11 votes, average: 5.00 out of 511 votes, average: 5.00 out of 511 votes, average: 5.00 out of 511 votes, average: 5.00 out of 511 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5 (11 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)
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Balancing the Scholarly and the Popular

I just flew into London on the red eye this morning.  As many of you know, my wife Sarah is a Brit, and we have lots of family here.   About fifteen years ago we bought a flat in Wimbledon, which is our base of operation when we’re here.  It’s a hoppin’ part of the universe just now, with the tournament starting.   I won’t be going this year, but our sister-in-law Gill (on the blog!), managed to get a couple of tickets for today, so she and Sarah, now, as we speak, are watching Djokovic.  Not that I’m envious.

Tomorrow early I fly to Amsterdam, and then take a train over to Leiden for a meeting of the editorial board of Vigiliae Christianae, one of the premier journals of Patristics (i.e. studies focusing on the “church fathers” and “mothers”).   There are seven editors-in-chief, most of whom are European.  I’m the American.   I’ve been doing this for about eleven years.

It’s an honor and a privilege to serve in this capacity.  Vigiliae Christianae, by any estimate, is one of the three top journals in the world in this field, and is by far the oldest and best established.  Its approach tends to be traditional, focusing on historical and philological studies of the important Patristic texts, from the earliest period (right after the New Testament) on up through Late Antiquity.  My expertise is obviously on the earliest period; other editors are expert in the more central concerns of the field/journal, e.g., theological writings of the fourth to sixth centuries.

The work for the journal is not …

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Student Excuses: A Blast From the Past
The Broader Significance(s) of Contradictions



  1. Avatar
    DavidNeale  July 3, 2018

    I work in London and live in Surrey!

    But I have never been to a tennis match. (I find all sports indescribably boring. I don’t know why the ability to appreciate sport seems to be a thing I was born without.)

  2. Liam Foley
    Liam Foley  July 3, 2018

    Excellent post. I always enjoy your thoughts on what goes on behind the scenes of your work. You have a gift for writing both scholarly books and trade books. In writing a trade book is it difficult to write for that audience if you feel a more scholarly approach gives a more thorough and detailed understanding of your specific topic?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 5, 2018

      Yup, that’s always the challenge!

      • Avatar
        hoijarvi  July 5, 2018

        I have read many of your common audience books; then I decided to read the forgery and counterforgery. I’m impressed about the thoroughness of it. My thesis about turbomachinery was 75 pages, and it took me half a year of serious effort to put it together. So I have a question. How much time did you spend compiling that gargantuan piece?

        • Bart
          Bart  July 6, 2018

          Yeah it was years — one year doing nothing else. I have trouble figuring out how I did it too. Massive undertaking.

  3. talmoore
    talmoore  July 3, 2018

    Dr. Ehrman, do you appreciate the irony of being part of a journal that calls itself the Christian Nightwatch?

    And are you working with the Jesuits next?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 5, 2018

      No more than I feel ironic spending dollar bills with what they say about God on them….

  4. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  July 3, 2018

    You are a very interesting person with a remarkable life. Keep plugging away and I loved your story about the student with the 56 which became a 60 with some math adjustments. Hallelujah! Praise ….!

  5. Avatar
    villetbone  July 3, 2018

    I think the difference is that your “popular” books are not just popular schlock for the masses, but rather an attempt to take extremely academic discussions and place them at a reachable level for those of us who don’t have the background in the necessary fields (ancient texts, Greek, etc) to do the work ourselves. I don’t always agree with you, but I have enormous respect for how you present your work, arguments, and point of view. Thank you for that, and this excellent blog!

  6. Lev
    Lev  July 3, 2018


    How long are you staying for, Bart?

    The final is on the 15th – so if we get that far you may wish to stick around for the explosive orgy of patriotic fervour that will grip the nation…. or maybe not?

    In any case, welcome back to our shores. I hope you and your family have a wonderful time. 🙂

    • Bart
      Bart  July 5, 2018

      Yup, I’ll be here for the finals, watching with my tennis-crazy family.

  7. Avatar
    John Uzoigwe  July 3, 2018

    Dr Bart Ehrman, if Paul’s proof of Jesus resurrection in body was that he(jesus) appeared to him then why couldn’t those with Paul on his way to Damascus see him(Jesus)?
    2. Why did his disciples have difficulty recognizing him(jesus)?
    3. Don’t you think Jesus appearance to everyone would have been the best way of convincing the jews he was the true Messiah ?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 5, 2018

      Paul doesn’t mention anyone being with him when he saw Jesus (that’s from the book of Acts). I think the stories about the disciples not recognizing Jesus derive from the circumstance that some of them (initially? ever?) didn’t really believe they had seen him.

  8. Avatar
    Hormiga  July 3, 2018

    > And I’m not sure how that makes them look at my career (many academics look very much askance at someone who publishes a trade book, almost as if they’ve “sold out” to market pressures).

    One day in the late 1960s I, a graduate student in the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona, was driving down from the 60-inch telescope on Mt. Lemmon with Gerard Kuiper, the founder and director of LPL, a more-than-famous early planetary astronomer for which the Kuiper Belt is named.

    And he spent the entire trip denouncing Carl Sagan because Carl was pandering to the masses. That, in a way, was a formative experience for me.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 5, 2018

      Ah, right! Yup, that’s the widespread attitude among scholars.

      • Avatar
        nichael  July 5, 2018

        Obviously I’m writing as an outsider, but if I may be so bold, I’ve often felt this was a major problem with the reaction of many NT scholars to the (late?) Jesus Seminar.

        Clearly one can disagree with many of the specific conclusions that they offered. But surely their attempt at presenting modern biblical scholarship “to the masses” was a worthy goal.

        The strongest attacks were, of course, directed at the JS’s (in)famous “voting system”. Obviously voting, in and of itself doesn’t prove whether or not something is true. But knowing what portion of trained scholars hold an opinion –the actual stated goal of their system– is surely a useful datum to present to a non-expert reader attempting to wade through a deluge of contradictory assertions on a given topic.

        Instead, most of the attacks I read were extremely sniffy and dismissive. It was hard not to feel that it was the scholarship of the Jesus Seminar that should be opposed and discredited, rather than that of the late-night megachuch televangelists.

        • Bart
          Bart  July 6, 2018

          Yes, the voting was a bit odd (it would have been *much* better if they had reported percentages of members who voted which color, instead of evening it all out so that if 51% voted red and 49% voted black, they gave it as pink — which none of them voted for!). But I agree, it’s much better to discuss the resultant view. That’s what I do with my students, especially with respect to whether Jesus was apocalyptically oriented (their view: NO! my view: YES!)

          • Avatar
            nichael  July 8, 2018

            In point of fact, in most of the JS books that I have, they _do_ list the number/fractions of voting scholars that selected each of “certainty options” for each textual section that was voted on.

            OTOH, in the more “popular” books this was often reduced to various blocks of text being simply printed in separate colors –which as you suggest may probably have been the ideal way to do this.

            OT[third]H, one might wonder what pressures they were under from their publishers to limit the “technical stuff”. (Sort of like the –maybe apocryphal– story of the editor who, while Stephen Hawking was writing “A Brief History of Time”, warned him that he could assume that he would reduce sales by 50% for each equation that he included in the text.)

  9. Avatar
    Stephen  July 3, 2018

    I’m going to assume that when real NT scholars get together they probably don’t spend a lot of time discussing Mythicism or whether or not Jesus went to India. I imagine your concerns are completely other than what a layman’s would be.

    Sooo…what do you actually argue about? What is a hot topic of controversy in your field right now?


    • Bart
      Bart  July 5, 2018

      Yup, zero amount of time. Never ever had a discussion about it with any scholar in my 40 years of being a scholar. But there are hugely controversial issues in my field — thousands of them.

  10. Avatar
    anthonygale  July 3, 2018

    I have two questions.

    1. If you have a preference for writing scholarly versus trade books, why is that? I suppose its like comparing apples and oranges, so you dont have to chose, but perhaps you have a favorite.

    2. As a fellow American married to a Brit, do you have any clue why they call half baths cloakrooms? I got used to the pronunciation differences (e.g. garage vs gair-edge) and learned they werent calling me a moron when they said obviously (blank), but the cloakroom thing still baffles me. Subtle differences between cultures can be confusing (and sometimes amusing), as I learned when I lived in the UK. I can only imagine how complicated it can get when studying an ancient culture.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 5, 2018

      1. I like them both; 2. No idea!

    • Avatar
      GregAnderson  July 5, 2018

      Cloakroom is a literal English translation of Garderobe, Medieval French for latrine.

  11. Avatar
    seahawk41  July 3, 2018

    Two comments: First, in my field (physics) *no one* does serious scholarship/research and trade publications at the same time. Almost without exception the physicists and astronomers who write popular stuff do it at the end of their career, when they are slowing down!

    Second, regarding Europeans and language, I grew up in Michigan (down wind of the Pontiac foundry!), so am even more handicapped re languages than you. At least you can read the ancient ones and probably the modern ones too. I was in Paris in early June; a choral group that I sing in joined four others from the US and a fantastic French children’s choir to sing the Fauré and Gounod Requiems in La Madeleine, a wonderful church. I was pleasantly surprised at how the Parisians I had contact with either could speak decent English or worked hard to communicate when they knew no English. That in spite of the caricatures of “arrogant” French, especially Parisians.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 5, 2018

      Yes, I’ve never had problems with the French either. But I”ve seen some *amazingly* rude Americans in Paris!

    • Avatar
      nichael  July 5, 2018

      Concerning physicists who write popular(ish) works who while still being active in research, a few that come to mind are Sean Carroll, Stephen Hawking, David Deutsche and Richard Feynman (w.r.t. Feynman I’m think of books like his “Q.E.D.”, or “Nature of Phyical Law”, not the books written about him, like “Surely You’re Joking…”)

  12. Avatar
    Iskander Robertson  July 4, 2018

    “John writes in the present tense when describing it, as if it existed at the time of writing. But I understand archaeologists believe it was destroyed in AD 70. So if John wrote long after AD 70, why write ‘there is, in Jerusalem, beside the sheep-gate, a pool…’ ?”

    Dr Ehrman, what are your thoughts on this ?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 5, 2018

      It’s very common to write like this. The Talmud, written centuries later, speaks of the temple and the sacrifices being made in it in the present tense.

      • Avatar
        Iskander Robertson  July 5, 2018

        and that talmud is very late document, like hundreds of years after the sayings attributed to the rabbis?

        • Bart
          Bart  July 6, 2018

          Yes the Palestinian Talmud is usually dated to the fifth century, the Babylonian Talmud about a century later.

    • Avatar
      Hormiga  July 5, 2018

      See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historical_present

      Spanish uses it routinely and it’s not that rare in modern English.

  13. Avatar
    nichael  July 4, 2018

    Dr Ehrman: No need to post this comment, but there appears to be a tiny typo above:

    “…but before the JUST famous Christian intellectuals…”

  14. Avatar
    JoeRoark  July 4, 2018

    Reading your scholarly works does not help me much but reading your trade books does, and in some ways probably helps me be able to at least wade into the water of one of your scholarly books, if not into its depths.

    An old saying: The Bible is a book on whose shores any child may play, but whose depths no man can know,

    Whether you prefer to see it this way, or not, your trade books are a ministry to those of us not prepared for the deeper material. Thank you.

  15. Avatar
    Ngraver1  July 4, 2018

    Yea Bart!

  16. Avatar
    ask21771  July 4, 2018

    what do all the items in revelation 18:12-13 have in common?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 5, 2018

      I’m not sure what you’re asking. They are all goods Rome traded for.

  17. Avatar
    Tony  July 4, 2018

    You’re walking in my old stomping grounds. Enjoy Leiden. You could pursue the work of the Dutch Radicals! Boland studied there – I think. Alternatively, you could enjoy a cold beverage relaxing in one of the numerous outdoor cafe’s.

    As far as language, impress the Dutch by saying “goede morgen” (good morning). It’s pronounced as “koode morgen”. Better yet, do the Dutch “g” as ch – as in Loch Ness. Enjoy.

    • Avatar
      Sixtus  July 5, 2018

      On the other hand, when I pronounce Vincent van Gogh correctly to my art-aware friends here in NYC most find it insufferably pretentious. Only the art academics nod approval, grudgingly.

  18. Avatar
    hoshor  July 4, 2018

    I am a huge tennis fan, so I am extremely jealous of your wife and Gill’s good fortune of being able to attend Wimbledon. It has been a lifetime dream of mine to go once. Hopefully some day. As it is, I hope Federer can win another one!

  19. Avatar
    Nichrob  July 5, 2018

    Glad you get one personal day in Leiden for the hardest working professor EVER. Enjoy..!!

  20. Avatar
    UCCLMrh  July 5, 2018

    It’s easy to potshot at colleagues who actually accept payment in money for their work (publishing trade books and textbooks). How crude. The fact that 90% of trade book and textbook authors certainly end up with well under $10 an hour for their troubles makes the whole issue more amusing.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 6, 2018

      Kind of like some other professional — a plumber, a lawyer, a business executive — “accepting payment” for doing *their* job!!

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