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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.)
48 of 55 people found this review helpful
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.
7 of 8 people found this review helpful
What did you like most about The Historical Jesus?
This was a very interesting lecture, with lots of intriguing concepts. It was very balanced and for such a sensitive topic the author/reader managed to keep most of his personal bias out it, which for such a topic is a monumental achievement.
Who might you have cast as narrator instead of Professor Bart D. Ehrman?
Unfortunately the problem with the reader is that he is presenting in a visual medium and this is an audio recording. Irregardless the whole thing has ended up as a smooth finished product.
Any additional comments?
There is one or two chapters where the author/reader feels a little 'preachy' I urge listeners to try and cope with his presentation and push past these; it is well worth it in the end.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
Fascinating, detailed and well researched. Should be part of seminary. Absolutely worth listening to. The lecturer is clear and easy to hear, the contents easy to follow. No background knowledge necessary.
This presentation is a master piece. The presenter cuts to the facts which is hard to do through the mists of time. I was surprised how many things we take as gospel have no historical grounding at all.