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Where Did the Idea of a “Suffering Messiah” Come From?

This now is a seventh favorite post from years past.  As you know, I frequently simply write posts on questions readers have raised.  For understanding Christianity, here is one of the most important of all.  Christians maintain that the messiah had to suffer and die for the sins of the world.  Jews do not understand the messiah this way.  But Christians started off as Jews.  So where did their understanding of the messiah come from? QUESTION: Where did the idea of a Jewish messiah dying for the sins of mankind originate from? OT? Did Jews prior to Jesus’ existence believe this notion of the Messiah dying for other’s sins? RESPONSE: I deal with this issue in a couple of my books.  Here is one of my fuller discussions from Did Jesus Exist?, where I talk about the issue in connection with the question of why Paul originally opposed Christians before converting to the faith. ********************************* Why, as a highly religious Jew, did Paul originally persecute the Christians before he himself joined their ranks?   It appears [...]

2020-10-30T21:26:39-04:00October 30th, 2020|Early Judaism, Historical Jesus, Reader’s Questions|

How Hard It is To Become an Agnostic….

When the new blog site launched a week ago I decided to start off with five of my favorite posts from each of the first five years of the blog.  And then someone asked me: why just the first five?  Why not the more recent four?  And I replied:  I don’t know – I didn’t think about it!   But now I have and have decided: why not? So here is number six of five favorite posts, this one from 2017.  It’s more of a personal topic, but it’s one that I know a lot of you can resonate with: the struggle involved in moving from being a person of faith to becoming an agnostic. ****************************** I started feeling the tug toward agnosticism sometime during my Ph.D. program.  I remember clearly a particular moment, and it was, somewhat ironically, while I was serving as the pastor of the Princeton Baptist Church. Even though I was incredibly busy at the time (I was taking a full load of graduate seminars, preparing to take my PhD exams, serving [...]

2020-10-30T21:29:45-04:00October 29th, 2020|Bart’s Biography, Reflections and Ruminations|

Did Jesus’ Disciple John Write the Gospel of “John”?

This is the fifth of my FIVE FAVORITES -- reposts of blog posts from years ago, in part to celebrate the new launch of the blog and in part to encapsulate some of the kinds of posts that can be found in the archives.  The archives go back to April 2012 and are easily searched.  As you can see, you can simply do a word search for any issue; you can get a list of posts for any category; you can actually go back to any month and year and see a list of posts.  Ain't life grand? Here is a post from 2016 on what is, for me, a topic of long-standing interest. ********************************* In my previous post I explained why the author of the book of Revelation, someone named John, was not claiming to be John the son of Zebedee and in fact probably was *not* John the son of Zebedee.   I also showed why this author was not the same one who produced the fourth Gospel, the Gospel of John (see [...]

2020-10-30T21:28:59-04:00October 28th, 2020|Public Forum|

How Were the Gnostic Gospels Discovered?

This now is the fourth of  FIVE FAVORITES with which I'm beginning the new launch of our blog site, one from our fourth year of operation 2015.  I am trying to pick different kinds of posts and even though I am not saying these are my all-time favorites of all, they certainly are posts (from five from sequential years) that for one reason or another I very much like. I need to give a more extensive introduction to this one.  It is actually one of a series of posts connected with the discovery of the "Nag Hammadi Library" -- known more popularly as "the Gnostic Gospels."  These "heretical" books were discovered by accident in 1945, not by archaeologists looking for ancient books but by Egyptian fellahin in a wilderness area near the village of Nag Hammadi Egypt.  Scholars have long told the story of their discovery -- I have done so roughly 4000 times; but my friend and colleague in NT studies at Duke, Mark Goodacre, has argued that the story itself is an unsubstantiated [...]

How Do Popular Books Get Their Titles?

This now is the third of my series of FIVE FAVORITES from blog posts in previous years; this one is taken from 2014. ******************************** How do trade books -- written for a general audience -- get their titles?  There's not an easy answer to that.  Most scholarly books are simply given a title by the author; the publisher has to agree, of course, and they have the last word.  They are unlikely to accept anything "cute": for scholarly books they want the titles to sound erudite and learned.  If they are meant to be “clever” then they are to be clever only to those on the academic inside who catch the allusions. Trade books are meant to be witty and intriguing for a general reader, and a sign that the book will be really interesting and about something that the reader wants to learn more about.  In the best cases, the reader – a non-scholar – should read the title and think, “Huh, I’d like to know about that!” or “Huh, I wonder that that’s [...]

2020-10-30T21:28:33-04:00October 25th, 2020|Book Discussions|

My Privileged View of Suffering

To celebrate the launch of our new blog site I am starting by posting Five Favorites from years gone by, one post from each of the blog's first five years, 2012-16.  Here is one I've chosen from 2013.  One of the issues I sometimes address on the blog when I'm not talking directly about the New Testament and earliest Christianity is my take on "the problem of suffering."  It's not just a big issue but also an emotionally difficult one.  That is more or less what this post is about, as someone objects to my decision to air my views. ********************************************* Sometimes people get upset because I deal with the problem of suffering even though I don’t seem to be experiencing any severe pain and misery myself.  Here is an example of the kind of comment I occasionally receive, this from someone commenting to me on Facebook a couple of days ago: "Dude, in a world of suffering, you claim doubts in deity because you live the privileged life of a UNC professor. If you [...]

2020-10-30T21:28:10-04:00October 23rd, 2020|Public Forum|

The Original Blog Post!! Misquoting Misquoting Jesus!

As you can see, we have now launched our new version of the blog, very new and much improved.  I've decided to start our new life together by returning to the beginning.  Over the next week I will  be posting five of my favorite posts from years past, one from each of the first five years of the blog. Here is the very first post I made.  Looking back, to me it looks a bit, well, feisty.  I was a bit more cantankerous and, uh, defensive in those days.  Nonetheless, I agree with just about everything in it still.  But I should say, in case any of you wonder, that Ben Witherington, whom I address here, and I are actually friends in the field.  He has attacked me a good deal in the past, in very public forums; but I maybe go a bit overboard here.  Still, this post is a nice museum piece, at least in my mind. Some of Ben Witherington’s most popular books are The Jesus Quest, and The Problem with Evangelical [...]

2020-12-02T00:13:26-05:00October 22nd, 2020|Bart's Debates, Book Discussions, New Testament Manuscripts|

Welcome to the New Blog Site!

I am so pleased that we have now launched the new Bart Ehrman Blog site. It was many, many months in the making, and many thanks to my assistant Steven Ray who conceived, designed, and implemented it. I hope you agree that it has a great new look.There are several features that you may find very useful.As you will see, many of the old features are the same. You will still receive five posts a week and you will still be able to access archives going back to April 2012. There is a lot of information buried away in there! You can also still search for posts you are interested in, either by doing a simple word search (e.g., “Authorship of the Gospels,” “Judas Iscariot,” or “Persecution” etc.); or by clicking on any category (under Recent Posts) and getting a full chronological listing; or even by going to the archives and browsing through the titles, day by day, arranged chronologically, month by month, for all these years (go to the bottom of the left column [...]

2020-10-21T09:38:41-04:00October 21st, 2020|Public Forum|

Who Would Die for a Lie?

OK, here's another weird blog coincidence that happened 94 seconds ago.  A few days ago I posted on the issue of why someone would invent a story of women finding the empty tomb (since women were "seen as unreliable": if you invented a story, wouldn't it be *men* who found it?).  I got a lot of responses, including several that more or less openly mocked me for thinking the disciples made up the story of the resurrection.  The typical line I got was something like "Yeah, right Ehrman: all those disciples died for a *lie*.  Gee, you're smart...." So, OK, leaving smarts out of the equation, I thought today I would repost a post that I had done long ago that dealt with this question.  Then I thought, Nah, don't bother.   Do something else. But then I decided to look through old posts just for the heck of it and decided to look up the one that I had done on precisely this date, October 12, the first year of the blog, 2012.  It was [...]

2022-06-02T21:58:28-04:00October 12th, 2020|Historical Jesus, Reader’s Questions|

What Happens When Your Beliefs Contradict What You Have To Teach? Readers’ Mailbag

I’ve received an intriguing question about professors of religious studies and the relationship between what we teach and personal religious beliefs.   QUESTION: Dr. Ehrman, do your colleagues who have strong religious beliefs sometimes get conflicted when teaching some aspects of early Christianity?   RESPONSE: Now that’s a very interesting question, and to unpack it, and give a response, I need to provide a bit of background of what (I assume) lies behind it.  I’ll start with my personal situation then broaden out from there. Neither of my two teaching positions has been in a religious or denominational school;  Rutgers and now UNC Chapel Hill are, of course, research universities.   Both institutions are not only secular but also state-supported.  Because of the constitutional separation of church and state, people in my position are not allowed to proselytize or promote one particular religion or religious view over another. And yet we are teaching religion.  How is that supposed to work? In the very simplest terms, the way it works is that professors in my position teach [...]

A Major Blog Announcement!!

I am exceedingly happy to make a major blog announcement.  Very soon – probably next week – we will be launching the new blog site.  It will be vastly improved, with all the best features of what we have now but with a new look, higher quality, and more member options.  If you like it the way it is, very little will change except the appearance of the blog.  If you want more, you’re in luck. My assistant Steven Ray has designed and constructed the new site to replace the one that he originally built over eight years ago.   Volunteers have been working to get some of the parts in place.  And we are all very excited about it. PLEASE NOTE: THE BLOG WILL BE DOWN FOR A FEW DAYS NEXT WEEK while we transfer the data from the old blog to the new one.  It is a massive and complicated affair (lots of data here after more than 8 years!).   I will let you know in advance when we are certain it is going [...]

2020-10-09T17:46:53-04:00October 9th, 2020|Public Forum|

John, the Bedbugs, and Miracles that Convert

This week in my graduate seminar we discussed the Apocryphal Acts of John, one of the five surviving (lengthy) accounts of an apostle engaged in missionary activities after the resurrection of Jesus. These accounts are highly legendary, with almost no historical information in them, but they are fantastic books – entertaining early Christian fiction, even though, probably, the people who read them assumed they were descriptions of what really happened. The five surviving accounts are the Acts of John, Thomas, Peter, Paul, and Andrew. Among the legendary information we find in these books are stories that people still today often simply assume are true, for example, that Thomas was the missionary to India, that Peter was crucified upside down in Rome, and that Paul had his head chopped off. The Acts of John probably comes from the end of the second century, and so a hundred years or so after John the disciple of Jesus would have died. Like the others, it was written in Greek. I talk about it a bit in my [...]

2020-10-23T23:32:45-04:00October 8th, 2020|Christian Apocrypha|

Who Would *Invent* the Idea that Women (?!) Discovered Jesus’ Empty Tomb?

Back to Christian apologists for a minute (from my post a few days ago).  One common argument that the resurrection stories must be historical is that no one would invent the idea that the first witnesses to the resurrection were women; therefore the tomb really was empty (i.e. since no one would have made up the story that way).  I get asked about that probably once every four or five months.  I dealt with it on the blog -- in fact exactly eight years ago.  Here is the question I was asked about it and my response -- the same one I would have today! QUESTION: How do the stories of the women at the tomb found in the canonical gospels come to be told?  As many scholars I've read have pointed out, having women, who were considered untrustworthy witnesses, as the first to see the risen Christ, was not exactly a way to get people to believe the stories.  So why would the gospel writers tell the stories with the women in such a [...]

2020-10-23T23:33:26-04:00October 7th, 2020|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

A Celebratory Moment for the Blog

I love serendipity, but I have to admit, this one strikes me as very weird. As some of you know, today is my 65th birthday.  It’s an oddly important one for me.  When I was a young teenager, for some reason (that now I have trouble understanding), I had the notion that anyone who could make it to 65 had done pretty well for him/herself and that it was a reasonable time to pass off this mortal coil (not that I had read Hamlet yet).  At least it would mean not dying  young.  So I thought that it would be reasonable goal. Ai yai yai.  Kids.  Well, I no longer think of 65 as the goal in life.  I mean, I don’t particularly want to double it, but I’m happy to plod along for a good long time still.  The other reason that it is significant for me is that my dad died at 65.  That was 1989, a good long time ago; and I remember at the time thinking that he was too young, [...]

2020-10-05T12:58:06-04:00October 5th, 2020|Public Forum|

Hard Evidence that the Book of Acts was Written by an Eyewitness?

Here is an interesting question I received about a Christian apologist’s argument that the book of Acts must be written by an eyewitness, a view that I think is completely wrong.  It’s one of those arguments that has no bearing on anything when you actually think about it, but until someone points out the flaw, it’s hard to see it -- or I assume so since so many people get taken in by this sort of thing. It comes in a book called I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist, a title which, I have to say, is a clear indication of how well informed the book will be.  But that would be an entire post of its own.  Here I’ll focus on the question raised: QUESTION: One thing about the reliability of the book of Acts I’m constantly encountering when researching popular apologetics is Frank Turek’s argument in his book I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist.  In it he quotes a Colin Hemer, who apparently chronicled the last 16 [...]

2020-10-23T23:34:48-04:00October 4th, 2020|Acts of the Apostles, Paul and His Letters, Public Forum|

Why Believe in God?

This post will not be about the history and/or literature of earliest Christianity per se, but on a more explicitly religious issue.  In fact, the religious issue. Let me preface it by stating two rather obvious things about myself, specifically what I am not.  At least the first is obvious to me, and the second is, I’m sure, obvious to everyone who will be reading this. The first is, I am not a missionary for my particular religious views.  I have no particular difficulty with people who *do* want to convert others to their perspectives, but it’s not something I’m much interested in doing myself.  I’m an atheist, and if you yourself choose not to be, more power to you!  About the only thing I’m seriously missionary about are ideas, views, policies, social agendas, and political figures intent on helping people rather than hurting them (and not just a certain slice of my fellow American citizens).  I see all kinds of religious fundamentalism as hurtful rather than helpful, so I oppose them.  I also see [...]

2020-10-23T23:39:58-04:00October 2nd, 2020|Reflections and Ruminations|

The Roman Standards Worship Jesus? From the Gospel of Nicodemus

Yesterday I said a few things about the Gospel of Nicodemus; here is the opening section of it.  As you’ll see the author does his best to convince his readers that this is an authentic account (even though it was written over three centuries after Nicodemus would have been dead).  And then comes one of its intriguing passages: despite everyone’s best efforts, the Roman standards (bearing the emblem of the emperor himself – thought, of course, to be a god) bow down to Jesus during his trial.   Terrific account! This is my translation from the Greek version of the book, found in The Other Gospels. The Gospel of Nicodemus Public Records about our Lord Jesus Christ, Composed Under Pontius Pilate I, Ananias, a member of the procurator’s bodyguard, well versed in the law, came to know our Lord Jesus Christ from the divine Scriptures, coming to him by faith and being deemed worthy of holy baptism.  I searched out the public records composed at that time, in the days of our master Jesus Christ, which [...]

2022-07-03T16:21:16-04:00October 1st, 2020|Christian Apocrypha|
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