14 votes, average: 4.93 out of 514 votes, average: 4.93 out of 514 votes, average: 4.93 out of 514 votes, average: 4.93 out of 514 votes, average: 4.93 out of 5 (14 votes, average: 4.93 out of 5)
You need to be a registered member to rate this post.

My Memory Book: False Memories and the Life of Jesus

As I indicated in my previous two posts, the fifth chapter of the book I’m now writing, Jesus Before The Gospels, deals with “False Memories and the Life of Jesus.”  The first part of the chapter shows what we know about how traditions are kept alive in oral cultures, as they are told and retold, either by professionals who are experts or by regular ole folk who are not.   And so this part of the chapter summarizes the research into oral cultures undertaken by anthropologists.

Of course there are no anthropologists who can study ancient cultures, at least in the way they can study modern cultures, when they can go in to observe how the culture “works,” interview people, and get to know the cultural world first-hand.   But it is possible to apply the findings of modern anthropology to long-deceased cultures, such as the Christian communities of the first century.   And that’s what I try to do in this chapter.

My specific interest is in how Jesus was remembered in these cultures that passed along their traditions by word of mouth, and what I argue is that there are clear indications that some of the “memories” of Jesus that we know about are not “true,” in the sense that they do not conform to historical realities of Jesus in his own day.

Some of my readers have not understood the point that I have been trying to make about this, mainly because I have not explained it very well.  When I say that a Gospel passage represents a “false memory,” I am not necessarily saying that the author of the account is misremembering something.  That may indeed to be the case, but it is impossible to know.  It may also be the case that he’s just makin’ something up.   My point, though, is that the way Jesus came to be remembered by those who *read* these Gospel accounts, and formed their impressions of Jesus from them, was based on these narratives that are not true to history.   They may be religiously true or theologically true, but they aren’t historically true.  It is in that sense, and only in that sense, that I am referring to them as false memories.

People still today have false memories of Jesus based on what they have read in the Bible.  In this chapter 5, I deal with false memories involving the life (as opposed to the death) of Jesus – including his teachings.  Here is one example that I give.  (It is simply a rough draft of what I cover in the chapter.)




You need to be logged in to see this part of the content. Please Login to access.


My Memory Book, Chapter 6 on “Collective Memory”
On Being Controversial



  1. Josephsluna
    Josephsluna  April 20, 2015

    When did you say the new book would be available for purchase? The biggest mystery in gospel in john would be
    John 21-20 and 24 everybody knows that. I see that my posting are just being deleted, so in future I will make sure they well thought out and on subject, lol 🙂

    • Bart
      Bart  April 22, 2015

      Hopefully it will be out spring 2016.

      • Josephsluna
        Josephsluna  April 22, 2015

        Thanks bart, think I might purchase it.
        When is the next time your coming to colorado ?
        You gonna ever add me on Facebook

        • Bart
          Bart  April 24, 2015

          No plans on going there just now.

          • Avatar
            Maurices5000  October 30, 2015

            Thanks for the post, this is certainly interesting. It would certainly provide some evidence against the historicity of the Gospels.

            Is this chapter mostly on similar examples? I was really interested in this topic, and i wish you could have elaborated more. I have already heard this basic argument from one of your Great Courses which i purchased. I’m wondering how this ties in to modern oral cultures. Also the question is whether such cultures similar to the first century really exist today.

            I have little to know knowledge of oral cultures. Apologists make great claims concerning oral cultures in ancient times. I simply find them unconvincing. However, an earlier Mark, would bridge this gap some.

          • Bart
            Bart  November 1, 2015

            Yes, the book is full of examples!

  2. Avatar
    stokerslodge  April 20, 2015

    Bart, I came across the following on the UK Apologetics Facebook page; it includes a link to a video labelled “The Reliability of the New Testament (Oral Tradition)” Note the note the claim that it “undercuts Ehrman completely”

    “Have people come across this incredibly useful and compact resource on Oral Tradition. Worth bookmarking! Undercuts Ehrman totally.”


  3. Avatar
    doug  April 20, 2015

    You always give good reasons for your conclusions. If more clergy people would be *honest* about the Bible instead of letting their congregations think it is all true, fewer people would think you are “controversial”.

  4. Avatar
    MikeyS  April 20, 2015

    D’you know Bart, I really despise those Greek Christian writers making stuff up as they went along. Thousands of Christians have died and are still dying i the Middle East for believing Jesus actually used these words. Not just that. This man who was supposed to be God and all seeing and all knowing used a dead language ie Aramaic that had to be translated into other languages that made no sense word for word and 2000 years later, we still trying to work out was was said by Jesus! Wouldn’t God have found it more useful to leave it 2000 years where things could be better understood by the world, especially as men’s souls rested on knowing what was true and what is myth? Not just that, Jesus was he so dimwitted by aspeaking in riddles the whole time when even they back then could not understand him? Methinks you as a NT Professor would surely have given him a big fat fail! 😉

    I once heard you say you can toss out the Gospel of John and no wonder! How on God’s earth can intelligent people believe all this rubbish?

    But then my guess is that most biblical stuff is myth including most of the Gospels and so its should all be tossed out!

    • Bart
      Bart  April 22, 2015

      I don’t think I ever suggested that we toss out the Gospel of John!!

      • Avatar
        MikeyS  April 22, 2015

        You did Bart. Its on youtube with a debate with a Canadian Christian Historian when he was agreeing that Jesus probably didn’t say all the I am’s that are in John and mentioned wisdom as something that is not something that can be explained etc. I can find it but you did say it and may be it was in jest?

        • Bart
          Bart  April 24, 2015

          How strange. Well, I don’t *remember* ever saying such a thing, and it certainly is not characteristic of the sort of thing I do say.

    • Avatar
      gavm  April 23, 2015

      yeah its not a joke. this is serious stuff. so many people have killed and been killed because they believed in parts of the bible and theology that developed from it. Bible verse we now can be very confident are not true. this should be kept in mind. its not just academic but serious business.

  5. Avatar
    Stephen  April 20, 2015

    “They [Gospel accounts] may be religiously true or theologically true, but they aren’t historically true.”

    Prof Ehrman I realize you’re a historian rather than a theologian so it may be I’m addressing these questions to the wrong person but I have to confess I’ve never heard a coherent defense of this position. If a theologian doesn’t ground his or her speculations in history then how do they discipline their imaginings?

    Take some obvious examples. If the historical Jesus did not think he was coequal to God the Father than how can a theologian now claim that he was? Didn’t Jesus know if he was God or not? In 1 Corinthians 15:13&14 doesn’t Paul at least show a modicum of historical consciousness? If the resurrection wasn’t true historically would Paul think it was theologically “true”? What could that even mean?

    I should add I come at these issues not from ignorance of theology but from having read tons of it over the years. And not only Christian theology but also Buddhist and HIndu as well.

    I’m perfectly willing to admit my historicist bias. As far as possible, to whatever degree is possible I want to know what really happened. I am absorbed by the Jesus of history. The Jesus of faith interests me not at all. I simply can’t understand how one can have faith in something one knows not to be historically true.

    • Bart
      Bart  April 22, 2015

      Maybe I’ll post on this down the line.

    • Avatar
      MikeyS  April 22, 2015

      I have heard Bart say that as well and to be honest thought it was a dereliction of historical responsibility in doing so. It is either true or false historically. It cannot be both. I think its Bart not wanting to upset too many Christian friends and collegues ot that how it comes across. I think Bart should stick with the historical research viewpoint and avoid the ‘religious/theoligical’ excuses. I mean the whole bible is theologically true for those that believe its the word of God but a lot of it is complete nonsense from a historial and scientific point of view. ie untrue. Its a bit like agreeing that theologically all the dead saints came out of their graves and went to Jerusalem during the crucifixion etc. Its utter bollocks. 😉

  6. cheito
    cheito  April 20, 2015

    Is it possible that the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus was in Greek?

    And If it was in Aramaic, don’t you think that both ideas, i.e. ‘one must be born again, and one must be born from above’, could be expressed in the conversation they had.

    We have the record written in Greek, therefore that word, ‘ANOTHEN’ was used…

    if we had the same conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus in Aramaic, then other words would’ve been used…

    Also in John 3:8, it’s clear that jesus is speaking about being born of the spirit and not of water alone.

    John 3:8“The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

    Furthermore in John 3:5,6, Jesus is clear that the first birth is of water but the second birth must be of the Spirit.

    John 3:5-Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 6-“That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

    • Bart
      Bart  April 22, 2015

      Seems unlikely, between two Jewish teachers in Judea. Why would they be speaking Greek?

      • cheito
        cheito  April 22, 2015

        John 19:20-Therefore many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Latin and in Greek.

        If the language spoken during the time of Jesus was Aramaic, Why Did Pontus Pilate write the inscription in Hebrew latin and Greek? Why wasn’t Aramaic included in the inscription?

        Jesus read from Isaiah. Was Isaiah written in Hebrew? Perhaps the conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus was in Hebrew…They were jewish leaders as you pointed out.

      • Avatar
        MikeyS  April 22, 2015

        Wouldn’t you think Jesus should have been able to speak Greek being he was God and knowing the NT was to be written in Greek? Would have saved a heck of a lot of problems. Indeed fast forward 2000 years would have been even better. Jesus could have done it all in de english! 😉

      • Avatar
        avonthalonus  May 5, 2015

        I don’t have a bone in the debate over the reliability of the NT, but I think the importance of Greek even in Judea has been understated. The Jewish upper class, literate class, even in Judea, preferred Greek for intellectual discourse and Hebrew for religious writing. Aramaic was low-brow, country bumpkin talk. There are lots of official inscriptions by Jews in Greek.

        But perhaps more importantly, the Greek language was immensely popular among the early Pharisaic rabbis of the late Second Temple era. There are several lines of evidence:

        – A large amount of loan words from Greek made it into the technical halachic Hebrew of the Mishnah. Examples are “hedyot” which comes from idiotes. The Mishna distinguishes between the “Kohen Gadol” and a “Kohen Hedyot” or regular Kohen. “Dugma” meaning example, “le-dugma” for example; “Bima” from the Greek for altar or stage and is still today used for the podium in synagogues where the Torah is placed for reading; “Sanhedrin”; “Listim” from listes, brigand; “Partzuf”, face, aspect, from prosopos; “afikoman” referring to the last piece of matzah eaten at the seder from the Greek afikomen, arriving (at the end of the meal), “parklit” to mean an advocate or attorney, from paraklete. The list goes on.

        – The Hashmonean dynasty immediately prior to Roman occupation was very Hellenized and they all took Greek names.

        – The Greek language was very popular among some of the early rabbis (and not so much with others). Some thought it was the most beautiful language apart from Hebrew and the only one in which the Torah could be adequately translated. It was considered Kosher to write mezuzot and tefillin in Greek and do the public Torah reading in Greek, but not for any other language including Aramaic. If one heard the Megillah reading on Purim in Greek, but did not understand it, one fulfilled one’s obligation just as if one heard it in Hebrew; in any other language, including Aramaic, full comprehension was required. The Septuagint was considered divinely inspired and fully authoritative at the time; it was only after Christians started relying on it to confute Jewish interpretations from the Hebrew that the Rabbis did a 180 and started demonizing the Septuagint and pulling it from the approved list. 1st -2nd century rabbis Shimon ben Gamliel and Elisha ben Abuya both are on record knowing Greek; Elisha ben Abuya was said to have loved Greek so much he could not stop singing Greek songs.

        – In the Mishnah of Sotah Chapter 9, line 14, it is recorded that: ” During the war of Titus, they decreed against [the use of] crowns worn by brides and that no one should teach his son Greek….” The “war of Titus” is the Jewish rebellion in 70 CE when the 2nd temple was destroyed, so very close in time to Jesus, and the decree that “no one should teach his son Greek” obviously implies that it wasn’t uncommon for people in Judea to be teaching their son Greek. Ironically, this very declaration in rabbinic Hebrew saying that you should not teach your son Greek at that time uses for the word war “pulmos”, direct borrowing from the Greek “polemos”.

        The Babylonian Talmud’s Gemara on this Mishnah gives an interesting anecdote: “Our Rabbis taught: When the kings of the Hasmonean house fought one another, Hyrcanus was outside and Aristobulus within. Each day they used to let down denarii in a basket, and haul up for them [animals for] the continual offerings. An old man there, who was learned in Greek wisdom, spoke with them in Greek, saying: ‘As long as they carry on the Temple-service, they will never surrender to you’. On the morrow they let down denarii in a basket, and hauled up a pig. When it reached half way up the wall, it stuck its claws [into the wall] and the land of Israel was shaken over a distance of four hundred parasangs. At that time they declared, — ‘Cursed be a man who rears pigs and cursed be a man who teaches his son Greek wisdom!’ Concerning that year we learnt that it happened that the ‘omer had to be supplied from the gardens of Zarifim and the two loaves from the valley of En-Soker. But it is not so! For Rabbi said: Why use the Syrian language in the land of Israel? Either use the holy tongue or Greek! And R. Joseph said: Why use the Syrian language in Babylon? Either use the holy tongue or Persian! — The Greek language and Greek wisdom are distinct. But is Greek philosophy forbidden? Behold Rab Judah declared that Samuel said in the name of Rabban Simeon b. Gamaliel, What means that which is written: Mine eye affecteth my soul, because of all the daughters of my city? There were a thousand pupils in my father’s house; five hundred studied Torah and five hundred studied Greek wisdom, and of these there remained only I here and the son of my father’s brother in Assia! — It was different with the household of Rabban Gamaliel because they had close associations with the Government; for it has been taught: To trim the hair in front is of the ways of the Amorites; but they permitted Abtilus b. Reuben to trim his hair in front because he had close associations with the Government. Similarly they permitted the household of Rabban Gamaliel to study Greek wisdom because they had close associations with the Government.”

        I don’t think it’s even a probable argument that a well-educated, upper class, rich political leader, member of the Sanhedrin, and Pharisee like Nicodemus would not have been conversing in Greek. If it were some poor farmer, then yeah, but not Nicodemus.

        • Avatar
          avonthalonus  May 5, 2015

          “For Rabbi said:”

          “Rabbi” here is Judah haNasi (Judah the Prince), the redactor of the Mishnah, born in 135 CE, lived in the Galilee. He apparently had quite a bit of contempt for Aramaic and wanted to stop its use. He made all his household, even the servants, speak only in Hebrew, and said as above that the only acceptable alternative to Hebrew for a Jew was Greek.

        • Bart
          Bart  May 6, 2015

          Yes, I have no problem with the elite of the elite — the ancient 1% — were completely fluent in Greek in Roman Palestine. But Jesus was not anywhere near that group, as someone who never even went to grammar school.

        • Avatar
          Edward  May 16, 2015

          Mainstream scholarship tends to view the sayings of Jesus in the fourth Gospel (the Gospel of John) with greater suspicion than they do such sayings in the earlier three Gospels. Why?


          1) The Gospel of John, starts with the author’s claims ABOUT Jesus. Its lengthy theological introduction contains the words and praises of the author, not Jesus. And you find words and phrases similar to the author’s put into the mouths of John the Baptist and Jesus in the first few chapters. Not high evidence favoring their authenticity. More likely the author’s own creation, including the dialogues of the Baptist and Jesus in chapters 2-3.

          2) Scholars suspect that Jesus never said “Ye must be born again” http://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2013/10/did-historical-jesus-speak-about.html

          3) The story of the anointing of Jesus by Mary, as well as the tale of Lazarus’ resurrection are tails that seem to have arisen via combining and conflating earlier Gospel tales about people, places, actions, and a figure in a Lukan parable named “Lazarus”: http://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2011/02/perfumed-jesus.html

          4) Nor does the Gospel of John hesitate to have plenty of characters recognize Jesus as the Messiah right in its first chapter. Compare the synoptic gospels, especially in Mark (1:11, 25, 34, 441 9:9, etc.), where Jesus refrains from announcing his Messiahship in public, and Peter is the lone apostle to mention it out loud, and only later in the story. In fact in Matthew multitudes hail Jesus merely as a prophet (Matthew 21:10). But in GJohn Jesus is recognized by his disciples as the Messiah right in chapter one as soon as they hear about him, and the Baptist declares Jesus’ whole mission in a nutshell, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” from the very beginning of his ministry. Jesus spends all of his other discourses talking about himself (John 1:16,29-34,41,45,49,51; 2:11,18; 3:13-30; 4:25-26,42; 5:18-47; 6:25-69; 7:28-29; 9:37; 10:25-26,30-36). He doesn’t teach the people in parables about the kingdom of God, he’s constantly talking about himself.

          5) Note also how Matthew 11:2-6 and Luke 7:18-23 agree that John the Baptist wavers in faith in Jesus as Messiah; but in the Fourth Gospel (1:16, 29-34 and 3:27-30) there’s no mention of such wavering. John the Baptist recognizes Jesus as Messiah from first to last–even calling him “The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” soon after his baptism.

          6) The Synoptics date Jesus’ crucifixion on the day of the Passover (Matthew 26:171 Mark 14:12, Luke 22:7), whereas John places it on the day before the Passover, and at a different hour of the day (John 13:1,29; 18:28; 19:14,31,42). Scholars suspect that the reason for changing the day and hour of Jesus’ death in the last written Gospel was to suit the theological notion of its author that Jesus was “The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,” putting such an announcement into the mouth of John the Baptist–and wishing to bring it up again at the moment of Jesus’ death. Therefore he altered Jesus’ day and hour of execution so it would coincide with the day and hour the “Passover lambs” were being slain. (Unfortunately, having altered the day (and hour) to try and make a theological point, the Johnnine author never concerned himself with the fact that Passover lambs were not slain for “sin.” The animal in the Hebrew Bible that did have the “sins of the people” placed on it was not a lamb at all, but a goat–neither was the goat slain but kept alive in order to carry away the sins of the people into the wilderness, i.e., the “scape goat.”)

          7) And though the account of Jesus’ baptism in one of the earlier Gospels, Mark 1:9 (cf. 1:4 and 10:18), leaves open the suspicion that John the Baptist was greater than Jesus and that Jesus was sinful, the fourth Gospel (John 1:29-34 and 3:26) eliminates such suspicions.

          8) Jesus’ concern for Israel as depicted in the earlier gospel, Matthew 10:5-6 and 15:24 is unknown to the Jesus in John 5:45-471 8:31-47. Instead, more than sixty times the word(s) “Jews” and/or “The Jews,” are used in GJohn to depict Jesus’ enemies, even by Jesus himself. (Since Jesus himself was a “Jew” the repeated use of such a broad term makes greater sense if it was not spoken by the historical Jesus, but was a phrase that began cropping up more often after a rift had continued to grow wider between Christian communities and “The Jews.”)

          9) In the synoptic Gospels Jesus is under the Law (Matthew 5:17-20) and observes the Passover Meal (Matthew 26:17; Mark 14:12; Luke 22:7), whereas Jesus in John is not under the Law and therefore does not partake in the Passover Meal (John 13:1). Accordingly, John’s Jesus refers to “your Law” (John 8:17; 10:34; cf. 7:19; 18:31) and “their Law” (15:25).

          10) Preaching about the coming kingdom was central to the synoptics and mentioned 17 times in GMark, starting with Mark 1:15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Matthew changes it to “kingdom of heaven”) Matthew and Luke mention “kingdom of heaven/God” and/or “kingdom” 30 times or more, each). But “kingdom of God” only appears twice in the fourth Gospel and “kingdom” two times. That’s because the fourth Gospel is a later creation and has distanced itself from the apocalyptic Jesus and is busy trying to institutionalize Christianity and Christian sacramental views.

          11) Jesus of the synoptic gospels is a charismatic healer-exorcist and end-time Suffering Servant who speaks as though a Son of Man will soon arrive to inaugurate the final judgment and bring on the supernatural kingdom of God (Matthew 10:23; Mark 10:18), whereas in the Fourth Gospel Jesus is the Logos incarnate on earth, a God-Man who exorcises no demons but who proclaims a sacramental, mystical, physical, churchly, eschatological doctrine of redemption. It’s a later version of Jesus. It a later “sacramental” tale, because baptism and the Lord’s Supper (“you must eat my flesh and drink my blood or you have NO life within you”) are aligned with the message about the necessity of a “new birth;” it’s “mystical” because these sacraments produce “union” with God and Christ (“we shall be one”); it’s “physical” because these sacraments are physical means that produce a physical effect, the glorification of the flesh to make the flesh capable of resurrection; it’s “churchly” because these sacraments must be administered by the church, for only in the church can the Spirit unite with the elements to produce salvation; and it’s “eschatological” because these sacraments produce and/or ensure the resurrection of the flesh.

          12) In the synoptic Gospels Jesus spoke openly during the day to whomever asked him “how to inherit eternal life,” and placed commands of obedience, such as honoring one’s parents, and not stealing from other people, or even giving away one’s money to the poor, high on the list of “how to inherit eternal life.” Only in the fourth Gospel does Jesus answer how to inherit eternal life based on the singular necessity of being “born again,” and that singular message was not even taught in public but to a single person “at night,” yet everyone who doubts it is “damned already.” The fourth Gospel more so than the earlier three teaches that one must “believe” or, be “damned.” “Eat the flesh and drink the blood,” or you “have no life within you.” It does not say people will be judged according to their “works” as in Matthew. “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

          13) The fourth Gospel is filled with “anti-language” according to social scientists. It is not a gospel about “loving one’s neighbor/enemies,” neither of which are commanded nor even mentioned therein, but about focusing on loving fellow believers, and maintaining one’s indoctrination, or in the idiom of cults, “love bombing,” and maintaining in-group thinking, while everyone else can go to hell: http://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2013/10/the-gospel-of-john-consists-of-anti.html

          To reiterate points 2) and 3) above, there are plenty of commonsense reasons to doubt that John 3 is something the historical Jesus said: http://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2013/10/did-historical-jesus-speak-about.html There are also plenty of commonsense reasons to doubt that the Gospel of John’s tales about the raising of Lazarus (and Jesus’ anointing by a “sister” of “Lazarus” is something that happened: http://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2011/02/perfumed-jesus.html

    • Avatar
      Edward  May 16, 2015

      There are loads of reasons to doubt that John 3 is something the historical Jesus said: http://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2013/10/did-historical-jesus-speak-about.html

      There are also loads of reasons to doubt that the Gospel of John’s tales about the raising of Lazarus (and Jesus’ anointing by a “sister” of “Lazarus” is something that happened: http://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2011/02/perfumed-jesus.html

  7. Avatar
    RGM-ills  April 20, 2015

    I have made a similar point before with the references to Alpha and Omega. Shouldn’t a proper English translation from Greek be the Alpha and the Zeta (if English letters even have names) Without your knowledge of Greek, I also would not have known the double meaning of ANOTHEN, but to me the meaning was not “again” or “from above” It was simply to be initiated, for even now after learning the double meaning, I am not sure if I know what being “born from above” means unless I twist it with some Gnostic implications. Simply being initiated could mean, “you won’t even know what the kingdom refers to, unless you are initiated.” And if, as you point out, it is a false memory written by the Greek author with low probability that it was spoken by Jesus, the question isn’t “What did Jesus mean when he said this to Nicodemus?” It would be, “What did this Greek author mean when he wrote it?”

    • Bart
      Bart  April 22, 2015

      No, ZETA was the sixth letter in the Greek alphabet; OMEGA was the last one.

  8. Avatar
    walstrom  April 20, 2015

    In 1956, the book THE SEARCH FOR BRIDEY MURPHY published and became a runaway bestseller.
    The book dealt with the memory of a woman named Virginia Tighe, an ordinary American housewife who’d been regressed hypnotically, seemingly into a previous life by the book’s author, Morey Bernstein.
    After sensational reaction from the reading public, newspaper investigative reporting commenced ferreting out details and discrepancies in Tighe’s account of her life as an Irish girl growing up in Cork, under the name, Bridey Murphy.
    Long story short: Cryptomnesia was the root cause.
    __Cryptomnesia occurs when a forgotten memory returns without it being recognized as such by the subject, who believes it is something new and original. It is a memory bias whereby a person may falsely recall generating a thought, an idea, a song, or a joke, not deliberately engaging in plagiarism but rather experiencing a memory as if it were a new inspiration.__
    (The experts who examined the case of Virginia Tighe came to the conclusion that the best way to arrive at the truth was to check back not to Ireland but to Tighe’s own childhood and her relationship with her parents. Morey Bernstein stated that Virginia Tighe (whom he called Ruth Simmons in the book) was brought up by a Norwegian uncle and his German-Scottish-Irish wife. However, it did not state that her actual parents were both part Irish and that she had lived with them until the age of three. It also did not mention that an Irish immigrant named Bridie Murphy Corkell (1892–1957)[2] lived across the street from Tighe’s childhood home in Chicago, Illinois. Scientists are satisfied that everything Virginia Tighe said can be explained as a memory of her long-forgotten childhood. The psychologist Andrew Neher wrote that as a child Tighe was a close friend to a neighbor whose life was very similar to Bridey Murphy’s.) Wiki article


    The reason I cite this particular case is to highlight the fact no fraud was purposefully perpetrated, but Virginia Tighe had absorbed many details about her neighbor from listening in childhood. These details emerged as a ‘first person narrative’ when Tighe was in a hypnotic state.

    Bart, isn’t it reasonable to conclude the transmission of details of eye-witness accounts of Jesus could likewise have been absorbed as hearsay and repeated as autonomous first person memories–then transmitted with corruptions by later stories, legends, imagination? No culpable plagiarism or malicious intent need be attributed along the way.

    • Bart
      Bart  April 22, 2015

      Yes, I’m not trying to say tha there was anything malicious in the process of traditions being changed.

  9. Avatar
    living42day  April 21, 2015

    In an example like the Nicodemus story, is there any way to distinguish between a story that John himself made up and one that he inherited from oral tradition? If a similar account were available in any of the Synoptics, that would be sufficient evidence that John didn’t make it up, but is there any way to make such a distinction in a story like this one that is unique to John?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 22, 2015

      I don’t know of anyway to decide if John himself made up the story or not.

  10. Avatar
    Jason  April 21, 2015

    Apologists love to make the argument that if Jesus lived near and worked in Caesarea he would have spoken some Greek and thus that, since Nicodemus was educated and since the educated classes spoke Greek, this conversation could have taken place in Greek as presented.

    Setting aside for the moment the fact that there is no evidence that Jesus (or Joseph for that matter) ever did any manual labor (or even I suppose shopping) in Caesarea, his historical context was none the less one dominated by Grecco-Roman culture. What then is a reasonable level of Greek language fluency to ascribe to him? Relatedly, if Jesus is (as the gospels and many historians portray him) primarily a traveling Rabbi interpreting the Torah as an apocalyptic prophet, what level of Literacy in the Hebraic writings is it reasonable to assume he attained? Could all his teachings about the Jewish law be based on HIS memories of the Mosaic books being read to him by other, more literate Rabbis, or was there a 1st century Gallilean version of Hebrew School where he would have learned to read the Torah?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 22, 2015

      Yes, people when people argue such things I urge them to read the books about Palestine by Mark Chancey and Catherine Hezser.

  11. Avatar
    kentvw  April 21, 2015

    Ah, so following your logic being “born again” having two different meanings only works in Greek. The concept is totally lost in any other language including English, which is why we fail to understand the meaning today.
    Got it.
    Thanks for the explanation.
    Us Barnes and Noble level readers are kinda slow, if you know what I mean. (Wink, wink.)

    • Avatar
      Simeon  August 16, 2015

      The instruction to Nicodemus is literal, it means that Jesus accepts resurrection (Elijah Redivivus) John the Baptist as part of The Way, The Way is also written about in the Dead Sea Scrolls in the Damascus Document and a section of 1QSIII -IV in which the Essenes recognise that every person coming into the world comes into the world with an Angel of Light and an Angel of Darkness that is still the case.
      I actually believe that Mary came into the World with these two angels and she asked why she should go into the world again, and that they answered her one saying ‘Hail full of Grace’ and the other saying ‘The Lord is with thee’ .
      This was the confirmation to Simeon that She was the Mother of God, it also means that she was free from original sin.

      • Avatar
        Simeon  August 16, 2015

        There is a small but distinct reference to the Way in The Coptic Apocalypse of Peter, where Christ is telling Peter that His natural body is a product of corruption and that His Spiritual body is His Vital and Vigourous essense.

        Simeon had the same experience of Life after death and the Child He saw was his own Christ Child, or immaculate Conception, and He learnt this through the Holy Spirit when he underwent a judgment ‘He shall judge the living and the dead’ by the Holy Spirit, the reference to Mary that she would be overshadowed would also have been known to Simeon, because it was also his own experience, literally Mary was to be pierced by the Holy Spirit and be impregnated by Him, so that she could produce HER OWN immaculate conception.


        some things cannot be learnt from books you have to have had the experience.

        • Avatar
          Simeon  August 16, 2015

          There is also a very good description of what it is like to bear this ‘immaculate conception’ in the 5th Thanksgiving psalm of the Essenes, and from it you will realize that Simeon was not in the Temple ‘night and day’ as a priest but as a protection and for sanctuary.

          They made my life a ship on the deep sea,
          like a fortified city circled by aggressors.
          I hurt like a woman in labour bearing her first child,
          whose belly pangs torture her in the crucible.
          Pains of Hell
          for a son come on the waves of death.
          She labours to bear a man,
          and among the waves of death she gives birth to a man-child,
          with pains of Hell.
          He springs from the crucible,
          O wondrous counsellor with power :
          Yes, a man emerges from the waves..
          But she who carries dead seed in her womb
          suffers waves from a pit of horror.
          The foundations of the wall will rock
          like a ship on the face of the waters.
          Clouds will bellow.
          Those who dwell in the dust, like those on the sea,
          are terrified by the roar of the waters.
          All those wise men are like mariners on the deep:
          their wisdom confounded by the roaring seas.
          The abyss boils over the fountains of water.
          The seas rage.
          Hell opens, and arrows fly toward Heaven.
          Their eternal bars are bolted.

  12. Avatar
    dragonfly  April 21, 2015

    Would you be able to do a post on who spoke what language in the region in the first century? I’m a bit vague on the geography, political hierarchy and languages used. Paul spoke greek of course, but Acts describes him as also speaking aramaic too. Was it common to speak both? What did Pilate speak?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 22, 2015

      Good idea. Most people could speak Aramaic. Educated elite, Greek. Pilate probably could speak Latin and Greek.

  13. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  April 21, 2015

    Great example. The “double” meaning of the Greek but not the Aramaic word is quite interesting.

    “The way Jesus came to be remembered” is a clearer way of stating the “false memory” concept.

  14. Avatar
    Avril  April 21, 2015

    I am new to your blog–after completing your “Great Course” “How Jesus Became God”. I am excited for this next project–misremembering is such a powerful word. It reminds me a little of “Reading the Bible Again, For the First Time” . Borg elegantly compares history, metaphor, and mistranslation. Other than the fact he existed, do you think we can ever “know” anything he said. The more I read, I am less convinced and more strongly an agnostic practitioner of Yoga Meditation.

  15. Avatar
    karensimons  April 21, 2015

    I have a question. In my twenties, I was a very sincere, “born again” believer. I gave my fundamentalist faith everything I had and it worked fine….until I began to ask questions. I remember our pastor, the now very famous John Hagee, warning our congregation away from many things, the movie “The Exorcist”, various cults, the Catholic church, secular writings, and textual criticism. We were warned that these things were “of the Devil” and had dangerous spiritual powers! It took me many years to escape from this way of thinking. My question is, Could my pastor have known thst his teachings were very debatable?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 22, 2015

      He must have — otherwise he wouldn’t have been so insistent on his own views and in his warnings!

  16. Avatar
    GokuEn  April 21, 2015

    I’ve read somewhere (in an attempt to “refute” you) that the aramaic expression “men derish” means both from above and again and that that shows the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus could have occurred in Aramaic. Is there any truth to this?

    Here is a link to a blog claiming that:


    • Bart
      Bart  April 22, 2015

      Interesting! Do you know any authorities that cite actual references where men derish means “a second time” and other references where it definitely means “from above”?

      • Avatar
        GokuEn  April 23, 2015

        Im afraid not… The blog cites the Old Syriac translation of the dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus to make its case (the “Peshitta”). But Old Syriac is not the same as Aramaic, is it? I looked online and I could not find any relevant source that made the same claim. Also on further inspection “men derish” means “from the head” but the Peshitta also uses it for “again” in the dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus, not exactly what “anothen” meant in Greek.

        Does that mean that the blog is just completely wrong (like 95% of the internet)?

      • Avatar
        Swchandlermd  February 18, 2016

        Perhaps Dr Ehrman can make some sense of this material; it was presented in the context of discrediting his contention that the Greek verbiage had no similar Aramaic specimen on which such a double entendre could be based. Interesting?

        ryš, ryšʾ (rēš, rēšā) n.m. head; top; chief
        1 head Com.
        2 top Com. –(a) fig.: top, best, choice Com. (a.1) choice, first quality Gal, PTA. (a.2) best Syr. (a.3) preferred position Syr. –(b) lit. top, thing on top Com. (b.1) in compounds : the top thing . 1 ܪܝܫ ܐܣܬܐ : top of the wall, capstone Syr. 4 ܪܝܫ ܦܪܨܘܦܐ : forehead Syr.
        3 beginning OfA, Gal, Syr. –(a) first part of a tannaitic statement Gal, JBA. –(b) firstfruits Syr. –(c) in compounds : the first thing, beginning .
        4 capital funds OfA. –(a) ריש כיסא : principal JBA.
        5 tip, extremity Gal, Syr. –(a) bit ri$ end place, i.e. goal? Man.
        6 chief Palm, PTA, Syr. –(a) in compounds: chief X .
        7 major section Com. –(a) chapter Syr. –(b) region Syr. (b.1) band Syr. –(c) principal organ Syr.
        8 in compounds: s.t. characterized by being a head or top of s.t. . –(a) ܪܝܫ ܕܟܪܐ : battering ram Syr. –(b) ܪܝܫ ܕܒܒܐ ̈ ܡܝuܼoܟܸܦܗܲܠoܢ ܥܲ ܕܼܣܸܲܣܸܐ Syr.
        9 adv (various) Syr. –(a) ܡܢ ܕܪܝܫ again (see also s.v. mryš) Syr. –(b) mn riš briš again and again, i.e. forever Man. –(c) בריש adv./prep. see s.v. bryš OfA, JLAtg. –(d) ܩܘܡ ܪܝܫܐ : to do something first, most importantly Syr.
        10 center, point Syr. –(a) source Syr. (a.1) ܪܝܫ ܡܒܘܥܐ : the source of a spring Syr.
        11 poison [Heb. ראש , רוש ] JLAtg, Syr, LJLA.
        For ראש in the Edumean ostraca see discussion s.v. rwš n.
        LS2: 1462[728]. DJPA: 510a. DJBA: 1078b. Jastrow: 1477. DNWSI: 1042.
        mryš, mryšˀadv. at first, formerly
        1 at first, formerly JBA.
        2 once again JBA.
        DJBA: 1082

        • Bart
          Bart  February 18, 2016

          Sorry, I’m not sure what you’re asking.

          • Avatar
            Swchandlermd  February 19, 2016

            My apologies; somehow the first part of the post was not included in the comment. This is simply a follow-up on the thread above concerning a conversation in John 3. Specifically, the interaction that implies a double entendre and confusion over the meaning of the Greek word anothen; the contention that the dialog and subsequent confusion made possible by it, if taken place in Greek, would be undermined if a word existed with similar confusion-potential in the language of the time, Aramaic. GokuEn, in a post dated April 21, 2015, noted that this potential refutation existed and was unaware of linguistic references supporting “men derish” as an Aramaic counterpart to the Greek.
            So, essentially for anyone interested in using the john 3 “born again narrative” linguistic confusion as evidence that this particular passage might be contrived, it would be undermining to the argument if an Aramaic word existed that provided similar basis.
            There are few scholars with the ability to objectively evaluate this seemingly esoteric information; we rely on them and their interpretations to assist the rest of us in formulating our own conclusions. Any commentary of the veracity of this information as it relates to the Greek versus Aramaic useage would be greatly appreciated. Here is the original post offered in support of such an Aramaic word, my apologies for the tone of the language:
            Isa Almisry says:
            April 30, 2012 at 9:19 pm
            Ehrman’s “argument” is even dumber: the Aramaic literally means “from the head/top/start” etc. (lit. “from of-head”), the double entendre existing in Aramaic as well as the Greek.

            ryš, ryšʾ (rēš, rēšā) n.m. head; top; chief
            1 head Com.
            2 top Com. –(a) fig.: top, best, choice Com. (a.1) choice, first quality Gal, PTA. (a.2) best Syr. (a.3) preferred position Syr. –(b) lit. top, thing on top Com. (b.1) in compounds : the top thing . 1 ܪܝܫ ܐܣܬܐ : top of the wall, capstone Syr. 4 ܪܝܫ ܦܪܨܘܦܐ : forehead Syr.
            3 beginning OfA, Gal, Syr. –(a) first part of a tannaitic statement Gal, JBA. –(b) firstfruits Syr. –(c) in compounds : the first thing, beginning .
            4 capital funds OfA. –(a) ריש כיסא : principal JBA.
            5 tip, extremity Gal, Syr. –(a) bit ri$ end place, i.e. goal? Man.
            6 chief Palm, PTA, Syr. –(a) in compounds: chief X .
            7 major section Com. –(a) chapter Syr. –(b) region Syr. (b.1) band Syr. –(c) principal organ Syr.
            8 in compounds: s.t. characterized by being a head or top of s.t. . –(a) ܪܝܫ ܕܟܪܐ : battering ram Syr. –(b) ܪܝܫ ܕܒܒܐ ̈ ܡܝuܼoܟܸܦܗܲܠoܢ ܥܲ ܕܼܣܸܲܣܸܐ Syr.
            9 adv (various) Syr. –(a) ܡܢ ܕܪܝܫ again (see also s.v. mryš) Syr. –(b) mn riš briš again and again, i.e. forever Man. –(c) בריש adv./prep. see s.v. bryš OfA, JLAtg. –(d) ܩܘܡ ܪܝܫܐ : to do something first, most importantly Syr.
            10 center, point Syr. –(a) source Syr. (a.1) ܪܝܫ ܡܒܘܥܐ : the source of a spring Syr.
            11 poison [Heb. ראש , רוש ] JLAtg, Syr, LJLA.
            For ראש in the Edumean ostraca see discussion s.v. rwš n.
            LS2: 1462[728]. DJPA: 510a. DJBA: 1078b. Jastrow: 1477. DNWSI: 1042.
            mryš, mryšˀadv. at first, formerly
            1 at first, formerly JBA.
            2 once again JBA.
            DJBA: 1082.

  17. Avatar
    Jrgebert  April 21, 2015

    How do fundamentalists handle this problem with the conversation of Jesus and Nicodemus?

  18. Patty Floyd
    Patty Floyd  April 21, 2015

    Well, I’m stumped on this one. I sent D. Wallace a FB message asking him his perspective on this. I hope he answers! I can’t find anything about this particular issue.

  19. Avatar
    TruthMan  April 22, 2015

    Hi Bart,

    I enjoyed this bit of textual criticism and learned not just the facts that your analysis revealed, but about the process itself. Thanks for that.

    On another point, I have to say that I am a bit uncomfortable with your use of the term, “memories”. When you make a distinction between theological and historical truth, what do you really mean by that? When you took the concept further, stating, “People still today have false memories of Jesus based on what they have read in the Bible.”, I felt even more uncomfortable.

    It is the same discomfort I experience with I hear the use of the word, “witness” by believers who appear to ascribe the same level of credibility to events in the bible as though they themselves were actually there and could testify to them in a court of law. I can understand that Christians can be a witness to their own thoughts, feelings and internal experiences, but that is not the way I have understood the feeling behind most Christians’ reports when they convey their evangelical messages. Parenthetically, it seems to be a long standing tradition that probably finds its roots in Paul.

    And so I wonder why you refer to memories in this way. Is it out of respect for others’ religious beliefs or your desire not to offend, that you don’t simply say that believers are mistaken rather than that they have false memories?

  20. Avatar
    jbjbjbjbjb  April 22, 2015

    I think this book is going to send out the usual shockwaves…

You must be logged in to post a comment.