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My First Teaching Position



My students are alternatively comforted and chagrined to learn how hard it was for me to get a teaching position. It makes them feel good that they are not alone, but bad that they too might have a hard time – even harder. I was on the job market while I was writing my dissertation.. And even though there were job openings, I couldn’t get an interview to save my soul. Part of the problem was that my PhD was from a theological seminary, and a lot of the jobs were at secular institutions – state universities, private colleges, and the like. Most places simply don’t want to take a chance on someone who has been trained in a theological environment. Especially someone like me at the time. I had never set foot in a secular setting since high school! Starting when I was 17, I was at Moody Bible Institute (3 years), Wheaton College (2 years), and then Princeton Seminary (7 years). Yikes!

And even theological schools and Christian colleges were not, by and large, interested in me, in no small measure because of my area of expertise. Greek manuscripts? Patristic citations of the New Testament? Didymus the Blind??? Are you kidding? Most places wanted someone who was an expert on the letters of Paul, or the Gospel of John, or biblical hermeneutics, or – well, or anything besides what I was an expert in.

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Autobiographical. Metzger and Me. The NRSV Bible Translation Committee
Sad News: The Passing of Marvin Meyer



  1. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  August 20, 2012

    Now, if these same events had happened to many whom I know, these events would be used as evidence of the divine intervention of a very personal God. How do you distinguish divine intervention from “magic” or just plain luck?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 21, 2012

      Well, at the time I suppose I thought it was divine intervention. I can’t think that now, since I don’t believe in God! So thank God for good luck!! 🙂

  2. Avatar
    donmax  August 20, 2012

    This is what I like most about you and your writing. Nothing scholarly or highfalutin here, just down-to-earth reflections about everyday experiences. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Avatar
    ZachET  August 20, 2012

    Do you think that Jesus actually fulfilled some messianic prophesies due to pure coincidence and chance or do you think that the new testament writers changed information to make it seem like Jesus had fulfilled these prophecies.

    For example Micah 5:2 says that the ruler of Israel would come from Bethlehem Ephrathah, do you think Jesus actually came from Bethlehem or did the NT authors make it up to make it fit, and do you think the same for other prophecies

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 21, 2012

      I think the NT writers told their stories about Jesus while being fully cognizant of what the Hebrew Bible said about the coming savior, and that affected how they narrated their tales.

    • Avatar
      andrew0410  August 21, 2012

      Matthew’s gospel in particular makes a point of stating that events in Jesus’ life were in fulfilment of various OT prophecies. To a non believer his interpretation of those prophecies looks rather strained. I don’t think though that it’s necessary to assume that the NT sources cynically made up events in Jesus’ life as fulfilments of the prophecies. They believed that Jesus was the Messiah, and they believed that he fulfilled the prophecies. A short step then to believing that he must have fulfilled those sometimes obscure prophecies. How might he have done that , e.g. a ruler coming out of Bethlehem? Well it could have happened this way…probably did happen this way…it did happen this way. Thus can falsehoods come to be accepted as truth, without anyone deliberately telling lies.

      • Bart Ehrman
        Bart Ehrman  August 23, 2012

        Yes, I agree. I too don’t think there was much intentional lying about it all. But it’s just a hunch.

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    glucab86  August 21, 2012

    A question not related to the post btw I’m happy for your dream come true 😀

    I would like from you a post about the immortality of the soul in the NT and the development of this theory. Someone told me that is very incorrect to say that derive from plato and told me to read those books. How this idea has been developed from the christian church?

    -G.W.E. Nickelsburg, Resurrection, Immortality and Eternal Life in Intertestamental Judaism, Harvard University, Cambridge (Mass.) 1972;
    -J.S. Park Conceptions of Afterlife in Jewish Inscription, Mohr, Tubingen, 2000.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 21, 2012

      I’m afraid I ahven’t looked at Nickelsburg’s book for many, many years, and have not read Park. If you would like to summarize their views for me I’d be happy to tell you what I think — although when it comes to their subjects, they are the experts, not me.

      • Avatar
        glucab86  August 21, 2012

        http://www.jhsonline.org/reviews/reviews_new/review304.htm is a brief summary of the book of Nickelsburg. Basically a Oscar Cullmann critique and the statement that:

        In his conclusion to Part One, Nickelsburg notes that beliefs centering on resurrection in the Second Temple Period usually stem from three main forms, viz., (1) The Story of the Righteous Man and the Isaianic Exaltation Tradition; (2) The Judgment Scene; and (3) Two Ways Theology. He also claims that over time the historic specificity of resurrection and judgment we have seen in texts like Daniel 12; 2 Maccabees 7; and 1 Enoch 94-104 gives way to a more general scheme of reward and punishment for everyone, which will usually include a bodily resurrection

        The other book explain (google books preview have the whole book summary – 1 page – readable) how in Paul the concept of immortality is very present.

        Dale B. Martin in his course states that the idea of the immortal soul resides more on Plato than anything in the new testament. I believed that. So a post about the historical development of this idea would be very welcomed!

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  August 23, 2012

          Yes, I thought you were referring to immortality of the soul, as opposed to the resurrectoin of the body. I agree with Dale Martin: they are actually different phenomena. The idea of resurrection developed out of Jewish apocalypticism; immortality came from Greek philosophical traditions, as articularted especially by Plato.

  5. Avatar
    Adam  August 21, 2012

    I really enjoy hearing the struggles other have faced and have overcome because it gives hope. Years of waiting for the job one desires is painful – something that many of us can relate to.

  6. Avatar
    hwl  August 23, 2012

    Are secular institutions wary of taking on someone from a Christian university, in case they end up with a raving mad fundamentalist more interested in proselytizing than scholarship?
    Do you imagine your life now, and spiritual journey you went through, would be very different had you got your first job in a Christian confessional college (like Wheaton)? For a start, you would not have been permitted to research into and write about the many topics you are well known for (e.g. orthodox corruption of scripture, Jesus as a failed apocalyptic prophet).

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 24, 2012

      I think every university looks carefully at a teaching candidate’s credentials — including educational background and intellectual interests. No one would be hired at a university without very, very careful vetting and interviews. I don’t think I could have gotten a job at a place like Wheaton (in fact, I’m sure I could not have) out of graduate school, because already I was not in the proper mold. If I had started teaching at a seminary, though, yes, my life would be very different indeed!

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