Book Review: How Jesus Became God by Bart D. Ehrman

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I just finished reading Bart D. Ehrman’s latest book How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee. Ehrman is a historian of early Christianity and does not approach his subject matter from a religious or theological angle. He is a self-described agnostic who began his career as a born-again Christian. Because he has gone from devout believer to agnostic—and his detractors refer to him as an atheist—he and his work are often seen as being hyper-critical of religion in general and Christianity very specifically.

I find his work fascinating. In this particular book he examines the development of Christian dogma and how it changed down through the centuries. Using the latest sources and analytical techniques, he’s able to dig down through the strata of beliefs and construct a chronology revealing how what we have come to believe today—and what is affirmed in the Nicene Creed—became modified. The book covers the development of orthodox Christian belief from the first century up through the fourth and the Council of Nicea in June, 325 CE.

What I enjoyed the most about the book was a pair of elements. The first is just the detective work that goes into peeling back the years. Through analysis of the text in the original Greek, Ehrman and other scholars have located fragments of dogma, often delivered in a very poetic format, that predate the letters and Gospels in which they appear. They reveal a very rich and vibrant belief system thriving in the first couple of decades after the death of Christ.

The second is watching the development of the theology to deal with the central paradox of Christianity—how can God be God, Jesus be God and the Holy Spirit be God; all co-equal; when two begin as representations of aspects of the first? Jesus’ incarnation as human seriously complicates this process, and the process gives birth to a multitude of beliefs which came to be described as heresies and vigorously stamped out. The picture Ehrman paints in this book (and many of his earlier books) is of a theological chaos that easily could have created a legion of Christianities.

I have no doubt that there are many readers who will find this book challenging to beliefs they have held dear since childhood. That’s not the purpose of the book. I can say that because this is a history text, not a theology text. I just find the development of Christianity and the Church endlessly intriguing, and this book is a wonderfully accessible portal to the times which made the Church what it is today.

Full disclosure: clicking on the link above will send you to Amazon.com where you may purchase the book. If you do click and buy, I’ll earn enough money to buy a third of my morning cup of coffee.

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2 Responses to “Book Review: How Jesus Became God by Bart D. Ehrman”

  1. I am a devout Christian, and I like to encourage everyone, Christian or not, to learn about the history of the bible and.religious beliefs.
    Not only is the historical side fascinating for both what the Jews and early Christians believed, but also what this means for what they actually wrote in the bible and other works.
    If you can get to a better understanding of what they meant, then I feel you can get a better understanding of the whole point of Christianity.
    What is really needed is to read this with an open mind. Too many, both Christian or atheist, have too much faith in their teachings or experiences, and are not open to any indifferent interpretation.
    This sort of thing really interests me, and I will definitely buy and probably get some others to buy as well.

  2. I read this myself a couple of weeks ago and had much the same reaction. I have to admit, I read just about anything Ehrman puts out. He really does his research and makes the results interesting and informative. Like him, I used to be a Christian although I’m now an atheist but the faith meant and still means a lot to me and it’s nice to see it from a scholarly point of view.