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Bart’s personal comments and reflections.

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|

If the King James Was Good Enough for Paul, It’s Good Enough for Me

On my podcast ("Misquoting Jesus Podcast," with Bart Ehrman) I recently interviewed my friend and colleague Jennifer Knust about the problems involved with producing a modern translation of the Bible.  It made me recall some lectures I gave in 2012 about the King James Bible, in celebration of it's 400th year anniversary.  I made some posts about the great strengths and interesting problems posed (now) by the KJV.  I looked, and lo and behold I posted about it too.  Here's what I said (this will take several posts): ****************************** In a couple of weeks I’m going off to Los Angeles to give a lecture at Loyola Marymount University as a keynote address for their putting on of the (traveling) exhibition on the King James Bible, started in commemoration of its 400th year (in 2011). The exhibition is called Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible, and my lecture is entitled: “What Kind of a Text Is the King James Bible? Manuscripts, Translation, and the Legacy of the KJV.” In addition to [...]

2022-12-27T11:25:55-05:00December 29th, 2022|Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|

Just Follow That Star!

In the previous post I commented that this idea of trying to follow a star to get anywhere (say, Bethlehem) would lead to problems.  Some years ago I had pointed out that trying to do that would send them around in circles:  since the earth is not "fixed" -- it rotates and is in orbit around the sun -- stars are never in the same place in the sky, so "following" one would take you all over the place. After posting on that, I found a hilarious illustration of what would happen if the wisemen followed a celestial body to find Jesus. I have borrowed this (no permission required, only acknowledgment) from here: http://what-if.xkcd.com/25/ Acknowledgement is here: http://xkcd.com/license.html ****************************** Three Wise Men The story of the three wise men got me wondering: What if you did walk towards a star at a fixed speed? What path would you trace on the Earth? Does it converge to a fixed cycle? —N. Murdoch If the wise men leave Jerusalem and walk toward the star Sirius, day and [...]

2022-12-15T11:08:25-05:00December 27th, 2022|Canonical Gospels, Reflections and Ruminations|

Christmas Reflections 2022 (from ten years on)

Ten years ago I posted a Christmas reflection that I just now reread and think encapsulates some of my deepest feelings about the season still.   This is what I said and say: ****************************** So, we have managed to make our way to another Christmas.  I hope all of you – whether fundamentalist, liberal Christian, seeker, Jew, Muslim, agnostic, atheist, or none of the above – are having a very nice, relaxing, rejuvenating, and fulfilling holiday. In the opening chapter of my book God’s Problem, I talked about going to church on Christmas Eve in 2006 with my wife Sarah and brother-in-law Simon, in Saffron-Walden, a market town in England where Simon lives, not far from Cambridge.  It was a somber but moving Christmas Eve service, and yet one that had the opposite of the intended effect on me.  It made me realize just how estranged I was from the Christian faith, from the notion that with Christ God entered into the world and took its sufferings upon himself.  I just didn’t see it, and it [...]

2022-12-16T11:24:54-05:00December 25th, 2022|Reflections and Ruminations|

How To Leave the Faith and Not Destroy the Family: Thanksgiving Reflection 2022

My beloved mom died last week.   She lived a long and good life; she brought a lot of good into the world and made many people very happy; and she died a good death – peaceful, in comfort, in the presence of family.  How good can it get? There are many things I have long been thankful for about my mom.  I would like to reflect on one of them here. Many years ago, when I left the Christian faith that my mom held so dear –  a faith that meant almost everything to her – it caused her a great deal of pain.  But she did not allow our stark differences to destroy our relationship.  We continued to love and honor each other even though we were deeply at odds on issues that both of us considered among the most important in our lives. My mom was not raised in a religious household.  She grew up in the small town of Burlington Kansas and her parents were not church people.   When she was in [...]

2022-11-25T16:00:18-05:00November 23rd, 2022|Bart’s Biography, Reflections and Ruminations|

Was Paul Thinking about Committing Suicide?

A blog reader recently asked me about an intriguing passage in Paul's letter to the Philippians where he says that “To live is Christ, to die is gain” (1:21) and then goes on to say that he is not sure "what to choose" -- to "depart to be with Christ" or "to remain in the flesh" (1:22). Choose? Most people have never looked at the passage carefully, but as often happens, have simply skirted over it without paying it much attention.  But think about it.  What is Paul saying exactly?  In what sense does he have a "choice"?  Is he thinking about taking matters in his own hands?  Isn't that the ultimate sin? I talk about the matter briefly in my  textbook on the New Testament. Here is what I say there: ****************************** In an intriguing book that discusses suicide and martyrdom in the ancient world (A Noble Death: Suicide and Martyrdom among Christians and Jews in Antiquity. HarperSanFrancisco, 1992) Arthur Droge and James Tabor argue that the modern notion that suicide is a “sin” [...]

2022-10-26T18:28:27-04:00November 6th, 2022|Paul and His Letters, Reflections and Ruminations|

Trying to Make Scholarship Interesting

I've long been interested in thinking about how to make boring subjects interesting.  I've become especially attuned to the issue recently as I've begun to read a lot more scholarship in fields completely unrelated to mine.  Some scholars have a gift in being able to reach low level mortals like me.  My own field is not nearly as complicated as the hard sciences (always hard for me, at least!) but every field has its technicalities and jargon and wide range of not-widely-shared assumptions, perspectives, and history of investigation. And so I was struck when I ran across this post from some years ago, and realized that it's still the sort of thing I think about roughly every day. ****************************** The difficulty in presenting serious scholarship to a lay audience is how to make something that can be very dry and technical and detailed and, well, boring to most human beings actually interesting and lively and thought provoking.   It is obviously quite easy to make something interesting dull.  University professors are unusually skilled at doing that.   [...]

What Does It Mean to Be an Active Research Scholar? Editing Scholarly Journals (And Why Is Peer-Review Important?)

Being a research scholar means a lot more than sticking your head in books and articles and churning out publications.  Here I explain an area of pure volunteer work with little glory but lots of grind. ****************************** A Research Scholar's Editorial Work One aspect of the life of a professional scholar that may not be well known to the general public involves editorial work.  For some scholars, this kind of work takes an enormous expenditure of time and effort, although much of the work, and many of the hours, are not transparent or evident to outsiders.  I have done a lot of editorial work over the years, but I do not think that my case is at all exceptional.  A lot of my colleagues have done less, but some have done a good deal more.  Many scholars see editorial work as a major component of “service” to the discipline.  Which means that, for the most part, it is really important but normally thankless! As is my wont I will use my own experience as a [...]

2022-10-21T12:44:07-04:00October 20th, 2022|Reflections and Ruminations|

Suffering, Evil, and the Range Effect  Platinum Guest Post by Dennis J. Folds, Ph.D.

In this Platinum Guest Post for all you Platinums, Dennis Folds addresses one of the most consequential and intractable problems of human existence, with his own views of the matter.  This is certainly to be controversial?  Do you want to controverse?  Feel free to make comments! *********************** The problem of suffering has plagued theologians for centuries, and continues to haunt thinkers today, including the prodigious progenitor of this blog. Its cousin, the problem of evil, similarly challenges religious scholars to explain how a just and loving God (JLG) could create a world in which people experience extreme suffering, especially when caused by the intentional (evil) actions of other people. Many conclude that JLG doesn’t exist, and if there is a God, it doesn’t have the attributes we wish it had. In this post I’ll argue that the experience of suffering and the perception of evil are inevitable consequences of biological consciousness, because of a psychological phenomenon called the range effect. As such, suffering and evil are insufficient reasons to reject all notions of a God.  [...]

2022-10-06T17:35:16-04:00October 17th, 2022|Reflections and Ruminations|

The Problem: Not Enough Killing! Platinum Guest Post by Douglas Wadeson

I can't tell you how much I'm enjoying these Platinum posts -- posts by Platinum members for Platinum members with Platinum Content!    Here is one that will take you aback--Doug Wadeson, grappling deeply with one of the most disturbing aspects of the Bible. ****************************** Recently we had lunch with a delightful Christian couple, very nice people.  They mentioned how their grandchildren were getting such good teaching at their church, especially the Old Testament stories.  I suggested, “That probably includes the story of Jericho?”  (Joshua 6) “Sure.” “Do you think they were taught what the soldiers were to do when the walls fell down?” “You mean, kill the people?” “Yes, every man, woman and child.  So, if I was teaching their Sunday School class, I would pose this question to make it more real for them: Suppose you were one of the Israelite soldiers and you entered a home in Jericho and found a family.  Now, would you kill the children first so they wouldn’t have to watch their parents die, or would you kill [...]

2022-09-20T18:10:00-04:00September 30th, 2022|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Reflections and Ruminations|

What is it Like to Supervise PhD Dissertations?

Few people among us who are seriously interested in the life of the mind are actually professional teachers; few professional teachers teach at colleges or universities; few college or university teachers are at research universities (a big difference from, say, liberal arts colleges -- not better or worse, just very different); and not all instructors at research universities direct PhD Dissertations.  Those of us who do usually find it to be a sacred obligation (it is the final step for a graduate student to her PhD), an honor, a privilege, and an ungodly amount of work. When I first published this series on what it is research scholars in academic position actually *do*, directing  it was the first thing.  That was because at that precise moment I was deeply entrenched in reading a dissertation.  Here's what I said. ****************************** I have just now been traveling across country (I’m currently in an airline lounge in Chicago) and on the plane I have been reading a (very fine) doctoral dissertation, whose author will be “defending” (that is, [...]

2022-09-18T16:10:09-04:00September 29th, 2022|Reflections and Ruminations, Teaching Christianity|

A Funny Story about the Rapture

In my forthcoming book on Revelation (Title:  Armaggedon: What the Bible Really Says About the End; to be published on March 21), I discuss how evangelical Christians in the 19th century came up with the idea of a "rapture" -- that Jesus was soon to return to heaven to take true believers out of it before the horrible seven-year "tribulation" began.  Here is  a funny story about belief in the rapture from my younger days. At the time I was still a churchgoing Christian.  The church I was attending was evangelical, but I was moving away from a conservative theology and its strict, literal interpretation of the Bible.  I was becoming socially quite liberal, and was starting to take a more liberal view of the Bible.  I still thought that in *some* sense it was the Word of God, but I did not think that it was infallible or true in every way.  I had already come to see that parts of it contradicted one another, that there were historical implausibilities, and mistakes of various kinds. [...]

2022-09-16T15:05:29-04:00September 13th, 2022|Bart’s Biography, Reflections and Ruminations|

Do You Need the Holy Spirit to Interpret the Bible?

Every now and then I receive an email from a devout Christian who tells me that no one (including, well, me) is able to interpret the Bible correctly without guidance of the Holy Spirit.  I take this view seriously, but I've never found it convincing. Well, OK, I did when I was a student at Moody Bible Institute in the mid 70s; but not for much longer than that afterward.  Today, of course, I don't believe the Holy Spirit can guide one in reading the Bible since, as an agnostic,  I don’t believe in the Holy Spirit at all (since I don’t believe in God).  But even when I did believe in the Holy Spirit (after Moody), I came to think that it made no sense to claim that a person needed divine guidance through the Spirit to interpret the Bible correctly.  This was for two main reasons, both of which -- when they occurred to me -- struck me as virtually irrefutable. The first is this: if it is true that  Are you interested [...]

2022-09-01T11:10:47-04:00September 7th, 2022|Reader’s Questions, Reflections and Ruminations|

Is That One a Difference or a Contradiction?

In my previous post I began discussing the difference between differences and contradictions.  I see contradictions as a kind of difference, one that cannot be reconciled.  Some statements are just different:  Jimmy Carter was a peanut farmer; Jimmy Carter was president.  Different but not mutually exclusive.  Others are contradictory: Jimmy Carter became president in 1976; Jimmy Carter became president in 1992.   Both can’t be true at the same time. UNLESS you figure out a way to reconcile them, for example, by saying that Jimmy Carter became president twice, once in 1976 and again in 1992.  But THAT reconciliation can be shown to be false by other facts (that at Bill Clinton became president in 1992).  Eventually in a case like this, one has to concede: yes, the two statements about Jimmy Carter are in fact contradictory.  In this instance, one of them is true and the other false.  In other instances, you can have contradictory statements *both* of which are false (Bill Clinton first became president in 1962; Bill Clinton first became president in 2002).  [...]

2022-08-14T12:56:21-04:00August 16th, 2022|Canonical Gospels, Reflections and Ruminations|

The Difference Between Differences and Contradictions

There is a difference between a difference and a contradiction.   A difference can be reconciled; a contradiction cannot.  The trick is figuring out which is which. That’s obviously a big issue when it comes to reading the Gospels of the New Testament.  There are many, many differences, and there are also contradictions.  Some readers claim that all the contradictions are merely differences – that everything can be reconciled in one way or another.  These readers are almost always committed Christians who simply do not think there can be any actual contradictions, since that would mean that one of the writers (or more than one) made a bona fide mistake.  Given these readers’ particular doctrine of inspiration, well, that just ain’t right. On the other hand there are skeptical readers of the New Testament who find contradictions simply everywhere.  And, somewhat more surprising to me over the years, there are a lot of critical scholars who assume there is a contradiction in a place where in fact there is simply a difference.  I know this because [...]

2022-08-07T16:19:45-04:00August 14th, 2022|Canonical Gospels, Reflections and Ruminations|

Critical Scholarship from a Sophisticated Faith Perspective. Blog Anniversary Guest Post by Judy Yates Siker

This incredibly thoughtful guest contribution by Judy Yates Siker is part of an ongoing series I'm posting in honor of the tenth anniversary of the blog.   All the guest posts in the series are by serious scholars who have provided us with us with guest posts before, over the years; one of the striking features of these posts, as a group, is just now different they are in perspective and insight. I've known Judy well for thirty-three yeas, since she entered the UNC PhD program in New Testament Studies (in the field of Ancient Mediterranean Religions) 1989.  While doing her degree and then afterwards Judy taught at an intriguing range of schools to very different groups of students: Meredith College; American Baptist Seminary of the West, Loyola Marymount University, and San Francisco Theological Seminary -- where she eventually became Vice President. All these years Judy has long been one of my closest and dearest friends.  She is an ordained Presbyterian minister, active in church ministry now that she's retired from teaching, and living in Raleigh [...]

2022-08-01T09:54:37-04:00August 13th, 2022|Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|

Why Do Some Smart People Just Not Think?

I was recently contacted by a conservative Christian theologian who was interested in doing a public back and forth with me, not necessarily a debate but an exchange of ideas on the issue of theodicy – how to explain evil in a world over which God is sovereign. What puzzled me was his explanation for suggesting the event.  He said he had followed my work for years and had read my books, but was surprised recently to find out that the reason I no longer believed in God not “for historical reasons” but because of the problem of suffering. I have to say, I found this comment to be completely mystifying.  I still do. Not for the rather obvious reason that, contrary to what he said, he clearly had *not* been following me for many years or read my books.  A constant theme of my work (blog, books, interviews) is that I became an agnostic because of the problem of suffering.  One of my books, God’s Problem, is devoted specifically to the issue, and it [...]

2022-07-25T17:31:24-04:00August 7th, 2022|Bart's Critics, Reflections and Ruminations|

Is It Even Possible to Follow Jesus’ Teaching? What Do You Think?

Here is a post where I raise a fundamental question that I find very hard to answer.  I will not be able to respond to all your reflections, but I will read them all and am very eager to see what you have to say. In connection with my next book I’ve been reading a lot of writings by the church fathers from the 2-5th centuries to see what they have to say about giving away wealth.  A big issue for some of these writers was whether committed Christians should give away *everything* to the poor, or rather keep most of their wealth but still be generous in their giving. Throughout history, of course, most Christians have been (and still are) attracted to the second option.  I’ve argued in previous posts, however, that Jesus appears to have taken the first, urging his followers to divest completely and live lives of abject poverty.  It’s not an attractive option, and very few see the point of it – to the extent that most people simply say that [...]

2022-07-27T10:33:15-04:00July 26th, 2022|Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|

Doing Critical Scholarship as a Committed Christian: Anniversary Guest Post by Jeffrey Siker

As part of our ten -year anniversary on the blog, we requested special anniversary posts from scholars who had, over the years, made guest contributions; our instructions were that they could post on any topic of their choice for the event.  We had a gratifying number of scholar-colleagues-friends of mine graciously respond.  I'll be posting one of them a week, and then at the end figure out a way to combine them into one big kind of anniversary blog post e-book for distribution. Here is the first in line, written by one of my closest friends Jeff Siker, Professor Emeritus at Loyola Marymount University, an expert in New Testament studies publishing in international venues since our graduate student days oh so many decades ago.  Jeff is an ordained Presbyterian minister who, like me, has trouble understanding why so many people seem to think that critical scholarship is necessarily inimical to being a Christian.  On the contrary, as he says, he has one foot in the academy and the other in the church. Here are some [...]

Early Christianity and War. Guest Post by Dan Kohanski

As you may know, Platinum level members of the blog are allowed to make guest posts to their fellow Platinum members, and periodically they vote on one to be posted for all blog members.  Here is the most recent winning post, by Dan Kohanski.   (You may want to check out the benefits that accrue to the different levels of membership, and consider moving to a different level!  Just go here:  Register - The Bart Ehrman Blog )! In this post Dan treats a perennially important topic: how ancient people (including biblical authors) understood the legitimacy of war, particularly in light of their specific historical and cultural contexts.  What could be of more on-going relevance? Dan will be happy to address questions and comments. *******************************             The history of how religions approach war is evidence that theology is a product of reaction to events rather than the application of eternal and unchanging laws. Look at the ancient Israelites, who lived in a period of endemic local wars, in which one petty kingdom after another (including those [...]

2022-06-26T15:00:16-04:00July 12th, 2022|Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|
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