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Is There Sarcasm in the New Testament?

 

Here is an unusually interesting question I have received:

 

QUESTION:

During the time that the New Testament was being written, especially during Paul’s time, did they have in society what we consider sarcasm? Sometimes certain sentences pop out to me as they could have meant them in a sarcastic tone. I know it is probably just me since I am a sarcastic person.

 

RESPONSE:

Now *that’s* an interesting question that I, literally, have never been asked before!   But it’s something I’ve thought about a bit over the years, and I think the short answer to it is Yes.

Let me start by giving a definition of sarcasm.  You can find various definitions just on the Internet, but the basic idea is that sarcasm is a form of humor that used irony in order to mock another.

It is difficult to identify sarcasm in ancient writings.  In fact, as you’ve probably noticed, sometimes it’s hard to know if someone is being sarcastic when they are speaking directly to our face! The way we typically detect sarcasm is by the context of the comment and the non-verbal signs given – the facial expression, for example, or the tone of voice used and the words orally emphasized.  You have none of that for the writings of the New Testament – only a bit of information about context (inferred from the text itself) and no non-verbal signs.   So we have to make reasonable guesses about what is sarcastic and what is not.

In my judgment there are passages, though, that appear to be employing sarcasm.  I’ll give one example from the words of Jesus and a couple from the writings of Paul.

The example from Jesus’ words appears in the Sermon on the Mount, one of the places where Jesus appears to be making a humorous comment but that is somewhat biting toward the people he is referring it to.  It’s interesting how most people don’t observe Jesus’ humor, but there seems to be a good bit of it.  (The classic study is Elton Trueblood, The Humor of Christ).  One that I’ve always liked is a familiar phrase that people often don’t realize is meant to be funny.   It’s right after Jesus says “Do not judge, so that you be not judged”  (Matt. 7:1).   And he gives the example “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye but don’t notice the log that is in yours?” (Matt 7:3).

To see why it’s funny you have to actually think about it literally, someone with a tree trunk hanging from their eye objecting to someone else who has a tiny speck of wood in theirs.  But it’s not just funny, I think, but sarcastic, humor being used to scorn those who judge and accuse others for things that they themselves are far more guilty of.  One can think of many, many examples in our world – for example, people in power moralistically attacking others for things they themselves do all the time.

With respect to Paul, scholars have long suggested that he employs sarcasm in his first letter to the Corinthians.  Most readers don’t see the verses in question as sarcastic because they don’t put them in the context of the entire letter and of what Paul is trying to emphasize.  Paul is writing to the Corinthians in part because there were people in the church who believed that because they had received the spirit of God (when they placed their faith in Christ and were baptized) they were thereby exalted to a kind of heavenly status and were already ruling with Christ in the heavenly places.   They thought they were superior to other people and had transcended the pain, suffering, and trivial matters here on earth.  Paul couldn’t disagree more.

He writes 1 Corinthians to tell them that they will indeed become glorified beings in the future.  But it has not happened yet.  It will only happen when Christ returns and his followers are transformed into glorious, immortal beings, no longer to experience pain and suffering and death (this is the point of the final main chapter, ch. 15). Paul’s main point in 1 Corinthians is that it has not happened yet, and people who think it has are deceived and blind.

In the opening section of the letter (chs. 1-4) Paul emphasizes the point repeatedly.  Life in Christ in the present age means suffering the way Christ himself did, it means following a crucified man and experiencing his fate, it means imitating the apostles of Christ who are poor, abused, and mistreated.   It is not a glorified existence (yet), but a humble and painful one.  Paul uses his own life as proof.  On the earthly level it is a life of pain, misery, and abuse.  And he’s Christ’s apostle!

And then, in the midst of this proof, he turns on his readers with what appears to be a sarcastic comment in which he reflects back to the Corninthians their own (false) claims about their current lives in Christ, in order to mock them “Already you have all you want!  Already you have become rich!  Quite apart from us you have become kings!”  (4:8-9).

Most people misread these verses,thinking Paul really means it, that he’s praising them for their exalted status.  But that’s just the opposite of what he’s doing.  He’s actually ridiculing them for thinking that’s the case.  That much is clear from what he says next: “I wish you had become kings, so that we might be kings with you!”  He then talks about how the apostles of Christ – the very leaders of the Christian communities — are massively suffering (not reigning as kings!), under the sentence of death.   But it is also clear from the context of the whole letter: those two verses are the opposite of what he maintains throughout the book.  And so they are meant in a mocking, ironic tone, not as a statement of fact.

The other place Paul uses sarcasm is my favorite.  He writes the letter to the Galatians in order to convince his gentile readers that they do *NOT* need to started following the practices of Judaism – such as circumcision and kosher food laws – in order to be followers of Christ, despite what some other missionaries who have come among them have insisted.  These other missionaries were apparently themselves gentile converts to the faith, who claimed that to be true followers of the Jewish messiah, you have to become Jewish.

That meant not only avoiding ham and shellfish, etc., and observing the Sabbath, but also, for men, have surgery to become circumcised.  Paul thinks this is absolutely wrong and completely contrary to the truth.  Followers of Jesus do not need to become Jewish.  Jesus saves both Jews and gentiles as they are.  He, Paul himself, has been attacked by these other missionaries as preaching an incorrect message (by not emphasizing the ongoing important of the Jewish law).   And he counter-attacks by saying these other missionaries are cursed by God for preaching a false Gospel.

Then, near the end of the letter, he pulls out the sarcasm, in my favorite verse of the book.  “I wish those who unsettle you would be cut off” (Gal. 5:12).   That last phrase could be taken two ways, and that’s probably intentional.   It *could* mean “cut off” from God, or from the Christian community.  Or it could mean physically.  He wishes that when these false gentile missionaries themselves go into surgery to “become Jewish” the knife will slip.  And so sometimes the verse is translated “I wish … they would be castrated.”

Ouch.

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The Message of Jesus’ Miracles
Jesus and His Miracles: Some Interesting Features

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Comments

  1. godspell  August 5, 2018

    Hmm, I’m not sure that last one counts as sarcasm–it’s outright mockery. And indicative that Paul himself knew quite well he had not become an elevated being, above earthly concerns. He had been an angry sumbitch before the road to Damascus, and he remained one.

    Augustine had the same kind of kvetchy humor. I think such personalities sometimes look for some way to rein themselves in, and religion can work. (Or it can make things worse. Depends.)

    Great question, great response.

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  2. Lev
    Lev  August 5, 2018

    I love this post – it’s great to see that ancient religious people still had a sense of humour.

    I think Luke had a certain wit about him also, especially regarding Paul. There are two points in Acts where he suggests Paul had a habit of getting carried away. It’s as if Luke had become weary with some of his habits and wanted his readers to know the sort of person he had to put up with on occasion!

    The first is in Acts 9:28-31 where he describes the freshly converted Paul arriving in Jerusalem bolding preaching about Jesus to the Hellenists who get so enraged they want to kill him, so the disciples send him home to Tarsus. The NIV translation then has this superb line: “Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace”!

    The second is in Acts 20:7-12 where Luke describes Paul literally boring poor Eutychus to death (but then raises him to life). Again the NIV has the most amusing translation of the incident: “Seated in a window was a young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on.”

    You can almost hear Luke protesting – “He never shuts up! He just talks and talks and talks… it’s like this everywhere we go!!!”

  3. trudy  August 5, 2018

    Dear Bart,
    I have been a member of your blog for quite awhile now, but don’t comment often. Your other followers know so much about the Bible, and I know very little! So I need all the help from you that I can get-and you never fail to enlighten me. Thank you so much, and, there is no sarcasm in this post- just respect and admiration.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 6, 2018

      It’s true that a lot of the people who make comments know a lot about the Bible. But we have 6000 member, and most of them don’t! So don’t feel bad at all about making a comment or asking a question. It’s probably a question others have as well!

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    • rburos  August 7, 2018

      I started out on the blog barely knowing the OT from the NT. I got Bart’s textbook on the NT, and then got somebody else’s–it doesn’t matter whose. You will find differences, and that is a perfect place to start developing questions. I find the blog a great place to read Doc’s thoughts, and see his answers to others’ questions (I rarely read posts he doesn’t respond to, because they usually are more statements from nonexperts and I came here to read Doc’s, and I’m more interested in his answers to those questions). Whenever he mentions a book (as above) it is well worth your time to get it. But ask away–sometimes he responds and sometimes he doesn’t. When he does–we all gain. Remember that if you have a question that seems basic to you, many of us will have the same question or at least will be interested in Doc’s answer to that question. We all gain.

      • Bart
        Bart  August 7, 2018

        Many apologies if I don’t respond to questoins! I certainly mean to respond to everything asked. But since I have to speed read all the comments, sometimes I miss them.

  4. tompicard
    tompicard  August 5, 2018

    Jesus’ answer to John the Baptist’s question
    “Are you the one to come or should we look for another?”

    Doesn’t answer the question,

    implies that he (Jesus) has offended John somehow, and

    Also implies John is lower than the least

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  5. Nichrob  August 5, 2018

    For me the funniest sarcastic line in the entire NT is when Nathanael says “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”, in The Gospel of John. A few years ago when I decided to read the NT from cover to cover (after discovering the historical, critical, method from you Spong, Dominic, etc) , I remember I laughed out loud when I read this….

    John 1:46
    Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?

    • godspell  August 7, 2018

      It’s interesting how, in spite of the great distance between them, both chronological and devotional, Mark and John agree on one thing–it’s silly to think God cares where you were born. The Messiah might come from anywhere, anywhere at all. Judea is just a place on a map. So neither of them wastes a moment trying to come up with some elaborate contrivance for Jesus to be born in Bethlehem.

      But for Mark, this is because Jesus was truly born at the moment he was baptized by John.

      For the gospel author John, there was no baptism at all, because Jesus was never really a man, but the word of God made flesh. John must have heard the virgin birth stories, and all the arguments behind them, and he’s mocking them. Can any good thing come from anywhere on this wretched earth? Such a being as Jesus could only have come from heaven. So yes, he was technically born in Nazareth, but that is merely God’s sense of irony at work. From the most inglorious backwater one could imagine comes the King of Kings.

      There are things I like very much about John’s gospel, but it’s about as far from the actual events of Jesus’ life as one could get. I’m not sure John would even take offense at that. To him, the facts of the real Jesus’ life were never even remotely the point.

  6. The Agnostic Christian
    The Agnostic Christian  August 5, 2018

    Douglas Wilson wrote a book which addresses this and related topics called “A Serrated Edge: A Brief Defense of Biblical Satire and Trinitarian Skylarking”. Be warned though, the author is a conservative Reformed Christian.

  7. RonaldTaska  August 5, 2018

    Ouch, indeed!

  8. Iskander Robertson  August 5, 2018

    Hello Dr. Ehrman.

    if we take out the resurrection narratives from the gospels and have jesus as a martyred person who promised his followers that he would return, do you think the religion would have gained followers? would the resurrection of recently deceased have been “sellable” if we take out the second coming and teachings ?

    2 different questions.

  9. ardeare  August 5, 2018

    I really enjoy the subject of sarcasm due to the use of satire ubiquitous to the Romans before and after Jesus’ days. I did a quick search for their proper definitions.
    Satire: the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.
    Sarcasm: the use of irony to mock or convey contempt.

    Are they the same? Mmnn…..not exactly but the people living within the Roman empire would have been all too familiar with the nuances of their day.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 6, 2018

      Satire tends to be in the form of a literary or oral “work”; sarcasm tends to be individual statements/comments. Or at least that’s how I’m thinking of it.

  10. Pegill7  August 5, 2018

    While not in the New Testament I have always thought that in the book of Job when God speaks to Job from the whirlwind he is being sarcastic: “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth. Tell me if you have understanding? Who determined the measurements–surely you know!….Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth? Declare if you know all this.”For God to asks Job questions which He knows Job cannot answer and then to say, “Surely you know” seems to reek with sarcasm.

  11. mtelus  August 5, 2018

    Does sarcasm serve a theological purpose?

    Also, can you give us an overview of theology at it is understood at the undergraduate and graduate level?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 6, 2018

      I’d say it does in the NT.

      No, I”m afraid I can’t.

      • mtelus  August 6, 2018

        What would be your overview of theology as far as what you developed in seminary school and when pastoring?

        Is the theology that was present in the writings of Paul the basis of the theology you learned in seminary school?

        • Bart
          Bart  August 7, 2018

          I’m afraid that would take a book, not a comment or reply!

          • mtelus  August 7, 2018

            Can you recommend any books that you find relevant to your scholarship?

            Also, do you use your understanding of theology to do scholarship? Is it helpful?

            Your book How Jesus became God introduced me to Christology, and its been very eye opening and really increased my understanding of the Bible. I read Triumph of Christianity, Jesus Apocalyptic Prophet, and your New Testament Textbook, so it made a lot of what I read make more sense.

          • Bart
            Bart  August 8, 2018

            I’m not a theologian, even though I had theological training. My work is all historical and literary, and so theological scholarship has very little impact on my work. But if you want to read the work of a New Testament scholar interested in theology, try Dale Martin’s book Theological Truths.

  12. prestonp  August 6, 2018

    That is a possessed woman there,” says Fr Vincenzo Taraborelli as he points up to an 18th Century fresco in his Roman church. “They’re holding her with her mouth open. She has little devils coming out of her body. She’s being freed.”

    It is a scene the 79-year-old priest says he knows well. For the past 27 years, Fr Taraborelli has performed exorcisms – the Catholic rite of expelling evil spirits.

    He stumbled into the job when a fellow priest needed help.

    “I didn’t know what it was, I hadn’t studied it,” the father says. “He told me what to do. I was totally ignorant.”

    He has since become one of Rome’s busiest exorcists, and the Catholic Church is struggling to find younger successors… he often sees up to 30 people every day.

    “Before doing exorcisms I urge people to see a psychologist or a psychiatrist, and I ask them to bring me their prognosis. I’m in touch with many psychologists who send their patients here.”

    “First of all, I get the room ready,” he says. “Then if the person is not doing well, I try to calm them down reassure them. I invite them to join me in prayer.”

    He looks through his copy of the Catholic Church’s exorcism rites. He’s had to tape it back together to stop it from falling apart. Amidst the pile of papers on his desk, he finds the cross he uses to expel evil spirits.

    His most notable case involved a married woman he treated for 13 years.

    “Another man, who was a Satanist, wanted her,” he remembers. “She refused. So this man told her: ‘You’ll pay for this.’ He cast so-called spells to attract her to him, twice a week.

    “Then they came to me, in this room. I started to pray, and she went into a trance. She would blurt out insults, blasphemies. I quickly understood she was possessed.

    “As the rite continued, she started feeling worse and worse. So when I told the devil: ‘In the name of Jesus, I order you to go away’, she started to vomit little metal pins, five at a time.

    “Aside from pins she would also vomit hair braids, little stones, pieces of wood. It sounds like something from another world right? Instead, it’s something from this world.”

    NPR
    A New Movie About Exorcism (It’s A Documentary)
    She was an architect, and a very attractive, intelligent, soft-spoken, wonderful woman.

    Is it sarcasm?

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    • godspell  August 7, 2018

      Is any of it true?

      I was raised Catholic. The priests at the parish I grew up in were all amazing men, educated, urbane, humorous, compassionate, liberal-minded. And I think they’d have been pretty sarcastic about a ‘documentary’ like that.

      Unless you believe humans are incapable of lying–or self deception–you need a lot more than that to prove anything.

      Is it possible you’d rather believe in demonic possession than mental illness? That something as complex and finely balanced as a human mind can’t fall apart by itself, through emotional trauma, or chemical imbalance?

      I believe in the soul, mind you.

      But I don’t believe anyone who tells me they know what it is, or where it goes after death. Anyone who tells me that is a liar.

      And Satan is the prince of lies, is he not? Funny how many of his disciples call themselves Christians.

      But then, Jesus did reportedly try to warn us that would happen.

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      • prestonp  August 9, 2018

        “But I don’t believe anyone who tells me they know what it is, or where it goes after death. Anyone who tells me that is a liar.”

        “In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham from afar, with Lazarus by his side. So he cried out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue. For I am in agony in this fire.’ But Abraham answered, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things. But now he is comforted here, while you are left to suffer. And besides all this, a great chasm has been fixed between us and you, so that even those who wish cannot cross from here to you, nor can anyone cross from there to us.'” Jesus

        “When He had come out of the boat, immediately a man with an unclean spirit came out of the tombs and met Him. He lived among the tombs. And no one could constrain him, not even with chains, because he had often been bound with shackles and chains. But he had pulled the chains apart and broken the shackles to pieces. And no one could subdue him. Always, night and day, he was in the mountains and in the tombs, crying out and cutting himself with stones. But when he saw Jesus afar off, he ran up and kneeled before Him, and cried out with a loud voice, “What have You to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure You by God, do not torment me.”

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      • prestonp  August 11, 2018

        “Mark and John agree on one thing–it’s silly to think God cares where you were born. The Messiah might come from anywhere, anywhere at all. Judea is just a place on a map. So neither of them wastes a moment trying to come up with some elaborate contrivance for Jesus to be born in Bethlehem.” GS

        Why are you certain that God doesn’t care about the accuracy of the details of the how, when and where of Christ’s birth? Luke and Matt were wasting their time manufacturing an elaborate contrivance? They were big fibbers? Does God approve of fibbing? What happens to all liars?

        “There are things I like very much about John’s gospel, but it’s about as far from the actual events of Jesus’ life as one could get. I’m not sure John would even take offense at that. To him, the facts of the real Jesus’ life were never even remotely the point.” GS

        Which words that the real Jesus spoke in John are not part of the factual events that comprise His life?

        “Unless you believe humans are incapable of lying–or self deception–you need a lot more than that to prove anything.” GS

        You are right about that. I don’t believe anyone ever lied about anything ever. Not possible. What do you think I’m trying to prove?

        “Is it possible you’d rather believe in demonic possession than mental illness? That something as complex and finely balanced as a human mind can’t fall apart by itself, through emotional trauma, or chemical imbalance?” GS

        I have no preference

        “And Satan is the prince of lies, is he not? Funny how many of his disciples call themselves Christians. But then, Jesus did reportedly try to warn us that would happen.”

        How many of Satan’s disciples call themselves Christians, roughly? Between 95 and 3,026,916? Jesus reportedly tried to warn us that Satan’s disciples would claim to be Christians? Who reportedly said that?

  13. Iskander Robertson  August 6, 2018

    Dr Ehrman
    when you were a born again christian, did you try to convert people to christianity? did you say things like how humanity is depraved and why they need a human blood sacrifice ? do you now believe that human beings can become better people without blood sacrifices?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 6, 2018

      Yes, I absolutely did. I didn’t talk about blood sacrifice *too* much, but sometimes. Certainly Christ giving his life for others was the key.

  14. prestonp  August 6, 2018

    Eyewitness Memory Is a Lot More Reliable Than You Think
    What law enforcement—and the public—needs to know

    The same is true of eyewitness memory: memory can be contaminated with the trace of an innocent person, but under proper testing conditions, eyewitness evidence is highly reliable. As with DNA evidence, eyewitness evidence needs to be safeguarded against contamination.

    The ability of a person who witnesses a crime to later pick the perpetrator out of a lineup is atrocious—right? … Psychologists have learned a lot about why such errors happen. With surprising ease, for example, participants in a memory experiment can be led to believe that they saw a stop sign when they actually saw a yield sign or that they became lost in a shopping mall as a child when no such experience actually occurred. In much the same way, an eyewitness can be led to falsely remember someone committing a crime that was actually committed by someone else.

    But there is more to the story. Consider the important, and often overlooked, distinction between malleability and reliability. Just because memory is malleable—for example, it can be contaminated with the trace of an innocent person—does not mean that it has to be unreliable. What it means is that the malleability of memory can harm reliability. Once this fact is appreciated, then proper testing protocols can be put in place to minimize the likelihood that the original memory trace is contaminated.

    By John Wixted, Laura Mickes on June 13, 2017

    “I loved it there. I majored in Bible-Theology and absolutely threw myself into my classes. I memorized entire books of the Bible (on my own).” Bart

    Based upon your research in the literature on memory, are you the exception?

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    • Bart
      Bart  August 6, 2018

      I wrote a book on memory called Jesus Before the Gospels. You may find it interesting.

    • flcombs  August 7, 2018

      Actually, it is not more reliable in practice. You should read Wixted’s work further. For example, “We claim that in the lab and in the real world, when eyewitness memory is uncontaminated and properly tested, it is reliable” (Wixted, Mickes & Fisher, 2018 “In the DNA exoneration cases, eyewitness memory was not the problem: A reply toBerkowitz and Frenda (2018) and Wade, Nash, and Lindsay(2018)”. Perspectiveson Psychological Science, 13, 343-345).

      In a lab, ideal situations, trained interrogators and just after an event it should be better. But in the case of the Bible for example, we know that is not true. Exactly how did you test the writers of the Bible and check their memories in an “uncontaminated and proper” manner? Your claim of reliable witnessing is based on studies in ideal situations as Wixted says, not real life and much later, as in the bible. (assuming the bible is even memories and not passed down stories.)

      In the real world, it is rare to get eyewitness testimony “uncontaminated and properly tested”, so in practice it is not reliable. Also, you confuse memorizing words in a book you see repeatedly with the memory of an event and how the mind interprets what it thinks it sees and wants to remember. Emotions and stress are a major factor.

      In addition to Bart’s book, you should read studies such as in the books “Eyewitness Testimony” by Elizabeth F. Loftus and “The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers” by Daniel Schacter (a memory expert and researcher; former chair of Harvard University’s Psychology Department).

      One example Schacter gives is related to the El Al crash in 1992 and a study by Dutch researchers. There is a lot more in it but for starters, when questioned 10 months after the crash 55% said they saw the film of the plane hitting the building. Much later 2/3 said they saw it. The problem is that there was NO video of the plane hitting the building and never was. Did those people with nothing to gain lie or mis-remember? Were their memories just easy to influence as with most people? It is very easy to influence memories.

      • Bart
        Bart  August 7, 2018

        Right. Of course there is no such thing as non-contaminated memory. Its a nonsensical category. Schacter is the world’s expert. He very graciously read my entire manuscript and gave it his stamp of approval before I sent it to the publisher.

        • prestonp  August 7, 2018

          “Of course there is no such thing as non-contaminated memory. Its a nonsensical category.” Your contaminated memory prevented you from memorizing complete books of the N.T.? Without records, could you be certain you went to high school in Kansas? M.B.I.? Wheaton? Princeton? Did PhD work under Metzger? Can you recall what Bruce looked like? if he was married, where he lived? what he taught, anything he said to you or others? the squirrel story? how he severely critiqued your dissertation proposal? what he stood for? any discussions you had with him, what he believed? anything he said? your mom? your bro? your first wife? anything about your kids? how you met your current wife? can you remember anything you and she discussed from years ago?

          You remember what being born again was like. You remember a lot about the young man “Bruce” who was instrumental in your conversion, how he could quote scripture, how he encouraged you to go Moody. You remember the rules at Moody, no jeans for girls, the number of inches to leave between male and female students, men’s hair length, no making out and how those rules led to disastrous marriages.

          Do some have better recall than others? Ask mother. It was frightening what she could recall, even languages she didn’t know with perfect grammar.

          Now wait. What were we discussing? Ho Chi Minh?

          There is long term, short term and working memory. Visual memory and verbal memory. But, you have to be able to retrieve that information, too. What day is it? Is FDR still our president? Ruby recalled, “Fair Play For Cuba” and shouted it to Henry Wade on Friday night at a press conference from the back of the room on Nov. 22, 1963.

          Where was I? Oh yes. That’s right, we invaded Europe when Star Wars was released in 1907 making the cover of Time. Or was that Ruby Tuesday where we ate fries with Mick and some Puerto Rican girls just dying to meet you. “Emotional events tend to be remembered better than non emotional events. We investigated this phenomenon by measuring two event-related potential (ERP) effects
          Behavioral Neuroscience
          September 2002”

          See, if Christians had an agenda, so, too, must atheists/agnostics.

          To Whom it May Concern: Yes. I believe everything I read and hear

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          • Bart
            Bart  August 8, 2018

            I”m not sure you’re getting the point about memory. If you’d like to read my book about it and interact with it, I’d be happy to respond.

          • flcombs  August 8, 2018

            prestonp: I appreciate that you keep proving you don’t really understand the topic or the point of it all. So your just throwing words out there are meaningless to the issues that were being discussed.

            As to your sources, which you appear to often take out of context, there are studies that say opposite of what you claim. For one example:

            “Despite our best efforts, memory is fallible. While arguably the most common interpretation of memory failures is forgetting, the imperfect nature of memory also means that we construct memories for things that did not occur.” False Memory Across Modalities and Species, APA July 9, 2015

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          • Alemin
            Alemin  August 10, 2018

            For a good introduction to the problem of memories, try Julia Shaw’s ‘The Memory Illusion’. https://www.amazon.com/Memory-Illusion-Remembering-Forgetting-Science-ebook/dp/B019CGXQA8/

            “Eyewitness Memory Is a Lot More Reliable Than You Think” – I don’t think anyone in the ‘memory’ industry would agree with that.

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  15. fishician  August 6, 2018

    Jesus is quoted as saying, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Maybe not sarcasm, but a humorous image. However, a Lebanese friend suggested to me this was a mis-translation of the Aramaic. He says it was likely “easier for a rope to go through the eye of a needle.” Threading a rope through a needle makes more sense than pushing a camel through . Any thoughts on the translation of this saying?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 6, 2018

      I’ve looked this up 20 times and every time I learn why the translation doesn’t work, and every time I forget why….

      • jdh5879  August 6, 2018

        I cannot remember the source, but I was told “the eye of the needle” may refer to a small hole in a city wall (needle gate) A door that a camel could actually pass through with some difficulty. Probably an explanation to make rich people feel better.

    • talmoore
      talmoore  August 6, 2018

      This claim comes, ironically, from a mistranslation of an Aramaic translation of the NT called the Peshitta. In the Peshitta, the word used for “camel” is spelled gmla, which, indeed, means camel in Aramaic. But because the Aramaic alphabet doesn’t used vowels (just like Hebrew and Arabic), the word spelled gmla could also mean “rope”. So it’s not that it doesn’t say “camel,” it’s just that, in Aramaic, it could also mean “rope” — i.e. it can mean both. If I remember correctly, this translation was first proposed by the translator George Lamsa about 100 years ago. However, the evidence outside the Peshitta — namely, the original Greek — strongly suggests that the translation is supposed to be, indeed, “camel”.

      A possible reason why Jesus used a camel in the simile is that the entrance to the coming Kingdom (or to heaven) was often imagined to be an actual gate, through which the saved were allowed to enter, and away from which the damned were turned. Therefore, the listener is supposed to picture a regular-sized camel going through a regular sized-gate for the saved, but then imagine the damned as being so overburdened by their wickedness that their attempt to go through the gate into the Kingdom would be like a camel trying to go through a gate the size of the eye of a needle.

    • Hebe  August 6, 2018

      In koine Greek the word κάμιλος meant rope, while the word κάμηλος meant camel. If the text was being dictated to a scribe, it is possible that he misheard and/or misspelled the word so that in all the subsequent manuscripts kamilos (rope) became kamelos (camel)!

      • Robert
        Robert  August 7, 2018

        “In koine Greek the word κάμιλος meant rope, while the word κάμηλος meant camel. If the text was being dictated to a scribe, it is possible that he misheard and/or misspelled the word so that in all the subsequent manuscripts kamilos (rope) became kamelos (camel)!”

        If I recall correctly, there’s no evidence for κάμιλος meaning ‘rope’ in Koine Greek prior to people trying to explain (away) this saying.

    • Bwana  August 7, 2018

      Cyril of Alexandria (PG 72: 857): “Kámēlos is not the animal, but rather the thick rope found in boats.”

      I found this reference on:
      https://hmmlorientalia.wordpress.com/2015/07/23/a-camel-or-a-rope-in-the-eye-of-a-needle-the-old-georgian-witness/
      which provides a pretty extensive analysis of the camel vs rope translation.

  16. joncopeland  August 6, 2018

    I’m looking forward to your new book and hope you will discuss the Harrowing of Hell. How did the notion “He descended into Hell” make it into the Apostle’s Creed? Why was this so important to early Christians?

    Thanks, Dr. Ehrman.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 7, 2018

      I won’t be talking about it at length, except as it is connected to the first narrative we have of it, the fourth century Gospel of Nicodemus. Fantastic.

      • Duke12  August 7, 2018

        I’ve mentioned this before, but the “Harrowing of Hell” is a major component of Eastern Orthodox Christian theology. The icon of the Resurrection displayed in many Orthodox Churches on Easter shows Christ in Hades standing on top of broken tombs and grabbing Adam and Eve by the arms to pull them out. A recent popular study on the subject is: “Christ the Conqueror of Hell: The Descent into Hades from an Orthodox Perspective, by Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev”

  17. John Murphy  August 6, 2018

    Does John 4:17 count as sarcasm?!

  18. talmoore
    talmoore  August 6, 2018

    It might just be the bitter Jew in me, but I have always found Paul to be a bit of a jerk (note that on the website jewornotjew.com Paul is only begrudgingly accepted as a Jew, but is still given two Mel Gibsons). His arrogance and self-righteousness ooze off the pages of his epistles. His sarcasm only makes it that much worse. Among Jews, he’s considered a race traitor.

    • turbopro  August 8, 2018

      Interesting.

      Back in the early 90s, I lived for two years in Nahariyah, where I worked with the UN in South Lebabon. I made one very close friendship with an elderly Israeli sage, who survived Auschwitz. Among the myriad things we discussed, we discussed religion the least. I recall asking about Paul, to which she gave a sorta nonchalant response. She knew I was raised Catholic, but at that time I was apostate; nonetheless, perhaps she preferred not to say too much about Paul. She was not one to mince her words, but perhaps Paul was/is a sensitive issue for Jews?

      If I could relive those times with the knowledge I have now about the illustrious proselytizer, I would probe her more about him.

  19. Eric  August 6, 2018

    Exodus 14:11:

    They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die?”

    Imagine that delivered in a Catskills Circuit accent, George Burns or Jacky Mason perhaps.

  20. Telling
    Telling  August 6, 2018

    In the metaphysical Jane Roberts/Seth Material, the entity “Seth” who is beyond the grave said much of the humor of Jesus has been lost, giving the example “you must love your neighbor”. In that time and place, Seth says, people hated their neighbors. I believe Jewish and Christian historian Amy Levine may have also said this same thing in a Great Courses video (if my memory serves correctly).

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