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Authors Who “Just Want to Sell Books”

Sometimes I hear someone criticize me, or another author, by saying “he just wants to sell books.”     That has always struck me as a very strange thing to say.   Of course I want to sell books.  Why else would I write books?   Would I want to write books so no one would read them?  Has there ever been an author on the face of the planet who wanted to write a book that would not be read?

What people actually *mean*by that comment, of course, is far more sinister, snide, and offensive.   What they mean is: “he will say anything in a book in order to get people to buy it.”  There may indeed be authors for whom this is true.   I can’t speak for them, only for myself.   And for myself, this is one charge that I really bristle at.

Almost no one of course comes out and actually makes the charge directly.  But it must be what they mean, since, as I just pointed out, no one actually faults someone for writing a book and wanting it to be read.    So how would you judge if an author is simply making sensationalist claims in order to sell books?   In other words, how would you determine if an author has sacrificed his or her academic and personal integrity in order to become rich and famous?  (For that’s what the charge means: the person has sacrificed integrity.)

In my view, one way to determine this is….

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Tischendorf and the Discovery of Codex Sinaiticus
How I Moved into Trade Publishing

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    Judith  May 20, 2015

    Thank goodness, there is a ripple in that pond in which you are the major big fish. Otherwise everyone would be like us who know for a fact you are perfect and everything you do beyond wonderful. That could get dull.

  2. Avatar
    Michial  May 20, 2015

    Misquoting was the first of your books I purchased. Since they I have obtained most of them except for your scholarly tombs which even though I have the intellectual capacity to read them — I have no interest in doing so. I prefer the ones you write for the common man.

  3. Avatar
    doug  May 20, 2015

    Good point about the charge of not saying anything new in a book. Even if there is no new information in a book, the author may be explaining the information so that non-scholars can understand it. So that’s “new” information for the vast majority of us who are not scholars. And it is essential for educating the general public.

  4. Avatar
    walstrom  May 20, 2015

    In September 1993, 6 prominent scholars were excommunicated from the Mormon church, and a seventh was disfellowshipped. By publishing accurate facts which failed to be ‘faith-affirming’, (i.e. they did not self-censor), these scholars were treated with the utmost severity by church officials. (The September Six, they were called.)
    Apparently, telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth is dangerous to the faithful. If this is true for the Mormons, is it any less true in the minds of Evangelicals? Is this a call for antiseptic revisionism and does it differ in attitude from any other era in the history of Christianity?
    Question for Bart:
    Do you think the process of transmitting deliberate ‘faith-affirming’ versions all things Christian is a legacy in Christianity because of a desperate need for solidarity in the face of persecution? Does protectionism foster a debasing of the currency of evidence? In effect, haven’t a “few good men” exclaimed, “You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth,” like a screaming Jack Nicholson?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 21, 2015

      My sense is that different kinds of Christianity have very different approaches to “the truth.”

      • acircharo
        acircharo  May 26, 2015

        It seems to be the very essence of religion per se, that they, and they alone are the holders of the truth. All others are heretics. Isn’t this what happened even during the earliest days of the development of the NT canon? And, of course, throughout the subsequent revisions of “canon” by everyone else down through the ages; Luther, Calvin, et. al.

    • Avatar
      BrianUlrich  May 21, 2015

      The Bahai leadership did something similar to Juan Cole.

  5. ZekePiestrup
    ZekePiestrup  May 20, 2015

    I asked at a regional SBL meeting why scholars did not offer up a list of general findings from the guild for lay people (i.e. simple stuff like Matt Mark Luke John did not author the Gospels) so as to combat the times when a Bart Ehrman (or more recently, a Reza Aslan) somehow manages to emerge in the popular news cycle; and is critiqued with the common dismissive “Oh, that’s Bart’s scholarship,” or that’s so-and-so’s findings.

    I got only groans from my question to the guild. Perhaps most would rather continue playing around in the minutia, and await word back from you battling on the front lines, alone… Cheery, huh?

  6. Avatar
    spiker  May 20, 2015

    As with your Moody recollections, such claims that “you just want to be famous” are distractions. Have any of your former classmates contradicted your claims about your experiences there? Have you gotten any Geez Bart WTH are you talking about Letters?

    But suppose you were out “Just to become famous” or Just to sell books; even if you were sacrificing your integrity to be interesting, how does that affect your arguments, translations etc
    Is this really all they can come up with? If I remember correctly one video included in The Ehrman
    Project was of some Textual critic whose response to one of your arguments was, I would have interpreted it different. Wow scholars disagree! Isn’t that one of the signs of the apocalypse!?

    And the seventh poured out his bowl upon the air; and there came forth great scholarly disagreement! What has become of the movemnt that produced greats Like Augustine, Aquinas, Brother Maynard et al.

    • Bart
      Bart  May 21, 2015

      Well, there are certainly evangelical scholars who have disagreements, but rarely do they involve any of the facts.

  7. Avatar
    madmax2976  May 21, 2015

    My assessment: Your books challenge (threaten) the core beliefs of fundamentalism/inerrancy. The options open to the fundamentalists are to either demonstrate your scholarship is wrong or at least a fringe view OR to attack the messenger and his/her motivations. Attacking your motivations for writing the books you have clearly falls in the latter bucket.

    Come to think of it there is a third option; accept the majority scholarship as viable and admit there’s little historical basis for certainty or confidence on these matters. But as that would mean abandoning fundamentalism, that’s a very tough pill to for fundamentalists to swallow.

    • Avatar
      Steefen  May 22, 2015

      To a certain extent, it’s a McDonald’s franchise. Stick to the formula. If they want better quality, let them go somewhere else.
      But we want the social acceptance of the masses who eat McDonald’s; they’re so happy with the color yellow and the kids meals, with toys!
      See? With our franchise, people are happy. Why do want to inform people? We’ll wait until there is a ground swell to upgrade the quality.

  8. Pattycake1974
    Pattycake1974  May 21, 2015

    Do most bible colleges teach about variants or just those that offer the study of textual criticism? Are ministers who receive bachelor’s degrees aware of errors or contradictions within the bible? I’m aggravated that I’ve been told for so many years that the bible is inerrant. It explains why I’ve been spinning in circles trying to understand it. I’m even more annoyed with myself that it’s never crossed my mind to look at how the bible was historically put together.

  9. Avatar
    Jason  May 21, 2015

    Sorry to bring up Tabor again in this thread, but I would think his “Jesus Family Tomb” book would promote far more “…wild, idiosyncratic…” views than Misquoting Jesus or Jesus Interrupted-yet again, he kind of gets a pass from the crowd you’re taking heat from here. If you had to guess, would the reason be more about his book flying under the radar, your atheism or the fact that so few people take the idea seriously? The two of you still have the same employer, don’t you?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 21, 2015

      Yes, my sense is that evangelicals do not feel so threatened by him, just as they don’t feel threatened by mythicists for a very different reason. But ultimately it’s because they think these views are so far removed from what they think that they are not a threat. But maybe James can tell us: possibly he *is* under constant attack from evangelicals. (He is on the blog). And yes, we are both in the UNC systembut he teaches at the university in Charlotte, and I’m at Chapel Hill.

      • Avatar
        godspell  May 21, 2015

        Mythicism isn’t threatening to Christian fundamentalists at all, I think, because it doesn’t undermine their beliefs–they aren’t interested in the historical Jesus, and never were. They want to avoid that Jesus as much as possible. He’s not what they want. So by trying to make him go away, to debunk serious historical study of Jesus and his teachings, mythicists are doing fundamentalists a favor. And many if not all fundamentalists, of course, justify extreme atheism, through their intolerance and bigotry. But it is rather comic to see some ‘mythers’ act as if religious extremists are terrified of the ‘truths’ they are uncovering, when in fact most aren’t paying any attention to them. I mean, these are people who reject the GEOLOGICAL RECORD that shows how old this planet we’re living on is. Science knew the earth couldn’t be a few thousand years old well before the theory of evolution. Do they accept this? No. So how on earth are you ever going to persuade them Jesus didn’t exist with what amounts to little more than invincible skepticism?

        Once you’ve made the leap to believing the entire Old and New Testament is literally true, nothing anyone says about it being entirely mythical (which of course it is not) is going to have the slightest impact. It’s an all-or-nothing thing, on both sides, as I’m sure you’ve noticed. Fundamentalists believe everything in the bible must be factual, and mythicists believe none of it is (Alexander the Great and Augustus Caesar were some pretty impressive fabrications, I must say). Two sides of the same coin.

        The truth is, extremists on opposite sides of any debate invariably help each other, provide a basis for digging in, doubling down, refusing to see the other side.

  10. Avatar
    Philbert  May 21, 2015

    Hi Bart, you books are an inspiration to some of us. I always found the bible boring until I found scholars like you that give a new depth to understanding the bible- History! I am much more interested in the bible from a historical perspective now and probably know a lot more about it than most of my christian friends & family- even though I no longer profess to be a follower of the faith. It is true- many of the things you talk about are widely known in the scholarly community- why have I never heard this stuff preached in church? Our pastor had a Phd in theology but never mentioned the origins of the bible or any other historical info about the people and culture and worldview of their bronze/iron age(old & new testament) beliefs. You have actually made the bible worth researching and so much more interesting.

    • Avatar
      Steefen  May 22, 2015

      Philbert: Our pastor had a Phd in theology but never mentioned the origins of the bible or any other historical info about the people and culture and worldview of their bronze/iron age(old & new testament) beliefs.
      Steefen: Franchise.

  11. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  May 21, 2015

    Thanks for reviewing the highpoints of “Misquoting Jesus” which is really a terrific book. If one died secondary to snake handling, as recommended in one of the later revised endings of the Gospel of Mark, then the differences in the ending of Mark made a huge difference.

    I don’t know what to say about the reactions you receive from Fundamentalists. A fundamentalist, the Bible is inerrant, church used to be a huge part of my life. Eventually, I left because of the lack of a critical examination of crucial questions in that environment. Leaving, however, was a wrenching experience for me and resulted in a loss of many social contacts as well as all of the hopes of a personal God taking care of me and my loved ones both on earth and in heaven. Actually, both the social contact and personal God losses have been really big losses. At some point, it became best for all involved if I just severed all contact with people in this church. It’s like a bad dating relationship. At some point, it became best for me to just quit trying with this group of people and move on ….Doing otherwise just did not work for me or them. I think you have to choose the audience with whom you have contact and not beat your head against a brick wall which is not going to budge. But that is easier said than done. That is my two cents worth….

  12. Avatar
    godspell  May 21, 2015

    I must confess, I have sometimes said similar things about writers like Richard Carrier–only he’s doing videos as well. Thing is, certain religious and anti-religious writers are basically the theological (or anti-theological) equivalent of Fox News–they are catering to a niche–people who don’t want to be hear anything that might distress them, who want to be told things that are comforting and affirming of their general worldview. “Global Warming is a hoax.” “Evolution makes no sense.” “Obama is a Muslim.” The bible is literally true.” “Jesus never existed.” Not to mention the bizarrely persistent cult of “Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare.” They actually did a major motion picture for those people (it was not a good investment by the studio–you have to keep the size of your niche market in mind when catering to it).

    Now the people catering to these niches may not necessarily be intentionally spreading untruths–sometimes yes, sometimes no. They may be part of that niche, just a bit more aggressive about it. But having identified the audience they are writing for, they know how to please it, and that becomes the primary goal. Everything else becomes secondary. It isn’t about finding the truth–it’s about owning the truth. And nobody owns the truth.

    I do not agree with everything you have written about the New Testament and Jesus (for example, I do not agree he thought he’d be sitting on a throne ruling over The Kingdom of God–my mental image of him is different from yours in a number of ways). I am not always comforted or pleased by what you have to say. But I recognize that at all times you are doing your level best to get at the facts, no matter how many people you piss off in the process. You’ve managed to piss off people who disagree with each other on almost every other possible subject, unify them on the singular proposition that Bart Ehrman is full of it, and I truly respect that. You’ll never make it as that kind of niche writer. 😉

  13. Avatar
    Jim  May 21, 2015

    Well spoken, as usual.
    You cut to the chaff, get to the point(s) in clear concise language.
    Sometimes truth (small T) and reality can be painful.

  14. Avatar
    jhague  May 21, 2015

    I appreciate your well written and understandable books that you write for lay people. I have attempted to read books written for scholars and find them to be almost unreadable. Why is there such a difference between books for lay people and books for scholars?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 22, 2015

      The scholarly books are simply heavier hitting, using scholarly jargon, and assuming serious background knowledge not available to lay folk. As an example, see my book on Forgery and Counterforgery.

  15. Avatar
    Lawyerskeptic  May 22, 2015

    To the best of my limited, monolinguistic ability, I try to check original sources for historical claims. I find that both believers and skeptics exaggerate and twist the facts. Being a skeptic (and a human with confirmation bias), I enjoy catching believers misrepresenting original sources, but it disappoints me when my fellow skeptics do the same.

    Sometimes it seems to me like you’re the only biblical scholar who consistently tells the truth, but that is probably because I have read too many books written by extremists and not enough real scholarship. The things I have read that criticized “Misquoting Jesus” definitely came from a certain ideological point of view. In any event, I’ve never caught you misrepresenting the facts.

  16. Avatar
    webattorney  May 24, 2015

    One question: In your the field of publishing religious books for laymen, what is considered a “best-seller”?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 25, 2015

      I’m not sure there’s an agreed-on standard. My view is that if a book is on the New York Times Bestseller list, it’s a best seller.

  17. Avatar
    madmargie  May 25, 2015

    I have a retired Methodist pastor friend who said he tried to share these things with his congregations and invariably got moved to another church.

  18. Avatar
    Matt7  May 25, 2015

    Good to know that the guy who pointed out the mistakes in our inerrant book is just trying to sell his own books. I was beginning to think there might be a problem with the inerrancy doctrine.

  19. Avatar
    shakespeare66  June 12, 2015

    I am eternally grateful for your scholarship and for the trade books you have written. You have opened up the world of early Christianity to lay people who could not possibly know this stuff without an enormous amount of reading. I think that those who criticize are jealous of your ability to communicate such complex matter in highly enjoyable books. They envy your ability to find the time and make the effort to bring this to the masses. I mentioned your name at Bible study today and everyone knew you. The pastor has a lot of respect for your work. So so I. So do thousands of people who have learned what the scholars know ( but were afraid to tell). Many scholars cannot do what you can do. You have a special ability to communicate complex material. Religion is not uncomplicated as you know. When you were saying on one of the videos I watched that Paul’s Christiology has been a challenge for you, and that many years have passed before you arrived at an understanding of it that makes sense to you, then I know the subject matter is complicated. It is all the discerning of the message of Paul that IS complicated! The whole thing with the Trilogy is a trip by itself! Certainly there are other reasons why you are going to get objections to your books—just wants to sell books–who doesn’t want to do that?? I have spent a lot of time reading your works and I still have so much to do. I guess I cannot catch up to the forty plus years you have put into it. I am trying, but I have so much to read. Let it be known that your efforts are greatly appreciated. I have enjoyed almost everything I have read of yours, and I have read a lot. Keep it coming!

  20. Avatar
    gavm  March 23, 2016

    Prof I hope yr proud to be an American. Just think what would have happened to you if you had written anything even similar in the Islamic world about the quoran. Somehow I guess recent events make this very obvious. I wonder if such freedoms with exist in the UK in the future.

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