• Jesus Before the Gospels

  • How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior
  • By: Bart D. Ehrman
  • Narrated by: Joe Barrett
  • Length: 10 hrs and 4 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Release date: 03-01-16
  • Language: English
  • Publisher: HarperAudio
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars (284 ratings)

Regular price: $30.79

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Publisher's Summary

The best-selling 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.

©2016 Bart D. Ehrman (P)2016 HarperCollins Publishers

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  • Jacobus
  • Johannesburg, South Africa
  • 05-28-16

Insightful, but with limited depth

Prof. Bart D. Ehrman is a well-known New Testament Scholar whose fame started to spread with his book "Misquoting Jesus" in which he introduced Everyman to the Science of Textual Criticism and its results. He also wrote an essay in the first edition of National Geographic's "The Gospel of Judas" concerning Gnosticism. I have read of listened to most of his books, academic and popular (e.g. Jesus, Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium; Lost Christianities; Forgery; The Apocryphal Gospel (with Zaltko Plese) and How Jesus became a God, to name but a few) ... which might be the reason that I find this book to be much of the same old same old...

In this book he moves behind the gospel texts to the memories of Jesus that was carried by oral tradition, before the process was started to write it down more or less 40 years after Jesus' crucifixion. He first discusses memory using insights from psychology, anthropology and other academic disciplines. He maintains that the gospels contains true, false, selective, changed, communal and other memories. Starting with some late apocryphal gospel stories, he ends up discussing the canonical gospels. He actually gives quite an interesting overview of memory. Then he casts insights of critical New Testament Scholarship over the last 200 years into the memory mold. While he argues convincingly that memory are not that dependable, even in oral culture, I thought something didn't fit.

I think the book was not written for the right audience. Maybe he should have engaged more actively with the scholarly community before giving a popular account of memory. For me the book felt very much like the difference between a research proposal and a thesis, being the first.

That said, I thought his overview of the Gospel of Mark was excellent. I believe that those not familiar with the apocrypha might find the stories about Jesus as a child very interesting. Maybe, this can even be a good starting point to read books of Ehrman if you do not know his scholarship.

Be that as it may, I am of the humble opinion that Ehrman have build a following among some readers, and that readers might be expecting something new or different. Currently, it seems to be very much of the same, with little new impetus.

In terms of narration, the book deserves five stars. I think Joe Barrett is excelled in his interpretative reading. By now most listeners to Ehrman might be used to Walter Dixon's voice. I thought Barrett was a welcome change. He was able to keep my attention, even when the subject matter was not that interesting.

I recommend this book to anyone who have not listened to anything from Bart D. Ehrman or if you are interested in understanding memory and how the story of Jesus was changed by the memories of his followers to reflect what we have in the gospels today. However, do not expect too many clear answers.

12 of 12 people found this review helpful

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An interesting idea.

this was another good book from Professor Ehrman. I always enjoy reading his books, I particularly enjoy listening to them on Audible. I usually go over them multiple times, own a printed copy, making notes for my individual study. His ideas have helped me to view scripture and religion with new eyes and a broader depth.

9 of 9 people found this review helpful

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Excellent book

This was a very enjoyable book to listen to. I would suggest that unless you are familiar with the New Testament and some of the gnostic gospels it would be better to read it in book form and not listen to an audio book. The scripture references go by a little quickly.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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A most interesting job

The Author revised critically various Gospels and the relative bibliography with great competence, always without offending listener's ideas.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Good book, bad reading

Any additional comments?

A good popular level book about the role of memory as it relates to the Scriptures that have been handed down to us.
I wish it had been another reader, though.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • greg
  • Ventura, CA, United States
  • 01-22-17

Misleading title

Informative in that you learn about how memories are stored and retrieved but not so much about early Jesus or christians. Not what I was looking for.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Jon Weimer
  • KANSAS CITY, MO, United States
  • 09-27-16

Excellent Book, Boring Reader

This is an interesting meditation on the Gospels as seen through the lens of modern theories of human memory (and it's fallibility).

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Loved it

Thanks to Dr. Ehrman I now look upon the Gospels from a different angle. This has given much to ponder.

5 of 7 people found this review helpful

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A Critical Review

This book can be a helpful introduction to theory that the gospels do not record the actual sayings and deeds of Jesus and the reasons this theory is held. But I found this particular presentation of the theory to be quite annoying. The narrator does a good job reading it, but the author’s content was not that great.
First of all, the first few chapters are extremely repetitive. How many times and in how many different ways can he just keep saying that memory is not infallible? I found myself thinking, “Get on with it already! You’ve already made that point!”
Second, the book is not proposing a mere suggestion or possibility to consider or a problem for Christians to address. The title itself makes clear that he is decidedly affirmative that the gospel stories did in fact change and were invented. Yet, the book contains no proof for his thesis. Repeatedly I found him saying, “I don’t think . . . I find that hard to believe . . . It’s not likely that . . . Probably . . . It may have happened like this . . .” I don’t care what he believes or thinks: I care about facts and hard evidence. Yet, apparently, he didn’t have hard evidence, so he just kept presenting his opinions. His opinions may be worth a listening, but if that’s all he’s got – then he should at least be more tentative in his affirmations. Thus, I found the title to be somewhat misleading.
Third, he states repeatedly – without offering any solid proof – that the gospels were written 40 years or more after the time of Jesus. His entire proposition is based upon this assertion, yet he never offers any proof for it. Perhaps he deals with this issue in his other books, but since it is so vital to his theory, he needed to address it. If he can’t prove that the gospels were written so long after the events, his whole theory collapses. The gospel of Luke, for example, may well have been written within 20 years of the events: he needs to prove that it wasn’t. A fragment found among the Dead Sea Scrolls and dated to about 44 AD (11 years after Christ’s crucifixion) could possibly be a fragment of Mark’s gospel. Why doesn’t he deal with these things?
Fourth, many of his examples of supposed contradictions in the gospel accounts are not really that persuasive. For example, he is certainly a knowledgeable scholar, so he must be well aware of the “already / not yet” tension in Christ’s teachings regarding the coming of his kingdom, yet he doesn’t even acknowledge this possibility. Instead, he simply leaves the reader with the impression that there is no alternative but to see Christ contradicting himself in the gospels about the kingdom.
Fifth, there are many questions his theory raises that he could have anticipated and answered, but he doesn’t. For example, he keeps arguing that memory always fails, and oral preservation always invents and changes. Yet, songs are a key vehicle of oral preservation that are particularly effective. There are songs I learned as a kid more than 40 years ago that I still sing – exactly as I learned them 40 years ago. I didn’t mis-remember the lyrics. I haven’t changed them. I haven’t invented new lyrics. Paul’s writings contain fragments of hymns – such as that in 1 Cor. 15 about the resurrection of Jesus. This is a hymn that must go back to within a year or so after Jesus’ crucifixion. I would like to have heard a more specific explanation of how even lyrics to early Christian hymns were changed and why. Why does he think that early Christians couldn’t even remember the lyrics to a simple song? Also, he says that history is shaped by “social memory.” He uses his perspective of Columbus he learned in school from textbooks. Yet this social memory was preserved – not orally – but in writing. This raises the question: if social memory is changed and adapted - even when preserved in writing - why didn’t the Christians continue to change, adapt, and invent new stories & sayings for Jesus in the four gospels? They obviously haven’t, because we have a really good historical trail and once they were committed to writing, they were never changed. (There are but minor copyists’ errors – but not substantive changes.) He needs to explain why in the first 40 years there was extensive changing and inventing of stories – some deliberately, and not just because of faulty memory - but then suddenly all the changes stop. If some changes were deliberate, why wouldn’t they have continued? I had so many questions that he just wasn’t answering.

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Typical Dr Ehrman... in a good way

As with all of Dr Ehrman’s books over the past 10 years or so; it is mind-blowing for those who have never read something of his before but a bit repetitive for those who have read his books in the past. Of course, the repetition isn’t Dr Ehrman’s fault seeing how the material being discussed hasn’t changed much in 1500 years. As always, the content is easily digested and makes for a very pleasant and intriguing read/listen

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  • e
  • 07-04-16

Powerful

An historical investigation of the life of Jesus through the literature of the canonical and non-canonical gospels. Explored in depth and would be of interest to both liberal Christians and non-believers as it offers a number of intriguing perspectives on Jesus and Christianity utilising many academic disciplines including psychology and what we know about human memory and anthropology.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • N. Bowdren
  • 08-04-18

eye opening .

if only all the fanatical religious people from all faiths could hear this book ,it may help change there ridiculous beliefs.