Scholar Relates Gospel Traditions to the “Telephone” Game!


Question Mark

Speaking candidly on the historicity of the gospel traditions, especially its transmission, New Testament Scholar Bart Ehrman makes the following intriguing comparison:

“You are probably familiar with the old birthday party game “telephone.” A group of kids sits in a circle, the first tells a brief story to the one sitting next to her, who tells it to the next, and to the next, and so on, until it comes back full circle to the one who started it. Invariably, the story has changed so much in the process of retelling that everyone gets a good laugh. Imagine this same activity taking place, not in a solitary living room with ten kids on one afternoon, but over the expanse of the Roman Empire (some 2,500 miles across), with thousands of participants – from different backgrounds, with different concerns, and in different contexts – some of whom have to translate the stories into different languages. The situation, in fact, was even more complicated than that.” (The New Testament – A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, Chapter 3, Where it All Began: The Traditions of Jesus in Their Greco-Roman Context, p.44)

One of the very reasons why Qur’an had to be revealed with narrations of Jesus (peace be upon him) in it was because, as evident from above, the actual revelations given to or the words uttered by Jesus (peace be upon him) were lost in their transmission. With this the actual message of Christ (peace be upon him) was also lost. As on mere conjectures eternal fates could not be banked, the final Messenger (peace be upon him) was given divine glimpses of the life of Jesus (peace be upon him).

We also need to make a healthy parallel comparison of the transmission of Gospel traditions to that of Qur’an and Hadith. It was an extremely imperative, prudent and monumental task undertaken by Muslim scholars to protect the chain of transmission of Qur’an and Sunnah in the form of “Isnads”.

We have detailed biographies of all the people involved in the transmission of Islamic narratives right from the beginning. Just vicariously imagine the chaos which was circumvented by preserving transmission chains of Qur’an and Hadith – it was not let to take form of some “Telephone” game!

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