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Update on my Publication Plans

A couple of people have asked me about the status of my two books – the one that is finished and coming out, The Triumph of Christianity: How A Forbidden Religion Swept the World, and the one I am now doing my research on The Invention of the Afterlife: A History of Heaven and Hell.

First, Triumph.  There is indeed news about this one, and I can’t decide if it’s good news or bad news.  It feels (emotionally) like it’s bad but I think it is probably good.   My publisher, Simon & Schuster, has decided to delay publication from this coming September until the following February.  The new publication date is February 13.

There are no glitches or problems with publishing it earlier.  It is done and ready to go.  I have read through two sets of page proofs, it has been copy-edited multiple times, it is sitting there waiting to be run off and sent out.  But for a variety of complicated reasons Simon & Schuster wants to wait till February.

The short story (this is what makes the delay good) is that publishers try to figure out when will be the best time for the publication of a book, when it should appear to maximize the possibility of getting the most extensive media attention so as to maximize the possibility of increased sales.   And the reality – as we all know and daily experience – is that what is happening in our national politics has sucked the air out of every room, and has been doing so for nearly two years now.  People are focused on what is happening in our executive branch.  It’s just about the only thing many of us are paying attention to.  It’s the only think the media is talking about, or wants to talk about.

So what has that to do with books about religion?  Two things: one is, obviously, that it is hard right now to get any media attention to anything else.  *ANYTHING* else!   And the second is related: many of the top publishers in the trade-book publishing world, because of the lack of air in the room, have delayed publishing their BIG books from the last year or so  because they didn’t want to compete with the national political news for attention.  And so this coming fall, when they don’t feel like they can delay any longer, they are publishing a lot of books that had been put off for a while.  Major books from lots of presses.  Massive competition for attention from the media, booksellers, and books stores.

And so Simon & Schuster has decided not simply add my book to the mix but to put it off until — one can only hope (whether there is any realistic chance or not) — the market will be more open.   It’s a gamble either way.  We’ll see.

I think it’s a good thing.   The only reason I hesitate is that I’m so eager for it to come out and do well.   This will be my thirteenth trade book (my first was Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, which came out in 1999), and in my opinion it is the very best of the lot (I think the next best was probably How Jesus Became God; the most successful has been Misquoting Jesus).  I am really happy with it, in every way.  I’ve never been as pumped or satisfied with a trade book.   So as eager as I am for it to appear, I’m even more eager for it to do well!  So may the Publishing Gods be with us!

I will say more about The Invention of the Afterlife in later posts down the line.  Here let me simply say that I’ve been reading massively for it – everything of relevance that I can find.  I’ve already read and taken notes on most of the major studies of afterlife in Greece, Rome, Judaism (starting with ancient Israel), and early Christianity, and am now starting to plow seriously into the primary texts, that is the ancient sources.  Most of these I’ve known and read for years, of course.  But now I’m reading them with a very focused and critical eye to see what they can reveal about the afterlife.

This week I have worked carefully through a number of ancient Mesopotamian texts, especially the Gilgamesh epic (the first account of anyone taking a trip to the realm of the dead), but also the Descent of Ishtar, Nergal and Ereshigal, and others, and bits of the Egyptian book of the Dead.  I’m very excited that today I start work on Homer, both the brief references to the afterlife in the Iliad and the more extensive stories of the Odyssey (especially book 11, where Odysseus goes to the underworld and speaks with a number of the “shades” there).  This is really exciting material, and I’m seriously thinking about devoting a year or so to writing, in addition to Invention, a scholarly monograph to it.

In any event, I will be spending a good bit of time on the blog talking about all this – once I finish the thread on how I lost my faith, a thread that I originally planned to take one or two posts but which is not, instead, already in its second month!

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Can (or Should) We Change the Canon of Scripture? A Blast from the Past
What I Came To Believe About the Bible



  1. Lev
    Lev  June 7, 2017

    Thanks for the interesting insights on the world of publishing, Bart.

    When researching, what medium do you read from? Kindle, PC screen or good old fashioned books?

    Do you take notes on a computer or an (actual) notepad?

    Also, do you have any tips or tricks for your students in how to best study?

    Really looking forward to The Triumph of Christianity!

    • Bart
      Bart  June 8, 2017

      Books! I highlight everything I read and then take notes on them. I’m in a position where I can simply buy all the books I need. I take notes on a computer just on a word processor. Tips and tricks: that’s a book not a comment! 🙂

  2. Pattycake1974
    Pattycake1974  June 7, 2017

    The subtitle is different 🙁
    I like the other one better, but I guess this one makes the reader more curious to buy it.

    • Pattycake1974
      Pattycake1974  June 7, 2017

      February….another 🙁
      People tend to have more time on their hands in the winter but still….the whole thing kinda makes me grouchy

    • Bart
      Bart  June 8, 2017

      Yes, as you know, I don’t have a say over such things. But this one is growing on me rapidly!

  3. DavidBeaman  June 7, 2017

    On a personal level, in doing all your research on an afterlife, I think you undertake it with a preconceived notion that the afterlife doesn’t exist. However, if you were to come to believe in an afterlife in which all people who have suffered in this world would have eternal joy and peace, would that change your opinion about the existence of God, in whom you currently don’t believe because of the suffering in the world?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 8, 2017

      My research and book are not about whether htere really is an afterlife. They are about where the current ideas of afterlife came from (since they are not in the Old Testament and probably not in the New Tesatment either)

      • DavidBeaman  June 9, 2017

        I understand that. What I am asking is that if in doing your research on the origin of the concept or concepts of an afterlife, you encountered something that made you think that there might be an afterlife, would that change your negation of the existence of a deity, which is based on the existence of suffering in the world.

        • Bart
          Bart  June 10, 2017

          No, not really. Of course, I started out in my interest in the subject fully convinced that there *was* an afterlife. So I did not start with the assumption there was not.

          • DavidBeaman  June 10, 2017

            I see. Thank you.

  4. RonaldTaska  June 7, 2017

    1. Wow! You are truly amazing. I would have been thrilled to have published just one of your many books.

    2. I counted 14 of your “trade” books that I have already read so I guess a couple of them that I have read must fall in the “scholarly” category rather than the “trade” category.

    3. The effect of the political news on the sales of non-political books is fascinating. I had not thought of that.

    4. Keep churning it out. Your work means a lot to a lot of us.

    5. This recent series of posts is fantastic. My religious journey is so similar, but just involves less scholarship. The one thing that might be worth mentioning is how much this journey affects one’s social contacts if one, as well as one’s family, has been immersed in church activities, especially if one’s family continues to be immersed in them.

    • Bart
      Bart  June 8, 2017

      2. Yeah, depends how you count. Some of my trade books are anthologies of texts with introductions. Do we count them? Lost Scriptures actually sells better than Lost Christianities! But I’m counting only the latter.

  5. Michael Toon  June 7, 2017

    Bart you explain: “So what has that to do with books about religion? Two things: one is, obviously, that it is hard right now to get any media attention to anything else. *ANYTHING* else!”

    True. Which is why one of your magnum opuses (yesss a plurality of them!) Jesus Before the Gospels didn’t get the media attention that it deserved. And that was particularly disheartening for all who followed your passionate updates of where your progress of researching and writing the tome was headed.

    You write: “I’m seriously thinking about devoting a year or so to writing, in addition to Invention, a scholarly monograph to it.”

    Yesss. For a range of reasons—especially for the mental exercise that inspires the layperson—you absolutely should write a scholarly monograph on it.

  6. dougckatyBE  June 7, 2017

    I’m sorry about the delay of “Triumph…”, partly because my pre-ordered copy will not be forthcoming, and because anything that might help our fellow citizens gain some perspective on the ‘accident of history’ that I believe Christianity to be would be helpful.

  7. rburos  June 7, 2017

    I am neither the author nor the publisher. I am a reader, and undeniably selfish. For me this is very bad news indeed (I really do understand your post–but still!). Best of luck when it does come out.

  8. Wilusa  June 7, 2017

    Um…and remember, you *still* haven’t told us why you eventually came to believe “Cephas” and “Peter” were one and the same!

    • Bart
      Bart  June 8, 2017

      Yeah, maybe I’ll get back to that! But too many other htings to deal with first!

  9. Boltonian  June 7, 2017

    Off topic but wasn’t there a thread a while ago about whether Cephas and Peter were one and the same? I think your position is that you once thought that they were different people but now you have changed your mind. Did you ever explain why? If so, could you please direct me to the relevant post and, if not, will you return to it one day?


  10. rivercrowman  June 7, 2017

    A February book release may indeed be best. Fireside book readers in much of the nation should be socked in at least part of the time by winter. … And Bart, keep plugging away on your Hell/Heaven book. I’m 67 now.

  11. john76  June 7, 2017

    Regarding the afterlife, Jesus’ view seems to be:

    “In the resurrection, people will neither marry nor be given in marriage. Instead, they will be like the angels in heaven (Matthew 22:30).”

    • john76  June 7, 2017

      Before the general resurrection at the end of days, the Christian dead are “asleep” in Christ (1 Cor 15:18), as Paul says.

  12. Wilusa  June 7, 2017

    I still don’t like the title “The Invention of the Afterlife” – because it’s equivalent to saying flat-out that no type of afterlife exists, that the idea was “invented” by someone (or by a number of “someones,” probably independently!). That’s what you believe, but it can’t be proven.

    The specific ideas of “Heaven” and “Hell” presumably *can* be shown to have been “invented” – and the same can probably be said for *specific ideas* that have grown up around the concept of reincarnation. But not a basic belief in “some type of survival.” And your use of the term “Afterlife” in the main title implies you’re referring to “invention” going beyond just “Heaven” and “Hell,”

    While it might not be as catchy, a title like “Ideas About an Afterlife” would be more descriptive of what you’re actually summarizing. And you could certainly express your own opinion.

    • Bart
      Bart  June 8, 2017

      It’s about where the ideas of heaven and hell came from. *Someone* came up with them. But who? And when? And why? That’s what the book is about. It is predicated, of course, on the fact that these ideas were not always found in the Jewish and/or Christian traditions. They came into being at some point.

      • Wilusa  June 9, 2017

        So to be clear, maybe the *entire* title should be “The History of ‘Heaven’ and ‘Hell’ “! And maybe I’m old-fashioned in my ideas of language, but I think the words “Heaven” and “Hell” should be in quotes. (I also think the title “How Jesus Became God” should have been “How Jesus Became ‘God.’ “)

  13. Petter Häggholm  June 7, 2017

    I sincerely hope that you’ll go on to write the monograph. I recently read two books on the topic (Alan F. Segal’s Life After Death and Alan E. Bernstein’s The Formation of Hell), but while both were interesting, I didn’t feel like either quite drew out the cultural transmissions so much as comparing and contrasting. (I was about to ask if there’s anything you particularly recommend, but it occurred to me that if you felt that the right book was on the market, you probably wouldn’t be trying to write it!)

    And I further hope that if you do write the monograph, you’ll write it like Forgery and Counter-forgery, with translations of primary citations so that we laymen, even if not the primary audience, can have a go at it.

  14. talmoore
    talmoore  June 7, 2017

    “I’m seriously thinking about devoting a year or so to writing, in addition to Invention, a scholarly monograph to it.”

    Oh, please, yes! However much l love devouring your trade books over a weekend, I love just as much savouring your academic books over a couple weeks. For example, while I found Misquoting Jesus a delightful, yet eye-opening read, I found Orthodox Corruption of Scripture to be the kind of enlightening, educational slog I both welcome and need. (You can blurb that on your next edition if you want.)

    And speaking of delaying books, I have also put my Jesus novel on the backburner for now, because, funny enough, the crazy current political climate has inspired me to start a book on how and why we are where we are (tentatively titled Guns, God & Greed: The Strange Bedfellows That Make Up The Modern Republican Party), a book which I’m eminently more qualified to write. But I’m still going to come to your blog on a regular basis for now to keep the Jesus stuff fresh in my head. Moreover, the political book is something I could readily find a publisher for, while the Jesus novel is something I would probably have to shop around for years to get published.

  15. doug  June 7, 2017

    I can certainly understand about the executive branch sucking the air out of the room.

  16. Jana  June 7, 2017

    Well Dr. Ehrman both are on my short TO BUY list!! Eagerly awakening (a Freudian slip I decided to leave) and awaiting 🙂

    Will have to wait for Afterlife and I am so EAGER! It reads like a comparative study. Is it?

    PS: could I recommend to your publishers that they merely remove the “i” out of Triumpf and they would have a seller (I’m joking sorry .. it’s on people’s minds even in the Yucatan. People here are surprisingly well informed).

  17. ronaldus67
    ronaldus67  June 7, 2017

    I hate book publishers with their inimitable tactics that causes unbearable delays 😉
    Can’t wait……

  18. catguy  June 7, 2017

    I am excited as well for your books to be released. In a world of publish or perish, the last thing you need is to be hamstrung by the press absorbed with what goes on in the cesspool of Washington. I just hope it isn’t the fake media. Heaven forbid. LOL. I am curious in your book on the afterlife if you place any detail on Dante’s influence in the realm of paradise and hell. Keep us abreast of when your next book will go on sale (sounds like early next year as things stand).

  19. Carl  June 7, 2017

    Big fan of Forged. Discovering what Paul did and did not (likely) write was a wow moment.

  20. John  June 8, 2017

    Personally, I thought The orthodox Corruption of Scripture, The New Testament and Other Early Christian Writings and Forgery and Counterforgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in Early Christian Polemics.

    You mentioned you might be writing another scholarly book, any more news on this?

    • John  June 8, 2017

      * Early Christian Polemics were your best books.

    • Bart
      Bart  June 8, 2017

      I’ll get to it. But it will be on one aspect of afterlife beliefs in antiquity.

  21. Hume  June 8, 2017

    Do you think the Tower of Babel story was inspired by a Babylonian ziggurat? While the Jews were in Exile in Babylon.

    • Bart
      Bart  June 8, 2017

      Yeah, that’s often thought, and so I suppose so?

      • GregAnderson  June 18, 2017

        I believe that building upon tall things, hills and mountains, and building artificially tall things, is a universal human urge which predates Babylonian ziggurats, and of which a ziggurat is only a single example.

  22. RonaldTaska  June 8, 2017

    P.S. I know it must be very disappointing to have the publication of your new book postponed after you have worked so hard on it. I have always thought that giving birth to a new book must be very much like giving birth to a new baby. Hang in there!

  23. Sharon Friedman  June 8, 2017

    “And the reality – as we all know and daily experience – is that what is happening in our national politics has sucked the air out of every room, and has been doing so for nearly two years now. People are focused on what is happening in our executive branch. It’s just about the only thing many of us are paying attention to. It’s the only think the media is talking about, or wants to talk about.”

    But “the media” is drifting further and further away from many of us.. I read the two local papers and that’s it. I don’t want to know what some celebrity thinks of Trump or how many nasty exchanges people had with each other. Nor what op-ed columnists think of things I know more about than they do… I have trouble with people claiming goodness and being mean and lacking humility “because it’s a good cause,.” it’s like fingernails on the blackboard of my soul. Just saying, the rest of the country might not be what the media thinks it is (as a group, they have made mistakes before 😉 ) and I for one would like to see your book.

    • godspell  June 9, 2017

      Bart is part of the media too, you know. And I’m sure he gets hit with that all the time from those who don’t like the conclusions he draws.

      The media isn’t one big amorphous blog of elitists–and as matters worked themselves out, it would have been better if they’d been right.

      But for a bit over 70 thousand very sad, confused, bitter and lost people in three swing states, they would have been. The polls were right. She won. And he’s President.

      But he thinks he’s king.

      And the kind of king who tends not to end well in the bible.

      • Sharon Friedman  June 11, 2017

        Hmm. Interesting.. I think of academic people as different, primarily dedicated to scholarship and education rather than to the click of the mouse and the jingle of coin. Evidence: this blog.

        Anyway I can simply spend my time until Feb. reading the favorites of the Bart-erati here, conveniently available in our library..

  24. Wilusa  June 8, 2017

    This is maddening. If one somehow gets the “management of subscriptions” wrong (and I find it hard to believe I did), it’s *extremely* hard to correct the problem!

    • Pattycake1974
      Pattycake1974  June 9, 2017

      I kept getting an error message on my phone when logging in. I figured out that I have to go through the mobile feature to log in. Don’t know if you’re on a phone or tablet, but it could be the same for managing the subscriptions.

  25. TBeard  June 8, 2017

    I can’t wait until The Invention of the Afterlife comes out. Definitely buying that one. It will be helpful in my personal debates. Quick question, when you lost your faith, how did you break the news to your parents? I lost my faith about 5 years ago. I don’t think my father will care. He only goes to church because of my mother. My mother, on the other hand, has been a lifelong Christian and always asks me how I am with the Lord.
    She’s 77 and I really don’t want to hurt her at this point. I feel like I should just go on BSing her.

    • Bart
      Bart  June 8, 2017

      I lost my faith slowly, so they saw it happen. It wasn’t a one-time decision, but something that happened over the years. But it’s never easy with parents.

    • godspell  June 9, 2017

      My dad nearly became a priest. He was always very serious about his faith. When I told him I no longer believed Jesus was God (which to me, is not losing faith, because dogma and faith are different things), he was bothered–but we shared so many other things. It didn’t damage our relationship at all. I still respected his beliefs, and he still respected mine.

      It’s rejection parents can’t stand. I don’t know if you can make it clear that you’re rejecting certain beliefs, not the person who first taught them to you. But it can be done.

  26. Pattycake1974
    Pattycake1974  June 9, 2017

    The Invention of the Afterlife title–I suppose the publishing gods will have their way in the end. I’m not sure if the word “invention” is appropriate. What if it was about God, instead, that had a similar title–The Invention of God. There’s a fine line between piquing interest and inviting provocation.

    But, mainly, I just don’t think “invention” will fit the content. The title/subtitle for Triumph is both precise and able to hook the reader. Honestly, I think they can do better.

  27. Pattycake1974
    Pattycake1974  June 9, 2017

    National Geographic just finished a series about AI and the future of humanity becoming immortal. We’ll have a bodiless existence through a digital construct. Scientists are adamant that it’s not a matter of if but when. Supposedly, they have already created a tiny robot that has a form of consciousness, something Stephen Hawking fears could end mankind.
    It sounds like the Matrix, but they even suspect that we’re here due of some kind of sophisticated mathematics. Some people are convinced there’s scientific evidence for reincarnation. I’ve never been particularly interested in reincarnation, but that series gives the impression that it’s possible. They can map out our brains and literally recreate us. The bigger problem is memory and the ability to preserve it.

    • dragonfly  June 12, 2017

      Living forever in a computer? Sounds like the invention of hell right there.

    • GregAnderson  June 18, 2017

      ” We’ll have a bodiless existence through a digital construct. Scientists are adamant that it’s not a matter of if but when.” — Mark me down as one very doubtful computer scientist. Before that happens, we’ll first need to understand and codify things like … oh, emotions, thoughts, free will, pain, urges, presentiments, art …

  28. dankoh  June 14, 2017

    On the afterlife: I’ve read speculation that Second Temple Judaism got some of its ideas (vague as they are) about reward and punishment after death from Persian Zoroastrianism, but these same speculations admit that there is no solid evidence either way, given that we seem to have little information from that period in Persia. I was wondering if in your research you’ve come across anything useful.

    PS: About titles – publishers always win that battle, I’ve learned. So whether it’s “invention” or not will be up to them.

    • Bart
      Bart  June 15, 2017

      Yes, I used to think this too. But there are huge problems with the view, as I have found out by looking into it recently. The Persian texts that have close parallels to the Jewish tradition come to us many centuries after the Jewish texts themselves; and even if they date earlier, the Jewish texts don’t start appearing until a couple of centuries *after* Jews were controlled by the Persians.

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