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What Are The Epistles of John?

I can now describe and explain the letters of 1, 2, and 3 John.  1 John has always been one of my favorite books of the New Testament, and only takes a few minutes to read; the final two are incredibly short, less than a page each.  Think about reading them! The author never gives us his name.  But because the books aer so similar in theme and writing style to the Fourth Gospel – whose author from antiquity was thought to be Jesus’ disciple John -- these letters were also assigned to him.  Critical scholars today almost entirely think that the author was not the *same* person as the author of the Gospel, and was almost certainly not John the Son of Zebedee.  he probably was, though, an author living in the same community, at a later time, with a similar point of view. Here is how I explain what these letters are by situating them in a historical context in light of what was happening in the author's community.  Again, this is taken [...]

2020-04-29T08:25:45-04:00April 29th, 2020|Catholic Epistles|

Reading the New Testament Letters in CONTEXT

OK, we return now to some of the books in the New Testament attributed to "John."  I have talked at some length about the Gospel of John and the community that appears to lie behind it.  I now move to the three epistles of John, found among the "catholic" or "general" epistles near the end of the New Testament.  (When I was at Princeton Seminary, one day I went into the men's room and over the three urinals, in sequence, someone had written, as graffiti, 1 John; 2 John; 3 John.  I guess it was a seminary joke....). All of this is in preparation for a series of blog posts being written for us by my colleague Hugo Mendez, in which he will argue *against* the idea of a Johannine community.   (!) Before talking directly about these three letters, I need to explain one of the most common ways scholars analyze epistolary literature in the NT (i.e. the books that started out as actual *letters* -- written by a Christian author to a community or [...]

2020-04-28T15:26:26-04:00April 28th, 2020|Catholic Epistles|

What I Do Argue in Misquoting Jesus

In my previous post I pointed out that lots of people -- friends and foes -- misconstrue what I say in Misquoting Jesus.   It's a particular problem with people who want to attack my views, often without seeing what I actually say.  Sometimes when someone tells me what they object to in my book I ask them if they've read it.  "Well, no, but I heard about it."   Sigh.... Even scholars -- including scholars I'm friends with -- have said things about my views that are absolutely not true (e.g., a common one, that I became an agnostic once I realized how many differences there were among the manuscripts of the NT.  Good grief.  Where do they get such ideas from??  I knew about massive differences in the manuscripts when I was a *fundamentalist*!!) Anyway, what do I talk about in the book, and why have people found it objectionable?  Here are some reflections I had on the issues when I thought about them some years ago. ********************************************** One of the most interesting things in [...]

Misquoting Misquoting Jesus

Misquoting Jesus is my most widely read book.   And I continue to be a bit amazed and dismayed at how widely it is misunderstood.  The book was meant to deal with one very specific issue connected with the New Testament, and people who have read it – let alone the people who have not – often assume it’s about some *other* issue, or rather, some other very broad issue, normally something that it is decidedly not about. One of the problems is that people who are specialists in a field make very fine distinctions that seem absolutely OBVIOUS to them, when the distinctions are very fuzzy indeed to anyone who is an outsider.   It’s true of every field of expertise.  When a scholar of medieval English literature whom I know very well is at a cocktail party with non-academics, she will frequently talk to people who, to keep the conversation going, ask about anything from the life of Charlemagne to, say, Beowulf, on the assumption that those are what her research is about.   Uh, no. [...]

2020-04-26T14:04:15-04:00April 26th, 2020|Bart's Critics, New Testament Manuscripts|

Blog-Related Suggestions for Isolation

There is a lot of good advice out there about how not just to handle isolation but how to take advantage of it, to make some parts of your life better rather than worse.   But it has occurred to me: people on this blog have some things in common, interests that we share.   And I wonder if we can give some suggestions to each other about how blog-related interests can contribute to our mutual and individual well-being while we still plow through this crisis.  So after giving a couple of suggestions, I’ll be asking you if you have one or two ideas to share with others. Let me begin by saying that just about everything the sages among us are saying is absolutely right, when it comes to *general* or even *universal* advice.   At least it’s all working well for me.   I am exercising *more* not less, and have developed a very nice exercise regime that I follow every day.   That not only helps me get my mind off my woes and, especially, my woes [...]

2020-04-24T09:52:09-04:00April 24th, 2020|Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|

The Not Old Better Show – Heaven and Hell Book Interview

On April 1 I did a podcast interview with Paul Vogelzang, the host of Smithsonian Associates "The Not Old Better Show," aired on Soundcloud (Washington DC). The podcast focuses on the issues or particular relevance to the 50+ crowd (nence its name) but obviously lots of the topics it hits are on the minds of everyone else as well. The interview was on my new book on Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife.   I read an excerpt from the book int he interview but mostly it's question and answer. I've done the show several times now, and have always found Paul to be an unusually perceptive and generous interviewer.  Here 'tis. Please adjust gear icon for 720p High-Definition: 

2020-04-23T21:14:18-04:00April 22nd, 2020|Book Discussions, Public Forum, Video Media|

Do We NEED to Suffer? The Argument from Tectonic Plates

I decided to take a stroll down memory lane and look at posts I made at the beginning of the blog, and came upon this one, made almost exactly eight years ago today.  Since I've been talking about Ecclesiastes and the meaning of life, and, consequently, the meaning of suffering, it is particularly relevant, now more than ever in recent history.   It's ultimately about whether humans *have* to suffer if God created the world and life in it.  And weirdly, it involves a connection between Dinesh D'Souza and tectonic plates. ******************************************************************* I have always found it interesting that when I talk about how there can be suffering in the world if there is a good God who is in charge of it, someone will tell me that it is all because of “free will.” I think most of us – not Sam Harris, of course, or some others, but most of us – think that there is such a thing as free will, that our actions are not completely determined for us but to some [...]

2020-04-21T08:53:51-04:00April 21st, 2020|Bart's Debates, Reflections and Ruminations|

Is There Any Point To Life? More on Ecclesiastes

I have been talking about the distinctive views of the book of Ecclesiastes, one of the real gems of the Hebrew Bible, a book that refuses to accept easy answers or blithe truisms about life, but faces reality head on.   No matter what we do or how we try to explain it away, life is short.  Very very short.  The author of course had no conception of what we know now about time in relation to lifespan.  What would he say if he knew that the world (what we would call the universe -- something about which also he had no knowledge) was not a few thousand years old but 13.8 billion? My guess is that he would say the same thing he already does, but possibly with a few more explanation points.   Given how incredibly brief our life is, even if we live to "old" age -- what's the point of it?  Is there a point?   I think there is.  And I find not just value but also hope in his reflections.   Here is [...]

2020-04-20T08:48:11-04:00April 20th, 2020|Afterlife, Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

What Is The Meaning of Life? The Book of Ecclesiastes

In my previous post I pointed to the "Wisdom" literature of the Old Testament (usually said to comprise Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes), suggesting that this is a good time for all of us to ingest some wisdom from those who went before.  The book of Ecclesiastes has long been my favorite in the Old Testament.  It seems so modern in so many ways.  Even though written over 2000 years ago, it considers ageless questions about what the *point* of it all is. If you don't know it, it's worth reading; it won't take long.   If you do know it, it's worth reading again.   To provide some orientation to the overall theme of the book, here is what I say about it in my book The Bible: A Historical and Literary Introduction,  (I begin with the final paragraph from the last post) ******************************************************************** Of the Wisdom books found in the Hebrew Bible, one, the book of Proverbs may be considered a representative of what we might call “positive wisdom.”  This is the more typical form of [...]

2020-04-19T12:02:37-04:00April 19th, 2020|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

Interested in a Webinar on My Book?

For all who are interested!    This coming Monday, 2:00-3:00 pm, I will be leading a one-hour webinar hosted by Oxford University Press.  It is free and open to everyone. The webinar will focus on the history of the ideas of heaven and hell, the subject of my recent book with Simon & Schuster.  So *that's* a bit strange.  An Oxford event focusing on a book I wrote for someone else???   I'll explain below. FIRST, about the event.  I will start by giving a fifteen-minute talk, and that will be followed with Q & A.  Since several hundred people have already signed up for the event, the questions will be in writing, either submitted in advance or on "Chat" during the talk. The original idea of the webinar was to make it for university students and their professors.  But then Oxford thought, what the heck: why not just open it up?  It's not like we have to worry about their not being enough *chairs* in the room!   So, anyone can join up to listen and watch.  [...]

2020-04-17T16:12:11-04:00April 17th, 2020|Book Discussions, Public Forum|

A Good Time for Wisdom!

We are living in a time of virtually unparalleled crisis, and it is forcing us not only to cope with tragedy -- either our own or that of so many millions of others -- but also to make sense of it and figure it out.  It is easy to come up with simple Pollyanna views that don't take seriously the trauma, and to cite religious mantras that try to make it sound like it is all right, when in fact it is not.  And the reality is, most people very much *don't* want to go down the rabbit hole of deep reflection. I certainly, absolutely, do not think this is a time for despair and complete despondency.  But I do think it is a time for thoughtful reflection, on the state of the world, on our values and priorities as a human race, a nation, a locality, and individuals.  Being in isolation for a couple of months can certainly provide us some opportunity to think about our world, our lives, our own goals and objectives, [...]

Q&A on Heaven and Hell

The following is a Q&A that I have done with my publisher Simon & Schuster for the History in Five page.  You should check it out.  You will get a free ebook!   Here's the site:    You'll see, its an impressive array of authors with intriguing answers to questions about their books. Here's what mine looks like. Why write about the afterlife? What drew you toward the subject of heaven and hell? I was raised as in a Christian household and the literal realities of heaven and hell were taken very seriously.   My personal views intensified when I had a “born again” experience in high school, and eventually headed off to the fundamentalist Moody Bible Institute, where we were trained to evangelize “the lost” (that is, the vast majority of the human race): there was one way to heaven, and the results would be glorious; every other way led to hell and eternal torment. I no longer hold those views, but I have long been struck that so many other people in our world [...]

2020-04-14T09:09:07-04:00April 14th, 2020|Afterlife, Book Discussions|

More of the History Behind the Gospel of John

In the last post I began to discuss what we can know about the history of the community that produced (or that produced someone who produced) the Gospel of John.  My argument is that you can use hints in the Gospel to reconstruct what appears to have happened in the community in which and for which it was produced, and reconstructing what these events were can help make sense of how and why the distinctive views of the Gospel developed (or rather, the *various* views, some found in one of its sources, others in another). To make best sense of this post it will probably be of some use to read the preceding one.  Again I am taking this discussion from my textbook on the New Testament.   ***************************************************************** Stage Three: Against the Synagogue Sociologists have studied a number of religious communities that have been excluded from larger social groups and forced to carry on their communal activities on their own.  The findings of these various studies are of some interest for understanding how the [...]

2020-04-13T15:39:19-04:00April 13th, 2020|Canonical Gospels|

Easter Reflection 2020

By all counts, this is the strangest Easter in memory – one of the two most important holy days in the year for over two and a half billion people in the world, the vast majority of whom cannot celebrate it together for the first time in their lives. Even so, for many of these Christians this particular Easter, with the message it brings, could not have come at a better time.  And even for those of who are not Christian, the season brings a powerful message, worth reflecting on. Even as a committed Christian, I always had a surprisingly ambivalent relation to Easter.  For the first thirty years of my life, I was very active in the Church; as a young adult I was not just a faithful attender of church who was engaged in worship and Sunday School, I became actively involved in church ministry as a youth pastor, head of Christian education, assistant pastor, and pastor (of the Princeton Baptist Church).   But I was never as joyful at Easter as everyone else [...]

2020-04-12T10:58:42-04:00April 12th, 2020|Reflections and Ruminations|

The History Behind John’s Gospel

In my previous post I explained that there are different (even divergent) understandings of Jesus in the Gospel of John.  I ended, the post by asking the following:  How does one explain these thematic differences among the stories of John?  Social historians would argue that the history of the community affected the ways that it told its stories about Jesus and that critical events in this history led to changes in the community's understanding of Jesus and his relationship to the people to whom he came.  Scholars who have developed this idea have traced the community's history through three stages. That is where I pick up here, by citing how I lay out the matter in my New Testament textbook discussion of John, and the three stages in the life of the community.  This particular aspect of the question will take two posts.  All of this information is important for my ultimate goal: to explain why scholars have found the theory of a Johannine Community so valuable as a way of explaining what we find [...]

2020-04-10T09:05:59-04:00April 10th, 2020|Canonical Gospels|

The Divergent Views of Christ in John

Now that I have explained what the socio-historical method is in general terms (in my previous post) I can go on to show how it can be applied to a particular Gospel, in this case, the Gospel of John.  Again, none of this is new and fresh scholarship that I myself came up with; two of the real pioneers of this method were two of the greats of New Testament interpretation in the latter part of the twentieth century, both of whom, remarkably, taught at Union Theological Seminary in New York (taught, in fact, some of my good friends!), the Protestant scholar J. Louis Martyn, and the Roman Catholic scholar, Raymond Brown.   Their views ended up being a more or less consensus position for many years, and continues to be prominent among teachers of the NT still today. This is how I explain the matter in my Introduction to the New Testament **************************************************************** The Gospel of John from a Socio-Historical Perspective The place to begin is by examining the different thematic emphases evident in different [...]

2020-04-08T09:50:46-04:00April 8th, 2020|Canonical Gospels|

UGH. Lost Comments from April 6

Some bad news, I'm afraid.  Yesterday I went to review and post the comments that had come in the previous day (April 6, between noon and midnight).  There was only one.  Normally there are 40-50.   Yup, something was wrong. Complicated story, but because of a weird technical difficulty involving the back-up system, the comments were sent into the stratosphere.  There were 42 of them.  If you made a comment then and saved it, please resubmit.  If you want to compose it again from scratch, do that.  If you don't want to bother, I'm so sorry.  In fact, I'm so sorry all around. This has obviously never happened before in our history.  We are working to make sure it will not happen again.  Apologies!!

2020-04-08T09:40:08-04:00April 8th, 2020|Public Forum|

The Blog Podcast and Some New Protocols

We have a lot of new members joining us, some of them (new) paying members (Thank you very much!) and others who are taking advantage of our free two-month offer (welcome!!). We’re delighted to have you, and hope you enjoy the blog. Please spread the word! For newcomers, some information about a couple of additional features of the blog that you may not know about (and a reminder about these for everyone else); and then a couple of notes about protocol on the blog, including a couple of changes we are implementing.   IMPORTANT FEATURES First and foremost, I want to highlight the Bart Ehrman Blog Podcast. This is an amazing production – so amazing that I wish I had something to do with it. But it wasn’t my idea, it’s not something I do, and it is absolutely fantastic. An unusually energetic blog member came up with the idea: John P. Mueller. John dreamt up the podcast, designed it, implemented it, narrates it, produces it, and administers it. Check it out: Every week, [...]

2020-04-07T09:41:38-04:00April 7th, 2020|Public Forum|

The Social History Behind the Fourth Gospel

The New Testament Gospels can be studied like any other piece of literature, since they are, of course, literary texts.  And so over the years scholars have applied a number of literary approaches to unpack the meanings of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.   But in a number of ways these books are different from most literature we encounter otherwise, for example, from antiquity, the writings of Homer or Virgil, or, from the modern world, Dickens, Virginia Woolf, or, well, J. K. Rowling.  These authors and their works are very different from each other, of course.  But the books they write are fiction.  The Gospels are different. They do, of course, contain numerous fictional elements, and they certainly can be studied following the same literary methods one would use for other texts (on the basic level, looking for plot, subplot, theme, character development etc etc.).   But they are, in addition, historical texts, more like historical fiction, I suppose, but not designed to be "fiction" probably -- designed to be history but (whether wittingly or not) constructed [...]

2020-04-06T10:08:23-04:00April 6th, 2020|Canonical Gospels|

Blog Anniversary, 2020!

As I indicated in my previous post, we had our eighth anniversary as a blog two days ago, on April 3.   How things have changed since started this little venture in 2012.   As I have said before, at the time I had no idea how the blog would work or go.   A friend had suggested the idea of a blog over drinks, and I thought it was crazy.  Who has time to do a regular blog?  Lots of people, I guess, since there are millions out there.  But I said: No Way.  So he suggested I do it for money.  I said, Money for a BLOG???   Plus, I told him, I was doing just fine, thank you very much.  But then he said, You could do it for charity.  BINGO. I thought about it.  Steven Ray contacted me out of the blue to see if I needed any website help.  I conferred with him about the blog idea, but it off for months and months, and finally toward the end of 2011 I thought I [...]

2020-04-05T16:14:22-04:00April 5th, 2020|Public Forum|
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