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

Jesus Before the Gospels

By Bart D. Ehrman

Publisher: HarperOne
Publication Date: March 1, 2016
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0062285203
ISBN-13: 9780062285201
Format: Hardcover, 336pp
Dimensions: 6 x 1.09 x 9 inches

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“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

“Will the real Jesus please stand up. Ehrman has established himself as 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 states that his intent is to provide complicated academic theory, dating back a century, in a form which is both interesting and accessible to general audiences. He more than succeeds in achieving his goal. Was Jesus actually more zealot than apocalyptic prophet? Did Jesus have siblings? Are the “Gnostic Gospels” really Gnostic? Are traditional gospel teachings based on distorted memories? How reliable is eyewitness testimony? Who were the real authors of the canonical gospels? What impact does collective Christian memory have on the world we live in today? Ehrman offers more insight and information than answers when tackling these questions. By doing so, he is positioning this book to bring an entirely new audience to a thoughtful examination of what has previously been accepted as the truth about Jesus. Highly recommended.”
—Anna Jedrziewski of


Many believe that the Gospel stories of Jesus are based on eyewitness testimony and are therefore historically reliable. Now, for the first time, a scholar of the New Testament, New York Times bestselling author Bart D. Ehrman (Misquoting Jesus; and Jesus, Interrupted), surveys research from the fields of psychology, anthropology, and sociology to explore how oral traditions and group memories really work and questions how reliable the Gospels can be.

Focusing on the decades-long gap between when Jesus lived and when these documents about him began to appear, Ehrman looks to these varied disciplines to see what they can tell us about how the New Testament developed. In the book, Ehrman examines:

  • How cultural anthropologists studied the oral traditions of Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and Ghana to reveal how stories always change as they are passed along.
  • How psychologists have discovered the routine phenomena of “false memories” and how strongly people contend that these false memories really happened.
  • How modern legal scholars and psychologists have shown how unreliable eyewitness testimonies really are, with people regularly distorting what they experienced.
  • How sociologists have shown that a group’s collective memory is strongly shaped by the issues and concerns of the remembering community just as much by the events themselves

Jesus Before the Gospels is a compelling narrative that not only demonstrates Ehrman’s deep knowledge and meticulous scholarship, but also challenges the historical accuracy of the Gospels and what they tell us about the historical Jesus, the way we read and think about these sacred texts, and how we view history.