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Defending Myself

Several times a week I get emails from people who ask what it’s like to be the subject of such vitriolic attack by those who don’t agree with my views.   Or they express regret and sorrow that I am so often or viciously attacked.  Or they want me to stand up for myself and reply to my attackers.   Almost always, when I get one of these emails, I think to myself:  Am I being attacked by someone???  Huh.   *That’s* interesting.

The reality is that for the most part I’m blissfully unaware of assaults on my views (or character).  I suppose that is mainly because I don’t search around on the Internet to see who is saying what about me.   I do know that fundamentalists and lots of conservative evangelicals think that if I’m not the devil incarnate, that at least I’m one of his more academic henchmen.   And I know that the attacks by these conservative Christians pale in comparison with the attacks by the mythicists, who can’t think I’m an incarnation of Satan since they don’t believe in God, let alone Satan, but nonetheless go to great lengths to show that I’m clueless when it comes to topics like the New Testament, ancient religion, the historical (rather, the non-historical) Jesus, and so on.   I’ve always found *those* claims to be particularly … interesting.

In any event, I know all this not because I actually spend any time reading what they have to say, but because I have been in debates (either in person or on email) with a tiny number of such people (especially the evangelicals) and know they don’t like my views and, in some instances, don’t like me.  But what are you gonna do?   You can’t make everyone like you.  Or your views.  And I don’t see any reason to try.  People are who they are.  Of course fundamentalists will defend themselves by attacking me.  What else are they going to do?  If I’m right about the Bible, they are flat-out wrong about one of the most important things in their lives.

But if there are specific attacks against me floating around the Internet, I simply don’t know it.   And when I do know it, I don’t find it particularly upsetting.   At least not upsetting enough to dig into what someone else is saying about me.

I’ll give a clear instance.   I’ve had several public debates with my friend Dan Wallace, a professor of New Testament at the exceedingly conservative evangelical Dallas Theological Seminary.   In our first debate, we were supposed to be talking about whether we can be sure that we have the original wording of the New Testament, given the fact that we don’t have the original manuscripts but only copies made, in most instances, very much later, and that these copies all differ from one another in one way or another.   In the debate, I talked about this topic and gave my views about it based on my years of research.  And what did Dan do?  He actually didn’t talk very much about the topic.  What he wanted to talk about was me, about how one thing that I said at one time contradicted something that I said at some other time – he came up with lots of these – so that I couldn’t be trusted in anything that I said.

I thought that was a rather odd way to engage in a debate, since the topic was not whether Bart Ehrman was reliable but whether the manuscripts of the New Testament were.  In point of fact, I could easily defend myself against this kind of attack – a lot of what Dan has said about me over the years involves taking my comments out of context, or misrepresenting my views, or … well, there are lots of problems.  But I refuse to defend myself at any length about such things.  And why?  Because to me, they aren’t relevant to the topic.   And I have better things to do than show that Dan’s assaults on me are unfounded.

The clearest indication of the difference between Dan and me is that I would NEVER, ever read through all of the things that Dan has written, examining them down to the detail, with a fine-tooth comb, to see if something that he said in 1993 is at odds with something he said in 2004.   Why would I bother to do such a thing?  Why would I waste my time?  Who in the world cares?   If I don’t care about such things, I really don’t think others should either.

And so even though I am, in fact, pretty thin skinned, I normally simply don’t get into these kinds of arguments.

I often get asked why I don’t defend myself more often against what this that or the other person says about me.  As I’ve been indicating, the main reason is that I’m not aware of what they are saying, and am not particularly eager to find out.   Another reason is that I don’t want to take the valuable hours and minutes that I have in a day to find out.  And possibly the most important reason is this:  I think any fair-minded and reasonably intelligent human being can read whatever it is I’ve written – say, in Misquoting Jesus, or Jesus Interrupted, or Forged, or Did Jesus Exist? – and then read what someone else says who is trying to attack me.  They can then compare what I say with what the other person says.   And then – if they are really interested and not simply looking for one person to trash the other – they can figure out who seems to be right.  If someone isn’t smart enough to do that, then none of us can probably help them.  And if they aren’t willing to do it, then even more there is no help.

I don’t mind having public debates on matters of real importance.   It’s true, there are a couple of people that I refuse to share a stage with – but that’s only because they are mean-spirited, rude, and believe that mockery and scorn are academic modes of argumentation.   (I won’t name names, but one is a fundamentalist and another is a mythicist.)   But otherwise, I rather enjoy having a spirited back and forth about important topics.   And I sometimes will do that in print, when I think there is a really important issue at stake that people might be misled about (for example in my responses to Craig Evans here on the Blog a while back, when he took serious issue with my view that Jesus was probably never given a decent burial on the day of his crucifixion).  Or, OK, if there’s a particularly egregious attack on my scholarship that I get tons of emails about, I have occasionally responded (once on this Blog).  But I really don’t see the need to peruse everything on the Internet to see if I and/or my views are under attack, and then defend myself before the charges.   Life’s too short!


Talks at the Smithsonian, March 21
The Blog Year in Review: 2014

53

Comments

  1. Avatar
    toejam  January 11, 2015

    I like your attitude. It’s pretty obvious who the un-named mythicist is. Curious as to who the evangelical is…

    That said, I still think you should get yourself onto ‘The Thinking Atheist’ podcast to defend Jesus historicism to the atheist masses. That is probably the most well-known atheist podcast with pro production and mass listeners. But Richard Carrier and Bob Price are the only experts who are ever featured when discussing Christian Origins. And I don’t think it’s because the host is necessarily a mythicist, only that they’re the only NT historians putting their hand up to go on such shows. It just frustrates me, as an atheist who thinks there was a historical Jesus, having only these guys being the unofficial spokesmen for what is seen by everyone else as “the atheist position” on the historicity of Jesus. The ‘Skeptic Fence’ show was good, but it’s much less well known…

    • Avatar
      SWerdal  January 12, 2015

      Toejam: If i’m not mistaken, Bart did several appearances on the UK’s “Unbelievable” debates. But the host got Mark Goodacre to respond to Carrier’s claims recently here:
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0EulhS8EkJk
      Mark is (i think) as respectful as he can be to Carrier’s precarious position, which even the host is not terribly sympathetic to (since he chose the ledge of his making himself- when will he come in off the ledge?). I wouldn’t want to be Dr. Carrier preparing his next book this year- not fun. btw, i think you’re right, and we are in the growing minority in the atheist camp. Many uninformed, untrained atheists would prefer to whisk it all away, as if he never existed, like that would make their conversion project that much easier. Nothing’s “easy” in this business. These are individual, personal, painful decisions, one by one by one.

  2. Avatar
    Judith  January 11, 2015

    Dr. Ehrman,

    In every debate I’ve watched, there is no way any opponent can hold his own with you. Therefore, it’s necessary for them to resort to sidetracking into off-topic incidentals that have nothing to do with the debates.

    Every point you make in a debate is glaringly clear and incontestable..

    I’m just glad there are still some willing to debate with you.

    Judith

  3. Avatar
    vinnyrac  January 11, 2015

    Perhaps they hate you not for your scholarship, but simply because they can’t articulate a consistent, unassailable, scholarship of their own.

  4. Avatar
    HighlandUnitarian  January 11, 2015

    Well, you can count me as one Christian who wrote nice things about you in the past week. The only reason other Christians get upset with you is that they mistakenly think that the Bible is the Word of God, even though the Bible itself tells you that there is only one Word of God: the living person of Jesus Christ.

    The typical view is clearly preposterous not only because of the textual issues you expose, but because the earliest Christians would have been lucky to have had a page of an Epistle. But it didn’t matter because they had Jesus. That is the focus of our faith. If our focus is a collection of scriptures like the Bible, then our faith will surely fail as we learn more about it and the problems of how it was transmitted to us.

    Christianity is in a shocking state and has been for a long time, but I very much see you not as an enemy, but as a great ally. Anyone who sheds light on the truth is an ally of Jesus because Jesus is the truth. You can’t be a disciple of Jesus if you’re not prepared to follow the truth, no matter how much you might not like it.

    • Avatar
      webattorney  February 9, 2015

      HighlandUnitarian, I agree. But I have yet to see any Christian minister say this in public.

  5. Avatar
    rbrtbaumgardner  January 11, 2015

    Bart, thank you for the time and effort you make for us. I get a lot of enjoyment from this blog. My experience with one group of mythicists who were former religious conservatives turned atheists is they need not only that Jesus not be divine but that he not exist at all. Their strong attachment to that position makes discussing it with them unpleasant. The contents of their thoughts changed when they left their religion but not their thinking process.

  6. Avatar
    Mhamed Errifi  January 11, 2015

    Hello Bart

    I think you are attacked by Christian apologists is because you have exposed their lies about the bible and you also uncovered many things which church has hidden from people for centuries . Your example is mentioned in Koran

    in verse 5:15 O People of the Scripture, there has come to you Our Messenger making clear to you much of what you used to conceal of the Scripture and overlooking much. There has come to you from Allah a light and a clear Book.

    People of the Scripture are Jews and Christians . Now Christian apologists are having hard time in their debate with Muslims .If you remember your debate with James when he asked you to make remark about Koran so he can latter use it in his next debate with Muslims , but you were smart when you refused to do so . His plan was during debate if Muslim says that according to Bart NT has so many variants James was going to say Bart said the same thing about Koran . The ignorant James does not know we don’t care what layman says about Koran just you do not care what layman says about NT . Theses Christian apologists could not find version of Bart Ehrman in Muslim world to use him to support their arguments against Islam because there have never ever been scholar of Koran who left Islam. You can’t imagine what those Christian apologists are using , ex Muslim in some cases fake one who have zero credentials on Islam some do not even speak Arabic. I can show you those guys on youtube whenever I want to laugh I watch some of those videos LOL . Recently I found one online he was presented as professor of sharia law when I listened to him reading Koran from memory in Arabic in lecture he made pronunciation mistakes in almost every verse he read LOL where in hell can you find professor making that kind of errors . But Christian apologists are parading those ex layman Muslim , ex fake Muslim and fake scholar of Islam to prove that Islam is wrong and Christianity is the right religion . These poor evangelists are frustrated because they could not come up with Bart Ehrman of Islam and I think they will never succeed because all our experts live and die as Muslim

    • Jonathan_So
      Jonathan_So  January 12, 2015

      Mhamed, To be fair, discounting an argument due to mispronunciation rather than merit of arguments put forth is a terrible approach to any debate. Islam itself does have its own nuances. for example various approaches in the Ulama; in some ways one could argue Zahiri as analogous to Christian fundamentalists, and other schools to apologists (as they argue more for analogy). Additionally, some Hadiths are shakier than others, for various reasons.
      There is an argument that Islam itself would be much more rich textually had Omar (or those under his example) not destroyed the other 5 versions of the Koran floating about. We could have as much discussion as Christianity does with apocrypha and look into the other interpretations prevalent at the time.

      Anyway, point is Dr. Ehrman does know better than to comment on something he is not an expert on, (Greek, Hebrew etc. are part of his tool kit, not Arabic) particularly when debating as there is no shortage of those with adversarial positions who would either misconstrued or disingenuously used.

      • Avatar
        Mhamed Errifi  January 15, 2015

        I think if you were an expert on koran I would give thought about your comment . I am sure you know nothing about koran its history and its language . You source of information is from anti islamic websites that are ran by christian apologists who have zero credentials on islam it will be fool to take and believe their criticism about koran . here is website rzn by experts who know koranic studies

        http://www.islamic-awareness.org/

        • Avatar
          christinegibbons  October 23, 2015

          Sorry Mhamet, many of us base our opinions of the Koran on reading it. Mubeen it is not. If you want to make extraordinary claims for it then it must stand up to them. To be honest I was massively underwhelmed but it and embarrassed that anyone could believe that such a poorly constructed rambling text could possibly be believed to be Gods actual speech. I’d give it a C+ with a note “Could do better”. No one needs to listen to any Christian apologist to note that.

    • Avatar
      Steefen  January 24, 2015

      Google: Historical Inaccuracies and Koran
      Result:
      In many places, the Qur’an mentions Mary as the sister of Moses and Aaron and the daughter of Imran. The Qur’an has confused Jesus’ mother with Aaron’s sister because both of them carry the same name, though there are several centuries between them. The Qur’an indicates that Mary (Christ’s mother) had a brother whose name was Aaron (chapter 19:28) and a father whose name is Imran (chapter 66:12). Their mother was called “the wife of Imran” (chapter 3:35) which eliminates any doubt that it confuses Mary, mother of Jesus, with Mary, sister of Aaron.

      Muslim scholars acknowledge what happened and they are confused and fail in their desperate attempts to justify this grave error. Their contradictory interpretations fail to help them to find a solution to this dilemma.

      Does the reader believe that Abraham did not offer Isaac, but Ishmael, as a sacrifice? This is what all Muslim scholars say. Do you know that the Qur’an claims that Haman was pharaoh’s prime minister even though Haman lived in Babylon one thousand years later? Yet the Qur’an says so. The Qur’an says that the one who picked Moses from the river was not his sister but his mother (28:6-8), and that a Samaritan was the one who molded the golden calf for the children of Israel and misguided them, and the golden calf was lowing (refer to chapter 20:85-88) though it is well-known that Samaria was not in existence at that time. The Samaritans came after the Babylonian exile. How could one of them have made the golden calf for the people of Israel?

      • Avatar
        Mhamed Errifi  January 25, 2015

        Your source of information is from anti islamic websites that are ran by christian apologists who have zero credentials on islam it will be fool to take and believe their criticism about koran .Bring one expert who supports these rubbish that you posted here at least we muslim are using the biggest scholar on NT Bart while you guys are using amateurs thats why christians apologist are frustrated and they are attacking Bart . do some reseach online and see how experts on koran refuted your rubbish and check this website ran by experts who know koranic studies

        http://www.islamic-awareness.org/

  7. Avatar
    Seifert  January 11, 2015

    That’s so true Mr. Ehrman!

    Don’t worry about the rude attackers. Do what you do best: research and teach us poor spirited folk about history. We appreciate it very much!

  8. Avatar
    timber84  January 11, 2015

    Do you still have some conservative evangelical friends? You must have lost some conservative evangelical friends over the years because of your views. Did you socialize with Dan Wallace after your debate?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 12, 2015

      Yes I do. And yes, Dan and I have no problem going out for a beer afterwards.

  9. Avatar
    Tom  January 11, 2015

    Using an example from the evangelical Christians I know, many are very threatened by your research outlined in your trade books (How Jesus Became God, Misquoting Jesus, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, Forgery and Counter-Forgery, etc.) and is counter-intuitive from what they have been taught in church.
    Their anger is aroused very similar to how a young man gets rejected by a girl of his dreams when asking her out on a date … and then subsequently rejected. I suspect the resultant feelings in both scenarios are very similar.
    My recommendation for you, Dr. Ehrman is focus on your audience we who acknowledge your credibility as a Bible scholar & textual critic since we take the time to subscribe to your blog, purchase your books, and continue in our personal non-scholarly research. There are many of us who respect your status as a Bible scholar and regard you as an intellectual heavyweight concerning the Bible.
    Some people just lash out and is unfortunate. Just ignore them. I hope you find inspiration in my comment.
    -Tom J

  10. Avatar
    SWerdal  January 11, 2015

    Best to stay above the fray. FWIW there are blogger apologists like Tim O’Neill
    http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com.au/2014/01/did-jesus-exist-jesus-myth-theory-again.html
    who absolutely dismantle bloggers
    http://www.raphaellataster.com/
    who do favorable book reviews
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2014/12/18/did-historical-jesus-exist-the-traditional-evidence-doesnt-hold-up/
    for other bloggers like Dr. Carrier and Earl Dougherty. Makes sense to me that it would be a waste of your valuable time to dignify the baiting, desperate attacks of followers of imaginary controversies. Wish I could be decades younger to join your Forgery and Counter-forgery seminar, Prof- you rock- rock on!

    • Avatar
      Tim  January 14, 2015

      “… there are blogger apologists like Tim O’Neill”

      Ummm, “apologist”? I’m an atheist. The only thing I’m an “apologist” for is the rational and *objective* analysis of history. I’m as harsh on Christians who distort history as I am on my fellow unbelievers. And I get mistaken for or accused of being a Christian enough thanks. I don’t need it here.

    • Avatar
      Steefen  January 24, 2015

      I looked at your first link (which I wish would have opened in another window) and left the following response:
      You’re mistaken about the Testimonium Flavianum. The two passages following it have to be addressed. See the YouTube video
      “Jesus; Sam Harris, Richard Carrier, Bart Ehrman, Jefferson Bethke, Talk Islam, Pope Francis” by YouTube subscriber WBFbySteefen.

      Steefen
      author of
      The Greatest Bible Study in Historical Accuracy, First Edition

  11. Avatar
    magpie  January 11, 2015

    Amen to that!

  12. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  January 11, 2015

    Terrific post. Thanks for sharing your views about this. I welcome critical analysis of your books, as I think you do, but so often the critics skip your main points, such as there are contradictions in the Gospels and that probably means that the Gospels were not written by eyewitnesses, and attack you personally (ad hominem attacks) thereby thinking they can dismiss your work by dismissing you as being “biased” and having an “agenda.” One blog that I read that really affected me was “Are you going to believe Ehrman or are you going to believe Jesus?” At that point, I essentially stopped most of my blog correspondence. This subject is important enough that it deserves a critical examination of crucial questions. Such an examination just shows that the examiners think that the subject is very important. That’s it…..

    • Bart
      Bart  January 12, 2015

      Reminds me of a professor at Moody Bible Institute, who used to say, “Are you going to believe me or what the Bible says — which is the same thing!”
      🙂

  13. Avatar
    Robert  January 11, 2015

    Great answer!
    It seems to me that these “mean-spirited, rude” people wouldn’t have to resort to personal attacks like this if there were any validity to their arguments.

  14. Avatar
    jbjbjbjbjb  January 11, 2015

    Hi, I may be wrong but I am pretty sure this is in response to an email I sent to Bart Ehrman. This appears to be a big defense, or at least a case that Bart does not and cannot defend himself against every view contrary to his own. Fair enough! However, my email was never, ever meant to be an attack, and I think anyone interested to follow this up should check out our correspondence here to see for themselves: http://faithandscripture.blogspot.fr/2015/01/bart-ehrman-blogs-on-back-foot-to-my.html

    I would also just like to comment that I think this area of textual criticism to be FASCINATING; I come at it POSITIVELY. I also do not believe there is one single human mind that can bring progress in these areas without debate and scholarly interaction, which is why I asked Bart in the first place if he had responded to Daniel Wallace’s book, Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament: manuscript, patristic, and apocryphal evidence.

    While I apologise for offending him or perhaps appearing aggressive, which was certainly not my intention, I still think the question was legitimate, and I would welcome anyone else’s views on the point the book makes about full integration of causal factors in manuscript copying discrepancies.

    I thank Bart for his highly informative and stimulating blog.
    John

  15. Avatar
    Arlyn  January 12, 2015

    I shared in a forum where you were misquoted. When calling the person on it, the answer was Bart doesn’t deserve a correction. His disdain for Bart was so great, that he would not retract the quotes even after exposing the quotes as being mined from a site where the owner and originator even identified they were his snarky products.

    It seems a no holds barred battle exist (freely bearing false witness without remorse for doing so) between some defenders of the faith and those who threaten their faith.

  16. Avatar
    Kabir  January 12, 2015

    Hello Prof.

    I really like your idea of Not wasting your time worrying about criticism after all True Scholarship is subject to critics simply for fear of getting ones conviction proved wrong.
    I have Never seen your work as a threat to the laity but rather a serious threat to the Evangelicals and the Fundamentals because it may put them out of souls to feed on. So why worry yourself about them since you don’t attack their beliefs but simply putting forward scholarly findings in a layman terms so we all can understand.
    I guess soon if they can’t beat you (which ofcos they can’t) they might have to resort to making Forgeries in your name, lol.
    Have you yet come across such forgery in your name (ofcos they do Misquote you) or has anyone here on the Blog come across such?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 13, 2015

      Ha! That would be interesting to see a forgery in my name. But I’ve never seen one.

  17. Avatar
    qaelith2112  January 12, 2015

    It sounds as if Dan Wallace mistook the debate for some kind of political campaign. It seems to be standard fare in political campaigns to hash over every single thing said by an opponent at one time that disagrees with anything else said by the same opponent at some other time — even if thing #1 was 25 years earlier and the candidate had changed his or her mind. In the political arena, though, changing one’s mind is seen as a weakness, which is a mind-boggling perspective in my view. Guessing at motives might not be an entirely reasonable thing to do, but I suppose one *possible* motive for this strategy might be awareness that one’s own position isn’t as solidly defensible as one would like.

  18. Avatar
    mjordan20149  January 12, 2015

    I recently read about something called “cognitive dissonance reduction.” This terminology defines the human tendency to vigorously defend views that are demonstrably false. This “CDR” effect explains a great deal when discussing Evangelical reactions to modern scholarship. Fundamentalists and Evangelicals have a lot invested in the idea that scripture is of divine origin, so instead of admitting that the bible contains errors and contradictions, people invent elaborate arguments that “refute” these facts. When the “refutations” stop working, they resort to character assassination.

    I grew up as a Southern Baptist, and taught at a Bible College, and I think that I can attest that most of these institutions exist at least to some extent for the purpose of reducing cognitive dissonance. We were in church almost all day on Sunday, then we went back on Wednesday night. Why? Monday and Tuesday were hard to get through due to all the cognitive dissonance we had to deal with. Then there was Saturday!

    Most of the bibles that are published these days contain elaborate explanations of the text. I’m sure that a lot of the notes are helpful comments designed to provide a context for the passages, along with devotional material; but a lot of them are designed to reduce their readers’ inevitable cognitive dissonance. I still have an old Scofield Reference Bible that I read in my Fundamentalist days-lots of bad arguments there designed to reduce that nasty ole CD!

    • Bart
      Bart  January 13, 2015

      Ah, the Scofield Reference Bible was my daily companion for years!!!

      • Avatar
        mjordan20149  January 13, 2015

        That’s where I got my a lot of my introduction to the historical critical method

  19. Avatar
    Jana  January 12, 2015

    I am so relieved to read your approach .. Life IS too short! (btw: don’t check youtube either 🙂 … I subscribe to your feed and inadvertently am shown “related” videos”. Happy New Year. I hope friends and family are healing.

  20. Jonathan_So
    Jonathan_So  January 12, 2015

    Thanks for taking time to answer that question Dr. Erhman. It is not necessarily needed to address your silence in the face of critics, but it does go a ways to refuting anyone who argues silence is indicative of defeat. Battling ignorance, confirmation bias and rationalizing in response to evidence you point to or argue is quite often a waste of time better spent (writing books and doing research! or course planning). A closed mind is hard to open if its owner wont give it a chance.
    The most you can do is call out your opponent in a debate when they start falling into fallacies such as ad hominem and that would only be to the benefit of those too young or ignorant to be familiar with fallacies, everyone else recognizes such for what it is!

    Additionally, to Aryln’s reference to misquoting your Dr. Ehrman, “Haters gonna hate.”-Abraham Lincoln

    • Avatar
      jbjbjbjbjb  January 14, 2015

      Hey Jonathan, I agree with you as my comment higher up implies. At the same time, would you consider it also legit to ask a scholar if they have already responded to a book questioning their method by other scholars? While a scholar does not need to feel obligated to respond to a criticism over their methodology, they could still do is if they considered they wanted to give extra clarity, right? And asking that question would not necessarily constitute a criticism, right?

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