Jesus Before the Gospels
by Bart Ehrman
2015 / 336 pages
read by Joe Barrett
Rating – 9
This is basically more of the same Bart Ehrman I’ve read for 2 prior books except that for this book Ehrman uses some extra-Biblical sources to show the historical inaccuracy of the Gospels because there was nothing written for 40 years and who knows what can happen with memory over the course of 40 years. He goes on to discuss various kinds of memory and finally to put all that together to understand the nature of the memories of people who lived and heard about Jesus, were converted, between those years. In some ways Ehrman is continuing his work rather than repeating it (although he does that, too).
The book deals with oral tradition, inventions, 1st person accounts, distorted memories, collective memory and inaccuracies within the Gospels, the sayings of Jesus and the rather special cases of John and Thomas. At the core it’s about the context in which they were written, the nature of memory, and finally, the context in which that memory took root. The book is very well organized and builds slowly to its conclusions and the conclusionss are what made my rating as high as it is.
I am in complete agreement with Ehrman but I have problems with him anyway and sometimes argue as I listen to the books. Sometimes he is just so astounded that there might be differences of opinion about the interpretation of the Gospels or the historical Jesus – his readers should be shocked like his fundamentalist students are. This is true in Jesus Before the Gospels too, but something changes at about Chapter 7 and he starts putting stuff together – our knowledge of memory and the nature of the individual gospels – Mark, John and Thomas especially – in their contexts.
The last three chapters save the whole book and I’m glad I read it.