Thursday, February 16, 2006

Ehrman, Whose Word Is It?

I’m grateful to Simon Gathercole for tipping me off about a new title by Bart Ehrman, namely, Whose Word Is It? The Story Behind Who Changed the New Testament and Why (T & T Clark, January 31, 2006), £16.99. It appears to be another version (European edition?) of Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why.

The publisher’s synopsis on is:
‘Bart Ehrman provides a fascinating and highly readable account of who changed the words of the New Testament and why. With the advent of the printing press and the subsequent publishing culture that reproduces exact copies of texts en masse, most people today assume that they are reading the very words that Jesus spoke or St. Paul wrote when they consult the New Testament. And yet, for almost 1,500 years manuscripts were copied by hand by scribes - many of them untrained, especially in the early centuries of Christendom - who were deeply influenced by the theological and political disputes of their day. Mistakes and intentional changes abound in the competing manuscript versions that continue to plague biblical scholars who determine which words, phrases, or stories are the most reliable and, therefore, merit publication in modern Bibles. “Whose Word is it?” is the fascinating history of the words themselves. Ehrman shows us where and why changes were made in our earliest surviving manuscripts, changes that continue to have a dramatic impact on widely-held beliefs concerning the divinity of Jesus, the Trinity, and the divine origins of the Bible itself. Many books have been written about why some books made it into the New Testament and why some didn’t (canonization) or about how the meaning of words changes when translated from Aramaic to Greek to English. But, this is the first time that a leading biblical scholar reveals for the general reader the many challenging - even disturbing - early variations of our cherished biblical stories and why only certain versions of those stories qualify for publication in the Bibles we read today.’
In some ways it doesn’t sound like Misquoting Jesus, but then the table of contents from Tesco’s website is as follows. I give the chapter headings with the variant readings from Misquoting Jesus.

2Chapter One: The Beginnings of Christian Scripture;
3Chapter Two: The Copyists of the Early Christian Scriptures [vl. Writings];
4Chapter Three: Texts of the New Testament: Editions, Manuscripts, and Differences;
5Chapter Four: The Quest for Origins: Methods and Discoveries;
6Chapter Five: Originals that Matter;
7Chapter Six: Changes that Signify: [ vl. - ] Theologically Motivated;
8Alterations of the Text;
9Chapter Seven: Changes that Signify: [vl. - ] The Social Worlds of the Text;
10Conclusion: Changing Scripture: Scribes, Authors, and Readers.

It is advertised at 256 pages rather than the x + 242 pages of Misquoting Jesus.

If the picture in the Continuum/T & T Clark catalogue is to be believed, the cover is identical to that of Misquoting Jesus, only the upside-down Hebrew letters are now bigger. At present the publisher’s website does not seem to have details of the book.


  1. "The upside-down Hebrew letters are bigger"

    Opps, that was supposed to be the cover for "Lost In Transmission: The Story behind who changed the Old Testament, and Why."

    How about some backwards Greek letters, viewed through the reverse of a palimpset under UV-2 backlighting?

  2. Tesco's as a scholarly resource - what will they think of next?

  3. Perhaps they will bring down the price of manuscripts.

  4. Obviously "Whose Word Is It?" = "Misquoting Jesus" with a different title.

    As some here know,Dr. Ehrman recently visited Wieland Willker's textualcriticism list during a discussion of Mark 1:41. Then he seemed to disappear. I sure would like to discuss the texts that he focused on in "Misquoting Jesus" with him, in a quoteable forum, so as to make more obvious the important details that were left out of his readers' line of sight in "Misquoting Jesus." Dr. Ehrman is probably too busy for such a discussion, though.

  5. I can sympathise with Ehrman. There are, after all, more people who would have something to say about his work than he could manage to answer in the time he has.

    The best way for someone busy to offer such interaction is through an hour-long live e-mail chat.

  6. I'd be honored to have any of you fellows take a look at this post I've just completed, which deconstructs Ehrman's presupposition regarding the need of perfect transmission of the text in order to a divine inspiration. If my thinking is off-base I'd appreciate any corrections/suggestions, since this is slated for publication at Thanks.

  7. Paul, I generally concur with your assessment. I've added a few comments below your post on your own blog.