Bart Ehrman on Being Perceived as Controversial

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    May 02, 2015 4:27 PM GMT
    Bart Ehrman:

    I am going to take a bit of time out to do some self-reflection.

    The reason I find that the idea I’m controversial is that my views about the historical Jesus, the authorship of the books of the New Testament, the Greek manuscript tradition of the New Testament, the relationship of orthodoxy and heresy in early Christianity, the rise of early Christology, and on and on – these are views that are not particularly strange in the academy. I *acquired* almost all of these views . With respect to every one of them, what I talk about in my writings is what I myself have learned. Very rarely in my popular writings do a I put out a view that is unusual and untested in the academic world.

    I have a good reason for thinking that people consider my views controversial when in fact they are not controversial (and when I don’t mean them to be controversial). That is this: When I first published my college-level textbook, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings in 1997, no one who reviewed it thought that it was the least bit controversial, off-putting, over the top, cynical, offensive, snarky, insensitive or anything else negative. It quickly became the bestselling book on the market. It still is today. But professors who use it have, over the past seven or eight years, *started* to complain about its “tone” as being over the top and insensitive, even though the parts they complain about (in the current 6th edition) are the parts that I haven’t changed from when I published the first edition eighteen years ago! The words haven’t changed. But my public persona apparently has changed. So the words themselves, in my view, are not controversial. But because *I’m* controversial some scholars charge me with trying to be controversial with words that they used to think were not controversial even though they are the same words!!

    I think the reasons I get *interpreted* as being controversial are (a) I say things publicly that other scholars just say to themselves and one another (these same scholars pull their punches when they are talking to a public audience); and even more important (b) I try to make the way I present things *interesting* to people. To make things interesting one has to highlight what is intriguing about them. But what is intriguing and interesting about scholarship almost always is, necessarily, information that people generally don’t know or haven’t thought about. And so if a compelling or (even just) strong case is made for a position that others have not generally heard, it is thought that you are going out of your way to shock people rather than to do the work of (otherwise dry) scholarship.

    Scholarship, in all fields, can be incredibly dry. I believe in making scholarship interesting. I don’t do it to be controversial. I do it to get people interested. But as many people as get interested, there seem to be more who get upset. I’m very sorry to see that happen. But I’m not about to make my public scholarship dull, uninteresting, or inaccessible to public audiences so that no one will get offended!
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    May 02, 2015 4:29 PM GMT
    A Response from a Member:

    Wow! Thanks for sharing this. My two cents worth, which is probably worth one cent:

    1. That you are introspective enough to be thinking about such things says something good about you.

    2. Although the ideas that you present are not controversial among scholars, the lay public, by and large, unfortunately, has not been taught very much of this material so it upsets a lot of people.

    3. Early Christianity is a very important subject to a lot of people so you write about matters that mean the world to a lot of people. and, hence, people have strong feelings about what you write and that means you are writing about important topics. Unfortunately, many quickly and falsely come to believe that you are debunking Christianity. I don’t agree that you are doing that. I do remember, however, that an entire website was once set up to debunk your work.

    4. People can see in you whatever they want to see. Commonly, people who are upset will use “ad hominem” personal attacks rather than discussing the subject matter.

    5. What you are doing is very important and helpful to many so keep doing it.

    6. You do not have to be perfect, just good enough which you are.

    7. You often debate before hostile crowds so you need to be confident which some can view as your being “haughty” if they want to see you that way. I don’t. It’s part of being a debater. Should you just roll over in a debate and play dead?

    8. My best childhood friend and I met in kindergarten, attended public schools together, attended the same church, played ball on the same teams, attended college together, went to medical school together, and did our medical internships together. He recently died secondary to a brain tumor. Before, he died, he and I started an email group of old friends whom we had met at various stages of our lives. Our first task was for each member of the group to write a summary of his/her religious views and how we developed those views. Many wrote very moving emails. I wrote mostly about what I had learned from your books. One response that I received was quite caustic: “You can either believe Ehrman or you can believe Jesus!” I stopped the group soon after my friend’s death. It was just too nasty. So, the critical examination of crucial questions can be a very lonely and isolating endeavor, but it is still important to do. Several in the group still completely shun me and I am not at all welcome in one particular church. Quite a reaction to a few good theological Bible questions. The reaction actually hurt me a lot as I m sure you have been hurt.

    I hope something in this response helps you a little.
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    May 02, 2015 4:31 PM GMT
    Response from a Member:
    Commonly, people who are upset will use “ad hominem” personal attacks rather than discussing the subject matter.

    Steefen:
    Stick to the chalkboard/whiteboard.

    Response from a Member (continued):
    So, the critical examination of crucial questions can be a very lonely and isolating endeavor, but it is still important to do. Several in the group still completely shun me and I am not at all welcome in one particular church. Quite a reaction to a few good theological Bible questions.

    Steefen:
    Study this subject matter, Ehrman’s work and beyond, one will want to shun reciting creeds.
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    May 02, 2015 4:32 PM GMT
    Response from another member:

    I saw this today on my Facebook feed. Posted by a minister I know in northern Michigan.

    FROM PERSON POSTING: Good read. Josephus records Jesus.

    SHARED LINK: Bart Ehrman on Denying that Jesus Existed: “You Look Foolish”
    In one regard, at least, Ehrman is the Christian’s friend.
    PATHEOS.COM

    Steefen:

    “Ten people are identified as Jesus sources and four incidents of mythologizing are listed (let alone falsely attributing saving a woman caught in adultery to Jesus). In unweighted percentages, the historical Jesus composite is 73.3% and the mythological Jesus composite is 26.7%. The mythicists, then, try to make a minority finding a conclusion of majority proportions when the biblical Jesus is not 100% myth. Did Jesus exist? Was he historical? No. Multiple Jesuses did exist and multiple Jesuses are historical; but, when one combines more than one person to create a historical character, one does not have a biography of one historical person, one has historical fiction. One does not have a true singular soul of the Son of God; one has a writer-created thought form of Jesus that is not a member of Heaven’s place of the souls.That Jesus will not be seen face-to-face, in all of his glory, in Heaven—or in trips to Heaven.”

    The mythicists may look foolish but the Composite Jesus camp does not.
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    May 02, 2015 4:42 PM GMT
    A Different Member responds:

    I have a friend that is a retired Methodist preacher/pastor. He told our “Living the Questions” group that he always attempted to teach his congregations the things he learned in seminary and was soon moved..every time. I believe most people don’t study anything and consequently believe those of us who try to stay up on the latest developments in New Testament study..are controversial.
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    May 02, 2015 4:43 PM GMT
    Another Person Responds:

    Dr. Bart,

    PLEASE stay controversial.

    You are the scholastic wrestler that comes out of the dressing room and tells the audience that the two opposing wrestler dressing rooms are connected back stage via the wrestler’s lounge and that you all drink coffee together.

    The other wrestlers do not like you doing this.

    It is only dogma that causes the controversy. You are the Dogmatic Executioner. It just feels like nothing new to you after years of studying with the scholars. It is NEW to us.
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    May 02, 2015 4:51 PM GMT
    My Response to the Original Post

    You’re controversial because you tarnished two gems of the gospels: Jesus saving a woman caught in adultery and Jesus instructing Nicodemus. If that were not enough, Jesus receiving a proper burial into the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea is also tarnished.

    You have told us Jesus did not save a woman caught in adultery; Jesus did not instruct Nicodemus; Jesus did not have a following or a family large enough for some to shoo the dogs and vultures away from his cross. The great artwork of the Pieta is vandalized by you because Jesus’ body, in your opinion was attacked by these two animals. So, Mary held a son taken from the cross whose body had the evidence of the attacks you describe, if we go with what you’re saying.

    Another controversial tarnish is your implication that everyone associated with Jesus was uneducated, all of the Jews and all of the Hellenists. The only ones in the New Testament who were educated were Paul, Nicodemus, Caiphas. Could Nicodemus have been a contributing ghost writer to the gospels before they were named?
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    May 02, 2015 4:51 PM GMT
    StephenOABC saidMy Response to the Original Post

    You’re controversial because you tarnished two gems of the gospels: Jesus saving a woman caught in adultery and Jesus instructing Nicodemus. If that were not enough, Jesus receiving a proper burial into the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea is also tarnished.

    You have told us Jesus did not save a woman caught in adultery; Jesus did not instruct Nicodemus; Jesus did not have a following or a family large enough for some to shoo the dogs and vultures away from his cross. The great artwork of the Pieta is vandalized by you because Jesus’ body, in your opinion was attacked by these two animals. So, Mary held a son taken from the cross whose body had the evidence of the attacks you describe, if we go with what you’re saying.

    Another controversial tarnish is your implication that everyone associated with Jesus was uneducated, all of the Jews and all of the Hellenists. The only ones in the New Testament who were educated were Paul, Nicodemus, Caiphas. Could Nicodemus have been a contributing ghost writer to the gospels before they were named?


    Bart Ehrman:

    He appears to be an invented figure. He’s not mentioned outside of the Gospel of John.