From the late Roman Empire all the way to our own time, no continuously existing institution or belief system has wielded as much influence as Christianity, no figure as much as Jesus. Worshipped around the globe by more than a billion people, he is undoubtedly the single most important figure in the story of Western civilization and one of the most significant in world history altogether. Yet who was Jesus of Nazareth? What was he like? It's a question that's been pondered by people and groups of varying convictions for more than 2,000 years. And everyone with even the faintest knowledge, says Professor Ehrman, has an opinion - with those opinions differing not only among laypeople but even among professional scholars who have devoted their lives to the task of reconstructing what the historical Jesus was probably like and what he most likely said and did.
This series of 24 lectures from an award-winning teacher and scholar approaches the subject from a purely historical perspective, with no intention of affirming or denying any particular theological beliefs. He explains why it has proven so difficult to know about the "Jesus of history" and reveals the kinds of conclusions modern scholars have drawn about him.
He begins with a discussion of the four New Testament Gospels - our principle source of knowledge about Jesus - and other sources, explaining what they are, how they came to be written, and how biblical scholars plumb them for historical understanding, before integrating them into the historical context of Jesus' life and a scholarly reconstruction of Jesus' words and deeds in light of the best available historical methods and evidence.
Disclaimer: Please note that this recording may include references to supplemental texts or print references that are not essential to the program and not supplied with your purchase.
©2000 The Teaching Company, LLC (P)2000 The Great Courses
If you've read Reza Aslan's book on Jesus, or Bill O'Reilly's, and want to see a recognized expert on the historical Jesus at work, check this out. It's not current; comments on the audio make it clear that it was recorded pre-2000; but it's aged well, and to date remains the most comprehensive summary of the subject available on audio.
Bart Ehrman has strong opinions on the subject, and he's not shy about voicing them here. But he returns again and again to the historical evidence and to the methodologies historians have developed for dealing with that evidence. These are the footnotes Aslan left out (and the ones Bill O'Reilly, in his rush to market, never bothered to look up). Ehrman's lectures are solidly grounded and delivered with the enthusiasm of someone who loves what he's doing.
About those strong opinions. Jesus was, says Ehrman, a millennial prophet (that was, in fact, the title of one of his first books on Jesus). Jesus expected God to intervene in history in his own lifetime and bring about the Kingdom, a Kingdom in which Jesus himself expected to play a prominent role. He expected his 12 disciples to play significant but subordinate roles: in Ehrman's view, statements made by Jesus about his disciples judging people from the four corners of the earth are to be taken literally as a description of his agenda. Unfortunately - says Ehrman - Jesus was wrong, and his mission was a failure.
This isn't the Jesus most believers want to hear about, but it's the Jesus who appears from a dispassionate examination of the evidence. It's the Jesus most consistent with the work of John the Baptist who preceded him and the apostle Paul who followed him. It's the Jesus of mainstream New Testament scholarship and has been so for a hundred years.
Traditionalists aren't the only ones whose ox is gored by Ehrman. The Jesus Seminar - a group that argued Jesus was an inoffensive philosopher of the Greek Cynic persuasion - comes in for a strong dose of forensic dissection. John Dominic Crossan's reliance on the gospels of Thomas and Peter is discussed and criticized at length. Scholars who argue for a multilayered "Q" document, earlier layers of which are non-millennial, are resoundingly refuted. Over and over again, Ehrman demonstrates how the view of Jesus as a millennial prophet makes better sense of more evidence than any of the rival views.
Every statement Ehrman makes in this "great course" is backed up by citations of evidence, a clear explanation of pros and cons, and careful reasoning. I'm not sure this is the first place to look if you want an easy introduction to the subject, but if your appetite is already whetted, Ehrman will give you a well researched and coherent vision of Jesus.
(Last time I'll say this, though: Great Courses - please - enough with the canned applause already.)
This was a thoroughly fascinating listen. Anyone with an interest in what history can say about the life of Jesus would love these lectures although those with an unshakeable theological agenda may have difficulty with Professor Erhman's historical perspective.
Myth and contradictions obscure our sense of who the real Jesus was. For one thing, the sources can be clouded by the agenda of the writer. Furthermore many of us come to the subject with agendas of our own. Professor Erhman meticulously describes the criteria used by the historian to evaluate the record. Then he patiently examines that record (biblical and non-biblical) to create a picture of the world in which Jesus lived and the task which Professor Erhman believes the Jesus of history hoped to accomplish. Professor Erhman then explores the way in which the death of Jesus compelled his followers to re-evaluate that task and re-make the message and meaning of Jesus's life and teaching.
This isn't a novel so the question doesn't apply. But I think that my favorite part was the convincing case Professor Erhman makes for an apocalyptic Jesus.
I wandered everywhere I could in my daily life with my earphones in so that I could keep listening. I do regret that I am not one of Professor Erhman's students because, as I became so engaged with the topic, I began to want to ask questions myself and explore the topic further.
Erhman covers a lot of ground in this series, and starts from absolute scratch. His goal for the first few lectures is clearly to shake us loose from any baggage we may have coming into this, and get us acquainted with the source material. If you have some familiarity with the subject matter, you're just going to have to be patient with him - after almost five hours of this you'll be screaming at your ipad for him to get on with it. If you're less familiar, I'd recommend you just go along with it with the understanding that starting in lecture nine he will start talking about the historical method,- source criticism, text criticism, criteria of authenticity, dating approaches, etc - and revisit the more relevant sources with a more rigorous analysis. I personally think this would have been better right off the bat, not 1/3 the way through the course.
Once he gets into the analysis things improve.
I'm not sure it's possible to have a SPOILER in an historical lecture review, but if it is, I'm about to do it: Erhman's analysis is basically identical to Albert Schweitzer's. I wouldn't have mentioned this, except he never tells us it's identical to Schweitzer's. He mentions The Quest for the Historical Jesus earlier in the series, but when he presents his thesis he doesn't credit it. There is a jaw-dropping, palm to the forehead moment in Schweitzer's book concerning the betrayal of Jesus that Erhman presents as his own. Not cool. If he wanted to make it up to us, I'd ask him to do a series that unpacks that marvelous book for non-scholars. I'd certainly buy it.
If you have an interest in the subject, and a modicum of patience, I think this series is well worth the credit.
“Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.” ¯ Mark Twain
I was really hoping this would be what is says it is. The description says it will be an unbiased, academic view of the historical Jesus. In that light, I was not expecting a theological study as you might receive in seminary, but I was also not expecting a pointed and largely unsupported attempt to discredit the New Testament. I only listened to the first half of this lecture series because of the professor's obvious bias that the New Testament and the events described there are myth and not historical documents. He is well spoken and easy to listen to, but don't be drawn in by his charisma. His arguments are week and instead of citing actual historical sources, most of the time he supports his claims with, "most historical scholars agree". (what does that really mean?) Furthermore, based on the assertion that scholars are in agreement, he makes assumptions and then basis further arguments on those assumptions.
At one point he likens the New Testament writing to a 30 year long game of telephone. If you want to put it that way, wouldn't this be true of most historical documents of that time? He also claims that the miracles of Jesus are highly implausible, and that any previous attempts at describing them as true but non-miraculous are also implausible. His conclusion is that the stories are something akin to parables, simply a story made up to teach a lesson. Of course they are implausible, they are miracles! When studying other historical documents that don't match our understanding of events, do we assume the author to be fabricating a story?
I had hoped that the lecturer would step out of the New Testament a bit and talk about the historical culture, context and events that surrounded Jesus (including a discussion of the source of this knowledge). I expected discussion of historical events that are represented in the Bible and backed up by other historical documents, and discussion about Biblical events that conflict with other historical documents. There was none of this in the first half of the lecture.
Frankly, the lecturer showed himself to be so biased and willing to base "fact" on assumption that I wouldn't believe his findings if he did start to tie them back later in the series. If you are looking for an unbiased academic study in which to place Jesus in History, or are a believer looking for more insight into Jesus' life, this is not the lecture for you. If you are looking for an understanding of the arguments against the historical validity of the New Testament, this one is easy to listen to and thought provoking, although not well supported with citations that would help you carry the study further.
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