I’m discussing how in both the ancient and modern worlds people have constructed “false memories” of who Jesus really was.  In this post I give a brief explanation of how scholars became increasingly aware of the problem and, for a time, thought they had found a solution:  Mark’s Gospel is the unembellished version and so we need to stick mainly with that!  How’d they come up with *that* one?  And is it true?

This is taken from my book Jesus Before the Gospels (HarperOne, 2016).


Throughout the history of scholarship, especially since the nineteenth century, scholars have realized that Christians in the early years after Jesus’ death were not only altering traditions about Jesus’ life and teaching that they inherited, they were also inventing them.   We do not need to wait for non-canonical Gospels such as the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Peter, or the Gospel of Nicodemus for “distorted” memories of Jesus to surface among authors and their readers.  (Recall: by “distorted memory” I simply mean any recollection of the past that is not accurate with respect to what really happened.)

The evidence that distorted memories were beginning to emerge soon after Jesus’ life – or even during his life – can be found in the written accounts that began to appear forty years or so later, that is, in our canonical Gospels.    Often these accounts cannot be reconciled with one another.   But any time you have two or more irreconcilable accounts, they cannot all be historically accurate.   Someone, then, is changing or inventing the stories.[1]

But who was doing so?  A major breakthrough in our understanding of the Gospels occurred about a century ago.   Some scholars in Germany came to realize that

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