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The Historical Jesus

Examine historical evidence and discover what we really know about Jesus in this eye-opening course by Professor Bart Ehrman, a New York Times best-selling author.
The Historical Jesus is rated 4.2 out of 5 by 164.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from An excellent course This is highly thought-provoking course. It is very well organized and the presentations are easy to follow.
Date published: 2023-12-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb intellectual discussion As good as any course that I took at my Ivy League alma mater
Date published: 2023-04-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating lectures I have seen about 7 or 8 Great Courses and this was the most interesting I've seen so far. The lectures were very clear and well organized. I found Professor Ehrman's points persuasive, and they changed my view of Jesus and early Christianity.
Date published: 2023-02-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A tough topic - well done Jesus, as founder of a world religion many of whose adherents are not interested in scholarly appraisal, will always be a tough topic. Dr. Ehrman is a scholar, not an adherent. His subject is not religious belief but historical fact. Teasing fact from myth and later propaganda is a tough job at the best of times. So I focused in this class on how well the prof succeeded at his stated goal. I am not an adherent of any of the Abrahamic religions, so I can swim in the waters of what's-historically-known or plausible with enthusiasm and no other agenda. This was fascinating - I binged over the holidays! You can sip rather than binge and perhaps learn even more than I did.
Date published: 2023-01-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Historian Method Whether historian, theologian, student, or simple tekton searching for meaning in life, Ehrman has gifted us all his scholarly shoulders as an unparalleled perch to enlightenment, and provided a humble example through his own life’s pursuits that the reward of meaningful truth is necessarily predicated upon the concordant bravery to pose a concomitant question.
Date published: 2022-12-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Brilliantly argued and important I first came across this course nearly 20 years ago, in an audio only version, and it completely transformed my understanding of Jesus and Christianity - some would say for the worse but I would strongly argue for the better! And I state this as a lifelong student of comparative religion and contemporary modes of spirituality. In listening again over the past few days, I find it every bit as powerful and illuminating as I did as a younger man. The one question with this material that I would enjoy raising with Dr. Ehrman involves the possibility that the apocalyptic flavor of these primary materials reflects the likely trauma and shock experienced by Jesus’ disciples in the aftermath of the crucifixion – and that Jesus himself might have never said any of this apocalyptic stuff at all! I would personally prefer to see Jesus not as a failed apocalyptic prophet (and we are indeed rapidly approaching the 2000th anniversary of these events – with humanity still its bad old self) and more as an important spiritual teacher of his time whose followers later, out of an understandable sense of grief and anger, elected to portray his ministry in a more apocalyptic light.
Date published: 2022-10-15
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Conjecture? This kind of a bully pulpit for Professor Ehrman to present his theory. Which he does by backing his lecture up by saying, “scholars agree” or “there is hard evidence.” However, Professor Ehrman never explains why scholars agree or presents the “hard evidence” for our consideration. I’d like to know why “scholars agree” about when and where the Gospels were written. I’ve never been a fan of “take my word for it” lectures.
Date published: 2022-09-08
Rated 3 out of 5 by from I Like the Study and Criteria but a Bit Dismissive An interesting study to determine what Jesus most likely said and did---achieved by applying three criteria (independent attestation, dissimilarity, and contextual credibility) to the birth, sayings, deeds, and death of Jesus. However, if you have taken other courses by Professor Ehrman you won't learn a lot of new content here. And his typical dismissiveness of the Christian faith is there (more on that later). Mix it all together and I walk away with a mixed feeling of the course. First the good: 1- I like the approach of utilizing a defined consistent method of criteria to determine what Jesus really said and did: independent attestation, dissimilarity, and contextual credibility (Lectures 9 and 10) 2- Applying the criteria to Jesus’ early life (lecture 11) and his apocalyptic viewpoint (lecture 14) as well as discussing how and why this aspect is toned down in later gospels 3- Understanding Jesus’ ethical teachings in an apocalyptic context (lecture 16) 4- Lecture 22 on the death and resurrection of Jesus Unfortunately, this only represents about 6 worthwhile lectures (a lot of the other lectures repeated material in his other courses---although I am aware this course likely predates the others---perhaps I shouldn't have listened to some of his better courses first such as "The Greatest Controversies of Early Christian History" and "The History of the Bible: The Making of the New Testament Canon"). My 3 main grievances: 1- The beginning 1/3 of the course seemed quite unnecessary or dragged out: if the point is to discount the gospels in the New Testament and other early gospels as being historically accurate because they are not first hand accounts and the versions we have are decades after Jesus’ death, then this could have been communicated in much shorter time 2- When Professor Erhman is applying the criteria to certain aspects of Jesus’ life (starting in lecture 11) it would have been good if at the end of the lectures a list of bullet points outlining his conclusions was visually presented to help summarize what claims about Jesus the professor feels are likely accurate (these could all have been collected and displayed at the course's end as a quick synopsis of the most likely accounts of the historical Jesus' life) 3- Yes, it is refreshing to see a historical approach taken to Jesus’ life and yes this will inevitably lead to a questioning of traditional Christianity rooted in genuine scholarly study but it is evident that the good professor can't help but be too dismissive of Christian claims (be it Jesus’ divinity, the end times, or the faith overall). It is unnecessary since Professor David Brakke likewise takes a scholarly historical approach but he does not cross that line of attacking the faith. I like Professor Ehrman. He brings very insightful theories and discussion to the table and he entertains. He has opened my eyes to a different perspective of Christianity and historical study I never would've contemplated. But he should dial it back a bit: he seems to go overboard at times to discount any claim of the early Christians’ that does not pass his dissimilarity criteria to the point that he ironically violates his own independent attestation criteria by not accepting claims that are in multiple gospels such as Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem---if they do not agree with his overall hypothesis of Jesus as an apocalyptic teacher. This reaches its apex with his “I told you so” diatribe throughout the entirety of lecture 24 while explaining how past predictions of the end times have failed...all with a snicker and condescending humor. The important work he has brought forth should speak and stand on its own. No need to go on the attack. I would still recommend (albeit somewhat reluctantly) this course. The criteria and method he employs and the conclusions they unearth are certainly thought provoking. But we could have got here with a better demeanor, style, and attitude. Plus I enjoyed his course "The Greatest Controversies of Early Christian History" so much that there wasn't much new for me here.
Date published: 2022-03-28
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Worshiped around the globe by more than a billion people today, Jesus is undoubtedly the single most important figure in the story of Western civilization and one of the most significant in world history altogether. Yet, Jesus of Nazareth presents unique challenges to the historian, as Professor Bart D. Ehrman explains in this 24-lecture course on the search for the Jesus of history. Join him for an erudite survey of sources, methods, contexts, and problems, and then weigh his carefully thought-out historical interpretation of the words and deeds of the man from Galilee.


Bart D. Ehrman

After his crucifixion, Jesus' disciples came to believe he'd been raised from the dead and made a divine being. What had seemed like defeat became for them the ultimate cosmic victory.


The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Dr. Bart D. Ehrman is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He completed his undergraduate work at Wheaton College and earned his M.Div. and Ph.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary. Professor Ehrman has written or edited 27 books, including four best sellers on The New York Times list: Misquoting Jesus: The Story behind Who Changed the Bible and Why; God's Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question-Why We Suffer; Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We Don't Know about Them);and Forged: Writing in the Name of God-Why the Bible's Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are. Professor Ehrman also served as president of the Society of Biblical Literature, Southeastern Region; book review editor of the Journal of Biblical Literature; editor of the Scholars' Press monograph series The New Testament in the Greek Fathers;and coeditor-in-chief for the journal Vigiliae Christianae. Professor Ehrman received the John William Pope Center Spirit of Inquiry Award, the UNC Students' Undergraduate Teaching Award, the Phillip and Ruth Hettleman Prize for Artistic and Scholarly Achievement by Young Faculty, and the Bowman and Gordon Gray Professorship (awarded for excellence in undergraduate teaching).

By This Professor

How Jesus Became God
The New Testament
Lost Christianities: Christian Scriptures and the Battles over Authentication
The Triumph of Christianity
The Many Faces of Jesus

01: The Many Faces of Jesus

Jesus is undoubtedly the most significant figure in the history of Western civilization. Yet even scholars who have devoted their lives to studying the ancient sources about him come to widely varying conclusions. Working from a strictly historical perspective that neither presupposes nor disallows any particular beliefs, what can we learn about what Jesus most likely said and did?

32 min
One Remarkable Life

02: One Remarkable Life

To begin the study of the historical Jesus, it may be best to start by examining the world within which the Christian religion was born. That was a world largely populated by "pagans," i.e., people who, unlike the Jews and then later the Christians, believe not in one but in many gods.

30 min
Scholars Look at the Gospels

03: Scholars Look at the Gospels

Scholars have approached the Gospels in a number of ways. The monumental work of D. F. Strauss, a German writing in the 1830s, argues that the Gospels are best understood as containing history-like stories that intend to convey truth but did not occur as they were narrated. Why do most scholars today-who do not subscribe to Strauss's precise notion-still find his general approach highly illuminati...

30 min
Fact and Fiction in the Gospels

04: Fact and Fiction in the Gospels

Scholars question the historical accuracy of some gospel accounts not out of hostility toward Christianity-many are committed Christians-but because of historical evidence. What is this evidence, and how do historians assess it?

30 min
The Birth of the Gospels

05: The Birth of the Gospels

The Gospels-which do not claim to be eyewitness accounts-appear to date from 35-65 years after the events that they narrate. Thus for a generation accounts of Jesus were passed on by word of mouth. Is it possible for us to move "behind" the written accounts to learn more about this original oral tradition, and perhaps even about Jesus himself as a historical person?

31 min
Some of the Other Gospels

06: Some of the Other Gospels

In addition to the New Testament, other written sources about Jesus have come down to us from antiquity. What are these other, noncanonical Gospels like? Who wrote them, and when? What sources did they use? How much can they tell us about what Jesus himself actually said and did?

30 min
The Coptic Gospel of Thomas

07: The Coptic Gospel of Thomas

This book, unearthed in Egypt in 1945, consists of 114 sayings attributed to Jesus. Many resemble sayings in Matthew, Mark, and Luke; others are different. What were the sources for Thomas?

30 min
Other Sources

08: Other Sources

First-century pagan authors mention Jesus only twice, in passing. The rest of the New Testament outside the Gospels likewise adds little historical evidence. But there is a hypothetical source to consider-the now-lost document called "Q," from which both Matthew and Luke seemingly drew.

31 min
Historical Criteria-Getting Back to Jesus

09: Historical Criteria-Getting Back to Jesus

How can the available sources be used to recover the words and deeds of Jesus? Scholars apply three specific criteria for establishing historically reliable material. In this lecture you learn about the first of the three.

30 min
More Historical Criteria

10: More Historical Criteria

In addition to the criterion of "independent attestation," scholars use two others to help gauge the historical reliability of traditions about Jesus. From this lecture, you'll learn the logic behind these criteria and then you'll see how they apply to accounts drawn from both canonical and noncanonical sources.

31 min
The Early Life of Jesus

11: The Early Life of Jesus

Using the criteria outlined in the preceding two lectures, which traditions about the birth and childhood of Jesus can be said to be historically authentic?

31 min
Jesus in His Context

12: Jesus in His Context

The history of Palestine was a story of war and foreign domination. The Romans took over Israel about 60 years before Jesus was born. Different forms of Judaism had emerged too, though Jesus himself was aligned with no sect, and had deep differences with at least some.

30 min
Jesus and Roman Rule

13: Jesus and Roman Rule

Under Roman rule, some Jews embraced convictions that modern scholars group under the label "apocalypticism." According to this set of beliefs, God would soon smash the forces of evil and usher the chosen people into the divine kingdom. Did Jesus himself proclaim some such views?

31 min
Jesus the Apocalyptic Prophet

14: Jesus the Apocalyptic Prophet

Why have many scholars since Albert Schweitzer found this apocalyptic view of Jesus credible? How does it pass the three tests of historical credibility and help us to understand both the origins and the aftereffects of Jesus' public ministry?

31 min
The Apocalyptic Teachings of Jesus

15: The Apocalyptic Teachings of Jesus

Having assessed the case for considering Jesus in some sense a Jewish apocalypticist, you can turn to a consideration of some of the things he taught regarding the coming judgment and kingdom of God.

31 min
Other Teachings of Jesus in their Apocalyptic Context

16: Other Teachings of Jesus in their Apocalyptic Context

It is with good reason that Jesus is widely regarded as one of the greatest ethical teachers of all time. By radicalizing the Mosaic commands to love God and one's neighbor wholeheartedly, Jesus presented a different understanding of what it meant to follow the God of the Jews from other leading teachers of his day.

31 min
The Deeds of Jesus in their Apocalyptic Context

17: The Deeds of Jesus in their Apocalyptic Context

Some scholars have begun to question the view of Jesus as an apocalypticist. This lecture examines two ways scholars have sought to explain evidence that would support an apocalyptic understanding of Jesus.

30 min
Still Other Words and Deeds of Jesus

18: Still Other Words and Deeds of Jesus

Scholars need not deny the possibility of miracles to admit that historical research can never demonstrate their actual occurrence. Historians can, however, discuss recorded reports of miracles. Was Jesus widely held to be able to expel demons, heal the sick, and perform other miracles?

30 min
The Controversies of Jesus

19: The Controversies of Jesus

Jesus often met with opposition. This lecture explores the traditions of Jesus' rejection and some of his disputes with the Pharisees. How did Jesus' radical emphasis on the command to love sit with Scriptural demands for ritual purity?

30 min
The Last Days of Jesus

20: The Last Days of Jesus

There is better documentation for Jesus' final week than for any other period of his life. He went to Jerusalem at Passover. At the temple he caused a disturbance. Why? As Jesus kept preaching, local authorities arranged to have him quietly arrested. Jesus had a last meal with his disciples, warning them that his enemies were about to strike.

30 min
The Last Hours of Jesus

21: The Last Hours of Jesus

How precisely did Judas Iscariot betray Jesus? Jesus was not, after all, in hiding. Why did Judas betray Jesus? How did the local Jewish authorities investigate Jesus? Why did they turn him over to the Romans?

31 min
The Death and Resurrection of Jesus

22: The Death and Resurrection of Jesus

How good are the sources for what happened at the trial of Jesus? Can they help explain why the Jewish authorities handed Jesus over to Pilate, who ordered immediate torture and crucifixion? Despite discrepancies in their accounts of what transpired at Jesus' tomb, all of the sources agree in important ways.

30 min
The Afterlife of Jesus

23: The Afterlife of Jesus

The first Christians were Jewish apocalypticists. They believed that God would raise the dead in the end time, and that Jesus-the first raised-was a major figure in this divine triumph over evil. What happened when people from different backgrounds began to join the church?

31 min
The Prophet of the New Millennium

24: The Prophet of the New Millennium

If historians seeking to learn what Jesus said and did need to take his context into account as they examine his life, theologians and believers who are interested in appropriating that message need to scrutinize it in light of their own situations.

31 min