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Jesus Before the Gospels
Cover of Jesus Before the Gospels
Jesus Before the Gospels
How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior
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The bestselling author of Misquoting Jesus, one of the most renowned and controversial Bible scholars in the world today examines oral tradition and its role in shaping the stories about Jesus we encounter in the New Testament—and ultimately in our understanding of Christianity.

Throughout much of human history, our most important stories were passed down orally—including the stories about Jesus before they became written down in the Gospels. In this fascinating and deeply researched work, leading Bible scholar Bart D. Erhman investigates the role oral history has played in the New Testament—how the telling of these stories not only spread Jesus' message but helped shape it.

A master explainer of Christian history, texts, and traditions, Ehrman draws on a range of disciplines, including psychology and anthropology, to examine the role of memory in the creation of the Gospels. Explaining how oral tradition evolves based on the latest scientific research, he demonstrates how the act of telling and retelling impacts the story, the storyteller, and the listener—crucial insights that challenge our typical historical understanding of the silent period between when Jesus lived and died and when his stories began to be written down.

As he did in his previous books on religious scholarship, debates on New Testament authorship, and the existence of Jesus of Nazareth, Ehrman combines his deep knowledge and meticulous scholarship in a compelling and eye-opening narrative that will change the way we read and think about these sacred texts.

The bestselling author of Misquoting Jesus, one of the most renowned and controversial Bible scholars in the world today examines oral tradition and its role in shaping the stories about Jesus we encounter in the New Testament—and ultimately in our understanding of Christianity.

Throughout much of human history, our most important stories were passed down orally—including the stories about Jesus before they became written down in the Gospels. In this fascinating and deeply researched work, leading Bible scholar Bart D. Erhman investigates the role oral history has played in the New Testament—how the telling of these stories not only spread Jesus' message but helped shape it.

A master explainer of Christian history, texts, and traditions, Ehrman draws on a range of disciplines, including psychology and anthropology, to examine the role of memory in the creation of the Gospels. Explaining how oral tradition evolves based on the latest scientific research, he demonstrates how the act of telling and retelling impacts the story, the storyteller, and the listener—crucial insights that challenge our typical historical understanding of the silent period between when Jesus lived and died and when his stories began to be written down.

As he did in his previous books on religious scholarship, debates on New Testament authorship, and the existence of Jesus of Nazareth, Ehrman combines his deep knowledge and meticulous scholarship in a compelling and eye-opening narrative that will change the way we read and think about these sacred texts.

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About the Author-
  • Bart D. Ehrman is one of the most renowned and controversial Bible scholars in the world today. He is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and is the author of more than twenty books, including the New York Times bestsellers How Jesus Became God; Misquoting Jesus; God's Problem; Jesus, Interrupted; and Forged. He has appeared on Dateline NBC, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, CNN, History, and top NPR programs, as well as been featured in TIME, the New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Yorker, and other publications. He lives in Durham, North Carolina. Visit the author online at www.bartdehrman.com.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    March 14, 2016
    With his typical humor, passion, and vivacity, Ehrman (How Jesus Became God) explores the ways that memory shapes, distorts, changes, and preserves the stories of Jesus passed along by the Christian community. He points out, for example, that the numerous accounts of Jesus circulating before and after his death each portrayed a very different man, one shaped by the tellers' own religious and cultural concerns. Ehrman locates the empirically verifiable memories of Jesus that inform the gospels—he was an itinerant teacher; he had a number of followers; he was born and raised a Jew—and then examines the ways that early Christian literature preserves or invents its own memories of Jesus. Engaging in a close reading of Matthew's account of the Sermon on the Mount, he illustrates that the event represents a "collection of sayings of Jesus that the writer of the gospel has shaped into a long and memorable sermon." Before readers get too uncomfortable, Ehrman convincingly points out that the remembered Jesus—the figure whose existence is shaped by the memories of him handed down through time—is the one who made history. Ehrman's provocative book raises engaging questions that drive readers back to the sources of our information about Jesus, challenging them to read the gospel with fresh, skeptical eyes.

  • Library Journal

    March 1, 2016

    In this work, New Testament scholar Ehrman (religious studies, Univ. of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Misquoting Jesus) draws sharp distinctions between oral culture, with its inaccurate transmissions, and modern historiography's factual exactness; eyewitness testimony and recent psychological studies; and cultural memories and modern sociology, to show how a community's motivations and concerns alter what information is maintained. The author contends that Jesus's culture was not simply "oral," that he and his followers interacted with Pharisees and Romans on many levels. Yet, Ehrman's comparisons of the way students today tell stories and the approach Jesus's followers might have taken is not necessarily precise given cultural differences, educational backgrounds, and perceptions of time. Ehrman seems to "set up a strawman," knock it down, and partially restore it as he points out that the Bible is valuable, just not as history. He argues that the Gospel writers were not claiming to be documenting history or biography; rather they were proclaiming the "good news" of Jesus as they experienced or heard of it. VERDICT For readers interested in an intriguing and entertaining take on the formation of the Gospels.--Carolyn Craft, emerita, Longwood Univ., Farmville, VA

    Copyright 2016 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Kirkus

    January 15, 2016
    Understanding the role of memory in the formation of the Christian Gospels. In his latest work on the historical Jesus, Ehrman (Religious Studies/Univ. of North Carolina; How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee, 2014, etc.) delves into the oft-neglected role of memory in the context of the early Christian church. The author argues that memory is of paramount importance to understanding such basic Christian writings as the four Gospels, since these arose from remembered events and were written decades after the life of Jesus. Ehrman demonstrates the widely accepted view of scholars that none of the Gospels were written by people who actually knew and followed Jesus personally. As such, each is based upon the memories of others, often transmitted through unnumbered sources in the early Christian community. Understanding the science behind memory, therefore, helps students of the Bible to understand the origins of, and differences among, the Gospels. Ehrman provides an intriguing overview of memory studies over the past century and introduces readers to a variety of important pioneers and studies in the field. The author finds that memory constructs the past. No matter if the topic is ancient history, recent news events, or personal happenings, the human understanding of all things past is constructed via memory. Furthermore, memories are often flawed or "distorted." This fact is simply a reality of the human condition; nevertheless, distorted memories lead to distorted history. Readers of the Bible can, however, assume that "gist memories" are based in solid reality. Gist memories reflect the basic situation (e.g., Jesus was crucified) without potentially distorted qualifications (e.g., dialogue at the site of the crucifixion). Despite the fact that his work is highly critical of the Bible as history, Ehrman concludes that it is still important, just as Shakespeare and Dickens are important. "The historical Jesus did not make history," he writes. "The remembered Jesus did." An intriguing new angle on the well-worn field of "historical Jesus" studies.

    COPYRIGHT(2016) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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Jesus Before the Gospels
Jesus Before the Gospels
How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior
Bart D. Ehrman
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