Anyone writing critically about the Bible — scriptures revered and followed by millions of believers worldwide — would do well to brace himself or herself for pushback from those believers, as well as scholars who view the Bible as God's word.
As reported here in June, 75 percent of Americans believe the Bible is "somehow connected to God," according to a Gallup poll, while 28 percent believe it is the "actual word of God."
Kurt Eichenwald, a Vanity Fair magazine contributing editor whose reporting specialties include health care, finance and child pornography, got a dose of blowback for his pre-Christmas story on the Bible on the cover of Newsweek, which is owned by a media firm connected to a controversial Christian group.
"No television preacher has ever read the Bible. Neither has any evangelical politician. Neither has the pope. Neither have I. And neither have you," Eichenwald wrote. "At best, we’ve all read a bad translation — a translation of translations of translations of hand-copied copies of copies of copies of copies, and on and on, hundreds of times."
Eichenwald asserted the article "is not intended to advance a particular theology or debate the existence of God. Rather, it is designed to shine a light on a book that has been abused by people who claim to revere it but don’t read it, in the process creating misery for others."
The article brought strong words from Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, who called Eichenwald's work "a hit-piece that lacks any journalistic balance or credibility. His only sources cited within the article are from severe critics of evangelical Christianity, and he does not even represent some of them accurately."
While Eichenwald wrote that his conclusions were "based in large part on the works of scores of theologians and scholars, some of which dates back centuries," Mohler noted the writer quoted only three modern scholars in the story, none of whom represented traditional viewpoints: Bart D. Ehrman, whom Eichenwald calls "a groundbreaking biblical scholar and professor" at the University of North Carolina; Jason David BeDuhn, a professor of religious studies at Northern Arizona University; and Richard Elliott Friedman, a Jewish Studies professor at the University of Georgia.
Others have come to Eichenwald's defense. Daily Kos blogger Fokozatos Siker, praised the veteran reporter as "one of my favorite journalists because he is one of these rare types in the MSM (mainstream media) who is willing to go after bad people tooth and nail. Usually it's about politics, but today it is about fundamentalist Christians."
Of the Newsweek piece, Siker added, "this article took my breath away at how aggressive it is."
And Hemant Mehta, the Patheos.com "Friendly Atheist" blogger, applauded Eichenwald's piece for telling "us something we’ve known for a long time: Many Christians will distort the Bible to say whatever they want it to say."
But Daniel B. Wallace, a professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, a major evangelical institution, criticized Eichenwald's reliance on certain sources. "Time and time again the author presents his arguments as though they were facts. Any serious disagreements with his reasoning are quietly ignored as though they did not exist," Wallace wrote. "Eichenwald is in need of a healthy dose of epistemic humility as well as a good research assistant who can do some fact-checking before the author embarrasses himself further in print."
And seminary president Mohler offers a blunt assessment of the story's impact on Newsweek, and not on Bible believers. He said Eichenwald's article "is exactly what happens when a writer fueled by open antipathy to evangelical Christianity tries to throw every argument he can think of against the Bible and its authority (T)his article is likely to do far more damage to Newsweek in its sad new reality."
Newsweek, one of America's pioneering newsweeklies, has faced financial difficulty over the past 10 years and only last year restarted a print edition after dropping it at the end of 2012, the BBC noted. The publication is owned by IBT Media, a company with "significant ties to David Jang, the Korean pastor hailed by some of his followers as a messianic figure, a 'Second Coming Christ,'" according to Christianity Today magazine.