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Jesus Before the Gospels

How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior

About the Book

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.

Educator and Librarian Resources

Critical Praise

“Ehrman provides an intriguing overview of memory studies and introduces readers to a variety of important pioneers and studies. . . . Ehrman concludes that ‘the historical Jesus did not make history; the remembered Jesus did.’ An intriguing new angle on the well-worn field of ‘historical Jesus’ studies.” —Kirkus Review

“An intriguing and entertaining take on the formation of the Gospels.” —Library Journal

“With his typical humor, passion, and vivacity, Ehrman explores the ways that memory shapes, distorts, changes, and preserves the stories of Jesus passed along by the Christian community. Ehrman’s provocative book raises engaging questions that drive readers back to the sources of our information about Jesus.” —Publishers Weekly

“One can see why Ehrman is so widely known and respected by so many people. Here Ehrman takes a completely different approach from his previous books. This book is a new approach to the study of the beginnings of Christianity.” —Association for Mormon Letters

”Jesus Before the Gospels is a scholarly yet readable study of Jesus and the Gospels. Ehrman’s scholarship remains unmatched. Ehrman unveils several unexplored aspects of the life of Jesus and the Gospels. Everybody with an interest in Christianity and religion in general will find this fascinating book useful.” —Washington Book Review

“With Jesus Before the Gospels, Bart D. Ehrman has written a thought-provoking book prompted by his interest as a historian in the various traditions about Jesus. Enjoyable to read ” —America Magazine

“Our secular culture continues to be profoundly impacted by biblical influences - including fundamentalist biblical influences - and this controversial book raises some important questions.” —State of Belief Radio

“Why buy this book if you’ve already got lots of volumes about Jesus? This book is something new. You’ll discover people in this book that you would never encounter in other religious books. There’s nothing like this 300-page exploration of our earliest human memories of Jesus.” —Read The Spirit

“Ehrman is one of the foremost voices in the historical Jesus debates. In this, the latest of a long list of influential books, he combines his ideas about Jesus with cutting-edge research from cognitive psychology, cultural anthropology, and sociology. He more than succeeds in achieving his goal. Highly recommended.” —Spirit Connection NY

“Author Bart Ehrman tackles a central question for scholars of the New Testament-- the accuracy of the text.” —NPR's Interfaith Voices

“In his latest book, controversial New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman applies new scientific understanding of how memory works to the gospels.” —WYPR

“Were the authors of the gospels who told fanciful stories about Jesus making stuff up, or did they have faulty memories, or both? Bart Ehrman, one the most renowned and controversial religious scholars in the world, tackles the issue of Jesus and memory.” —Progressive Spirit Podcast

“Ehrman is known to his legion of readers as a scholar who has spent his academic career debunking long-held assumptions of traditional Christian belief. Jesus Before the Gospels applies contemporary memory science to the oral traditions of the early Christians.” —Religion News Service

“A fascinating look at how memory affects the stories we tell and even our recollection of history.” —Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

“No one makes it easier to study the Bible than Ehrman. Jesus Before the Gospels is essential. Ehrman presents a much needed, brilliant argument-one that challenges unsubstantiated assumptions about the reliability of the Gospels.” —David Kyle Johnson, PsychologyToday.com's 'A Logical Take' blog

Product Details

  • ISBN: 9780062285232
  • ISBN 10: 0062285238
  • Imprint: HarperOne
  • On Sale: 03/01/2016
  • Pages: 336
  • List Price: 11.99 CAD
  • BISAC1: RELIGION / General
  • BISAC2: RELIGION / Christianity / General
  • BISAC3: RELIGION / Biblical Commentary / General

Jesus Before the Gospels by Bart D. Ehrman

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