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. Ehrman 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.
originally Gnostic compositions of one sort or another, even though the majority of scholars today would not call Thomas itself a Gnostic Gospel.7 There is no real debate, however, over the most distinctive feature of this Gospel. Unlike the canonical Gospels it is not a narrative of Jesus’s life, ministry, death, and resurrection. There are no narratives in the Gospel of Thomas at all. It consists entirely of sayings of Jesus. Altogether there are 114 sayings by the modern reckoning (the sayings
themselves believed or with what other “acceptable” books had to say. And so their books of scriptural authority—those we have inherited today—are ones they believed all shared the same theological perspective. Moreover, it cannot be emphasized enough that all the books of the Christian scripture are all found in one book, the New Testament. It does not come to us as twenty-seven books, or collections of books by a number of different authors. It comes to us as a single volume, in hard or soft
church appears to run counter to the evidence. You might think that such persons would be inestimable authorities to whom everyone would submit in reverence. But if we take Paul’s word for it, it wasn’t that way at all. Paul himself indicates that when Peter came to the city of Antioch and found Paul there with his gentile converts, he joined them in their table fellowship. That is to say, he ate his meals with them, without being afraid that this would infringe on his need, as a Jew, to keep
appointed to positions of power in the new kingdom of Israel that was to come, when their master was made the king. Their lord had now been exposed, humiliated, and executed, and they were without hope. What were they to do? They had left their homes, their families, and their jobs to follow this false, crucified messiah. They had nothing left. And they remembered fondly how just weeks and months before they had been so warmly welcomed in the villages and towns of Israel by those who were eager
term—it was how many people simply remembered the war—and I soon realized that in fact that’s how a lot of southerners were raised to think about it. Just as surprising to me was the fact that they did think about it. With great regularity. For parts of the South, the Civil War continues to be a present reality. They’re still fighting it. Remembering the past is not simply a mental exercise each of us engages in when we recall what happened to us personally. To use the technical term I