Monday, July 06, 2009

God's Problem

Bart Ehrman is a biblical textural researcher. He makes a living researching the original texts that we have used to compile the Bible in its current form. I’ve read many of his books. Perhaps his best is Misquoting Jesus, which I reviewed on this blog a few years ago. Ehrman quite convincingly showed that many of the doctrines that some Christian’s cling to are mistranslations and sometimes not even in the original texts. The book reads not as a direct criticism of faith in general but as a caution not to get too hung up on the wording of a certain passage that may have been drastically different or even non-existent in the original texts. I really enjoyed this book. Ehrman was in his element and speaking from his wealth of experience studying the original texts of the Bible, particularly the New Testament.

In the last few years, thanks to Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code and the discovery and preservation of the Gospel of Judas Iscariot, Ehrman has written other popular books that focused again on the original texts of the New Testament. I also enjoyed both of these books. They were right up Ehrman alley. In his book about the DaVinci Code he was able to shed light on what the texts actually claimed and not just how Dan Brown distorted them to tell his story. Other rebuttals of The DaVinci Code fell flat in comparison to Ehrman’s book. The others just came across as angry Christian apologetics rather than well thought out logical responses.

Ehrman was also one of the best choices to write a book about the Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot since he was active on the team that studied and translated the recently recovered codex. I found his detailed personal account of what it took to translate and preserve this codex absolutely fascinating.

So with his history of very enjoyable books I was somewhat disappointed with God's Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question--Why We Suffer. Here Ehrman strays from strictly examining the texts and reporting what they say or don’t say. The book reads as a scholar who used to have faith but lost it. The cathartic story of his loss of faith is moving, but it’s a vastly different theme than his previous books. And in the long run I just didn’t care. It doesn’t matter to me if you are a man of faith or an atheist. You’re personal response to the information you convey should be irrelevant to the facts. Although I sympathize, his continual personal stories grew more than a little tiring. I felt that most of the book was an explanation to his family about why he no longer considers himself a Christian.

The rest of the book goes into graphic detail about how nasty, selfish and down right mean the God of the Old Testament appears in the texts. Although I agree with most of the analyses and statements he made I just didn’t feel like he was saying much, if anything, new. There are plenty of recent books that handle just this topic. Perhaps if I had read God’s Problem before I’d read The God Delusion or The End of Faith I would have a different opinion. Ehrman is better qualified to criticize than either Dawkins or Harris. Besides these two that I have read there are several others including the very mean spirited God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens.

In this flood of what can fairly be called evangelical atheist books God’s Problem just seems to be needless repetition. I look forward to reading future Ehrman books as long as he focuses on what he does best and doesn’t get to preachy.

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