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Apologies, Questions, and Excuses

My sincere apologies to any- and every-one who has asked me a direct question that I have said I would devote a post or more to.   The list of questions that I need to address is as long as my arm, and in many cases I suppose people forgot that they even asked!  But if you asked and are waiting – apologies.   I still have the questions and I will get to them, slowly.  But I find that once I start answering a question, to cover the issues thoroughly ends up taking several posts and I get sent down some byways.  But that’s OK, in my opinion; I tend to think that makes the blog a bit more interesting.

Moreover, I constantly have things I want to talk about – for example, things I’ve been doing in my courses, such as the thread on the Gospel of the Ebionites this past week:  I didn’t even *get* to the Gospel according to the Hebrews, the Gospel of the Nazareans, or the Gospel of the Egyptians; and not tomorrow my seminar is off to discuss yet *other* non-canonical texts, many of them also very interesting and worth series of posts.

I take this also to be for the good, since I sometimes I wonder how long I can sustain a blog at a rate of 5-6 posts a week, without running out of things to say.  A year and a half into it, so far so good.

Anyway, below is a question (out of order in which I received it, I’ll admit) that I thought was pretty good.  It is about my syllabus for my course, where I indicate that my deadlines for assignments are set in stone and late papers will be penalized.  Here’s the question:



“Both deadlines are firm.”  Any chance you will do a post on some of the better excuses you’ve got for overdue assignments over the years?!



Ah great question!  In fact, I almost never get any good or memorable excuses for late papers.  But I’ve gotten some *amazing* responses in the past to explain why a student did not turn up for the midterm or final exam.   You’d be amazed how many sick and dying grandmothers a single student could have!

My all-time favorite excuse came from a student of mine, back in the mid 80s, when I was teaching at Rutgers.   This student had some bizarre things happen to him.   One time he missed class (he later claimed) because that morning he had gone into his (shared) bathroom to wash up, and used a wet hand towel there to wipe his face – but it was wet with lighter fluid (from a thoughtless roommate).  He ended up in an ambulance.   I didn’t know if I believed him, but it was a clever claim, even if not true.  Later in that semester, this same student fainted – literally fainted – during one of my lectures.   Taken out in an ambulance.  He claimed, with a straightface, to be on a first name basis with the ambulance crew.

But his best excuse was at the end of the semester.  Didn’t show up for his final exam.  I gave him an F.  And then he came in to tell me why he had missed.   He lived across the street from a chemist, who decided to commit suicide.   The chemist mixed up some wild concoction, and blew up his house.   The water heater from the house flew across the street and came in through the front window of the student’s house.  It caused the ceiling to collapse.  And the ceiling landed on my student.   Back to the ambulance.

He claimed he could show me newspaper articles to prove it.

I thought this was absolutely fantastic.  I was tempted on the spot just to give the student an A and to have done with it.  Any excuse *that* spectacular shows creativity intelligence, and if nothing else, our universities should be training students to be creative and intelligent…..

But in the end, I let him make up the final.  He aced it.

My Bible Introduction!
My PhD Seminar: Early Christian Apocrypha



  1. Avatar
    bamurray  September 15, 2013

    Interesting this about grandparents dying. I’ve also had many students give that as a reason over the years for why they had, or would, miss an assignment or an exam. It’s easy to be cynical, bur I think it’s true that college students generally are of an age where grandparents do tend to die. I confess I’ve vacillated over the years about how sympathetic I should be. Generally I’ve come down on the side of allowing the excuse.

    I must say I can’t remember any student coming up with this reason more than once!

  2. Avatar
    fultonmn  September 15, 2013

    My dad, who taught college, used to make a point of sending flowers and a condolence to the families of students with dead grandmas. Works either way.

  3. Avatar
    toddfrederick  September 15, 2013

    I enjoy these personal stories and experiences very much. Good variety.

  4. Avatar
    Peter  September 16, 2013

    PLEASE tell me he showed you the newspaper articles?!

    I’m sorry, but his story, despite its fiendishly brilliant plot, just doesn’t pass the criterion of contextual plausibility!!

  5. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  September 16, 2013

    How interesting that he aced the final. The guy who finished first in my medical school class was a guy no one ever saw at any of the lectures although he did show up for his clinical work. Lectures were just a waste of his time.

    This student of yours made up more fantastic stuff than some of the authors of Christian antiquity.

  6. Avatar
    JudithW.Coyle  October 2, 2013

    No doubt, this is not the place but I very much want answers – any way I can get them – to these two questions:

    Gospel means good news, right? What was the good news? Scripture somewhere has it “The kingdom of God is at hand.” What do you, Bart, think from all your studies is the good news or gospel? When considering those two words, it would have to be good, have to be news but then wouldn’t the gospel also have to have been dangerous?

    The next question is this: Was “in spirit” added to that first Beatitude?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 2, 2013

      Traditionally the “good news” refers to the salvation that Christ brought by dying on the cross. (If you’re asking me about my personal beliefs, I’m not myself a Christian so I do not think that Jesus’ death brought salvation; I’m an agnostic).

      “In spirit” is debated: does Luke have the older form of the beatitude or does Matthew. I tend to think Luke does, so that “in spirit” was added by Matthew.

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