Bart D. Ehrman, 2005, HarperSanFrancisco.
There are people who take the Bible to be the literal word of God, and then there are people who don’t. With the exception of some way-out whacked delusionals who believe that the King James translation is the literal, unaltered word of God (presented in Jesus’ Own English), both those groups have an interest in the history of the text itself.
Ehrman tells the story of how the text (specifically of the New Testament) has been altered through the course of the last few thousand years, and how scholars try to find what the original text read. It’s a fascinating problem, regardless of one’s religious beliefs. Even neglecting the fact that the Bible was part of an oral tradition before it was first written, the problems of propagation of unaltered information are many, and, coupled with translations between ancient Greek, Syriac, Aramaic, Latin, German, and English, are extreme.
This is not only a history of some of the major milestones in the translation of the Bible, but also a lightweight introduction to the techniques of textual criticism. The example blend in some critiques of the King James Bible, and also give something of a view into the early Christian world. Combined with Elaine Pagel’s book The Gnostic Gospels, I feel I’ve gotten a scholar’s glimpse of the early development of the Church.
As an aside, it seems that textual criticism has some of the greatest words. There’s hapax legemmenon, a word that is found only in a text (or the collected writings of an entire language), a word which Lisa had introduced me to. Ehrman adds “periblepsis occasioned by homoeoteleuton, which is the accidental skipping of a line when copying a text because two lines end similarly (and fool the scribe’s eye into thinking that the second line has already been copied). Phrases like this are sufficient reward for reading this book.