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Debates For A Price

QUESTION:

Robert M. Price posted on his FB wall a few weeks ago that he was considering starting a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to debate Ehrman. Looks like things might be going ahead? Ehrman said on ‘The Skeptic Fence’ podcast a few months back that he’d be OK with debating Price. Reading between the lines, it looks like that they may made some sort of verbal agreement? Dr. Ehrman, are you aware of this challenge??

 

RESPONSE:

Ha!  No, I’m afraid we haven’t made any kind of arrangement – Bob hasn’t said anything to me about this.  But before pursuing the matter, I should probably provide a little bit of background and context.

For those of you who don’t know, Robert Price is a mythicist, one of those small minority of human beings who does not think Jesus actually existed.   In their opinion it is not simply that there are lots of myths and legends told about Jesus that are not historical; it is instead that the man himself never lived.  This is a tiny but remarkably vocal group of people, and the vast majority of them are not scholars.   Bob is an exception.  He is the only full-bore mythicist that I’m aware of who actually has a PhD in the relevant field, New Testament studies.

Like me, Bob started out in evangelical Christian circles.   He did two PhDs at Drew university, one in Systematic Theology, and then a second in New Testament.   But he became disenchanted with the Christian faith and then left it altogether.

Bob is intelligent and is massively published in a range of fields.  Probably his best known  work in terms of NT scholarship is called The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man.

Anyway, Bob is a good guy, and although we’ve never had a serious face-to-face (I’m not sure we’ve actually ever met personally) we have talked and communicated.  And even though we heartily disagree on the matter of whether Jesus existed (with 99.9% of the human race, I think he did…), we respect each other’s work and, well, demeanor.

As some of you know, I do not respect the demeanor of other mythicists (some of whom are atheist fundamentalists, as unpleasant as many Christian or Jewish or Muslim fundamentalists – or worst than most in their self-righteous vitriol).  I simply will not share a stage with some of them.  But I wouldn’t mind sharing a stage with Bob.

Now, you may be wondering why he has to raise money in order to have a debate with me.  There’s a very simply reason.  I charge a lot for this kind of thing.

Before skipping the rest of this post in disgust, let me explain why.   In fact, I’ll even give the details, in all their gory reality.   I typically charge $5000 or $6000 (or more – depending on the situation) for a speaking engagement, whether that is a lecture or a debate or whatever (more than one lecture costs a bit more: $1000 more per lecture, plus all of my expenses of course).   I do this for two reasons, the first of which some people do not find satisfying, the second of which, hopefully, everyone will.  So keep reading.

The first is rather pragmatic:  I can get this much.  I’ve had agents tell me that I can actually get a lot more, but this is pretty much what my going rate is.  People who get a bit miffed at me charging this much really seem not to think about it much.  I’ve never met anyone yet who tells their employer to pay them only 10% of what they are worth, or what the job is worth, or what the market demands.   For some reason people think it should be different for a scholar of early Christianity, that I should simply do so for less because, well, because I *should*…..

From my point of view, though, I don’t do it for less because if I did so, I would be on the road every week giving talks everywhere, and would never be home.  In fact, I limit myself to five speaking gigs a semester, and accept only the ones that can pay my fee.

But here’s the second reason I charge this much.   I give every dime of my speaking fees to charity.   To charge less would be to raise less money for charity.  That can’t be good.  So as a rule I don’t do it.

In case you’re wondering, here’s the deal.  I’ll basically accept most (not all) invitations for that fee.   Most of the time that involves giving a lecture for a university, or a church, or some other organization, or doing a debate sponsored by one organization or another.  But sometimes it is something altogether different.  Sometimes I simply get invited by someone who wants to spend an evening with me, or who wants me to talk to a group of their friends and / or neighbors, and are willing to pay $5000 to make it happen.   So long as they pay my speaking fee, I do it (if my schedule allows).

So, well, if you want me to spend an evening with you or you and your friends, you should feel free to ask!  I’ll even do the dishes.  The money all goes to the same charities that I support on the blog, dealing with issues related to hunger and homelessness.

In answer, then, to the question: if Bob wants to raise funds to get me to debate him, I’m happy to do that, just as I’m happy to give a lecture in a church, or to hang out with a bunch of people in someone’s living room.   I actually would not *enjoy* having a debate on whether Jesus existed – there are lots of other things that I’m personally far more interested in.  But if this is simply a (VERY) occasional thing, that would be fine.  As would most things at this price.

 

 


On Debating a Fundamentalist
Three Murders in Chapel Hill

55

Comments

  1. toejam  February 14, 2015

    Thanks for answering my question! And thanks for your disclosure.

    Personally, I’d love to see this debate happen. I fall on your side of the ledger on Jesus’ historicity. I think the ‘failed doomsday prophet’ archetype remains the most plausible reconstruction. That said, I don’t think it’s as closed a case as is often implied.




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  2. gmatthews
    gmatthews  February 14, 2015

    If Chelsea Clinton can make up to $75,000 per appearance I don’t see a problem with you making $5,000. I think you’re at least twice the speaker she is (maybe 2 and a half times).




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  3. Jason  February 15, 2015

    I’ve seen one of your speaking engagements. I can’t think of a better way to spend $6k, or a better recipient than, say, Ministries of Durham. When I clear my first million, I’ll double pay that rate. And you can talk about Tar Heel basketball for all I care. I do wonder though-is there really any value in answering the claims of mythicysts, holocaust deniers, alien abductees and fluoride conspiracists? Is there really any danger that a few strange voices will change the masses acceptance of history?




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    • Bart
      Bart  February 17, 2015

      I wonder too….




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    • Bethany
      Bethany  February 17, 2015

      Whether there’s any value in answering it, who knows?

      Whether one loud voice telling people something they want to hear anyway can produce a widespread change in opinion: I think yes, absolutely. Just look at the anti-vax movement, for example.

      As far as I can tell, Jesus Mythicism is HUGE in atheist circles at the moment. Bring it up on a blog with lots of atheist readers and prepare for huge arguments and outcries. It’s something that some people really, really want to believe is true, all it takes is someone with even some sort of vague credentials saying it’s true and you’ll have a nontrivial subset buying it hook, line, and sinker.




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  4. JarheadDaddy  February 15, 2015

    Well put. You earn your keep + contribute to charity. Keep on rockin in the free world!




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  5. walid  February 15, 2015

    I am glad that the relationship is mutually respectful with Dr Price, you both are in the same state I guess professor.
    Anyway, I believe no money in the world is enough to go to charity, … and to be with Dr Ehrman is worth a tad more.

    If I had all the money in the world I would spend it on those five opporitunities a semester learning from you doctor.
    I would book your semester for ever! Pity I am on the other side of the Atlantic pond.




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  6. MikeyS  February 15, 2015

    I read that Tony Blair and ex President Clinton charge up to 50,000 dollars for giving a speech and the former has built up a nice property empire in the process and is reported to be worth 100 million pounds now. He converted ro Catholicism from being a Protestant as they removed the text about it being easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man being allowed in heaven.

    Jesus said when did others not do something for him and we know his reply.

    Bart you will have treasures in heaven by your charity acts whether you believe that or not. Others say no good turn goes unpunished!




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  7. exPCman  February 15, 2015

    Bart, good for you … and thanks for sharing! Frank




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  8. RonaldTaska  February 15, 2015

    Very interesting to learn about this.




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  9. Hon Wai  February 15, 2015

    Do you know anything about the fees charged by some of the big names in Christian circles you had debated e.g. William Lane Craig, Dinesh D’Souza, Michael Licona? People like Craig draw huge crowds and their market rate probably exceeds yours.
    Is it possible for you to request the moderator at start of debate to mention all your fees go to specific charities, and ask moderator to put up a slide showing websites of the charities and invite the audience to donate to the charities – this way you gain further publicity for your chosen good causes.
    I just came across a post by Kyle Butt (hmm, with a name like this…) regarding your debate with him in 2014:
    http://www.apologeticspress.org/APContent.aspx?category=12&article=4844
    He accuses you of “deception” and dishonesty. He says it is not credible that you spent much time writing books and going to debates, if it weren’t for the motive of convincing and persuading people that the Christian God doesn’t exist. He names you as someone who “has done as much or more than any single individual in modern times to destroy the Christian faith of literally thousands of people, young and old alike, across the globe.”
    You have addressed accusations like this in your posts in the past, and I side with your points of view. However, if you see any new accusations in Kyle Butt’s rant, another post is helpful.
    Given you get accusations like this so often, it is worth collating your responses and post on a dedicated section of the blog “Ehrman responds to critics”, accessible to non-members.




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    • Bart
      Bart  February 17, 2015

      I actually don’t know! Yes, Kyle Butt is definitely a humorless and mean=spirited fellow. Maybe I’ll say something about his comments on a future post. Good think that I *do* have a sense of humor, because I think those charges are very funny (principally because they are SO wrong…. I’m really not that important. Not important at all, in fact!)




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      • Rosekeister
        Rosekeister  February 17, 2015

        I think it is a compliment for him to believe you could “destroy the Christian faith of literally thousands of people, young and old alike, across the globe.” It also seems to say a lot about Christian faith that historical criticism can apparently destroy it.




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        • Rosekeister
          Rosekeister  February 18, 2015

          “Bart D. Ehrman, James A. Gray Distinguished Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Destroyer of the Christian Faith.” You should embrace this and within a year or two your fee might be $10,000.




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          • Bart
            Bart  February 18, 2015

            Hey, good idea!




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        • Bart
          Bart  February 18, 2015

          Yup!




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  10. Stephen  February 15, 2015

    Prof Ehrman

    The money doesn’t bother me even if you kept it although it does you credit that you donate it to charity. What bothers me is the unsatisfactory format of these “debates”. If this event comes off please sit down with Mr Price and have a conversation. He asks you questions; you ask him questions; the audience asks you both questions. Have a discussion! Not a lecture in tandem.

    Some other issues. You wrote a dang near 400 page book on the subject. Carrier’s book is 700 pages! Is this really a subject that can be adequately addressed in a 90 minute debate? Can this really ever be anything other than an entertaining stunt? Also, Bill Nye was roundly criticized by his peers for his debate with Ken Hamm the creationist not for defending evolution but for giving Hamm a national platform and making it seem as if there was some real controversy about the subject. Wouldn’t you just be giving the mythicists a platform and inviting your audience to take them much more seriously than you or your peers actually do?

    The value I do see in this effort would be to help counter the mythicist meme that seems to have swept uncritically through the atheist/skeptical community of which Mr Price is a part. But self-identified atheists and skeptics and mythicists are a vocal but tiny subset of folks. I’m much more worried about the larger community of believers who show no skepticism at all!




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    • Bart
      Bart  February 17, 2015

      Yes, that’s one of the reasons I’ve never agreed to a debate with a mythicist….




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      • Luke9733  February 17, 2015

        Were you aware of the Mythicist book “Bart Ehrman and the Quest of the Historical Jesus of Nazareth”? I just found it on Amazon a few days ago (I’m not going to buy it – I have enough useless things as it is). It looks like a book with a bunch of Mythicist authors whining about you not agreeing with them.




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  11. Wilusa  February 15, 2015

    Very understandable! And here’s another point: If you, and a few scholars like you, were willing to give lectures, etc., gratis, the people who organize such things would never invite *other* potential lecturers who aren’t selling books, and might really need the extra income. Say, to put their kids through college!




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  12. Wilusa  February 15, 2015

    I’m curious. I know the main argument for the historicity of Jesus is that no one would have *made up* a claim that a man they’d thought was the Messiah had been crucified. They were stuck with the fact that it had actually happened. But they wouldn’t give up the notion that he’d been the Messiah; so they “reinterpreted” ancient writings to convince themselves and others that the crucifixion had been prophesied.

    For someone with Price’s scholarly credentials to claim Jesus never existed, does he have to present a case that there really *had* been prophecies (never fulfilled by anyone) that the Messiah would be crucified and would then rise from the dead?




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    • Bart
      Bart  February 17, 2015

      That’s one of the arguments, though not necessarily the main one. I’d say the main one is all the evidence for his existence (e.g., Paul, who actually knew Jesus’ brother!). Price’s argument, however, is not about prophecies, in the usual sense. It is more that Jesus was modeled on other figures discussed in ancient texts. I discuss them at some length in my book Did Jesus Exist.




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      • Jim-Prup-Benton  February 21, 2015

        One thing you go around, but do not argue, has always been, to my mind, the strongest argument against the mythicists. This is the sheer psychological impossibility of forgers deliberately creating a “God who is wrong.” By the time the forgery was supposedly concocted, in the real world, Christianities of all types were trying to tiptoe away from the embarrassment that ‘this generation’ DID ‘pass away’ and, no, none of those hearing Jesus’ words got to see the descent of the Son of Man. But they didn’t erase the words, which must have been too well known to be dispensed with.

        But what would make someone invent such a thing, even a character in a Borges story? And Paul’s letters discuss too many aspects of this as well, why were they allowed to stand? The specificity was, after all, unnecessary. Had Jesus just said — or, as the mythicists have it, been made to say – the apocalypse would occur soon, in God’s choice of time, the whole problem would be gone.

        And on a ‘meta-level’ let me start with an analogy. A person exists within a culture, and mostly is limited by the limitations of that culture, with some ‘envelope-pushing’ possible. So if you told me a great artist had been discovered who had worked at around 100 AD, I would be skeptical in the ‘Sounds unlikely, but I’d be glad to see the proof’ sense. But if yu told me that this artist was an Abstract expressionist, my skepticism changes to that I give creationists and alien abductees. That ‘way of seeing’ or ‘way of expressing what is seen’ didn’t exist in that culture or anywhere in the world at that time. (Similarly, I am not going to find Gershwin or Ellington style riffs in 10th Century liturgical music.)

        But did anyone in the culture of the time have the amount and type of ”literary sophistication” needed to envision or carry out such a fraud? This was a writing culture that seemed to ignore inconsistencies — as we see repeatedly in the Bible. Beyond that, a writer can tell, in effect, new stories about an old character or new stories about a new character. But then, the predominant — almost the exclusive — way was to tell stories about characters the audience; in some way, ‘knew of.’ Am I right about this, and if so, is this not yet another stone to bury the mythicists under — figuratively of course, even with the Murdock.




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        • yes_hua  February 22, 2015

          1) First off, I’m not a mythicist, but I’m currently spending my time changing my paradigm a bit to make the mythicist view possible. Perhaps I can add something here. I think Dr. Price might ask you why we have so many stories of other prophets and gods walking on the earth. Think of anyone from Osiris to Apollonius to Muhammad even. Do we believe they actually walked the earth and performed the miracles and acts we hear in the holy books? There’s no reason to start with the idea that this person *did* exist while we ask that question.
          2) I know for a fact that he would say that you have to be careful about the criterion of embarrassment–more for the crucifixion than the ‘generation that passed’. He would say that just because another author found it embarrassing, doesn’t mean that the original author did. But I think you’re right to poke here. I think Dr. Price would say that we *can* see the elements of so many other stories here that it’s hard to see much of anything that would have to go back to this Jesus. I think he makes the same sort of mistake that Lee Strobel makes: he goes from *could be true* to *is* and goes from there. An interesting way to conduct a mental exercise, but too easy to lose yourself in it.
          3) So ask yourself, why would an author raise the question of ‘this generation *has* passed’ if he knows that it is demonstrably false? Because he had a different Christology or a different meaning of the passage because HE never saw it through the lens of Christian tradition. It wasn’t false to him or he was, gasp, just telling a story. Ask yourself if that’s possible. I don’t think it will change your mind, but you can get an idea where the (non-axe-grinding) mythicists are coming from.




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  13. Gonzalo  February 15, 2015

    Hi Bart, this isn’t a question about debating, but it’s relevant to the type of debate you would be having with any mythicist. Have you seen this finding about Josephus? http://www.examiner.com/article/jesus-passage-josephus-a-forgery-says-expert




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    • Bart
      Bart  February 17, 2015

      Ah, my friend Murdock. I’m not sure anyone despises me more than she does…..




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      • Jim-Prup-Benton  February 21, 2015

        Having had a run-in with Murdock in 2007, I can only repeat the old Political Slogan — “We love him for the enemies he’s made.” Did you get hit with her legion of sockpuppets as well — if only she were less obvious about them?

        How anyone — specifically any atheist or skeptic — can take seriously someone who has billed herself as “‘The Rev. Acharya S. — founder of the Church of Astrotheology.” and whose first book was published by — and is still available from — Adventures Unlimited Press, a rather delightful collection of ‘bargain basement crackpottery and screwballs. (It has all the usual suspects for topics, Egyptology, Ancient aliens, Mu and Lemuria, Anti-Gravity and Perpetual Motion, “Technology of the Gods” etc — but the books seem to be staff-written from description, rather than reprints of the ‘classics’ of the field.)

        You mention the unpleasant rigidity of the ‘fundamentalist atheists’ that comprise the mythicists. Could some of this come because they are more heavily weighted than even ‘internet atheists’ and substantially more than atheists as a whole towards the ex-fundamentalist/evangelical atheists? There does seem to be a difference between atheists depending on their starting points, and ex-evangelical atheists are different from atheists that were formerly ‘mainstream protestant,’ Jewish, or — as I was — Roman Catholic. I think ‘internet atheists’ tend to be more strongly ex-evangelical — mostly because they are more moved to battle what they see as the evil effects of their former faith in politics — and that mythicists tend to be even more strongly so because they have a desire to smash anything that was a part of their former faith. (There are even a group of ex-Muslim atheists — the type published by Paul Kurtz, not Pam Geller/Walid Shoebat type hysteria — who have argued that Mohammed was mythical — claim of equal validity, I’m sure.)




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  14. toejam  February 15, 2015

    OK, so I linked this post to Price and this was his response:

    “Whoa! My friends, let me make something clear: I have not “challenged” Bart to a debate and would not. I was approached by a third party who said he wanted to arrange an exchange between the two of us, which would of course be a privilege. This person proposed the Kickstarter, not me. Please don’t imagine I challenged Bart to a throw-down to vindicate the glorious doctrine of Mythicism. Nothing of the kind. But if it turns out that we share a stage, that’s more than fine with me.”

    Maybe I got a little carried away with describing it as a “challenge”.




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  15. rivercrowman  February 15, 2015

    And today, I got this item on my Facebook news feed. http://www.examiner.com/article/jesus-passage-josephus-a-forgery-says-expert




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  16. RonaldTaska  February 15, 2015

    What would you charge for a round of golf? That’s where you really learn about someone’s religion.




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    • Bart
      Bart  February 17, 2015

      Ha! I gave up golf about five years ago. But back then I would have charged … $5000!




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  17. SWerdal
    SWerdal  February 15, 2015

    I’d rather have your side of that “debate” than his. So i think it’s fair that the one with the uphill climb fund the event.




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  18. Triassicman  February 16, 2015

    I just spent US$120 on a ticket to hear Neil Diamond sing for a couple of hours. I would happily pay the same to hear you in a debate. @ $6k that’s 40 people I will need to rustle up. Neil will take all the profit home for himself which is fine coz he earns it but with you I also get to help those unable to help themselves. yahoo! Just a shame I am in New Zealand.




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    • Bart
      Bart  February 17, 2015

      wow. Neil Diamond is still singing?!?….




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      • Triassicman  February 17, 2015

        Yep! 66 concerts around the world coming to a town near you. His voice hasn’t changed at all.




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  19. john76  February 16, 2015

    Hi Dr. Ehrman.

    It would really be interesting to see you debate Robert M.Price.

    By the way, will you be reading Carrier’s new book “On The Historicity Of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason To Doubt (2014)”? It’s the first mythicist book to pass peer review.




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    • Bart
      Bart  February 17, 2015

      Nope, haven’t read it. Passing peer review, by the way, does *not* mean that any of the peers bought the argument. It just means they thought it should be published.




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  20. Sharon  February 16, 2015

    As someone who had the pleasure of being in your audience, you’re worth every penny!!




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  21. MikeyS  February 17, 2015

    I wish I had never started playing golf 40 years ago. I have a recurring dream or nightmare that each time I place the ball on the tee, it keeps falling off and my playing partners leave me there and they play 18 holes and I’m still on the first tee…;)




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    • Bart
      Bart  February 17, 2015

      My nightmare is that I’m on the tee and I have literally an impossible shot (e.g., there is a wall in front of me with just a slit at the top to drive a ball through), and I spend minutes and minutes and minutes trying to tee it up to give myself a chance….




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      • MikeyS  February 17, 2015

        That’s spookey Bart as I have the same dream/nightmare as that as well.

        As we are both born again, now relapsed Christians, I wonder whether ‘im’ up there is trying to tell us something? I guess had we lved at the time of that Nebuchanezzer feller, Daniel would have interpreted it for us. Like, never play with your golf balls at night with the blinds drawn three quarters down. Sorry, delete this when you have read it.. 😉 Problem with most religious people, no humour but I think you are different because I’ve seen you in debates apply it over and over.




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        • Bart
          Bart  February 18, 2015

          I think it means that if we had stayed in the faith we’d be hitting 300 yard drives straight and true….. (Actually I became a better golfer after I was an agnostic)




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  22. Hon Wai  February 17, 2015

    Do you (partially) waive your fee for appearing on Premier Christian Radio’s Unbelievable show?




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  23. kazawolf  February 17, 2015

    $5,000 is nothing in the scheme of things. I am in the classical music biz and that would barely buy you a no-name budget soloist to play a concerto with a symphony orchestra. $20k would get you a mainstream artist, and $100k would get you Yo-Yo Ma…similar to what ex-presidents get for their single speeches. Thanks Bart for disclosing all this…you have my admiration.




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  24. Hon Wai  February 18, 2015

    Have you ever had people writing/approaching you to thank/blame you that they have left Christianity or lost their faith in God, because of your works?




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    • Bart
      Bart  February 20, 2015

      Not that I can recall. Some have told me that I put in words the sorts of things they were already thinking, and that my books helped them clarify their thoughts. But I don’t recall anyone telling me that they lost their faith because of me. And that would be rather peculiar, since I’m not the one who holds their faith!




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  25. Ryan Pence
    Ryan Pence  February 19, 2015

    Well, its official he is running a fundrasier for a debate, he kickstarted it on his Facebook page, he also posted a video of his challenge. http://youtu.be/y7STpg3MiL0




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  26. gavm  March 5, 2015

    1: you give it all to charity? why? surely that 100K per yr could pay a few bills. it would be in my case

    2: if i remember Bob made a few unpleasant comments about your grad students doing all your work for you, i take it that was sorted out? i thought Bob was quite lowely in those comments




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    • Bart
      Bart  March 5, 2015

      Yeah, hey, I could build a vacation house in the mountains!!

      That’s funny about grad students doing all my work. I wonder what makes him think *that*???




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      • gavm  March 6, 2015

        if you funny you mean very offensive then yeah very much so. at least hes not a compete nutjob unlike some




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  27. SidDhartha1953  October 4, 2015

    I think it was Murdock who also claims that Paul did not exist, that he is based on Appolonius. I guess the writers of antiquity (the ones who existed, anyway) had nothing better to do than make people up. But I have a more serious question about Paul. I have read that, after the Babylonian captivity, only the Levites kept track of their tribal identity. Yet Paul claims in at least two of his letters (Romans and Phillipians) that he is a Benjamite. Are these interpollations by scribes, perhaps conflating him with King Saul, or did Paul have reason to believe he was a Benjamite?




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    • Bart
      Bart  October 5, 2015

      I assume it was part of his family’s tradition that they were descendants of Benjamin




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