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Flat-out Lies or Willful Ignorance. How Do They Get Away With It?

Sometimes it’s enough to make my blood boil.  Maybe someone can explain it to me.

If you were to interview the 7,346,235,000 occupants of this planet, you would find *no* group of people who declare themselves MORE committed to “truth” than the evangelical Christians.  Evangelical Christianity, historically, is about nothing other than the Truth.   Jesus himself said “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no one comes to the Father except by me” (John 14:6); and “You shall know the Truth, and the Truth will set you free” (John 8:32).  The Christian faith, for these people, is all about finding the Truth that leads to eternal life.

So why do so many of their spokespersons simply tell lies?   Or at least propagate willful ignorance?  Those are the two choices: they either know what they’re saying is absolutely false or they don’t go to the bother of finding out, when the information is readily available to anyone who wants to take 38 seconds to look for it.

I don’t get it.   Well, OK, I do.  My books on forgery argued that in antiquity Christians did this because they thought that in some circumstances it was appropriate to disseminate false information in order to convert or convince people, to propagate a lie in order to promote the truth.  Possibly some modern spokespersons for the evangelical cause feel the same way?   (In this post I will be talking about just one instance.  I know of many others….)

It just seems terribly ironic to me.   Why should the people they *attack* (by spreading misinformation about them) (either intentionally or in willful ignorance) be the ones who are not afraid of the truth, when *they’re* the ones insisting on the divine virtue of Truth?

So, you’re wondering where this rant is coming from.

I’ve been following the rather brilliant posts about the exposure of the culprit behind the nonsense of an alleged first-century copy of the Gospel of Mark by our fellow blog member and occasional guest poster Brent Nongbri on his own blog.  One of the posts has drawn my ire.  NOT against Brent!  But against the subject of one of his post.   It concerns the original director of the Green Collection (a private collection of ancient biblical antiquities, especially manuscripts, many of them on display now in the Bible Museum in Washington), Scott Carroll, who touts himself as a great expert on ancient manuscripts, even though it is not clear what his actual qualifications are, other than the fact that he has been employed by very wealthy persons to buy manuscripts (that’s not the same thing as being able to analyze them – a very technical skill that takes many years of training).  I say it’s not clear because I can’t find a c.v. for him anywhere, nowhere that he actually indicates his training, other than that he’s bought a lot of manuscripts for very rich people.

Carroll is evidently the person who purchased the alleged blockbuster first-century copy of Mark (which actually dates to the end of the second century or beginning of the third, and is simply a tiny scrap with parts of a few verses on it) for the Green Collection (financed by the Green family that runs the retail outlet Hobby Lobby).  [NOTE: in an earlier post I indicated he bought it for the Museum of the Bible.  I got that wrong.  The Museum of the Bible does not purchase manuscripts.  It displays the manuscripts purchased for the Green Collection by the owners of the Hobby Lobby.]

Carroll is a hard-core evangelical who goes around the world declaring that his manuscript purchases validate the “truth” of evangelical claims about the Bible (and hence, by implication, about their understanding of the Christian faith).     Two days ago I read one of Brent Nongbri’s blogs in which he provided an actual transcript of one of Scott Carroll’s talks, where he maligns me personally, by name, as a crazy liberal who now has been categorically disproven in his claims by the discoveries of ancient manuscripts.

But what he says about my “claims” are absolutely, demonstrably, incontrovertibly FALSE.  Grotesquely false.  He either knows it and is lying through his teeth to convince his evangelical audiences (who evidently express their enthusiastic approval when he makes this comment), or he has willfully remained ignorant by not simply checking to see if what he claims I think, say, write, and teach is what in fact I have thought, said, written, and taught.

Here is the transcript of the talk, taken from Brent’s post:  https://brentnongbri.com/2019/06/24/revisiting-some-scott-carroll-comments-in-light-of-the-first-century-mark-purchase-agreement/.  (I need to point out that Brent has record of Carroll saying the *same* thing in public talks going back to 2012!)

 

There is an interesting comment in Carroll’s 2016 talk to the Koinonia Institute at about the 40 minute mark (and, once again, thanks to the resourceful David Bradnick for digging up this video):

“Let me add one more text from, uh, the gospels I don’t have a picture of, that should be published sometime this year. And you’ll hear about it, and when you do, you’ll remember, ‘Oh yes, uh, Scott Carroll mentioned it.’ There’s actually a, a fragment of the Gospel of Mark that’s been discovered that has been tentatively dated somewhere between 70 AD and like 110 AD. So Gospel of Mark, maybe dating as early as 70 AD. Um, this is outstanding because, uh, the more liberal scholars, uh, like Bart Ehrman from, uh, from the University of North Carolina, uh, has said that the, uh, Gospel of Mark was the last gospel written, and was probably written around 200.  So this will completely, uh, cause him to have to rework his chronologies. That’s what these liberal scholars do. They’ll take things that are early and date them late, and take things that are late and date them early and try to turn topsy-turvey the, um, our understanding of, of things. And so, he’s already crying foul that he’s not had time to, uh, see the manuscript at all, but it’s fortunately in the hands of conservative scholars who usually don’t get an opportunity to work with these things, who are in the process of preparing them for publication. So, uh, that is something to look for. That’ll be major–While these other things may not be international news, that’ll be major international news when that’s published. And so, you heard it here first, and you heard it well in advance of its publication.”

 

What can I say?  Since I was a graduate student 40 years ago I have never, ever thought, said, or written any such drivel.  I have *always* thought that Mark was the first Gospel written, and that it was produced sometime around the year 70 CE.  I used to think it was probably written slightly before the Jewish war, maybe 68-70 CE; I now think it was written slightly later, maybe 70-72 CE.  That’s the extent of my change.

It would be very, very, easy to see that this is what I’ve always said.  It is in every book I have ever written about the Gospels and/or Jesus.  Among other things, it is in my textbook on the New Testament that first appeared in 1997 and has been in wide circulation ever since.   That would be, uh, 19 years before Carroll claims I said something completely and crazily different.

So why is he either lying or spreading willful ignorance?  Because it serves his purposes.  His evangelical audience relish the idea that now the Truth will show why these liberal biblical critics are flat-out wrong, why these opponents of truth will be shown up for what they really are.  That’s an important goal for people like Scott Carroll.  They are enthusiastic to spread slander and false information in support of their cause, willing to propagate easily discredited misinformation or to flat-out lie in service of their Truth.

Why are people like that so afraid of simply being honest and fair, and having reasonable disagreements?


Is There a Way to Know if a Manuscript is the “Original”?
The Hobby Lobby, Biblical Manuscripts, and Academic Scandal

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    craig@corbettlaw.org  June 26, 2019

    Glad you spoke up about this.

    14
  2. Robert
    Robert  June 26, 2019

    Now I understand why you weren’t able to answer my question, and in fact repeat the same question, perhaps a little more politely than me: Is Carroll really this stupid or is he purposely misrepresenting your/consensus opinion on the dating of Mark to score apologetic points?

    I just assumed he had some ‘scholarly’ credentials from some evangelical seminary of some kind. Apparently he’s unknown to real scholars such as yourself.

    Thus, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and just consider him to be stupid.

    7
    • Bart
      Bart  June 27, 2019

      He actually has a PhD in “ancient studies” (or some such thing) from University of Ohio, Miami, under E. Yamauchi. Proclaims himself as one of the world’s experts on ancient manuscripts, but apparently hasn’t published much on it. The palaeographers that I know tell me he doesn’t know what he’s talking about…..

      7
      • Avatar
        forthfading  June 27, 2019

        Is E. Yamauchi the real deal in the scholarly community?

        Thanks

        • Bart
          Bart  June 28, 2019

          He was a serious scholar who produced real work; but he did have a very decided evangelical-apologist approach on some issues, and he was the sort of professor evangelicals who otherwise would not go anywhere near a secular insitution could gravitate toward.

      • Avatar
        scissors  July 5, 2019

        Dr. Ehrman

        I know you can’t assent to this, but Im thinking everyone should give this guy an indian burn, dutch rub, noogie, purple nurple or, at least a bad review on Yelp! There choice!

        1
  3. Avatar
    Kirktrumb59  June 26, 2019

    Re: your ultimate sentence: Could money have something to do with it?

    2
  4. Avatar
    RICHWEN90  June 26, 2019

    Being honest and fair could have the effect of leaving one with no audience, or a much smaller audience than one might like. Once you have something like an ideology, truth is quickly sacrificed. It’s something like toeing the party line. Comrade Stalin is always right! The Bible is always right! Genetic transmission of acquired characteristics is consistent with Marx, therefore it must be the truth! And Comrade Stalin approves! The fossil record does not agree with Comrade Bible, therefore it must be wrong! Let us make reality consistent with Comrade Bible! And so on. Really seems to be a bit like that. Maybe it makes sense to speak of varying forms of Christian ideology, just as we speak of other inflexible and authoritarian ideologies. The same mechanisms might be at work. George Orwell was truly one of the great prophets of the age. He certainly had a lot of insight into human nature.

    6
  5. Avatar
    karensimons  June 26, 2019

    I enjoy your thinking so much! I am no scholar and live deep in the Bible Belt, so am surrounded by Evangelicals. I remind myself daily that there are all kinds of Christians. And sometimes, I have to wonder why their behavior is so at odds with Jesus’ teaching?Most often it comes down to the ancient motivators, money, influence, power.

    7
    • Avatar
      mkgraham60  July 1, 2019

      karensimons , you & I are in the same boat!! I was born, raised, & live in the deep south. it has taken me 50 years to finally figure out the propaganda that I was “taught” as gospel. Don’t get me wrong, I am a firm believer in Jesus, BUT, by taking the approach of really studying, and figuring out fact from fiction, I have bettered my relationship with Jesus.
      Also, Dr. Ehrman, you answered your own question correctly: “Because it serves his purposes.” That seems to be a fundamental standard in seminary school

      1
      • Avatar
        Bewilderbeast  July 4, 2019

        It often takes an outsider to just see straight through the despicable lies (and allowing that all “quotes by famous people” need to be taken with a pinch of salt, if Mahatma Ghandi did say: ‘I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.’ he was spot-on!
        That should give the evangelicals pause. If only . .

        1
  6. Avatar
    andybruner  June 26, 2019

    THanks for explaining why an early fragment would be important

    1
  7. Avatar
    AstaKask  June 26, 2019

    I think they’re telling blue lies. Blue lies are lies that are not told to benefit the individual, but to benefit the group. Group psychology is extremely powerful – we have evolved to be a groupish species. It can even cause us to make elementary mistakes – Jonathan Haidt tells the story of two groups who were given a set of figures that showed that a cream helped or didn’t help a skin disorder, and people were pretty good at performing an easy statistical analysis (it involved looking not at the bare numbers, but at percentages). They then gave the same figures to pro- and contra- gun control people, and people were suddenly unable to do this if it went against their personal conviction.

    2
    • Bart
      Bart  June 27, 2019

      Interesting….

      • Avatar
        AstaKask  June 27, 2019

        You may also want to ask how Christians in the US, who claim they are the moral backbone of the country, can read “Then He will say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. ¨For I was hungry and you gave Me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, I was naked and you did not clothe Me, I was sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’ and then stay silent while children are being held in abject squalor, while children are *dying* on the border.

        5
        • Bart
          Bart  June 28, 2019

          Yes, I often wonder how the sheep and the goats fits into social and political discourse and what we most value: human life or American values. They aren’t the same thing, though obviously there is huge overlap (at least for me, since for me, the greatest American values are the ones that value all human lives).

          6
        • Telling
          Telling  June 30, 2019

          I agree with you that it’s a group-think thing. If you change your opinion it pitts you against your group and you’ll lose the support and esteem.

          However, it is abundantly clear that the problem is not reserved exclusively to Christians, and you prove this yourself using the illegal immigration example. I’m an old man yet I’ve never seen more hypocracy than the press’s fabricated Trump scandals. Not that I want to get into a political argument on this forum, nor that have an interest in defending one politician over another. Group-think which you identified puts us in the area of politics, and when politics becomes entangled with the logical thought process, logical thought goes out the window.

          5
  8. Avatar
    NancyGKnapp  June 26, 2019

    This just rounds out my mental picture of the evangelical who is fundamentalist, takes the bible literally, and misjudges those who disagree as unchristian or not “real” Christians. On more that one occasion, i have been in a bible bookstore trying to find nrsv gift Bibles among the many King James versions when an employee welcomes me with a big smile and asks what church I go to. When I answer with the name of a mainline liberal denominatiin, I watch the smile disappear and the face cloud over!

    2
  9. Avatar
    jmmarine1  June 26, 2019

    Of course the most insidious aspect of this controversial fragment (and its reception among the conservative apologists) is that somehow a 1st Century copy of any NT text validates the(ir) theological message of the NT; which it absolutely does not, anymore than the Pilate inscription now proves that Jesus actually did die for the sin(s) of the world. Ridiculous. It is so sad to see people outside of their own discipline making sweeping claims about matters over which they are certainly unprepared, at best, positively ignorant at worst. Talk about dishonesty.

    5
    • Bart
      Bart  June 27, 2019

      Yup, I agree: fake arguments of no relevance — for material finds that actually are indeed really significant, but for *other* reasons.

      2
    • Avatar
      billpetty  June 29, 2019

      None of us know for sure what we are talking about when it comes to God. We all think we are right. The more I learn the less I know.

      2
  10. Avatar
    Steefen  June 26, 2019

    I remember people arguing that Mark was pre-AD 70 (at year 67 CE) which did not give enough time for pro-Vespasian/pro-Roman writers to mockingly turn Vespasian’s military opponent, Jesus of Galilee and his mariners at the Battle of Galilee into a peaceful, non-militant, tax-paying Messiah.

    Why do you now date Mark 70-72 CE?
    I searched your blog posts with “Dating the Gospel of Mark” but do not see a title announcing pushing the date over AD70 mark. Please let your audience and your students know what research and consensus brought this about.

    = = =

    Have these people no shame, no respect? Can any scholarly journals, the SBL, National Geographic, Christianity Today, Christian Science Monitor publish accounts of lies and willful ignorance, so things like this spread out into the larger media?

    We sympathize that you have been wronged. That is wrong.

    = = =

    We were looking for you to comment on Conservative scholars not getting a chance to work with ancient manuscripts, since you bolded the text.

    1
    • Bart
      Bart  June 27, 2019

      I think Mark 13 suggests that Jerusalem had already been destroyed.

      5
      • Avatar
        Steefen  June 27, 2019

        GAME OVER: Mark has been dated after AD 70.

        Definition of Game Over:

        I remember people arguing that Mark was pre-AD 70 (at year 67 CE) which did not give enough time for pro-Vespasian/pro-Roman writers to mockingly turn Vespasian’s military opponent, Jesus of Galilee and his mariners at the Battle of Galilee into a peaceful, non-militant, tax-paying Messiah.

        I remember people arguing that Mark was pre-AD 70 (at year 67 CE) which did not give enough time for pro-Vespasian/pro-Roman but more importantly pro-Josephus writers to include Josephus’ experience of seeing the three crucifixions of Calvary tableau, then beg General Titus for permission to take them down and try to resuscitate them, being successful with only one surviving crucifixion, as in the gospels.

        = = =

        I am planning on going to the library today and read Mark 13.

        1
    • Aractus
      Aractus  June 27, 2019

      There’s an excellent article by Christopher B Zeichmann that argues the taxation episode (Mark 12:13-17) should be dated to 71 CE at the earliest. It’s a good article and is an entirely separate argument from the destruction of the temple being known by Mark:

      https://www.academia.edu/34194619/

      It’s a fresh perspective that would appear to provide corroborating evidence for a date in the early-mid 70’s (or later).

      3
      • Avatar
        Sixtus  June 29, 2019

        Thx for the link. I like how Zeichmann arrives at a very precise date: not before 29 August 71 CE. Would that other historical dates were as firmly established.

  11. Avatar
    Nathan  June 26, 2019

    Is it normal for other people with WordPress accounts to be able to see the 5 latest pending comments to Bart’s blog in Dashboard?

    I can see that I’ve made 40 comments, he’s approved 83465, has 5 spam, and 14 in the trash. Wondering if this is a security flaw.

    1
  12. Avatar
    Nathan  June 26, 2019

    You should seriously consider suing him for libel and donating all the money to charity

    2
  13. fefferdan
    fefferdan  June 26, 2019

    Bart.. all I can say, even though it’s in Matthew 5.11, not Mark, is
    “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.”

    Interested to lean that you used to think Mark “was probably written slightly before the Jewish war, maybe 68-70 CE; I now think it was written slightly later, maybe 70-72 CE.” I think so too, mainly because of the references to the destruction of the Temple. Is that your reasoning as well?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 27, 2019

      Yup.

      2
      • Avatar
        meohanlon  June 27, 2019

        Wouldn´t the destruction of the temple have fit into Jesus’ apocalyptic framework, in that it was expected to be destroyed and replaced by a more spiritually exalted form? (as meant to metaphorically parallel the general resurrection into newer, imperishable bodies?) OR, were Jesus’ predictions likely not so specific (and maybe he even believed the temple was to be spared?) and, thus, after the temple had been destroyed, it had been narrated in Mark to vindicate Jesus’ prophetic power in general? How much scholarly support does the first view receive, and in their view, does this significantly undermine the 70 AD dating, or do they have other reasons for supposing it to be accurate?

        • Bart
          Bart  June 28, 2019

          Yes, he may well have predicted a destructoin of the Temple. IN fact I think he did. It’s the specificity that appears to be hinted at in Mark 13, and especially even more in Matthew and Luke, that suggests they were written after the fact.

  14. Avatar
    fishician  June 26, 2019

    I know there are a lot or moral religious people in the world, but I have come to the conclusion that religion itself is not a source of morality, as many people mistakenly think, but rather it is an institution which bends morality to strengthen and propagate itself. I heard this recently that I think fits: “A religious person will do what he is told [by his holy book or leaders] no matter what is right, whereas a spiritual person will do what is right no matter what he is told.” We need more spiritual people and less religion in the world.

    4
    • Bart
      Bart  June 27, 2019

      My view is that religion is not inherently bad or good, but a channel that can be very dangerous or very useful. I have no problem at all with informed Christians who aren’t dogmatic — they do a *world* of good. As do Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and so on…. But awful people are awful. It just seems worse when they’re sanctimonious about it.

      11
  15. Avatar
    Stephen  June 26, 2019

    Hmmm…scandal in academia…crazy right wing billionaires…theft of mysterious ancient documents…I would guess there is a great book to be written about all this. And yourself, Dr Nongbri and Dr Moss all well regarded writers. Who’ll get there first?

    3
  16. Avatar
    dgblake  June 26, 2019

    “Lying or spreading willful ignorance”. This describes the whole of Christian apologetics not just Scott Carroll.

    4
  17. Avatar
    Hngerhman  June 26, 2019

    Anyone sufficiently misguided as to willfully question any part of such an obvious truth must, by definition, believe all the whacked out things, so there’s really no reason to check facts. Belief in errant transmission = belief that Mark was written last in 200 CE. QED.

  18. Avatar
    Brittonp  June 26, 2019

    The overwhelming majority of Evangelical Christians simply regurgitate what they have been told. If what they are told comes from a leader within their faith they would never question them, surely they would never break one of God’s most sacred commandments. This was a significant reason I left Christianity. As a skeptic of all things, I researched the claims and found so much of what they said simply wasn’t so.

    5
  19. Avatar
    flshrP  June 26, 2019

    As I’ve said more than a few times on this blog: the basis of all this religious fantasy is fear. And the sect of Christianity that dwells most deeply in the morass that is this religious fantasyland is this crowd of ultra-conservative, evangelical super-Christians such as the individual you mentioned. Lies, deceit, deception are righteous because these people fantasize that they are doing the work of the Lord and, in that way, gaining salvation for their also-fantasized souls.

    These unfortunate individuals dwell in a living hell of fear, guilt, and the always-present threat of eternal damnation. They say that they have accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior, but they are racked by FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) that belief and acceptance might not be enough to merit salvation. Many of them have been indoctrinated into these dismal beliefs since early childhood and others stumble into this pit in their adult years. All of these fearful believers have closed minds that are impervious to rational conversation.

    6
    • Telling
      Telling  June 30, 2019

      I would agree it is often (but not always) true with those Christians who’ve put all their marbles on Church doctrine, but atheists and others will do exactly the same, and such people cannot be reasoned with. They know everything already so why try to enlightened them? I say.

      I have a friend who has studied only the Bible all his long life and teaches sermons today, and will prove one phrase of the Bible is not contradictory to another by quoting other biblical scripture. He, being a friend, is happy to review my writing that is critical of the Christian Church, and he last year reviewed my book on the theme that Jesus was not crucified it was someone else, and he gave me a five-star review ( http://www.verbaltruth.com – it’s there in the reviews ) and said it was well written and well developed — but he didn’t believe any of it.

      Two other Christian friends will not read my books anymore and sincerely fear I am damned to eternity (seriously).

      I have a few atheist and secular friends who find my metaphysical writings not deemed factual by Science to be incredible and ridiculous.

  20. Avatar
    bwarstler  June 26, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman,

    I would disagree with you on your statement about no other group of people being committed to the “truth”.

    I talked with a friend in college(“Iowa State University”), who was a Muslim. He refused to even look at the bible, saying “Why should I look at anything else, when the Koran has the whole truth”.

    Just my opinion, but I think that really conservative Jews, Christians, and Muslims, are equally close minded. Confirmation bias.

    Thanks,
    Brian

    2
    • Bart
      Bart  June 27, 2019

      I think I said no other group was *more* committed to the truth. Yes, others are equally so!

      5
      • Avatar
        Omar6741  July 9, 2019

        For many people, the word “truth” has become a cipher for “what I am going to believe anyway”.

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