How Long Did It Take Bart Ehrman to Write His New Book?

Bart Ehrman, the New Testament scholar, recently released his latest book Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We Don’t Know About Them).

An article in the Charlotte Observer sheds light on Ehrman’s biography — he calls himself “a happy agnostic,” for example — but this particular sentence got to me:

His last three books, he said, took him two weeks each to complete. And he has ideas for half a dozen more.

Two weeks?! And that includes his 300,000-copies-sold Misquoting Jesus?

When I was writing I Sold My Soul on eBay, it was done in six months. I was told that was relatively fast in the publishing world (it was necessary, though, given the nature of the project and the media attention).

The same person told me most books take 18 months to complete from start to finish.

Two weeks?!

Damn.

It takes me that long to read some books…

(Thanks to Deanna for the link!)

  • http://blaghag.blogspot.com/ Jennifurret

    Holy crap. Now I feel extra lazy about the book I started two years ago and never finished =(

  • mikespeir

    It might have taken him that long to write it down, but I’ll bet the thing was pretty well gelled in his mind before he started. Even so, it’s a remarkable feat.

  • Siamang

    Was any of it already-written material, like from the classes he teaches?

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Charlotte Observer: At 53, Ehrman is the first to acknowledge his popular books aren’t groundbreaking: His strength is his ability to translate the consensus New Testament scholarship of the past 150 years into plain English.

    It’s sad that this stuff has been available for that long, but that so many Christians still adhere to the claim of Biblical inerrancy.

    Ehrman is indeed a very good writer.

  • http://www.sheeptoshawl.com writerdd

    I imagine it may have taken him a lot longer (maybe his whole life) to develop the ideas and do the research and make notes, etc. Writing is the easy part; thinking is the hard part. I’ve “written” some of my books in a few weeks. But I’ve worked on them for years.

  • Shane

    Obviously he is writing about things he knows like the back of his hands. The research and acquiring familiarity with the subject matter would have taken substantially longer than 2 weeks.

  • http://cycleninja.blogspot.com Paul Lundgren

    I just picked up Misquoting Jesus. Since Iowa is anticipating a snowstorm this weekend as God smites us for approving gay marriage, I think I’ll put away a significant portion of it.

  • Chuck Levin

    Don’t feel bad. The book can hardly be called scholarship or original or even intelligent. It is pap.

  • Badger3k

    Having read (and own) both books (and several lecture series of his), his newest contains of lot of repeated material, although it is organized differently. I was disappointed on how much he actually considers historical evidence for Jesus, but that’s an issue I’ve had with him for a while (I think his own per theory of Apocalyptic Jesus blinds him a bit). Even though I don’t think I learned anything new, the ability to rearrange material in so short a time is still impressive (although I would have liked something more out of the book, and would have preferred him to take more time).

    If you’re new to historical criticism, or if you want a book to share with those who are new, it’s not a bad buy. If you want something he hasn’t said before, this isn’t it.

  • Autumnal Harvest

    I was disappointed on how much he actually considers historical evidence for Jesus, but that’s an issue I’ve had with him for a while. . .

    Are you saying that you don’t think there’s good historical evidence for Jesus existing? The evidence strikes me as quite strong. (That’s the evidence for his existence, not his supernatural powers, of course.)

  • http://blog.calumnist.com/ Danny

    I’ve read somewhere that Bertrand Russell would dictate his books to his secretary over the course of several days (or a few weeks), and when it was done, it only needed a little editing before publication. And for that Bertie won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Not bad.

  • http://seantheblogonaut.com Sean the Blogonaut

    Care to expand on this a little chuck?

    The book can hardly be called scholarship or original or even intelligent. It is pap.

  • ptah

    Considering he repeats the same stuff over and over and you pretty much can read three of them or one of them three times to get the same info, two weeks sounds about right.

  • Revyloution

    Crap, I don’t want to hate Ehrman. Its not often you meet another Bart (my name too). But since Ive been working on my book for over 8 months now, I have to truly despise him for half a day.

    After I get over it, Ill probably go pick up a copy of it.

  • Grimalkin

    My religion professor called him Book-a-Week-Ehrman.

    I think it’s a bit easier for him because he knows his stuff so well. He’s got his facts and it’s just a matter of which to present and from which angles for each book. Because, let’s be honest, his books are pretty much a rehashing of the same facts with just a slightly different spin to appeal to a slightly different audience.

    I do love him, though!

  • Grimalkin

    Autumnal Harvest – There isn’t any evidence. It’s hard to say that it’s strong when it doesn’t exist!

    That being said, I agree with Ehrman that it isn’t really worth trying to assume that Jesus didn’t exist. It’s a plain fact that most cults (especially dissenting cults like early Christianity) tend to start with a charismatic leader. Whether his name was actually Jesus or not doesn’t matter any more than whether the author of Mark was really named Mark or not.

    The only compelling alternative to the existence of Jesus that I’ve heard is that Paul was the initial charismatic figure. Even so, it doesn’t match timelines too well and Paul’s writings show his fear of the Jerusalem followers, which suggests to me that the charismatic leader was before Paul.

    As for the idea that a bunch of guys just got together and said “hey, you know that messiah we’re looking for? Why don’t we just pretend he already came?” – it just doesn’t strike me as very likely. Someone had to start the rumour, there has to be a kernel of truth (such as a charismatic preacher who, after several tellings of the same story, was deified). It seems silly to believe otherwise.

  • Autumnal Harvest

    Grimalkin, you comment is intriguing but I don’t think I understand what you’re saying. You start out by saying that there’s no evidence, but the rest of your post (which I agree with) then argues in the other direction. I would say that the gospels and the letters of the New Testament are strong evidence that Jesus existed, because they have a number of features that make it hard to construct plausible scenarios in which they would have been written, had there been no historical Jesus. It seems like you agree that the historical data is hard to reconcile with a no historical Jesus, but for some reason you don’t want to call that data “evidence”? What do you mean by evidence?

  • Grimalkin

    Autumnal Harvest – I don’t accept the New Testament as evidence (except of what the authors believed). So when the New Testament says that Jesus existed, I don’t take that as proof that he existed – just that some people believed he did.

    The fact that there is no contemporary evidence to be found outside the writings of Christians makes the case for the evidence of Jesus all that much weaker.

    But notice that I said “the case for the evidence of Jesus” and not “the case for Jesus.” That was the first part of my post – that there isn’t any evidence in either direction.

    The second part of my post is addressing the actual existence (or non-existence) of Jesus. When there’s no evidence pointing in either direction, it becomes a look at probabilities.

    There is no evidence (or non-evidence) for the existence of the Christian god either, but on that matter I assume a negative. I go for a negative because I cannot fit that god into the world as I can observe it to exist. On the other hand, I can think of many reasons why people would invent a deity and I can understand how myths can be formed. So in this case, in the absence of all evidence, I assume that the Christian god doesn’t exist.

    In the case of Jesus, taking into account what I know of the world, of how cults are formed, and of how myths are generated, I assume a positive. But it’s all just logical thinking. I think my case is rather strong (if I do say so myself), but the fact is that there really isn’t any evidence either way. It’s still all just a thought experiment.

    Anyways, I hope that cleared everything up for you. I fully accept that my definition of evidence may be incorrect since this is all what I’ve managed to put together by reading people like Ehrman and by mulling it over on many sleepless nights. I’m certainly no scientist or historian, so the categories I’ve formed to understand my world may not be universal. But I hope that I’ve been able to explain the distinction I make. Let me know if you have any other question!

  • Autumnal Harvest

    That’s an interesting distinction. I tend to think of something as evidence for X, if it tends to make X seem significantly more likely to be true, either directly, by some educated guesswork, or by thinking about what scenarios are internally consistent and reasonably likely. Wheras you consider that “making a case,” and want to reserve the word “evidence” for things that are more direct. I don’t know that either of us is more right, since it’s just semantics.

    I view the logic from the historical data to the conclusion that Jesus existed as a little more direct than you do, but even if you accepted my view, I’m not sure you’d deem it worthy of the word “evidence.”

  • Grimalkin

    You just explained my own thoughts a whole lot better and more succinctly than I ever could!

    But whichever way we get to it, we both seem to make the assumption that Jesus really existed (or, at the very least, was originally based on a historical figure who lived around 0-33CE in or around Jerusalem). From there, we get into the much more interesting stuff like how much we can reconstruct his biography given the (very) limited sources at our disposal?

    It’s like a puzzle. It’s oodles of fun!

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Are you saying that you don’t think there’s good historical evidence for Jesus existing? The evidence strikes me as quite strong. (That’s the evidence for his existence, not his supernatural powers, of course.)

    Supposing we agree on the lack of convincing evidence for the supernatural powers. What’s left? That there was someone named “Jesus,” a form of Joshua and a very common name in that time and place, in that time and place? That’s like asking me to believe that there is someone named Antonio living today in Tuscany. The claim is not strong enough to mount an objection against.

  • Autumnal Harvest

    R. Selkirk, I think it’s generally understood that the claim that there was a historical Jesus means not just that there happened to be someone named Jesus, but that he shares some key non-supernatural traits of the Jesus described in the New Testament. For example, I think the case (or evidence—whatever :) ) is pretty strong that there was a historical character named Jesus who lived around 0-33 CE, led a Jewish religious cult with (maybe) apocalyptic teachings, was killed by the Romans, and whose cult later broke away from the mainstream of Judaism to become Christianity. I’m not sure that there’s a lot more that I’d feel terribly confident about—as Grimalkin says, it’s a neat puzzle, but the sources are terribly limited—but it’s a little more than just his name.

  • Dave Huntsman

    On Ehrman’s writing – I’ve read his last three books; listened to several hours of debates he was in, as well as interviews on NPR et al over the years. A bunch of us from Cleveland Freethinkers did 5 hours of driving roundtrip to attend a talk by him in Columbus recently. It doesn’t surprise me he can pour out a book on these subjects so quickly, for a couple of reasons:
    - he’s lived this stuff and been on his search for all his adult life. It’s not just a job, or interest to him.
    - Misquoting Jesus and God’s Problem were very personal books for him; essentially both have spent the last twenty years of his life being written in his head (he says that in the latter book).
    - Every year for twenty years he has taught approximately 300 freshman students in his NT class – in a large university in the Bible Belt. He’s heard it all, argued it all, been challenged on it all, prepared it all. In terms of communicating on the NT, on a historical basis, he’s got it down, in my view. And it helps that he himself was such a solid evangelical, much more so than most evangelicals that confront him.

    On the Historical Jesus – I’ve learned a lot from both Ehrman and Crossan over the years; but the one point I’m more reticent on than both of them is over whether a physical historical Jesus existed. (They both say yes). Yet, for me, neither provides the degree of connection to that particular conclusion that they do for many others. In Crossan’s case, I’ll go farther, and say that he clearly wants to believe there was one. But then, more than Ehrman, he has actually spent years purely on his own search for the historical Jesus (Ehrman is more of a NT scholar in general).
    Crossan has gone as far as reconstructing those (relatively few) things he thinks the historical Jesus actually said, considering all sources, the cultural context at the time, etc. etc.

  • http://www.uncrediblehallq.net/ The Uncredible Hallq

    A PROBLEM WITH EHRMAN’S BOOKS: Basically, as people have said, Ehrman’s books are simply a matter of taking things he already knows and putting them in book form. This is awesome when he’s talking about things he’s an expert in (I highly recommend his Jesus book from 1999, “Lost Christianities,” and “Misquoting Jesus”) but recently it seems like he’s running out of material. His book “God’s Problem,” for example, required him to talk about the Old Testament a fair amount, which he is not an expert in, and the result was a kinda crappy book.

  • Pseudonym

    I’m curious to know why so many people are willing to believe that there was no historical Jesus (i.e. first century rabbi, some of whose sayings and deeds were recorded and subsequently embellished, had a following, killed by the Romans) despite the fact that we have more evidence for that than for other historical figures that we take for granted. Nobody seriously doubts, for example, that there was a historical Aesop, even though we have essentially no first or second-hand information about his life.

    I suspect the reason has a lot to do with the fact that the belief that there was no historical Jesus fits with some peoples’ prejudices. People have a tendency to grab onto anything that supports their personal prejudices, no matter how flimsy it is. Nobody is immune from this.

  • http://youmightbeironychallenged ptah

    I’m curious to know why so many people are willing to believe that there was no historical Jesus

    Nobody seriously doubts, for example, that there was a historical Aesop, even though we have essentially no first or second-hand information about his life.

    I don’t understand it either. Just as with Aesop, we have have books written by Jesus own hand, so what is there to doubt?

  • Pseudonym

    Just as with Aesop, we have have books written by Jesus own hand, so what is there to doubt?

    There’s actually a surviving manuscript written by Aesop? Why have I not heard about this!?

  • ptah

    Well sure, they’re not manuscripts, but copies of copies of copies of course. But still books once written by his own hand.

    Just like the books written by Jesus.

  • Pseudonym

    Well sure, they’re not manuscripts, but copies of copies of copies of course.

    Right, and copies of copies of copies are always absolutely 100% accurate reproductions of whatever the original author wrote.

    The gospels, on the other hand, are far more likely to be completely fabricated collections of supposed sayings and deeds of a likely non-existent person.

  • ptah

    Gospels? I was talking about the books written by Jesus himself.

  • Pseudonym

    I’m not sure what you’re talking about at all. My point is that the evidence for a historical Aesop whose life story was elaborated in the retelling (as opposed to a fictional figure whose name was attached to the collection) is roughly the same as the evidence for a historical Jesus whose life story was elaborated in the retelling.

    Nobody seriously doubts the historical Aesop, but some do doubt the historical Jesus. The only difference seems is that doubting the historical Jesus helps feed personal prejudices, but doubting the historical Aesop doesn’t.

  • Siamang

    Pseudo,

    Check the “url” on ptah’s name above. I think he’s speaking ironically.

    Pseudo, some historians do doubt the historical Aesop. So it’s factually incorrect to say that nobody seriously doubts his existence.

    Of course, to my knowledge nobody was ever chained to the rack because they denied the existence of a historical Aesop, so one might see how passions (!) run higher in one instance than another.

    Just as we don’t have anything written by Jesus, we also don’t have anything written by Aesop… only stories attributed to them.

    despite the fact that we have more evidence for that than for other historical figures that we take for granted.

    That’s a claim we often hear around these parts. But answer me this: If we could prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that a historical Aesop, or a historical Arthur or a historical Brutus never existed, would that cause any great disruption within the general public?

    There is a reason that religious folks continue make the claim (with almost the exact same formulation) that we’ve got more evidence for Jesus than any other historic figure that we all accept. Now, that’s just not true, as there are no written accounts of him during his lifetime, and we don’t even know who the authors of the gospels were, and Paul never even met the man. Whereas we actually have books written BY Julius Caesar, and vast histories written about him while he was alive. We have artwork commemorating him.. statues and buildings that carry his face, and thousands of coins minted during his reign carrying his likeness.

    And Caesar was but a king, which is to say but a man. There is nothing even approaching that for the supposed God on Earth.

  • Autumnal Harvest

    Pseudonym, the trouble with your comparison is that most people don’t have strong confidence in the existence of a historial Aesop, for the simple reason that most people have no idea what the evidence for a historial Aesop is, or how to assess it if you gave it to them. (The only reason that I haven’t doubted the existence of a historical Aesop is that I’ve never thought about it either way.) Very few people have any experience assessing the evidence for things that happened 2000 years ago, and for which the historical data is so complicated. It’s not like the case for, say, a historical Julius Caesar, or a historical George Washington.

    Given that, it hardly seems shocking that people might be skeptical that there was a historical Jesus. The main stories we have about him are second-hand accounts, written decades after the time of Jesus, and are obviously unreliable, since the authors belong to a religious cult that clearly gives them strong biases and reasons to distort facts and/or lie, and they write about clearly impossible events in them, like walking on water, raising people from the dead, etc. . . Given that all the sources we have about Jesus are so unreliable, it doesn’t seem amazing that some people might hypothesize that the entire story was made up from scratch. I’m not saying that this hypothesis is consistent with the actual historical documents; as I said in my comments above, it is not. But I don’t think its trivial to explain why it’s not. It might be trivial for a trained historian (or it might not be, I don’t know), but at least for me, where this was my first experience dealing with sketchy 2000-year-old data, it didn’t seem trivial.

  • Pseudonym

    Siamang:

    I think he’s speaking ironically.

    I got that ptah was trying to make a snide remark about Jesus not having written anything. My point was that it was irrelevant.

    There is a reason that religious folks continue make the claim [...] that we’ve got more evidence for Jesus than any other historic figure that we all accept.

    Woah there. We don’t have more evidence for Jesus than “any other historical figure”, and I never said any such thing. I gave one example, Aesop, for which the amount of external historical evidence is very similar.

    We’re not talking about a Julius Caesar-type figure here.

    If we could prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that a historical Aesop, or a historical Arthur or a historical Brutus never existed, would that cause any great disruption within the general public?

    I think my irony meter just broke. An Atheist telling a Christian that religion should be singled out for special treatment was too much for it to handle.

    Autumnal Harvest:

    Given that all the sources we have about Jesus are so unreliable, it doesn’t seem amazing that some people might hypothesize that the entire story was made up from scratch.

    I’m not surprised about some people proposing that hypothesis. What I’m surprised about is that there are a lot of Atheists who aren’t willing to apply basic critical thinking skills in evaluating this hypothesis.

    If someone proposes a belief about evolution, global warming or the holocaust that contradicts the overwhelming academic consensus, we would rightly say “put up or shut up”.

    So why is religion special? I think Siamang inadvertantly answered that question.

  • ptah

    How so irrelevant?

  • Pseudonym

    ptah, my point is that the amount of evidence for a historical Jesus and a historical Aesop are about the same. The fact that we have 10th-generation copies of a book purportedly compiled by someone named Aesop does not change this.

  • ptah

    Aha, so your claim is that neither Aesop or Jesus existed. Or at least that it is stupid to claim that they did.

  • Autumnal Harvest

    I’m not surprised about some people proposing that hypothesis. What I’m surprised about is that there are a lot of Atheists who aren’t willing to apply basic critical thinking skills in evaluating this hypothesis.

    But my point is that evaluating the evidence is not a matter of applying basic critical thinking skills. At least, you haven’t shown that it is. Personally, while I reach the same end conclusion as you, I found it rather difficult to evaluate the evidence. That may be because, as an atheist, I have a bias against Christianity, but I think an equally good explanation is that I had no expertise in evaluating old, sketchy, historical evidence. Your argument is that it’s just as easy as evaluating the evidence for a historical Aesop, which isn’t really a great comparison, since very few people are equipped to evaluate the evidence for a historical Aesop either. The case for a historical Holocaust is fairly easy to understand, but the case for a historical Jesus is not. If you really think that the case for a historical Jesus is so easily made, I’d be curious to hear what your case is, directly, rather than by analogy to another historical figure whom I know nothing about.

  • Pseudonym

    I think an equally good explanation is that I had no expertise in evaluating old, sketchy, historical evidence.

    Fair enough. Most people don’t have this expertise.
    My point, and perhaps I made it badly, is that there is a tendency amongst some (not all) to hold beliefs that fly in the face of the overwhelming consensus of pretty much every expert while admitting ignorance. What puzzles me is why people do this.
    Incidentally, I’m not sure that the case for a historical holocaust is actually that easy to understand. If you ignore eyewitness testimony as biassed (as holocaust deniers do), then the evidence is overwhelming, but surprisingly hard to interpret. There is no piece of paper saying “kill 8 million people, signed Adolf”. It’s more like a zillion little pieces of evidence all pointing in the same direction.

  • Autumnal Harvest

    . . .there is a tendency amongst some (not all) to hold beliefs that fly in the face of the overwhelming consensus of pretty much every expert while admitting ignorance. What puzzles me is why people do this.

    Well, that brings up the issues of figuring out who the relevant experts are, what their consensus is, and whether those experts are generally trustworthy, which I think are pretty tricky for all kinds of questions. If you ask about the case for the historical Jesus, there’s no shortage of experts on Biblical history who will tell you that the case is overwhelming. The trouble is that many of these experts will also tell you that the case is just as strong for the case for the historical Julius Caesar, and that the case is also very strong that Jesus rose from the dead; others won’t make these latter claims, but they believe weird things about this Jesus being able to walk on water and raise people from the dead. To my mind, this makes these experts suspect, just as I would be suspicious if half of climate change scientists regularly talked about CO2 emissions from orbiting alien spaceships. I realize that there are theologically liberal Christians who have put a lot of study in the Bible using normal, secular approaches towards historical documents and literature. But I found it nontrivial both to find this class, and to convince myself that they did a good job of standard historical analysis, despite believing unbelievable things about Jesus coming back from the dead.

    In some ways, while I find creationists distressing, I don’t find them puzzling; in fact, I find it a little difficult to explain why they shouldn’t be creationists. It’s not that they have a shortage of experts. They have secular scientific experts who have a consensus that evolution is true, and religious experts who have a consensus that it’s not. I have an epistemology that explains why scientific experts are more trustworthy than religious experts at explaining natural phenomena (and I have good reasons for that epistemology). But given that they don’t share it, it’s unclear how they handle the specific question of evolution vs. creationism. Ideally, they should read a textbook on evolution in their free time, and critically assess the evidence for and against, but that’s pretty difficult for most people. It’s particularly difficult if you’ve been exposed to a wide range of bad scientific arguments from your religious experts.


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