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Why I Shifted My Research Plans

In my last post I started explaining how I came to work on issues of memory.   My plan had been something else, to write a detailed commentary on the Gospel of Peter and other early Greek Gospel fragments.   I had  been committed to do this for years, with a book contract with Fortress Press for their commentary series that is called Hermeneia.

Just by way of background:  when I was just out of graduate school, I vowed to myself that there were three kinds of books I would never, ever write.   I would never write a textbook.  I would never write a book on the historical Jesus.  And I would never write a commentary.   The reason for each was that there simply were too many of each kind of book out there already, and I simply didn’t want to tread where so many others had trod.

So much for my vows.   I did end up writing a textbook on the NT.  That wasn’t my idea; my publisher twisted my arm and I agreed, and I am SO glad I did.   In one sense it really made my career and opened up to me the possibility of writing books for someone other than the six technical scholars in my sub-speciality who really care.   And then my editor convinced me to write a book on the historical Jesus.  And I am SO glad he did.  Even though it wasn’t my best-selling book, it got me to start thinking about what it means to write for a general audience instead of for scholars.  And that has obviously made the most enormous difference in my life.

But I wanted to hold firm.  No commentaries.   There are so many…


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Different Kinds of Memory
My Non-Disclosure Agreement and the Gospel of Judas



  1. Avatar
    Todd  March 30, 2015

    A year or so ago I mentioned my interest in oral tradition….how the writings went from hearing to writing.

    I am so excited that you are plunging into this !!

  2. Avatar
    Jim  March 30, 2015

    Is there merit to the mimesis criticism approach (i.e. like Dennis McDonald’s identification of parallels between the Homeric epics and gMark)?

    And secondly, from the level of Greek employed by the gospel writers, can it be surmised that they likely were reasonably familiar with Hellenistic literary traditions?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 1, 2015

      Is mimesis criticism a term that Dennis M. uses? For some reason I don’t remember it (or what it means!).

      It’s not clear (to me at least) that the Gospel writers were widely read in Greek or Hellenistic literature.

      • Avatar
        Jim  April 1, 2015

        Ty for your response – I was only curious if that plays a part along with oral traditions and fitting in of LXX documents. I don’t know if that’s a term that Dennis M (I don’t know him) would use, but it is one that the compilation of all human wisdom, wiki, does. 🙂


        • Bart
          Bart  April 1, 2015

          I’m afraid I’ve never heard it before and don’t know what it means.

  3. talitakum
    talitakum  March 30, 2015

    An Italian commentary word by word? Next time just give me a shout, I am Italian and I only have commentaries in English .. It’s a hard life!

  4. Avatar
    paul c  March 31, 2015

    Dr. Ehrman, I look forward to your consideration of memory as it relates to oral tradition. I remember hearing claims that Irish seanachies could recite long tales word for word, never making a mistake. However, I’m confident that such claims are simply an extension of the myth making/story telling itself. I know that study of oral tradition is a focus of cultural anthropology but have many NT scholars written on this topic yet?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 1, 2015

      Yes indeed! But not in a way that I find convincing, given what we know from the anthropologists.

  5. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  March 31, 2015

    1. What happened to the anti-Judaism in early Christianity book?

    2. For readers of this blog, your New Testament textbook is excellent, both in format and content, and your book on the historical Jesus is also excellent.

    3. I can understand not wanting to plod through the details that the commentary would have required. It reminds me of the 18th century scholar, John Mill, who spent 30 years documenting the 30,000 differences in 100 different, ancient Koine Greek New Testament texts. Important conclusion, but incredibly tedious.

  6. Avatar
    Adam0685  March 31, 2015

    This comment is unrelated to this post, but it is a fundraising idea. Maybe you’re doing this already.

    Youtube has a option to “monetize your videos.” Info is at https://www.youtube.com/yt/creators/creator-benefits.html.

    You can donate the proceeds to your charities.

    Yes, you need a lot of views, but there is potential. Right now, the top 10 videos of you on Youtube (ones posted by others) have about 1.5 million views together – all of these videos were posted within the last five years (https://www.youtube.com/results?search_sort=video_view_count&search_query=bart+ehrman). Plus there are hundreds of other videos with hundreds of thousands of views. While you can’t get money from Youtube for these views since they are not on your Youtube channel, there might be long term potential for you to get money from Youtube from videos in your account.

    • Bart
      Bart  April 1, 2015

      Interesting idea. Thanks.

    • Avatar
      Jason  April 1, 2015

      That’s really a good idea. If you had the time, a B.E. Vlog would probably be very well followed, and monetizing it would add to the foundation funding.

  7. Avatar
    rossponder  April 1, 2015

    Just curious: do you if the Greek gospel fragments commentary is on hold? Or did they reassign the volume? Sometimes things can get reassigned with the Hermeneia editors. For instance, Steve Friesen is now completing the Hermeneia commentary on Revelation, after Schüssler Fiorenza moved on from the project.

    • Bart
      Bart  April 1, 2015

      I don’t know for sure, but I imagine they re-assigned the volume.

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