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Drew Marshall Show – Jesus Before The Gospels

I was a guest on the The Drew Marshall Show on March 12, 2016 for an interview about my book Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Early Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior.  The broadcast was recorded from the studio of CJYE based in Oakville, Ontario Canada.

Like the book, the interview discusses both what we know about the phenomenon of memory, based on research done in the fields of psychology, anthropology, and sociology, and how this research can be applied to the Gospel stories of Jesus.  Did the followers of Jesus — both those who knew him and those who heard the stories told and retold about him in the decades before our accounts were actually written — remember accurately what they heard?  Did the stories about Jesus change as memories failed and as story-tellers molded their tales for their audiences?   Obviously what is involved is the historical accuracy of the Gospels, the way we read and think about them, and how we view history.

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Responses to Misquoting Jesus: Readers’ Mailbag
Ehrman vs Craig: Evidence for Resurrection



  1. Avatar
    rivercrowman  February 5, 2017

    “Only a small minority of authors over-write themselves. Most of the good and the tolerable ones do not write enough.” (Arnold Bennett) … Same is true for scholars who share radio interviews on their blogs. Let’s hear some more Bart!

  2. Avatar
    Wilusa  February 5, 2017

    This was disappointing. To put it mildly! The “interviewers” – obviously conservative Christians (I’m trying to be polite here) – didn’t permit an intelligent discussion of the book at all. The only way a listener could learn what topics were in it was when one of them read a synopsis. They never gave Bart a chance to discuss any of those topics in depth (such “depth” as would have been possible in a half-hour show).

    • Avatar
      dragonfly  February 15, 2017

      I just listened to this and I agree with Wilusa. It must be disheartening to go on radio to promote your book, but instead of talking about the book they just accuse you of trying to destroy other people’s faith.

  3. Avatar
    toejam  February 6, 2017

    Quick unrelated question: Do you think it’s fair to say that most scholars understand that Paul thought and taught that the Apocalypse/Second Coming/Day of Wrath would happen within his lifetime?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 6, 2017

      Most critical scholars, yes. Most fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals: I doubt it.

  4. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  February 6, 2017

    Probably the part of your thesis that has had the most impact on me is the idea of an author trying to recount the Sermon on the Mount 4 decades later without having any notes and comparing it to trying to recount a presidential state of the union address four decades ago. Good luck! So, where in the world did the author of Matthew get these remarkable ideas?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 6, 2017

      From stories told about Jesus’ teachigns, which he combined into one long (and amazing) sermon.

  5. Avatar
    Wilusa  February 6, 2017

    OT: Bart, I know you’ve said recently that Origen believed in reincarnation; I’ve also heard that elsewhere. Out of curiosity, I just checked what Wikipedia has to say about him. And if what they’re saying is correct, there’s no way I’d call it reincarnation!

    They say he held the belief that God, long ago, created a great many bodiless souls. As time passed, some of those entities turned against God. Eventually, God split them into three groups. The ones who’d turned against him became “demons”; those who were most loyal became “angels”; and those in between were given physical bodies and became humans (accounting for, I assume, the entire human species).

    A very strange belief, IMHO! But the article didn’t seem to be saying that human “souls” reincarnate, only that (the first-human ancestors of everyone else, or all of us? – I don’t know) had a preexistence as bodiless souls. How do you understand it?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 6, 2017

      Yes, the three kinds of spirit beings is right. The humans are to become perfect so they can return to a heavenly existence. If they don’t do so in this go-around, they come back, and keep coming back, till they get it right.

  6. Avatar
    Tempo1936  February 6, 2017

    In one of your videos concerning “when Jesus became god” you say that Jesus never claimed to be God in Matthew Mark and Luke. He only claimed to be God in the Gospel of John. That’s just not correct. Why do you exclude Mark 2:5-7 in your presentation ?

    And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
    It’s clear Jesus is claiming to be God in the Gospel of Mark very early in his ministry.

    • Bart
      Bart  February 6, 2017

      You will note that Jesus does not say who he is in this passage. He never, for example, says “You’re right: only God can forgive sins. And to show that I am God, I will now forgive sins.” No, what he says in response to the claim that only God can forgive sins is to say “I have the power to forgive sins.” I take that to mean, I have been given the authority to do this. And I take it not to be a claim to be equal with god but a claim to be equal with the Jewish priests, who, in the temple, could pronounce sins forgiven. So I think you and I read the passage differently. But in any event, you will notice Jesus never says he is God in the passage — it has to be inferred by an interpretation of the passage.

      • Avatar
        Tempo1936  February 7, 2017

        To further support your interpretation, I notice Jesus says the Son of man has been given authority on earth. Clearly Jesus is implying God has granted Jesus the authority to forgive sins.

        Mark 2:10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic—

  7. Avatar
    Mhamed Errifi  February 6, 2017

    hello Bart

    According to the book of Hebrews, in chapter 7 and verse 3, the writer refers to Melchizedek the king of Salem (which later became known as Jerusalem) and a high priest of God Most High (cf. Genesis 14:18-20). What makes this rather astonishing is that the author claims that Melchizedek has no beginning or end of life, no parents, and no genealogy. These are attributes and characteristics which belong only to God, which therefore suggests that Melchizedek is actually God.

    how do you as an expert interpret this verse


    • Bart
      Bart  February 6, 2017

      I’m not sure what you are wondering about it. But no, I don’t think he is saying Melchizedek is God the Creator of all things (if that’s what you’re asking). He is a preincarnate form of the Son of God.

  8. Avatar
    Eskil  February 6, 2017

    If it is plausible the Jesus was literate, isn’t it reasonable to assume that his brother James was literate as well?

    How can you be so sure that Jesus and James did not teach the disciples to read and write? I assume that the disciples must have been youngsters (younger than Jesus at least if not kids) and not the bearded elders that we can see in the Church art. That would also explain why they quit their jobs so easily and joined a religious school.

    On the other hand, if Jesus and the the apostles were illiterate, they mush have had some followers that could read the scriptures for them and therefore probably write as well.

    In the Apocryphon of James it says that…

    “the twelve disciples were sitting all together at the same time, and, remembering what the Savior had said to each one of them, whether secretly or openly, they were setting it down in books”

    The tradition or belief that that the disciples could write or used scribes seem to be quite early.

    • Bart
      Bart  February 7, 2017

      I don’t know of any evidence that Jesus’ brother James could read. It would be highly unusual for two siblings in a remote rural area being literate. You may want to read up on literacy in antiquity, for example William Harris, Ancient Literacy, and Catherine Hezser, Literacy in Roman Palestine. For one thing, it’s not clear that there *were* any “religious schools”

      • Avatar
        Eskil  February 7, 2017

        No doubt literacy has been very rare in ancient times and mainly possessed by priests / religious leaders.

        It’s just a bit hard to believe that apostle Paul was the only literate person that the esteemed pillars of the Jerusalem church, James, Cephas and John, ever met after the crucifixion and that all other stories were orally transmitted.

        I assume it was around the year 50 that Paul went to Jerusalem the last time to meet James, Cephas and John. How did they hear the Scriptures the 20 years after Jesus death? Did they have to go the Temple to listen while the rivalry group Pharisees read the scriptures aloud? How did the early Christian leaders manage to reinterpret the Jewish Scriptures while being all illiterate?

        Whoever wrote books like The Secret Book of James assumed that e.g. James was literate or at least that the believers would buy it – only 50-100 years latter.

        James: “Since you asked me to send you a secret book which was revealed to me and Peter by the Lord, I could neither refuse you nor speak directly to you, but I have written it in Hebrew letters and have sent it to you – and to you alone.”

        It seems that regardless of literacy being rare, early Christians at least assumed it to be plausible that some of the disciples were literate.

        And if the Q can be dated back to the year year 40 than the pillars were still alive in Jerusalem when it was written down.

        • Bart
          Bart  February 9, 2017

          I don’t think Paul was the only literate person in early Christianity — far from it. (Among other things, people had to read his letters). But I think it’s completely implausible that fishermen in rural Galilee (Peter James and John) could read, let alone write. You may be interested in the book by Catherine Hezser, Literacy in Roman Palestine.

          • Avatar
            Eskil  February 9, 2017

            Jewish encyclopaedia says that rabbis invariably had their private occupations in ancient times: wood-chopper, builder, blacksmith, tanner, sandal-maker, carpenter, merchant, farmer, etc. at least year 70 onwards.


            What would have prevented a rabbi being a fisherman as a private occupation in ancient times?

            Anyhow, I’m not claiming that Peter wrote his epistle himself in greek. However, I think that the Q (and maybe Gospel of Thomas) could be based on the eyewitness accounts, even disciples’. I do not think it mattes who wrote them down. As if today great leaders would be writing their own speeches.

          • Bart
            Bart  February 10, 2017

            Again, there was not an office of “rabbi” in Jesus’ day. In his day the word simply referred to someone who was a teacher. Later it became more official, kind of like “university professor” — a term that has clear cut implications.

          • Avatar
            Eskil  February 11, 2017

            Based on archeological evidence there was Synagogue in Capernaum, the fishing village that was Peter and John’s home town, during Jesus lifetime – just like it says in the Gospels. There would have been Torah scrolls and someone (maybe not called rabbi but something else) reading and teaching the Torah as well, right?

            Based on archeological evidence there was also Sepphoris, a large Roman-influenced city, only 6 kilometres from Nazareth. It seems that Galilee was not only rural area where peasants lived.

            Anyhow, it is very hard to believe that
            1. uneducated and illiterate hillbillies managed to create a religious movement out of nothing within just a couple of years
            2. educated and literate Paul with his followers decided to follow such a Nazarenes sect?

            Even the earliest sources like Q and Thomas indicate quite sophisticated philosophy and symbolism. It doesn’t seem to match with such origins.

          • Bart
            Bart  February 12, 2017

            The synagogue in Capernaum (which I’ve visited a number of times; very fine structure) dates from the fourth or fifth century. We don’t have evidence of a synagogue there in the days of Jesus. And yes, there were cities in Galilee, but neither Jesus nor his disciples are connected with any of them in the NT.

          • Avatar
            Eskil  February 12, 2017

            Well, based on an early Christian tradition in the Apocrypha, Mary’s parents, Jesus’ grand parents, lived in Sepphoris. It being only a short walking distance away from Nazareth, Jesus could have visited there many times to meet relatives before he started his ministry.

            There was also Roman theatre in Sepphoris around year 66. Its building would have required lots of tektons.

            And synagogues usually locate on the sites of far older synagogue buildings. That could the the case in Capernaum as well. Some claim there is a foundation of another synagogue under the 4th century one.


          • Bart
            Bart  February 13, 2017

            I’m not familiar with an early Christian tradition that Jehoiakim and Anna came from Sepphoris. Where are you finding that? And yes, some decades after Jesus’ death, a theater was built in Sepphoris. As to Capernaum, yes again, sometimes synagogues of the fourth or fifth century were built on previous ones. But not always. The question is always: “Was this one?” Archaeologists have tried to find evidence for a first century synagogue in Capernaum and unfortunately have turned up nothing.

          • Avatar
            Eskil  February 13, 2017

            Where else…


            “In Late Antiquity, it [Sepphoris] was believed to be the birthplace of Mary, mother of Jesus, and the village where Saints Anna and Joachim are often said to have resided.[6]”

            [6] Eric Meyers ed. (1999). Galilee, Confluence of Cultures. Eisenbrauns: Winona Lake, Indiana. pp. 396-7

            It also says there that “It has been suggested that Jesus, while living in Nazareth, may have worked as a craftsman at Sepphoris,[24]”

            But I have heard that elsewhere as well.

          • Bart
            Bart  February 14, 2017

            I’m not saying it’s false. But I’m familiar with the early Christian apocrypha, and I don’t recall this anywhere. So I would like to know which apocryphon says this (so I could know the date of the tradition).

      • Avatar
        Eskil  February 8, 2017

        > For one thing, it’s not clear that there *were* any “religious schools”

        Well, the disciples (pupils) called Jesus as Rabbi (teacher of Torah) in the three out of the four canonical Gospels.



        The definition of “A school is an institution designed to provide learning spaces and learning environments for the teaching of students (or “pupils”) under the direction of teachers.”


        “Torah” denotes both the five books (Hebrew: תורה שבכתב “Torah that is written”) as well as the Oral Torah (תורה שבעל פה, “Torah that is spoken”).


        Therefore, I think there is reasonable doubt that Jesus thought the apostles to read and write the Torah.

        • Bart
          Bart  February 9, 2017

          I’m afraid there were no established rabbinic school in the early first century. The information about rabbinic schools comes from written sources two centuries and (much) more later.

  9. Avatar
    tcasto  February 6, 2017

    I don’t know Drew Marshall but I give him props for giving you a polite venue and an opportunity to address some of the opposing views to yours.

    John McCauley raised some good points although nothing than changes the historical view of the evolution of the bible and Christology. He prompted a thought with his assertion that the bible, with all its inaccuracies, still provided a “pathway to faith” or something to that effect.

    I wouldn’t dispute that claim. And I would never use my belief in Bart’s assessment of bible history to undermine or challenge someone’s faith in a divine being and a life hereafter. What I would challenge is their insistence that their faith is based on an accurate historical record of the life and death of Jesus.

    It has become clear to me that Christology is the result of decades if not centuries of devout believers trying to make sense of an often senseless world. As my brother, a devout Christian, once said to me, ” the bible isn’t necessarily what was but what should of been”.

    If someone wants to believe in a god who made us in his image and begot a human/divine son to be a blood sacrifice for our redemption, so be it. Just don’t try to use the bible as evidence to support that faith.

  10. Avatar
    Pattycake1974  February 17, 2017

    I’m just now seeing this for some reason. Even missed it the first go around, but I really liked this interview. I see that some others disagree and that’s okay, but I thought it was much more interesting than the Fresh Air interview for Jesus Interrupted. Of course, Terry Gross has a huge following, so she can reach a wider audience. But, her voice is so monotone that I want to fall asleep while she’s talking. (She should sing Soft Kitty to the masses who have insomnia. Anyone who watches Big Bang Theory will understand lol) I haven’t listened to any of her other interviews so they might be different, but at least these guys had questions that are important to Christians. Listening to an interview that doesn’t have challenging questions is a snooze fest.

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