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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



  1. Avatar
    tskorick  June 26, 2019

    Dr. Carroll’s education and skills are something of a mystery. You’re right: he lacks a central, regularly-updated CV anywhere at any institution with whom he’s ever been involved; this is strange for such a supposed recognized expert in all things ancient. There are a few basic sketches, his LinkedIn, and some other sources, from which one can assemble the following:

    * Miami University, PhD in Ancient Studies 1984 – 1987
    * Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Master of Arts in Christian Backgrounds and Early Church History 1981 – 1983
    * Tennessee Temple University, Bachelor of Arts
    * Studies at Hebrew Union College (post-doctoral work involving languages; no degree)

    If Miami University had a doctoral program in Ancient Studies in the 1980s they certainly don’t now. He claims “My training is in ancient languages, archeology, history. I think that we were required in my program to have 13 ancient languages, of which some I read well, others I don’t” (https://bit.ly/2FyGbeQ). On one of his pages (https://bit.ly/2X0MIoA) he claims to be “Master of numerous languages including Akkadian, Aramaic, Classical Egyptian, Coptic, Ge’ez, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and Syriac” and also “Director of archaeological excavations in Egypt.”

    All of this is strangely dissonant with his ignorance of so many things. Take his handling of artifacts from antiquity, as Roberta Mazza and others point out. His carelessness with ancient papyri manuscripts shown in videos of his theatrical academic displays shows “ignorance in papyrology and conservation care of papyri…” (quoted by Art Crimes professor Noah Charney in a Salon article at https://bit.ly/2LmcJfM).

    He lacks familiarity with the history of biblical textual criticism and dating of the gospels either, as you mentioned. I found video of him speaking with Josh McDowell (https://youtu.be/RD9CIH-l25Y) wherein he says around the 5-minute point that “Mark was one that the critics had always dated late.” He’s made similar gaffes on this topic as well.

    When one combines that with the fact that he limited attendance at his cartonnage-dissolving spectacles to a “gallery of about 200 ‘invite-only’ Christian apologists” (https://bit.ly/2NbAXfc) it all tells me that he has a biased agenda here that causes a lack of rigor, a certain feverish carelessness with priceless artifacts, and even inflation of his credentials to bolster his reputation in the conservative Christian community, which has never appeared to have been burdened by an excess of cautious incredulity.

  2. Avatar
    AJB2016  June 26, 2019

    So sad. You are right to be angry.

  3. Avatar
    rburos  June 26, 2019

    Sorry Doc, but to me this is the greatest compliment you could receive.

    I mean, nobody is going to pull me out of a list of famous scholars and lie about me because they don’t even know I exist (and of course that’s because I’m not an expert). And don’t think you could go there with a copy of your earliest published work and show them where you claim ca. 65-70 CE and show them a true statement of your beliefs to prove he lied–they don’t care. You just have “true facts”, but he has “Truth”. You’ll never beat that.

    So go have a beer with friends and family, and toast the fact that all your hard years of scholarship made you smart enough and famous enough to need to be taken down. Even if with a lie.

    P.S. I honestly thought my earlier comment about Misery Chastain was going over the top, and that you might not allow it to post, but TODAY’S post says to me I didn’t go far enough. Maybe exaggerated claims by pseudo-scholars should be another section of your blog?

    And please invite these people to do a guest post on the blog!

  4. Avatar
    Jim  June 26, 2019

    Sometimes I wonder if there actually is a “Liars for Jesus” club.

  5. Avatar
    Ibn.Fawda  June 26, 2019

    Evangelical Christians overwhelmingly voted for the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and he employs blatant falsehoods on a daily basis. It is not about “truth,” it is about controlling the minds and actions of the gullible. Sad.

    • Avatar
      flcombs  June 28, 2019

      Politics and the winners haven’t been a marker for honesty for a long time. Certainly comparing most candidates claims with facts shows real issues. Interesting that the last election had both candidates with very negative ratings on the honesty issue. In this case I didn’t see honesty as a real issue or decider for most people that supported either candidate. For example, I never heard a Hillary supporter make a reasonable argument that supported her claims of ignorance about computer and email security when they see videos she did for the State Dept workforce on the same issues, or compare her claims with the STATE IG report, etc. People voted against people or for other issues or just along party lines, such as wanting “change”, picking judges, foreign affairs, etc. I don’t think you can tag honesty or not on who wins elections.

  6. SonOfZeusTruly
    SonOfZeusTruly  June 26, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman, can you blog about the left out gospels again?

    These are the secret sayings which the living Jesus spoke and which Didymos Judas Thomas wrote down.

    “Secret the spoke
    Didymos wrote
    Wrote Didymos
    Spoke the secret”.

    (114) Simon Peter said to him, “Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of life.” 
    Jesus said, “I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven.”

    “Simon to Mary
    For not life
    I lead
    To male
    Become spirit
    Herself enter heaven
    (Mirror writing backards)
    Heaven enter
    Herself Woman
    Males spirit
    Become she
    Male to
    I life not
    For Mary to Simon”.

    (30) Jesus said, “Where there are three gods, they are gods. Where there are two or one, I am with him
    (31) Jesus said, “No prophet is accepted in his own village; no physician heals those who know him

    Jesus, there gods! Gods there, two. Am Jesus. prophet.
    In village. Heals.

    Heals village.
    In prophet, Jesus.
    Am two. There! Gods! Gods! There! Jesus.

  7. Avatar
    AlbertHodges  June 26, 2019

    First, you should sue him for his lies. I find you to be ALWAYS honest, even if ON OCCASION I disagree with you.

    Second, all of these private collectors no more speak for Evangelicals than Candida Moss speaks for Catholics.

    But there are PLENTY of examples of both official spokesmen and ordained clergy of all denominations and the Church herself, that are blatant liars. But SO are many so-called scholars who just want to peddle books. And your honesty and superb scholarship are TWO of the reasons I am so grateful to read your works and to learn from you.

  8. JMJ
    JMJ  June 26, 2019

    I hate it when Christians do that. I remember reading your blog back when Father Robert Barron made a comment about a new book you wrote and you could tell by the comment that he didn’t even read the book! People can be brutal towards others with a different perspective when defending their own version of the truth.

  9. epicurus
    epicurus  June 26, 2019

    Liars for Jesus. The evangelical community is full of them.

  10. Avatar
    photosmike  June 26, 2019

    You are a target because you are very effective. Don’t let Carroll or Wallace or anyone change what you do or waste your time engaging them. They seem able to embarrass themselves without any help.

  11. Avatar
    flcombs  June 26, 2019

    For sake of argument, I wonder if could legally be considered libel? After all, making those kinds of false claims could impact you financially and your job (through hurting reputation book sales, etc.). There is a big difference between interpreting or shading what someone says and flat out making false claims.

  12. Avatar
    Hogie2  June 26, 2019

    Ugh. This question of those that claim “truth” to be the very bedrock of their faith, and how they can systematically ignore truth, has bothered me since beginning my journey out of fundamentalist Christianity. It’s precisely because I valued truth, that I found my way out. For far too long I sought answers from apologists I assumed to be smarter than me, and when I couldn’t find a suitable answer to my questions, I “put it in the Lords hands.” This works only for as long as you are unwilling to consider that you could be wrong about it all, the Bible as inerrant, the resurrection, etc. For me it began with an honest investigation of evolution vs creation. Then I wondered “what else did they lie to me about?” Once I assumed that God was not afraid of me sincerely seeking the truth, and sought out differing opinions, there was no turning back. Unfortunately, when one starts with “I know, that I know, that I know the ‘truth,’” there seems to be no end to the lengths & depths of confirmation bias employed.

  13. Avatar
    Tempo1936  June 26, 2019

    Fundamentalist seem desperate. The truth about forgeries, errors And inconsistencies in the NT is affecting Attendance, particularly The younger people.
    They needed a “win” and to discredit real scholars. So a rich diehard fundamentalist was easily duped into believing there was a early copy of Mark. Then the cover up started. Thankfully these hypocrites cannot cover up the truth through lies, threats and intimidation as was the norm in centuries past. Keep up the good work.

    Off topic: Where in Chapter 1 of the Acts does it say Jesus’ Ascension takes place 40 days after the resurrection: that certainly seems like a long time for Jesus and his disciples to be walking around Jerusalem without any reaction from the Romans. Also it seems that this would have been documented somewhere in the Roman records.

  14. Avatar
    Hon Wai  June 26, 2019

    Conservative evangelical preachers, wilfully or by self-righteous ignorance, are hypocrites: they preach about love and compassion, yet are often very intolerant. They preach about truth and urge their audience to evaluate Christian truths with an open mind, yet often promote disinformation and are closed-minded to evaluating arguments and evidence incompatible with their dogma. The same sort of thing happens in politics nowadays: the noisiest critics of fake news are the most prolific propagators of fake news.

    • Bart
      Bart  June 27, 2019

      I wouldn’t say they all are. Most are honest decent people. But there are some real scoundrels out there.

  15. Avatar
    Miles  June 26, 2019

    People who claim expertise in order to buy expensive religious artifacts for rich people who have deeply held, fundamentalist religious beliefs have a strong financial incentive to maintain the chasm that separates scholarship from the views of their clients, and it becomes especially easy where’s there’s a readymade bogieman to point at. Lying about scholars like you is lucrative. I really believe it’s as straightforward as that.

  16. Avatar
    kentvw  June 26, 2019

    “Truth” always wins in the end.
    Thanks, Bart, for supporting it.

  17. Avatar
    anthonygale  June 26, 2019

    Have you ever encountered anyone so bold to take it a step further and claim to have found the original? Other than those who think the Bible in the motel room is identical the original?

    To ask a more technical question, suppose someone did claim to have found the original. Or perhaps a certified copy of sorts (I suppose Mark himself made copies or his grandson could attest he compared a copy to the original). I get that you can show something isn’t original, such as by dating it to two hundred years later. But is there anything you can do to show it is likely original?

  18. Avatar
    forthfading  June 26, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman,

    Do you think that Dan Wallace was simply the unfortunate “choice” to serve as liaison between this manuscript and the scholarly community or was he part of the scandal (by that I mean he was trying to communicate a message that he knew to be false)? I know Dr. Wallace is a respectable text scholar and works to digitize ancient manuscripts. If he is innocent and was truly a pawn in a larger scandal then do you think he would make a good addition to the panel at the SBL?

    Thanks, Jay

    • Bart
      Bart  June 28, 2019

      Yes, I think he was used by others, and he has apologized for his involvement. It is always tempting to go public with the explosive new developments before they have been verified, but in this case I do not think he should have done so. His culpability was not in perpetuating a known deceit but in using sensationalist and undocumented claims in order to win a debate. And yes, he would have been a good addition to the panel; I don’t know if he was asked or not.

  19. Avatar
    anthonygale  June 26, 2019

    I’ve always liked the saying “it isn’t a lie if you believe it.” I’m amazed at how selective listening, reading and understanding can be when someone is invested in believing something. I don’t think that intelligence, education or even integrity necessarily prevent it. There is a strong tendency to see what one believes. I think you are right that many people outright lie or are careless. Often though, I think it is unconscious. Not that the third option is any less frustrating. Hence rants.

    • Avatar
      Florian  December 27, 2019

      “There is a strong tendency to see what one believes.”
      Yes, confirmation bias is a natural tendency.

      But there are VAST differences in how strong it starts out in the first place, and in what people do against it.
      Which is why I disagree slightly with this way of putting it:
      “I don’t think that intelligence, education or even integrity necessarily prevent it.”

      The impossibility of a GUARANTEE to PREVENT confirmation bias altogether is beside the point;
      and integrity, intelligence, and education, in that order (I would argue), are precisely what is needed to fight it:

      – Integrity is the starting point: Instead of being “invested in believing something”, a firm commitment to finding WHATEVER is, IN FACT, true.
      – Intelligence is a necessary basic requirement for doing this fact-finding.
      – And one needs education, in the form of knowledge both about the subject matter and about the possible obstacles along the fact-finding way, including the ones sitting between one’s own ears: education about the limits to one’s intelligence and about the temptations to abandon one’s integrity. It can be quite a struggle.

      That struggle is part of the reason why doing science can be so difficult. But it obviously isn’t impossible: We’re still increasing humankind’s knowledge all the time.

      The religious mindset is the exact opposite: Committed belief in a pre-determined “truth” without evidence, or even in spite of evidence to the contrary – the very reason for “faith”.
      Scientists (as well as good criminal investigators, judges, journalists, and all other people who need to find actual truth) have no need for that word: They carefully use “know” only when warranted; and in all other situations, instead of ‘simply’ holding on to a pet belief nevertheless, we see them speaking of hypotheses, probabilities, margins of error, and, most strikingly, ACTIVELY SEARCHING for evidence that would DISPROVE their hunches.

      That last point is the one with which we can also approach the “it isn’t a lie if you believe it” thing, I think.
      I agree, of course, that we shouldn’t call someone who is merely honestly mistaken a liar.
      But whatever his/her motivation for telling a falsehood is, it doesn’t change the fact that it IS a falsehood, and THAT’s what matters in the end, right?
      So I think it’s useful to press people on the “honestly” part: TRUE intellectual honesty requires active efforts to check whether one IS, in fact, mistaken, and to generally adjust the strength with which one makes statements to the level of deserved confidence one can have in their being true.

  20. Avatar
    Pattylt  June 26, 2019

    Truth? They can’t handle the Truth. End of story.

    They have a specific story in their mind and anything that contradicts even one iota creates such cognitive dissonance that they will lie, cheat or steal to resolve it. Pity them. It’s all we can do….and keep speaking the real truth, Bart. They are their own worst enemies and the youth leaving in droves is the evidence.

    Good rant, by the way!

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