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An Interview about My Agnosticism

Last weekend I gave a talk at the Freedom from Religion Foundation convention in Raleigh.  This is a group of agnostics, atheists, and skeptics who are intent on preserving intact the complete separation of church and state.   At the convention I was given “The Emperor Has No Clothes Award” — including an amusing statue of the emperor who in fact has no clothes — for my writings on the NT and early Christianity.   My lecture was called “Writing about Religion: Some Agnostic Reflections,” in which I dealt with what it’s like to devote one’s professional life to early Chritianity when one is not personally a Christian.

In a few weeks I will try to post that entire lecture.  What I give here is a very short (7 minute) interview that I did in conjunction with the lecture.  But it is unlike other videos I have posted because in it I talk openly about my personal beliefs/agnosticism;  there is a brief clip from my lecture embedded in the interview.

The interview was recorded at the FFRF (Freedom From Religion’s) Raleigh Regional Convention 2014 conference held in the Sheraton Raleigh Hotel, Raleigh N.C. on May 2-3, 2014. The interview will be part of FFRF and the Dawkins Foundation’s Openly Secular coalition campaign.  Presented by Triangle Freethought Society.

Please adjust gear icon for 720p High-Definition:


Interview for The Skeptic Fence Show
Response to the Response: How God Became Jesus

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    toejam  May 10, 2014

    Is this the full interview? I’d love to know whether Burdick asked you about mythicism. There’s an interview he did with Richard Carrier a year or so ago in which Carrier had some not-so-pleasant things to say about you. Curious if Burdick gave you an opportunity to respond.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  May 12, 2014

      Yes, it was just a short interview. Carrier is making a career out of saying unpleasant things….

      1
  2. Avatar
    toddfrederick  May 10, 2014

    Thank you for sharing the video clip and I look forward to the full version.

    I found it interesting regarding your thoughts on knowledge. I am sure I have mentioned here That “The only thing I know is that I don’t know” and that I am open to all possibilities which doesn’t close me off from changing my pèrspective.

    I also love understanding how humanity sees itself in a diversity of ways to understand our place in this cosmos. I find basic Buddhist teaching and meditative practice to help understanding better the problem of suffering in the world without the need of a God concept. If there is a god I do think it will be vastly different from what we imagine.

    Blessings..you are doing fine work.

  3. Avatar
    willow  May 11, 2014

    The way I see it, Professor, believing in God as I do, there is surely a special place for you in His kingdom, for as compassionate as it is that you are.

  4. Avatar
    JBSeth1  May 11, 2014

    Hi Bart,

    For a long time I couldn’t understand how we could have so much suffering in our world if God exists. For many years I also wrestled with this issue.

    During this time I looked into the God of the Christian faith, of the Jewish faith, of the Hindu faith, of the Buddhist faith and of the religions of various native peoples. I also looked into science to see that they had to say.
    In doing so, I never found an answer that completely satisfied me.

    Then one day it dawned on me, perhaps the real issue here is that nobody in the world today has a correct understanding of just exactly who and what God really is.

    Perhaps, for example, God does exist but just doesn’t interfere with the issues around mankind’s inhumanity to man. Perhaps a the reason for this is that maybe someday, on our own, we will learn, as a species not to treat each other in this way.

    John

    • Avatar
      Steefen  May 16, 2014

      A human is a three-part being: 1) a reincarnating spirit or a spirit capable of reincarnating, 2) into a body, (it has chakras and an aura); it is incarnated into a society, so it has cultural and societal layers and 3) traveling with limitations, roadways, barriers set by the Solar System (Chinese Astrology, Western Astrology, and Locational Astrology, Astro-Carto-Graphy, specifically).

      A human has a three-part God:
      1) God the spirit realm (Read the book Journey of the Souls by Michael Newton, see the movie Kundun about the Dalai Lama and reincarnation, Read Old Souls by Tom Shroder, Read Infinite Mind by Valerie V. Hunt (valerievhunt.com), also author of Scientist to Mystic: Journey of a Soul

      2) in the material world we have the gods (Sun, Moon, and Earth/Gaia). Why do we have suffering? Let’s just start with the ground beneath our feet. Continental drift, earthquakes, then tornados, fires, floods, hurricanes. Yes, there are gods AND there is suffering. In the material world, we must include the activity of space in the Sun’s Solar System. In that Solar System’s history, we re-write Genesis: And God through an asteroid at Earth, hit it, killed the dinosaurs, and created the species of hominids, one of which was Homo sapiens, sapiens.

      On this material world, we have society. With the geological and space Gods, we have psychological archetypes which are powerful Gods. We have thought forms, powerful gods for coping. We also have Lords of human institutions: the 1%, Putin, dysfunctional federal government.

      While some don’t believe in God, they can’t say they don’t believe in Lords.

      3) Some people deal with the salvation of the human character, not only through the teachings of Christianity but reading the dialogues of Plato, etc. Tied to the pscyhological archetypes as gods, truly, Astrology which is as old as Jesus and older is a study that has lodged on to something. In my life, when I moved from living under a Venus line to living under a Saturn line, true to form, I left art, youth, beauty for aging and death, poverty, and wisdom.

      So, from Earth (material world) to Solar System (Astrology), to Spirit (life beyond the solar system, spacially or in other dimensions, quantum or other), there is the existence of consciousness contained within an incarnation of entity and their are lords and gods above humble Homo sapiens sapiens.

      • Avatar
        Steefen  May 18, 2014

        Dr. Valerie V. Hunt passed in February 2014: http://forestlawn.tributes.com/obituary/show/Valerie-Virginia-Hunt-99930631

        While a professor at the University of California at Los Angeles, she developed a high frequency device known as the AuraMeter(TM), which is capable of recording the electrical energy (the human aura) from the body’s surface. In the process, she discovered that the energy radiating from the body’s atoms emit frequencies one thousand times faster than any other known electrical activity of the body. During the 1980′s and 90′s, using fractal mathematics, her energy field data produced the first dramatic chaos patterns ever discovered in human biological systems.

        At UCLA,. she built what she called a “Mu Room” in conjunction with NASA. The Mu Room was a seven foot square shielded room located in the Physics department, where the electromagnetic energy of the air could be altered without reducing its breathability (oxygen content).

        She experimented at different electromagnetic frequencies in the air to observe how ELF affected the human energy field. By increasing electromagnetic wave frequencies or reducing the frequencies of the air in the room, the researchers could measure what frequencies would terrify and traumatize subjects. Extremely low electromagnetic frequencies in air made subjects break down sobbing wildly, and becoming confused and disorientated, thus she developed an electromagnetic field “mathematic formula for human chaos”

        http://mindcontrolblackassassins.com/tag/dr-valerie-v-hunt/

        So, why should there still be doubt or “we can’t know” about the human aura as spirit. We have the Science and the Math.

        • Avatar
          edstrelow  March 13, 2015

          I am assuming this is a joke. From what I can tell of this owman she retired from UCLA in 1980 and was best know for dance therapy. She would hardly seem to be a scientist in phsyics and pshysiology. In any event science operates by verification by others and I see no evdience of anyone following this up whatever it is.

          • Avatar
            Steefen  March 21, 2015

            Dr. Valerie V. Hunt.: Research scientist, author, lecturer and Professor Emeritus of Physiological Science at UCLA

            Best known for her pioneering research in the field of bioenergy, Dr. Hunt’s visionary approach coupled with a rigorous adherence to the highest scientific standards has won her international acclaim in the fields of physiology, medicine and bioengineering. Her groundbreaking research has led to the first truly scientific understanding of the relationship between energy field disturbances, disease and emotional pathologies.

            “Valerie is a leader in demonstrating the human energetic system from a scientific point of view … To all those ready to open themselves to the infinite possibilities, this book will be a beacon.”

            C. Norman Shealy, M.D., Ph.D. on Dr. Hunt’s seminal work: Infinite Mind—Science of the Human Vibrations of Consciousness

  5. Avatar
    gabilaranjeira  May 11, 2014

    Great interview. Frank and funny, which is an awesome combination!
    Needless to say I just learned about the tale of The Emperor’s New Clothes that lead to an adaptation called The Emperor Wears No Clothes that, finally, is used as an analogy by non-religious communities in regards to belief systems.
    I had to know where the award got its name from…
    Always learning something with you and always grateful for that!

  6. Avatar
    jrhislb  May 11, 2014

    Did the subject of Jesus-mythicism come up?

  7. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  May 11, 2014

    Thanks for sharing this and congratulations on the award. The key statement is emphasizing knowledge rather than belief.
    I came close to attending the Raleigh FFRF meeting, but was concerned that some tv reporter might scan the audience risking my being seen by neighbors or family members. I share most of your views, but am not quite ready to announce this over tv. I also still think it is difficult to understand how such a complicated universe came from nothing. I used to carry a B.C. comic strip in my wallet. In it, one character is talking to another about the Big Bang and says sarcastically “And they thought the Genesis creation story sounds farfetched.” Speaking of the FFRF, I recently read Dan Barker’s book entitled “godless” and found it to be helpful, but I am more of a searcher than a crusader.

    2
  8. Avatar
    Muzicindi  May 11, 2014

    Dr. Ehrman;
    Thanks for the wonderful explanation on ATHEISM v/s AGNOSTICISM. I’ve read most of your books and have just finished reading HOW JESUS BECAME GOD. What wonderful insights!!!
    I share your Evangelical background as well and have been greatly influenced by Buddhism also. I now define myself as a A Buddhist Christian. I call myself Christian the very same way a Jew would call himself a Jew even though He no longer subscribes to Jewish dogma. My question to you is; Why do you call yourself an unbeliever? Are you allowing orthodoxy to define you or is this your self-definition? Your latest book has opened my eyes to so many forms of “orthodoxies” that changed again & again. Under which orthodoxy would you then call yourself an “unbeliever”?
    THANKS!

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  May 12, 2014

      I’m not a believer in a God who is active in the world, who intervenes when people are in need, who answers prayer — so that would cover a lot of orthodoxies!

      • Avatar
        sstein02  May 20, 2014

        Neither am I. I don’t believe in that kind of God, but I don’t think that makes me an atheist or even an agnostic. I don’t believe that is the only definition of God even within Judaism, especially withing the mystical tradition of Judaism which sees God as ultimately Ein Sof and Ayin.

  9. Avatar
    FrancisDunn  May 11, 2014

    Dr Ehrman: I don’t think Christians believe quite what they say. If heaven is so great why are they not going there by the bus loads. I think they want to make the rest of us nonbelievers miserable!!!

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  May 12, 2014

      Well, most Christians think that suicide is a very significant sin.

      • Avatar
        webattorney  May 19, 2014

        Does the Bible specifically say that those who commit suicide has committed great sin and/or will not go to heaven because of this? What if the person who committed suicide was mentally ill and suffering in life? Anyway, I am an agnostic who doesn’t mind believing that some sort of “heaven” exists after the death. But it is very hard for me to see why Jesus is the only way to heaven — this is a truly an alien concept to me. And I think I am one of the most reasonable person I know. I am sure everyone feels that way but . . .

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  May 19, 2014

          No, the Bible never condemns suicide. The first Christian categorically to call it a sin was Augustine in the early fifth century. For a fascinating study of this, see Arthur Droge and James Tabor, A Noble Death.

    • Bethany
      Bethany  May 13, 2014

      Even if you think you’re going to heaven — why be in a hurry to get there? Heaven is going to be there for a long long time, there’s no rush. As the saying goes, heaven can wait.

      • Avatar
        webattorney  May 19, 2014

        Well, one argument is that you can’t control when you will die or how fast you will die, etc. I think I trained myself to convert myself to Christianity in less than one second, just in case.

  10. cheito
    cheito  May 11, 2014

    DR Ehrman:

    The problem of suffering. Does everyone suffer? Why doesn’t everyone suffer? Do you know what’s in the heart of every individual on this planet? Shouldn’t there be punishment for evil deeds? Do you know what every person will do in the futre? Are there judges on earth? Are these judges righteous or unrighteous? Does everyone die? Is anyone dead to God? Can God kill you and then give you back your life? Perhaps you have erred in mind concerning God and His authority? Don’t you see the love and faithfulness of the creator even in the smallest things; albeit like the fruit trees and vegetables your consume; the water you drink; the details of the planet we live on; the lovely colors of nature; a child being formed in a mothers womb. Who’s responsible for the suffering in this world? When your child strays and does what is not not right do you stop loving him? Do you destroy his life when he fails you? What about trusting the creator? What about being thankful for existing and being part of this life? Will you come to the end of your existence? Then what? Is God love?

    You don’t believe in an after life. Then you will never see your children again after you die. Love will perish? Death will swallow it up! Death will be victorious! Life is meaningless. Why continue to struggle if there’s nothing after this life? God is a lie! No one created this world. It came into existence for no purpose at all. Jesus was not raised from the dead. It’s all a big lie! The ‘eyewitnesses’ were delusional. They gave their lives for nothing.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  May 12, 2014

      Yes, everyone suffers. And no, I won’t see my children. And either will everyone else. This life is all there is. So we should enjoy it as much as we can for as long as we can. It’s not a dress rehearsal for something else!

      • Avatar
        Wilusa  May 13, 2014

        Hmm. If you’re truly an agnostic, maybe you shouldn’t have such a degree of certainty about “this life” being “all there is.” The existence of a God or gods, and the possibility of *some kind of* “survival” after death, are separate issues.

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  May 13, 2014

          I’m agnostic about whether God exists. Technically I’m agnostic about whether there is life after death, but I *very* much doubt it.

  11. Avatar
    toejam  May 12, 2014

    Earlier this week I was saddened to hear of the death of another well recognised agnostic NT scholar, Maurice Casey. I’m currently 1/3 of the way through his latest book “Jesus: Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths?”. Any chance of a reflection on Casey, or a review on his work?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  May 12, 2014

      I was very sad to hear of his death as well. I met him only once, years ago, and liked him immensely. He was an unusal personality, and a somewhat idiosyncratic scholar. But he was very smart and very provocative.

  12. Avatar
    Dennis  May 12, 2014

    This can only help others through the coming years who have gone through a similar experience. Thanks very much for sharing.

  13. Avatar
    CalifiorniaPuma  May 12, 2014

    Historically the term “atheist” has been very derogatory, correct? That in itself seems like a great reason not to call yourself an atheist. And even though I am no longer an evangelical, I still have a visceral reaction when I hear someone describe themselves as an atheist. Why not simply call yourself a non-believer?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  May 12, 2014

      I think derogation is in the eye of the beholder. A lot of people think “non-believer” is derogatory as well… Give my druthers, I’d actually prefer to be known by a positive term — what I am, as opposed to what I am not; and so most of the time I call myself a humanist. Funny how that too is sometimes seen in a negative light –as if we shouldn’t celebrate all that it means to be human!!

      • Robertus
        Robertus  May 13, 2014

        You would have a lot in common with Christian humanists. I think it may only be relatively recently that atheists have started using the term to imply atheism. Personally, I merely say that I do not believe in magic but don’t know much of anything about God. That covers a multitude of sins. No magical inerrancy of the Bible. No virginal birth. No hereditary Original Sin, just the collective evil that we are all capable of. No 6,000-year-old earth created in 6 days. Gospel writers who wrote with the cultural perspective of their day, thus no demons hiding behind the disguise of natural illness, thus no miraculous healings or exorcisms using anything other than the power of authoritative suggestion, etc, etc. I don’t like or accept most accounts of what God is like, but I know just enough theology to know that the best theologians would agree that we cannot define what God is so I’m not sure if it is even meaningful to say that I am an atheist. Or perhaps atheism is the truest approach to whatever the real God may be. As for Christianity, the best argument for the the truth of Christianity, in whatever form, is the existence of Richard Carrier.

      • Avatar
        Wilusa  May 16, 2014

        I see the specific term “secular humanist” in a negative light because I’ve gotten the impression it was used, at least initially, by a closed-minded group whose members denied the possibility of any of the things we call “paranormal.” Denied it with a degree of certainty inconsistent with agnosticism. (I don’t consider paranormal phenomena *supernatural*; we may someday learn enough about them that our definition of “normal” will be broadened to include them.)

        But even “secular humanist” may have different implications by now…

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  May 16, 2014

          I think for some it does have negative connotations (for many believers), but not for me!!

  14. Avatar
    gavm  May 12, 2014

    Prof you must know most seasoned NT scholars pretty well professionally and personally. Most thoughtful scholars most know that its historically very hard to say the resurrection likely happened. That jesus probably wasn’t magical but was just a very religious jew with a message. that the gospels have biases and agendas and that Jesus became god not the other way around . If they dont know this then arguably i know most about the NT then they do! (which is just silly). Given this sure at least alot of expects in the field are very “liberal” in there theology? i expect most start religiously (why go to bible collage if yr not that into the bible?) but then change there minds significantly?

    let me be clear in what im trying to say, are there other “Bart Ehrmans” out there but your just the most well known?
    thank you

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  May 12, 2014

      Sure, there are others besides me out there! But most NT scholars are believers in some sense or another, although critical scholars (non-evangelical) can be very sophisticated in their understandings of history and of Christian claims about Jesus.

  15. Avatar
    Wilusa  May 12, 2014

    Fascinating! I’ve always seen it differently than you do (or did). For me, it’s agnostics who are in a class by ourselves, while theists (those who really think about their religion) and atheists are two sides of the same coin. They’re both presumptuous enough to think they have all the answers, while agnostics acknowledge that we don’t.

    About “belief” vs. “knowing”… As I see it, the only thing anyone can know with absolute certainty is *Cogito ergo sum*. Everything else involves degrees of probability – in some cases, of course, very high degrees of probability! So in actual usage – when I’m thinking seriously – I only say I “know” something if I think I “know” it as well as I “know” that Australia exists. Australia being a random choice, based on the fact that it’s one of the many places I’ve never seen with my own eyes, even from the air.

    And – again, when I’m being really serious – I wouldn’t say I “believed” something (such as the existence or non-existence of God) unless I thought I “knew” it. Was just as certain of the existence or non-existence of God as I am of the existence of Australia. (Which would not, of course, rule out my being wrong.) I am, in my own mind, that sure of the non-existence of at least the Judaeo-Christian version of God. But I prefer to think of myself as an agnostic and a non-theist, not an atheist.

    When I don’t have that degree of certainty about something, I say I “incline to” belief or disbelief – sometimes, “incline strongly.”

    And I came to agnosticism, in my early twenties, by a different route: not encountering reasons to doubt the existence of a God I’d always believed in, but starting from scratch and asking whether there was any reason for initially assuming a God.

    Ironically, I’d gotten that idea from a Catholic priest. When I was a senior in a Catholic high school, he finally(!) gave our class supposed “reasons” for believing. He started by offering “proofs” for the existence of God…then for the truth of Christianity…and finally, for Catholicism being the true form of Christianity. As a teen, I accepted all his arguments. But years later, I was no longer convinced. So I started from scratch with the same approach…and didn’t find the concept of “God” necessary to explain the existence of the Cosmos. There was no need to go beyond that.

    • Bethany
      Bethany  May 13, 2014

      It’s been a long time since I took an epistemology class… my recollection is that one of the distinctions between knowledge and belief was that something that is known is by definition true, whereas something that is believed may be true but may also be false. So if you think something is true with a high degree of certainty, but it is not actually true, then you believe it, you don’t know it. Thus I think there are quite a few things that I believe but don’t know, what with not being infallible and all!

      More pragmatically — I would argue that I don’t “know” that other humans have internal mental states similar to mine, not in the way I know that they have a body similar to mine. But I believe they do and act as if they do, and in fact I treat other minds as real to the same degree I treat other bodies as real, despite the fact I have far more evidence for the latter than the former.

      • Avatar
        Wilusa  May 14, 2014

        But if we take the extreme position that nothing is absolutely certain except *Cogito ergo sum*, we can’t say *anything* else is “by definition true.” It isn’t even necessary to go that far: if we acknowledge that everyone reading this blog really exists, it’s still *theoretically possible* that the Cosmos popped into existence yesterday, and all our memories (and the evidence to support them) are false.

        So in practice, we have to make what we consider “reasonable” assumptions about knowledge, if we’re going to use the term at all. (And we inevitably find ourselves using it in different ways in different situations.)

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  May 14, 2014

          Yes, I agree. We have to base virtually everything on what is most reasonable/plausible/probable.

  16. Bethany
    Bethany  May 13, 2014

    I like the distinction between belief and knowledge (I would be an agnostic theist under this system) although I am curious under which circumstances you would get non-agnostics with that definition, particularly non-agnostic atheists: I can imagine people who have certain numinous experiences might feel they knew God exists, even if others might disagree, but I’m having trouble imagining a parallel situation for atheists.

    Also, how to make the distinction between people who believe that God doesn’t exist (for a broad set of definitions of “God”) versus people who basically have no strong inclination either way: they don’t believe but don’t disbelieve, either, but are… well, agnostic, by a common usage of the word.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  May 13, 2014

      Yes, there are levels of atheism and agnosticism — not everyone is in the same place.

    • Avatar
      willow  May 14, 2014

      Bethany,

      “I can imagine people who have certain numinous experiences might feel they knew God exists”

      I am one of those people to whom you refer. For all of those “numinous” experiences I’ve had in my life, for which there is no explanation other than God, I believe I KNOW that He is. Due to these same experiences, none of which are what one might call “miraculous”, like seeing Jesus, or being visited by angels, or seeing the blind see and the deaf hear, it’s all so much more simplistic than that, I cannot so much as “toy” with the thought of His non-existence.

      • Avatar
        webattorney  May 19, 2014

        Can you try to give one description of one of those “numinous” experiences? i so far has not had that kind of experience, and I am being honest and sincere when I say that.

    • Avatar
      Wilusa  May 14, 2014

      And the (necessary) vagueness of the terms may be a factor in people’s choosing to *identify* themselves as agnostic or atheist. The last I knew, about 3% of Americans considered themselves agnostics, even fewer atheists.

      • Bart Ehrman
        Bart Ehrman  May 14, 2014

        Really? I thought a recent Pew poll indicated that 20% of Americans considered themselves agnostic or atheist.

        • Avatar
          Wilusa  May 15, 2014

          Could you be thinking of the poll a year or so ago that showed 20% identify their religious affiliation as being “none”?

          I remember their saying “none” is the most rapidly growing identification – mostly among young, left-of-center white males – and most “nones” are planning to stay that way, not looking for a faith. They also said the only mainstream religious denomination that isn’t declining in its percentage of the population is Roman Catholic…and that’s losing members, but gaining new ones to offset the loss due to Latino immigration.

          It was either the same poll, or another one mentioned in the same news report, that cited those low figures for people who actually identify themselves as agnostics and atheists. (I assume they’re also counted among the “nones,” since they don’t identify with a denomination.)

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  May 16, 2014

            Ah, I think you’re right. 6% agnostic/atheist and 14% “no” affiliation. http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2012/10/09/pew-20-of-americans-are-now-atheist-agnostic-or-unaffiliated-with-a-religion/

          • Avatar
            Wilusa  May 17, 2014

            And I found a note I’d made to the effect that agnostics make up 3.3%, so atheists would be 2.7%. Possibly within the margin of error.

            I might call myself an agnostic inclining toward pantheism, except that for me – whatever dictionary definitions might say – “theism” implies the concept of *worship*. And if oneself (along with everyone and everything else) is *part of* the eternally existing One, it makes no sense to “worship” it!

    • Avatar
      Scott F  May 14, 2014

      There are actually atheists who claim positive arguments for God’s non-existence, often on grounds of contradictions between God’s properties.

  17. Avatar
    sstein02  May 13, 2014

    Do I believe in God? It depends what you mean by God. I don’t believe in a personal God that answer prayers, but I still found that when I prayed for healing for my mother, it offered consolation and comfort. I still didn’t think that a miracle would happen and she would be healed. I don’t think that there is a Judeo-Christian idea of God. My idea of God comes more from the Kabbalah and Jewish mystics.

    Bart, for an agnostic, you still have some very classic conservative Christian ideas about Judaism. Torah means teaching. It doesn’t mean law. You still don’t understand who the Pharisees really were.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  May 13, 2014

      As you may know, I read Hebrew. So yes, I do know what Torah means. It in fact doesn’t mean any one thing. It means direction, guidance, instruction, and, yes, law. And I don’t recall that I’ve said much of anything about the Pharisees on the blog, so what are you referring to?

  18. Avatar
    sstein02  May 14, 2014

    I know that you didn’t say anything about the Pharisees on the blog. I was referring to your latest book. You did say that Torah means law in How Jesus Became God. You did talk about the Pharisees too. Not a lot, but you did mention them.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  May 14, 2014

      Yes, Torah does mean Law. And it means other things too. And I do talk about the Pharisees in a number of my books; I’m not sure what you think I misunderstand.

      • Avatar
        sstein02  May 18, 2014

        You say that Jesus violated the understanding and interpretation of the law of the Sabbath of the Pharisees in your book How Jesus Became God. The Pharisees had developed the concept of Pikuah Nefesh, saving a life. The Pharisees believed that it was permissible to violate the Sabbath if someone’s life or health would be endangered. There was considerable disagreements among the Pharisees about how to interpret this concept. Some Pharisees were more conservative and some were more liberal, but they all agreed on the basic concept of pikuah nefesh. Jesus would have been on the side of the liberal Pharisees. So my question to you is why are these controversies between Jesus and the Pharisees in the Gospels and what is their authors’ purpose?

        You do say that the Pharisees were not hypocrites which is true. The Pharisees wanted to sanctify everyday life. They wanted to turn the home into a portable temple. If not for the early work of the Pharisees the Jews might not have survived the destruction of the temple. They were also a democratizing force in Judaism.

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  May 19, 2014

          The problem is that many of the things Jesus did on the Sabbath were *not* in order to “save a life.” Maybe none of these acocunts is historical, but there are so many of them throughout the sources that this is a bit hard for me to believe.

          • Avatar
            sstein02  May 20, 2014

            There is one case where the Pharisees criticize poor people who are harvesting food on the Sabbath and another where Jesus is criticized for healing on the Sabbath. Both cases could be interpreted as being necessary for one’s health. I have to admit that I don’t know of other examples in the NT. I’m sure you know that NT much better than I do.

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    Wilusa  May 15, 2014

    Thinking about the stated agenda of that group you were addressing… “Complete separation of church and state” sounds good. But in fact, we don’t have that – and shouldn’t want it, because it would preclude the government’s *interfering* with religion!

    And yes, we need it to interfere. To ban human sacrifice and (a more realistic possibility in this day and age) animal sacrifice. To prevent deaths in the course of nutty “exorcisms” – or at least, to be able to prosecute the offenders, thereby discouraging others. Above all, to prevent parents’ denying their children medical care and relying instead on “faith healing.”

    I’m sure the non-believers you were addressing were thinking more of things like being forced to sit through prayers at the opening of meetings. And maybe, Catholic-run hospitals being allowed to refuse to perform abortions? The idea being that the government is wrongly working hand-in-glove with the Catholics? For what it’s worth, I think they should be required to make abortions available – “freedom of religion” in this context meaning only that no Catholic should be forced to *have* an abortion. And they should also be required to provide their employees with health insurance including costs for contraception, etc.

    I just think the non-believers should be careful in how they word their agenda.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  May 16, 2014

      My sense is that they think the government should indeed regulate rank immorality behavior of all kinds (human sacrifice, e.g.) without restricting their concerns to religious groups, but the government should NOT impose religious beliefs and practices on people or allow others to do so.

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    dmaddock1  August 6, 2014

    I’ve been looking forward to the full video of the FFRF lecture. Is this still in the works?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 6, 2014

      I’ll look into it.

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        dmaddock1  August 15, 2014

        Many thanks for posting. I really enjoyed it, especially the different vibe resulting from an entirely secular audience which is pretty rare among your YouTube’d talks. Your comments on mythicism are particularly important in that context precisely because you are a (the?) NT scholar the agnostic/atheist community takes seriously.

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