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Metzger and the Squirrel Part 2: Another Blast from the Past

I’ve decided that I can’t do just one Blast from the Past this week, since the one I chose was a two-part post, and I can’t leave anyone hanging.  Here is the all important (and in some ways more interesting) part two of my Metzger and the squirrel story, from exactly four years ago.

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As I indicated on my previous post, for years friends of mine were eager for me to find out whether the story about Metzger and the squirrel really happened. They wanted me just to ask Metzger. But there were problems with that. Among other things, if it had happened, he almost certainly wouldn’t remember, since it would have simply been something that happened with no significance to him – only to the one who thought it was very odd that Metzger would happen to know what the Greek word for squirrel was and that he would volunteer it at that rather inauspicious moment.

Moreover, there were aspects of the story that did not “ring true.” Metzger was not heartless toward other living beings and he was not one to boast about his knowledge about Greek — or about anything else. Years later something happened to me that made me realize that the narrative itself could not be true…

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Constantine’s Vision according to Eusebius
Bruce Metzger and the Squirrel: A Blast from the Past

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  July 23, 2016

    I love the two “squirrel posts.” They illustrate so well what happens when information, including information about Jesus, is passed along. As one would guess, the squirrel story that I related on yesterday’s blog also has several different “versions” even among those, including the shooter, who were in attendance at the outdoor dinner i described.

    The squirrel stories also capably illustrate your lifelong quest to slowly unravel Biblical history from Biblical legend. It is a daunting task especially after the passage of 2,000 years.

  2. Avatar
    Epaminondas  July 23, 2016

    We had a pet squirrel when I was young. We suspected someone raised him as an orphan, and then dumped him at our farm because we had a big grove of trees. He came right up to my father, and climbed on his shoulder. “Skippy” was a delightful character who loved people. He liked being in the house, and was never destructive. He let us know when he wanted to be outside in the trees. One day he fell out of a tree and broke his back. He probably hit a small limb on the way down. Being a squirrel can be a hazardous occupation.

  3. talmoore
    talmoore  July 23, 2016

    Dr. Ehrman, I see you appreciate the irony of NT textual critics attempting to unravel the Gordian know of a mundane case of the telephone game, and how you can see that the NT itself may be — and likely is — the product of a similar instance of the telephone game. This is an excellent example of how “legendary” accounts of a person can form even while that person is still alive — contrary to those who believe it takes years, if not decades after a person dies before legends can develop around them. It’s actually conceivable, for instance, that stories of Jesus performing miraculous healings could have even started circulating while the man was still alive, even if those stories were barely if at all historically accurate. It’s rather suspicious that in many stories Jesus tells the person he has healed to not speak of it to anyone. That sounds an awful lot like a post hoc rationalization of why such a seemingly noteworthy tale wasn’t more well-known.

    Evangelist: “And when Jesus touched the blind man, the blind man suddenly got his sight back!”
    Listener: “That’s amazing! If this Jesus fellow had such wonderful powers, how is it I’ve never heard this story? How is it I’ve never heard of this man?”
    Evangelist: “Well, it just so happens that after Jesus healed the blind man, he told the man not to tell anyone about it.”
    Listener: “Oh, that must be why I haven’t heard about it until now.”

    Awfully suspicious.

  4. Avatar
    flshrP  July 23, 2016

    Now you’ve done it. I won’t be able to hear the name “Bruce Metzger” without recalling the squirrel story. Thanks a lot 🙂

  5. Avatar
    stokerslodge  July 23, 2016

    Bart, forgive me asking a question totally unrelated to the above. I’m curious to know if the phenomenon of speaking in tongues was something that was exclusive to the Christian community in New Testament times, or was it practiced by other religious sects also? I’ve heard it said that the disciples of Socrates spoke in tongues, is that correct?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 24, 2016

      I don’t know that it was practiced in philosophical circles (and rather doubt it), but it is a feature found in a number of religious traditions, ancient and modern. (Scholars call the phenomenon “glossalalia”)

  6. Avatar
    Xyloplax  July 23, 2016

    These are now my favorite 2 posts of your entire blog 🙂 Narrative cracked me up, it was relevant to the blog, and the Greek word for squirrel really is awesome.

  7. Avatar
    SteveWalach  July 24, 2016

    A most insightful post, Bart, with far-reaching implications, I think.

    You bought to bear a personal experience — your witnessing a squirrel falling out of a tree that did not go “splat,’ but merely scampered away.

    I’ve seen the same thing, but when reading the various versions of the Metzger/squirrel legend, I had unconsciously suppressed experiential knowledge that would have prompted me to question the legends’ entire pretext.

    But that’s what good stories will do. As scholars of literature put it: The well-crafted story causes its listeners and readers to “suspend disbelief.”

    Add to a good story the legends surrounding the august and revered main character– in this instance Bruce Metzger but long ago, Jesus of Nazareth — and our natural tendency to affirm or question based on our reservoir of indisputable personal experience flies right out the window.

    Stories about virgin births, raising of the dead, walking on water, etc. slide right past our “reality” sensors. Without a second thought, the stories establish a foothold in our collective consciousness because the NT stories are that good and because, of course, many of us have already been pre-conditioned to accept Jesus’s remarkable, other-worldly powers.

    As for walking on water, a teacher of mine once opined that because the human body is 75% water, one might fully expect a person to walk on water. The real miracle is that this human water bag can walk on land. But it takes a special sort of tenacity for the truth to think so counter-intuitively, and humorously.

  8. Avatar
    Iris Lohrengel  July 24, 2016

    If originally sayings circulated by themselves and then morphed into stories, would that favor the notion of the Gospel of Thomas being an early document? Like Q?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 26, 2016

      Not necessarily. It’s possible that later documents also extracted sayings from longer sources. (Think of how Jefferson’s Bible was created: the fact that it was shorter and non-miraculous would not make it earlier than the Gospels of the NT)

      • Avatar
        rivercrowman  August 18, 2016

        Just an aside. Jefferson’s Bible includes Matthew 24:37-39 and 25:31-46. Had Jefferson fully screened out all of the superstition it would have ended up not much more than a booklet or pamphlet!

  9. Avatar
    billw977  July 25, 2016

    Your post goes along with everything you’ve been saying about how the New Testament came together. I’m reading my 4th book by you, “How Jesus became God”, and beginning to see that most of the material I’ve seen from you is just another angle on why the Bible is mostly fiction. You have me 98% convinced that everything you’re saying is correct and legitimate. And yet, I still find it hard not to believe in a supreme being, whoever he is. My question to you is after you’ve spent most of your later life disproving the “inerrancy” of the Bible, where do you go from there? Do you still believe in a supreme being? Do you now believe in evolution or were we planted here by aliens? Is there another religion that has caught your eye? Surely in all your studies, something has come together for you…

    • Bart
      Bart  July 26, 2016

      I’m an agnostic, but it’s not because of my study of the Bible. It’s because of my sense that there cannot be a God ultimately in control of this world, filled as it is with so much pain and suffering.

      • Avatar
        billw977  July 28, 2016

        Yes, I read your book about suffering. I must say, and I don’t mean any disrespect, but I find it hard to believe that someone with your learning, your understanding and grasp of the scriptures, knowledge of where the Bible came from and your associations with the top NT scholars of the world that you would say it’s the suffering. For me, it was all the inconsistencies, the forgery, all the things you said in “Jesus, Interrupted”, etc…..but suffering? To me, suffering makes perfect sense if one were to accept the Bible as ‘gospel’. Mankind blew it! We disobeyed, God is trying to show how extremely important it is to listen to him. Not only do we hurt ourselves, but we hurt our children, our friends, everyone around us. Suffering is a result of what we’ve done. All of it! Disease, wars, famines, natural disasters….Suffering cause people to think. To think about what they’re doing with their lives to prevent suffering. To find compassion for others who are suffering and to help. Many have left their lives of godlessness because of suffering. I personally turned to God because of loneliness and depression. Why was I depressed? Because I cheated on my wife, and she left me. I suffered but it taught me. You say innocent people suffer but what is a short lifetime of suffering compared to eternity in heaven? Doesn’t suffering teach humbleness, lowliness, and in the end, real appreciation for the good things in life? I could go on and on but don’t you buy any of this? If everything was perfect in our lives and we ‘knew’ everything, then where would be the living?

        • Bart
          Bart  July 30, 2016

          Yes, I disagree, as I think you know! Massive starvation does not make the poor people who starve to death “think.” It makes them starve to death. Whereas others who are worse than they live off the fat of the land. If there was consistent sufferin for consistent sin, it would make sense. As it is, it absolutely does not.

          • Avatar
            billw977  July 30, 2016

            Ha ha! You just did to me the same thing you do to those people you debate! And I’m actually on your side of the fence. I pointed out 2 or 3 reasons why there is suffering (which I thought were rather good) and you address just one of my statements as if it was the only reason I gave….. Which is ok, I know you can’t give long answers. But I can understand the frustration of some of the folks you debate (like James White). Anyway, I think you also know that Biblically, suffering isn’t always the result of immediate sin. A guy is born blind at no fault of his own or his parents but to show the glory of God. Not to down play the horrors of starvation but the innocent folks who die of starvation will always appreciate what they have in heaven. It’s not like they die and are dead forever. (Biblically speaking) A woman suffering in child birth forgets all about her pain with the joy of her newborn child. (So they say) Your suffering reason is lost to me. I’m sticking with the Biblical contradictions. Or should I? Is there something you know that we don’t?

          • Bart
            Bart  August 1, 2016

            Sorry — I was just answering the one point you made that struck me as the most important!

            A woman who suffers through child birth then, afterward, has the joy of a child to compensate. A woman who starves to death has prolonged and unspeakable suffering with nothing to compensate. She dies in agony. I do not see these as commensurate.

  10. SBrudney091941
    SBrudney091941  July 27, 2016

    The Jewish storyteller Steve Sanfield used to tell a story of a rabbi explaining how he always has a story for every circumstance: He once saw the side of a barn with archery targets on it and, in the exact middle of each target, there was an arrow. It turned out that a young boy had done it. The rabbi asked him what his secret was to have reached such perfect marksmanship. “It’s easy,” the boy said, “First I shoot the arrows into the side of the barn and THEN I paint the targets around them.” So too, it seems to me, tales about Jesus floated around which were either true, exaggerated or false until various writers gave some of them places within their stories.

  11. Avatar
    lesliehint  July 27, 2016

    Your point is well taken. I ponder the likelihood of Metzler forgetting this event,and even though I would say it is highly unlikely, it is still possible. Our memories are not factual movies to be projected onto a screen; instead they are stored events,that may or may not have occurred, that help us make sense of the world and our interaction with it. I bring this up to point out that it is staggering to think how much the Bible-believing world invests in ancient memories. On top of that, these memories have been passed down orally and then through centuries of scribes copying these “eye witness” accounts. I marvel at my own “simple” attitude toward these issues just a few years ago. Actually, I probably never considered it! It was just easier to believe that some “story fairy” just kept everything true and in order!
    Thank you for you voice of reason, Bart!

  12. Epicurus13
    Epicurus13  July 29, 2016

    I was wondering if you saw this post on Bible,org from Dan Wallace about your telling of the Metzger and the squirrel story ? He says it was at the annual Society of Biblical Literature conference in 2007. Two things stood out for me. His view that, (“We are not like the ancients whose memory was far more acute; unlike the ancient world, ours is a written culture, not an oral one.” ) Especially after reading your last book and, (“Ehrman is a devotee of Metzger”). Devotee ? Here’s a link for it if you have any free time to read it.

    https://bible.org/article/historical-metzger

    • Bart
      Bart  July 30, 2016

      My most recent book on Jesus Before the Gospels is meant to show in particular that this idea that people in oral cultures had better memories than people in written cultures is completely wrong.

      • Epicurus13
        Epicurus13  July 30, 2016

        I know and agree, I read Jesus Before the Gospels twice. I think I quoted that line because Dan Wallace was saying it to prove the opposite and tie you wanting an accurate Metzger story in the same way the Gospel authors wanted accurate ones of Jesus. Here is another line I missed from it. (“most stories about Jesus did not take on such a wide variety of forms; and oral tradition in Jesus’ day was substantially more stable than it is today.”) Sorry if I made a confusing post. Or did I ? Now I’m confused. Lol !

        • Bart
          Bart  August 1, 2016

          No, I wasn’t correcting you! I was just pointing out to other members of teh blog that I think his views have been discredited.

  13. Avatar
    SidDhartha1953  August 5, 2016

    Re: the Sabbath was made for man etc.: wouldn’t the saying in isolation from a context have been about as off the wall as the fellow scholar found Metzger’s discourse on *skiouros*? Is there any method for teasing out the likely context of an utterance, when the traditional context seems implausible?

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