Bart Ehrman, a New Testament professor at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, has penned a series of books on the Bible with often provocative titles: Misquoting Jesus, Lost Christianities, Forged: Writing in the Name of God, God’s Problem and . : Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible
Much of what he writes is a popularization of what most first year seminarians learn about the Bible- that it didn’t drop fully-formed out of the heavens, that the books themselves underwent a long process of development and editing, and that social location, historical context, and the emergent church movement all shaped the texts.
But for many of his readers, this is startling news, and it has made him the bane of literalists and the darling of those who are critical of the Bible. Ehrman’s latest book might be a surprise to both sides- Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth. In it, Ehrman examines what we know about Jesus and concludes that, while extreme views on both sides of the debate are incorrect, there is solid evidence for Jesus in the historical record.
In an interview with Candace Chellew-Hodge over at Religion Dispatches, Ehrman discusses how he came to write the book and what he learned in doing so. He says,
[Interviewer] Do you think Jesus would even recognize these modern versions we have of him?
No. I don’t think there’s a church in North America anywhere that Jesus could go into and recognize himself. I don’t think Jesus wanted to start a new religion. Jesus was Jewish and he believed in the Jewish God; he accepted the Jewish law; he practiced Jewish customs; and he gathered Jewish disciples and gave them his Jewish interpretation of the Jewish scriptures.
I think Jesus may have had a distinct understanding of Judaism and may have wanted to reform Judaism, but he had no conception at all of the start of a new religion—let alone a religion that was based on his death and resurrection.
What do you think, then, about all of this Jesus-talk, especially taking place in the political arena?
I think Jesus gets used by everybody who claims to be Christian for their own purposes. Most of the time this is an abuse of Jesus. It’s not respecting what he really stood for. It’s manipulating his message for one’s own advancement, and I don’t think that’s a good thing.
There’s a lot more to the interview, and well worth a look.