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Proselytizing on the Blog

Dear Members of the Blog,

We have had a long-standing policy on the blog – going back to its inception – of avoiding any kind of proselytizing activity that promotes or urges (on others) particular religious views of any kind.  Some comments I receive are borderline, and it is hard to know where the *hard* line actually ought to be.  But I’m afraid I have grown lax in the enforcement of the rule.  It is perfectly fine on occasion for you (or anyone) to say what you/they really think about religion – since, after all, the blog does focus on (early) Christianity.  So an occasional non-proselytizing comment is AOK.  But I have decided, in light of the objectives of our mutual endeavor, to return to the original intention and not post comments that are inappropriately designed to urge particularly religious views.

I hope you understand!   We all know that there are gazillions of other avenues on the Internet for anyone to push their personal religious choices and try to convert others.  If you are inclined to do so, I’d suggest not that you choose *between* avenues (some that allow such things and this one that does not), but take them all.

On this blog we will primarily focus on the literature and history of early Christianity – the historical Jesus, the writings of Paul, the other books of the New Testament, the apostolic fathers, the early Christian apocrypha, the manuscript tradition of the New Testament, themes in Christianity of the first four centuries, etc. etc. etc.   In other places each of us can do our level best to convince everyone else that our own personal religious views are right.  I know mine are. 🙂

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  1. Avatar
    DavidNeale  August 22, 2018

    I apologise for having done this! (I think I’ve only made points about my personal views in response to others doing the same; but of course doing so inevitably perpetuates the derail.)

    • Bart
      Bart  August 22, 2018

      I don’t believe you ever have!

      • Avatar
        DavidNeale  August 23, 2018

        Ah, ok. I was thinking about my exchanges with Preston P. He promotes Christianity prolifically on the blog, and on occasion I have responded to his comments and put forward my own (atheist) point of view. (Other than that I try to keep my comments focused on the historical issues.)

        • Bart
          Bart  August 24, 2018

          Nope, you’ve been absolutely fine! Very thoughtful comments.

  2. Avatar
    Boltonian  August 22, 2018

    Well said! I had been on the verge of emailing you about this very thing on more than one occasion lately.

  3. talmoore
    talmoore  August 22, 2018

    Well, there goes my goal of converting every blog member to Scientology.

  4. Avatar
    nichael  August 22, 2018

    I think this is all to the good. (I know that discussion of the topics, as described, is certainly why I signed up, and the more time that can be devoted to those topics, the better.)

    But I think it’s fair to ask the following question:
    With regard to comments that are “designed to urge particularly religious views”, will this be considered as including comments that we might call explicitly “anti-religious” as well (or what we might, for want of a better name, call “proselytizing/doctrinaire atheism”)?

    For example: Discussing the historical factuality of some event is certainly not only appropriate, but necessary. But, unfortunately, such discussions can too often wander off into the realm of comments along the lines of “how could anyone have ever believed in something so dumb?.

    I suppose what I’m suggesting is: Facts is facts. But respect for other folks’ beliefs is important, too,

    • Bart
      Bart  August 22, 2018

      Yes, I would like respect for all views on the blog. Especially in our current political climate, it is important for all of us to figure out ways to disagree without trashing others who have reasoned opinions that differ radically from our own. (Bigger picture: I’ve very worried about our culture and society and not just because I have such deeply seated disagreements with others, but because of the massive cultural divide that I’m afraid is going to leave us in tatters)

      • Avatar
        nichael  August 23, 2018

        To take this a step further, it’s not really clear to me why there should be any disagreement if we understand that the primary role of these text is not as literal, historical documents.

        In other words, I would suggest that these “two sides” are talking about related, but ultimately quite different, things, each with its own set of non-overlapping criteria for establishing validity.

        For those for whom the texts function as religious documents –i.e. documents telling us about our cultural, ethical, spiritual, etc, lives– then accepting the texts as such, and taking them seriously in these ways, doesn’t –or at least shouldn’t– require someone to insist that, say, the Earth has a literal age of 6000 years.

        But the converse is equally true. Understanding the historical nature and content of the texts is surely critically important. But likewise, it is just as wrong-header to insist that the fact that world _isn’t_ literally 6000 years old will in any way diminish or discredit any religious functions of the text.

        In short, the “two sides” are making different points. And applying an inappropriate literalist reading rather badly misses the point.

        (But then perhaps I’m getting perilously close to trying to convert others to my way of looking at things. 😉 )

      • Avatar
        jsconley53  September 9, 2018

        I didn’t mean to disagree with you. I was just testing the up or down symbols. I tried to change it to agree, but I guess I can’t once I pick one or the other.

  5. Avatar
    jparker5025  August 22, 2018

    Great move Bart!

  6. Robert
    Robert  August 22, 2018

    Thank God!

    Or should I say, “Thanks be to any or all or none of the existing or nonexisting gods …”?

  7. Avatar
    mannix  August 22, 2018

    As a reader of several of your books and a “student” of some of your Great Courses, I can readily attest that you do NOT directly challenge anyone’s religious beliefs NOR try to promote your personal agnosticism/atheism (still not sure which one, in your case!).

    Having said that, I’m sure you realize your view of the historical Jesus as (if I’m not mistaken) an apocalyptic Jewish preacher who held that God was, within a generation, about to intervene in the world and destroy the forces of evil, but was wrong about the time frame, is not compatible with the high Christology of some Christian denominations. A divine figure (i.e. 2nd person of the Trinity) after all, can’t be wrong! It’s not surprising that a few strong believers would push back on this. Doubting the Resurrection as an historical event further encourages a reaction.

    The story of your fundamentalism-to-agnosticism/atheism journey (again, if I’m not mistaken), finally catalyzed by the theodicy issue, likely triggers a “rescue” fantasy by any individual who feels compelled to save your lost soul by fetching it back.

    I’m NOT in ANY way suggesting you refrain from speaking of the above, but what has prompted your post today is not entirely unexpected.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 22, 2018

      It’s a great question. My view is that historical conclusions can have religious implications; but the arguments leading to those conclusions should be based on an examination of historical evidence, not grounded in religious/theological assumptions and beliefs. If they do have such implications, everyone needs to figure out for themselves how to deal with them; but the arguments and conclusions themselves are historical, not religious/theological.

      • Avatar
        SidDhartha1953  August 23, 2018

        For anyone who doubts that a believing Christian can do the history of early Christianity without injecting his religious bias into his conclusions, I suggest reading Dale Martin’s New Testament History and Literature. He gives a great explanation of the differences among the real Jesus who (most likely) lived and died, the historical Jesus, and the Jesus (or Jesuses?) of Christian faith and how one can navigate them all with integrity in one brain. At least that was one valuable insight I took away.

  8. epicurus
    epicurus  August 22, 2018

    I find it amusing (but agree it’s a waste of Bart’s comment checking time) when someone writes trying to tell Bart that he should invite Jesus into his heart or whatever, meaning they haven’t even taken the time to read his personal history – if they would they’d realize Bart already went through that process.

  9. Avatar
    caseyjunior  August 22, 2018

    Thank you so much for doing this.

  10. Avatar
    Judith  August 22, 2018

    Because of this blog, I’m no longer convinced my personal views are right!

    • Bart
      Bart  August 22, 2018

      Ha! It’s not a bad place to be.

    • Avatar
      mtelus  August 22, 2018


      So true, but the trade off is you have added flexibility. It feels liberating, you don’t feel confined, you don’t feel trapped.

      The Bible is way more satisfying to read, because it feels way more accessible, way more relatable.

    • Avatar
      Brian  August 24, 2018

      Socrates would say that you’ve taken a big step towards wisdom!

  11. Avatar
    ask21771  August 22, 2018

    Alot of people say that prophecies in the Bible have been fulfilled especially prophecies regarding the Jews, Cyrus, and babylon is this true

    • Bart
      Bart  August 24, 2018

      Prophets were not predicting the distant future, but speaking to people and the situations of their own time.

  12. Avatar
    mtelus  August 22, 2018

    I wonder why a believer would even take a risk of exposing themselves to historical/scholarly texts on the Bible. This information would be a huge shock to the system. A lot of this information is very piercing.

    I remember the panic in my friend’s voice when I told him the idea of the Ark of the Covenant came from Egypt since you can find the Anubis Ark in King Tuts tomb. That’s when I realized dialogue would best be had with those who are more knowledgeable.

  13. Avatar
    fishician  August 22, 2018

    So, I ordered a used copy of your PhD dissertation on Didymus the Blind and the Text of the Gospels. Boy, you weren’t kidding when you said it couldn’t be adapted to a general audience! It’s all Greek to me! Well, not all of it, but I’m going to have fun trying to make sense of it.

  14. Avatar
    alienvoodoo  August 22, 2018

    AMEN!! And Thank you!!

  15. Avatar
    Hildore  August 22, 2018

    Thank you Dr. Ehrman, for reiterating the parameters of this this blog. It is refreshing to one seeking to learn about the history of the new testament to come to this place and learn from your years of research and experience in teaching, and also to read the questions and thoughts shared by others who are not looking for converts to their persuasions.

  16. Avatar
    snf7893  August 22, 2018

    Hi Dr. Ehrman

    Unrelated to your post, but do you recommend How to Read the Bible: A Guide to Scripture, Then and Now by James L. Kugel for a historical and literary approach to understanding the bible? I’m finding it hard to read and understand the bible when I don’t know who wrote these books/ when they were written/ where and in what historical context were the written/ which of the events are historical which are not…you get it!


    • Bart
      Bart  August 24, 2018

      Yes, he is one of the top scholars of the Hebrew Bible in the country/world.

  17. Avatar
    KSS  August 22, 2018

    Thanks, Bart!!

  18. Avatar
    4Erudite  August 22, 2018

    Completely support your decision and policy…some comments are more interesting than others, but wish everyone would do their best to keep it short and to the point…at least as much as possible.

  19. Avatar
    Hon Wai  August 22, 2018

    I totally support your decision. I would suggest that you put a note next to the “ADD COMMENT” something along the lines, “I agree to the rules of engagement” with a link to the rules. Or change “ADD COMMENT” to “ADD COMMENT AND CONSENT TO RULES”. I would also suggest that the rules state that it is entirely to your discretion whether to approve a post, and that repeated abuse of posting rules would result in being barred from posting for 6months (once this blog feature is technologically feasible). Don’t let time-wasters impair your goals in running this blog, to the detriment to yourself and other subscribers. I view it a privilege to be able to interact with an eminent scholar and bestseller author, it is not a right.

  20. Avatar
    Stylites  August 22, 2018

    I would give this post ten stars if that were permitted.


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