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What About Authors Who “Just Want to Sell Books”?

I was looking through some old posts from years ago, and came across this one, which continues to be an issue for me.  It's the kind of thing I continue to hear on occasion, and so I thought maybe it was worth approaching again. Sometimes I hear someone criticize me, or another author, by saying “he just wants to sell books.”  That has always struck me as a very strange thing to say.  Of course I want to sell books.  Why else would I write books?   Would I want to write books so no one would read them? What people actually *mean*by that comment, of course, is more snide and offensive.   What they mean is: “he will say anything in a book in order to get people to buy it.”  There may indeed be authors for whom this is true.   I can’t speak for them, only for myself.  This is a charge I really bristle at. Almost no one of course comes out and actually makes the charge directly.  But it must be what they [...]

2021-05-11T20:43:30-04:00May 30th, 2021|Book Discussions, Reflections and Ruminations|

The Coming of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost

In a previous post I discussed the prophet Joel, who used a disaster that had struck as the occasion to make his proclamation about the will of God.  A horrible plague of locusts had hit the land of Judah that had decimated the crops and food supply; Joel proclaimed that it was a warning from God that if his people did not return to him, matters would get worse – they would be invaded by a foreign army from the north (the Assyrians) and face massive destruction.  This would be the “day of the LORD,” which was not to be seen as a happy prospect. But as with many prophets of coming destruction, Joel also indicated that God would have pity on his people if they would turn to him in repentance.  After the horrible events to come, God would bring salvation to Judah, removing the foreign threat and restoring the earth; there would be abundant rain, plentiful crops, productive livestock.  The years of drought, famine, and military invasion would end, and all would be [...]

2021-05-11T20:36:47-04:00May 29th, 2021|Acts of the Apostles, Early Christian Doctrine|

What We Know Today About Religions and the Afterlife (in the US): Platinum Guest Post by Sharon Friedman

I am pleased to be able to publish this Guest Post by one of our Platinum members Sharon Friedman.  Sharon has been a blog member for some five years.   Here is an intriguing post with some statistics to make you ponder and reflect on a topic near and dear to many of us. If you have questions comments, go ahead and make them!  Many thanks Sharon. ***************************** Often on the blog, people ask Bart “what did Christians or Jews think about some topic?” It’s definitely difficult or impossible to know that about the past.  We do know something about what they currently think.  Fortunately, groups like the Pew Research Center and NORC at the University of Chicago ask people religious questions.  Let’s look at that source of information for insights into our discussion of the afterlife, specifically what do Christians, Jews and Muslims currently think about heaven and hell? Pew does a Religious Landscape Survey about once every 10 years or so. It’s chock full of information.  There is a crosswalk between belief in heaven [...]

2021-05-27T17:27:17-04:00May 27th, 2021|Afterlife, Public Forum|

Are There Actually Five Letters in 2 Corinthians (so that it is 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 Corinthians?)

In my previous post I tried to show why most critical scholars think that the letter of 2 Corinthians is actually two different letters that have been spliced together.  When I was back in graduate school, I learned – to my surprise – that there were scholars who thought that in fact 2 Corinthians was made up of five different letters, all spliced together.  At first that struck me as a bit crazy, but as I looked at the evidence I began to see that it made a good bit of sense. I’m not completely committed to that idea, but I’m inclined toward it.  My sense is that this is the view of a sizeable minority of critical scholars, but I have no data, only anecdotal evidence, to back that up. In any case, what matters more is what you yourself might think of it.  I won’t be giving the evidence in full, but here is how I lay it out for students to consider in my textbook on the New Testament for undergraduates.  To [...]

2021-05-11T20:30:20-04:00May 27th, 2021|Paul and His Letters|

Several Letters in One? What about Second Corinthians?

In recent posts I've been talking about 1 Corinthians and its understanding of the Christian community in the important city of Corinth.  We know about the community because of Paul's letters written to it.  In the New Testament of course, we have 1 and 2 Corinthians.  (OUTSIDE the New Testament we have 3 Corinthians!  It also claims to be written by Paul, but is a forgery; I'll talk about it in a later blog post).  They are both pretty long letters, and give us a lot of information. That's especially true for a reason most Bible readers don't know, and would have no way of knowing.  Scholars have long argued that 2 Corinthians is not just a single letter.  Almost all critical scholars think it is two letters that have been cut and pasted together; and some scholars (including me) think it is actually five letters combined -- all written at different times for different occasions.  That may really matter, because it means we can trace a bit of the *history* of the community's relationship with [...]

2021-05-11T20:27:09-04:00May 26th, 2021|Paul and His Letters|

The Coming of the Spirit at the End of Time

Even though the Spirit of God shows up here and there throughout the Old Testament, starting of course already in Genesis 1:2, continuing on occasion through the narratives and in the prophets, it is not really a central narrational or theological theme.  That contrasts with the New Testament.  Here the Spirit of God is enormously important, on every level. The historical reason for that is that the earliest Christians believed that with the death and resurrection of Jesus they had entered into the End of the Ages.  They were living at the end times.  As we have seen, the resurrection of the dead – when God raised bodies back to live, some to face judgment and others to be given an eternal reward – was to transpire at the end of this age; in the Bible this future resurrection was first spoken of explicitly in Daniel 12:1-3, the last chapter of the final book of the Hebrew Bible to be written.  But the idea of a future resurrection became a widely accepted theological notion in [...]

Jesus according to the Christians: A Three-Part Blog Lecture Series

I have decided to do a three-part lecture series as a fundraiser to help defray the expenses of the blog.  As the blog continues to grow, it becomes more expensive and I simply refuse to take any money from Membership Fees or Regular Donations to pay for any of the expenses.  Every penny you pay to join goes directly to the charities the blog supports (see   This lecture series will help pay some of the overhead costs so that we don't have to take a dime out of the fees for overhead.  (BTW, in terms of overhead, for what it's worth:  I don't take a penny from the blog myself.)  (But if you want to mail me a number of small unmarked bills, that would be fine.) The lectures will occur over three consecutive Saturdays, starting this week, May 29, and continuing then on June 5 and 12.  They will all be at 3:00 pm.  On each occasion I will lecture for 45-50 minutes and then take questions for 15 -20 minutes.  There will [...]

2021-05-26T09:29:39-04:00May 24th, 2021|Public Forum|

On Being an Agnostic Atheist

Bart Ehrman on Being an Agnostic. One question I regularly get asked is about where I stand on the agnostic-atheist divide -- that is, which am I.  I usually confuse people when I tell them I'm both.  I've posted about this on the blog before, but it's been a while, so I thought I should give it another airing here. When I became an agnostic – 25 years ago? I’m not even sure anymore – I thought that “agnosticism” and “atheism” were two *degrees* of basically the same thing. My sense is that this is what most people think. According to this idea, an agnostic is someone who says that s/he does not *know* whether God exists, and an atheist is someone who makes a definitive statement that God does *not* exist.  Agnostics don’t know and atheists are sure. At the time I was rather surprised that so many agnostics and atheists (most of whom had this view I’ve just described) were so militaristic about their own positions.  As I found, to my chagrin (having [...]

2024-01-08T15:22:07-05:00May 23rd, 2021|Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|

Paul’s (Misunderstood) Message to His Corinthian Converts

  I have been discussing how Paul established the church in Corinth; this is important information for anyone interested in knowing what kinds of problems arose in the church -- some of them rather amazing, for a group Paul calls "the saints"!  Here is how I discuss Paul's message in my textbook on the New Testament: ****************************** During their stay in Corinth, Paul and his companions appear to have converted a sizable number (dozens?) of pagans to the faith. The book of Acts indicates that they spent a year and a half there. Paul himself makes no clear statement concerning the length of his stay, but there are indications throughout his letter that the Christians in Corinth, or at least some of them, had an unusually sophisticated understanding of the faith.  Indeed, some of the Corinthians had so much knowledge of their faith that they took Paul’s gospel simply as a starting point and developed their views in vastly different directions. What can we say about the message that Paul originally preached to these people? [...]

2021-05-11T18:51:51-04:00May 22nd, 2021|Paul and His Letters|

How Paul Started the Church in Corinth

I have begun to talk about Paul’s church in Corinth and the correspondence he had with it.  For a bit more background I want to explain how he actually started it.  Corinth was apparently a city he had not visited before, yet he went there and managed to convert a large group of people to his Christian message.  How did that happen? Here is how I explain what we know in my textbook The New Testament (Oxford University Press). ************************ After leaving Thessalonica, Paul and his companions, Timothy and Silvanus, arrived in Corinth and began, again, to preach the gospel in an effort to win converts (2 Cor 1:19). Possibly they proceeded as they had in the capital of Macedonia, coming into town, renting out a shop in an insula, setting up a business, and using the workplace as a forum to speak to those who stopped by. In this instance, the book of Acts provides some corroborating evidence.  Luke indicates that Paul did, in fact, work in a kind of leather goods shop in [...]

2021-05-11T18:46:23-04:00May 20th, 2021|Paul and His Letters|

Paul and that Peculiar Church in Corinth

To explain why the Holy Spirit was so central to the earliest Christian communities we know about, we have to explore what we can know about earliest churches.  The ones we know best about are those associated with Paul, since Paul is our earliest Christian author, and in his letters he refers to church activities.  Nowhere is that more true than in the two-letter correspondence with the Corinthians. 1 and 2 Corinthians gives us a lot to go on when we want to know what this particular Christian community was like – that is, how it did as a distinct and coherent religious group in the midst of its wider society, what activities it engaged in as a group, how it was organized, how it worshiped, and so on.  We know so much about such issues because the community was riddled with problems.  Paul wrote his letters to address the problems, and so by looking carefully at what he wrote, we can understand not only what he thought was going wrong in the church but [...]

2021-05-11T18:22:47-04:00May 19th, 2021|Paul and His Letters|

Wanna Go To Northern Italy with Me in September?

Thank the gods, travel is becoming possible again.  Stir crazy?  How about an amazing culinary trip to North Italy to check out the wine, food, and scenery?   It will be September 4-11 (2021!) and it looks like an amazing trip.  Check out the brochure in the link below.  I'll be giving lectures on early Christianity in the Roman Empire; it'll be a small, intimate group (19 people max!), and I'll be hanging out with any and all the whole time, both shooting the breeze and talking about anything that strikes anyone's fancy about the New Testament and early Christianity.  Why not you and your fancy?! As you'll see, the trip is sponsored by the General Alumni Association at UNC, BUT you do not have to be a graduate of the school to come: it's for anyone.  If  you're NOT an alum, all you need do is pay $50 ($60 for a couple) to be considered a temporary Tar Heel.  Last time I did one of these things, maybe half the people were in that category.  [...]

2021-05-24T13:12:19-04:00May 18th, 2021|Public Forum|

Gold Members Month of May Q&A

Dear Gold Members, As you know, one of the perks of your elevated status as a gold member of the blog is that you are provided an audio Q&A once a month for gold members only.   You provide written questions, I answer as many as I can, and I release the audio recording to gold members only.  It's time to come up with some questions! I will be recording the next Q&A on Monday May 24, to be released Wednesday May 26.  Do you have a question?   Send it to our COO, Diane Pittman, at [email protected].   The deadline for your questions is midnight of Sunday, May 23.  The best questions are only a sentence of two long at most.  I hope to hear from you! Bart

2021-05-07T20:15:39-04:00May 18th, 2021|Public Forum|

How the “Delay” of the End (Jesus’ Return) Affected Paul’s Communities

A key to understanding the central role of the Holy Spirit in the early Christian communities is to realize that the earliest Christians did not think there was going to be on ongoing Christian community.  I discussed that a bit in my previous post and here I can continue the thought The apostle Paul is our earliest Christian author, and it appears that on this particular point he was in agreement with his predecessors, the very first followers of Jesus who came to believe he had been raised from the dead.  They thought that the messiah’s resurrection demonstrated that the resurrection had already begun, and they expected, then, that it would be completed right away. It is clear this this is what Paul thought.  Just consider the earliest of his letters that still survives, 1 Thessalonians.  Scholars usually date the letter to 49-50 CE or so, just some 20 years after Jesus’ death.  Paul had earlier brought his missionary zeal to Thessalonica, and while there he converted a number of people.  Based on what he [...]

2021-05-11T13:15:36-04:00May 18th, 2021|Public Forum|

Why the Spirit Mattered for the Earliest Christians

During the earlier parts of this thread on the Trinity, I kept thinking that by the time I got to the Holy Spirit there wouldn’t be much to say: it’s all about the Father and Son.  And even as I started planning this final part on the Spirit, I thought I would do it in a post, maybe two.  But now that I’m digging into it, I’m realizing that the one-or-two post thing doesn’t make sense without a lot of background.  Now I’ve decided I need to take the long path to get there.  Consider it the scenic route. I’ve been talking so far about the Spirit in the Hebrew Bible – from Genesis 1 up through the prophets.  The Spirit is far more important for early Christianity, and hence for the New Testament,  than for ancient Israelite religion (and hence the Old Testament), but I don’t believe I’ve ever articulated the reasons fully, either in writing or speaking.  For a long time, I’ve thought it works like this, in a nutshell.   (This may seem [...]

2021-05-03T11:15:40-04:00May 16th, 2021|Early Christian Doctrine, Paul and His Letters|

More Recent Scholarship on Who Wrote the Pentateuch

I am now nearly finished talking about the “Documentary Hypothesis” devised by scholars of the Hebrew Bible to account for the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible.  I have already discussed the traditional view developed in the nineteenth century, especially as it was laid out by Julius Wellhausen (the JEDP hypothesis).  But that was a long time ago.  What do scholars say today?  As one might expect, the discussions have not gotten simpler but more complicated.  Here is what I say, briefly, about that in my undergraduate textbook on the Bible.  It’s about as much as most beginning students (and most people in general) need to know.   ******************************   The Scholarly View Today It is impossible to speak about a single scholarly opinion about the Documentary Hypothesis today.  Some scholars reject the idea that J and E were separate sources; some think that there were far more sources than the four; some propose radically different dates for the various sources (for example, one increasingly popular proposal is that the earliest sources [...]

2021-05-01T12:11:24-04:00May 15th, 2021|Public Forum|

Who Really Wrote the Pentateuch (if not Moses)? The JEDP Hypothesis

I have been discussing the sources of the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), sometimes also called the Torah or the Law of Moses.  So far I have explained the kinds of literary problems that led scholars to realize that these books were not the writing of a single author, but represented a combination of earlier written accounts.  The traditional “documentary hypothesis,” as it is called, was most famously formulated by the nineteenth-century German scholar, Julius Wellhausen, who, along with some of his predecessors, called the sources J E D and P. This was the standard view of the matter back when I was doing my PhD in biblical studies way back when.  Here is how the hypothesis worked, in nuce.  (Again, this is taken from my textbook on the Bible). ****************************** The J source was the first source to be written. From it comes a number of the stories in Genesis and Exodus, including, for example the second creation account and the story of Adam [...]

2022-07-03T16:31:09-04:00May 13th, 2021|Public Forum|

More Inconsistencies in the Pentateuch

A few posts ago I more or less backed into a new thread on literary discrepancies found in the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament; these discrepancies are key to understanding why the books were almost certainly not written by a single person -- Moses, for example -- but are a combination of sources put together centuries after the stories were first placed in circulation. I talk about this in my textbook: The Bible: A Historical and Literary Introduction.  Here is how I discuss the matter there: ****************************** The literary inconsistencies of Genesis are not unique to these two chapters.  On the contrary, there are such problems scattered throughout the book.  You can see this for yourself simply by reading the text very carefully.  Read, for example, the story of the flood in Genesis 6-9, and you will find comparable differences.  One of the most glaring is this: according to Gen. 6:19 God told Noah to take two animals “of every kind” with him into the ark; but according to Gen. 7:2 God [...]

2021-05-14T18:16:31-04:00May 12th, 2021|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

Two (Contradictory?) Accounts of Creation in Genesis?

In my previous post I began to explain why scholars have thought that the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), were not written by Moses, but later, and that they represent not a single work by a single author, but a compilation of sources, each of them written at different times.  The evidence for this view is quite overwhelming, but in the context of my textbook on the Bible, as in the context here, I didn’t really think it appropriate or useful to dig deeply into all the nuances and ins and outs.  Instead, I gave some of the prominent data.   Here is how I started to do that. ****************************** The internal tensions in the Pentateuch came to be seen as particularly significant.  Nowhere were these tensions more evident than in the opening accounts of the very first book, in the creation stories of Genesis chapters 1 and 2.  Scholars came to recognize that what is said in Genesis 1 cannot be easily (or at all) reconciled [...]

2021-05-01T11:45:46-04:00May 11th, 2021|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

Who Wrote the Pentateuch Anyway?

A couple of posts ago I talked about the account of creation in Genesis 1 (with respect to the first two verses, the creation of the "heavens and the earth" and the "Spirit of God" hovering over the water).  One question I repeatedly get asked by blog readers is what we can say about the author of that creation account and of the Pentateuch (or the "Torah"; the first five books of the Old Testament -- Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy).   It's been years since I've talked about it on the blog. Historically, it was always said (as it is still often said by avid Bible readers today) that these books were written by Moses, the great leader of the Israelites in the 13th century BCE, and main figure of all the books of the Pentateuch, except Genesis (the story of his birth is given at the opening of Exodus, and much of the rest of the Pentateuch is about him).   But scholars came to doubt it.  That’s what these posts will be about.   [...]

2021-05-01T11:41:13-04:00May 9th, 2021|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|
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