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Being on Leave

As I may have mentioned on the blog already, I am on academic leave this entire year. Most places call that a sabbatical, but in North Carolina sabbatical is a four-letter word. The idea here is that since we are state-employees and, well, other state-employees don’t get time off from their day job to do their research – so why should professors? Interesting point.

But of course for professors at research universities, it is all about the research.

When I was in my PhD program, my plan was to teach in a Christian seminary or divinity school, hopefully one like Princeton Theological Seminary, where in addition to training future ministers, faculty have a chance to train PhD students – who will themselves go out to teach and train future ministers. I got into the Bible business as a seventeen-year old eager to learn all I could about the Bible since I believed it was the word of God (more about that, possibly, in a future post); I eventually changed my views about the Bible (as, well, most of you may have noticed….). But I still was a Christian and all of my training had been in Christian contexts. And so I imagined myself teaching in a Christian context. And the highest level teaching in a Christian context is a seminary or divinity school that has a PhD program (in case you have wondered: the difference between a seminary and a divinity school is that a seminary is a free-standing institution not connected with a larger university, and a divinity school is a professional school within a university – comparable to a medical school or a law school. And so it is Princeton Seminary, since it is not connected with Princeton University, but it is Harvard Divinity School, since it is a part of Harvard University).

If I were not able to land a job at a seminary, then my next choice was to teach in a Christian liberal arts college, where I could teach courses in Biblical studies still within a Christian context, but to undergraduates rather than to graduate students training for ministry.

My third and final choice was to teach in a non-Christian college or university. At the time, I didn’t think that would be very interesting.

I ended up getting my third choice, and boy am I glad I did.

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During my Leave…
Jeff Siker Part 2: Why I am a Christian (and yet a New Testament scholar)



  1. Avatar
    Adam  January 29, 2013

    A few months back you had mentioned that you may post on the circumstances around you getting your first position at UNC. I’m curious to know. It must have been difficult for a seminary student to get into a secular research university.

  2. Avatar
    Yentyl  January 29, 2013

    Thanks! Any pointers are being disciplined enough to write a book?

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    Mikail78  January 30, 2013

    Hi Bart. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m no scholar and I have a very normal IQ. I don’t consider myself an intellectual and I don’t think I’m smarter than anyone else. In a lot of ways, I’d fit the definition that many people have of a redneck, but that’s another story for another day. But despite my lack of intellectual and scholarly credentials, I’m having an INCREASINGLY difficult time taking seriously the work of scholars (and I acknowledge that they are scholars) employed by evangelical/fundamentalist Christian bible colleges and seminaries….at least when it comes to Biblical scholarship. The fact of the matter is that these people sign statements of faith as a condition to work at these institutions and basically agree that their scholarship will not violate these statements of faith. Therefore, they can’t go where the truth leads because they are in the straitjacket of their institution’s doctrinal statement….and we have seen what happens to scholars who are brave enough to contradict an institution’s doctrinal statement. They get run out of the institution. I think these scholars who are obligated to make sure their scholarship is compatible with doctrinal statements are acting more like apologists than actual scholars. So, while I acknowledge the credentials of scholars such as Daniel Wallace, Darrell Bock, and D.A. Carson, I have difficulty taking their scholarship seriously. I’m not saying these guys can’t communicate truth….but I just can’t seem to get over the fact that their research has to be limited by a doctrinal statement of an institution, and if they violate this statement, they are out of a job. But perhaps this is my flaw. So, what do you think? Is my thinking on this subject fallacious? Do I have a legitimate point? I’d like to hear your perspective on this.

    On a related note, shortly after your debate with Darrell Bock on the unbelievable radio program, I got in a bit of a spirited debate with Darrell on his blog. Being the evangelical scholar he is, he was asserting that the book of Acts is completely accurate historically. I asked him to strongly consider whether he wanted to affirm the 100% historical accuracy of a book that contains all kinds of improbable events and reflects a false cosmology in it’s tale of a man leaving the universe by flying to the sky. But then again, considering his faith and who he’s employed by, he has to affirm things like this. He sure doesn’t have the freedom to deny it.

    Anyway, please correct my thinking if it’s fallacious.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  January 30, 2013

      It’s an interesting point. My sense from the people I know in that situatoin is that they are sincere and committed to their views — and that they were committed to the views supported by the schools they are in before they were in the schools. So in most cases there is no conflict. But you’re right, if someone changes their views, or wants to change their views, or wants to think about changing their views, it’s a real problem. It’s a big problem for pastors too. There is a group on the Internet (completely anonymous) that is pastors (and former pastors) who have become non-believers, but can’t tell their congregations (yet). Veyr interesting!

  4. Avatar
    Mikail78  January 30, 2013

    Oh, one last question. When you return from your leave and resume teaching, do you still plan on having this blog? I sure hope so! As long as you have it, I plan on renewing every year.

  5. Avatar
    Vridar  January 30, 2013

    Those of us who follow your writings and career know you don’t have a cushy position. Others have asked how you accomplish what you do. I join them with their question and marvel at what you accomplish. Fast typing and no sleep, right?

  6. Avatar
    Jim  January 30, 2013

    If I was a prof at a University doing NT research, for a sabbatical I would go on an expedition to Hawaii to search for a first century NT codex. Sure the probability of finding one there might be extremely low but if you ever did find one, man would that make one great press release if you found something like a fragment of Mark at the beach. And if you didn’t find one, no big pressure since no one really expected it anyway.

  7. Avatar
    toddfrederick  January 30, 2013

    I found your description of a seminary and a Divinity School personally interesting. I attended Yale Divinity for two years and then had to return to the West coast due to family problems and finished my last year at Pacific School of Religion.

    Yale Divinity is a research school attached to Yale University and we usually attended one major lecture by the professor once a week and then had small group seminar meetings with PhD students during the week. We almost never were able to meet with the professor at all. At Pacific School of Religion (a seminary) we had many open opportunities to meet with the professors…it was as though they wanted to nurture us.

    In both institutions, the one thing I found seriously lacking was the absence of any real preparation for the day-to-day work in a church…nothing…and when hired to a church, the transition was a shock. This was especially true if one was schooled in a progressive seminary / divinity school since, when placed in a church, the academics of the training we received (progressive views of scripture and theology) met head-on with what the people of the churches actually believed. I still do not feel comfortable in a church.

    I think that both seminaries and divinity schools need to prepare the academic student for the realities of the church world. It seems that there are two totally unrelated streams of thought: the academic and that of the churches.

    I have one question….you mentioned a while back that you were working on a new book ***( “How Jesus Became God “)***. Is that still in process, and, if so, approximately when might it be published. I’m personally interested in that issue.

    Very happy we have this fine blog.

  8. Avatar
    Joshua150  January 30, 2013

    Happy Sabbatical in the manner you see it!

  9. Avatar
    dallaswolf  January 30, 2013

    As a graduate of the Naval Academy, I find this look into civilian academia fascinating. My experience is so different.

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    wisemenwatch  January 30, 2013

    I recently came into possession of a letter to Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, written by my grandmother (who died in 1976).

    It was overflowing with praise and agreement, thoughts and ideas, that were written in response to one of his books, I suppose. I do remember her mentioning how much she liked him when I was pretty small. Written by hand with pen and paper, it must have taken her hours to compose. Needless to say, he never saw it.

    Even as I read it, I was thinking “do you REALLY think he’ll ever read this?” I guess she knew the chances were slim, and never mailed it.

    I’m feeling very priviledged, in this day and age, to correspond with a best-selling author and an expert on the New Testment, and receiving personalized responses to my *dumb* questions.

    Thanks Dr. Ehrman for taking time out of your sabbatical to interact with your readers in such a personal way.

  11. Avatar
    Christian  January 30, 2013

    Surely professors at liberal arts colleges have time to read current research and update their teaching accordingly! Moreover, for undergraduate students, being cutting edge is not the first priority, is it? Also, many (most?) publications are not worth remembering and won’t be remembered (at least in my field, Comp. Sc.), so measuring excellence by the weight of paper is meaningless and contributes to more forgettable papers. The truth is that research-oriented university want it both ways: high-rate research amount, and possibly quality, but *mainly* high tuition fees, although professors are not hired nor promoted for their teaching. In applied sciences, professors on tenure track must bring a lot of money in grants and contracts, if only to pay for travel expenses to attend conferences. How has this anything to do with research or teaching?

    Anyway, enough venting. I wish you all the best in your forthcoming research. Keep us posted!

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  January 30, 2013

      Actually, my university is famous for its *low* tuition fees (in comparison with most teaching colleges). And of course in the liberal arts it’s very different — no grants and contracts, or very few!

  12. Avatar
    KungFuJoe  January 30, 2013

    I may have missed it, but what research will you be working on during this year of academic leave? Will this affect your next book, at all?

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    RonaldTaska  January 30, 2013

    What I like best about your blog is when you share information about yourself and how your ideas evolved with time. I would love to hear more about the “Word of God” question that you mentioned. I also like discussions about textual changes during the transmission of the Bible and about contradictions in the New Testament such as your blogs on the Christmas story and the conflicting genealogies of Jesus. I have always had great difficulty sorting out the different Gospel accounts of the trial of Jesus and the death of Jesus. Those two topics might be worthy of a few blogs. I would also like to hear how/why Christians maintain and adjust their faith despite these Biblical problems.
    I might also suggest something that might be totally off limits and inappropriate and, if so, I sincerely apologize. I would love to read some blogs written by your wife about what this journey has been like for her. Has her faith changed as a result of your books? If so, how? None of us have your scholarly gifts and background, but I imagine that many of us struggle with one spouse maintaining his/her faith while the other spouse flounders around with historical and textual questions and never fits into church very well or worse gets completely shunned by members of the spouse’s church. Again, forgive me if this is too wild an idea. I mean no harm. It’s just a common situation which I think, if possible, merits some tactful, understanding, and generous discussion, but may be too sensitive.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  January 30, 2013

      Intersting idea. She really doesn’t like me to talk about her in public, and I can understand why!! But as a Christian she is decidedly NOT a conservative evangelical. About as far from that as me. Maybe a bit to the left of Jeff Siker!

  14. Avatar
    bobnaumann  January 30, 2013

    So does this mean you will continue your blog or not?

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