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My New Book! (In Context of My Others)

.   O frabjous day!  Callooh, callay!   I’m chortling in my joy.    My new book came out today:  Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented their Stories of the Savior.  It is available now, as we speak!  Many, many thanks to everyone on the blog who has commented on various posts that I’ve done related to the book, and especially to those blog members who actually read the book in advance and made comments on it.  I acknowledge you in the Acknowledgments, and I thank you here!

The publication date of a book is always an ecstatic and anxious time for an author.  Will people buy the book?  Will they like it?  Will they hate it?  One never knows!   This is the seventh book that I have published with HarperOne.   It has been a very good run.   I started out publishing my trade books (that is, books written for a general audience – the kinds of thing you would find in Barnes and Noble) with Oxford Press.   I published with them just because I had been publishing my other work with them, and they asked me to do a trade book.

My first Oxford book was a work of scholarship, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament (1993 – 23 years ago now!).  That book was decidedly not for general audiences!  (Although I know that a number of members on the blog have read it) (bear in mind that when I say a “number,” that two is a number).

On the basis of that book, oddly and for some unknown and unexpected reason, my editor at Oxford asked me if I would be interested in writing a college-level textbook on the New Testament. That was virtually the last thing that I wanted to do.   But after she cajoled me for a while, I came to think that maybe it would be an interesting exercise: my other three books were all for scholars in my field of Greek manuscript analysis; how ‘bout a book for nineteen-year-olds who wouldn’t know a Greek manuscript if it bit them on the nose (which, of course, would not be possible).  So I did it.  Now that textbook is in the sixth edition.  Go figure.

After the textbook was done, my editor (a different one this time) tried to persuade me to write a trade book, not for 19-year old students but for their parents.  He wanted a book on the historical Jesus.  I told him that was the last think I wanted to do.  (Different editor, but this was becoming a refrain).  I wanted to return to hard-core scholarship.  But after a while I thought that maybe it would be interesting to write a book for an educated general public of non-experts on something as important as the historical Jesus.  And so I did.  It came out, as my first tradebook:  Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium.

And after that, I wanted to get back to serious scholarship.   I had started doing work, then, on a new edition and translation of the ten Apostolic Fathers for the Loeb Classical Library (Harvard University Press).  But while I was working on that, another publisher approached me to ask if I would be interested in writing a trade book on the question of how we got the canon of the New Testament.  I had long been interested in that question, but I told him no, it was the last thing I wanted to do.  I wanted to stick to my scholarship.

He talked with me about how I would write the book if I *were* to write it.  I told him that I had always thought that the best way to understand how we got the books of the NT was to recognize that there were other books that were (to speak metaphorically) vying for a spot, and you had to put the canon discussion in the context of the broader discussion of orthodoxy and heresy in earliest Christianity.  But I also gave him names of people who could write the book, since I didn’t want to.  Still, he wanted me to do it.   I thought about it for a long time, and ended up agreeing (the full story is pretty funny; I’ll tell it sometime on the blog).  And so I wrote the book (but ended up publishing it with Oxford instead): Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew.  My wife Sarah still insists it’s the best trade book I ever wrote.

I wrote several other trade books with Oxford, and enjoyed very much working with them:  Truth and Fiction in the Da Vinci Code (this was a huge break through for me, since with this book I first realized that I can write a trade book – that is, do the actual writing once the research and outlining is all done – in two weeks); Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene (my favorite title of the books for which I’ve been allowed to give a title); The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot.

When, at some point, I came up with the idea of publishing a book on the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament – my area of scholarly research for some twenty years – I had trouble getting a publisher interested in it.  My editor at Oxford was not sure they would go for it.  I tried several other publishers.  Harper decided they would give it a shot.  Turns out to have been a very good thing indeed.  That was the book that made my career take off:  Misquoting Jesus: The Story of Who Changed the Bible and Why.  Since then I have published five books with Harper.  Five of the six have done extremely well (none as well as Misquoting Jesus!).

And now this – Jesus Before the Gospels, my seventh.  In my next post I’ll talk about how it differs from all the others.   For now I’m just chortling.


Jesus Before the Gospels in Relation to My Other Books
Did the Earliest Christians Believe Jesus *Became* God?

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Comments

  1. talmoore
    talmoore  March 1, 2016

    Dr. Ehrman, just downloaded the new book on my Kindle. Looking forward to reading it.

    Oh, and I agree with your wife. Lost Christianities was probably your best book so far.

  2. Avatar
    BrianUlrich  March 1, 2016

    Which one didn’t do well? I’ve often guessed that your least-selling trade book would be either God’s Problem or Did Jesus Exist?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 2, 2016

      The latter. Maybe I’ll post on this!

      • talmoore
        talmoore  March 2, 2016

        If that’s the case, that may be one reason why Mythicism has run rampant in the atheist/secular community, like an untended garden overrun with weeds.

      • Avatar
        toejam  March 2, 2016

        Interesting. I would have thought DJE? would be one of your higher selling ones. It seems to me to be the one you are most known for within the ‘New Atheist’ camps.

      • Avatar
        bamurray  March 2, 2016

        Sorry to hear that “Did Jesus Exist?” didn’t do well! I enjoyed it a lot – especially since I had heard of the mythicist case for some time and was quite interested in how one would assess it. Previously you had just written mythicism off with one-liners about how no scholars believe it. I though your discussion in DJE was convincing and was very interesting and informative about how historical scholarship works. (By the way, I happened to be in our local Barnes & Noble yesterday, March 1 – Aliso Viejo, CA – and the only book of yours I saw on the shelves was one paperback copy of DJE – in the “Christian Life” section!)

      • Avatar
        Rogers  March 6, 2016

        Hah, I read the God’s Problem book.

        I always like to go strait to the core challenging issues that humanity faces up to by virtue of existence. The survey of the Bible stuff on suffering was great, the last section drilling down on the enigma of suffering itself, with appeal to classic 19th century Russian literature, transitions into a rather hard read on an emotional level. It would be tough sledding to the constitution of a lot of folks to try and negotiate through that part of the book.

        For me, well, I fully acknowledge that suffering is a primary component of existence, and in respect to all biological life existence seems to be baked into the very fabric of the cosmos due to the 2nd law of thermodynamics (putting all life into a state of contention per the sake of mere existence).

        However, I don’t arrive at the same destination as you do, Bart (agnosticism) due to visceral metaphysical experiences I went through, primarily in the years 2009 through 2013. I would describe it as something comparable to the life experience of the young Carl Jung that motivated him to write his Red Book journal (and that remained unpublished until just a few years ago). There was one very dramatic experience in all this that just made agnosticism or atheism a complete non option. Materialism is not foundational but emergent.

        Even ardent well known skeptics have had their doubting moments per Materialism: i.e., Michael Shermer’s article on the Scientific American web site:

        Anomalous Events That Can Shake One’s Skepticism to the Core
        http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/anomalous-events-that-can-shake-one-s-skepticism-to-the-core/

  3. Avatar
    John  March 1, 2016

    ” (Although I know that a number of members on the blog have read it) (bear in mind that when I say a “number,” that two is a number).”

    I can’t believe that. It is one of the beast books you have written. Buy it now if you haven’t already!

  4. Avatar
    WimV  March 1, 2016

    Just ordered it. 🙂

  5. Avatar
    seward414  March 1, 2016

    It downloaded to my Kindle yesterday and I started it last night.

  6. Avatar
    plparker  March 1, 2016

    Kudos! I can’t wait to read it. At some later time I wonder if you can comment more on how you research, prepare for and write a new book like this. It sounds like you have a good system down. I’d like to know more.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 2, 2016

      Good question! I’ll post on this.

      • Avatar
        Judith  March 2, 2016

        Am wondering if plparker has read How I’m Writing this Book (April 6, 2015). Very interesting!

        • Avatar
          plparker  March 3, 2016

          Thanks Judith. I’ll check it out.

  7. Avatar
    Wilusa  March 1, 2016

    I’m curious as to which book or books *haven’t* done extremely well (undoubtedly because fewer readers were interested in the topics, since your writing is always excellent).

    I’m eagerly awaiting the new book – preordered it from Amazon, along with something else. I forget whether the other book I ordered (very different!) is being released a few days later – if so, I may have a bit of a wait.

  8. Avatar
    thelad2  March 1, 2016

    Congrats. Bought my copy today. Just be sure to keep a lookout for the frumious Bandersnatch.

  9. Avatar
    doug  March 1, 2016

    Congratulations on the new book! I’ve got my copy and will start reading it today. Callooh, callay!

  10. Avatar
    Lucytut  March 1, 2016

    Can’t wait to read your new book! I have read several already, including your textbook on the Bible. I hope you know how refreshing it is for a regular person to be able to really “study” the Bible (especially the New Testament) through your writings. I live in Alabama and if you think Chapel Hill is in the Bible Belt, come visit us in the Heart of Dixie. Bible studies around here are all faith based and they teach that the Bible is literally true and inerrant. The leaders have great faith but little real knowledge about the Bible. Often the group is not supposed to talk with outsiders about what goes on in them. I call them “sanctified gossip sessions” where one component of the “study” is to read a Bible passage, then pray out loud about it. I don’t learn anything except who is getting divorced, having an affair, going bankrupt ETC. Not exactly what I want in a Bible study.

    Honestly, you are providing a great service to those of us who want to learn about the Bible from a scholar who is not afraid to point out inconsistencies and contradictions. I want to sincerely thank you for giving me access to real scholarly work, please don’t stop writing your trade books!

  11. Avatar
    nichael  March 1, 2016

    Woohoo!! (My copy has been on pre-order at Amazon since December…)

    So, let me ask the other obvious question:
    Are there any other Teaching Company courses in the offing?

    (And –speaking only as a (very) satisfied customer– if I can be forgiven an unsolicited Teaching Company plug for other list-members who might be interested:
    The Teaching company has a new streaming service called “The Great Courses Plus” through which you can –for a fixed annual or monthly fee– get _unlimited_ access to their available classes, in addition to significant discounts, and free shipping, on all current Great Courses courses.
    Note: Not all Great Courses courses are currently available on Great Courses Plus. But all new courses will be automatically available, and they are added pre-existing courses at a goodly rate.)

    • Bart
      Bart  March 2, 2016

      No, I’ve done eight courses for them, and I have nothing else in the offing. Just as well — they’re a *ton* of work!

  12. Avatar
    nichael  March 1, 2016

    P.S. …and tell your web-elves thanks for the new “Click to Edit” link in the comments. 😉

  13. Steven
    Steven  March 1, 2016

    Yay! Just ordered it from Amazon.

  14. Avatar
    living42day  March 1, 2016

    My pre-ordered copy of your book arrived today. Have only read the intro so far, but already have a question. You say, “The stories of Jesus…were circulated in the ‘oral tradition’ before our Gospel writers produced their accounts” (p. 14). That is no doubt true for many of the stories. But some of the stories (quite a few) clearly have so much theological overlay that it seems most likely that they owe more to the evangelist. For example, even though it is likely that the story of Jesus’ baptism circulated orally, the theophany that Mark describes is one that he has likely devised almost entirely from OT passages (Isa 64:1; Psa 2:7; Gen 22:2; and Isa 42:1). When such influences from Scripture show up so strongly, does that suggest that the evangelist is the originator of the story? Do you address such examples in the book?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 2, 2016

      The question would be why only the authors of the Gospels would have theological interests in the way the stories were told. Why not the earlier story tellers as well?

      • Avatar
        living42day  March 2, 2016

        I have no doubt that earlier story tellers had theological interests, but as you make clear in the book (I’m into chapter 3 at this point), very few of these story tellers would have been literate. Even if we credit someone other than Mark for the account of the theophany at Jesus’ baptism, someone literate must have originated the story. So, is it really probable that Mark learned of that story from the oral tradition? The same could be said of the numerous scriptural allusions in the passion narrative.

        Perhaps you could address the subject of the passion narrative. Do you see the scriptural allusions in the passion narrative as secondary additions to a story whose framework already existed (Goodacre’s “Scripturalization”) or as the foundation of the story (Crossan’s “prophecy historicized”)?

        • Bart
          Bart  March 3, 2016

          I tend to think there was the story of Jesus’ crucifixion before people started thinking of the Scriptural connections.

  15. Avatar
    Jana  March 1, 2016

    Congratulations! And for those who have read it (I haven’t yet read the kindle edition), could I suggest your leaving a comment on amazon.com? There are two reviews to date and one is negative (one star) NOT because of the book itself and content but because the reader didn’t like the sample provided by the publisher. (won’t comment on the mentality of this commentator but he did leave a negative rating and it skews the average albeit only two reviews. Thank you.)

  16. Avatar
    shakespeare66  March 1, 2016

    Chortle on, Dr. Ehrman! When I retired from teaching, I wanted to read about Christianity and how it got started. So I did my research on the internet and all indicators pointed to you as the one to read. You were already publishing trade books and I just went hog wild reading everything you have written ( even some of the scholarly stuff). What a ride it has been! Thank goodness you had the ability to write with such clarity and humor! I loved ever minute of the books you have written and I am looking forward to reading the 15th or 16th book of yours! Bravo for all your incredible efforts and for educating the general public about an enormously complex and fascinating subject. I can’t wait to get Jesus Before the Gospels! I tell everyone who will listen about you and your work!

  17. Avatar
    dragonfly  March 1, 2016

    Misquoting Jesus was the first thing of your’s I read. I’d never heard of you before that. The most amazing thing was the first few pages where you explain where the NT came from – Paul writing back to churches he established, people writing gospels for people who wanted to know about Jesus’ life, etc. In all my years no-one had ever explained where the bible came from, not even in church. And the strange thing is, I never even thought to ask!

  18. Avatar
    Omar6741  March 1, 2016

    Congratulations! I bought my copy via Google Books, and I am enjoying it.

  19. Avatar
    SidDhartha1953  March 2, 2016

    Congratulations! Anxiously awaiting the arrival of my copy…

  20. Avatar
    James  March 2, 2016

    “The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture” was the first of your books I read, and I followed your arguments without too much trouble. I just needed to be patient and to stop after each chapter to reflect on it. You have a rare and remarkable gift for expository writing which works to your advantage in both your academic and trade books.

    Best wishes for the new book. UPS delivered my copy from Amazon yesterday evening, and I anticipate several excellent evenings of reading and thinking about it. I suspect that you will take some heavy flak from those who insist on a concrete-like scriptural inerrancy. That position mystifies me, because I view it as a lack of faith in faith. I think that’s why I’m also looking forward to the release of Pete Enns’ “The Sin of Certainty” next month. This looks to be an excellent Spring for new books!

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