The Post's proven power to shake faith

bibleonsinglepageRemember that pre-Easter slate of stories attempting to debunk Christianity? There was the shocking lost "Gospel of Judas" story. The Jesus walked on an ice floe (not water) that forms once every few millennia story. The Jesus' father was a Roman soldier named Pantera story and the Jesus didn't die on the cross so much as pass out after being doped up story. Somehow the foundations of Christianity remained unharmed.

But I think Alan Cooperman, religion reporter for The Washington Post, has gone and done it. I mean, from reading the first few graphs of his shocking story in Saturday's paper, it looks like he may have broken a story that will cause all Christians to question their faith:

If 40 percent of Americans refuse to believe that humans evolved from earlier hominids, how many will accept that the book we know as the Bible evolved from earlier texts and was not handed down, in toto, by God in its present form?

The fossil evidence for human evolution is permanently on display at the American Museum of Natural History. Hard evidence that the Bible took its present shape over centuries will be on display for the next 11 weeks, from today through Jan. 7, across the Mall at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.

They are rarer than dinosaur bones, these fragments of papyrus and animal skin that tell the Bible's story. With names such as Codex Sinaiticus, the Macregol Gospels and the Valenciennes Apocalypse, they evoke lost empires and ancient monasteries as surely as archaeopteryx and ceratosaurus conjure up primeval swamps and forests.

See, if there is one thing I learned as a lifelong Christian, it is that the Bible was handed down in the New King James Version directly from God. And as a Christian, the foundations of my faith would be shaken if I were to be told that God did not hand down the books of the New Testament in English along with a printing press in the year A.D. 33 Every Christian knows that the canon was dictated by God Himself speaking directly to Jesus, right?

That's why I love Cooperman's opening graph so much. It resonates with me. I like how it ties together skepticism of human evolution with skepticism about canon development. I have never felt better understood by mainstream media than I do in Cooperman's hands.


The exhibit at the Sackler Gallery sounds fantastic. My husband and I plan to go see it, in fact. But it looks like we better watch out:

These are documents with the proven power to shake faith. That's what happened to Bart D. Ehrman, author of the 2005 bestseller "Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why."

Ah, yes, Bart Ehrman. Reporters love to get Ehrman talking about how he lost his faith once he realized that the Bible was not handed down in its present form. Whether his story is cause for skepticism about the Bible or Bart Ehrman is for the reader to decide. But can't we expand the Rolodex a bit more than this? Ehrman was quoted in all of those Christianity-in-Danger stories from Easter 2006. But if these documents have such a dramatic "proven power to shake faith" (Hide the women! Protect the children!), it's interesting that he's one of such a small number of people reporters talk to when this type of story rolls out on cue.

Cooperman has promised a story about documents that have the power to shake faith. What are these documents? What could they be? I can't wait to get to the part of the story where he sheds light on what doctrinal tenets are undercut by historical research! Let's take a look:

"If people come looking to find something new about Jesus, they won't find it in this exhibit. That's not what it's saying. But it is saying that we didn't start out with this," [Michelle P. Brown, guest curator] said, producing a red [Gideons] Bible from her Washington hotel room and giving it a resounding thwack with the palm of her hand.

Okay, so who are these people who believe that God delivered red Gideons Bibles straight from heaven? And what happened to writing about faith-shaking documents? Oh wait, I found that part of his story. It's in the 23rd paragraph of the 27-paragraph story. Here we go:

Ehrman noted that [the Codex Sinaiticus'] version of the Gospel of John is missing the story of the woman taken in adultery, the famous parable in which Jesus says to those who would kill the woman, "Let the one among you who is without sin cast the first stone." He and many other textual scholars believe the adultery story was not introduced into John until the Middle Ages.

And . . . scene! That's it. Other than a casual mention of a few passages that weren't included in the final canon, this is the faith-shattering proof from the article. The millennia of critical thought, the many deliberations over what to include in the canon, heck, all the work that's gone into just this issue since the Codex Sinaiticus was discovered 150 years ago -- all brushed away.

The sad thing is that Cooperman actually wrote a rather nice review of the Sackler exhibit complete with interesting historical facts and discussions with its curator. But when he went to frame the story or give it broader context, he went for the dramatic faith-shaking angle.

In so doing, he managed to cast Christians as unwitting fools who believe the Bible was delivered in Gideons form in some ahistorical manner. Was that really necessary?

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