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The SBL Meeting

I’m just back from the annual Society of Biblical Literature meeting, which took place, this year, in Chicago.   This is a professional meeting that always occurs the week before Thanksgiving, where professors of biblical studies from around the country (and less-so, around the world) come together for about four days to give and hear academic papers on an enormous range of topics related to biblical studies.  Maybe 5000 or 6000 of them/us?  The vast majority of people in that camp are themselves religiously committed in one way or the other (mainly Christian, fewer Jews); some of us are not believers but are simply interested in the Bible for historical, cultural, or literary reasons – although even most of us in that boat started out in our academic lives as believers.

I read two papers at the conference.  One was actually at a meeting going on in conjunction with it, rather than part of it, the Biblical Archaeology Society Fest – where they bring in twenty scholars, most of the archaeologists, to discuss with the lay person crowd (maybe 150 or 200 people) what is happening in the world of archaeology and Bible.  My talk was called “Jesus and the Other Divine Men,” where I discussed what ancient people thought about “sons of God” in the pagan tradition (and some in the Jewish), and then talked about how Jesus eventually came to take on divine status.  That, as many of you on this blog know, is the subject of my next book.

My second paper was at the conference itself, at the NT Textual Criticism section, which is the group that is concerned with how to reconstruct the oldest form of the New Testament from our surviving manuscripts, none of which is perfect and all of which have mistakes.   My paper was meant to introduce a new volume just edited by my friend Michael Holmes and I, the second edition of The Text of the New Testament in Contemporary Research: Essays on the Status Quaestionis.  Originally this was a collection of essays in honor of Bruce Metzger (that is, a Festschrift), done in 1995.

The idea that I had for it, back then, was to have major essays on all of the important aspects of NT textual criticism that indicated “where we are now” as a discipline, by discussing the history of research over the past fifty years in that subfield, and giving up to date bibliographies.   The subfields in the first edition were extensive.  We had individual essays on 22 areas, written by internationally recognized experts, including ones on all the Greek papyri, the majuscules, the minuscules, etc; on the ancient versions of the NT in Latin, Coptic, Syriac, and others; on the quotations of the NT in the church fathers, whether Greek, Syriac, or Latin; and sundry articles on such things as the habits of scribes, the use of computers for reconstructing the text, and the use of the textual data at our disposal for understanding the social history of early Christianity (I wrote this final contribution myself).

In any event, the first edition came out in 1995, and now it is a pure museum piece.  The field has changed a ton since then, both in what we know and in how we go about doing what we do.  And so we – Mike Holmes and I (we were Metzger’s final two students) – decided to edit a new edition, and it has now come out.  It’s a monster – over 880 pages – and includes expanded versions of the original essays, either by the original authors or by someone else, who edtied extensively the older contribution or, in most instances,  wrote a new one from scratch; it also includes seven new contributions on areas that we did not have covered in the first edition (e.g., an essay on whether it makes sense to talk about an “original” text any more; the social history of scribes; the question of whether we should continue talking about text types; and others).

It was a good and lively session on the book at the conference.   As it is, the book is scarcely affordable: it weighs in at $314!  But the publisher, E. J. Brill will put out a paper back eventually, hopefully in about a year, at a more manageable $45 or so, we hope.

For the rest of the conference I did what I always do at these things: spend many hours talking with former students and old friends; browsing the book display, trying not to get too depressed by seeing all the books that I really should have read by now and, even worse, all the books that really should never have been written in the first place (LOTS of those!); and eating  and drinking way too much.  I did hear some other interesting papers, including one by my friend Charlie Cosgrove, who was a year ahead of me in my PhD program at Princeton Seminary and showed me the ropes back then, who read a paper on the earliest Christian hymns that have survived from the third Christian century (with musical notation!).

By the time it was over, I was completely conferenced out, and am now focusing my attention on turkey for a couple of days.

Modern Interest in the Apostolic Fathers



  1. Avatar
    toddfrederick  November 21, 2012

    “now focusing my attention on turkey for a couple of days.”

    Excellent decision…Have a great Thanksgiving and rest a bit…then back to the diet !!!

  2. Avatar
    maxhirez  November 22, 2012

    Thought of you and the famous “lastnightisawabundanceonetable” line yesterday when the hash tag for Susan Boyle’s festive holiday music album lit up the interwebs in an unfortunate way: #susanalbumfest.

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    RonaldTaska  November 22, 2012

    It sounds like a terrific experience. With regard to new books, I would be interested in a historian’s review of the views presented by the pope in his new book about the birth of Jesus as well as a review of the pope’s views about the Resurrection that he presented in his previous book.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  November 26, 2012

      From what little I’ve read about it, he appears to be saying only what scholars have been saying for many years: Jesus was not born in the year 1, we don’t know what day of the year he was born, the calendar that we use as devised by the medieval monk Diogenes Exiguus was wrong on key points, and so on.

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    Adam  November 22, 2012

    Thoughts on this news item?

    On this note, what’s the historical basis for taking Dec. 25 as Jesus’ DOB?

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    nichael  November 23, 2012

    Dr Ehrman

    This is slightly off-topic but I was wondering if you had any insight into an issue that you touch on tangentially above, namely the amazing rise in the price of academic –and text– books in the past few years.

    As an example, I bought my copy of The Text of the New Testament in Contemporary Research soon after it was published in 1995[*]. I don’t recall the price exactly (and the sticker is missing from the cover), but my sense is that it was in the $30-35 range. Now, I understand that the new book is larger, and, as in all things inflation must be taken into account. But still, the price of the new edition represents an increase by roughly a factor of ten in just a few years.

    (On a similar note, you and I are roughly the same age, and I trust that you experienced much the same sticker-shock that I did when I underwent the transition from buying my own college text books, to helping my daughters buy theirs. I.e., that it was a common experience for them to pay more for a single text for an introductory freshman course than I spent for an entire semester’s worth of book and supplies.)

    Just trying to understand what’s going on here.

    [* As an aside, my copy had the added bonus that one of the editor’s names was misspelled on the spine of the dust jacket. 😉 ]

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  November 26, 2012

      Yes, books from some publishers in particular give real sticker shock. They price books, of course, according to what they think the market can sustain. Textbooks in particular are priced according to what publishers think students will pay for them, and in relatoionship to other books in the same market. Also, a publisher like Brill publishes hardback books anticipating they will be bought principally by libraries, hence the very high price on the new Text of the NT in Contemporary Research volume ($314!). On the other hand, Oxford Press has done and *unbelievable* job with my 600+ page book Forgery and Counterforgery (just out a couple of weeks ago): $39.95. Hard to imagine they could pull it off, but they did.

      • Avatar
        Adam  November 26, 2012

        I was surprised that I was able to buy your Forgery and Counterforgery book on Amazon.ca for 40% off the 39.95 regular price!

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    Christian  November 24, 2012

    [Off-topic] Could you recommend me an edition of the Old Testament in English only, but with critical comments and printed with a font large enough (at least 11pt)? [I bought your “Jesus, Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium”, but I can’t read it, for my eyesight is bad. So frustrating!] By the way, I greatly enjoy reading and rereading many of your other works, even buying new editions.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  November 26, 2012

      I’m not sure what large-print options there are, but I’m sure there are lots. I’d suggest looking for large-print versions of the New Revised Standard Version on Amazon.

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    hwl  November 24, 2012

    Without naming names, what sort of books do you think should never have been written in the first place? Any tips on avoiding such books before time has already been wasted reading them?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  November 26, 2012

      A lot (a *whole* lot) of books cover topics and come to conclusions already found in (lots of) other books. Among other things, there are TONS of commentaries on different biblical books written by scholars every year, for laypeople and pastors, that say nothing new. Just how many commentaries on the book of Philippians do we need exactly??

    • Avatar
      Adam  November 26, 2012

      Reading book reviews are helpful for determining whether a book will be worth reading and/or buying. EBSCO is probably the best resource available through libraries for finding reviews.

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    ecbrown88  November 28, 2012


    Do you know Peter Williams of Tyndale House (Cambridge) ? He dropped by my workplace in Chicago on his way to this conference, he is a friend/coreligionist of some of the owners. I have heard him speak on a few occasions and was once looped into taking what might be referred to as the “Strawman Ehrman” side in a good-natured debate for the edification of interested colleagues (most of whom are Wheaton College grads and hence completely unaware of critical scholarship’s existence, let alone content). As I recall it was about the reliability of the NT as original text. I’m a strict layman, but we were able to raise and discuss some of the main issues, my knowledge coming largely from your work.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  November 29, 2012

      Yup, I know Pete, consider him a friend (though I don’t know him well), have debated him on radio in the UK on this topic, and had a beer at a local pub afterwards!

      • Avatar
        ecbrown88  November 29, 2012

        I agree, he seems like a good guy, and in my experience one of those folks who can disageree without ever getting disagreeable. I’d love to spend an evening in a pub with the two of you and listen to wherever the conversation took you.

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    Ian Thomason  December 6, 2012

    G’day, Bart.

    I have the first edition of ‘The Text of the New Testament In Contemporary Research’, of course, and have found it immensely rewarding re-reading over the years. Unfortunately, however, one must be almost as wealthy as Croesus to afford most of the offerings that spring forth from the august publishers at Leiden! And whilst my partner has shown herself long-suffering with respect to my puchases over the years, in this instance at least, I shall have to wait for the paperback.

    Væ sit nobis, pauperiorem mortalibus!


  10. Avatar
    Daniel Buck  December 12, 2012

    A bun danced on e-table–sure it wasn’t on e-tablet?

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