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My Book Sales and the “Relatives” of Paul: Weekly Reader’s Mailbag March 25, 2016

For this week’s Readers Mailbag I have two questions, one about the sales of my new book and one about the apostle Paul (the meaning of a particularly important verse).  If you have a question you would like me to address, simply ask it here!

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QUESTION:

Are you pleased with how Jesus Before the Gospels is selling? The reviews are great. I’m enjoying reading it, myself.

 

RESPONSE:

Thanks for asking!  Yes, there are some reviewers who seem to “get” what the book is, and who appreciate it.  I’m always grateful for that!

Am I happy with the sales so far?  Unfortunately, the answer is “not really”!   I have to admit I’m a bit spoiled on the book sales front.  This is the seventh book I’ve published with HarperOne.   Of the other six, one was a book that none of us thought would be a huge sales success, Did Jesus Exist? (In fact, our original idea was to publish it simply as an e-book, because we knew it had such a limited market.  At the very last minute we decided to make it a print book, and it’s done reasonably well, but it was not designed to have wide appeal.)   The other five books with HarperOne have all been New York Times Bestsellers.  That is amazingly satisfying (and incredibly rare: it is extremely difficult every to get *any* book on the list!).  By far my bestselling book of the lot has been Misquoting Jesus.

I’m very grateful for all this success.  But…

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    Boltonian  March 25, 2016

    Just about to take delivery of Jesus before the Gospels and Did Jesus Exist (some of my atheist friends are convinced that he was at best a composite figure and, quite possibly, completely fictional). Looking forward to getting stuck in.

    Re-the second question, I have always been under the impression that most critical scholars thought that women were instrumental in the survival and development of the early church.

    • talmoore
      talmoore  March 26, 2016

      “some of my atheist friends are convinced that he was at best a composite figure and, quite possibly, completely fictional” Yeah, Mythicism has become an epidemic amongst atheists, I’ve noticed.

    • Avatar
      maryhelena  March 29, 2016

      One book that would do well on your reading list is Thomas Brodie’s ‘Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus: Memoir of a Discovery’. Brodie is a great NT scholar (The Birthing of the New Testament: The Intertextual Development of the New Testament Writings) who is paying the price for speaking out regarding conclusions he has made after a life-time of New Testament study. Keeping in mind that it is always the heretics that push the boundaries of intellectual discourse…

      Brodie is not an atheist and remains in the Catholic Church – albeit under censor not to teach or write, withdraw from all ministry or contacting the media. Heresy hunters are alive and well….Like Hans Kung, Brodie’ loyal opposition to the Church has curtailed his freedom of expression. (Kung cannot teach Catholic theology – he teaches ecumenical theology.)

      Seeking ‘truth’ is not a safe journey to be making. Damascus ‘conversions’ might open the eyes of some people but it’s often the long way around that brings with it a crisis of conscience. Kicking and screaming against the inevitable…..(did not Bart write something like that re his own intellectual journey…)

      On my amazon wish list right now is ‘An Ancient Theory of Religion: The Reception of Euhemerism from Antiquity to the Present (Routledge Monographs in Classical Studies) Nikolas Roubekas. Hardcover – 1 Dec 2016’ – but at 102 pounds it looks like it will have to be a library loan…..Don’t forget http://www.academia.edu as an excellent source for free academic articles/papers.

      As for book reviews – Tim Widowfield, at Vridar org, is reviewing ‘Jesus Before the Gospels’. Presently has three blog posts online – more to come….

      http://vridar.org/2016/03/20/bart-ehrman-jesus-before-the-gospels-basic-element-1-maurice-halbwachs/

      http://vridar.org/2016/03/25/bart-ehrman-jesus-before-the-gospels-basic-element-2-form-criticism/

      http://vridar.org/2016/03/28/bart-ehrman-jesus-before-the-gospels-basic-element-3-oral-tradition/

  2. Pattycake1974
    Pattycake1974  March 25, 2016

    I’m sorry to hear that your book isn’t doing as well as you like. Maybe once the Presidential hubbub is over, your book could maybe get a 2nd chance?

    I didn’t know that about Junia. I’m always learning something new on here! You know, I really appreciate this blog and you’re openness in allowing us to express our thoughts and opinions even though you may not agree or think they’re way out there. God knows I’m opinionated. After realizing the bible wasn’t divinely inspired, at least not in the way I believed before, I was very lost. This blog has become my new touchstone.

  3. Avatar
    joewaters  March 25, 2016

    Hey Bart,

    Regarding your point on getting media, the new world is YOU ARE THE MEDIA. This blog itself is a great starting point, but you could be doing a more:

    1. Email newsletter, which would capture a dedicated audience.
    2. Facebook page with focus on ads to target a specific audience.
    3. Organic ranking and paid ads on Google.

    That’s just three things. Probably things you are not interested in. I get it! And what you are doing is wonderful. But here’s the truth: publishers suck at marketing. They are only good at distribution….but they to distribute to one place: Amazon.

    Stop waiting for the media and be and the media! YOU WILL GET MORE MEDIA ATTENTION! I work in the nonprofit world and one off the top of my head example is Greenpeace. I realize you are not a big org but there are good lessons.

    http://www.fastcoexist.com/3051371/why-greenpeace-is-building-its-own-team-of-investigative-journalists?utm_source

    I don’t offer the services above so I don’t have horse in this race! I just thought I would share it with you as you are half way there because your stuff is so good!

    New to forum but really enjoying it.

  4. talmoore
    talmoore  March 25, 2016

    Dr. Ehrman, alas, the best way to get mass media attention is to court contraversy. It seems the more outlandish a work (or author) is the more it catches the national attention. Probably the best example of that is Dan Brown’s daVinci Code, which is like a perfect storm of Jesus mixed with conspiracy theorist nonsense wrapped in a suspense thriller chocolate shell. It would also help if you were a Muslim who wrote a book about Jesus being a religious freedomfighter (a la modern Muslims), and you had a hostile interview on Fox News — like, say, a certain author whose name rhymes with Schmeza Schmaslan.

  5. Avatar
    flshrP  March 25, 2016

    I’ve read “Jesus Before the Gospels” once and it’s going to take me a half dozen readings to figure out what you’ve accomplished here. I think you’re saying something worthwhile and, perhaps, profound. But I haven’t been able to penetrate deeply enough to figure out what it really is. I’ll pick up the book again in a month or so and see what happens.

    I’ve read all your books including your massive tome on the Bible and felt I got the point on the first readings. Not with this one. It’s one tough cookie. Don’t know if this is a factor in lagging sales–maybe, maybe not.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 26, 2016

      Sorry you found it hard to get through. I thought it had a pretty straightforward thesis! If we understand better how memory works, we can see how the stories of Jesus came to be changed between the time of his death and the first writing of the Gospels.

  6. Avatar
    spiker  March 25, 2016

    “I think it’s both unusually interesting and extraordinarily important. So if you haven’t read it, I strongly suggest you give it a try and spread the word. ”

    I am a SLOW reader, Bart. In all likelihood, I wont get it till next year (DEFINITELY Trumps fault 😉 ) However, I have been anticipating it since I first read about it. The subject matter, if not exactly in your specific instance has been, it would seem, the holy grail of your profession, at least since the emergence of form criticism: The idea of getting back to real christianity. It is also timely, what with Dunn’s recent work, Jesus remembered, I Think..

  7. Avatar
    Petter Häggholm  March 25, 2016

    Speaking for only one of your readers, I look forward to ‘Before the Gospels’ more than perhaps any of your books; money being tight precludes my having read it yet, but maybe if the tax gods look favourably on me… That and ‘When Prophecy Fails’ would make me one happy camper.

  8. Avatar
    nichael  March 25, 2016

    With regard to the name “Junia”, and how –deeply entrenched– preconceptions change over time:

    One day in class, while we were studying this passage, our teacher passed around a selection from commentaries about this verse written “back in th day”.

    Virtually without exception the gist of the comments were of the form: “Isn’t this interesting. This is an Apostle. So here we clearly have an example of a man who has a woman’s name in the feminine gender.”

  9. Avatar
    garytheman  March 25, 2016

    I purchased the audible version and I was expecting something like your other books. Listened for several hours and became so disgusted with content I returned. I didn’t I purchased the audible version and I was expecting something like your other books. Listened for several hours and became so disgusted with content I returned. I did’nt realize you were going to take an approach not having anything to do with Jesus only things on psychology and memory. So disappointed and also that you did not read the text. realize you were going to take an approach not having anything to do with Jesus only things on psychology and memory. So disappointed and also that you did not read the text.

    • Pattycake1974
      Pattycake1974  March 26, 2016

      The first half is more background information and a setup to understanding how the psychology of memory works to distort and change memories. The latter half had more Jesus-oriented content. Maybe you didn’t get far enough with it.

    • Avatar
      Xeronimo74  March 29, 2016

      uh … seems like such a sophisticated book is indeed not for you …

  10. John4
    John4  March 25, 2016

    I imagine, Bart, that the NRSV translates SUGGENEIS as “relatives” in order to avoid feminist irritation with the traditional translation,”kinsmen”. What term would you recommend they use instead?

    Thanks! 🙂

    • Bart
      Bart  March 26, 2016

      Compatriots.

      • John4
        John4  March 26, 2016

        Of course! Thanks! 🙂

        • John4
          John4  March 26, 2016

          Ah! And when I went to gloss the verse I noticed what I had overlooked earlier: the NRSV glosses “relatives” as “compatriots” in a footnote. Sorry to have bothered you with this. 😐

      • Avatar
        jhague  March 29, 2016

        Staying with the same question, if Paul had compatriots who were in Christ before him, is it likely that he followed their lead and joined shortly after them. Perhaps with the compatriots “converting” him?

        • Bart
          Bart  March 30, 2016

          Well, he says nothing about that. He says that it was a vision of Jesus that did it.

          • Avatar
            jhague  March 30, 2016

            Yeah. I’m not believing the vision. I think he was influenced by his compatriots. Paul also says he was a serious Jew but that doesn’t seem likely to me with the direction that he took away from Judaism. I think Paul made statements that he felt would assist his mission. So he acted Jewish around Jews and acted Christian around Gentiles. But his goal was for all to be Pauline Christians.

  11. Avatar
    dragonfly  March 25, 2016

    I will be reading your book as soon as i can get the time and money. Does the media really think noone cares about anything else at the moment? I live in a media blackout so i don’t know what’s going on in the world.

  12. Josephsluna
    Josephsluna  March 25, 2016

    So that’s who is on your mobile users profile pic ? Plato ? The his first university ( the academy ) is where that picture comes from? Just wondering and blogging is all.

  13. Avatar
    smackemyackem  March 25, 2016

    Bart…are you familiar with this? Is it getting any serious consideration that you know of? http://www.simchajtv.com/jesus-discovered-in-dead-sea-scrolls/

    • Bart
      Bart  March 26, 2016

      Yeah, just saw it advertised today. Good grief.

    • talmoore
      talmoore  March 26, 2016

      Keep in mind the author of that blog says he spoke with Dr. Robert Deutsch, who confirmed his theory. Robert Deutsch isn’t a scholar. He’s an antiquities dealer. He has also been indicted by (and has counter-sued) Israel’s Antiquities Authority on several occasions. That should tell you something.

    • Pattycake1974
      Pattycake1974  March 26, 2016

      Wow

    • Avatar
      Jim  March 27, 2016

      Thanks for the link. I noticed that at around the 7:06 mark, epigrapher Dr. Robert Deutsch dates this fragment to the first century AD. I’m not sure that this dating actually helps Simi’s case, who seems to be trying to give the impression of Jesus coinciding with the ~100-200 BCE date range of the bulk of the DSCs.

  14. Avatar
    Judith  March 25, 2016

    Do you think it would help if several thousand of your bloggers sent texts or emails to Terry Gross asking when she plans to have you back? (I’ve already sent FOUR :-))

    Google Terry Gross Fresh Air. When at site, click onto “contact Fresh Air” and complete the information requested.

    Also, Stephen Colbert (The Late Show) was sent a message about your new book and asked when he plans to have you on.

    the late show – audience@gmail.com

    Hopefully, every blogger will send at least one message.

    • Avatar
      Judith  March 26, 2016

      This idea was brought up before, I know, but am thinking with over five thousand bloggers now, if just a few thousand sent messages to Terry Gross, that might work.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 26, 2016

      Yes, thousands would help!

    • Avatar
      twfreeman  March 27, 2016

      I sent my requests to Terry and Stephen. Thanks for the directions and link.

    • Avatar
      Xeronimo74  March 29, 2016

      I’ve send them an e-mail as well!

      • Avatar
        Judith  March 29, 2016

        That’s terrific, Xeronimo74. Just 2,097 more needed. 🙂

    • Pattycake1974
      Pattycake1974  March 29, 2016

      I sent some emails, but I approached it a little bit differently. If one my emails happens to trigger an interview that leads you to monumental success with this book, I want your PR person’s salary. 🙂

      • Avatar
        Judith  March 30, 2016

        Thank you, Pattycake1974! Now only 2,096 more needed. How do we whip all five thousand bloggers into a frenzy of sending emails to Fresh Air and The Late Show??? It would be so fun to get this done for Dr. Ehrman. He already said somewhere he thinks we bloggers are terrific. He would know how truly terrific we are if we could get that done for him. Right?

      • Pattycake1974
        Pattycake1974  February 16, 2017

        I sent another email (and tweet!) to Fresh Air about an interview for Jesus Before the Gospels. I’d like to see more of a dialogue and exchange of ideas about some of the topics you discussed in your book.

  15. ronaldus67
    ronaldus67  March 26, 2016

    If only your books were to be translated into Dutch, I’m sure you would sell a whole lot of more copies! Just kidding! I’m going to buy your latest book anyway 🙂

    • Pattycake1974
      Pattycake1974  March 31, 2016

      I guess I just assumed that books were available in just about every language. Apparently, no so since you’re about the 3rd person I’ve seen ask about the book being translated into their native tongue.

  16. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  March 26, 2016

    Well, I am very disappointed that “Jesus Before the Gospels” is not attracting more media attention. At first, I did not understand why the study of “memory” would matter much regarding early Christianity. Then, I started to understand that it matters a lot since there were four or more decades of oral transmission of accounts about Jesus prior to the writing of the Gospels and what scholars tell us about what usually happens during such periods of oral transmission of “memories” gives us important clues about what happened to the Gospel accounts during these four decades. So, for me, the book turned out to be much more helpful than I had initially expected it to be. I think my understanding had to evolve because I did not really initially grasp the term “memory.” Clearly, the writing of the book took a “huge” amount of scholarly work.

    I also think the book adds to the evidence that a lot in the Gospels is literary rather than historical and I am progressively wondering if even most of the “gist” in the Gospels is literary as well since there seems to be so little, outside Christian sources, to confirm any of it.

    When I have discussed the book with others, the most common response I get is that “memory” of the events did not matter since God inspired the writing of the Gospels. My response, to myself, is how can the Gospels with all of their contradictions and discrepancies be “inspired” by a perfect God?

    You do have a remarkable ability to not get bogged down and keep moving to the next project.

    • Avatar
      Xeronimo74  March 29, 2016

      Same here: ” At first, I did not understand why the study of “memory” would matter much regarding early Christianity. Then, I started to understand that it matters a lot since there were four or more decades of oral transmission of accounts about Jesus prior to the writing of the Gospels and what scholars tell us about what usually happens during such periods of oral transmission of “memories” gives us important clues about what happened to the Gospel accounts during these four decades. So, for me, the book turned out to be much more helpful than I had initially expected it to be.”

  17. Avatar
    Wilusa  March 26, 2016

    About your book sales… I’m remembering all those questions the publisher submitted to you about its contents, and the lengthy answers you gave them. What exactly did they do with all that? If they were posting it somewhere as promotional material, people who read it might think they understood your main points so well that they didn’t need to read the book!

    • Patty
      Patty  April 10, 2016

      I saw that you (I think it was you?) had a pending comment on a response to Richard Carrier. Can’t find where the comment is posted though. I had him added as a friend on Facebook because I really did feel that he was an intelligent guy despite the fact that he lost his mind when assessing Bart’s work. However, his Facebook page was more than I could handle, so I deleted him. I have lost all respect for him and wouldn’t watch him in a lecture or a debate with anyone.

      • Bart
        Bart  April 11, 2016

        I never respond to him, I’m sorry to say. He is disrespectful and even malicious toward others and I don’t find that an admirable attribute in a scholar.

  18. Avatar
    john76  March 26, 2016

    I wonder if the original Christians that Paul was persecuting provided him with an idiosyncratic reading of the Hebrew Scripture that he later took to heart after he converted? Paul’s gospel is that “Christ died for our sins ACCORDING TO THE SCRIPTURES, 4and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day ACCORDING TO THE SCRIPTURES,… (1 Cor 15:3-4).” Presumably the crucified Christ was “to Jews a stumbling block” because Paul’s reading of the Hebrew scriptures which provided Paul with the true meaning of Christ’s death was at odds with how most Jews understood those scriptures.

  19. Avatar
    godspell  March 26, 2016

    I’ll be getting a copy shortly, Bart. Bear in mind, a lot of us are receiving constant demands for money via email, and not from Nigerian Princes–another downside to publishing in an election year.

    I’m surprised you’re not more of a Trump fan, given his deep knowledge of scripture. Did you hear his commentary on Two Corinthians?

    It’s his favorite book, you know.

  20. Avatar
    snippy23  March 27, 2016

    It’s probably small comfort, but I pre-ordered from Amazon UK well in advance, and I don’t have my copy yet because, it seems, they didn’t secure enough copies to even cover the pre-orders. So, you can hope for a few more sales over here!

    Thanks for your consistently excellent work.

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