Apr 9 2009

Bart Ehrman and the End of Reputable Scholarship

Bart Ehrman is getting a whole lot of press lately (if blogs count as “press”).  Ehrman is a Bible Scholar who has recently written Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the hidden contradictions in the Bible, where he points out various errors and inconsistencies in the Gospel accounts.  Or, says he does, anyway.  So far, all he’s done is get a bunch of atheists – and others who are either ignorant or just looking for a reason not to believe in God – excited.  Although these folks claim to be wise, they reveal something else entirely (see Romans 1:22), which again leads me to believe that for most atheists, atheism is a moral choice, rather than intellectual.

Even a marginal study shows that the New Testament documents are quite remarkable,  and not the error-filled and questionable documents people like Ehrman claim they are.  Much of the problem, it seems, is applying modern criteria to ancient documents and cultures. (This might actually be good, considering how inaccurate the modern news generally is.  I have learned over the years not to trust anything I read or hear 100%; every single news story I’ve read involving situations of which I have first-hand knowledge, has been incredibly inaccurate.  I can only assume, then, the the stories I no nothing about are just as inaccurate.)

For example, Ehrman criticizes the Gospel authors for not including every single word Jesus said on the cross.  Perhaps someone should have told Matthew, Mark, et al. that this was the expectation of readers in the future.   Here’s a quote from Jesus, Interrupted that was “mined” by John Loftus over at Debunking Christianity:

Why was the tomb supposedly empty? I say supposedly because, frankly, I don’t know that it was. Our very first reference to Jesus’ tomb being empty is in the Gospel of Mark, written forty years later by someone living in a different country who had heard it was empty. How would he know?…Suppose…that Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea…and then a couple of Jesus’ followers, not among the twelve, decided that night to move the body somewhere more appropriate…But a couple of Roman legionnaires are passing by, and catch these followers carrying the shrouded corpse through the streets. They suspect foul play and confront the followers, who pull their swords as the disciples did in Gethsemane. The soldiers, expert in swordplay, kill them on the spot. They now have three bodies, and no idea where the first one came from. Not knowing what to do with them, they commandeer a cart and take the corpses out to Gehenna, outside town, and dump them. Within three or four days the bodies have deteriorated beyond recognition. Jesus’ original tomb is empty, and no one seems to know why.

Is this scenario likely? Not at all. Am I proposing this is what really happened? Absolutely not. Is it more probable that something like this happened than that a miracle happened and Jesus left the tomb to ascend to heaven? Absolutely! From a purely historical point of view, a highly unlikely event is far more probable than a virtually impossible one…” [See pages 171-179]

Ah, yes. This certainly sounds like the kind of scholarship and intelligent analysis that I would expect from a Bible Scholar… but of course I am being sarcastic.  But, it doesn’t have to be intelligent if it tells dunderheads what they want to hear.

Ben Witherington has written a couple of posts that exposes some of Ehrman’s many errors, and from my reading some exerpts and interviews with Ehrman, I would tend to agree with Witherington’s analysis.  I haven’t read the whole book yet, but I will – I am getting a review copy sent to me as part of  TheOOZE’s Viral Blogger network.  I haven’t figured out the angle yet- I know there is one, I just haven’t found it.  Regardless, the book will come, and I will review it – fairly, after I’ve read it myself.

Ehrman may be getting his 15 minutes of fame, but I don’t think he’s gaining any respect from the truly wise.