Sorting by

×

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.

The Growth of Early Christianity: A Clarification

In my last post I was discussing why / how Christianity succeeded in taking over the Empire, and a number of readers have pointed out that the conversion of Constantine had something to do with it.  Yes indeed!!  Constantine had EVERYTHING to do with it.  If he/that hadn’t happened, there’s no telling what would have been.   Constantine was the real game-changer.  But my post (I wasn’t clear about this: my mistake) wasn’t dealing with the cataclysmic events of the fourth century; I was trying to talk about what was going on *before* the game changed. The question I had and have is how Christianity managed to grow exponentially from the time of the apostles up to the early fourth century, when everything took a radical turn with the conversion of the emperor (which led, before century’s end, to Christianity becoming the state religion!).   If we assume that the New Testament is basically right, just for the sake of the argument (and in this it cannot be wrong by much, any way you look at it) [...]

Why Did Christianity Succeed?

QUESTION: What I have been wondering lately is "why" did Christianity win out. There seemed to be much competition in the ancient world between the pagan polytheisms and monotheistic religions. Competition not only between the Jewish religion and Christian religion but within Christianity. I would be interested in why you think the current version of Christianity won out. Was it purely a matter of cultural evolution and this form of Christianity seemed to benefit people the most, easiest to adhere to, most flexible. RESPONSE: There are actually two questions here, both of them really interesting and really important!  One is: why / how did the “orthodox” form of Christianity manage to become dominant within the religion.  I will take a stab at answering that question in a couple of days, but be forewarned: it’s not easy, especially in a 1000-word post on a blog! The other question is at least as interesting and even harder to answer: how / why did Christianity manage to become the dominant religion of the entire Roman Empire, so that [...]

Q & A with Ben Witherington: Part 6

Q. Mythicists seems to often uses the interpolation theory to explain away NT texts that are inconvenient to their agendas. Yet it is also true that some NT scholars use interpolation theories to the very same end, even when there is apparently no textual basis for the interpolation theory. Explain how the mythicists appeal to interpolation is special pleading, whereas it is not when some NT scholars resort to such a theory (take for example the case of 1 Cor. 14.33b-36, which is displaced in some manuscripts but to my knowledge there are no manuscripts that omit it altogether). A.   A theory of interpolation argues that there are passages in the New Testament that were not originally there, even though they are still found in all the surviving manuscripts.   When a passage (whether several verses, a single verse, or part of a verse) is not found in one or more manuscripts, then the decision whether it was originally in the NT is based on textual criticism.  Scholars have to decide then which manuscript(s) more likely [...]

Some Reading Suggestions on the New Testament

QUESTION: I've enjoyed reading "Jesus Interrupted" and "Misquoting Jesus". I am also listening to two of The Teaching Company courses you recorded - "The New Testament" and "Lost Christianities". Here is my question: Can you suggest additional books by other authors that provide balanced information on the New Testament? Such a bibliography would be a nice addition to your web site.   RESPONSE: Ah yes!  It’s important to hear various (balanced) views.  I tell my students this and they sometimes are surprised, since they think that I imagine that my view is the only one worth hearing!  But in my textbook on the New Testament (The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings) I provide suggestions for further reading at the end of each of the thirty chapters, for each relevant topic.  I include, in virtually every chapter, an important book that I completely disagree with.  Students, of every age, should get a range of perspective, weigh evidence, and make a decision for themselves. FOR THE REST of this Response, go to [...]

Q & A with Ben Witherington: Part 5

Q. Various mythicists have tried to argue that in fact there is only one source, namely Mark, that provides evidence that Jesus existed and presumably he made up the idea? Why is this not a fair representation of the evidence, and why do you think it is that various of them hardly even deal with the evidence from Paul? A. Most mythicists claim that Paul never mentions the historical Jesus or says anything about him, but that he only speaks of a “mythical Christ” who was not a real human being. That is completely wrong. Paul tells us that Jesus was born of a woman, that he was born Jewish, that he had brothers, one of whom was named James (whom Paul personally knew), that he had twelve disciples, that he ministered to Jews, that he taught that it was wrong to get a divorce and that you should pay your preacher, that he had the last supper (Paul indicates what Jesus said at the time), and that he was crucified. Anyone who says that [...]

My Apocrypha Seminar at the National Humanities Center: Part 2

In my earlier post I talked about the seminar I am now leading at the National Humanities Center, and mentioned the various primary (i.e., ancient) texts we’re discussing over the course of our three weeks together.  These cover a range of books that did not “make it in” to the New Testament: non-canonical Gospels, Acts, Epistles, and Apocalypses.   Terrific and terrifically interesting books, even if they never did become Scripture in the long run (many of them were in fact considered to be Scripture by one group or another during the early years of the church; that is one of the issues we are discussing in the seminar.) For part of each seminar we are talking about the meaning and interpretation of these texts:  how does one understand the giant Jesus in the Gospel of Peter?  The three – or is it four – Christs in the Coptic Apocalypse of Peter?  The nature of the sayings of Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas (are they best seen as Gnostic?).  The view of Jesus in the [...]

2020-04-03T19:38:43-04:00June 14th, 2012|Christian Apocrypha, Teaching Christianity|

Q & A with Ben Witherington: Part 4

CONTINUATION!   Ben Witherington, a conservative evangelical Christian New Testament scholar, has asked me to respond to a number of questions about my book Did Jesus Exist, especially in light of criticism I have received for it (not, for the most part, from committed Christians!).   His blog is widely read by conservative evangelicals, and he has agreed to post the questions and my answers without editing, to give his readers a sense of why I wrote the book, what I hoped to accomplish by it, and what I would like them to know about it.  He has graciously agreed to allow me to post my responses here on my blog, which, if I’m not mistaken, has a very different readership (although there is undoubtedly some overlap).   It’s a rather long set of questions and answers – over 10,000 words.   So I will post them in bits and pieces so as not to overwhelm anyone.  The Q’s are obviously his, the A’s mine. Some of Ben Witherington’s most popular books are The Jesus Quest, and The Problem with [...]

Personal Reflections: My Apocrypha Seminar at the National Humanities Center

If I had a fiver for every time someone who knows I’m a university professor says to me, “So, now you have the summer off!” – I’d buy an apartment on the upper West side. But it’s understandable, I know. The professorial life looks awful darn cushy: teach a couple a classes per semester, for fifteen weeks at a shot, and that’s *it*! 30 weeks of the year on, 22 weeks of the year off. Right? Yeah, well, kinda. To be fair, I should stress that it is indeed an amazing job and an unbelievable privilege to teach at the university level. I have colleagues who take it for granted, but after 27 years at it, I don’t at all. I know very deeply just how lucky I am. But it really is not (at least for anyone I know very well) a year-long boondoggle. Quite the contrary. In one of my “series” of posts I’ve been trying to describe what it is professional scholars do, for those out there who wonder. So far I [...]

2020-04-03T19:39:02-04:00June 12th, 2012|Christian Apocrypha, Teaching Christianity|

Which Charities Does The Blog Support?

QUESTION:  With administration costs taking bites out of donated dollars I hesitate to give $s to unknown/redundant agencies which duplicate efforts and erode potential $s for receipients. Would 'you' identify the agencies being used by those contributing to your foundation? What % of donated dollars are spent on administrative costs per dollar received? .... I support what you are doing in the areas of poverty and want to know how wisely and through whom it is dispersed. RESPONSE: This is obviously a most important question!!   And I have gotten it, or something like it, a couple of times this week, so I thought I should deal with it here in the Public Forum.  As it turns out, I dealt with it once before, but it was a couple of months ago.  I will simply repeat a good bit of what I said then -- so if this sounds familiar, well, save yourself some time and ... read something else! On the site itself I make it as  clear as I can that none of the [...]

2012-06-12T00:01:37-04:00June 12th, 2012|Public Forum|

Q & A with Ben Witherington: Part 3

CONTINUATION!   Ben Witherington, a conservative evangelical Christian New Testament scholar, has asked me to respond to a number of questions about my book Did Jesus Exist, especially in light of criticism I have received for it (not, for the most part, from committed Christians!).   His blog is widely read by conservative evangelicals, and he has agreed to post the questions and my answers without editing, to give his readers a sense of why I wrote the book, what I hoped to accomplish by it, and what I would like them to know about it.  He has graciously agreed to allow me to post my responses here on my blog, which, if I’m not mistaken, has a very different readership (although there is undoubtedly some overlap).   It’s a rather long set of questions and answers – over 10,000 words.   So I will post them in bits and pieces so as not to overwhelm anyone.  The Q’s are obviously his, the A’s mine. - Some of Ben Witherington’s most popular books are The Jesus Quest, and The Problem [...]

Should We Change the Canon of Scripture?

QUESTION: Given the criteria used to determine what would go on to constitute the New Testament canon, how is it that Hebrews and the book of Revelation remain part of the canon? I understand that Christians came to believe that they were authored by the apostles which is why they made it into the canon, but we now know that they weren't authored by Paul or John..so why are they still in the NT? RESPONSE: Interesting idea!   I sometimes get asked what I would exclude from the canon if given the choice, and I almost always say 1 Timothy (because of what it says about women in 2:11-15, and how the passage has been used for such horrible purposes over the years).  But, well, it ain’t gonna happen.  I don’t get a vote. And that’s the problem with Hebrews and Revelation – and all the other books that were admitted when Church Fathers (wrongly) thought they were written by apostles of Jesus (in this case Paul and John).  No one is going to give any [...]

Q & A with Ben Witherington: Part 2

CONTINUATION!   Ben Witherington, a conservative evangelical Christian New Testament scholar, has asked me to respond to a number of questions about my book Did Jesus Exist, especially in light of criticism I have received for it (not, for the most part, from committed Christians!).   His blog is widely read by conservative evangelicals, and he has agreed to post the questions and my answers without editing, to give his readers a sense of why I wrote the book, what I hoped to accomplish by it, and what I would like them to know about it.  He has graciously agreed to allow me to post my responses here on my blog, which, if I’m not mistaken, has a very different readership (although there is undoubtedly some overlap).   It’s a rather long set of questions and answers – over 10,000 words.   So I will post them in bits and pieces so as not to overwhelm anyone.  The Q’s are obviously his, the A’s mine. Some of Ben Witherington’s most popular books are The Jesus Quest, and The Problem with [...]

2020-12-17T23:41:39-05:00June 8th, 2012|Bart's Critics, Historical Jesus, Mythicism|

Was Jesus an Essene?

QUESTION: I was wondering how big of an influence you think the Essenes had on Jesus and his teachings, and if there's any evidence that he and John The Baptist were students of that philosophy. Jesus' apocalyptic teachings seem to align with them a lot. RESPONSE: Great question!  When the Dead Sea Scrolls (= DSS) were discovered in 1947, it was quickly realized that this was a library of documents produced by the Jewish group known from other ancient authors (such as Josephus and Pliny the Elder) as the Essenes (this identification is debated among some scholars; but the solid majority of scholars agree today that the “Essene” hypothesis is right).   The Essenes were known from antiquity for being a rigorously ascetic group.  The DSS themselves were an entire library of writings.  Some of them were copies of biblical books (Hebrew Bible) – significant because they were about a thousand years older than the oldest copy otherwise available.   Others were previously unknown works: commentaries on biblical books, apocalyptic treatises, instructions for how the community was [...]

Q&A With Ben Witherington: Part 1

Ben Witherington, a conservative evangelical Christian New Testament scholar, has asked me to respond to a number of questions about my book Did Jesus Exist, especially in light of criticism I have received for it (not, for the most part, from committed Christians!).   His blog is widely read by conservative evangelicals, and he has agreed to post the questions and my answers without editing, to give his readers a sense of why I wrote the book, what I hoped to accomplish by it, and what I would like them to know about it.  He has graciously agreed to allow me to post my responses here on my blog, which, if I’m not mistaken, has a very different readership (although there is undoubtedly some overlap).   It’s a rather long set of questions and answers – over 10,000 words.   So I will post them in bits and pieces so as not to overwhelm anyone.  The Q’s are obviously his, the A’s mine. Some of Ben Witherington’s most popular books are The Jesus Quest, and The Problem with [...]

Which Bible Translation Do I Prefer?

QUESTION: Dr. Ehrman, most of your readers in the ancient languages that the Bible was written in, therefore must rely on translations. Clearly no one translation is conclusive, but for clarity of reading and reliable research, can you recommend some translations to us? Conversely, do you have any that readers should avoid, because of clear bias or a little too loose?   RESPONSE: When I published Misquoting Jesus, I received a lot of emails from a lot of people asking a lot of questions.  But the one question I got asked more than any other was this one (in various forms):  which translation of the Bible do I recommend?   I should have answered it in the book itself; it would have made my life oh so much easier. There are lots and lots of good translations that are available today.  The first thing to stress about them is that just about every one of them (just about!  I’m sure there are exceptions, although offhand I can’t think of any) has been done by bona [...]

The Work of the Professional Scholar 10: Editorial Work (Books)

In addition to serving as editors and editorial board members for academic journals, many scholars also serve in the same capacity for scholarly book series published by academic presses. Over the years – again, just taking myself as a not particularly unusual example – I have been on the editoral boards for a number of scholarly monographs series: Studies and Documents (published by Eerdmans Press); Early Christianity in Context (T & T Clark), and Vigiliae Christianae Supplements (E. J. Brill). Scholars serving in this capacity perform a similar service to those on editorial boards for journals, but now, rather than evaluating academic articles for publication, they are evaluating books, to be published in a series that is usually devoted to a certain kind of book written, broadly, on a certain kind of subject in the field. Serving as the referee for a book is obviously a good deal more demanding than for an article. Books are much longer, more thoroughly researched, and (far) more important for the academic career of the author. And so a [...]

My Views on Suffering Are Not Held by Those Who Suffer

In two of my debates, one with the “Messianic-Jewish Apologist” Michael Brown (whom I had never heard of before, but who was a remarkably good debater) and with the conservative Christian Dinesh D’Souza (whom I had heard of before, loud and clear, and who is also a remarkably good debater), I have been confronted with a point that, in both instances, my opponents thought was a decisive strike against me. My views of suffering are not shared by the people who, unlike me, actually suffer. It’s an interesting point. To explain it, and my response to it, I need to say a few words about the context of these debates. The topic of my debates on the problem of suffering is never whether or not there is suffering. Luckily. Everyone (at least everyone I debate, and most everyone who listens to the debates) agrees that there is suffering. The question at stake is whether it makes sense to believe in God given the nature and extent of suffering in the world. FOR THE REST OF [...]

2020-04-03T19:40:18-04:00June 3rd, 2012|Bart's Debates|

Am I an Agnostic or an Atheist?

QUESTION: If you don't think God exists, why do you refer to yourself as an agnostic? If this is your perspective, why not refer to yourself as an atheist? Could it be that you don't believe the Christian God exists, but are open to the possibility that some kind of higher power exists (this is my perspective) and this is why you call yourself agnostic?   ANSWER: I have been getting this question a lot, and so I’ve decided to try to explain my position a bit more fully here in this post. The first thing to say is that I had no idea how militant both atheists and agnostics could be about their labels, until I became an agnostic myself! FOR THE REST OF THIS POST, log in as a member. If you don't belong yet, JOIN!! ANSWER [continued]: As a believer, I pretty much thought they were two amicably related positions, one saying that there is no God and the other saying that s/he doesn’t know if there is a God.  But [...]

2020-04-03T19:40:26-04:00June 2nd, 2012|Bart’s Biography, Reader’s Questions|

Religion in the News: Dating Jesus’ Death by the Earthquake

Geologists claim now that they have established the date of Jesus’ death. It was April 3, 33 CE. Thus: Jesus 'died on Friday, April 3, 33AD', claim researchers, who tie earthquake data with the gospels to find the date http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2149750/Jesus-died-Friday-April-3-33AD-claim-researchers-tie-earthquake-data-gospels-date.html For those who don’t know, the date of Jesus’ death has long been in dispute. The reality is, we are not sure when Jesus was executed (i.e., what year). It almost certainly happened during a Passover feast during the reign of Pontius Pilate as the Prefect of Judea. His rule lasted between 26-36 CE. All of our early Gospel accounts agree that the crucifixion happened on a Friday. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, this Friday was the day after the Passover meal was eaten (and so, technically, it was still “Passover Day; see Mark 14:12). According to John the Friday was the day before it was eaten – on the day of Preparation for the Passover (John 19:14). But which year was it? FOR THE REST OF THIS POST, log in and access the membership [...]

The Life of a Professional Scholar 9: Editorial Work, Journals (2)

In addition to serving on an editorial board and participating, chiefly, in reading and evaluating journal submissions for publication, there is the task – a far more onerous, time consuming, and significant task – of editing a journal.   I have never had the desire to be the chief editor of a major journal; like a lot of my colleagues, I see my contributions to the field coming in from other directions.   But I have been an associate editor and have seen what editing a journal involves first hand.  It involves a lot. The editor has numerous jobs and responsibilities.  All submissions comes to the editor, who decides on which established scholar(s) should evaluate them for possible publication (the peer-review process).   The editor normally has the final say, based on a careful reading of the article and of the readers’ reports.   The editor is responsible for putting together each issue of the journal, deciding what can fit in and when each article should appear.   (Normally, from the time an article is accepted for publication until it [...]

Go to Top