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Carlo Martini, in memoriam

I was very sorry today to learn that Carlo Martini passed away.  He was an important textual scholar who was best known for other things -- in particular for being in the very higher reaches of the Roman Catholic church hierarchy.  He was the cardinal of Milan (Italy) and for a while was thought to be a candidate to be the next pope.   He was 85 at his death. I never met him, but I long knew of him and actually had correpondence with him when I was a graduate student.   He was a terrific scholar of the Greek New Testament, an expert in the Greek manuscripts.  He wrote a very important book (in Italian) on one of the most important biblical manuscripts, codex Vaticanus.   As one of the premier experts on the text of the New Testament, he was a member of the five-person committee that was responsible for editing the version of the Greek NT that is used everywhere throughout hte world today.  Metzger was another member of the committee, and so they [...]

2020-04-03T19:25:10-04:00August 31st, 2012|Reflections and Ruminations|

Another Take on Jesus’ Existence

Some readers have objected to my insistence that New Testament scholars, on the whole, do not take seriously the claims of the mythicists that Jesus never existed.   I have always stressed that Jesus' existence is known (and can be demonstrated) by thousands of New Testament scholars.  But I have also always stressed that scholarly consensus on this issue is not in itself *evidence* (my detractors among the mythicists seem to overlook this little point, when they claim that I argue that since the consensus says something it must be true; that's not my view at all!).   At the same time, it is worthwhile knowing what the experts say -- whether talking about the age of our universe (13.8 billion years; but I wouldn't be able to calculate that myself); about the theory of evolution (Hey, it's just a *theory*!  yes, but so too is the "theory" of gravity!!); about the forgery of the Hitler diaries; or about anything else that involves expertise.  At the same time, it is worthwhile in all these cases to know what [...]

Problems with Other Translations

I have indicated that my preferred translation is the NRSV. Everyone, of course, has their favorite. My judgment is that among main-line, serious biblical scholars, the NRSV is far and away the preferred translation. But it is not so among general readers. I believe the King James Bible (the KJV) (or its slight revision: The New King James) and the New International Version (NIV) are better sellers among the population at large. So let me say a few words about these two. (Some readers of this blog will want to write to me to ask what I think of their own preferred translation: the Jerusalem Bible; the New English Version; the New American Standard Bible; etc etc. Most of the time I tell them that it’s fine. It just isn’t the one that I think is the best) First: The King James. Published in 1611, the KJV (or “Authorized Version” as it was called, since it was a translation “authorized” by the head of the Anglican Church – guess who? King James of England), is [...]

My Preferred Bible Translation

A number of people have responded to some of my recent comments by asking what my preferred Bible translation is. I get asked the question a lot – especially since my book Misquoting Jesus, where I talk about the changes scribes made in the manuscripts they copied over the years. A number of readers were alarmed and wondered whether I should let scholars know about these problems. In every case I responded that yes, indeed, scholars – all scholars of the Bible – do know about these problems. Intimately. Inside and out. This is the kind of thing scholars work on. Nothing in the book would have come as a shock to anyone in the field. Most especially to Bible translators, who have to decide which Hebrew and Greek words to translate before even starting to think about how to put them into English. And so, as a result, every modern Bible translator knows about and deals with these problems. But back to the question: which translation do I prefer? It will probably come as [...]

Am I a Better Person as an Agnostic?

QUESTION: Dr. Ehrman, I am still reading your book (God's problem) which seems to be very interesting since you are not interesting to gain any approval from anybody but only to communicate what you believe and where you are today. Congratulations for that…. Did you became a better human being after losing your faith? RESPONSE: Great question! Most people have assumed the opposite, that anyone who loses his or her faith must become a worse person. The logic seems to be that without a belief in God, there would be no grounds for morals and that people left to their own unconstrained devices would have no reason to avoid living in any kind of shameful way they chose. I have to admit, when I was a Christian, that’s what I myself thought. And it was one of the reasons that, for years, I was reluctant to question seriously my faith in God. I was afraid that if I no longer believed there would be nothing stopping me from becoming completely profligate and having orgies every [...]

Autobiographical. Metzger and Me: More on the NRSV

MORE REFLECTIONS IN RESPONSE TO THE QUESTION ABOUT MY RELATIONSHIP WITH MY MENTOR BRUCE METZGER ***************************************************************************************************************** Two rather humorous stories connected with my work as the administrative assistant for the revision of the Revised Standard Version. In that capacity I was, of course, present for the various deliberations of the committee. Among the many issues they discussed was what to call the new revision. Ultimately it stood in the tradition of the “Authorized Version” – the technical name of the King James Version. In 1881, the KJV underwent an “official” revision (i.e., authorized by the ecclesiastical authorities who owned the copyright) in the Revised Version. Its committee received a lot of flak for the changes it made. Even though it was an English revision, there were several Americans who were on the committee. As part of their terms of involvement, they agreed not to publish and American version of the translation (making changes as they saw fit and bringing spelling and punctuation into conformity with American usage) for 20 years; and so in 1901 was [...]

Did Jesus Speak Greek?

Several of my recent posts have elicited comments from multiple participants (same comment, asked in a variety of ways). One of them had to do with the question of the language that Jesus would have spoken with Pontius Pilate during his trial. A number of people have asked “why not Greek”? The logic behind this question/solution is that Pilate as an educated Roman would have been fluent in Greek; and Jesus, living in “Galilee of the Gentiles,” where he probably engaged in a small business (carpentry) would have had to communicate with the non-Jews in his midst, and so probably could speak Greek as well. Moreover, he grew up in Nazareth not far from the urbane city of Sepphoris, and would have acquired Greek language and culture there. That is a common view among many students of the Bible. And so what’s wrong with it? As with most interesting questions, this one requires virtually an entire book to answer, so I will give only the short version, which is this: it is true that Pilate [...]

2021-01-20T01:04:49-05:00August 24th, 2012|Historical Jesus, Reader’s Questions|

The NRSV Bible Translation Committee (Part 2)

A CONTINUATION OF MY POSTS OF MY RELATIONSHIP WITH BRUCE METZGER I served as one of the secretaries for the NRSV, as explained in my previous post, for a couple of years. It was not onerous work and was quite a privilege to be able to associate with some of the greatest biblical scholars and Semitic philologists of the time. I was, of course, a complete nobody. Some of the members of the committee treated me (and the other secretaries) as complete nobodies (these tended to be the less qualified and more insecure members of the committee; I won’t name names!); others treated me (and the others) in a dignified and respectful way, realizing that we were, after all, just graduate students, but knowing that we were advanced and heading into academic careers of our own. When I graduated from my PhD program I was teaching part time at Rutgers, but I did not have a full time, tenure-track position there.   It was a slightly oppressive situation, as adjunct positions at universities typically are.   I’ll [...]

Autobiographical. Metzger and Me. The NRSV Bible Translation Committee

A CONTINUATION OF MY RECOLLECTIONS OF BRUCE METZGER, MY MENTOR. When I was still a graduate student in the PhD program at Princeton Theological Seminary, Metzger invited me to serve as a secretary for the committee that was producing the new revision of the Revised Standard Version translation of the Bible. The RSV (on which the new translation was to be based) had come out in 1952, and it had caused a huge furor at the time. It was an “official” revision of the King James Bible, that was supposed to update the language (English has changed a lot since 1611), to take into consideration new manuscript discoveries (especially important for the New Testament, since the KJV was based on only a few medieval manuscripts that were not of very high quality; hundreds of better ones had since been discovered, and to incorporate the findings of modern Biblical scholarship). The RSV of 1952 was an “official” translation because it was authorized by the National Council of Churches in the U.S. But in the opinion of [...]

My First Teaching Position

ONE OF MY RECENT POSTS ON BRUCE METZGER MADE ME THINK OF WHEN I GOT MY FIRST TEACHING JOB. NOT SURE WHY. BUT HERE ARE SOME REFLECTIONS ABOUT IT.... ********************************************************************************************************************** My students are alternatively comforted and chagrined to learn how hard it was for me to get a teaching position. It makes them feel good that they are not alone, but bad that they too might have a hard time – even harder. I was on the job market while I was writing my dissertation.. And even though there were job openings, I couldn’t get an interview to save my soul. Part of the problem was that my PhD was from a theological seminary, and a lot of the jobs were at secular institutions – state universities, private colleges, and the like. Most places simply don’t want to take a chance on someone who has been trained in a theological environment. Especially someone like me at the time. I had never set foot in a secular setting since high school! Starting when I was 17, [...]

Sad News: The Passing of Marvin Meyer

Yesterday was a sad day for me and for biblical/early Christianity scholarship.   Marvin Meyer passed away, the victim of melanoma.  He could not have been old – maybe in his early 60s.  He was a superb scholar and one of the most generous, affable, energetic, personable scholars you would ever hope to find.  Marvin was the Griset Professor of Bible and Christian Studies at Chapman University and Director of the Albert Schweitzer Institute I knew about Marvin’s work for many years before I met him.   He was some years older than me and was well established in the field before I showed up on the scene.   I think the first work of his I used was his translation of Coptic Magical Texts.   Coptic is an ancient Egyptian language, in which a large number of important works were translated in antiquity; in many instances, these translations are the only forms of the text that we have available.  This is true of these magical texts that we have, which are fascinating and of real importance for scholars [...]

Questions on Jesus’ Language and on the Crucifixion

QUESTIONS: If Jesus could not speak Latin, he must have communicated with the Romans in Aramaic. Was it common for Romans, at least of a certain class, to speak Aramaic? If not, how could Jesus have communicated with, for example, Pontius Pilate? Perhaps through a translator? Also, are there any sources I can consult regarding my question on the crucifixion? Wikipedia does not address this issue and you yourself have stated that you believe it was a small public ceremony which coincides with what I was taught. So I would appreciate any assistance you can render in this respect.   RESPONSE: OK, two quick questions, and two quick answers. You’re right, Jesus could certainly not speak Latin -- unless you base your views of Jesus on Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ; the entire movie is filmed in Aramaic, until we get to the trial before Pilate, where Jesus shifts into completely fluent Latin. What a scream. In any event, it’s clear why the Gospel according to Mel wants Jesus to be able to [...]

Autobiographical. Metzger and Me. The Dissertation Defense

I CONTINUE HERE WITH MY REMINISCENCES OF MY INTERACTIONS AND RELATIONSHIP WITH MY MENTOR, BRUCE METZGER ********************************************************************************************************************* In almost (but not absolutely) all PhD programs in this country, the doctoral candidate has do have an “oral defense” of the dissertation.   If s/he successfully defends, the PhD is then granted.  Here at UNC, the defense is conducted in front of the five-person dissertation committee.  Everyone on the committee has read the dissertation – carefully, in theory – and the defense is designed to see if, well, the thesis is defensible.  In other words, faculty members do not hold back but probe deeply into the work to see if there are any flaws in it.   If a student fails the defense, s/he has to revise the dissertation and try again.   Even if it is considered passable, revisions of some sort are often considered necessary.   FOR THE REST OF THIS POST, log in as a Member. Click here for membership options. If you don't belong yet, JOIN!! My own dissertation defense was in 1985.   Metzger had [...]

Bible Intro: Nearing the finish line

I am happy to say that I have nearly finished writing the rough draft of my Introduction to the Bible;  those of you who have been on the blog for a while know: this is a college level textbook (so, written for 19 year olds) for a one-semester course on the Bible, Genesis to Revelation.  I’ve actually enjoyed doing it.   In preparation I spent a couple of years teaching  the Introduction to the Hebrew Bible course at UNC, refreshing my memory on the Jewish Scriptures and getting back abreast of scholarship, after I had not done much in Hebrew Bible for 25 years.  And I realized, once I started getting into it, that some of the “knowledge” I had 25 years ago was given me by professors nearing retirement age who were, as a result, giving me information that was at that time 25 years out of date. So, well, I was 50 years behind the times.  Not good. But I retaught myself Hebrew – which was fun; I’m still reading a bit every day.  [...]

2017-12-16T22:41:09-05:00August 15th, 2012|Book Discussions, Public Forum, Teaching Christianity|

Autobiographical. Metzger and Me: Finishing the Dissertation

SOME MORE ON MY RELATIONSHIP WITH BRUCE METZGER, ON FINISHING THE DISSERTATION Different dissertation advisors have different approaches to supervising a dissertation. Some are extremely hands on, to the point of working over every thought and every sentence. Not too many are like that, because if they were, they would never do anything else with their life. Plus, the idea is for the student to figure it out and get good at it. That takes some trial and error. Other advisors go for the big picture and like to talk over the big ideas. Others basically don’t give a rip how the dissertation is coming along – they want to see it at the end, and when it’s done, they’ll tell the student whether it’s good enough or not. Others … well, there are lots of other approaches. Sometime I’ll explain mine, which is not quite any of the above. Metzger took an approach that other students may have found frustrating, but that was absolutely perfect for me.  He basically let me do my own [...]

2020-12-29T00:56:04-05:00August 14th, 2012|Bart’s Biography, Book Discussions, Reader’s Questions|

Autobiographical. Me and Metzger: More on the Dissertation

THIS IS A CONTINUATION OF MY POSTS OF MY RELATIONSHIP WITH BRUCE METZGER, MY MENTOR As I started thinking about how to write up this second post on my dissertation (the first post was posted some days ago), I remembered one of my clearest pieces of advice that I ever gave to myself, many years ago now, based, already then, on substantial experience.  Never , ever, NEVER ask a graduate student what s/he is writing the dissertation on.   They invariably will tell you, and it will take a half hour, and your eyes will glaze over in 30 seconds.   So just don’t do it.   With that principle in mind, I think I had better not go into all the ins and outs of the dissertation. I’ll just go into some of them…. FOR THE REST OF THIS POST, LOG IN AS A MEMBER. If you don't belong yet, now's your chance! The reason it is so painful listening to someone’s story about their dissertation is that by their very nature dissertations tend to [...]

2020-05-11T13:52:14-04:00August 12th, 2012|Bart’s Biography, Reader’s Questions|

A Forger Who Was Caught. The Case of Salvian, Part 2

THIS IS A CONTINUATION OF MY PREVIOUS POST ON SALVIAN, THE ONE CHRISTIAN FORGER THAT WE KNOW WAS CAUGHT IN THE ACT. I INCLUDE THE TAIL END OF THE PREVIOUS POST AT THE BEGINNING OF THIS ONE FOR CONTEXT, BUT YOU MAY WANT TO REREAD THE WHOLE THING ITSELF. THIS, AGAIN, IS DRAWN FROM MY FORTHCOMING BOOK FORGERY AND COUNTERFORGERY. ************************************************************************************************************************ Given this confession of motivation, what Salvian claims next may seem a bit surprising, if not down-right duplicitous. Why did he choose the name Timothy in particular? Readers naturally took the name to refer to Paul’s Pastoral companion, hence Salonius’s distraught reaction. But in clear tension with his earlier assertion that an unknown person would not be accepted as an authoritative source, Salvian claims that he chose the name purely for of its symbolic associations. Just as the evangelist Luke wrote to “Theophilus” because he wrote “for the love of God,” so too the author of this treatise wrote as “Timothy,” that is, “for the honor of God.” In other words, he chose the [...]

2020-04-11T17:20:51-04:00August 11th, 2012|Book Discussions, Forgery in Antiquity|

A Christian Forger Caught in the Acts

Next month I will be giving a keynote address at a conference dealing with ancient pseudepigrapha at the University of Laval, in Quebec City.  I have recently been discussing the topic (of ancient authors falsely claiming to be a famous person) on the blog in relation to the letter of James, and as you know, it was the subject of my monography Forgery and Counterforgery ten years ago, and my spin-off popular account Forged.   I haven't worked seriously on the problem since then. But now, because of this upcoming lecture, I'm having to think about it long and hard again, a decade later.  Lots of scholars simply don't (or can't?) believe that ancient people -- especially Christians, but others as well -- would lie about their identities.  It's not that these scholars doubt that there are lots and lots of pseudepigrapha out there, Greek, Roman, Jewish, and Christian.  There are.  But these scholars don't think that the authors were doing anything duplicitous. There are different ways scholars have made this argument, but the basic line [...]

Autobiographical. Metzger and Me: The Dissertation

THIS POST RESUMES MY RECOLLECTIONS OF MY INTERACTIONS WITH BRUCE METZGER, MY MENTOR. When I entered my PhD program at Princeton Theological Seminary, I knew already that I wanted to specialize in the study of the Greek manuscript tradition of the New Testament. As I indicated in my earlier posts, that’s why I went there, because Metzger was the country’s leading expert in this field, and one could argue the leading expert in the world (some Germans would contest the point!). While doing my Master’s thesis for Metzger I read widely in the secondary literature on textual criticism, and came to be highly influenced by a scholar named Gordon Fee. Fee is an interesting and important figure. As it turns out, he is a very committed Pentecostal Christian, who preaches and evangelizes. But when he’s not doing that, he’s doing scholarship, and he’s an amazing scholar. He is also the author of How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth and Discovering Biblical Equality, among other works. At the time of my master’s work, [...]

2020-12-29T01:04:50-05:00August 8th, 2012|Bart’s Biography, Reader’s Questions|

Peter as Literate? Part 2

THIS IS A CONTINUATION OF MY POST FROM YESTERDAY ON WHETHER PETER COULD HAVE WRITTEN 1 PETER, BASED ON THE QUESTION OF HIS POSSIBLE LITERACY. READ THE FIRST POST FIRST, OR THIS ONE WON'T MAKE AS MUCH SENSE! In pursuing this line of inquiry, we might ask what we can know about Peter as a person, prior to his becoming a disciple of Jesus. The answer is that we do not know much at all. The Gospels are consistent only in portraying him as a fisherman from the village of Capernaum in rural Galilee. We can assume that since he was a common laborer, he was not from the landed aristocracy; and since he was from rural Galilee, he would have spoken Aramaic. What can we say about his home “town” of Capernaum? The historical and social insignificance of the place can be seen by the fact that it is not mentioned in any source, including the Hebrew Bible, prior to the writings of the New Testament. In the Gospels it is portrayed as a [...]

2020-04-03T19:28:29-04:00August 7th, 2012|Book Discussions, Catholic Epistles|
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