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Two More Answers from My Pop Quiz

I continue here with some comments about my pop quiz (see: https://ehrmanblog.org/my-faux-pop-quiz-this-semester/ and https://ehrmanblog.org/does-basic-information-about-the-nt-matter-my-pop-quiz/ ), 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:  https://ehrmanblog.org/new-testament-pop-quiz/   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|

The Annual Meeting of Biblical Scholars, and ALL Those Books!!

I decided to look back to what I wrote on this day five years ago, and I started to laugh -- it's *exactly* the same think I was thinking just yesterday, about all the trillions of books that get written about the Bible and the scholars who write them.   I've decided to re-post it, and simply update it to this very moment. ****************************************************** I've had a terrific and interesting first few days at the Society of Biblical Literature annual meeting here in San Diego.   This society comprises professors and other scholars of biblical literature mainly from the U.S., but with attendees from overseas as well.   It meets along with the American Academy of Religion, which is the professional society for all professors of religion who are not  teachers of biblical studies (so experts in Christianity outside the NT, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, anthropologists of religion, historians of religion, and so on and on).   All together it is a very large group.  I don’t have the exact numbers, but I think maybe there are 10,000 or 11,000 [...]

2020-04-02T14:35:07-04:00November 25th, 2019|Reflections and Ruminations, Teaching Christianity|

Can My Undergraduate Students Continue Believing the Bible is Inerrant?

Since my conference in Chicago last weekend I've been thinking a lot about the theologically conservative folk who really believe there can be no mistakes in the Bible.  And just now browsing through some posts five years ago, I see someone raised a very interesting question about it, in relationship to my teaching at UNC.  Here's the question and my response.  I would still answer the same way today!   QUESTION: Do you ever get a student in your class who doggedly insists upon the inerrancy of the Bible? If so, and if they write their term papers in support of Biblical inerrancy, is it possible for them to get a passing grade in your class?   RESPONSE: HA!  That’s a great question! So, part of the deal of teaching in the Bible Belt is that lots of my students – most of them? – have very conservative views about the Bible as the Word of God.    A few years ago I used to start my class on the New Testament, with something like 300 [...]

Who Is The Enemy?

This will be a very personal post, about being an enemy of the Christian faith. I’ve long been amazed, surprised, and perplexed about how, when it comes to religion, comments made in one context are completely non-problematic but when the (exact) same comments are made in another context, they are heinous and threatening.   Some of it almost certainly has to do with tone and general attitude.  But I wonder if it isn’t actually much broader than that. One of the ways I’ve seen this over the years is in the use of humor.  When I was a conservative evangelical Christian at Moody Bible Institute there were all sorts of jokes we would tell about the faith or about our commitments or communities:  just about Moody, we would call it Moody Instant Bibletute; or say we went to Moody, where Bible is our middle name.  Or someone would say (with respect to the view that the “rapture” would occur prior to, not after, the millennium – something we were very big on indeed!) that he was [...]

2019-08-09T03:53:49-04:00August 9th, 2019|Reflections and Ruminations, Teaching Christianity|

The New Edition of My New Testament Textbook

As I mentioned in my previous post, I have finished editing my textbook on the New Testament for its seventh edition (title still:  The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings).   The book was first published in 1997 and has always been designed for college/university students taking a one-semester course on the New Testament.  In it I do not presuppose any knowledge of the topic, but begin at ground zero. When I started doing research on the first edition of this textbook back in the mid-90s, I had very clear ideas about what I wanted it to be.   First and foremost, I wanted to approach the New Testament from a rigorously historical perspective.   It is not that I had any difficulties at the time, either professionally or personally, with introductions that were more geared toward theology, or exegesis, or literary criticism.   But I wanted my book to be different.   I wanted to situate the writings of the New Testament more thoroughly than was typically done in the historical, cultural, social, political, literary, [...]

2018-10-23T07:33:02-04:00October 23rd, 2018|Book Discussions, Teaching Christianity|

The Digital Bible (by Jeff Siker)

I just finished the seventh edition of my textbook, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings.   I started working on it, for the first edition, in 1993 – so I’ve been at it for 25 years.   Ouch.   For this new revision, among other things, I’ve added an Excursus of particular relevance, on the “Digital Bible,” written, luckily for all involved, not by me, but by my scholar-friend Jeff Siker, who has published, just this past year, the definitive book on it. Here is what he says about it.  (He is on the blog, so if anyone has any questions for him about it, or about anything else, ask away!) - Jeff Siker is also the author of Jesus, Sin, and Perfection in Early Christianity, Liquid Scripture: The Bible in the Digital World. **************************************************** The Digital Bible Jeffrey Siker The changing technology of writing and reading has always played a major role in the transmission and interpretation of the New Testament, from papyrus rolls to parchment codices to Gutenberg’s printing press, and, [...]

2021-02-07T00:37:40-05:00October 21st, 2018|History of Biblical Scholarship, Teaching Christianity|

Studying the Bible as Theology and/or History

  Here is an old question that I received that continues to be pressing -- something I think and talk about all the time! QUESTION: Would you please explain more on the differences between Biblical history and theology? Is it difficult as an historian to keep these separate in your personal beliefs? RESPONSE: I deal with this question in each of my three textbooks for undergraduates, since, for them, it is a confusing issue.  How can you study the Bible as a historian without religious perspectives guiding your reading.   Here is how I explain the issue in the Excursus to the first chapter of my Bible Intro. _________________________________________________________________________ EXCURSUS Most of the people who are deeply interested in the Bible in modern American culture are committed Jews or Christians who have been taught that this is a book of sacred texts, Scripture, unlike other books.  For many of these – especially many Christian believers – the Bible is the inspired word of God.  In communities of faith that hold such views, the Bible is usually [...]

What It Takes to be a Graduate Student

I often get questions from people who have been in a career for a while who want to know if it is feasible for them to go back to school and get a PhD in my field of New Testament/Early Christianity.  In most cases it is not feasible at all, simply because it is way too complicated and involved -- and takes way more time than one would think.  Here is what I said about what being a graduate student working toward a PhD involves, from my perspective as one who teaches these students. *********************************************************************************** I teach one undergraduate and one graduate course a semester. Teaching undergraduates is a passion of mine. I love doing it. These are nineteen year olds who are inquisitive, interested, and interesting. I enjoy lecturing to a crowd like that, figuring out what can make complicated material intriguing and compelling, keeping them attentive, helping them understand such important topics Some of my colleagues find teaching undergraduates a real chore; others find it very difficult. I find it to be a [...]

2020-04-03T01:26:09-04:00April 25th, 2018|Public Forum, Teaching Christianity|
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