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About BDEhrman

Ehrman is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he has served as the director of graduate studies and chair of the Department of Religious Studies.

Starting My New Trade Book on Revelation

I started writing my book on the Apocalypse of John a couple of weeks ago and have been using the occasion to reflect on my how my approach to writing has changed over the past few years.  My first trade book – that is, a book for a general audience -- was Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium.   That came out in 1999 so I suppose I started working on it in 1997. Up to that point I had published three scholarly books – (Didymus the Blind and the Text of the Gospels; The Text of the Fourth Gospel in the Writings of Origen; and The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture) and most recently my New Testament textbook (The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings).    The first two of these written for were for a very small group of ancient New Testament manuscript nerds (like me) in the world; the third for a wider range of scholars; and fourth for 18- to 20-year-olds who knew nothing about the New Testament. The [...]

Was Jesus in Agony Before His Arrest? The Unexpected Answer in Luke.

This mini-thread within a thread started out with my indicating that among the difficulties I have with the NRSV translation is that it includes as part of the text the account in Luke 22:43-44 of Jesus in agony -- the passage commonly referred to as the account of Jesus' "Bloody Sweat" (from which we get the phrase "sweating blood," even though he doesn't sweat blood but sweats sweat like blood drops -- presumably meaning "big" drops?) I've already explaine why I don't think Luke wrote the account.  There's more than can be said, but maybe I've said about enough.  If you want the fuller scoop, you can find a fuller discussion in my book The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture. For the purposes of the blog, two main questions remain: why would Luke change Mark’s portrayal of Jesus going to his death so that now he is so clearly calm and collected? And why did later scribes change Luke’s portrayal by adding the two verses in question? In this post I'll deal with the first question [...]

2021-10-05T14:14:23-04:00October 20th, 2021|Canonical Gospels, New Testament Manuscripts|

Knowing What Jesus Said and Did

I was just now looking through some old posts on the blog -- there over 2000 of them, since 2012 -- and ran across one that struck me as particularly relevant, to me at least.  It's the topic I'll be discussing with my PhD students on Tuesday, and it turns out this is what I first said about it in a post I made nine years ago.  I'll say pretty much the same thing on Tuesday! It's in response to a question from a reader, about how scholars try to determine what Jesus said and did.  ****************************** QUESTION: I've seen, somewhere on the internet (I know, great source!) some discussion that modern scholarship is moving away from the idea of criteria (such as multiple attestation, dissimilarity, etc.) and that the use of criteria is becoming seen as outmoded. Is there any truth to this, or were these sources just blowing smoke? RESPONSE: This question is about the criteria that scholars use to establish historically reliable material about the historical Jesus.  For background: there are several [...]

2021-10-18T17:37:48-04:00October 19th, 2021|Historical Jesus, Reader’s Questions|

Bruce Metzger and My Loss of Faith

In my reflections on my relationship with Bruce Metzger, my mentor through both my Masters and PhD degrees, I come now to a question I sometimes get asked.  Metzger himself was a devout and pious Christian, an ordained Presbyterian minister, and unusually committed to his faith.  When I first met him I was an evangelical; I changed over the years; I eventually left the faith.  How did Metzger respond? After all that I’ve written in these posts, I’m afraid the direct answer will be a bit of a disappointment.  The answer is: I don’t know. Metzger and I never talked about either my faith or his.  He was my teacher and I was his student, and we talked almost exclusively about scholarship:  New Testament studies, the history of earliest Christianity, the textual tradition of the New Testament.  We did not have a pastoral relationship but an academic one.  I don’t know if Metzger ever had a pastoral relationship with any of his students, but I somewhat doubt it.  He was their teacher, not their pastor [...]

2021-10-05T14:00:38-04:00October 17th, 2021|Bart’s Biography|

Second October Gold Q & A

Dear Members Dear As Gold, As you know, I am doing TWO Gold Q&A's this month, to make up for the one I missed in September.  The first was published this past week; I am scheduling the second for October 27.  I will be doing the recording on Sunday October 24. This is a nice perk for Gold members.  You get to ask written questions, I answer as many as I can, and I release the audio recording to Gold members only.  Have a question to ask?  The sky's the limit.  Go for it. Send your question(s) to our blog COO, Diane Pittman, at [email protected]   The deadline is midnight (in whatever time zone you're in) Friday, October 22. Please remember, the best questions are only a sentence of two long at most.  I hope to hear from you! Bart

2021-10-16T12:55:12-04:00October 16th, 2021|Public Forum|

An Unexpected Argument Against Jesus’ “Sweating Blood”

In the previous post I mentioned that I first got interested in the textual problem of Luke 22:43-44 (“the bloody sweat”) when I was taking a graduate seminar at Princeton Theological Seminary, my first year in the doctoral program.  The seminar was devoted (the entire semester) to the Greek exegesis (interpretation) of Luke.  My fellow student, Mark Plunkett, presented a seminar paper in which he dealt with the passage.  He was not at all interested in the textual question of whether vv. 43-44 were original.  He was assuming that they were not, but it had nothing to do with his presentation. In his presentation he argued that there was a clear structure to the passage of Jesus’ prayer before being arrested (in Luke’s source this takes place in the Garden of Gethsemane, but Luke doesn’t say so) and he made a convincing argument (to my mind).  And then I realized that the structural argument was relevant to the textual problem of whether the verses were original or not.  While we moved on to other things [...]

2021-10-09T11:19:07-04:00October 16th, 2021|Canonical Gospels, New Testament Manuscripts|

Jesus in the Face of Death?

In my last post I pointed out that the famous passage of the so-called “bloody sweat” in Luke 22:43-44 is thought by some scholars not to have been original to the Gospel of Luke.  I count myself in that number.  One of my very first scholarly articles was devoted to the question; I wrote it when I was a first-year graduate student – or rather, I co-wrote it, with a friend of mine who was in the PhD program at Princeton Seminary with me, a fellow named Mark Plunkett. Mark had done a study of the passage of Jesus’ prayer before his arrest and had realized something about the structure of the passage, which made me, in turn, realize, that if he was right, then the two verses about the bloody sweat could not have been original to the passage.  I’ll say more about that in my next post.  At the time, one of the reasons I thought that was so significant is that it confirmed what was already clear to me otherwise: these verses [...]

2021-10-04T16:17:16-04:00October 14th, 2021|Public Forum|

Vote for a Platinum Guest Post to Go to the World at Large!

Dearly Beloved Platinum Members, Here is another round of Platinum posts to vote for, to see which is to appear on the blog itself.  Take a look if you want.  Vote if you want.  Hey, it's all voluntary.  But one lucky winner will have her or his views available broadly, including on my other social network channels. So which do you think you'd like to see out there?  These are all very good.  Make a choice, and send your vote to Diane Pittman at [email protected] .  Diane will tabulate them and then I'll make the announcement and put the winner in the queue.   What We Know Today About Religions and the Afterlife (in the US): Platinum Guest Post by Sharon Friedman   The Reconstruction of Q: Platinum Guest Post by Steve Sutter   Prophecies and Saints in the Book of Daniel. Platinum Guest Post by Daniel Kohanski   Jesus the Healer: Those Darn Demons. Platinum guest post by Douglas Wadeson MD

2021-10-13T18:05:52-04:00October 13th, 2021|Platinums|

Did Jesus Sweat Blood? Another Problem with the NRSV

I will give just one other textual disagreement that I have with the translators of the NRSV: by “textual” disagreement I mean a disagreement over what the original Greek text of a passage was that should have been translated. For this second example I’ll stick with Luke, and again with the Passion narrative.  The full passage of Jesus’ prayer in the garden in Luke 22:39-46 reads as follows in the NRSV:  39 He came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him.  40 When he reached the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.”  Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.”  [[ 43 Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. 44 In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling [...]

2021-10-04T16:11:15-04:00October 13th, 2021|Public Forum|

Can We Reconstruct the New Testament from the Writings of the Early Church Fathers?

Can We Reconstruct the New Testament from the Writings of the Early Church Fathers? Christian apologists sometimes say that the historical record for the New Testament is so robust that the New Testament could be recreated from the writings of the early church fathers alone. Does this popular claim hold up? For example, here are Norm Geisler and Frank Turek in I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, p. 228: The early church fathers—men of the second and third centuries such as Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Tertullian, and others—quoted the New Testament so much (36,289 times, to be exact) that all but eleven verses of the New Testament can be reconstructed just from their quotations. There are 7957 verses in the New Testament, so “all but 11 verses” means that 99.9 percent could be reconstructed. And note the word “reconstructed.” They imagine recreating the original words or at least an identical meaning. These are bold claims. Let’s track down the evidence that supports this claim. As we do so, note the [...]

2021-10-20T10:45:41-04:00October 12th, 2021|New Testament Manuscripts|

Who Knew? Our Oldest Commentary on the Book of Revelation

One of the great things about being a research scholar is that if you’re diligent and paying attention, you learn new stuff all the time.  For someone with an inquiring mind, it’s like striking gold with some fair regularity.  And if you dig deep enough, you find things that very few people know about – often even scholars within your own field. I first read the book of Revelation when I was seventeen; I had a college course on it two years later; and have studied it ever since.  But it was not until a couple of years ago that I came to know something about the very oldest commentary we have on the book.  Old not in the sense that it was written in, say, the 18th century, but old in the sense that it was written in the THIRD century.  That’s old. The commentary was written by a little-known church leader, Victorinus, who was bishop of Pettau (modern Ptuj in Slovenia).  We don’t know a lot about him.  He wrote a number of [...]

2021-09-30T09:41:57-04:00October 12th, 2021|History of Biblical Scholarship, Revelation of John|

Another Problem with the NRSV: Knowing What To Translate

SORRY Y'ALL.  AS roughly 82,000 people have pointed out to me: This post was already posted four days ago.  It was a glich in the system.  The system is ... my brain.  UGH.   So if you read Oct. 6, don't bother today!.... Translators of the Bible have a terrifically complicated and difficult (and usually thankless) task.  I always knew that, of course, with my head – ever since taking Greek back in college.  But I did not relate to the problems emotionally until I started publishing translations of my own.  It’s HARD.  My first translation project was a two-volume edition of the Apostolic Fathers for the Loeb Classical Library (published by Harvard University Press). It was at that point that I realized that what translators do is not at all what the rest of us do who can teach the ancient languages and read Greek and assign Greek translation exercises to classes of graduate students. When you are with a class of students, you can sit around the table, discuss the various options about how [...]

John Shelby Spong: In Memoriam

I was very sorry to learn last month that John Shelby Spong died (Sept. 12, 2021; age 90).  Many of you know who he was; for those who don’t: he was one of the most important spokespersons of our generation for a critical understanding of the Bible for the general public, in particular for Christians.  He himself was a Christian.  In fact, for many years he was a bishop in the Episcopal church (bishop of Newark NJ from 1979-2000). Even though Spong never left the Christian faith, he certainly had a rigorously historical understanding of the faith and he spent many years writing influential books and lecturing around the world to proclaim it.  He was not well-loved among traditional Christians, and was openly declared a heretic by other church leaders.  That was because his historical studies led him to realize that the Bible cannot be interpreted as the literal, historical truth. Some other Christian bishops found his views dangerous and many people today, both Christian and non-Christian, do not understand how a real Christian can [...]

2021-09-25T11:42:25-04:00October 9th, 2021|Public Forum|

My Relationship with Bruce Metzger: More on the Personal Side

After all the tangents and side-tracks, I can return now to my reminiscences of my relationship with Bruce Metzger. Perhaps I should say a few things about his personality, as I perceived and experienced it. I think everyone who knew him would say that he was a true Christian gentleman.  He was respectful of all people, polite to a fault, and cordial.  But he was not someone that anyone became intimate with.  I am sure that I came to be closer to him than any PhD student he supervised in his 40 plus years teaching at Princeton Theological Seminary.  He as much as told me so.  I knew his wife and his two sons (a bit); he invited my family to Christmas dinner; for several weeks I lived with him and his wife in their home.  But there was always a kind of distance to him as well.  He never let down his hair.  The best I can put it is that he was cordial rather than warm and intimate. He was a shy man.  [...]

2021-09-25T11:47:16-04:00October 7th, 2021|Bart’s Biography|

What Do Translators Translate? It’s Not So Obvious…

Translators of the Bible have a terrifically complicated and difficult (and usually thankless) task.  I always knew that, of course, with my head – ever since taking Greek back in college.  But I did not relate to the problems emotionally until I started publishing translations of my own.  It’s HARD.  My first translation project was a two-volume edition of the Apostolic Fathers for the Loeb Classical Library (published by Harvard University Press).  It was at that point that I realized that what translators do is not at all what the rest of us do who can teach the ancient languages and read Greek and assign Greek translation exercises to classes of graduate students.  When you are with a class of students, you can sit around the table, discuss the various options about how a text can be translated, talk about the pro’s and con’s of various English renditions, make a few suggestions for how to provide nuance to a rendering, explicate the fuller meaning of the Greek by paraphrasing a phrase or a clause in [...]

2021-10-08T12:13:33-04:00October 6th, 2021|Public Forum|

What Do YOU Think? The Experience of Death.

A month ago I decided to add a new feature to the blog, a periodic post that asks you to share your personal view about something, your honest opinion based on serious expertise or complete non-expertise. These posts are (and will be) called “What Do You Think?”  I will NOT be responding to your replies/comments.  I’ll simply be posting them so you can express yourself and have others can see your views.  (As always, I will not be allowing comments that are rude to others or irrelevant to the question – for example, castigations of particular politicians that many but not all of us may despise, on one side of the political chasm facing us or the other. Or that try to proselytize others to your religious beliefs). Others of course can comment on your comment as they choose — and I hope they do.  I’ll be listening in, for my own fun, education, and edification! The topics are meant to involve the BIG QUESTIONS.  This one is related to the previous one but is [...]

2021-09-22T10:20:29-04:00October 5th, 2021|Afterlife, Public Forum|

A More Serious (Specific) Problem with the NRSV Translation

In my last post I mentioned John 3:22 as a verse that is mistranslated in the NRSV, leading to problems; but the problems of interpretation are not that enormous there – the translators simply removed an internal inconsistency by the way they mistranslated the verse. This second problem, the subject of this post, is more severe.  A mistranslation has completely altered the meaning of a passage; it is the result of a very good motive – to make the translation gender-inclusive. But motive has led to a very bad result in this case. The policy of the NRSV was to render gender neutral statements in a gender neutral way.  If a passage refers to humans in general, then it does not make sense to translate it as referring only to “men” (or only to “women” for that matter).  And so instead of “man” the translators chose to use “person” or “human” or – if the mortality of people is the issue – “mortals” or … whatever; instead of “men” they used “people,” “humans,” etc.   That’s [...]

2021-09-25T11:55:06-04:00October 3rd, 2021|Catholic Epistles, History of Biblical Scholarship|

What Do I Think of the New Revised Standard Version?

I recently discussed how I became a secretary for the New Revised Standard Version translation committee as a grad student.  Several people have asked me what I think of the translation, and if I have any problems with it.  My answer is pretty straightforward and comes in two parts: I think it is the best Bible translation out there and I have lots of problems with it.  (!)  The reality is that *every* Bible scholar has *lots* of problems with virtually every Bible translation.  Even the best. Generally speaking, I have two kinds of problems with the NRSV: some have to do with the translation itself, others have to do with the Greek reading that the translators decided to translate.  I’ll deal with the first set of problems in two posts, and second in the next two posts. Every biblical scholar will have problems with the way translators have rendered this, that, or the other passage.  Scholars disagree on everything!  (Well, almost everything.)  There are a few passages that have always irritated me from the [...]

2021-10-08T12:08:58-04:00October 2nd, 2021|Bart’s Biography, Canonical Gospels|

Two Gold Q&A’s for October!

Dear Gold Members, First, many apologies.  September got away from me; I was out of town for a third of it (lecturing for a UNC Alumni tour in northern Italy, suffering for the cause), and the rest of it just ate me alive.  So I missed the Gold Q&A. But never fear: I am going to make it up to you.  I'll be doing TWO this month. It will be the same as before, only double-duty this month.  Just to remind you, as if you need reminding: as a perk of your elite status as a gold member of the blog you are provided an audio Q&A once a month (well....) for Gold members only.   You provide written questions, I answer as many as I can, and I release the audio recording to Gold members only.  Have a question to ask?  The sky's the limit.  Go for it. I will be recording the first Q&A on  Sunday October 10, to be released Tuesday October 13.  Send your question(s) to our blog COO, Diane Pittman, at [...]

2021-10-01T13:11:58-04:00September 30th, 2021|Public Forum|

Behind the Scenes of the New Revised Standard Version

Here I will give two rather humorous stories (at least to me) connected with my work as the administrative assistant for the revision of the Revised Standard Version. In that capacity I was, of course, present for the various deliberations of the committee. Among the many issues they discussed was what to call the new revision. Ultimately it stood in the tradition of the “Authorized Version” – the technical name of the King James Version. In 1881, the KJV underwent an “official” revision (i.e., authorized by the ecclesiastical authorities who owned the copyright) in the Revised Version. Its committee received a lot of flak for the changes it made. Even though it was an English revision, there were several Americans who were on the committee. As part of their terms of involvement, they agreed not to publish an American version of the translation (making changes as they saw fit and bringing spelling and punctuation into conformity with American usage) for 20 years; and so in 1901 was published the American Standard Version. As I mentioned [...]

2021-09-22T10:03:31-04:00September 30th, 2021|Public Forum|
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