The Daily Tar Heel
Printing news. Raising hell. Since 1893.
Thursday, Sept. 28, 2023 Newsletters Latest print issue

We keep you informed.

Help us keep going. Donate Today.
The Daily Tar Heel

Q&A with UNC professor, author Bart Ehrman

Bart Ehrman is a UNC professor and the former chairman of the department of religious studies.

Bart Ehrman is a UNC professor and the former chairman of the department of religious studies.

New York Times bestselling author, UNC professor and former department of religious studies chairman Bart Ehrman is the author of more than 20 books that detail the history of early Christianity. His latest book, “How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee,” describes the transformation of Jesus Christ from Galilean priest to the divine Son of God and creator of all things.

Staff writer Chinelo Umerah spoke with Ehrman about his book, from which he will be reading at Bull’s Head Bookshop today.

The Daily Tar Heel : What sort of extensive research went into developing the book?

Bart Ehrman : I’ve been working on this book for about eight years, and the reason I put so much time and effort into it is because I think this is really one of the most important questions — obviously for Christianity — in the history of all religion. Because if Jesus hadn’t been declared God by his followers, we wouldn’t have Christianity.

DTH: What do you think led Jesus’s followers to believe that he was the Son of God?

BE: What I argue in the book is that during his lifetime, Jesus did not call himself God, but that after his crucifixion, some of his followers came to believe he was raised from the dead, and it is the belief that he had been raised from the dead that made them think that God had made him into a divine being.

Once they thought God had made him into a divine being, they started developing the idea that in fact he was a divine being, that he had always been a divine being, and so the whole proclamation that Jesus is God goes back to (the) belief of the disciples that Jesus was raised from the dead.

DTH: What sort of sources did you turn to for research for your book?

BE: A good part of the book is analyzing different texts from the New Testament, and I try to show that different authors of the New Testament mean different things when they call Jesus “God.” And that most of the authors of the New Testament actually don’t mean what Christians today mean when they say Jesus is God. In the ancient world, they had a different understanding of the relationship between the divine realm and the human realm — so today we tend to think that humans are one thing and that God is a different thing, and that there is an unbridgeable chasm between us and God.

But in the ancient world, Greeks and Romans and Jews all thought that there were all sorts of divine beings, just as there are different sorts of human beings. (They) thought that sometimes the divine realm and the human realm overlapped, so that some humans could in fact be divine, and so there were levels of divinity.

DTH: Why do you think it’s important for students to learn about the historical developments that shaped Christianity?

BE: Well, I think it’s important obviously for Christians, because most Christians think Jesus is God. But for non-Christians, it’s really important too because our form of civilization would be completely different if the followers of Jesus had remained Jewish and had not started a new religion.

It’s impossible to understand the history of Western civilization for the last 1,600 years without the dominance of Christianity. And if the followers of Jesus hadn’t ever called Jesus “God,” we wouldn’t have Christianity. So it’s completely changed everything in the history of the Western world, and so I think that’s important for students to understand.

To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.