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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

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    reillyjj  January 13, 2015

    New to the blog page and excited to be here! I’ve watched many of your debates and am about to begin How Jesus Became God. I was raised in a fundamentalist home and went to a private Christian school from K-8, my most impressionable years of my youth. My teachers would speak in tongues in the middle of a lesson. and on…and on. I hope to be able to interact with you once or twice on here, Bart. It would be an honor!

  2. Avatar
    JDTabor  January 14, 2015

    I could not agree more. So many of the defensive tit-for-tat exchanges, now proliferated by the internet, seem to generate such personal nastiness and end up exposing the self-protective passions of the participants rather than shedding any light on the issues. Avid readers of such become like side-liners cheering for their champion. In the meantime the issue itself and its arguments or support goes begging.

  3. Avatar
    FrankJay71  January 16, 2015

    I know you’re not a psychiatrist, but what do you think is the psychology behind the vitriol that the mythicists throw at you? I can kind of understand what motivates the fundamentalists, because they have this life and the next invested in their belief. The mythicists movement on the other hand seems so extremist and intolerant, but I can’t understand why.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 16, 2015

      I think they have so much invested in a view that so many other people think is crazy that they have a real psychological need to be right, which creates a visceral reaction to someone who points out they are wrong.

  4. Avatar
    Mark  January 16, 2015

    A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.

    Emerson said that.

    Thanks for the free account. I’m a payer again. This is the best site on the Internet IMHO.

    I said that.

  5. Avatar
    Lance  January 17, 2015

    I heard you say in your “Freedom from Religion” speech that you choose to emphasize knowledge over belief. Having read most of your books, this blog, and heard almost every video/audio on youtube and on your . I would have to say that is exactly what you so profoundly do. I can think of a few on the fundamentalist side that were just downright disrespectful to you…. Was just watching your lecture on the King James Bible. Would be curious to see some posts on here about the differences between the many different translations of the Bible we have. What makes the NIV so different from the NRSV? Or the KJB? Or even the New World Translation? How much does the Greek to English differ? What would be some of the major biases the translators used?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 18, 2015

      The differences in translation often reflect the biases of the translators. The NIV, done by a group of conservative evangelical scholars, often will remove inconsistencies from the text simply by the way it translates some verses, for example. All the modern translations differ from the King James in being based on much better manuscripts and, of course, in using modern instead of archaic English.

  6. Avatar
    gabilaranjeira  January 17, 2015

    I appreciate all your arguments, specially that life is too short, that things should be debated in academic grounds and also, I appreciate your respect for the intelligent readers that can very well decided for themselves.
    You’re awesome.

  7. TracyCramer
    TracyCramer  January 20, 2015

    Dear Bart,
    This is a bit off topic, but I had never heard of “mythicism” until a friend who spends too much time on the internet mentioned it. Your book seems to have settled the question. But, if anyone is interested, here is another voice from academy who points out the emptiness of mythicism:
    http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2014/12/24/4154120.htm.

  8. Avatar
    asahagian  January 21, 2015

    I saw this and just had to share it with you. (Maybe you could learn it and sing it at your next debate…hahaha!)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3x2SvqhfevE&feature=youtu.be&list=PL81D74F609756576F

  9. Avatar
    shakespeare66  April 23, 2015

    Not sure why you would want to debate a fundamentalist anyway. If I approached you when you were at Moody’s Bible School and told you that Jesus was “manufactured” over the course of time and that his real philosophy has nothing to do with Christianity, then you would have vehemently denied any such thing. So it is with those who are so entranced by their belief system of who and what Jesus was that they cannot see you as anyone other than the devil incarnate. In fact, when I approached my Jehovah Witness brother about findings of early Christianity, he eventually just said, “You’re the devil.” That is how they defend themselves against someone who they think is trying to tear down their belief system. They act like animals defending a territory and get particularly mean spirited ( certainly no Jesus like) when they do it, too. It comes with the territory of what you do. You work at trying to make people think about the right or wrong of some of these things and people get defensive. It is like having an argument with my Republican buddy who is so steeped in his ignorance about what the Left wants to do, it is impossible to have a civil conversation about politics. We avoid it. You cannot. It is just part of what you do. Now I know you have a choice as to who you can go to battle with, but a fundamentalist is a sworn enemy and will do nothing but try to tear down your character and misrepresent what you are saying or have said.

  10. Avatar
    wrightwrjr  August 29, 2016

    Life is too short to debate Kyle Butt. I am not even going to say what I want to say.

  11. Avatar
    Malik  January 9, 2018

    Hi Dr. Ehrman,

    I have some questions regarding your debates:

    (1) Have you ever engaged in any debate where your opponent doesn’t resort to Ad Hominems , Red Herrings of Strawmans?,
    (2) Do you find that there is a lot of “Cheer-leading” in your debates? Does the audience seriously consider the other parties arguments?
    (3) Overall, do you think there is any benefit in debating? Has your experience ever left you jaded?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 11, 2018

      1. I suppose so! 2. There’s a lot of cheerleading, but there are always some who want to reach a reasoned decision 3. I always ask myself that question. I generally don’t look forward to them!

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