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How I Discovered Textual Criticism

It was at Moody Bible Institute that I first became interested in the textual criticism of the New Testament.  Let me stress a definitional point that some readers on the blog have not gotten or understood (I’ve said it a lot, so apologies for those who have gotten it! But even though I keep saying this, some people still don’t get it).   Textual criticism is NOT the study of texts to see what they mean.  For the last time (well, probably not): it is not the interpretation of texts.  Textual criticism, instead, is the attempt to determine what an author actually wrote if we do not have his one and only original copy.   It is independent of the question of what the author might have actually *meant* by what he wrote. Textual criticism is done on all texts – even modern ones.  There are textual critics who work on Wordsworth.  They try to determine if it’s possible to know the actual words of his original poems (given the fact that we have different editions and [...]

Learning to Teach at Moody

I will not be continuing this autobiographical thread (thread within a thread) for much longer (you may be glad to know), but I do want to get to the ultimate point (for the thread outside the thread), which is why by a couple of quirks/flukes I ended up better equipped to write books for general audiences than most of my colleagues in my PhD program.   The first has to do with what happened with me back in my days at Moody when I was learning tons about what was actually in the Bible (and the fundamentalist way of interpreting it all) (which, at the time, of course, I thought was the *only* correct way to interpret it). At Moody, every semester we were required to engage in some kind of formal ministry (“Practical Christian Experience”).  Everyone at Moody had to do one semester of “door-to-door evangelism,” where we were taken to one neighborhood or another somewhere in a suburb of Chicago, and literally knocked on doors to talk to people to try to convert them.  [...]

Moody Bible Boot Camp

Back to my narrative about becoming trained in the Bible (as a prelude to what I started talking about -- why my later technical training actually made me better prepared for writing books for general audiences than my peers who were not at all interested in the technical side of things).  So, I went to Moody Bible Institute – and took that entrance Bible exam – when I was all of seventeen years old.   And it was during my first semester that I decided what I wanted to do with my life. I really, really, really do not advise doing that.  For 99.999% of the human race, it would be a very bad idea indeed to decide how to spend the rest of your life when you’re all of seventeen and can’t even yet order a beer (drinking age back then, in the Pleistocene age, was eighteen) (and anyway, we weren’t allowed to drink beer at Moody) (or smoke, play cards, dance, or go to movies) (really) (and there was a dress code).   But I’m [...]

Am I A Better Person as an Agnostic? A Blast from the Past

I have started re-posting some of my posts from three or four years ago on occasion, at the suggestion of several people on the blog.   Frankly, I don't remember even writing most of them!  Here is one from four years ago, a response to the question of how losing my faith affected me -- did it make me a better (or worse) person? ***************************************************************************** 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 [...]

Were Jesus and His Followers Armed?

Were Jesus and his followers armed?  That’s the question for this week’s Readers’ Mailbag.  I had started to address the question when I realized that I had already said what I have to say as well as I could say it in my recent book Jesus Before the Gospels.  And so I will give that discussion here.  So, here’s the question and my response   QUESTION: What is the scholarly view on this subject: did Jesus himself, his movement and then early Christians walk around with weapons (swords, e.g.) to protect themselves, despite preaching the love for enemies? Do we have any historical evidence of how things looked like in this matter?   RESPONSE:  (Taken from Jesus Before the Gospels) In all four Gospels, at least one of Jesus’ followers is armed when he is arrested.   In the Synoptics, this unnamed follower draws his sword and strikes the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear (see Mark 14:47).  In John’s Gospel we learn that the sword-bearing disciple was Peter (John 18: 10).   Jesus [...]

2020-04-03T03:11:10-04:00August 26th, 2016|Historical Jesus, Reader’s Questions|

Beginning My Study of the Bible

This thread is becoming a tapestry.  Its ultimate goal is to explain why, unlike most scholars, I ended up being able to write trade books and not only scholarly books.  I’m taking a rather circuitous route to getting there (to change the metaphor).   In my last post I discussed how and why I first became interested in the Bible, back as a fifteen year-old born again Christian. At that point I became convinced that only Bible-believing Christians (who were, of course, also born again) were the real Christians and any other people who claimed to be Christian (for example, most of the people who went to my own Episcopal church) were not *really* Christian, except in name only.   Again, the reason I thought so is because the born-agains I hung around with all said so, and they seemed to know what they were talking about.  Especially the fellow who “led me to Christ,” a mid-20s something fellow named Bruce. Bruce had a winsome personality and strong charisma, and he ran the Campus Life Youth for [...]

My Original Passion for the Bible

I have been talking about the areas of New Testament studies that were emphasized in my Masters and PhD programs at Princeton Theological Seminary, back in the late 70s and early to mid 80s.  It was a long program, even though I sped through it a couple of years faster than most of my colleagues.  The Masters program was three years (that is typical for a masters of divinity degree); my PhD was four years (most of my friends took five to seven).   That’s full time work, for all those seven years.   It’s a lot! Most of the training that most of my friends/colleagues had was in New Testament exegesis and theology, as I’ve described.  My passions lay elsewhere, and my plan is to talk a little about them.  But it just occurred to me this morning that my *original* interest in the New Testament was in fact exegesis and theology, even though I would not have used those terms for it. I had been mildly interested in the Bible even as a child.  Very [...]

Different Ways of Describing the Theology of the New Testament

To return to the current thread: I’ve been discussing why most scholars are not equipped, trained, or inclined to write books for a general audience, and that took me, naturally, to the field of scholarship in which I myself was principally trained, biblical studies.  My ultimate point is going be a somewhat ironic one, that precisely because my particular interests were in one of the most highly technical, obtuse, mind-numbingly detailed aspects of New Testament studies, this (strangely) made it *more* possible for me to write books for non-specialists.  The logic will not be obvious, but I’ll explain it. To get to that I’ve been talking about the two areas most of my peers and colleagues in my PhD program were principally interested in:  (1) the exegesis of the New Testament (the matter of interpreting the texts of the New Testament in order to see what they appear to have meant in their original context – not an easy task, given all the work required for it, including an understanding of the Greek language and [...]

How We’re Doing on the Blog

Time to pause and take the pulse of the blog.  I’d like your feedback, if you’d be willing to give it (see below).  We’ve been at this for four years and five months now, without a stop in the action.  Every week for the entire period I’ve posted 5-6 times, normally about a thousand words a pop.  In addition, I have posted numerous videos and audio recording.  Every week I now devote one post to answer members’ questions, on the Weekly Readers’ Mailbag.  On top of that I approve all the comments that come in – normally 20-30 a day – and respond to questions that come in there. So the content continues to come and that’s all to the good.  My ultimate goal, as you know, is to raise money for charity, and that too is good: this past (fiscal) year we raised $117,000.  Fantastic.  That was a sizeable advance over the previous year, which saw a sizeable advance over the previous year, which saw a sizeable advance over the first year. My HOPE [...]

2016-08-21T18:06:52-04:00August 21st, 2016|Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|

My Work as a Historian and Paul in Conflict with the Jerusalem Church: Readers’ Mailbag August 20, 2016

Some people (conservative Christians who don’t like my scholarship) maintain that I’m not a historian, a view I find very odd since virtually all of my scholarship (for well over twenty-five years) is historical.  I address the question in this week’s Readers’ Mailbag, along with a question that many readers will find more interesting (since it’s more germane to anything), of whether Paul and the Jerusalem church were on the same page theologically or if there were tensions between them. If you have any questions you would like me to address in a future Mailbag, let me know!   QUESTION:  In a debate online a Fundamentalist friend said you were a textual critic and not an historian. I said you wore both hats. Do you also consider yourself a historian?   RESPONSE: Anyone who thinks I’m not a historian simply has never read any of my books – including my books on textual criticism!   The vast majority of my books are not even about textual criticism, but about the history of early Christianity (first to [...]

Video of How Jesus Became God: Part 2 (of 3)

On January 29-31, 2016, I gave three talks at Coral Gables Congregational Church in (surprise) Coral Gables, Florida, all on my book, "How Jesus Became God."   I posted the first of the talks last week.  Here now is the second. Please adjust gear icon for 1080p High-Definition. How Jesus Became God -UCC Part 2 of 3:   If you don’t belong yet to the blog, JOIN!  You will get lots of posts (5-6 a week), videos, and comments.  Tons of stuff, for very little money.  And all proceeds go to fight hunger and homelessness.

2017-10-23T22:52:56-04:00August 19th, 2016|Book Discussions, Historical Jesus, Public Forum, Video Media|

Another Approach to New Testament Theology

There is another aspect of the study of New Testament theology to what I discussed in yesterday’s post.   That post was focused on how one “does theology” with the New Testament – that is, how one uses the New Testament texts in such a way as to inform, critique, call into question, authorize, and dialogue with the important intellectual and practical aspects of life as a Christian, both individually and in community.  That is the sort of thing theologians do who are interested in the sacred texts of Scripture, and it is something many of my friends who were doing PhD’s in New Testament studies were ultimately invested in, especially since most of them saw their graduate training in the field to be preparation for serving the Christian church. But there is another equally important aspect of New Testament theology that is more historical in its focus.  If you imagine a spectrum of disciplines with exegesis (the determination of what an author originally meant, to put it in its simplest terms) on one end, and [...]

Studying New Testament Theology

This thread has turned into an explanation of why most New Testament scholars – that is, professional researchers and teachers with a PhD in the field – are not well situated to write books for a general audience.   My reflections on that question – once I get around to it – are probably not what one would expect.  At least they seem ironic to me.  But before going there (in a later post), I should stress that what is true of NT scholars is true of virtually all scholars in virtually all fields of intellectual inquiry.  Most are not equipped (or inclined) to write books for their next door neighbor.  They are trained and interested in producing scholarship for other scholars, sometimes just for a small coterie of scholars who are specialists in their own narrowly focused field of intense research.  (I need to emphasize that I do not think this is a bad thing at *all*.  I think it is a very good thing.  Scholars are trained to advance scholarship.  We only need a [...]

Being Trained To Interpret Texts

In some rather surprising and ironic ways, I think my training in a particularly obscure and technical aspect of New Testament studies made me *more* qualified to write books for a general audience than most of my colleagues and peers.   Almost everyone I knew in my graduate program was interested almost exclusively in two areas of academic research: exegesis and New Testament theology.   I was interested in something that most of them did not care about in the least: textual criticism.  Let me explain the difference before discussing why an interest in the *least* reader-friendly field helped make me better able to make scholarship *more* reader-friendly. “Exegesis” is the technical term used for the science and art of interpretation of texts.  It may seem obvious to you that interpreting a text is a simple matter.  You read what it says and you understand it.  No problem, right?  Wrong.  In fact interpretation of texts is a highly complicated affair and requires both well-thought out methodology and rigorous discipline.   We spent many years – hard years of [...]

Speaking in Churches as an Agnostic; and Jewish Beliefs about Afterlife. Readers Mailbag August 13, 2016

  I will be dealing with two rather wide-ranging questions in this week’s Readers Mailbag:  What is it like for me, a public agnostic/atheist, to give a talk to believers in a church?  And what did Jews believe about the afterlife in the time of Jesus?   QUESTION: Dr. Ehrman, do churches hire you to lecture on Christianity knowing that you’re an atheist? Do you ever get tempted to say, “Let’s be honest here. I think all of your cherished religious beliefs are baloney, but I’ll humor you for the next couple of hours.” That’s how I feel when I tell someone that they can accept the Theory of Evolution and still believe in God, even though, deep down inside, I know that Evolution and God mix like oil and water, so I simply humor them.   RESPONSE: Ah, right, this is a good question.  As it turns out, I do get asked to speak in churches on occasion.   Sometimes, of course, it is in order to have a debate with a conservative Christian apologist.  [...]

Video of How Jesus Became God, Part 1 (of 3)

On January 29-31, 2016, I gave three talks at Coral Gables Congregational Church in (surprise) Coral Gables, Florida, on my book, "How Jesus Became God."  I will post all three talks periodically here on teh blog.  Here's the first!  Rev. Megan Smith opened each session for me. Please adjust gear icon for 1080p High-Definition. How Jesus Became God -UCC Part 1 of 3: If you’re not a member of the blog, JOIN!  It doesn’t cost much and you get lots of stuff!  And all the money goes to good causes, other than to line my pockets!

2017-10-23T22:54:50-04:00August 12th, 2016|Book Discussions, Historical Jesus, Public Forum, Video Media|

Why Scholars Aren’t Trained To Write Trade Books

In yesterday’s post I talked about how books for a general audience -- trade books -- get their titles.   I’ve decided that I want to say something more broadly about the nature of trade books, and I’m going to do so in a rather circuitous way, by talking about why most scholars don’t (and can’t) write them.  It’s not at all a bad thing that they don’t, in my opinion.  We only need so many books for non-specialists on the Big Bang, the Civil War, and the historical Jesus.  All told, we probably have more than enough. Moreover – and this will be the point of this post and probably a few more to come -- trade books are not what scholars are trained to produced.  Scholars are trained to write serious research for other scholars.   And that’s what they spend their lives doing: advancing scholarship for experts in their fields.  That’s not only what most scholars want to do.  In many ways, it is the only thing they are actually trained to do. My [...]

2020-04-03T03:12:59-04:00August 11th, 2016|Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|

What Do We Call It? Coming Up with a Book Title.

I am at a critical juncture in my current writing project, and thought I could provide an update on my progress over a few posts.  Today I talk about titles As I earlier indicated on the blog, I am tentatively calling the book:  The Triumph of Christianity: How the Followers of Jesus Destroyed the Religions of Rome.   I’m not sure what the final title will be – this is just what I’m working with for now.   The main title (Triumph of Christianity) is pretty secure, I think.  It is what I proposed to my publisher (Simon & Schuster) when I first floated a prospectus of the book before them to see if they were interested in publishing it, and they were (and I think are) enthusiastic about it.  The subtitle is simply the best I could come up with.  I rather like it, but I’m not sure they will. Titles are complicated affairs, as I’ve mentioned (a long time ago) on the blog.  For an *academic* book (that is, a scholarly book written for scholars), [...]

Did Ancient Secretaries Actually Compose Writings? A Blast from the Past

Here is the third (and last) post on the use of secretaries in the ancient world, in which I discuss the issue of whether illiterate people (like Simon Peter, or John the son of Zebedee) could have had someone else write their books for them – so that 1 Peter *could* in some sense actually be by Peter if he couldn’t write, or the Revelation of John be by John.  These three posts are all blasts from the past, reruns from exactly four years ago on the blog.  Here is what I said back then about secretaries. ********************************************************************************** THIS IS A CONTINUATION OF MY PREVIOUS POST ON SECRETARIES IN THE ANCIENT WORLD, DRAWN FROM MY FORTHCOMING BOOK FORGERY AND COUNTERFORGERY. IN THE EARLIER POST I TALKED ABOUT THE USE OF SECRETARIES IN TAKING DICTATION AND DOING LIGHT COPY-EDITING, BASED ON THE FINDINGS OF THE FULL STUDY OF RANDALL RICHARDS. THE DISCUSSION IS RELEVANT TO THE WRITINGS OF THE NEW TESTAMENT: COULD 1 PETER, OR EPHESIANS, OR ANY OF THE OTHER PSEUDEPIGRAPHICAL WRITINGS OF THE NEW TESTAMENT [...]

Does a Person Need the Holy Spirit to Interpret the Bible? Is John’s Gospel Accurate? Readers Mailbag August 7, 2016

Does a person need to “have the Holy Spirit” in order to interpret the Bible?  And does the Gospel of John give a historically accurate accounting of the teachings of Jesus?  These are the two questions I will be dealing with on this week’s Readers’ Mailbag.  If you have any questions, simply ask them as a comment to any of the posts on the blog, and I’ll add them to the list.   QUESTION: How do you respond to those who say “you can’t correctly interpret the bible unless you have the Holy Spirit”   RESPONSE: I’ve never found it at all convincing that a person needs the Holy Spirit in order to interpret the Bible.  As an agnostic, of course, I don’t believe in the Holy Spirit (since I don’t believe in God).  But even when I did believe in the Holy Spirit, I thought that it was silly to claim that a person could not interpret the Bible correctly without the Spirit – for a couple of reasons that have always struck me [...]

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