The Washington Post has an article today, "The Book of Bart," about the author of Misquoting Jesus, which no doubt will have its run among dilettantish folks who think they've really found something that "gets the goods" on all the Bible nonsense.
Well, I've read the Post article (click the headline above to read for yourself), and -- while allowing for the possibility the reporter gets the story wrong, and pending my own opportunity to peruse the man's book myself -- the guy embarrasses himself with some of his assertions.
Here's the set-up: Bart Ehrman used to be a "seminarian," he was graduated from the Moody Bible Institute, and is a "New Testament expert." Only after studying Scripture, he lost his faith.
Ehrman's latest book, "Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why," has become one of the unlikeliest bestsellers of the year. A slender book of textual criticism, currently at No. 16 on the New York Times bestseller list, it casts doubt on any number of New Testament episodes that most Christians take as, well, gospel.
From the Post:
Example: A crowd readies itself to stone an adulterous woman to death. Jesus leans down, doodles in the dust. Says, let the one without sin cast the first stone. The crowd melts away. It's one of the most famous stories in the Bible.
And it's most likely fiction, says Ehrman, seconding other scholars who say scribes added the episode to the biblical canon centuries after the life of Christ.
OK, well, ahem. In fairness, I have to see what his argument actually is, in his own words. But let's think about this: no matter what anyone says, no one is in a position to say, "yup, that's fiction--didn't happen." Just how does someone prove such a claim?
The most one can assert is that the text shows evidence of some editing -- that this story was "stitched in" at this point. One could argue it was stitched in further along. But that doesn't say, one way or the other, whether the episode happened or not.
Take note: this field is crowded with smart people who say dumb things. They make assertions (such as this) far stronger than any evidence they can marshall in support of their statements. In a word, hubris.
But it gets better.
Again, from the Post:
Ehrman ruthlessly pounces on the anomalies -- in this Gospel [of John], Jesus isn't born in Bethlehem, he doesn't tell any parables, he never casts out a demon, there's no last supper. "None of that is found in John!" The crucifixion stories are different -- in Mark, Jesus is terrified on the cross; in John, he's perfectly composed. Key dates are different. The resurrection stories are different. Ehrman reels them off, rapid-fire, shell bursts against the bulwark of tradition.
So Professor Ehrman has discovered how different the first three Gospels, and the fourth, are from each other? Wow--folks who never attended college figure that out on their own! So where it is written that John was supposed to tell his story the same way? In fact, John simply omits (as does Mark) any discussion of Jesus' birth altogether. It begins the story later. So what? So what it omits the parables.
There are many possible reasons for this, one of which seems rather obvious: if the author of John had access to the other Gospels, then why plow the same ground? Even if he didn't, why is he bound to use the same outline of his story?
The only really important question here is whether the varying portraits are contradictory, or merely complementary.
And a truly dispassionate scholar would, in addition to the variations (that are problematic, no denying) in the crucifixion and resurrection accounts, note that for these few, there is substantial agreement: and the curiosity of this is that, if they all made up these stories, divergence is not notable, but rather, convergence is. All four Gospels tell an amazing story, and these quibbles, even if they impinged on inspiration, do not discredit their fundamental witness that something happened.
"In Matthew, Mark and Luke, you find no trace of Jesus being divine,"* he says, his voice urgent. "In John, you do." He points out that in the other three books, it takes the disciples nearly half of Christ's ministry to learn who he is. John says no, no, everyone knew it from the beginning. "You shouldn't think something just because you believe it. You need reasons. That applies to religion. That applies to politics . . . just because your parents believe something isn't good enough."
Well, that first claim is utter crap, I'm sorry. And any scholar of Scripture knows better. "No trace"? There are abundant "traces" -- indeed, all I need do is offer a single "trace" and his claim is exploded. In another post -- if any readers express interest in this subject -- I'll be happy to offer some, just to show the ludicrousness of this assertion.
All four Gospels contain extensive material pointing to the divinity of Jesus, in such a way that there's no doubt, I think, the writers were consciously dealing with this question. Can you also point to other material that clouds the question? Certainly. Can you explain the evidence of Jesus' divinity in such a way as to reach a negative answer? Yes, although with difficulty. But to say there's "no trace"? That's nonsense, I'm sorry.
If you want to discuss this more, leave a comment; I'm happy to say more, but this will do for now . . .
* Update: for a detailed exegesis of Mark that demolishes this ridiculous assertion, see this post.