Michael Hamar

Who Really Wrote the Bible and Why It Matters

Filed By Michael Hamar | March 30, 2011 10:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Fundie Watch
Tags: Bible, Christian fundamentalists, ignorant by choice, lies and liars, religion as an evil

Having been raised relatively conservative Catholic - i.e., altar boy, daily mass for many years, Knight of Columbus, etc. Bible2.jpg- one of the big hurdles in my coming out journey was escaping the brainwashing inflicted on me by my religious upbringing.

Two authors in particular helped in the transition. One was John Shelby Spong, a now retired Episcopal bishop, and the other was biblical scholar Bart D. Ehrman, currently the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Erhman has written a number of books on the Bible and its true history (as well as Gospels rejected by the early Catholic Church leadership) that I highly recommend.

Both authors make a strong, scholarly case for why only a cretin or deliberately ignorant fundamentalist would continue to cling to the Bible as "inerrant."

That said, I'm not anti-Christian. Merely anti-ignorance and offended by those who choose to interpret the Bible to harm others and in the process stroke their own sick egos. Yes, Maggie Gallagher, Robert Knight, Bryan Fischer and Tony Perkins, I do mean you.

Erhman's latest book is Forged: Writing in the Name of God: Why the Bible's Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are, which is now available from HarperOne. Erhman has a post on the Huffington Post that addresses some of the subject matter of his newest book that provides a wonderful basis for bursting the Christianists' inerrant balloon. Here are some highlights:

Apart from the most rabid fundamentalists among us, nearly everyone admits that the Bible might contain errors-- a faulty creation story here, a historical mistake there, a contradiction or two in some other place. But is it possible that the problem is worse than that -- that the Bible actually contains lies?

Most people wouldn't put it that way, since the Bible is, after all, sacred Scripture for millions on our planet. But good Christian scholars of the Bible, including the top Protestant and Catholic scholars of America, will tell you that the Bible is full of lies, even if they refuse to use the term. And here is the truth: Many of the books of the New Testament were written by people who lied about their identity, claiming to be a famous apostle -- Peter, Paul or James -- knowing full well they were someone else. In modern parlance, that is a lie, and a book written by someone who lies about his identity is a liar.

Teaching in Christian seminaries, or to largely Christian undergraduate populations, who wants to denigrate the cherished texts of Scripture by calling them forgeries built on lies? And so scholars use a different term for this phenomenon and call such books "pseudepigrapha" . . . What the people who use the term do not tell you is that it literally means "writing that is inscribed with a lie." And that's what such writings are. Whoever wrote the New Testament book of 2 Peter claimed to be Peter. But scholars everywhere -- except for our friends among the fundamentalists -- will tell you that there is no way on God's green earth that Peter wrote the book. Someone else wrote it claiming to be Peter.

The same is true of many of the letters allegedly written by Paul. Most scholars will tell you that whereas seven of the 13 letters that go under Paul's name are his, the other six are not. Their authors merely claimed to be Paul. In the ancient world, books like that were labeled as pseudoi -- lies.

It appears that some of the New Testament writers, such as the authors of 2 Peter, 1 Timothy and Ephesians, felt they were perfectly justified to lie in order to tell the truth. But we today can at least evaluate their claims and realize just how human, and fallible, they were. They were creatures of their time and place. And so too were their teachings, lies and all.

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I agree that people - especially Christians - should be aware of the origins of the Bible. Moving away from the simple notion of Bible as history and rulebook was probably the best thing to happen to my spirituality. As a fellow former Catholic, I find one of the few redeeming features of the RCC to be their position that the Bible is not inerrant.

I find no fault with Ehrman's scholarship, but I am not crazy about his sensationalistic approach. He presents his "findings" as if there has been some vast conspiracy to keep the truth hidden, when any student at a decent seminary in the last few centuries learned all this already. Fundamentalism as it exists in America today is a relatively recent phenomenon. Several books by Spong, and Bruce Bawers's "Stealing Jesus" lay out this case well.

I much prefer Spong and Bawer saying "don't let these fundamental revisionists con you into thinking it's always been this way" to Ehrman's "Uncovering centuries of lies!" approach. I realize his content isn't nearly as sensational as the titles and publicity surrounding them, but he's no stranger to bait and switch marketing.

Just as fundamentalists fail to realize that fundamentalism is not a return to basics but a bastardization of scripture and tradition, those inside and outside the church who wish to change it must not work from the assumption that fundamentalism is the source of church corruption and abuse. Abuses of church power have been occuring since well before American fundamentalism took hold - we need to address these abuses as we address any other abuses of power, by eradicating or reforming the abuser. In the case of Christianity, I prefer reforming in the shape of the inclusive, expansive love of Christ (if not necessarily his chroniclers). Solid Biblical literacy is crucial to this process.

Paige Listerud | March 30, 2011 3:08 PM

You're quite right to say that none of this is new, startling or "secret" knowledge that has been intentionally hidden from the public. All the same, consider that only 25% of Americans ever get to an institution of higher learning--from there, extrapolate the number of college educated graduates who have actually been exposed to modern scholarship on the Bible.

I was raised in a conservative Catholic household like Michael and it wasn't until I was in my early 40s that I was exposed to Biblical interpretations that reflected modern scholarship. I fear that what happens in academia stays in academia and the common practice from the parish pulpit is just to continue the same, old, dogmatic, anti-LGBTGQ line to the populace, the majority of which only have a high school diploma or equivalent. I realize that the internet helps to bring a lot of info out of the ivory tower and into everyday people's homes, but it's typically only there for people who go looking for it. Others content in their literalist, dogmatic privilege aren't likely to bother.

Good points. I would really like to see pastors include education about the Bible as part of the overall Christian worship/education experience. I think by leaving the subject to academia, they underestimate the sophistication of (and do a disservice to) members of their congregations. Christians who never enter that "ivory tower" deserve to know the history of their faith.

Indeed. Heck, besides patristic references (to disputes over the apostolicity of certain NT books there even arose very early on a different canon for Syrian Christians that left these books out. For those who do not know about this, Google "peshitta". Ehrman has some interesting material but I too wish he'd tune down the sensationalism. That attitude comes across even more when you watch one of the debates he's done (check YouTube).

I've started recently reading the Bible, a "New Oxford Annotated" copy I bought when I studied it for a class in college, and it's amazing how a simple read through makes it clear how UNclear the Bible is. I was pretty much confused by the creation story in Genesis (The seven day narrative ends with the creation of beasts and humankind--"male and female"--only to be followed up next with the creation of a garden, MORE animals and THEN the "first man" and only later the first woman? Who comprises the first set of mankind? If they existed before then, in what sense is Adam actually "the first man"? Are the beasts in the seven day narrative different from the animals created in Eden?)

It wasn't until a friend of mine, who teaches a theology class and who has always been a brilliant example of a Christian with true love and progressiveness in her heart, told me that there are actually TWO creation stories that were hastily melded together in the current form of Genesis.

Another example of why reading with context is important and how there's just too much evidence that the Bible is a pieced together and highly edited document that cannot be treated as an "unchanging text". The annotations and notes about differences in translation also provide incredible insight into the shakiness of your typical Creationist fundie's scripted line.

As I have pointed out before, fundamentalism (whether within Christianity or within any other major religion) is a product of intellectual laziness. Look how much effort it takes to study any ancient sacred text, the Bible being today's example, and figure out what the real story is -- so much effort that thousands have devoted their lifework to the task, yet we are still working on it.

It is so much easier to take the attitude, "The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it." That leaves you with plenty of time to watch old re-runs of Hee-Haw and The Andy Griffith Show.

Great post, Michael! I remember back in college we learned about the four authors of the Old Testament scholars generally divide the books up into, based on writing style and narrative voice. I'd imagine the New Testament's authorship is about as accurate as the Old's.

Gerald Jantzen, preeminent Old Testament scholar and seminary professor, taught that the book of Genesis was viewed by its authors much in the same way Native Americans view their legends: not as fact but as a way to explain the unexplainable, our relationship with God. Makes perfect sense to me, and it's quite easy to document the relationship of the Genesis stories to creation myths of surrounding cultures of the time.

The current trend toward literalism began in the early twentieth century, but recent economic stress and world unrest has led to a greater need for the comfort of certainty -- which a fundamental, literal interpretation offers.

Great point, Betty, which I shd have included in my comment above -- fundamentalism/literalism isn't only easy in the lazy sense ... it is also a quick and simple way to close the mental door on all the troubling questions your brain can come up with, if only you would allow it.

I recall reading that there were initially 12 gospels written by each of the apostles (including Judas) which was later edited down to 4 (in the catholic bible). The orthodox bible used different versions. The bible should only be used as vague guidance. Anyone who reads it as the literal Word of 'God' is being foolish

Most scholars will tell you that whereas seven of the 13 letters that go under Paul's name are his, the other six are not.

Which ones? Now I have to know. And who wrote Ephesians?!

Bil, check out what Wikipedia says in their entry [=Authorship of the Pauline Epistles=]

Also search on "Paul the Apostle" from their home page ...

But briefly, the undisputed epistles are:

• Romans
• First and Second Corinthians
• Galatians
• Philippians
• First Thessalonians
• Philemon

and the disputed ones are:

• Colossians
• Ephesians
• Second Thessalonians
• Hebrews

plus the "pastoral epistles" which are:

• First and Second Timothy
• Titus

Happy reading!

Great stuff,people.
People are taught not to question the authenticity of the bible but question it we must.I can still admire that these simple,unschooled,illiterate people were trying to understand what was going on in their world.Perhaps a subtle miracle(they usually are subtle and ambiguous) was happening,in that the Logos was communicating to these simple people.
And over time,stumbling through History,a book was conceived that had Wisdom and Truth hidden in its pages.

These books were written by scribes because they knew how to write.And they certainly had biases and axes to grind.
I know one thing for sure;something happened back then and we are still talking about it over 3,000 years later.

SCVMalcolm | March 31, 2011 5:29 AM

Hmmm. U do NOT know your age, but am so surprised that as a Catholic gay man you did NOT mention THE CHURCH AND THE HOMOSEXUAL by then Jesuit Priest John McNeil published with the Vatican's Imprimatur and Nihil Obstat - The Vatican's Seal of Approval on matters of Faith and Morality. Then after being published internationally in many languages, and with Fr. John getting amazing media attention i.e. appearances on PHIL DONOHUE, etc. then being the FIRST book in history for the Vatican to revoke the
Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur. Because of the notoriety of the book, John's refusal to adhere to JP's Halloween Message (Anti-gay Encyclical), John's resultant refusal to cease ministry to G&L Catholics, John was kicked out of the Jesuits after 40 years... His treatment by Rome emotionally, had to be worse than his treatment as a POW in WWII! God bless John McNeil!

Ehrman spoke at a local bookstore here two days ago. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend. I have not read his book, but the title was intriging to me and brought to mind the first day of a Christian Education class I attended. The priest opened by taking questions, any questions that people may have on their minds. I always have questions and started off with, "Why do we refer to God in masculine terms when almost every other religion in the world refers to the Creator, the giver of life, as female?" I observed shocked faces of the other participants and a smiling, nodding priest who answered, "It's simple. He who wins gets to write the story. Our history has been dominated by men, and men wrote the Bible, therefore, they spoke of God in masculine terms."
This post also reminds me of when I shocked my mother-in-law by offhandedly refering to the Christian Mythology. A mythology being a system of beliefs that appeals to the consciousness of a community, I don't know what else to call it.
So, although Ehrman's thesis is nothing new, it is apparently still revolutionary thought to many. Perhaps a little sensationalism is a good thing if it gets people thinking.

I've been told by a pastor that the continuing patriarchal bias is shown in all modern translations, which refers to the Holy Spirit as male, when it is clear in the original language that the term is female.

Perhaps a little sensationalism is a good thing if it gets people thinking.

Sensationalism is a two-edged sword ... for every few who are intrigued by it, there are a handful of more sophisticated readers who are turned off by it --- but generally, publishers think that sensationalism sells more books than a calmer, more even-handed approach does.

Sensationalism = excitement ...

... but objectivity = monotony/tediousness = boredom/hard work

It's heartening to see these issues mentioned in a secular blog. So many GLBT people have given up on organized Christianity. I think they would be pleasantly surprised if they tried going to a service in a gay-affirming church. It will probably be much different from what they experienced decades ago in Sunday school or catechism class. Don't let a few money-hungry televangelists define a faith for you. A lot of churches, especially in inner cities, are helping people survive as gov't sits idly by, letting foreclosures run rampant and safety nets get cut. You hear about some churches shaming or brainwashing gay kids but many others are providing safe spaces for them, helping them deal with homophobic parents and school bullies. Many pastors lead radical Bible study classes that help people un-learn the anti-gay interpretations promulgated by bigots. No, churches aren't perfect, they never will be. But the best ones are shaking things up, daring people to develop a conscience and live by it.