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A New and Important Book on the Bible

A few months ago an important book of the Bible came out, written for general readers but based on a life-long pursuit of scholarship by a senior scholar at Oxford, John Barton.  I was asked to write a review of the book for the London newspaper, The Telegraph, without having yet seen the book.  It is really terrific, one of the best introductions to the Bible (that is not a textbook, in any sense) that is available.  I am not allowed because of copyright issues to publish my entire review on the blog, but the editors at the Telegraph have allowed me to reproduce a portion of it, to give you the idea of what I say, and to see what the book is about.   If you want the full review, please go here:  https://www.telegraph.co.uk/books/what-to-read/warts-and-all-history-bible-essential-reading/

Here is part of what I say, the beginning bit of the review and then some of the more important parts later in it:

**********************************************************************************

The Bible continues to be the most commonly purchased, widely read, and deeply revered book in the English-speaking world, important not only as Scripture for communities of faith but also as a cultural artefact for anyone interested in the literature, art, music, philosophy, and history of the West.  It is also an undeniably mysterious book, widely misunderstood, misinterpreted, and misused.  Where does one go to learn what this book actually means, where it came from, and how it has been read, both by Jews and by Christians?

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Why It Is Hard To Publish a Translation of an Ancient Text
Some Pitfalls of Writing for a General Audience

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    VaulDogWarrior  September 16, 2019

    If you create an account with the Telegraph you can get one free premium article per month. Just enough to read Dr. Ehrman’s article! 🙂

    https://www.telegraph.co.uk/books/what-to-read/warts-and-all-history-bible-essential-reading/

    11
    • Bart
      Bart  September 16, 2019

      Ah, worth knowing! Thanks.

      • Avatar
        Iskander Robertson  October 3, 2019

        Dr Ehrman

        do you think it would be a good idea to have a feature on this blog which allows viewers to view all the comments done by posters just by clicking on the name of the poster and selecting “all comments by Ehrman” ?

        • Bart
          Bart  October 4, 2019

          Interesting idea. Are you suggesting that htey could get then only my own repsonses to comments, or all the comments others have made on a post. Aren’t the latter already available simply by looking at the post?

    • Avatar
      Fernando Peregrin Gutierrez  September 16, 2019

      Thank you

  2. Avatar
    rburos  September 16, 2019

    bought it.

  3. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  September 16, 2019

    Are you sure you don’t have a doppelganger or even two? You are just too productive to be just one person.

    2
  4. Avatar
    RSKICE  September 16, 2019

    Thanks for the tip looks promising. I´ll give it a try. Hope it reads as easily as your books. There is a nice flow in your books if I may say so. English of course not my native tongue. However we learned Oxford English in school as it was called. 🙂

    2
  5. Avatar
    BrianUlrich  September 16, 2019

    I wonder if he gets confused with David Barton. I guess I’d hope DB’s fans get confused and read this, but that JB is not tainted by the association.

  6. Avatar
    fishician  September 16, 2019

    “The Bible continues to be the most commonly purchased, widely read, and deeply revered book in the English-speaking world…” I agree with 2 out of 3, but as far as “widely read”,” well, parts of it, yes. but the whole thing, NO! I have encountered very few believers who have taken the time to read the Bible, cover to cover. Which is strange, because many of them claim it is the inspired unadulterated Word of God! Why wouldn’t you take the time to read it, instead of reading nonsense on Facebook, or watching inane programs on TV? On the other hand, maybe those who have taken the time to read it are no longer believers, because of what they read?

    1
    • Bart
      Bart  September 17, 2019

      Nope, not the whole thing, definitely. And yes, very odd indeed. But an astonishing number of people read a bit of the Bible every day, and way more every week. Can’t say that about David Copperfield! (My all time favorite novel)

      1
  7. Avatar
    Thunderball  September 16, 2019

    “I was asked to write a review of the book for the London newspaper, The Telegraph, without having yet seen the book.”

    I’m obviously missing something. How is it possible to review a book you have not seen?

    2
    • Bart
      Bart  September 17, 2019

      I read the book after being asked to review it; that’s normally how it happens. But yes, no one reviews a book without reading it!

      6
      • Avatar
        Fernando Peregrin Gutierrez  September 18, 2019

        Maybe you don’t know any case, but I’ve caught more than two and three well-known critics in Spain reviewing books in prestigious magazines that either haven’t read or have done it very lightly, reading one page out of ten.
        Sometimes it is so noticeable that they have barely glimpsed the text, which is embarrassing.

        • Bart
          Bart  September 20, 2019

          I’m not saying it isn’t done! It may well be done some. But I’m saying I don’t know of any instances, that I’m certain about. Plenty of times reviewers don’t read very *well* — all of us authors have had reviewers say things that simply aren’t true of our books. But reading badly isn’t the same as not reading! I don’t know, obviously, about the situations you’re referring to.

          • Avatar
            Fernando Peregrin Gutierrez  September 20, 2019

            Interestingly, three of the most notable examples in book criticism circles in cultural magazines in Spanish that I remember, of reviewing books without having (almost) read them, were well-known history books of more than 1000 pages each.
            We would also have to talk one day about the reviews of their respective books that some friends authors make to each other.
            But this, as far as I know, is not only in Spain.

  8. Avatar
    Hon Wai  September 16, 2019

    For Christians, it should be striking that Adam is never mentioned again in the Hebrew Bible after Genesis 3, and without imposing a Christian theological reading of the text, the Hebrew Bible as a whole does not lend support to the Augustinian doctrine of the Fall and original sin. As you pointed out, the emblematic figure is not Adam (portrayed as progenitor of the human race in the Bible) but Abraham (progenitor of the Israelite nation), showing that the dominant concern of the Hebrew Bible is the status and destiny of the tribe, not of whole of humanity (not surprising from an cultural evolutionary perspective on ancient religions having their origins in tribal concerns). Yet in the New Testament, we do find a shift in the NT, away from concern for the tribe towards whole of humanity. Paul’s writings have lent support to a doctrine of the fall and original sin. Would you say Paul’s perspectives on creation, the fall and original sin, are typical of Jews of his day, or whether they are his unique theological innovations?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 17, 2019

      I don’t think Paul has a doctrine of “original sin” as developed, say, by Augustine. But yes, his apocalyptic view that Adam brought the power of sin into the world so that it affected everyone does seem innovative. At least I can’t think of other Jewish teachers who said so.

      1
  9. Avatar
    Jackbasho  September 16, 2019

    If it ain’t God breathed 1611 King James then it AIN’T BIBLE!!!! Amen!!!! Now pass the rattler snake…

    1
  10. Avatar
    Jim  September 16, 2019

    Thanks for your review; I went ahead and purchased the e-book version.

    On a tangential note and related to a recent post on John Loftus’ blog: luckily for us, 🙂 🙂 there is one person in the world who knows why professional historians don’t believe in Jesus’ resurrection (he even mentions your Teaching Company Lectures). 🙂 🙂

    https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/question-answer/why-dont-professional-historians-come-to-believe-in-jesus-resurrection?fbclid=IwAR1lhzN0p76_uJNOthUgUDy4NaKincCr_QQcFDvlhEsHgKD0ukcGkw2ODl8

    1
    • Avatar
      Sixtus  September 17, 2019

      This link is to the apologist-extraordinaire WL Craig’s site where he states the following: ‘Ehrman, though not a Christian, accepted on the basis of the evidence the historicity of Jesus’ empty tomb, his post-mortem appearances, and the origin of the disciples’ belief in Jesus’ resurrection.’ Note the smarmy, no-doubt-deliberate use of the ambiguous ‘appearances,’ which could imply that Bart believes Jesus was actually seen in the flesh. The word here should be taken literally–he ‘appeared’, as a vision, to the disciples. This is what Bart persuasively argues in How Jesus Became God.

      • Bart
        Bart  September 18, 2019

        Plus, Ehrman does not believe in the historicity of Jesus’ empty tomb. Maybe he wrote this a long time ago?

        1
        • Avatar
          turbopro  September 18, 2019

          >> Maybe he wrote this a long time ago?

          Actually, this was written September 09 2019, on the reasonablefaith.org website.

          Moreover, Dr Craig furthered:

          >> But he denied on the grounds of Humean philosophical arguments[4] that the historian could ever justifiably infer that Jesus’ resurrection was the best explanation of that evidence. So he withheld judgement. Clearly, the problem here is not any deficiency in the evidence but a philosophical constraint that precluded inferring to the resurrection as the best explanation.

          Hmm, “a philosophical contraint…”

          I recall that when you debated Dr Craig several years ago, your position was that the historian is unable to establish a miracle for historiographical reasons, right.

          • Bart
            Bart  September 20, 2019

            That’s right. But no, he’s completely wrong to say I think there is evidence the tomb was empty. I don’t think there was “a tomb”.

      • Avatar
        Jim  September 18, 2019

        Yeah, WLC’s post was from about 10 days ago. I just chuckled (and posted the link here) because in the first few paragraphs, WLC suggests that professional historians don’t want to admit that there is strong historical evidence for Jesus’ resurrection because they’re afraid of what their peers (other scholars) would think of them. I did however, fall asleep when he launched into his Bayesian reasoning stuff.

        • Bart
          Bart  September 20, 2019

          Yeah, that’s simply nonsense. On Bayesian reasoning, surely it’s remarkable that it is used with equal skill and confidence by WLC to argue Jesus almost certainly was raised from the dead and by R. Carrier to argue that Jesus almost certainly never existed. Something ain’t right here.

      • Avatar
        dankoh  September 24, 2019

        I find this clip even more troubling:
        “Step (I) is the historian’s task and deals with what is best meant by “evidence for the resurrection”: the evidence for such facts as Jesus’ empty tomb, his post-mortem appearances, and the origin of the disciples’ belief in Jesus’ resurrection. Today the wide majority of informed historical scholars do, in fact, accept the “evidence for the resurrection” in this sense.”

        Really? Not the vast majority of scholars I’ve read. Or perhaps he’s playing the “no true Scotsman” fallacy.

        • Bart
          Bart  September 25, 2019

          I suppose he’s counting committed Christian believer-scholars among the “majority” of “historians” who give any time to thinking about it…. But I can assure you, and him, that if you went to any major university and interviewed the professors in their history department about the idea that you can prove that Jesus was raised from the dead, with indisputable evidence, the very great majority of them would (literally) laugh.

          1
    • Avatar
      cristianp  September 17, 2019

      can you please share the link where you bought the ebook?

      • Avatar
        Jim  September 18, 2019

        I got it from Google books, but I’m pretty sure it’s available at Amazon as well.

    • Avatar
      Fernando Peregrin Gutierrez  September 20, 2019

      Mr. Lane Craig dixit: “Take Bart Ehrman as a case in point. In his Teaching Company lectures on the historical Jesus, Ehrman, though not a Christian, accepted on the basis of the evidence the historicity of Jesus’ empty tomb, his post-mortem appearances, and the origin of the disciples’ belief in Jesus’ resurrection. ”
      *****************************************************************************************************

      I have a hard time believing this.
      I think that to say that Bart believes as historical the post-mortem appearances of Jesus, is very risky and possibly badly intentioned.
      I think that to say that Dr. Ehrman believes himself in the “Just so stories” of the Road to Emmaus or the 500 Paul speaks of (1 Corinthians 16: 5) is to insult his intelligence.

      • Bart
        Bart  September 22, 2019

        Yes, I did these lectures 20 years ago! Back then I did think the tomb was probably empty. Now I no longer think so. But yes, I do think that disciples had “visions” of Jesus. I don’t think, of course, he really appeared to them.

  11. Avatar
    AGarrow  September 16, 2019

    Nice typo in first line of your blog. ‘A new and important book of the Bible’. It caught my eye because I’ve just published a video of a British New Testament Conference paper in which I argued that a missing Johannine Epistle is hiding inside the Didache – http://www.alangarrow.com/bntc2019 – might even be called ‘a new and important book of the Bible’.

    Anyway, thanks for the notice of the excellence of Barton’s book – even if it’s not yet canonical.

    1
    • Avatar
      Jim  September 18, 2019

      Does your proposed link with the Johannine epistle suggest a possible region where the version of the Didache that we have may have originated from? Or is this asking too much from the data?

  12. Avatar
    ksgm34  September 16, 2019

    Am I missing something? How do you write a review of a book you’ve not seen?! Do you mean you hadn’t seen it in its final form?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 17, 2019

      I read the book after being asked to review it; that’s normally how it happens. But yes, no one reviews a book without reading it!

  13. Avatar
    Ficino  September 16, 2019

    Prof. Ehrman, forgive this as OT for this post: Dale Allison, as I’m sure you know, claims that ἐτάφη in I Cor 15 cannot refer to a body’s being put in a common grave, for “that was not burial but its denial” (Resurrecting Jesus p. 353). And forgive me if you have written about that claim elsewhere. What is your view; can the reference of ἐτάφη be a common grave of condemned criminals? That such was the destination of Jesus’ body you have argued elsewhere (e.g. on this blog, July 29, 2014)? Thank you

    • Bart
      Bart  September 17, 2019

      I haven’t actually looked at the use of the term in ancient Greek literature, but I’d be surprised if he’s right. Does he prove it or simply assert it? Today we often talk about “mass burials” and they had lots and lots of them in antiquity (massive burial pits have been discovered)

      • Avatar
        Ficino  September 17, 2019

        No, as far as I can tell, Allison just infers from ἐτάφη that there must have been a tomb, or at least, a dedicated burial. Although the singular ἐτάφη in literary sources, to judge from a quick scan of the TLG, tends to appear in narratives about the burial ceremony or site of a named individual, there are instances of ἐτάφησαν referring to soldiers et al. buried en masse at site.

        I also don’t think that there is anything in the context of I Cor 15 about a tomb as such. The work done by “that he was buried” is, I think, to establish that Jesus was really dead and that his fleshly body was not alive – so therefore his resurrected body is changed and “spiritual,” whatever that means. And so shall be all of you Corinthians after ye die, if ye fall not away… lol.

        1
        • Bart
          Bart  September 18, 2019

          TLG? Wow! OK, then. You’re not the average layperson reading 1 Corinthians!

          1
          • Avatar
            Ficino  September 19, 2019

            Thank you for the notice! I am a Classics Ph.D., but otherwise I am indeed very average.

            I’m not up on Allison’s work since Resurrecting Jesus (2005), except to note that he seems to have agreed that the Criteria of Authenticity aren’t reliable – agreeing, I take it, with Rodriguez et al that the NT narratives are literally propaganda, so that no nuggets of purported history escape propaganda’s coloration. I was disappointed by Allison’s long chapter on the resurrection:
            – often he takes the usual line that repeated phraseology and construction with lots of short cola in anaphora are signs that the NT writer is using already traditional material. I don’t see how this follows; Greek authors can invent their own phrases and use them over and over.
            – the argument that it took a resurrection to convert the disciples’ despair into their Easter Faith rests on too many assumptions about the historicity of the gospels and Acts; the despair and explosive post-Pentecost conversions are as much part of the propaganda as is the story of the resurrection appearances
            – it seems the empty tomb’s historicity is necessary for the “to best explanation” argument to have a chance
            – he doesn’t confront many other problems with the gospel accounts of Easter week and thereafter.
            At least he doesn’t put weight on the “they wouldn’t die for what they knew was a lie” argument, given that the martyrdoms of the apostles are less well evidenced even than parts of the gospels.

            Love your blog!

            1
          • Bart
            Bart  September 20, 2019

            Thanks! When I first used the TLG it was a different beast from what it is now. In fact, I haven’t used it for a very long time, so I can only imagine….

  14. Avatar
    Stephen  September 16, 2019

    How about posting about the reception of your books in Europe as compared to their controversy here? I would imagine that they would be considered less controversial in a much more secular Europe (or if they are controversial it might be for different reasons).

    Thanks

    • Bart
      Bart  September 17, 2019

      Interesting idea. Unfortunately I know nothing about how they’ve been received!

      • Avatar
        Dnations  September 17, 2019

        Ah, but one would think your publisher would.

        • Bart
          Bart  September 18, 2019

          Actually, weird as it may seem, not. Each translation is published by a different publisher in the various countries; my books are translated into 27 languages so that would mean contacting 27 publishers! (I could do it, of course; but public “reaction” or “reception” isn’t the same as sales, and so even the publisher would have to do a lot of work to track down reviews, blog posts, etc….)

          1
    • Avatar
      juandetobarra  September 18, 2019

      Europe differs a lot from one country to another, although there is much more secularism here, in my opinion.

      I can talk about the reception of mr. Ehrman books in spain, and I think is similar.

      In general, religious issues are really far from public debate, people are not interested about religion. Just to have a clue: here in Spain we have still functioning some of the most important and ancient Theology Faculties in the world, in more than 10 Catholic Universities along the country; however it is almost impossible to find an online course on the Bible, they have lots of courses, hundreds of them on any issues (law, history, economy, teaching, science…), but almost no courses on the Bible IN ANY CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY, and the reason is simply the lack of interested students.

      Any book in this issue is authomatically socially labeled as “religion” and “something just for priests”. Most books on the Bible, including the historical ones are difficult to find in the general bookstores, and they’re always put in the theology shelf (just with life of sants, bibles and so), or can be only found in the specialized bookstores of religious issues that are, in all the cases, owned by the Catholic Church.

      I think the last book of Mr. Erhman avalaible in spanish is “God´s Problem” (translated as “¿Dónde Está Dios?, el Problema del Sufrimiento Humano”).

      So, taking account that basically just the priests are interested on this issues (and their number is decaying strongly), you can imagine what is the situation of the reception of Mr. Ehrman books: No books, no debate.
      To have an idea: If I try to debate with someone in this issue people just think I’m about to abandon my wife and become a priest or so…

      4
  15. fefferdan
    fefferdan  September 17, 2019

    Bart, this reminds me: Could you or others recommend a decent Bible commentary that exists online? I love my Interpreter’s Bible, but hard cover reference books are soooooooo last century. And the ones that exist on places like Biblehub and Biblegateway are usually too fundamentalist or old [Calvin’s commentaries are nice but not exactly up to date].
    Dan

    • Bart
      Bart  September 18, 2019

      I’m afraid I’m hopeless on that one, since I never use commentaries (for regular folk), let alone ones online! So, someone else: Help? (BTW you might look at the online resources for SBL or on Mark Goodacre’s NT Gateway site for help)

      1
      • fefferdan
        fefferdan  September 18, 2019

        Thanks, the Goodacre site is very useful although not exactly what I was looking for

        • Bart
          Bart  September 20, 2019

          I just thought he might refer to useful one-volume commentaries there.

    • Avatar
      quadell  September 18, 2019

      I’ve looked hard for something like this online, and haven’t found anything like it. I’m always checking Anchor Bible Reference Library books out of my local library, or occasionally buying them (when they go on sale).

  16. Avatar
    RAhmed  September 21, 2019

    Thanks for posting about this! I was in my local library today and they had it in the new non-fiction section so I picked it up.

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