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Bart’s personal comments and reflections.

Some Random Reflections on Our Significance

I think a lot about significance these days, about why we, or rather, why I, matter.  I mean really, this universe is 13.8 billion years old and I’ve been around for, well, 68 of those years and certainly won’t be around for another 68.  So, for how much of time to this point?  Do the math. Then there’s the space factor.  I’m a small dot in my house; my house is a small dot in my neighborhood; my neighborhood is a small dot in my city; my city is a small dot in my state; my state is a not-large dot in the country; the country is a not-large dot on the planet; our planet is a tiny dot in the solar system; the solar system is an infinitesimal dot in the galaxy of some 100 billion stars; our galaxy is an an even more infinitesimal dot in a universe of maybe 2 trillion galaxies.  And the universe itself?  Who knows if there is a multiverse? Where does that leave me?  Tiny doesn’t [...]

2024-02-25T21:22:17-05:00February 21st, 2024|Reflections and Ruminations|

Making the Bible Benevolent: Guest Post by Jill Hicks-Keeton

Is the Bible "Good News" for everyone, or, does it just seem good to those who want it to be? And how do readers make it good in places that on any honest reading are not (think violence and the treatment of women and slaves).  Jill Hicks-Keeton, Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Sourthern California, has recently published an intriguing book that is highly controversial in some circles (those who do what she describes) and a breath of fresh air in another, an analysis of how evangelical Christians work to make the Bible not just acceptable but good through and through.  Her study is called The Good Book: How White Evangelicals Save the Bible To Save Themselves.  (Available here:  Good Book: How White Evangelicals Save the Bible to Save Themselves: Hicks-Keeton, Jill: 9781506485850: Books) I've asked Jill to talk about the book in a couple of posts on the blog.  Here's the first, with a teaser for the second! ****************************** Millions of Americans report understanding the Bible as the Word of [...]

How’s the Christian World Doin’ These Days with the Ethics of Jesus?

Jesus had a distinctive ethical view, significantly different from the ethics propounded and followed by most people in his world.  And, well, by most people in ours.  Even some (many? most?) who claim to be Jesus' followers.  Or so it appears to me when I look at what Jesus actually teaches and observe what some (many?) modern Christians both do and say.    I've spent the past five posts summarizing what I plan to cover in my book The Origins of Altruism: How the Teachings of Jesus Transformed the Conscience of the West.  If history holds the publisher will be giving it a different title, and at this point for me the title's not the main thing.  Writing it is! The foci are Jesus' teachings on love, charitable giving, and forgiveness, how these teachings contrasted with those commonly followed in the Roman world at the time, how they were modified and softened by his own followers after his death, and how they nonetheless came to play an oversized role in the understanding of "how should we [...]

2024-01-22T11:43:32-05:00January 24th, 2024|Book Discussions, Reflections and Ruminations|

Putting Final Polish on a Bible Translation. Ouch.

In my previous post I mentioned how I started a full-time research position for the New Revised Standard Version in 1987-88.  I had several roles to play in that position.  Probably the most difficult involved trying to make sure that there was a consistency in the translation, from one biblical book, passage, and verse to another. How does one determine if a translation is internally consistent?  It’s not easy.  I had to work through the entire translation, and whenever I came across a key term in the Hebrew or Greek that had been rendered into English in one way in one passage, I had to check whether it was rendered similarly in other passages where the same word occurred. I should stress that the translators were absolutely not bound and determined to translate the same Hebrew (or Greek) word the same way every time it appeared in the Bible.  In some contexts a word will be better translated one way, in others another.  But they at least had to be aware of the [...]

My (Backstage) Work for the New Revised Standard Version Translation

Here I continue some of my discussion of my involvement with the New Revised Standard Translation, not as one of the translators (I was still a graduate student) but as a behind the scenes helper and research grunt.  I start this post with a bit of autobiography and end with issues of translations. I have mentioned that I started out as a “secretary” for the  committee when they were meeting twice a year to make decisions for the new translation, recording the decisions they made for changing the older Revised Standard Version translation.  I did that for several years until they had finished their translation.  I graduated from my PhD program in 1985, and I was already, at that point, teaching at Rutgers University. My position at Rutgers was a rather precarious one, professionally.  In the language almost universally used today, I was an “adjunct” instructor, that is, a temporary faculty member without full (or much of any) benefits and paid as part time, even though I was teaching the full load of courses (with [...]

2024-01-02T16:19:46-05:00January 6th, 2024|Reflections and Ruminations|

A Sensible Approach to Inclusive Language in Bible Translation?

The policy of the NRSV translation committee on inclusive language, as I began to discuss in the preceding post, was sensible, in my view.  It involved a three-pronged approach. Any passage that was referring to both men and women was to be rendered inclusively, even if the original language (Hebrew or Greek) used masculine terms (“men,” “man,” “brothers,” “he” etc.). Any passage that was explicitly referring only to men, or only to women, was to be left as referring only to men or to women. All references to the Deity that in the original used masculine terms were to be left masculine. Here I will say a few things about each of these policies, in reverse order.  First, the deity.  No one on the committee thought that the deity actually has male genitalia or other sexual distinctions.  But changing every reference to God (a masculine term, since there is a feminine alternative: Goddess) or Lord (again, a feminine alternative: Lady) or … anything else, would be hugely cumbersome and distracting.  And there are not literarily [...]

Is There Any Sarcasm in the New Testament?

Every now and then someone asks me if there is any sarcasm used in the New Testament.  You would think the answer would be fairly obviously, No.  But, well, I've dealt with the issue before, and my response was Yes. Let me start by giving a definition of sarcasm.  You can find various definitions just on the Internet, but the basic idea is that sarcasm is a form of humor that used irony in order to mock another. It is difficult to identify sarcasm in ancient writings.  In fact, as you’ve probably noticed, sometimes it’s hard to know if someone is being sarcastic when they are speaking directly to our face.  The way we typically detect sarcasm is by the context of the comment and the non-verbal signs given – the facial expression, for example, or the tone of voice used and the words orally emphasized.  You have none of that for the writings of the New Testament – only a bit of information about context (inferred from the text itself) and no non-verbal signs.  [...]

2023-11-27T20:55:16-05:00November 29th, 2023|Paul and His Letters, Reflections and Ruminations|

What’s the Best Way to Read a Non-Fiction Book?

I sometimes get asked what the best way is to read a work of non-fiction.  Well, who knows? All I can say is what I do. I've dealt with the question here on the blog a number of times. But since I'm nearing the tail end of research on my next book dealing with the ethics of Jesus in relation to the broader world at the time, and how his ethics revolutionized the ways people in the west thought about how we ought to behave, I'm reading a lot right now, and I thought I should address the question again. My practices, in fact, have not changed much over the course of my scholarly career. My approach depends entirely on what kind of book I'm reading (I'm referring to non-fiction books here, not novels) and why I'm reading it -- that is, what I want/need to get out of it. When I was in graduate school I had a friend who insisted that anyone should be able to read an entire book of scholarship [...]

2023-11-13T15:11:06-05:00November 14th, 2023|Reflections and Ruminations|

Is It Better to Follow Christ or to Live a Contented Life? Paul vs. Epicurus

What would other deep thinkers in the ancient world have thought of Paul’s teachings?  Short answer: not much. Earlier this year I posted on one of my favorite Greek philosophers, Epicurus (341 – 270 BCE).  Epicurus acquired a bad reputation already in antiquity, and still has one among many people today, mainly because his views are widely misunderstood and often simply misrepresented.   As it turns out, he advocated views that have widely become dominant in our world, and for good reasons.  For that reason I’ve always read him as remarkably prescient, entertaining ideas that would not become popular for two thousand years. And they stand precisely at odds with the views of the apostle Paul.  I’ve recently begun to think about this more deeply -- especially since they talk about the same *topics* but take completely different stands on them.. Unfortunately, we do not have very many of Epicurus’s writings.  In fact, the most important sources we have are simply three long letters, quoted in toto by a significant but little-read author named Diogenes Laertius, [...]

Bogus Arguments for Disbelief

I can completely understand why some people choose not to believe in the Christian tradition, since I too am not a Christian.  But I find it a bit dismaying when people reject aspects of the Christian tradition for (literally) illogical reasons.  Or even worse, attack it for illogical reasons.  This often involves drawing unfounded religious conclusions from historical findings.   I’m sensitive to the issue because these findings are often ones that I myself talk about (findings of others that I subscribe to after looking into them). My view is that there are good reasons for some people to hold on to their faith, and there are good reasons for other people to decide to leave the faith or never to come to faith in the first place.  But why do we need Bogus Arguments for Disbelief?  (Acronym:  BAD) I’ll give here three examples, knowing full well that many people will object to them, especially the first one (since people regularly do, here on the blog!).  I don’t mean to be slamming anyone or their beliefs; [...]

2023-08-26T18:38:59-04:00August 31st, 2023|Reflections and Ruminations|

Preparing for that “Final Trip” (outta here). What Do You Think?

On the questions of mortality and moving on.... A couple of weeks ago, as I was preparing for my recent course "Why I Am Not a Christian," I was reminded of one of my favorite modern novels, The Sense of an Ending, by Julian Barnes, which won the Booker Prize in 2011.  What a terrific book.  Short but completely compelling.  Beautifully written.  Moving.   Thought provoking.  I can’t recommend it highly enough.  I won’t give up the plot, but, well, it’s about life, death, getting older, memory, and remorse. Two lines really struck me.   The first is spoken by one of the characters in a history class in school in his upper sixth (that’s the year English students prepare for university; it’s a lot more rigorous than our senior years in high school) (mine anyway; and I went to an unusually good high school!).   When asked, at the end of the term, what history is (looking back at all they had studied), he responds:  “History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of [...]

2023-07-26T08:59:35-04:00August 2nd, 2023|Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|

“Death is nothing to us.” What Do YOU Think?

I quote: “You need to realize that death is nothing to us.   Everything that is good and bad in our lives comes from the experiences of our senses.  But death brings an end to our senses/experiences.  And so having the right understanding – that death is nothing to us – makes our mortality enjoyable, not because we will live forever but because we don’t pointlessly long to live forever.  For there are no terrors in life for the one who fully understands that there are no terrors in not living. It is absurd for people who fear death -- not because it is afflicting them now but because they expect it will be horrible when it comes.  For this allegedly most awful thing – death  -- is actually nothing to us:   when we exist, we are not dead, but when we are dead, we no longer exist.  And so death is completely irrelevant – both to those who are living and to those who are dead.  Those who are living are not experiencing it and [...]

2023-04-17T13:25:11-04:00April 27th, 2023|Afterlife, Reflections and Ruminations|

Gold Q&A LIVE! (And Recorded) Tuesday April 11

Dear Gold Members, I will be recording  my Gold Q&A tomorrow afternoon,  April 11, 2:00 pm.  If you're free and want to watch it, come along!  I've got a full set of questions to deal with and am looking forward to it. No charge for admission, just show up.  We'll meet and greet, I'll do my thing, and then we can chat for a few minutes after. Here's the link:   Meeting ID: 922 0749 0998 Passcode: 339508 One tap mobile +16469313860,,92207490998# US +19294362866,,92207490998# US (New York) Dial by your location +1 646 931 3860 US +1 929 436 2866 US (New York) +1 301 715 8592 US (Washington DC) +1 305 224 1968 US +1 309 205 3325 US +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago) +1 386 347 5053 US +1 507 473 4847 US +1 564 217 2000 US +1 669 444 9171 US +1 669 900 6833 US (San Jose) +1 689 278 1000 US +1 719 359 4580 US +1 253 205 0468 US +1 253 215 8782 US (Tacoma) +1 [...]

2023-04-10T14:54:05-04:00April 10th, 2023|Reader’s Questions, Reflections and Ruminations|

How Does An Author Write a Bestseller?

Almost everyone has the wrong idea about how a book becomes a bestseller.   In the crowd I run around with, the term “bestseller” tends to have a technical meaning: a book on the New York Times Bestseller List.  Every week the NY Times receives data from all the major book-selling outlets – from Amazon to Indies – and crunches the numbers for their various lists (Fiction Hardbacks, Non-Fiction Hardbacks, paperback fiction, etc.).  There are 25 books in each category that make the list, but they *print* only the top 15. To put that list in a bit of perspective, there are about 700 – 800 new books published in the U.S. every day (not counting self-published books).   To make the top 25 in a given week is … well, not easy. As many of you know, a non-fiction “trade book” is one written for a broad, general audience rather than for scholars in a field of study (an “academic” book or a “monograph”) or for classroom use for students (a textbook).   Normally, the point of [...]

2023-04-10T11:50:25-04:00April 10th, 2023|Book Discussions, Reflections and Ruminations|

What Does God Think of Surrogacy? Platinum Guestpost by Imran M. Usmani

There are two things I can say about this guest post by Imran Usman.  It is extraordinarily interesting AND I've never talked about the topic on the blog! Check it out -- a Platinum guest post for you other Platinums!  And remember, you too can submit a post.  Just send one along to me, on anyting you're interested in connected with the blog. ***************************** Imagine a married couple called Jack and Jill. Jack and Jill love each other very much, and they are happily married, but there is one thing missing in their lives. They don’t have children. They have tried for a baby for many years. They also visited the doctor, but he simply told them that Jill has ‘unexplained infertility’. Jill starts to become depressed because all her friends have children, and she is desperate to have a child herself. What are her options? Jack and Jill could adopt a child, or they could opt for surrogacy. There is a woman called Jane, who is willing to bear a child for Jack and [...]

Is Suffering a “Problem” for Believers?

This past week I had a long talk with one of my bright undergraduates, a first-year student who had been raised in a Christian context but had come to have serious doubts driven in large part by the difficulty she had understanding how there could be suffering in a world controlled by an all-knowing and all-powerful God.  I naturally resonated with the question, since this is why I myself left the Christian faith. I get asked about that transition a lot, and it’s been five or six years since I’ve discussed it at any length on the blog.  So I thought I might return to it.  The one and only time I”ve talked about it at length is in my book God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer our Most Important Question – Why We Suffer (Oxford University Press, 2008).  Here is how I discuss it there, slightly edited.  (This will take several posts) ******************************* I think I know when suffering started to become a “problem” for me.  It was while I was still [...]

2023-02-13T11:21:17-05:00February 22nd, 2023|Bart’s Biography, Reflections and Ruminations|

What New Testament Do New Testament Translators Translate?

I've been talking about some of the intriguing issues and problems with the King James translation.  The Biggest Problem is one that takes a bit of time to explain, and so will consume a couple of posts even before I explain the issue with the KJV.  The broader context involves Bible translation in general, and revolves around a rather basic and highly important question that very few people know the answer to:  What is it that Bible translators translate when they are translating? Here I will focus on the New Testament, my main area of expertise.   When a translator wants to make an English version of, say, Mark (what I say about Mark will be true of all the books of the NT), what does she actually translate into English? Obviously she cannot take Mark’s original manuscript and translate it, since we don’t have it.  Or the first copy of the original, or a copy of the copy of the original.   We have hundreds of copies of Mark.  Does she just choose one that seems good [...]

Infamous Typos in the King James Bible

In some rather minor ways, the King James Version is not simply one thing but is many things.  By that I mean that over the years there have been minor revisions made to it – most of them very minor indeed, picayune alterations of such things as spelling and punctuation – but revisions nonetheless.  Two years after it was originally published, a new edition came out in 1613 that embodied 413 such changes.  In 1769 the translation was modernized a bit; that happened again in 1873. The “New King James Version” that is popular today (the third best-selling Bible on the market behind the NIV and the KJV itself) (these are all popular among conservative evangelicals who, to no one’s surprise, buy the most Bibles) is a somewhat different kettle of fish.  It was commissioned in 1975 and was produced by 130 people that its publisher (Thomas Nelson) indicates included scholars, church leaders, and laypeople. Whether these church leaders and laypeople actually knew any Hebrew or Greek they don’t say.  My guess is....   Well, never [...]

2023-01-02T10:52:30-05:00January 5th, 2023|Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|

The King James Bible: Some Intriguing Word Choices

On the first day of my undergraduate classes on the Bible each semester, I tell my students which Bible translations are acceptable for the class.  The basic answer: most any modern translation is fine (though I myself prefer the New Revised Standard Version), but I do not allow paraphrases (such as the ol' favorite, The Living Bible, or the more recent The Message -- which are not actually translations from the original Hebrew and Greek, but are simplifications of previously existing English translations and as a result can be highly interpretive and misleading) or the King James Version. When I tell them I do not allow the King James, I let them know that I think the King James is one of the great classics of English literature.  As a piece of writing, it is arguably the most significant work ever produced in English.  But it is decidedly not a good study Bible.  That is for several reasons.  As I've suggested and will say more about in a future post, one is that the manuscripts [...]

2023-01-02T10:37:15-05:00January 4th, 2023|Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|

Whoa. End of Year Review of the Blog, 2022.

I’m happy indeed to be writing this end of the year assessment of the Bart Ehrman blog.  And so, how we doin’?  Yowsers! To start with the climax:  We blew the top out of our charity-giving this year, by bringing in and distributing $503,000.  Not to put too fine a point on it, but that, well, is half a million dollars.  Whoa.  Many thanks to ALL of you for paying your membership fees and for MANY of you for making separate donations to the work of the blog.  This is a magnificent outcome, well beyond what anyone could have imagined just a few years ago. For some perspective, in our first full (calendar) year of operation (2013) we raised $51,500.   More interesting, just three years ago (2019) we raised $144,000.  We have more than tripled that this year. None of this would be possible without significant help from generous supporters of the blog, including, I say again!, you, the members.  In addition, there are several specific groups of blog participants I’d like to mention: First:  [...]

2022-12-31T10:02:16-05:00December 31st, 2022|Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|
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