Why I Like A Biblical Scholar’s Blog
If you are interested in learning about Christianity, the historical Jesus, the New Testament, and related topics, I suggest you look at the Bart Ehrman Blog at <http://ehrmanblog.org>. These topics have held a fascination for me for a long time, but only in the last eight or nine years have I had the time to do more reading and study in the area.
I don’t spend time on these topics because I am a Christian, but for four primary reasons:
1. I grew up as a Christian, was a pre-ministerial student for the first two years of college, was very active in the Methodist Church’s youth groups until the end of my junior year in college, know many Christians (of all stripes) who are friends and acquaintances, and have known many ministers for most of my life. I attended a Lutheran school in the second and third grades, at which I was taught the Lutheran view of Christianity (I still have my copy of “Luther’s Small Catechism”). I went to a Methodist-related college, where I took two years of New Testament Greek to satisfy my language requirement.
I grew up in Port Arthur, Texas, a town significantly dominated by the Catholic Church. Catholics had their own complete school system – K through 12. Several of my teachers in law school were Jewish – three of them practiced an orthodox version of that religion (they observed the sabbath, ate only kosher foods, and observed Jewish practices regarding prayers, holy days, and other Jewish customs related to life and death).
I did not (knowingly) meet an atheist or non-theist until 1965, when I became acquainted with someone from a Japanese-American family, whose parents had been raised in the Buddhist tradition, though he did not consider himself a Buddhist at that time. I became interested in Islam through the life of Malcolm X, initially through the book “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” and later through his speeches and scholarship about him. I had frequent contact with Muslims (mostly politically active Iranian students) when we lived in Houston, where I went to law school. I haven’t experienced all the religions (no one can), but I have been fascinated for a long time with the impact that religion has on the world, and Christianity is one of the two most important of those religions. That fascination is what attracted me to sociology as a major in college.
2. As the dominant religion in the US, Christianity influences our politics, it permeates our culture, and it touches virtually every aspect of our lives no matter what belief system or life stance we follow. Two of our major holidays are related to Christianity – Christmas and Easter.
3. I have been asking questions about Christianity generally and specifically to a few people for the last several years: Why are you a Christian? How do you understand the supernatural events described in the New Testament and in Christian doctrine and dogma? What is the meaning of God to you? If you don’t believe in a supernatural God or the supernatural events found in the bible, why do you continue to follow your religion, whether you are Jewish or Christian?
4. In my weekly column, I often write about religion, especially the separation of church and state and the freedom of religion found in our Constitution. Becoming more informed on the religion side of these matters is important, and Ehrman’s blog is just one way I do so.
In following these interests, I have read many books in the last few years about religion (including several by Ehrman), I have taken two of Ehrman’s courses in the Great Courses series, and I recently completed a class offered at my local Episcopal church about twentieth century theology taught by my good friend Karl Brown, a retired Methodist minister. It was an opportunity to look back at material I read nearly 50 years ago and see if it meant to me now more or less or something different than it did then. It helped me get a bit closer to finding answers to the questions posed in number 3 above.
One final thing about the Ehrman Blog. It comes in two versions: an abbreviated version available free, but offering clearly incomplete thoughts about the topics he discusses, and a “members only” version, which costs $24.95 per year. But every penny of that money goes to charity, which is why Ehrman offers it. The approximately one hour per day he spends writing on the blog and charging for it is his contribution to charity, something he feels is important. He contributes the proceeds from his blog to organizations fighting poverty, hunger, and homelessness. April 3, 2013, marked the end of the first year of his blog, during which he raised $37,000 for charity. As more people learn of the blog, that number should increase.
Ehrman is a biblical scholar and he is completely honest in telling about the controversies in his field, where there are disagreements among scholars, why there are disagreements, how biblical scholars view and study the bible, and why he takes a particular position on such topics as the historical Jesus (spoiler: he believes Jesus is a historical figure; Ehrman is not a mythicist). There are also videos of occasional debates between Ehrman and other biblical scholars, which provide important insights on the different views taken by various scholars in the field. Ehrman also answers questions from readers and analyzes popular movies and books about Christianity. So, if you want to get his informed take on many of the most popular works (including Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Jesus: A History (which fails at its task), or Reza Aslan’s Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth (beautifully written, but historically uninformed), you may find what he has to say as fascinating as I do.
If any of this interests you, you can satisfy your interest and contribute to charity at the same time. I’m just trying to do my part by getting out the word about the blog.
Posted by Lamar W. Hankins, 12-20-2013