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The Importance of a Comparative Approach to the NT

I started this thread thinking that I would devote it to discussing the changes that I am making in the sixth edition of my textbook, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings.  But I realized, once I started, that I needed to explain more fully what the textbook was at its inception back in the mid 1990s before talking about changes that I’m making now.  And so my past few posts have been about how I imagined the book to be a distinctively *historical* introduction to the New Testament and about what that actually meant in terms of how I approached the task. One other aspect of this being a historical introduction (as opposed to a theological or principally interpretive or mainly literary introduction) is that I wanted the book to be rigorously comparative in its orientation.   What I mean is this. When people read the New Testament, they naturally assume that it is *one* book.  After all, you buy it as one book.  It has covers.  It has a table [...]

2020-04-03T16:32:16-04:00September 30th, 2014|Book Discussions, Teaching Christianity|

Gift Subscriptions!!!

I am very pleased to announce that we have a new addition to the Blog.   This could help you, me, and a person you love.  Or like.  Or would like to like.   A friend, a colleague, a family member.   The new addition: the possibility of a GIFT SUBSCRIPTION. Many, many of you know of someone who would benefit from the blog.   By giving a gift subscription, you would make it possible.    It’s obvious why that would be a benefit to the person to whom you give the gift.  They would have full access to these virtually daily discussions of all things having to do with the New Testament and Christianity in Antiquity.  The gift It benefits you because you feel oh so good about yourself.  And it benefits me because it contributes to my ultimate objective in running the blog in the first place – raising revenues for charities that deal with hunger and homelessness. And so I would like to challenge all of you to think of someone who would enjoy being on the [...]

2014-09-30T01:51:49-04:00September 29th, 2014|Public Forum|

New Discussion Forum: Suggestions?

Thanks to the hard work of my computer assistant, Steven Ray –if you have any website or related needs, he’s the guy to hire! – we are nearly ready to make a major change in the Bart Ehrman Blog, a.k.a. the CIA.   Because of regular and repeated requests, we are going to add a Discussion Forum, open to all paid members. At present, as you know, the only way to “discuss” anything on the blog is by asking me a question, or by making a comment, on one of my posts.  Occasionally one person will respond to another person’s question or comment, but that’s about the extent of conversation among participants.  Everything, more or less, begins with my post and all comments pretty much pass through me.  With a discussion forum, on the other hand, anyone can start a thread of their own and people can interact on the question/topic, talking with one another directly instead of through me. When I’ve mentioned the possibility of setting up such a thing for the blog, I have [...]

2014-09-28T21:31:47-04:00September 28th, 2014|Public Forum|

The (Ancient) Genre of the Gospels

In this thread I’ve been talking about how I conceived of my New Testament textbook, some 20 years ago now, as a rigorously historical introduction.   I’ve  been stressing that one of the ways it is historical is that it takes seriously the Greco-Roman milieu out of which it arose, and that one of the key implications is that one needs to read the NT books in light of the ancient genres which they employ.   My argument in the book (and in general!) is that if you misunderstand how the ancient genre works, you will misunderstand the book.   The Gospels, I argue, are written as Greco-Roman biographies.   Here is an excerpt where I describe what that means and why it matters, again from the first edition of my textbook. *********************************************************  We have numerous examples of Greco-Roman biographies, many of them written by some of the most famous authors of Roman antiquity, for instance, Plutarch, Suetonius, and Tacitus.  One of the ways to understand how this genre "worked" is to contrast it with the way modern biographies [...]

2020-04-03T16:32:25-04:00September 26th, 2014|Book Discussions, Canonical Gospels, Teaching Christianity|

Placing the New Testament in Its Own Historical Context

In my previous post I began to discuss how I chose, back in the mid 1990s, to conceptualize my New Testament textbook, not as a theological/interpretive introduction to the NT, or as a literary introduction, but as a rigorously historical introduction.  Among other things, that meant treating the books of the New Testament as *some* of the early Christian wriitngs, which needed to be discussed in relation to other early Christian writings produced at about the same time.   In this post I’ll talk about one other feature of a more historical approach to the New Testament. Almost all the other introductory textbooks available at the time, as I indicated yesterday, began with a kind of obligatory appendix on the “background” to the New Testament – information on the historical, political, social, and religious matrix out of which the New Testament sprang (first the Greco-Roman context and then Jewish).   Once all *that* was over with,  these textbooks typically moved to talk about the writings of the New Tesatment without incorporating any insights from the world in [...]

2020-04-03T16:32:36-04:00September 25th, 2014|Book Discussions, Canonical Gospels, Teaching Christianity|

A Historical Approach to the New Testament

In my previous posts I talked about how I came to be convinced to write my textbook on the New Testament, back in the early to mid 1990s.   Once I agreed to do it, the first step was to decide exactly what *kind* of Introduction to the New Testament I wanted it to be.  This was a problem, because I was pretty sure that the kind of introduction that I would like to write would not be the kind of introduction that college professors would like to use. There were already lots of textbooks on the New Testament available at the time.   I myself had used two different ones over the years, one that was filled with all sorts of jargon and assumptions that made it way over my students heads (that one didn’t last!  but for years it was one of the most widely used on the market); the other one was very sensitive to the theological interests of the authors and, presumably, of the students, and that was very heavy on using each [...]

2020-04-03T16:32:45-04:00September 24th, 2014|Book Discussions, Teaching Christianity|

Agreeing to Do the Textbook

In my previous post I indicated that I was not at all inclined to write a textbook on the New Testament.   In fact, before the editor at Oxford University Press asked me to do it, I had never given it a moment’s thought – except for that moment when I thought (some years before), that whatever I did with my publishing career, I did *not* want to write such a thing.  Looking back on it, I’m not sure why I was so dead set against it.  I suppose it was because my plan was to write scholarship for scholars and nothing but scholarship for scholars. About a week after I turned down the offer to do the textbook, she called me again to see if I had changed my mind.  No, I hadn’t.  But I had started thinking about it.   When she called me the third time I had begun to think that maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea after all. There were several reasons I had begun to change my mind.   For [...]

2020-04-03T16:33:09-04:00September 23rd, 2014|Book Discussions, Teaching Christianity|

My New Testament Textbook

I thought I would take a few posts to talk about what I’m working on these days – for the past month or so, with another month or so to go.  As many of you know, I spent almost the entire summer doing nothing but reading books and articles about “memory” and related topics (such as the telling of stories in oral cultures) from a variety of perspectives: cognitive psychology, neurology (very low level!), anthropology (oral cultures and how they pass along their traditions), sociology (communal memory), folklore (urban legends, rumors, gossip), and so on.   All of this was in preparation for my next trade book dealing with what we can say about the oral traditions of Jesus as they were passed along in the years before the Gospels were written.   I am still leaving open the possibility of writing a scholarly monograph on a similar topic. But I have had to take a break from all that.  And with huge reluctance.  There are dozens and dozens of books and articles that I’m still desperate [...]

2020-04-03T16:33:16-04:00September 22nd, 2014|Bart’s Biography, Book Discussions, Teaching Christianity|

Yale Shaffer Lectures 3 of 3 – Christ Against the Jews

Here is the third of my Shaffer Lectures delivered almost exactly ten years ago.   This final one has to do with textual variants and apocryphal texts that show evidence of Christian anti-Judaism.  I call this one: Christ Against the Jews.   It is a topic that I continue to be interested in, and on which I plan to write a book for a general audience, at some time in the next few years (not about textual variants, but about the rise of Christian opposition to Jews and Judaism.) Please adjust gear icon for 720p High-Definition. Quality is lacking since this is a VHS to 720p uprez:

Letter from Urban Ministries of Durham

As most of you know, there are four charities that the Bart Ehrman Blog supports.  Two of them are international:  CARE and Doctors Without Borders.  Two of them are local to me: The Food Bank of North Carolina and the Urban Ministries of Durham.   I very much wish we could support all of them more and more -- they are all superb organizations. Click to Enlarge and Expand Browser But I have a special soft spot for the Urban Ministries of Durham.  Despite its name, it is not a religious organization.  It is the principal organization that deals with hunger and homelessness in my community.  It's a huge task.  But what is really amazing about UMD is that they are not interested in simply putting a band-aid on the problem, for example by having a soup kitchen and an emergency shelter. They do have those, and a clothes pantry and a food pantry and much more.  BUT what is really impressive is that they work very hard at *eliminating* homelessness (and hunger), [...]

2017-12-14T22:34:47-05:00September 19th, 2014|Public Forum|

Why We Need Tenure

I’ve been discussing what a university professor does with his or her time, and have devoted a couple of posts to the question of what it takes to receive tenure.  In doing so I  have indicated that tenure is a guarantee of life-long employment by the academic institution, barring such extraordinary circumstances as moral turpitude on the part of the professor (it happens!) and financial exigency of the institution (it too, alas, happens). I should say as well, though, that once one receives tenure it is no pure boondoggle for the rest of one’s life.  At UNC, at least, we have a mandatory “Post-tenure Review” process every five years, where we who have tenure have to explain in writing what we have been doing in our teaching, research, and service since the previous review.  If performance is not satisfactory, a plan of remedial action is implemented, and if things go from bad to worse, disciplinary actions can be implemented.   But for most of us, we’re working our tails off all the time anyway, so there’s [...]

2020-04-03T16:33:24-04:00September 18th, 2014|Reflections and Ruminations, Teaching Christianity|

What Counts for Tenure?

I have one more post to make on this thread, which has taken me off onto a tangent, away from early Christianity per se and onto what it means to be a university professor at a research institution such as UNC.  That other post – hopefully tomorrow – will be about why tenure is absolutely essential for this kind of job, even if it is highly unusual anywhere else (unheard of, of course, in the business world).  But before then, I want to say one other thing about the tenure process, something that would not occur to most people and that in fact will be both surprising and, possibly, counter-intuitive.  It has to do with what “counts” as research. Virtually every school on the planet will tell its assistant professors that there are three factors considered in evaluating a case for tenure:  research, teaching, and service.   The balance of those three factors, though, differs significantly from one school to another.  Some schools focus almost exclusively on teaching, so that research is not that big of [...]

2020-04-03T16:33:34-04:00September 17th, 2014|Reflections and Ruminations, Teaching Christianity|

The Academic Tenure Situation

In my previous post I discussed what a professor at a research university does with his or her time.   I did not go into detail about a lot of the really time consuming obligations, which I may at some point devote a post to.   For now I want to deal with one other thing that I mentioned in yesterday’s post:  the question of tenure.   Most people in the rest of the working world have trouble getting their mind around what university tenure is all about.   You mean they guarantee you a job for life?  They can’t fire you?  Really??? Yes, pretty much really.   With some provisos. The tenure system has come under fire in recent years by those outside the system who think that it is a disaster and a bit of a joke.   It is sometimes thought or said that that once a professor has tenure, there is no incentive for him or her to do much of anything: they have a job -- permantently!  And that, it is said, is a recipe for [...]

2020-04-03T16:33:43-04:00September 16th, 2014|Reflections and Ruminations, Teaching Christianity|

A Day In the Life of a Research Professor

I sometimes get asked what it is that professors in universities actually do.   The question is usually raised when someone realizes that at a major research university, most professors teach two classes a semester.  Classes tend to involve three hours of class time per week.   But that means a professor is in the classroom only six hours a week.  Is this a full time job?  Are you serious??  And on top of that you have tenure so that you can, for all practical purposes, never get fired?  Hey how can *I* get a job like that??? It’s a really good question.   First let me say something about what it is professors do, maybe in a couple of posts, and then say something about tenure. As it turns out, being a full-time professor is a boatload of work.  I won’t say that it’s more than a lot of other busy and highly demanding occupations – a lot of you, I’m sure, work just as hard and long as I do.   But it *is* a busy and [...]

2020-04-03T16:33:51-04:00September 15th, 2014|Public Forum, Teaching Christianity|

Manuscripts and Christian Magic

My last post on the discovery of an amulet with passages from the Bible on it brought to mind part of an essay I wrote and recently edited for the second edition of the book that I edited (with Michael Holmes), The Text of the New Testament in Contemporary Research: Essays on the Status Quaestionis.  The book contains essays on every major aspect of NT textual criticism by different authors, all of them internationally known experts in the field, with articles on papyri manuscripts, majuscule manuscripts, minuscule manuscripts, lectionaries, Greek Patristic citations, Latin Patristic citations, early versions such as Syriac, Coptic, Latin, methods for studying the manuscripts, and … lots of other things.  My essay is called “The Text as Window.”  It is about how the manuscript tradition of the NT can tell us about the social history of early Christianity – including the use of magic.   Here is the short section devoted to that question of magic (endnotes are at the bottom): *********************************************************** The incursion of the social sciences into the study of early [...]

New Discovery of an Ancient Christian Amulet

A new discovery has been made of an ancient amulet, of interest to students of the Bible. It contains some references to both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. An amulet was a kind of lucky charm that a person carried or wore, in order, principally, to ward of evil spirits. I will say more about amulets as they relate to the use of sacred books (esp. the Christian New Testament) in my next post. For now: here’s news of the new discovery in an article by James Maynard, taken from the Tech Times. ********************************************************************************************** Discovery of Ancient Papyrus Amulet with Biblical References Excites Boffins By James Maynard, Tech Times | September 8, 7:13 a.m. An ancient papyrus amulet with hand-written biblical passages has been discovered. The artifact was likely a tax receipt, and 1,500 years ago, someone wrote quotes from the Christian Bible on the back. The Greek papyrus artifact contains text referring to the Last Supper of Jesus Christ, as well as "manna from heaven." The ancient amulet containing the papyrus artifact [...]

2017-12-14T22:36:25-05:00September 12th, 2014|Religion in the News|

How I Actually Write

I can now explain how I actually go about writing a trade book (how I do it with a scholarly book is a bit different, mainly because it is a much slower and laborious process).   As I’ve indicated, before I start writing at *all*, I have already read everything that I have needed to read (nothing still left!  Otherwise it’s a disaster), taken notes on everything, reviewed my notes assiduously, and made detailed and lengthy outlines of each chapter.   Then I’m ready to go. The writing of the book itself is the only anxiety-producing, tense, emotionally difficult point of the entire process.  I feel no nervousness or anxiety or dread in any of the other stages of the work – only in the writing.  Moreover, this is far and away the most intense point of the process, where I completely go into a zone and live in an alternative universe. Different people have different views of how to write.   Some scholars prefer to write slowly, carefully crafting every sentence, being sure that one sentence is [...]

2020-04-03T16:34:54-04:00September 11th, 2014|Bart’s Biography, Book Discussions|

How I Begin to Write

OK, I’m back from my tangent.   This thread is about how I go about writing a trade book.   So far I’ve discussed how I decide what to write on, how I imagine communicating with a popular audience about it, how I know where to begin reading, how I go about acquiring bibliography once I start, and how I try to read everything of relevance and take notes on it all.   Now I can get to the writing process itself. For years I used to tell my graduate students what, in my opinion, was the best way to go about writing a book (when they were starting to work on their dissertations).   To my knowledge, none of them ever took my advice.   So I quit giving it.  Not so much because I was disappointed but because I realized that everyone works differently.  Then I met my now-wife Sarah and realized that some people work *completely* differently. Sarah could never do what I do (I’ll explain what that is in a moment).  Her mind doesn’t work like [...]

2017-12-14T22:37:08-05:00September 10th, 2014|Bart’s Biography, Book Discussions|

Communicating with Non-Scholars

In my previous post I talked about how I go about choosing what to write a trade book on.  In some cases I have chosen to write on a topic that involves a well-worked field in biblical studies or early Christianity, that has not, however, been introduced to a wider reading public.   I’ve always found it highly unfortunate that scholars as a rule are not interested in communicating with non-scholars.   I should be clear about one thing, though: some scholars – or rather, most scholars – simply don’t *know* how to communicate with non-scholars about whatever it is they’re doing.   And to a large extent, it’s not actually their fault. Many (most?) scholars don’t know how to communicate with others is that they were never trained to do that.   In fact – this will come as a surprise to many people – back when I was in graduate school, in the 1980s, people being trained to become university teachers almost *NEVER* had any instruction on how to teach.  My program was typical of most.  My [...]

2020-04-03T16:35:05-04:00September 9th, 2014|Book Discussions|

Choosing a Topic for A Trade Book

In this thread I’ve been talking about how I go about writing a trade book, and I am now dealing with the question of how an author chooses what to write about.  I was indicating earlier that some of my graduate students have a difficult time knowing what to focus on in their dissertations.  Most of my students come up with amazingly good ideas; but every now and then I have a student who simply can’t decide what to do.  It’s hard because the dissertation is their first book, it has to be academically rigorous, on a topic of some intellectual importance, and dealing with it in a way that has never been done before.   The same is true with all works of serious scholarship. Having said that, I should point out that the New Testament itself is the most heavily researched book (or set of books) in the history of civilization.   And lots of areas of New Testament scholarship are thoroughly “over-researched.”   That makes it hard for students and even senior scholars sometimes to [...]

2020-04-03T16:35:17-04:00September 8th, 2014|Book Discussions|
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