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True Stories that Didn’t Happen

In my previous post I explained how the term “myth” came to be applied to the miracle stories of the New Testament in the work of David Friedrich Strauss in 1835-36.   This is all background to what happened to me personally – 150 years later!  Before talking about how my views of the Bible changed once I realized many of its stories could not be literally, historically true, I should expand a bit on the very notion that, as Strauss thought, there could be true stories that didn’t happen.  What??  Yup.  Here’s how I explain it in my book Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium. ******************************************** Skipping on to Modern Times A lot – a very lot – has happened since Strauss published his Life of Jesus in 1836.  Scores of scholars have pored over every detail of the Gospels, thousands of books and articles have been churned out, countless views have been marshaled, debated, believed, and spurned.  And none of that is going to end soon, unless some of the people who think [...]

The Gospels as Myths

In providing background to how I began to understand the Bible once I realized that it was not an inerrant revelation from God, I have been giving a kind of history of scholarship on the Gospels, explaining how it was that, before the Enlightenment, virtually everyone understood the Gospels to be Supernatural Histories, and that during the Enlightenment there were scholars who maintained they were Natural Histories.  Now I can complete this short survey by talking about a significant development, one of the most significant in the history of the entire discipline of New Testament studies, in which the Gospels came to be understood as Myths.   Let me stress that I am not saying that everyone started accepting this new view or, more germane to this series of posts, that I agree with this view as I’m presenting it: I’m simply indicating what happened in the field of New Testament studies.  Later I’ll explain its relevance for my views.  This, again, is taken from my book Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium. ********************************************************* The [...]

The Gospels as Supernatural Histories

In order to explain the view I started having about the Bible after I had come to realize that it was filled with discrepancies, contradictions, historical errors, and other mistakes – and yet remained a committed Christian – I have to set out my understanding at the time of the Bible as “myth.”  And to do that I have to give a very brief (though this will take a few posts) history of scholarship on the New Testament itself, specifically the Gospels.  (What I say about the Gospels can be applied more broadly to the Bible, as I’ll explain). When I was preparing to write this post I *thought* I was simply going to be able to copy and paste this explanation from something I had written before.  But I’ve looked everywhere, and I can’t find that I’ve ever written about it in any context whatsoever, books, articles, blog posts, nada.   How strange.  I lecture on this all the time. The history of Gospel scholarship is, of course, extraordinarily complex.  There are hundreds of scholarly [...]

Evaluating My Debate on the Book of Acts

I have now completed my posts on the debate I had with myself in front of my New Testament class on the question of whether the New Testament book of Acts is historically reliable.   If you want to see the whole debate, just read the posts in sequence: the affirmative speech arguing Acts is indeed reliable; the negative speech arguing that it is not; the negative rebuttal of what the affirmative side said; and finally the affirmative rebuttal of what the negative side said.   In class I delivered the speeches one after the other.   When “affirmative” I was wearing a sport coat, but no cap; when “negative” I was wearing a baseball cap but no sport coat – just so students would realize that it was a “different” speaker speaking. I have pointed out on the blog before that even though I do a lot of public debates, I often find them more than a little frustrating and frequently (in fact, almost always) ask myself, in the course of the debate, why I’m doing this [...]

2020-04-17T13:20:46-04:00April 6th, 2016|Acts of the Apostles, Bart's Debates, Public Forum|

Is Acts Historically Reliable? The Affirmative Rebuttal

I have been (intermittently) discussing the debate that I had with myself in front of my New Testament class on the resolution, Resolved: The Book of Acts is Historically Reliable.  So far I have indicated what the Affirmative side argued in favor of the resolution; what the Negative side argued against the resolution; and what the Negative side said in its rebuttal to the first Affirmative speech.  NOW, at last, I can indicate what the Affirmative side said in its rebuttal to the two Negative speeches.   Recall: in this post I’m not indicating what I really thing; I’m indicating what I would argue if this were the side I was required to argue (and what I did argue in class that day).  Here it is: ******************************************************** Despite what the negative side has maintained, we remain convinced that the New Testament book of Acts is historically reliable. The first point to stress is that it is of utmost importance that we not impose modern standards of historical accuracy on an ancient text.  Of course the author [...]

Is Acts Reliable? The Negative Rebuttal

What follows is the “negative rebuttal” of the speech given by the “first affirmative” in its support of the resolution, “Resolved: The Book of Acts is Historically Reliable.”  If you need to refresh yourself on what the affirmative team argued, you can find it on the March 24 post, here:    In the first negative speech (yesterday’s post) the negative team argued its case, without direct reference to the affirmative side.  This, now, is the negative response to what the affirmative said (the next post in the thread will be the affirmative rebuttal to the negative side) (recall: this was a debate I staged with myself in front of my New Testament class earlier this semester.  I didn't read this speech: I winged it.  But this is the essence of what I argued, on the negative side against the affirmative) *************************************************************** If you choose to go point by point through the affirmative team’s case that the book of Acts is historically reliable, you will find that they have advanced their views on very thin grounds.   [...]

2020-04-17T13:19:01-04:00March 31st, 2016|Acts of the Apostles, Bart's Debates, Public Forum|

Is the Book of Acts Historically Reliable? The Negative Case.

This post will lay out the Negative case, arguing against the resolution, Resolved: The Book of Acts if Historically Reliable.   Again, I am not necessarily agreeing or disagreeing with this argument; I’m giving it as I would in a debate. ********************************************************** The New Testament book of Acts is not historically reliable.  Before showing that to be the case, I want to make two preliminary remarks, both of them related to the question of what it means for an ostensibly historical account (a narrative of what allegedly happened in the past) to be reliable. First, when readers today want to know whether the book of Acts is reliable, they mean that they want to know whether the events that it narrates actually happened in the way it describes.  Or not.  Readers are not primarily interested in knowing if he wrote his account the way other authors in his day would have done.  They are mainly interested in knowing whether his narrative happened the way he says it did. Second, it is indeed important to know whether [...]

2020-04-17T13:18:23-04:00March 30th, 2016|Acts of the Apostles, Bart's Debates, Public Forum|

Is the Book of Acts Historically Reliable? Smoke and Mirrors.

In my next post I will be staking stake out the “negative” side on the debate I had with myself in class, arguing against the resolution, Resolved: The Book of Acts is Historically Reliable.  I have already made the affirmative case; in the negative I will argue that the book is not reliable (that first speech was a set speech, prepared without reference to anything the affirmative side said).  I will then give a negative refutation of the affirmative’s first speech, and I will end with an affirmative rebuttal of the negative’s two speeches. Before I do all that, however, I need to take a time-out and explain one negative counter-argument that would take too much space if it were simply part of a longer post laying out the negative position. The affirmative side in the debate argued that based on archaeological evidence Luke can be shown to have presented accurately the laws, custom, and geography mentioned or alluded to in the book of Acts:  there really was an Areopagus where philosophers gathered, as mentioned [...]

2020-04-17T13:17:53-04:00March 29th, 2016|Acts of the Apostles, Bart's Debates, Public Forum|

Is Acts Historically Reliable? The Affirmative Argument

I am ready now to explain how I did the debate with myself in front of my undergraduate class on the resolution, Resolved: The Book of Acts is Historically Reliable. As always happens in a debate, the Affirmative side goes first and gives a prepared speech. In arguing for the affirmative, I made the following points. (Note: I’m not saying I personally agree with these points, just as I’m not going to be saying that I agreed with the Negative points. I’m simply making the best case I can for both positions.) THE REST OF THIS POST IS FOR MEMBERS ONLY. If you don't belong yet, JOIN! The Book of Acts is Historically Reliable, as can be seen by considering three major points First, the author of the book of Acts explicitly tells us that he was concerned and committed to present a historically accurate account of the history of the early church. The author of Acts, of course, was the author of the Gospel of Luke, and the preface to Luke served as [...]

2020-04-17T13:17:32-04:00March 24th, 2016|Acts of the Apostles, Paul and His Letters, Public Forum|

Bart Ehrman vs Tim McGrew – Round 1

On Saturday 18th July 2015 I held a kind of radio debate with Timothy J. McGrew, a conservative Christian apologist and professor of Philosophy at Western Michigan University.  He's also the author of The Foundations of Knowledge and Internalism and Epistemology. It was a two-part back-and-forth on "Unbelievable," a weekly program hosted by Justin Brierley, which airs on UK Premier Christian Radio.  I taped the interview from the station's London studio. The debate was on the topic: Can We Trust the Gospels?" Here Part One. Please adjust gear icon for 1080p High-Definition:

2020-05-27T15:50:53-04:00March 19th, 2016|Bart's Debates, Canonical Gospels, Video Media|

More on Camels and Genesis

I have received some interesting responses, both in comments on the blog and privately, about my post yesterday on domesticated camels in the land of Palestine. Some readers are (re-)convinced that you can’t trust the Bible for one blasted thing; others think that it’s just a picayune point since camels are not really much of a big deal in the narratives of Genesis. So maybe I should provide a bit of background and explain what I see to be the significance of this new finding. First, on camels. The word “camel” (Hebrew: GML) occurs twenty-four times in the book of Genesis, always in connection with the Patriarchs, and in contexts involving each of the big names: Abraham (only one time, 12:16 – God blessed him with lots of camels), Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph (again only one time, 37:25; he was taken to Egypt by a group of traders with a caravan of camels). The greatest concentration of references is in the story of Isaac and Rebecca in Genesis 24, but there are several references to [...]

2020-04-03T17:21:15-04:00February 6th, 2014|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

The Accuracy of Acts: Part 2

We could deal forever with the question of the historical accuracy of Acts. There are entire books devoted to the problem and even to *aspects* of the problem, and different scholars come to different conclusions. My own view is that since Acts is at odds with Paul just about every time they talk about the same thing, that it is probably not to be taken as very accurate, especially in its detail. In yesterday’s post I dealt with a couple of places where it’s portrayal of Paul’s *actions* seem to be at odds with what Paul himself says; in today’s, my last post on the topic, I speak about Paul’s *teachings/views* and come to the same conclusion. I’ll pick just one example, and again, draw my remarks from comments I’ve made elsewhere in print. *************************************************************** Almost all of Paul's evangelistic sermons mentioned in Acts are addressed to Jewish audiences. This itself should strike us as odd, given Paul's own repeated claim that his mission was to the Gentiles. In any event, the most famous exception [...]

2020-04-17T13:48:07-04:00September 5th, 2013|Acts of the Apostles, Reflections and Ruminations|

The Historical Accuracy of Acts

I am circling around the ultimate question of this thread, whether Luke the gentile physician, the companion of Paul, wrote the Gospel of Luke. The first step was to show that Paul never *mentions* Luke as a gentile physician in any of his undisputed letters. The second step involves asking the question of whether *any* companion of Paul – whether Luke or someone else – wrote the books of Luke and Acts. The argument that one did is based on the “we-passages” that I mentioned in the previous post. Now I want to advance the argument by saying that I don’t think the we-passages indicate that a companion of Paul wrote Acts (or, by inference, Luke) because I think there is good counter-evidence to indicate that Acts (and Luke) were decidedly NOT written by someone who was familiar, personally with Paul. Here I’ll reproduce my comments on it from my college-level textbook, more accessible than some of my other posts recently. The basic point I’m making at this stage is that the book of Acts [...]

2020-04-17T13:40:21-04:00September 4th, 2013|Acts of the Apostles, Reflections and Ruminations|

Historical Problems with the Hebrew Bible: The Conquest of Canaan

This will be my final post, for now, on the problems with the Hebrew Bible.  I couldn’t resist one last set of comments on the historicity of the accounts narrated there, this time with respect to the stories in the book of Joshua about the Conquest of the Promised Land (Jericho and so on).   Here too I am citing what I lay out in my forthcoming textbook on the Bible ***************************************************************************** When considering the historicity of the narratives of Joshua, the first thing to re-emphasize is that these are not accounts written by eyewitnesses or by anyone who knew an eyewitness.  They were written some 600 years later, and were based on oral traditions that had been in circulation among people in Israel during all those intervening centuries.  Moreover, they are clearly molded according to theological assumptions and perspectives.  Biblical scholars have long noted that there is almost nothing in the accounts that suggest that the author is trying to be purely descriptive of things that really happened.  He is writing an account that appears [...]

2017-12-31T21:53:46-05:00June 10th, 2013|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Public Forum|

Historical Problems with the Hebrew Bible: The Exodus Narrative

In response to a question about the problems posed to critical scholars by the Hebrew Bible I have so far provided two posts, one involving the surviving manuscripts (do we know what the authors originally said?) and the other with apparent discrepancies (where accounts appear to be at odds with one another).   I will now provide a couple of posts dealing with the equally big problem that the Hebrew Bible narrates events that probably did not take place, at least as described.   Today I will provide a chunk from my forthcoming book on the Bible about the exodus event under Moses, in which Moses led the children of Israel out from their slavery in Egypt and a great miracle transpired at the parting of the Sea of Reeds (traditionally called the Red Sea), where the children of Israel were allowed to cross on dry land before the waters rushed back destroying Pharaoh's entire army (as narrated in Exodus 14).  It's an absolutely amazing, terrific story.  But it does not appear to be historical. [...]

2020-04-03T18:28:10-04:00June 9th, 2013|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Reader’s Questions|

Inconsistencies in the Hebrew Bible

Yesterday I started answering a question about whether the problems in the Hebrew Bible were as significant as those in the New Testament, and my response was: Yes! Even more so! In yesterday’s post I talked about the problem with the manuscripts. In this post I’ll talk about internal discrepancies and contradictions. Rather than write the whole thing out, though, I’ve decided just to include a chunk that deals with the issue from my Introduction to the Bible, which is due out in the Fall. Here I am talking about what 19th and 20th century critical scholars discovered with respect to discrepancies within the Pentateuch, leading to the theory that the first five books of the Hebrew Scripture actually derived from four major sources, written at different times, that have been spliced together, creating internal problems. ****************************************************************************************************************** The internal tensions came to be seen as particularly significant. Nowhere were these tensions more evident than in the opening accounts of the very first book of the Pentateuch, in the creation stories of Genesis chapters 1 and [...]

2020-04-03T18:28:19-04:00June 8th, 2013|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Reader’s Questions|
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