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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 [...]

Jesus in Scholarship and Film

University classes started this past week, and as so many have said, this will be a school year like no other.  I will be teaching both of my classes remotely, a PhD seminar on Early Christian Apocrypha, which I will be discussing in a later post, and my undergraduate course, Jesus in Scholarship and Film.  I've taught this latter course on and off for years now, and it is absolutely one of my favorites. The basic idea behind it is to see how Jesus is portrayed in different ways in different venues: ancient Gospels (the four canonical Gospels and seven from outside the New Testament), modern scholarship on the historical Jesus (i.e., attempts to see what he really said and did), and film, from the earliest silents up to recently. One of the goals is to learn how each book/film portrays Jesus differently.  There is not "one" Jesus out there that everyone agrees on. Teaching remotely is a huge challenge.  But I have a terrific group of students.  It is a First Year Seminar; these [...]

2020-11-30T23:30:29-05:00August 16th, 2020|Public Forum, Teaching Christianity|

Why Would An Atheist Teach the Bible? Readers’ Mailbag

I often get asked why I would be interested in teaching biblical studies if I’m an atheist; sometimes the question is a bit hostile, along the lines of “What would *you* know?  You don’t even believe in it”!  Or “Why should anyone listen to you if you’re just trying to disprove the Bible?”  At other times the questions seem fairly genuine.  Recently, for example, I’ve gotten these two:   QUESTIONS: Why do you bother continuing to teach any aspects of Biblical studies since you have decided that you are an atheist-agnostic? In short, what is the point? Can you explain something to me?  Why should I send my son to study in your department when you don't believe the book which your program is built on?   RESPONSES: At first I thought these were hostile, but I corresponded with both of the people and I don’t think they were.  Let me answer them separately. The first one is easier, though I get it a lot.  It seems a puzzle to so many people that anyone [...]

Take A Final Exam on the New Testament!

The semester is over at my university, but since I'm on leave, it hasn't affected me much.  But I was thinking about it this morning -- final exams, grading, wrapping up the term -- and I remembered that some years ago on the blog I posted the final exam I gave to my Introduction to the New Testament course, to see how you'd do! I thought it would be fun and interesting to repost it.  Check it out.  Can you nail it? So, classes are officially over here at UNC, and we are in the Final Exam period. Today I gave my final for the Introduction to the New Testament class.   As some of you may recall, back in January 2014 I posted on the blog the pop quiz I give the first day of class for this course.  It is here, in case you're interested:   When I give this quiz on the first day, I tell the students that even if they bomb it (which most of them do), it's nothing [...]

2020-05-04T09:09:57-04:00May 4th, 2020|Public Forum, Teaching Christianity|

How Do I Get To Know What Is In the Bible?

There are a lot of people, billions, actually, who are interested in the Bible -- either because of their personal beliefs or because they they realize its historical and cultural importance -- but don’t actually know what it’s about.  The broader interest makes a good deal of sense, and not just for committed Jews and Christians.   After all, a good deal of the history of the West is tied closely to the Christian tradition rooted in the Bible.  And how can one understand Western culture without it?  Think about the history of art, music, and literature, for example.  Still, most people really don’t know the Bible.  By that I don’t mean they don’t know what scholars have come to learn about the Bible (that virtually goes without saying!); I just mean they don’t know what’s actually in the Bible. One reason, of course, is that most people don’t read the Bible.  But an even more important one is that those who do read the Bible do not do so in order to learn what it’s [...]

2020-02-14T10:06:18-05:00February 14th, 2020|Reflections and Ruminations, Teaching Christianity|

Other Interesting Features of the Graphic Introduction to the New Testament

Here is the final portion of my proposal for the Graphic Textbook of the New Testament.   The earlier part described the sections on the Gospels.  Here I map out the basic coverage of the historical Jesus.  The book will be extremely brief in comparison with my full-blown NT textbook, which comes in at 572 pages.  This one is projected to be 150 pages, and most of it art work.  Yikes!  The challenge is kinda obvious….   But hey, if you can summarize the NT in one sentence (and you can) (in fact a very very short sentence: It’s about the life and teachings of Jesus and his followers….), you can surely do it in 150 pages! At the end of the prospectus I include a couple of things that always go into this kind of proposal:  marketing ideas; what other books it will be competing with; and when I plan (well, hope) to have it finished. ******************************************************** The Historical Jesus (8 pages) I will shift gears in the final chapter, away from explaining how Jesus is [...]

2020-04-02T14:28:38-04:00January 28th, 2020|Book Discussions, Teaching Christianity|

How I Will Write My “Graphic Textbook of the New Testament”

Yesterday I began to describe my Graphic Textbook of the New Testament, as I have proposed it to my publisher, Oxford University Press.   In this post I continue, by explaining how I will actually set up the first fascicle (installment), on the Gospels and Jesus. ******************************************** Fascicle One: The Gospels and Jesus The four Gospels are by far the largest section of the New Testament, and any reconstruction of the historical Jesus depends on a critical understanding not only of how each of the Gospels portrays his life, death, and resurrection, but also of how they can be used as sources of historical knowledge.  After providing necessary background about the Greco-Roman world in which Christianity was born, with a special coverage of first-century Judaism, this fascicle will examine the overarching message of each Gospel, and conclude with a consideration of how scholars can utilize such literary and theological writings in order to establish a historical reconstruction of Jesus’ life and death.   Introduction (2 pages) The book will begin by ... If you're a blog [...]

2020-04-02T14:28:44-04:00January 27th, 2020|Book Discussions, Canonical Gospels, Teaching Christianity|

A Graphic Novel (Textbook) on the New Testament!

I have recently decided to undertake a brand new venture.   Well, more truthfully, I’ve been persuaded to do it.   I have a new editor at Oxford University Press.  My old editor and good friend (he lives in Chapel Hill, as it turns out.  But when I first met him he lived in Manhattan), Robert Miller, who has edited all of my textbooks and all their revisions, my various readers, and most of my Oxford trade books, has retired after a long and successful career.  Taking his place at OUP as editor of both Religion and Philosophy (there are a lot more courses and books in the latter) is Andrew Blitzer.   Andy is a young and energetic editor with vision and ideas – and he’s on the blog! Andy from our first meeting urged me to think about a new kind of textbook on the New Testament.  A graphic novel kind of textbook.  Hmm… OK then.  Really? I knew nothing about graphic novels.  When I first saw a section of them at Barnes & Noble I [...]

2020-01-26T09:32:03-05:00January 26th, 2020|Book Discussions, Public Forum, Teaching Christianity|

Want To Know About the Apostolic Fathers?

Last year we admitted a student into our PhD program last year to work with me, but since I've been on academic leave to write my next book, I haven't  had the chance to teach her.  That's obviously a problem, since I"m one of the reasons she's here!  So we agreed that I would go ahead and do a one-on-one independent study with her this semester on an important topic, the Apostolic Fathers. We meet once a week for three hours to translate Greek texts, discuss the books in question (see below), and talk about scholarly monographs that she is assigned to read each week.  It's a lot.  But, well, welcome to the PhD!  For many students college is a big leap form high school; a master's program is a big leap from undergraduate; and a PhD program is a QUANTUM leap. The "Apostolic Fathers" is a technical term for a group of 10 (or 11, depending on what you include) authors traditionally thought to  have been writing immediately after the books of the NT [...]

End of the Year Final Exam!

We are near the end of the year.  What better time for a final exam? In my classes I normally give essay exams -- they are by far the best way to find out how much a student actually knows (as opposed to testing them for what they don't know) and how well s/he can express thoughts in writing and develop an argument. I've pulled out an exam that I once gave to my students in a class called Jesus in Scholarship and Film.  It's a terrifically interesting course: we examine ancient Gospels, mainly but not exclusively the ones in the New Testament, to see what each of them is trying to teach about the life, teaching, and meaning of Jesus; then we use the Gospels as historical sources to see what we can say about the actual man himself, the life and teaching of the historical Jesus; and then we look at modern films to see how *they* portray Jesus in light of what we've already learned (e.g. Infancy and Crucifixion narratives in Ben [...]

2020-04-02T14:32:26-04:00December 29th, 2019|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus, Teaching Christianity|
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