Ehrman’s view of textual critics as detectives piecing together manuscript clues is obvious throughout Misquoting Jesus. His careful examination and collation of multiple manuscript fragments reflect his undergraduate training as an English major; adapting tools of literary analysis to study of early manuscripts, he examines these for linguistic clues and reflections of cultural attitudes. Like literary scholars, he attempts to make obscure texts accessible to interested readers.
From the outset, the central issue for Ehrman is the inerrancy of the scriptures. This book records his quest for a text that his reason will allow him to accept as divinely inspired. Beginning with a belief that the Bible is literally the product of word-by-word inspiration (verbal, plenary inspiration), Ehrman confronted the problem of textual differences, an especially thorny issue since no extant manuscript can be identified as the “original” or even a direct copy of the original.
A major function of textual critics is to examine existing manuscripts and attempt to distinguish the most authentic. The first task is to address the claims of various “gospels” and other narratives, then to determine why some were included in the canon while others were excluded. This process of evaluation and explanation requires that each be reviewed in terms of numerous heresies confronting the early church.
Even after the “orthodox” canon was...
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