In my previous post I showed how Christian missionaries – the vast majority of them not companions of Jesus or eyewitnesses to his life – were telling stories about Jesus as they moved around in the empire spreading the gospel in the early decades, before the Gospels were written (think Paul and his missionary companions, Timothy, Silvanus, etc – none of them from Israel, none of them having laid eyes on Jesus before his death).  The problems of word-of-mouth traditions are even more complicated than I’ve so far discussed, however.  Here is how I go on to discuss the matter in my book Jesus Before the Gospels (HarperOne, 2016).


It was not only these missionaries who were converting others, however.  The converts they made were themselves converting people.   Take another hypothetical but completely plausible situation:  suppose I’m a worshiper of the traditional Roman gods, living in the town of Colossae in, say, the year 50 CE.   The missionary Epaphras comes to town and I meet him at his place of business.  I’m a highly religious man, but I’m always interested in new ideas.   Ephaphras begins to tell me about the Son of God who did miraculous deeds in Galilee: he healed the sick, and cast out demons, and raised the dead.   At the end of his life, he was betrayed by his own people and crucified by the governor Pontius Pilate.  But then God raised him from the dead.

At first I might think that Epaphras is making it up.  Or that he’s a bit looney.  But then I talk to other people whom Epaphras has convinced.  They also are full of stories, both about the amazing things Jesus did and the fact that people actually saw him alive after his death.  They also tell about other miracles that are happening, even now, in the powerful name of Jesus.

I eventually become convinced.   I give up

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