This is a 12-hour or so audio course by Professor Bart D. Ehrman,a Princeton Ph.D. recipient, Professor in the Department of Religious Studies University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and renowned scholar on Early Modern Christianity and on the figure of Jesus.
The course is made of 24 lessons, each of about 30 minutes and is well structured and paced. Due to the nature of the material searched, Ehrman devotes a good deal of time to explain how historians analyse the sources, a process that is valid for any source in any period, not specifically on Jesus, but especially relevant for the study of the historical Jesus. Once the methodology and criterion used to study the sources Erhman separates reality from myth, possible from highly improbable, to we don't know regarding Jesus's infancy, years of ministry, death and resurrection.
LIST OF LECTURES
1- The Many Faces of Jesus. 2-One Remarkable Life. 3- Scholars Look at the Gospels. 4- Fact and Fiction in the Gospels. 5- The Birth of the Gospels. 6- Some of the Other Gospels [Gnostic Gospels of Thomas and St Peter's Gospel]. 7- The Coptic Gospel of Thomas. 8- Other Sources [Pagan sources, Jewish sources, and Canonical sources outside the Gospels]. 9- Historical Criteria. Getting Back to Jesus [Criterion of independent attestation]. 10- More Historical Criteria [criterion of dissimilarity and criterion of contextual credibility]. 11- The Early Life of Jesus. 12-Jesus in His Context [Jew religious movements in the 1st century]. 13- Jesus and Roman Rule [Apocalyptic prophets sharing points in the period]. 14- Jesus the Apocalyptic Prophet [elements that show Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet]. 15- The Apocalyptic Teachings of Jesus. 16- Other Teachings of Jesus in their Apocalyptic Context. 17- The Deeds of Jesus in their Apocalyptic Context [Arguments of historians who don't think Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet and Ehrman's reply to them]. 18- Still Other Words and Deeds of Jesus [Jesus' miracles]. 19- The Controversies of Jesus. 20- The Last Days of Jesus. 21- The Last Hours of Jesus. 22- The Death and Resurrection of Jesus. 23- The Afterlife of Jesus. 24- The Prophet of the New Millennium.
THE COMPANION BOOK
You can download the 185-page book on PDF from your library (in your member area), potion the cursor on the PDF link and let clink and select save link as, and it will download. Ehrman's books are not as student-friendly as others from other professors as there are not tables, figures, photos or anything graphic in them. The book includes a very useful Timeline, a glossary, and a commented bibiography. However, the bibliography is quite old as the initial course was prepared and recorded in year 2000. So why not updating the PDF book with more modern recommended readings and further info about the latest developments? That would be extremely easy to do as the course was released for Audible in 2013 and it is a long period with lots of new developments and bibliography produced. So, in a way, some of the things said in the book might be a bit outdated
This is an excellent audio recording, great sound, well structured and narrated, with musical clues that indicate the end of a chapter, and headings by a radio-voice presenter at the beginning of each chapter. Unlike other courses, this one has a boxed applause at the beginning of each lecture, not sure if real applause or added for effect. Ehrman has a great knowledge and a clear way of structuring and exposing his points verbally, the reading is well paced and full of energy, and the recording is very enjoyable to listen to, never boring. However, there are a few odd things that don't make the narration flow as well as other lecturers in The Great Courses. The fluctuation of the voice is a bit brusque at time, with high energy ending in a too-long silence, and Ehrman stumbling upon his own words quite often, as if he was self-conscious and a bit nervous when recording. Of course, this is just my impression.
MY MAIN TAKINGS FROM THE BOOK
~~ The method on which Ehrman analysis the sources on Jesus is actually the sort of analysis that serious historians apply to the sources they use for their research, no matter the subject of interest. Historical research, especially biblical research, without the exegesis of the sources is not serious History.
~~ It shows how History-making is not just babble, or putting together facts in a linear sequence. History-making has a method and methodology, a set of rules that are serious, and that are extremely important to support and give credibility to any historical research. This is especially relevant when speaking of the figure of Jesus.
~~ The Gospels offer not only different information about Jesus but things that are totally contradictory so it is difficult to decide which thing is correct and which thing is not correct.
~~ One might guess that Jesus being such an important man and figure, there would be tons of historical reliable references about his life, teachings, deeds in Jew, Pagan and Christian sources, but the contrary is true. We know very little about the historical Jesus, and much of what we believe true through the New Testament is not true or not historically reliable.
~~ Jesus was a Jew who believed and supported the Law of Moses. Most of his disagreements with other Jew factions was based not on the questioning of the validity of that Law, but on how to deal with confusing or vague passages in the Old Testament.
~~ Jesus was one of the many Apocalyptic prophets in 1st-century Judea.
~~ Christianity didn't begin with Jesus' life or death, but began with the belief of Jesus' resurrection, which affected the way those believers understood who he was and what he taught.
~~ I would have liked to know in which areas,if any, Jesus differed from other apocalyptic prophets of the 1st Century.
~~ I would have loved some reflection on the fact that there being many apocalyptic prophets in the 1st Century, Jesus' message ended being the only one perpetuated. Why that did happen? There was something about his personality? His message? The circumstances in which he died?
~~ Why would Jesus' followers spread the message and create Christian communities and not the followers of other apocalyptic prophets of the time?
~~ Is there any truth about the so-called Unknown Years of Jesus, the theory that states that Jesus didn't raise from the dead but survived crucifixion and went on preaching to India? I would have loved a bit of attention to this topic, to its refutation or not, and on which grounds. I am sure that Ehrman has plenty to say about this subject.
The whole series of lectures is mind blowing. Except for the last lecture, which I considered a bit digressive and off topic re Jesus, I think the course is stupendous. Even if you are a faithful Christian, it can help you to understand who Jesus really was and give an extra layer to your set of beliefs. Of course, if you believe the writings of the Gospels to be God's word, and Jesus to be God, this is not a book for you!
I found the course especially good as a way to demonstrate how serious historians work and how they use their sources. This is especially important if you are going to start studying History at University and intend to devote yourself to historical research on controversial subjects, no matter your period of study.