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The Death of Paul in Acts and Unrelated Topics: Readers’ Mailbag April 29, 2016

I will be dealing with three very different questions this week in my Weekly Readers’ Mailbag:  why does the book of Acts not narrate the deaths of Peter and Paul; what is the difference between the Day of Atonement and the Passover; and how I dealt with discrepancies and contradictions when I was an evangelical Christian in college.  If you have any questions for me to address, pass them along!   QUESTION: If Acts was written after 75 CE why do you think Acts doesn’t contain details of Paul’s and Peter’s deaths?   RESPONSE: I get asked this question a lot – maybe five times this month!  I’m not sure why.  But it’s something people seem to be interested in, and in part that’s because some conservative evangelical scholars want to claim that Acts was written before Paul’s death in around 64 CE (since otherwise the author would “surely” have narrated his death), and that therefore Luke’s Gospel (written by the same author) was written before then, so that both Luke and Acts are nearer [...]

The Early Growth of Christianity

I continue here the brief overview of the book that I’m now working on, The Triumph of Christianity.  To this point I have identified the problem that the book is trying to resolve (how Christianity grew from a small group of illiterate Jewish peasants from Galilee to becoming something like 10% of the entire Roman Empire within 300 years), some of the earlier attempts to solve the problem, and one of the fundamental issues involved, the movement from being a Jewish sect to being a gentile religion. Now I get more to the heart of the matter.  The first section below talks about how quickly the religion would have had to grow from the time of its founding to become such a large religion by the early fourth century; the next section begins to deal with the issue of how it all happened. Again, this is all lifted directly from my original Prospectus.  Whether the book will end up being structured like this is, well, anyone’s guess…. ********************************************************************* The Rate of Growth of the Christian [...]

From Jewish Sect to Gentile Church

I have been discussing and excerpting the Prospectus I wrote this last summer on my book that I have tentatively titled, The Triumph of Christianity.  Here I discuss the beginning of the Christian mission, and how “Christianity” went from being a small Jewish sect to being a large number of gentile communities (with special emphasis on the work of Paul). ************************************************************************* From Jew to Gentile: The Rise of Christianity (two chapters) This section will discuss the very early years of the Christian movement as it shifted from being a sect within Judaism to being a largely gentile religion, all within the space of about 50 years. By everyone’s reckoning, Christianity began among a group of Jesus’ Jewish followers who believed that he was the messiah of God.   In this section I will need to provide background to what the term “messiah” meant to ancient Jews.  I will not give an extensive account of Jesus’ life and teachings, only enough to show what his overarching message was and how he acquired adherents to that message during [...]

Roman Religion as the Context for Christianity

I have started to indicate how I laid out my prospectus for my next book The Triumph of Christianity, as I developed the idea this past summer.  Remember: the prospectus was designed to get a publisher (or hopefully more than one) interested in publishing the book, and was based on, and presupposed, already a good bit of research.   The prospectus was to show what the book was to be about, why it is both interesting and important, and how it would be, tentatively, be laid out. The qualifier, “tentatively,” is very important.  The book has to cohere from the outset.  But the reality is that as an author does more and more and more research, certain areas of interest emerge more clearly, and the final framing of the book is often quite different from the tentative sketch of the prospectus.  Still, it is important to give a publisher a good sense of what the book will look like – what it will argue and how it will argue it. In my previous posts I have [...]

Bart Ehrman vs Richard Bauckham – Round 1

This is a debate I had on April 9, 2016  with Richard J. Bauckham, a well-known and influential British scholar who has written extensively on many of the areas of my own interest, the New Testament, the historical Jesus, and the non-canonical literature.   He is a fine scholar, and a conservative Christian, and I disagree with him on, well, so many things! This was the first of a two-part debate that was hosted by Justin Brierley on his weekly radio show "Unbelievable,"  aired on UK Premier Christian Radio from the London studio. Our topic was "Are the Gospels Based on Eyewitness Testimony?"  My new book, Jesus Before the Gospels, argues that the stories about Jesus would have changed and evolved before they were written down in the Gospels(and that the authors of the Gospels were not eyewitnesses and had no access to the eyewitnesses). Bauckham's earlier book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, claims that the view that the Gospels were written by those with access to eyewitness testimony of Jesus' first followers (and that therefore we can trust [...]

2017-11-13T21:03:19-05:00April 24th, 2016|Bart's Debates, Public Forum, Video Media|

The Fear of Hell, Good Debaters, and the Name of God: Mailbag April 22, 2016

For this week’s readers’ mailbag I have chosen three unusually unrelated questions, one on whether we should be afraid of going to hell, one on how I prepare for public debates, and one on how we got the name Jehovah from the Hebrew name of God, YHWH.   This shows just how wide ranging your questions can be on this blog!   If you one you would like me to address in the future, let me know.   QUESTION: What would you say to someone who is scared of going to hell? RESPONSE: I suppose the first thing I’d say is that I understand the fear very well, from the inside, as I too used to have it.   This was especially a problem for me when I first began to realize that I didn’t believe the Christian message any more, the claim that one had to believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus to be “saved” and that anyone who didn’t believe would be condemned to the eternal torments of hell.  One of my greatest fears [...]

2017-11-13T21:03:48-05:00April 22nd, 2016|Afterlife, Public Forum, Reader’s Questions|

Older Explanations for Why Christianity Succeeded

In yesterday’s post I indicated some of the major issues involved with the question of how Christianity managed to take over the Roman Empire, as spelled out in the Prospectus that I wrote in hopes of finding a publisher interested in signing up my book   In this post I’ll give another excerpt from the Prospectus, in which I discuss some of the common answers one can find in books and articles about the matter.   How have scholars in the modern world explained the amazing success of the Christian mission? ************************************************************* In modern times one common answer is that Christianity came along at just the right time, when the “pagan” (i.e., polytheistic) religions of the Roman world were on the wane, when people had become sophisticated enough to realize that the ancient Greek and Roman mythologies were simply unbelievable, when people were looking for something more religiously vibrant and sensible.   Christianity filled the void, in this view, left by the demise of the Greek and Roman pagan religions. The problems with this answer have been widely [...]

The Triumph of Christianity: The Ultimate Question

I have begun now a new thread, which I anticipate will be a rather long one, on the book I am currently working on, which I have tentatively titled (recognizing that my tentative titles rarely actually become the title!) The Triumph of Christianity.   I indicated in my previous post that I wrote up a prospectus to give to publishers in order to see if they were interested in offering a contract for the book.  The prospectus ended up being about 17 pages long (double-spaced).  As I mentioned already, the point of the prospectus is to show a potential publisher what the book is about, how it matters, and why it would be really interesting for regular ole readers (as opposed to irregular ole scholars). The following was the very beginning of my Prospectus, the opening salvo. ****************************************************************************************** In my public talks over the past ten years I have been asked one question about my research more than any other, a question that seems to arise out of any topic I address, whether it is the [...]

The New Book: The Triumph of Christianity

When my agent Roger and I decided that we might want to explore the possibility of going with a different publisher, the first step was to come up with a book proposal to shop around.   For ten years or so I had been wanting to write a particular book, but had always put it off because it had seemed like such a MAJOR undertaking.   I came to think that this was the perfect time to pursue it, to propose doing a new book on a completely new topic with a new publisher as a new beginning. The book was/is to be about how Christianity spread throughout the Roman world, until, less than 400 years after it started, it had taken over and the Roman Empire had officially become Christian.  In my mind I was thinking about a title like “The Triumph of Christianity: How Faith in Jesus Destroyed the Religions of Rome.”  It would be unlike anything I had ever done. The strategy was for me to write a 15-20 page prospectus in which I [...]

Getting a Literary Agent

I am now ready to talk about how I switched trade publishers, so that now I have a two-book contract with Simon & Schuster, after being with Harper for some thirteen years.   As I mentioned in a previous note, I had a particularly close and productive relationship with my editor at Harper, Roger.   A couple of years ago, when I was just starting to work on the book that just came out (Jesus Before the Gospels), Roger called me and left a message that he had some bad news and needed to talk with me.  I thought that it was either a serious health issue or a career change.  Luckily it was the latter.  But I didn’t feel lucky!  He had been my editor!! He had decided to leave Harper, stop editing books, and become a literary agent.   Big bummer for me. I had never used a literary agent before, and was not really interested in doing so now (at the time he didn’t ask me to).   My reasons were pretty straightforward.   Agents typically charge [...]

New Archaeological Discoveries and the Bible! Readers Mailbag April 16, 2016

Today I address two interesting questions on the weekly mailbag, one about the new archaeological discovery in Israel and the other on whether in my last book I violated my own advice about requiring only experts to write for popular audiences.  If you have a question you would like me to address, let me know!   QUESTION:  Does the latest information on the discovery of written texts from before the removal of the Israelite’s to Babylon indicating a wider level of literacy in 7th century BCE change your mind in any way about the illiteracy of the followers of Jesus?   RESPONSE: I’m not sure if everyone saw this intriguing news item in the NY Times (or elsewhere), but here it is: Let me say emphatically that I have no inside information about the find – I know only what I read in the papers, and it is fascinating indeed.   They have discovered a number of ostraca (pottery sherds) that have written on them, in ink, grocery/supply requests; they originate from Israel about the [...]

Getting a First Book Published

I regularly get emails from people who want to break into publishing for the first time, who ask me “How can I get my book published?”  As I indicated in my previous posts, almost always what they have in mind is not a work of scholarship for scholars but a trade book for a general audience.     And so here is a weird fact about me: even though I have been publishing trade books for eighteen years, I’m not completely sure of the answer.   But I know some things, and in this post I’ll indicate what those things are. I absolutely know how one gets his or her first scholarly book published.  I help my graduate students, and other scholars just starting their careers, do that all the time.  There I’m an expert.  But a first trade book?  That’s a trickier proposition.   The reason is one I’ve intimated before.  Most scholars who publish a trade book do so after they have already published serious scholarship and so are to some extent a “known quantity.”   In my [...]

Who Should Write Trade Books?

Most people who contact me about a book they would like to write – or that they have written – are not talking about a work of scholarship (though some are); they are talking about a book that they would like to publish that “reaches the masses.”  They have some ideas about early Christianity, the historical Jesus, the life and writings of Paul, the Gospels, the entire Bible, or some related topic, and they would like to publish a book to make their views known. I never encourage them. This will probably be the most intellectually snobbish post I’ve ever made on this blog, but I think maybe I should just tell it like it is.   In my view, no one should write a book if they lack the necessary expertise.   And expertise doesn’t come from wanting to have it or wishing to have it.    It comes from years of hard work – in this case, intellectual work – after being trained sufficiently to be able even to *do* the work.   I may really, deeply [...]

Being Qualified to Write a Scholarly Book

The goal of this thread is to talk about the book that I’m working on now, which I hope to have written (gods willing) by the end of this calendar year.  We’ll see.   To get to that I felt like I needed to talk about how I had changed publishers, and now that I’m talking about that, it occurs to me that I should talk about how one goes about getting a book published. One of the emails I get *all* the time is from authors who have written a book, or hope to write a book, who want to know how they can get a publisher to take a look at it.   The short answer: it ain’t easy. So first let me do this autobiographically, how I myself got into the publishing business. The first thing to stress: I had a leg up.  I had a PhD at a reputable school (Princeton Theological Seminary) and a teaching job at another one (Rutgers University).  The reality is that publishers of scholarly books look for authors [...]

Why I Have Moved to a New Publisher

In my previous post I began to talk about how I have now changed publishers.  This past book Jesus Before the Gospels, was my last with HarperOne, and now I have a two-book contract, for the next two books (obviously), with Simon and Schuster.   A couple of readers have inferred that I have left Harper because I did not like the way they had handled my most recent book.  That’s not the case at all.  I made the decision before they even *started* handling the book. And let me stress, I have had a wonderful experience with Harper.  They really are one of the truly great publishing houses in the world.  Absolutely.  How could I possibly complain? Since 2005 I have done seven books with them.  One of those seven was a a book that none of us --  not me, not my editor, not my publicist, not anyone in the Harper hierarchy, not anyone on the planet – thought was going to be a big selling book.   This was Did Jesus Exist? We originally [...]

The New Edition of My Textbook: Reader’s Mailbag April 10, 2016

Here is this week’s Reader’s Mailbag (well, last week’s; I took yesterday off from work) (and it was glorious!).  This time around I will be dealing with just one question, about the new edition of my New Testament textbook   QUESTION: You say you first published your textbook on the New Testament about 20 years ago. I see that it is in its 5th edition (or more?). You’ve studied a lot, published a lot, no doubt learned a lot   RESPONSE: Actually, as it turns out, this past year I published the sixth edition of the book.   Who would-a thought?   To explain what is different about the new book, I need to say a few things about how I imagined the book when I first wrote it, back in the mid 1990s.  And then I can talk about what I changed for this new edition. Let me say before detailing all that that even though the book is meant for college and university students, it could be useful for anyone interested n the study of [...]

2017-11-13T21:10:12-05:00April 10th, 2016|Book Discussions, Public Forum, Reader’s Questions|

Publishing with HarperOne

Now that I’m in the deep throes of research for my next book, I thought it would be a good time to devote a thread to it.  It’s what I’ve been thinking about day and night -- and reading voraciously on – since this past August!  To explain it all, I need to provide a bit of personal background. The point of this post:  I have decided to change publishers.   The book that just came out last month, Jesus Before the Gospels, is my seventh book with HarperOne, which is an Imprint of HarperCollins, one of the five largest publishing houses in the world.  It has been an absolutely terrific run with Harper’s, an absolute career-changer.  But I’ve decided now – after working with them for twelve years – to move on to something else.  My next two books will be with Simon and Schuster, another one of the “big five,” which is located in New York (HarperOne is in San Francisco). Why I changed is a long story.   First maybe I should say something [...]

Evaluating My Debate on the Book of Acts

I have now completed my posts on the debate I had with myself in front of my New Testament class on the question of whether the New Testament book of Acts is historically reliable.   If you want to see the whole debate, just read the posts in sequence: the affirmative speech arguing Acts is indeed reliable; the negative speech arguing that it is not; the negative rebuttal of what the affirmative side said; and finally the affirmative rebuttal of what the negative side said.   In class I delivered the speeches one after the other.   When “affirmative” I was wearing a sport coat, but no cap; when “negative” I was wearing a baseball cap but no sport coat – just so students would realize that it was a “different” speaker speaking. I have pointed out on the blog before that even though I do a lot of public debates, I often find them more than a little frustrating and frequently (in fact, almost always) ask myself, in the course of the debate, why I’m doing this [...]

2020-04-17T13:20:46-04:00April 6th, 2016|Acts of the Apostles, Bart's Debates, Public Forum|

Is Acts Historically Reliable? The Affirmative Rebuttal

I have been (intermittently) discussing the debate that I had with myself in front of my New Testament class on the resolution, Resolved: The Book of Acts is Historically Reliable.  So far I have indicated what the Affirmative side argued in favor of the resolution; what the Negative side argued against the resolution; and what the Negative side said in its rebuttal to the first Affirmative speech.  NOW, at last, I can indicate what the Affirmative side said in its rebuttal to the two Negative speeches.   Recall: in this post I’m not indicating what I really thing; I’m indicating what I would argue if this were the side I was required to argue (and what I did argue in class that day).  Here it is: ******************************************************** Despite what the negative side has maintained, we remain convinced that the New Testament book of Acts is historically reliable. The first point to stress is that it is of utmost importance that we not impose modern standards of historical accuracy on an ancient text.  Of course the author [...]

Our Fourth Anniversary!

Yesterday marked the fourth anniversary of our blog.   We began this little venture back on April 3, 2012.   Happy anniversary to us! In thinking back on the past four years, I have lots of things to reflect on, as this blog is a rather complicated affair. For every single week over these four years I have made 5-6 posts, on average 1000 words in length; I have read and added comments made by readers (I post almost all the comments, deleting only those that are not related to the concerns or the blog, or inappropriate for one reason or another) (very few are overly snarky, but on occasion there will be one) (I try to keep the tone of the discussion on the blog at a high level – not an easy thing to do on the internet) (and I try to limit the number of parenthetic comments that I make) (obviously that is not easy either). I also answer every direct question I get – obviously not at any great length, since, as with most [...]

2016-04-05T08:23:30-04:00April 4th, 2016|Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|
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