Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Devil's in the details

I'd love to sit in one of Bart Ehrman's classes.

Ehrman looks the professorial part -- a not-too-tall man with a receding hairline, dressed in casual slacks and sport coat over a sweater. His shoes are scuffed. He is energetic and possessed of a gregarious personality that endears him to the student body. (He holds informal office hours on Wednesday nights in a local bar/restaurant.)

But as he paces back and forth across the stage, Ehrman ruthlessly pounces on the anomalies -- in this Gospel, 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.

"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."

Ah, another evil atheist professor, a harbinger of not so good news. What made him such a bible trasher? Well, this former believer read The Book too much. He looked too closely at the ancient manuscripts, codices, and scrolls. He just dug too deeply and discovered the awful truth.

The Bible simply wasn't error-free. The mistakes grew exponentially as he traced translations through the centuries. There are some 5,700 ancient Greek manuscripts that are the basis of the modern versions of the New Testament, and scholars have uncovered more than 200,000 differences in those texts.

"Put it this way: There are more variances among our manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament," Ehrman summarizes.

Most of these are inconsequential errors in grammar or metaphor. But others are profound. The last 12 verses of the Gospel of Mark appear to have been added to the text years later -- and these are the only verses in that book that show Christ reappearing after his death.

Another critical passage is in 1 John, which explicitly sets out the Holy Trinity (the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit). It is a cornerstone of Christian theology, and this is the only place where it is spelled out in the entire Bible -- but it appears to have been added to the text centuries later, by an unknown scribe.

And so this born-again, God-filled man who "once ... was a seminarian and graduate of the Moody Bible Institute, a pillar of conservative Christianity," just couldn't anymore in good conscience believe in the inane beliefs of Christianity. He lost his faith. He had to reject the bible as some perfect text that rolled off His Almighty Highness' printing press.

(via God is for Suckers)

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