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The Other Gospels and the Birth of Jesus

Right now I have the “other” Gospels on my mind.   It’s true, I often have them on my mind, since they have been a focus for a good deal of my research over the past few years, and will continue to be for some years to come.  But just now, they are particularly on my mind even though the book I’m currently writing (How Jesus Became God) is about something else.

They’re on my mind for three reasons.  First, I’ve agreed with Oxford Press, to produce, along with my colleague Zlatko Plese, an English-only edition of The Apocryphal Gospels, which came out in a Greek/Latin/Coptic-English edition last year; this new edition will include only the English translations with new introductions geared for a general audience.  So I have to rewrite all the introductions, and the am bound by contract to do it by the end of January.

Second, I have agreed to write a brief (2000-word) article for Newsweek this week, to be published in a couple of weeks, about the birth of Jesus, and this has made me think about the other Gospels (from outside the New Testament) that tell alternative accounts of Jesus’ birth and young life.   And third, just as I was about ready to start writing the article I learned that the Pope has published a book on the birth of Jesus, where he, among other things, dispels many of the myths that people subscribe to about the Christmas story.

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The Pope’s New Book
Thomas and the Other Gospels

16

Comments

  1. James Dowden  November 27, 2012

    Here’s hoping Jesus’ birthday wasn’t really February 29th (presumably during Adar Rishon).

  2. maxhirez  November 27, 2012

    My favorite apocryphal nativity tradition (probably one that originated in the 1970’s in Hollywood) was that animals were able to speak at midnight when Jesus was born, and that every Christmas Eve at midnight this was repeated. My brother and I (aged 5 and 7 respectively) were sorely disappointed that year that our cat was less than talkative. I don’t think you’ll find anything about this in the Infancy Gospels though.

  3. jimmo  November 27, 2012

    Other gospels? What nonsense! Have you forgotten what Irenaeus said? Like the points on a compass and directions of the wind, there can be only four. Silly Bart!

  4. andrejs.vanags  November 27, 2012

    Hello!

    When I read about pope’s new book last week, my fist thought was to ask for your opinion. So I’m really glad that you mention it in your today’s post.
    As far as I know, it’s the third book of pope’s series on Jesus life and all the books are considered academic. So, what are your thoughts about his previous two books? Can you suggest any good reviews available on the Internet?
    And I certainly hope that you’ll share your opinion about pope’s latest book as well 🙂

    Regards,

    Andrejs

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  November 27, 2012

      I haven’t read the previous two, and now that I’ve read this one, I don’t think I need to. I commented on this on on today’s post.

  5. Brad Billips
    Brad Billips  November 27, 2012

    Mark Goodacre mentions that since John has three passovers, John’s Jesus had two years (or just over two years) of ministry. This is from one passover to the next, to the next, is two years. I have never heard of three and a half years ministry before. Dr. Ehrman can you please explain?

  6. Adam  November 27, 2012

    you going put controversial (controversial to the general public, not scholars!)? the more controversial the more readers!

  7. flimbeck  November 27, 2012

    Speaking of magazine articles (Your reference to Newsweek), In the Economist issue “The World in 2013”, an article on page 29 entitled Christianity at Bay, by Edward Lucas: International editor, projects a decline in numbers of public religiosity if not actual belief in North America in 2013. Publicly acknowledging atheism (and presumably agnosticism) will be less of a taboo in 2013 than it has been for more than a century, especially for those in a big city or university town (Chapel Hill-Durham?)
    Floyd M. Limbeck

  8. tcc  November 27, 2012

    Isn’t the entire birth of Jesus myth just a midrash on Moses and the prophet Samuel, anyway?

    I get that we live in a completely different society now, but the early Christians weird me out with how little they cared about what actually happened–they blatantly make stuff up and call it fact (Luke in particular, who wrote like he was trying to be a historian). Were these people just uber mystics who couldn’t differentiate between who Jesus was in reality and who they believed he was? Or just liars trying to get their religion off the ground?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  November 27, 2012

      I don’t think they were liars, and my sense is that they didn’t actually make up stuff they knew didn’t happen. Stories simply emerge. Happens all the time. About living breathing people who could “correct” the account. I imagine it happened even more in antiquity, when there were even fewer means of checking. But one day I hope to write a book on oral tradition in antiquity. It’s on the (very long) list of things to do….

      • jimmo  November 28, 2012

        One thing a lot of people forget (particularly mythicists) is that adding supernatural elements into biographies, as well as creating parallels between two people was common around the 1st century. Plutarch’s Lives is a prime example. If you look at the 1st century historiography, the goal was often more to teach moral lessons than to present a 100% factually accruate account. This fits real well with the embellishments in the gospels.

        oral tradition in antiquity??? I’ll pre-order that one now!

  9. SteveLig  December 7, 2012

    I’m really looking forward to “How Jesus Became God.” It has been a pet topic of mine since my fundamentalist days. I’ll pre-order that one!

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