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A Few Questions for Bart Ehrman


Bart Ehrman, author of Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene: The Followers of Jesus in History and Legend, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed The Bible and Why, and Truth and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code among many others, has gracefully answered some questions for OUP about his newest book, The Lost Gospels of Judas Iscariot: A New Look at Betrayer and Betrayed. The book recounts the discovery of the Lost Gospels as well as providing a complete account of what the Gospel of Judas teaches and how it reflects on the historical character Judas Iscariot.

OUP: What is the most common misconception about Judas?


Bart Ehrman: The biggest mistake is to think that he was always the rotten apple in the apostolic barrel. In fact, the best evidence suggests that he became a follower of Jesus because he completely agreed with his message and supported his mission at first, and was as faithfully devoted to “the cause” as anyone. That’s why Jesus chose him to become one of the inner circle, the “twelve.” Only later did he decide – for reasons I spell out in my book – that he had to turn Jesus over to the authorities. But that was much later!

OUP: How have the discoveries of these new gospels shaped or changed your beliefs in Christianity?

Ehrman: They have helped me see that early Christianity was remarkably, almost unbelievably, diverse. There were different Christians all saying different things – about God, Christ, the world, salvation, the Jews, in fact, about just everything. And all these Christians believed they were right and that all others were wrong. And all of them had sacred books to prove their claims, books allegedly written by the disciples of Jesus himself. Only some of these books became the New Testament, and so only some of the beliefs survived down through the ages. The others were eventually ruled out as heresies.

OUP: What is the one lesson laymen can take away from the Gospels and their new teachings?

Ehrman: That just as Christianity today is incredibly diverse (compare the Roman Catholics with the Mormons with the Pentecostals with the Seventh Day Adventists with the Eastern Orthodox… and so on!), it was even more diverse in the early centuries, when the most important aspects of the new faith were debated and fought over.

OUP: What do the gospels show us about Judas’s relationship to gnosticism?

Ehrman: I don’t think they show us anything about what the historical Judas thought about Gnosticism – in part because Gnosticism did not yet exist in Judas’s (or Jesus’) day! Only later did Gnosticism arise, and then the Gnostic Christians retold the stories of Judas (and Jesus) in light of their own beliefs. The newly discovered Gospel of Judas is one of these retellings.

OUP:In your opinion, and knowing what you know from studying these gospels, what place does Judas hold in the history of Christianity? Is he the betrayer? Or has his legacy, like much of the bible, been reconstructed through time?

Ehrman: Yes, he certainly was the betrayer. But the question is what did he betray, and why. In my book I try to show why most Christians today completely misunderstand what was going on in the betrayal. The story is intricate but intriguing. Here I’ll simply give a couple of hints: why would the authorities need Judas to identify Jesus? Wouldn’t they already know who he was? Why would then need him to lead them to Jesus? Couldn’t they just have him followed? Why was Jesus killed for calling himself the King of the Jews if that is not what he called himself? How did the authorities know that he thought he was the (future) king? Answer these historical questions, and you can solve an important historical problem: what did Judas betray, and why?

OUP:When were your first thoughts when you saw the Gospel of Judas in the small room above a pizza parlor in Switzerland?

Ehrman: My first thought was: My God this is amazing!!

Want to read more by Bart Ehrman? Check out why he wrote the Lost Gospels, Da Vinci Code: The Errors, and The Truth About Mary Magdalene.

Recent Comments

  1. Kerry

    Here are my thoughts. I don’t think Judas died at all – well, at least not anytime that we know about. I think he thought Jesus was a wuss for accepting perfume poured over him instead of giving the money for it to the poor. He might have spent the rest of his life (after purchasing the field he bought with the price of Jesus’ blood) being a self-styled evangelist to the cause of helping the poor who might have mentioned his connection with Jesus when it seemed expedient. His unfortunate episode in the field was mentioned to the public, according to Acts, not long afterwards. I’m guessing Judas would have used his political connections to deny the apostles’ assertion and turn it into an accusation that they just had their minds in the gutter.

    In Matthew 27:5, in the KJV, it uses the word “hanged”, but then the KJV seems to be allergic to the word “hung”. It says that the Jews “hanged” their harps on the trees when they were singing by the rivers of Babylon too.

    In the Greek, Judas:
    απЄρχομαι απαγχω
    (This is from http://www.blueletterbible.com.)
    The word translated as “hanged” can be translated in Latin as “angustus” and English as “anguish”.

    απЄρχομαι means:
    to go away, depart

    Matthew 9:7 says: And he arose, and departed (aperchomai) to his house.
    ‘απο’ means:
    1) of separation
    a) of local separation, after verbs of motion from a place i.e. of departing, of fleeing, …
    b) of separation of a part from the whole
    1) where of a whole some part is taken
    c) of any kind of separation of one thing from another by which the union or fellowship of the two is destroyed
    d) of a state of separation, that is of distance
    1) physical, of distance of place
    2) temporal, of distance of time
    2) of origin
    a) of the place whence anything is, comes, befalls, is taken
    b) of origin of a cause

    Matthew 7:16 says:
    Ye shall know them by (apo) their fruits. Do men gather grapes of (apo) thorns, or figs of (apo) thistles?

    αγκαλη from agkos (a bend, “ache”) also means:
    1) the curve or inner angle of the arm, the bent arm
    2) anything closely enfolding, as the arms of the sea, etc.

    For example, Luke 2:28 says:
    Then took he him up in his arms (agkale), and blessed God, and said…

    Therefore, it seems as though Judas was in anguish, as though he was being curved or enfolded as in the arms of the seas.

    Acts 1:18
    Now this man purchased a field with the reward of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out.

    The word for “burst” can also mean:
    – to crack, crackle, crash, to burst asunder with a crack, crack open

    “Gushed out” can also mean things like, for example, in Mark 2:22:
    And no man putteth new wine into old bottles: else the new wine doth burst the bottles, and the wine is spilled (gushed out), and the bottles will be marred: but new wine must be put into new bottles.

    So therefore I think the following web page might provide some assistance as to Judas’ condition when he was inspecting his field:

  2. Allan Clare

    Ehrman says:

    different Christians all saying different things – about God, Christ, the world, salvation, the Jews, in fact, about just everything. And all these Christians believed they were right and that all others were wrong. And all of them had sacred books to prove their claims

    This is misleading in the extreme. There are a number of excellent books that refute Ehrman’s theories. It’s sad, but as someone else said, the following is now true of the work of Ehrman:

    If only he could be equally honest and admit that in his scholarship he is trying now to deconstruct orthodox Christianity which he once embraced, rather than do ‘value-neutral’ text criticism. In my own view, he has attempted this deconstruction on the basis of very flimsy evidence– textual variants which do not prove what he wants them to prove.

  3. Carol Clifton

    I am in agreement with Mr. Clare.I am begining to lead a study of “Misquoting Jesus”. Admittedly, I have not finished the book but my first impression is not dismay that there are differences but an awe that there are an inordinate amout of amazing and consistent likenesses in the surviving manuscripts and that the message of God’s love as expressed through the life and death of Jesus Christ still comes through. The fact that those who called themselves Christian had such diverse beliefs is also not terribly disturbing. God gave us each the ability to reason and discern but He also gave us a guide in the Holy Spirt. Ultimately, we are only responsible for our own personal belief and relationship with God. There is much we cannot understand but the inability to understand something does not make a truth any less true. I certainly don’t understand how something I write can immediately be sent to a location I don’t know and will never see, but I am expressing my belief that it does in sending these comments.
    It may not have been the intention of Dr. Ehrman, but so far what I have read of his book
    reconfirms my belief in the message.

  4. Barney James

    Ehrman’s work starts by reprising the reformation conflicts about the Holy Writ or Scripture being enough to base faith on, or whether Christians must turn to traditions and the wisdom of leaders and churches. The problem is that the traditions and wisdom may have been advanced for very human reasons – to win – or because they were right. He tells us that there is considerable arbitrariness in the set of beliefs seen by most as Christian today. Perhaps somewhere within the texts in their versions, our reasoning in its versions, and looking to what sort of lives we should and could live, there is some truth to be found. It seems very clear that any form of literalism is highly questionable, while understanding the Bible as inspired is still tenable. No doubt inspiration will come to be attacked next.

  5. Walter Giuntini

    I have just finished reading the excellent book “Misquoting Jesus”, by Bart D. Ehrman.

    There is but one small thing on which I don’t agree with him.
    At page 213 of Italian translation, where it is talked about some followers of St Paul, the author states that the name Giunio (as a male name) cannot be found anywhere in the ancient world.

    This is not true, for example we have Marco Giunio Bruto (one of Cesar’s killers), Decimo Giunio Giovenale (a Roman poet).


  6. JOHN

    QUESTION 1: How would your life change if tomorrow you woke up knowing there was no God?

    QUESTION 2: What would be the most important item missing in your life if you did not have Religion or a God to worship?

  7. Josephus

    With respect to Mr. Giuntini’s comment, it is HE that is mistaken. The names “Marco Giunio Bruto” and “Decimo Giunio Giovenale” are not ancient names themselves. Instead, they are the modern Italian renderings of the originally Latin/Roman names Marcus Junius Brutus (Brutus, killer of Julius Caesar) and Decimus Junius Juvenalis (Juvenal, famous Roman poet). Thus, Dr. Ehrman is quite correct.

  8. harrylee

    In one of Barts books i read where he wrote that Peter was the first pope,the truth was that the gospels and letters were addressed to the twelve tribes only the church had not rooted until the time of Pliny the younger in Rome,the scriptures have been plagerized for 2000 years ,the roman scholars changed Matthew 16:18 by added the words you are Peter which changed the correct context,but it does not matter,since we are lucky to have some correct scripture left.these 2000 years have been devastating on correct scripture being changed by roman and other translators who do not understand correct Hebrew writings.We should not be concerned since the end of the Hebrew age ended at the destruction of Jerusalem ending christianty and bring in the new.Harrylee

  9. Greg


    ummmm, the new testament was originally written in Greek, not Hebrew. Changes to scripture were mostly done for theological reasons. other than that, i agree with you, incompetant people made silly mistakes in translating the scriptures, it is the accumulation of both of these “problems” that leads scholars such as Dr.Ehrman to conclude that the holy bible we have now can not be the original message, and we can not now “correct” the mistakes of people of the past because the original manuscripts are unfortuanately gone.

  10. Ahmed SIRaj

    Muslims will neither be altogether surprised nor scandalized when reading ‘Misquoting Jesus’. The fact that the Judaeo-Christian scripture has been corrupted and its original meaning distorted is well attested in the Glorious Qur’an which was revealed more than 1400 years ago. It says:

    ‘Then woe to those who write the Book with their own hands, and then say: “This is from Allah,” to traffic with it for miserable price! – Woe to them for what their hands do write, and for the gain they make thereby’ (Surah Al Baqarah, 02 : 79).

    For further elucidation on this, read ‘The First & Final Commandment: A Search for Truth in Revelation Within the Abrahamic Religion’ by Dr. Laurence B. Brown.

  11. Ronnie Lovvorn

    I have scripture on my wall thats says I am the second coming of Jesus Christ. It has a picture of the tree of life, an eagle, and E with An up arrow. It also says to famous it and im in aggrience with it and need it to get fammed. I would like to get some advice an dhelp getting it out to the main stream to save everyone.

  12. Jim Kindle

    I am reading your book Jesus Interrupted on page 65 “Jesus Death in Mark, you qoute that Jesus said on the cross Eloi, Eloi lama sabachthani which they say translates My God My God why have you forsaken me? Well ever since I was a child I did not believe that is what Jesus said, he preached on the faith in God and how he would never desert you etc, so now in front of all those people he quesions the very person he said we must always believe in. So what else did he say that maybe he himself questioned. So in the writings of Col. James Churchward and his 50 investigation of Lemuria he says those words were not even known at that time as Jesus spoke Aramic, he says the words were “Hele, Hele, Lamat Zabac ta ni–or “I faint I faint darkness is coming over my face.” Churchward said, “it is the pure tongue of the motherland Mu, badly pronounced and spelled wrong.” Don Anotonia Batres Jurequi a prominent Maya scholar of Guatamala in his book “History of Central America.”states “the last words Jesus said on the cross were in Maya, the oldest known language,”He says they should read “Hele, Hele lamah sabac ta ni–meaning “Now I am fainting , the darkness covers my face”. I have no idea if either is true but I do not believe Jesus cast doubt on God.

  13. Teresa Fowler

    It appears that much of what is written in Mr. Ehrman’s books begin statements with ‘I believe’ or ‘I think’. It is mere speculation on his part and his thoughts or feelings not fact. Being a Christian is a pure faith thing-it’s not head knowledge because God is too complex for our minds to comprehend. Head knowledge is good and questions don’t scare God but all of your knowledge will only lead you astray without faith in God. You believe or you don’t.

  14. this is all good, and fun

    Jim Kindle

    look at that again, and then go to Psalm 22, and take a look at what it says, and you will see that Jesus is quoting Psalm 22. Psalm 22 just so happens to be a Psalm of trust, and you will see that Jesus is expecting his death to be glorified through his ressurection which we read about shortly after this passage in Mark.

  15. Thomas Mathew

    Islam doesn’t prescribe blind belief. Most of the religion in this world first prescribes belief and then knowledge which is acceptable to that belief. If the knowledge is contradicting to the faith, it will be rejected. Islam did vice versa, first it prescribes knowledge then only belief comes. People easily think That belief in God, whatever kind it may be, has to be blind. They argue the wheel of reasoning get halted at their religious belief. So, there does not arise any kind of rational, scriptural, logical and/or natural justification to support your belief. At the same time each set of belief and religion with all the
    Contradiction they do have between them, claim to be true. When we ask for the proof to support this claim, they resort to another claim that it is belief beyond and above all kinds of reasoning. Can truth in its absolute sense be contradictory to itself? Hence, the more complex and complicating question of which of these contradicting versions of different sets of belief and religions are we supposed to believe arise. From theological viewpoint, Truth has to be absolute. Truth at the time of Adam has to be same as of today. It will not change passage of time. Monotheism is the absolute truth which was taught and
    propagated by all prophets like Adam, Noah, Abaraham , Moses, Jesus and Prophet Mohammad(pbut) that came at different parts of the world at different time.

  16. Ross

    I read some of Bart Ehrman’s book (Misquoting Jesus, Lost Christianity, etc.) and they are very informative. The early beliefs of Jesus (Yehshua, Yahshua, etc.) of the first century christians are totally different from today’s beliefs. I used to been a fundamental christian decades ago and broke away from it because I questioned its teaching, and I was told by fundalmentalists not to question the bible and accept it as the “True Words of God.” No doubt, the bible does contain discrepancies, or contradictions, and Ehrman points them out in his books.

    I still believe in a merciful god and there was a historical Jesus; however, I don’t consider the bible totally as a historical records because of its discrepancies, etc., and today’s translations were based on copies of ancient manuscripts , not by the original ones. Good job Bart Ehrman, and I will still continue reading his books.

  17. Teg

    I am interested in Bart’s “personal journey” (I find that phrase annoying, it’s become such a cliché) from born-again fundamentalist evangelical to, well, reasonable guy — and the fact that this metamorphosis was the direct result of learning the facts about where Christian doctrine comes from. He discusses this in the intro of some of his books, but I would like to learn more about the process.

  18. Gail Curtis

    I think Bart D. Ehrman’s next book title should be,”My Problem, How I failed to ever connect to God and my faithlessness.” There is something about people claiming, “I was a hard-core believer” that turns me off. I’m not sure that Bart Ehrman ever really connected with God. Its one thing to study the Bible, and another to believe. The Bible is not a scientific book,for me the Bible is a way to stay connected to God and for Him to lay on my heart what He wants for me in my life. I am tired of people using the Bible to further some non-religious cause. I hope Bart Ehrman is using some of his book sales money to help the suffering that he is so worried about. Some people just don’t get it.

  19. PersephoneK


    I find it horribly insulting that you would presume to tell Dr. Ehrman what was in his heart. I can tell you (dispite you being turned off), that I was also a hard-core believer. You can’t see into my heart either, but I absolutely believed in the god of the bible, that Jesus was my Lord and Savior, and that I had a god-directed purpose in life. I don’t doubt Dr. Ehrman’s sincerity for a second, because I have no reason to doubt him. Its irrelevant anyway. As a scholar, he goes where the evidence leads him, something a faithful religious person rarely can do.

    As for Dr. Ehrman using his money to help suffering, that is none of your business, but I can say that I subscribe to his blog, and pay a fee to do so, which he uses exclusively to support his causes to end human suffering. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

  20. josh

    New way for making money attack the bible write a book on it and make money that too from an Godless person keep it up. Jesus is still alive.and he is coming soon.best of luck on the final day.

  21. Ron Ciricillo

    Professor Ehrmans writings gave me an opportunity to look at the history of Christianity. This look is great deal more objective than a bible view. I’m sure the professor has made errors. He is human of course. However, his reporting has taken me to a far more logical position than believing because I have faith. Thank you professor.I look forward to meeting you some day.

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