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Is The End Today???

Just got this email, as my book has now appeared today.  Ha! Prof. Ehrman,       I thought you'd get a kick out of this) So here I am, working in the home office like a lot of people today, when my wife comes downstairs and informs me that our Amazon device just announced that Heaven and Hell were coming today. !!!!! You can imagine the surprise one might get when this thing just announces out of nowhere that the apocalypse is today. Hilarious!!!

2020-03-31T10:04:16-04:00March 31st, 2020|Public Forum|

The Most Intriguing Evidence that John Used Sources

So far in this going-to-be-substantial thread on the Johannine Writings (Gospel of John;1, 2, and 3 John) I have shown how John is very different from the other Gospels in numerous ways, argued that it's account is not based on those of the others three (whether or not the author knew of their existence), yet maintained that he must have had other sources at his disposal that provided him with his stories.  Before detailing what scholars have said about these other sources I need to give the argument that seems most convincing that his account is indeed based on earlier written accounts that he has taken over.   It also happens to be the argument that is most intriguing, at least for my money. The other two argument I gave may not seem in isolation to be convincing.  This one is meant to be.  There are inconsistencies in John's narrative that are easiest to be explain if he is compiling various sources together; these sources didn't all say the same thing or have the same view; [...]

2020-04-02T09:12:57-04:00March 31st, 2020|Canonical Gospels|

Where Did the Gospel of John Get Its Stories?

In my previous two posts I've talked about how John is very different from the other three Gospels, the "Synoptics" -- both in the stories it tells and the way it tells them.  That leads to the natural question.  Where did "John" (whoever the author was) get his stories from?   It's widely assumed he didn't make them all up -- and he certainly didn't make up the ones found in other Gospels, since they were written before him.   Then where did his stories come from? Did Some of them -- the ones they have in common --  come from the Synoptics themselves?   The traditional answer is yes, since he was writing later.  But then the issue is why he didn't use *more* of the stories, including the ones that would have especially suited his purposes, and why he so drastically changed the ones he (allegedly) borrowed. But the prior question is whether there is sufficient *evidence* to suggest he used the Synoptics.  It is absolutely not good enough to think he must have because they [...]

2020-05-05T13:27:22-04:00March 30th, 2020|Canonical Gospels|

Fresh Air Interview for Heaven and Hell: Airing Tuesday!

As most of you know, my new book Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife, is due to come out in two days, on Tuesday March 31.  I am very lucky to say that I have done an interview with Terry Gross for Fresh Air that will be playing  that day.  If you’re not familiar with the show, it is probably the premier interview radio program in the country, with millions of listeners; it will be playing on your local NPR station and, of course, can be listened to online.  Check it out at It is an unfortunately very timely book just now.  But, as I’ve mentioned before, even though lots of people have more time to read now than ever because of our time of crisis, it is almost impossible for publishers to get the word out about their new books.  The only effective market strategies these days (I don’t mean corona-days but 2021-days in general) are social media (to a limited extent) and TV/radio media.  And TV/radio media is not interested [...]

2020-03-29T10:51:31-04:00March 29th, 2020|Afterlife, Book Discussions, Public Forum|

Is This the Same Jesus? John and the Synoptics (part 2)

In yesterday’s post I began to show how vastly different the Gospel of John is in comparison with the Synoptics, purely in terms of contents.  What is even more striking are the differences when when John and the Synoptics contain the same kinds of stories (e.g., miracles; teachings; passion narrative).  This is where you can see how the portrayal of Jesus is REALLY different in the fourth Gospel (something no one can see if they simply assume they're all saying the same thing and all have the same views -- as happens when people will read one passage from one Gospel, then another from another, and yet another from another, instead of reading one at a time and seeing what *it* has to say, apart from what the others do). Here is how I deal with it in my textbook, slightly edited here. ************************************************************ Comparison of Emphases The differences between John and the Synoptics are even more striking in stories that they have in common. You can see the differences yourself simply by taking any [...]

2020-04-02T09:31:14-04:00March 27th, 2020|Canonical Gospels|

Comparing John and the Synoptics

I am about to embark on a very long thread, on the Gospel and epistles of John.   As many of you know, my colleague, Hugo Mendez, assistant professor of New Testament and early Christianity at UNC, has started publishing on a major project involving the "Johannine Community."  That phrase will not mean a lot to many of you.  To New Testament scholars it means volumes.  In fact there *have* been volumes written about it.   It is almost certainly the most important view about the Gospel of John and 1, 2, and 3 John to be developed over the past fifty years.  We all teach it in our classes.  And Hugo wants to challenge its existence. Hugo is on the blog and I asked him if he'd be willing to write some posts about his views.  But then we both realized that I would need to set it up by explaining what the issue is all about before he shows his different perspective.  And when I started thinking about how to introduce the matter, I realized, [...]

2020-04-02T09:31:31-04:00March 26th, 2020|Canonical Gospels|

Christians Against Christians: Already In the New Testament

I've long been intrigued by the fact -- I think it's a fact -- that the people we get in the BIGGEST fights with are those closest to us: spouses, siblings, parents, good friends.  Sometimes we fight with others, of course.  But it's those closest to us that really seem to annoy us.  Which of us has not had situations get completely out of hand? That has made some people wonder about the New Testament.  For example, Jesus' main opponents during his ministry are with the Pharisees.  Is that because he was particularly close with them in some way? Five years ago today (I checked) I posted on an interesting parallel situation from the life of Paul.  As you know, Paul can be a bit, uh, vitriolic at times.  And never more than in the letter to the Galatians, written to a group of churches with which he was really peeved.  This is one fierce letter (many people don't see that because they simply aren't expecting it; the fierceness is even more pronounced when you [...]

2020-04-02T09:32:03-04:00March 24th, 2020|Paul and His Letters|

Did Paul Really Have *That* Exalted a View of Jesus?

With this post I plan to end the rather long-running thread that began with a basic question several blog members asked me.   Some weeks ago I was posting on the unusually important “Christ Poem” of Philippians 2:6-11, where Paul appears to be quoting a poem about Christ, composed earlier and probably by someone other than himself, in which Christ is said to have been a pre-existent divine being who gave up his divine status to become a human and suffer and die, who was then, as a result, exalted up to heaven and made the one to whom all the universe would eventually bow down and worship. The claims of that poem might seem rather unremarkable to anyone not familiar with the history of early Christianity.  Hey, isn’t that just what Christians say about Jesus? But for those who do know how ideas of Christ evolved over time, in the early decades and centuries of the Christian religion, it is an absolutely extraordinary poem.  Already BEFORE the vast bulk of the NT was written there [...]

2020-04-02T09:32:15-04:00March 23rd, 2020|New Testament Manuscripts, Paul and His Letters|

How To Begin with Heaven and Hell: An Excerpt

My new book is coming out next week – March 31.   Very exciting, even if it is coming out at the absolute worst time in modern history to publish a book that is not about either Donald or Disease.   But still, I’m excited.  And very oddly (I just checked) (OK, really, I don’t check every day; it’s been some weeks), it is now the top new release on Amazon on the topic of “reincarnation”!  HA!!  What a scream. OK, there’s not a lot of competition there in the reincarnation market, and even more odd, there’s not a lot about reincarnation in the book.  But there’s *some* --and not in places you might expect.  Plato!!  He was the first to popularize the view, at least in our written record.  And in the most famous and important theologian of the first Christian centuries, Origen.  But it never caught on in the Christian tradition – even though one constantly hears that it did.  It didn’t.  But still, Origen’s views are really interesting.  Among other things, he argued, with [...]

2020-03-22T11:29:02-04:00March 22nd, 2020|Afterlife, Book Discussions|

Hard Times and Using the Blog for Charity

Some people – maybe a lot of people – don’t think it’s the right time for a good sense of humor.  I have the opposite view.  I think very hard times are the best times.  But I’ll never be as good at it as my dad. When he was on his death bed in 1989, cancer metastasized flippin’ everywhere, he could barely get out of bed.  I was with him in the hospital.  He needed to use the toilet and insisted on going to it (instead of taking the obvious hospital option).  It took him about 10 minutes to sit up and get his feet on the floor (I remember it as 20 minutes but think now my mind must have exaggerated it).  The nurse was beside the bed, helping him with every incremental movement.  When after much moaning and groaning he finally got to his feet, facing her, he collapsed onto her shoulders with his arms outstretched. And said: “I’ve been waiting all day for this.” Ha!  She laughed and said, I love you [...]

2020-03-20T09:39:28-04:00March 20th, 2020|Public Forum|

More Free Memberships to the Blog Available

These are trying times.  But here is a bit of good news, especially for those having a tough go of it.  Thanks to the incredible ongoing generosity of members of the blog, there are still a limited number of free one-year memberships available.   These have been donated for a single purpose: to allow those who cannot afford the annual membership fee to participate on the blog for a year.   I will assign these memberships strictly on the honor system: if you truly cannot afford the membership fee, but very much want to have full access to the blog, then please contact me. Do NOT reply here, on the blog, as a comment.   Send me a separate email, privately, at [email protected].   In your email, please provide the following points of information. An indication of why you need a free membership (as opposed to a paid one): just a few words about your circumstances. Your Name Preferred Email Preferred Username Preferred Password Country Of Residence (we need to supply this because of our tax-exempt status) The donors [...]

2020-03-20T08:52:44-04:00March 20th, 2020|Public Forum|

Heaven and Hell Pre-order Offer: Still Valid!!

Pre-order your Heaven and Hell!  So to speak. Despite the current crisis, my new book Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife will still be available on March 31 -- less than two weeks! Want a great deal on it?  Have more time on your hands than you anticipated?  If you pre-order the book you can (still) get an unusually substantial discount on any of my courses from The Great Courses. This would be a very good time indeed for all of us to stock up on Great Courses courses.  As you may know, I have done eight courses with them over the past 20 years (starting back when they were called The Teaching Company!).   If you pre-order the book (or have already done so), you can receive an 80% discount on any of them.   That's a pretty rippin' serious discount. Just click on this address. The Great Courses I've done over the years. The New Testament The Historical Jesus Lost Christianities: Christian Scriptures and the Battles over Authentication From Jesus to Constantine: [...]

2020-03-19T09:51:47-04:00March 19th, 2020|Public Forum|

Paul the Misogynist? The Alternative Perspective

Based on what I said in previous posts, from Paul's own (authentic) letters, his attitude toward women in the church may seem inconsistent, or at least ambivalent.  Women could participate in his churches as ministers, prophets, and even apostles.  But they were to maintain their social status as women and not appear to be like men.  This apparent ambivalence led to a very interesting historical result.  When the dispute over the role of women in the church later came to a head, both sides could appeal to the apostle's authority in support of their views. On one side were those who urged a complete equality between men and women in the churches.  Some such believers told tales of Paul's own female companions, women like Thecla, who renounced marriage and sexual activities, led ascetic lives, and to taught male believers in church.  On the other side were those who urged women to be in complete submission to men.  Believers like this could combat the tales of Thecla and other women leaders by portraying Paul as an [...]

2020-05-01T13:32:59-04:00March 18th, 2020|Paul and His Letters, Women in Early Christianity|

Paul the Feminist? The Thecla Legends

I’m in the middle of talking about whether Paul wrote the verses now found in 1 Cor. 14:34-35, or if they were a later interpolation into his letters (that is, an insertion that ended up in every single one of our manuscripts)  It's an important issue.  This is the passage where Paul sternly tells women that they are NOT to speak in church.   They can't only not be *leaders*.  They can't *talk*. Wow.  OK, then.  Did Paul really write that?  I'm going to be arguing he did not, that it's an interpolation (I'm doing this in part in order to show how one can show that a passage is not "original" even if the manuscripts all agree.  It doesn't happen much.  But *sometimes*). But to make sense of it, I have to talk about the two views about Paul and women that emerged after he was dead, one that portrayed him as very much on the side of women, a kind of early Christian proto-feminist, and the other that saw him as a complete misogynist, [...]

2020-05-01T13:33:24-04:00March 17th, 2020|Paul and His Letters, Women in Early Christianity|

Paul and the Status of Women

In this thread I've been talking about how scholars decide if a passage that is found in *some* New Testament manuscripts but missing from *others* was actually written by the author or not (such as the account of Jesus' "sweating blood" in Luke 22:43-44:  was it really an original part of the Gospel or was it something a scribe added?)   It is a complicated process of decision, involving examining the surviving manuscripts (i.e. "external" evidence), figuring out if the passage fits well with the author's writing style and perspective otherwise, and seeing if there is anything in the passage that would make a scribe want either to insert it or take it out ("internal" evidence).  Each of these arguments can get very tricky, once you get down into the weeds. But the thread began with the question of how do we know if a passage that is in *all* of the manuscripts is possibly something that was not originally there.  The question started with the "Christ poem" of Phil 2:8-9, where Paul talks about Christ [...]

Thanks to those who volunteered!

Many thanks to everyone who volunteered to help out with the transition to the new blog site.  The response was overwhelming.   I now have more than I need and have contacted them about further instructions.  But there will almost certainly be more needs down the line, as we try to grow this thing and develop more outreach.  When that happens, I will let you know about other opportunities to help out. Speaking of outreach: if you know anyone who is interested in the sorts of things the blog has to offer, do let them know about it!    We grow mainly by word of mouth -- or, luckily in these problematic days of actual contact, by word of texting, email, twitter, and other social media.   But do let family, friends, neighbors, acquaintances, and complete strangers know about the blog, so we can reach all who might be interested.

2020-03-16T08:17:49-04:00March 16th, 2020|Public Forum|

You Lost Me On Hello. A Plea for Expertise

For the past several weeks we have seen more than ever why we need experts.  It is absolutely fine to have uninformed opinions.  We all have thousands of them.   But we should no mistake our uninformed opinions for knowledge.  And real knowledge takes expertise, and expertise takes years and years of training and hard work.  It doesn’t come from watching the news or reading a few articles and then making up your mind.  Since we ourselves cannot be expert in everything, we have to decide whether to trust those who are experts or to persist in our contrary views.  And as we are seeing now, in some areas expertise is a matter of life and death.    In other pressing areas (climate), it may mean the survival of the human race and the planet. Most areas of expertise are not that significant in terms of history or human life.  But the same principles apply.  My view is that pPeople really shouldn’t work desperately hard to convince others about something that they really don’t know anything about.  [...]

2020-03-15T11:10:28-04:00March 15th, 2020|Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|

I Need a Volunteer!

As some/many/all? of you know, we are getting ready to relaunch the blog with a completely new rebuild that Steven Ray, my able and talented assistant for all these years, has designed -- after he had come up with the original one eight years ago.  He has been keeping the old one going with bailing wire and duct tape.  The new one looks *great*.  We hope to roll it out soon.   And I'll explain it all to you even sooner, before it happens.  I think you're going to agree, it is terrific. Before we can do it, I have to have some of my old posts reclassified into a few of the new categories that I have devised (to supplement the old ones).   I need a volunteer to do it.  It will take some hours.  No clue how many.  If I have several volunteers, even better.  I won't go into all the details here: simple story, it will involve looking at an old post, seeing what it's about (you wouldn't need to read the entire [...]

2020-04-02T09:33:42-04:00March 14th, 2020|Public Forum|

Jesus “Sweating Blood”: Which Text Would *Scribes* Have Preferred?

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.  In my previous post I discussed one kind of “internal” evidence.    Remember: external evidence deals with figuring out which manuscripts have which reading: how many manuscripts (this criterion, as it turns out, is 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 [...]

2020-04-02T09:33:52-04:00March 13th, 2020|Early Christian Doctrine, New Testament Manuscripts|


Those of you who were planning to go have probably been notified, but in any event: The Smithsonian lectures on Heaven and Hell scheduled for tomorrow (Saturday March 14) have now been cancelled. Keep safe!

2020-03-13T10:24:05-04:00March 13th, 2020|Public Forum|
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