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Titles for Trade Books, Like Misquoting Jesus

In my previous post I discussed the strategies behind giving a title to a scholarly book.   When it comes to trade books, written for popular audiences, it is a different ballgame altogether.   Whereas scholarly books are meant to sound erudite and learned, or if  they are meant to be “clever” then only clever to those on the academic inside who catch the allusions, trade books are meant to be witty and intriguing for a general reader, and a sign that the book will be really interesting and about something that the reader wants to learn more about.  In the best cases, the reader – a non-scholar – should read the title and think, “Huh, I’d like to know about that!” or “Huh, I wonder that that’s about.”   The trick is to be able to grab a reader’s attention without being overly sensationalized, and that’s a very fine line indeed.

It’s hard to know whether a title will accomplish its task or not.  I thought my last book “How Jesus Became God” would be a real grabber.  But I’m not sure it was.   The best titles for my books have always come – unlike that one – not from me but from my publisher.   My two favorites, I think, are Lost Christianities: The Battles For Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew (published with Oxford as one of my first trade books; an editor came up with the title) (it actually was an editor with a different press who proposed the idea of the book to me and gave it a  title, before I decided to publish it instead with Oxford) and Misquoting Jesus:  The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (my first book with Harper, since Oxford at the time wasn’t sure they wanted it) (big mistake).  There’s a funny story about that title, that I’ll tell at the end of this post.

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My Approach to Doing Research
Titles of Scholarly Books



  1. Avatar
    Adam0685  August 30, 2014

    A great title can be the determining factor for many when deciding to pick up a book at Barnes and Noble. We often judge books by their cover (and title!)!

  2. Avatar
    shakespeare66  August 30, 2014

    I am attracted to the title of the book, and usually buy something that interests me as a result of the title. Titles are important.

  3. Josephsluna
    Josephsluna  August 30, 2014

    Is jesus immortal ?
    Good book title ?

    But sounds like according to the bible that jesus is an immortal ? If he ate fish and they touched his flesh that means he’s still here on earth ( can you say secret society?) don’t want to store up anything but just my theories of course ( freedom of speech , freedom of religion , god given right to talk about thee one and onto powerful lord JESUS )

    I’m sorry I’m connecting
    1 Corinthians 15:51 / luke 24:41?

    Zeus AND hades are in the bible

    Why is the INTERNATIONAL version only one with Words (. LIGHTNING ? Sounds like off springs of zeus ) no jk
    Was there 1 guy there or 2 bart
    And also luke 24:41?

    Mark 16:5 / luke 24:4 ?

    What is your take on this bart
    Lightning sounds like offsprings ( plural ) of zeus !! Yes I knew it jk
    My views of course
    We will get the bottoms of things
    Zeus and hades is in the bible

    MARK 16:5

    16 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”

    4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

    Luke 24 New International Version only ? (NIV)

    Jesus Has Risen
    24 On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 5 In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7 ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” 8 Then they remembered his words.

    9 When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. 12 Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.

  4. Avatar
    maxhirez  August 30, 2014

    Lost in Transmission could apply to enough aspects of criticism that you could still use it some day. On a related note, “Jesus Built my Hotrod” was one of the best albums of my college years.

  5. Avatar
    Hana1080  August 30, 2014

    lol Your editor has a great sense of humor!! Something WAS lost in transmission lol And “The Monk and the Messiah” conjures up titles by Umberto Ecco and his editors. Again, thoroughly enjoying your publishing journey.

  6. Avatar
    nichael  August 30, 2014

    This is a topic I’ve often thought of asking you about. Specifically, I’ve noticed that a sizable fraction of your popular books contain the name “Jesus” in the title (e.g. “Misquoting Jesus”, “Jesus Interrupted”; “Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet…”; “Did Jesus Exist?”) or “God” (e.g. “God’s Problem”). And now, perhaps the perfect “bifecta”: “How Jesus Became God”.

    I’ve always assumed that was an idea from you publisher(s) –or perhaps their marketing department. I have to admit that the appearance of either name certainly is eye-catching on a bookstore shelf or in a “newly published listing”.

    (Concerning “The Monk and the Messiah”: I’m sure you probably know this, but this title is listed during the “Introducing the Lecturer” portion of one of your Great Courses series.)

  7. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  August 30, 2014

    Actually, I love the title “Lost in Transmission” and think the title “Misquoting Jesus” is somewhat off target just for the reasons you describe. I also love the story about your receiving the special copy with the title “Lost in Transmission.” How have the sells for each of your trade books gone, especially the newest one? My guess is that “Misquoting Jesus” has had the most sales followed by “Jesus Interrupted” which I found to also be a title that was somewhat off target. Why not “Jesus Contradicted”?.

  8. Avatar
    seeker_of_truth  August 30, 2014

    Yes, if Jesus is God and the Bible is God’s Word then Misquoting Jesus is a great title!

    I like the title of your textbook The Bible: A Historical and Literary Introduction – very prosaic, but just what I want to learn about.

  9. Josephsluna
    Josephsluna  August 30, 2014

    Book 11

    At this point, Peleus decides to hightail it to the land of Trachin, where a guy called Ceyx, the son of Lucifer (i.e., the morning star, not Satan) is king. The thing is, when he gets there, he finds Ceyx in mourning his own lost brother.
    Peleus approaches him and asks for help. He tells the whole truth about who he is and where he comes from – except for the whole brother-killing bit. Ceyx tells him he can have everything he wants; then, he bursts out crying.
    When Peleus asks Ceyx why he’s crying, here’s what he tells him:
    Apparently, Ceyx’s brother was a guy named Daedalion. He was also the son of Lucifer (the morning star). Whereas Ceyx was a nice guy, however, Daedalion was a total jerk, who loved nothing better than war.

    BART HOW DO YOU EXLAIN THIS ? Lucifer had a son that was nice and he had a brother ?

    Greek falls on top again

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 31, 2014

      yes, that appears to be what it is saying.

      • Josephsluna
        Josephsluna  August 31, 2014

        Yes I know it’s random and pointless
        But just another interpretation of what really happen 2000 + years ago
        Bart for the record I believe in god so much it hurts and the suffering on earth makes no sense some times

        But let’s stay strong and never loose hope for it is lost is we lose it.

        Bart you think I could be a teacher of hope one day ?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  September 1, 2014

          I don’t know: the key is to get a really good education!

          • Josephsluna
            Josephsluna  September 1, 2014

            Yes do you all have any scholarships there haha
            No I could never afford that anyways ill teach my self HOPE and I will get the bottom of how John the Baptist acted and where jesus came from. I don’t need Harvard, Princeton. You all attesting there are superior to us cause we grew up the hard knocks . I’m real down to earth at the lowest level of society where it makes a big impact. Creations In poverty are the most need of hope !!!! I’m 24 and I hope I have half the knowledge of you bart and your hope that’s being a teacher right the personality of jesus resonates within my heart and mind. I feel by the time I’m 30 I can show a priest or 2 about hope lol even when they lose a grasp on what there teaching not preaching
            I will teach not preach

  10. Avatar
    prestonp  August 31, 2014

    Funny how Harper Collins, HarperOne published Flew’s, There Is A God.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 31, 2014

      As a publisher, of course, they do not have a theological position. They try to publish good books, not ones that one or the other of the company happens to agree with.

      • Avatar
        prestonp  September 1, 2014

        Oh I know Dr. Just thought it was kind of fun to see they also publish Flew’s declaration. Of all the publishers in the world, wouldn’t you know they would be the one to promote the “coming out” proclamation of one of the most famous and influential atheists of the 20th century, while simultaneously publishing the books of one of the greatest scholars of textual/historical criticism who happens to be an agnostic with strong atheistic tendencies?

        In taste tests with product names and labeling concealed, Pepsi beats Coke. Which sells better? Coke. Why? The packaging.

  11. Avatar
    prestonp  August 31, 2014

    Corporations spend millions on research to choose a name for their company and for their products

  12. Avatar
    walstrom  September 7, 2014

    FIFTY SHADES OF JESUS (The Grey scale of Interpretation)

    THE OUT-LIARS of Christianity (Heretics as seen through the writings of Early Church Fathers)

    APOSTOLIC SELFIES (How authors of Gospels show more of themselves than they do of Jesus)

    FUMBLEMENTALIST MINDSETS (How insistence on Inerrancy is destroying credibility in Christianity.
    Plenty more where those came from 🙂

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