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Am I Converting to Islam?

READER COMMENT:

I received a message on Facebook a couple of weeks ago from a person who has been proselytizing to me about the Muslim faith. This has happened a few times with others on your FB page. I guess that’s what they do. Anyway, the other day I asked him if he was on your blog. He responded with a yes. Then he said that we (the members) were going to get a surprise from you soon. I asked him how so, and he said that you would be reverting to the Muslim faith. Apparently, reverting is something like converting according to him.  I asked him how he knew this information, and he said a friend of his (a friend that he only knows through FB) that is a neighbor of yours said you were very impressed with the Quran and that you haven’t made it public about reverting, but you would be soon. It took me a couple of days to find out the name of this person who is supposedly your friend, and he sent me a link to a YouTube video.  A man by the name of Yusha Evans was on there. I’ve never heard of this person before, and have no clue if you know him or not, but I thought I would pass the information along to you.

 

RESPONSE:

This would strike me as totally outrageous if it weren’t so funny.  Really???  I’m soon to announce that I have become a Muslim?!?

So let me squelch this rumor and so that the answer is absolutely not.   I am about as likely to become a Muslim as I am to join the Hari Krishnas or to become a Jainist or an orthodox Jew or … pick your religious preference.   From where I sit now, the likelihood of any of the above is somewhere close to, or below, zero.

It’s not that I don’t respect each and every one of those faiths – and all the other great religions of the world.   And it’s not that I don’t admire many of their moral principles and theological views, and that I don’t think highly of their sacred writings.   I simply am utterly, completely, and thoroughly satisfied with what I am: a 21st century academic specializing in early Christianity who is personally (and perennially, I imagine) an agnostic when it comes to knowledge (do I think I know whether there is a greater power in the universe?  Of course not – how could I possibly know?) and an atheist when it comes to belief (do I believe in a greater power – God, Yahweh, Allah, Krishna, Zeus, or pick your divinity?  No.)

When this reader first sent me this comment, my first reaction was different from my second and my second from my third.   So just to set the record straight, before explaining each reaction, let me state definitively:  I have never, ever talked with a neighbor of mine in my entire life about my views of Islam in general or the Qur’an in particular.   I’m not averse to having that conversation, but when I’m talking to neighbors, it is always about something else.   Like the next block party.   So the statement is not true.  Further, I’ve never even heard of Yusha Evans, so how he imagines (if he imagines?  I don’t know that he does) that he has inside information about my religious predilections and the direction I’m heading in my spiritual life is beyond me. (He certainly is not a neighbor of mine!)  The whole thing is false.  Fabricated.  Made up.

And so my FIRST reaction was:  this person doing the proselytizing is simply telling a bald faced lie in order to try to convert someone to Islam.  That’s disgusting.

Now, it’s true, that may in fact be the case.   But as I thought about it (for, like, 10 seconds) I realized that it’s a bit ungenerous.  I don’t know who this person is and know nothing about his moral character or missionary zeal.   And so my SECOND reaction was that maybe *he* didn’t make up a lie, maybe he genuinely heard this information from someone else who was telling a bald-faced lie.

But then I thought about if for a bit more (another 10 seconds) and I thought, wait a minute: I’ve just written an entire book on oral traditions and how they change and alter and get invented and transformed and so on over time (that’s the book coming out March 1, Jesus Before the Gospels).  Maybe I should think about this ill-founded rumor in light of what I actually know about the process of oral transmission of traditions.

This then was my THIRD (and current) reaction.   The reality is that the way rumors start is sometimes, but not always, and in fact not all that often, because someone comes up with a lie that s/he tells to someone else.  But more often a rumor starts because someone misunderstands something they heard, or unwittingly exaggerates what they heard, or unknowingly alters what they heard.   This happens ALL the time.   A falsehood does not have to be a lie.  If a claim is false, well, then it’s false.  But a lie involves a falsehood that someone tells while knowing full well that it’s false.   That’s different.

And when it comes to such things as rumor and gossip (there is actually a whole field of scholarship that specializes in such things!), lying is rarely the culprit.  So I’m not sure that this Muslim proselytizer, or his source of information, or that person’s source of information was lying.   Rumors like this just start.  Happens all the time.

When it comes to the historical Jesus, some conservative Christian scholars argue that you could not have rumors about him floating around that were not true while there were still eyewitnesses available in order to verify or disverify them.  So, according to this widely held (but highly problematic) view, no one could say that Jesus did x, y, or z or that he taught x, y, or z or that he experienced x, y, or z during his lifetime, since the disciples were there to correct the false information.

That is absolutely and demonstrably WRONG.   The rumor about me that I’ve been discussing has been floating around for a while, and anyone on the planet, Muslim, Christian, Jew, Buddhist, Hindu, Jainist, whatever could ask me if it’s true.  Has anyone?  Just one person.   And we’re in the age of electronic communication.   Imagine what it was like in the first century Roman empire!  There is no way to check or prevent or circumvent rumor and gossip, even about people who are alive at the time.  Even if you can ask them, or someone who knows them.  That applies not just to me today but (even more) to Jesus 2000 years ago.   That’s what this next book of mine is about.

But before you go off to buy the book, let me assure you: in it I do not announce that I have decided to become a Muslim.

REMINDER:  If you were a member of this blog, you would get 5-6 posts a week, each and every week, on all sorts of interesting topics.  JOIN!!!  It doesn’t cost much and all proceeds go to charity!

 


Jesus and the Son of Man
Is Repentance a Biblical Idea? Interview with David Lambert

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    godspell  January 20, 2016

    At present time, the Christianity/Islam confrontation seems to have overwhelmed all other dichotomies in the world. You’re either on one side or the other. Since you’re clearly not on the side of Christianity (without in any way considering yourself its enemy), you must be on the other side, which is Islam. That’s perhaps the ‘reasoning’ here.

    This is an infectious attitude–we’ve seen many prominent atheists basically taking the side of Christianity in this undeclared war. Richard Dawkins felt like he had to say ‘Clock Kid’ was a liar who never actually made a clock. The late Christopher Hitchens went on Fox News to support the war with Iraq, and never recanted that support, even after it became clear what a disaster it was. They were clearly not changing their beliefs about religion as a whole in doing this–they were simply choosing up sides. They’re on the Christian side of this Holy War, and never mind that Jesus was about as anti-war as a human can possibly be. Since when has that ever mattered a damn to anybody?

    I’d compare it to the furor that gripped Europe during WWI–you had all these radical suffragettes who had been smashing store windows and going on hunger strike, and you had socialist trade unionists trying to overthrow the capitalist order and end national boundaries, and then the war broke out, and the suffragettes were handing out white feathers to young men not in uniform, and the trade unionists all joined up to kill their brother trade unionists in other lands.

    And here and there, you see people resisting this pull–saying “All people everywhere are my brothers and sisters, and the only valid way to judge another human being is by the way he or she treats others. We should worry less about whether God is on our side, and more about whether we’re on God’s side, whatever we may individually mean by that word.”

    And some of these people are Christians, and many others are not. God bless them, each and every one. They are literally our only hope.

  2. Avatar
    SidDhartha1953  January 20, 2016

    I found a Yusha Evans by searching YouTube and FB. I couldn’t find any claim by him that you are about to “revert” to Islam, though he does ask people to pray for your guidance. I read your other reader’s question again and it seems he does not say Mr. Evans ever claimed knowledge in one of his videos that your are about to “revert.” It’s an object lesson for me, not to take two pieces of information as being related simply because they are in the same bit of text.

  3. talmoore
    talmoore  January 20, 2016

    Dr. Ehrman,

    Told ya.

  4. Avatar
    Caiaphas  January 20, 2016

    Thank you taking the irritation of hearing a rumor about yourself and creating a “teachable moment” for all of us here!

  5. Avatar
    Forrest  January 20, 2016

    This just proves that the old adage, from whatever source, “A lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on.” (or shoes or pants) has a level of veracity to it.

  6. Avatar
    mjordan20149  January 20, 2016

    These things happen all the time, and the more “notable” we become as personalities, the bigger the rumors become! People tell me that there is a rumor that I am going to retire and the Department Administrative Assistant is going to take over my office. Anyone who has seen what the stock market has been doing in the last couple of weeks knows that I can’t afford to retire! So I have been busy dispelling that rumor virtually all year! Surely people have better things to think about than my pending retirement, or your (improbable) conversion to Islam. Besides, its nobody’s business anyway!

  7. Avatar
    spiker  January 20, 2016

    Next Benjamin Netanyahu will be opening a pork only restaurant!

  8. Avatar
    MMahmud  January 20, 2016

    Yusha Evans himselr is definitely above such nonsense. Either an overzealous Muslim missionary or a Christian/atheist was involved in fabricating this lie.

    Anyways, that wont stop us from using your awesome arguments against Christianity. You confirmed like 99% of Islamic belief about Jesus without even resorting to the Quran. That is pretty impressive and no wonder Muslims flock to your blog and FB.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 21, 2016

      I don’t believe I’ve ever made an argument against Christianity, properly understood!

      • Avatar
        MMahmud  January 22, 2016

        Sophisticated theology is not popular and will never be popular among the masses. If your views became mainstream, Christians numbers’ would dwindle to almost nothing. Christians are Christians because they think Jesus Christ is their Master and called himself God and the son of God and because they think accepting the crucifixion and revival is the path to eternal life and salvation from eternal pain. This is a very strong hope ingrained in their hearts.

        I once had a conversation with a Christian (probably a Catholic from what I can infer) who literally admitted that Jesus never called people to worship him. His argument was that as time past Christians came to realize more and more the nature of God.

        I told him that was absurd. Why on earth wouldn’t Christ say, if he knew it to be true, “I am God and the son of God and a person in the trinity and Master of the heavens and the earth”. That is far more important then “love thy neighbor.” Why let Christians fight it out and declare each other heretics generation after generation until figuring out the ultimate truth themselves? Why on earth not just explain it then and there to the disciples “I ought to be worshipped” and leave no confusion for generations to come? I don’t think most Christians would even dare consider themselves Christian and confess like he did.

        I am a Muslim and I deny historians when I affirm his virgin birth, deny his crucifixion and claim that he informed people about eternal Paradise and the fire. But it’s because I believe this is literally what happened, that historians can’t know it since they weren’t there but that I can since I say my knowledge comes from God who we say was a witness to all of what happened. We believe historians *literally* got it wrong and Muslim theologians *literally* got it right.

        I can’t imagine most Christians adopting a different attitude either. Your arguments, to the majority, will not be interpreted as anything except disbelief.

        • Avatar
          christinegibbons  January 27, 2016

          Hmm, interesting,

          I find it fascinating that you are happy to see the Bible deconstructed but keep to the authority of the Koran.

          Even if many raised in Christianity come to disbelieve it’s unlikely many would touch Islam either. The claims made for the Koran sound very impressive. Unfortunately I then made the mistake of reading it which blew any illusions I had out of the water. I’d love to see the kind of open enquiry carried out by scholars like Dr Ehrman applied to Islam. but we all know what would happen to anyone who tried.
          Still, I guess we all have a blind spot when dealing with the faith we were raised in.

    • Avatar
      kirbyhopper  February 8, 2016

      Bart is only disproving the part of Christianity that relies on inerrancy, which isn’t the whole of our faith. Just a part of it, and once disproved, doesn’t prevent people from following Jesus. Many Progressives have quite a zeal for Jesus. BTW, I have been reading Jonathan A. C. Brown’s book Misquoting Muhammad, which follows to some degree Bart’s methods. He does a great job at combating inaccurate ideas about Islam that prevail in our society. What I get out of it is the divine origins of the Hadith and the sayings of Mohammed are just as questionable as the divine origins of the Christian testament.

  9. Avatar
    Wilusa  January 20, 2016

    I’ve been wondering about this (NOT whether you’re going to become a Muslim!). I find it hard to understand how anyone could have believed, during Jesus’s lifetime, that he was performing miracles. (Assuming, as I know you believe, that he *wasn’t*.) I think you’ve said that you’ve concluded he *was* being thought of as a miracle-worker while he was still alive.

    Until the last week of his life, no one beyond the residents of a few Galilean villages had ever heard of him. So let’s just think of the residents of those villages. If someone told people in Village A that Jesus had healed a blind man over in Village B, wouldn’t the people in Village A have thought, “Hey, shouldn’t he then be able to heal that lame kid in our community?” If he didn’t visit their village soon after they’d begun thinking that, wouldn’t someone have sought him out and *asked* him?

    Even in that last week of his life, it’s doubtful that many residents of Jerusalem, or “pilgrims” there for Passover Week, ever heard of him. Anything they did hear would have come from his disciples, or at very few removes from them. And whatever they heard about his “miracles”, most of them would have forgotten ten minutes later!

  10. Avatar
    Bwana  January 20, 2016

    Hey, pssst …. Maybe his publisher started the rumour as a nice opportunity to plug the new book …. 🙂

  11. Robert
    Robert  January 20, 2016

    So it is confirmed. Bart Ehrman announced that there is a likelihood that he will join the Hari Krishnas or to become a Jainist or an orthodox Jew or a Muslim.

  12. Avatar
    nazam44  January 21, 2016

    Hello, Dr Ehrman.

    Even before you did your first ever public debate with Dr. William Lane Craig on the resurrection of Jesus back in 2005, a Muslim gentleman by the name of Shabir Ally made mention of you and your recently published book, the Da Vinci Code De-coded, in a Muslim-Christian debate.

    This was the first time I had heard of you and so I began searching for your writings and lectures on-line. I also became sharing them on social media as far back as 2006/ 07, with my Muslim friends and colleagues.

    I created a YouTube channel as far back as 05/06 and by this time I had already been sharing lectures and debates and dialogues of Shabir Ally and now I began to posts lecture and debates by you. In fact, I think the very first video of yours that I posted was your first debate with Dr. Craig. In fact you may have already come across my channel, Nazam44.

    Then other Muslims began to either copy my videos directly from my channel or indirectly through others who had originally copied them from my channel and reupload them again onto their channels. And like this I believe during the past 10 years your fame began to grow internationally amongst many Muslims and for what it has become now.

    I believe the reason why so many Muslims enjoy your works is not only for the oblivious reasons that the conclusions that you present in your works regarding the history of Christianity and the historical Jesus, agree with or lend support to their suppositions, but also you have a way of explaining Biblical scholarship and making it accessible for the layperson.

    We did briefly meet or saw each other back when you were in London giving a lecture at Kings college, on your at the time recently published book, Forged. We did not chat but you did speak to my other Muslim friends’ who were present, regarding your debate with James White and how you held him in high regards 🙂 (sarcasm)

    You may have also come across my friend’s dialogues and debates in preparation of you own ones, since he has also interacted with the same people as you (Michel Licona, William Lane Craig, James White) and still makes mention of you in his public events.

    Most recently he had reviewed your book, How Jesus Became God?, on his TV show.

    Book Review:
    http://youtu.be/QGhNZRpCl6Y

    And recently had a dialogue with Dr. John Dominic Crossan on the, historicity of Jesus in the gospels.

    http://youtu.be/oBlt7VBGjVA

    And these are some other debates that he has done, speaking on the same subject as you for more than 10 years ago.

    Michael Licona vs Shabir Ally; Did Jesus Rise From the Dead?

    http://youtu.be/FTyqQlBGX_4

    William Lane Craig vs Shabir Ally; Who is the Real Jesus?

    http://youtu.be/K3D0bc91YvM

    Anyway, I hope that sheds some light for you.

    Thank you for your time and dedication.

    Nazam

    P.S. I ask for no commissions or royalties 🙂

    • Bart
      Bart  January 21, 2016

      I’m so glad. 🙂

      • Avatar
        NABIHSABBAGH  December 24, 2016

        HELLO Dr. Ehrman:
        I am glad I joined this blog to be able to communicate directly with you. Well, I follow your work, watched most of your videos, read most of your books and I have to admit that I admire the material you present. Concerning converting or “reverting” to Islam or any other faith out there, I believe choosing a “faith” or any theological code to live by, is a personal matter and a decision which is only up to you to decide. Being a Muslim, I’ll be happy if you made such decision, yet I, as well as many Muslims all over, have huge interest in your work as a “Historian” regardless of your faith. I remember your words in your debate with Craig Evans sometime around 2009/2010, when you explained the “Historian” v/s “Theologian” points of views concerning early “Christian Years”, it was impressive. That being said, I hope it became clear that when Muslims, including myself, refer to your works, it’s absolutely from the “Historian” point of view. For example, when I read a book of yours, like “Lost Scriptures”, I can’t agree or disagree, since the book is all about historical information, yet when it comes to a book like “God’s Problems”, I definitely disagree with your view about God’s role in people’s sufferings, which I believe that you’re used to people agreeing or disagreeing with the material in your works. As a fan of yours, there’s one thing you said during James White’s debate, when you were responding to him about your knowledge of the Quran, quoting:” I don’t really appreciate you likening me to a Muslim”, and I read in one of your responses in this blog that you have high respect to all other faiths and their scriptures, including Islam. So could you please make this statement clear?
        I am not trying to start a debate here, but since you admitted that you have no knowledge about the Quran, wouldn’t it be interesting to have an idea about the book, from at least the historical point of view and the scriptures transmission techniques, comparing it to the techniques of the old and new testament’s transmission, since such study is basically the field of most of your work? The technicality how we received the Quran, from generation to the next, since the day it was first written till our current day, is really worth to be studied especially by a professor with skills like yours.
        Thanks for your time and efforts.
        Nabih

        • Bart
          Bart  December 26, 2016

          My point was that I do not align myself with Islam, or with any other religion, so James White’s attempt to convince his fundamentalist Christian audience that I was “obviously wrong” because I was “clandestinely Muslim” (in my views) was both wrong (because I’m not) and offensive (because it was a cheap rhetorical trick). I personally hold Islam in high regard, and respect Muslims for their faith. But I do not subscribe to this faith and never have (any more than I’ve subscribed to any of the other hundreds of faiths in the world apart from Christianity, earlier in my life)

          • Avatar
            blairmcian  January 29, 2017

            When I watched video of your debate with White, and he attributed a view to you and said “Ironically, the idea of a single, perfectly preserved version [of holy writings] is indeed a very popular concept–among Muslims,” I was shocked at the insinuation. White then lost whatever respect I had for him by denying, shortly thereafter, that he had likened you to a Muslim.

          • Bart
            Bart  January 30, 2017

            What I’m deeply offended by is his insinuation that this shows what an awful person I must be….

  13. Avatar
    Mhamed Errifi  January 21, 2016

    Hello Bart

    this is not new . we heard all the time famous people are interested in islam or have converted to islam . few years ago in blog of an anti islamic website i had a stunch critic person of islam tried to sell me news story that mickel jakson converted to islam and i told him i dont believe it this is just rumor , but he tried to convince me it is not rumor ; why was he doing that ? should not that be bad news for him . this only proves for reason which we dont know that people who invent this kind of rumors are not muslims but the enemy of islam

  14. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  January 21, 2016

    Wow!

    1. You get far more criticism than you deserve. You are mainly trying to help people know historical stuff. That’s it! All of it!

    2. For you to use this criticism to illustrate “oral transmission” is very creative. I would have been too annoyed to do such a creative thing.

    3. Since Obama became president, I have literally received hundreds of circulating emails attacking him or his wife. I always check them out on snopes.com and the Factcheck website and they are always exaggerations and distortions. I guess some probably start as lies, but I think it’s mostly people, using confirmation bias, looking for something to confirm their established views and then finding stuff to support those views. Obviously, religious people do the same thing in support of their religious views making it almost impossible to have discussions with a lot of them.

    • Avatar
      Hank_Z  January 21, 2016

      Hey RonaldTaska, how much criticism are you saying Bart deserves? 🙂

  15. Avatar
    johnmaxx  January 21, 2016

    Comment with typos corrected:

    Fascinating. If your current assumptions about the origins of this strange and goofy rumor are correct, then in some ways, this scenario supports your thesis that “oral traditions…change and alter and get invented and transformed and so on over time…”

    On another topic, the other day I was watching Bill Maher. Ralph Reed was one of his guests. And as is Maher’s current wont, he began to contend with Reed’s understanding of the origins of the New Testament. Although Maher’s presentation of his ideas is often condescending and confrontational, his views on the historical Jesus do seem to reflect the current pedagogic understanding of the NT. It makes me wonder if he has read your books. In any event, he’s well studied on the topic—and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. What was quite amazing to me is Reed’s total lack of insight into or apparent knowledge of the current historical understanding of the NT. Of course, Reed is not unique—I’m continuously amazed at how little most Christians understand about the book they exalt so absolutely. Even among clergy and the prominent leaders of Christian congregations. In this case, this propensity for historical ignorance and denial was on stark display in a very public forum. Here is the youtube link to the conversation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HcVCyzEtceA

  16. Avatar
    shakespeare66  January 21, 2016

    I think all of us have experienced what rumor has made us– someone we are not.

  17. Avatar
    doug  January 22, 2016

    Re: eyewitnesses correcting false Jesus stories – I’d imagine that none of Jesus’ disciples and eyewitnesses were with him during 100% of his teachings and actions. So if one of them heard a story or saying of Jesus that he was not familiar with, he could not say with certainty that Jesus never said or did it (unless it was something outrageously out of character with Jesus). And years later, they could not have remembered *everything* that Jesus said or did. It’s doubtful that the disciples and eyewitnesses even heard all the stories that were circulating about Jesus.

  18. Avatar
    Michael  February 8, 2016

    I’m about six weeks behind and was looking at the list of titles — I almost spit my coffee out laughing when I saw this title. Thank you…

  19. Avatar
    amyschiwitz  March 7, 2016

    This is hilarious. I bet this rumor started with your post about the recently-dated fragment of the Quran. Bart Ehrman saying “ancient copyists of the Quran might have been more accurate than ancient copyists of the New Testament” somehow turns into Bart Ehrman converting to Islam. It really is a great demonstration of what you talk about in your new book!

  20. Avatar
    Seekknowledge  December 29, 2016

    “Apparently, reverting is something like converting according to him.”

    Just in case you or others are interested here is why Muslims say “revert” when someone becomes a Muslim:

    As Muslims we believe that Gods message to humanity has been consistent. We do not believe that he sent Religions with a capital “R” to humanity. We believe that all of Gods prophets preached the same core message, which is submission to Him and his Oneness. Hence we believe that all prophets were preaching islam with a small “i”. Because the word islam means submission. So we believe that all prophets preached submission to God.

    As Muslims we also believe that the previous revelations have been corrupted and altered by human hand. It is an article of our faith to believe that Islam with a capital “I”, i.e. as preached by the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is the final revelation and also the pure revelation in line with what all prophets preached before.

    So when someone becomes a Muslim we view it as a reversion to the original, pure, consistent religion that all of Gods prophets have preached.

    We do acknowledge that some prophets had differing laws though pertaining to diet, clothing, hygiene, circumcision, tax, inheritance etc…

    I may have made mistakes in my explanation. I am not a scholar, just your average human being trying to live my life, be kind to my family and neighbors and worshiping God as I believe he wants us to.

    I am really enjoying the information and food for thought available here and hope this was at least informative for anyone. And thank you to all for the lively conversations.

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