Jesus, interrupted : revealing the hidden contradictions in the Bible (and why we don't know about them)

by Bart D. Ehrman

Hardcover, 2009

Status

Available

Publication

New York : HarperOne, c2009.

Description

Addresses the issue of what the New Testament actually teaches-- and it's not what most people think.

Media reviews

Westminster Theological Journal
In the end, Jesus, Interrupted can be best summarized as a book filled with ironies. Ironic that it purports to be about unbiased history but rarely presents an opposing viewpoint; ironic that it claims to follow the scholarly consensus but breaks from it so often; ironic that it insists on the historical-critical method but then reads the gospels with a modernist, overly-literal hermeneutic; ironic that it claims no one view of early Christianity could be "right" (Walter Bauer) but then proceeds to tell us which view of early Christianity is "right"; ironic that it dismisses Papias with a wave of the hand but presents the Gospel of the Ebionites as if it were equal to the canonical four; and ironic that it declares everyone can "pick and choose" what is right for them, but then offers its own litany of moral absolutes.

User reviews

LibraryThing member LancasterWays
Bart Ehrman is on a roll. A scholar of the New Testament (NT) at the University of North Carolina, Ehrman has published a new book on the history of early Christianity, NT, or the historical Jesus every other year or so since 2005. Ehrman's recent output has tended toward the popular rather than the scholarly. I haven't yet read any of Ehrman's more scholarly works (I mean to, I will), but I assume that books such as Jesus, Interrupted: Revaling the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We Don't Know About Them) (2009) are more accessible distillations of his academic monographs.

Ehrman's thesis in Jesus, Interrupted is that the NT, early Christianity and, consequently, modern Christianity, is riddled with “hidden” contradictions. As Ehrman himself repeatedly points out, there is nothing “controversial” about the notion that the NT contradicts itself. It is obvious to any observant reader that the Jesus portrayed in Mark is different from that in Luke, and both versions of the Nazarene radically differ from the one in John. Ehrman notes that even readers familiar with the NT might miss such differences since they tend to read the books sequentially rather than “horizontally”; that is, they read Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in the order they appear in the Bible rather than comparing aspects of the stories to one another (for instance, Jesus' birth).

Having established the varied perspectives of the Gospels, Ehrman goes on to discuss issues of interest to both scholars and the reading public. In light of the differences in the Gospels, what can scholars say about the historical Jesus? Who wrote the NT? How was it compiled? Who were the early Christians and what did they believe? Readers unfamiliar with history or religion (as academic disciplines), or who consider themselves versed in the NT (without really having read much of it) might be surprised or disturbed by Ehrman's points. I read one user review that said something along the lines of, “As usual, Ehrman's facts are flawless but his conclusions are biased and totally off-base.” The conclusions to which the user was referring were unclear (Ehrman touches on a variety of topics, after all), but Ehrman builds arguments that, although sometimes based on a paucity of evidence and a heap of speculation, seem sound. Remember that this is not an academic work; Ehrman is permitted leeway in terms of expressing his “guesses” and “intuitions.”

Some readers will be concerned about the implications Jesus, Interrupted will have for faith (their own, Christians in general). My impression is that such readers needn't worry. Ehrman takes pains to point out that he is not attacking Christianity, nor is he interested in subverting anyone's faith. Ehrman began his academic career as an evangelical Christian and is now an agnostic. Lest anyone suspect that Ehrman's fall from grace is proof of the perversions rife in academe, he notes that his abandonment of Christianity had nothing to do with his studies and everything to do with his inability to reconcile the notion of a loving deity with the suffering evident in the world. Ehrman points out, rightly, that the discipline of history can neither prove nor disprove the assertions of faith, although it can inform particular schools of belief. Evangelical Christians who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible may find Jesus, Interrupted a difficult pill to swallow.

I will end on a personal note, a liberty I take in light of Ehrman's frequent personal asides. I am a Jew. I am not in any way invested in the truth of Christianity. (Although, I think, it would be sad to see my Christian friends and neighbors abandon their faith en masse as a result of the scholarship Ehrman shares.) That said, I completely embrace Ehrman's assertion that scholarship can enhance one's faith and one's understanding of one's religion. Liberal Jews have known this since biblical studies began in earnest in the nineteenth century. The majority of my fellow (liberal) Jews do not recognize Moses as the author of Torah, as tradition states. We are aware that Torah was compiled by at least four sources (“authors”) and put into its final form by a Redactor (or, if you prefer, redactors). The literary-historical approach to the text opens a vista of interpretations, understandings, and meanings. We find the multiplicity of meanings not threatening, but liberating. I don't presume to tell our Christian friends how to approach the NT, but to see them study it the way liberal Jews do Torah would provide us all a common ground from which to speak to one another.
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LibraryThing member Clif
There is nothing new or revolutionary in this book for anyone who has studied bible in a mainline seminary or divinity school (or in my case, listened to Ehrman's lectures from the Teaching Company). The problem is that most ministers use the Bible only as a source of devotional material, and refrain from telling their parishioners about what they know about historical critical study of the Bible. The following is a quotation from the first chapter of the book:

"... this material is widely taught in seminaries and divinity schools. But most people in the street, and in the pew, have heard none of this before. That is a real shame, and it is time that something is done to correct the problem."

If there's something revolutionary about this book, it is the fact that the author, Bart Ehrman, is trying to "correct the problem." Knowledge of the historical-critical approach to Bible scholarship does not take away it use as devotional material. It can enhance the devotional experience by providing a more knowledgeable and mature perspective on the source of Biblical materials.

This book provides a readable overview of the subject of critical study of New Testament history. It is information that has been around for a long time and should be common knowledge. The reason it is not widely known has many reasons, one of which is that everybody is happy picking and choosing the parts they choose to believe. Mr. Ehrman says the following about that:

"Everyone already picks and chooses what they want to accept in the Bible. The most egregious instances of this can be found among people who claim not to be picking and choosing"

I think the historical subjects covered by this book are broader than the subtitle indicates. The subtitle refers to "Hidden Contradictions In The Bible." That subject was covered in Chapter 2 of the book. I think a more descriptive subtitle would have been, "The Diverse and Contentious History of Early Christianity." The following is a list of chapter titles which can give an indication of the wide range of subjects covered:

1. A Historical Assault on Faith
2. A World of Contradictions
3. A Mass of Variant Views
4. Who Wrote the Bible?
5. Liar, Lunatic, or Lord? Finding the Historical Jesus
6. How We Got the bible
7. Who Invented Christianity?
8. Is Faith Possible?
Notes

In Chapter 6 he revisited some of the same material covered in his previous book, Misquoting Jesus, and responded to some of the objections made by critics of that book. He goes on to discuss the long, contentious and uncertain history of the formation of the biblical canon. Mr. Ehrman reminds readers that the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed make no mention of the New Testament as being an important part of Christain beliefs. As a matter of fact, the New Testament canon was not fully formed when these creeds were written. That's hard to imagine in today's era of "bible believing Christians" where many understand the New Testament to be the central core of Christianity.

In Chapter 7 Ehrman provides an interesting description of the step by step elevation over many years of the concept of Christ's divinity until it finally resulted in the doctrine of the trinity. By the time of Constantine, whether one accepted the doctrine of the trinity became the supreme test of orthodoxy. Ironically, it's a doctrine that was probably not articulated by anybody for the first couple hundered years of church history. And so "Within three hundred years Jesus went from being a Jewish apocalyptic prophet to being God himself, a member of the trinity. Early Christianity is nothing if not remarkable."

In the first and last chapters Ehrman talks about his own faith journey and that of others who have been involved with biblical scholarship. He argues that the historical critical method can deepen one's faith, making it more knowledgeable and mature. He says the goal of this book is to make serious biblical scholarship available to all.

I puzzled for a long time over the meaning of the word "Interrupted" in the title. In answer to that I found the following quotation of Bart Ehrman in a March 19, 2009 N.Y. Times article:

"The book is about how the voice of Jesus gets changed by all these other messages, and how these different voices are impeding the voice of Jesus. But some people have made jokes about coitus interruptus."

I guess his joking like that proves that he is a "happy agnostic" which is what he called himself in the same article.
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LibraryThing member spbooks
An excellent, plain language survey of critical scholarship on the nature and development of the New Testament documents of the Christian bible. As the author points out, scholars have known the information presented in this book for many, many decades - it’s just that the person in the street is not told about it. The information will be a bombshell for those who are not aware of this information - and a brilliant summary and discussion for those who already do. The author is an agnostic and is often asked why he continues to study the Bible. His answer, provided near the end of this book, is that ‘The Bible is the most important book in the history of Western civilization. It is the most widely purchased, the most thoroughly studied, the most highly revered, and the most completely misunderstood book—ever! Why wouldn’t I want to study it?’ Bart Ehrman is clearly an expert in his field. But he has the ability to make his area simple to understand without dumbing down the material. For anyone interested in the Bible - atheist, agnostic, or believer - this is a must read.… (more)
LibraryThing member jrtanworth
Much easier to read than most histories of Christianity. The author walks you slowly but directly through the use of modern historical techniques for evaluating the Bible and many other manuscripts in the first centuries following the ministry of Jesus. Most of his arguments are convincing and this would be a good book for anyone considering him or herself a Christian. The constant references to how he introduces ideas to his students is tiresome.… (more)
LibraryThing member la2bkk
Yet another outstanding book by Mr. Ehrman. His works are consistently well researched and his style is completely available to the common reader despite his background as a new testament scholar.

Jesus Interrupted makes a convincing case that bible was not the inspired words of God, but instead was written by various people from various places and sets forth sometimes different (if not contradictory) facts about the life of Jesus and the developing theology of being a Christian. Mr. Ehrman sets forth his arguments, which are standard in the scholarly community, in such a way that reader will finish the book with a far greater appreciation for the history of both the bible and the Christian religion.

Highly recommended for believers and non-believers alike.
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LibraryThing member xrayedgrl
This book makes one think of the Bible in a new way. Having read the bible before many of the things discussed in the book were not so much new to me but things I had never really thought about before. The only thing I did not like was the author's need to repeat certain ideas over and over again. Really some of us can remember concepts from one chapter to the next. Otherwise I thought it was an thought provoking book. If you believe in the Bible as the inerrant word of God than this book may not be for you, but if you see the Bible as a model for a life than this book will be fascinating.… (more)
LibraryThing member reannon
I really like Ehrman's writings. He is a very thoughtful writer on subjects that aren't discussed much in public because they involve, for some people, a radical reinterpretation of the Bible. In fact that is one of the reasons he wrote the book: so few lay people have been taught anything about the last 200 years of Biblical scholarship.

The book is something of a sequel to his previous work Misquoting Jesus. In both he points out that a view of the Bible as literally true and inerrant has been made impossible by facts. We do not have the original Biblical texts, first of all. Secondly, there are thousands of existing copies made prior to the invention of the printing press, and no two are alike... they all contain errors, some major, most minor, some deleting text found in other versions and some adding text. The errors in all of these copies add up to more words than are in the Bible.

Ehrman points out, however, that many if not most Biblical scholars are believing Jews or Christians, that knowing the Bible is not inerrant by no means mandates a loss of faith. Ehrman is candid in revealing that he has become an agnostic himself, but says it had nothing to do with the issue of inerrancy, but rather the issue of suffering (which he addressed in a different book).

Ehrman reconstructs the New Testament (he is a Greek scholar, not a Hebrew scholar, so does not treat the Old Testament), discussing who wrote the various books, which are forgeries, when they were written, etc. He talks some about the process by which the canonical books of the New Testament became canonical. Prior to this, around the fourth century, there were many competing Christianities (discussed in more depth in his book Lost Christianities). In some Christians had to follow Jewish law, in others they were not to do so, and then there were the Gnostics, a wholly different kettle of fish. Each group had its own set of works it considered sacred.

Ehrman has an extensive discussion of the value of reading the books "vertically" (comparing the same story in different books), rather than "horizontally" (reading the books in order straight through). By doing so the unique viewpoints of the authors come out. Mark, for example, was the earliest of the Gospels to be written, and is one of the sources for Luke and Matthew. Mark's view of Jesus is that he is the one who atones for the sin of the world, and so his emphasis is on Christ's suffering.

Bart Ehrman has produced another excellent book on Biblical scholarship for the lay reader.
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LibraryThing member bragan
I think the subtitle of this book is a little misleading. There's really only one chapter that focuses primarily on "revealing the hidden contradictions in the Bible, "and that one only offers up a smattering of examples, all of them from the New Testament. (In fact, the book as a whole focuses almost exclusively on the New Testament, that being the author's area of expertise.) What it really is, rather than a list of contradictions, is an introductory overview of the historical-critical approach to the Bible, in which the texts are examined in an analytical fashion, in their proper historical context. So, we do get a chapter that talks about how the various accounts of the life and death of Jesus contradict each other and how those contradictions reflect the individual authors' own theological concerns. But there are also discussions about who wrote the various books of the Bible (which often turns out not to be who they're attributed to), how some writings were accepted as part of the biblical canon while others were left out, what we can conclude (or reasonably speculate) about the historical Jesus based on the writings we have, how Christian theology changed in the centuries after Jesus and affected the biblical texts, and so on.

I imagine a lot of this is likely to be quite eye-opening for those raised in a tradition of Biblical literalism (assuming they're willing to hear it out). For heathen unbeliever me, though, some of the basic points have a certain "well, duh!" quality to them. Of course reports of events written by different people decades after the fact are going to differ significantly, and all the more so if differing religious agendas are involved. Many of the historical details are quite interesting, though, especially when you consider the incredible, massive influence the Christian Bible has had on all of western civilization. And Ehrman's writing is very clear and readable, covering the subject matter well without getting too bogged down in fiddly academic disputes, and providing just enough examples to make his points without letting things get too tedious. He also doesn't make any unwarranted assumptions about his readers' personal beliefs, or expect more than a basic, general familiarity with the Bible going in.
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LibraryThing member TerryMcCarthy
This is the third book I have read by Bart Ehrman and I have listened to two of his classes on CD through The Teaching Company so, full disclosure, I am a fan. He is a clear thinker and a courageous thinker. His work is meticulously reasoned and redundant at times, which actually aids retention as the subject matter is so voluminous.

Whether one believes or doesn't believe, one needs to contemplate the bible - otherwise one might as well be reciting a nursery rhyme. This book delivers plenty to think about and layers a rich and loving human dimension on the sometimes unapproachable bible.

The author's easy, anecdotal style makes the going even easier.
Recommended.
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LibraryThing member datrappert
Ehrman manages to find a different focus for each of his books written to introduce a non-professional audience to biblical textual criticism. Much of this book covers the same ground as his excellent Misquoting Jesus, but its scope is broader and its purpose seems different. It seems that Ehrman has been stung by criticism from Christians about his previous books and wants to go out of his way here to say (over and over) that understanding that the bible is a book written by human beings, not the divine, word of god, doesn’t mean you have to lose your faith. Ehrman says his own journey from Christianity to agnosticism was a result of deciding that a world that has as much suffering as ours could not have been created by a loving god.

The book starts out well, and its best part is its discussion of the varying viewpoints of the writers of the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), the contrasts between them, and the contrasts with the Acts of the Apostles (written also by Luke) and the letters of Paul. In this discussion, Ehrman shows that the many discrepancies and inconsistencies between (and inside) books of the bible are not primarily the result of generations of copying errors or deliberate changes made by scribes over the centuries. Instead, he convincingly argues, these books say different things because the authors meant them to. In essence, they weren’t telling the same story. Each author had his own agenda. Luke is very anti-Jewish, for instance. The gospel of John is the outlier of the four, as in it Jesus over and over proves his divinity through a series of miracles. In the other gospels, he is reticent to do anything to show his divinity, which for that matter, he doesn’t really claim. How do Christians reconcile all these differences? Ehrman says that they basically pick and choose elements of all four gospels and combine them into a fifth gospel that isn’t consistent with the view of Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. Christianity isn’t the religion of Jesus—it is the religion about Jesus.

Ehrman goes on to deal with other issues that different books of the bible present different perspectives on. Was Jesus divine from birth? Or did he become divine at the time of his resurrection? The gospels (and Paul) seem to differ on this. Will Heaven be here on Earth, with the dead raised and sinners punished? Or is Heaven somewhere in the ether? And so on. I won’t try to provide a full summary of the many fascinating things Ehrman points out. If these examples are interesting to you, you’ll want to read this book.

Despite the fascination of its subject matter, the book begins to drag a little as it goes on. Some subjects are dealt with multiple times, as if this were a collection of articles combined into a book, which so far as I can tell, this isn’t. Ehrman’s repeats other themes a few too many times as well. Why, he asks, don’t ministers who have attended bible seminaries and understand the complicated history of the texts that make up the new testament convey this information to their congregations, if not during a sermon, then at least in adult education classes? Ehrman seems mystified about this. The cynic in me says that they don’t tell their congregations because they are afraid of sowing seeds of doubt that will hurt their churches, but I will have to yield to Ehrman’s judgment, given that he went to seminary with many ministers who would accept most of what Ehrman puts forth in this volume, but who still hold on to their faith. Perhaps the reason is simple. The bible isn’t that important. Ehrman proves this himself. In one of his introductory religion classes, he asks a group of 300 students, how many have read at least one Harry Potter book. Almost every hand goes up. Then he asks how many have read the bible all the way through. Only a few hands are raised. It makes me wonder. Most of those who criticize Ehrman’s books probably haven’t read the bible all the way through, either. But then, Ehrman is a lot easier to read.
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LibraryThing member kaelirenee
If you've already read Misquoting Jesus and God's Problem, most of this book is repetitive. However, Ehrman does still point out a number of new issues in the hijacking of the person and the divine aspects of Jesus. I only rated it so low because only about half was new information that he hadn't written about already.
LibraryThing member turtlesleap
Written in a style that is easy and inviting for the average reader, Ehrman's book attempts to explain inconsistencies in the books of the New Testament and to explore possible explanations for those differences. A point he makes more than once in the book is that these inconsistencies are well known to the clergy; are simply not shared with members of their churches. The book winds down a bit toward the end. Having made his point, Eherman can't seem to resist the temptation to reiterate. Overall, the book was informative, interesting, highly readable.… (more)
LibraryThing member dragonimp
A very well-written and thought provoking book that shares the view of the Bible that biblical scholars have long had and addresses all those nagging questions left over from Sunday School.
LibraryThing member dickmanikowski
Examination of the New Testament and early Christianity by a renowned Biblical scholar using the historical critical method. The author discusses discrepancies between the 27 books that comprise the accepted canon and presents the theory (almost universally taught in seminaries) explaining how early Church fathers altered the religion of Jesus (himself an observant apocalyptic Jew) into the foundation of the religion what is today the largest religion on the planet.… (more)
LibraryThing member Panairjdde
The author is an academic professor whose job is to examine critically the New Testament as a collection of works written in the 1st-2nd century, rather than as a collection of Holy Books, and understand the aim and the worldviews of their authors.

And this book is just, that, an examination of the contradictions among the books of the New Testament and of the differences between the theologies of the early Christian communities that held them precious.… (more)
LibraryThing member the_awesome_opossum
The "hidden contradictions" as promised in the title are only a small part of what this book is about, and I am glad for that. Jesus, Interrupted is a sort of biography of the Bible itself. Although Ehrman begins the book with a refutation of biblical inerrancy, the rhetoric set forward isn't actually academia versus religious fundamentalists (there's enough of that already). Instead it's a fairly level history of where the New Testament comes from, who controlled what was said and not said in it, and what social circumstances were surrounding its writings.

Ehrman stresses several times that the Bible is a "very human" book - whether a reader would say it's also divinely inspired is up to him or her, but the historical situations of the Bible are undeniably important. Responsible readership should keep in mind that it can and should be a dynamic book for believers, informing their spirituality, but it also is a collection of first century documents created by a culture very different from our own. Religious controversies swirled around the communities writing these books, and the so-called orthodox theology set forth in the Bible (more or less) was only one of many interpretations by self-proclaimed Christians as to who Jesus was and what his ministry actually *meant.*

The skepticism that Ehrman introduces with his book is not intended to obliterate faith, but perhaps better ground it in a historical reality, closer to the "real" (historical) Jesus and less infused with the later dogma set forth by Christian churches.
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LibraryThing member mmyoung
Not, in my opinion, as good a book as Misquoting Jesus. It basically hits all the same points but does not notably advance the argument. This may have been a factor of the order in which I read them.
LibraryThing member Philogos
I bought this one as a Kindle edition and found it very interesting and well written. It is measured and well reasoned without the shrillness and emotion of many of the new, militant-atheist books but it certainly blows the fundamentalist idea of the inerrancy of scripture out of the water.

The points it makes are well argued but it treats the reader as an adult and doesn't try to lecture - or at least not to excess. Throughly recommended to anyone interested in whether the christian religion is valid, either as a way of getting in touch with God or as a cultural artefact.… (more)
LibraryThing member thomashwalker2
I give this book a half star not because Mr Ehrman is a bad writer, or that he didn't have enough to say. I actually recommend this to Christians that are well grounded in their faith. Mr. Ehrman sees the Word of God as a human book because he is using “deep and penetrating historical, literary, and textual analysis” to examine the outside of the package not the truth that is contained inside. Mr. Ehrman’s academic and historical perspectives have led him to the wrong conclusion. However, I will give him credit. He is a talented writer and intellect, for it is difficult to write so much and so well about something that is so wrong.… (more)
LibraryThing member fidchivers
An excellent book on the historical aspects of the Bible, its origins, its conflicts within itself, and the problems that arise with Biblical research. For anyone who took historical/critical Bible studies in college, it will go over familiar ground, and he makes no bones about this. But as he points out, while most theological schools have critical Bible studies as a part of the regular curriculum, most of this basic research (The Q source, problems of literary consistency in the wiritng suggesting amendments, insertions and questions of authorship, varying and incompatible accounts of the same events in different books) are generally unknown to the average church-goer.
Ehrman presents the research and widely accepted scholarship in an accessible, readable format, in a way that simply and clearly lays out the problems, and leaves you to judge what to make of them, although he does give his own reasoned insights into what it all may mean.
This book is a great introduction to a fascinating field of historical research.
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LibraryThing member Sullywriter
I never did figure out what the title of this book is supposed to mean, but it doesn't matter. The secondary title is most relevant. Ehrman is a biblical scholar in the "historical-critical" school and he really knows his stuff. Scholarly but quite readable, fascinating, and provocative.
LibraryThing member jeremy0u812
Very well educated Author. Book is very informative exemplary.
LibraryThing member moonimal
I read this book after hearing the author interviewed on 'Freethought Radio'. The absolute best thing about it is the title.

The author is a bible expert, having graduated from Princeton Theological Seminary, who has come to agnosticism after a long struggle with faith. The book is his attempt to lay out the academic, historical and origination inconsistencies in the Bible, with the intention of educating people so they can 'make their own decisions' about what it all means. The last chapter - 'Is Faith Possible' - shows that he's not simply out to debunk Christianity.

Still it comes through as ammunition for people who want to have a better understanding of the bible, in order to maintain or further their skepticism.

I found the beginning, in which inconsistencies in biblical stories are spelled out in detail interesting, but not earth shattering. There are larger elements pointed out, but small things like the number of angels that appeared in different accounts of the same divine events seem irrelevant to the larger issue of whether the Bible is a document that can serve as the foundation for a world-wide religion.

This is an interesting read, written in friendly voice - albiet one which is a bit too conscious of being folksy-scholarly about its basic intent. I enjoyed the facts in the book, but less so the philosophical discussions. Could have been shorter, but then it wouldn't have been a best-seller.

Of course, it wouldn't have been a best seller without the cool title, either.
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LibraryThing member Clarencex
I was looking for a one book resource on questions about the origins of the bible, historicity of Jesus, who organized the bible etc. This was the perfect book. Answered all my questions in one readable and entertaining book. Highly recommended.
LibraryThing member jamesfallen
Ehrman explains the issues and current scholarship regarding the Bible and the historical Jesus where anyone can understand them. Highly recommended.

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