On Scholarly Consensus

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Something different, in response to an issue raised in response to my post yesterday, who made the following comment:

 

A COMMENT FROM A READER: 

I have a minor suggestion. I hope you don’t mind me bringing it up. If you have heard it before, feel free to disregard it. If you haven’t heard it before and you disagree with it, feel free to disregard it. However, if you haven’t heard this before and you do find it helpful, then that’s cool!

As to the charge of elitism/air of superiority that you said is thrown at you from time to time, I think a good way to avoid that charge would be to always focus in on the information/facts/evidence that is the reason why the scholarly consensus is the scholarly consensus on an issue. I think this is a better way to go than emphasizing scholarly credentials as the reason why a scholar’s views should be listened to. Now don’t get me wrong. I admire your scholarly credentials and they are definitely evidence of your new testament/historical Jesus expertise. I’m just saying that if you want have a broader appeal to the Bible thumping, fundamentalist Christian, non-college educated, Joe the plumber type, focusing in on the evidence and facts that make the scholarly consensus the scholarly consensus is the way to go. An example of this could be, “the scholarly consensus on this issue is because of x, y and z……”

Again, I hope this post is not coming off as offensive, because that’s the farthest thing from my intent. Obviously, you don’t need me to tell you that you are free to reject it. I just thought it might be helpful in dealing with those who

RESPONSE:

I appreciate this suggestion very much, and in fact, I completely agree with it.   But others have said the same thing and it makes me wonder if I haven’t stressed my view enough – because my view is not, and never has been, that authorities ought to be trusted because they’re authorities.  They should be trusted when they have evidence on their side, and if the evidence isn’t on their side, then one should think something other than what they say. 

 But the reason authorities tend to agree on certain issues is because they are trained to look at the evidence, know what the evidence is, and have established ways of evaluating  it.  And if they all pretty much agree – well, that is not, is DECIDEDLY NOT, in itself evidence.   I need to say that again: scholarly consensus is NOT EVIDENCE.   BUT, a big but – if you have a view that is different from the view of the scholarly consensus, given the circumstance of who maintains the consensus, you probably should have some pretty amazing evidence of your own.

Often we learn about things in fields in which we are not experts.  At all.   For example, I don’t know the first thing about astrology.  But what if I want to know the age of the earth?   Am I to trust what every astrologer and related scientists says about it (they all pretty much agree, from what I can tell), or what a creationists with a degree in biblical studies from a fundamentalist Bible college has to say about it?

Or if I want to know who was responsible for the Boston Marathon bombing, do I want to trust what every single expert who has investigated the issue from the FBI down says about it, and that we know the two suspects, or do I want to trust what conservative radio conspiracy theorists who haven’t looked at the evidence themselves and wouldn’t know what to make of the evidence if they did look at it have to say about about it.  (They’re claiming, in case you haven’t heard, that the bombing was sponsored by the U.S. government.)

In any event, all I’m saying is (a) it is not elitist to think that there really are experts who know a lot more about something than we ourselves know; (b) if they all agree on a major issue – for example, that the earth is 13.8 billion years old; or that we know who did the Boston bombings; or that Paul was writing before the Gospels – we probably better have very good evidence ourselves before thinking otherwise; and (c) the mere fact that the experts agree is not ITSELF “evidence.”

In my scholarship, and in my textbooks, I focuse heaveily on the evidence itself.  And even in my trade books I talk about the evidence and show what it is (I’m thinking, for example, of Misquoting Jesus, Jesus Interrupted, Forged, and so on).  To my knowledge I have never appealed to scholarly consensus as evidence.  If I have – it’s my mistake!  Cause that certainly is not what I think.

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Comments

  1. RonaldTaska  April 25, 2013

    Another good post. I have always been impressed with your explaining the evidence in your books. When you mention “scholarly consensus,” you are usually trying to explain that you are not coming up with all of these ideas yourself, but, instead, most of the time, you are summarizing the work of lots of scholars over the past 200 years or so.
    Minor point: “astrology” should have been “astronomy” and “astrologists” should have been “astronomers.”

    • Lage  May 10, 2013

      “(b) if they all agree on a major issue – for example, that the earth is 13.8 billion years old”
      The Earth is more like 4.6 billion years old. I threw this one in too since people mentioned the astrology/astronomy mix-up. Obviously these criticisms are minor points and don’t detract from Ehrman’s main message here. :-)

  2. RyanBrown  April 25, 2013

    I think it’s important to always use the term expert, instead of authority. Authority to many connotes an individual who isn’t to be questioned, hence religious authority. Authority within academia may well refer to the foremost expert in a field, but may be off-putting to the layperson.

    Also, I wouldn’t consult astrologers on the age of the universe.

  3. dmaddock1  April 25, 2013

    I think you meant ‘astronomer.’

    You do a good job providing the evidence for the consensus. Sadly, the term “scholarly consensus” causes many people looking for an excuse to tune out and unfairly claim you rely on the argument from authority when you do not.

  4. hwl  April 25, 2013

    From the few of your scholarly works I have read, I agree you don’t cite scholarly consensus as evidence. However, in your trade books, sometimes you do cite scholarly consensus as justification for certain pivotal positions in your argument or analysis, without supplementing with footnotes. I understand most readers of trade books don’t want extensive footnotes. But some of your readers may want to look deeper into the subject matter. Your textbooks provide good bibliography but no footnotes, and do refer to scholarly consensus. Again, this may suit most readers but not all.
    Some evangelical apologists like William Lane Craig, Gary Habermas and Michael Licona, love citing scholarly consensus in their debates. This gets quite annoying – the listener has no easy way to check. For example, they love citing the “three-point historical bedrock” regarding the resurrection narrative, which they claim are agreed by virtually all scholars.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 26, 2013

      Do I? I don’t recall doing that — but maybe I do! I certainly never mean that consensus is the same as evidence!

  5. hwl  April 25, 2013

    Can you provide some tips on spotting on a genuine biblical scholar from a wannabe? e.g. how can non-experts tell James White is not a biblical scholar, whereas Darrell Bock is one? In your view, do theologians with extensive publication record in leading theological journals, qualify as “scholar” with respect to biblical scholarship? I think a problem is that eminent conservative theologians e.g. J.I. Packer can hold exegetical views on the peripheral of biblical scholarship.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 26, 2013

      I guess the easiest way is to look at their c.v. and see if they have bona fide degrees from reputable schools. Someone told me that White’s PhD was not from an accredited institution but was very iffy; I haven’t looked to see.

  6. Adam0685  April 26, 2013

    As a reader of most of your books, I’ve never thought you use consensus as evidence. You always provide the arguments and evidence of the consensus in your trade books.

    I think you should post something on “On Scholarly Disagreement.” In your books you focus on the basic things scholars agree on, but I find it interesting how NT scholars with the same credentials disagree on so many important things. I’m not merely referring to the disagreements between conservative and non-conservative NT scholars with the same credentials, but the differences between con-conservatives on important, not just tangential, issues. One example includes very different interpretations of the same Pauline texts. Why do you think there are so many important and fundamental differences among scholars in general?

  7. Jdavis3927  April 26, 2013

    Amen Bart, amen. I have noticed that every time something evil happens now days, it is the government’s fault.
    What happened to the good old days when it was the devil’s fault? Or the devil working through the government to accomplish evil on the earth. This sort of stuff is beyond stupid sometimes.

  8. Don M. Burrows  April 26, 2013

    I especially like how you responded to L.T. Johnson’s remark about “consensus being the only evidence” for the Pastorals being pseudepigraphic in your latest monograph, which I’m finishing up. It’s annoying when people belittle or ignore it; I don’t think they fully understand the grueling peer-review process that is involved in finding consensus, and how very seldom it happens with regard to … about anything.

  9. Mikail78  April 26, 2013

    Well said. I appreciate the clarification. Thank you.

  10. David Chumney  April 26, 2013

    Glad to see this post. You HAVE made the point before, e.g., in your book Did Jesus Exist? When critics accuse you of trusting authorities, they forget the key point you make at the end of your second paragraph here: “[I]f you have a view that is different from the view of the scholarly consensus, given the circumstance of who maintains the consensus, you probably should have some pretty amazing evidence of your own.” Those, for example, who argue against the historicity of Jesus routinely insist that you’re simply repeating the scholarly consensus; however, they never seem to provide the sort of “amazing evidence of [their] own” that would convincingly counter that consensus.

    It would, of course, be quite surprising if someone put forth the evidence necessary to undermine the current consensus about the existence of Jesus, but I’m confident that any serious scholar would change his/her view in that case.

  11. Joshua150  April 26, 2013

    Great question, great answer. Thanks.

  12. gavm  April 26, 2013

    this is a good point. there comes a point where you simply have to put faith in someone else for info and hope they are not leading you astray. for instance if i want to watch a Chinese movie i really have to trust to subtitles because it just not practical for me to move Beijing and learn mandarin. having said that its very important to use credible sources. it can be diff to tell the good from the bad but there are ways to suss it out. questions like have they got a bias, have they got experience on the topic, can they provide detail in the area and does what they say make sense?
    the best advice i ever got was to throw away bad advice, or bad info

  13. z8000783  April 26, 2013

    We seem to hear a lot about scholars accepting 4 well established facts especially from William Lane Craig. Do most biblical scholars/historians (is there a difference between these?) accept as a given that Jesus was buried and that there was an empty tomb?

    On what basis do scholars accept some things from the Gospels and reject other. Craig Keener in The Historical Jesus, seems to make a case for accepting virtually everything in the synoptic gospels, do most scholars agree with him?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 26, 2013

      I used to accept that, but I no longer do. I don’t think there is good evidence for a decent burial or an empty tomb, and will explain why in my book (I have two chapters on the resurrection)

      • z8000783  April 27, 2013

        Looking forward to that.

        Also interested in the view of scholars as a whole (Christian and non-Christian) though. Apart from you, are these considered to be historical facts in the community?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  April 27, 2013

          Sorry — which facts? (I don’t have the whole thread to look at)

          • z8000783  April 28, 2013

            “Also interested in the view of scholars as a whole (Christian and non-Christian) though. Apart from you, are these considered to be historical facts in the community?”

            “Sorry — which facts? (I don’t have the whole thread to look at)”

            Sorry, I didn’t realise. WLC say that Jesus was buried and that there was then an empty tomb is a agreed fact

            Mike Licona also says 100% of all scholars (Religious and non-religious) agree that Jesus appeared in 3 group settings.

            On what basis do scholars accept some things from the Gospels and reject other. Craig Keener in The Historical Jesus, seems to make a case for accepting virtually everything in the synoptic gospels, do most scholars (theist and non-theist) agree with him?

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  April 29, 2013

            Well, I don’t think we know if Jesus received a decent burial and I doubt the empty tomb story is historical. So there’s not a “consensus.” On basis of accepting things, you may want to look at my book on Jesus the Apocalyptic Prophet, where I spell it all out….

      • samchahal  April 27, 2013

        Hi Bart, could you please comment a little on this tomb theory- what are your thoughts about it from a historical perspective, My view is that there was no tomb at all, it seems unlikely that firstly Romans would allow the body of a crucified criminal to be taken down and buried by the family as they would want to carry out the whole procudure from beginning to end including taking the body down and either burning it or dumping it in a sespit of some sort – I mean archeologically we have no remains (aprt from one) of a crucified person yet we know thousands were crucified. Secondly it is highly suspect as a historical reality that a follower of Jesus would be allowed to ask for the body (Joseph of Arimathea) – as surely any followers of the condemned man are more likley to suffer the same fate! I can hardly see Pilate letting a member of the jesus group get away especially by granting favour to take the body away! it all seems highly unlikley, especially when this character Joseph just comes out of nowhere. I think he is there to serve a theological purpose to show that Jesus was buried ” in a rich man’s tomb” (prophecy from Micah or Zechariah i think) so I dont think there was any burial apart from the Romans dumping the body somewhere, the family may have know the location of this pit and perhaps later oral traditions said that the body went missing because perhaps it did! (eaten or unrecognisble in the pit) please let me know your thoughts on this and if you agree with my view in any way? thanks Sam

        • samchahal  April 27, 2013

          actually that prophecy or verse is Isaiah “And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth.”
          Isaiah 53:9

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  April 27, 2013

          I *pretty much” agree!

          • samchahal  April 28, 2013

            ok great, glad to see that some of my thoughts as a amateur are on par with yourself!
            James Tabor seems to think that the Gospel of John has some aspects which go back to the actual time of Jesus, and argues that because John gives the most detailed description of the garden tomb- it must have existed. I do not buy this, but waht dop you think? Also whats interesting is his Talpiot tomb theory that this may be the Jesus family tomb – whats your thoughts on this as I suppose its not too far fetched to imagine that perhaps the family did locate the body of Jesus (or what was left of it) in some mass Roman grave and they rescued it and buried it somewhere (keeping it a secret from the followers) and then after a year (as was the custom) took the bones and put them into a ossuary in a tomb in Talpiot with the members of the family as and when they died? This would also explian why as early as Paul – he says that Jesus was buried – perhaps he heard this from James brother of Jesus or the immediate family??? whats your thoughts or is that too far fetched a theory with no evidence? thanks Sam ps enjoy your sons’ birthday night out!

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  April 30, 2013

            I”m afraid I don’t agree with James on his tomb theories and views….

      • FrankJay71  May 6, 2013

        I’m not sure where, but I believe in that in a previous post you mention that there were believers in Christ’s resurrection within weeks of his crucifixion. I wrongly assumed that you believed the empty tomb to be historical. I also thought the donation of the tomb by Joseph of Arimathea was well attested too. I’ve read a few apologists who assert that there must have been an empty tomb, or else Christ’s followers and detractors would have just pointed out his corpse and laid that matter of the resurrection to rest. Of course that didn’t seem to happen, and it also doesn’t seem that his followers went to the tomb to verify his resurrection, which would seem logical, especially within a few weeks of the crucifixion/resurrection. Does this imply that his early followers were not aware of the location of his tomb? Was he buried secretly, or in a common grave where he could not be identified?
        Also I guess that the discovery of the empty tomb by the women is also not historical? I’ve heard many apologists use the discovery by the women as a proof of the empty tomb as the “chauvinistic” gospel writers would be too embarrassed to credit the discovery to women unless it was true. I’ve often wondered if the discovery by women was just as a plausible literary device, as it may have been customary for women to prepare a corpse for burial. I have absolutely no knowledge about Jewish funeral practices, but was just curious if this could be the case.

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  May 8, 2013

          Yes, I deal with all this in my book. It’s something I’ve changed my mind on. I don’t think we can know whether Jesus received a decent burial; even if he did, his disciples had made the week-long trip up to Galilee — probably starting out right away, not hanging around long enough to see which of them would be next. So I don’t think there was a known tomb. And it’s not difficult at all to think of reasons that someone may have made up the story of women in particular discovering “the empty tomb,” so I don’t buy that argument either! But my fuller statement is in my book…..

    • gavm  April 27, 2013

      1: the scholarly consensus that jesus rose from the dead = there is no consensus. he is talking rubbish. there are various schools of thought on the resurrection and no agreement in the scholarly world

      2: the empty tomb. there are good reason to think there was no empty tomb. if there was a burial site we would expect the early christains to make a shine there and it to be a holy place (like imam Ali) this isn’t the case. the site of the tomb seems forgotten. most likely scenario is that jesus was buried in a hole somewhere and forgotten.

      3: women as witlessness: this just shows that the stories evolved that way it is not necessarily a fact that the originals had women as witlessness. remember the stories changed. they were up to 100 yrs latter in a diff land and language. the stories had been told by one person to another to another with embellishments to make conversion more attractive. they are not reliable .

      4: witness of risen jesus: we dont really know what happened here. the only specific mention of paul seeing jesus is acts (which is quite unreliable) we might expect the disciples to see jesus as a way of showing that the romans didn’t defeat him by crucifiction but he won. there is incentive for them to change there religion and see jesus as the risen lord. we dont have an original texts written at the time so we dont know what actually happened then.

      5: early christains being will to die to spread the news of jesus rising: again we don’t know what happened to the disciples because the only record we have are the gospels and they are not reliable. we don’t reliably know what happened to the early followers (peter, paul ect) and if they were really killed. the early spred doenst seem that different to that of many religions/cults.

      these are my opinions based on what ive looked into (im not a scholar, just as a hobby. id appreciate any comments to demonstrate any probs in my opinions.

      • Bart Ehrman
        Bart Ehrman  April 27, 2013

        I don’t want to spill all the beans, but I agree with a lot of your points. (The women at the tomb story, though, is not 100 years later; it occurs in Mark 40 years later).

        • gavm  April 28, 2013

          yeah sorry Prof Ehrman. it was late sat night/sunday morn when i wrote that and id just been out on the town and had a few so i got a few bits wrong there. my spelling was a bit off too.

        • samchahal  April 28, 2013

          Hi My theory on the women at the tomb is that the earliets records ie Mark indicate that the disciples went to Galilee soon after the death of Jesus (the young man tells the women that Jesus will meet the there) so the reason there is a tradition about only the women being the first witnesses perhaps is beacues only they were in Jerusalem immediately after the death of Jesus and the disciples simply were’t, the women being the family ie mother,sisters etc and it is likely then that it would be them that would eb involved in a burial anyway but this obvioulsy doesn’t prove (like christians argue) that the women MUST have seen the risen Jesus as the writers woiuld not have used women as witnesses if they were making the story up – but the point is just because the women in the family were looking to bury the body does not equate to them being the first witnesses to a risen Jesus.

  14. FrankBrierton  April 26, 2013

    Given below is a repeat of a previous post I am *hoping* to get a response to from you please. I am studying early Christianity now, but along the way, in my studies of the ancient history of the middle east, I spent some time focused on Persia. We (you & I) discussed earlier the fact that Magi were more than astrologers, they were the very real priests in the worship of Ahura Mazda. Noting as you said above, we can’t be experts in everything, could this be at least a window into a group that produced immediate influence on early Christianity, but has since been kicked to the sidelines. That is a stretch I know, but please keep an open mind. See Below:

    FrankBrierton April 22, 2013

    Ref our posts above on 17 18 and 19 April: Who ever wrote the story of the Magi visiting Jesus at his birth, knew who and what the Magi were and possibly knew the significance of them coming to worship. They were known historically at the time of his birth; one could even say they were in the neighborhood! Years later when an unknown author wrote the story, the Magi were still known, otherwise they would not have been mentioned, be it historical or a myth. So why the visit?…the visit of priests of a religion other than the Jews, Persians, worshiping Jesus? Well – historically, these Magi also had a Savior, and/or Judge,- known as the ‘Saosayant’, and they searched the stars for a sign of his return. Surely this was their mission – to worship the Christ him as *their* savior!

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 28, 2013

      I don’t think the author of Matthew had any particular knowledge about who Magi were. For him they were simply astrologers from the East. If you want to read scholarship on Matthew’s story, you might turn to Ray Brown’s important study, The Birth of the Messiah.

      • FrankBrierton  April 28, 2013

        Thank you! I will!

      • Jim Joyner  May 18, 2013

        Reading this long thread, I am stopping on this one to comment about more than just this point, but this point seems a good place to comment.

        You reject accepting consensus as evidence and disapprove of others who do so. I wonder how often genuine scholars who appeal to authorities truly mean they are using the opinions of colleagues as if those opinions were evidence. I have understood that technique to be shorthand for saying ” this particular issue is not the debated point in this discussion.”

        On the magi, how could we know what “Matthew” knew? Early church tradition seems to imagine the magi as Parthians. Can we ever hope to achieve something more than an understanding of Matthew’s theological point? The historical data, whether there were really magi who could pass through the Jerusalem gates and enter Herod’s courts, whether such magi were Babylonian, or Parthian, or whatever else, can never achieve more than the status of plausible, so why would we expect more than that? Isn’t “plausible” the best we can do with much historical information in texts from ancient times?

        Which leads me to Jesus’ tomb burial. I see the summary above, and I realize you have more in your book. I have to say this is all un-persuasive thus far if you are trying to demonstrate that Jesus’ tomb burial cannot reach historical plausibility. If you do not set out to prove it is implausible, then what’s the point other than to point out the problems of evidence (meaning, lack thereof) advancing our knowledge from plausible to probable?

        Also, this assertion (“Jesus did not receive a tomb burial”) seems to be a topic where consensus has a role, not in the place of evidence, but rather as the bar for you to exceed in your arguments. You surely know this topic has been studied by the faithful and faithless, by scholars of text and realia, by historians and literary experts, and by the erudite and the, well, not-so-erudite. I cannot imagine you will publish 2 chapters of highly competent scholarship on this topic unless you fully intend to overturn the consensus of genuine scholarship. Forget the topic at hand, It will be interesting to see how you approach overturning the consensus on this much studied topic: a formidable task to be undertaken only by one having gonads constructed of titanium!

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  May 19, 2013

          Yes, plausible is good. Probable is better.

          Yes, you’ll need to read the boo and then judge!

          And no, I don’t think scholarly opinion is EVER “evidence.” Evidence is evidence! :-)

  15. Wilusa  April 26, 2013

    Wow, will you ever get comments on this! First, you obviously typed “astrology” when you meant “astronomy.” But you then went on and did it again, typing “astrologer” rather than “astronomer”! And I’m sure that when you had time to think, you realized Earth isn’t 13.8 billion years old. The Big Bang took place 13.8 billion years ago; the age of Earth is about 4 billion years.

    By the way, are you aware some scientists now speculate that the matter that goes into black holes erupts, in some mysterious elsewhere, in “white holes”…and the Universe we’re living in, created by the Big Bang, may itself be a massive “white hole”? One scientist I heard say that (as speculation, of course) is Michio Kaku, in an episode of “How the Universe Works.”

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 26, 2013

      He’s one of the xperts I trust!

      • FrankBrierton  April 28, 2013

        Someone once told me, that ‘X’ is the symbol for ‘unknown’ and a ‘spurt’ is a drip under pressure…therefore, an Xsprert is an unknown drip, under pressure. :>)

  16. Jonathan_So  April 27, 2013

    (c) the mere fact that the experts agree is not ITSELF “evidence.”
    Nor is it evidence of a conspiracy. I go to San Fran State, and the black diaspora professor still insists that Jesus was black, and teaches debunked revisionist material. I for one just don’t understand reactionary historiography.

    • Jonathan_So  April 27, 2013

      follow up the the last post: Do you get accused of being part of some type of scholarly cabal ever Bart?

  17. toddfrederick  April 27, 2013

    I’m a day late again….but just want to make one comment based on my personal experience, for the record. Taking a very wild guess, I would say that about 80-90% of average church people have no interest in what scholars have to say or have interest in learning much of anything regarding ancient history or the historical facts about Jesus, and such. Many don’t even listen much to what the preacher is saying either….unless it’s a radical political comment they don’t agree with. Most attend church for other reasons some being family tradition, or as a place to meet friends or possible dates, or the after service snacks, or just what they think to be an obligation required to “get into heaven” and as for reading the Bible, that is often a sacred icon to be viewed in a special place of honor in the living room. If I sound cynical, I am. I truly think that we are moving beyond religion as an institution.

  18. jsoundz  April 27, 2013

    Thanks for the clarification on the subject. Still, I often do get a sense you over-use the consensus model more so in relationship to the scholars of the former Jesus Seminar such as J..D. Crossans and the like. Perhaps, when time allows, you can address specific points of criticism in greater detail in another posting. Best wishes

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 27, 2013

      Really? Well, I donb’t mean to!

      • jsoundz  April 29, 2013

        That’s OK, And, my bad, I may of not written this as clearly as needed to you. In one of your older Great Courses you mentioned JD Crossans using (paraphrase) clever persuasive writing techniques. In other words, he did not follow the usual accepted practice of evidence gathering most scholar adhere to. Perhaps, if time allowed, you could address particular examples. Thanks again. Love your blog. Jeff

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  April 30, 2013

          I don’t recall saying that!

          • jsoundz  April 30, 2013

            Let me get back to you with the specific
            quote. I have it on a Great Course CD ..gathering dust. Best wishes on you trip.

  19. Tacitus  April 27, 2013

    I think you usually do a very good job of explaining the reasons behind the consensus. The one exception is with regard to why the four canonical gospels are dated as they are. In what I’ve read of your work, all I’ve seen is that there are “good reasons” why they are dated at roughly 70 (Mark), 85 (Matthew and Luke), and 90-120 (John) but I’d like to be directed to a resource that will explain why the consensus leans toward those dates and what the various positions are.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 27, 2013

      Yeah, that’s a tough one. I think I’ve posted on it before, but I’ll check!

    • sleonard  May 5, 2013

      > all I’ve seen is that there are “good reasons” why they are
      > dated at roughly 70 (Mark), 85 (Matthew and Luke), and
      > 90-120 (John) but I’d like to be directed to a resource that
      > will explain why the consensus leans toward those dates
      > and what the various positions are.

      You might try something like the Blackwell Companion to the New Testament:
      http://www.amazon.com/The-Blackwell-Companion-New-Testament/dp/1405108258/

  20. dikelmm  April 28, 2013

    Do you think the conclusions of the Jesus Seminar represent scholarly consensus or, Like N.T. Wright said ( to paraphrase) they are the ideas of some funny Americans whom European scholars wouldn’t give the time of day?

  21. Ron  April 28, 2013

    For those who wish to correct Bart on his use of the word “astrology” and “astrologer,” I would suggest that he spoke correctly in this particular instance. For most of recorded history, there was in fact no difference between the two disciplines. Before Galileo’s time we could even say that astronomy didn’t exist, although there were certainly those who observed, studied, cataloged, and worshiped the stars – the “Lord and his hosts.” The Magi of the 1st-century CE are a good example of those practitioners, and there is no good reason to doubt Matthew’s story of their appearance at the birth of Jesus. This event in history was known not only by them but by certain elite “skywatchers” thousands of years before.

    Bart has been known to sometimes say what is true even though he may not have intended to use certain words in a certain way, and this is no exception.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 30, 2013

      That may be true, but I was speaking of modern times, not ancient, and I think the corrections were correct….

  22. gavm  April 30, 2013

    Prof Ehrman speaking of scholars you studied under the highly regarded Bruce Metzger, however he knew just as much about textual variants as you but seemed to think they didnt affect the NT reliability too much and i believe he was a strong christain till the end. do you have any comments on this? did he ever say anything to you about this?
    thanks

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  May 4, 2013

      Yes, you’re right, he was. But I don’t think that means either htat he was right and I was wrong or that he was wrong and I am right. We have/had different perspectives on things, just as students and teachers always do/did. (Virtually all of *his* teachers when he was doing a PhD in Classics at Princeton University disagreed with his religious views. But that doesn’t mean that they were right!)

  23. samchahal  April 30, 2013

    hi Bart, can you please highlight in comment the main factors which make you completely disagree with the Talpiot tomb theory – I mean there seems to be some evidence ie the sign of Joinah, the names, the location etc, the dating…. please could you explain why all these are totally unrelaible as evidence to the historian?
    thanks Sam

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  May 4, 2013

      I may at some point, but I don’t have the leisure or time to do it now. You should read the responses of Jodi Magness and Eric Meyers, who are arguably two of the top three archaeologists of Palestine in second Temple times in the English world; they are probably on line.

      • Jim Joyner  May 18, 2013

        On the issues surrounding the Talpiot Tombs, try also the blog posts of Christopher Rollston and Richard Bauckham locatable in simple google searches. It is really the epigraphical evidence, not the archaeological evidence, that creates so much heat, and these two scholars have quite a lot to say about these inscriptions and what they mean.

        From an archaeological standpoint, these two tombs are fascinating first century Jewish tombs. Sadly, the Naked Archaeologist has made a travesty of these fascinating and important discoveries. It seems to me the most important information needed will come from clarification of the area surrounding these first century tombs. Was the nearby area occupied by a community of believers? How would we know if it was a religious community? Will we find evidence similar to Qumran? Were they part of a villa or estate or a farm? In other words, there are lots of tombs around Jerusalem but we need to know more about the context of these two first century tombs, and we need to get that information from someone other than a nekid archaeologist.

        For me, the most important issue is whether the Greek inscription on one of the T2 ossuaries, using the Greek word hupsoo, means similar like its usage in the Gospel of John (Jesus was “lifted up”, as in resurrection, not crucifixion, see James H. Charlesworth’s book on The Good and Evil Serpent). If hupsoo reflects resurrection belief then you *might possibly* have a tomb of people who were early members of the Palestinian Jesus Movement. But that has not been demonstrated yet, even to a point of plausibility!

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  May 19, 2013

          Thanks for this. Just one comment: in John’s Gospels hupsoo definitely refers to crucifixion! It’s a play on words, a bit of old gallows humor.

          • Jim Joyner  May 19, 2013

            Clarification … if my memory is working for me (and not against me) Charlesworth argues in The Good and Evil serpent that two of the three references to hupsoo is crucifixion. However, he differs on John 3:14-15. I am not in a position to do this justice, but the oversimplified version is that he starts with Chrysostom’s asserting equivalence between Moses’ life-giving serpent and eternal-life-giving Jesus, adds that hupsoo has no history of being associated with crucifixion, comments on the passive voice (divine passive) in being lifted up like Jesus being raised up, points out the ancient serpent symbolism that would have been perceived by the followers of Asclepius, and etc. I need to stop here and confess I cannot possibly do this justice. It’s one thing for me to comment about what I’ve experienced and my own opinions, it’s really another thing entirely for me to represent Charlesworth’s nuanced arguments, which rely on expertise in Second Temple Hebrew and in Greek, to you, another expert’s expert in Greek. His book is worth reading if you ever find the time. His translation of John 3:14-16 is:
            And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, So it is necessary for the Son of man to be lifted up, In order that all who are believing in him may have eternal life; So did God love the world that he gave his unique son In order that all who are believing in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

            Anyway, I am persuaded by his argument that the hupsoo in John 3 (only, not John 8 and 12) refers to resurrection and exaltation, not crucifixion, and I feel sure you will grant me that indulgence, so I will move on. Charlesworth’s position becomes relevant to the T2 inscription. Bauckham’s arguments that hupsoo refers to the exaltation of the deceased inside the ossuary tortures any serious reader … where else in Jerusalem does one find a Greek religious inscription including “hupsoo.” If hupsoo refers to being lifted up by YHWH (actually, some Greek transliteration of YHWH that appears in Greek magical papyri, something like Iaho), as in resurrection faith, it could be a statement made by a first century Jew who believed in resurrection (not even necessarily a member of the Palestinian Jesus Movement). I, for one, would find that fascinating, regardless of whether it was a follower of Jesus or a follower of Hillel.

            My main concern with all this is that these 1st century tombs, barely outside of Jerusalem, are important, and the inscriptions are important, and this use of hupsoo is important, but the naked (or nekid) archaeologist and the goons in his production company have created a circus atmosphere that permits no one can discuss the issues in a serious way. They have ruined this for all of us; at least, for today.

            Thanks for letting me have my say on this matter.

      • dick.pickett
        dick.pickett  June 30, 2014

        “Scholarly” / “Concensus” – something of an oxymoron, n’est pas?

        The Meyers/Magness Talpiot Tomb Statement: Some Observations
        James D. Tabor, University of North Carolina, Charlotte.
        Citation: James D. Tabor, ” The Meyers/Magness Talpiot Tomb Statement: Some Observations,” SBL Forum , n.p. [cited Jan 2008]. Online:http://sbl-site.org/Article.aspx?ArticleID=749

        Two Burials of Jesus of Nazareth and The Talpiot Yeshua Tomb
        James D. Tabor, ” Two Burials of Jesus of Nazareth and The Talpiot Yeshua Tomb,” SBL Forum [cited March 2007]. Online: http://sbl-site.org/Article.aspx?ArticleID=651

        Dr. James F. McGrath, Clarence L. Goodwin Chair in New Testament Language and Literature at Butler University, Indianapolis
        http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2012/01/the-burial-of-jesus-the-james-ossuary-and-the-talpiot-tomb.html January 9, 2012

        Jason Staples
        http://www.jasonstaples.com/bible-studies/the-new-talpiot-tomb-an-observation-on-the-patio-tomb-and-
        resurrection/ March 6, 2012

        Dr. Nathaniel J. Merritt Ph.D. 7-1-2010
        http://www.examiner.com/article/professor-jodi-magness-refuted-a-response-to-professor-magness-concerning-the-tomb-of-jesus

        Mark Goodacre – January 12, 2012
        Returning to the Talpiot Tomb
        http://ntweblog.blogspot.ca/2012/01/returning-to-talpiot-tomb.html

        … and so forth, and so on …

        one thing that can be said about Dr. Ehrman’s forbearance in examining the matter,

        Falstaff:
        To die is to be a counterfeit, for he is but the counterfeit of
        a man who hath not the life of a man; but to counterfeit dying,
        when a man thereby liveth, is to be no counterfeit, but the true
        and perfect image of life indeed. The better part of valor is
        discretion, in the which better part I have sav’d my life.
        Henry The Fourth, Part 1 Act 5, scene 4, 115–121

  24. gavm  May 25, 2013

    Prof Ehrman ive been reading a lot of this blog as well as listening to Dale Martin and Tom Sheehan lately. this vibe i get is that on any issue/topic there will be a spectrum of opinions from liberal to conservative, and then there are the fundamentalist. it seems like the fundamentalist arnt really taken seriously and are on the outer. is this true or am i way off?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  May 25, 2013

      Roughly, that’s probably right. But it’s only because fundamentalists have a different set of assumption approaching the study of the Bible than the rest of us, so they necessarily come to different conclusions.

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