)beliefs, but I haven't read those personally.Findo:>Nah, it's just I don't have so much faith in Ehrman's extrapolations. Anyone who reads the footnotes in their bible will be aware of the things he points out,I totally agree. It was these margin notes that assisted in my deconversion from Christianity. Inerrancy is a scam. As I said, I didn't come upon Ehrman until after I'd looked this information up myself. His book was simply having it all put together under one roof.>Ehrman is interesting, and dynamic but I'm wary of someone who doesn't go through the usual academic editorial processes and instead publishes sensationalist books to make a lot of money.You have seen his vitae I assume? He's by no means academically bereft.-th

  20. 20
    tracieh

    >And as Ehrman points out, when you smash the gospels together, you're basically writing your own version of the gospels and propagating them as such.This was an excellent point he made, I also thought. If we're examining the books to see if they tell a coherent narrative, then force fitting them is not the way to examine it. In fact, the addition at the end of Mark demonstrates that even theologians of antiquity thought the gospels needed a little boost when it comes to "alignment."The Christian philosophy is: If you go at it with a presumption that it's true and it has to reconcile, can you _make it_ reconcile?And the answer is "yes"–if you're willing to accept any and every leap you're asked to make, over ever considering it reasonable that the story may not be accurate or consistent between the four books.I see this ALL the time in Christian argument. They will defend a passage in one book with a passage from another–sometimes it's not even the same author attributed. They treat it as a cohesive "book"–when it's a collection of texts with no devine mandate to combine them. People slapped them together–initiating it and executing it as they saw fit over centuries. And eventually we have this book–and today we've sort of forgotten in the general knowledge how it came to us. And how it came to us has HUGE bearing on how it's read, in my view.

  21. 21
    The Harbinger of Nothing

    >And as Ehrman points out, when you smash the gospels together, you're basically writing your own version of the gospels and propagating them as such.This is what ALL books on the historical Jesus are: another gospel representation. A bit from Mark, a bit from Q, a bit from John etc. And at the end of the process there's a sparkling new Jesus presented; usually resembling, as Albert Schweitzer pointed out, the historian doing the exegesis. Projection is a problem in historical Jesus studies, amongst many other things.

  22. 22
    Chase

    Wow, I had no idea you were a UCF alumni! What years did you attend? Thanks for the post and go knights!-Chase

  23. 23
    tracieh

    Chase: Attended '84 – '96 (graduated '96); worked and went to school part-time. BA Liberal Arts (anthropology, communication, studio art, with a load of misc credits in Western lit)

  24. 24
    Chase

    As Neo would say "Whoa!" And I thought my 6 years doing engineering was too long of a tenure. It sounds like you had a lot more diversification going on though. Any who, rock on and keep your WIDE range of collegiate studies sharp and well used.-Chase

  25. 25
    tracieh

    Chase: I'm an idiot–I went until 90, not 96. I have a mental glitch. This is the second time I've said 96 rather than 90. I have no idea what my thing with 96 is…?

  26. 26
    Jeff

    Tracie – it takes courage to admit you were once fooled by Josh McDowell, thanks for sharing. Back in the early 90's I had both volumes of "Evidence", and at one point brought them to work with me each day so I could share with my co-workers. A few years later I discovered Indidels.org and the chapter by chapter refutations written by Jeffrey Lowder. Good stuff.

  27. 27
    J. K. Jones

    Findo is right on.Thanks for the links, Findo.

  28. 28
    Guillaume

    @J.K. Jones-How come? Anybody here trying to refute what Bart Ehrman said by looking at the evidence?

  29. 29
    Chase

    Ah, cut that "whoa" down to a "wh". That is a pretty reasonable time for all the studies.-Chase

  30. 30
    Donna Muller

    Thanks very much for that link; I just watched every video. I'm couch-bound for a long time with a broken leg so have lots of time. These will help me with an ongoing Facebook debate. I highly recommend his books, too.

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