Bart Ehrman is an agnostic author who writes a lot about early Christianity, usually with intended-to-provoke titles like Misquoting Jesus and Forged.
Forged is about how some of the New Testament books are not by the person we think they are, only as usual, Ehrman is sensationalizing where there's no need to, as it was common practice at the time to write under the name of your teacher. There wasn't some scurrilous man or woman sitting there going "Ahahahaha I shall write this letter as Paul and ALL SHALL BE FOOLED." Or maybe there was, I dunno. But I don't think Ehrman can know their motives. ANYWAY.
My church book group has been going strong for maybe four years now. We started off reading about the Gnostic Gospels, and since then we've done Karen Armstrong's Case for God (which I suggested and did not read); Prophetic Jesus, Prophetic Church (also did not read); something about Christians in the Middle East (ditto); and How the Irish Saved Civilization (read, loved). And now this! Which I read most of and will totally finish despite giving Bart Ehrman side-eye all through it.
|Adopted sons were more revered than natural ones, Ehrman? Mhm. K.|
I feel like Ehrman wasn't sure what tone to take in this, so you get a weird mix of KIND of academic, but then lines like "Scholars sometimes use technical terms for no good reason, other than the fact that they are the technical terms scholars use."
You stop being condescending and you do it right now, Ehrman. (Ehrman: "Shan't!")
So there're a lot of "This is a fancy word for ____" types of sentences, which, y'know, ugh, but once he gets past the opening chapters that discuss how divinity was seen in Ancient Greece, Rome and in Judaism, it gets better. Except for his WILD LEAPS IN LOGIC. One of the most egregious of which is the above-mentioned adopted sons thing.
He's discussing the idea that Jesus was mortal but then made divine by God at his baptism (with the whole "Spirit of God descending like a dove" thing), so the idea that God adopted him into the divine hierarchy. Ehrman tries to argue that "[i]n elite Roman families, it was the adopted son who really mattered, not the sons born of the physical union of a married couple." THIS MAY WELL BE. I don't know. But the example he gives is shitty.
He says that Julius Caesar's son with Cleopatra, Caesarion, is a "very obvious example" because Caesar adopted his nephew Octavian, who ended up inheriting everything, while Caesarion "is a mere footnote in history." CAESARION WAS ILLEGITIMATE, YOU TOOL, THIS WAS NOT A GOOD EXAMPLE. Illegitimate sons don't get shit.
He also says some bullshit about Jesus' burial in a tomb, but my point with this book is: Despite my obvious occasional disagreements with Ehrman and his insistence on proving points he can't prove well, he still brings up a LOT of stuff that's worth thinking about.
|Bart Ehrman kinda|
The main point being that Jesus only specifically claims that he is God in the Gospel of John, which was the last of all the gospels to be written (about 80-90 AD). Ehrman says that the earliest gospel (Mark) has a completely different view of Jesus and his relation to God, and even Matthew and Luke go nowhere near as far as John. If you read the first three gospels and then John, John does feel wayyy different. Just FYI. Which some people have said is because Matthew, Mark and Luke could not just outright say Jesus was God because of the repercussions in the community, or it'd be pushing things too far, etc, but. Hrm. Do not know if I buy that.
But again, I'm not saying I agree with Ehrman definitely either. There's too much we don't know, we're missing all sorts of context, and he does tend to make vast generalizations based on scant information. BUT. He also points out just what the text says and what it doesn't say, and that in itself is valuable. One of the most interesting parts of it for me was this section on the virgin birth:
As a Christian living centuries later, Matthew read the book of Isaiah not in the original Hebrew language, but in his own tongue, Greek. When the Greek translators before his day rendered the passage [Isaiah 7:14], they translated the Hebrew for the word young woman (alma) using a Greek word (parthenos) that can indeed mean just that but that eventually took on the connotation of a “young woman who has never had sex.” Matthew took the passage to be a messianic tradition and so indicated that Jesus fulfilled it, just as he fulfilled all the other prophecies of scripture, by being born of a 'virgin.'
|Still don't know if I'm buying it, but interesting|
Essentially: Lots of things to think about, approach skeptically. The man writes a lot of books and we just don't have all the information.