Did Distorted Memories Form the Gospels?

By McDaniel, Dennis D. | National Catholic Reporter, April 22, 2016 | Go to article overview

Did Distorted Memories Form the Gospels?


McDaniel, Dennis D., National Catholic Reporter


JESUS BEFORE THE GOSPELS: HOW THE EARLIEST CHRISTIANS REMEMBERED, CHANGED, AND INVENTED THEIR STORIES OF THE SAVIOR

By Bart D. Ehrman

Published by HarperOne, 336 pages, $27.99

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

At 11:30 a.m. Mass, after the second reading, the visiting priest surprised us by grabbing a wireless microphone and strolling down the center aisle. Abandoning the Lectionary he set out to recite from memory the Gospel story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery I could sense some tension in the church: Would the priest forget anything?

In turned out that he didn't, if by "anything" one means the basic plot and dialogue. But why risk accuracy for intimacy? Soon we found out: Freed from the lectern and the book, the celebrant could make eye contact, insert metanarrative, repeat words for emphasis, add plausible reactions of the devious scribes and Pharisees, and bend down to dramatize Jesus writing in the dirt.

The congregants and were engaged and enriched; I hadn't heard this Gospel before--it felt new with this retelling. "That Gospel was pretty cool," my son whispered to me.

"I'm not trying this with the Passion," the priest deadpanned as he walked back to the altar.

The Gospels as living, recollected stories are the focus of Bart D. Ehr-man's latest book, Jesus Before the Gospels. Asserting that the evangelists, writing decades after the death of Jesus, neither witnessed the life of Jesus nor had contact with any eyewitnesses, Ehrman's book argues that the Gospels we read are not reliable histories. They are, instead, partially distorted memories that were passed down through a series of storytellers who forgot, fabricated or stretched the truth, and invented a Jesus who embodied their communities' wishes and values.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Ehrman's exhaustively researched analysis of Scripture poses a challenge to Christians: Can we still believe in the Gospels if they are proven to be historically inaccurate? Do Jesus' teachings, actions and miracles retain their value if we know they are largely misremembered or even fictional?

Distinguishing the historical Jesus from the Jesus in the canonical Scriptures has been Ehrman's pursuit through the 11 acclaimed and popular books he has written or edited over the past 11 years. The Jesus Christ we know, Ehrman has maintained, has been constructed through interested interpretations, outright forgeries, and suppression of heretical texts.

Ehrman's new book is the result of a thorough review of the relevant research by cognitive psychology sociology and cultural anthropology It has validated his doubts about the accuracy of eyewitness testimony and has led him to find that even our memories of significant events can be substantially altered by suggestion, intervening occurrences, and social pressure.

To lend weight to his argument of the Gospels as distorted memories, Ehrman points to contradictions among various scriptural accounts. Some problems, like Judas' death, seem benign: Did Judas die by hanging, disembowelment, suicidal fear of a resurrected roasting chicken, or, according to Papias, from swelling with pus and worms to bursting?

Other contradictions have more serious implications. Sources agree on the "gist" memory that Jesus was tried and sentenced by Pontius Pilate. On the other hand, stories on which there is little or no agreement and that simply don't stand to reason constitute distorted memories, according to Ehrman. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Did Distorted Memories Form the Gospels?
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.