UNC Chapel Hill professor publishes new book on the historical Jesus

Historians in the News
tags: religion, UNC Chapel Hill, Bart D Ehrman, Jesus Before the Gospels

Did Jesus exist? And what can we know about him from history?

There is no doubt in my mind at all that Jesus existed. Whatever else you might say about him, he was a Jewish preacher in rural Galilee who proclaimed an apocalyptic message of the coming appearance of God’s kingdom. The last week of his life he made a trip to the holy city of Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, and while there he aroused considerable animosity leading to his arrest on charges of political insurgency. After a short trial before Pontius Pilate, he was condemned and crucified.

This much we know with a high level of certainty. The question is: what about all the details? Can the Gospel accounts be trusted to preserve accurate memories of what Jesus actually said and did, both during his ministry and in the days and hours leading up to his death? That’s what I deal with in my book Jesus Before the Gospels.

Tell us about “Jesus Before the Gospels” and what you are looking to accomplish in your latest book.

Here is the fascinating issue that I deal with in the book. Virtually every one agrees that Jesus was executed sometime around the year 30 CE. Moreover, there is widespread agreement that the first Gospel to be written was Mark’s, around the year 70 CE. Matthew and Luke were 10-15 years later than that, and the Gospel of John was last, around the year 90 or 95 CE. Those dates are widely held by critical scholars. But what not enough people have thought about is the significance of those dates – specifically the time gap between the death of Jesus and the first accounts of his life. The gap is 40-65 years! 

What was happening in all those years? Well, lots of things in the Roman Empire. But the most important thing that was happening for Christianity is that it was spreading throughout the Roman world. By the time John was written, there were Christian churches not just in the environs of Jerusalem, where the whole thing started, but throughout Judea, in Samaria, in Galilee, in Cilicia, in Asia Minor (modern Turkey), in Macedonia and Achaia (modern Greece), in Italy, possibly as far away as Spain, possibly in North Africa, and probably in Egypt. ...

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