19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful! Very Impressive!
I've written and edited several books against the Christian faith. So when I bought this book I was only expecting to learn a few things. What I didn't expect was how much I would learn, which was quite a lot. Most of the book simply compares and contrasts the gospels and lets them debunk themselves. It's densely packed with scholarly references and fairly easy to read...
Published on May 1, 2011 by John W. Loftus
38 of 47 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Fantastic Survey of Higher Critical Studies!
All I can say about this book is that is is a thorough and meticulous survey of higher critical scholarship since it's onset. As a subject whose discoveries and propositions have been mostly ignored by mainstream NT studies, seeing it's accumulated accomplishments in one volume like this is very powerful. It seems to me that it shows how a very rigorous subset of...
Published on October 24, 2009 by Will F.
Most Helpful First | Newest First
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful! Very Impressive!,
This review is from: Cutting Jesus Down to Size: What Higher Criticism Has Achieved and Where It Leaves Christianity (Paperback)I've written and edited several books against the Christian faith. So when I bought this book I was only expecting to learn a few things. What I didn't expect was how much I would learn, which was quite a lot. Most of the book simply compares and contrasts the gospels and lets them debunk themselves. It's densely packed with scholarly references and fairly easy to read. His book brings the reader up to speed regarding higher criticism, and deconstructs the gospels like no other book I've read. It's too bad many Christians won't get it and read it. Many of them will simply dismiss it because Wells had been the leading Jesus mythicist of our generation. But he has "repudiated" (p. 334) his former view and now thinks there was a Galilean Jew who did in fact exist, whose sayings are found in Q, the lost document that most scholars conjecture formed the basis for the synoptic gospels. Very highly recommended! It's very impressive. To wannabe Christian apologists I challenge you to read and argue against it. On the gospels you won't find anything better.
38 of 47 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Fantastic Survey of Higher Critical Studies!,
This review is from: Cutting Jesus Down to Size: What Higher Criticism Has Achieved and Where It Leaves Christianity (Paperback)All I can say about this book is that is is a thorough and meticulous survey of higher critical scholarship since it's onset. As a subject whose discoveries and propositions have been mostly ignored by mainstream NT studies, seeing it's accumulated accomplishments in one volume like this is very powerful. It seems to me that it shows how a very rigorous subset of academics can turn an entire field on its head with solid logic and persuasive analysis without anyone ever knowing it...or at least very few knowing it. I highly recommend this book for anyone stuck in the Ehrman/Crossan range of mainstream consensus interpretations as I used to be. This book opens up so many fascinating and plausible alternative possibilties concerning the interpretation and evaluation of NT accounts of Jesus and their origins. For someone who, deep-down, is emotionally dependent on his or her belief in the Jesus that they learned about in church, then this book is a waste of time because you will find fallacious reasons to dismiss it, so as to retain your cozy paradigm. But for everyone else with any interest at all in historical Jesus research or New Testament Studies in general, this book is a gold mine that will probably change your whole point of view. A Most Excellent Volume!!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Homage to German Scholarship - First-class, with clarity, elegance, depth, and total honesty,
This review is from: Cutting Jesus Down to Size: What Higher Criticism Has Achieved and Where It Leaves Christianity (Paperback)"Cutting Jesus Down to Size" is the best presentation of all the eleven books of Wells in my collection, and it is a pleasure to use and annotate.
EXTREME CLARITY AND CONCISENESS OF WELLS'S STYLE
Wells always includes an index of NT references, which is extremely handy. I only wish Wells had preserved the feature of his first book, "The Jesus of the early Christians: A study in Christian origins" (1971), the only one with an index of both OT and NT references.
The notes are extremely instructive, and tightly to the point, without any useless verbiage: no flights of fantasy or high-school teaching for adults. There are some mildly ironic comments about the absurdities of some claims. But Wells remains an English gentleman throughout. The overall effect is more elite learning than easy popular reading for bed or the beach.
WELLS AT 83 IS CAPPING MORE THAN 50 YEARS OF RESEARCH IN THE STUDY OF THE NT
Few can boast a similar encyclopedic knowledge of all the aspects of New Testament interpretation and exegesis of its controversial, and even bewildering, points.
Wells has always paid close attention to the most up-to-date scholarship of Christian theologians and to opposing or alternate views. And he always shows genuine delight when he finds endorsements for his own critical views from dedicated historicists or frank apologists.
He only deplores the growing tendency of eisegesis (wild speculations and out-of-control subjective interpretations), the deluge of useless literature on Jesus published every year by writers and academics who rake their brains to find some new angle. [10,000 English titles per year!]
DISTRUST OF THE MUMBO-JUMBO USED BY MODERN CHRISTIAN APOLOGISTS
In Mozart's early opera "Bastien und Bastienne", the young Bastien listens to the village miracle-worker Colas sing his marvelous incantation "Diggi, daggi" to induce Bastienne to return the affection of her lover. Bastien listens, and asks ironically: "Ist die Hexerei zu Ende?", is the hocus-pocus over?
This is how it feels listening to modern interpreters of the Jesus cult. Is the mumbo-jumbo over?
Wells is hostile to the insidious invention of pretentious and high-falutin language to deflect the debunking effects of higher criticism and "re-interpret" the basic concepts of Christianity for the modern masses using existential or post-modernistic mumbo-jumbo.
Hume had fustigated as "absurd" the concept of "the real presence of Jesus" in Catholic doctrine, in "The Natural History of Religion" (1757), section 12, "Doubt and Conviction". Wells adds that "Hume went so far as to say that the bulk of mankind has always been and will always be stupid and certainly incapable of learning the truth." And that he derides "the naive optimism", which is, "according to religious writers, a pervasive weakness of the Enlightenment", an estimate, Wells concurs, "probably realistic enough" (p. 326).
WELLS HAS NEVER ESTABLISHED A PRESENCE ON THE INTERNET, LEAVING THE FIELD OPEN TO ALL KINDS OF "AMATEUR RESEARCHERS"
Wells does not use the Internet, and has lost his life-long secretary. He may not be able to read all the Amazon reviews of his books, which is a shame, as he could have found inspiration and material to motivate him to write yet another book. But at 87, it may well be an impossible challenge.
Who knows? It will be such a shame to see his 50 years of exceptional knowledge accumulation disappear with him, when there are still fascinating subjects on which he could make a unique contribution.
This book contains many self-references to his previous books, which is to be expected, as each one has aimed at covering new material and discussing recent criticisms or opposing views.
I have spotted a few literal repeats from Wells's previous books, but they are minimal, and it's always a good refresher to be reminded of a meaningful quotation or crucial point.
WELLS'S EVOLUTION IN TWO STAGES, ENDING UP WITH THREE FIGURES: 1) THE CRUCIFIED/RESURRECTED CHRIST OF PAUL, 2) THE ROVING GALILEAN MIRACLE-WORKER/CYNIC-LIKE PREACHER JESUS OF Q, AND 3) BOTH FUSED INTO THE GOD-MAN OF MARK
Here is the key text of "Cutting Jesus Down to Size" (p. 14-15) mentioned by John Loftus in his review, but not even summarized by him for those poor readers who don't have yet the book in hand. Here, Wells carefully explains the evolution of his research about Jesus in two stages:
"When I first addressed these problems, more than 30 years ago, it seemed to me that, because the earliest Christian references to Jesus are so vague, the gospel of Jesus could be no more than a mythical expansion and elaboration of this obscure figure.
But from the mid-1990s I became persuaded that many of the gospel traditions are too specific in their reference to time, place, and circumstances to have developed in such a short time from no other basis, and are better understood as traceable to the activity of a Galilean preacher of the early first century, the personage represented in Q (the inferred non-Markan source, not extant, common to Matthew and Luke: cf. above, p. 2), which may be even earlier than the Paulines.
This is the position I have argued in my books of 1996, 1999, and 2004, although the titles of the first two of these -- "The Jesus Legend"  and "The Jesus Myth"  --may mislead potential readers into supposing that I still denied the historicity of the gospel Jesus. These titles were chosen because I regarded (and still do regard) the virgin birth, much in the Galilean ministry, the crucifixion around AD 30 under Pilate, and the resurrection as legendary.
What we have in the gospels is surely a FUSION OF TWO ORIGINALLY QUITE INDEPENDENT STREAMS of tradition, namely, as Bultmann a good while ago intimated, "the union of the Hellenistic kerygma about Christ whose essential content consists of the CHRIST-MYTH AS WE LEARN IT FROM PAUL...with the tradition of the STORY OF JESUS" (Rudolf Bultmann, "The History of the Synoptic Tradition", Blackwell, 1963).
The GALILEAN PREACHER of the early first century who had met with rejection, and the SUPERNATURAL PERSONAGE OF THE EARLY EPISTLES, who sojourned briefly on Earth and then, rejected, returned to heaven, have been condensed into one. The preacher has been given a salvific death and resurrection, and these have been set not in an unspecified past (as in the early epistles) but in a historical context consonant with the Galilean preaching. THE FUSION OF THE TWO FIGURES will have been facilitated by the fact that both owe quite a lot of their substance in the documents to ideas very important in the JEWISH WISDOM LITERATURE. I have dealt with this in my books of 1996, 1999, and 2004, and I revert to it in Chapter 6 below.
["Q, the Sayings Gospel", "In these respects the JESUS OF Q differs both from the JESUS OF THE GOSPELS, and from the JESUS OF PAUL, who was "delivered up for our trespasses", "put forward" by God "as an expiation by his blood", and "raised for our justification" (Rom. 3:25; 4:25). p. 210]
I regard it as of the utmost importance to keep in mind that, prior to their fusion in the gospels, the two streams of tradition were quite separate and independent of each other."
("Cutting Jesus Down to Size", 2009, p. 14-15. Emphasis and paragraph breaks added).
Noteworthy is the fact that Wells ends up defining THREE figures of Jesus: the original supernatural figure of the early Christian epistles, the hypothetical figure of the Galilean preacher of constructed Q, and the third figure, the "composite" of Mark's Gospel.
The 2004 book cited above by Wells is his previous work, "Can We Trust the New Testament?: Thoughts on the Reliability of Early Christian Testimony".
A TRIBUTE TO THE VITAL INPUT OF GERMAN HISTORICAL CRITICISM
What is exceptional in this 2009 book is the updating of the major points of NT exegesis in the light of higher (historical) criticism, including the major German scholars of the 19th and 20th century who have been pivotal in the modern understanding of the NT:
- DAVID STRAUSS (1808-1974): He was a lecturer in theology at the Un. of Tübingen, published his famous "Das Leben Jesu, kritisch bearbeitet" (1835), transl. "The Life of Jesus: Critically Examined" (1840), but could not find another academic appointment.
In Wells's "Religious Postures" (1988, p. 34-57), Ch. 2, "The Rise of Radical Biblical Scholarship", Strauss is shown as applying to the NT the same critical techniques used by Wilhelm M.L. de Wette (1780-1849), the iconoclastic theologian who "critically examined" (the new motto of Enlightenment scholars) the OT to demonstrate that the Mosaic books (Pentateuch) were historically deceptive and written only once King Josiah had discovered "the book of law" in the temple in 621 BC.
Strauss, similarly, mercilessly denounced as myths all the supernatural content of the gospels. Wells had then analyzed the parallel case of Wilhelm Tell, where an obscure history was finally revealed as a legend.
In "Cutting Jesus Down to Size", Ch. 2, "The Question of Miracles and the Work of David F. Strauss" (p. 57-78), Strauss is credited with laying the foundations to the whole movement of German historical criticism in the 19th century with his unbridled critique and "cold-headed" demonstration of the mythical character of the gospels, which "originated in a transference of the Jewish expectations of the Messiah into the history of Jesus." (p. 68).
- WILLIAM WREDE (1859-1906): A professor of theology at Breslau. Published "Das Messiasgeheimnis in den Evangelien" (1901), transl. J.C.G. Grieg, "The Messianic Secret", which Wells calls an "Epoch-making book" (Ch. 5, p. 179-195). Wrede focuses on the obtuseness of the disciples in recognizing from the various miracles performed by Jesus that he is endowed with supernatural powers, until Peter sees the light in Mark 8:29, by calling Jesus "the Christ". But Jesus commands the disciples to keep his supernatural status a secret.
Wrede concludes that Mark does not have a real knowledge of the historical life of Jesus, whose person is conceived "dogmatically" as the bearer of supernatural dignity. (p. 192). Albert Schweitzer devoted the Ch. 19 of his "The Quest of the Historical Jesus: A Critical Study of its Progress from Reimarus to Wrede", (1906) to Wrede.
But Wells prefers the more lucid summary of the Finnish writer Heikki Räisänen, "Messianic Secret in Mark's Gospel" (Clark, 1990). (p. 193).
- KARL LUDWIG ("K.L.") SCHMIDT (1891-1956): A professor at the Un. of Basel. In "Der Rahmen der Geschichte Jesu" ("The Framework of the Story of Jesus", Berlin, 1919, another important German book never translated into English), his "form criticism" divided Mark's account into separate single stories called "pericopes", without indication of time and place, meant not to preserve the history of Jesus but to reinforce the various beliefs of the cult of Jesus. These short stories were strung together in Mark, with no real chronological order. This makes impossible any biography of Jesus.
Wells also uses the explanations of Dennis E. Nineham in "The Gospel of Saint Mark" (Penguin, 1963).
- HERMANN SAMUEL REIMARUS (1694-1768), was a humble teacher of Hebrew and oriental languages in a Hamburg grammar school. He was the subject of a long study by David Strauss (1861, never translated), and was later made famous by Albert Schweitzer in his ground-breaking work, "Von Reimarus zu Wrede" (1906) translated into "The Quest of the Historical Jesus" (1910). Reimarus shows that the accounts of the Bible are not due to revelations from God, but from writers who deliver their human testimony, which must be scrutinized as any testimony. (p. 254). Reimarus, in the spirit of the Enlightenment, abandoned Christianity for deism.
He didn't dare publish his rambling "Defense of Reasonable Worshippers of God". It was G.E. Lessing who claimed to have found the anonymous "Fragments" in his capacity of librarian of the Duke of Brunswick and escaped censorship in publishing them (1774-8).
- FRANZ OVERBECK (1837-1905). A radical historian of early Christianity at Basel Un., who was allowed to stay there until the end, in spite of his radical criticism. His 1873 booklet, "Über die Christlichkeit unserer heutigen Theologie" ("On the Christian-ness of our Contemporary Theology", not translated), Overbeck denies any historical value to the gospels. "Christianity came into the world with the proclamation of the world's imminent destruction" allowing no more for a Christian theology than for an earthly history. (Overbeck quotation, cited by Wells, p. 256). Overbeck ended up "repudiating Christianity." (p. 264).
Overbeck "mentions Strauss's 1872 remark that Jesus's teaching is of no avail in regard to domestic and family life" and provides no help concerning 'the fundamental pillars of all human morality', namely the family and social organization. (p. 256).
- JOHANNES WEISS (1863-1914), a professor at Göttingen, published "Die Predigt Jesu vom Reiche Gottes" (1892, 2d. ed. 1900), transl. "Jesus's Proclamation of the Kingdom of God" (1971), is finely discussed in Schweitzer's "Quest" in Ch. 15, "The Eschatological Question". The 67-page book was "the first attempt at a consistent eschatological interpretation of the Gospel, defending the thesis that the central purpose of Christ's mission was to proclaim the imminence of a transcendental Kingdom of God, in which He himself was to be manifested as Messiah." (from the 1997 Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, cited by Wells, p. 258).
Like Reimarus before, Wrede had remarked that "Jesus never explains what he means by the kingdom, he must have taken for granted that his audiences knew what he was talking about." For ancient Hebrews, the hope was "not for life after death, but for a long life on Earth, and for prosperity and offspring in the context of a prosperous nation...From Maccabean times, the kingdom had come more and more to be regarded as something heavenly, supernatural -- a purely future kingdom which God himself would bring about." (p. 263).
Weiss concluded by accepting the skeptical results of "honest historical scholarship", but insisted that subsequent Christians didn't have to "adhere to interpretations [of the kingdom] which were identical with those held by Jesus...The plain meaning of the NT texts, as even the earliest Christian exegetes (e.g. Clement of Alexandria and Origen) had recognized, was utterly inapplicable in any literal sense to succeeding ages." (Introduction, "Jesus's Proclamation of the Kingdom of God", 1971, p. 21, cited in Wells, p. 264). Jesus's teachings have to be reinterpreted to remain alive in modern times.
- ALBERT SCHWEITZER (1875-1965). He managed the unbelievable feat of being prominent in many disparate fields: as a theologian, an organist, a physician, and a humanitarian missionary. He was rewarded with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952. Schweitzer offered a thorough and invaluable analysis of the history of the search for a historical Jesus in his famous "Quest of the Historical Jesus" (1906, transl. 1910) -- which remains an inescapable must read for anybody interested in "Die Frage nach der Historizität Jesu" (the question of Jesus's historicity). The chapters VII-IX on Strauss, X on the Marcan priority, XI on Bruno Bauer, and XIX on Wiliam Wrede, are indispensable.
In 1913, a 2d. edition added five more chapters, two of them designed to counter the thesis of Arthur Drews and his followers -- which proclaimed that Jesus had never existed, but had been an ideal, metaphysical figure -- internationally publicized with Drews's "The Christ Myth" (1909) and "The Witnesses to the Historicity of Jesus" (1912). This second edition of the Quest was not translated until 2000.
Wells also mentions John M. Robertson as the other principal pioneer of the non-historicity of Jesus.
In his illuminating section "From Reimarus to Schweitzer" (p. 247-274), Wells describes Schweitzer as following Johannes Weiss. Schweitzer "too saw that the synoptic Jesus was concerned with an eschatological kingdom, and hence had to be reinterpreted if he was to be a guide on modern ethical or other issues." (p. 264).
Schweitzer realized too clearly that historical criticism was proved unable to ever reach a historical Jesus, and "concludes, appropriately enough from his premisses, by conceding that our relation to Jesus is 'ultimately of a mystical kind'. We are to establish community with him by sharing his will to 'put the kingdom of God above all else' -- although what this phrase means to us (if anything at all) is not what it meant for him." (p. 273). De facto, Schweitzer is abandoning the historical Jesus for the Jesus of faith.
Note that Wells had already devoted to Schweitzer the short final section of his first book, "The Jesus of the early Christians" (Pemberton, 1971, p. 328-332).
He offered another important section on Schweitzer in his book "Belief and Make-Believe: Critical Reflections on the Sources of Credulity" (Open Court, 1991, p. 109-125).
THE CRUCIFIXION PERPETRATED BY THE DEMONS OF PAUL'S SUPERNATURAL VIEW OF THE KOSMOS
In "Belief and Make-Believe", Ch. 4, "Portraits of Jesus, Old and New", the section, "ii. The Significance Originally Assigned to the Crucifixion" (p. 96-106), shows that the crucifixion is to be essentially understood in the framework of Paul's ancient view of the world (kosmos) being subjected to the hostile influence of demons, conceived as supernatural powers, "the rulers (archontes) of this age (1 Cor 2:6-8)" (p. 97). "Paul holds these supernatural powers ultimately responsible for [the crucifixion]." (p. 99). "The evil spirits instigated the crucifixion because they were ignorant of Jesus's true identity." This theme was again repeated in the science-fiction apocalypse "Ascension of Isaiah".
A major problem arises: "Such an assessment...is incompatible with stories in the gospels where he is recognized by demons when he works prodigious miracles...Ancient apologists tried to harmonize the data by denying that 'the rulers of this age' of 1 Cor 2:8 refers to supernatural forces" (p. 101).
For Wells, this is just another example that "it is not possible to reconcile the obscure and unrecognized earthly Jesus of the earliest Christian documents with the influential teacher and miracle-worker of the Gospels." (p. 102).
This also explains the essential value that Paul assigns to the crucifixion: "as a result of the crucifixion, man can now commune with God without intermediaries other than Jesus." But for the victory over the supernatural powers to be complete, Paul leaves their final fate to Jesus's second coming.
ALBERT SCHWEITZER FINDS THE "KINGDOM OF GOD" IN A MYSTICAL COMMUNITY WITH THE CHRIST-SPIRIT
In "Belief and Make-Believe", Ch. 4, section "iv. Schweitzer" (p. 109-125), focusses on Jesus's teaching about the Kingdom of God. The disciples come back from their mission of preaching the imminence of the kingdom without suffering the persecution prophesied as part of the final cosmic tribulation.
"Schweitzer believes that Jesus's disappointment at this non-fulfilement led him to revise his view of the tribulation which he thought must precede the end; that he reflected on Ch. 53 of Isaiah, which speaks of the Servant of God who gives his life for others; and on this basis he came to think that, if he alone suffered and died, God would spare mankind the final tribulation and would inaugurate the Kingdom." ("Quest of the Historical Jesus", new introduction to the 3d English ed., 1954, p. xi, cited by Wells, p. 111).
Sifting the historical from the miraculous is not possible, and Schweitzer claims that "religion needs to be in essence independent of all history", a view later taken up by Bultmann, Tillich and Harvey.
The ending of this section is literally identical to the passage in "Cutting Jesus Down to Size": Schweitzer affirms that "in the last analysis our connection to Jesus is mystical in nature". For Schweitzer, Wells concludes, "We are to establish community with [Jesus] by sharing his will to 'put the kingdom of God above all else' -- although what this phrase means to us (if anything at all) is not what it meant for him [i.e. Schweitzer]." (p. 125)
WELLS FOLLOWS THE GERMAN PRINCIPLES OF AUTHENTIC SCHOLARSHIP
Wells is assuredly, in the English-language world, the top expert on the German biblical scholarship that has been transforming the world of biblical exegesis since the 18th century.
He has often emphasized how he's found his knowledge of German more useful in his NT studies than ancient Greek itself. His German fluency has given him access to an immense trove of first-class biblical studies which has remained untranslated into English and unknown of most English-speaking scholars.
No wonder that Wells has incorporated in his own style the qualities of "Deutsche Gründlichkeit" (German thoroughness) where the predominant characteristics are:
- total honesty in revealing and discussing upfront all sources of information, [German scholars take any hidden sourcing as a serious violation, leading to withdrawals of Ph.D. degrees, while "independent researchers" are much more casual about undisclosed borrowings, as they never risk losing a Ph.D. degree);
- devoting equal space to opposing and alternative views;
- reliability of statements;
- fairness of treatment;
- carefully signaling speculations as distinct from facts;
- with clarity of thinking and sharpness of expression.
No wonder that Wells's style of analysis is considered the very epitome of first-class scholarship. No contemporary writer on the historicity of Jesus reaches this level of scholarly and encyclopedic excellence.
DAVID STRAUSS AND JOHN M. ROBERTSON ARE THE TWO TOWERING PIONEERS OF WELLS'S NT SCHOLARSHIP
Wells regularly quotes JOHN M. ROBERTSON, his favorite denier of Jesus existence. And he has edited a full book on: "J. M. Robertson (1856-1933): Liberal, Rationalist and Scholar", (Pemberton, 1987).
And he's given a lot of space to DAVID F. STRAUSS, including the full Ch. 2, on the "Question of Miracles", in this "Cutting Jesus Down to Size"). He also has re-edited Strauss's final book: "The Old Faith and the New", (Berlin, 1872; Prometheus, 1997).
WELLS WAS IN A UNIQUE POSITION TO PRODUCE "THE QUEST OF THE NON-HISTORICITY OF JESUS - FROM BRUNO BAUER TO PAUL-LOUIS COUCHOUD & HERBERT CUTNER", AS A HISTORICAL PENDANT TO SCHWEITZER'S FAMOUS "QUEST"
I simply wish G.A. Wells had devoted more space to all the illustrious names of German criticism, and their followers. Indeed, Wells could have given us a much more complete version of what was promised in his title, "What Higher Criticism Has Achieved".
Especially, reading all those eleven books of Wells, I can only regret that he never allocated a full section or even chapter to each of the pioneers of Jesus denial he knows so well. For Wells has never given us any thorough review covering:
- BRUNO BAUER's essential contribution; which is the more regrettable since nobody has ever dared translate all of Bauer's key books of the critical 1838-1852 period where the thesis that Jesus never existed was first explicitly asserted (1841);
- a full analysis of WILLIAM B. SMITH's work, (briefly mentioned in the conclusion of "The Historical Evidence for Jesus", 1988, p. 220-221, where Wells disputes Smith's claim that "Jesus was said to have existed as a man" was meant as an elaborate allegory");
- a study of ALBERT KALTHOFF's retrieval of Bauer's waylaid thesis on Jesus's non-existence;
- a tribute to THOMAS WHITTAKER's views on Neoplatonism and the Origins of Christianity;
- an in-depth presentation of the complex philosophy of ARTHUR DREWS's Monism and the Unconscious World Spirit, the international impact of his popularizing "Christ Myth" books, and his life-long religious activism;
- and a detailed description of PAUL-LOUIS COUCHOUD's insightful "Creation of Christ" (1939), which often parallels Wells's argumentation, and that Wells so often cites in "The Jesus of the Early Christians".
Schweitzer had produced a famous history of "From Reimarus to Wrede - The Quest of the Historical Jesus" (1906) for the case of historicity.
Note that Arthur Drews, in his time, had taken up the challenge of writing a pendant to Schweitzer's "Quest" for the non-historicity side, with "The Denial of the Historicity of Jesus in Past and Present" (1926) offering a historical review of 35 major Jesus deniers from Strauss (1835) and Bruno Bauer (1841) to Georg Brandes (1925). Although an English summary exists (by Klaus Schilling), this book has never been translated in full into English.
Similarly Wells could easily have reworked and brought this history of the case for Jesus's non-existence up to date. He was (and still is) in a privileged position, with all the necessary knowledge and incomparable scholarly skill, to produce a superlative "From Bruno Bauer to Paul-Louis Couchoud - The Non-Existence of Jesus Revealed".
Nobody else will have Wells's intimate knowledge of 19th and 20th-century German scholarship, depth of expertise developed over 50 years of meticulous research, and sound, balanced judgment, to produce such a book. The absence of such a book in Wells's work, a regrettable and irremediable lacuna, is a huge missed opportunity
Contemporary writers are no longer up to the job. The age of jet travel, economic and media demands, and Internet temptations (leading to easy borrowings, paraphrasings, and plagiarizing from previous research), seems to preclude the kind of patient, laborious and exhaustive work -- nearly monk-like -- that was the norm for the higher criticism scholars of the 19th and 20th centuries, and of which Wells seems to be the last surviving epitome.
"Cutting Jesus Down to Size" is undoubtedly the book to buy.
18 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent scholarly presentation,
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book,
There is just something about how he puts it all together, how he lays it all out, that is very enjoyable to read. I find his arguments to be very convincing.
If you are "into" New Testament criticism, I highly recommend this, as well as any other of Wells' books.
3 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Cutting George. A. Wells down to size.,
Showing once again that the Gospels are a flawed collection of incompatible viewpoints, revealing a legendary cultic movement, should have set Georges. A. Wells on a warpath not only to reject "the old fashioned" Jesus but also to doubt of his own renewed understanding. Fencing to establish his own views, the author's conclusions are different to those of Christian apologists who also rely on textual criticism, and scholars are obviously missing insight to sort out the inconsistencies within their own melting pot. All readers not willing to go back to naïve catechism are waiting for an interpretation that will bring some cohesion to the still ambiguous Jesus that results from textual criticism. We now have to turn the page and try to figure out what Jesus really stood for and what the Gospels really meant to those who wrote them. It will probably be just as far away from high criticism as the Jesus of high criticism is away from the Jesus of Christian traditions.
5 of 27 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not for me,
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Cutting Jesus Down to Size: What Higher Criticism Has Achieved and Where It Leaves Christianity by George Albert Wells (Paperback - July 7, 2009)