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 it, and now nearly a decade on, I’ve taken a look at them and thought it might be interesting (and possibly humorous) to repost them.

 

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The responses to How Jesus Became God are starting to appear, and I must say, I find the harshest ones bordering on the incredible.   Do people think that it is acceptable to attack a book that they haven’t read – or at least haven’t had the courtesy to try to understand?

Some of the reviewers are known entities, such as the Very Rev. Robert Barron, a Roman Catholic evangelist and commentator who has a wide following.   His full response is available at Why Jesus is God–A Response to Bart Ehrman.  I find it very disappointing.  Here is his opening gambit:

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“In this most recent tome, Ehrman lays out what is actually a very old thesis, going back at least to the 18th century and repeated ad nauseam in skeptical circles ever since, namely, that Jesus was a simple itinerant preacher who never claimed to be divine and whose “resurrection” was in fact an invention of his disciples who experienced hallucinations of their master after his death. Of course Ehrman, like so many of his skeptical colleagues across the centuries, breathlessly presents this thesis as though he has made a brilliant discovery. But basically, it’s the same old story. When I was a teenager, I read British Biblical scholar Hugh Schonfield’s Passover Plot, which lays out the same narrative, and just a few months ago, I read Reza Aslan’s Zealot, which pursues a very similar line, and I’m sure next Christmas or Easter I will read still another iteration of the theory.”

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So I have to ask in all seriousness:  has the Very Reverend Robert Barron actually read my book (or the others he mentions)?

Where to start?  How about with the “invention” of the resurrection of Jesus’ disciples based on their hallucinations?  Maybe Barron was so caught up in the idea that I am (in his view) a reincarnation of 18th century skeptics that he didn’t bother to look very closely.  I took great care in my book precisely not to say what he accuses me of saying.  Nowhere do I say that Jesus’ resurrection was invented by his hallucinating disciples.  In fact I spent considerable length arguing that the visions of Jesus would be seen by his modern-day followers as appearances of Jesus – that is, as veridical visions – and by non-believers as non-veridical hallucinations.  But I pointedly did not take a stand on the issue in the book.  My view is that the disciples saw visions, and each of us can decide whether they really saw Jesus or simply thought they did.  In other words, Barron is attacking a straw man.  (I also do not take a stand on the central theological question of whether Jesus really was God or not.)

Moreover, it is offensive to say that I “breathlessly present this thesis” as though I “had made a brilliant discovery.”  This is mockery, not a serious evaluation.  I have tried to present a sober historical analysis.  It is based on many years of research.  If I’m breathless, it’s only because of the hard work and many long hours I put into doing the work.  If he imagines that I’m pretending that everything in my book is my new, spectacular, first-time ever made discovery – why doesn’t he cite some passages where I say that or even suggest it?  If he had read my book he would see that I cite and mention previous scholars at virtually all the key points.  But, of course, it is easier to disparage someone for their “breathless” presentation than it is to engage with them.

OK, so I’m a bit testy.   But what really has sent me over the edge is his claim that my view is simply a re-hashing of Hugh Schonfield’s Passover Plot.   Is he SERIOUS?  Maybe he forgot what the thesis of the Passover Plot is.  Or maybe he doesn’t care, but simply wants to tarnish me by association with an absurd thesis that someone else advanced, which in fact has nothing to do with mine.

For those of you who don’t know, The Passover Plot maintained that Jesus believed he was to be the messiah, and he “knew” that to be the messiah he had to die and be raised again.  And so he planned for that to happen.  He arranged to have himself drugged on the cross so that his vital signs would slow down and he would go into a coma, appearing to be dead.  He worked it out with a couple of his followers then to retrieve him from the tomb so that he could revive, appear to others, and convince them then that he had been resurrected.  Unfortunately he was not counting on a Roman soldier piercing his heart with a spear, and it was this injury that unfortunately killed him.   He did revive, but only long enough to escape the tomb, which his disciples later found empty and came to argue then that he had left as the lord of heaven.  Jesus himself died very soon after his failed plot.

What does this reconstruction of events have to do with the historical sketch that I give in How Jesus Became God?  Almost precisely NOTHING.  (And if he thinks I’m regurgitating anything like the thesis of Reza Aslan, he might do well to consider the sustained critique of Zealot found in multiple posts devoted to the subject here on this blog: Aslan’s Zealot, et al)

I really don’t mind having serious criticism leveled against my book, or serious academic engagement over scholarly reconstructions of what happened in the life of Jesus or in its aftermath in the birth of Christianity.  But I simply cannot stand cheap shots condescendingly delivered by people – popular authors or not – who do not want to interact with historical data and serious interpretations, but instead want to take potshots to make the “faithful” think that all is well with the world and that their preconceived notions about religion cannot be shaken by historical inquiry.  My view is that my book should have ZERO impact on intelligent, informed, Christian belief.  (And I have evidence: I have intelligent Christian friends who are scholars of early Christianity who agree with almost all of my analysis.)  If The Very Reverend Robert Barron does find my book threatening, it is either because he has not read it closely enough or because he holds to fundamentalist views that have somehow or other managed to work their way into the hearts and minds of the Catholic clergy.  Or both.

I will be dealing with some of the other things he says in later posts.

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

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41 Comments

  1. line45030 March 28, 2024 at 7:51 am

    Hello Bart, help me figure it out. In this lecture (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zzEWbYHTV3U&t=460s), Collins says that resurrection in the book of Daniel is not universal and that some resurrected, possibly martyrs, will be among the stars. In that case, does it not talk about the end of the world? And is it not entirely apocalyptic? So, in Daniel 12:11, is it about the days after which the martyrs will rise and be among the stars, and that’s it? Help me understand. In your book, you write that this is a bodily experience. “Daniel does not say that the faithful will actually become stars, but they will certainly become like them, shining in the heavens.” But how can they, being on earth, shine in the heavens? I’m confused.

    https://youtu.be/5DBGem5MkOg?si=vQlisLhsdNZFY001&t=3300
    In this lecture, Collins also states that Gehenna is a metaphor for a fiery place of punishment. What do you think about this?

    • BDEhrman April 1, 2024 at 6:31 pm

      Yes, it’s obvioulsy a very short and tantalizing passage. It does indeed indicate that not everyone will rise. Later Jewish traditions indicsate the resurrection is for everyone, either to salvatoin or destruction; but of course various traditions vary in numerous ways — they aren’t ever all the same. Here some rise, those who will be put to shame and those who will be given everlasting life. Some or all of those become celestial beings (stars). Stars, of course, are physical entities. These are apparently the really special folk, since in antiquity being a “star” was a divine-like status.

  2. Sundown March 28, 2024 at 9:28 am

    I look forward to your book and trust you will not let the “rock-throwers” discourage you. That is their goal. I liked your response to the “Very Reverend” who has the title but does not deserve it. His dismissive attitude, arrogance, and spin is what makes many of us repulsed by organized religion. Your balanced and unbiased approach is refreshing.

  3. Disbeliever.02 March 28, 2024 at 10:45 am

    “cheap shots condescendingly delivered by people – popular authors or not – who do not want to interact with historical data ” In other words, your basic Catholic “intellectual” apologist. Not that there aren’t serious Catholic scholars. But the condescending critics of rationality seem to outnumber them by far. That kind of attack is one reminder of why I personally fled from Catholicism. God forbid that laypeople should be exposed to historical or scientific facts!

  4. normative March 28, 2024 at 11:05 am

    I always think of this particular form of cognitive blindness as the “What Has This Got to Do With Chess?” syndrome, after a famous Bobby Fischer anecdote. People who care intensely about a particular topic will force any text to be about the thing they care about—like a Viking convinced that a meteorology textbook must really be an anti-Odin polemic. Someone who thinks the single most important fact about the universe is the divinity of Jesus will have trouble processing the idea that an author might write about a related topic—how the IDEA of Jesus being divine evolved and spread—while just bracketing whether or not the underlying fact is true for the sake of discussion. They’re so convinced the book must be about what THEY find centrally important that they render themselves incapable of understanding the text actually in front of them. (“Leaving aside whether Jesus was really divine? HOW CAN YOU LEAVE THAT ASIDE! The REAL argument must be that he wasn’t…”)

  5. TimOBrien March 28, 2024 at 11:34 am

    I don’t know what is said about your work in book reviews. I never read them because they are invariably written by axe-grinders whose courage seems limited to confronting a strawman. But from YouTube critiques I have seen (e.g., James White), the blatant misrepresentations would have made me more than just “a bit testy.” 🤬

    IMHO&FWIW you invariably make well-reasoned, well-researched and highly-articulate arguments — always presented gracefully and in good humor. Would that I could say as much about too many (though not all) of your antagonists.

    While I hesitate to describe myself as “intelligent,” and we have never met, so I could hardly claim to even be among your “Christian friends” (much less those who are “scholars of early Christianity”), I have no hesitation whatsoever about claiming the label of “Christian.”

    I must say, however, that you are sorely mistaken in speculating that your books (“How Jesus Became God,” and even moreso, “The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture,” and “Misquoting Jesus”) “should have ZERO impact on intelligent, informed, Christian belief.”

    To the contrary, by sifting the wheat of Jesus’ authentic teachings from two millennia of doctrinal chaff, you actually helped restore my faith! 😇

  6. BobSeidensticker March 28, 2024 at 11:43 am

    “Do people think that it is acceptable to attack a book that they haven’t read”?

    Why not? They attack movies they haven’t seen.

  7. EdDFiddler March 28, 2024 at 12:10 pm

    Being attacked with less than honest, fallacious, straw man argument by “Very Reverend” Robert Barron puts you in good company. In his article he misrepresents Hume’s argument on miracles, refuting a position Hume didn’t take. Then his article disputing Hawking on cosmology similarly misrepresents Hawking’s statements on the origin of the universe.

    It strikes me as odd that some theists have difficulty with the notion that (aside from abstractions such as math) fact and truth can only be known as probable, commit to certainty based only on questionable narrative and highly speculative interpretation of ancient texts whose reliability, even in terms of textual accuracy, is open to question.

  8. stevenpounders March 28, 2024 at 1:20 pm

    One would think that a member of the clergy might be careful not to bear false witness …

  9. rivercrowman March 28, 2024 at 5:43 pm

    Among many fundamentalist Roman Catholic laity and clergy, you are (by word of mouth) automatically considered a heretic. With New York Times bestseller titles like Misquoting Jesus and God’s Problem, they look no further. Your fame precedes you!

  10. Lamar March 28, 2024 at 7:38 pm

    Dr. Ehrman. Is there any historical evidence that the Bible was intentionally distorted by any church Council? (not by scribes, but the council.You already have talked about the scribe change in your book misquoting Jesus)

    How about the councils of Nicea AD 325, Constantinople in AD 381, Ephesus in AD 431 and Chalcedon in AD 451? Did they intentionally distort the Bible?

    Thank you very much.

    • BDEhrman April 1, 2024 at 6:52 pm

      No, no evidence at all, and really solid reasons for thinking not. It’s not really a disputed point by experts of the text and by experts of church history/church councils. It’s not the sort of thing that was ever even under discussoin.

  11. 1SonOfZeus March 28, 2024 at 8:58 pm

    Dr. Ehrman, I know you only blog of CIA (Christianity in Antiquity). Thanks for the CIA information! But, if you ever make a post of Solon, I love to read it! You know the story of Atlantis. Didn’t the Egyptian priest say the temples were older than the pyramids on the Nile? Interesting! That belongs to Poseidon!

  12. GeoffClifton March 29, 2024 at 4:51 am

    Mixing in Catholic circles as I do, Robert Barron is probably the closest the Roman Catholic Church gets to a ‘celebrity bishop’. Some friends of mine quite like him but he has certainly gone down in my estimation now. Your book, How Jesus became God, is the best Christological work I have ever read and one of my all time favourite books. So ‘boo’ to Bishop Barron 😉.

  13. jaycatt7 March 29, 2024 at 10:07 am

    I’ll say this about Zealot—one of Reza Aslan’s notes got me reading Bart Ehrman next!

  14. Heretic1984 March 29, 2024 at 1:00 pm

    There may be many reasons people review books without reading them. I would argue Religious officials do it because they want to get their denouncement of your work out into the world.

  15. Duke12 March 29, 2024 at 1:26 pm

    “Friend of the show, Bart Ehrman” straw-manned as a modern rehash of “19th Century German Theologians” is pretty much the view expressed on the one Christian podcast I still regularly listen to. So much the easier to dismiss this knee-jerk modernist ex-fundamentalist skeptic and ensure that their fawning listeners will never crack open one of your books!

  16. Asparaguspee March 29, 2024 at 2:45 pm

    Hi Bart. The link to the Very Rev’s full review is broken – he probably just pulled it down. Regardless, Page not found.

    • BDEhrman April 1, 2024 at 7:01 pm

      No one else is reporting that problem. You may want to send a question to Support (click on Help) to make sure everything is OK on your end.

      • mohanlon April 5, 2024 at 4:49 pm

        can confirm the link is down

  17. F.J.Morelli March 29, 2024 at 5:08 pm

    Try diagramming this sentence. Good luck Love to see the results.
    In this most recent tome, Ehrman lays out what is actually a very old thesis, going back at least to the 18th century and repeated ad nauseam in skeptical circles ever since, namely, that Jesus was a simple itinerant preacher who never claimed to be divine and whose “resurrection” was in fact an invention of his disciples who experienced hallucinations of their master after his death.

    • BDEhrman April 1, 2024 at 7:09 pm

      I’ve never said the resurrection was anb invention of the disciples who experienced hallucinations. Where are you getting that from?

      And you will have noticed that I don’t simply recite 18th century theories (I’m not sure what 18th century creitics you’re referring to; off hand I can’t think of any that held the view you’re summarizing); my views are very different from, say, Reimarus or even the later critics such as Strauss and Baur. So again, I’m not sure whom you’re referring to, but the bigger point is that I try to explain WHY I hold the views I do, with what I consider to be evidence. So saying it’s just an old skeptical view is wrong both because it’s not old and it’s not JUST an old view that keeps getting repeated.

  18. cyclysm748 March 29, 2024 at 5:15 pm

    Have you ever met Robert Barron? He was on a podcast/video with Alex O’ Connor and from what I remember it was an interesting conversation. Every time I see/hear an atheist speaker like Alex or Sam Harris talking to a religious person like Barron, I always imagine how much more in depth on the subjects someone like yourself could go to challenge some of the things they say.

    • BDEhrman April 1, 2024 at 7:10 pm

      No, never met him! And actually don’t know anything much about him.

  19. petfield March 29, 2024 at 5:30 pm

    I skip the main issue of the post, because I just don’t see any value in religious fanatics and their ad hominem attacks.
    I would only like to point out that it has been interesting to experience the journey to your last book. My gut says that it’s going to be your Opus Magnum, because I feel you have invested way too much time thinking about it and working on it. I think it’s going to be one of those classics that people in the future will adduce as *the* authoritative book on the matter.
    (Though, having said all that, I do think “How Jesus Became God” is an international treasure of a book and it should be taught in every school in the world. This, Dale Allison’s and Schweitzer’s classics are by far the most fascinating, amazing, mindblowing books I’ve ever read with regard to Jesus).

    Ok, now that I took a quick peek on my comment, I think it gives off a quite intense “fanboy” vibe, but I don’t care, since I only spoke facts. 🤣🤣

  20. meohanlon March 30, 2024 at 4:02 am

    I read the Passover plot. The main thing I might take issue with its face-value reliance on certain allegorically intended passages/dialogues as historical, like the spear wound in John. It does make for good historical fiction in that it’s not only well written, but offers what seems to be well-researched back-story filler.

    The movie adaptation was just ok, but I have to give it credit for being the first, AFAIK, that actually had a Jewish actor play Jesus (Zalman King), and the only adaptation that presented Pilate more along the lines of what he was probably like: a disagreeable (albeit pragmatic) tyrant of a man- who couldn’t care less about Jesus’ “innocence”, performed by the great Donald Pleasance, of James Bond fame. Interestingly, Caiaphas seemed to be more sympathetically written, simply an old man trying to uphold the law while appeasing Pilate (not an easy thing to do).

    Also, I was wondering if you could address what is believed to be Caiaphas’ ossuary in a future blog, and the crucifixion nails they supposedly found therein. Also, what, if anything, can be known about the man himself (and maybe how the Sanhedrin worked- and whether the gospel stories accurately represent it). That would be marvelous!

    • BDEhrman April 1, 2024 at 7:15 pm

      They didn’t find any crucifixion nails in Caiaphas’s ossuary. It does appear to be his though. We know some things about him from Josephus, but not a whole lot. If you’re interested in the ossurary, check out the lecture Jodi Magness gave in her online course “Archaeology in the Time of Jesus” (on my website, bartehrman.com)

  21. daniel.calita March 30, 2024 at 4:02 am

    Hi Bart,

    1) What passages sustains the idea that the beast in Revelation is Nero/The roman empire and the book is all about this?

    2) What is the meaning and origin of the word Heaven present throughout the Bible? Do you think the ancients thought there was something unseen above the sky or into the sky itself or another world/dimension?

    • BDEhrman April 1, 2024 at 7:19 pm

      It’s a cumulative argument that is really compelling (as it turns out, it was recognized already in early Christianity. The first commentary we have on Revelation is from the early third century, and it identifies the beast as Rome/Nero). But one of the key passages is Revelation 13:11-18, which ends with indicating that the beast had the numer of a “man” 666, the numerical value of Nero’s name in Hebrew. I have a full discussion of this in my book Armageddon if you want the fuller picture. 2. In the ancient world, including in Judaism and Christianity, heaven typically referred to the place above where God or the gods dwelt, along with other supernatural beings (angels and such)

  22. Lamar March 30, 2024 at 5:21 am

    Dr. Ehrman. Does the Bible say anything about why God create the universe? which is , the purpose of universe , the purpose of God, the purpose of our existence. What does God want from us?

    Thanks .

    • BDEhrman April 1, 2024 at 7:20 pm

      It never says WHY God wanted to create the universe. And none of the authors would probably ask what the “purpose” of God is. What God wants from us is all over the Bible. In some respects, that’s its main theme. Short answer: to honor, revere, and obey him.

  23. Karlpeeter March 30, 2024 at 5:47 am

    Hi Bart!
    A new study “The hands that wrote the bible” suggests that daniel 11-12 fragments found from qumran could be dated to 170 bc. Is it possible that they got the carbon dating wrong or is it possible that the text in daniel 11 dates to Anticous III and was earlier than full book of daniel?

    • BDEhrman April 1, 2024 at 7:22 pm

      I”m not sure which study that is or who did it, and that would obviously matter a lot. But carbon-14 dating cannot provide a precise date such as 170 BCE; it provides a *range* within which the organic material died at certain levels of probability.

  24. Porphyry March 30, 2024 at 10:09 am

    The link to Barron’s review appears to be broken. It can be viewed here.

  25. cduncan172 March 30, 2024 at 3:19 pm

    People can certainly attack what they want, be it a movie or book. However, it lends credence to their criticisms to actually watch said movie or read said book. I agree with Dr. Erhman that this critic obviously didn’t bother to read the book carefully but likely only skimmed it over.

  26. Yosefel March 31, 2024 at 9:11 am

    That’s disappointing. I admire Bishop Barron and believe his expertise lies more in evangelization and charity, not biblical academia. I think too often you’re used as a whipping post by conservative Christians.

  27. gondorle April 1, 2024 at 4:21 am

    As an atheist, I’ve been writing about religion for, well, quite some time now, and I’ve had people commenting on an article, for example, and that article still had 0 views. If I detect the comment is pure cretinity, I don’t really care and just ignore it. If the person means to debate, ask pertinent questions and valid criticism, I will definitely engage.

    You convinced a die hard cynical atheist about the historicity of Jesus. It may not sound like much for most people, but it is for me.

    Thank you, sir!

  28. geofff April 2, 2024 at 4:52 pm

    I’ve got to admit – this reminds me of the kerfuffle (& some parallels) around Life of Brian – that other work of genius – when it came out. And the (wasted) calm reasoning of the Pythons in the face of similarly ignorant (by choice) religious types without the wit or wisdom to seek understanding nor to reason.

  29. EricBrown April 3, 2024 at 1:00 pm

    Thanks for re-posting this, i recall its origianl posting long ago.

    In your reintroduction, you say we may find it possibly humrous. I do chuckle at this:

    “If I’m breathless, it’s only because of the hard work and many long hours I put into doing the work.”

    You were clearly writing with a high level of irritation at the time! Funny stuff.

  30. AngeloB April 6, 2024 at 6:29 pm

    Bart, I remember this post. It was very informative. Thanks!

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