I return now to questions about how early Christians “remembered” Jesus as they told and retold stories about him.   People often claim that the Gospels must be accurate because they are based on eyewitness testimony that was carefully guarded to ensure its accuracy.  But let’s think about that for a bit in realistic terms.  Here is how I discuss the matter in my book Jesus Before the Gospels (Harper One: 2016).


If during the 40-65 years separating Jesus’ life and the surviving Gospels, his sayings and deeds of Jesus were not memorized by his followers and then passed down, verbatim, through the church, and if they were not circulated accurately within informally controlled settings, how were they being told and retold?

One obvious point to stress, which has not occurred to everybody, is this:  stories about Jesus were circulating even during his lifetime.  Moreover, even then they were not being told only by eyewitnesses.  When someone who saw Jesus do or say something then and told someone else who wasn’t there, it is impossible to believe that this other person was forbidden from sharing the news with someone else.  Life just doesn’t work that way.  Think about any public person you know: the President of the United States, a movie star, a famous author, or even just a popular (or even more, unpopular) university professor.  People tell stories about them.  And other people repeat the stories.  Then other people repeat the stories.  And the stories obviously are told in different words, every time.  Thus, the stories change.  Moreover, stories get made up.  You don’t have to take my word for it.  Ask any public figure.  It is true that

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