word. Like the story about Jesus and the
leper." The surviving manuscripts of Mark
1: 41, he pointed out, tell two different
versions. "Most translations say the leper
comes up to Jesus and wants to be healed,
and Jesus spoke compassionately to the
man and reached out and touched him.
Well, some manuscripts say that Jesus got
angry. It's just one word, but oh, man! It
changes the whole thing!"
Some critics fault Ehrman's book for
implying that such telling differences are
rampant."There are a lot of important
variations I didn't talk about;' he responds.
"I had to decide which examples to go
with. The problem is that there are a lot of
other ones that are interesting but would
take too long to explain."
Others, mainly conservative Christian
scholars, have objected to Ehrman's way of
framing the data."They don't think that
the massive differences among the manu-
scripts of the New Testament have any
bearing on whether God inspired the text
originally or not," he said.
And right there is the crux of Ehrman's
personal spiritual crisis. "My faith was
rooted in a particular belief about the Bible
that I thought could be demonstrated or
proved;' he said. "And the more I dug, the
less proof I found. And so it was precisely
because my faith was based on something
that could be challenged intellectually that
it ended up affecting my faith." Some other
Christians - including his wife, Duke
medieval literature Professor Sarah Beck-
with - don't base their beliefs on what
you can prove or disprove, he said. But his
own faith depended on the proposition that
the Bible didn't have any mistakes in it.
The happy agnostic
Confronted in graduate school with
incontrovertible proof those mistakes did
exist, Ehrman at first held onto his beliefin
Christ and in God, though he didn't look
on the Bible as the word of God anymore.
"But over time those beliefs also started to
dissipate. The thing that really did it to me
was that I got more or less obsessed with
the problem of suffering, why there's so
much pain and misery in the world if
there's a God who's in charge ofit.
"I ended up becoming an agnostic," he
~rolina 0 14.. ~. .............-
continued."An atheist is somebody who
absolutely says, there is no God. The agnos-
tic says, I don't know if there's a God or
not. Lately I've been calling myself a happy
agnostic. For me, life is good. If everybody
had my life, there'd be no problem of suf-
fering. [ make a lot of money; I have a fan-
tastic job, I've got a great wife, my kids are
fanta tic, life's great! I'm happy, but I don't
know if God exists or not. And if God
does exist, I don't think the God that I
used to believe in exists."
This latest shift in Ehrman's beliefs came
seven or eight years ago, well into his
tenure on the UNC faculty.
After four years teaching at Rutgers, he
came to Carolina in 1988,joining a depart-
ment that is one of the oldest and most
respected of its kind at an American public
university. Carolina's religious studies
department approaches the world's reli-
gions as historical and cultural phenomena,
which makes it more analogous to an
anthropology department than to a seminary. Even so, the vast majority of students
who study early Christianity at Carolina
grew up in the Christian church and have
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