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New Boxes Related to Literary Forgery and the NT

Here are two more new boxes in my new edition of The New Testatment: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings.    Both of these deal with issues that I cover in my book Forgery and Counterforgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in Early Christian Polemics and, to a lesser extent, in my trade book, Forged. **************************************************************** Box 25.2  Another Glimpse Into the Past The Secretary Hypothesis For a very long time there have been scholars who have argued that the reason books like 2 Thessalonians, Colossians, Ephesians, and the Pastoral epistles are so unlike Paul’s other writings – both in writing style and contents – is that in these instances Paul used a “secretary” and that this other person, his secretary, actually did the writing for him, after Paul gave some instructions about what to say.  This is a view that I myself was taught in graduate school.  It is still widely taught today.   The problem is that there is almost no evidence for it. By that I do not mean that there is [...]

2020-04-11T16:00:44-04:00October 31st, 2014|Book Discussions, Forgery in Antiquity|

New Boxes on Problematic Social Values in the New Testament

I have been posting some of the new “boxes” that will appear in the sixth edition of my textbook.  These boxes are meant either to raise interesting historical issues that are somewhat tangential to the main discussion or to broach complex issues without easy solution that are meant to force students to think for themselves.     I include two such boxes here in this post – the first is a new one for the sixth edition, but I thought it would be interesting to pair it with a somewhat related topic drawn from a post already in the fifth edtiion.  Both boxes have to do with the New Testament and social realities of its day – the early Christian approbation of the institution of slavery and Jesus’ teachings that run precisely contrary to what today we might think of as solid family values. ****************************************************************  Box 22.12  What Do You Think? The New Testament and Slavery  Many people who read the book of Philemon simply assume that Paul writes the letter in order to urge Philemon to [...]

2020-04-03T16:28:30-04:00October 30th, 2014|Book Discussions, Historical Jesus, Paul and His Letters|

New Boxes on Jesus as God in the NT

Here are two more “boxes” that will now appear in the sixth edition of my New Testament textbook.   If you’ve read my recent book, How Jesus Became God, you’ll see that both of these boxes are based on views that I develop at length there.   One of the tricks in writing a textbook is figuring out how to say something in a way that is succinct and interesting, when there is not much space to cover a topic fully  (so, my first box here covers in 326 words what I take an entire chapter to develop in my book!)   The problem is that sometimes the coverage is so succinct that it is no longer accurate and / or interesting.  It’s always a balancing act. In any event, here are the two boxes. *******************************************************  Box 19.2  What Do You Think? Humans Exalted to Heaven at the End of Their Lives  What do you imagine the early Christians would think had happened to Jesus once they came to believe that he had not only been raised from [...]

2020-04-03T16:28:46-04:00October 28th, 2014|Book Discussions, Paul and His Letters|

New Boxes: Oral traditions and the Dates of the Gospels

For the sixth edition of my New Testament textbook I have written twelve new “boxes.”   These are side-line discussions of interesting and relevant (if a bit tangential) issues of some importance for various aspects of the study of the New Testament.   I will post several of these, including these two here.  If these generate any questions, let me know, and I can follow up on them. The two are about the Gospels: the first has to do with the ongoing nature of oral traditions (which did not stop with the writing of the Gospels!) and the second with how scholars have determined the dates of the Gospels. ************************************************************** Box 5.2  Another Glimpse Into the Past The Church Father Papias and the Ongoing Oral Tradition  Oral traditions about Jesus did not cease to circulate as soon as the Gospels were written.  On the contrary, we have solid evidence that the traditions continued to thrive for a very long time indeed.  Hard evidence comes in the writings of a second-century Christian named Papias, the author of a [...]

What Is Different in My Textbook?

I have nearly finished making all the revisions for the sixth edition of my textbook, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings.   It has taken me a lot longer than I thought it would, much to my chagrin.  But it is soon over.  I hope to have it sent off next week. Several readers have asked what I’ve changed this time around.   Here is (part of) my new Preface, that explains how I originally imagined the book and what I’ve done differently in this iteration. ********************************************************** Preface When I started doing research on the first edition of this textbook, twenty years ago now, I had very clear ideas about what I wanted it to be.   First and foremost, I wanted to approach the New Testament from a rigorously historical perspective.   It is not that I had any difficulties at the time, either professionally or personally, with introductions that were more geared toward theology, or exegesis, or literary criticism.   But I wanted my book to be different.   I wanted to situate the [...]

2020-04-03T16:29:01-04:00October 26th, 2014|Book Discussions, Public Forum|

Can My Students Believe in the Inerrancy of the Bible?

QUESTION: Do you ever get a student in your class who doggedly insists upon the inerrancy of the Bible? If so, and if they write their term papers in support of Biblical inerrancy, is it possible for them to get a passing grade in your class?   RESPONSE: HA!  That’s a great question! So, part of the deal of teaching in the Bible Belt is that lots of my students – most of them? – have very conservative views about the Bible as the Word of God.    A few years ago I used to start my class on the New Testament, with something like 300 students in it, by asking the students a series of questions, just for information.  I would ask: How many of you in here would agree with the proposition that the Bible is the inspired Word of God (PHOOM!  Almost everyone raises their hands) OK, great: Now, how many of you have read the Harry Potter series? (PHOOM! Again, almost everyone raises their hand). And now, how many of you have [...]

2017-12-14T10:31:48-05:00October 24th, 2014|Public Forum, Reader’s Questions, Teaching Christianity|

The Bloody Sweat and Historical Plausibility

QUESTION: The following question was raised by a reader on the blog, based on my discussion of the so-called “bloody sweat” passage of Luke 22:43-44, which I maintained was not originally part of Luke’s Gospel (or any Gospel) but was added by later scribes.  Here’s the question Even if this event of Jesus sweating, as it were, great drops of blood was in the original manuscript, one must wonder how the author knew of it. Luke 22:41 tells us that Jesus left his disciples and went off on his own to pray. Then, after his agony and the angelic assistance, he rises up and goes back to his disciples only to find them sleeping (v.45).  And, according to V.46, “while he was yet speaking” he was betrayed by Judas and arrested. How then, did the author know what had happened? When I was a believer, such questions never occurred to me. They do now. A lot.   RESPONSE: This is a great question.  It reminds me that with any passage in the New Testament, there [...]

2020-04-03T16:29:09-04:00October 22nd, 2014|Historical Jesus, Reader’s Questions|

Introduction to My Introduction (to the NT)

I have decided to add an "Introduction" to my textbook, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings.  I is very similar (indeed!) to the introduction that I have now in my Introduction to the entire Bible.  The whole idea is to get students to see why taking an academic course on the NT is very important.   Here is the new Introduction, in full: ****************************************************************************************************************** Introduction Why Study the New Testament? The New Testament is the most commonly purchased, widely read, and deeply cherished book in the history of Western Civilization.  It is also the most widely misunderstood, misinterpreted, and misused.  These facts alone should make it worth our time to study it.   But there are other reasons as well – religious reasons, historical reasons, and literary reasons. Religious Reasons Most people who study the new Testament do so, of course, for religious reasons.  Many people revere the Bible as the word of God, and want to know what it can teach them about what to believe and how to live.   In [...]

2021-02-23T01:24:49-05:00October 20th, 2014|Book Discussions, Teaching Christianity|

The Life of Brian & The Apocalyptic Jesus

On the blog some months ago I mentioned the "Jesus and Brian" conference in London this past summer, devoted to exploring the Historical Jesus in light of Monty Python's Life of Brian. The event was held at the King's College London, Edmond J Safra Lecture Theatre, King’s Building, Strand, London WC2R 2LS on June 20-22nd, 2014.   I gave one of the talks at the conference, and it is provided here thanks to the labors of the audio-video team at Kings College and our support person, Steven Ray who had to manipulate it to improve the quality. Further details about the event can be read here: Following is the abstract that I gave of my paper, in advance: When the Life of Brian first came out, I was a gung-ho, born-again, evangelical Christian in seminary, studying for ministry. Even though I found parts of the film hilarious (I tried not to laugh), other parts – not. Some of these were predictably offensive to a pious sensitivity (“Always look on the bright side of life”!); but one was [...]

2017-12-14T10:32:53-05:00October 20th, 2014|Historical Jesus, Public Forum, Video Media|

The New Discussion Forum!!! Soon Up and Running.

A new day is dawning.   We have decided to establish a Discussion Forum for the blog.  It will be up and running very soon, probably later today.  Many thanks to Steven Ray, my assistant in all things technical and technological, for all his hard work in getting this set up. The forum is designed to provide an outlet for members of The Bart Ehrman Blog: The History & Literature of Early Christianity to have discussions *among themselves* about issues of interest to them.   The one major proviso is that these interests need to be related to the concerns of the blog – the history of early Christianity (including the historical Jesus and the NT, up through the fourth century or so) and related topics (such as the Hebrew Bible).   Now, instead of simply making comments on my own posts – which will continue at the same rate as before, i.e. 5-6 / week – you can talk with one another about related topics. I will not be participating directly in the Discussion Forum as a [...]

2016-02-12T02:46:35-05:00October 19th, 2014|Public Forum|

Jesus Sweating Blood: Transcriptional Probabilities

I’ve been discussing the kinds of evidence that textual critics appeal to in order to make a decision concerning what an author originally wrote, when there are two or more different forms of the text – that is, where a verse or passage is worded in different ways in different manuscripts.  And I have been using the passage found (only) in (some manuscripts of) Luke of Jesus’ bloody sweat as an example.  Yesterday I discussed one kind of “internal” evidence.    Remember: external evidence deals with figuring out which manuscripts have which reading: how many manuscripts (not so important), age of the manuscripts, geographical distribution of the manuscripts, and (something I didn’t discuss) quality of the manuscripts.   And recall that internal evidence is of two kinds, the first of which is “intrinsic probabilities,” which seeks to establish which form of the text is more likely to have been written by the author himself. The second kind of internal evidence is a kind of flip side of the coin, and it’s called “transcriptional probabilities.”   With arguments/evidence of [...]

2020-04-03T16:29:24-04:00October 17th, 2014|Canonical Gospels, New Testament Manuscripts|

Jesus’ Sweating Blood and “intrinsic” evidence

In yesterday’s post I mentioned some of the kinds of “external” evidence that textual scholars look at when trying to establish the “original” text of a document (that is, the wording of the text as the author originally wrote it) when different manuscripts have different wordings for this or that passage.  In this post I’ll talk about one kind of “internal” evidence that is used to assist in making this kind of decision. There are two kinds of internal evidence that are usually called (1) intrinsic probabilities and (2) transcriptional probabilities.   For now, I’ll focus on the first. Intrinsic probabilities involve determining which of two (or more) forms of the text found in the manuscripts is the one that the author himself was more likely to have written.   Suppose you have a verse worded in two different ways.   If one of the ways uses the vocabulary and the writing style found elsewhere in the author, and presents ideas that he otherwise attests, whereas the other way includes words and grammatical constructions and ideas that are [...]

2020-04-03T16:29:32-04:00October 16th, 2014|Canonical Gospels, New Testament Manuscripts|

External Evidence in Textual Criticism

When I realized that I did not want to spend my life as a text-critical technician – collating and classifying Greek manuscripts – it became obvious to me the way to go.   Textual critics at the time generally understood that there were two major tasks in the discipline: to establish the original text (that is, the text in the words written by the actual authors, as opposed to the changes of the text made by later scribes) and to write the history of its transmission (seeing how it had been modified over the years in different times and places).   And I realized that through no tragic fault or brilliant plan of my own, I had been trained to do both things: the first requires substantial expertise in exegesis (the interpretation of texts), and the second requires a knowledge of early Christian history.   These were the two areas I had focused on in my graduate training, in all those years when I wanted, instead, simply to be trained in reading manuscripts. I think it is widely [...]

2020-04-03T16:29:40-04:00October 15th, 2014|New Testament Manuscripts|

Textual Scholars as Technicians

I’ve been trying in the posts of this thread to explain why textual critics are often thought not to be expert in the wide range of topics that other New Testament scholars are well versed in.  They are instead frequently seen as technicians who do the really hard, dirty work that no one else is either that interested in doing or knowledgeable about, even though some of it (not all) is thought to be necessary and important as a kind of preliminary exercise.   But it’s to be done by others. I, on the other hand, was long intrigued with textual criticism, from my early college days.  When I went to Princeton Seminary (already knowing Greek) and took a course with Metzger on palaeography (the study of ancient handwriting in the manuscripts nd related topics) I was thrilled.  In that course we learned how to “collate” manuscripts.   I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. Collating manuscripts, for most people, is no fun at all.   It involves taking a manuscript – that is, a hand written [...]

2020-04-03T16:29:48-04:00October 13th, 2014|New Testament Manuscripts|

On Changing One’s Mind

I thought today I would break up the monotony of the current thread by posting on something completely different.   It will take me a couple of posts to finish up my reflections on what kind of training is necessary to make a good textual critic – which is really a sub-thread (OK, call it a tangent) within my larger thread about how I went about writing my textbook and what changes I made in it.   And I’ll get back to both the sub-thread and the larger thread.  But this post is on something else.   Changing one’s mind. The reason this has become a topic of interest for me – today, for instance – is that I just finished reading something that I wrote ten years ago and something that I wrote on the same topic seven years later, just three years ago, and noted that, well, I had changed my mind!  Reversed directions.   Completely altered not only what I thought but what I said.   And that has led me to reflect on the phenomenon of [...]

2014-10-12T14:41:17-04:00October 12th, 2014|Reflections and Ruminations|

A Text-Critical Dissertation

The point of this short thread dealing with my graduate training is to explain why it is that lots – probably most – New Testament scholars do not consider textual critics to be competent in a wide range of fields normally associated with New Testament scholarship.  I know that must seem very strange to outsiders, but it’s the case.  Textual critics are often thought of as a rather strange group of technicians without broad competency in the areas that other New Testament scholars are interested in – for example, the Jewish environment or the Greco-Roman worlds from which the New Testament emerged, the historical Jesus, the interpretation of and historical problems associated with the Gospels, the life and letters of the apostle Paul, the theology of the different NT writers, and on and on. The reason for this is that to be competently trained in textual criticism is a long and hard process and it’s very difficult to do that *and* to learn all the other things that most other NT scholars are competent and [...]

2020-12-29T01:07:27-05:00October 11th, 2014|Bart’s Biography, New Testament Manuscripts|

My Graduate Training (Textual Criticism??)

I saw my master’s thesis as the perfect assignment to get me grounded in the entire, complicated field of New Testament textual criticism.   Ever since then I’ve been in favor of students writing master's theses, even if it is not required for a master’s program.   For one thing, doing so gets you into the frame of mind that you need to be in when you get to the point of writing a dissertation at the PhD level – which for most students is the first time they write a book.   The masters thesis is usually much shorter – say 100-120 pages.  But the layout tends to be similar.  Most theses I’ve been involved with, including my own, have entailed an introduction, three chapters, and a conclusion.   So the student learns to think in terms of writing chapters, each of which has its own thesis and point; but all of them work together in order systematically to set forth the overarching thesis of the work.   This is a hard transition for some students, who for their [...]

My Training as a Textual Critic

In some of my previous posts I’ve indicated that since I was known as a textual critic (one who worked with Greek manuscripts of the New Testament in order to determine both what the authors originally wrote and how the text came to be changed over the centuries) I was not widely seen as a candidate for writing a New Testament textbook for undergraduates.   Several readers have expressed some perplexity over this.   Aren’t textual critics, by their very nature, background, and training, proficient in the wider field of New Testament studies? The answer may surprise you: it may be that they should be, but many (at one time, most) are not. It’s a little hard to explain why, but I’ll try.   As is my wont, I’ll start autobiographically. In my case, the great bulk of my graduate training actually had very little to do with textual criticism.   When I came to Princeton Theological Seminary as a master’s student ) in 1978 (after I had finished my BA in English at Wheaton college), I was required [...]

Where Does One Deal with Textual Criticism?

There were other organizational dilemmas that I faced in doing my textbook.   As I indicated, I decided to begin with chapters on the Greco-Roman world and the Jewish world of the New Testament, and – before getting to the Gospels themselves – a chapter on the controversies in early Christianity that led to the formation of the 27-book NT canon.   But there was one other rather fundamental issue.   If I was talking about the canon of the NT before getting into a discussion of the NT books – shouldn’t I also talk about the text of the NT, that is, the surviving manuscripts of the NT, before discussing individual books? Many readers on the blog will be familiar with the textual problems posed by the New Testament.  In broad outline, the problems are no different from those posed by every book, or sets of books, from the ancient world, whether the Hebrew Bible, Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, the plays of Euripides, the writings of Plato on down to the plays and essays of Seneca to [...]

2020-04-03T16:31:35-04:00October 7th, 2014|Book Discussions, New Testament Manuscripts|

Getting the Facts of My Life Straight

I have to admit, I sometimes get a bit tired of being the whipping boy for fundamentalist and conservative evangelical  Christian apologists.   If they would deal with my views head on and actually get the facts of my life right, it would be one thing.  But when they publicly accuse me of holding, or having held, positions that I never did – when they are flat our wrong in what they say about me -- it gets under my skin. The first time I noticed this in a big way was when Craig Evans – a long time colleague and friend – indicated, in writing!, that the reason I had become an agnostic was that I came to realize that there were differences in our manuscripts of the New Testament.   Good grief.   I had known about differences in our manuscripts from the time I was sixteen years old!!  I had studied them and known all about them in all the years I was a fundamentalist.   These differences had nothing – Zero, Nada, Not a Thing [...]

2017-12-14T15:47:22-05:00October 6th, 2014|Bart’s Biography, Public Forum|
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