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Steve Gilliard, 1964-2007

It is with tremendous sadness that we must convey the news that Steve Gilliard, editor and publisher of The News Blog, passed away June 2, 2007. He was 42.

To those who have come to trust The News Blog and its insightful, brash and unapologetic editorial tone, we have Steve to thank from the bottom of our hearts. Steve helped lead many discussions that mattered to all of us, and he tackled subjects and interest categories where others feared to tread.

Please keep Steve's friends and family in your thoughts and prayers.

Steve meant so much to us.

We will miss him terribly.

photo by lindsay beyerstein


Seitan Worshipper: "Losing Faith: How Scholarship Affects Scholars"

Thanks to Seitan Worshipper for this can of lighter fluid so desperately needed in our theological discourse! THANKS SW!

"Losing Faith: How Scholarship Affects Scholars"

Several media stories recently reported that Bart Ehrman, a leading expert on the apocryphal gospels and one of BAS’s most popular lecturers, had lost his faith as a result of his scholarly research. This raised a question for us that is not often talked about, but seemed well worth a discussion: What effect does scholarship have on faith? We asked Bart to join three other scholars to talk about this:

James F. Strange, a leading archaeologist and Baptist minister; Lawrence H. Schiffman, a prominent Dead Sea Scroll scholar and Orthodox Jew; and William G. Dever, one of America’s best-known and most widely quoted archaeologists, who had been an evangelical preacher, then lost his faith, then became a Reform Jew and now says he’s a non-believer. The discussion took place in the offices of the Biblical Archaeology Society on November 19, 2006, and was moderated by BAR [Biblical Archaeology Review] editor Hershel Shanks.

Hershel Shanks: Bart, how did your scholarship affect your faith?

Bart Ehrman: First, I lost my fundamentalist faith because of my scholarship. Like Bill Dever, I have a fundamentalist background. I had a very high view of Scripture as the inerrant word of God, no mistakes of any kind—geographical or historical. No contradictions. Inviolate.

My scholarship early on as a graduate student showed me that in fact these views about the Bible were wrong. I started finding contradictions and finding other discrepancies and started finding problems with the Bible. What that ended up doing for me was showing me that the basis of my faith, which at that time was the Bible, was problematic. So I shifted from being an evangelical Christian to becoming a fairly mainline liberal Protestant Christian.

What ended up making me lose my faith was kind of related to scholarship: When I was at Rutgers University, I taught a course on the problem of suffering in Biblical traditions, where I dealt with issues of theodicy throughout different Biblical books, both Hebrew Bible and the New Testament—

Shanks: What is theodicy?

Ehrman: Theodicy is the question of how God can be righteous, given the amount of suffering in the world. The issue as it’s usually put today is that if God is all-powerful and is able to prevent suffering, and is all-loving so that he wants to prevent suffering, why is there suffering? This problem isn’t ever expressed that way in the Bible, but Biblical authors do deal with the problem by asking: Why does the people of God suffer? In teaching this course, the thing that struck me is just how different the answers are. Depending on what part of Job you read, you get one set of answers. If you read the Prophets, you get a different set of answers. If you read apocalyptic literature, you get still a different set of answers.


Shanks: Well, Larry, I take it that you, as an Orthodox Jew, don’t believe those historical claims about Jesus.

Schiffman: No. One of the principles of the Jewish faith is not believing in Jesus. [Laughter] But, like Bart, I of course believe that he lived, preached and was crucified by the Romans.

From a Jewish point of view, these kinds of problems aren’t problems. First of all, the Bible was never taken literally in Judaism. It doesn’t mean that it’s not historical, but it is not taken literally in the Protestant sense. It’s not an issue in Judaism. Admittedly there is a literalist strain in a minority of medieval Jewish thinkers and a minority—maybe a growing minority—in modern Judaism, but it’s not classical Judaism. The Talmud doesn’t take the Bible literally in the Protestant sense.

Jim’s approach of taking a kind of experiential approach to the whole thing is one that is much more primary in Judaism.


Seitan Worshiper here: This actually resonated for me, as a believer, because I struggle with doubt on a regular basis, as well as the whole notion of "Where is G-d when innocents suffer?"

OTOH, I *do* believe in a Higher Power/Lifeforce/Creative Energy -- NOT a "Bearded Guy in the Sky". I look around me and see the wonders of creation and can believe that Someone/Something made it all.

Having more questions than answers doesn't diminish the belief for me, nor do I find a conflict between Science/Reason and [my] belief. Also, I agree with Mr. Schiffman regarding the notion of Judaism as a set of rules that -- when applied conscientiously --enables one to live a decent life, and make the world around us a little better.

- posted by Seitan Worshipper