Jesus Before the Gospels

  • by Bart D. Ehrman
  • Narrated by Joe Barrett
  • 10 hrs and 4 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

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.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

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.
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- Jacobus

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.
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- Ryan

Book Details

  • Release Date: 03-01-2016
  • Publisher: HarperAudio