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    The Gospel according to Bart

    A review of Bart D. Ehrmans Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bibleand Why1

    Daniel B. Wallace

    For most students of the NT, a book on textual criticism is a real yawn. The tedious detailsare not the stuff of a bestseller. But since its publication on November , !""#, Misquoting Jesus!

    has been circlin$ hi$her and hi$her toward the %ma&on peak. %nd since Bart 'hrman, one ofNorth %merica(s leadin$ textual critics, appeared on two of N)*(s pro$rams +theDiane RehmShowandFresh Airwith Terry ross-both within the space of one weekit has been in thetop fifty sellers at %ma&on. Within three months, more than "",""" copies were sold. WhenNeely Tucker(s interview of 'hrman in TheWashington Postappeared on /arch # of this yearthe sales of 'hrman(s book shot up still hi$her. /r. Tucker spoke of 'hrman as a0fundamentalist scholar who peered so hard into the ori$ins of 1hristianity that he lost his faith

    alto$ether.23Nine days later, 'hrman was the $uest celebrity on 4on 5tewart(s The Daily Show.5tewart said that seein$ the Bible as somethin$ that was deliberately corrupted by orthodoxscribes made the Bible 0more interestin$6almost more $odly in some respects.25tewartconcluded the interview by statin$, 07 really con$ratulate you. 7t(s a helluva book82 Within 9:hours,Misquoting Jesuswas perched on top of %ma&on, if only for a moment. Two months laterand it(s still flyin$ hi$h, stayin$ in the !# or so books. 7t 0has become one of the unlikeliestbestsellers of the year.29Not bad for an academic tome on a 0borin$2 topic8

    Why all the hoopla; Well, for one thin$, 4esus sells. But not the 4esus of the Bible. The 4esusthat sells is the one that is palatable to postmodern man. %nd with a book entitledMisquotingJesus: The Story Behind Who hanged the Bi!le and Why, a ready audience was created via the

    hope that there would be fresh evidence that the biblical 4esus is a fi$ment. 7ronically, almostnone of the variants that 'hrman discusses involvesayingsof 4esus. The book simply doesn(tdeliver what the title promises. 'hrman preferred"ost in Transmission, but the publisher thou$htsuch a book mi$ht be perceived by the Barnes and Noble crowd as dealin$ with stock car racin$8'ven thou$h 'hrman did not choose his resultant title, it has been a publishin$ coup.

    /ore importantly, this book sells because it appeals to the skeptic who wantsreasons not tobelieve, who considers the Bible a book of myths. 7t(s one thin$ to say that the stories in theBible are le$end< it(s =uite another to say that many of them were added centuries later. %lthou$h'hrman does not quitesay this, he leaves the impression that the ori$inal form of the NT wasrather different from what the manuscripts now read.

    Thanks are due to Darrell >. Bock, Buist /. Fannin$, /ichael W. ?olmes, W. ?all ?arris, and William F.Warren for lookin$ at a preliminary draft of this article and offerin$ their input.

    !5an Francisco@ ?arper5anFrancisco, !""#.

    3Neely Tucker, 0The Book of Bart@ 7n the Bestseller A/is=uotin$ 4esus,( %$nostic %uthor Bart 'hrman)icks %part the ospels That /ade a Disbeliever ut of ?im,2 Washington Post, /arch #, !""C. %ccessed athttp@www.washin$tonpost.comwpEdyncontentarticle!""C"3"9%*!""C"3"9"3C.html .

    9Tucker, 0The Book of Bart.2

    The Biblical Studies Foundation (www.bible.org) Summer 2006

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/03/04/AR2006030401369.htmlhttp://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/03/04/AR2006030401369.htmlhttp://www.bible.org/http://www.bible.org/http://www.bible.org/http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/03/04/AR2006030401369.html
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    %ccordin$ to 'hrman, this is the first book written on NT textual criticisma discipline thathas been around for nearly 3"" yearsfor a lay audience.#%pparently he does not count theseveral books written by G4H nly advocates, or the books that interact with them. 7t seems that'hrman means that his is the first book on the $eneral discipline of NT textual criticism writtenby a bona fide textual critic for a lay readership. This is most likely true.

    Textual Criticism 11

    Misquoting Jesusfor the most part is simply NT textual criticism ". There are sevenchapters with an introduction and conclusion. /ost of the book +chs. I9- is basically a popularintroduction to the field, and a very $ood one at that. 7t introduces readers to the fascinatin$world of scribal activity, the process of canoni&ation, and printed texts of the reek NT. 7tdiscusses the basic method of reasoned eclecticism. %ll throu$h these four chapters, varioussnippetsvariant readin$s, =uotations from Fathers, debates between )rotestants and 1atholicsare discussed, ac=uaintin$ the reader with some of the challen$es of the arcane field of textualcriticism.

    1hapter +0The Be$innin$s of 1hristian 5cripture2- addresses why the NT books werewritten, how they were received, and when they were accepted as scripture.

    1hapter ! +0The 1opyists of the 'arly 1hristian Writin$s2- deals with scribal chan$es to thetext, both intentional and unintentional. ?ere 'hrman mixes standard textEcritical informationwith his own interpretation, an interpretation that is by no means shared by all textual critics, noreven most of them. 7n essence, he paints a very bleak picture of scribal activityC, leavin$ theunwary reader to assume that we have no chance of recoverin$ the ori$inal wordin$ of the NT.

    1hapter 3 +0Texts of the New Testament2- and chapter 9 +0The Juest for ri$ins2- take usfrom 'rasmus and the first published reek NT to the text of Westcott and ?ort. Discussed arethe maKor scholars from the sixteenth throu$h the nineteenth century. This is the most obKective

    material in the book and makes for fascinatin$ readin$. But even here, 'hrman inKects his ownviewpoint by his selection of material. For example, in discussin$ the role that Ben$el played inthe history of textual criticism +"E!-, 'hrman $ives this pious erman conservative hi$hpraise as a scholar@ he was an 0extremely careful interpreter of the biblical text2 +"-< 0Ben$elstudied e#erythingintensely2 +-. 'hrman speaks about Ben$el(s breakthrou$hs in textualcriticism +E!-, but does not mention that he was the first important scholar to articulate thedoctrine of the orthodoxy of the variants. This is a curious omission because, on the one hand,'hrman is well aware of this fact, for in the fourth edition of The Te$t o% the &ew Testament, nowby Bruce /et&$er and Bart 'hrman,Lwhich appeared Kust months beforeMisquoting Jesus, theauthors note, 0With characteristic ener$y and perseverance, MBen$el procured all the editions,manuscripts, and early translations available to him. %fter extended study, he came to theconclusions that the variant readin$s were fewer in number than mi$ht have been expected andthat they did not sha'e any arti(le o% e#angeli( do(trine.2:n the other hand, 'hrman insteadmentions 4. 4. Wettstein, a contemporary of Ben$el, who, at the tender a$e of twenty assumed

    #Misquoting, #.

    C5ee especially #EC".

    LBruce /. /et&$er and Bart D. 'hrman, The Te$t o% the &ew Testament: )ts Transmission* orru+tion*and Restoration+xford@ O), !""#-.

    The Biblical Studies Foundation (www.bible.org) Summer 2006

    http://www.bible.org/http://www.bible.org/http://www.bible.org/
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    that these variants 0can have no weakenin$ effect on the trustworthiness or inte$rity of the5criptures,2but that years later, after careful study of the text, Wettstein chan$ed his views afterhe 0be$an thinkin$ seriously about his own theolo$ical convictions.2"ne is tempted to thinkthat 'hrman may see a parallel between himself and Wettstein@ like Wettstein, 'hrman startedout as an evan$elical when in colle$e, but chan$ed his views on the text and theolo$y in his more

    mature years.

    But the model that Ben$el suppliesa sober scholar who arrives at =uite differentconclusionsis =uietly passed over.

    What is also curiously left out was Tischendorf(s moti#ationfor his indefati$able work ofdiscoverin$ manuscripts and of publishin$ a critical edition of the reek text with a fullapparatus. Tischendorf is widely acknowled$ed as the most industrious NT textual critic of alltime. %nd what motivated him was a desire to recover the earliest form of the texta text whichhe believed would vindicate orthodox 1hristianity a$ainst the ?e$elian skepticism of F. 1. Baurand his followers. None of this is mentioned inMisquoting Jesus.

    Besides the selectivity re$ardin$ scholars and their opinions, these four chapters involve twocurious omissions. First, there is next to no discussion about the various manuscripts. 7t(s almost

    as if external evidence is a nonstarter for 'hrman. Further, as much as he enli$htens his layreaders about the discipline, the fact that he doesn(t $ive them the details about whichmanuscripts are more trustworthy, older, etc., allows him to control the information flow.*epeatedly, 7 was frustrated in my perusal of the book because it spoke of various readin$swithout $ivin$ much, if any, of the data that supported them. 'ven in his third chapter0Textsof the New Testament@ 'ditions, /anuscripts, and Differences2there is minimal discussion ofthe manuscripts, and none of individual codices. 7n the two pa$es that deal specifically with themanuscripts, 'hrman speaks only about their number, nature, and variants.!

    5econd, 'hrman overplays the =uality of the variants while underscorin$ their =uantity. ?esays, 0There are more variations amon$ our manuscripts than there are words in the New

    Testament.2

    3

    'lsewhere he states that the number of variants is as hi$h as 9"",""".