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My Syllabus for “The Birth of Christianity”

Classes have now started at UNC, and I'm back in the classroom.  Last year it was all remote teaching (NOT fun for anyone, though my classes were terrific); this year we are starting out live, and desperately hoping we will be able to continue that way. For me, the most exciting part of the semester is that I"m teaching a course that I literally have not taught in 25 years.   There's lots of reasons for that -- among other things, I ended up having to teach other things and other colleagues came into the department who could and wanted to teach it.   But the course is more closely related to my research over these past 25 years than even my New Testament classes: this one deals with Christianity in the second and third centuries, and it is called "The Birth of Christianity." Here is the syllabus for it!    Reli 208 The Birth of Christianity Fall 2021   Instructor: Bart Ehrman Teaching Assistants:  Benjamin Sheppard and Thomas Waldrupe   Course Description and Objectives For most [...]

2021-08-18T17:24:22-04:00August 31st, 2021|Teaching Christianity|

Platinum apologies: the LINK for the webinar

As a number of you pointed out, I rather inconveniently didn't include the link to our webinar in my post announcing the link to our webinar.  Details.  I've updated the post, but in case you're reading this one instead, here it is:

2021-08-30T21:57:48-04:00August 30th, 2021|Public Forum|

Recording of our Platinum Webinar: History of Biblical Scholarship

Thanks to those of you who made it to the Platinum webinar on Saturday, on "The History of Biblical Scholarship."  I enjoyed it very much -- I've never talked to a public audience about that.  There's a lot more to be said, obviously, but I did try to hit the major points! If you weren't there, or even if you were, here's the talk. To relieve your concerns, the talk itself doesn't go as long as the recording!  A good chunk of it was Q&A.  Watch as much or as little or as none as you like! I appreciate how you've been involved on the blog as Platinum members.  If we can improve your experience, please let me know. Bart

2021-08-30T21:55:16-04:00August 29th, 2021|Public Forum|

Does God Really Care How He Is Worshiped? The Book of Hosea.

I have been discussing the wrath of God in the Old Testament and have mentioned a point that here that I want to reemphasize, a point rarely observed by Bible readers (in fact I think I didn’t take much notice of it until recently).  In the Bible God sometimes punishes people because they misbehave toward others – kill, exploit, oppress, and so on; other times he punishes them because they do not worship him properly or at all. This is a difference worth considering because it goes to the heart of a fundamental matter: is God more worried about how people treat one another or about what they believe and do in relationship to him?   Is it all about him, or is it all about our fellow humans? Most Christians, I suppose, would say “both”!  But it’s interesting that different parts of the Bible tend to focus on one or the other, sometimes exclusively. I have talked, e.g., about the prophet Amos, who predicted the coming destruction of Israel because the elite among them had [...]

2022-06-02T22:10:30-04:00August 29th, 2021|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

Bruce Metzger and Me: Reminiscences on my Dissertation

I have been enjoying reposting these reminiscences of my relationship with Bruce Metzger, widely seen as the most learned and important textual scholar in North America in the 20th century.  I was privileged to study with him and honored to be his final student.  Here I reflect on his supervision of my dissertation. Different dissertation advisors have different approaches to supervising a dissertation.  Some are extremely hands on, to the point of working over every thought and every sentence.  Not too many are like that, because if they were, they would never do anything else with their life.  Plus, the idea is for the student to figure it out and get good at it.  That takes some trial and error.  Other advisors go for the big picture and like to talk over the big ideas.  Others basically don’t give a rip how the dissertation is coming along – they want to see it at the end, and when it’s done, they’ll tell the student whether it’s good enough or not.  Others … well, there are [...]

On Giving. Platinum Guest Post by Judith Coyle

I am unusually pleased to be able to publish this guest post by Judith Coyle, one of the most faithfully and deeply committed members of the blog.  Here is her lovely, heart-felt offering, for Platinum members only. ******************************** Even though I am outspokenly adamant against even a thought of trying to make this absolutely perfect blog better, there is no denying now it is indeed better. It offers far more than I could have imagined!. There is a feature left behind though that I miss very much :  for those of us who are already members, that invitation in red to join the blog, giving its purpose and assuring us every penny goes to charity, (part way through each post) is no longer there.  In those invitations. Professor Ehrman managed to come up with something original and often hilarious to keep us focused on the blog's purpose of providing the means for helping those less fortunate.  (Note: the red invitation still does show up for non-members reading the post, who are then not able to [...]

2021-08-28T15:22:09-04:00August 26th, 2021|Public Forum|

Reminder: Fund Raiser for Afghanistan on Sunday

In case you didn't notice or inadvertently dropped it from memory or ... whatever:  I'd like to remind you about the fundraiser this Sunday (August 29).  I hope you can come!  Here's the announcement: ********************* Whatever our political positions, most of us are distraught about the situation in Afghanistan.  It will almost certainly get worse.  As a result of the crisis, relief agencies there are under enormous pressure, more than in a very long time. One of the charities supported by the blog is Doctors Without Borders, one of the truly great organizations in our world.  They are staying in Afghanistan for now (and hopefully for a long time) and their hands are incredibly full.  Naturally, they are desperate for additional resources (just look them up in relation to the situation there, and you can get some reports). We will be doing a blog fund-raiser for Afghanistan relief, this Sunday.  I will be giving a lecture and we will be taking voluntary donations of any amount, in hopes of raising substantial funds.   Every donation will [...]

2021-08-27T16:42:01-04:00August 26th, 2021|Public Forum|

Sin and Divine Punishment As a Dominant Theme of Scripture

In this discussion of God’s wrath, I want to emphasize that it is not an isolated view of this or that biblical author in the Hebrew Bible.  It is a highly pervasive view.  God punishes those who disobey him, and he destroys anyone who might lead his people astray into disobedience. Here is how I talk about God’s active role in suffering in my book’s God’s Problem (Harper One, 2008)   ******************************   The thematic idea that God punishes disobedience drives the narrative of all five books of the Pentateuch.  In some ways it comes to a climax in the final book, Deuteronomy.  The title of this book literally means “Second Law”; in fact it is not a second law that is given in the book – instead, the book describes the second time the Law was given to the children of Israel by the prophet Moses.  The way the narrative sequence works is this.  In the book of Exodus God saved Israel from its slavery in Egypt and miraculously allowed it to escape the [...]

2021-08-12T12:38:35-04:00August 26th, 2021|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

Israel’s Conquest of the Promised Land: Did Any of That Happen?

I have been discussing the book of Joshua and its descriptions of violence inflicted on others on orders of the God of Israel -- massive military campaigns and massacres (is there any reason NOT to call it a genocide of the inhabitants of Canaan?).  I have wanted to cover this material as background to the New Testament book of Revelation, where the slaughter is even more full scale.  One of my points is that the contrast between the “God of wrath” in the OT and the “God of love” in the NT does not really hold up, especially in view of the New Testament’s final book; another will be that the devastation of Revelation is indeed consistent with a common motif of Scripture.  I will be getting to that later, and emphasizing it, since at the same time it is inconsistent  with another motif of Scripture. But first I want to address a question lots of people typically have about these stories of the Conquest of Canaan in the book of Joshua.   Did any of [...]

2021-08-09T20:24:05-04:00August 25th, 2021|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

Destroy More Others! The Israelites’ Conquest of the City Ai

In my previous post on the narratives of the Old Testament, I talked about God’s complete intolerance with the “other” – the non-Israelite who might influence his people to worship other gods and not obey his laws.  The other had to be destroyed in order to preserve the purity of his people.  It did not matter if some, many, or most of these others were decent, loving human beings who cared for their children and did acts of kindness, doing the best to help others and be good people.  They were to be destroyed.  Every one of them in the city of Jericho: man, woman, child, and, well, the animals for good measure. The taking of Jericho is the first major battle of the book, and others follow suit.  To illustrate, here is the one that comes next, less known to Bible readers today but equally instructive (and gruesome) (and with an interesting military tactic). Again, this come from my book The Bible: A Historical and Literary Introduction (Oxford University Press).   ******************************   The [...]

2021-08-20T16:34:25-04:00August 24th, 2021|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

Fund Raiser for Afghanistan: This Sunday!

Whatever our political positions, most of us are distraught about the situation in Afghanistan.  It will almost certainly get worse.  As a result of the crisis, relief agencies there are under enormous pressure, more than in a very long time. One of the charities supported by the blog is Doctors Without Borders, one of the truly great organizations in our world.  They are staying in Afghanistan for now (and hopefully for a long time) and their hands are incredibly full.  Naturally, they are desperate for additional resources (just look them up in relation to the situation there, and you can get some reports). We will be doing a blog fund-raiser for Afghanistan relief, this Sunday.  I will be giving a lecture and we will be taking voluntary donations of any amount, in hopes of raising substantial funds.   Every donation will go in toto directly to Doctors without Borders. The lecture is blog-related rather than crisis-related, since that is what I know about and is also why most of you are here.   It's an intriguing topic, [...]

2021-08-23T20:17:22-04:00August 23rd, 2021|Public Forum|

God’s Destruction of the “Other”: Joshua and the Battle of Jericho

  In this thread I have been discussing the wrath of God as manifest in the writings of the Old Testament, in preparation for a later discussion of the divine judgments meted out in the New Testament book of Revelation. In a number of Old Testament narratives God asserts his raw divine power not because he is angry at the disobedience of his people but because he does not want them to be corrupted by outsiders, the “Others” who will lead them astray.  In one sense I suppose God could be said to be angry with these outsiders, but it is a little difficult to see why, since he has not revealed himself to them and they are simply worshiping the gods they and their ancestors have worshiped from time immemorial. But in any event, the outsiders need to be destroyed to prevent them from badly affecting the Israelites.  Nowhere is this theme played out more consistently and graphically than in the book of Joshua, the sixth book of the Hebrew Bible (right after the [...]

2021-08-08T18:21:14-04:00August 22nd, 2021|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

What Do YOU Think? A Matter of Life and Death

A NEW BLOG FEATURE! I’ve decided to try something new on the blog today.  I’d like *your* view about something, your honest opinion based on serious expertise or complete non-expertise. For this new feature, which I’m calling “What Do You Think?”, I will NOT be responding to comments/questions, I’ll simply be posting them, without making a reply, comment, question, or anything else to, so you can express yourself and have others can see your views.  (As always, I will not be posting comments that are rude to others or irrelevant to the question – for example, castigations of particular politicians that many but not all of us may despise, on one side of the political chasm facing us or the other. [!])  Others of course can comment on your comment as they choose -- and I hope they do.  I'll be listening in.  For my own fun, education, and edification! If this turns out to be a nice feature for the blog, I’ll do it again later. Here is the issue that I would like [...]

2021-08-20T15:26:43-04:00August 21st, 2021|Public Forum|

When / If you have a blog problem!

I regularly get comments on one of my posts from a member who is having some kind of technical problem -- for example, only part of the post shows up for them, or they can't seem to access something etc.  (Other people have problems with what I actually *say*, but that's a different matter....).   Sometimes there are indeed technological problems that arise.  What to do? The VERY BEST thing is to contact our help staff.  I won't get to your comment a day or so later, and the problem is almost always individual, not system wide.  So there's not much I can do to help in response to a comment, even if I did have the wherewithall to deal with the technological details.  (As Groucho once said, Why a four-year-old child could understand this ...! Run out and find me a four-year-old child, I can't make head or tail of it.”) So, are you haveing a problem? Click on HELP and contact support.  Someone will get in touch and figure it out for you. If there are even [...]

2021-08-20T16:56:22-04:00August 20th, 2021|Public Forum|

Platinum Members! Vote for your Favorite Platinum Post to Go To the Blog!

Dear Platinum Members,   It is time to vote for the next Platinum guest post to become a blog guest post!  The winner's post will go to all blog members for reading and comment.   The winner this past month was a big success: Frederick Ackun's post, "The Essence of Religious Literacy" appeared on the blog (a couple of days ago!), and has received very interesting and postive feedback. Now it's the next round.  Do you remember them?  Wanna read them again?  Willing to vote? Here they are in chronological sequence.  If you’re willing to vote, please remember:  I am NOT asking which one you think is the most scholarly.  They are all high quality.  I’m asking: which did you find most interesting and, given what you know about the members of the blog, would best address the interests of most blog members? To vote, please send an email indicating your choice to my assistant Diane Pittman, at [email protected] .    You will have until Tuesday midnight, August 24.  We will tabulate the votes then I"ll announce [...]

2021-08-19T18:23:32-04:00August 19th, 2021|Public Forum|

Jesus as a Healer: “First: Do No Harm” Platinum Guest Post by Douglas Wadeson

I have very much enjoyed these guest posts by Doug Wadeson, who spent his long career in medicine, reflecting on Jesus' healing miracles in light of contemporary medical knowledge.  This final post is unusually thought provoking.  Did Jesus sometimes do more harm than good? Let Doug know what you think. [[And if you have a post you'd like to get out there to your fellow Platinum members, with a chance that it could appear on the entire blog, zap me a note at [email protected] ]] ***************************** In the previous 3 posts I suggested some ways that Jesus could have achieved apparent success at healing various afflictions and thus gained a reputation as a healer, and presented some evidence from the Gospels that there were limitations to Jesus’ ability to heal and that some people may have relapsed after their apparent healings.  In this final post I would like to discuss both negative and positive aspects of Jesus’ reputation as a divine healer, with some concluding thoughts.   I doubt that Jesus knew the medical phrase, [...]

2021-08-18T17:08:33-04:00August 18th, 2021|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

Why Did Paul Think *Faith* Would Bring Salvation?

I received this question recently and decided to post on it again.  It seems like it should be a softball.  It turns out, it's not.  It's a hard curve.  Here's the question and my response.   QUESTION: Why did Paul establish the idea of salvation via faith? Why did he think that salvation by Jesus’ crucifixion was conditional on faith? Especially when Jesus’ ministry often promoted good works and when Jesus himself surely would have believed in salvation via good works (being Jewish)? I feel like this is a core tenet I struggle to get my head around since it seems almost contradictory to circumvent good works and then have so many good people--or at least as good as those who have faith--go to hell, or, more accurately, annihilation.   RESPONSE: The easiest way to see how Paul came to think/believe/understand his evangelistic message that "salvation" with God can come only by "faith" in Christ's death is by realizing how he started reasoning backwards from his belief that Jesus was raised from the dead.  Paul [...]

2021-08-04T10:42:55-04:00August 18th, 2021|Paul and His Letters, Reader’s Questions|

It’s Coming Soon

But we don't know when.... Many apologies.  Because of production problems (involving me, the producer) I have not been able to get the Gold Q&A uploaded for your listening pleasure.  It may yet be a couple of days.  I've recorded it -- there were some fantastic questions, including some I couldn't get to -- and even the recording was an adventure (my power cut out half way through....).  But, well, it'll be two or three days. Sorry 'bout that.  But no worries, with us mere mortals a day is as a day, not a thousand years, and it should be available in a couple of days.

2021-08-18T10:07:05-04:00August 17th, 2021|Public Forum|

The Essence of Religious Literacy: A Christian Perspective. Guest Post by Fredrick Ackun

As you probably know, Platinum members of the blog receive several additional perks -- a quarterly webinar with me, a chance to provide a "guest post" for Platinum members only, and so on.  After several of the guest posts have been posted, the Platinum members vote on one of them to be posted on the entire blog for all blog members to read. Would you be interested in getting in on that action?  Check out the membership tiers and see what it (and each of the tiers) involves. Just click Join Now and you'll see them. Here is the latest Platinum post winner, Frederick Ackun, who provides us with an unusually interesting set of reflections on issues related to faith, knowledge, and how to read the Bible -- important matters for anyone interested in our blog. Here is Frederick's post.  Enjoy! ****************************** In this post, I wish to share and elaborate a bit on some personal realizations I have made in my faith journey. They are some of the main reasons why I am of [...]

2021-08-23T08:59:52-04:00August 17th, 2021|Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|

Is This a God You Want to Worship? Some Horrors of Scripture.

Parts of the Hebrew Bible insist on the absolute purity of the Israelites – they are to have no contact with outside influences that might compromise their devotion to Yahweh, the God of Israel, in any way whatsoever.  If they do come to be influenced by outsiders, God punishes them severely; and sometimes, as a further response, he orders the slaughter of the outsiders.  This is the wrath of God in its most severe and unbending form, evidently against people who didn’t even know he existed. Nowhere is this theme shown more graphically than in the case of Moses and the Midianites, as found in Numbers 25 and 31, passages that I would venture to say very few people on the blog or otherwise have ever read or at least paid much attention to.  But they are among the most horrifying narratives of the entire Hebrew Bible. The account begins with a group of outsiders, the Moabites (inhabitants of the land of Moab).  While Israel is still in the wilderness during their 40 year wandering, [...]

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