Monday, April 13, 2009

Jesus, Interrupted by Bart Ehrman

When I walked into my office on April 1st, I spotted a new book atop my large pile of books to read. This book was provocatively titled: Jesus, Interrupted, boasting the subtitle Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them). My first inclination in perusing through the pages of the book was this must be an elaborate “April Fools Day” joke. Surely, no professor, especially one tenured as a distinguished professor of religious studies at the prestigious University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, could suffer from such simplistic, closed minded, black/white stereotypical fundamentalism.

Yet, the more I read, the more it became apparent the Professor Bart D. Ehrman was hardly writing tongue-in-cheek. He seemed genuinely distraught that few pastors and even fewer church leaders had followed him in his literalistic walk-on-all-fours fundamentalist reading of the Biblical text.

As evidenced in the book, he recalls doing a four-week series in a Presbyterian church in North Carolina in which he reveled the hidden contradictions of the Bible. When he got done, he says a dear elderly old lady came up to me, and asked me in frustration, “Why have I never heard this before?” Ehrman recalls in the book gazing across the fellowship hall at the Presbyterian pastor and wondering why had that pastor never told that elderly lady? Was this pastor beset by some type of patronizing attitude that, Ehrman says, is so disturbingly common? Was he afraid to make waves? Was he afraid that historical information might destroy the faith of his congregation? Was he afraid that church leaders might not take kindly to the dissemination of that kind of information? Did church leaders actually put pressure on him to stick to the devotional meaning of the Bible and not tell his parishioners about all of its mistakes? Was he perhaps concerned about job security?[1]

Well in the litany of distasteful motives that flooded through Ehrman’s mind that day one thought surly eluded him, perhaps the pastor had carefully considered Ehrman’s regurgitated revelations and found them wanting. Perhaps, unlike Ehrman’s students at the University of North Carolina, the pastor knew that there was nothing particular in terms of new or troubling information in Ehrman’s hidden contradictions.

Well, the Presbyterian pastor might have well seen through Ehrman’s apparent contradictions, the truth is that most Christians in a largely biblically illiterate culture have not. As such Ehrman is succeeding in his stated mission to shake the faith of multitudes. In fact, he seems to be particularly proud of causing the faith of many of his students to waver. He overtly writes this in the book, “the more conservative students–– resist for a long time, secure in their knowledge that God would not allow any falsehoods into a sacred book. But before long as students see more and more of the evidence many of them find that their faith in the inerrant and absolute historical truthfulness of the Bible begins to waver.” [2]

Well as this Professor Gone Wild has managed to shake the faith of multitudes in the classroom. It is troubling that he is now succeeding in shaking the faith of multitudes in the culture as well. He’s doing it through Dateline, CNN, History Channel, and NPR. He’s systematically forwarding the notion that the Bible is not only hopelessly contradictory but in his opinion a dangerous book in which to believe.

He’s gone as far as to say that had we embraced The Gospel of Judas, which he loves, instead of the Gospel of John, which he doesn’t have much love for, we might well have avoided nothing less than the Holocaust itself.[3] He not only ascribes anti-Semitic motives to John but he attributes apocalyptic sophistry to Jesus.[4] As such he holds that the historical Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet who was misguided in predicting that his generation would experience the end of the world. By the way, he’s so enamored with the Gospel of Judas that in his view had we embraced its perspective we might well have never seen the death of six million Jews. That from a man who was converted to faith through Youth for Christ, received a diploma from Moody Bible Institute, received an undergraduate degree from Wheaton College and studied at Princeton. [5]

It is absolutely incredible to read his book where he says, “the Bible is filled with discrepancies, many of them irreconcilable contradictions, Moses did not write the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament) and Matthew, Mark, Luke and John did not write the gospels…the exodus probably did not happen as described in the Old Testament. The conquest of the Promised Land is probably based on legend…its hard to know whether Moses actually existed and what, exactly the historical Jesus taught. The historical narratives of the Old Testament are filled with legendary fabrications and the book of Acts in the New Testament contains historically unreliable information…”[6]

This list goes on and on but over the next few days, weeks and months I’m going to address some of these contradictions, some of which he says have changed him from a fundamentalist Christian to a happy agnostic, and I’m gonna deal with them and demonstrate that their not inconsistencies at all. He is simply in many cases either playing a rigged game or knocking down straw men. This is one of the many reasons that the mission and ministry of the Christian Research Institute must exist in these days.


[1] Bart D. Ehrman, Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them) (New York, Harper One, 2009). 13-14.

[2] Ibid.,6

[3] Gospel of Judas, National Geographic Channel, aired April 16, 2006, see (accessed April 9.2009).

[4] Bart D. Ehrman, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 244.

[5] Bart Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed The Bible and Why (San Franciso: HarperSanFranciso, 2005), 1-8.

[6] Ehrman, Jesus Interrupted, 5-6.


Boris said...

Amram married Jochebed his father’s sister and she bore him Aaron and Moses, and the length of Amram’s life was one hundred thirty-seven years (Ex 6:20). The name of Amram’s wife was Jochebed daughter of Levi, who was born to Levi in Egypt; and she bore to Amram: Aaron, Moses, and their sister Miriam (Num 26:59). The time that the Israelites had lived in Egypt was four hundred thirty years (Ex 12:40). Moses was eighty when he led the Exodus so he was born 350 years after the Israelites began living in Egypt. Jochebed was born to Levi in Egypt but her brother Kohath came to Egypt with Jacob (cf. Gen 46:11) and lived 133 years. This means that if Korath, Levi’s second of three sons, was two years old when he came to Egypt and lived 131 years in Egypt he died 219 years before his sister gave birth to Moses. If Jochebed was fifty years old when she bore Moses she was still 300 years younger than her brother Korath. This is quite impossible since Levi the father of Korath and Jochebed only lived 137 years so he could not have had two children almost 300 years apart in age!
Reading the Bible in a logical order may dispel some commonly held beliefs about the event of the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. The time that the Israelites had lived in Egypt was four hundred thirty years (Ex 12:40). This is often held to mean that the Israelites were slaves for four hundred-thirty years, but this is impossible. Slavery began after Joseph died at the age of one hundred-ten, 71 years after Jacob arrived in Egypt when a new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph (Ex 1:8). This same king was in power after some supply cities were built and when Moses was born and Moses led the exodus at the age of eighty. So the total time period of slavery was around 100 years at the most. Starting from the time that Jacob came to Egypt when Joseph was thirty-nine, the Israelites were in Egypt 171 years (71 + 100 = 171). The time that the Israelites were slaves in Egypt could not have been longer than 100 years because Moses’ grandfather Korath, who lived only 133 years, came to Egypt with his grandfather Jacob and lived there at least 71 years before slavery began.
If Jochebed was 2 years old when slavery began and twenty-two when she gave birth to Moses, this coincides with the length of time the Israelites were held in slavery being 100 years. But there seems to be about 259 years missing from the Israelites stay in Egypt. This is because we are counting from Jacob’s arrival in Egypt instead of Abraham’s. It was Abraham to whom God said that your offspring shall be aliens in a land that is not theirs, and shall be slaves there, and they shall be oppressed for four hundred years (Gen 15:13). Abraham began his sojourn in Egypt when he was seventy-five, he lived to be one hundred seventy-five and Isaac was born when Abraham was one hundred. Isaac fathered Jacob when he was sixty (cf. Gen 25:26). So Abraham was in Egypt for 11 years, and then moved back to Canaan. Then Isaac lived sixty years in a foreign land that wasn’t Egypt (cf. Gen 26:2) before Jacob was born and then Jacob came to Egypt when he was one hundred-thirty. That adds up to 215 years (25 + 60 + 130 =215) exactly half of the 430 years that Israel was supposedly oppressed in Egypt.
If the king who did not know Joseph did not initiate the slavery of the Israelites for fourteen years until after the death of Joseph then that means that the Israelites were oppressed in one of two foreign lands that were not theirs for four hundred years as God originally said to Abraham they would be. The prophecy did not say that the Israelites would be slaves the entire four hundred years, just oppressed, nor did it say which land Abraham’s offspring would be oppressed in. Since the Israelites were a people without a land at that time, any land was a foreign land. If slavery did not begin until forty-four years after Joseph died we have a total period of some sort of off and on oppression in a foreign land of 430 years (215 + 71 + 44 + 100 = 430).
The problem is that Exodus 12:40 makes the claim that the total time the Israelites were in Egypt was 430 years. Fundamentalists back this claim up with numbers. Slavery began nine years after Joseph died and eighty years after the arrival of Jacob in Egypt. We know that Korath lived 133 years, his son Amram 137 years and Moses was 80 when he led the exodus, so that makes 430 years (80 + 133 + 137 + 80 = 430). This presupposes that both Korath and Amram fathered children in the last year of their lives which isn’t likely since Abraham needed a miracle from God to father Isaac when he was only one hundred, decades younger than either Korath and Amram would have had to have been for the fundamentalist formula to be correct.
The biblical authors confused traditions about Elohim’s four-generation cycle of divine justice (Gen 15:16) with Yahweh’s four hundred years (Gen 15:13) and wound up with two separate 215 year periods and two four generation groups: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Levi with Korath, Amram, Moses and the generation of Joshua that entered the Promised land. This might be enough to hint at the mythic nature of the whole exodus event to some readers. Another hint at the possibility that the entire event is a myth might be the following:
Levi had three sons, eight grandsons, and fifteen great grandsons, two of whom were Moses and Aaron. Moses had two sons and Aaron had four sons and a grandson at the time of the Exodus. This means that Levi’s other thirteen great grandsons fathered an amazing total of much more than 22,978 of their own sons and grandsons (probably at least 10,000 more considering the mortality rates in ancient times) by the time of the enrollment of the clans (Num 26:62) shortly after the Exodus. At that time there were 23, 000 male descendants of Levi that were over one month old! The great grandsons of the other eleven tribes of Israel were able to perform this same miracle. How did they accomplish this? It wasn’t until after the Exodus that Moses said to them…”Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known a man by sleeping with him. But all the young girls who have not known a man by sleeping with him, keep alive for yourselves (Num 31:15-18). Suffice it to say that unlike Moses and Aaron who had only one wife each, the other great grandsons must have had hundreds and hundreds of wives who were pregnant nearly all of the time before the Exodus. In that case who had time to work as a slave and when exactly did they have the time or energy to work?
Whatever the case the new king said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we” (Ex 1:9). The midwives said to Pharaoh, Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them (Ex 1:19); and the people multiplied and became very strong (Ex 1:20).
The seventy people born to Jacob just two hundred fifteen years before the exodus multiplied to a total of about six hundred thousand grown male descendants besides the women and children that were born and were still alive in only five generations to just twelve brothers. In other words Moses’ great-grandfather Levi and each of his brothers had an average of about fifty thousand living grandsons, great and great-great-grandsons alive at the time of the Exodus, not to mention their other relatives that combined for a total of well over two million people.
The enrollment of the clans in the Book of Numbers deals with smaller yet still very inflated figures: From thirty years old up to fifty years old, everyone who qualified for work relating to the tent of meeting; and their enrollment by clans was two thousand seven hundred fifty. This was the enrollment of the clans of the Kohathites (Num 4:35-37). From the genealogy that the Bible gives us about the descendants of Levi and specifically the clan of the Kohathites, it is obvious that there is something very wrong with the number of descendants of Kohath between the ages of thirty and fifty given in Numbers. Kohath had four sons, thirteen grandsons, and 2733 great-grandsons that served at the tent of meeting. Two of Korath’s grandsons, Moses and Aaron, had only two sons each that served at the tent of meeting. This means that the other eleven grandsons of Korath fathered at least 2729 sons that were between the ages of thirty and fifty at the time of the enrollment of the clans. Moses and Aaron themselves had grandsons but they would not have been old enough to serve at the tent of meeting and we can assume the same to be true of any other great-grandsons of Kohath.
Because not all of those people could be descended from the same twelve brothers, either the number of Israelites that left Egypt all in one day is inflated, or the Israelites were never in Egypt.

Don Sullivan said...

Or you could consider that many times in genealogies, generations were skipped. After all, I am pretty sure that there were not exactly 42 generations between Abraham and Jesus. The Bible is not a book to be woodenly translated. It is a collection of observations and eyewitness accounts that correlate with one another. The variations and oddities from book to book and genealogy to genealogy are actually consistent with what one would expect from eyewitness accounts, with there being about a 40% variance in material between the three synoptics and John as an example from the Gospels.

Boris said...

Eyewitness accounts written at least a century and a half after the events they supposedly describe? ROFL!

Anders Branderud said...

I think the formal logical and historical research of what Ribi Yehoshuas (the Messiah) from Nazareth's taught found at can be an interesting read for the readers of this blog.

That's research without any unproven statements as in Bart Ehrman's books.