Archives For Bart Ehrman

401px-Adoration_of_the_Shepherds-Caravaggio_(1609)-1We’re nearing the end of the 12 Day Season of Christmas. All the ornaments, advent calendars and creches will return to their boxes in the basement.

I think of the archives on my blog likewise, loved little ornaments that are perfect for this small space on the calendar.

So here’s a post from the blog’s basement:

Is it just church work? Or does every professional guild have people (read: hacks) who take specious, prosaic ‘facts’ and spin them conspiratorially as ‘what the (fill in the name of the institution) doesn’t want you to find out’ for a pop audience?

And let’s not forget the profits a pop audience can provide.

I mention this because, right on schedule, Newsweek has just published their annual crap Christmas article. This one written by Bart D Ehrman, a biblical scholar at UNC who’s right up there with other unimaginative killjoys like Shelby Spong and Marcus Borg. 1304974446021.cached

Given it’s name, you’d think Newsweek’s article would include, you know, news.

Instead Newsweek has taken observations of the Nativity stories that have been made since the original Church and repackaged them in sensationalist fashion as ‘The Myths of Jesus.’ 

Ehrman’s article spills the beans on all these ‘secrets’ people like me try to keep from the faithful flocks. Among these church-shattering revelations:

The bible does not say what year Jesus was born (gasp!). 

The bible does not say Jesus was born on December 25, originally a Roman holiday (what? no!) 

 The bible doesn’t say there was an ox and an ass in the manger (how dare artists elaborate the story for the sake ark!). 

 There are extra-canonical gospels that include other details about Jesus’ birth and childhood (No! It can’t be! Didn’t the ancient Christians know this?). 

 The bible doesn’t say there was 3 wise men (see #3). 

 Only 2 of the 4 Gospels have nativity stories (really? I never noticed that, damn). 

 Matthew’s Nativity story is different and, chronologically, irreconcilable with Luke’s Nativity story (how did I miss that?). 

Ehrman, like me, is a graduate of Princeton so one can presume he’s not stupid or intentionally dense, yet his popular work is a breathtaking exercise in missing the point. It just goes to show that one can be smart yet have no imaginative, poetic sense of how narrative functions to tell ‘truth,’ shape faith and proclaim conviction.

It also goes to show, in Ehrman’s own personal case, how destructive it can be to raise your kids in an idiot Christianity (Fundamentalism) that they then react against with their own version of black/white, overly rationalistic, idiot Fundamentalism.

Ehrman has to be smart, which means his problem isn’t brains but character. Ehrman’s brand of muckraking never lets on that all of these supposed ‘secrets’ have been known and accepted by the Church for centuries. Maybe they weren’t in the Christian ghetto Ehrman grew up in but for the Church catholic these revelations are a snore.

For example, Christians only began celebrating Christmas in the 4th century. Meaning: it’s possible to worship God-in-Christ without the nativity stories (Mark and John obviously thought so); therefore, none of these breathless ‘myths’ drive the dagger into the heart of Christianity as Ehrman implies.

Yes, Matthew and Luke tell different stories. That’s the freaking point. They tell the stories they do the way they do NOT because they’re attempting to construct the sort of biography Ehrman apparently wants. They tell the stories the way they do to make a particular confession about who Jesus is.

Matthew tells his story through Joseph and by way of Egypt to profess that Jesus is the New Moses for a New Israel through whom God is working deliverance.

Luke tells his story the way he does to make the oldest of Christian claims: Jesus (ie, not Caesar) is Lord.

And yes, Bart, I know Luke and Matthew didn’t actually write those Gospels. They were attributed to them later in a honorific gesture. But guess what? St Augustine beat you to that newsflash by about 1600 years.

I’m being snarky because the entire ‘historical Jesus’ project is about as productive as a fart. Seeking to critique the faith, they fall victim themselves to Feurback’s devastating critique of the faithful: They create Jesus in their own image.

The Jesus of faith isn’t true. The true Jesus was a teacher of timeless wisdom. Sort of like Oprah but skinnier. And on and on and on they go…

There’s simply no where for the historical Jesus people to go because, as Ehrman himself points out, there’s not much first century documentation about Jesus.

Which the Church has always known.

And never been bothered by.

Because the point isn’t that Jesus lived.

It’s that he’s alive.

test200x250Last week a friend asked me for my thoughts on the ‘Synoptic Problem,’ a phrase used in New Testament studies as shorthand for what could account for both the similarities and dissimilarities between the Gospels Mark, Matthew and Luke, the three Gospels known as the ‘Synoptic Gospels’ for the common narrative they tell. ‘Synoptic Gospels’ is a way of distinguishing Mark, Matthew, and Luke from John, whose narrative is strikingly different.

Scholars speculate that the synoptics all borrowed from an additional gospel source labeled ‘Q’ that was lost to the Church.

Behind all of this conversation is an awareness that the four Gospels are not unified in what they tell about Jesus and how they tell it.


Only someone who hasn’t read the Bible would be surprised by that. Even the ancient Church both knew and was untroubled by this fact.

I remember taking my first New Testament class as a freshman at UVA and feeling perplexed that so many (many conservative evangelicals) students were threatened- their faith shaken to the core– by the so-called ‘Synoptic Problem.’

For me, it was one big yawn fest.

350px-Relationship_between_synoptic_gospelsOur text book was an introduction to the NT by Bart Ehrman, who has since gone on to be a hack.

I felt then and do more so know that ideas like the ‘Synoptic Problem’ are only a problem if you have a ‘modern’ notion of the infallibility, inerrancy and divine authorship of scripture.

If, on the other hand, you have a more patristic recognition that the texts of scripture are incarnation (the divine coming to us by way of the human) you’re free to receive the texts as they’re given to us by the historic Church.

NT studies is a legit discipline and one in which I have little interest in so long as it’s driven to get at the ‘text behind the text’ and solve riddles the first recipients of the text seemed little interested to solve.

For me, it’s important that the ancient Church put four different Gospels into the canon, recognizing and accepting a diversity within the Gospel witness and refusing to codifying it into a single narrative.

More importantly for my faith, I’m uninterested/untroubled by things like the ‘Synoptic Problem’ simply because, before there was ever any New Testament texts, Christians were breaking bread and sharing wine with a (High Christology) prayer about/to Jesus, the incarnate, crucified, and risen Lord.

I’m not bothered or especially interested in side debates about the Gospels when Paul’s Letter to the Colossians sings of Jesus as being the pre-existent Son of the Trinity before the Gospels were committed to paper or when Paul can tick off people who’ve encountered the Risen Christ, still within the first generation of scripture.

All this is just to echo Karl Barth, things like the Synoptic Problem are problematic only to those who worship the bible.

For those who worship the Word of God, Jesus Christ, no biggie.

Of course, I could’ve saved you the trouble of reading this just by posting this video of Stephen Colbert, comedian and committed traditional Catholic, eviscerating Barth Ehrman, the aforementioned hack.