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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
    HoltG  June 29, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman,

    In regards to people who follow the Evangelical faith, I personally think it’s fear. I think they are afraid to embrace or learn or believe anything other than what they have been taught. My mom’s side being southern Baptist, my dads side being A.M.E and me being private Catholic schooled, I know a lot about that blind faith, don’t ask questions, just believe – kind of thinking from when I was a child. When one has been trained and groomed to think and believe one way only, it’s scary to try and change that belief system.

    In regards to Mr. Carroll, I don’t know who he is, nor have I ever heard of him, but based on what you have said here, in my opinion, it sounds like jealousy to me. In my opinion Dr. Ehrman, you may not be able to find out that much more about his career because there probably isn’t any more information to find. And, that may bother him. Clearly you have spent your life doing what you do. Clearly you have a CV that stretches from your home to California. This Mr. Carroll may not have that. Being in the entertainment industry, I know a lot about jealousy. It makes people say things and become unpleasant people (for lack of a better phrase). Dr. Ehrman you have an amazing support system world wide, and I personally think he probably knows that, and that too probably bothers him. Keep educating the way you are Dr. Ehrman. Don’t let this guy ruffle your feathers.

  2. Avatar
    Chasdot  June 29, 2019

    To me, Bart, the answer to the question lies in a self serving/self affirmation bias: some folks hold a “doctrine” (i.e. the infallibility of scriptures) and then seek evidence, however flimsy, to confirm the bias. When I ask my ethics students what the opposite of “belief” is, the normal answer is “unbelief.” I ask them why knowledge wouldn’t be the opposite of “belief.” If you have knowledge then you have no reason for “belief.” It’s in attempting to keep the unknown as unknown that light weight intellectuals can hold power. Deus ex machina is always an easier explanation of situations than “here’s what what know so far.”

  3. Avatar
    mannix  June 29, 2019

    Wow! I don’t know ANYONE who asserts Mark was the LAST gospel written! Unless Carroll quickly retracted with an “oops…my bad” , there is little excuse for his ignorance (“willful ignorance” sounds a little oxymoronic). Rather than embarrassing you, he simply damaged his credibility.

  4. Avatar
    Thespologian  July 2, 2019

    The desire for many inherently insecure people to align themselves with a higher power — or more precisely, the higher power they think will be victorious — seems to either justify or rob them of prudence in their actions. I find that plugging in vanity for what they call faith works in too many cases for this type of person.

  5. Avatar
    Truncated  July 2, 2019

    Bart,

    I asked about 10 friends on Facebook if they had read any of your books. All but one said no. These are all very educated people. This is a FBMessenger discussion with one woman who was top-of-her class. (Her father is a professor at a well-known conservative seminary).

    (ME) Have you read any of Bart Ehrman’s books?

    (ANONYMIZED FRIEND) No, I have much more enjoyable things to do with my time, like unclogging septic lines and doing surgery on diseased toenails

    (ME) Sounds fun!

    (ANONYMIZED FRIEND) Did you get BINGO on “my favorite apostates” or something?

    (ME) Did I?

    (ANONYMIZED FRIEND) Oh yeah, he’s going straight to hell (obviously read that with significant sarcasm; I do not know the heart of Jesus vis a vis Ehrman) But is he anywhere approaching orthodox? No

    (ME) Just wondering if you have read his books….I would be interested to hear your thoughts if so.

    (ANONYMIZED FRIEND) I’ve read enough to know that he’s sort of a shallow-thinking skeptic who parrots every tired gimmick, but I have to admit that I’ve never wanted to finish a book. They’re all just “spring out of a box” crap scholarship. “You thought you knew something, but SPRING OUT OF THE BOX! I’M GONNA TELL YOU DIFFERENT!”

    (ME) That’s an answer!

    (ANONYMIZED FRIEND) There are a couple of different answers to the question of scribal errors in the Bible. There’s “Oh, yeah, people made copying mistakes, so our goal is to carefully compare the different versions and go back as early as we possibly can in order to find the most accurate text” and there’s “People made copying mistakes and that shows a grand conspiracy on the order of the Da Vinci Code to obscure the true origins of the Church, which I am guessing means the true origins are quite juicy and sexy.”

    Ehrman is the latter

    And he treats scribal errors as something that he somehow uncovered and discovered and now he’s going to reveal to the world, instead of a phenomenon that has been known and discussed and addressed in biblical scholarship since (literally) before Christ. And certainly in every translation since Christ.

    So his work is biblical scholarship in basically the same way The 4-Hour Workweek is entrepreneurial scholarship.

    (ME) LOL.

    Chat Conversation End

    Bart, I didn’t defend you – your body of work is more than enough. But I think it is worthwhile defending yourself against baseless claims not only because you are wronged, but because many others are misled.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 3, 2019

      Good god. It’s unbelievable. The willful shallowness of it all…. I wonder if someone like that would be willing at least to look at something serious I’ve done, like Orthodox Corruption of Scripture ,and then comment about my brainless approach to recounting vapid liberal attacks long refuted….

      1
  6. Avatar
    Mark57  July 3, 2019

    I think I’ve found the answer. Its The God Drug. It seems to be an addiction problem. The same pleasure centers are stimulated as with heroin giving the subject a euphoric high that they feel compelled to repeat with peers present. “The best definition of addiction that I’ve ever heard,” he says, “is anything that provides a mood-altering experience but has adjoining negative consequences, and yet the behavior is continued anyways.” https://psmag.com/news/the-god-drug-when-religion-becomes-an-addiction One US molecular geneticist claims to have identified a gene, VMAT2, which makes some people more susceptible to spiritual experiences. The gene also has a part to play in drug addiction. https://www.wired.co.uk/article/mormons-experience-religion-like-drug-takers-feel-highs-neuroscientists-say

  7. Christopher
    Christopher  July 4, 2019

    Wow. I can’t believe this! This is major! I LOVE that that toad is now being made to eat his words and shown up for the fraud he now is! I’ll be showing this to my dad (who I’ve gotten into your work). I have half a mind to write the Dallas Observer to try to persuade them into this.

  8. Avatar
    jmnelson  July 4, 2019

    Why are were surprised; it’s the Christian way? As I understand it, Jews made every effort to carefully preserve their scriptures, and historical evidence, especially the Dead Sea Scrolls, which, I think, verify their general success. In contrast, Christians never made an effort at authenticity; they edited, forged, and fabricated from the onset. So much for Christian integrity. No document from any, early Christian author can be consider as anything other than a fabrication. Even so, it does seem a bit extreme for someone to make up such and egregious lie about Ehrman’s position with regard to the Gospel of Mark, but, then, Scott Carroll’s primary audience isn’t likely known for fact-checking, especially regarding allegations that fit their beliefs, evidence notwithstanding.

  9. Avatar
    Omar6741  July 9, 2019

    I am afraid all this is only going to get worse. The Quran manuscripts that have been found and radiocarbon dated to very early times have put pressure on evangelicals: they, of course, have no manuscripts anything like as early, and so their claims to being uniquely favoured by God are starting to look very flimsy indeed.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 9, 2019

      I don’t see what having early manuscripts has to do with the truth of what is written in the manuscripts. Are you saying that only manuscripts with no scribal mistakes can contain divine truth? So that when my last book was published with 20,000 copies that have no differences among them, it must be divinely inspired? (Granted, I would like to think so….)

  10. KaryNation
    KaryNation  July 14, 2019

    What on Earth is a ‘liberal scholar’?

    When a person labels another person ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’ it immediately sets a condition in which constructive communication is nearly impossible.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 15, 2019

      Yeah, maybe so. What’s odd is that for some these are four-letter words and for others they are badges of honor! Same words…

  11. Avatar
    skeptik  July 22, 2019

    I offer a bit of speculation.

    The emergence of the “post-truth” age seems essentially driven by a fear-stoked survival response. This response has emerged in various segments of the population that perceive themselves to be threatened by the “other” – however they define it. As a defense they engage in the wholesale adoption and glorification of presuppositional solipsism.

    The same mental gymnastics used by evangelicals in decades past to deny evolution, the age of the earth, and the infallibility of scripture have been refined, supercharged, and diffused within the larger culture. It it seems that the adoption of what I will call a “Presuppositional Belief Matrix” in multiple subject areas has become the all the rage.

    This adoption of presuppositional solipsism provides an array of distinct benefits for the “true believer”. Within any presuppositional framework, anything that the “true believer” does not want to hear can be easily ignored. Any action that is either supported by, or that is used to preserve or bolster, the underlying presupposition is considered de-facto moral or even noble. (Perhaps this is a new twist on the old Beatles lyric “Got a good reason for taking the easy way out.”)

    Thus, misreading, misquoting, ignoring experts, establishing false equivalences, strategic equivocation, the blatant use of circular reasoning, outright lying, conspiracy theory generation, and engaging in ad-hominem attacks (and I fear ultimately violence) are all fully justified within this matrix because the “real truth” is already “known”. The single duty of the “true believer” is simply to vanquish the enemies of that “truth” – by whatever means necessary!

    By definition, if I already know “THE truth”, then anything that contradicts that truth or hinders that “truth” is necessarily false or evil. Within this matrix, “anything” includes the any objective approach to factual investigation, respect for others, and general human decency.

    Yes, this is cynical. But I am finding it harder and harder to find any other explanation of this type of behavior.
    However, I am left wondering why such great levels of fear exist in so many places. This is a mystery to me.

  12. Avatar
    Nprfan  July 23, 2019

    Oh I can tell you why! Evangelicals are afraid they are going to hell..that simple! That fear is so strong that I left all organized religion, as they pushed me and my own studies out the door, surrendered my clergy credentials, and I no longer suffer chest pains:)

    Yogananda said it best: “Bless their little hearts.” They need it!

  13. Avatar
    tjjohnson61@yahoo.com  August 4, 2019

    Bart – Not sure if this is the right place to put this question, but here it is. I apologize if it is unrelated to your post. I’m not sure if you have a spot on the blog for member questions?

    I subscribe the the Biblical Archaeological Review (BAR) and found an ad for a book Jesus and After – The First 80 Years, author Ernest Bruce Brooks. It appears to be an outline of what early Christians may have believed and might provide some insight into the historical Jesus. I am considering purchasing this book. Is anyone else familiar with this particular book? How well does it coincide and/or compare and contrast with your views and theories, Dr. Ehrman? Do you have an opinion of Brooks’ work? Could you maybe address Brooks’ work in a blog post?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 5, 2019

      I hadn’t heard of the book or of the author (although he apparently is in his 80s); but a quick look online doesn’t suggest that htere’s anything particularly crazy about it. He seems to be a real scholar, though I don’t see any credentials in early Christianity per se. If you read it, let us know what you think.

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