Time for the weekly mailbag.  This week I’m dealing with only one question; I want to give a more elaborate answer than usual since it relates so closely to my forthcoming book Jesus Before the Gospels.   Here’s the question:



Dr. Ehrman, as you mention we tend to remember events that carry a large emotional impact (e.g. 9/11, Kennedy assassination, etc.) but, in turn, we tend to easily forget the more banal and mundane events in life (e.g. what we ate for breakfast three days ago, the name of our waiter from last night, etc.). In fact, when researchers give test subjects stress-reducing drugs, such as betablockers, they find that the subjects are much less likely to remember an event.  So I’m wondering whether you support or dismiss various gospel events based on this human inclination to remember. For example, the disciples would have been far more likely to remember how Jesus was arrested (highly emotional) versus how they met Jesus (rather less emotional).



I would like to deal with just part of the question, and save further responses for a later time.  One of the most significant discoveries of modern psychology is that Yes, we do remember significant, life-changing, emotional events more than everyday mundane events (as most of us realize).  BUT (this a huge but): even though such memories are more frequent and more vivid, that does not mean they are necessarily more accurate than other memories.  In fact, quite the opposite.  This seems completely counter-intuitive to most of us.  But many of our most vivid (emotional) memories can be highly inaccurate.   We tend to think that we know precisely where we were when, say, we were informed about 9/11.  All of us doBut as it turns out, most of us are probably wrong.

Here is how I discuss the matter in my forthcoming book


Many people will agree that they misremember things on occasion, but as a rule we are reluctant to think it happens a lot, or at least (for most of us!) that it happens a lot to us in particular.  We especially tend to think that our most vivid memories – precisely because they are vivid – are the most reliable.   That turns out not to be true either.

About 40 years ago some psychologists did think it was true.

THE REST OF THIS POST IS FOR MEMBERS ONLY.  If you don’t belong, JOIN!  Or you may never know!  And remember:  All membership fees go to fight hunger and homelessness.