I just finished Bart D. Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. Its not sweepingly impressive like Karen Armstrong’s A History of God (which I read last month), but it’s focused and research-based and valuable. Many would agree with Ehrman, after all, that the Bible is “the most significant book in the history of Western civilization.” What he’s after is understanding what to make of the manuscript variances, which he says number higher than all the words of the New Testament. (Some are small, of course. Others consequential.) Misquoting includes some memorable tidbits (among them that Paul and other apostles “taught that Jesus was soon to return from heaven in judgment on the earth”) as well as a pair of interesting statements about irony:
I would like to end this chapter simply with an observation about a particularly acute irony that we seem to have discovered. As we saw in chapter 1, Christianity from the outset was a bookish religion that stressed certain texts as authoritative scripture. As we have seen in this chapter, however, we don’t actually have these authoritative texts. This is a textually oriented religion whose texts have been changed, surviving only in copies that vary from one another, sometimes in highly significant ways. The task of the textual critic is to try to recover the oldest form of these texts.
One of the ironies of early Christianity is that Jesus himself was a Jew who worshiped the Jewish God, kept Jewish customs, interpreted the Jewish law, and acquired Jewish disciples, who accepted him as the Jewish messiah. Yet, within just a few decades of his death, Jesus’s followers had formed a religion that stood over-against Judaism. How did Christianity move so quickly from being a Jewish sect to being an anti-Jewish religion?