One of the problems however with some of Bart’s popular work, including this book, is that it does not follow the age old adage--“before you boil down, you need to have first boiled it up.” By this I mean Bart Ehrman, so far as I can see, and I would be glad to be proved wrong about this fact, has never done the necessary laboring in the scholarly vineyard to be in a position to write a book like Jesus, Interrupted from a position of long study and knowledge of New Testament Studies. He has never written a scholarly monograph on NT theology or exegesis. He has never written a scholarly commentary on any New Testament book whatsoever! His area of expertise is in textual criticism, and he has certainly written works like The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, which have been variously reviewed, not to mention severely critiqued by other textual critics such as Gordon D. Fee, and his own mentor Bruce Metzger (whom I also did some study with). He is thus, in the guild of the Society of Biblical Literature a specialist in text criticism, but even in this realm he does not represent what might be called a majority view on such matters.
It is understandable how a textual critic might write a book like Misquoting Jesus, on the basis of long study of the underpinnings of textual criticism and its history and praxis. It is mystifying however why he would attempt to write a book like Jesus, Interrupted which frankly reflect no in-depth interaction at all with exegetes, theologians, and even most historians of the NT period of whatever faith or no faith at all. A quick perusal of the footnotes to this book, reveal mostly cross-references to Ehrman’s earlier popular works, with a few exceptions sprinkled in—for example Raymond Brown and E.P Sanders, the former long dead, the latter long retired. What is especially telling and odd about this is Bart does not much reflect a knowledge of the exegetical or historical study of the text in the last thirty years. It’s as if he is basing his judgments on things he read whilst in Princeton Seminary. And that was a long time ago frankly.
It is not sufficient to reply that Bart is writing for a popular audience and thus we would not expect much scholarly discussion even in the footnotes. Even in a work of this sort, we would expect some good up to date bibliography for those disposed to do further study, not merely copious cross-references to one’s other popular level books. Contrast for example, my last Harper book What Have They Done with Jesus? The impression is left, even if untrue, that Ehrman’s actual knowledge of and interaction with NT historians, exegetes, and theologians has been and is superficial and this has led to overly tendentious and superficial analysis. Again, I would be glad to be proved wrong about this, but it would certainly appear I am not. This book could have been written by an intelligent skeptical person who had no more than a seminary level acquaintance and expertise in the field of NT studies itself. And I do not say this lightly, for this book manifests problems in all areas, if one critiques it on the basis of NT scholarship of the last thirty or so years. There are methodological problems, historical problems, exegetical problems, theological problems, and epistemological problems with this book, to mention but a few areas.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Witherington: Bart Interrupted
Ben Witherington offers a detailed analysis of Bart Ehrman's new revisionist history: Jesus, Interrupted: