Saturday, April 5, 2014

Discovering New Old Favourites

Sometimes, I forget how much I love an author until they come out with a new book. There are some (I’m looking at you, Maggie Stiefvater and Margaret Atwood) whose book news is downloaded into my brain – checking constantly for updates on their newest publications and looking for things I haven’t yet read. Some, however, linger in the back of my mind - favourites whose appearances on the bookshelves aren’t anticipated, but are sweeter in their surprise.

 A couple of days ago, I got one of those surprises. Bart Ehrman, probably best known for his books Misquoting Jesus and God’s Problem, has a new book out called How Jesus Became God. It deals with the transformation of Jesus Christ from Jewish prophet to god figure. Bart Ehrman was an evangelical, fundamentalist Christian whose faith was challenged by going to Princeton seminary and who now identifies himself as agnostic. There are few authors, however, who handle the conflicting needs of being true to the problematic original texts and sensitive to the faith of believers in such an astute manner.

 I became a religious studies major in college because of Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent, but I stayed in that field because of authors like Ehrman. He writes books that challenge the ways both faithful and non-believers read the Bible. He asks the reader to reexamine their long held assumptions about the Bible and the origins of Christianity. When Bart Ehrman starts explaining how minor typos or unreadable notations change the way Christianity is practiced, I can’t help but be absorbed. The presence of one smudge in the original texts that might be a dot signifying a vowel has created the significant debate about whether Jesus is God or is of God. One dot! Fifteen hundred years of debate and schism is because of one tiny smudge, which I think is just fascinating.

Now, I’ll admit, his books have the distinct whiff of academia, however, I consider them onramps for people who haven’t studied in this field. They present popular, well-researched theories in theology without being radical in their representation. His books are accessible, but meant to be springboards to further reading. The indices and bibliographies of his books are almost book length themselves.

 I can’t wait to curl up with this book and really delve into the intricacies of faith with Ehrman. By the end of it, I’m sure I’ll have a long list of new books to read. He may even make me change my mind about what I want to study in grad school. He sure did in college.

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