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Interview with Buddhists on the New Testament

I was recently asked to do an interview with a magazine in South Korea, produced by (and for, I assume) Buddhists interested in other religious traditions.  As you may know, Christianity also has a significant footprint in Korea; even back in the late 70s I had Korean classmates studying for ministry at Princeton Theological Seminary.

The editor asked me a range of questions, and I provided relatively short answers, on a range of interesting and important topics.  The interview was published last week and the publisher has graciously given me permission to post them here, on the assumption that most of you will not be reading South Korean magazines!     But if you do, you can catch the questions (in Korean) and my answers (in English):  The Monthly YangWoo Magazine 3/2020.

This will take two posts.

To see this interview, join the blog!  It’s easy to do and costs very little — less than a burger at Five Guys a *month*.  And so much better for you.  The little you pay does a lot of good, all going to charity.  So why not?

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More Buddhist Questions on the Bible
Jesus Kissing Mary Magdalene: A Bizarre Scene in the Gospel of Philip



  1. Avatar
    pkoutoul  February 18, 2020

    Dr. Ehrman, I so appreciate your work and your openness about your spiritual journey. I’m no scholar, but my journey from devout fundamentalist Christain to agnostic/atheist has been very similar to yours. My Christian friends find it hard to understand how someone who was not looking or desiring to leave the faith could nonetheless arrive at that point simply by seeking to better understand the historical underpinnings of the Bible. They also fail to understand what a difficult and painful thing it is to leave behind something that was so much a part of one’s identity. I don’t regret it one bit; it was my only choice after seeing the truth. I was already on that path when I started reading your books, and you have guided me along since. Thank you for your work.

    • Bart
      Bart  February 19, 2020

      Many thanks! And good luck on your journey!

    • Avatar
      aar8818  February 20, 2020

      I think I have a similiar story. I left because my worldview changed and developed away from christianity, not because I had any problem with the church per se. I really miss it and it is extremely difficult for me, though I cannot simply believe what I want but rather what i find most convincing. I still enjoy studying the bible now from a new perspective. Also Bart’s work is fascinating.

      • Avatar
        jlantz974  February 23, 2020

        I appreciate the above comments, as I am on a similar trek.

  2. Avatar
    fishician  February 18, 2020

    I find my transition kind of ironic. Because I was taught that the Bible was the inspired Word of God I seriously studied it, and over the years the more I studied, the shallower the Bible appeared to me, until one day it just evaporated. Like you I still enjoy studying it as a special and unique cultural influence and historical artifact, but it is not the word of any god, to me.

  3. Avatar
    rivercrowman  February 18, 2020

    This magazine with article may be a collector’s item for some of us Bart Ehrman fans, even if hardly any of us can read a word of Korean!

  4. Barfo
    Barfo  February 18, 2020

    Thank you for sharing this interview. It is a brief but informative interview that brushes the surface enough to get a person to think and hopefully explore. I remember being told as a young Christian not to look outside of the Bible for substantiation of events which occurred or contradiction and mistakes because I would be disappointed. However, over the course of the last two years or so I have been doing nothing but that. I’m not disappointed but amazed. I look forward to part 2.

  5. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  February 18, 2020

    With regard to Five Guys, don’t forget the French Fries, from fresh Idaho potatoes. Yummy!

    • Bart
      Bart  February 19, 2020

      Oh my god, they’re amazing. But, a bit caloric!

      • Avatar
        nichael  February 19, 2020

        What synchronicity. Eating my lunch of homemade/DIY White Castles as I read this.

      • Avatar
        fishician  February 20, 2020

        My theory, as a doctor, is that enjoyment cancels out calories!

  6. Telling
    Telling  February 19, 2020


    During the Vietnam war I was in the US Army and lucky to be stationed in Korea between 1971-1972. There was one young man in our company, forget his name, who was a stanch Christian, and he spent his off-duty time there working with Korean Christians in the city (We were in Pusan, now called Busan). He was probably the only one of us there who put his time to good use. I remember one time I had desk duty at night and it was pouring down rain and I was out of cigarettes but the rain was coming down so hard I couldn’t get anyone to go to the PX maybe 5 minute walk and buy them for me. This young Christian man showed up, and like a gift from heaven said he would go to the PX in the heavy rain for me, and he would buy me anything but cigarettes because they were bad for me. That stymied me, I tried to talk him into doing it but he insisted he would go in the heavy rain for anything but cigarettes. Though complaining, I much respected him for his integrity though I had to do without cigarettes that evening and was not happy about that. I gave them up in 1983, should have listened to him then. Funny how we remember these small things.

  7. Avatar
    Pattycake1974  February 19, 2020

    “I did not start out by wanting to find contradictions in the Bible… It was just very difficult for me to leave a view that I had held for so long, and it meant leaving my church community, which I very much loved.“

    When I first noticed issues with the Bible, I wrestled around with it a while, but ultimately, I did not see that my incorrect doctrinal beliefs as a bad thing. The “anguish” was necessary in order for me to grow and be led elsewhere. Everyone makes such a big deal about contradictions in the Bible, but sometimes I think it’s much ado about nothing. This became more clear to me after watching the latest Nascar race.

    Watching Ryan Newman wreck Live on tv was disturbing. Even more so when Hamlin began celebrating and doing spinouts. Within minutes of this event, thousands had a different view about what happened. I swore to myself that I would never watch another race again. The last thing I want to see is someone die on Live television. Some felt the same as me (because nobody had any info about his condition for a few hours) while others said they’ve seen worse. Some said Hamlin was a jerk for celebrating, others said he couldn’t have known, and some thought Nascar did it as a temporary distraction. People who didn’t watch the wreck Live, and who already knew that Newman wasn’t going to die as they learned this new information, had their own perspectives too.

    The point is, even with live video coverage, the contradictions in our perspectives can only yield so many facts. I don’t think it’s as simple as saying I was right, several of us were right, or all of us were wrong. I view the Gospels the same way. Just because there are differing perspectives in the Gospels does not necessarily mean that one account is right while one is wrong or that both are wrong. It oversimplifies the entirety of the experience and can lead to false conclusions about what really happened.

    With that in mind, there has never been these phantom documents that we are calling “Originals.” Original what exactly?

  8. Avatar
    Bewilderbeast  February 19, 2020

    Thank you for your seemingly tireless willingness to stay engaged.

  9. Avatar
    leobillings@cox.net  February 19, 2020

    Just a thought. Have you ever considered a ‘loving’ God who is not active in the world?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 20, 2020

      Yes indeed! I’ve thought of all the options I can think of!

  10. Avatar
    dr.bosch  February 20, 2020

    Dear Bart Ehrman, I think You would hugely benefit from learning about the Buddha and Buddhism in general. Simply because the Buddha is arguably the one person in history who is most resembling Jesus Christ. Both of them were reformers of the religion they were born into. Jesus was in a way a reformer of Judaism, while the Buddha was a reformer of Hinduism (the Vedic religion at that time). Both started their ministry in their early thirties.Both were ascetics. Both were in conflict whith the more conservative clerics. Both were proponents of absolute pacifism (called ahimsa in Indian religions). Both were said to have performed miracles. Both are believed to have born miraculously. The similarities in their teachings are at times so uncanny that is is hard to believe they didn`t know each other. Since the Buddha was born some 500 years before Jesus many people in the past have developed theories how Jesus was in fact a follower of Buddha. However, this seems very unlikely from the viewpoint of history so it is believed that Christianity and Buddhism developed independently.
    If someone is interested in this topic I highly recommend you a book of Marcus Borg titeled Jesus and Buddha the Paralel Sayings. The book is not very long but worthwhile reading!

  11. Avatar
    dr.bosch  February 20, 2020

    Here some selected parallel sayings (alothough Borg in his book used a very literal and arid translation) :

    “If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them.“ Luke 6:29
    “If anyone were to give you a blow with the hand, or hit you with a stick, or with a sword, even then you should abandon those urges … you should train yourself thus: … I shall remain full of concern and pity, with a mind of love, and I shall not give in to hatred “ Majjhima Nikaya 21

    JESUS “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. “
    Luke 6:32
    BUDDHA “He conquers wrath by love, the wicked with goodness sways, by gifts the miser vanquishes and lies with truth repays.” Jataka 151

    JESUS “Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? … You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. “ Matthew 7:3-5
    BUDDHA “Easily seen is the fault of others, but one’s own fault is difficult to see. Like chaff one winnows another’s faults, but hides one’s own, even as a crafty fowler hides behind sham branches.“ Dhammapada 252

    JESUS “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me. “
    BUDDHA Matthew 25:40 “If you don’t tend to one another, who then will tend to you? Whoever would tend to the Buddha, should tend to the sick.“ Mahavagga 8.26

  12. Avatar
    NancyGKnapp  February 20, 2020

    Are any of you familiar with the work of Paul Knitter, the Roman Catholic theologian who wrote “Without Buddha, I Could not be a Christian.” He has You tube videos that will give you an intro to his journey.

  13. Avatar
    clerrance2005  February 22, 2020

    Dear Prof Ehrman,

    Do you believe in the existence of a mind before matter/ a Divine Entity who like you said is probably not directly involved in the activities of man and is also probably not what is being described in the religious texts (Bible, Quran etc.)? [Marcion gives a glimpse of my line of thought]

    So for eg. Darwin’s evolution theory and other concepts may very well contradict some of the theories inspired by the ‘God’ contained in the Holy Books; but what if the Divine is not been reflected very well. Personally, I think the idea that a religious sect (eg Christian sect) would want to claim an absolute knowledge of the Divine is quite serious and dangerous. I think the whole idea of religion is to come to some understanding of this Presence and should not be about owning knowledge of this Presence in absolute.

    Simply put, are you open to the possibility of there being a Supernatural Entity or Divine Presence which probably has not been well reflected by the various organized religions?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 23, 2020

      No, I don’t believe this. I used to, quite fervently. But now, no — I don’t think any of our reality existed before the Big Bang.

  14. Avatar
    MichaelK  February 24, 2020

    A few weeks ago I befriended three young people by way of music. We’re all musicians. Long story short, in the course of the evening after we played a few songs I asked who their favorite bands were. I mentioned, for example, The Beatles. All three looked at me as if I had asked an exam question about quantum mechanics. Turns out all three were raised by very extremely, conservative, Evangelical Christian parents and all three were raised on Christian only music and media. They had never heard a Beatles’ song or any popular musical group. One of the kids who tagged along and who didn’t even play became interested in my conversation about why I wasn’t a Christian and wanted to come back and visit and listen to music he had never heard before. Last night was our three hour dinner and music get-together. He told me in the course of our conversation how he had climbed through the indoctrination (his words) of his upbringing and that he had discovered Dr. Ehrman’s books. I told him that I too was a reader and a supporter of Dr. Ehrman’s blogs and scholarly investigations into the historical truth behind Christianity. This young man’s desire for knowing through direct observation and knowledge beyond simply parroting a book gave me hope that there will always be humans who won’t settle for anything but truth, no matter how rigid their upbringing or orders to believe without question. Buddhism at it’s essence is about this direct observation of our natural world by way of using meditation to understand how mind can filter our experiences and how we are responsible for our actions and also how we are responsible for finding truth in our own direct way. End note, this young guy’s favorite musical moment was Pink Floyd’s “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”. Fitting!

    • Bart
      Bart  February 26, 2020

      Wow. Even when I was a fundie I loved the Beatles! Still do…

      • Avatar
        Duke12  February 27, 2020

        I suspect that certain fundamentalists who lived through the 60s and 70s circled the wagons as tight as they could and raised their children far more sheltered than you or I ever were. I’m glad my conservative evangelical-ish parents were too naive 🙂 in the 70s to shelter me from TV (except for MASH, for some reason), music (despite strong concerns about the hard rock I listened to), and science.

        • Avatar
          MichaelK  March 2, 2020

          It’s interesting that one of these kids later told me that he had been secretly listening to what he described as “Death Metal” before leaving home. Maybe it’s the other side of the coin where the things we are taught to shun eventually come back to bite us in the butt and take notice. If you want to make your kids curious about something make it taboo.


      • Avatar
        MichaelK  March 2, 2020

        The Beatles… what’s not to like? Thank you for your well researched writings. I’m glad I heard your interview on Fresh Air years back. It’s what turned me on to your books and this blog.

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