SPIRITUALITY & RELIGION

Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior

HarperOne. Mar. 2016. 336p. notes. index. ISBN 9780062285201. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062285232. REL
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In this work, New Testament scholar Ehrman (religious studies, Univ. of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Misquoting Jesus) draws sharp distinctions between oral culture, with its inaccurate transmissions, and modern historiography's factual exactness; eyewitness testimony and recent psychological studies; and cultural memories and modern sociology, to show how a community's motivations and concerns alter what information is maintained. The author contends that Jesus's culture was not simply "oral," that he and his followers interacted with Pharisees and Romans on many levels. Yet, Ehrman's comparisons of the way students today tell stories and the approach Jesus's followers might have taken is not necessarily precise given cultural differences, educational backgrounds, and perceptions of time. Ehrman seems to "set up a strawman," knock it down, and partially restore it as he points out that the Bible is valuable, just not as history. He argues that the Gospel writers were not claiming to be documenting history or biography; rather they were proclaiming the "good news" of Jesus as they experienced or heard of it.
VERDICT For readers interested in an intriguing and entertaining take on the formation of the Gospels.

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