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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.

When Does Life Begin? The Status of the Unborn in the Biblical Tradition.

I'm pleased to announce that I will be doing a new two-lecture course on a rather timely topic, When Does Life Begin: The Status of the Unborn in the Biblical Tradition.  The course is not connected with the Blog per se, except insofar as I'm doing it and many of you might be interested.   For more information and registration, go to Even if you can't come to the live lectures, you will be able to get a recording of the course to watch at your leisure. Here's a description of the course: **********************               The issue of abortion is one of the most divisive controversies in our country.  In many ways it comes down to a very basic question:  When Does Life Begin? At conception?  Later in gestation?  When the fetus is viable?  At birth? For many people the question is intimately connected with the Bible.  Does the Bible declare, intimate, or assume that the fetus is human?   Some emphatically say yes.  Others say no.  Other are not so sure. In these lecture, we address the question [...]

2024-05-15T12:45:47-04:00May 17th, 2024|Public Forum|

A Major Argument That We Can Be Sure We Have the Original Text

There is one particularly interesting argument sometimes used by those who believe we can know with good certainty what the original text of the New Testament books said.  This is the argument called the “tenacity of the tradition.”  The argument is prefaced on the very interesting phenomenon that whenever papyri manuscripts are discovered – say from the third or fourth Christian century – they almost *never* contain new variant readings that we did not already know about from later manuscripts, of say the seventh to fifteenth centuries.  Instead, the readings of these early manuscripts re-appear in later manuscripts. The conclusion that is sometimes drawn, then, is that that tradition is “tenacious.”  That is to say, later manuscripts did not invent their variant readings, but in almost every instance replicated variant readings that they got from earlier manuscripts.   And one corollary that is sometimes drawn, then, is variant readings do not disappear but continue to be replicated in later witnesses.   If that is the case, then the “original” readings almost certainly still survive somewhere in the [...]

2024-05-08T11:51:02-04:00May 16th, 2024|New Testament Manuscripts, Public Forum|

Dubious Arguments That We CAN Get to the “Original Text”

When I have public debates with scholars over whether we can know the original text of the New Testament or not, I stake out the claim that we cannot, and they stake out the claim that we probably can.  Part of my argument is always the one I started to outline in the previous post.  If we take something like the Gospel of Mark, our first complete manuscript of Mark is 300 years after Mark was first produced and put in circulation.  So how can we know if that manuscript is extremely close to the original?  We don’t have an original to compare it to in order to find out.  And we don’t have earlier manuscripts to compare it to in order to find out, except for one remarkable, but highly fragmentary manuscript about a century and half earlier (dating from around 200 CE), which does contain differences from the complete one. So given this fact, how does my opponent typically argue his case?  Normally he cites two important data.  There is no disputing either [...]

2024-05-08T11:57:30-04:00May 15th, 2024|New Testament Manuscripts|

Don’t the MOST Manuscripts Show What An Author Wrote?

Suppose you have thousands of manuscripts of a New Testament book and a particular verse is worded in one way in 98% of them but another way in just 2%?  Surely the 98% is right, right?  That was an issue I addressed many years ago on the blog, and to some of you, the answer may be surprising.  Here's how I said it then. ****************************** Early on in my study of textual criticism I came to understand one of the major issues confronting scholars in the field – an issue that scholars have been contending with since the eighteenth century.  For the past hundred years or so the vast majority of experts have been convinced by a solution to the problem, but the solution was slow in coming, for all sorts of reasons.  But when I was first introduced to the problem I learned there were two sides that were being taken, and I wrote a paper about it (my first year in college, at Moody Bible Institute).  I continued to be interested in the [...]

2024-05-10T11:51:50-04:00May 14th, 2024|New Testament Manuscripts|

Even If We Can Imagine an “Original” Text, How Could We Know if We Had It?

Scholars sometimes debate whether we can know that we have reconstructed the original text of the New Testament at every point – or even every important point.  To me the answer was and is self-evidently, no, of course not.  Many of my conservative evangelical critics think that I’m being overly skeptical, that since we have thousands of manuscripts of the NT, we can surely know better what the authors of the NT said than any other authors from the ancient world.  My view is that this might be true, but that simply shows that we can’t know what *most* authors of the ancient world actually said, word for word. Why does that matter?  I’ll explain in a second, for the bulk of this post.  But first let me put the matter in very simple form, at least insofar as I can.  Suppose Matthew’s Gospel was circulated for the very first time in Antioch of Syria around the year 85 CE.   We’ll call that first circulated copy the “original.”  Someone copied the original in his church.   [...]

2024-05-08T15:14:28-04:00May 12th, 2024|New Testament Manuscripts, Public Forum|

Is There an Original Text Even of One of MY Books??

  Here's a way to think about what it can even mean to talk about an "original text," from a post many years ago, published when I was just finishing up one of my books. ****************************** In my debates with other scholars about whether we can know (for certain) (or at they sometimes put it, with 99% certainty) what the original words of the New Testament were, I always argue that we cannot “know,” and they argue we can.   Let me explain one reason that I find their position highly problematic by dealing with a broader issue.  What exactly *is* the original text of a document?  If we can’t agree on that very basic and fundamental question, then we can’t very well agree on the possibility of getting back to the original. I’ve dealt with this problem on the blog before, but let me approach if from a different angle this time.  I have just finished my recent book on how memory studies can help us think about the oral traditions of Jesus [...]

2024-05-06T23:41:53-04:00May 11th, 2024|New Testament Manuscripts, Public Forum|

How Can We Even IMAGINE an “Original” Text of the Gospels?

QUESTION: When it comes to the gospels, how do we define the ‘original text’? Do we define it as the original manuscript that was first penned by the author, or do we define it as the gospels in their most settled canonical form?   RESPONSE: As it turns out, this is a complicated and endlessly fascinating question that, so far as I have been able to work out over the past twenty years of thinking about it, has no clear and obvious answer! By way of very simple background for readers not completely on top of the textual situation we are confronting when it comes to the Gospels (or any of the other books of the New Testament) (or of any ancient Christian writings at all) (or, in fact, of any writings of any kind at all that come down to us from antiquity) we do not have the “originals” (however we define that term: see below!).  What we have are copies made from copies, which were themselves made from copies.  Most [...]

Two KINDS of Originals. How Do We Know We Have Either?

I have recently been asked about how we know we have the originals of the books of the Bible.  By that, the questioner meant both how do we know the words we think the authors wrote were actually the words he wrote and how do we know the books we have are in the shape they were when they were written -- that is, is it possible chapters or passages have been added here or there or that several books were combined into one book even before scribes started copying what we have today? I've decided to deal with BOTH issue in a series of posts, and I've realized that many years ago I dealt with both issues very briefly TOGETHER in a single post, based on a question I received way back then when the world was younger.  So I'll begin my thread with that post: *******************************   How can we absolutely know whether we have the original words of the New Testament?  And weren’t books of the Old Testament edited progressively over time, [...]

A High-level Intellectual with an Infuriating “Solution” to Why There is Suffering

A blog member recently commented on a radio debate I did on the Problem of Suffering many years ago; over the years I've forgotten a lot of my debates -- or at least what actually happened in them -- but not this one.  I found it completely infuriating.  So I thought I would repost it.  I'm happy to hear your views, whatever they may be! ****************************** This is a radio debate that I had on January 10th, 2009 with Richard G. Swinburne, a philosopher who teaches at Oxford; Swinburne is a Christian and is well-known in philosophical circles.  The debate involved an area we are both interested in, The Problem of Suffering and whether it makes sense to be a theist in light of the pain and misery in the world. I have to say, this is probably the only radio debate that I've ever done where I got genuinely angry at an opponent.   Swinburne's answers to the worlds misery struck me as completely remote from any pain -- the stereotypical arm-chair-ivy-tower rationalism [...]

2024-05-06T23:30:03-04:00May 7th, 2024|Bart's Debates|

Did Paul Favor Gender Equality?

In this thread I have been talking about the role of women in the early church, starting with the ministry of Jesus, then in the churches of Paul (the first churches we have any real record of). In this post I continue by reflecting on Paul’s actual *views* of women; this strikes me as a particularly important topic since Paul is frequently condemned as the first Christian misogynist (or at least one of the first bad ones). Is that justified? The following represents some of my reflections as found in my discussion in my textbook on the NT for university students. The apostle Paul did not know the man Jesus nor, probably, any of his women followers. Moreover, many of the things that Paul proclaimed in light of Jesus' death and resurrection varied from the original message heard by the disciples in Galilee. For one thing, Paul believed that the end had already commenced with the victory over the forces of evil that had been won at Jesus' cross and sealed at [...]

Women in the World of Jesus

In my previous post I talked about the traditions that indicated that Jesus associated with women publicly during his ministry – in an attempt to use established historical criteria to know whether the prominence of women in the earliest Christian communities may have had precedence in the life of Jesus himself. What about the contextual credibility of these traditions? It is true that women were generally viewed as inferior by men in the ancient world (see below). But there *were* exceptions: philosophical schools like the Epicureans and the Cynics, for example, advocated equality for women. Of course, there were not many Epicureans or Cynics in Jesus' immediate environment of Palestine, and our limited sources suggest that women, as a rule, were generally even more restricted in that part of the empire with respect to their abilities to engage in social activities outside the home and away from the authority of their fathers or husbands. Is it credible, then, that a Jewish teacher would have encouraged and promoted such activities? We have no solid [...]

Reminder! WHY PROPHECY FAILS! Fundraiser for Sudan With James Tabor

If you haven't taken note of this yet, please do!  It's gonna be a really interesting topic.  Here's the original post. ***************** I am very pleased to announce a fund-raiser for the Bart Ehrman blog on MONDAY May 6, a special event in which I interview fellow New Testament scholar and social commentator Dr. James Tabor on a topic sure to be of interest.  James, as you may know, is a retired professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina Charlotte.  He is a public figure who has a large following on his own blog and in his many public appearances.  Among his numerous popular is Why Waco, which deals directly with the 1993 disaster at Waco just over 31 years ago.  James was consulted by the FBI, testified before a joint Committee in the US Congress on Waco, and was able to interpret the apocalyptic views endorsed by the Branch Davidians under David Koresh. The topic of our conversation will be connected to a broader issue that lay behind the disaster.  As you [...]

2024-05-03T18:05:56-04:00May 3rd, 2024|Public Forum|

Jesus and Women

In my previous post I tried to show that women – contrary to what one might think – were quite prominent in the ministry and churches established by Paul. One naturally wonders why that might be, given the fact that women came to be silenced in later Christian traditions (continuing on in some rather notable circles today). One answer for why women played important roles in the life of the early church is that they may have played an important role in the life of the historical Jesus. As readers of this blog know, it is not an easy matter establishing what actually happened in Jesus’ life. Historians need to apply historical criteria to all of the traditions that survive about Jesus: independent attestation (if a tradition is independently attested in multiple sources, it is more likely to be authentic); dissimilarity (if a tradition cuts against the grain of what Christians would have wanted to say about Jesus, it is more likely authentic); and contextual coherence (any tradition that cannot make sense in [...]

Was Paul a Misogynist?

I have recently had some discussions with other scholars about the role of women in the early church.  I've dealt with that issue on the blog before, of course, but now that I look I see that my fullest discussion was a thread from over ten years ago.  Time to do it again!  These posts deal with a variety of issues, starting with Paul, notorious in some circles for his views.  But ... justifiably? In my NT course I have every student participate, as part of their grade, in a formal debate on this or that topic. The topics are meant to be controversial, and one of them, years ago, was “Resolved: The Apostle Paul was a Misogynist.” Students had to choose a side to argue (I would often assign them to argue the opposite side of the side they said they preferred arguing!), they spent weeks doing research on the topic, and then they would present their debate before their small group recitation class. It was a great topic, made even more interesting by [...]

Wanna come to the live recording of the Gold Q&A? Saturday May 27

Dear Goldies and Platinums. I'm going to be recording the monthly Gold Q&A session tomorrow (Saturday, May 27) at 5:30 pm EST.   I won't be taking any live questions -- the list is already too long to cover -- but if you're interested in coming to watch and listen, come along! Here's the link. Meeting ID: 927 8932 9355 Passcode: 686914 --- One tap mobile +13052241968,,92789329355# US +13092053325,,92789329355# US --- Dial by your location • +1 305 224 1968 US • +1 309 205 3325 US • +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago) • +1 646 931 3860 US • +1 929 436 2866 US (New York) • +1 301 715 8592 US (Washington DC) • +1 360 209 5623 US • +1 386 347 5053 US • +1 507 473 4847 US • +1 564 217 2000 US • +1 669 444 9171 US • +1 669 900 6833 US (San Jose) • +1 689 278 1000 US • +1 719 359 4580 US • +1 253 205 0468 US • +1 253 [...]

2024-04-26T17:56:49-04:00April 26th, 2024|Public Forum|

Responses to my Post on the Discovery of an Ancient Manuscript of the Quran

After I posted on the discovery of an ancient manuscript of the Quran (years ago; but I reposted it yesterday) I received a bunch of comments (years ago) that I responded to (years ago).  Here's a repost of the back and forth, with a couple of tough ones here. ********************* My post on Saturday about the discovery of two pages of the Qur’an in the library of the University of Birmingham that appear to date from the time of Mohammad himself. or a decade or so later, evoked more than the usual response.   My Facebook post has received nearly 260,000 hits. I think before that my previous highest hit total was 25,000 or so.  Amazing amount of interest in this. And so I’m going to do something I’ve never done before on the 3+ years of the blog:  I’m going to post several comments that I have received (on the assumption that many people reading the blog do not read all the comments and my responses to them) (if I’m completely wrong about [...]

2024-04-21T17:43:27-04:00April 24th, 2024|Public Forum|

Major Ways to Compare and Contrast the Quran With the New Testament

In my previous post I announced the new course I'll be doing on May 4 and 5, with scholar of Islam, Javad Hashmi, in which we both apply rigorous historical methods to analyzing the NT (me) and the Quran (Javad).  To register for the course, go to For a $5 blog member discount, simply enter the code Blog5. Here now are the topics and specific lectures we'll be doing.  We shot for the really important and interesting issues; I'm really looking forward to what Javad has to say about them with respect to the Quran.  I'm sure it won't be what I've normally heard! After each of us lectures on a topic, we'll discuss the issues between ourselves. And at the end of each day (two topics/day) we'll open it up for audience Q&A. Topic A – Getting Back to the Originals: Knowing What the Authors Actually Wrote   Lecture 1:- The New Testament: Do We Have the Original Text?           The New Testament is often called “the best preserved writing of [...]

2024-04-21T16:30:17-04:00April 21st, 2024|Public Forum|

The Bible and the Quran: Their Historical Problems. A New Course!!

Most Muslims argue that the Quran is absolutely perfect in every way: it represents God's words, accurately recorded, with no contradictions, and no textual changes by scribes.  Most fundamentalist Christians argue the same thing about the New Testament.  Is either one true? I'm pleased to announce that I will be hosting a special event on May 4-5, an eight-lecture course on "The Bible and the Quran: Assessing their Historical Problems."   I will be giving half the lectures discussing textual, literary, and historical problems connected with the New Testament, and an expert on Islam, Javad Hashmi, will be dealing with the SAME problems with the Quran. Now THIS is something you've never heard before.   It is not connected directly with the blog (except to the extent that I'm involved with both and that blog people will certainly be interested in it!).  I myself am planning on learning a ton.   Here is some information on it: ******************************* Overview This course will consist of eight 45-50 minute lectures, alternating between Christianity and Islam, exploring the Bible and the [...]

2024-04-21T16:14:37-04:00April 20th, 2024|Public Forum|

What’s It Like in Sheol?

In the previous post I began discussing the intriguing story of 1 Samuel 28, where the king of Israel, Saul, illicitly consults a medium in an attempt to communicate with his now-dead advisor and predecessor, the prophet Samuel.  This is the only case of necromancy in the entire Bible.   In this post I want to consider what the author of the passage seems to think about those who go to Sheol after death. I have taken much of what follows from my book Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife (Simon and Schuster, 2020). ******************************   In the account, King Saul learns of a medium in the town of Endor, near the front lines of the approaching battle.  He goes to her and, for rather obvious reasons, does so in disguise:  it would not help matters if she were to realize the illicit request for contact with the dead is coming from the sovereign ruler who made it illegal in the first place.   When approached, she is understandably reluctant: the Law of [...]

2024-04-28T22:50:55-04:00April 18th, 2024|Public Forum|

What About People Who Come Back From the Dead in the Hebrew Bible?

In thinking about Sheol and death in the Hebrew Bible, it is worth reflecting on passages where the dead come back to life or are contacted by the living.  This does not happen much at all – a couple of instances of resuscitation and one of necromancy. Probably the most famous resuscitation – the bringing back to life of a dead person – involves the prophet Elijah in 1 Kings 17:17-24.   Elijah has been helping an unnamed widow from the town of Zarephath, miraculously providing her and her son with food during a divinely-mandated drought/famine (which the prophet brought to teach the wicked King Ahab a lesson).   But the boy dies.  The widow is understandably distraught – the prophet was supposed to be helping her and now her son has died.  Some help. Elijah takes the boy, though, and raises him from the dead.  The woman responds appropriately, declaring him Elijah a man of God who speaks the word of God. In 2 Kings 4:32-37 a similar story is told about the prophet Elisha [...]

2024-04-08T16:07:16-04:00April 17th, 2024|Afterlife, Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|
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