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Progressive Spirit Interview

On March 27, 2016, I had an interview with John Shuck for the Progressive Spirit Podcast.  Progressive Spirit (formerly Religion For Life) is an exciting and intelligent program about Spirituality and Social Justice. The program is a production of KBOO Community Radio in Portland, Oregon. John interviewed me about his new book Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior.  In the book as many of you know, I look at research on memory–how it’s formed, how it’s recalled, how it can change when transmitted from person to person, and how it can be remolded based on historical perspective and current events, all in order to helpe us better understand how traditions about Jesus were in circulation in the years before they were written down.  Jesus Before the Gospels is available in hardcover, audiobook and for Kindle. Please adjust gear icon for high-definition.

2017-11-06T21:25:01-05:00June 9th, 2016|Book Discussions, Historical Jesus, Video Media|

My Book Sales and the “Relatives” of Paul: Weekly Reader’s Mailbag March 25, 2016

For this week’s Readers Mailbag I have two questions, one about the sales of my new book and one about the apostle Paul (the meaning of a particularly important verse).  If you have a question you would like me to address, simply ask it here! ********************************************************* QUESTION: Are you pleased with how Jesus Before the Gospels is selling? The reviews are great. I'm enjoying reading it, myself.   RESPONSE: Thanks for asking!  Yes, there are some reviewers who seem to “get” what the book is, and who appreciate it.  I’m always grateful for that! Am I happy with the sales so far?  Unfortunately, the answer is “not really”!   I have to admit I’m a bit spoiled on the book sales front.  This is the seventh book I’ve published with HarperOne.   Of the other six, one was a book that none of us thought would be a huge sales success, Did Jesus Exist? (In fact, our original idea was to publish it simply as an e-book, because we knew it had such a limited market.  At [...]

Buy New Book & Get Any Previous HarperOne Book for 50% OFF

In my latest book, Jesus Before the Gospels,  I examine the oral tradition and its role in shaping the New Testament stories about Jesus—and ultimately our understanding of Christianity. For a limited time, if you purchase Jesus Before the Gospels, you can get any of my other HarperOne bestselling books for 50% OFF plus FREE shipping. Offer expires 3/15/2016... Yes, you have only ONE WEEK to take advantage of this exclusive offer. Offer valid only in the United States. LEARN MORE:

Irritating Amazon Reviews

OK, to start off with, I have to admit that my skin is not as thick as I would like it to be.  And because of that, I really should not read reviews of my books on Amazon.  It is, to say the least, highly aggravating.  As on the Internet generally, people can say what they want and there is no mechanism (well, no effective mechanism) for making sure they say things that are true, right, or responsible.   So why do I read these things?  I suppose in hope (idle hope, most of the time) that the person will have read the book, understood it, and “gotten” the point.  It doesn’t always happen.  It often doesn’t happen.  OK, actually, it usually doesn’t happen. Here is a sample of the kind of thing I mean.  The writer of this review is not simply wrong about things, he is downright scandalous, leveling a charge that he does not substantiate (for a good reason: he is unable to substantiate it, since it is flat-out false).  But why does [...]

2017-11-15T20:26:49-05:00March 8th, 2016|Book Discussions, Public Forum|

The Triumphal Entry as a Distorted Memory

In my previous post I provided an excerpt from Jesus Before the Gospels where I summarized the New Testament accounts of Jesus’ “Triumphal Entry.”  Here is the second part of that two-part post, another excerpt, where I call this tradition into question, arguing that it cannot be right historically and that it must, therefore, represent a distorted memory. It is important to recall that “memory” is not simply a recollection of what we ourselves experienced (what you had for dinner last night; the name of your first-grade teacher; etc.).  Memory involves anything that you “call back to mind” (the literal meaning of “remembering”).  It can be factual information (what is the capital of France?), even of something you haven’t experienced (e.g., if you have never been to Paris); it can be a shared understanding of a person from the past (Einstein; Karl Marx), even if you never met them.  And it can be a recollection of a past event even if you were not involved.   Such as the Triumphal Entry, to pick one example out [...]

The Memory of Jesus’ Triumphal Entry

Two chapters of my book Jesus Before the Gospels involve discussions of “distorted memories” – that is, recollections of events from Jesus life that appear not to represent what actually happened.  One of the chapters deals with events leading up to Jesus’ death (the most remembered part of his life), the other with his public ministry.  Just to give a taste of how I proceed in these chapters, I will excerpt here my discussion of the Triumphal Entry.  The discussion is a little long for a single post, so I will divide it into two.  Today’s post explains what the memory is (one many people still have today!); the next one will try to show why it is best seen as not being a “true” memory.   The Triumphal Entry There seems to be no reason to doubt that Jesus spent the last week of his life in Jerusalem looking ahead to the celebration of the Passover feast.   Passover was by far the busiest time of the year in Jerusalem, when the city would swell [...]

Weekly Readers’ Mailbag: March 4, 2016

Time for the Weekly Readers’ Mailbag.  This week I will be dealing with three questions that have come in about my books and writing habits.  If you have any questions you would like me to address in this format, go ahead and ask! *************************************************************** QUESTION: Which of your books didn’t do well? I’ve often guessed that your least-selling trade book would be either   RESPONSE: The reader who asked this question was referring to my comment that I’ve now written seven books with my publisher HarperOne and that of the six previous ones, five sold extremely well.  The questioner wants to know which one did not. So I have been very fortunate with my Harper books.   The first one I did was Misquoting Jesus.  To everyone’s enormous surprise, it became a bestseller.  The reason everyone was surprised was, at least in part, because of the topic: it was about the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament.  Who in the world wants to read about that?  It turns out that the answer is: lots of people.   [...]

2017-11-15T20:29:14-05:00March 4th, 2016|Book Discussions, Public Forum, Reader’s Questions|

My First Interview on Jesus Before the Gospels

Here is the first interview I have done for Jesus Before the Gospels, for the American Freethought Podcast, hosted by John C. Snider & David Driscoll (on March 1st, 2016).  American Freethought is meant to serve freethinkers of every stripe: atheists, agnostics, skeptics, secular humanists, brights, rationalists, or whatever. In the interview we talk about what research on memory–how it’s formed, how it’s recalled, how it can change when transmitted from person to person, and how it can be remolded based on historical perspective and current events.  Studies of memory, of course, can help us understand the oral traditions of Jesus before the written accounts of the Gospels were produced.  Jesus Before the Gospels is available in hardcover, audiobook and for Kindle. Please adjust gear icon for high-definition.

2017-11-15T20:29:45-05:00March 3rd, 2016|Book Discussions, Historical Jesus, Video Media|

Jesus Before the Gospels in Relation to My Other Books

Jesus Before the Gospels is now the seventh book I’ve published with HarperOne; two of the others have also involved issues related to historical problems posed by the New Testament Gospels.  And so I have been asked recently a very fair question: how does this book differ from the others I’ve written? The short answer is that it is dealing with a completely different topic.   But to explain that at greater length, I should explain what the others focused on.  First, I should say that four of my Harper books were on other things. Did Jesus Exist was an attempt to show why scholars in the fields of New Testament, early Christian studies, and antiquity in general are convinced, and do not even question, that Jesus actually lived as a real human being. There I try to mount the arguments that almost no one has ever bothered to mount because they are so obvious to most people working in the field Forged was dealing not with the contents of the New Testament writings so much [...]

2020-04-03T03:50:03-04:00March 2nd, 2016|Book Discussions, Public Forum|

My New Book! (In Context of My Others)

.   O frabjous day!  Callooh, callay!   I’m chortling in my joy.    My new book came out today:  Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented their Stories of the Savior.  It is available now, as we speak!  Many, many thanks to everyone on the blog who has commented on various posts that I’ve done related to the book, and especially to those blog members who actually read the book in advance and made comments on it.  I acknowledge you in the Acknowledgments, and I thank you here! The publication date of a book is always an ecstatic and anxious time for an author.  Will people buy the book?  Will they like it?  Will they hate it?  One never knows!   This is the seventh book that I have published with HarperOne.   It has been a very good run.   I started out publishing my trade books (that is, books written for a general audience – the kinds of thing you would find in Barnes and Noble) with Oxford Press.   I published with them [...]

2017-11-15T20:30:28-05:00March 1st, 2016|Book Discussions, Public Forum|

Q & A about Jesus Before the Gospels, Part 1

Steven pointed out to me that the first part of the Q&A also got obliterated and sent into the stratosphere during our recent technological nightmare.   So I need to re-post it.  Here it is! I have received a number of interesting questions about the book, raised by these three segments of Q&A.  If you have any you would like me to address on the blog, let me know!   Here is the original post: ****************************************************************************** As I have already indicated, my book Jesus Before the Gospels will be published in a month, on March 1.   As part of the promotion and marketing of the book, I have written out a few answers to questions that my publicist presented to me, as a kind of Q&A that she can use for her work of getting the word out there.   I answered twelve questions related to the book, and will post my responses here on the blog in three bite-size chunks.  Here is chunk #1. *************************************************************************** What is it that drives your fascination with how Jesus [...]

2020-04-03T03:54:08-04:00February 5th, 2016|Book Discussions, Historical Jesus, Memory Studies, Public Forum|

Q & A about Jesus Before the Gospels, Part 3

Here is the third and last installment of the Q&A that I did with my publisher, HarperOne, about my new book Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Early Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior. (The final sentence of the final answer is, I think, the longest I’ve written in my life!!) I’m getting excited about the book and its release on March 1. If you have any questions you would like to ask me about the book or its topic – how knowing about the workings of human memory can help us understand what was happening to the oral traditions about Jesus in the years before they were written down – please comment and ask! I’m happy to talk about the book now in the weeks before it is released! *********************************************************** 1. In the book you share fascinating examples of how ‘false’ memories are formed (in particular, research psychologists collected following September 11, and following the 1992 plane crash in Bijlmermeer, Amsterdam). What can these studies tell us about the historical [...]

2020-04-03T03:54:24-04:00February 3rd, 2016|Book Discussions, Historical Jesus, Memory Studies, Public Forum|

Q & A about Jesus Before the Gospels: Part 2

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 [...]

2020-04-03T03:54:31-04:00February 2nd, 2016|Book Discussions, Historical Jesus, Memory Studies, Public Forum|

Do I Have the Expertise Needed for My Book?

  QUESTION:  You have criticized other scholars for writing on subjects outside their fields of expertise – Reza Aslan, for instance, for his book on the historical Jesus when he is a sociologist, not a historian of religion. Have you considered editing a work with experts in the various fields that speak to the eyewitness to tradition to textual pipeline? Would such a collaboration likely be any more informative to a general audience?   RESPONSE: Ah, great question!  I’m going to answer what I take to be the underlying issue: why am I not following my own advice, but am publishing a book (next month!) that involves expertise other than my own?  (In answer to the specific question: no, I haven’t really thought about editing a volume of other experts on memory!  I have so many projects of my own that I have to do that… I haven’t even considered it, I’m afraid.  There’s simply not enough time in life!) As to what I take to be the underlying issue:  My criticism of Aslan was [...]

Press Release! Jesus Before the Gospels

In just over a month now, my new book, Jesus Before the Gospels,  will be published.  As avid readers of the blog know, for a couple of years I was obsessed with issues related to human memory and oral tradition, especially as these relate to the question of how the stories about Jesus were being transmitted, shaped, altered, and invented as they were told year after year, decade after decade, before the Gospels were written.  It was these remembered/ altered / invented stories that the Gospel writers themselves inherited and then edited (and thus changed) when they wrote them down when producing our Gospels.   What does knowing about the processes of memory, and about oral cultures who transmit their traditions by word of mouth, tell us about the nature of the Gospels, the communities that stood behind them, and the historicity of the traditions they relate?  These are all questions I deal with in the book, reaching some conclusions that many readers will not suspect. Please note: you can buy the book at discount already [...]

2017-11-16T21:31:02-05:00January 25th, 2016|Book Discussions, Historical Jesus|
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