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A Personal Note and a Bit of a Bummer

This post is on a personal note and will be a bit self-indulgent, so if you’re looking for some information about the history or literature of early Christianity, this won’t the right time or place.

As many of you know from earlier blog posts, I was supposed to go off on a research trip to Greece (Athens), Egypt (Alexandria), and Italy (Rome), in connection with my work on my current project, The Triumph of Christianity (or whatever we call it) dealing with the Christianization of the Roman Empire.   My idea was to go to these places to see formerly “pagan” sites that were lost, changed, “converted” or destroyed by Christians in the fourth and later centuries (e.g., destroyed temples; shrines converted into churches; and so on).  I was supposed to go today.  But I have had to cancel the trip.

Yesterday while starting to do some preliminary packing I bent over to pick up a bag of books, and my back went out.   Bad.   Not “Call-911-and-the-Morgue” bad, but bad enough.  I had done something similar last summer, and it wasn’t pretty.  Last July I spent days in bed unable to get up without some rather, well, intense physical sensations.  Many of you have probably had this little bit of fun yourselves; and I’m sure all of you have had other jolly problems that are/were much worse.  In any event, yesterday after the bending incident I could still straighten up (painfully; but it was doable) and move about, and so I thought that maybe if I got some immediate attention, I’d be OK.

I went off to the Urgent Care unit nearby, had someone there check me out, and got prescriptions for some serious drugs.  I’m a big believer in the miracle of medication.  And I thought that I’d dodged a bullet. But no, in the middle of the night, last night, out of nowhere, my back seized up (I woke up with, let’s say, remarkable clarity).   So it’s not as bad as last summer, but the chances of my surviving an overnight plane ride to Athens without being sent into paroxysms of exquisite pain are about the same as my getting a position as first violinist for the London Philharmonic.

So I have had to cancel the trip.  I’m pretty bummed, as you might imagine.

But I’m not pretending that this is some kind of cosmic catastrophe that should make me question the meaning of life or the sense of all existence.  We’re not talking about a theodicy-inducing moment here.  We’re talking about not doing something that 99.99% of the human race would never be able to do for other reasons.   That’s not going to keep me from feeling disappointed, but I’m not going to have to rethink my views of the nature of reality because I couldn’t go on a research jaunt. And I want to use this as an opportunity to think that there really are people who do have genuine hard times right now.

Moreover, as I am wont to do, I am going to use the (lost) opportunity for something else to see what good can come of it.  One good is quite obvious to me.   Because of my busy schedule (most of it traveling) (so how upset can I be if a trip gets cancelled??) for this entire calendar year I was not going to have had any solid two-week period to work on my book and do nothing but work on the book.   Really.  You’d think as a university professor with at a major university, I would have nothing but time to do my research.   Right?  Wrong?

With my day job (they do like me to teach at the university; university administrations can be a bit funny that way) (and in addition to teaching there are committees, and other meetings, and students to see, and graduate students to direct, and dissertations to advise, and lots of other things), my speaking gigs (this next academic year, the vast majority of weeks I’m on the road to give a talk one place or another), my family obligations (most of which are sheer pleasure!  But that doesn’t hide the fact that they are obligations as well), and so forth and so on – I simply did not have a single two-weeks stretch at home to do my research and writing

Like many of you, I need more hours in the day and more days in the week!  Way more.  I’ve often thought we should figure out a way to set up a time-exchange, where people who are not busy but are bored and have nothing to do with themselves could trade out a few hours with those of us who simply can’t squeeze everything in, no matter how organized and efficient we are.

In any event, back to my point: I will now have two full weeks that previously had been unaccounted for (well, except for a trip overseas that just got cancelled).  And I’m going to use them to have two weeks with nothing to do but think about and work on my book.   That will be an unexpected luxury – my only solid two-week stretch all year.  So that part’s good.

Still it’s a bit of a bummer.  And it changes my blog plans.  My idea had been to talk on the blog each day about some of the sites I had been seeing.  That would have been fun and different.  But it ain’t gonna happen.  But other things will happen, and in the end, it’ll all be good….


Paul as a Persecutor of the Church
Jesus’ Death; Good Scholars; and Writing the First Book: Readers’ Mailbag May 28, 2016



  1. Avatar
    John  May 29, 2016

    It’s worse than you thought. I was going to invite you to dinner in Athens.

    Hey ho, another time.

    John Humberstone.

  2. Avatar
    stokerslodge  May 29, 2016

    Bart, I feel guilty (given your condition) asking this question. Could you/would you recommend a reliable Bible translation for the lay reader, and maybe some advice on which translations to avoid. Best wishes for a speedy recovery!

    • Bart
      Bart  May 30, 2016

      Not a problem! I prefer the New Revised Standard Version, which I especially like in an annotated version, such as the HarperCollins Study Bible.

  3. Avatar
    Jana  May 29, 2016

    I am sorry that you are in pain regardless. Hope you can also rest and relax and enjoy more personal if not private time.

  4. Avatar
    John  May 29, 2016

    Plaka awaits your next visit.

  5. Avatar
    rivercrowman  May 29, 2016

    Bart, I’m age 66, and several years ago, I had serious back issues which have evidently cured themselves (until next week, maybe). It was hard to get up to feed my cat, a daily responsibility. … Evolution, I’ve read, didn’t give us the best design of backs and knees. … But carry on please!

  6. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  May 29, 2016

    Egads! I am so sorry. I had a similar experience recently when I bent over to pick up my granddaughter. If there is something i can do to help, just email me at ronaldtaska@gmail.com. I would be glad to bring you some homemade chicken soup if you need it or do some chore or two for you.

  7. Avatar
    falter  May 29, 2016

    Hello Dr. Ehrman:

    Sorry to hear about the bad news…

    Unfortunately, your description of the exact location of your back injury was not provided: LOWER BACK or the UPPER BACK BETWEEN THE Shoulder blades = the rhomboids]. Presumably it is your lower back based on the description of the “picking up a bag incident”…Although you are having discomfort in the lower back…the actual cause may be in the gluteals or the piriformis muscles [VERY COMMON trigger points!].

    Most doctors in an a hospital emergency room or Urgent Care have little experience with low back injuries. And, family doctors are equally ineffective [take a pill and rest…] A Physical Therapist [PT] is probably your best option. [Usually, x-rays will not show soft tissue damage… perhaps a bulging disc [which was already present and asymptomatic]. Your school, UNC at Chapel Hill has a top notch PT program…one of the best in the country – just like UNC’s department of religion. Why not take advantage of their expertise? It cannot “hurt” [bad pun] to ask. More important, they can instruct you on a program how to best reduce the chance of future injuries [e.g., working your core muscles group, correct ergonomics when picking up a bag or bending forward, etc…) They know their stuff…This is their expertise… Your health is important…

    I too have had some back trouble… And, had it successful treated… Fortunately, I also had/have knowledge in anatomy, biomechanics, and exercise physiology…

    Well, I cared and want to…

    The good news is that now you have an opportunity to read some of those books you did not previously have the time to read…

    Perhaps most important, your readers should diligently read your last sentence and learn from your positive attitude. Truly inspirational and uplifting. Thank you.

    Take care.

    • Bart
      Bart  May 30, 2016

      Yup, it’s lower back, related to (an earlier identified) bulging disk. PT tomorrow!

  8. Avatar
    doug  May 29, 2016

    Sorry to hear about your back. My back occasionally goes out on me, too.

  9. John4
    John4  May 29, 2016

    Sincerest condolences, Bart. 😐

    May you soon leap and walk!

  10. Avatar
    gabilaranjeira  May 29, 2016

    I admit I was very jealous about this dream trip (Athens? Alexandria? Rome? Are you kidding me??). But I swear I didn’t do it!
    Get well soon! ?

  11. Avatar
    seeker_of_truth  May 29, 2016

    Hope you’re feeling better really soon. Glad you share personal notes.

  12. Avatar
    SidDhartha1953  May 29, 2016

    I hope you recover quickly.

  13. Avatar
    dfogarty1  May 29, 2016

    Take it from a long back sufferer. Avoid pain meds. You need a Medrol pack. One week of steroids to eliminate the inflation and break the cycle. If that doesn’t work, it’s MRI time.

  14. Avatar
    llamensdor  May 29, 2016

    You have my sympathy. I’m sure you wouldn’t consider back surgery unless you were virtually in extremis. I’ve been around a long time and amazing numbers of my family, friends and acquaintances have had back surgery, the vast majority of them unsuccessful. My wife, thankfully, was one of the few who had successful surgery. The worst part is missing a great trip with your kid. Did they do an MRI so you at least know where the problem may be?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 30, 2016

      It’s an old bulging disc. Need to work on those core muscles!

      • Avatar
        HaiKarate  November 6, 2017

        I have lower back problems, too… what I find works best to strengthen core muscles is to lay on the ground and knock out a few sets of crunches.

        • Bart
          Bart  November 7, 2017

          Yup, doing that and a bunch of other exercises — all to the good!

  15. Avatar
    Jim  May 29, 2016

    Wishing you a speedy solution to this along with a very speedy recovery.

  16. Greg Matthews
    Greg Matthews  May 29, 2016

    I had that happen once. I had to go to the emergency room and get a steroid injection. That was followed by 3 more injections directly into my lower spine over the next month. Right after that I started riding the recumbent bike 3 days a week. I used to have back problems every couple of years, but in the 5 years now that I’ve been going to the gym regularly I haven’t had anymore back problems.

  17. Avatar
    Rogers  May 29, 2016

    I’m a few years younger than you Bart, but am at that age where shoulders tend to go out. Back on March 2015 I had a surgery on one of them – after many months it all turned out well and that shoulder works great now – can pretty much do my work-out routine as before. (My other shoulder is now the problem child, alas.)

    But the initial surgery was kind of rough because in addition to being put under general anesthesia my entire arm was given a local that rendered it numb for 24 hrs. It was just a maddening sensation because I couldn’t really sleep due to constant paranoia that I was loosing blood circulation in the arm. On the 4th night, though, I had a very special, vivid dream – and a particular person (we called them spirit guides) showed up as in other special dreams.

    I’ve had these very special, unusual and highly distinctive dreams on a number of occasions (but after 5 years since they started the count is less than 10).

    The very first one of these special dreams was when I was laid up sick and home recuperating – in that dream the spirit guide’s name was spelled out (as way of introduction, so to speak). And then days shortly after the spirit guide appeared through Hypnagogic mediation – but instead of being dream-like, the imagery (with eyes closed) was like the photo realism of a digital camera, that is very crisp and entirely realistic. (Naturally the spirit guide does not resemble anyone I’ve ever known my entire life.)

    So sometimes these medical crisis or events do bring on reality pondering experiences. 🙂

    Middle age is not that uncommon for some folks to begin having these unusual experiences for the very first time. Emanuel Swedenborg was middle-aged when he began to have his.

  18. talmoore
    talmoore  May 29, 2016

    Speaking of traveling, when I was in Jerusalem last year visiting family I was reminded of just how hilly the land around Jerusalem is. That reminded me of Israel Finkelstein’s claim that the hill country around Jerusalem, from Mt. Carmel in the north to Hebron in the south, was historically home to a unique hill culture that distinguished the semitic populations of the hills from those of the coastal plains, the deserts and the Jezreel valley. And that got me thinking about why in the heck anyone would build a great temple to Yahweh way out on the eastern edge of the Judean hills, with no flowing water save one measly spring and bordering an inhospitable desert. And that’s when I remembered that the Israelites (according to the accounts of the patriarchs in Genesis) claimed to be related to the Edomites, Moabites and Ammonites to the south and east of the hill country. It’s not that the Israelites ventured east over the hills to construct a temple to Yahweh at the edge of the desert. The forefathers of the Israelites ventured west from the desert to construct a temple (or more simply an alter or “high place”) on the western edge of the desert. That is to say, within the circle of related semitic tribes Jerusalem was actually smack dab in the middle!

    It’s moments such as this that I remind myself the reason north is at the top of maps and not at the bottom is merely because of convention (i.e. the map makers were from the northern hemisphere!) and not because of any intrinsic topness to the northern direction. That is, often times the answer to a bewildering question is that you’re asking the wrong question. For example, maybe the question shouldn’t be “Why did Christianity triumph?” Maybe the question should be “Why didn’t Christianity fail?”

    • Avatar
      Slydog1227  June 5, 2016

      A very good question! It obviously offered a multi-faceted remedy for the masses of converts. Perhaps it was simply a matter of out with the old way that wasn’t working for the masses, and in with the newer, brighter hopefulness Christianity had to offer, in response to socio-economic and political persecution? Indoctrination at an earlier age? It was a better fit for the changing lifestyles of a growing population? Persecution and destruction of any and all alternative schools of thought? More likely a combination of all of the above and then some.

      Dr. Ehrman, have you ever considered writing a book in collaboration with some of your brilliant Sociology, Psychology, Archaeology and History colleagues offering a thorough examination and logical explanation for such massive growth? Has it already been done? A collaborative effort surely would produce a more correct and concise explanation as to the “why’s” of any religious expansion, and carry more weight with your detractors. Is the question of “why” in this instance just not really important in the grand scheme of things? Or would it just not be worth the time and trouble?

  19. Avatar
    RGM-ills  May 30, 2016

    Same thing happens to my Nephew.. He goes to the Choir-practer and gets fixed up overnight.. most of the time.. sometimes the visit doesn’t do the trick.. Worth a try though if you believe in those quack singers. Hope you get relief. Besides my comic relief.

  20. Avatar
    cmarlia  May 30, 2016

    I’m sorry to hear about your back. I’ve gone through that and it’s not pretty. However, I do look forward to your new writings. Hang in there! Best wishes

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