The Historical Jesus : The Great Courses: Christianity

  • by The Great Courses, Bart D. Ehrman
  • Narrated by Professor Bart D. Ehrman
  • Series: The Great Courses: Christianity
  • 12 hrs and 21 mins
  • Lecture

Publisher's Summary

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.


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

A compelling case for JC as an apocalyptic prophet

These lectures are fantastic. I couldn't get enough. Dr. Ehrman builds a very well-reasoned and carefully constructed case which explains how the historical evidence for JC clearly depicts him as an apocalyptcist.

I am thoroughly agnostic, and listened to this because I realized I had no good reason to believe that Jesus was God, but I also could not satisfactorily explain him any other way. After reading some Christian apologetics, like Lee Strobel's "Case for Christ," I didn't feel satisfied, so I pursued a more "scholarly" route.

Ehrman is a great narrator with solid facts. He doesn't appear to suffer heavily from confirmation bias, as do the militant atheists and Christian apologeticists. I am happy with what I have taken away from this series, and would highly recommend it to anyone dissatisfied with their knowledge of the historical (rather than purely theological) validity of the accounts of Jesus' life.
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- Emily DelDuco


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.)
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- Tad Davis

Book Details

  • Release Date: 07-08-2013
  • Publisher: The Great Courses