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Jesus,InterruptedRevealing theHidden Contradictions in the Bible(and Why We Don’t Know About Them)Bart D. Ehrman

To Aiya, granddaughter extraordinaire

ContentsPrefaceo n e A Historical Assault on Faitht w o A World of Contradictionsv119t h r e e A Mass of Variant Views61f o u r Who Wrote the Bible?101f i v e Liar, Lunatic, or Lord? Finding the Historical Jesus139s i x How We Got the Bible181s e v e n Who Invented Christianity?225e i g h t Is Faith Possible?269NotesAbout the AuthorOther Books by Bart D. EhrmanCreditsCoverCopyrightAbout the Publisher285

Prefacearrived at Princeton Theological Seminary in August 1978, freshout of college and recently married. I had a well-thumbed GreekNew Testament, a passion for knowledge, and not much else. I hadnot always been passionate about learning. No one who knew me fiveor six years earlier would ever have predicted that I’d be headed for acareer in academia. But I had been bitten by the academic bug somewhere along the way in college. I suppose it was first at the MoodyBible Institute, in Chicago, a fundamentalist Bible college I startedattending at the ripe young age of seventeen. There my academicdrive was fueled not by intellectual curiosity so much as by a religious desire for certainty.Studying at Moody was an intense experience for me. I had gonethere because I had had a “born-again” experience in high schooland decided that to be a “serious” Christian I would need serioustraining in the Bible. And somehow, during my first semester incollege, something happened to me: I became passionate—fierce,even—in my quest for knowledge about the Bible. At Moody notonly did I take every Bible and theology course that I could, but onmy own I also memorized entire books of the Bible by rote. I studiedduring every free moment. I read books and mastered lecture notes.Just about every week I pulled an all-nighter, preparing for classes.I

viPrefaceThree years of that will change a person’s life. It will certainlytoughen up one’s mind. When I graduated from Moody I headed offto Wheaton College to get a degree in English literature, but I keptup my intense focus on the Bible, taking interpretation courses andteaching the Bible every week to kids in my youth group at church.And I learned Greek so that I could study the New Testament in itsoriginal language.As a committed Bible-believing Christian I was certain that theBible, down to its very words, had been inspired by God. Maybethat’s what drove my intense study. These were God’s words, thecommunications of the Creator of the universe and Lord of all,spoken to us, mere mortals. Surely knowing them intimately wasthe most important thing in life. At least it was for me. Understanding literature more broadly would help me understand this piece ofliterature in particular (hence my major in English literature); beingable to read it in Greek helped me know the actual words given bythe Author of the text.I had decided already in the course of my freshman year at Moodythat I wanted to become a professor of the Bible. Then, at Wheaton,I realized that I was pretty good at Greek. And so my next step wasvirtually chosen for me: I would do a doctorate in New Testamentstudies, and work especially on some aspect of the Greek language.My beloved professor of Greek at Wheaton, Gerald Hawthorne, introduced me to the work of Bruce Metzger, the most revered scholarof Greek biblical manuscripts in the country, who happened to teachat Princeton Theological Seminary. And so I applied to Princeton,knowing nothing—absolutely nothing—about it, except that BruceMetzger taught there and that if I wanted to become an expert inGreek manuscripts, Princeton was where I needed to go.I guess I did know one thing about Princeton Seminary: it wasnot an evangelical institution. And the more I learned about it inthe months leading up to my move to New Jersey, the more nervousI became. I learned from friends that Princeton was a “liberal”seminary where they did not hold to the literal truth and verbal

Prefaceviiinspiration of the Bible. My biggest challenge would not be purelyacademic, doing well enough in my master’s-level classes to earn theright to go on to do a Ph.D. It would be holding on to my faith in theBible as the inspired and inerrant Word of God.And so I came to Princeton Theological Seminary young and poorbut passionate, and armed to take on all those liberals with theirwatered-down view of the Bible. As a good evangelical Christian Iwas ready to fend off any attacks on my biblical faith. I could answerany apparent contradiction and resolve any potential discrepancyin the Word of God, whether in the Old or New Testament. I knewI had a lot to learn, but I was not about to learn that my sacred texthad any mistakes in it.Some things don’t go as planned. What I actually did learn atPrinceton led me to change my mind about the Bible. I did notchange my mind willingly—I went down kicking and screaming.I prayed (lots) about it, I wrestled (strenuously) with it, I resistedit with all my might. But at the same time I thought that if I wastruly committed to God, I also had to be fully committed to thetruth. And it became clear to me over a long period of time that myformer views of the Bible as the inerrant revelation from God wereflat-out wrong. My choice was either to hold on to views that I hadcome to realize were in error or to follow where I believed the truthwas leading me. In the end, it was no choice. If something was true,it was true; if not, not.I’ve known people over the years who have said, “If my beliefs areat odds with the facts, so much the worse for the facts.” I’ve neverbeen one of these people. In the chapters that follow I try to explainwhy scholarship on the Bible forced me to change my views.This kind of information is relevant not only to scholars like me,who devote their lives to serious research, but also to everyone whois interested in the Bible—whether they personally consider themselves believers or not. In my opinion this really matters. Whetheryou are a believer—fundamentalist, evangelical, moderate, liberal—or a nonbeliever, the Bible is the most significant book in the

viiiPrefacehistory of our civilization. Coming to understand what it actually is,and is not, is one of the most important intellectual endeavors thatanyone in our society can embark upon.Some people reading this book may be very uncomfortable withthe information it presents. All I ask is that, if you’re in that boat,you do what I did—approach this information with an open mindand be willing to change if change you must. If, on the other hand,you find nothing shocking or disturbing in the book, all I ask is thatyou sit back and enjoy.I owe a mountain of gratitude to a number of careful and insightful readers who have plowed through my manuscript and vigorouslyinsisted—not in vain, I hope—that I change it in places to makeit better: Dale Martin of Yale University and Jeff Siker of LoyolaMarymount University; my daughter, Kelly Ehrman Katz; my graduate students Jared Anderson and Benjamin White; an insightfulreader for the press; and my very sharp and helpful editor at HarperOne, Roger Freet.Translations of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) are taken fromthe New Revised Standard Version; those of the New Testament areeither from the NRSV or are my own; quotations of the ApostolicFathers are my own.I have dedicated the book to my two-year-old granddaughter,Aiya—who is perfect in every way.

o n eA Historical Assault on Faithhe Bible is the most widely purchased, extensively read, anddeeply revered book in the history of Western Civilization. Arguably it is also the most thoroughly misunderstood, especially bythe lay reading public.Scholars of the Bible have made significant progress in understanding the Bible over the past two hundred years, building onarchaeological discoveries, advances in our knowledge of the ancientHebrew and Greek languages in which the books of Scripture wereoriginally written, and deep and penetrating historical, literary, andtextual analyses. This is a massive scholarly endeavor. Thousands ofscholars just in North America alone continue to do serious researchin the field, and the results of their study are regularly and routinelytaught, both to graduate students in universities and to prospectivepastors attending seminaries in preparation for the ministry.Yet such views of the Bible are virtually unknown among thepopulation at large. In no small measure this is because those of uswho spend our professional lives studying the Bible have not done agood job communicating this knowledge to the general public andbecause many pastors who learned this material in seminary have,for a variety of reasons, not shared it with their parishioners once theytake up positions in the church. (Churches, of course, are the mostobvious place where the Bible is—or, rather, ought to be—taught andT

2jesus, interrupteddiscussed.) As a result, not only are most Americans (increasingly) ignorant of the contents of the Bible, but they are also almost completelyin the dark about what scholars have been saying about the Bible forthe past two centuries. This book is meant to help redress that problem. It could be seen as my attempt to let the cat out of the bag.The perspectives that I present in the following chapters are notmy own idiosyncratic views of the Bible. They are the views thathave held sway for many, many years among the majority of seriouscritical scholars teaching in the universities and seminaries of NorthAmerica and Europe, even if they have not been effectively communicated to the population at large, let alone among people of faithwho revere the Bible and who would be, presumably, the ones mostinterested. For all those who aspire to being well educated, knowledgeable, and informed about our civilization’s most important book,that has to change.A SEMINARIAN’S INTRODUCTION TO THE BIBLEMost of the people who are trained in Bible scholarship have beeneducated in theological institutions. Of course, a wide range of students head off to seminaries every year. Many of them have beeninvolved with Bible studies through their school years, even datingback to their childhood Sunday School classes. But they have typically approached the Bible from a devotional point of view, reading itfor what it can tell them about what to believe and how to live theirlives. As a rule, such students have not been interested in or exposedto what scholars have discovered about the difficulties of the Biblewhen it is studied from a more academic, historical perspective.Other students are serious about doing well academically inseminary but do not seem to know the Bible very well or to holdparticularly high views of Scripture as the inspired Word of God.These students are often believers born and raised, who feel calledto ministry—most of them to ministry in the church, but a goodnumber of them to other kinds of social ministry. For the country’s

A Historical Assault on Faith3mainline denominations—Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran, Episcopalian, and so on—a good number of these students are alreadywhat I would call liberal. They do not believe in the inerrancy of theBible and are more committed to the church as an institution thanto Scripture as a blueprint for what to believe and how to live one’slife. And many of them, frankly, don’t know very much about theBible and have only a kind of vague sense of its religious value.It was not always like this in Protestant seminaries. In earlierdecades it could be assumed that a student would arrive at seminary with a vast knowledge of the Bible, and the training for ministry could presuppose that students had at their command thebasic contents of both Old and New Testaments. That, sadly, is nolonger the case. When I was at Princeton Theological Seminary (aPresbyterian school) in the late 1970s, most of my classmates wererequired to take remedial work in order to pass an exam that wecalled the “baby Bible” exam, a test of a student’s knowledge aboutthe most basic information about the Bible—What is the “Pentateuch”? In what book is the Sermon on the Mount found? Who isTheophilus?—information that most of us from stronger evangelicalbackgrounds already had under our belts.My hunch is that the majority of students coming into their firstyear of seminary training do not know what to expect from courseson the Bible. These classes are only a small part of the curriculum,of course. There are required courses in church history, systematictheology, Christian education, speech, homiletics (preaching), andchurch administration. It’s a lot to squeeze into three years. Buteveryone is required to take introductory and advanced courses inbiblical studies. Most students expect these courses to be taught froma more or less pious perspective, showing them how, as future pastors, to take the Bible and make it applicable to people’s lives in theirweekly sermons.Such students are in for a rude awakening. Mainline Protestantseminaries in this country are notorious for challenging students’cherished beliefs about the Bible—even if these cherished beliefs are

4jesus, interruptedsimply a warm and fuzzy sense that the Bible is a wonderful guideto faith and practice, to be treated with reverence and piety. Theseseminaries teach serious, hard-core Bible scholarship. They don’tpander to piety. They are taught by scholars who are familiar withwhat German- and English-speaking scholarship has been sayingabout the Bible over the past three hundred years. They are keento make students knowledgeable about the Bible, rather than teachwhat is actually in the Bible. Bible classes in seminary are usuallytaught from a purely academic, historical perspective, unlike anything most first-year students expect and unlike anything they’veheard before, at home, at church, or in Sunday School.The approach taken to the Bible in almost all Protestant (andnow Catholic) mainline semi