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About the Blog and Two Clarifications about Reza Aslan’s Zealot

 

Yesterday I resumed my posts on Reza Aslan’s best-selling hit Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, and plan to have several more posts on it, as I explain what I like about the book and about what problems I see in it.  But I need to take care of a couple of other concerns first, before launching into a direct discussion.

The first has to do with this blog.   A number of people on my facebook page have expressed frustration that the only way to get my comments is to join the blog, which costs money.   I completely understand the complaint, but need to explain why I am doing things this way (apologies for old-timers for whom this is old-news).

I do this blog for a lot of reasons, but by far and away the most important and pressing is to raise money for charity.  That is the raison-d’être of the entire enterprise.  If this endeavor was not making significant money to help the hungry and the homelessness, I simply wouldn’t be doing it.

Let me explain a bit further.  There are lots of bloggers out there, and almost all of them do it for free.  In my field, my sense is that bloggers feel that they have knowledge and views that they want to share with the world at large, and this is a great way to do it.  For me that is a completely subsidiary reason for blogging.  I do it for the money.  And none of the money – ZERO – makes it into my pocket.   All of the money, every dime, goes to charities that deal with the poor, the hungry, and the homeless.

Of course, to get to that goal, I share my knowledge and my views, and I do think that’s important too.   But it’s not important enough to make me want to devote an hour a day to the endeavor, which is typically about what it takes.   If it were not for the charity angle, I would be oh-so-content and happy spending that hour doing my own research and writing my books.  I certainly need another hour a day; in fact I need about 8-10 more hours a day, as possibly you do too.

The membership fee may seem a lot for a blog, and I know some people simply cannot afford what it costs – which comes out to roughly $2 a month.  But if you can afford it, I do my very best to make it worth the cost.  You actually get a LOT for that amount of money.  I post 5-6 times a week.  And my posts average about a thousand words.   That’s roughly a book-length’s worth of content every six months.   I try to keep the content meaty, and I present it at different levels – usually just good ole lay-person’s level, even though the material I’m dealing with can be very complicated.   One of my subsidiary goals is to make scholarly knowledge about the historical Jesus, the New Testament, early Christianity, and so on accessible to the non-scholar.   And part of it is to show what it is scholars actually do with their lives.

An additional useful feature of the blog is that it is possible to comment on my posts, and I respond to the comments when commenters ask me to do so.   We will soon be setting up and option for commenters to dialogue back and forth more freely and easily with each other.

So I completely understand if someone does not want to spend that kind of money on a blog.  And I know that some people simply don’t have the money; if you’re in that situation, I’m sorry – I wish there were some other way for me both to achieve my goals and to allow you in on the action.  For those of you who have the money, realize that it is less than a Starbuck’s coffee a month, or, say, about a gallon of gas every two months.  So I hope people won’t be too frustrated by my “teasers” where I give part of a post for public consumption, but keep the entire posts for “members only.”  Given my purpose in doing the blog, I think it has to be that way.  If you enjoy the teasers and want to read more – join up if you can!  We’d love to have you, you’d get a lot for your money, and you’d be doing a good deed for the world.

 

 

Now, my two clarifications about Aslan.   First, it has not been clear to everyone that I have not actually said anything very critical about Aslan or the book yet.   My main evaluative comments have been that he writes extremely well, he’s read a lot, he has an interesting thesis.  I have pointed out that the thesis has been around a long time (that’s just a piece of information), that he is not a scholar in the field (more on that below), and that he makes a lot of mistakes.  In a couple of posts I’ll start to detail some of these mistakes – they’re the sort of thing that non-experts would make, so there’s not much surprise in them.   But I haven’t been overly critical of anything.  (At least I haven’t *meant* to be!)

On his scholarship.  Here’s an issue that simply doesn’t want to die.  A number of readers have pointed out to me that it’s not fair to say he does not have credentials in the field, because he has a PhD in sociology of religion.   Yes, he does.  And that would provide him with credentials to write a book on the sociology of religion.  But his historical Jesus book is not a sociological analysis.  It’s a historical study based on an examination of the New Testament Gospels.  The credentials for that kind of study have nothing to do with sociology of religion.  They have to do with expertise in ancient (esp. Roman) history, New Testament studies, early Christianity, and so on – things on which he does not have any particular expertise, apart from having read a lot.

Let me put it like this:  in my Department of Religious Studies at UNC-Chapel Hill I have colleagues who are experts in Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism; some work on medieaval Christianity or religion in the Americas or religion and cultural studies; some are anthropologists, some are historians; and so on.   All of my colleagues are top-flight experts in their fields of study, all of them have national and many of them international reputations in the field.  And not one of them is qualified to write a book about the historical Jesus.

Again, I am NOT saying the Aslan should not have written a popular book.  All of this matter of credentials was in response to a direct question asked of me, on the blog, about whether Aslan is a scholar in the field in which he is writing in this book.  My answer is no, and I’ve been trying to explain why.   That doesn’t mean that the book is necessarily wrong or bad.  It simply means that one needs to approach it knowing that the author is not an expert in the field.  Does being an expert matter?  Sometimes it does.  When I go to the dentist, I want an expert.  Sometimes it doesn’t.   When I decorate my Christmas tree, it really doesn’t matter how well I’ve been trained to do it.  What about when writing a book?  Different people will have different answers.

In my subsequent posts, I’ll begin to detail what I like about Aslan’s book and what I see the problems to be.


Aslan’s Zealot: Some Positive Comments
Aslan’s Zealot: To Start With…

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    malospam  December 13, 2013

    Dear Dr. Ehrman,

    History, and especially fields such that of NT or early Christian studies, is highly subjective. When you state ” When I go to the dentist, I want an expert. “, the analogy can only go so far because this field and other medical fields are alot more objective and deal with facts that are accepted in a different way then in a field you are in, or any field like it. Now taking this into account, and also that there is a huge spectrum of views in biblical studies, can you really say that he makes mistakes? I understand that you don’t think the two fields fields of dentistry and biblical studies are perfectly analagous, but it seems like in a field such as history and all its subcategories, there are really no mistakes, only what may be accepted by the majority of scholars in these present times which of course changes from generation to generation. I hope you see my point. Thanks, and keep up the good work!

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  December 14, 2013

      It may be that history just doesn’t matter as much to you as dentistry. Maybe that’s true of most of us, especially when we have a serious toothache! But if you were reading a history of WWII that indicated that the Germans occupied England and were driven out by the Norwegians until the Brazilians destroyed Hitler’s capital of Hamburg in 1958 — well, those would not be subjective statements unsusceptable of verification….

      2
  2. Avatar
    TomTerrific  December 14, 2013

    That works out to ~7¢ a day.

    It seems to me many are accustomed to things on the internet to be free and their noses get bent out of shape when it isn’t.

    “Continue to march” would be my suggestion.

  3. Avatar
    willow  December 14, 2013

    You’re doing us all, homeless or otherwise impoverished, or not, a tremendous service, Bart, and I thank you, from the depths of my heart. I also thank your wife, your students, colleagues, family and friends for sharing you with all of us.

  4. Avatar
    SelfAwarePatterns  December 14, 2013

    As a long time subscriber, I’ve found it well worth the money. I also envy your productivity.

    • Avatar
      Slydog1227  December 14, 2013

      Hear, Hear! I get tired just hearing your schedule! Keep up the good work. Your charity is very commendable, and your blog is informative, entertaining, and educational. Not to mention we get access to the man himself! ….most definitely worth the 7cents a day!

    • Avatar
      jgranade  December 15, 2013

      I agree 100%.

  5. TracyCramer
    TracyCramer  December 14, 2013

    Dear Bart,

    Yes, 25 dollars is a lot of money all at one time for a lot of us, but it is total deal for the simple reason that everyone is donating something (your time and our money) to a good cause (charities), and in exchange we can all participate in a stimulating and informed conversation with an expert and other knowledgeable people. It’s a brilliant scheme!

    You asked about ideas about how to turn more people into paying bloggers. I have two:
    1. Put a rotating plug (quote from a member) on the homepage of the site (in a box in a different color so that it stands out) that says something like what I said above so people will realize that it is a total win-win deal. (We are donating money to a good cause, and in exchange we all get to have a great conversation for a year.)
    2. List some of the charities that the money goes to on the homepage so people have a concrete picture in their mind rather than the general “charities that deal with the poor, the hungry, and the homeless”.

    What do you think?
    Tracy
    Osaka, Japan

  6. Avatar
    maxhirez  December 14, 2013

    Screw Facebook. I am happy to pay for the privilege of having my comments answered by someone whom I consider an intellectual hero and further to know what that payment ends up doing. I wouldn’t have it any other way, and even when I’m between contracts the quarterly payments are worth it. After all, I have a warm home still (and my weight problem evidences that I have more than enough to eat!). Thank you for the chance to participate and contribute, and for setting the moral example that you do. I wish there was a useful analog for “God bless you, you’re doing the lord’s work” that one agnostic could say to another, but since I cannot think of one, expressing the wish for it here will have to suffice.

  7. Avatar
    hwl  December 14, 2013

    I presume you would consider the distinguished sociologist of religion, Rodney Stark, in the same light when he wrote about early Christianity – informed and well argued thesis, but still with many mistakes relating to a specialisation outside his core expertise?

  8. Avatar
    hwl  December 14, 2013

    How about creating a “Testimony” page on the blog, where you paste (and add more over time) a small selection of feedbacks from readers of the blog? As their comments are already posted publicly on the blog buried beneath the posts, they should have no objections to having their comments posted in a dedicated Testimony page.

  9. Robertus
    Robertus  December 14, 2013

    “We will soon be setting up and option for commenters to dialogue back and forth more freely and easily with each other.”

    Like a forum with threads that people can start themselves?? I suggested that a while back and I, for one, would really appreciate that kind of opportunity. I wouldn’t have much time to participate but it would be a great evolution of the site.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  December 14, 2013

      Yes, I think it was your suggestion that got me thinking about it. There used to be technical problems with setting it up, but we’ve changed how we do the server so it may be possible now. We’re working on it.

  10. Avatar
    Alfred  December 14, 2013

    The Blog is fantastic value for money. If you found a way of identifying those interested but too poor to pay I would be happy to pay for one of them by doubling my money. All over the world bloggers have wondered how to make money from it – and you have shown them: good writing, and good content, and new stuff, nearly every day.

  11. Avatar
    dewdds  December 15, 2013

    For $25 a year this blog has more than paid for itself in the wealth of information in your posts and comments Dr. Ehrman. Its wonderful that all these blog fees go to those who really need it too.

  12. Avatar
    dennis  December 16, 2013

    Since when are members of Facebook ( or anything else ) ” owed ” the right to have their comments posted free of charge on someone else’s privately owned blog ? The unconscious sense of entitlement ( ESPECIALLY among the affluent ) is amazing in the USA . Two dollars a month given to your less affluent ” fellow passengers on our common voyage to the grave ” as a real barrier ? PUHLEEZE !!!

  13. Avatar
    JacovZ  December 18, 2013

    Dr. Ehrman,

    A text you didn’t discuss in your Orthodox Corruption of Scripture (one of the best books I’ve EVER read), is John 14:14. You might discuss it in your other books. What is your position on the probable original reading – with or without the “me?”

    Dankie,

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  December 18, 2013

      I’ve never studied the problem at any length. My gut reaction is that the older form of the text lacked “me,” but I would have to put a lot into the problem to be certain.

  14. Avatar
    Steefen  December 18, 2013

    Dr. Ehrman,

    I absolutely LOVE museum exhibits. They are so important to me. As you may remember, I hold to a Post-Rosetta Stone view of the Bible. I think the scholarly stance should be to incorporate Egyptology into Hebrew Bible and even New Testament Studies. It is a great tragedy that Western Civilization has Judaism as a pillar without Egyptology’s contribution to the historical accuracy of the Hebrew Bible.

    The Rosetta Stone is at the British Museum.

    One time I saw an exhibit on Ancient Petra at the American Museum of Natural History (NYC). On another occasion, I saw Treasures of the Holy Land at the Metroplitan Museum of Art (NYC). An important example I want to bring up is “The Quest for Immortality” exhibition, National Gallery of Art (D.C.) on tour in New Orleans. Most recently, there was a Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit in Fort Worth, TX. I didn’t attend the pricey exhibition but I did attend one of the lectures–James Hoffmeier, author of Israel in Egypt and another book, “Ancient Israel in Sinai.”

    Would you kindly share with us the most renown exhibitions to which you were a contributor? I would think a museum would approach a scholar over a trade book author to help stage an exhibition and be a contributing author to the museum’s book on the exhibition.

    Love,
    Stephen

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  December 18, 2013

      I’ve never contributed to a museum, though I have given talks at museums connected with exhibitions — e.g. on the Dead Sea Scrolls (in Raleigh NC), illuminated manuscripts (the Getty Museum in LA), and the anniversary of the publication of the King James (also at the Getty in LA).b

      • Avatar
        Steefen  December 19, 2013

        I wanted to visit the Getty Museum when I was younger.

        And Dr. Ehrman, I want to thank you for making a way for me to contribute to the charities you’ve selected.

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