18 votes, average: 5.00 out of 518 votes, average: 5.00 out of 518 votes, average: 5.00 out of 518 votes, average: 5.00 out of 518 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5 (18 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)
You need to be a registered member to rate this post.

University Professors and their Research

As some of you know, a couple of years ago I decided to slow down on my research and writing.  I was feeling burned out and wondering what the point was.  Do I really need to keep writing more books?  Why not read more novels, cook more, take more walks, get in more work outs, watch more football/basketball/tennis/golf, and on and on?    So I did.    It lasted about four months.

As it turns out, I am indeed doing all these other things more than I was.  But I’ve also cranked up (rather than down) the research and writing.  How is that possible?  Because I’m on academic leave this year (at UNC, for some historical reasons we don’t call these “sabbaticals”).   Batteries are getting recharged, I’m having a great time, and doing tons of research/writing on a number of projects, enough to make my head spin at times.  But all in a good way.  It’s been fantastic.

And I was thinking this morning that it might be interesting for me to lay out on the blog the various projects I’m working on:  a scholarly monograph – which is taking most of my time; putting final touches on my trade book on the afterlife as it heads into production (I’ve had to do some final edits); writing up two book proposals to send to a publisher for possible next trade books (one on the book of Revelation; another roughly on the relations of Jews and Christians in antiquity, with an interesting twist); working on a new 24-lecture course for the Great Courses; proposing another course for them; writing book reviews and blurbs for three scholarly works; and … other things!

It seems like it would be useful to explain all these projects because it’s always useful for people who are not academics to see what it means to be an academic – and all this work is part of it.   And I will explain all this, not at boring length but just to give a sense of what I’m working on, in case anyone on the blog wants me to devote a thread or two to any of the projects.

But then it occurred to me, it probably seems completely weird generally.  You’re on *academic leave*??  You mean you’re not teaching??   But, uh, you’re a university *professor*.  Isn’t teaching your JOB??  Isn’t that why they pay you a SALARY??

And so I thought I would just take a minute to explain how this kind of academic career works.

Most (but not all) scholars in the humanities get a PhD because they want to teach at the college/university level.  But there are different kinds of colleges and universities.  To speak in very rough terms, some put almost all their focus on teaching, others put a very, very heavy emphasis on research, and many are somewhere between the two on the spectrum.

Historically, a four-year liberal arts college focuses on undergraduate teaching (like the one I went to: Wheaton; but there are lots and lots of these, many of which you would never have heard of.  Just near me here in North Carolina there is Davidson – you’ve probably heard of that one – but also Queens, Meredith, Mount Olive, Belmont, Catawba, Gardner-Webb, etc. etc.).  Professors teach lots of classes, often four courses a semester (or even five), with lots of demands for student contact outside of class and very heavy small-college departmental and administrative duties that take loads of time and energy.

Professors in the those schools are often up to their necks, and beyond that, in such various activities, and for them it is very, very difficult to carve out any research time.  As a result, they rarely can publish a lot.   Many, many of them absolutely love this kind of career; it’s what they have always wanted to do with their lives.  Others wish they had a bit more time for their research (or a lot more time).

Over the past ten or twenty years many of these schools have started requiring research as well as these otherwise heavy duties.  That can be very painful indeed.

At the very other end of the spectrum (with lots of colleges/universities in between) are the Research 1 universities.   These are the state and private universities that have PhD programs and place a much, much heavier emphasis on research for the faculty.  UNC is in this category (along, say, with our cross-town neighbor Duke; but also most of the Big Names you think of as major universities in the country: Harvard, Princeton, Yale, NYU, Chicago, Berkeley, Stanford, etc. etc.).

At universities like this there is a much lighter teaching load, almost always two courses a semester.  Those courses are typically a mix of undergraduate class and graduate seminars.  Over the course of my career at UNC, I’ve typically taught, in any given semester, one large undergraduate class (with, say 250-350 students) and one highly intense graduate seminar (with, say, 4-7 PhD students).   There is far less personal interaction with undergraduate students.  And far less administrative work.

But there are enormous publication demands and expectations.   Almost every college/university (including the four-year colleges) has some kind of sabbatical/academic leave program for their professors to do research (a typical program would involve a semester off of teaching and administration very seven years; at Research 1 universities there are more opportunities).  And that, of course, makes universities quite different from high schools, middle schools, etc.   But the reason is compelling.   Professors at universities are expected to be true experts of their academic field, and to be on top of all the current research being done.  And in a Research 1 university they are expected to have national or international reputations as research scholars who are not just digesting knowledge but also producing it.

Without an academic leave policy/program, that would be impossible.  And it would mean that scholars who are teaching the next generation of scholars who will be teaching the undergraduates of the future would not be able to teach them the current scholarship in their fields.  They might be fantastic teachers, but without time to do their own research they would in many/most instances be teaching knowledge that is twenty-years out of date.  That would not be good.

And so all universities want their professors to be up on their fields.  And in Research 1 universities they are expected to be at the cutting edge.  And that requires additional time for research, factored into the system.

And so I’m on leave this year, not teaching or doing any administration.  Simply doing my research and writing.   And lots of it.  As a result, even though I’m a professor, I’m being paid in this instance to be a scholar, rather than a teacher, so that when I return to the class room after my leave, I’m equipped to be the kind of teacher I need to be, for both undergraduates and future researchers / professors.

OK, with that in mind, I’ll discuss a few of the projects I’m working on!

This particular post is free for everyone.  To get access to *all* the posts on the blog — five each and ever week, on all sorts of things dealing with the New Testament and early Christianity — you need to become a member.  Joining is quick, easy, and cheap.  And all the money goes to charity.  Do yourself the favor and join!

Homosexuality and the New Testament. Guest Post by Jeff Siker.
Why Textual Criticism Seemed to Be on Death’s Door



  1. Avatar
    Badee Fahmy  March 1, 2019

    Hello Dr Ehrman
    Thank you for adding me to read posts in complete and for discussion.
    I looked here to see a lot of posts sent in past to discuss particular gospels or books in gospels to say maybe they come from 2 or 3 sources or this phrase was not originally in text but added by second author in future…etc
    My question is: is there a big book that quotes all the bible in it and give this explanation about every book in bible? I mean word by word commentary on bible to show ALL scholarly progress and discoveries in relation to the text.
    So in brief if you read this big book from cover to cover then you become expert on every part of bible, discover all the secrets, and dont need further learning!
    Does this book really existed? I think it may be a big encyclopedia like Babel talmud because bible is big book and to discuss theories takes so many pages.

  2. Robert
    Robert  March 1, 2019

    “… another roughly on the relations of Jews and Christians in antiquity, with an interesting twist.”

    Don’t be a tease. What’s the interesting twist???

    • Bart
      Bart  March 3, 2019

      Why did Christians get an Old Testament, a part of their Scriptures that they choose not to obey. In my head I originally called my book “How Christians Stole the Bible” but somehow I don’t think that’ll fly. I’m thinking now of something a little more sober and helpful, like “Jews, Christians, and the Battle for the Bible.” But I’ll explain more later on the blog.

      • fefferdan
        fefferdan  March 7, 2019

        Looking forward to this book “roughly on the relations of Jews and Christians in antiquity, with an interesting twist.” You describe the Jewish Bible as “a part of [Christian] Scriptures that they choose not to obey.” One thing I’m particularly interested in is to what degree did Jews themselves obey the Jewish laws as interpreted by the rabbis. The Sadducees didn’t, at least not completely. And what were the internal debates among the Pharisees? We get hints in the Gospels when Jesus is asked which are the most important commandments and he answers as if he were a hearer of Hillel the Elder [who said “what is hateful to you, do no unto your neighbor”]. Related to this is whether the Gospels reflect the time of Jesus, or the time around the Jewish Revolt of 70 ce, when the Pharisees generally closed ranks with the Zealots and took a more strict attitude than earlier. I’m of the opinion that the Pharisees of Jesus’ day would have been his natural allies [as was Nicodemus for example], while the Pharisees of the Gospels’ era were much less like to tolerate a lax attitude toward halakha [interpretation of the Law] and toward mixing with Gentiles. And this feeds into questions of relations between Gentile Christians, Jewish Christians, and regular Jews. I suppose these would come in one of the early chapters of you book?

        • Bart
          Bart  March 8, 2019

          Yes, it’s an interesting topic. But what about the Sadducees are you thinking of? And no Pharisee would say you are allowed to disobey the law. Their debates were entirely about what it would take or what one must to precisely in order to follow it.

  3. Avatar
    AstaKask  March 1, 2019

    And as someone who loves history and reading about history, let me tell you that your work is appreciated.

  4. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  March 1, 2019

    Your recent thread on the historicity of the Gospels has been excellent and I think it is a really important issue, maybe the most important issue of all. What in the Gospels is historical and what is legendary? This thread reminds me that the most important thing you have taught me over the years is that there are eight solid reasons for concluding that the Gospels were not written by eyewitnesses. I learned this list from one of your Great Courses and committed the list to memory. I was raised on the view that everything in the Gospels is historical because the Gospels were said to have been written by “eyewitnesses.” Learning that the Gospels were probably not written by eyewitnesses, but by unknown authors who probably wrote them decades after the events described in the Gospels occurred, and also learning how much these Gospels contradict one another, changed everything. Even though I did not like this conclusion, the truth is important, really important. So, you might want to finish this historicity thread by summarizing these eight reasons for new readers of this website who might not be familiar with them.

  5. Avatar
    darren  March 1, 2019

    Very interested in reading the book on relations between Jews and Christians in the ancient world. Will you be getting into the ways each influenced the other after the destruction of the second temple?

  6. Avatar
    Hngerhman  March 1, 2019

    The wishlist continues to grow:
    – new 7th edition textbook (when?)
    – afterlife trade book (2020)
    – afterlife scholarly book
    – Great Courses new release
    – trade book on Revelation
    – trade book on early Christian & Jewish relations
    – and and and…

    You are a perpetual motion machine. I’m at once excited and daunted by the ever-expanding body of work.

  7. Avatar
    rivercrowman  March 1, 2019

    I worry a bit about your further interest in Revelation as a possible trade book. My born-again neighbor has underlined *all* of the New Testament in his Bible — except Revelation. … But I’ll buy whatever book you author.

  8. Avatar
    Rokyro  March 1, 2019

    Totally unrelated, but it’s been on my mind the past few days. Is there any sort of scholarly consensus for the dating of Q? Also, does Q mention the destruction of the temple? Obviously, the answer to both of these questions has enormous historical and theological implications so I would love to know.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 3, 2019

      It would have to be before both Matthew adn Luke, so in the 70s; usually it is dated earlier, possibly earlier than Mark, in the 60s or even 50s. But who knows?!

  9. Avatar
    doug  March 1, 2019

    Your proposed book on the relations of Jews and Christians in antiquity sounds especially interesting, since some of the early Christians were Jews who eventually felt unwelcome at Jewish religious services. And Jews were probably not happy to be accused of killing the messiah.

  10. Avatar
    XanderKastan  March 1, 2019

    A question about memory. I think I once heard you tell the following story you came across in your study of memory as an illustration of just how distorted a flashbulb memory can be: A woman was raped and it turned out that a television was on at the time..She clearly and confidently, but incorrectly and unwittingly, remembered the face of the man on live television as being the face of her rapist. If you remember this story, could you give me the source where you heard about it? Thanks.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 3, 2019

      I don’t recall, but it’s referenced in my book Jesus Before the Gospels.

      • Avatar
        XanderKastan  March 3, 2019

        Really? I just finished reading that — excellent book, by the way — but I didn’t see that specific example in the text.

        • Bart
          Bart  March 4, 2019

          Hmm… Well I was pretty sure it was in there. I’m not sure where else I would have said anything about it, since that is my only book on the problems of memory and eyewitness testimony.

  11. Avatar
    JohnMuellerJD  March 1, 2019

    You have mentioned before how incredibly focused you are and I am amazed at your ability to get so much accomplished. Curious as to how many hours you think you devote to your profession in an average week .

    • Bart
      Bart  March 3, 2019

      Hmm… That’s a good question. Part of the problem is that it’s not clear how to count. For example, in order to work on my Latin I’ve been reading the Aeneid every morning for about an hour. Would that count? I guess so. I suppose most days I work from around 7:30 am to 7:30 pm, but with a two and a half hour break to work out, and a half hour for lunch. I usually take one day pretty much off. So, well, I don’t know, what is that, 50-55 hours? Sometimes I put in some work in the evenings as well….. But it’s probably less than that. Used to be more like 70, but that’s when I was young and crazy.

  12. Avatar
    Morphinius  March 2, 2019

    Professor Ehrman, do you believe that Jesus’ teachings, and his self-identity, changed over the course of his ministry? Or did he hold one consistent apocalyptic and eschatological view?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 3, 2019

      I don’t know for sure, but my sense is that he was an apocalypticist all the way through.

  13. Avatar
    ajohns  March 2, 2019

    Thanks for informative post Bart. I’ve been wondering through, and I’m sure you’ve been asked this before, do you think you’re ever going to retire one day? You write books, blog, teach, etc and although I don’t know you personally, you don’t seem like the type of personality who can be idle for too long haha, although maybe one day you’ll “shut it down” and stop writing / blogging etc completely? I’m just curious because I’m going to miss you & this blog if you disappear after your academic career is completed, not sure where I’d go to next for quality early Christianity content!

    • Bart
      Bart  March 3, 2019

      I’ll retire from teaching at some point, but I’d be surprised if I ever stop the research before I’m physically or mentally unable to do it.

  14. Avatar
    Hormiga  March 2, 2019

    A slightly tangential observation, but the US government, at least in some parts, does something similar to sabbaticals. Officers in the military and corresponding grades in the civil service typically get opportunities to study and/or do research for a year or so in various places. Those can be US or foreign universities, military service schools, etc

  15. Avatar
    Thespologian  March 2, 2019

    Following on “Jews and Chrisitans in antiquity” as a future trade book: You’ve mentioned Luke’s gospel showing — in some interpretations — an anti-Jewish sentiment. Can you comment then on the deviation between a specific oral tradition and its presumably modified written account? Additionally, do we have any indication in antiquity that opposition was presented to authors making such changes?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 3, 2019

      Yes, I think you can find opposition to Jews in both oral traditoins and in the authors themselves.

  16. Avatar
    Jayredinger  March 3, 2019

    This is slightly off topic, but in July 2014 you suggested reviewing your position about Jesus being a pacifist, because of the research of Dale Martin. Have to come to any conclusion?

  17. Pattycake1974
    Pattycake1974  March 4, 2019

    Would Jesus have expected the continuation of animal sacrifices once God brought in his kingdom? There are a few blogs out there that say Jesus will keep the practice during his millennial reign based on some scriptures from the Old Testament. I know you don’t believe there will be a reign at all, but would Jesus have expected the practice to remain?


  18. Avatar
    Apocryphile  March 4, 2019

    I suppose what is cutting edge for one generation of scholars is often the next generation’s outmoded paradigm. This is the case for all fields of study, I think, including the ‘hard’ sciences. I sometimes wonder how much else scholars in a particular field know, however. One can’t be an expert in anything beyond a narrow field of study these days, especially with the time constraints most academics are under, but I can’t help feeling that something has also been lost. Textual scholars of the ‘Old Testament’, for example, are oftentimes hampered by their ignorance of the archaeology of the Holy Land, or their ability to interpret it.

    A counter-example: physicists of the early 20th century (Einstein, Schrodinger, Jeans, Pauli, Heisenberg, Bohr) were also eminent philosophers, and their passion for philosophy was what drove their scientific research and theorizing. There are really no polymaths like them left anymore, and I can’t help but feel that the modern scholar, perhaps precisely because of her/his expertise in a particular niche of their field, is oftentimes in danger of missing the forest for the trees.

  19. Avatar
    Edward  March 5, 2019

    Bart, Speaking of scholars,
    You are being called out on twitter by a Cambridge Prof.
    I defended your viewpoint, since you helped me by answering vital questions in the past concerning the very topic on which this Prof.Is calling you out.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 5, 2019

      Ha! Yes, we’ve known each other for years. We are having a radio debate in the summer in London.

      • Avatar
        Edward  March 5, 2019

        Peter S. Williams has been relying on the UC (undesigned coincidences) argument in his latest lectures and book. It is a poor argument. I hope you are acquainted with it, especially Williams’s use of it to try and prove that the mass feeding miracle stories are based on eyewitness testimony. But the evidence of literary links between Gospels tuns the UC argument upside down, and provides more evidence for Markan priority with redactions by later Gospel writers. Please let me share my research on this topic before you debate him.

  20. Avatar
    Silver  March 5, 2019

    In the UK we have lecturers, senior lecturers, readers and professors. What is the equivalent structure in the US, please?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 5, 2019

      Yeah, it’s a bit different over here. Those who are not either tenured or on a “tenure-track” (i.e. en route to getting tenure) are called a variety of things: lecturers, adjuncts, etc. (In my first teaching job at Rutgers, not on a tenure track, my title was “coadjudant casual.” I never did know what that meant!) For permanent faculty, the ranks are “assistant professor” (someone just starting out, who is on track to be considered later for teure); “associate professor” (someone who has been awarded tenure); and “professor” (someone who has been promoted to a higher rank after being an associate professor). After that there are some lucky few who are given named, endowed chairs — these tend to be the very senior scholars/professors.

You must be logged in to post a comment.