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Discussions and comments about Bart’s latest book.

A Really Scathing Review of My Book on Suffering

I’ve devoted my past couple of posts to a review of one of my books that the reviewer (really) didn’t like, and doing so reminded me of the most scathing review that, to my knowledge, I ever received, that at the time (sixteen years ago) I thought was outrageous, and now find rather humorous….   I’m a believer in letting the “other side” have its say, so I thought I’d post it here. The book under review was God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Explain our Most important Question – Why We Suffer.  (As is usual, I didn’t give the book its title; usually publishers do that).  It was reviewed in the Christian Century (Dec. 30, 2008) (View PDF (, by Will Willimon, a well-known preacher and a former Bishop of the United Methodist Church and Professor at Duke Divinity School. No need for me to comment on it.  Read it for yourself: ****************************** Bart Ehrman has written another book that is probably destined to be a best seller. God’s Problem is a lively, though [...]

2024-03-24T10:03:18-04:00March 31st, 2024|Bart's Critics, Book Discussions|

Dealing With Reviews of My Books By People Who (Apparently) Haven’t Read Them

As I am inching closer to writing my next book, on how the ethics of Jesus transformed the moral conscience of the West, I have started thinking, possibly not unnaturally, about how some of my earlier books were critiqued in published reviews.  I really don't mind if someone understands what I write and has reasoned disagreements with it; and I'm happy to make vigorous counter-arguments in response.  But unless the reviewer misrepresents what I say, I'm generally not irritated. I do get irritated, though, by reviewers who go for the jugular without seriously understanding (or caring) what I actually say.  Or possibly knowing what I say?  I sometimes genuinely do wonder if the reviewer actually bothered to read the book. In that context, I suddenly remembered that ten years ago I did a couple of blog posts after a reader alerted me to a published review of my book How Jesus Became God, by the Very Reverend Robert Barren.  When I read the review I was a bit, well, outraged.  I wrote two posts on [...]

2024-03-27T11:43:13-04:00March 28th, 2024|Bart's Critics, Book Discussions, Canonical Gospels|

Gospel Thrillers Part II by Andrew Jacobs

Gospel Thrillers!  Who woulda thought?  Many of us knew of books like this, but never realized they were a coherent (sub-)genre, and certainly never thought much about how to understand them. Here now is Andrew Jacobs second post on his new book Gospel Thrillers: Conspiracy, Fiction and the Vulnerable Bible, which you can get at your favorite book-buying spot, including here:  Gospel Thrillers: Conspiracy, Fiction, and the Vulnerable Bible: Jacobs, Andrew S.: 9781009384612: Books   ****************************** II. Inside the Gospel Thrillers   In my first post I described what Gospel Thrillers are and their role in US culture: they magnify, probe, and contain popular fears and desires about the vulnerability of the Bible by imagining a conspiracy surrounding a newly discovered first-century gospel. In this second post, I describe in more detail some of the “bombshell” secrets these novels invent and the specific fantasies and anxieties about the Bible they illuminate.   Desert Fantasies Many of the books imagine new discoveries emerging from the Middle East. Some of these are supposedly part of the [...]

2024-02-02T13:22:43-05:00February 8th, 2024|Book Discussions, Public Forum|

Gospel Thrillers Part I by Andrew Jacobs

Probably all (nearly all?) of us have read thrillers, and all of us (certainly!) have heard of Gospels.  And some of us have read "Gospel Thrillers."  But do you know what a Gospel Thriller is?  You've probably never heard the term because it was recently coined by scholar of late antiquity Andrew Jacobs, in his intriguing analysis of them (the first analysis ever done), accessible to lay people (hey, we're talkin' thrillers here) just now being published: Gospel Thrillers: Conspiracy, Fiction, and the Vulnerable Bible (Cambridge University Press).  Check it out!  Gospel Thrillers: Conspiracy, Fiction, and the Vulnerable Bible: Jacobs, Andrew S.: 9781009384612: Books I've known Andrew since he was a graduate student at Duke many-a-year ago.   He is now a Senior Research Fellow at the Center of World Religions at Harvard.  He is one of the leading figures in the study of Christianity of Late Antiquity (currently the President of the main professional society, North American Patristics Society). The book is terrific, and so I've asked Andrew to write a few blog posts [...]

2024-02-07T15:28:55-05:00February 7th, 2024|Book Discussions, Public Forum|

Making the Bible Benevolent: Guest Post by Jill Hicks-Keeton

Is the Bible "Good News" for everyone, or, does it just seem good to those who want it to be? And how do readers make it good in places that on any honest reading are not (think violence and the treatment of women and slaves).  Jill Hicks-Keeton, Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Sourthern California, has recently published an intriguing book that is highly controversial in some circles (those who do what she describes) and a breath of fresh air in another, an analysis of how evangelical Christians work to make the Bible not just acceptable but good through and through.  Her study is called The Good Book: How White Evangelicals Save the Bible To Save Themselves.  (Available here:  Good Book: How White Evangelicals Save the Bible to Save Themselves: Hicks-Keeton, Jill: 9781506485850: Books) I've asked Jill to talk about the book in a couple of posts on the blog.  Here's the first, with a teaser for the second! ****************************** Millions of Americans report understanding the Bible as the Word of [...]

How’s the Christian World Doin’ These Days with the Ethics of Jesus?

Jesus had a distinctive ethical view, significantly different from the ethics propounded and followed by most people in his world.  And, well, by most people in ours.  Even some (many? most?) who claim to be Jesus' followers.  Or so it appears to me when I look at what Jesus actually teaches and observe what some (many?) modern Christians both do and say.    I've spent the past five posts summarizing what I plan to cover in my book The Origins of Altruism: How the Teachings of Jesus Transformed the Conscience of the West.  If history holds the publisher will be giving it a different title, and at this point for me the title's not the main thing.  Writing it is! The foci are Jesus' teachings on love, charitable giving, and forgiveness, how these teachings contrasted with those commonly followed in the Roman world at the time, how they were modified and softened by his own followers after his death, and how they nonetheless came to play an oversized role in the understanding of "how should we [...]

2024-01-22T11:43:32-05:00January 24th, 2024|Book Discussions, Reflections and Ruminations|

When Is Forgiveness not Forgiveness?

Does love really "mean never having to say I'm sorry"?  Is "unconditional forgiveness" possible?  Is it even Christian?  Is forgiveness itself always possible, conceivable, feasible, expected, required, helpful?  Actually, what is forgiveness? These are questions people often ask.  When they ask what Jesus thought about the matter they usually get it wrong.  And as it turns out, so did his own disciples.  So I'll be arguing in my book, tentatively titled The Origins of Altruism. Here's another extract from my sketch of the book as it looks at this point in the pre-writing stage.... ****************************** Part Four:  Interpersonal Forgiveness (ch. 6 on Greek and Roman World; ch. 7 on Jesus and his followers) Whereas “charity” is the manifestation of agapē principally to outsiders in need, “forgiveness” is its manifestation principally to those with whom one is in close contact. The importance of “forgoing anger” (a very broad and – as I’ll argue – somewhat problematic definition of forgiveness) was widely acknowledged in the Greek and Roman worlds.  But the conditions under which it was possible [...]

Love in Action: Christian Views of Charitable Giving

As I indicated in my previous post, the ethics of Christian love (and the very term used for it) differed from what could be found broadly in the Greek and Roman worlds.  This different understanding of love had concrete practical implications, especially in how early Christians understood charitable giving. That will be the next part of my book, The Origins of Altruism, as I explain here as I continue to extract from the initial sketch of the book I've written for myself. ****************************** Part Three: Charitable Giving (chs. 6, on the Greco-Roman world, and 7, on Jesus and his later followers) Since love in the teachings of Jesus and then agapē in the early Christian movement was not an emotion, connected with personal feelings or passion but a kind of disinterested activity in relation to others, including strangers, its most concrete manifestation involved providing resources for those in need. In the broader Greek and Roman worlds, virtually all the discussion of personal resources (money and goods) focused on the very wealthy.  Moral philosophy was written by elites [...]

Is Christian Love Different from Love?

One of the most talked about and least understood teachings within Christianity is the idea of love.  Do you want some evidence of the misunderstanding?  Read 1 Corinthians 13, the "love chapter," in its original context (coming between, well, 1 Corinthians 12 and 14!  A little consideration almost no one has thought about!), and then consider it in relation to the 498 times you've heard it in weddings.  I'm all for it's being read at weddings! But, uh, is Paul talking about marital bliss?  Uh, nope, not at *all*..... I am in the middle of a thread excerpting a sketch of my book (which I'm still researching; won't start writing for a while).  So far I've talked about what it's about.  Now I'm getting into some detail, by describing the book chapter by chapter -- including the opening bit about Christian ethics and the opening section that deals with love in the Christian tradition. ******************************  The book will comprise an Introduction and four main parts containing two chapters each. Introduction (ch. 1) I’ll [...]

The Fate of Jesus’ Ethics after His Death

Did Jesus' followers actually follow his teachings?  In my previous post I pointed out that Jesus had a radical ethic, a view based on the teachings of Hebrew Scripture but radicalized because of his understanding of the apocalyptic event very soon to occur with the end of history as he knew it.  As we know from history, those who expect the End soon can behave in extreme ways (sell the farm!).   Jesus' teachings, as I indicated, are, in shorthand, "prophetic ethics on apocalyptic steroids." How did his followers carry on his teachings?  That's what I deal with here, as I continue to excerpt a sketch of my book that I myself wrote for me myself (I won't start writing the book itself for some months probably.  Still have work to do).  Here I explain the book's basic plotline, theses, and organization. ****************************** The ultimate argument of my book is that after Jesus’ death, as Christianity expanded throughout the Roman world, eventually to conquer it, converts to the new faith naturally accepted and adopted [...]

The Origins of Altruism: My Next Book as It Stands Now

My book I'm working on now has gone through significant transformations since I first conceived of it a few years ago.  I am at the stage now (finally!) where I really think I know what it's going to be.  It started out as a book dealing with the history of charitable giving, morphed into a book on the broader subject of ethics as taught by Jesus, moved onto the specific question of how the Christian concept of "love" differed in significant ways from what could be found generally in the Greek and Roman worlds, shifted to add a discussion of how the Christian idea of "forgiveness" also differed fron what was found elsewhere and ... and ended up where it is now.  It is really a book about altruism in the Christian tradition and its effect on the ethical views and practices of western culture. My tentative title is:  The Origins of Altruism: How the Teachings of Jesus Transformed the Conscience of the West.  As always, I have no idea if my publisher will go with it or [...]

An Intriguing and Unusual Demonstration of Early Christian Differences…

Nine years ago when I was discussing on the blog the topic of the current thread -- the wide diversity of early Christianity -- I took the occasion to mention a book that I had just read and found to be unusually interesting and enlightening.   It is by two Italian scholars, married to each other, who teach at the Università di Bologna: Adriana Destro, an anthropologist, and Mauro Pesce, a New Testament specialist whose teaching position is in the History of Christianity. Their book is called Il racconto e la scrittura: Introduzione alla lettura dei vangeli.  It is about all the things I am currently interested in:  the life of Jesus as recounted by his earliest followers, the oral traditions of Jesus, and the Gospels as founded on these oral traditions.  In it they develop a theory that I had never thought of before.  I’m not sure all the evidence is completely compelling, but the overall view is very interesting and very much worth thinking about.  As an anthropologist, Prof Destro looks at things in [...]

2023-11-25T15:34:52-05:00November 25th, 2023|Book Discussions, Heresy and Orthodoxy|

Reading the Bible in a Secular Age: Guest Post by Prof. Julius-Kei Kato

I am pleased to publish this guest post by Dr. Julius-Kei Kato, a scholar and professor of New Testament (and other things!) at King’s University College at Western University, London, Ontario, Canada, and, luckily for us, a member of the blog.  You can learn more about him here: Dr. Julius-Kei Kato ( Just over a month ago Julius-Kei published a book of relevance and surely of interest to members of the blog:  Reading the Bible in a Secular Age:  The New Testament as Spiritual Ancestry (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2023).  I asked him to write a blog post about it, to explain what it is and to indicate where, if you're interested, you can get a copy.  He has happily complied, and here is his post. If you have any comments/questions, he will be happy to reply. ****************************** The burning question of this book is: Why still read the Bible in a secular age? My answer, briefly stated: For us who are located in the West, the Bible is an important part of our “spiritual ancestry,” [...]

2023-09-18T10:06:15-04:00October 3rd, 2023|Book Discussions, Public Forum|

How the Bible Can Help Those in Pain — Even Non-Believers. Guest Post by Glenn Siepert

Are you interested in seeing how the Bible can be important and meaningful even for those of us who do not believe? Glenn Siepert is one of our Blog Volunteers, who provides graphics for our public posts; he has just published a very interesting book for which I wrote a blurb (endorsement) for the cover.  Glenn Siepert has an interesting background and story to tell, and he uses his book to help others think about their own stories in light of the biblical narratives, showing how this is a crucially important way to read the Bible – even for those who don’t (or no longer) believe in its literal truth. Glenn’s moving book is called Emerging from the Rubble: Thirty Stories about Grief, Shattered Dreams, Broken Relationships, and Finding the Courage to Keep Going.  I’ve asked Glenn to provide us some blog posts explaining the book and its background in his own life.  Here's the first: ****************************** A little about me - I grew up in the world of Christian Fundamentalism. How "fundy" was I, [...]

2023-07-03T22:53:47-04:00July 4th, 2023|Book Discussions, Public Forum|

The Radical Teachings of Jesus–And Why No One Follows Them

This is the title I’d like for my next book.  Of course, I may change my mind (it happens all the time) and of greater moment, what I propose to my publisher as a title book often ends up having little effect or influence on the actual title.  Publishers have the final say on that, and even though there is a lot of back and forth, discussion, and negotiation – in the end, well, good luck winning *that* decision! Even so, it’s what I’m calling the book now because I think it encapsulates what I want to say in it.  My view is that Jesus’ teachings on how to live in relation to others were radically different from what can be found in (a) the teachings of Greek and Roman moralists (“moral philosophers”), (b) on the ground, in the Roman empire generally (among non-philosophers) (insofar as we can tell how people normally lived, given the scarcity of our sources of information), and (c) even in the Hebrew Bible tradition in which Jesus “lived, moved, and [...]

2023-06-12T10:38:12-04:00June 13th, 2023|Book Discussions, Historical Jesus|

Does Understanding “Memory” Have Any Bearing on the Study of the Historical Jesus?

In my earlier posts I began to discuss my book, Jesus Before the Gospels, which deals with how understanding how "memory" works can contribute to our assessment of the Gospels stories about Jesus.   Long before starting the book I had been intrigued the question of how eyewitnesses would have remembered the Jesus' life, and how the stories about Jesus may have been shifted and altered and invented in later times based on faulty or even false memories.  Those questions led me to be interested in memory more broadly. Memory is an enormous field of research, just within cognitive psychology.  I spent many months doing nothing but reading important studies, dozens and dozens of books and articles.  It is really interesting stuff.   Memory is not at all what I started out thinking it was.  Like most people I had this vague notion in my head that memory worked kind of like a camera.  You see or experience something and take a photo of it and store it in your head.   Sometimes the photo might fade, or [...]

2023-05-01T10:50:29-04:00May 10th, 2023|Book Discussions, Historical Jesus|

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|

How Does An Author Write a Bestseller?

Almost everyone has the wrong idea about how a book becomes a bestseller.   In the crowd I run around with, the term “bestseller” tends to have a technical meaning: a book on the New York Times Bestseller List.  Every week the NY Times receives data from all the major book-selling outlets – from Amazon to Indies – and crunches the numbers for their various lists (Fiction Hardbacks, Non-Fiction Hardbacks, paperback fiction, etc.).  There are 25 books in each category that make the list, but they *print* only the top 15. To put that list in a bit of perspective, there are about 700 – 800 new books published in the U.S. every day (not counting self-published books).   To make the top 25 in a given week is … well, not easy. As many of you know, a non-fiction “trade book” is one written for a broad, general audience rather than for scholars in a field of study (an “academic” book or a “monograph”) or for classroom use for students (a textbook).   Normally, the point of [...]

2023-04-10T11:50:25-04:00April 10th, 2023|Book Discussions, Reflections and Ruminations|

REVELATION, A Novel. Excerpts from Blog Guest Poster Gary McCarragher

Last week I published a guest post by blog member Gary McCarragher, who has just published Revelation: A Novel, about a professor of  New Testament studies at a certain university in the South.  Gary and I had consulted on his work, and how it has seen the light of published day! We received a lot of good response from his post, and I asked him if he'd be interested in excerpting a bit of the novel for blog readers.   He agreed, and has given us the first two chapters. As indicated below, you can purchase the book in a variety of places; I just checked and found it here: Revelation: A Novel - Kindle edition by McCarragher, Gary . Religion & Spirituality Kindle eBooks @ Thanks to Gary! ******************************   REVELATION, A Novel, published January, 2023 Editorial and proofreading services: Cath Lauria, Gina Sartirana Interior layout and cover design: Howard Johnson Photo Credits: Front Cover Image: Abstract self portrait, by Christian Beirle González; Image #100005105, Getty Images. Author Photo: by Terry Sbani, Woodside’s Photography [...]

2023-03-14T13:55:49-04:00March 26th, 2023|Book Discussions, Public Forum|
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