Here is my most recent article for the Cascade Business News – Bend, Oregon USA. Published 4/8/2014.
Here is my most recent article for the Cascade Business News – Bend, Oregon USA. Published 4/8/2014.
Earth Interrupted – An Interview with Author Bill Dahl
The following is an interview I just completed regarding the upcoming release of my new novel, EARTH Interrupted. I hope you enjoy it! After reading the below, if you have additional questions, please send them to me. Thank you.
RELEASE DATE: November 1, 2013
Question 1 – Where did the idea for the novel Earth Interrupted come from?
Dahl Response: Over the past 6 years, my life has experienced some unique interruptions. These interruptions have been caused primarily by my Black Lab Reggie, as well as some unanticipated health problems (behind me now).
You see, Reggie requires getting outdoors – excursions out into nature. I obliged – begrudgingly at first. It changed my life. We have spent an awful lot of time together hiking, camping, fishing and capturing photographic images while exploring the expanse of the western U.S.
Along the way, I found the solitude and inspiration that allowed me to see life in new ways. I guess you could say a refreshing new awareness and perspective were birthed deep within me. I developed new concerns, curiosities and hopes about life; some of which have been revealed in Earth Interrupted. I’m certainly NOT the first human whose worldview has been rearranged by the impact of an unexpected, challenging health event or a dog in one’s life.
Question 2 – Give us a few examples of a few themes in the story.
Dahl Response: Of course. Several of the central themes of Earth Interrupted involve inertia, progress, time and next.
In terms of inertia, we are all pushed along by the priorities and time constraints of daily living. Inertia oftentimes creates short-sightedness; impairing us from seeing the big picture; and giving deliberate, serious consideration to where our lives – and human civilization might be headed. Inertia has a tendency to constrain our focus to me and mine rather than us and ours. Inertia assumes that energy expended (individual, collective or in commerce) is almost wholly positive and productive. I challenge these notions in Earth Interrupted.
Progress is a component of the human psyche that has been infused into the worldview of man for centuries (actually millennia). Progress is the notion that life will get progressively better. Yet, there is a price to pay for progress. Clearly, we currently inhabit an epoch in history where issues like climate change, resource depletion, clean/alternative energy, drinking water, fertility, food supplies, bio-engineering, advances in neuroscience, medicine, genetic engineering, and the trajectory of technological advancement — all pose both promise and peril for human civilization. Yet, it’s my view, that the notion of progress is one that deserves a reappraisal. I use the novel to pause, to interrupt, if you will, and reconsider this widely held proposition. This will be apparent for the reader of Earth Interrupted.
Time– If there is a sub-title for the novel, it would be from sometime to SUMtime. More specifically, the reality of our passive acceptance of time passing is intricately woven into the notion of progress. For most of us, we assume that tomorrow will come and present itself just as yesterday did. In Earth Interrupted, sometime (the assumption that time is an unlimited resource available for our consumption) morphs into sumtime – whereby the ongoing and cumulative deleterious effects of passing tipping points in threats to human existence now require humans to adapt, make new sacrifices and develop new ways of living – as well as attempt to alter the trajectory that threatens life on Earth, as we now know it.
Next – as a theme within the novel, next is explored extensively. Again, next is an assumption that is part of the interwoven strands of inertia, progress, and time. Next is a grammatical term in the English language that is primarily relied upon as a central assumption in human existence. Next is an expectation. We assume that next is good, next is certain, and that next is simply another part of our assumptions about time – there’ll be more of it – and it will be better than the past. Yet, when one looks around today and recognizes the threats to next – the least we can say is that these threats are global, tangible, multi-dimensional, numerous and complex.
These threats also possess elements of energy or inertia. They are part of the voice of progress you hear today. Of course, inherent in these threats, the dimension of time resides. Unrestrained in their current trajectories, these themes may well define what’s next for the human species. Finally, there is also a paucity of concerted collective effort directed toward retarding, redirecting or eliminating the same.
Question 3 – Why is the letter ‘R’ in the title of the book upside down? What does this represent?
Dahl Response: One thesis of the novel is it’s time to wake up! It is ‘R’ time, as simple as that may sound. Sometime has morphed into Sumtime. It’s essential that we engage in deliberate actions to rouse us from the comfort and complacency that resting in the notions that inertia, progress, time and next saturate us with. We ‘R’ responsible for what we pass onto our children and our grandchildren. It is ‘R’ time to Reimagine a vastly better future, versus riding along toward a destination the current trajectory will likely deliver us to. It is ‘R’ time to Rehabilitate environments and ecosystems we have damaged. It is ‘R’ time to Recreate new ways of collaborating and cooperating together – toward these ends.
Question 4 – How have you “flaunted the conventions of fiction” in this novel. Can you provide a few examples?
Sure, there are several:
Question 5 – How is the phrase “passing the hat” a central theme of the novel?
According to the publisher and the editors, I have to be careful not to answer this question too thoroughly. Let me say, it is a tangible, central theme. I mean, look around today and see how comfortable human kind (individuals, governments, cultures, organizations and societies) has become passing increasingly severe problems from one generation to the next. Frankly, it’s a pandemic. Kicking the can down the road has become globally acceptable behavior. Yet, this behavior has accretive, oftentimes negative consequences. It’s only a matter of time before you reach a point as a species where tolerating the intolerable catches up with you…
Question 6 – What roles do faith, religion and secularism play in this novel?
A great question; throughout the novel, the issue and capacity of human belief, cognition, hope, deception, confidence, trust, certainty and uncertainty – the animal spirits – if you will – are at play here. All the characters, as humans do, come with their own set of beliefs, attitudes and values – some of which are god related. These attributes bring both flavor and fodder for the story line in the novel. You’ll see.
Question 7 – Is this novel part of a series?
Yes, a trilogy actually. Book 2 is well along the way in the writing process
Question 8 What potential outcomes does this novel possess that you hope for.
There are three primary outcomes I would like to see:
Thomas Peele (from his website) is an an investigative reporter for the Bay Area News Group, publishers of The Contra Costa Times, The San Jose Mercury News, The Oakland Tribune and other papers surrounding San Francisco, where he specializes in data collection and analysis. He’s also a lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley, Graduate School of Journalism, co-teaching a class on public-records reporting. He’s won more than 50 journalism awards, for long-term investigations of government corruption, the environment, casino gambling and murders to a story in the first person voice of a Christmas tree waiting to be bought on Christmas Eve. Thomas Peele is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years of experience on both coasts. Since 2000, he has been an investigative reporter for the 23 newspapers of the Singleton-owned Bay Area News Group.
He has won numerous awards for his work, including the 2007 Investigative Reporters and Editors’ Renner Award for the Chauncey Bailey Project, and from the Northern California Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists for his pursuing Freedom of Information inquiries. He is a winner of the McGill Medal of Journalistic Courage. You can read the McGill Award article here.
He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Long Island University and a master’s in creative writing from the University of San Francisco.
Truly outstanding works of literature spawn curiosity, questions and spontaneous dialog. The stories of story-tellers (the great one’s anyway) – emit certain mysterious energies that impact me as I am reading — and somehow — stick with my soul after I have finished. Thomas Peele’s “Killing The Messenger” is distinctly one of those rare works of investigative journalism possessing both these attributes…and MORE!!!
A few weeks after consuming this book, it continued to ricochet through my soul. I contacted Tom. He gracefully agreed to the following interview with me – that illuminate a few of the myriad of issues that this work lays bare. As you can see from the interview below, Peele’s work has tremendous practical application and implications regarding a number of complex and challenging issues that are alive and well today. I hope you enjoy the following interview with Tom Peele. BUY THIS BOOK!!!
Q-1 — Every author receives a ton of questions regarding their most recent work. Oftentimes, the questions are terribly redundant. What is the one (or two) question(s) that people have not asked about “Killing The Messenger,” that you have wished they would. Please share the question(s) and your response(s):
A1A – (Q) What was your writing process like?
My deal was not structured so that I could take a book leave from my newspaper job. I also work as a part-time university lecturer, so every minute counted. I got up most mornings and 5 and worked until 9 and then went to my regular jobs. I tried to squeeze out an hour or two every night. Weekends were pretty much devoted to the project, at least all day Saturday and half of Sunday. But as any writer knows, the process is never really turned off. I was constantly writing notes to myself wherever I went. It was intense. No vacation for three years – at least not a legitimate vacation that was not a research trip or just days holed up in my writing room. There is an old saying that writers must learn to write when they don’t want to write. It is, of course, quite true.
(Q-2) As a first time author, what is your impression of the book publishing industry?
A better question might be what is the book publishing industry’s impression of me? I work in newspapers, where things are pretty much a constant state of rough and tumble and where people communicate with each other with great amount of intellectual honesty, if not brutal honesty. I learned the hard way how off-putting it is to people in book publishing to be addressed bluntly, or unenthusiastically. I regret not adapting more quickly to their world than bringing mine with me. I certainly made mistakes I hope to avoid on another book. My deal occurred when the publishing industry is under tremendous strain. Borders went bankrupt. Amazon bulled its way into E-book publishing, not just sale. It is a tumultuous time. I think it is a very open question as to whether print books will survive in a meaningful way. I live in a house full of books and I rooting openly, against E-books. Traditional book publishers like mine, Crown, which is wonderful outfit, need to survive, as do independent bookstores.
Q-3 — The murder of Chauncey Bailey occurred on August 2, 2007. “Killing The Messenger” was published in 2012. It seems that you began doing research on the possibility of this book in 2007 (p.367). It appears you made the decision to move forward with the book after your dinner with Lisa Catherine Harper and Kory Heinzen in January 2009 (“write the Bailey book” – p. 367 – Acknowledgments). Thus, one might surmise that it took you 4+ years to conduct the research that culminated in the book. Please comment on what “inhabits the being” of investigative journalists like yourself, to dedicate such a span of one’s lifetime to telling a story. Please talk about the internal debates you had with yourself, how you may have been “Unable to shake it,” times you felt overwhelmed, THREATENED, afraid, difficult to live with, the sacrifices one has to make (including family members) etc.
What I was doing since Aug. 2, 2007 was newspaper reporting on Mr. Bailey’s death with a consortium of other journalists. The book grew out of that massive effort and much of it was based on. When I decided in January 2009 to write the book, a great deal of the research was done in the form of the reportage.
I think what “inhabits the being” of an investigative reporter is a sense of righteous indignation, if not outright anger. In this case, I and others were angry that a reporter had been killed and intended to something about it, just as journalists did something about the 1976 murder of Arizona Republic reporter Don Bolles. We felt duty bound to send the message on behalf of our profession that “you can’t kill a story by killing a reporter.” If we were going to be true to journalism and the First Amendment that protects it, we really had no choice but to do the work and see the story through. Bailey’s murder burned at the souls of the reporters who investigated it.
In a similar way, I believe I had a duty to write the book. It was not really a choice, it was a responsibility. As I said earlier, my book deal was structured as such that I could not take a leave of absence from my newspaper job, so I got up at 5 a.m. seven days a week to research and write. I suffered a repetitive stress injury to my left arm that left me nearly unable to lift it. My health suffered in other ways. My marriage suffered greatly to the point it nearly ended. My twin daughters, who were born a few months into the book-writing process and only days after Yusuf Bey IV was finally charged with Bailey’s murder, went without me for significant pieces of time. I was an incredibly difficult person to deal with, to be around, and also wracked with self doubt (could I possibly write a book on tight deadline that would be any good at all?) and fear that the subjects of the book would retaliate against me the way they retaliated against Mr. Bailey. I had a lot of nightmares, to be honest, often nightly.
My wife is incredible. She got through it, somehow, with twins in tow. A lot of lesser people would have split, there is no other way to put it. We fought a lot, she went through an extended period of hating the book. So did I. Not everyone survived unscathed. My agent recently informed me she won’t represent me on another project, which is a tremendous loss to me. I was hard on everyone.
Q-4 — It has been said that “hopelessness is the birthplace of every form of extremism.” Can you opine on this phrase as it relates to what you learned in writing “Killing The Messenger – A Story of Radical Faith, Racism’s Backlash, and The Assassination of a Journalist?”
The people who formed the Nation of Islam in Detroit during the early 1930s had no hope. As the depression tightened around them like a noose around a neck, they suffered repeated dehumanization and indignities. Michigan had more than 100,000 active Klansman. Food and jobs were scarce. And here came this con man, W. D. Fard, challenging everything that people in the ghetto believed, who their true God was, where their lost roots could be found, even what they ate. He told them to hate their oppressors. But his religion, which he claimed to be Islam, was a false one. It was extreme to the point of tales of space ships and fables about made scientists who created Caucasians and Jews through genetic experiments. Had people any other form of hope, humanity or dignity available to them, I doubt they would have embraced the belief system Fard foisted on them.
Q-5 — There is an ongoing debate about the nature of man (good v. evil duality). After writing this book, did your view concerning the nature of man shift considerably? If so, how so? Did you ever “meet evil face to face?” during the research/writing of the book? “I could hear him laughing” (Broussard p. 366).
Yusuf Bey IV was as close to evil as I got, interviewing him once in jail and observing him closely for hundreds of hours in court and listening to hundreds of hours of his jail phone calls after obtaining recordings of them. I tried not to let my delving of his life and beliefs change any of my opinions about the human race. People have committed evil acts from the beginning of the human race and will continue to do so. Yet a tremendous majority of us live lives in which we don’t steal and kill and maim.
Q-6 — In my view, Your Black Muslim Bakery could be accurately characterized as a cult. What, in your opinion, are the essential ingredients required to produce a cult of this nature?
Isolation and a charismatic leader, yet one who is both loved and feared. It also requires extremely damaged, or plainly ignorant people. The Beys attracted very poor, embittered people who suffered lives of poverty and dehumanization. Yusuf Bey (the elder) also ruled his followers with absolute authority. Several women later testified that they feared he would kill them if they disobeyed his orders, which included presenting young girls to him for sex. Bey was once observed committing a rape and two days later the person who made that observation was found dead. Cult members both loved and feared him, that was the key to his power.
Q-7 — There are those (particularly Baby Boomers who lived through the civil rights movement in the U.S.) – who suggest that the state of racism in the U.S. is vastly better than it used to be. There are others who suggest that the current expression of racism (behaviors, depth and breadth) has simply become more veiled, maintaining its breadth and depth in the U.S. Can you comment on what your view of the current state/character of racism in the U.S.?
I believe that racism, especially in veiled forms, remains, very real in the U.S. One has to look not just at the death of Trayvon Martin killing but it’s aftermath to see it. The right attacks immediate criticism by people of color about Martin’s death, stereotyping him as a thug because he was wearing a hood. Yet, Martin’s killing was, in many ways, just another sorry occurrence in hundreds of years of oppression and terror.
Q-8 — Bart D. Ehrman Ph.D. has recently said in an interview “If I am opposed to anything, it is fundamentalism in its various guises.” In terms of the Bey’s organization and “faith” how would you characterize the genesis of this form of “fundamentalist faith?” In other words, was the faith produced a product/outgrowth of primarily racism, power, struggle for identity, control, ego, acceptance, hatred, and money? Or did the former (‘nature of faith’) produce the latter? Can you talk about your view of the interaction of these variables as it relates to the Bey’s “faith development” in “Killing The Messenger?”
Bey’s faith was the faith of opportunity. It was his path to power, wealth and sex, the things he craved. To achieve those things, he stuck to the very fundamental dogma that the founders of his religion had employed 70 years earlier. I interviewed a Nation of Islam historian who had viewed tapes of Bey’s sermons. His response was what “a throwback” Bey was – how his teachings had never progressed beyond the NOI’s fundamental dogma. Fueling hate made it easier for Bey to maintain control over his followers and ensure their loyalty. Their loyalty, in turned, allowed hm to accumulate wealth and power. The more fundamental within his teachings he remained, the more he achieved.
Q-9 — According to David Garrow in his book, “Bearing The Cross – Martin Luther King Jr. and The Southern Christian Leadership Conference” – Dr. King met with Elijah Muhammad in Chicago (p.465 — Taylor Branch characterizes the same meeting in his book, At Canaan’s Edge pp.440-441). Although Dr. King had condemned the Nation of Islam’s “anti-white rhetoric” – Garrow characterizes their meeting as “cordial” and contends that Elijah Muhammad reacted favorably toward the civil rights movement’s efforts to “eradicate slums” (P. 466). This meeting occurred in 1966. Chauncey Bailey was murdered in 2007. Fourth and Mackey were sentenced in August 2011. Here’s the question; What is the state of the slums in Oakland, CA today, in your view?
Oakland is a sprawling, dysfunctional city. Slums continue to exist, especially in East Oakland. The city lacks the funding for full basic services – enough police on the streets, the repair of potholes – let alone the eradication of poverty. California remains in a deep budget crisis that will only worsen the plight of its poorer cities and school districts. Oakland’s police department could soon fall under federal control because of years of mismanagement. None of these things are going to help the slums.
Q-10 – Elijah Muhammad (formerly Elijah Poole) and Dr. King were both the son’s of preachers from Georgia. Taylor Branch describes Elijah Muhammad’s early years as an admitted “whooping Baptist.” (At Canaan’s Edge – p. 441). King became the champion of non-violence and racial equality while Elijah Muhammad advocated violence and characterized Caucasians as “white devils.” How can two people who come from distinctly similar childhoods become so diabolically dissimilar adults?
King seized opportunities to become an educated person, Poole did not. King’s father was an established minister within a formal church structure. Poole’s father was traveling lay preacher in the back woods. Poole ended up in the dehumanizing ghetto’s of Detroit, grasping for any answer to explain his plight. It should also be noted that physiological examinations of Poole (by then Muhammad) when he was in prison in the 1940s showed he had the cognitive abilities of an 11 year old.
Q-11 — The myriad acts of brutal, senseless, horrific violence (in all its forms) characterized in “Killing The Messenger” – committed by the Bey’s or their followers shocked me. Honestly, I had to put the book down and walk away for a bit to clear my soul…I was also shocked about the culture of the Oakland Police Dept. – their lethargy. Can you please talk about how the culture of the Oakland P.D. at the time – contributed to the willingness to take the violent risks that were taken by the Bey’s and their cult. Can you opine about how things have/have not changed at the Oakland P.D. since say, 2011?
The Oakland Police Department did not challenge the Beys for years. It is a department with a brutal and intolerant culture, a legacy of the sixties and seventies when Oakland was ruled by an ultra-conservative political oligarchy. It is also a department that historically lacks the number of personnel and equipment needed to adequately police the city. A recent reform minded police chief quit mid-contract in frustration. The threat of a federal takeover remains real. And the police’s conduct during Occupy Wall Street protests have resulted in assaults and injuries to members of the public. In truth, little has changed.
Q-12 — Have you received any threats to your safety since the book came out?
No, I haven’t received any threats.
Q-13 — What are the two primary lessons you hope your journalistic work in “Killing The Messenger” sends to those who are contemplating a career in investigative reporting?
That documentation is the key to all good reporting and that this particular line of work is not for everyone drawn to journalism. It takes time, patience and resourcefulness.
Q-14 — News coverage, reporting, journalism, writing, investigative reporting and the entirety of the publishing industry is in the midst of tremendous change. Clay Shirky Distinguished Writer in Residence in the Journalism Dept. at the NYU Interactive Telecommunications Program (also contributor to the NY Times, WSJ, The Times (London). Wired, Business 2.0 and the Harvard Business Review) has written “And today, the revolution is centered on the shock of the inclusion of amateurs as producers, where we no longer need to ask for help or permission from professionals to say things in public.” (The Cognitive Surplus – Creativity and Generosity In A Connected Age – 2010 – The Penguin Press NY,NY p. 52). While Mr. Shirky’s observation is clearly valid, it is a two-sided coin. In terms of your interaction with students at the U.C. Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism or SFSU (and elsewhere) – what concerns do you have (if any) about the future of your craft ( learning the creative disciplines of research, writing, and reporting ) whereby many are no longer seeking the skill development they require from either formal education or mentorship by persons in your field?
Now, everyone thinks their smartphone makes them a journalist. Some students view journalism as easy, as if they don’t have to think their way through each moment and that they don’t require cornerstone skills – such as the ability to dig through public records – to be successful. While the delivery method of journalism have changed, the basic who, what, when, where, and why have not. Yet there is not the same emphasis on basic journalistic skills as there was a decade ago. Students also don’t seem be to be able to differentiate (or care) about the difference between opinion and fact.
Q-15 — When will we see the book about your “tour of duty as a reporter in Atlantic City, NJ (also your Master’s thesis)?”
I haven’t really given it a lot of thought. I am not sure it is a book I remain interested in publishing and my energies right now are concentrated on promoting Killing the Messenger.
Q-16 — In your opinion, do conditions currently exist in the U.S. where cults like YBMB can still be spawned?
Yes. Unemployment, poor public schools and the way college has become unaffordable for so many all contribute to such conditions. As the poor grow poorer and class warfare becomes more common, the possibility of extremism grows. So do high levels of intolerance for the opinions, conditions and even the ethnicity of others which appear, sadly, to again be on the rise.
From Bill Dahl: Again, this book exudes Pulitzer Prize throughout each and every chapter! Buy this book!!!
P.S. Hollywood Major Motion Picture Studio Execs – Whoever garners the movie rights to Killing The Messenger has a blockbuster on their hands…Wake up and call Thomas Peele or his agent!!!
My most sincere thanks to Thomas Peele.
A graduate of Wheaton College (Illinois), Professor Ehrman received both his Masters of Divinity and Ph.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary, where his 1985 doctoral dissertation was awarded magna cum laude. Since then he has published extensively in the fields of New Testament and Early Christianity, having written or edited twenty-four books, numerous scholarly articles, and dozens of book reviews.
Among his most recent books are a Greek-English edition of the Apostolic Fathers for the Loeb Classical Library (Harvard University Press), an assessment of the newly discovered Gospel of Judas (Oxford University Press), and four New York Times Bestsellers: Jesus Interrupted (an account of scholarly views of the New Testament), God’s Problem (an assessment of the biblical views of suffering), Misquoting Jesus (an overview of the changes found in the surviving copies of the New Testament and of the scribes who produced them) and Forged (discusses why some books in the New Testament are deliberate forgeries). His books have been translated into twenty-seven languages.
Among his fields of scholarly expertise are the historical Jesus, the early Christian apocrypha, the apostolic fathers, and the manuscript tradition of the New Testament.
Professor Ehrman has served as President of the Southeast Region of the Society of Biblical literature, chair of the New Testament textual criticism section of the Society, book review editor of the Journal of Biblical Literature, and editor of the monograph series The New Testament in the Greek Fathers (Scholars Press). He currently serves as co-editor of the series New Testament Tools, Studies, and Documents (E. J. Brill), co-editor-in-chief for the journal Vigiliae Christianae, and on several other editorial boards for journals and monographs in the field.
Professor Ehrman lectures extensively throughout the country. Winner of numerous university awards and grants, he is the recipient of the 2009 J. W. Pope “Spirit of Inquiry” Teaching Award, the 1993 UNC Undergraduate Student Teaching Award, the 1994 Phillip and Ruth Hettleman Prize for Artistic and Scholarly Achievement, and the Bowman and Gordon Gray Award for excellence in teaching.
Professor Ehrman has two children, a daughter, Kelly, and a son, Derek. He is married to Sarah Beckwith (Ph.D., King’s College London), Marcello Lotti Professor of English at Duke University. He lives in Durham, North Carolina.
His most recent book is Did Jesus Exist? (HarperOne 2012).
My review is here: Here’s the interview:
1) What does being awarded the 2011 Religious Liberty Award by the American Humanist Association mean to you?
Ehrman – It meant a lot to me. I did not know about the organization until it honored me with this award. It is a terrific group of people who are sincerely, honestly, and openly searching for (and finding!) real meaning in life apart from belief in God or the acceptance of religion. I found the people at the meeting to be interesting, intelligent, and caring . To be recognized by a group like this for my work in scholarship – most interestingly, biblical scholarship, means that I am making a difference in ways that I think really matter. I should also say, though, that the humanists who make up this organization are not my only, or even my principal, audience for my writing. I do not see my work as embracing, necessarily, an atheist or agnostic agenda. Far from it. Many Christians (and Jews, and Muslims, etc.) find my work valuable as well – and I think that’s as it should be. If I am opposed to anything, it is fundamentalism in its various guises. Among everyone else, my views may seem challenging, but they should not seem threatening.
2) Why, in your opinion, has it taken a few millennium to arrive at the conclusions so eloquently laid out in this book?
Ehrman – I don’t think it has taken millennia for scholars to come to believe Jesus existed. ON the contrary, they have simply assumed he existed – since he existed! But to my knowledge, I am the first scholar of the Bible ever to attempt to prove that he existed. The reason no one else has ever tried to do so in a systematic and coherent fashion is that there really has been very little need, since almost everyone thinks he did exist. But with the emergence of the mythicists and their wide-ranging influence, I thought it was necessary for someone – a bona fide, qualified scholar – to take up the challenge and show why the evidence of Jesus is so overwhelming and convincing to everyone else on the planet who has ever looked into the matter.
3) How do you see Christians in the U.S. today “trying to reform” the historical Jesus? ( Your point on p.336).
Ehrman – Many Christians today think of Jesus as a 21st century American with good solid middle-class American values. He believes in the free market and the principles of capitalism; he believes in working hard to become successful in life; he subscribes to traditional family values; and so on. One of the points I make in my book, once I show that Jesus existed, is that to understand who Jesus really was, you cannot simply assume that he was like us. He was not, in fact, a 21st century American with 21st century American values, beliefs, perspectives, and concerns. He was a first-century Palestinian Jew, and all of his views were deeply rooted in his own historical and cultural context, just as ours are rooted in ours. Jesus was not a capitalist who subscribed to our family values. He was a Jewish apocalyptic prophet who believed this world and all its institutions were soon to come to a cataclysmic end when God intervened in history to overthrow the forces of evil (including, and especially, the government) and set up a perfect utopian kingdom on earth. That would happen within his own generation, before the disciples died off. As I stress in my book, the mythicists have in fact gotten the matter precisely wrong. It is not that Jesus is a non-historical being. He is not unhistorical. He is far too historical. He, like all of us, is rooted in his own time. And if you try to transplant him from his own time and place into ours, you radically alter his overarching message into something other than it originally was.
4) Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has written: “I regret that we have fostered a political culture that rewards the extremes, a culture in which dogmatic belief is deemed a virtue and open-mindedness a weakness, and sarcasm and slanderous attacks frequently drown out intelligent discussion. Haven’t we had enough of this? We need a dose of unity.” On page 332, you allude to a similar concern (humanist camp). Can you illuminate any current efforts for intentional, collaboration between theists and humanists whereby they are engaged in accomplishing the objective of acting on a belief “in the power of humanity to make society and individual lives happy, fulfilling, successful, and meaningful.” (your words – p. 332).
Ehrman –I think people from a range of perspectives represented in modern American society can agree – for admittedly different reasons – on certain social agenda. We *all* should be overwhelmingly concerned to help people who are poor, hungry, homeless, oppressed, and generally suffering. For Christians: this is what Jesus demanded. For humanists: this is what our shared humanity demands. We may have wide ranging differences about things that really matter to us, but on this fundamental attitude toward life and our fellow humans, we can all, surely, agree.
5) My sense is you would be a tremendous author of fiction ( a sincere compliment). Do you have a novel within you that you are trying to find the time to write?
Ehrman –I wish I could! I could use a vacation home on the beach….
6) Clearly, as you state in the book, there were other humans, before and after Jesus, who claimed to be the messiah. How is the growth and development of the Christian faith explained after the death of Jesus, that is NOT represented in the adherents to other purported messianic figures who either preceded or followed Jesus?