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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|

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 [...]

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 [...]

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 [...]

The Life of a Professional Scholar 8: Editorial Work, Journals (1)

    One aspect of the life of a professional scholar, which may not be well known to the general public, involves editorial work.   For some scholars, this kind of work takes an enormous expenditure of time and effort, although much of the work, and many of the hours, are not transparent or evident to outsiders.  I have done a lot of editorial work over the years, but I do not think that my case is at all exceptional.  A lot of my colleagues have done less, but some have done a good deal more.  Many scholars see editorial work as a major component of “service” to the discipline.  Which means that, for the most part, it is really important but normally thankless! As is my wont I will use my own experience as a guideline for describing this kind of work, since it is really the only experience I know much about in excruciating detail.   I will devote three posts to the matter, two (including this one) dealing with editorial work involving academic / [...]

2020-04-03T19:42:34-04:00May 25th, 2012|Bart's Critics, History of Biblical Scholarship|

The Work of a Professional Scholar 7: 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 [...]

2020-04-03T19:43:07-04:00May 16th, 2012|Bart's Critics|

The Work of a Professional Scholar 6: Getting the PhD

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 to pursue this kind of study already when I was in college. I started taking courses in New Testament as a 17-year old. For my foreign language requirement in college I took Greek, since I knew that I wanted to read the New Testament writings in their original language. I was pretty good at Greek and so, while still in college, decided that I wanted to be trained in the study of the Greek manuscript tradition of the New Testament. My beloved Greek professor at Wheaton College, Gerald Hawthorne, informed me that the leading scholar in that field was Bruce Metzger, who [...]

2020-04-03T19:43:24-04:00May 13th, 2012|Bart's Critics|

The Work of a Professional Scholar 5: Graduate Seminars

              In addition to my undergraduate classes, I teach one PhD seminar each semester.   We have a small but terrific graduate program in the Department of Religious Studies.   Students admitted each year are the cream of the crop.  Most of them come to us already with both an undergraduate and master’s degree, and we admit students (maybe 7-10 a year) in a range of fields: Islamic studies, Religion in the Americas, Asian Religions, Religion and Culture, Medieval and Early Modern Studies, and Ancient Mediterranean Religions. My area is Ancient Mediterranean Religions, which comprises religions of the Ancient Near East, Hebrew Bible, Graeco-Roman Religions (i.e., “pagan” religions), ancient Judaism, and early Christianity (which includes the New Testament).    We have probably 35 or so applicants a year who want to study early Christianity with me and my brilliant colleague Zlatko Plese (who specializes in Hellenistic and Roman philosophy, Gnosticism, Coptic, and lots of other things).  Normally we can admit one or maybe two of these students.   So, as with all good graduate programs, competition to get [...]

2020-04-03T19:43:40-04:00May 9th, 2012|Bart's Critics, Teaching Christianity|

The Work of a Professional Scholar 4: Undergraduate Courses

The principal work of a professor, of course, is to teach! Different colleges and universities have different requirements and expectations for their faculty. At many small colleges, professors teach four or even five courses a semester. Rarely can a person teach that much and still produce substantial (or much of any!) research, so that professors in those contexts are usually handicapped when it comes to publishing scholarship in the form of books and articles. Research universities, on the other hand, expect their professors to be at the cutting edge of scholarship, and so the teaching requirements are lighter (since the research demands are so much heavier). Faculty in research schools can never get tenure or promotion (or raises!) if they do not regularly and extensively publish in their fields of expertise. (That is becoming increasingly true in all colleges and universities, even ones with heavier teaching requirements, which scarcely seems fair, and is probably not good for scholarship or teaching). The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is a “Research 1” university, which [...]

2020-04-03T19:44:05-04:00May 5th, 2012|Bart's Critics, Teaching Christianity|

The Work of a Professional Scholar 3: Undergraduate Theses

In addition to my regular teaching, I often get asked to direct Independent studies – where an undergraduate student will pursue a research project of his or her own choosing, something that normally is not taught in a regular class that we offer – and senior honors theses. I rarely am able to do an Independent Study, I’m sorry to say, as I have so many other demands on my time. But some of my colleagues are able to do several a year. I do occasionally direct honors theses, though, especially when a student looks especially promising as someone who may be able to go on and do graduate work in the field. The honors thesis is done by a graduating senior who has a certain (rather high) GPA who wants to have some experience doing original research on any topic of his or her choosing. I direct ones, of course, that have to do with the New Testament or the history of Christianity during the first three centuries. The thesis takes two semesters to [...]

2020-04-03T19:45:00-04:00May 3rd, 2012|Bart's Critics, Teaching Christianity|

The Work of a Professional Scholar 2: Supervising PhD Dissertations

In describing what professional scholars in the academy do – at least those who teach in the Humanities, the one area I know something about – the first thing that comes to my mind is probably not what would come to yours.  It comes to mind because I have just now been traveling across country (I’m now in an airline lounge in Chicago) and in the plane I have been reading a (very fine) doctoral dissertation, whose author will be “defending” (that is, being subject to interrogation by the five faculty members on her committee) tomorrow. It’s a very good dissertation, I think.  Like all dissertations it is book-length (will be turned into a published monograph, I should think), highly technical in places, very learned, the result of something like three years of full time labor.   This particular student is not one that I am directing (each student has one faculty member directly responsible for supervision of the dissertation); I am just one of the other committee members. One of the things I like best [...]

2020-04-03T19:45:08-04:00May 3rd, 2012|Bart's Critics, Teaching Christianity|

The Work of the Professional Scholar 1: Introduction

                In some of the back and forth that I have been involved with over the past few weeks there have been questions raised about whether “experts” in a field have any privileged standing when it comes to making judgments about the acceptability or force of evidence that is adduced for one position or another.   I am not going to go into that question here, but a related topic did occur to me as I was thinking about it:   My hunch is that there are a lot of people outside the academy who do not know what it is professional scholars actually do.   That’s not surprising.  I, frankly, don’t really know (or understand) what a hedge fund manager does, or a state lieutenant governor, or an industrial chemist.      And so, with that in mind, I thought maybe I should describe what it is that someone like me – a senior professor at a major research university – what a person like me actually does with his time (one quick answer: NOT watch a lot [...]

2017-12-14T23:35:27-05:00May 3rd, 2012|Bart's Critics, Public Forum|

Response to Carrier

A lot of people have been asking me when I will be replying to Richard Carrier's full-frontal assault (!) on my book. I've started to reply in a couple of posts (maybe some haven't noticed....), but I hope to have a fuller set of comments soon, on his charges of "Errors of Fact." I know what I want to say, but am simply overwhelmed right now with other things to do. Long story, I won't bore you with it. But I *hope* to have a fairly sizeable posting on the topic by Wednesday (I'm saying this here so I don't need to reply individually to everyone who has asked). I have decided that I will post it on the Public Forum, since I really do take his charges of scholarly incompetence seriously and feel that I need to address them. In the meantime, someone forwarded to me the following post on R. Joseph Hoffmann's blog. I think it's pretty good and amusing and worth reading. I don't think I've ever met Hoffmann, but I've known [...]

Acharya S, Richard Carrier, and a Cocky Peter (Or: “A Cock and Bull Story”)

As I indicated in my earlier posting, I will make an exception in this case and post these comments on the Public Forum, although normally I reserve my Responses to Critics to the Members Only section of the blog. As many readers know, Richard Carrier has written a hard-hitting, one might even say vicious, response to Did Jesus Exist.  I said nothing nasty about Carrier in my book – just the contrary, I indicated that he was a smart fellow with whom I disagree on fundamental issues, including some for which he really does not seem to know what he is talking about.  But I never attacked him personally.  He on the other hand, appears to be showing his true colors. Still, the one thing this bit of nastiness has shown me is that even though I seem to stir up controversy everywhere I go and with everything I write, I really don’t like conflict.  I would much prefer that we all simply get along and search for truth together.   But alas, the world does [...]

2020-05-27T16:00:39-04:00April 22nd, 2012|Bart's Critics, Historical Jesus, Mythicism, Public Forum|

Richard Carrier on The Huffington Post Article (1)

I began to write replies to Richard Carrier’s rather heated response to my Huffington Post article before his now more extensive review of my book appeared on his blog.  I will first reply in a series of posts to the first response, and then deal with the more extensive and, well, overly heated (!) later response. This was my first response: Richard Carrier has written a rather intemperate reaction to my piece in the Huffington Post in which I summarize, in about a thousand words, some of the major points I make in my new book Did Jesus Exist (361 pages!  It is not easy to condense that much material in three pages!).   One thing he objects to most vehemently to is my claim that there are no scholars trained in the relevant fields of academic inquiry (e.g., New Testament; early Christianity) and teaching at a recognized institution of higher learning who takes the position that he and his fellow mythicists take, that Jesus never existed. I can understand why Carrier is so upset.  He [...]

2020-05-27T16:01:15-04:00April 21st, 2012|Bart's Critics, Book Discussions, Historical Jesus|

Do My Research Assistants Do All My Work For Me?

I was surprised, shocked, dismayed, incredulous, and well, OK, pretty ticked off and aggravated when some of the mythicists that I deal with in my book, Did Jesus Exist, went on the attack and made it personal.   Let me make a confession: before getting ready to do this Blog, and getting into Facebook as a preparation for it, I had no idea how grimy the Internet can be.   It is one messy place.  I know, I know – welcome to the 21st century! One of the charges against me that is being made is not just atrociously wrong but insulting to my integrity, something I take very seriously.  It’s one thing to have a disagreement about how to interpret historical data; it’s another thing to charge a scholar with dishonesty.   The first instance I know of the charge was suggested by Achyra S on her blog, and most forcefully by Robert Price on his podcast.  The charge is that I did not actually do any of the research for Did Jesus Exist myself, but that [...]

2020-04-03T19:47:18-04:00April 20th, 2012|Bart's Critics, Historical Jesus, Mythicism|

Ben Witherington Critique

Probably more than any of my other books, Misquoting Jesus provoked a loud and extensive critique from scholars – almost exclusively among evangelical Christians, who appear to have thought that if readers were “led astray” by my claims in the book (in many instances, these critics pointed to claims that in fact I never claimed!) they might be in danger of losing their faith – or worse – changing what they believed so that they would no longer be evangelical. I’m not so sure there is really much danger in presenting widely held scholarship to a lay-readership, and so I was a bit surprised at the vitriol I received at the hands of some of my evangelical critics. There were four entire books written to refute my discussion: (1) Dillon Burroughs, Misquotes in Misquoting Jesus: Why You Can Still Believe; (2) Timothy Paul Jones, Misquoting Truth: A Guide to the Fallacies of Bart Ehrman's "Misquoting Jesus"; (3) Nicholas Perrin, Lost In Transmission?: What We Can Know About the Words of Jesus; and (4) Gregory Koukl, [...]

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