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How I Learned To Write for a General Audience

It is time — after many fits, starts, and interruptions — to bring this thread to a close, the thread that started with my saying I wanted to explain why I was in a better position to write trade books (for a general audience) than most of my peers who were with me in my New Testament PhD program and others in the guild of New Testament studies.

I won’t re-discuss all the background I gave over a long series of posts, but I do need to summarize the one most important point.  Almost everyone I knew in my PhD program, and most biblical scholars I know today, think (with good reason in many cases) that what they are doing in their work of interpreting the New Testament or explaining its religious significance should be interesting to lots of people.  And in fact it usually is interesting to the (small) groups of people that they typically associate with (for example in church contexts).  I never had that problem.

For my PhD I was working on a recondite, obscure, highly technical, seemingly irrelevant topic.  And I knew it.

My dissertation, as I have indicated before, involved…

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  1. Avatar
    VaulDogWarrior  October 5, 2016

    Happy birthday Bart!

    Did you ever deal with anger after you left the faith? Internal anger? I feel like my loss of faith is like a bereavement. First shock, then denial, then depression, then anger. Them learning to live without. But always feeling like something is missing. Not quite right. And only time heals it. I also found in both situations a deep re-evaluation of my life. It’s meaning. It’s destination. It’s purpose. Did you find these things when you left Christianity?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 6, 2016

      Thanks! Yes, I did feel anger over how I had been misled by people I trusted. Then again, now I think that it wasn’t really ill-intent on their part…

  2. talmoore
    talmoore  October 5, 2016

    Dr. Ehrman, did anyone ever try to dissuade you from doing a dissertation on such a fringe topic? Did anyone ever tell you that such a topic might be “career suicide” or somesuch dire warning?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 6, 2016

      Ha! No one tried to dissuade me. Some of my friends were puzzled….

  3. John4
    John4  October 5, 2016

    Happy Birthday, Bart! 🙂

  4. Avatar
    Todd  October 5, 2016

    I find this comment in your post most important: “Most of my friends – and most of the people in my professional circles – never *did* have to figure out how to communicate with others outside the guild, or at least they never realized that they had to do.”

    What Jesus said and did, and what Christianity is all about, is effective communication.

    When I was involved with church work, I found that the great majority of church participants had a very poor understanding of what Jesus said or what their particular denomination taught. Going the church was just a cultural habit.

    Communication is the key and I do appreciate what you do to be an effective communicator very much. Thank you for that and for your charitable motivation with this blog.

    • Avatar
      DavidBeaman  October 12, 2016

      In all churches, you find people with varying ideas as to what is their personal faith. Also, people pick and choose what they follow in terms of requirements. Most people attend the church in which they were raised. It is often more of a habit than anything else. Before I was ordained, I attended several seminaries to get an overall view of several denominations. After I was ordained, I was often asked by the wives of pastors who got sick just before their service began to do their husband’s service. Because I had experience in various seminaries, I had no problem doing it, even delivering sermons without notes on the topic listed in the church bulletin. The services that I did were well-received by the congregations. However, if the pastor let their superiors know afterwards, they invariably were criticized for letting someone not ordained by their own denomination be the one who presided at the service.

  5. Avatar
    Pattycake1974  October 5, 2016

    You’re definitely talented when it comes to communication whether it’s verbal or in written form. It’s interesting that you had to learn how to communicate technical information in a more simplistic way. I have been doing the exact opposite. I’m teaching 6th graders how to read, comprehend, interpret, make inferences etc., for complex reading passages. There’s a huge push in common core for students to read mostly nonfictional texts. They have to cite textual evidence to support their rationale and make comparisons across different texts and genres. I don’t recall doing that as an 11 year-old. I definitely believe it’s important for them to learn those skills, but I am struggling with my own mental gymnastics on just how to do that.

    So when you began teaching, were you able to communicate effectively to your students right off the bat or did you acquire the skill as you gained teaching experience?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 6, 2016

      Well, I did my best. But I learned a lot over the years.

  6. Avatar
    pbrockschmidt  October 5, 2016

    Happy Birthday! In honor of our joint birthday, I’ve contributed to your foundation.

  7. Avatar
    Jason  October 5, 2016

    On the Didymus point, did his quote distribution lean towards Mark? Alexandria’s church was traditionally founded by him IIRC.

  8. Avatar
    Judith  October 6, 2016

    “…I was always working hard to figure out how to communicate with people in ways that were simple, clear and compelling.” Also, you connect with us as though on a one-to-one basis that causes us to want to respond. Occasionally you include something personal that’s so open and vulnerable we are hooked into caring not only about what you are writing but you yourself. Please tweak that to help strengthen our resolve to send fewer responses. It would cut down on the time needed for the blog.

  9. Avatar
    Radar  October 6, 2016

    Do you have a blog post that summarizes your Didymus dissertation findings?

  10. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  October 6, 2016

    Well, I know you have worked very hard and have developed a gift for writing where we can get it. Thanks

  11. Avatar
    XanderKastan  October 6, 2016

    You mention beginning teaching at Rutgers in 2004. You meant 1984, right? By 2004, you would have been at UNC already, no?

    Regardless, very interesting and ironic story. From what you wrote leading up to this posting, I pretty much guessed the reason you gave.

  12. Avatar
    Sharon  October 7, 2016

    Your writings being shy of technical jargon is why I have a bookshelf loaded with your books. You have three great qualities in your writings that attract a non-academic like me – great knowledge, a layman’s understanding and a sense of humor. These three attributes are what I use when recommending to someone the purchase of your books.

    • Avatar
      DavidBeaman  October 12, 2016

      One thing for sure is that they cost less than highly technical books because there is less of a market for the technical stuff. I have paid hundreds of dollars for a technical book.

  13. Avatar
    Designer  October 8, 2016

    Just a quick note to say I’m glad you honed your writing skills to address non-scholars. I’m one of those who have benefited from your writing approach. In fact, I’ve just finished “The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings” and am half way through “The Bible: A Historical and Literary Introduction”. I enjoy your concise and direct approach with these books. It has enabled me to think more clearly and develop my own ideas about personal faith and historical fact.

    Also, happy birthday!

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