History of the Bible: The Making of the New Testament Canon

Course No. 6299
Professor Bart D. Ehrman, Ph.D., M.Div.
The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
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Course No. 6299
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Course Overview

The New Testament stands unchallenged, in the words of Professor Bart D. Ehrman, not only as the "'bestseller' of all time," but also as the most important "book—or collection of books—in the history of Western civilization."

Yet how many of us, Christian or otherwise, are as knowledgeable about the New Testament as we would like to be? Even many who consider themselves Christian find themselves asking some—perhaps even all—of the questions so often posed by those who are not.

What different kinds of books are in the New Testament? When, how, and why were they written? What do they teach? Who actually wrote them? How were they passed forward through history? And, perhaps most important of all, why and how did some books, and not others, come to be collected into what Christians came to consider the canon of scripture that would define their belief for all time?

In The History of the Bible: The Making of the New Testament Canon, Professor Ehrman offers a fast-moving yet thorough introduction to these and other key issues in the development of Christianity.

Drawing on the award-winning teaching skills and style that have made him one of our most popular lecturers—respectful yet provocative, scholarly without sacrificing wit—Professor Ehrman has crafted a course designed to deepen the understanding of both Christians and non-Christians alike.

"The New Testament is appreciated and respected far more than it is known, and that's not just true among religious people who consider themselves Christian. ...

"This set of lectures is designed to provide an introduction to the New Testament for people who recognize or appreciate its cultural importance, or who have religious commitments to it, but who have not yet had a chance to get to know where it came from, what it contains, and how it was transmitted down to us today.

"The focus in this course will be historical, rather than theological. The course does not either presuppose faith or deny faith. It's based neither on faith nor skepticism. ... It's simply taught from the perspective of history."

Learn How the Christian Canon Was Shaped and Shared

And it's an illuminating perspective, indeed, ranging across issues of language, oral history, the physical limitations of spreading the written word at a time when the printing press lay far in the future, and, of course, the theological forces that were shaping Christianity, molding a commonly accepted canon from the various expressions of the faith spreading across the ancient world.

All of these factors eventually produced a canon: the New Testament, whose 27 books can be grouped into four genres:

  • The four Gospels, the accounts of the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus that we know as Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, though all four were written anonymously, with authorship being attributed only by later Christians
  • The book of Acts, which is a historical account of the life of the Christian Church and its missionary efforts after Jesus' resurrection
  • The 21 Epistles, the letters written by Christian leaders—most notably, Paul—to Christian communities dealing with problems of faith and living
  • The book of Revelation, sometimes called the Apocalypse of John, which describes the end of the world, when God will destroy the forces of evil and establish a perfect utopia on Earth.

In exploring the forces that finally produced this finished canon, Professor Ehrman deals with far more than theology.

Letters, especially those written by Paul, played an important role in the process.

Although many of us associate letters with the modern world, Professor Ehrman explains that they were a common form of communication in the ancient world as well. In addition to being written on papyrus, they were also often cut into the surface of a wax tablet formed in a hollowed-out board. The recipients could then smooth over the wax and reuse it for a reply, sending it, in that era before postal service, just as the original had been sent, by giving it to someone they knew who'd be traveling to the appropriate community.

Because most people in the ancient world could not read or write, letters had to be dictated and recorded by someone who could, a process reversed at the other end, where someone would be found to read the letter to the recipient.

Letters were usually destroyed after being read so the media it was on could be used again, but if there was reason to keep them—as was the case with Paul's letters, which were meant to be read aloud to his communities—the letters would be copied by hand, circulated, and read aloud to small church gatherings.

The Role of Forgery in the Ancient World

The issue of pseudepigraphy, where works are not actually written by the person whose name has been signed to them—what we might call forgery—plays a large role in the development of the New Testament.

Professor Ehrman notes that there are reasons to believe that six of the Pauline letters of the New Testament are, in fact, pseudepigraphical. And the phenomenon was hardly unique to those writings. In fact, such forgery was common in the ancient world.

To illustrate how widespread the practice was in the Greco-Roman world, he relates a telling example about Galen, the Roman physician and prolific writer whose philosophies dominated medical practice for more than 1,000 years.

One day, Galen writes, he overheard an argument at a Roman book mart between two men, debating whether a particular book attributed to Galen was indeed one of the many he had written. It wasn't, and the experience proved so typical that he returned home and began work on still another volume: How to Recognize Books That are Written by Galen.

In discussing why ancient Christian authors, although deeply religious and moral, might engage in similar deceptions, Professor Ehrman draws on the many reasons ancient writers engaged in the practice, which might include motivations that while deceptive, might be, in the writer's mind, as "pure as the driven snow."

One 4th-century Christian author, for example, puzzled as to why Seneca, the most famous philosopher of his time, never mentions Jesus, Paul, Peter, or anything about Christianity anywhere in his works, actually forged a series of letters between Seneca and Paul, to show that Paul was working at the highest levels of philosophy the ancient world had to offer.

A Revealing Look at the Book of Revelation

One of Professor Ehrman's strengths is his ability to recreate the context of the times in which the canon was being assembled so that a student can understand what the message of each written work would have meant to ancient Christians.

Though the book of Revelation, for example, has often been used as a blueprint of our present and a predictor of our future, he presents it, instead, as an example of the ancient genre known as apocalypticism, and he shows how people of the time would have understood its symbolic descriptions in terms of events transpiring in their own day.

These lectures are a compelling introduction not only to the development of the canon, but to all of the forces that would play a role in early Christian history.

A Note to Our Customers

Professor Ehrman's courses for The Teaching Company have been enormously popular and include After the New Testament: The Writings of the Apostolic Fathers; From Jesus to Constantine; The History of Early Christianity; The Historical Jesus; Lost Christianities: Christian Scriptures and the Battles over Authentication; and The New Testament.

We asked Professor Ehrman to create this shorter course to help introduce his fascinating explorations of early Christianity to customers who have not yet enjoyed his work, and we believe it will be just as useful and enjoyable to existing students as new ones. Nevertheless, if you have purchased all or some of his existing courses, you should expect some duplication of material.

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12 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    The New Testament—An Overview
    The course begins by addressing some of the basic facts about the New Testament: which books it contains, when they were written, in what language, and by whom. x
  • 2
    Paul—Our Earliest Christian Author
    The Epistles of Paul are the earliest books of the New Testament, predating even the Gospels. In considering the realities of writing a letter in the ancient world, we discover some interesting issues that affect how we understand Paul's Epistles and the other writings of the New Testament. x
  • 3
    The Pauline Epistles
    This lecture looks at some of the major teachings of Paul's Epistles and shows how he shaped his theological and ethical views in light of the problems that had emerged in his burgeoning Christian communities. x
  • 4
    The Problem of Pseudonymity
    This lecture considers the broad problem of pseudonymity, or forgery, in the ancient world, and applies our findings to the Pauline letters of the New Testament to see if any, in fact, were written by Paul's followers rather than Paul himself. x
  • 5
    The Beginnings of the Gospel Traditions
    This lecture looks at the roots of the Gospel narratives in the oral traditions that were spread throughout the Mediterranean in the years after Jesus' death, examining how they might have been modified and what we can know about their historical accuracy. x
  • 6
    The Earliest Gospels
    This lecture examines the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, considering what sources of information were available to their anonymous authors, their overarching messages, possible discrepancies among these accounts, and whether they can be trusted as reliable historical documents. x
  • 7
    The Other Gospels
    There were many additional accounts of Jesus' words, deeds, death, and resurrection that were not included in the New Testament. This lecture discusses the reasons why they were excluded, and examines two of the most important of them in greater detail. x
  • 8
    Apocalypticism and the Apocalypse of John
    This lecture examines the Apocalypse of John, otherwise known as the Book of Revelation, explaining both the religious view known as apocalypticism and the way the book's symbolic descriptions would have been understood in the context of the times. x
  • 9
    The Copyists Who Gave Us Scripture
    Why were the books of the New Testament circulated? What made Christians eager to read them? This lecture explores the rarity of a book-based religion in the Roman world and the significance to early Christianity of the decisions about which books to accept as authoritative. x
  • 10
    Authority in the Early Church
    The need to have written authorities for faith and practice is ultimately what drove Christians to construct a distinctively Christian canon of Scripture to add to the existing Old Testament. This lecture explores how Christian leaders decided which books to include in this canon. x
  • 11
    The Importance of Interpretation
    Even as Christians began to agree on which books were to be accepted, they were confronted with the dilemma caused by differing interpretations. This lecture examines the ways early Christians interpreted these texts, with special note on the problems raised by "figurative," and not simply literal, readings. x
  • 12
    When Did the Canon Get Finalized?
    The lecture examines how, why, and when the canon of 27 books was finalized, and includes a look at some that almost made it in, such as the Apocalypse of Peter—and some that almost did not, such as the Apocalypse of John. x

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Your professor

Bart D. Ehrman

About Your Professor

Bart D. Ehrman, Ph.D., M.Div.
The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Dr. Bart D. Ehrman is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He completed his undergraduate work at Wheaton College and earned his M.Div. and Ph.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary. Professor Ehrman has written or edited 27 books, including four best sellers on The New York Times list: Misquoting Jesus: The Story behind Who Changed the Bible and Why; God’s...
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Reviews

History of the Bible: The Making of the New Testament Canon is rated 3.9 out of 5 by 129.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Bible from a Different Perspective Anyone with even a passing interest in Christianity should hear and see this lecture. Best of all., it's a starting point for a wide range of believers and non-believers. Anyone coming away from this lecture, questioning the viewpoint presented there, has well presented and carefully documented material to challenge. It won't be easy to do so.
Date published: 2014-11-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Encompassing Biblical Reference The lectures were logically organized and objectively presented. Content evidenced considerable geographical, sociological, anthropological and historical events research. Philosophy was intricately interwoven with the concepts of Christianity and other religions. It has been a course of pleasurable study and clarification..
Date published: 2014-10-18
Rated 3 out of 5 by from History of the Bible If you are a Christian, do not buy any courses from this professor. Check him out on Wikipedia. He was an evangelical Christian when he was younger and has become an agnostic. He is now a media darling of the leftwing press, like CNN, because of his views and the books he has written undermining Christianity.
Date published: 2014-09-05
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Agnostic Teaching Many Christian Courses The teaching company has a self-proclaiming agnostic teaching many of the most important Christian, but now for example the Jewish or Islamic courses. Why. Unlike Dr. Levine (who is Jewish teaching Christian courses like greta new testament figures and the old testament) who puts up some compelling arguments, that is not Erhman. Having been around biblical scholars (both Catholic and Protestant) you realize how bad Erhman's assertions are and easy to breakdown. He seems to teach more Christain courses than anyone else but declares himself agnostic. Why and why don't they do the same for Jewish courses?
Date published: 2014-08-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Thorough and Informative This is the 5th course I have taken with Professor Ehrman. My objective, having already completed the similar course covering 24 lectures with Professor Luke Timothy Johnson, was to gain an insight into the creation of "canon" of Christian scripture from the perspective of an historian. This is a fascinating course and highlights the piecemeal way in which the canon was developed and emphasises that this took decades and perhaps centuries. Athanasius in 376 is the first recorded instance of the current 27 books of the Bible being listed as the canon. Professor Ehrman examines some of the competing versions of Christianity that were present in the first two centuries after the departure of Jesus from this Earth. The course guidebook was detailed and helpful when reviewing a lecture in preparation for the next one. The course was also structured well in that it dealt with the Gospels, Pauline epistles as well as the book of Revelation. As always it is vital to recall this is an historian's approach to the Bible and its creation and not an examination of the truth claims within the Bible. Notwithstanding that we do not have any of the originals of the 27 books and that there are many discrepancies in the thousands of copy manuscripts we have, the wisdom and depth of profound knowledge and inspiration within the Bible remains a wonder of the world. Definitely recommended.
Date published: 2014-02-28
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Professing Christian offering review Purchased this when I had just become a Christian and was voraciously seeking all information on God/Jesus/the Bible. There was something I just found offensive about his tone; it was, in a word, sneering. One has to ask what motivates a person who doesn't believe in God to spend so much time studying His Word. As I've continued to study more and investigate Christian apologetics I've come to understand Mr. Ehrman is often used as a "tool" by Muslim apologists to attempt to discredit the Bible and the words of Jesus Christ. If Mr. Ehrman is so very interested in ancient texts, I would love to see him delve into the origins and textual reliability of the Koran - since he's already seemingly developed credibility in their circles it may be very insightful.
Date published: 2014-01-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Just the facts, m'am... Downloaded DVD. Just like the old saying 'If you like sausage, don't go to a sausage factory' , Dr Erhman presents historical features of the writing of the New Testament that seem to make people uncomfortable...just read some of the reviews. I found the lectures clear, rational and well documented...and a bit repetitive since I'd just finished "Greatest Controversies of Early Christian History" (I liked that one better). Great lectures series...I learned a lot. Oh...I have been to the factory, and I still love sausage. (DVD is not necessary...I got this version when they offered it at the same price as audio.)
Date published: 2013-12-11
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Improve by focusing on Biblical history I listened to the first four lectures of this course, but did not continue because I felt that the professor was knowledgeable about some aspects of history for the time of the Bible, but not about the Bible itself. If this was a CD about Biblical history only, that would not present a problem, but the professor spends a large proportion of his time inaccurately interpreting the content of the Bible. For example, he emphasized supposed contradictions between the synoptic gospels. He explains the gospels were written by different people, but then says their differences undermine their veracity. If the synoptic gospels were written by different authors and to different audiences, you would expect to see some significant differences. Professor Ehrman should stick to history or other topics that he knows well.
Date published: 2013-08-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Broad Overview Please note that this course is essentially an abridged version of Historical Jesus, and also New Testament. Do not expect to learn, in serious detail supported by meticulous scholarly references, an incredibly detailed and thorough history of the New Testament canon. Please also note that, from a historical perspective, Ehrman challenges the veracity of many of the gospels and points out numerous contradictions in each to support his points. If you're a dogmatic Christian, as some of the commentators appear to be, you will probably be less than excited by Ehrman's challenges. But, keeping in context Ehrman's historical viewpoint and the fact that this is a very abridged lecture, you will lean an incredible amount. After listening to this lecture series, I immediately purchased the Historical Jesus (also by Ehrman). It is fascinating, and far more detailed. Just note that Ehrman will support his statements with "scholars nearly unanimously agree" and "historians agree" to make a number of his points. Some comentators argue that those generalizations are deficiencies in Ehrman's lectures. Take them for what they are. Ehrman probably recites general scholarly agreement. Feel free to go find exceptions to the rule, but down-rating a 12 course lecture for failing to explain the minutia of supporting evidence is poor sport.
Date published: 2013-05-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting history, left wanting more I purchased this course in conjunction with two others (Holy Land Revealed & Beginnings of Judaism). This was the course I liked the least. There was a lot of historical and trivia-the questions that were very interesting, but I found his teaching style to be very stiff. I didn't like how he seemed rooted in place behind the lectern and continuously gripped it during the lectures. That coupled with his near lack of any visuals makes me wonder why this isn't an audio-only course. It is very much historical and not so much theological, which I found interesting. You can't please everyone and no matter what he says about certain parts of the New Testament he'll offend some people. I learned more than I thought I already knew and will go back and listen to them again (without bothering to watch the screen) for a thorough recap. Perhaps on some of his other courses he moves around and uses more graphics.
Date published: 2013-05-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very good overview I own this series of lectures, "The Historical Jesus" series of lectures and have read several of his books. This is a rather good overview of how the New Testament canon came into being. There is material about other gospels and books which did not make it into the canon and were written much to late to be considered seriously for inclusion in the N. T. Canon which does not need to be in this collection of lectures. (He does not explain that material written pseudonimously 120 years or more after the death of Jesus with no ties to the historical Jesus has no place in the consideration of N. T. canon.) His historical opinion of the book of Revelation, "shows how people of the time would have understood its symbolic descriptions in terms of events transpiring in their own day." In actuality, if one were to interpret the book from that perspective it would be looking at past events that had already occurred and would be no revelation at all to the people of 90C.E. It would be, as Professor Ehrman suggests, a cryptically worded message on the state of the Roman political system. However, there is much more information in this final book in the N. T. Canon than can be explained in this manner which can be explained only from a dogmatic viewpoint, and that is not a function of the historical process.
Date published: 2013-05-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic What an eye-opener and so much to learn. If this course were a record, it would be worn out.
Date published: 2013-05-11
Rated 1 out of 5 by from not a good history but a poor theology No doubt Professor Ehrman is a skilled lecturer. But this lecture tells little about history. His point of view is not balanced, nor scholarly supported. In presenting his argument that the gospel stories are not accurate from historical point of view, Ehrman tells how the game telephone is played and how the line is completely distorted over a few passes. He then guides the imagination of the audience, pointing out the fact that the gospel stories were not recorded immediately as our news media does today but instead was passed along orally for more than thirty years. He concludes therefore that gospel stories cannot be reliable. Well, citing the telephone game is misleading since the mechanism of message passing down through a single line is very different from a story passing down through a community which inherits a self-correction mechanism. He forgets to mention also the amazing fact that there is not any significant variation in the messages of the gospel stories, despite the thirty year gap and wide geographic spreading, I am also disappointed how much lack of history in this history lecture. Ehrman tells us the first Gospel of Mark was not written until 65 AD, citing the fact that most scholars in the field agrees, without telling us why and how. He also asserts that Luke copies from Mark with significant editing due to his own theological motivation. The evidence is very weak for such conclusion. Is it possible pieces of the stories were recorded and circulated before the Gospels were edited and compiled? And Luke and Mark adopted a common source in their independent editions? Even if it is true that Mark did not complete his Gospel until 65 AD, one cannot conclude he did not start writing at 35 AD and it just took him 30 years to complete.
Date published: 2013-04-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent introduction to this topic (CD review) The presentation was very engaging and personable, easy for me to listen to and grasp while driving. I especially enjoyed when he would point out some common misconceptions his students often have about the Bible (e.g. that it was not written in English or Aramaic). I happened to listen to this around the time the History channel was first presenting the Bible miniseries, around Easter 2013. I noticed that there were a couple of 2 hour shows on books that were banned from the bible. I have watched one and it confirmed much of what was presented in this course. I did not give this the highest of ratings across the board for a couple of reasons. Perhaps due to the short (12 lecture) length of the course some important discussions were omitted, most notably for me was the King James translation issue. Also the professor stumbled several times as if his brain was getting ahead of his speech, though I have noticed this in other courses and am torn between whether it makes it more authentic or less scholarly. I would recommend this to anyone interested in an objective and historical perspective of the New Testament. Anyone who is open minded and curious and not a theological historian will learn a great deal as I did.
Date published: 2013-04-02
Rated 2 out of 5 by from A repeat of other Ehrman courses I have listened to most, if not all, of Bart Ehrman's courses offered by the teaching company and I have a few of his books as well. I will concur with what other reviewers have noted -- that he teaches as historian and not as a theologian. His presentation in this and his other courses is excellent. In every way, he is a great lecturer. I give the "professor presentation" 5 stars for this reason. There is one minor thing -- the professor seems to enjoy pointing out how uninformed or naive his undergraduate students are. I could do without those types of comments. But I'm left wondering why this course exists. His course on the New Testament covers this same ground. I give the "course content" 2 stars for this reason. The course itself does not really go into why the canon came to be as it is until 25 minutes into the final lecture, where he explains that there were four criteria used by the church to decide on the books: (1) ancient, (2) apostolic, (3) widely-used through out the church, and (4) seen as orthodox. So we get the title -- The Making of the New Testament Canon -- for the final 7 minutes of the course. How did those four criteria come to be? Why not talk about the lists made by ancient writers about the books they thought canonical but differ from our current New Testament. Review the "changing canon" until it was finalized. How did the Vulgate come to use these 27 books? How about reviewing the church councils where these issues might have been debated? We have record of some of those. If indeed the list was not finalized until the first council in Trent, then why did Luther stick with the same 27 books? How about talking about specific books that did or did not make it and why? For example, are there other epistles of Paul that did not make it? What other books were canonical that eventually dropped out -- the epistles of Clement, Polycarp, or Ignatius of Antioch, for example. He briefly mentions The Shepherd of Hermes. Ehrman explains why it was dropped but not why was it so widely used before then. I'd like to know what was so inspiring about them in the first place. I bought this as an audio download while it was on a super sale, so that is why the "course value" is 5 stars. But I can't recommend this course. It seems as if Mr. Ehrman just phoned this one in, recycling older material and not really giving us the course that the title promised. Disappointing.
Date published: 2013-03-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Course This was my first course from The Teaching Company and was well worth the money. It examined the Bible from a historical as opposed to a theological perspective. Be warned that this is not what they will teach you in church. It's an academic look at the making of the Bible and the events of the time.
Date published: 2013-03-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A balanced historical approach to the NT Canon I have listened to this course when it firstly became available as an audio download. Today I completed the digital video version, which I purchased as an upgrade. Both times I enjoyed the course and Dr Erhman's presentation. He shares his vast knowledge of the beginnings of christianity. What I found most important is that he succeeds in placing the christian scripture in the context that it originated. This becomes more apparent for the book of Revelation as Dr Erhman refers to various apocalyptic works that were circulating at this frame of time, specifically there was a literary genre of apocalyptic writings. His lectures on the reproduction of the books by scribes and the subsequent errors and the problems of authenticity and interpretation are the highlights of the course. It should be noted however that this is a history course. The viewpoint is that of the historian who is not engaged in questions of theological truth or metaphysics. It is not the viewpoint of the believer, so if you are a Christian be prepared to face a lot of puzzling questions and contradictions. On the other hand the course might also strengthen your beliefs by revealing that christianity is not rigid and stable but live and changing. Overall, a good course which I enjoyed even more in the video version.
Date published: 2013-02-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from What I Didn't Learn in Sunday School I've had an interest in the development of the Bible and got around to scratching that itch this week by purchasing the video version of this course. By the way, I think this course would be at least as effective in audio only. I am definitely glad I did. Between my commute and late night watching, I completed the course within 4 days. I strangely stopped minding the slow traffic. The course material was incredibly interesting, the professor's presentation was excellent, and I was blown away by what I heard. The material was presented in a scholarly way without preaching any beliefs. If you have any interest in the New Testament, I highly recommend this course.
Date published: 2012-12-01
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Very Biased Professor Ehrman is not mainsteam Christian. He does not state his bias anywhere in the course and the presentation of early Christian doctrine is colored by this bias. He appears to be very pro-Gnostic and if you are interested in Gnosticism this is an interesting course and Professor Ehrman is an interesting lecturer. If you want to know why certain books are in the New Testament this course presents a very one sided view point and is not helpful from an historical perspective.
Date published: 2012-11-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from concise introduction This is a good, concise introduction to the topic. I had already watched several of the longer Erhman courses on specific subtopics within this topic. I liked this course as an overview and review of what I had already seen. I recommend viewing this shorter course first, then deciding if you are interested in the longer versions on more specific topics within this overview.
Date published: 2012-09-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Concise History of the New Testament Caveat: This course treats the NT as the product of the hand of man. If you believe that the NT is divinely inspired, this course may not be for you. That said, I find Professor Ehrman's style to be fresh and engaging. I put him at the top of my short list of the best TC lecturers. The course is an introduction to NT history. As such, it succeeds admirably. It is brief and to the point. There is not much space for citations, however I find the presentation to be convincing. It agrees in all respects with my previous understanding of the Hellenic and the ancient Jewish cultures. I am willing to trust Professor Ehrman for the rest.
Date published: 2012-09-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Interesting downloaded audio version In this course, Prof. Ehrman presents a brief review of the New Testament. Prof. Ehrman was clear in his presentation. He was well organized and provided a nice bibliography. I enjoyed his sense of humor. He does an excellent job of making the New Testament more understandable by placing it in historical context. I particularly enjoyed his discussion of the Pauline Epistles. Based on what other reviewers have said, it is probably most important to understand that Prof. Ehrman is an agnostic (based on his statements on the Colbert Report). If one cannot tolerate the New Testament being presented by a non-believer, then one should likely steer clear of this course. I enjoyed this course, but it was primarily a 12-lecture summary of what was presented in Prof. Ehrman's 24-lecture TTC course, "The New Testament." There is very little new material presented in this course. I would recommend this course to those who wish a short course on the New Testament for those willing to spend a bit more time, please consider TTC course "The New Testament." Actually, with the importance of the New Testament in western culture, please consider getting several of TTC's course by both Prof. Ehrman and by Prof. Johnson.
Date published: 2012-08-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Excellent Summary I purchased a book by Prof. Ehrman several years ago entitled Misquoting Jesus. Based on this, I have purchased several of Prof Ehrman's Great Courses CDs relating to the origin and evolution of the New Testament. Uniformly, they are excellent. Caveat: There is (perhaps necessarily) a significant amount of repetition within the course content for the various courses I have purchased. I assume this is due to the fact that Prof Ehrman must assume that the purchaser of a given course on the history of the New Testament (its origins, exclusions, etc) might not purchase any of the other courses, so fundamentals and background must be covered in each course. For my own purposes--wanting both breadth and depth--this can be a bit frustrating. Nevertheless, since I am not looking for a "theological" approach, but rather an historical/critical/analytical/textual approach, Prof Ehrman's lectures are pretty much what I would look for were I enrolling in an actual course in New Testament
Date published: 2012-07-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well Done! This course was exactly what I was looking for - a concise explanation of the early Christian writings. Thank you, Dr. Ehrman!
Date published: 2012-05-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from EHRMAN'S EXCELLENCE Again, Dr Bart Ehrman scores big as a biblical historian of major importance. This is a powerful series of only 12 lectures on the New Testament canon with detailed references to the various writings by 2nd-century Christians which did not make it into the bible, and about which many people are entirely unaware. It must be stressed that Ehrman uses the specific scientific approach of the historian. He is not looking to attack Christianity or to preach his own beliefs -- and this where, I fear, some reviewers may go astray. The course is titled "History of the Bible"... and Ehrman delivers superbly. This may not be comfortable viewing for some Christians. The lectures are presented very fluently by a scholar who is extremely familiar with the subject matter and who can read biblical writings in the original languages, such as Greek and Hebrew. We are, I feel, most fortunate in having a professor who makes his points very clearly and fairly, who emphasises critical aspects, who is able to inject a little humour where appropriate. Another excellent course of tremendous value: highly-recommended!
Date published: 2012-05-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Fascinating overview As the previous reviewers mention, if you believe that the New Testament, is written by God, then this course is not for you. If you believe that the New Testament was written by the disciples of Jesus, then this is a great course. I am a Christian, and the New Testament helps me understand what Jesus is teaching. I believe that New Testament was written by men, and it was not written by God. By accepting that the New Testament was written by men, does not diminish what Jesus is teaching, or that Jesus is the Son of God. Dr. Ehrnan does a great job, telling how and when the New Testament was written. He points out that New Testament, was not written by the Apostles, but the disciples of the Apostles. He points out that the New Testament was hand written, by priests, and ancient versions, have discrepencies. He points out that each Gospel has a different audience. I found all of this just fascinating. Unlike many of the reviewers, I did not find this course anti-Christian. It does not judge what's in the New Testament, just how it was created. Dr. Ehrman never says since their are discrepencies between the gospels, that the gospels are false. He just tells why their are discrepencies between the gospels. The reason I gave it 4 stars is that some of the lectures were boring, but the majority were excellent. I will only give 5 stars to a class that every lecture was great.
Date published: 2012-05-08
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Disappointed Don't use Ehrman. About the only thing I learned is that this professor has a biased view against Christianity and the book he was assigned to explain. His explanations about the development of the canon are from an extreme "left" and would not be endorsed by serious Christian scholars. I was disappointed that I paid money to obtain this.
Date published: 2012-05-05
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Misleading course title The course had very little information regarding the "making" of the New Testament canon. Only the last 2 lectures dealt with the topic indicated in the title of the course, and those talks didn't provide much insight. The majority of the course consists of snarky comments about the naivety of his students and the ignorance of Christians.
Date published: 2012-04-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent, concise, humorous overview I listened to this lecture series on the drive to and from Barcelona, Spain, from Geneva, Switzerland, and from lecture one, I was hooked. Normally, I can only digest a couple lectures at a time while driving before my attention begins to wander, but Professor Ehrman gave such a humorous but excellent overview I kept listening. I strongly disagree with reviewers who believed he was condescending either to Christianity (or to his students); I felt his comments simply reflect how widespread misconceptions are about the Bible and the astonishingly arbitrary way in which the New Testament was created. He repeatedly approached the subject with humility, emphasizing that he was a historian, not a theologian, and his job was not to pass judgment on the truth of the texts, only to describe how they were written, translated, propagated and accepted. Those who gave the course low reviews seemed to be rating it based on how it conformed to their theological ideas rather than whether it did what it was supposed to do: report the history of the writing and canonization of the New Testament. I felt the reviewer who commented on the professor's personal religious beliefs both misrepresents the content of the lecture and injects a prejudice that I hope the Teaching Company does not share; since Jews do not believe that Jesus was divine, should Jewish professors be barred from studying this area of history? I certainly hope not. If only Marxists could teach about Marx, psychoanalysts about Freud, or communists about Stalin, we would not have scholarly lectures but propaganda (itself a Christian term invented to propagate the faith (versus critically analyze it)). I learned much from an Islam lecture series given by a non-Muslim and from Karen Armstrong, who is not Jewish, but who is recognized in Israel for her scholarship on Mediterranean Monotheism including Judaism. We can learn far more from Alexis de Tocqueville about American society not only despite but because he was French, not American. Frankly, I do not trust people with strong a priori belief systems to be honest presenters of the data wherever those data may lead. At any rate, if something is true, our belief in it is immaterial as long as we are intellectually honest in how we present the consensus of scholarship and evidence. A recent survey showed that agnostics, Jews, and Mormons scored far higher on a test of religious knowledge than those who considered themselves very religious, especially evangelical Christians. This has certainly been my experience - anyone who says that every word of the Bible is perfect, timeless, and represents the direct word of god either has not read it or is oblivious to the extraordinary arbitrary way the collection of works we now call the Bible were created, translated, copied, and edited. The fact that a message was imperfectly copied or transmitted does not mean automatically that the message should be rejected as false, but anyone ignoring the enormous human fingerprints all over the Bible are simply not telling the truth. If Professor Ehrman was critical of anyone it was fundamentalists, particularly those of the End Times variety who misunderstand the historical context and contemporary targets of Revelation (which many of them incorrectly pluralize). But how else can a scholar of this period respond to those who seem to believe that the New Testament was never altered, magically and directly flowing from the mouth of Jesus - as captured by his followers - into a hotel room near you? And why should a scholar not point out absurd misconceptions, even strongly held ones? One is free to believe in one god, no god, or twenty, or choose whatever sacred texts to reinforce this belief system, but the rest of us are free not to. And we are as free in an open, post-Enlightenment society, to examine those texts and understand how they were created. The passion with which a belief is held - and the offense some will take to us paying attention to the "man behind the curtain" - says nothing about its ultimate truth in an absolute sense. My wish is that those who search for theology seek it in the appropriate forum but please let those of us who love history enjoy and learn from these courses. Giving a history course a low rating because it does not match your metaphysical preconceptions is not fair either to the lecturer or to other potential listeners who might be scared away by a low rating that does not reflect the true quality of the course. If anything, I felt that Professor Ehrman was too kind to the centuries of anguish and bloodshed that the Christian obsession with orthodoxy (versus orthopraxy) unleashed. He did a good job of pointing out how strange monotheism and exclusivism were in the ancient world, but since all competing more tolerant polytheistic faiths were brutally crushed in the Mediterranean and Europe, we forget the radical nature of these beliefs - that god appeared once and only once to a specific people and time, was not recognized as such by his contemporaries who mostly rejected him, but that if we don't believe in him in just the right way 2,000 years later god will punish us forever and ever. Beliefs are ultimately involuntary (I can no more will or force myself to believe in Jesus anymore than I can force myself to believe in Allah or Zeus or Krishna) but clearly those exposed to the same texts either did not find them convincing or have now split into tens of thousands of Christian denominations, most of which do not recognize each other, and many of which have done their best to exterminate each other. If someone launched a public education campaign with such contradictory documents written in such a manner that most people exposed to them are either not understanding them or erupting into savage battles over whose interpretation is correct - usually over the pettiest of metaphysical differences - then that public education campaign would be deemed a failure at best, a destabilizing and toxic influence at worst. My only gripe about the course was that I would have liked to have more meat and less bread, meaning a bit more detailed analysis of exactly how the canon were selected and the others rejected. This came at the end of the series and seemed to go by so quickly I almost thought I missed it. The Council of Nicea, the influence of the Roman authorities who wanted to settle disputes such as the Aryan "heresy" quickly for political expedience rather than any divine inspiration or scholarly reflection, and the fact that Jesus did not - despite what the lecturer implied - ever explicitly state he himself was a deity, were either glossed over or not mentioned, but perhaps this is the reason the lectures flowed as they did - they were relatively uncluttered. Also, the idea of a virgin birth was far from universally accepted, and the lecturer did not mention that early Christians took some liberty with language when translating the Hebrew word Åalma ("young woman") in chapter 7, verse 14, of Isaiah ("Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel") into the Greek word for virgin (parthenos). The idea of blood atonement, essentially having another innocent creature (or in the case of Jesus, a man) killed to offset some wickedness you might have engaged in is strange and frankly immoral to a modern audience (I am reminded of people who paid substitutes to take their place rather than fight themselves in the Civil War; legal at the time, but frowned upon today); Richard Dawkins makes an excellent case against this central theme of Christianity (and of sacrifice-based religions as most Mediterranean ones were), one that I had not even thought much about until it was presented in its starkest terms. In other words, Professor Ehrman held his fire and if anything bent over backwards not to offend modern Christians who believe Jesus was divine (half of first century Christians didn't) or that the New Testament was the unaltered direct word of God meant to be read as an objective history (something those who wrote it and the audience for whom it was created would have found absurd). Given all the pain and anguish that rigid interpretation of these texts has caused, I think it is imperative that we all recognize that they were never meant to be taken literally and even metaphorically they are frequently contradictory if not troublesome. I cannot imagine that even those who believe these texts contain a great deal of truth would not be strengthened by critically examining them, and that is exactly what this lecture series helps them do.
Date published: 2012-04-08
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Disappointed Like other reviewers after watching half the course I am disappointed. Its as if he is presenting opinions as history when of course no one what exactly occurred. I have purchased 4 different courses and listened to parts of each and have yet to hear anything that is college level quality that deserves to be video taped and sold. Having attended graduate school at Cornell Univ. I was expecting much more from This company's courses and so far am very disappointed. Customers beware of the lower priced for sale courses. Furthermore, their high variablity in pricing is disturbing which tells you that the quality of the courses is no concern of this company.
Date published: 2012-04-01
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