Book Review: Misquoting Jesus by Bart Ehrman

June 30, 2010
H/T: Pious Fabrications:
Review by David Withun

Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why by Bart D. Ehrman; ISBN: 0-06-073817-0

To be completely honest, reading this book was a waste of my time. I generally enjoy Ehrman’s work, in spite of his sensationalist style, but I was very disappointed with this one. Misquoting Jesus was filled with page after page of Ehrman’s typical version of “shock and awe,” none of which is very often shocking or awing, but with none of the redeeming information and interesting facts that his other books usually contain.

Rather than a scholarly and engaging look at the manuscript traditions of the New Testament and ensuing errors and alterations thereof which I assumed would be the content of this book, Ehrman spends the majority of the book speaking in the first person as a young, naive “‘born again’ Christian” being exposed for the first time to (what he believes are) the shocking facts that the King James Version isn’t the inerrant Word of God and that the Scriptures didn’t fall out of heaven one day. This reveals much less about the history and textual traditions of the New Testament than it does about Ehrman himself, who seems to live perpetually in that juvenile state and seems to honestly believe that every other self-professed Christian lives in the same state. This latter apparent view of Ehrman was revealed especially by the variety of inane statements throughout the book which seem to indicate his unfamiliarity with any form of Christianity outside of the evangelical “born again” version of his childhood (see below for an example of this). 

What scanty little real facts and information there were in this book were not only overshadowed by the above aspects of the book but were also basic enough that they could easily be gleaned by reading Wikipedia articles on the relevant topics (trust me, that’s an insult). I’ve done a little reading in the area, but I’m no expert to be sure, and yet aside from a few minor dates and interesting stories, I was familiar with almost everything covered in this book. 

In the end, I wouldn’t recommend this book at all. There’s too much great reading in early Christian history and even specifically in the manuscript traditions of the New Testament (such as Jaroslav Pelikan’s Whose Bible Is It? A Short History of the Scriptures, for instance) to waste your time reading such worthless trite. Rather than scholarship, you will receive a thinly-veiled attack on Ehrman’s own straw-man of Christianity (he does, after all, begin the book with the story of his own conversion from “‘born-again’ Christianity” to atheism), made all the more pitiful for not only being possibly the weakest criticism ever leveled at Christianity but for Ehrman’s halfhearted attempt to make his attack look like real scholarship.

For your reading pleasure, a few outstanding examples of Ehrman’s inanity in this book:

  1. “This is the account of 1 John 5:7-8, which scholars have called the Johannine Comma, found in the manuscripts of the Latin Vulgate but not in the vast majority of Greek manuscripts, a passage that had long been a favorite among Christian theologians, since it is the only passage in the entire Bible that explicitly delineates the doctrine of the Trinity, that there are three persons in the godhead, but that the three constitute just one God.”
  2. Really? A purported New Testament scholar who is unfamiliar with Matthew 28:19? How about Titus 3:4-6? Still nothing? Oh well, I give up… Just out of curiosity, though: who are these “Christian theologians” amongst whom the Johannine Comma “[has] long been a favorite”? You’d think things like this would need more than vague assertions and non-arguments; not in Ehrmanworld, I guess.

  3. “… or consider all the different Christian denominations, filled with intelligent and well-meaning people who base their views of how the church should be organized and function on the Bible, yet all of them coming to radically different conclusions (Baptists, Pentecostals, Presbyterians, Roman Catholics, Appalachian snake-handlers, Greek Orthodox, and on and on).”
  4. You’d think it would be a good idea for somebody who “chairs the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill” (as the author bio on the back flap of the book says) to know enough about the two largest groups of Christians in the world, Roman Catholics and Orthodox, that he would not make the ignorant statement that these two groups “base their views of how the church should be organized and function on the Bible.” Really? When did the Roman Catholics and the Orthodox pick up Sola Scriptura? And all this time I thought Tradition was the basis of our system of Church governance. In addition, there can’t be much reason aside from sheer ignorance why he insists on saying “Greek Orthodox” specifically (he says it twice in this book and I’ve noticed it in others as well, where he gives a list similar to this one for a similar reason) is beyond me, given that there are 26 other Orthodox jurisdictions in addition to the Greek and that the Greek jurisdiction is not even the largest of them. I can only hope that somebody in a position of power at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is reading this and thinking about hiring a chair for their Department of Religious Studies(!) who is actually familiar with … well … religious studies.

  5. And, of course, saving the best for last: “Put it this way: There are more variances among our manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament.”
  6. Thanks to True Free Thinker for saving me the work on this one:

    Considering that [Bart Ehrman’s] book Misquoting Jesus explored the issue of variant readings in New Testament manuscripts it may be surprising to some that Bart Ehrman’s book itself contains millions and millions of variants.

    Following are some examples of the variants:

    On p. 13 reference is made to “Timothy LeHaye and Philip Jenkins” as the authors of the Left Behind series of novels. However, the authors of the series are Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. Thus, error 1. Tim has never published as “Timothy,” error 2. his last name is not LeHaye but LaHaye and error 3. Jenkins’s first name is not Philip but Jerry.

    On p. 110 error 4. “Timothy” is used as LaHaye’s last name.

    In the index Timothy’s name is error 5. again spelled as “LeHaye.”

    On p. 110 Hal Lindsey’s name is error 6. misspelled as “Hal Lindsay.”

    On p. 70 Desiderius Erasmus is error 7. misspelled as “Desiderus Erasmus.”


    Now, if you are paying attention—or are you like me and simply cannot afford to pay attention? :o)—you may be thinking 1) that is only 16 errors, 2) they are mostly merely misspellings, 3) they do not affect the contents of the text and certainly do not affect any major point which the book seeks to make.

    As for 2) and 3); thank you for noticing as this is precisely, word for word, how many of us feel about Bart Ehrman’s criticisms of the New Testament manuscripts.

    As for 1) how do 16 equal my assertion of there being millions and millions of variants? Well, let us learn some methodology, the sort that allows Ehrman claim, “Put it this way: There are more variances among our manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament.”

    I do not know how many copies Misquoting Jesus has sold but it is reported that “Within the first three months, more than 100,000 copies were sold.”

    The way it works is as simple as it is deceptive: you multiply the 16 variants by how many times they have been reproduced. As the 16 have been reproduced 100,000 (in three months alone) you multiply these and so the total of variants in Misquoting Jesus equals: 1,600,000.

    And that, boys and girls, is how Bart Ehrman manages to make sensational claims that gain him notoriety and quite a few shekels.

    I highly recommend giving the whole post a read. It’s a better than mine, I promise!

And that’s all I have to say about that.

Please leave any comments at source. Thanks!

The Beatitudes by Valaam Choir

June 24, 2010

The Midnight Pascha: A Vistor’s View

June 24, 2010

A very interesting account of a first-time visitor to an Orthodox Midnight Pascha service:

H/T: What the Thoughtless are Thinking

I love Easter. It’s my favorite holy day. Because of this fact, I often try to make it as meaningful as I can for myself and my family. In the past, we’ve done the Sunrise Services, pancake breakfast, passion plays, walk through Jerusalem re-enactments, climbed Mt. Rubidoux, experienced a Lutheran Tenebrae, visited a Catholic Monastery to hear monks sing in Latin, and attended Messianic Seder Dinners. This year, with some friends becoming Eastern Orthodox and the fact that my mom has always wanted to go to a candlelight service, I decided to partake in the Midnight Pascha Service at St. Andrews in Riverside, CA. To, which, all I can really say is it was a profound and moving experience. Every other Easter Celebration now feels mundane in comparison.

A word of caution, this by no means indicates that I am considering becoming a catechumen of the Orthodox Church. Maybe, at some future time, but as for now, I am simply an admirer of the beauty that the OC displays.

To my Orthodox friends, I’m sorry if I have misrepresented any part of the service.

I hope you enjoy reading about my experience as much as I enjoyed being there.

I enter alone; isolated in a room full of strangers.  They don’t feel like strangers tonight, though we’ve never met.  I have not been greeted or returned the blessing; though I am out of place there, I don’t feel that way. Tonight is different. It’s a grand celebration, a feast. The Feast of feasts.

As I walk up to the large heavy doors leading to the nave, there is a table outside with ladies selling candles. There are other candles offered, but these are hand painted and I argue with myself, whether I should purchase one or not and then I realize just what a miser I am. I tell myself “why not, it’s not like you do this everyday or for that matter ever. You should enjoy the whole experience.” So, I pick one out,  it’s simple and yet, elaborate with spirals dots and a picture of Jesus bearing his cross. As I’m searching for the candle I want to bare, I overhear the man next to me tell the ladies he has only been to a service four times and never has he been to a midnight paschal service. The ladies exclaimed that he was in for a very exciting celebration. I smile along with the man and then tag along behind him. I figured we were in the same boat, we’re both watchers, come-arounds, so why not stay close.

We entered the nave ten minutes early and already it was shoulder-to-shoulder standing room only. I’m sure they wouldn’t have it any other way. Most people stand throughout most of the services, so why should tonight be any different.

The room flickers and dances with the orange and red of burning candles, strewn around the room next to saints, a heavenly cloud of witness rejoicing with his servants on the Earth. A young man is reading in a very monotone script from the scriptures, though I can’t quite make out what it is he is reading.

Then the candles are blown out. We stand in darkness. There is anticipation for the moment to be over, for the darkness to subside. But there is also great reflection and symbolism in the Darkness.

Behind the Iconostasis there is still a dancing of color; the only light in the building. Then suddenly the Priest pulls back the curtains. He stands there with the Holy flame, lighting the way for all to see. The congregation filters into the aisle way to have their candle lit. I hear an usher whisper to the man next to me to go on up. I’m nervous, not sure if everyone is to go, I stepped forward and then back again a couple of times. I don’t want to impose where I’m not wanted. I should be an observer not participating. But the usher, nods at me and bids me to go up as well.

I never noticed before, but standing before this Priest , he looks like an Icon of Jesus. He is tall and slender with a scraggly brown beard that has hints of gray throughout, shoulder length brown hair pulled back into a ponytail and deep brown eyes. Strange, a living replica of Christ holding the Holy flame. “Come ye and receive light from the unwaning light, and. glorify Christ, who arose from the dead.”

I’m up before the people lighting my white candle with handmade decorations and my picture of Christ bearing his cross, to light from the Eternal Flame. I notice the wick is bent and broken. I’m freaked out. I’m bent and broken. What if it doesn’t light? I’m pleading with God and with my candle “please light, please light, please light.” It takes a moment, but finally a minuscule flame unsteadily sparks forth. I walk back to where I was standing to the other observers, the other watchers, the come-arounds and light their candles from mine. I am the apostle of the come-arounds.

The church, lit with candles, bursts into song. “The angels in heaven, O Christ our Savior, sing of Thy resurrection. Make us on earth also worthy to hymn Thee with a pure heart.”

The congregation files out into a procession, a crussesion,  led by the Cross and incense and altar singers. Right outside the church, people are hitting the sematron, a wooden plank. It’s loud and noisy. It’s a call to prayer. Quietly we walk around the entire building. The symbolism is not lost on me. Christ is the light of the world; he has touched each and every one of us with his light that shines in us. We are now the light of the world to a darkened world.

The stark contrast of the world was not lost on me either. While slowly making our way around the building, on the street below was a car filled with college kids.  “I’m already drunk!” one of the passengers yelled. Then the music was bumping at ear ringing decimals: “F@#$ all these N@#$&” the song repeated and repeated.

Overlooking the street stands the church, a light on a hill: tonight a silent witness arrayed in the beauty, the glow of candlelight.

When the congregation stopped, here we stood, in front of the tall heavy doors. Mark 16, the gospel account of Resurrection Sunday, was read and then the church broke forth into a hymn. The choir leader starts off slightly above a whisper but grows with each time he sings the stanza until just under a guttural, throaty scream:

Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and on those in the grave bestowing life.

The Priest acts out Psalm 24 with a member of the church who is waiting inside.

Pounding on the heavy doors with his icon of the cross, he cries out,” Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in.”

With a deep thunderous voice, the unknown person responds, “Who is this King of glory?

Again the Priest hits the door three times and loudly cries out, “The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle. Who is this King of Glory?Lift up your heads, O ye gates; even lift them up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory?

The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory!

The church opens its doors to a heavenly whiteness. There are bells clanging, the choir and church is singing. The Priest is joyful, exuberant. He is walking; No, striding up and down the aisle way, censing the people and the icons while shouting Christ has risen! The Church is joyful, laughing, and replying just as loudly, “truly, he has risen!”

The sorrow is gone, the deep contemplation is gone, only an ecstatic elation that our Savior has risen and conquered death. This is a time for rejoicing, a time for the church to celebrate.

I walk out the door sometime after two-thirty in the morning and the service is still going strong.  This has been the Easter service I’ve been longing for throughout my Christian life.

You may also like:

The Midnight Pascha Service 2010

Christ is Risen From the Dead!

Chant Inside Hagia Sophia

June 14, 2010

St. John Chrysostom on the Jesus Prayer

June 14, 2010

The Jesus Prayer is a treasure of the Eastern Church and many saints have written on it. There are several variations of the Jesus Prayer. Its most common form is:

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me!

St. John Chrysostom wrote the following instruction on the value of the Jesus Prayer:

…constantly call: “Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me!” in order that this remembrance of the Name of our Lord Jesus should incite you to battle with the enemy. By this remembrance, a soul forcing itself to do this practice can discover everything which is within, both good and bad. First, it will see within, in the heart, what is bad, and later — what is good. This remembrance is for rousing the serpent, and the remembrance is for subduing it. This remembrance can reveal the sin living in us, and this remembrance can destroy it. This remembrance can arouse all the enemy hosts in the heart, and little by little this remembrance can conquer and uproot them.

The Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, descending into the depths of the heart, will subdue the serpent holding sway over the pastures of the heart, and will save our soul and bring it to life. Thus abide constantly with the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, so that the heart swallows the Lord and the Lord the heart, and the two become one. But this work is not done in one or two days; it needs many years and a long time. For great and prolonged labor is needed to cast out the foe so that Christ dwells in us….

For this great work demands great forcing, since “straight is the gate and narrow is the way that leads to life” (Matthew 7:14). And only those who force themselves enter the Kingdom of Heaven, for the “violent take it by force” (Matthew 11:12). I implore you therefore not to withdraw your hearts from God, but to watch them and guard them by constant remembrance of our Lord Jesus Christ, until the name of our Lord Jesus Christ is deeply rooted in your heart and you cease to think of aught but glorifying the Lord in you.  — From The Publicans Prayer Book, pp. 564-565.

Further reading:

Saying the Jesus Prayer

The Jesus Prayer

The Angel Cried

June 7, 2010


The angel cried to the Lady Full of Grace: Rejoice, rejoice, O Pure Virgin! Again I say: Rejoice! Your Son is risen from His three days in the tomb! With Himself He has raised all the dead! Rejoice, rejoice, all you people!

Shine! Shine! Shine! O New Jerusalem! The Glory of the Lord has shone on you! Exalt now and be glad, O Zion! Be radiant, O Pure Theotokos, in the Resurrection of your Son!

Orthodox Missionary Work in Alaska

June 7, 2010

An account of the missionary work of Fr. John Veniaminov (who became known as St. Innocent of Alaska) among the native peoples in what is now Sitka, Alaska.

This account is translated from the Russian and taken from The life and work of Innocent, the archbishop of Kamchatka, the Kuriles and the Aleutian Islands and later the metropolitan of Moscow:

Sitkha or New Archangel is a good distance from the Aleutian Islands, and lies almost within touch of the mainland of America. The climate here is noted for being damp, and during most part of the year the weather is gloomy and foggy. The soil on this island (now known as Baranov — the name of one of the Governors) is marshland and partly stone, covered with a thin layer of putrefied matter. Novoarhangelsk is situated on the western coast of the island, and at that time it was the central headquarters for the government of the Bussian Colonies in America. Novoarhangelsk (New Archangel) or Sitkha is surrounded by mountains, which are covered with forests of tall trees of the fir species. It should be mentioned that the woods of this Hitkha (the Indian name) or Baianov Island are of a wonderful growth, some of the trunks of spruce measuring 150 feet in length.

The inhabitants of this Island — the Eolosha (or Thlinket tribe of Alaskan Indians), among whom the Reverend Father Veniaminov had now to labor, differed from the Aleuts in appearance as well as in character. In appearance they are handsome: they have large black eyes, correct face, black hair, and are of medium stature. The Eolosha has a proud and selfish nature. On visiting the Bussians they would don their best apparel and maintain a haughty bearing. They are very revengeful; if a Kolosha for some reason could not avenge himself during his life for some offense, he would transmit his revenge to his generation. The Eolosha possess a lively mind and they are sagacious.

They were less acquainted with the Christian religion than the Aleuts. Towards the Bussians, especially before this time, they were hostile, and such a bearing greatly impeded the spread of Christianity among them.

After his arrival in Sitkha, Father John commenced work in the same way he had done on the Island of Ounalashka, i. e. he began by learning the language and customs of the Eoloshas, and then proceeded to preach the Word of God to them. At the same time, as was his wont, he gave freely of his labor, his strength, his health. As in Ounalashka, now also he often preached to his congregation in the church, and when possible visited them in their homes, and there in the family — as a father among his children — he told them of the Orthodox religion. The Kolosha learned to love their
teacher, and commenced to receive him with a welcome, willingly and attentively listening to his lessons.

Living among the Koloshas, Father John wrote sermons for them in their native tongue and translated the sacred books, which helped much in spreading Orthodoxy among them. The labor of the Reverend John Veniaminov was not lost; the result was that the number of Christians in that country increased very rapidly.

For five years Father John worked on Baranov Island (Sitkha). His fifteen years of active missionary life (first in Ounalashka, then in Sitkha) was distinguished with the zeal that made famous the first teachers of the Gospel. He always went about his work with great care, and thereby drew to himself the rough hearts of the savages; he would convince, but not urge, then patiently wait for their own petition, asking for baptism. For the children Father John opened schools, and taught them from books he had himself compiled.
Finally, besides enlightening the natives with the knowledge of the Gospel, he taught them the different trades of smith-craft and carpentry, and also introduced inoculation (to prevent epidemics among them). In this way he won their hearty sympathy; the Indians loved him. And he really was their benefactor and teacher.

Troparion to St. Innocent of Alaska

You evangelized the northern people of America and Asia,
Proclaiming the Gospel of Christ to the natives in their own tongues.
O holy hierarch Father Innocent,
Enlightener of Alaska and all America, whose ways were ordered by the Lord,
Pray to Him for the salvation of our souls in His Heavenly Kingdom!

St Michael's Orthodox Cathedral in Sitka, Alaska

Further reading:

St Innocent of Moscow and Alaska

Biography of St. Innocent of Alaska