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Did The Israelites Really Conquer Canaan?

A couple of weeks ago I was in the middle of a thread on historical problems with the Hebrew Bible, and somehow ancient forgery intervened -- as it does, I suppose -- and I got sidetracked.  But I have a couple of more posts on the topic, that are complete "stand-alones" (you don't need to see what I earlier said to make sense of these) (though hey, why not take a glance?). In this post: after the exodus in the book of, well, Exodus, and the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai, in Exodus, Leviticus, (Numbers), and Deuteronomy, comes the stories of the Israelites taking over the Promised Land (promised by God to Abraham, the father of the nation), by wiping out all the Canaanites who were already there, as found in the book of Joshua -- one of the great books of the Hebrew Bible. Extermination of indiginous populations is not exactly the political policy most of us advocate these days (well, at least not me), but those were different contexts [...]

2020-04-02T14:42:02-04:00September 30th, 2019|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

Is It Ever Right to Lie? Or Was It? Even in Early Christianity? The Relevance for Forgery.

Is it ever morally acceptable – even desirable – to tell a bald-faced lie?  That was probably a topic covered in your Philosophy 101 course.  At a historian, I’m interested in the question from an ancient perspective.  What did people in antiquity think about it?  In particular Christians.  Did they think – based on the Ten Commandments, say, or the teachings of Jesus, that a person should never lie?  Or were they quite lax on the matter?  Or something in between? I was actually a bit surprised to learn the answer to the question.  And as you might expect, the answer is complicated.  My original interest in the issue had to do with forgery.  A forger claims to be someone famous, knowing full well he is someone else.  That’s a lie, that is, it is a falsehood told intentionally.   How did forgers justify that?  It turns out, there appear to be answers. This is how I dealt with the matter in my lecture on forgery given at the conference in Quebec a couple of weeks [...]

Why It Is Hard To Publish a Translation of an Ancient Text

In my last post, en route to discussing my latest attempt at publishing both a scholarly and a trade book on the same topic, I talked about how I took on the task of doing a new Greek-English edition of the Apostolic Fathers for the Loeb Classical Library.  At the end of the post I indicated that doing that edition was one of the hardest things I have ever done.   There were lots of things that made it very difficult – deciding which form of the Greek text to use for each of the writings included (i.e. what to do in the many places where the manuscripts differed from one another), doing all the research in order to write up competent and relatively complete Introductions to each text, studying the history of research into various problems posed by the Apostolic Fathers, from the 17th century until today, and so on. But the hardest part was the translation itself.   The Greek of the Apostolic Fathers is not incredibly difficult, as far as Greek goes.  It is [...]

2020-04-02T14:42:23-04:00September 29th, 2019|Book Discussions, Reflections and Ruminations|

My Speaking Schedule for this Academic Year (so far)

I often get asked where I"m giving a talk next.  I do keep a listing on my website (, which has other information about my life and activities as well.   But, well, I haven't been good this year at getting it up to date, until now.  (It was lost in the triage of my life....)  With Steven's help, it's now up and up to date.   Here it is, for anyone who's interested.  And available, as well, even for anyone who is not. All of these are open to the public (except, well, the two I've already done; they're now closed to everybody).  Most of them require registration.  If you google the date and organization, for most of them, you'll find the information you need to sign up.  If you have any problems or just can't find it, just zap me an email at [email protected]. I'll probably be adding a few things here and there, at least in the spring.  If I do, I'll keep you posted.   DATE LOCATION SUBJECT ORGANIZATION Sept. 7 Washington, DC [...]

2019-09-27T17:11:31-04:00September 27th, 2019|Public Forum|

Hey! Wanna Go With Me To Rome ?

Here's an exciting announcement that I've been eager to make.  And now I can.   I'll be taking a group of interested (and interesting) folk on a ten-day trip to Rome and Southern Italy on April 14-24, 2020 (this coming April!); this is tour sponsored by Thalassa Journeys, the group that arranged my (with some other blog members)to Greece and Turkey last year.  It was spectacular. And this one will be as well.   It is an amazing itinerary, as good as they come.  The theme is "Pagans and Christians in the Roman World," and the places we see will be tied both to my most recent book The Triumph of Christianity, and the one about to come out in March,  Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife. I've been to Rome a number of times, but this trip looks unusually good.  Some of the highlights:  Four nights in a hotel in Sorrento (one of the places I've never been; but google it and check it out: right on the Bay of Naples), with trips to [...]

2019-09-25T07:51:19-04:00September 25th, 2019|Public Forum|

A Recent Argument that Ancient Pseudepigraphy Was NOT Deceptive (or Meant to Be)

I continue now with the lecture I gave on "forgery" in the ancient world, delivered at a conference in Quebec a couple of weeks ago.  I had planned for this to be the last post, but I will have one more after this, the conclusion of my lecture where I deal with the ancient ethics of lying.  In this one I talk about a brilliant recent attempt to argue that it was not (always) a deceitful practice to claim to be a famous person when writing a work in antiquity.   ************************************************************** One of the most recent erudite and impressive attempts to defend at least one group of ancient pseudepigraphers comes in the study I mentioned earlier by Irene Peirano, a classicist at Yale, in her published Harvard dissertation, The Rhetoric of the Roman Fake: Latin Pseudepigrapha in Context.   Most of this important book provides detailed analyses of highly literary Roman pseudepigrapha, including pseudo-Virgil.  But she begins with a defense of her view that such works do not involve intentional deceptions but self-conscious “imitations” of [...]

2020-04-11T17:22:48-04:00September 24th, 2019|Forgery in Antiquity, Greco-Roman Religions and Culture|

What Motivated Some Ancient Authors to Lie About Themselves?

I return now to my lecture on ancient Pseudepigraphy, the practice of writing a book falsely claiming to be someone else, a famous person.  I have been arguing that even in the ancient world this was considered to be a form of lying, the use of literary deceit, and authors who were detected doing it were outed and, if any moral judgment was passed, condemned for it.  Today we would call it “forgery,” and the ancient discussions of it were similarly negative.   Here is where I pick up in the lecture, part 3 of my 4 posts.  (I think one of my most important points comes half way through, where I explain the key difference between “intention” and “motivation” – i.e., what we intend to do and what motivates us to do so.   ***************************************************   One could ask whether anyone on record in antiquity ever condoned the practice of pseudepigraphy.  To my knowledge, there is only one possible trace of approval, in a single sentence of the late antique neo-Platonist Iamblichus, who does say, [...]

2020-05-25T13:23:02-04:00September 23rd, 2019|Forgery in Antiquity, Greco-Roman Religions and Culture|

My Approaching Birthday

I turn 64 in just under two weeks – October 5.   I have to admit, for most of this past year I’ve had Paul McCartney ringing in my ears, “When I get older, losing my hair, many years from now….   Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 64”…. As I get older, I think more and more about what I value in life, often with regrets for not always valuing what I now, at this point, think is truly valuable, but – for years and years – sometimes throwing myself into things that now seem so ephemeral and rather pointless.  It’s not that I’m a particularly regretful person; on the contrary, I tend to throw myself into the moment with an eye to the future, is i.e., dealing with things I can change/do now, rather than being eaten up with things I can no longer do anything about. But most of the time I find myself narrowing my values and latching on to fewer things, things that I can truly [...]

2019-09-22T08:51:38-04:00September 22nd, 2019|Reflections and Ruminations|

How Many Books in the New Testament Were Forged?

In response to the lecture on ancient practices of pseudepigraphy (writing in the name of a famous person when, alas, you are actually someone else), I received this important question, getting to the very basics – the heart and soul of the issue for students of early Christianity. QUESTION: Dr. Ehrman, I know you have published and spoken on the topic, but would you mind sharing which NT books are pseudepigraphical? RESPONSE Yes indeed, one of the reasons I’m so interested in this topic is that the use of pseudepigraphy, what today we would call “forgery,” was so much more widespread in antiquity than today, probably because there were far fewer people who were literate in the first place and so far fewer experts who could uncover a forgery; and those who could, of course, didn’t have our modern methods of analysis and technologies of data retrieval. It was very common in the Christian world as well.  Before answering the question directly at the end of this post, let me just say something about how [...]

Were Ancient Readers Interested in Detecting Forgeries?

I continue now with my lecture this past week on whether ancient readers and writers considered pseudepigraphic writing – in which an author claimed to be someone else (always someone famous) – was seen as deceitful, a kind of literary lie, and is therefore appropriately, in an ancient context, appropriately considered by thos of us today, “forgery.”  This is Part 2 of 4. ******************************************************** I do not need to give an extensive account of all the instances of ancient Echtheitskritik (= scholarly attempt to determine if a work is authentic) found throughout the surviving literature: full accounts are readily available in any of the lengthy monographs.  To be sure, some recent scholars have claimed it was a rare discourse.  But maybe abundance, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.  I myself have always been struck by how extensive the discourse of authenticity is, going back in some sense to Herodotus and becoming a focus of interest for some authors, especially critics and biographers such as (the Roman medical writer of the second century) [...]

My Lecture in Quebec: Did Ancient Authors Try To Deceive Their Readers?

I have decided to go ahead and post the address I gave last week to an academic conference in Quebec on "Pseudepigraphy" in the ancient world.  If you're not familiar with the term (why would you be??) it refers to a book written by an author who falsely claims to be someone else (like if I wrote a book and claimed to be Stephen King) (which maybe I should do....).   Most scholars seem to think this was an acceptable practice in the ancient world.  I don't.  My lecture was meant to show why. This will take about four posts.  Here's the beginning of the lecture (it came as the keynote at the end of two days of meetings/papers).  In the post itself I have translated the foreign language terms I use. *************************************************************************************** Over the past three days we have enjoyed a wide range of papers on numerous important texts, specific instantiations of ancient pseudepigraphy.  In this final address I will not be discussing a specific text but rather the broader phenomenon of pseudepigraphy itself, with [...]

A New and Important Book on the Bible

A few months ago an important book of the Bible came out, written for general readers but based on a life-long pursuit of scholarship by a senior scholar at Oxford, John Barton.  I was asked to write a review of the book for the London newspaper, The Telegraph, without having yet seen the book.  It is really terrific, one of the best introductions to the Bible (that is not a textbook, in any sense) that is available.  I am not allowed because of copyright issues to publish my entire review on the blog, but the editors at the Telegraph have allowed me to reproduce a portion of it, to give you the idea of what I say, and to see what the book is about.   If you want the full review, please go here: Here is part of what I say, the beginning bit of the review and then some of the more important parts later in it: ********************************************************************************** The Bible continues to be the most commonly purchased, widely read, and deeply revered book in the English-speaking [...]

2020-04-02T14:44:01-04:00September 16th, 2019|Book Discussions|

My Conference on Pseudepigraphy

I have just returned from four days in Quebec City, attending a conference called “Regards Croisés sur la Pseudépigraphie dans l’Antiquité” – “Perspectives on Pseudipigraphy in Antiquity.”    It was focused, obviously, on ancient practices of pseudepigraphy, the practice of writing a book in someone else’s name, claiming to be someone famous (while knowing full well you were not that person).  In the New Testament, for example, 2 Thessalonians, Colossians, Ephesians, 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus all claim to be written by Paul, but they almost certainly were not.  They were written by other authors *claiming* to be Paul.  1 and 2 Peter were almost certainly not written by Peter, or James and Jude by their eponymous authors.  And so on. It was a phenomenon widely spread in antiquity, among Greeks, Romans, Jews, and Christians.  The conference papers were all about particular instances, and were never really about whether the work in question really was authentic (i.e. written by the reputed author, or not); they were always about ancient books that have already been known [...]

2019-09-15T11:57:42-04:00September 15th, 2019|Reflections and Ruminations|

Did the Exodus Happen?

In response to a question from years ago about the problems posed to critical scholars by the Hebrew Bible I have so far provided two posts, one involving the surviving manuscripts (do we know what the authors originally said?) and the other with apparent discrepancies (where accounts appear to be at odds with one another).   I will now provide a couple of posts dealing with the equally big problem that the Hebrew Bible narrates events that probably did not take place, at least as described. Today I will provide a chunk from my forthcoming book on the Bible about the exodus event under Moses, in which Moses led the children of Israel out from their slavery in Egypt and a great miracle transpired at the parting of the Sea of Reeds (traditionally called the Red Sea), where the children of Israel were allowed to cross on dry land before the waters rushed back destroying Pharaoh's entire army (as narrated in Exodus 14).  It's an absolutely amazing, terrific story.  But it does not appear to [...]

2020-04-02T14:44:10-04:00September 13th, 2019|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

Now: Literary Inconsistencies in the Old Testament

Yesterday I started answering a question about whether the problems in the Hebrew Bible were as significant as those in the New Testament, and my response was: Yes! Even more so! In yesterday’s post I talked about the problem with the manuscripts. In this post I’ll talk about internal discrepancies and contradictions. Rather than write the whole thing out, though, I’ve decided just to include a chunk that deals with the issue from my Introduction to the Bible, as I did once before, many years ago on the blog.  In the context of my discussion in the book, am talking about what 19th and 20th century critical scholars discovered with respect to discrepancies within the Pentateuch, leading to the theory that the first five books of the Hebrew Scripture actually derived from four major sources, written at different times, that have been spliced together, creating internal problems. ****************************************************************************************************************** The internal tensions came to be seen as particularly significant. Nowhere were these tensions more evident than in the opening accounts of the very first book of [...]

2020-04-02T14:44:17-04:00September 11th, 2019|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

What About the Original *Old* Testament?

Recently several readers have asked me about the manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible; I talk a lot about the New Testament on the blog, but what about the Old Testament?  Are there problems there too? Short answer, yes indeed.  I'd say!   Here's how I dealt with this in a post long ago, back in the days of my youth.  Only one thing is different.  I don't read from the Hebrew Bible every morning any more.  I've gotten obsessed with classical Latin!   Apart from that, everything here is still spot-on.  Or at least what I would continue to say, which admittedly is not the same thing....   QUESTION: Bart, these issues you've found in the New Testament, have you studied and found similar issues in the Old Testament?" RESPONSE: Yes indeed!   Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament) was my secondary field in my PhD program, and I taught Introduction to Hebrew Bible at both Rutgers and UNC.   A few years ago when I decided to write my Introduction to the Bible I decided that to do [...]

2020-04-02T14:44:25-04:00September 10th, 2019|Early Judaism, Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Reader’s Questions|

Some Pitfalls of Writing for a General Audience

As I was pointing out, scholars in most fields often have problems with colleagues who write trade books.  It may seem weird to outsiders, but I explained one of the major reasons in the last post.  Another is related:  it is widely known that some scholars who start writing trade books never ned up doing anything else.  That is, they become popularizers of knowledge rather than producers of knowledge, putting all their efforts into reaching the masses instead of doing any research themselves. Over the past thirty years or so this has certainly been true in the fields of New Testament and Early Christian studies.  Scholars who had very promising careers as researchers making advances in their fields have written a trade book, enjoyed the success of it and, especially, relished being in the limelight, and have more or less (often completely) given up any serious scholarly agenda.    They no longer write scholarly books, or scholarly articles, or review scholarly books for scholarly journals, or deliver hard-hitting scholarly papers that advance knowledge to scholarly conferences.  [...]

Why Don’t More Scholars Write Trade Books?

This post is free for all readers.  It can give you an idea of *one* kind of post you find on the blog, five days a week.  Usually the posts are actually discussing what scholars say about the New Testament or the early years of Christianity; some are more like this.  If you joined the blog you, could get all of them, each and every week, going back seven years.  And comment on them.  And hear me respond to your comments.  So why not join? In my most recent thread I’ve been talking about trade books (written for popular audiences, rather than for scholars) and have received this interesting question, that I don’t recall actually addressing head on before.   QUESTION: Why don’t more scholars try their hand at trade books? I agree with another blogger who said that the general public crave knowledge about technical and complicated subjects (history, science, philosophy, religion, etc.). Is it considered crossing over to the dark side??   RESPONSE: This is a great question, and one I think about [...]

2019-09-08T10:11:24-04:00September 8th, 2019|Reader’s Questions, Reflections and Ruminations|

How Did We Get Chapters and Verses?

Here’s a question I get on occasion, about where the Bible’s chapters and verses came from (did the original authors write that way???).   I’ve drawn my answer from my textbook on the NT, and since the answer is so brief, I’ll attach another couple of paragraphs drawn from a nearby page in the book, dealing with another somewhat related and even more important (for many people) problem: when did scholars start to think that the differences in our manuscripts were a VERY big deal?     QUESTION: About the numbers of the verses, who put them?  Who divided the text in verses and chapters, and when?   RESPONSE: Here is my answer taken from The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings:   Given the fact that ancient manuscripts did not use punctuation, paragraph divisions, or even spaces to separate words, it will come as no surprise to learn that the chapter and verse divisions found in modern translations of the New Testament are not original (as if Paul, when writing Romans, [...]

2020-04-02T14:44:40-04:00September 6th, 2019|New Testament Manuscripts, Reader’s Questions|

A Readable Edition of the “Lost” (i.e. non-canonical) Gospels

As I have pointed out before on the blog, the topic of the last post, the edition of the non-canonical Gospels (The Apocryphal Gospels: Texts and Translations), which I published with my colleague Zlatko Plese, was meant for academics – professors of New Testament and early Christianity and their graduate students.   Most other people, of course, have no need or desire to see the original Greek, Latin, or Coptic of a text along with a translation.  People generally just want an English translation. But having a facing-page translation is a great thing for scholars and budding scholars.   The only way really to understand a foreign language text in its many nuances is to read it in its own language.  And since these are texts that deserve to be studied carefully, minutely, with full attention to all the fullness of their meaning, they really need to be read in the Greek, Latin, and Coptic languages in which that they have come down to us. For some scholars, the book would be useful because it provides the [...]

2020-11-24T19:19:51-05:00September 4th, 2019|Book Discussions, Christian Apocrypha|
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