I have started to post the Q&A that I have done for my publisher (HarperOne) on my new book (due out one month from today! March 1, 2016), Jesus Before the Gospels. I’m really excited about its release. In many ways it is very different from anything I’ve published before, even though it is dealing with the reliability of the Gospels.

Here is the second of three installments of the questions and answers.


1. In the book, you look at anthropological studies undertaken in Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Ghana, and other places of oral culture. What do these studies reveal about the oral traditions of Jesus’ time?

It is surprising to me that scholars of the New Testament – who frequently refer to the high accuracy of traditions passed along in oral cultures – have so rarely bothered to see what we actually know about oral cultures and their means of preserving their traditions. Since two Harvard scholars named Milman Parry and Albert Lord began to study the passing on of oral traditions in Yugoslavia in the 1920s, up through studies by such famous cultural anthropologists as Jack Goody and Jan Vansina, experts have shown time and again that in oral cultures there is simply no sense that traditions should be preserved intact, word-for-word. On the contrary, in oral cultures (unlike our written culture), it is widely assumed…

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