Here is a final post dealing with the Quran.  Well, a post from years ago that dealt with the Quran and two other unrelated issues, in one of those rare moments some years ago where I decided to try a rapid-fire approach to questions I get.  They’re all great questions!  Here’s the repost:


Here is the weekly Readers’ Mailbag, three questions this time – one about my  alleged “support of Islam against Christianity,” one about why we think the NT Gospels were originally written in Greek, and one about what I mean when I talk about the views held by the majority of “critical” scholars (as opposed to what other kind of scholar?).

COMMENT:  [After this person pointed out that whoever said I was about ready to convert to Islam was obviously makin’ it up, or influenced by someone else who was makin’ it up, this Muslim reader commented as follows:]  Anyways, that won’t stop us from using your awesome arguments against Christianity. You confirmed like 99% of Islamic belief about Jesus without even resorting to the Quran. That is pretty impressive and no wonder Muslims flock to your blog and FB.

RESPONSE:  I’m completely happy for my work to be used by Muslims.  Or by Mormons.  Or by Jews.  Or by Buddhists.  Or by Methodists, Episcopalians, Baptists, Lutherans, Roman Catholics, Russian Orthodox, or anyone else.   But I have to say that I do not see my scholarship as advancing the agenda of any of these groups.  I’m simply engaged in historical I do not think that the Qur’an has any particular insights about the historical Jesus that are to be taken as independent reports by historical scholars.scholarship.  I do not think that the Qur’an has any particular insights about the historical Jesus that are to be taken as independent reports by historical scholars.  Neither does any other historical scholar that I know (or anyone who works seriously on the historical Jesus).

And I doubt very much that my views coincide with 99% of Islamic belief about Jesus.  For one thing, I am convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus was physically crucified and died on the cross.  That is rock-bottom certain in my books.  And it stands completely odds with standard Islamic beliefs.


Finally, I do not, I decidedly do not, see my work as involving ANY “arguments against Christianity.”  Not at all.  My work is indeed contrary to fundamentalist and conservative evangelical Christianity.  But that’s not the same thing.  You can be opposed to the members of your local Rotary Club without being anti-American.  And you can be opposed to fundamentalist Christianity without being opposed to Christianity.


In my view, not a single piece of my biblical scholarship contradicts Christian thinking as properly conceived.  I’m not a Christian myself, but I don’t think my scholarship attacks or disproves Christianity.   The clearest evidence of that is the fact that I have numerous scholar friends who are passionately Christian, who agree with almost everything I think in terms of my historical scholarship.  Or as one might say, Hey, some of my best friends are Christian!


QUESTION:  My fellow students have requested that I ask you this question. “How do you know that the Gospels were originally written in Greek?” They understand that the early manuscripts are all in Greek but have posed the possibility that these could be translations from another language such as Aramaic.

RESPONSE:  Ah, good question.  There are three points I should make (to give the brief version).  First, if someone thinks that documents preserved entirely in one language were originally written in a different language, they need to have some good linguistic reasons for thinking so.  Usually when people suggest that the Gospels were in Aramaic it’s not for any particular good reasons having to do with the Gospels themselves or the language they use (linguistic arguments), but rather with their general sense that if Jesus spoke Aramaic, then the surviving accounts of his life would have been written in Aramaic.  That, of course, doesn’t follow.  Remember: Jesus’ own followers were lower class peasants from rural Galilee, who were uneducated and unable to write.  So the Gospels almost certainly didn’t come from them.   But why couldn’t they have been written in Aramaic?  Ah, … well —

Second, linguists have long adduced solid evidence that the Gospels are not “translation” documents but are original compositions in Greek.   For one thing, there are phrases that occur in them that do not make sense if you try to translate them back into Aramaic or are not how things would be said if said originally in Aramaic; that probably means they were not originally written in Aramaic.

Third, and most convincing for me, is this.  Matthew, Mark, and Luke all have verbatim agreements with one another in lots and lots of places.  That is, they are often word-for-word the same.  That could not happen if they were all translations from Aramaic, but only if they were copying one another (or other sources) in Greek itself.  Here’s proof.  Take three different translations of any book – say, The Brothers Karamazov or Madame Bovary – and compare them to see how many times they have entire sentences exactly the same.  Never, or almost never.  Why is that?  Translators put things in their own words.  You can’t get verbatim agreements among independent translations even if they are translations of the same (foreign-language) words.  (So if Matthew, Mark, and Luke were originally in Aramaic, using the same words, and they were then translated, they wouldn’t have the same words in Greek)

And so for these reasons, it’s pretty clear that the Gospels were originally written in the language they have come down to us in.


QUESTION: You often use phrases like “most critical scholars” in both your books, your blog posts, and your lectures. I wonder if we can do some textual criticism on this…What exactly does “critical” mean? Is this a normative qualifier (“people who scrutinize critically rather than just assume inerrancy”), or does it mean something technical, like “scholars who publish in the professional journals of textual criticism”?

RESPONSE:  Ah, right, I suppose the term might seem ambiguous.  Yes, “critical scholar” (when used of an expert on the Bible or early Christianity) is a standard phrase used to describe scholars of a historical bent who do not allow their religious views have any role at all in determining the conclusions they reach when discussing historical phenomena.   Those who always draw historical conclusions that perfectly coincide with their religious beliefs are simply assuming their conclusions rather than going where the evidence leads them.  That is “uncritical,” because it is simply accepting/affirming what is already believed.

I know that a lot of conservative evangelical or Roman Catholic (e.g.) scholars do not like to be called “uncritical.”  But unless they begin to find evidence contrary to their theologically assumed conclusions convincing sometimes, then it is impossible to determine if they are taking the evidence seriously or are, instead simply arguing for a view that coincides with what they have always been taught to think.

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2024-04-30T22:58:34-04:00April 30th, 2024|Public Forum|

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  1. HugoB April 30, 2024 at 11:34 am

    Since it’s your last post for now I will ask my question here: Islamic views on Jesus’s death show intriguing similarities with some Gnostic views (docetism, substitutionism, monophysitism…). Whether there is a direct influence is apparently supported by some (Neal Robinson, Günther Risse) but questioned by others (Trompf). It feels to me like echoes of the thought clashes following Chalcedon, still resonating until the reign of Justinian at the margins of the Byzantine Empire. Have you ever thought or written about that, or is that something to bring up in your upcoming talks with Dr Hashmi?

    • BDEhrman May 1, 2024 at 5:32 pm

      We won’t be talking about it, but it has been a subject of some speculatoin. The Quran certainly knows some non-canonical accounts of Jesus (including the one of the young Jesus making clay birds come to life, from the Infancy Gospel of Thomas), but I think it’s much more difficult to show that it was influenced by Gnosticism. Its sources of Christian information in general is an interesting issue, but not one I’m an expert pon.disabledupes{09ca8baa918592486969dc4b764729a2}disabledupes

  2. reddragon99 April 30, 2024 at 11:53 am

    Hello Professor Ehrman,
    I hope you don’t mind asking a question on a different issue. I listened to your great interview with Professor Candida Moss and wondered if you would consider interviewing or having a guest blogpost by Doctor David Litwa who has written some great academic monographs including Found Christianities which builds on your own work in Lost Christianities. His web page can be found online if you Google it. Thanks very much for your time and amazing work!

    • BDEhrman May 1, 2024 at 5:34 pm

      Yes, he was my student. I’m generally thinking about getting some more guest bloggers and he’s on the list of options.

  3. Serene April 30, 2024 at 1:43 pm

    About that rock-cut belief that the Qur‘an may not preserve any information on the historical, human Jesus’ survival, like an escape to the East, with the return to Judaea to prove it:

    What do you think about the ancient Jewish principle of Pikuach Nefesh?

    That telling the direct truth or nearly any law of the Torah can be bent if preserving life? The early rabbinical quote I’m paraphrasing that explains Pikuach Nefesh is that The Law was given so that you may “Live by the Torah, and not die by the Torah.”

    Prisoner substitution has been uncovered as rampant in the *modern East*, like China.

    No one recognizes Jesus later. There is also the the Twin Thomas Didymos being given a proof that others do not witness, where Deuteronomy requires 2+. Not saying that some parts could not have been experienced, but people feigning their outre to the Herodian Dynasty or doing their best to is a staple of Josephus’ books.

    Why would Jesus be switching to a role name when discussing what the Son of Man will do? If he’s a human (can totally be divine too) that’s called a plan.

  4. Stephen April 30, 2024 at 1:48 pm

    You will certainly correct me if I’m mistaken but I believe you wrote at one point that you did not think Paul would have been able to speak Aramaic. I find this curious since he was obviously educated. Not even conversational Aramaic? His letters are obviously composed in Greek and Greek would have been his “mother tongue”. But what clues lead you to conclude that he would probably not have been able to speak Aramaic?

    • BDEhrman May 1, 2024 at 5:35 pm

      Because he came from Greek-speaking lands (Tarsus? Somewhere else in Asia Minor?) and not from Israel, which is where they spoke Aramaic (any more than Jews here in Chapel Hill speak Hebrew — unless they lived in Israel before),

      • stevenpirog May 3, 2024 at 4:06 pm

        I’m curious how he likely would have communicated with Peter?

        • BDEhrman May 6, 2024 at 1:47 pm

          Pretty likely. He says he did. Maybe used a translator?

          • AngeloB May 16, 2024 at 8:52 pm

            I think that’s the only way Paul would have communicated with Peter.

      • tom.hennell May 13, 2024 at 11:04 am

        I agree that Paul must have received a Greek education Bart ; but then so too had Josephus – and he certainly spoke Aramaic.

        Is there any reference in Paul’s letters that leads you to think that he came from Asia Minor, rather than (say) Syria (Galatians 1:21)? Wherever Paul may have been born and brought up, I would infer from Galatians 1:17 that at some period in his life he regarded Damascus as ‘home’; in which case, mightn’t a working capability in Aramiac have been more likely than not?

        From Damascus Paul says he had gone off to ‘Arabia’ for a time – where apparently he had made such a nuisance of himself that, when he returned home, King Aretas of Petra sought to have him arrested (2 Corinthians 11:32). Would Paul have been so disruptive in Nabataean Aramaic, had he himself only spoken Greek?

        • BDEhrman May 15, 2024 at 10:47 am

          Josephus, as you know, indicates that he had real difficulty learning Greek as an adult. It wasn’t his native language.

          I’m not sure where Paul came from, but it was definitely a Greek speaking part of the diaspora. And I wish I knew exactly where Paul was for those three years.

          • tom.hennell May 15, 2024 at 12:12 pm

            “I’m not sure where Paul came from, but it was *definitely a Greek speaking part of the diaspora*. And I wish I knew exactly where Paul was for those three years.”

            Thanks Bart; but do you find that assurance from any specific references in Paul’s letters, or rather a probable impression from their linguistic character?

            In particular, I suppose, when Paul *does* write in Aramaic – as in 1 Corinthians 16:22 – is there anything in his usage that marks him out as not a native Aramaic speaker?

            Genuinely curious on this.

          • BDEhrman May 20, 2024 at 8:25 pm

            He’s not writing in Aramaic, I would say. He is using an Aramaic word now and then for set words, usually liturgical, even as Christians do today (“hallelujah; maranatha, etc). We don’t know of any narrative Aramaic speakers of the first century who wrote highly sophisticated Greek, except, as I said, for Josephus, so someone who does write like that is almost certainly a native Greek speaker.

  5. Icanoedoyou May 1, 2024 at 1:26 pm

    This post brings up something I have often pondered. It seems to be commonplace to speak of “the original document” when talking about New Testament texts. But how do we know that there was a single original? With the gospels, it seems to be understood that they borrowed from other sources like Q, M, L. So is there even an original at all? Why do we assume that there was a single person that we call Matthew or Luke that composed a complete gospel? Is it possible they were merged over time in some sort of evolutionary process?

    With Paul’s epistles, is it possible that the same is true? Perhaps there never was an original Romans, for example. Maybe it was gradually sewn together like the gospels were. If so, how can we speak about “an original?”


    • BDEhrman May 1, 2024 at 6:11 pm

      This has been a huge topic of discussoin among textual experts over the past 30 years. I’m developed a number of blog posts to it over the years. Short story: many many scholars have given up even talking about “an original text”. Usually the discussion has to do with whether we can know what any particular author originally wrote given all the changeds, but it applies much more fully in ways you’re suggesting. I think I’ll do a new thread on it! (Some of Paul’s letters — 2 Corinthians and Philippians –probably were sewn together; Romans is complete, but some have argued ch. 16 is an add-on from another letter; for all these judgments, of course, there is considerable evidence to consider and it gets quite complicated. I’ll get into it!

  6. Serene May 2, 2024 at 10:18 pm

    Hi Dr. Ehrman, here’s the justification for the prisoner substitution that is alluded to for Jesus in the Qur‘an:

    Lunar eclipses in the Semetic-speaking ANE required a **substitute double** for a king:,the%20state's%20policy%20was%20guaranteed.

    Please welcome back, Thomas/Didymos.

    The First Century Jewish folk don’t know earlier traditions because they can’t read cuneiform. It’s Gnostic Mandaeans in Arabia who claim John the Baptist who were writing *new* Akkadian cuneiform.

    King things:
    1. Jesus claims Davidic lineage.
    2. Jesus‘ father declares him his “only begotten son”. With Abraham, “begotten” means choosing a successor from among his sons. “Only” means “unlike Herod the Great”, who divided the kingdom into four Tetrarchies. David = United Monarchy.

    3.Pontius declares Jesus King in writing! He’s in on iiiit. How else did Agrippa escape his sentence from the Roman governor?

    Tunnels. Undermining is first depicted w Sargon of Akkad.

    Semitic-Speaking Babylonian God-Emperors used their ability to predict eclipses far in advance to use the threat of omens to exert political will.

    Christopher Colombus is 2000 and late::,29%20February%20in%20the%20Americas).

    The only thing that throws people off is Jesus’ middle-class childhood I think, but Mary functions in some role as a surrogate — ie “Who are my mother and brothers? Short-term contracts for Semetic heir creation are spelled out in detail in mishna.

  7. OmarRobb May 4, 2024 at 5:40 am

    Does your work on the Historical Jesus Confirm the Quran?

    Yes and No.

    1.2# Muslims from the ancient times believed that the NT was corrupted, and they managed to present few examples of contradictions to prove this claim. However, you published two books: Misquoting Jesus (2005), and Jesus Interrupted (2009) which academically showed the alteration that happened to the NT through the years.

    1.2# As I have discussed before, In Quran 5:116: {God asked Jesus if he told the people to worship him and his mother besides God … and Jesus answered: … No ….}.

    Ahmed Deedat weaponized this verse in a very novel challenge in his 1980s debates asking the Christians: show me where Jesus said: I am God, worship me.

    This is one of his debates (titled: Is Jesus God):

    In 2014 you published your book “How Jesus Became God”, which presented the same claim as the Muslims but from a different angle and with much more academic details.


    These books were heavily used by Muslim apologists, and this actually annoyed many Christians.

    However, you do have many believes that are totally in contradiction with Islam:

    2.1# You believe that Jesus died on the cross.


    • OmarRobb May 4, 2024 at 5:44 am


      2.2# You think that the sightings of Jesus were due to group hallucinations.

      2.3# You don’t believe in the existence of God.

      2.4# [many] Etc.

      I think Mature Muslim Apologists are aware of the points in 2#, and I don’t think they have any wishful thinking of you converting to Islam, and I think some of them might prefer if you never convert from atheism, therefore your work will continue to be seen by many Christians as impartial academic materials [including the points of 1.1 & 1.2].

      But Immature Muslim Apologists will always have wishful thinking. For example, I never heard of “Yusha Evans” before, and I went to Youtube, and this is the first video I have seen:

      This man was praising you in a very devoting tone, and he was holding your book as though it was the holy-book. You truly were the hero for him. It seems to me that he was so overwhelmed by 1.1 (and probably later by 1.2) that he doesn’t know (or even he just couldn’t see) the points in 2#. This is just an immature wishful thinking. But this was about 15 years ago, and he might have recovered.

  8. Zena May 9, 2024 at 4:38 am

    As I see it, Bart, your work neither confirms nor refutes either Christianity or Islam. Your work does help keep us all honest with regard to scriptural support for specific religious truth claims.

    * Confirmation bias is a very real thing.
    * Circular reasoning happens.

  9. Zena May 9, 2024 at 12:12 pm

    And also…
    * A bit of cognitive dissonance could be good for you.

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