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My First Taste of Critical Scholarship

In this week’s mailbag I deal with an interesting question about how knowing about a topic is not the same as understanding the scholarship on it.  The question begins by quoting something I said on the blog a while back



Quoting me: “That’s because serious scholarship is itself hard. It’s not an easy read. It’s not like reading your favorite novel.”  Can you recall the first book of serious scholarship that you had to read? Did you think, “Gosh. Maybe this course of study ain’t for me”?!



Oh boy do I remember that!   It happened my first semester in graduate school at Princeton Theological Seminary.  I arrived on campus there pretty confident in my understanding of the Bible and most things connected with it.  I had already spent three very intense years doing a diploma in Bible-Theology at Moody Bible Institute and two years at Wheaton College, among other things learning Greek and taking courses on the translation and interpretation of New Testament texts in Greek.  I thought my training at Princeton Seminary would probably be more of the same.

Yikes.  I was completely wrong about *that*….

My first semester at Princeton I took a course on the exegesis (= interpretation) of the Greek text of the Gospel Luke, with a 30-something Yale-PhD professor named David Adams.  I was taken aback from the outset.  This was a study of Luke unlike anything I had experienced.

It did not start off with the assurance that the book contained the inspired Word of God, beautifully connected with the other three divine Gospels which, to be taken altogether as a harmonious whole as a four-fold witness to the divine Jesus.  Just the opposite.  Luke was being portrayed as standing in *contrast* to what can be found in the other Gospels, and differences were not meant to be harmonized but to be allowed to stand and tell us what was distinctive of Luke’s own message.  WHAT?  Didn’t Prof. Adams realize that all differences could be reconciled and revealed the richness of the four-fold witness to Christ?  What’s wrong with him?  Can’t he *read*?

One of the key texts for the class was a book that we were told was a classic in the field, but which I had never heard of, written by a German scholar whom I also had never heard of, but was told was one of the premier authorities in the field.  The scholar was Hans Conzelmann and the book was called The Theology of St. Luke.  Prof. Adams told us that this was not the most recent cutting edge scholarship, since it was a book published in mid-century (in German, under the title Die Mitte der Zeit); but it set the trend that scholarship had followed for the next thirty years.  We had to read and write a review of the book for the class.

I tried really hard to read and understand the book.  But it was so completely unlike anything I had ever read before that I couldn’t make heads or tails of it.  It was as if I was trying to read Swahili.   The assumptions Conzelmann had, the claims he made, the conclusions he reached made no sense to me.  Literally, they seemed like non-sense.

Of course I had known before this that each of the Gospels had its own message, its own way of portraying the wonderful divine story of Christ’s incarnation and life, death, and resurrection.  But these were simply different ways of viewing the ultimate Gospel message, completely reconcileable; the way to read the Gospels, I had always learned, was as a harmonious whole, taking the entire message as the revelation from God about the life of Christ.

But Conzelmann was picking the Gospels apart, claiming that the differences were not reconcilable and in fact their inrreconcilable nature was the key to understanding their accounts.  Specifically, since Luke had used Mark as a source for his stories, wherever he differed from Mark he intentionally had changed the text in order to make his own (different, contradictory) point.  This was not a claim Conzelmann made in the abstract, to be considered in theoretical terms.  And it’s not a point he tried to prove.  Instead, he *assumed* it without even coming out to state it (that’s the part I found so confusing).  His detailed analysis of Luke was built on that assumption.

When put into practice, the assumption led to a mode of analysis Conzelmann called “redaction criticism.”  Behind the method was the view that Luke’s alteration sof Mark revealed his own distinctive theological message.   For Conzelmann, that message was historically situated:  Luke was living in a laer time from Mark and was ultimately obsessed with the question of the delay of the parousia – the fact that Jesus’ imminent return from heaven, expected a had any day by Mark, had not happened, and required an “explanation.”  Luke had an explanation.

In the view of Luke, unlike Mark, God had never planned for the end of the age to come right away after Jesus’ death.  Instead, for Luke, all history was divided into phases.  The first phase was all the time of the history of Israel up to John the Baptist.  Then came the time of Jesus and the establishment of the church after his day.  Only then would come the end.  Luke was living in the middle of time – the time when the message of Christ was to go out into the world.  Only when that happened would God’s plan be fulfilled and the end come.

When I read this book I thought it was nonsense – even though, as I constantly realized, I simply didn’t “get it.”  I couldn’t get it. Couldn’t make sense of it. Luke’s Gospel is about living in the middle of time???  Of course not.  Luke’s Gospel is about the glorious message of Christ’s death and resurrection for the salvation of the world.  What does TIME have to do with it?  Why should slight changes here and there from Mark’s Gospel be considered the key to understanding Luke?  These are easily reconciled.  And focusing on such tiny details is overlooking the MAJOR points Luke constantly makes about the miraculous life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  Conzelmann was straining at gnats and swallowing camels.

I tried my level best to understand what he was saying, but since his assumptions of the text were so different from mine, they literally made no sense.  It was a very difficult assignment for me to do.  I did my best on it, but I simply didn’t even have the vocabulary to critique such a bizarre attempt to interpret Luke.   I got through, but my thought was, “There’s no way I want to spend my life doing that kind of work!”

At the same time, I wanted to understand it, to make sense of it – if nothing else so I could critique it more adequately.   And so I was bound and determined to pursue this new kind of line of inquiry, not because I found it attractive but because I found it dangerous.  Frankly it took me over two years just to figure it out and make sense of it.

And the thing is, once I made sense of it, it did make sense.  I finally came to understood it.  And to see the logic of it.  The compelling logic of it.

By the time I graduated with my degree three years later, I had started to “get” it.  And, of course, I’ve never looked back.


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History is not the Past! Proving Jesus’ Resurrection and Other Miracles
Did Peter Use a Secretary for his Writings? A Blast from the Past



  1. NulliusInVerba
    NulliusInVerba  July 29, 2018

    Thank you for such personal insight.

  2. Avatar
    BryanS  July 29, 2018

    Did the Gospel According to Luke influence the authors of the Deutero-Pauline works and the Pastoral Epistles?

  3. talmoore
    talmoore  July 29, 2018

    When I went to graduate school, I knew what to expect, because I was already in my 30s and had been reading scholarly works for years leading up to it. But I could tell that some individuals in my graduate seminars were under the mistaken assumption that graduate school was just going to be like another two or three years of regular college classes.

    Their first clue that they weren’t in Kansas anymore seemed to be the titles of the assigned reading in the syllabi. For example, none of the book titles started with “An Introduction to…” such-and-such. And much, if not most of the reading were recently published books by academics exploring frontier theories and discoveries in the field. And, more painfully, we were expected to read an entire book and discuss it in seminar the same week. Not to mention writing a 20-page paper on the side.

    For those blog members who are unfamiliar with post-graduate level education, just imagine that today you have been assigned to read Dr. Ehrman’s “Orthodox Corruption of Scripture” and a week from today you are expected to discuss the book and its ideas intelligently with Dr. Ehrman and his students. Then imagine doing that every week for two to three years. And then, at the end of those two to three years, you have to write a 50-page paper on a topic that has yet to be fully explored by other scholars. Yeah, it’s just as nightmare-ish as you’re imagining it to be.

    Anyway, I could tell there were a few grad students who were quickly overwhelmed and who immediately wondered what the heck they just got themselves into.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 30, 2018

      Yeah, it’s a different universe from college….

    • Avatar
      DavidNeale  August 3, 2018

      This is all interesting! I don’t know if it’s because I’m not American, or because my field is law rather than humanities, but I didn’t have this experience at all.

      As an undergraduate law student at Oxford – law is an undergraduate degree in the UK – we had considerable amounts of reading, and three essays and three tutorials/classes a fortnight. So I got used to reading rapidly, producing lots of written work, and discussing it at least semi-intelligently. The assessment system at British universities is totally different from the American system. My degree result was entirely determined by Finals, which consisted of nine exams over two weeks at the end of the third year – nothing else counted towards the final degree classification. (This is a terrible system which is not particularly good training for academia – closed-book exams are massively overrated as an assessment method. I’m not bitter, since I got a first, but I don’t think it’s a good system. Indeed I believe Oxford has made some changes now, though I haven’t kept up with recent developments.)

      Then I completed two masters’ degrees – an MSc in “Social Science of the Internet” at Oxford, and an LLM at Harvard. I didn’t find that either was drastically more difficult than my undergraduate degree, although of course I was covering very different material. American LLMs are an odd sort of degree because they’re mainly aimed at international students. (Almost everyone on the course was an international student like me. Some non-US lawyers take the course so they can take the New York Bar and practise law in the US, although I didn’t do that. It seems to be rare for American lawyers, who’ve already forked out for a four-year BA and three-year JD and taken the bar exam, to go for yet another year of study.)

      (To be honest, reading this blog, I often wish I were a Biblical scholar! I’d love to be able to read Koine Greek and Aramaic. But it seems vastly more difficult than my field.)

      • talmoore
        talmoore  August 4, 2018

        From my understanding of British post-graduate education (which is admittedly limited) they, too, do a lot of reading. Indeed, the common expression for saying that someone is working on or has worked on a masters degree in the UK is to say they are “reading” a subject or they “read” a subject. That is, in America we would say so-and-so “did her masters study in math,” while in England they would say so-and-so “read maths”. Naturally, the assumption is that the post-graduate work, in general, is supposed to involve absolutely obscene amounts of reading.

        But as for law degrees, what I know about an LLM is that it’s basically a law degree for someone who doesn’t want to be an actual lawyer (i.e. who plans on joining the bar). In America, at least (I don’t know about the UK) anyone who plans on entering the bar is expected to get a JD. And JD study in America is pretty much standardized, to the point that every accredited law school in America has pretty much the exact same three-year curriculum (colloquially called 1L, 2L and 3L), down to almost the exact same textbooks. From what I understand, the reading in law school isn’t as daunting as it is in a typical non-science masters program, but the amount of writing is easily double. Law students are expected to write hundreds (if not thousands) of legal arguments during their time in law school.

  4. Telling
    Telling  July 29, 2018

    When I first read the four gospels my take was totally different from what is taught by the establishment Church. This was an anti-establishment book, the Church was wrong. And because the establishment had fundamentally dropped the book right into my hands (In early 1970’s it was God’s perfect word) that made it all the more compelling — the Establishment was wrong, they didn’t understand the message they were hocking. I’m not entirely sure what my thinking was back then, I think I had felt I was being talked down to by the authorities, the very opposite of the Jesus message of equality and respect.

    And my focus was the words spoken by Jesus. While I then believed he had been crucified, I didn’t see that as germane to his message. It was a sidebar.

    Ultimately I decided the Bible was the right foundation but didn’t give me what I was looking for (and I was still hopelessly introverted – my only reason for having picked up the Bible). I found my answers in the metaphysical section of any large bookstore (“Seek and you will find”). The answer of Jesus was not follow him, it was the answers are there if we look for them. This is the Establishment distortion, and the wise Jewish prohibition – following a man. The Establishment confused the terms “I” and “Me” as Jesus used them. It is the wisdom the Hebrew God — you don’t need a King because “I” am your king; a self-awareness message.

    This, I believe, was the cloudy and unseen appeal to me way back then.

  5. Robert
    Robert  July 29, 2018

    “… wherever [Luke] differed from Mark he intentionally had changed the text in order to make his own (different, contradictory) point. …”

    Sometimes the changes are not so drastic, merely grammatical or stylistic in nature, and sometimes Luke’s stylistic changes are quite dramatic, ie, they might involve how he thinks a better story should be told, eg, motivating some events by changing the order of what he found in Mark. My point is decidedly not to minimize contradictions among the gospels but to better understand some changes as not necessarily theological in nature, especially with respect to the theology or thought world of the gospel of Mark, which does not lend itself to redaction criticism since we do not have his sources available.

    So, for example, when Luke moves up by one verse the tearing of the temple curtain to immediately before Jesus’ death rather than immediately after it, he may be doing this because he merely wants to better associate the tearing of the temple curtain with the other omen of the darkness over the whole land. Or perhaps he read Mark’s text as implying it was Jesus’ death that opened up the Holy of Holies to all the people, contrary to Jewish belief and practice. But even if the latter is true, and we cannot say that it is, it does not imply that he was correctly reading Mark’s intent in describing the tearing of the temple curtain. There is no good reason not to see this as an omen of the destruction of the temple already in Mark’s gospel, as Joel Marcus rightly does. Mark need not be read as anti-Temple; nor need we overemphasize Mark’s view the redemptive death of Jesus in opposition to temple worship.


    • Bart
      Bart  July 30, 2018

      Yes, often the changes are very, very subtle. But the change of when the curtain rips is highly significant, I think. Changes the whole meaning of the event. In my view Mark wants to show that Jesus’ death brings atonement for sin (it’s at the point of death that direct access to God is now possible.) Doesn’t mean that any longer in Luke. Big deal! (I agree that it now appears to emphasize the hour of darkness, but it stresses far more that it is God’s judgment on the Jewish people for what they have now done)

      • Robert
        Robert  July 30, 2018

        “… but it stresses far more that it is God’s judgment on the Jewish people for what they have now done)”

        You’re saying this about Luke? That Luke saw the rending of the temple curtain as God’s judgment on the Jewish people?

        I think Mark sees the temple”s destruction in 70 CE as God’s judgement against the Jewish leadership who turned him over to Pilate. Note the transition of from “they” to “you” in the quotation of Daniel 7 in Mk 13 and Mk 14,62.

        • Bart
          Bart  July 31, 2018

          Yes, just like the speeches in teh early book of Acts, speaking to the Jewish crowds: “YOU killed him, but God raised him from the dead.” You may know that article by Eldon Epp on the theme of Jewish culpability on Luke Acts.

          • Robert
            Robert  July 31, 2018

            Thanks. Is this the one your referring to:

            The “Ignorance Motif” in Acts and Anti-Judaic Tendencies in Codex Bezae. HTR 55 (1962), 51–62.

          • Bart
            Bart  August 1, 2018

            Yup, old but worth reading still. Came out of his dissertation The Theological Tendency of Codex Bezae Cantabrigensis in Acts.

  6. Avatar
    Wilusa  July 29, 2018

    The dfferences about “when the End Times were coming” reminds me of a question I asked a while back, that you never answered.

    Do you think it’s possible that when Jesus and his disciples went to Jerusalem, they may have intended to *stay there*, for years – at least some of them finding employment, as Paul later seemed to do in various cities – with Jesus preaching his “message” in as many Passover Weeks as necessary?

    I’m in the camp that believes Jesus *didn’t* expect to be in any physical danger. He probably wouldn’t have been, if Judas hadn’t told the authorities (truthfully or not) that he was calling himself the future “King of the Jews.”

    And he and his disciples may have thought of the End Times coming “soon” as merely “in their lifetimes,” not necessarily that year.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 30, 2018

      My sense is that they were coming as pilgrims for Passover, which means it was a trip of a couple of weeks, not more than that. I also don’t think they expected a violent end.

  7. Avatar
    forthfading  July 29, 2018

    Dr. Ehrman,

    Do most scholars today “get it”? By this I mean…. is what you came to understand in graduate school the standard that scholars come to “get”?

    It seems that many scholars still hold and defend that the accounts can be reconciled and reveal the richness of the four-fold witness to Christ. This appears to be at odds to the scholarship that you finally understood and embraced, but these guys are still considered scholars……and many are considered authoritative in their fields.


    • Bart
      Bart  July 30, 2018

      In my opinion some get it and some seem not to!!

      • Avatar
        HenriettePeterson  August 9, 2018

        Does N.T.Wright get it (in your opinion)?

        • Bart
          Bart  August 10, 2018

          Tom Wright is a superb scholar. I disagree with him on lots and lots of things, but his knowledge is impeccable.

  8. Avatar
    godspell  July 29, 2018

    It is possible to be a fine scholar AND a lucid writer who can explain complicated arguments in a way accessible to beginners in the field, or just intelligent laypersons (well of course it is, or I wouldn’t be here).

    But in serious academic scholarship, the former rightly takes precedent over the latter. Since after all, it’s possible to have an engaging prose style and not know what the hell you’re talking about.

    When studying European history, one point that was raised rather frequently by my professors who read German was that it is not a language that easily lends itself to lucidity. The phrase “Hegel reads like a dead horse” comes to mind.

    I assume you were reading a translation of Conzelmann, and he probably wouldn’t have gotten translated at all if he weren’t fairly influential.

    I wish I wasn’t so hopeless when it comes to learning other languages. That was the rock upon which my shortlived academic career foundered. I could have studied American history. You only need to know English for that. For some reason. 🙂

  9. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  July 29, 2018

    Wow! Thanks for sharing this experience and, of course, anyone who has read your blogs and books knows that you view each Gospel as telling its own story. It’s fascinating to know where your view of this got its roots and how you initially struggled against this view

  10. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  July 29, 2018

    P.S. As I have said many times, your personal blogs are by far and away your best blogs. It’s not even a close call and I remain hopeful of some day reading your autobiography of your religious quest and education. It all mirrors the journey of many of us filled in with a lot more scholarship.

  11. Avatar
    Omar6741  July 29, 2018

    Off-topic question: Marcion thought that Paul had a written Gospel in his possession. Did he also think that Paul had received this written Gospel fom Christ?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 30, 2018

      I’m trying to think if we know that Marcion thought Paul actually had a written Gospel in his hands. Offhand I don’t recall the evidence of that.

      • Avatar
        Omar6741  July 30, 2018

        Here is a post you wrote on Jan. 6th, 2013, about the issue. Does that remind you of any evidence you may have seen? Thanks!

        “So the deal is this. Paul really did not know that there were any written Gospels, since in his day, they hadn’t been written yet. This includes Luke, probably written around 80-85 CE, some 15 or 20 years after Paul’s death. BUT, Marcion was writing in the 140’s, and he didn’t have our modern, historical knowledge of when these books were written. All he knew was that Paul constantly talked about his “gospel.” And he assumed (wrongly) that Paul must have been referring to a “Gospel book,” such as one of those that eventually came into the New Testament. And so he thought that Paul had a Gospel (book), even though Paul almost certainly did not.”

  12. Avatar
    prestonp  July 30, 2018

    “The assumptions Conzelmann had, the claims he made, the conclusions he reached made no sense to me. Literally, they seemed like non-sense.” B

    His “assumptions”.

    “Specifically, since Luke had used Mark as a source for his stories, wherever he differed from Mark he intentionally had changed the text in order to make his own (different, contradictory) point. This was not a claim Conzelmann made in the abstract, to be considered in theoretical terms. And it’s not a point he tried to prove. Instead, he *assumed* it without even coming out to state it (that’s the part I found so confusing). His detailed analysis of Luke was built on that assumption.” B


    “Luke was living in a laer time from Mark and was ultimately obsessed with the question of the delay of the parousia – the fact that Jesus’ imminent return from heaven, expected a had any day by Mark, had not happened, and required an “explanation.” Luke had an explanation.” B

    Based on “assumptions” he had an “explanation.”

    “Luke was living in the middle of time – the time when the message of Christ was to go out into the world. Only when that happened would God’s plan be fulfilled and the end come.” B

    His assumptions could not be wrong?

    “At the same time, I wanted to understand it, to make sense of it – if nothing else so I could critique it more adequately.” B

    Having been raised by two intellectuals, the crème de la crème, they often remarked that scholars never stop being curious, they never stop examining and reexamining information and theories, that they are never content or satisfied with what they’ve learned, that they always pursue new or nuanced theories or propositions, trying always to increase their understanding, no matter how accomplished they may be or may be considered to be, no matter which or how many advanced degrees they have earned; at least true scholars never relent. They are always driven to ask more questions, to stay open-minded, to pursue more knowledge. Historical critics assume that at no time did God intervene or participate in any fashion in our world.

    But, what if God does exist? What if He intervened in history? What if it could be proven? As a historian, how important is that?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 30, 2018

      Conzelmann was himself a committed Christian.

      • Avatar
        prestonp  July 30, 2018

        But, what if God does exist? What if He intervened in history? What if it could be proven? As a historian, how important is that?

        What kind(s) of evidence would be sufficiently convincing to you that God is?

        Historical critics assume that at no time did God intervene or participate in any fashion in our world. How do historians explain our presence in the universe, and the universe itself, and what if they disagree? Must they make a public confession of faith in and commitment to the set rules establishing what historical criticism is?

        Scholars are always driven to ask more questions, to stay open-minded, to pursue more knowledge.

        “since Luke had used Mark as a source for his stories, wherever he differed from Mark he intentionally had changed the text in order to make his own (different, contradictory) point.” B

        Isn’t that a claim about history that cannot be proven historically? Since when has Bart Ehrman ever accepted as gospel the assumptions someone else made?

        “At the same time, I wanted to understand it, to make sense of it – if nothing else so I could critique it more adequately.” B

        O where o where did the real Bart Ehrman go?

        “The assumptions Conzelmann had, the claims he made, the conclusions he reached made no sense to me. Literally, they seemed like non-sense.” B

        Isn’t that the same reason you reject the scriptures as inspired?

        “Conzelmann was himself a committed Christian.” B

        He found credible evidence that Jesus was in fact the Son of God, that He died for our sins and rose again? Where? Do you know?

        In the beginning it is obvious the defendant was guilty in Twelve Angry Men. Death Penalty worthy.

        “It is not acceptable to presuppose your conclusions” B

        Exactly. Historians have proven that God is not. I’d like to see their evidence. They must have the evidence.

      • Avatar
        prestonp  July 31, 2018

        Regarding The passion of Christ, Bill Leonard says the most overarching critique is that the story shortchanges God. “‘When you limit the gospel story only to the crucifixion — when you don’t have the story of the prodigal son, the words of the Sermon on the Mount,” he says, “It doesn’t tell the story that Jesus shows us what God is like. The love of God is not simply revealed in the brutality of the cross.'” From Al Hunt WSJ

        I am all for taking the N.T. as a whole, but please, for Pete’s sake, the Crucifixion Is the perfect and full depiction of God’s love for us. Nothing tells the story of His love for each of us better than His passion. A little disjointed, too, to criticize Gibson for combining the four gospels’ accounts of that monstrous plunge into depravity to present the complete picture of that horror, and to point out that including other passages from the Scriptures would offer a more well rounded take on God’s love.

        The violence — the pain inflicted upon Christ starts early on and is punishing and cruel throughout — bothered them. (liberal scholars) This pervasive brutality, like the relentless scourging of Christ, doesn’t reflect the gospels, despite Mel Gibson’s insistence he followed scripture. Notes Prof. Wudel: “If you add everything up in the gospels, there’d be three minutes of scourging.”

        Prof. Wudel, I apologize that the torturing of Christ was portrayed unrealistically using excessive cruelty and took too long. How many minutes of scourging with a cat o’ nine tales do you believe it took?

        “Since the blood factor is minimal in the Gospel, where did Gibson get his information and inspiration? Can such a bloody, gruesome, and gory misrepresentation of Christ’s suffering and death be biblically justified and shown to young people? Is it not idolatrous to portray the Divine Son of God in a way that will distort the worship experience of millions of Christians for generations to come?”

        Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph. D.,
        Retired Professor of Theology and Church History
        Andrews University

        Prof. Bacchiocchi, how much blood do you suppose He lost? 5 to 6 pints. Would that quantity smeared on His body look harmless?

        Have you observed a scourging and a crucifixion?

        Blood factor in the gospel is minimal? Hammering nails through bones and flesh ain’t too bad either, huh? Bible doesn’t make a big deal of it.

    • Avatar
      flcombs  July 31, 2018

      prestonp: “Historical critics assume that at no time did God intervene or participate in any fashion in our world. But, what if God does exist? What if He intervened in history? What if it could be proven? ”

      All you have to do is prove it! That’s the point, so just go do it! If you can’t maybe you have been overconfident of your position and not going by evidence! If you have proof, why are you holding back?

      The “existence” of God is actually irrelevant to history and doesn’t matter.

      First: You obviously haven’t read much and not much of Dr Ehrman’s blog on the matter. Historians don’t assume there isn’t a God or he doesn’t do anything. They go by what can be proven or what is the most likely occurrence. Miracles are hard to prove, but you are welcome to demonstrate if your god can do them. If you accept them, then you also have to accept miracles in other religions as well based on the same level of evidence, which means Christian ones aren’t that important or evidence anyway. As early Christian fathers noted, there are many gods with the same attributes as Jesus.

      So assume there is a God. We can observe his actions and power. We don’t see anyone being raised from the dead, amputations being instantly healed, etc. etc. So there is no evidence that God has the power to do those things or is willing to do them. Anyone claiming that God has raised someone from the dead (or any other true miracle) is going contrary to God’s observed abilities or willingness. Anyone making claims contrary to God’s observed actions has to have evidence for them to convince a historian that God did such things. It doesn’t mean they didn’t happen, just no reason to accept God acted contrary to his normal behavior without evidence. So whether god exists or not is irrelevant to history: just go by evidence or proof of what happened.

      You apparently really accept that as well or you accept all the other Gods and miracles as true, or even all the Catholic saints, etc. and the many miracles from history we can’t “prove”.

  13. Avatar
    Mhamed Errifi  July 30, 2018

    Hello Dr Bart

    I checked in Arabic bible to see how the verse in the book of revelation 19 : 11 was translated and I found out they translated the word fauthfull to mean : trustworthy a person whom you can entrust with your money or valuables that you can leave in his house your valuable until you return from your trip . person entrusted to take charge of other people′s merchandise. entrusted to trade on behalf of those who could not travel themselves.

    and they translated the word true to mean : somebody who does not tell lies
    so according to the Arabic bible verse 19 : 11 tell us that jesus was known by two names trustworthy and honest
    As Koine Greek expert do you think that the two words faithful and true meant that in Koine Greek , if not would you please tell me what the author meant by the two words faithfull and true

    Many thanks

  14. Avatar
    paul c  July 30, 2018

    In grad school, I found several German and French writers (in translation) to have employed an obtuse writing style that got in the way of a reader’s understanding of what they were getting at. I thought that it was the translation. However, I found some reassurance in the fact that my German cousin expressed the same thoughts. To quote a famous American archaeologist, “If you think that you understood what I wrote after reading it once, then you didn’t understand it.” And that, is intentional obfuscation! I’m not suggesting that is necessarily the case in your encounter, but writing style could have been an issue as well.

    • talmoore
      talmoore  July 30, 2018

      Sometimes it seems like scholars are purposely trying — competing even — to see who can write the most opaque work. It you want a real treat, read a book by a post-modernist critical scholar. Even if it’s written in English, it’s like trying to read ancient Sumerian. For example, here’s a paragraph from a work by Lacan (“The Mirror Stage”) that I’ve just picked out at random. Enjoy.

      “I have myself shown in the social dialectic that structures human knowledge as paranoiac why human knowledge has greater autonomy than animal knowledge in relation to the field of force desire, but also why human knowledge is determined in that ‘little reality’ (ce peu de realite), which the Surrealists, in their restless way, saw as limitation. These reflections lead me to recognize in the spatial captation manifested in the mirror-stage, even before the social dialectic, the effect in man of an organic insufficiency in this natural reality — in so far as any meaning can be given to the word ‘nature’.”

      • Avatar
        paul c  August 1, 2018

        Good example!! One hypothesis is that such is a way to establish walls around, and membership in, a certain exclusive society. “I am different from, and better than, those others so I deserve tenure.” Certainly, not all scholars write or think that way, but there are some.

  15. Avatar
    Lilly  August 1, 2018

    Hi Dr. Ehrman

    Just a few questions. I’ll try to keep them short . ( I can imagine how busy you are now )

    Would you say that is was your trade book, ‘ Misquoting Jesus ‘ that catapulted you from a historian, well known among his peers, to becoming a historian just as well known to the public ? Was it a difficult transition ? Did anyone anticipate that it would be a best seller ? Were you surprised by the uproar and discussions still continuing today . Why do you think most Christians, outside scholarship, were so shocked, when for centuries it was common knowledge among church officials ?

    And finally , I came across your interviews with Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert . When Jon Stewart said that Misquoting Jesus ‘ is one helluva of book ‘, and your ending remark on The Colbert Report about having you know what back then , was hilarious . Even Stephen Colbert was trying hard not to laugh .

    thank you

    • Bart
      Bart  August 2, 2018

      Thanks. I had a couple of other books that sold reasonably well (e.g., Lost Christianities; that one led to a cover story on Time Magazine), but yes, Misquoting Jesus was the big breakthrough. I didn’t think it would be a bestseller. It was about Greek manuscripts of the NT!!! Who wants to read about THAT? It turns out a lot of people do. Go figure….

  16. Lev
    Lev  October 16, 2019

    Dear Bart,

    I’m about 4 weeks into my Masters in Religions and Theology at the University of Manchester – and wow! What a shock to the system!

    My biggest surprise is how postmodernism has permeated throughout the department. My first degree was in politics, so I sense this is some wave of neo-Marxist philosophy that has taken hold.

    May I ask what your thoughts are on postmodern scholarship? Is this big in the US, or is it a UK / EU thing?

    Also – your writing style is so much clearer and easier to understand than most of the reading we’re being served here. Compared to you, it’s as if people are speaking a different language. I want to learn in your style of communication (i.e. plain English please!) but instead, it’s wall to wall obscurantism! Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

    • Bart
      Bart  October 18, 2019

      Ah. Right. It completely depends where you study. Manchester did not used to be like that. Postmodernism, of course, is a highly complex phenomenon, and it came into religious studies some time after it had already been floating around other disciplines heavily invested in theory (anthropology, cultural studies, literature, etc.). There are huge pushbacks now against old style postmodernism in a number of realms of discourse, not so much by conservatives insisting on the status quo of ‘critical’ scholarship (although that’s always gone on and will continue to do so), but but theorists who have moved other directions.

      My advice: master the jargon and learn the system, obscurantism and all; and figure out how to deal with it both on its own terms and in terms that make sense to you — being open to the philosophical and ideological claims you’re hearing, because they are important to know and consider embracing instead of rejected out of hand. BUT, there is zero reason for theoretically heavy materials to be obscure. Read Wittgenstein, Stanley Cavell, or Toril Moi. Deep does not mean obscurantist! But most people cover over the lack of substance, the inability to write, or their own insecurities with obscurant prose….

      • Lev
        Lev  October 18, 2019

        Many thanks, Bart – I’m forever grateful. It’s interesting that there is a “huge pushback” against postmodernism now – especially from theorists who have moved onto other directions. I’ll keep an ear open to any discussion on that as I’d be interested to see how that plays out. Do you think these ‘other directions’ could be described as ‘second-wave postmodernism’?

        I’m especially grateful for your advice and reading suggestions. I’ve found a copy of Wittgenstein’s ‘Philosophical Investigations’ in our library and have requested ‘Must We Mean What We Say?, Stanley Cavell’ and ‘Revolution of the Ordinary: Literary Studies after Wittgenstein, Austin, and Cavell, Toril Moi’ be obtained as they seem the most celebrated works – unless you advise otherwise?

        I seem to be sharing the early frustrations you had with Critical Scholarship but for Postmodernism. I appreciate your advice to master the jargon, system and philosophical claims of Postmodernism. Despite the difficulties, I begrudgingly expect it will be a fruitful exercise… even if I do feel the urge to throw it all out of my window from time to time!

        • Bart
          Bart  October 20, 2019

          Yup, those are among the classics. Some of them are hard-sledding, but amazingly perceptive. Toril is a friend, and she an my wife have edited a collection of essays roughly dedicated to developing feminist theory in light of Wittgenstein and Cavell.

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