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A Hugely Memorable Moment: When I Saw Codex Sinaiticus

In my last post I began to relate an anecdote about a traveling adventure I had several years ago, when giving lectures for a UNC trip to Egypt and Jordan with a stop at the famed St. Catherine’s monastery in the southern part of the Sinai peninsula, the place where Tischendorf had discovered the biblical manuscript Codex Sinaiticus in the mid 19th century, and where a fire at the monastery in the 1970s had uncovered a hidden room found to contain manuscripts, including the pages from the Old Testament of the Codex Sinaiticus that Tischendorf had not come away with from the monastery when he took the bulk of the manuscript with him back to Russian.  (Now THAT'S a long sentence!) For me, one of the highlights of this trip was to be a visit to the monastery, a place that I had wanted to see for years.  It is located in a completely barren location in the wilderness and is the one and only thing to see in the entire region.  It’s not the [...]

2023-08-30T11:41:53-04:00September 7th, 2023|Bart’s Biography, New Testament Manuscripts|

When I Got Seriously Interested in Memory (at least insofar as I remember)

(Recall: this post came from the past, when I was working on my book about Jesus and Memory, badly titled Jesus Before the Gospels.  I had forgotten about the post till just now!) As I indicated in my previous post, I have long been interested in memory for both personal and professional reasons.  On the personal level, I have known people very close to me who have experienced serious memory problems, for example through strokes.  Depending on what part of the brain is affected, different memory functions are damaged.   For example, someone may remember perfectly well what happened in an event 20 years ago, but forget a conversation they just had.   I have often wondered why and how that is.. And then there was my own memory.  For some things I have a terrific memory.  And for lots of things I have an absolutely terrible memory.   I especially have a terrible “episodic” memory (as psychologists call it), a memory for things that happen in your life and you experience.   Let me give an example. About [...]

2023-05-06T11:32:19-04:00May 4th, 2023|Bart’s Biography, Book Discussions, Memory Studies|

My Best Best-Selling Fluke

A couple of weeks ago I published a post about how an author writes a bestseller (she doesn't!  It becomes one or not for reasons other than the author's intent or writing...) I remembered I had posted something on the topic years ago, based on a blog member's question about my personal best-selling book, Misquoting Jesus, and why it did so well. In some ways it's a real puzzle.  The book is about Greek manuscripts of the New Testament.  HUH???  A bestselling book?  What???  (That, at least, is what all my friends said!)   But the answer relates to my previous post.  Here is the Q and then the A. QUESTION: In your previous answer to me you indicated that what makes a bestseller, in the end of the day, is massive media attention.  My question now is what sparks this attention. In other words, why, out of all your books, did Misquoting Jesus receive a great attention from the media?   RESPONSE: Ha!  It’s a great question.  I’ll start by saying that if there were [...]

2023-04-28T16:01:53-04:00April 26th, 2023|Bart’s Biography, Book Discussions|

Is Suffering a “Problem” for Believers?

This past week I had a long talk with one of my bright undergraduates, a first-year student who had been raised in a Christian context but had come to have serious doubts driven in large part by the difficulty she had understanding how there could be suffering in a world controlled by an all-knowing and all-powerful God.  I naturally resonated with the question, since this is why I myself left the Christian faith. I get asked about that transition a lot, and it’s been five or six years since I’ve discussed it at any length on the blog.  So I thought I might return to it.  The one and only time I”ve talked about it at length is in my book God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer our Most Important Question – Why We Suffer (Oxford University Press, 2008).  Here is how I discuss it there, slightly edited.  (This will take several posts) ******************************* I think I know when suffering started to become a “problem” for me.  It was while I was still [...]

2023-02-13T11:21:17-05:00February 22nd, 2023|Bart’s Biography, Reflections and Ruminations|

Am I About To Become Muslim?

I often get asked about the Qur'an (on which I have zero expertise) and my views of Islam (which I admire as one of the great religions of the world with lots of problems involving how it sometimes gets interpreted and used, just like every other great religion of the world).  I was just thinking about that this morning and remembered a post I did a long time ago answering a question a reader had raised with me.  Is it true I am about to convert to Islam?  Well, it hasn't happened yet, but I thought I would be worthwhile repeating the post:   READER COMMENT: I received a message on Facebook a couple of weeks ago from a person who has been proselytizing to me about the Muslim faith. This has happened a few times with others on your FB page. I guess that's what they do. Anyway, the other day I asked him if he was on your blog. He responded with a yes. Then he said that we (the members) were going [...]

2023-02-10T11:16:23-05:00February 4th, 2023|Bart’s Biography, Book Discussions|

How To Leave the Faith and Not Destroy the Family: Thanksgiving Reflection 2022

My beloved mom died last week.   She lived a long and good life; she brought a lot of good into the world and made many people very happy; and she died a good death – peaceful, in comfort, in the presence of family.  How good can it get? There are many things I have long been thankful for about my mom.  I would like to reflect on one of them here. Many years ago, when I left the Christian faith that my mom held so dear –  a faith that meant almost everything to her – it caused her a great deal of pain.  But she did not allow our stark differences to destroy our relationship.  We continued to love and honor each other even though we were deeply at odds on issues that both of us considered among the most important in our lives. My mom was not raised in a religious household.  She grew up in the small town of Burlington Kansas and her parents were not church people.   When she was in [...]

2022-11-25T16:00:18-05:00November 23rd, 2022|Bart’s Biography, Reflections and Ruminations|

Religion and the Wrecking Ball of Truth

In my last post I began to discuss the importance of "truth" to conservative evangelical Christianity, through a bit of autobiography.  You don't need to have read that post for this one, so I begin here with the final paragraph that I left off with there.  This is from my book Forged. ****************************** One of the ironies of modern religion is that the absolute commitment to truth in some forms of evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity, and the concomitant view that truth is objective and can be verified by any impartial observer, has led many faithful souls to follow the truth wherever it leads, but where it leads is often away from evangelical or fundamentalist Christianity.  That is to say, if you can, in theory, verify the “objective” truth of religion, and then it turns out that the religion being examined is verifiably wrong, where does that leave you?  For many one-time evangelical Christians it leaves them in the wilderness outside the evangelical camp, but with an unrepentant view of truth.  Objective truth, to paraphrase the [...]

2022-11-25T16:11:55-05:00November 22nd, 2022|Bart’s Biography, Catholic Epistles|

Me and the “Truth”: A Bit of Autobiography

I decided recently to reread my book Forged: Writing in the Name of God; How the Bible's Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are  (which, in my view, has one too many titles....).  It was a surprise: I really didn't remember a good bit of the opening part.  And oh boy, I liked it better than I expected (usually when you read your old stuff you just roll your eyes).  One of the theses of the book is that even in the ancient world, people thought that if someone wrote a book claiming to be a famous author (when they were someone else) was seen as a form of lying. I start the book with my own relation to lying and truth.  I'm sure you have your own stories to tell.  Here's part of mine: ****************************** On a bright sunny day in June, when I was fourteen years old, my mom told me that she and my dad were going out to play a round of golf.  I did a quick calculation in my head.  [...]

2022-11-09T23:15:19-05:00November 20th, 2022|Bart’s Biography|

Trying to Make Scholarship Interesting

I've long been interested in thinking about how to make boring subjects interesting.  I've become especially attuned to the issue recently as I've begun to read a lot more scholarship in fields completely unrelated to mine.  Some scholars have a gift in being able to reach low level mortals like me.  My own field is not nearly as complicated as the hard sciences (always hard for me, at least!) but every field has its technicalities and jargon and wide range of not-widely-shared assumptions, perspectives, and history of investigation. And so I was struck when I ran across this post from some years ago, and realized that it's still the sort of thing I think about roughly every day. ****************************** The difficulty in presenting serious scholarship to a lay audience is how to make something that can be very dry and technical and detailed and, well, boring to most human beings actually interesting and lively and thought provoking.   It is obviously quite easy to make something interesting dull.  University professors are unusually skilled at doing that.   [...]

Publishing in Academic Journals

The most obvious activity that professional scholars engage in is research, and the most obvious way research becomes known to a wider public is through publication. In some fields of inquiry (most of the sciences), the academic journal is the principal area of significant publication. In other fields (most of the humanities), academic books matter even more. But even in the humanities scholar typically publish in both venues. Books take a lot longer to write, but articles play an extremely important role both in disseminating knowledge – the results of research – and in providing grounds for a scholar’s academic tenure and promotion. The articles that scholars write – when they are writing as research scholars – are not the sort of thing that you would find in Time Magazine or Newsweek. Every field has its own set of academic, peer-reviewed journals (there are a large number in biblical studies in the U.S. and Europe); and every scholar who is active in his or her field or research publishes in them. These are not journals [...]

2022-10-05T09:57:35-04:00October 15th, 2022|Bart’s Biography, Teaching Christianity|

Getting the PhD in New Testament Studies

I continue here my series from long ago about what it's like to be a research scholar at a research university.  In this post I described what it takes to get the qualifications in the first place.  (The only thing I would probably change today, ten years after writing this post, is that university positions in the humanities are so difficult to find these days that you REALLY REALLY need to love doing the graduate work, because in many cases it will not lead to a career option.  Still... it *does* happen!), Here's how MY PhD in New Testament Studies happened. ****************************** I sometimes get asked what it takes to become a professional scholar in the field of New Testament/Early Christian studies. The answer, in short, is the same as for any academic discipline. It takes years of intense training. My own training in the field of New Testament studies was nothing at all unusual, but rather was fairly typical for someone in the field. What is unusual is that I knew that I wanted [...]

2022-10-21T12:43:27-04:00October 13th, 2022|Bart’s Biography, Teaching Christianity|

How Serendipity Changed My Life: The Apostolic Fathers

I decided that it might be fun to talk about how serendipity completely shaped my academic career, maybe doing a post now and then on the topic.  I seem to have had more than my share of fortuitous moments that have changed my life in ways I never would have expected.  When I just now sat down to do a first post on it, I suddenly seemed to remember I did that once.  And lo and behold, I did!  Over ten years ago.  So I'll start with this one and toss a new one in every now and then. Here's what I said before: ****************************** It seems that much that has happened in my professional life has been because of serendipity.  Back when I was a believer, we called it Providence.  (!)   It’s how I got my first job at Rutgers in 1984; how I got my current position at UNC in 1988; how I got asked to write something other than a technical study involving the Greek manuscript tradition of the New Testament – [...]

2022-09-26T10:53:58-04:00October 12th, 2022|Bart’s Biography, Book Discussions, Proto-Orthodox Writers|

A Funny Story about the Rapture

In my forthcoming book on Revelation (Title:  Armaggedon: What the Bible Really Says About the End; to be published on March 21), I discuss how evangelical Christians in the 19th century came up with the idea of a "rapture" -- that Jesus was soon to return to heaven to take true believers out of it before the horrible seven-year "tribulation" began.  Here is  a funny story about belief in the rapture from my younger days. At the time I was still a churchgoing Christian.  The church I was attending was evangelical, but I was moving away from a conservative theology and its strict, literal interpretation of the Bible.  I was becoming socially quite liberal, and was starting to take a more liberal view of the Bible.  I still thought that in *some* sense it was the Word of God, but I did not think that it was infallible or true in every way.  I had already come to see that parts of it contradicted one another, that there were historical implausibilities, and mistakes of various kinds. [...]

2022-09-16T15:05:29-04:00September 13th, 2022|Bart’s Biography, Reflections and Ruminations|

Controversial Me….

I am having a ten-week long celebration of our ten-year anniversary, from this past April 18, by reposting all the previous April 18 posts, one a week.  Many of them I'd forgotten about.  This one is about how weird it is to me that people think I'm controversial....  (As usual, I'm a bit tetchy about it!) ****************************** In this post I am going to take a bit of time out to do some self-reflection.  An issue I’ve been puzzling over for some time is the fact that people keep referring to my work as “controversial.”  I hear this all the time.  And truth be told, I’ve always found it bit odd and a disconcerting.  This past week I’ve had two people tell me that they know that I “like to be controversial.”   That’s actually not the case at all.   One person told me that she had seen a TV show where someone had said that they didn’t believe that Jesus existed, and she thought that was right up my alley.  I didn’t bother to tell [...]

2022-05-30T03:29:02-04:00June 9th, 2022|Bart’s Biography|

When I First Read the Book of Revelation….

I recently gave a plenary talk at a regional meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature.  The president of the group asked me to give a talk on Revelation, since that is what I’ve been working on recently, and I cobbled something together based on my book and a few other things.  It was about a 45 minute speech, and I thought it would be useful to reproduce it here in chunks over the course of a few posts. My audience was scholars of religion, most of them professors of biblical studies from the Northeast.  Since there were a wide range of interests and expertise represented there, I decided not to go too heavy with the scholarship.  It’s always hard to gauge an audience you’ve never seen before. Anyway, here is how I started the lecture. ****************************** When I first read the book of Revelation, in August 1973, I did so out of fear, not hope.  Not fear for the fate of the world in light of the coming apocalypse, but fear of my own [...]

2022-03-14T10:13:29-04:00March 22nd, 2022|Bart’s Biography, Revelation of John|

Faith and Inerrancy, In My Case — Did the “Young Ehrman” Get it Wrong?

Here I pick up from my previous post about evangelicals misunderstanding my journey of faith, first by repeating its final paragraph: ****************************** My sense is that there is a simple reason that a lot of evangelical apologists think I “threw the baby out with the bathwater” (the baby of faith with the bathwater of fundamentalism).  I might be wrong about this, but my sense is that taking this view allows them to explain why I left the faith without compelling them to address the ACTUAL reasons I did for themselves.   It is easier to caricature me and what happened and to point out my “mistake.”  I do not think that’s true of Kurt Jaros (see my previous post).  I think he has simply misread what I said.  And I can see how that misunderstanding is understandable, so to say.  Here’s why: In Misquoting Jesus, I say the following: This kind of realization coincided with the problems I was encountering the more closely I studied the surviving Greek manuscripts of the New Testament.  It is one [...]

Did I Have an Errant View of Inerrancy? (!) Guest Video Post by Kurt Jaros (#5)

This fifth installment of a six-part video thread by Kurt Jaros, an evangelical Christian apologist, considers my views of Scripture back in my hard-core conservative evangelical days and their (possible?) impact on my later decision to leave the faith altogether.  My ears are tingling! ****************************** In this video, I look at the young Bart Ehrman’s theological reflection on the doctrines of inerrancy and the preservation & inspiration of the Biblical text. Did the young Ehrman have a misconception, misunderstanding, or invalid inference pertaining to these doctrines? Image a world in which those doctrinal beliefs were formulated even slightly differently. It may have taken the young Ehrman down a different path.  

2022-02-13T12:01:38-05:00February 23rd, 2022|Bart’s Biography|

Do I Hold a Grudge against Bruce Metzger?

I'll end this set of reflections on my relationship with Bruce Metzger with a surprising question about my relationship with him, and my response.  (My sense is that those who have been reading this thread will not be surprised by what I say) ****************************** QUESTION: A more personal question:  did you have a grudge against Dr. Bruce Metzger? I have always seen conservative textual critics and scholars pit you against Dr. Metzger's views.   RESPONSE: When I first read this question I was very surprised indeed.  A grudge against Bruce Metzger??? Metzger, as many readers of this blog know, was my teacher and mentor, and I never had anything but the most profound and utmost respect for him, from the moment I first had the privilege of meeting him until the time of his death – and still today. I don’t think there’s anyone in the known universe who would disagree that Bruce Metzger was the greatest NT textual scholar ever to come out of North America.  I first heard about him when I was [...]

2021-10-20T11:16:24-04:00October 31st, 2021|Bart’s Biography, New Testament Manuscripts|

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 [...]

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|
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