Authors@Google: Bart Ehrman

Uploaded by AtGoogleTalks on 18.10.2011

>>Female Presenter: So, Bart Ehrman is the author of more than 20 books, including the
New York Times Bestselling "Misquoting Jesus," "God's Problem," and "Jesus Interrupted."
He is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of
North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and is a leading authority on the Bible and the life of Jesus.
He has been featured in Time and has appeared on NBC Dateline, The Daily Show with John
Stewart, The Colbert Report, CNN, History Channel, and other top media outlets. And
I found it very amusing that The Daily Show and The Colbert Report was then followed by
other top media outlets. And he lives in Durham, North Carolina. So, please join me in welcoming
Bart Ehrman.
>>Bart Ehrman: Thanks. Thanks for coming out. So, this talk is based on the book that I
just did that I'm doing a little book tour on. The book is called "Forged: Writing in
the Name of God--Why the Bible's Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are."
And so, the talk will be involving that. Right. It might help if I turned on the mic. OK.
Yes. That's working better. Good. Thanks. So, I'm on this book tour in the midst of
teaching full-time. I'm teaching at the University of North Carolina.
And at the University of North Carolina, most of my students come from very conservative,
evangelical churches because it's the Bible Belt. And so, when I start teaching my class,
as I did this semester, I have a pretty large class, 180 students in it, and I begin my
class, after handing out the syllabus, in explaining that this class is not like a church.
This is not a Sunday school. I'm not a preacher or evangelist. I'm a historian. And this class
will be taught from a historical perspective. So, the New Testament, not as a book of faith,
which it is of course, but the New Testament as a document situated in history. "And so,
this will be a different approach,"
I tell them from what they're used to, if they've been to church, which most of them
have. So, once I turn out the syllabus on the very first day of class, the first thing
I do is I give them a pop quiz, which they think is a little bit odd because I haven't
taught them anything yet.
But I give them a pop quiz. And part of the reason for the pop quiz is I want to know
how much they know about the New Testament before I start teaching. And I also want them
to know how much they know about the New Testament. And so, that's the point of the quiz.
So, this quiz has eleven questions on it. And I begin by telling them that if anyone
in the room can get eight out of the eleven right, I'll buy them dinner at the Armadillo
Grill. So, this year, out of 180 students, I bought one dinner because my students are
more committed to the Bible than knowledgeable about the Bible.
And so, and it's actually not that hard of a quiz. So, the first question on the quiz
is, "How many books are in the New Testament?" It's basic information if you think of somebody
to study the New Testament for 19 years or so. But no, in fact, my students don't know.
The answer it turns out is pretty easy. The answer is 27. And the reason that's easy is
because when you think about the New Testament, you think about God. You think about the Christian
God. You think Trinity. And what is 27? Three to the third power. So, it's a miracle.
So then the next question is, "In what language were these books written?" Now, this one really
stumped a lot of my students. About half of my students think that the answer is Hebrew.
And I've never quite figured that out. But I think it's because when you watch all these
Jesus documentaries on History Channel, Discovery Channel, they're always flashing up Hebrew
texts back behind. And so, people naturally think Hebrew, Jesus, and--. But that's wrong.
Normally, only four or five of my students think that the answer is English.
I'm kidding. The right answer is Greek, as it turns out, because Greek was the lingua
franca of the Roman Empire. It's what everybody spoke. Just like today, you go to Europe and
you need to get around Germany or France or Italy, if you speak English pretty much you
can get around. In the Roman Empire, if you spoke Greek you could pretty well get around.
And so, people who wanted to communicate broadly would write in Greek. And so, these books
are all written in Greek. So, these are the kinds of questions I ask--basic, factual information.
I do throw in a few curveballs because I don't wanna buy any dinners.
And so, one of my curveballs is, I ask, "What was the Apostle Paul's last name?" Well, right.
Somebody will always say "of Tarsis," Paul of Tarsis, but the point is people in the
ancient world didn't have last names unless they were upper crust, elite, Roman aristocracy.
Then, they had lots of names. But if they were just a normal person, they just had one
name, which is why in the New Testament, we have all these people with the same name.
And when people have the same name, then they give some kind of identifying feature to let
you know which one they're talking about.
So, you have all these Mary's in the New Testament. So, they're always identified: Mary, the mother
of Jesus; Mary of Bethany; Mary Magdalene. See, these are identifiers because they didn't
have other ways of identifying because they didn't have last names.
And I have to teach my students that because they naturally assumed that Jesus Christ,
Christ is his last name. So, I have to tell them, "It's not Jesus Christ born to Joseph
and Mary Christ." It's an identifying--. Christ means "Messiah." It's as saying Jesus is the
So anyway, so my students don't know basic information about the Bible, even though they
believe it, let alone scholarship about the Bible. And so, the class is really about scholarship
on the Bible, which they know absolutely nothing about because they've never heard any of this
stuff in church.
Even though, in many cases, their pastors will have known it because the pastors got
trained places that teach this kind of thing. One of the things that my students don't know
about is, what I'm talking with you about for the next 20 minutes or so, which is that
there are books in the New Testament that claim to be written by people who did not
write them.
Now, in a modern world, if somebody writes a book claiming to be someone famous when
they're not that person, we call that a forgery. And what I argue in my book, "Forged," is
that ancient people also thought negatively of this kind of literary activity.
They also thought it was a form of lying and deceit. And they didn't accept it. And I try
and show why it is that scholars, nonetheless, think that there are books in the New Testament
that were not written by the people who are named as their author's. So, I wanna talk
about that.
That's the main topic I wanna talk about, but to get there, I wanna talk about, just
to set the stage, by talking about a couple books that did not make it into the New Testament.
A couple books that didn't make it in, which are absolutely forgeries. So the first example
I wanna talk about is a gospel that allegedly is written by Jesus's disciple, Simon Peter,
the gospel of Peter. This book was lost for centuries. It was not
discovered until 1886. There was a French archeological team that was working out of
Cairo, Egypt, that was digging in a different part of Egypt. It's a place called Akhmim.
It's about halfway down the Nile in Egypt. And in Akhmim, they were digging up a cemetery.
And in this cemetery, these archeologists uncovered a tomb of somebody they thought
was a monk. They thought he was monk because he was buried with a sacred book, and it's
this book that I'm interested in. This book is a 66-page book that contains four documents.
So, it's a kind of anthology, ancient anthology of text. Four texts in it. The first one is
this one that I'm calling the Gospel of Peter. The first ten pages give this gospel of Peter,
but they don't give the entire thing. We don't have the whole Gospel of Peter. The book actually
begins in the middle of a sentence.
So, this is a fragment of the Gospel of Peter. And what I mean by that is I don't mean that
this book that we have is itself a fragment. It's an entire book. The first page is blank.
The second page has a cross drawn on it. The third page, at the top of the page in the
upper left-hand side it begins, but it begins in the middle of a sentence.
So, the scribe who was copying this book, probably in the 6th Century--. The 6th Century
scribe who was copying this book was copying what was a fragment. OK? So, the book isn't
a fragment. He was copying a fragment. The book begins with these words, "and none of
the Jews wanted to wash their hands, so Pilate stood up."
Now, that calls to mind a passage found in the New Testament. In the Gospel of Matthew,
where Jesus is put on trial before Pontius Pilate and Pilate declares Jesus innocent.
And to show that he thinks he's innocent, he washes his hands in front of the crowd
and says, "I'm innocent of this man's blood."
And the crowd, the Jewish crowd, cries out, "His blood be upon us and our children." So,
the Jewish crowd is taking responsibility for the death of Jesus. This is the verse
that we used for all of the papal, anti-Semitic purposes over the centuries. The Gospel of
Peter doesn't have that verse, but it does have a verse not found in Matthew, which is
"none of the Jews wanted to wash their hands."
Well, what happens in this account of Jesus's death is that the Jews are far more guilty
for Jesus's death, even than they are in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The Jews are more culpable
in the death of Jesus. And so that's one of the themes in this Gospel of Peter.
It's a very anti-Jewish form of the gospel. It is an account of Jesus going on trial,
being condemned, being crucified, and then being raised from the dead. Which, of course,
is an account that you get in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in the New Testament as well.
But in this account, there are many differences from the others. The most stark difference
comes at the very end. The Gospel of Peter, unlike the other gospels that we have, do
not--. The Gospel of Peter narrates an account of Jesus being raised from the dead.
And in a way, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John narrate Jesus being raised from the dead,
right? No, they don't. In Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, Jesus is crucified. He's dead. And
then he's buried. On the third day, the women go to the tomb and they find the tomb empty.
In other words, Jesus has been raised from the dead, but you're not given a story of
it happening.
There's no story of Jesus coming out of the tomb. But there is a story like that in the
Gospel of Peter. And it's a terrific story. What happens is, according to this Gospel
of Peter, the authorities sent a guard at the tomb of Jesus to make sure nobody comes
to steal the body.
And as the guard is guarding the tomb, they look up and they see the heavens rip open.
And two angelic beings descend from Heaven. And as they descend from Heaven, the stone
in front of the tomb rolls away by itself. They come down. They enter into the tomb.
And then, as the guard is watching, three people come out of the tomb. Two of them are
so tall that their head reaches up to the sky. The third is so tall that they're supporting
him. His head reaches up above the sky. And after they come out of the tomb, behind them
from the tomb emerges the cross.
And a voice comes from Heaven and says, "Have you preached to those who are asleep?" And
the cross replies, "Yes." So, here we have a giant Jesus and a walking, talking cross.
How this thing got lost for centuries, I don't know. You'd think this would be one you'd
wanna keep, but it eventually got lost. Well so, the whole thing is metaphorical, of course.
I mean, the reason these two angels are as tall as skyscrapers is because they're angels.
They're superhuman. And so, superhumans are really big. And Jesus is taller than them
because he's even more superhuman. He's the son of God. So he's really tall.
And the cross walking out, that's a metaphor for--. The question is, did the message of
the cross of Jesus go to those who were already dead? Have you preached to those who are asleep?
The answer being yes. The message of Jesus's salvation on the cross has gone even to those
who died before Jesus came on Earth.
And so, that's a theological statement read through a metaphor. All right. Well, one of
the other interesting features of this Gospel of Peter is what happens at the very end.
Because at the end, the author identifies himself.
The last verse of the Gospel of Peter says this: I Simon Peter and my brother, Andrew,
decided to go fishing. And with us went Levi, the son of Alpheus whom the Lord--. And that's
where it stops. So, it stops right in the middle of the sentence.
And so, you're not sure exactly what's gonna happen next, but it looks like what's gonna
happen next is they're gonna go fishing. They're gonna see Jesus raise from the dead and have
a conversation with him, we get. But it stops there. But for my purposes, the interesting
thing is, the author identifies himself.
I, Simon Peter. That's striking because Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in the New Testament
are written by authors who do not identify themselves. The Gospels in the New Testament
are anonymous.
Only later, people said, "Oh yeah, this one's written by Matthew. This one's written by
Mark. This one by Luke." And then later, scribes put in titles of the Gospel "according to
Matthew." But there's nothing in Matthew to think that Matthew wrote it. There's no first
person narrative.
The author never says, "You know, one day Jesus came up to me and we went to Jerusalem
and we did this, that, or the other." It's all the third person narrative. Not the Gospel
of Peter, though. The Gospel of Peter is written by somebody claiming to be Peter.
But this gospel was certainly written sometime in this early Second Century, at least 60
years after Peter was dead. This is somebody claiming to be Peter, knowing full well he
wasn't Peter. In other words, this is somebody lying about his identity. In the ancient world,
they would call that kind of writing a lie, a pseudos.
In modern terms, we would call it a forgery, somebody claiming to be someone other than
he was. New Testament scholars have long claimed that this kind of literary activity of claiming
to be someone other than who you were was both widespread and acceptable in the ancient
One of the things I try to show in my book is that in fact, it was widespread, but it
was not acceptable. Ancient people said very nasty things about this kind of literary activity.
They didn't approve of it. They thought it was deceitful and they weren't in support
of it. So,
OK. So, that's the Gospel of Peter. I'll give you a second example from outside the New
Testament of a book allegedly written by Peter. This time it's called "The Apocalypse of Peter."
"The Apocalypse of Peter" as it turns out is also in the 66-page book that these archeologists
discovered in Egypt. In some ways, "The Apocalypse of Peter" is more interesting even than the
Gospel of Peter. "The Apocalypse of Peter" is the first instance we have of somebody
being given a guided tour of Heaven and Hell.
So, you probably know about this idea of the guided tour into Heaven and Hell from Dante's
"Divine Comedy." Well, Dante didn't make up the idea of the guided tour of Heaven and
Hell. It's an old motif that goes way back in Christianity. And the earliest instance
we have of it is here in this "Apocalypse of Peter."
In "The Apocalypse of Peter," it's Peter himself who is given a first-hand account of this
guided tour of Heaven and Hell. Peter is given a tour by Jesus himself to show him the realms
of the blessed and the realms of the damned.
Now, the interesting thing about the Gospel of Peter is that like a lot of other guided
tours of Heaven and Hell, the description of the realms of the blessed, of Heaven, are
really not all that interesting. And the reason is because there's only so many ways you can
describe eternal bliss. [chuckle]
I mean, people in Heaven are happy. You know, blessed are the saints in the Heavenly reign
of--. Yea, blessed are they, oh happy. Blessed are the saints. Yea. Joyful. Blessed. Happy
are they." I mean, they're happy. It's great. They're in Heaven. How good can it get?
This is as good as it gets. This is great. So, the description is not all that interesting.
But if you have any creative imagination at all and wanted to describe the torments of
the damned, you can come up with some really interesting accounts. And that's what happens
So, the descriptions of the realms of the damned are much more interesting. And what
happens in the realms of the damned is that many people are punished according to their
characteristic sin. So whatever was their characteristic sin while alive, that's how
they're punished after death.
And so, Peter sees a place where the blasphemers are being punished. And they're being punished
by being hanged by their tongues over eternal flames because they lied against God. And
so, they used their tongues against God, so they're hanged by their tongues over eternal
He goes to another place and the women who braided their hair to make themselves attractive
to seduce men are hanged by their hair over eternal flames. The men they seduced are hanged
by a different body part over eternal flames.
And in this case, the men cry out, "We didn't know it would come to this." As you can well
So, you get this description of the realms the blessed, the realms of the damned, and
it claims to be written by Peter himself. The point of the account is pretty obvious.
If you want to enjoy the blessings of Heaven and avoid the torments of Hell, then don't
You know, that's just a simple lesson. But here again, we have an incidence of a book
that claims to be written by Simon Peter, Jesus's right-hand man, his head disciple.
But it certainly was not written by Peter. It wasn't written until the 2nd Century, 60,
70, 80 years after Peter was dead.
Somebody claiming to be Peter who wasn't. These are not the only two books that we have
from early Christianity that claimed to be written by Peter. We have letters allegedly
written by Peter. We have three other Apocalypses claimed to be written by Peter.
Writing books in the name of Peter was something of a cottage industry in early Christianity.
Is it possible that books written in the name of Peter made it into the New Testament? Well
as it turns out, there are two books that claim to be written in the New Testament by
Peter: First and Second Peter.
I'm gonna argue in a minute that Peter didn't write those either. And I'm gonna argue that
there are other forgeries in the New Testament, books that claim to be written by somebody
who did not, in fact, write them. First, let me say something about the prominence of forgery
in antiquity broadly.
As it turns out, it was a wide phenomenon. It did happen a lot in the ancient world,
more than happens today. It still happens today. People still write forgeries today.
But it's easier to detect forgeries today because we have all sorts of technologies
and handwriting analysis and stylistic analysis.
We have better ways of being able to detect forgery now than they had back then. And so,
people practiced it a lot more then. But people did practice it back then. We know this because
ancient people actually talk about it.
And in almost every case that they say something about forgery, they condemn it because people
didn't like it back then any more than you would like it today if somebody published
a letter or a book in your name claiming to be you when they weren't you.
Well, they didn't like it in the ancient world either. Let me give a couple of anecdotes
to explain how ancient people thought about forgery. The first involves a non-Christian,
just to show you that this phenomenon happened in the Roman world. It happened in the Greek
It happened among the Jews. It happened among the Christians. Forgery was a widespread phenomenon.
To give you the non-Christian example, a Roman example. A guy named Galen. Galen was a very
famous author in the 2nd Christian century. He was a doctor, a medical man, who wrote
a lot of books. In one of his books,
Galen gives an autobiographical account in which he indicates that one day he was walking
through a street in Rome and he was passing by a bookseller shop. And in the bookseller
shop there were two men arguing over a book. This book, allegedly, was written by Galen.
So, Galen is overhearing this conversation about a book that he allegedly wrote. One
guy is arguing that "this is a book I just bought from Galen." And the other guy is arguing
"this book isn't written by Galen." He read the first two lines. He said, "This book,
the writing style is all wrong."
Well, that warmed the cockles of Galen's heart because he, in fact, had not written the book.
So, he went home that afternoon and he did write a book. And we have that book still
today. It's sometimes called "How to Recognize Books Written by Galen."
So, they didn't like the idea of people doing this. So, give you a second example to show
you how forgery was talked about in the ancient times. This time a Christian book. There's
a book called the "Apostolic Constitutions."
It's a book that scholars can date pretty precisely because of things inside of it to
around the year 380. So, just to set you on the timeline. So if Jesus died around year
30, most of the New Testament books were written between 50 and 100. This book is written around
the year 380.
So, that's 300 years after most of the Apostles were dead. It claims though, to be written
by the Apostles. It's called the "Apostolic Constitutions" because it describes how the
church is to be constituted. Who should your leaders be? What should their qualifications
What should they do? How do you perform the baptism ceremony? How do you perform the Eucharist?
How do you do things? And it's written in the name of the twelve Apostles after Jesus's
death. So, whoever wrote it is claiming to be the Apostles. And sometimes, he speaks
in the first person.
I, Peter, say to you this. I, Andrews, say to you this. I, John, say to you this. As
if these people are actually talking even though these people have been dead for 300
years. At the end of the book, near the end of the book, is a really interesting exhortation.
Near the end of the book, the author tells his readers that they should not read books
that claim to be written by Apostles, but aren't.
Wait a second. Why would he say that? That's what he's doing. He's writing a book that's
claiming to be by--, but it's not. Well, he's doing it because its reader won't suspect
him of doing what he condemns. In other words, he's trying to throw his reader off the scent
of his own deceit.
So the question is, how widely was forgery condemned in the ancient world? Forgery was
condemned in books that are forged. That's how widely it was condemned. Just about everybody
condemned the practice. So, are there forgeries in the New Testament?
Scholars have widely thought that there are books that are not written by the alleged
authors in the New Testament. Scholars had been reluctant to call these things forgeries.
Scholars tend to call these things pseudepigrapha. Pseudepigrapha is spelled with a P in the
front. Pseudepigrapha.
P-S-E-U. Pseudepigrapha. They call them this because they don't wanna call them forgeries.
And if you call them pseudepigrapha, it's a much more antiseptic term. They don't tell
you what the word pseudepigrapha means. What it means is writings that are inscribed with
a lie.
So, it's really not much better than forgery. But it doesn't sound as bad. And so, they
call them the pseudepigrapha. Scholars have long known, for example, that whoever wrote
2 Peter, it was not Peter. There are debates about 1 Peter. A lot of scholars think Peter
wrote 1 Peter and I'm not one of them.
Doing my research for this book, I decided there's no way Peter wrote 1 Peter or 2 Peter
for a very simple reason. Peter could not write.
So, there have been interesting studies of literacy in the ancient world that have shown
that most people were completely illiterate in the ancient world. At the best of times
in the ancient world, maybe 10% of the population could read. In Roman Palestine, where Peter
grew up, the literacy rate by the best studies has put it somewhere around 3%.
That's of the people who could read. Fewer people could write than could read. Because
reading and writing are actually separate exercises, even though we learn them together.
In the ancient world, they taught them separately. So, to be able to write, you had to be really
highly educated.
And so, who are these 3%? They're the upper crust, very wealthy elite, who are living
in cities where they have schools. And who was Peter? Peter, according to the New Testament
was a lower class fisherman from rural Galilee who spoke Aramaic. Well, 1 Peter is written
in highly rhetorical Greek.
Was Peter somebody who would've gotten an education? No way. He probably was a fisherman,
probably fished from the time he was a young boy, didn't have enough time for school, had
no money, wasn't in a place where they had schools. So, Peter did not write 1 Peter.
I mean, unless--. I mean, the only option is that after the Resurrection, maybe Peter
decided to go back to school. And so he took classes at the Capernaum High School and for
his foreign language class, he decided to take Greek. And so, he got pretty good at
Greek and then at the end of his life, he learned Greek composition.
Took some composition courses so that he could write 1 Peter. I mean, it's possible, but
people like Peter had other things on their mind besides learning Greek composition. I
don't think Peter wrote 1 Peter because I don't think he was literate. By the way, the
New Testament says that Peter was illiterate.
Acts, Chapter Four, Verse 13 literally says that he could not read. So, well, I think
he didn't. And I don't think that he told somebody else to write the letter for him,
which is the solution a lot of scholars have come up with, that Peter told some scribe,
"Write a book for me and say this."
And the guy wrote it down. We have no examples of that happening in the ancient world that
can plausibly be applied to Peter. Whereas we have lots of examples of what I think is
going on here, which is someone later who wants you to think he's Peter and so he claims
to be Peter so you'll read his book.
It's probably somebody who had no reputation, nobody knew who he was. And he couldn't very
well write a book in his own name because nobody would read it. So, he wrote his book
and he claimed to be Peter so people would read it and he was highly successful.
The thing ended up in the New Testament. I mean, that's as successful as you can get.
So 1st and 2nd Peter probably were not written by Peter. There are 13 letters that claim
to be written by Paul in the New Testament. Thirteen letters that claim to be written
by Paul. Scholars are pretty sure that Paul did not write six of them. Six of them are
not really written by Paul, but by people later claiming to be written by Paul.
What I argue in my book--. Oh, by the way, with Paul we're in a better situation than
with Peter. Paul could write. We've got seven letters from him. But if you have seven letters
from somebody and you've got some other letter you're not sure about, all you have to do
is compare it with the seven.
And you look at the writing style, the vocabulary, the theology that's in it, with the historical
situation that's presupposed. When you do that, these other six don't match up to the
seven very well. And so, it's probable that the same author did not produce them.
So, you get six letters that are not really by Paul. We call those forgeries. Two letters
by Peter I would call forgeries. The book of James is almost certainly not written by
the brother of Jesus, James.
Jude was certainly not written by Jesus's brother, Jude. So, there are probably ten,
eleven, or twelve books in the New Testament that are forgeries. That's out of 27, over
a third of the books.
So, it's a significant problem. Let me just conclude by just saying a word about what
might have been motivating these people to write forgeries because it's a special problem
within early Christianity. It's a problem because Christians insisted that God was truth,
that Jesus was the way, the truth, and the life, that you had to believe the truth if
you're gonna be right with God, that as a Christian, you should speak the truth to one
And so, why would an author who believed that the truth was important, why would he lie
about who he was? So, the reality is we'll never know what was motivating these people.
But I do have a guess that I think is a pretty good guess, which is this: There are people
in the ancient world, just as there are people today, who thought that there are some situations
in which it was the right thing to do to tell a lie.
That sometimes, it's right to lie. You, yourself, can imagine situations where a lie is the
appropriate thing to do. In the ancient world, people like Plato said if a doctor has to
lie to his patient in order to get her to take his medicine, to take her medicine, that's
a good thing.
That's a good lie. Or, if a general is in battle and his troops are getting beaten and
he needs to rally them, it's OK to lie to them to say that reinforcements are coming
so that they'll fight more valiantly. That's a good lie.
There are places where it's appropriate and good to lie. It may be that there were ancient
authors who thought that their views of this Christian religion were so spot on and so
important and really needed to be widely accepted, that it was so important to get this message
out that they were willing to claim to be someone that they weren't.
They were willing to write a book and claim to be Peter or Paul or John or Matthew or
Judas or Mary and so forth. It's possible that they thought that this lie was justified
because of the importance of their message. If so, then we have this very interesting
irony that some early Christian authors thought that in order to convey the truth, it was
appropriate to tell a lie. Thank you very much.
I can take questions if anybody has any. Yes.
>>MALE #1: Do you have any theories about the mechanism that was happening. I was just
trying to--. I want a lot of people to read a letter that I claim comes from Peter. Do
I send it by mail and say, "Hey, I dug this up from somewhere. It's interesting. Maybe,
it claims to be from Peter. Maybe it is, but I don't know where it came from." What do
you think?
>>Bart Ehrman: Yeah.
>>MALE #1: Or, what would--?
>>Bart Ehrman: Yeah. Right. Right. So, there are various mechanisms that we know about.
There might be some that we don't know about. But we do know about some.
One involves what you alluded to, the idea of a discovery, that you discover something.
And so, the most interesting incidence of this is in an Apocalypse, a revelation from
God that comes directly to a person, an Apocalypse. In Apocalypse of Paul, where Paul describes--.
Paul is taken up into Heaven and he sees the heavenly world and he describes it for his
readers. This book claims to be written by Paul. But again, it's from the 4th Century.
It was written near the end of the 4th Century, so probably 320 years after Paul is dead.
But it claims to be written by Paul. So, the author, though, had this problem that he wrote
this thing at the end of the 4th Century. Nobody had ever heard of it before. And he
wanted to put it in circulation, but people would ask, “Where's it been?"
So he actually begins the narrative with a discovery narrative, in which he says that
there's a man who is living in the city of Tarsis, Paul's town, in the end of the 4th
Century who actually lived in Paul's old house. And one night he had a dream. An angel came
to him in a dream and told him to dig up the foundations of the house.
And he ignored the angel. Second night. The angel comes back, tells him to dig up the
foundations of the house. He ignores him. Third night. Angel comes back, beats him to
a bloody pulp and tells him to dig up the foundation of the house. And so he does. He
goes down.
He digs up the foundations of the house and he finds a box, a marble box that is sealed
with lead. And so, he doesn't know what to do with it. He takes it to the local governor,
explains what happened. The governor doesn't want to touch it. Takes it to the Roman Emperor.
The Roman Emperor opens it up and there's a book inside of it. And here's the book.
And so this explains where the thing has been for the last 300 years. It's been buried in
the foundations of this house. So, sometimes you get a discovery narrative. You don't get
that very often, but sometimes.
And they're great when you get them. The more common thing, I think, was--. A couple things
to bear in mind. First, there is no postal service. So, you can't just send it in the
mail some place. And second of all, there's no mass production of books.
So, somebody writes a book and the only way to get a copy is for somebody else to copy
it out by hand, one letter at a time. And so, it takes a long time for things to get
copied out. And it takes a long time for things to circulate.
And so, if you don't know of something that was written ten years ago, that doesn't seem
odd any longer. It's not like if Dan Brown, all of a sudden a book shows up that Dan Brown
published 20 years ago and nobody ever heard of it, Dan Brown did not really publish that
But back then, if a letter from Paul shows up 20 years later, that's not that unusual
'cause there's not mass--. There aren't huge Barnes and Noble selling these things and
stuff. So, what you would do. Suppose you wanted to claim to be Paul and you're writing
a letter in which you’re embracing your views.
You address it to a church. So, you address it to the church of Thessalonica. And you
make a few copies of it. And you give them to travelers and you say, "We have this letter
that we've gotten from--in circulation here. Take this." They take it to Rome. Somebody
else takes it to Jerusalem.
Somebody else takes it to Alexandria, Egypt. But what you don't do is you don't write it
and then send it to the church in Thessalonica because they know they never got this letter.
So, you send it and it starts circulating. And years later, when everybody's dead and
wouldn't know better, there it is. So, that's the mechanism probably. Yeah.
>>MALE #2: The other forgery as you described, they are not of contradiction to the New Testament,
including the main evangelists. So, is there anything good in it?
>>Bart Ehrman: Is there anything good in the New Testament?
There's a lot of good stuff in the New Testament. The New Testament's terrific. The New Testament
is filled with really interesting stories. For people who are religious, it's been the
basis of the Christian religion for two thousand years. And so, it has terrific stuff in it.
It has terrific moral teachings in it.
>>MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #2: No, I'm just--the theology of the book. Some stuff is forged.
Some stuff is self-inconsistent.
>>Bart Ehrman: Yes, there are inconsistencies. There are writings that are written by people
who claim to be writing them. I mean, the seven letters of Paul, for example. Paul's
seven letters are really written by him. And they're important historically because they
can tell us what was going on at a certain point of time within Christianity.
So, the New Testament is extremely valuable historically. For many people, it's valuable
religiously. And I think it contains a lot of important ethical teachings. But you're
absolutely right. There are a lot of contradictions as well because different authors had different
points of view.
I think the problem with the New Testament is that people have taken it as a divine book
and that doesn't hold up under scrutiny because of the contradictions, because of the forgeries.
I don't think you can take it as the inherent revelation from God because it's not that.
It's a very human book. But as human books go, it's really fantastic. My opinion. Yeah.
>>MALE #3: You're saying a lot of the stuff you've been talking about. You quote various
dates the various books were written. How do you actually arrive at those dates? How
do know the four gospels were written between 50 and 100?
>>Bart Ehrman: Yeah. Right. Yeah. Right. It's complicated, but there are scholars who spend
years trying to figure this kind of stuff out. So I mean, there's actually scholarship
involved. Give you the short story with the gospels. When you have an anonymous text that's
a historical narrative, there are two big things that you're looking for.
One thing you're looking for is a reference to some historical event that you can otherwise
date, a reference in the text to something that you know when it happened. OK? So, if
you find some letter today that shows up that mentions Obama's inauguration, then you know
that it had to be written after a certain date, right?
So, that's one thing you look for. The other thing you look for is some author whom you
can absolutely date with precision, who quotes a book. So, if you get those two things, you
get the time after which it had to be written and the time before which it had to be written.
So, you get a range. With the gospels there are certain things that you can say with absolute
certainty. For example, the gospels all talk about Pontius Pilate. We know that Pontius
Pilate was the governor of Judea between 26 and 36 of the Common Era from other historical
So, the gospels are written after 36, or sometime after the 30s. There is a reference in the
Gospel of Luke to the city of Jerusalem being surrounded by gentile troops and being trampled
down by the gentiles and the temple being destroyed. Well, we know when that happened.
It happened in the year 70. So, Luke was probably written sometime after the year 70. Luke gets
quoted in the early 2nd Century by church fathers we can date. So, it's sometime before
the early 2nd Century. So, you narrow it down like that. So, that's basically how you do
it. Yeah.
>>FEMALE #1: Any guesses about who was doing this? Because like you said, that literacy
rate was so rare. So was it clergy members or the elite? Was it officials?
>>Bart Ehrman: Yeah. Who's doing it? Right. And how much of it is a conspiracy?
So, we don't know. When we have something like--. Well, the six letters of Paul that
weren't really written by Paul, three of them are written by the same guy. That can be shown
on literary, linguistic grounds that the same person wrote 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus.
But we don't know who he is. What we do know about him is that he's a Greek-speaking Christian
who is a follower of Paul, who's living outside of Palestine. And usually he's dated to about
20 or 30 years later, but this is a case where it's hard to know. It might be 40 or 50 years
It's hard to get the date. He is very concerned with the correct organization of the church,
which might suggest that, in fact, he's a leader of a church himself because he lays
out all the qualifications what the leader ought to be, what the duties of leaders ought
to be.
And so, it seems that that's one of his vested interests, so maybe he's a church leader.
So, that's about all you can say. Greek speaking. Highly educated. Greek speaking. Christian
who is an admirer of Paul, living outside of Palestine who is particularly interested
in church--probably a bishop with a church someplace.
So, you can do that kind of thing with most of these books. But you can't ever say, "Yeah,
it was Jehoshaphat, this guy who lived in Syria." We don't have any names. Yeah.
>>MALE #4: You were saying your search about some that aren't written, or I guess forged,
and then you keep saying these seven books about Paul that you know are certain. What
makes you so certain about these seven?
>>Bart Ehrman: Why be certain about the seven? So, the seven are called the undisputed Pauline
epistles because there aren't scholars who dispute these seven. I mean, every now and
then someone will come along and dispute them because he has to get tenure and he's--
So, he'll write something. The reason is that you have these 13 letters. Seven of them cohere
together extremely well. Writing style is similar. Theological views are similar. Vocabulary
used is similar. They're addressing different situations.
And so, there are a lot of differences among them, but they cohere together as a group
of letters that appear to be written by the same person. So, since all 13 of them claim
they were written by Paul and you have seven that are from one person--the other six, three
are written by somebody who's not the same as the seven.
The other three are all written by different persons. So you've got one, two, three, four,
five authors. One of the authors has the most things. And the things that are talked about
in these seven appear most likely to be things that were happening early in Christianity,
rather than in later decades.
And so, since they all come to be by Paul, everybody just assumes it's Paul who was writing
these. We might be wrong. It might have been someone else. But it seems plausible that
it's Paul. Yeah.
>>FEMALE #2: So, you were talking about how you think that 1 Peter wasn't actually written
by him. You said that, well, the New Testament says that Peter was illiterate, but how do
you know that that's true?
>>Bart Ehrman: Oh, yeah. I don't base my view that Peter was illiterate on a verse in Acts
Chapter 4, verse 13. I'm just pointing out that it's not just some crazy liberal wide-eyed
professor in Chapel Hill who's claiming that Peter was illiterate.
In fact, it was known in the ancient world that he was illiterate. So, I don't use that
as proof that he was illiterate. It's just it is interesting that the scholarly view
that he's illiterate is actually something that the Bible itself says. That's all I mean
by that. Yeah.
>>MALE #6: In all of your research on various writings that have been forged, have you come
across anything that peers through the looking-glass the other way? Like, things that are genuine
that never made it into the Bible, or kinda have been lost to iniquity.
>>Bart Ehrman: Yeah, yeah. That's a good question. So, there's nothing by the Apostles that's
outside of the New Testament that should've been put in. Because, again, most of these
Apostles couldn't write anyway.
We have other letters that claim they were written by Paul outside the New Testament
that were certainly not written by Paul. We do have orthonymous writing. Orthonymous is
the word for a writing that actually is written by the guy who's claiming to write it.
So, we do have orthonymous writings from outside the New Testament that are very valuable,
some of which were almost included in the New Testament. We have seven letters by a
bishop of Antioch in Syria, a guy named Ignatius. Seven letters written soon after the books
of the New Testament.
One book that almost made it in is a very long book. It's longer than any books of the
New Testament that is a kind of a revelation that's given to a guy named Hermas, the Shepherd
of Hermas, that even in the 1st Century, some church fathers thought should be in the New
But eventually, it was excluded. It's was probably excluded because it's just so long.
And it's really frankly a bit boring that I think people just decided not to mess with
this thing anymore. But there's nothing by Apostles that we have outside the New Testament.
Yeah. Any other questions? OK. Well, thank you very much. I've enjoyed being with you.