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Misquoting Jesus Interview on WPSU

On March 15, 2007, I had an interview with Patty Satalia for a Pennsylvania State University on Demand Program called “Pennsylvania Inside Out,” on my book “Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why” .

In the interview I discuss how the modern Bible was shaped by mistakes and intentional alterations that were made by early scribes who copied the texts. I also explain how realizing this led me to shift my way of thinking about the Bible.

We also get into the question — then very pressing still — about Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code.  It seems so long ago now that everyone was talking about it!

Please adjust gear icon for 720p High-Definition:

How the Bible Explains Suffering – Video
York Symposium on Early Christian Apocrypha



  1. Avatar
    rivercrowman  May 2, 2015

    Great interview Bart!

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    Gonzalo  May 2, 2015

    Bart, great video. You say towards the end that Jesus “is the most important person in the history of civilization”. Do you really believe this? I guess it depends on how we define “important”. I also wonder if you’re just not “too close” to the subject matter.

    • Bart
      Bart  May 4, 2015

      Who would compare in importance? No one I can think of!

      • Avatar
        Gonzalo  May 5, 2015

        Hmmm, I think your response shows me that you ARE too close to the subject matter. And I don’t blame you as it’s your life work, so why wouldn’t you be. The definition of “important”, to me, has relative positive connotations to its implicit definition. I know exactly what your argument is for saying so, but I simply don’t concur.

        I’m a former evangelical myself, so I’ve been a big fan of your life story. I love your work and I’ve been a member of your blog since its inception. I certainly understand the knee-jerk reaction to call Jesus the most important figure in history. It just sounds wrong to me, and I can think of a dozen individuals who probably are more “important”.

        But I’m just splitting hairs since I know exactly what you’re trying to say…

        • Bart
          Bart  May 6, 2015

          Well, if you gauge it by who has made the greatest historical, cultural, political, social, and economic difference to the planet, I still think the answer is pretty obvious, if one has to choose a single person.

        • Avatar
          godspell  May 7, 2015

          Obviously there’s no way to prove who is most important, but consider for a moment everything that would NOT have happened if Jesus had never been born, or had simply chosen a different path?

          Think of a pebble that strikes a larger pebble, and the chain reaction ultimately starts a massive avalanche. That’s Jesus. It isn’t merely what he did in his life, but everything people have done–good, bad, indifferent–under his influence, and that of his followers, and of everyone who came after.

          It’s no exaggeration to say that western (and much of eastern) civilization was permanently changed because of him. His influence is global–and since Muhammad was critically influenced by him, you have to include the entire Islamic World as well. You have to consider the influence of Christianity on art, architecture, music, science (the church did not just suppress science–it often funded it), the preservation of the knowledge of the Roman world by Christian monks, the influence of Christianity on western philosophy, going back to Augustine and continuing to the modern era.

          It goes on and on and on.

          You should at least make an argument for somebody else before saying it’s a kneejerk reaction–if a Shakespearean scholar said Shakespeare was the most influential writer in the English language, would that be a knee-jerk reaction? Or a commonplace observation? Of course, people with a lot of spare time keep trying to prove Shakespeare didn’t really exist (as the writer of those plays, at least), so that all ties in nicely.

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        RRomanchek  May 6, 2015

        Perhaps Muhammad? He was successful in both the religious and political spheres.

        I was raised very Roman Catholic (altar boy, Latin, ceremony, tradition, etc.) and have taught high school and community college history for forty years. Semi-retired, with time to read what I want, I have thoroughly enjoyed reading eight of your books, and look forward to the next one you have been blogging about (I read C.I.A. several times a week. Terrific!). Your style works for me, and the early church history lessons are fascinating. Thanks.

        • Avatar
          godspell  May 8, 2015

          Again, Muhammad was influenced by Jesus–he drew heavily from the Old and New Testaments, but Jesus was probably the single person he was most fascinated by. To the point where he insisted Jesus had never been crucified (I think perhaps because he felt like Allah would never have allowed it). Jesus remains the second most important holy figure to Muslims, even though they do not believe in his divinity, and consider Muhammad the greater prophet.

          This is one of the things that makes Christians mocking Muhammad in cartoons so frustrating to Muslims–they can’t respond in kind, because to them it would be blasphemous to attack Jesus. Old Testament figures are also off-limits. Not justifying a violent response, of course. Even though it’s very clearly the intent of the people drawing those cartoons to provoke one. It’s an inherently unbalanced contest, when you can mock somebody special to a group of people, and they can’t respond in kind.

  3. cheito
    cheito  May 3, 2015

    Thank you for sharing this interview DR Ehrman…

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    webattorney  May 4, 2015

    I noticed that your responses were more energetic and relaxed than usual. Could that have been due to the fact that interviewer was an intelligent and attractive lady? Lol She certainly asked some good questions, and the interview was more fluid.

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    RonaldTaska  May 4, 2015

    Some ideas stimulated by the outline of your new book:
    1. It seems that Christianity arose and flourished despite much about the “historical Jesus” not being that “historical.” The question is why? Being a psychiatrist, I wonder about the psychological factors involved in Christianity providing a way to overcome the anxiety of death with a heaven, in satisfying the wish to have a loving, all-powerful divine parent take care of and comfort us, in satisfying the wish to be part of a community, and in satisfying the wish to have guilt feelings removed. Rodney Stark in “The Triumph of Christianity” and “The Rise of Christianity” has also written about some social and economic factors that may have been involved.
    2. The role of “confirmation bias” whereby people understand things in a way that confirms their previous views and memories.
    3. Feslinger’s Theory of “Cognitive Dissonance Reduction” where people reduce the gap between different, contradictory ideas by spinning some of the previous data or adapting revised ideas. An example would be the idea of a Messiah being contradicted by His death with the contradiction being reduced by His Resurrection.

    • Avatar
      godspell  May 7, 2015

      1)The answer is, why not? Jesus did exist, and so did his followers, and you might as well ask why Scientology exists, even though its founder is known to have privately admitted he was just making up a religion because writing bad science fiction wasn’t lucrative enough. Or why Mormonism took hold and persisted in a country that was appalled by polygamy, and largely rejected the idea that The Book of Mormon (not the musical) was divinely inspired. There’s actually far more evidence for the existence of Jesus than there is for Abraham or Buddha, and there are some ambiguities about who Muhammad really was (there don’t seem to be any Non-Arabic witnesses to his life). Religions do not rise or fall based on how historical–or rational–they are. They are not designed to appeal to the rational side of our nature, but since it’s obvious to anyone that we have never been and probably never will be purely rational beings, it makes sense that we’d have organized systems of belief, to deal with that side of ourselves. If religion didn’t exist, we’d simply invent it all over again. It’s impossible for anyone–and I do mean anyone–to live without believing in things that can’t be proven.

      2)Yes, but again, this applies to everyone who ever lived. Not just people who are conventionally religious.

      3)Possible, but there’s been lot of historical study to suggest that the original followers of early Christianity were attracted mainly by the message of the gospels–for example, that everyone is equal before God (including women, which was incredibly radical–sadly, societal mores won out over Christian radicalism as time went on, but that’s a long-standing trend in human civilization). The early adopters were mainly the disenfranchised, or the children of wealth whose consciences had been bothering them. Together, they founded a community that must have provided them with a great deal of inspiration. Later on, of course, there was Constantine, but he simply accelerated what was already happening. The gospels are a great story–people who don’t believe at all in Jesus’ divinity have been inspired by them. I was just reading a biography of Saul Bellow, who read them as a child (without telling his devoutly Jewish parents), and he was deeply moved. A man comes out of nowhere, teaches profound new ideas, then is killed by the state–in the earliest version of the story, we don’t even see him risen. But he did rise–even if his body was eaten by dogs. He lives on, for as long as the human race lives on. He is as immortal as a human being can possibly be. More than Elvis, even. And John Lennon was only kidding. 😉

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    paul c  May 4, 2015

    Dr. Ehrman,
    I was waiting to see if this question might be touched upon in your discussion of memory and oral tradition but the “misquoting” theme somewhat brings us back to the point where my question might still be timely.

    It’s my understanding that scholars date some of the very earliest gospel fragments to some time in the early 2nd Century. Yet it is said that the very first gospel was written in 70 AD +/-. Given that we have not yet seen tangible evidence for the 70 AD date, why do we not assume that the oral tradition was current until – say – 120 +/- AD? That is, known facts such as the destruction of the temple could easily have entered the oral tradition and remained there for decades. An additional 50 years of oral tradition would allow for a considerable bit of change both intentional and otherwise.

    While, as they say “I got no dog in the fight”, I find your blog therapeutic. Thanks.

    • Bart
      Bart  May 4, 2015

      I’ll address this on the blog. But the short answer is that the oral tradition certainly did continue to 120 CE. In fact, it continues today!

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    Wilusa  May 5, 2015

    Very enjoyable! I have to ask you this…

    In the last few seconds, I’m pretty sure I heard you say, “It’s as big of a problem as…”

    Have you used the word “of” in sentences like that all your life? I swear I’d never heard that usage until, maybe, two or three years ago. And after I heard it for the first time, I began hearing it *constantly*. Unlike other changes in the language, which have seemed more gradual (e.g., “likely” being used as a synonym for “probably”). I’m guessing it’s a case of a regional usage “going viral,” but it gives me the creeps!

    • Bart
      Bart  May 6, 2015

      Well, it can go either way I believe. “Big of” makes “problem” a partitive genitive. I think.

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    Wilusa  May 5, 2015

    Reading what Gonzalo said, and your response…I think it’s impossible to single out *any* one person as the most important who’s ever lived. People can be “important” in too many different ways.

    The *type* of people I think of as most important are the scientists who are learning, and telling the rest of us, amazing truths about the nature of our Cosmos. I’m thankful to be alive in this exciting age.

    • Bart
      Bart  May 6, 2015

      Well, if you gauge it by who has made the greatest historical, cultural, political, social, and economic difference to the planet, I still think the answer is pretty obvious, if one has to choose a single person.

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