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Finding Meaning in the Bible: More Responses to my Christmas Article

In the previous post I indicated some of the initial reactions, four years ago, to my Newsweek article on the Gospel stories about Christmas.  I received yet more reaction after that old post, and so posted again, dealing this time with people who thought I was too kindly disposed to anyone who found the stories meaningful.  Here is what I said at the time.  (I still stick by it, for what it’s worth!)

 

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When the editor at Newsweek ask me if I would be willing to write an article on the birth of Jesus, I was hesitant and wrote him back asking if he was sure he really wanted me to do it.  I told him that I seem to be incapable of writing anything that doesn’t stir up controversy.  It must be in my blood.  Still, he said that they knew about my work and were not afraid of controversy, and they did indeed want an article from me.

What’s interesting to me is that I’ve been getting it from all sides.  I don’t know why that should surprise me.  It seems to be the story of my life.   For years my agnostic and atheist readers were cheering me on from the sidelines as I talked about the problems posed by a critical study of the
New Testament: there are discrepancies and contradictions, the Gospels are not written by eyewitnesses, and the stories they contain were modified over time, and many of them were invented, in the oral traditions before anyone wrote them down.   Etc.  My “non-believer” readers were pleased that all this was coming out in a popular format for the general reader.

And then I wrote Did Jesus Exist?, arguing that there is no serious doubt for virtually any real scholar of antiquity (whether biblical scholar, classicist, historian) that Jesus of Nazareth really did live.  And many of my agnostic and atheist allies suddenly felt completely betrayed and began to attack me even more virulently than the conservative Christians had earlier done.

You can’t please all the people all the time, and sometimes you just never can please anyone.  But so it goes.

History is like that.  People line up on various sides, and if what you’re really interested in is uncovering the truth that history can convey (e.g., in an earnest attempt to do nothing other than reconstruct what actually happened in the past), you’re going to offend people, no matter what your views/reconstructions are.

And so too ….

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A Personal Transition
Is the New Testament Authentic? Readers’ Mailbag December 4, 2016

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Comments

  1. SBrudney091941
    SBrudney091941  December 6, 2016

    You threw me when you described the Christians you are against who are “the very conservative readers of the Bible who think that since it can be used to support sexism, racism, opposition to women, capitalist dominance, war, and whatever, it should be used in those ways. I am dead set against such views and the people who hold them.” The number of conservative Christians in that group are far fewer (are a subgroup), don’t you think, than the number of conservative Christians to whom you object if they “insist the Bible is infallible, internally consistent, and a perfect guide for what people should (must!) believe and how they should (must!) act, behave, and live in the current world.” Wouldn’t you agree that many people in the latter group could not be described as sexist or racist or greedy capitalists or warmongers?

  2. Avatar
    Stylites  December 6, 2016

    A brilliant response, full of insight and compassion. The fact that you “get it from all sides” means you must be doing something right. Much thanks.

  3. Avatar
    Mhamed Errifi  December 7, 2016

    hello Bart

    I read in the book of acts

    in King James Bible

    Acts 9:5 And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.

    but in New International Version
    Acts 9:5 Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied.

    as you can notice ( there is it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks ) is omitted and what jesus meant by
    kick against the pricks. in today language is it nice to say it to somebody ?

    Thanks

    • Bart
      Bart  December 7, 2016

      “Pricks” is not an anatomical term; it refers to goads used to direct farm animals. An animal that kicks against a goad only gets stabbed by it. The words were not originally in 9:5; they have been put there by later scribes who were influenced by 26:14.

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    randal  December 7, 2016

    I think your ending to the Newsweek article was beautiful and inspiring work. Hats off to you Dr. Ehrman.

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    Silver  December 7, 2016

    You have set out very cogently all the difficulties and possible contradictions in the nativity stories and, as you argue, these are well known to scholars generally. As a consequence these must give all thinking Christians pause for thought regarding the historical truth of the Christmas events.
    However, would you not agree that the most troubling feature and the hardest to explain ( if they WERE true) is that all the wondrous events (those that Mary and Joseph held dear – ‘Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart’ (Luke 2:19). ‘Joseph and his mother marvelled at those things which were spoken of him.”( Luke2:33) ) were never used to defend Jesus when he was being challenged and reviled? ( Even his family thought he was mad – Mark 3:21
    ‘When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” ‘
    John 7:5
    ‘For even his own brothers did not believe in him.’ ) !!!

    • Bart
      Bart  December 8, 2016

      YEs, I’d say it’s clear Mark and John do not know (or at least buy) these stories.

    • Avatar
      HawksJ  December 8, 2016

      Yes, there’s a reason Mark 3:21 and John 7:5 don’t get a lot of play in Bible classes and sermons.

      They are VERY hard (understatement) to reconcile with the birth/child narratives in Matthew and Luke.

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    Jason  December 7, 2016

    If I may paraphrase/summarize a few things you’ve repeated over the years, the Bible holds for you (or may hold) truths that are not facts and that the book of Job is closest to your take on how many lives we get. Here you say that you don’t object to people finding meaning and comfort in scripture. It may seem an odd question in light of the content of thenstory, but Would you characterize what you derive from Job (or any other particular book in your area of expertise) as meaning or comfort in the way you meant here?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 8, 2016

      I would say I derive a lot of meaning from it, about the agonizing struggle of some in trying to understanding the hardships and misery they face.

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