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My UNC Seminar Tomorrow

Tomorrow I will be doing an all-day seminar at UNC for the Program in the Humanities and Human Values.   This is a terrific organization on campus.  Among other things, it puts on weekend seminars — usually Friday afternoon/evening; Saturday morning — that involve four faculty lectures on a set topic.   Scheduling was such that we decided to put all four lectures on a Saturday this time.   I’ve done these things for 25 years, and love them.  *Most* of the time the program chooses a topic and has four different professors from UNC (and occasionally one from Duke or another school nearby) each giving a lecture, and then at the end the four doing a kind of brief panel discussion of each other’s papers.  For some years now I’ve not done those, but have done a four-lecture seminar on some topic or other on my own.  That will be the case tomorrow.

There will be about 130 people there, all adults, many of them senior citizens but younger folk (i.e., my age.  Or even younger!) too, all of them eager to learn about a topic, and many of them very knowledgeable and interesting people  The Question and Answer sessions at these things are great.

My topic, as you’ll see, is “Lost Gospels.”  I guess it should be called “No Longer Lost Gospels,” but that’s probably not as catchy.   The “occasion” for this seminar is the publication over the past couple of years of my two books that give translations of the Gospels not in the New Testament — one of the books for scholars (which includes the original Greek, Latin, and Coptic texts, with a facing-page English translation) the other for layfolk (just the translations; and somewhat simplified Introductions to each text).   For the seminar I’ve picked some of the more interesting and historically significant texts.

Anyway, here is how I have described the seminar and each of the lectures.


The Lost Gospels

Bart D. Ehrman


In recent years readers interested in the world of early Christianity have become fascinated by the books that did not make it into the New Testament.   These other Gospels, Acts, Epistles, and Apocalypses present fascinating, if occasionally bizarre, accounts of Jesus and his followers, and even though they are, as a rule, highly fictionalized and legendary, they can inform us about how Christians in later periods were understanding their religion.   In this seminar we will look at several of the Gospels from outside the New Testament: two that deal with the birth and young life of Jesus, one that contains a number of his teachings that cannot be found in the New Testament, one that provides an alternative account of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and several that contrast the role of an innocent Pontius Pilate and the guilty Jews in the death of Jesus.


Lecture One:  The Proto-Gospel of James and the Infancy Gospel of Thomas

The Proto-Gospel is concerned to address the question of who Jesus’ mother was and why she was chosen to bear the son of God into the world, stressing her unique character and emphasizing her virginity when Jesus was born.   The Infancy Gospel of Thomas attempts to fill in the gaps of our knowledge about Jesus as a young boy; the driving question behind this text is this:  If Jesus was a miracle-working Son of God as an adult, what was he like as a kid?


Lecture Two:  The Gospel of Thomas

The Gospel of Thomas is arguably the most important discovery of an ancient Christian text in modern times.   Uncovered near Nag Hammadi Egypt in 1945, the Gospel contains 114 sayings of Jesus.  Nearly half of these sayings are similar to teachings of Jesus in the New Testament, but the others strike modern readers as strange, mysterious, and mystical.  In this lecture we will discuss the meaning of this Gospel and ask whether any of its unusual teachings could actually go back to the historical Jesus.


Lecture Three: The Gospel of Peter

It comes as a surprise to many readers to learn that the Gospels of the New Testament do not narrate the resurrection of Jesus.  But they do not: they indicate that after Jesus was buried, his women followers discovered his tomb to be empty.  But there is no account of Jesus coming out of the grave.   There is one, however, in the early second century Gospel of Peter, which provides an alternative, though fragmentary, account of Jesus’ trial, death, and resurrection.


Lecture Four: The Pilate Gospels

The Roman governor Pontius Pilate is one of the most maligned figures from the Gospels stories, but in some Christian circles he was looked upon as innocent in the death of Jesus.  In fact, as time went on, Pilate became more and more innocent, as can be seen in several Gospels from outside of the New Testament, where Pilate’s heightened innocence was used to assign all responsibility for Jesus’ death to his enemies, the Jews.   Remarkably, in some later traditions Pilate came to be portrayed as a Christian convert and, eventually, even as a Christian saint.

My Non-Disclosure Agreement and the Gospel of Judas
The Gospel of Judas: Discovery, Restoration, and (Non-)Disclosure



  1. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  February 7, 2015

    You are an incredibly productive person.
    It still puzzles me how most everything written about Jesus during ancient times had legendary components. Did anyone write any real history during those times?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 9, 2015

      Yes indeed! E.g. Thucydides, Herodotus, Polybius — or among the Jews, Josephus.

  2. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  February 7, 2015

    I have now read all of your blogs, listened to all of your Great Courses lectures, watched all of your youtube videos, read all of your Barnes ad Noble type books, and read your New Testament textbook. I have four comments:
    1. It has been the education that I sought, but could not receive in various churches.
    2. You have been incredibly productive.
    3. It has been extremely helpful to learn a historical rather than a biased viewpoint.
    4. Thanks so much and keep going.

  3. Avatar
    Wilusa  February 7, 2015

    I’m puzzled that here, too, you don’t include the very *interesting* Gospel of Judas. I’m curious as to whether you’ll be asked questions about it.

    • Bart
      Bart  February 9, 2015

      I wish I had time to cover everything that is really interesting!!

  4. Avatar
    nichael  February 7, 2015

    This is pretty far off the immediate topic, but it seemed kind of weirdly interesting…

    First, for those who don’t know the show: Here in the US National Public Radio broadcasts a weekly “comedy current-events quiz show” called “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me”, on which listeners call in and answer a set of questions from a rotating group of comedians who serve as panelists.

    I’m not quite sure what to make of it, but on this week’s show one of the panelists was Reza Aslan, i.e. the author of “Zealot”.

    (And just to be clear, Aslan was *not* one of the contestants, nor was he one of the occasional celebrities who appear on the show’s “Not My Job” segment. Rather, he appeared as one of the comedian/panelists[!])

  5. Avatar
    fishician  February 8, 2015

    Dr. E, it was another great seminar. This was my 4th, I think. Always informative, always entertaining.

  6. Avatar
    Wilusa  February 8, 2015

    An off-topic question, suggested by discussion in the Forum…

    *Could* the Temple priests, if they chose, have had Jesus stoned to death for “blasphemy”? Or could only the Roman Prefect – in that particular decade – legally order *any* type of execution? (The Romans, of course, wouldn’t have executed anyone for “blasphemy.”)

    • Bart
      Bart  February 9, 2015

      It’s usually thought that Romans reserved the right of capital punishment to themselves

  7. Avatar
    Wilusa  February 8, 2015

    And another such question…

    There’s multiple attestation of a “notice” on Jesus’s cross that described the crime for which he was being executed as his having called himself the future King of the Jews.

    Is that strong evidence that one or more eyewitnesses actually saw such a “notice”? Or would the presence of a “notice” have been taken for granted…with that “King of the Jews” claim being the *only* capital offense with which he could plausibly have been charged?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 9, 2015

      Yeah, I go back and forth on that question. My sense is that the authors knew that there were typically placards, and knew what the charge against him was. So I’m not sure if the attestation of the wording of the placard is based on an eyewitness testimony or not.

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