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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.   [...]

More Interesting Topics in New Testament Studies. Other Writing Assignments for my Undergrads

Here are more intriguing topics in New Testament studies!  This is part two of the writing assignments that I give to my undergraduate course, “Introduction to the New Testament.”  Every week students write a two-page paper based on the instructions, and then in their small group discussions (recitations) they discuss their views, as guided by the graduate student Teaching Assistant. So hey, go at it yourself!  But, once again, I won’t be grading yours…. Note: every student is required to participate in one of the three debates, on a two-four person teacm arguing either the affirmative of negative side of the resolution.  They are expected to prepare together individually and as a group, and everyone on the team is required to give a formal statement (opening statement of their teams position and arguments for it, rebuttal of the other team's argument, or summary at the end) (NTHI =  my textbook, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings)                                [...]

2022-10-21T12:55:54-04:00October 18th, 2022|Christianity in the Classroom, Teaching Christianity|

Interesting Topics in New Testament. My Weekly Writing Assignments for Undergrads

Below is Part 1 of the handout I give them, the opening instructions and then the specific directions for each week’s paper.  (Part 2 will do the same for the rest of the semester’s weekly sessions) So hey, go at it yourself!  But, well, I won’t be grading yours…. (NTHI =  my textbook, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings)    INSTRUCTIONS FOR POSITION PAPERS Reli 104   For basic instructions on Position Papers (purpose, grading, etc.) see the syllabus. Please double-space your paper, in size 11 font, and submit it on “Assignments” before the recitation begins. NOTE: On occasion you will want to make a reference to a passage of the New Testament.  There is a standard format for doing so.  When referring to a biblical passages, first give the name of the book (or an abbreviation of it), then the chapter number, followed by a colon, and then the verse number.  A semi-colon is used to separate one chapter and verse reference from another; a comma is used to separate [...]

2022-10-21T12:40:28-04:00October 16th, 2022|Christianity in the Classroom, Teaching Christianity|

Publishing in Academic Journals

The most obvious activity that professional scholars engage in is research, and the most obvious way research becomes known to a wider public is through publication. In some fields of inquiry (most of the sciences), the academic journal is the principal area of significant publication. In other fields (most of the humanities), academic books matter even more. But even in the humanities scholar typically publish in both venues. Books take a lot longer to write, but articles play an extremely important role both in disseminating knowledge – the results of research – and in providing grounds for a scholar’s academic tenure and promotion. The articles that scholars write – when they are writing as research scholars – are not the sort of thing that you would find in Time Magazine or Newsweek. Every field has its own set of academic, peer-reviewed journals (there are a large number in biblical studies in the U.S. and Europe); and every scholar who is active in his or her field or research publishes in them. These are not journals [...]

2022-10-05T09:57:35-04:00October 15th, 2022|Bart’s Biography, Teaching Christianity|

Getting the PhD in New Testament Studies

I continue here my series from long ago about what it's like to be a research scholar at a research university.  In this post I described what it takes to get the qualifications in the first place.  (The only thing I would probably change today, ten years after writing this post, is that university positions in the humanities are so difficult to find these days that you REALLY REALLY need to love doing the graduate work, because in many cases it will not lead to a career option.  Still... it *does* happen!), Here's how MY PhD in New Testament Studies happened. ****************************** I sometimes get asked what it takes to become a professional scholar in the field of New Testament/Early Christian studies. The answer, in short, is the same as for any academic discipline. It takes years of intense training. My own training in the field of New Testament studies was nothing at all unusual, but rather was fairly typical for someone in the field. What is unusual is that I knew that I wanted [...]

2022-10-21T12:43:27-04:00October 13th, 2022|Bart’s Biography, Teaching Christianity|

What’s It Like to Teach PhD Seminars?

In a previous post I discussed what it's like to teach undergraduates at a research university.   Now I discuss teaching PhD seminars.  Again, these posts are from some years ago; some details are different now, but the essence is, not eternal, but at least, till now, pretty much the same. ****************************** In addition to my undergraduate classes, I teach one PhD seminar each semester.   We have a small but terrific graduate program in the Department of Religious Studies.  Students admitted each year are the cream of the crop.  Most of them come to us already with both an undergraduate and master’s degree, and we admit students (maybe 7-10 a year) in a range of fields: Islamic studies, Religion in the Americas, Asian Religions, Religion and Culture, Medieval and Early Modern Studies, and Ancient Mediterranean Religions. My area is Ancient Mediterranean Religions, which comprises religions of the Ancient Near East, Hebrew Bible, Graeco-Roman Religions (i.e., “pagan” religions), ancient Judaism, and early Christianity (which includes the New Testament).    We have probably 35 or so applicants a year [...]

2022-10-02T14:24:43-04:00October 11th, 2022|Bart's Critics, Teaching Christianity|

What Serious Research Projects Can Undergraduates Do in Early Christianity?

Here I continue to discuss some of the things professors in the humanities do in research universities -- in part.  I'm telling this from just my own perspective, but I'd say that most of what I say could be said by nearly anyone in a similar position.  This is how I explained this aspect of it before. ****************************** In addition to my regular teaching, I often get asked to direct Independent studies – where an undergraduate student will pursue a research project of his or her own choosing, something that normally is not taught in a regular class that we offer – and senior honors theses. I rarely am able to do an Independent Study, I’m sorry to say, as I have so many other demands on my time. But some of my colleagues are able to do several a year. I do occasionally direct honors theses, though, especially when a student looks especially promising as someone who may be able to go on and do graduate work in the field. The honors thesis is [...]

2022-09-25T16:14:41-04:00October 5th, 2022|Teaching Christianity|

What’s It Like to Teach at a Research University?

I continue here with my reflections on what a research scholar at a research university actually *does*.  This post covers the most important part of the work.  The main job of a professor, of course, is to teach. (!) Different colleges and universities have different requirements and expectations for their faculty. At many small colleges, professors teach four or even five courses a semester. Rarely can a person teach that much and still produce substantial (or much of any!) research, so that professors in those contexts are usually handicapped when it comes to publishing scholarship in the form of books and articles.  But many of them are in the job because they mainly LOVE teaching.   So do I.  But I'm in a different situation. Large research universities expect their professors to be at the cutting edge of scholarship, and so the teaching requirements are lighter (since the research demands are so much heavier). Faculty in research schools can never get tenure or promotion (or raises!) if they do not regularly and extensively publish in their [...]

2022-10-07T10:58:52-04:00October 4th, 2022|Bart's Critics, Teaching Christianity|

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|

Studying the New Testament in Graduate School

My favorite professor in graduate school once told me he thought that PhDs in New Testament were over-trained for what they had to do.  I had finished my degree at the time and was heading off to an on-campus interview at Notre Dame, which was looking for a faculty member who was an expert in Pauline studies.  They had a number of other biblical scholars there, but wanted to fill a gap in their curriculum and wanted someone with a specialization in Paul.  I didn’t consider myself a Pauline scholar in particular – at the time my research was in analyzing and classifying the Greek manuscript tradition of the New Testament, and even though I had fairly extensive training in Pauline studies, it wasn’t at all my expertise.  My professor was telling me to relax: I was more than enough qualified. Looking back, I think he had a point – not about me as a Pauline scholar (in the end they offered me the position, but I turned it down for the offer from UNC) [...]

Why I Am Not A Christian: Is Bart Ehrman a Christian?

A lot of people wonder why I am not a Christian? Is Bart Ehrman a a very popular question. Just now – fifteen minutes ago – I came to realize with the most crystal clarity I have ever had why I am not a Christian. Of course, as most of you know, I have not called myself a Christian publicly for a very long time, twenty years or so I suppose. But a number of people tell me that they think at heart I’m a Christian, and I sometimes think of myself as a Christian agnostic/atheist. Their thinking, and mine, has been that if I do my best to follow the teachings of Jesus, in some respect I’m a Christian, even if I don’t believe that Jesus was the son of God....or that he was raised from the dead, or even that God exists. In fact, I don’t believe all these things. But can’t I be a Christian in a different sense, one who follows Jesus’ teachings? Fifteen minutes ago I realized with startling [...]

My Final Exam This Semester! The Birth of Christianity.

The Birth of Christianity, Reli 208 Final Exam Questions   Your final exam is scheduled for Thursday Dec. 9 at (ugh…) 8:00 a.m.  It  will consist of ten short answer identification questions and two essays. The exam will be closed book, closed notes, and open mind.   The Identifications   The i.d.’s will be terms that we have covered during the semester, either in the reading or in the lectures.  You will be allowed up to 100 words to answer each i.d. As examples, you could be asked to describe:  “Canon,” “Anchorite,” “Perpetua,” “The Gospel of Mary.” You will be given some choice for the i.d.s – for example, I may ask twelve from which you are to answer ten.  You should plan on devoting no more than an hour to this part of the exam.     The Essays   You will then have two essay questions , and should plan to devote about an hour to each.  In this case, unlike the i.d.s, I am providing (below) the entire range of potential questions.  [...]

2021-11-15T15:52:16-05:00November 28th, 2021|Teaching Christianity|

MORE Assignments on the Birth of Christianity

Here now are the other position paper assignments for "The Birth of Christianity."  See which of them you'd like to take on in your spare time!   Recitation Six:  Perpetua and Felicitas Read carefully the account of the Martyrdom of Perpectua and Felicitas (ANT 47-55), several times, until you can remember the significant incidents in good detail. For the recitation, you should think about ALL of the following issues.  For your position paper you are to discuss just ONE of them, whichever one you find most intriguing. From an outsider’s perspective it may seem very strange, unsettling, and perplexing that such a brilliant, insightful, apparently wealthy, young mother would be so eager to leave this world through a violent death. How can you explain it, from Perpetua’s own perspective? Is this world really such a terrible place (for her)? Discuss Perpetua’s treatment of her father. Do you see him as a sympathetic figure?  Does she seem rude and uncaring to him?  How do you explain that? Choose either the vision of Perpetua in ch. 4 [...]

2021-09-03T13:10:03-04:00September 5th, 2021|Teaching Christianity|

Student Papers for “The Birth of Christianity”

If you checked out my syllabus for my undergraduate course this semester, you will have noticed that every week each student is to write a two-page "position paper" on an assigned topic, something of intrigue that, for this class, will involve texts and issues they have probably never addressed or even heard of, even though if they were raised as church-going Christians.  I certainly hadn't when I was their age.... Here are the instructions I give for the papers; you obviously couldn't do the papers without reading the assignments, but you can get an idea here what they would be studying. (The abbreviation ANT is for their textbook, the reader I edited called After the New Testament: A Reader in Early Christianity 100-300 CE).                                                 INSTRUCTIONS FOR POSITION PAPERS   Welcome to instructions for your weekly bit of recitation fun: the position papers!  For basic instructions, otherwise known as absolute sine qua non (purpose, length, grading, etc.), see the syllabus.   But do remember: these are to be two-pages, double-spaced, and turned in before the recitation itself. [...]

2021-09-04T03:54:15-04:00September 4th, 2021|Teaching Christianity|

Pop Quiz on Early Christianity

For just about all of my undergraduate classes, I begin the semester, on the first day, after explaining the course, by giving students a pop quiz.  In my New Testament classes, students are often surprised at how little they know.  "Hey, I went to Sunday School my entire life!  Why don't I know this stuff?"   Yeah, good question. But this semester, as I indicated in my previous post, I'm teaching a course on "The Birth of Christianity," which focuses on the period just after the New Testament up through Constantine.  For *this* class students come in *knowing* that they don't know much of anything.  No matter:  I give them a quiz anyway!  (It's not graded.) Since I haven't taught the class in 25 years, I had to come up with a new quiz (having no idea if I even did one before) . Here it is.  How well can you do?  I'll be discussing answers in subsequent posts (I give the quiz, in part, to discuss the answers with students as a way of introducing [...]

My Syllabus for “The Birth of Christianity”

Classes have now started at UNC, and I'm back in the classroom.  Last year it was all remote teaching (NOT fun for anyone, though my classes were terrific); this year we are starting out live, and desperately hoping we will be able to continue that way. For me, the most exciting part of the semester is that I"m teaching a course that I literally have not taught in 25 years.   There's lots of reasons for that -- among other things, I ended up having to teach other things and other colleagues came into the department who could and wanted to teach it.   But the course is more closely related to my research over these past 25 years than even my New Testament classes: this one deals with Christianity in the second and third centuries, and it is called "The Birth of Christianity." Here is the syllabus for it!    Reli 208 The Birth of Christianity Fall 2021   Instructor: Bart Ehrman Teaching Assistants:  Benjamin Sheppard and Thomas Waldrupe   Course Description and Objectives For most [...]

2021-08-18T17:24:22-04:00August 31st, 2021|Teaching Christianity|

Two More Answers from My Pop Quiz

I continue here with some comments about my pop quiz (see: and ), and some of the reasons I ask the questions – that is, what I try to teach from the answers (so that the quiz is not designed to see how much the students know already).  Here are two more of the questions:   In what century were they (the books of the NT) written? Answer:  First century CE.  I use this question to explain the modern usage, among historians (and others!) of BCE and CE.  Of course all of us (well, all of us my age) grew up with the dating system BC and AD.  Most people don’t actually know what those abbreviations mean.  Nearly everyone gets “BC”: Before Christ.  But I remember – or maybe I misremember – being taught when I was young that A.D. stood for “After Death.”  Well that ain’t right.  And a second’s reflection shows why.  It would mean there would be no dates for the years between Jesus’ birth and his death!  A.D. therefore [...]

2020-09-03T16:21:07-04:00September 2nd, 2020|Canonical Gospels, Teaching Christianity|

Does Basic Information about the NT *Matter*? My Pop Quiz

Last week I posted the pop quiz that I gave my first-year seminar, “Jesus in Scholarship and Film,” on the opening day of the term.  There are several reasons I give a quiz, even before the students have read, heard lectures, or discussed anything about the New Testament.  For one thing, it’s a fun activity and we can have some laughs – it’s not graded and we go over the answers after they take it.  For another thing, it’s important for me to know how much they know about the New Testament and early Christianity before we start the course.  It’s also important for them to know how much they know – especially the students who were raised in church and assume they already know a lot.  Some of them do; but not most.  And sometimes they are chagrined when they find out.  (If I had a nickel for every time a student has said to me, “Why haven’t I heard this before?" I could buy a condo on the Champs-Élysées.) Even more important, in [...]

My Faux Pop Quiz this Semester

Here’s a question from one of my recent posts on teaching this term, and what I did on the first day of class. QUESTIONS Now that Aug 11 is safely past, is there any chance that we here on the blog might be able to see the “Faux Pop Quiz”? RESPONSES               The question is about the pop quiz I gave on my first day of class in my First Year Seminar (i.e, the small seminar for first year students – their first semester in college!) on “Jesus in Scholarship and Film.”  Different instructors do different things on the first day of class.  We are required to give out a syllabus that describes the course objectives, requirements, textbooks, grading policies, and sundry other things (I posted mine last week on the blog).  Some instructors do that and then that’s all for the first class.  I do more.  I don’t believe in throwing away any class time for the entire semester, so I always take up the whole period.  Hey, they’re payin’ for this class.  (Well, [...]

2020-08-26T22:21:53-04:00August 26th, 2020|Historical Jesus, Teaching Christianity|

My Early Christian Apocrypha Seminar

I am teaching a PhD seminar this semester on the early Christian apocrypha; it's a little hard to define what those are, though hundreds of people have tried!.  The way I define them are as non-canonical books that are similar in genre and contents to those that did make it into the canon.  Or something like that.  They comprise Gospels, Acts, Epistles, and Apocalypses, they can be "orthodox" or "non-orthodox" (= " heretical"); most of them claim to be written by apostles (but not all); the ones I'm most interested in date from the second to the fifth centuries. It's a fairly but not crazily heavy-hitting class.   It meets once a week for three hours.  Here, for your amusement and reading pleasure (especially if you do the assignments!) is the syllabus: To see what follows, you will need to belong to the blog.  Not a member yet?  Now's the best time ever to join.  Why?  Because you can't join in the past.     Reli 801: Early Christian Apocrypha Instructor: Bart D. Ehrman Fall 2020 [...]

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