I am pleased to announce that I will be doing another online course, the second in the series: How Scholars Read the Bible. The first, if you recall, was a six-lecture course on Genesis. This one will be an eight-lecture course called: The Unknown Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
As with all the courses I do online, this one will NOT be in connection with the blog per se – it is part of my separate venture (Bart Ehrman Professional Services) that you can find at my personal website http://www.bartehrman.com. I am announcing it here on the blog because I know some of blog members will be interested (and some would be rather aggravated if I didn’t mention it….).
I will be giving the course live on Saturday August 6 and Sunday August 7 (four 30-minute lectures each day; each day’s session followed by a live Q&A). You don’t need to come to the live sessions to purchase the course; those who do come will also receive the recorded version.
I see this as an unusually important course. As I suppose all of us know, the Bible is the most widely read and revered book in the history of Western civilization. The Gospels are the most widely read and revered books of the Bible – not just among Christians (well over two billion of them!) but also among others who are interested in the historical Jesus, the beginnings of Christianity, the cultural importance of the Christian Scriptures, and … and some people who are just curious.
Scholars, of course, have studied the Gospels intently for centuries. New approaches developed during the Enlightenment when historical modes of interpretation started to emerge. The past fifty years have seen important developments based not only on archaeological and manuscript discoveries but also on new literary approaches, modes of analysis, and deeper understandings of the world of antiquity. Scholars, of course, have tools not available to most lay readers – including access to the ancient languages (Greek, Hebrew, Latin, and Aramaic are all important); wide knowledge of Greek culture; the history of the Roman empire; the context of second-temple Judaism; new modes of literary analysis; and lots of other things.
The real shame is that most people have little or no idea what scholars have learned about the Gospels – and even more, what evidence they have adduced to support their views.
This course is designed to explain in layperson’s terms what historical scholars have come to know about the four Gospels and, more important, why they find their views persuasive. Here are some of the questions I will be addressing:
- When did scholars start to realize that the Gospels could be approached as historical documents, not only documents of faith? And how did that realization affect the way they interpreted the books?
- Some readers assume the Gospels are historically reliable biographies of Jesus; others think they are purely legendary, a set of pious fairy tales. What do most historical scholars think and why?
- Scholars often date Mark as the first Gospel, around 70 CE, and John as the last, around 95 CE. That would mean the Gospels were written 30-65 years after the death of Jesus. But how do they come up with those dates? Why not put the Gospels in the 40s? Or in the 130s?
- If the Gospels were written that long after the fact, what does that say anything about their reliability? Anything? Where would their authors have gotten their information, and how can we know? Did they based their accounts on earlier written or did they rely only oral traditions that had been passed on by word of mouth for years and decades?
- Are the Gospels based on eyewitness testimony? If so, would that make them reliable? If not, would it make them unreliable?
- What do we actually know about oral cultures and how they preserved their traditions? Do people living in oral cultures work diligently to preserve their traditions accurately, since they cannot write them down for posterity? Alternatively, do they lack any concern at all for accuracy? Do they define accuracy in the same way we do, as those living in written cultures?
- Is the point of finding contradictions in the Gospels simply to show we can’t trust them? Or is there some kind of upside? That is, is there any positive value in knowing that the Gospels are often at odds? Are there ways in which recognizing their differences actually opens up new vistas of interpretation and helps make the different Gospel accounts come alive?
These and many other topics will be on the slate. If you’re interested in coming and/or in getting the course, you can get more information here: www.bartehrman.com/gospels
The cost for the course (whether you decide to hear it live or not) is $53.95. BUT there is an early-bird special until July 27 of $47.95 (save 6 bucks!). AND there is a discount for blog members: use the code BLOG5 and save another 5 bucks – so $42.95. Even though this event is not connected with the blog, a portion of the proceeds will go to the blog’s charities.
I think this is an unusually important and interesting topic. I hope you can join us!