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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 people here for the meeting.   That’s a lot of experts on religion in one place!

One of the most important aspects of the conference for me is the book display.   Dozens of publishers of books in every field and aspect of religion are here – from major well known pubishers such as Oxford University Press and Princeton University Press to religious publishing houses such as Eerdmans and Zondervan to small nich publishers to … you name it).   These publishers all set up an enormous ballroom with their exhibits, which are mainly copies and posters of the various books they’ve published.   The publishers obviously can’t bring every book they publish on the topic, and so typically bring only what has come out over the past year.   There are many, many thousands of books here.

Attendees can browse the book display, look through whatever books they’re interested in, buy books at a discount, make notes on what books to buy later, and so on. find the book display to be both invigorating and somewhat depressing….

To get some insight about what it means to do be a biblical scholar, and to publish books in the field (how good do the books need to be?), you’ll need to keep reading. For that you’ll need to belong to the blog.  It’s easy to join, inexpensive, and by all reports an incredibly ecstatic experience.  All proceeds go to charity.  So why not give it a try?

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  1. Avatar
    Apocryphile  November 25, 2019

    I had to chuckle at this, since I also see the exact same phenomenon in my profession as a museum librarian. I catalog all the new books we acquire, and I often wonder as I do so whether we, or the field of art history in general, really need yet another book on Rembrandt, Monet, or Caravaggio.

  2. Avatar
    doug  November 25, 2019

    Occasionally I’ll flip thru a book and think, “This publisher is just selling ink and paper”.

  3. Avatar
    Stephen  November 25, 2019

    1) In all that glut has there ever been a really good book about how the Holy Spirit became the third member of the Trinity?
    2) What would you regard as an area of research in NT studies that has NOT been well worn?
    3) What’s the best book in your field you’ve read in the last five years?


    • Bart
      Bart  November 26, 2019

      1. Of course: it’s a common topic in trinitarian theology; 2. Well my book on Didymus the blind and the TExt of the Gospels was teh only one written on that topic. 🙂 Seriopusly, there’s tons of work to do as new methods develop. But for me teh most exciting work involves the non-canonical books and the early Chrsitain literature from just after the NT period. 3. Ah, there are lots and lots. But most of them are not ones that non-scholars would latch on to. But, for example, Jenny Knust and Tommy Wasserman’s book To Cast the First Stone.

  4. Avatar
    AndrewJenkins  November 25, 2019

    My father and mother did not come from a privileged background but both graduated from the University of Wales, my father in Classics in 1939. He explained to me that much had been done and opportunities for research were running out – theses were being written for example on the use of the Ablative Absolute in Caesar’s ‘Gallic Wars’. Then many unpublished theses went up in smoke during the area bombing of Germany in 1943-45, opening up more new opportunities for researchers – too late for him, he became a teacher instead…… For me this does seem to reflect a certain sense of academic futility, although I totally support meaningful research. So your post has struck a chord!

    Based on recent experience at Cambridge I seem to have found a kind of inverse relationship between the potential value of specific research findings and the likelihood of successful publication. 😉

  5. Avatar
    VaulDogWarrior  November 25, 2019

    Ecclesiastes 12:12

  6. Avatar
    tskorick  November 25, 2019

    I guess I’ll ask what everyone is wondering: Did anyone get video of the FCM panel, and will it be posted online?

    And yes: the signal-to-noise ratio in biblical publishing is terrible! I have to have filters. Blogs by authors that I trust (hint hint hint) will often mention more significant recent works on various topics, and I often find new authors by starting with an exceptionally thought-provoking journal article and check out their sources and web presence. Otherwise it’s a mess out there.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 26, 2019

      No, I don’t think so. Too bad! But these meetings aren’t ever videotaped to my knowledge (at least none I’ve ever been in for the past 37 years!)

  7. Avatar
    mikezamjara  November 25, 2019

    Could you write a commentary on philippians?. Sorry It’s a joke.

  8. Avatar
    forthfading  November 25, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman,

    When you reach the place you have (30 plus years of teaching and researching) does UNC still expect you to jump through those same hoops, or play the same game?

    Thanks, Jay

    • Bart
      Bart  November 26, 2019

      I could easily rest on my laurels. Many scholars write just two or three books (or just one) for their entire career.

  9. Avatar
    Kmbwhitmore  November 26, 2019

    If there is one book that I could recommend that explains beautifully what is wrong and needs to change with Christianity, it is the book entitled, ‘How God Became King’ by N.T. Wright.

  10. Avatar
    Bewilderbeast  November 26, 2019

    You’re in trouble! You’re advocating LESS when everyone knows MORE is the holy grail. Any economist who dares tell the truth: That we need to use, burn up and produce LESS of everything – will get fired. Any politician who tells that truth will never get elected.
    Holier than all the texts you write about is this: Capitalism and Growth. MORE!!
    The fact that Jesus would not have endorsed it? Well, that’s an inconvenient truth best ignored. Our grandkids are going to justifiably be very angry with us. “You KNEW and yet you didn’t do anything!!?”

  11. Avatar
    Gary  November 26, 2019

    Should the scholarship and opinions of any Bible scholar who believes that the spirit (ghost) of an executed first century peasant lives inside his or her body and communicates with him or her on a daily basis be taken seriously on historical questions related to the alleged deeds and supernatural feats of this dead peasant?

    I believe that most rational people would say, no.

    Until Bible scholars such as Michael Licona publicly deny the existence of a spirit residing somewhere in their bodies which they believe gives them secret insight into universal truths, we should reject outright any scholarship or opinion related to this dead first century man which they present to the public. They are evangelists, peddlers of superstitions, not true scholars. The scholarship and expert opinion of a true scholar is guided solely by the evidence, not by spirits and ghosts.

    • Avatar
      RICHWEN90  November 28, 2019

      Pretty much what I’d say, although I’m nobody– at the very least they are not objective. A scary thing about those internal voices; sometimes they tell people to do rather horrible things. If somebody has a little voice inside their heads, how can you trust them NOT to do something nutty? This is a very murky area, like the problem of faith. Some folks had faith in Jim Jones and some had faith in David Koresh, Just two examples of faith gone wrong. Induction is one thing, hard to get along without that. Faith in some metaphysical system, especially when that metaphysical system demands that you discard logic and reason, and the evidence of your senses, and common sense, and geological evidence, and most of what we regard as well-established scientific data, is especially troubling. To me, that definitely borders on madness.

  12. Avatar
    mannix  November 26, 2019

    I wonder: If the original authors of the NT books knew that dozens to hundreds of commentaries would be written on them many centuries in the future…would they have written them differently? Maybe at least proofread/qualify/cite sources?

  13. Avatar
    fishician  November 26, 2019

    Every time I go by, or go in (with my wife), a Bible book store I have to chuckle: the greatest mind in the universe wrote a book (the Bible, supposedly), and yet countless people in the last 2000 years have had to write books to explain what He was really saying! How can a lesser mind explain what a vastly superior mind wrote?! Or maybe God wants us to do mental gymnastics till the end of time? That’s possible.

  14. Avatar
    Kirktrumb59  November 27, 2019

    See: The Professor Game Author: Richard D Mandell 1977
    “Academic muckraking,” per one reviewer (in 2012!) Many in academia were not thrilled with this book.

  15. Aractus
    Aractus  November 28, 2019

    Bart, may I ask what happened with the Dan Wallace exchange at the FCM panel? From tweets it sounded like (a.) he had a prepared written statement in his hands, and (b.) that the exchange didn’t go well with David Bradnick saying you ended the exchange saying “We’re done”.

    Some clarity would be appreciated.

    What the apologetic evangelical scholars don’t seem to appreciate is that they owe their own audience an apology when they mislead. That doesn’t just go for one of them, it goes for all of them – Gary Habermas, Scott Carroll, etc. They have the greater position of expertise and knowledge, so it’s not *you* that Wallace needed to apologise to (you didn’t believe him to begin with) it was his Christian audience who believed him on his authority that he should have apologised to IMO.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 29, 2019

      If I said “we’re done” it was because the moderator, Jennifer Knust (who had explicitly said the audience was allowed only concise questions and no “comments”) was saying that our time was up. Dan wanted to defend himself by accusing me, and so, yes, appeared to read out a prepared statement that I didn’t have time to address properly, though it would have been easy enough to do.

    • Avatar
      Pattycake1974  December 1, 2019

      Dan Wallace did make an apology to the public and to Bart. Although, at the time the statement was made, he wouldn’t answer anymore questions, so that was frustrating.

  16. Avatar
    ShonaG  November 29, 2019

    At least nobody will die because of it. On the other hand faked science papers especially in biology and medicine can kill and its the same problem, they have to publish and there is too many for proper peer review. What is worse is they are then used in other papers whether they’re accurate or not especially cancer research.

  17. Avatar
    quadell  December 2, 2019

    I have to say, I know there are a _ton_ of books on the history of the Bible, some of them even best-sellers. But at this blog’s recommendation I recently read A History of the Bible by John Barton, and I’m really glad I did. I have a mental top-10 list of favorite books on New Testament topics, and this made the cut. Thank you for the recommendation! I suppose, if we knew ahead of time _which_ new books would prove to be one of the best books on that particular topic, it would save a lot of time. Instead, I lean on the recommendations of those who read far more than I do.

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