Jesus Interrupted: Bart Ehrman and the Contradictions in the Bible

The fact that there are many contradictions in the Bible has been known to scholars for centuries.  Martin Luther famously called the Book of James ” an epistle of straw” with “nothing of the nature of the Gospel about it . . . [It is] not the writing of any apostle,” added that the Book of Esther was “without boots or spurs,” and called the authorship of the Pentateuch and several other books into question.  The great 18th century atheist Jean Meslier cited numerous contradictions, as did Voltaire, and German scholars in the 19th century pretty much demolished the notion that the Bible is the “inerrant word of God.”  Enter Bart Ehrman and his remarkable book, Jesus, Interrupted.  Ehrman goes through many of the most important contradictions, noting how easy it is to see them if the books of the Bible are read side by side, or “horizontally,” as he puts it.  Beyond that, he guides the reader on a tour of the historical Bible, describing what we know about the authors, why they often weren’t who they claimed to be, and why it’s important to consider what each of them believed about Jesus and was trying to accomplish in writing their books.  In a word, he describes the Bible as very much a human rather than a divine product.

As I do not believe in supernatural beings myself, what surprised me about all this was not the fact that there are many contradictions in the Bible, but Ehrman’s claim that this historical-critical approach to it has been taught to most of the graduates of our religious seminaries for the better part of the last century.  Most of our clerics are well aware of the facts, accept them, but, for one reason or another, have decided not to pass the word along to their flocks.  In Ehrman’s words,

…the basic views that I’ve sketched here are widely known, widely taught, and widely accepted among New Testament scholars and their students, including the students who graduate from seminaries and go on to paster churches. Why do these students so rarely teach their congregations this information, but insist on approaching the Bible devotionally rather than historical-critically, not just in the pulpit (where a devotional approach would be expected) but also in their adult education classes? That has been one of my leading questions since I started writing this book.

Ehrman is a refreshing author to read.  He comes from an evangelical Christian background, but eventually became an agnostic, although not, as he claims because of any doubts about the divine authorship of the Bible.  Unlike some of the “new atheist” authors, he doesn’t write with his Amity/Enmity Complex on his sleeve.  In reading Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, for example, one often gets the impression spittle is literally flying off the pages as he rants about the “American Taliban” of evangelical Christians, getting so carried away in the process that he repeats an urban legend about how James Watt, Reagan’s Secretary of the Interior, had  told the U.S. Congress that protecting the environment was not important because Jesus would come back soon.  Ehrman, on the other hand, not only does not condemn Christian belief, but claims that the realization that the authorship of the Bible is human rather than divine need not undermine those beliefs.  In his words,

Some readers will find it surprising that I do not see the material in the preceding chapters as an attack on Christianity or an agnostic’s attempt to show that faith, even Christian faith, is meaningless and absurd. That is not what I think, and it is not what I have been trying to accomplish.

I have been trying, instead, to make serious scholarship on the Bible and earliest Christianity accessible and available to people who may be interested in the New Testament but who, for one reason or another, have never heard what scholars have long known and thought about it.

I suspect many evangelical Christians will agree with my own conclusion that this is rather an understatement of the degree to which the conclusion that the Bible is not only not divinely inspired, but full of contradictions, undermines Christian faith.  To believe that is to believe that, for more than a thousand years, God stood idly by and did nothing in particular to prevent generations of clerical charlatans from bamboozling his moral flock regarding matters that would have a critical bearing on their fate in the hereafter.  It is to believe that, 2000 years after the time of Christ, one can be a Christian, independently of any reliable information about what the man actually said and what his appearance on earth actually meant, just by making things up as you go along. 

I personally prefer to apply Occam’s razor.  The simplest explanation for all these Biblical contradictions is the conclusion that Christ was just another Middle Eastern soothsayer, like legions of others who flourished in the region for hundreds of years before and after his death, differing from them only in the fact that he was the most successful of them all.  It’s unsettling and a little scary to think that the great majority of the human beings on the planet actually believe in imaginary super beings. It’s more or less equivalent to the realization that we’re inmates in a giant asylum. 

It didn’t take Darwin to reveal all these religious impostures for what they are.  Meslier did a perfectly adequate job of it in his Testament more than 250 years ago.  The writings of Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, and the rest are really just afterthoughts.  In spite of all their repetition of the obvious, our religious disconnect with reality continues unabated.  If we set any value on our own survival as a species, apparently it will be necessary for us to somehow find a way to become more intelligent.

Author: Helian

I am Doug Drake, and I live in Maryland, not far from Washington, DC. I am a graduate of West Point, and I hold a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from the University of Wisconsin. My blog reflects my enduring fascination with human nature and human morality.

One thought on “Jesus Interrupted: Bart Ehrman and the Contradictions in the Bible”

  1. Moses God was not God of the Jews — 17:20 And as for Ishmael I have heard thee; behold I have blessed him and will make him fruitful and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget and I will make him a great nation.

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