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Old 08-19-2001, 11:28 AM   #1
Vorkosigan
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Post Review: Bart Ehrman Introduction to the NT (textbook)

Review
Bart D. Erhman
The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings

This introductory-level textbook combines the broad usefulness of a significant reference work with the maddeningly general discussion of an introductory work. I recommend that persons interested in the ongoing Jesus debates purchase a copy, in part because of its value as a quick reference for methodology, history and scholarly thinking.

Erhman's book is organized into 28 chapters, one more than the number of books of the New Testament (perhaps the author is making a subtle point). The book opens with four introductory chapters, then moves on to the gospels. Each of the Synoptics is discussed using a different critical method, giving the read a chance to experience them through scholarly eyes, while the chapter on John samples and brings together the just-introduced scholarly methodologies in its review of that gospel. Paul's letters and the other books of the NT round out the book and are used as the basis for chapters on various topics, such as cosmology, women and Christians and pagans. There is a short chapter on the historical Jesus, and a brief one on miracles and the historical method. The last chapter discusses textual criticism, interpolations, and methods for detecting them.

The theology, audience, probable author, style and intention of each writing are laid out, both in comparison to other NT documents, and to pagan writings whenever possible. The focus, however, is not completely on the NT, the extracanonical gospels are discussed in one chapter, and the DSS and Gnosticism are referenced when needed.

The book's virtues are also its vices. The discussion is resolutely mainstream and general. Controversies are mostly papered over by reference to the chimerical consensus, the author missing a fine opportunity to inform his readers that NT scholars have opposing takes on its many aspects by dramatically illustrating their differences through quotes and sketches of their views. In some cases, where there is no consensus, Erhman sets up the problem and lets the reader think about her own solution.

Sadly, the author affects the patronizing tone of modern textbooks. On page 57 we are informed "The term 'messiah' comes from a Hebrew word that means 'anointed one,' the exact equivalent of the Greek term christos." In case the reader missed the implications of exact equivalent, the author adds parenthetically: "(thus 'messiah' and 'Christ' mean the same thing.)" However, the prose is clear and easy to understand.

In sum, a useful work, with all the strengths and limitations of an introductory text.

Michael
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