Now I’d like the rubber to meet the road.  If we think we can know a good bit of the gist of Jesus’ life, what can we say with relative certainly about how it ended?  What do scholars who look at all the evidence basically agree on?  And what (and how much!) is basically up for grabs?

Here’s how I discuss it in Jesus Before the Gospels (HarperOne 2016).


Gist Memories of Jesus’ Death

One of my purposes in this book is to examine later traditions about Jesus recorded in our Gospels, written between forty and sixty-five years after his death, to see if any of them include distorted memories, either in whole or in part.   In this chapter I will focus on traditions involving the death of Jesus; in the next chapter, after exploring the question of whether oral cultures are likely to remember the past more accurately than literary ones, I will explore traditions involving the earlier life and ministry of Jesus.   I want to begin with stories surrounding Jesus’ last days and hours because these were the most remembered parts of Jesus’ life.    This can be seen simply by considering the amount of space devoted to this period in the Gospels.   The Gospel of Mark devotes ten chapters to Jesus’ public ministry in Galilee, and fully six to his last week, days, and hours in Jerusalem.   The Gospel of John covers the over two-year public ministry of Jesus in eleven chapters, but the final week of his life in ten.

The large majority of historical scholars would agree that some gist memories of Jesus’ last week, as recorded in the Gospels, are almost certainly accurate.[1]  These memories are recorded independently in different sources and do not appear to be remembered in any prejudicial way – for example because they represent episodes of Jesus’ life that Christians particularly would have wanted to say happened for their own, later, benefit.  Moreover, there is nothing inherently implausible about them.   Among these memories would be the following[2]:

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