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Threads and Comments on the Blog

This post will discuss several issues connected with the blog; hopefully that will be of some interest to anyone who pays good money to be on it.  If you are ever inclined to make a comment on any of the posts, or a comment on any of the comments, then please do read the bit at the end.

I think this is a good moment to pause a second and think about the blog.   I have spent the last two and a half months on a thread that came out of nowhere.  For those of you with long memories, you will recall that back in April I was in the middle of a completely different thread, about my current understandings of where the traditional Christian view of the afterlife (that you die and your soul goes to heaven or hell) came from.  This is connected to my current book project that I am tentatively calling “The Invention of the Afterlife: A History of Heaven and Hell” (or some such thing).

This is the second book of a two-book deal that I negotiated two years ago about this time with my new publisher Simon & Schuster.   The first book was/is The Triumph of Christianity: How A Forbidden Religion Swept the World.  That book is done and in production, scheduled to appear on February 13.  I am completely finished with it, apart from working out with the publisher the cover design (a very difficult process in this case).   When I secured my contract with Simon & Schuster, we agreed that this first book would be about how Christianity went from being the beliefs of a handful of rustic day-laborers in a backwater of the Roman empire a short while after Jesus’ death to becoming, within four hundred years, a religion of 30 million converts and the official religion of Rome, then to become the most important political, social, cultural, economic – not to mention religious – institution the Western world has ever seen.  How did *that* happen???  That’s what the first book is about.

The second was a “book to be named later.”  In other words, Simon & Schuster gave me a contract on the second book even though we didn’t know what it would be about  When I finished writing Triumph last year I decided that next I wanted to work on the history of heaven and hell, that is, the historical development of these foundational doctrines within the Christian tradition.   I started doing some serious research on the topic in the fall and through the winter, and was writing a fairly sustained thread of posts on that – was smack dab in the middle of the thread, in fact, back in April – when I decided to interrupt the thread with a single post explaining what I had done on the last day of my undergraduate course on the New Testament, the day before.

On that day, every semester, I tell students something about myself that they have wanted to know: what I really believe and why I have come to believe it.  This is something that never comes up during the semester, since I teach about the New Testament from a historical perspective, not from the point of view of my personal religious beliefs.   I basically tell the students the story of my faith journey for about 30 minutes, then take 15-20 minutes of questions, on anything the students want to ask.

My idea on the blog was simply to list via bullet points what I covered in those 30 minutes.  I started explaining it on a post and realized I would need two or three to do a proper job of it.  Then more.  Then more.  As I’ve indicated, that was two and a half months ago.  I’ve done almost nothing else on the blog since.

So, I’m done with that now.  Thank God, you might say.

But it does make me wonder: is this an appropriate and useful sort of thread for the blog?  The blog is really about the New Testament and the history of early Christianity from Jesus up through the end of the fourth Christian century, and all connected issues.  I try to deal with topics of major interest to anyone intrigued (greatly or slightly) about such things, covering such areas as the Hebrew Bible, religion in the Greek and Roman worlds, the life and teachings of the historical Jesus, the life and letters of Paul, the authorship of the writings of the New Testament, the formation of the Christian canon of Scripture, the Apostolic Fathers, heresy and orthodoxy in early Christianity, the role of women in the church, persecution and martyrdom of early Christians, the formation of early Christian doctrine, the spread of the Christian religion, the conversion of the emperor Constantine, Jewish-Christian relations in antiquity, and …. And just about everything else of interest to those who are … interested.

So this thread has been a different thing.  And now it’s done.  And I would like feedback – not on the thread per se, but on the blog.  My sense is that it is best to mix it up by having (mainly ) academic discussions, and (some) personal discussions; to talk history and to talk about matters of personal importance (personal to me; personal to you).  But what do you think?

Also, while we’re talking about the blog, let me make a few comments (and welcome suggestions) about comments that you and your fellow blog-members make on my posts and on each others’ comments.

  • First, please do feel free to comment on each and everything you like!
  • The blog is set up so that I have to read and approve every comment before it appears.
  • I approve of the vast majority of all comments.
  • When I do not approve a comment (this is an important point) it is almost always for one of the following reasons:
    • The comment is not respectful of another person or his or her views. This blog is remarkable for the cordiality we all show one another, even when we disagree.  I do not allow name-calling or branding or overly snide remarks.  We need to keep it civil, even if that is not the typical style for Internet exchange.  I often have to make a judgment call, and probably don’t make the right one always.  But I do my best to weed out inappropriate comments.
    • The comment borders on the proselytizing. It doesn’t matter to me if you are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, pagan, atheist, or anything else – you are welcome on the blog and welcome to state your views.  But if it looks like you are trying to convert someone, I will not allow that here.  There are lots of borderline cases, as many of you know, but I do my best to keep us on point (and the point is not to convert others)
    • The comment is not relevant to the purposes of the blog. Sometimes people sound off on other things, and these days, of course, it is tempting for *ALL* of us to state in rather forceful terms our political views.  I myself have exceedingly strong political opinions (especially these days), but I am not allowing myself to go there on the blog, and I sometimes will not accept comments if they too go there, without some kind of connection to what the blog is supposed to be about.
  • A final and also very important point: If you have a lot to say, and enjoy making very long comments – fair enough!  But let me note two realities:
    • It is hard, virtually impossible, for me, myself, personally to interact at length with lengthy comments, lengthy questions, or multiple questions all embedded in a single comment. I wish I had more time to deal with blog issues: but I don’t have, given the other demands on my time and life.  So I do the best I can.  I hope you’ll understand.
    • If you want your voice to be heard by others on the blog, you are FAR more likely to get a hearing if your comment is short and to the point than if it goes on and on and on. I know it’s hard to write succinctly, but you’ll simply get more people to hear you if you do.

So, please give me comments about the blog, the threads, the comments, and anything else.  And please feel free to ask me questions for the mailbag.  I think things are going very well, and I’m hopeful that all things will simply get better with time.

 


Lecture at Washington & Jefferson College
Teaching Religion as an Agnostic

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Comments

  1. Denglish1020  July 25, 2017

    Everything on this blog matters to me. I respect the scholarly threads, but I also respect the personal threads as well. I joined this blog because I was on a journey from being an evangelical Christian to being an agnostic. Much of your personal journey reflects my personal journey. I also wanted to better understand the foundations of the faith I once adhered to. I came to be an agnostic based on my own observations and insights, but the blog has helped me put it all into perspective. Also, I’m happy that the money I spend on being here all goes to help others. I look forward to a new entry each day




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    • tcasto  August 4, 2017

      My thoughts exactly. The blog and the many other Ehrman publications have hepled me to finally express what I have felt for most of my life.




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  2. RVBlake  July 25, 2017

    I enjoy the Blog immensely. I arrived about the time you began posting about your growing disbelief, which resonated with me. I look forward to reading about historical Christianity, which I find to be a fascinating subject about which I could learn more.




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  3. Boltonian  July 25, 2017

    Keep going, Bart. Having run a blog myself, I know that you won’t please everybody all the time. Personally, I would have preferred you to have finished the thread on Cephas/Peter first but nonetheless I found this topic fascinating.

    Re-your ground rules, I heartily approve. My solutions are:

    1) I don’t read anything that smacks of proselytizing – there are one or two regulars who have sailed a bit too close to the wind, IMO, and I now do not read their comments;
    2) I don’t read anything that is longer than two paras (bullet points are ok) or is not relevant to the thread;
    3) There is only one frequent contributer who, in my experience, comes close to rudeness, so I now no longer read his/her comments.

    Having said that, I am sure that I have been guilty of 2) but I hope not 3) nor, I think, 1).




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  4. exPCman  July 25, 2017

    This posting motivates me to get up from my seat in the balcony (where I have lurked for some time) to comment on this most recent theme, which I have found most fascinating. So no, I do not respond to this announcement that this theme has now come to an end with joy or relief … or regret … but with great appreciation for your having shared with us your “faith journey.” Thanks!!!!!




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  5. Rthompsonmdog  July 25, 2017

    Look forward to your posts whether scholarly or more personal.




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  6. ddecker54  July 25, 2017

    Bart –

    I’ve been on the blog for about 6 months and enjoy it quite a bit. I very much appreciate your remarks about how you edit the comments. Lately, I haven’t looked at the comments because, in my opinion, some of them have slipped through your editing criteria, particularly proselytizing. The only suggestion I may make is for you to tighten up some of those edits, and I’ll try the comments section again.

    I very much look forward to your book on the afterlife. I live in Georgia and yesterday attended a funeral service for the father of a dear friend. The services were administered by a Southern Baptist preacher and so he quoted Psalms (“…the shadow of the valley of death..”), referred to the story of Lazarus, etc. but his talk was peppered with descriptions of what the deceased is now experiencing “being able to see God”, “living with a glorified body”, etc. I could not help but wonder how these beliefs came to be so prevalent knowing full well that they were inventions of the early Christians.

    Thanks for your time.




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  7. jhague  July 25, 2017

    I think the blog is going very well. I appreciate all of the time you put into your posts and comments.




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  8. RonaldTaska  July 25, 2017

    1. This 2 and 1/2 months of blogs have been the best of your blogs and is the making of a good autobiography. That is my two cents worth. These blogs have been incredibly helpful to me, Thanks so much.

    2. Oddly and unexpectedly, the recent political stuff has greatly affected my religious views because it has demonstrated, in my humble opinion, how a large group of people can become dogmatically convinced of something that, based on overwhelming evidence, makes absolutely no reasonable sense, at least to me. Did something similar happen with early Christianity? I think it is a reasonable question and it is not meant to be disrespectful.




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    • Bart
      Bart  July 26, 2017

      Yes, I know what you mean. As to early Christianity, it’s a great question — but unanswerable I’m afraid. I wish we could take some scientific surveys from, say, the year 90, 190, 290, and 390!!




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  9. antoinelamond
    antoinelamond  July 25, 2017

    I totally agree with you.




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  10. RonaldTaska  July 25, 2017

    I would be curious to know how the responses to this series of 2 and 1/2 months of blogs have gone in general. Can they be placed in categories in some way? Have there been any responses that have changed your views about anything in anyway?




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    • Bart
      Bart  July 26, 2017

      Most (there have been many) have been extremely positive. One or two have suggested I don’t know what I’m talking about. 🙂




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      • godspell  July 26, 2017

        Speaking for no one but myself, I stated (as a fact) that there are subjects you are better-versed in.

        Honestly, you could not have picked a subject anyone is less well-versed in, but there are those who have devoted themselves to things like The Problem of Evil, and whether God likes us or not, and you know very well that those of your readers who are of similar beliefs to yourself are going to feel more comfortable speaking out in a situation like this.

        The positive comments came, best as I could tell, entirely from those who are also atheist/agnostic. But everyone should be interested in the early history of Christianity, and there has been a great deal of diversity on this blog, which I should think would be encouraging to you.

        Why risk that by turning it into a series of religious tracts?

        And yes, that’s what you’ve been handing out the last few months.

        And I doubt you made a single convert, but neither do those Jehovah’s Witnesses who keep showing up in our building, and it never seems to discourage them.

        Nice people. Snappy dressers.

        😉




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        • Pattycake1974
          Pattycake1974  July 27, 2017

          Hey godspell,

          If I’m understanding you correctly, you think Bart has been pushing the idea that there’s no God. And forcefully so. From my perspective, he’s just been trying to clear up some misunderstandings about how he lost his faith. I don’t see that he’s advocating for atheism.




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          • GTGeek88  July 29, 2017

            Spot on, Patty.




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          • godspell  July 30, 2017

            You didn’t understand me correctly.

            I’m not at all convinced Bart doesn’t believe there’s a God.

            It’s just not the God he wanted.

            Everybody observes the world around them, and comes to conclusions.

            Vastly differing conclusions.

            Making one suspect that personal experiences and observations, however valuable and interesting, are not in themselves proof of anything.

            And therefore, not what the study of history is about, and this blog is supposed to be about the study of history. Many scholars who are easily Bart’s equal have come to very different conclusions than him about Life, the Universe, and Everything.

            It went on much too long and yes, he is handing out tracts,but I suppose just about everybody does that. And certainly everybody with a blog. 🙂




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          • Bart
            Bart  July 31, 2017

            On the contrary, I don’t believe in God! (Not just the God I was raised with or would have liked to believe existed)




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          • godspell  July 31, 2017

            Then how are you an agnostic? Leaning in any direction? You passively disbelieve, while atheists actively do so? These labels are not very helpful, are they?

            And why are you so angry at a being (if God can be called that, and Scotus Erigena suggested otherwise) that never existed?

            If you truly disbelieved in God, you woudln’t be increasingly obsessed with the perfect world you think that God both could and should have created.

            Even though that perfect world would also be a world utterly devoid of both freedom and faith.

            Without which, a human life is meaningless.




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          • godspell  July 31, 2017

            Hmm, thought I’d responded, don’t see it.

            My response is that if you completely disbelieve in God, how can you be so angry at Him/Her/It/Whatall.

            Belief is never yes/no, on/off, black/white. Belief is analog not digital (same is true for life). You can’t get rid of your past beliefs by changing them–they continue to impact you throughout life. Not merely what you believed, but how you believed it. What is a fundamentalist? Somebody who wants to not merely know the truth, but possess it, as a static unchanging entity, a universal constant. Does this only apply to theists? Not hardly. It’s a habit of thought that crosses many a conceptual divide.

            Your recent posts have reminded me of those people who don’t believe in Santa, and will never forgive Him for not stuffing that pony down their chimneys when they were ten. 😉




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      • SidDhartha1953  August 1, 2017

        Curious to be told you don’t know what you’re talking about — when you’re talking about yourself.

        I appreciated your willingness to disclose the process that led to your abandonment of belief in a Deity. It was interesting in part because it is very different from my own process of unbelieving and, later, coming to a place where belief and unbelief are not the issue.
        On the whole, I read more for the scholarly content, but again, the personal asides are good too. They reassure me I was neither stupid nor crazy, at least on account of the things I used to believe without doubt.




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  11. Pattycake1974
    Pattycake1974  July 25, 2017

    I enjoy the mixture of topics. It would be nice if we were allowed to edit our comments up until the time they’re moderated. Sometimes I realize it wasn’t necessary to type out a novel, or I want to add something, but it’s too late. There’s no take-backs.

    On some of the previous threads, the posts are numbered in order. (Part 1, Part 2, etc…) Numbering them might keep you from repeatedly answering the same questions when people come into the thread at random times.




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    • Bart
      Bart  July 26, 2017

      I’d suggest you (not just you, but everyone) edit your comments before sending them off. Once they’re off that’s it! Some people have asked me to enter edits for them, but I really can’t do that. But everyone’s in the same boat and most readers are entirely sympathetic.




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      • Pattycake1974
        Pattycake1974  July 27, 2017

        I haven’t been clear about the reasoning behind editing our comments. I thought maybe it was because, hey, we wrote it so we have to own it type of thing. When we submit a comment, we have 5 minutes to edit, cancel, or save it. I guess my question is, why only 5 minutes?




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        • Bart
          Bart  July 28, 2017

          We use a system that sets the limits for us. But why not simply read through your comments and edit them before submitting them? It doesn’t take any more time than doing it later! (Plus, if it was later than 5 minutes, some readers may have already read what you originally said by then!)




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          • llamensdor  July 29, 2017

            I was in the construction business for decades, and one day a laborer said to me, “How come there’s not enough
            time to get it right the first time, but there’s always enough time to repair it later?”




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  12. DavidBeaman  July 25, 2017

    Yes, please keep the personal stuff limited. I respect you and your scholarship, but it is the scholarship that is the most interesting and useful to me. You are somewhat of a celebrity writer and some people are drawn to celebrity, but I am not. If I were in a position to be a personal friend of yours, it wouldn’t be because of your celebrity; it would be because of who you are as a human being.

    As for the last part of your post about comments, I agree with you completely.




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  13. Silver  July 25, 2017

    I think it is a fantastic blog and you have the balance right. I am particularly grateful that you tolerate questions which are not always germane to the thread in progress. For me it is a matter of asking when the thought occurs!




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  14. godspell  July 25, 2017

    These things can get out of hand. We can all understand that. I look forward to returning to serious historical discussion, and I hope I have never given the impression I feel that I deserve a personal response to all of my posts here.

    I will say, however, that if this discussion of your personal beliefs–which are precisely that, as as deserving of respect as anyone else’s–had continued much longer, I’d have seriously considered unsubscribing.




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  15. cwhetstone  July 25, 2017

    I have enjoyed reading about your Journey. Along the way we learned a lot about what it takes to pursue a Doctorate (hours and years of reading, research, and writing. )
    Thank you for sharing your personal story of your Christian experience. I own several of your books and enjoy your blog very much.




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  16. stokerslodge  July 25, 2017

    Re ‘ My sense is that it is best to mix it up by having (mainly ) academic discussions, and (some) personal discussions; to talk history and to talk about matters of personal importance (personal to me; personal to you). But what do you think?’. I second that emotion Bart. Keep on keeping on!




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  17. dgdelta  July 25, 2017

    Prof. Ehrman, I find your books and blog fascinating reading. The blog gives a sense of immediacy…an almost intimate window into your thoughts. As a former Presbyterian and current Humanist, I have a nearly prurient interest in learning the true history of the Bible and Christianity…something about being lied to as a child. You and Finkelstein are my favorite authors.

    The recent posts didn’t hold my interest so much, but you certainly didn’t lose me as a reader. I know there is more history to come.

    Thank you.




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  18. Carl  July 25, 2017

    Mainly academic discussions and some personal discussions sounds like a good brew to me. It is quite a privilege to be allowed to ask such technical questions off the cuff, and if it was strictly academic I would still consider that I am getting an absolute bargain.

    I like the personal discussions too. If the New Testament is a collection of viewpoints on how different authors understood God on a personal level, then it is certainly relevant and useful. It felt like the last thread went through a similar process that early Christians probably experienced, and it allowed us to explore and test our own beliefs. Adding greater context. In my opinion.

    I felt that it was done in a respectful manner without any hidden agenda, considering that you were essentially sharing your personal opinion on what can be a very emotive subject. On the comments, good to know what the parameters are. They are very fair and will keep them in mind. Always interesting to read the many diverse viewpoints.




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  19. kadmiral
    kadmiral  July 25, 2017

    Yes, please continue to blog from time to time on your own personal past and present experiences/beliefs concerning how you interact and have been/are affected by all you discuss on the blog; you are human, and so are we. It is a good thing.

    Something that would be helpful is to have clearer categorization for your varied posts. I still can’t figure out how to access “Bart Revisits Debates” posts, for example. Maybe I just don’t get it though.




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    • kadmiral
      kadmiral  July 25, 2017

      Oh, I think I figured out how to access the past posts.




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  20. rivercrowman  July 25, 2017

    Bart, I enjoy your blog and would continue to renew if you tripled the annual fee (something I’ve suggested more than once). Your blog is a restful alternative to listening to my born-again neighbor who has persistently tried to get me to “accept Jesus.” I was only slightly taken aback when you shared a personal note that one of your children became an atheist at age eight. … At what age did you give him his first Bible?




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    • Bart
      Bart  July 27, 2017

      Hmm… I’m not sure I ever *did* give him a Bible. Maybe that was the problem!




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