Jesus Before the Gospels Review Part 2

If you are a Christian, Jesus should the primary leader of your life.  But what if Jesus isn’t who the Gospels claim He is?  Author Bart Ehrman has written a few books set out to discredit Christianity, the bible, and the foundation of our beliefs.  Guest blogger, Tom Tozer, has taken on the claims of Ehrman’s latest book. Let’s get plugged into leadership and see what Tozer has to say! Part 1

Chapter 2 of Ehrman’s “Jesus Before the Gospels” begins, egregiously enough, “When memory researchers speak about ‘distorted’ memories they do not necessarily mean anything negative by it. They are simply referring to memories of things that did not really happen. Most, probably all, of the memories of Jesus discussed in the previous chapter are distorted in that sense. People brought to mind words and deeds of Jesus that the historical Jesus did not actually say and do.”

Which “memories” of Jesus is he talking about here? The “memories” that are not actually memories of Jesus (not episodic) but memories of learned information? The apocryphal books? He goes on to talk a bit about the apocryphal stories, but as I said, the Church rejected those as memories. So why does he continue to act like they are? More to the point though, what basis has Ehrman established so far to apply such a statement to the Gospels themselves? Without any real support, he has simply lumped the Gospels in with those books that everyone agrees are not eyewitness memories. Nice trick. But he hasn’t established anything to show that the Gospels are anything other than eyewitness accounts written in living memory of the events. If they are, all his issues with memory in the prior chapter and introduction are irrelevant.

Next Ehrman discusses a seventeenth century writer named Reimarus. I honestly have no idea why. Reimarus was not an eyewitness. He reviewed the Gospels and decided that Jesus never intended to be the savior of the world, but was just a firebrand revolutionary who wanted to be king. Then he was crucified. Then the disciples hatched this great plan that would allow them to continue to reap the rewards of preaching and missionary work. All they had to do was pretend Jesus rose from the dead. Seriously. That’s Reimarus’ story. Personally I find that less credible than a resurrection. But Reimarus certainly didn’t have any personal memory of Jesus.

Anyway, the next section is about “a major breakthrough” in critical analysis of the Gospels – form criticism. That thing that Ehrman told a radio audience on the “Unbelievable?” show he wasn’t doing in his book. Ehrman asserts that form critics began to realize “that the Gospels could not all be eyewitness accounts of the life of Jesus and that there were, in fact, serious discrepancies among them.” The form critics as he describes them seem to have made up criteria for things they cannot possibly know to be true, and reached conclusions based on that speculation. For instance, Ehrman says there is no basis to believe that the disciples memorized his sayings because the Gospels don’t have scenes of Jesus grilling the disciples in memorization drills (Page 69). “Therefore,” Ehrman says, the view that the disciples memorized things “was anachronistic.” That is possibly one of the dumbest things I’ve ever read. Apparently Ehrman thinks the Gospels should have included Jesus’ top tips on memory drills for rabbinical students. Because that is clearly the focus and message of Jesus’ life, how to memorize sayings. Oy.

Ehrman also discusses the theory of a scholar named Bailey of “controlled” oral tradition. The basic idea is that Bailey attended haflat samar, local gatherings where stories were told. The tellers were given some freedom in the telling, but important facts and details were carefully policed by the community, and the tellers shamed if they misstated something. In any case, whether or not this was a widespread thing is unimportant, again, if the Gospels are in fact sourced in eyewitness accounts. The rest of the chapter continues about various “must have beens” imaginings of how the stories about Jesus spread. Once again, if the point of this is the Gospels, then it is irrelevant how some stories spread if the Gospels are sourced in eyewitness accounts. Why? Because if stories were spread as Ehrman imagines, then if they accurately portray an eyewitness account they are included in the Gospels. If they do not, then they are not included. Simply put, we do not need to worry about the accuracy of stories that are NOT in the Gospels when deciding about the accuracy of the Gospels.

About the Author :
Tom Tozer is a lawyer in the Chicago suburbs and one of A.W. Tozer’s many grandchildren.  He is married with three daughters, and has taught confirmation classes for almost 20 years.  He has Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from University of CHicago as well as a J.D. from Indiana University, Bloomington.  He recently converted to the Catholic faith.


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