Book Review

Jesus, Interrupted by Bart D. Ehrman. HarperOne (HarperCollins), NY, 2009; 292 pages, ISBN 978-0-06-117393-6, Hardback, $25.99.

This book explains to  the general public some main points of the current consensus of modern scholarship on the New Testament, which approaches the subject historically and analyzes the texts and evidence with academic rigor.  This historical-critical approach draws on 300 years of German and English-speaking Biblical scholarship, and it is taught in universities and in all but the most conservative seminaries and divinity schools in America and Western Europe. Virtually all pastors have studied the material presented in Jesus, Interrupted, and a great deal more.  Why, then, do most church-goers remain ignorant of it?

     One of the most amazing and perplexing features of mainstream Christianity is that seminarians who learn the historical-critical method in the Bible classes appear to forget all about it what it comes time for them to be pastors. They are taught critical approaches to Scripture, they learn about the discrepancies and contradictions, they discover all sorts of historical errors and mistakes, they come to realize that it is difficult to know whether Moses existed or what Jesus actually said and did, they find that there are other books that were at one time considered canonical but that ultimately did not become part of Scripture . . . , they come to recognize that a good number of the books of the Bible are pseudonymous (for example, written in the name of an apostle by someone else), that in fact we don't have the original copies of any of the biblical books, but only copies made centuries later, all of which have been altered. They learn all this, and yet when they enter church ministry they appear to put it back on the shelf. . . .
    [After I gave an adult-education course at a local church] a dear elderly lady came up to me and asked me in frustration, "Why have I never heard this before?"  She was not distressed at what I had said; she was distressed that her pastor had never said it.  . . . [I was] wondering the same thing myself: Why had he never told her?  He, too, had gone to Princeton Theological Seminary, he too had learned all these things; he taught adult education classes at this church and had been doing so for more than five years. Why had he not told his parishioners what he knew about the Bible and the historical Jesus?  Surely they deserved to hear.  Was it because he didn't think they were "ready" for it – a patronizing attitude that is disturbingly common?  Was he afraid to "make waves"?  Was he afraid that historical information might destroy the faith of his congregation?  Was he afraid that church leaders might not take kindly to the dissemination of such knowledge?  Did church leaders actually put pressure on him to stick to the devotional meaning of the Bible in his preaching and teaching?  Was he concerned about job security?  I never found out. – pp. 15-16

This book seeks to remedy this lack of access.  Simply and accessibly written, it introduces lay readers to the conclusions of mainstream scholarship and some of the evidence behind them.  As an adaptation of the themes and material in the author's introductory college course on the New Testament, it offers enough concrete examples and evidence to make his points compelling without drowning the reader in details or linguistic technicalities.  Christians who haven't looked into early Christianity or scholarship of the Bible may find it thought provoking.  Those who have studied some of these issue on their own may find a brief summary of the mainstream scholarly viewpoint of interest. – Sally Dougherty (July 2009)

Book Reviews