Misquoting Jesus is my most widely read book. And I continue to be a bit amazed and dismayed at how widely it is misunderstood. The book was meant to deal with one very specific issue connected with the New Testament, and people who have read it – let alone the people who have not – often assume it’s about some *other* issue, or rather, some other very broad issue, normally something that it is decidedly not about.
One of the problems is that people who are specialists in a field make very fine distinctions that seem absolutely OBVIOUS to them, when the distinctions are very fuzzy indeed to anyone who is an outsider. It’s true of every field of expertise. When a scholar of medieval English literature whom I know very well is at a cocktail party with non-academics, she will frequently talk to people who, to keep the conversation going, ask about anything from the life of Charlemagne to, say, Beowulf, on the assumption that those are what her research is about. Uh, no. When last week I made the mistake of asking a friend of mine who is a condensed matter physicist a question about the Big Bang, she was slightly offended (I suspected) and politely told me that it would be like someone asking *me* about a particular aspect of Shinto in Japan. OK, fair enough.
So, with respect to Misquoting Jesus, let me say this, just to make sure we are on the same page: it is *not* about how the New Testament is full of contradictions, or about the Gospel writers living so many years after Jesus and basing their accounts on oral traditions that were often unreliable hearsay, or about how there are other Gospels that didn’t make it into the New Testament, or about how doctrines Christians believe today cannot be found in the Bible.
These are all highly important issues. And other books I’ve written do deal with them. But each of these books (say, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium; or Jesus Interrupted; or How Jesus Became God; or Forged) also deal with specific issues, not the same issue. Otherwise I’d just be writing the same book over and over again. Some people seem to think I do, but, well, no. These books are about different things.
OK, then. So what *is* Misquoting Jesus about? It is about…
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