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Did Jesus Exist?
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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on May 2, 2010
Mr. Wells does a pretty simple thing here, but he does it well and he does it thoroughly. He takes the first four chapters of the New Testament (using the original Greek texts) and cross references it with other accounts of that time (Roman and Jewish sources). Nothing spectacular here, just good research and some decent historical work.

Because of his thoroughness, the reader is very early on faced with the obvious fact that there is completely no historicity at all for this fellow named Jesus in the New Testament. If you are into the whole faith thing, then of course this is no problem. Faith is faith is faith--that wonderful admission that pesky things like facts and logic and evidence and putting them all together to come to some sort of coherent conclusion is, well, not so important.

But, instead if you are into thinking stuff through, it is hard to walk away from this text and still admit that this guy ever existed, let alone did all those magic tricks: making some tasty wine from water, being born from someone who had never broken her hymen, busting out of his grave to make a short reunion tour before floating up, up and away on a fluffy, snow-white cloud.

The chapter on Pagan and Jewish Background was probably my favorite.

I should warn though that the text is a bit dry, but it makes for awesome reference. If I ever crack it open again it will be for that reason.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on May 18, 2013
This book deserves a 5-star rating for its content and a 1-star for the physical product, justifying an average rating of 3 stars.

Bart Ehrman, champion of Jesus's historicity, called G.A. Wells, the BEST-KNOWN JESUS'S EXISTENCE DENIER OF MODERN TIMES, and (rightly) called DJE? his MOST THOROUGH AND EXTENSIVE ARGUMENTATION OF JESUS DENIAL. Nobody has done better, and everybody else has copied his arguments. And Ehrman copied the title for his own refutal.

The content of this book is superb, the argumentation for Wells's thesis is fascinating and instructive. It is also an important book, since it was the opportunity for Wells to face all the criticisms raised by his first, sensational book, "The Jesus of the early Christians: A study in Christian origins" (1971) ["JEC"].

"Did Jesus Exist?" (1975) ["DJE?"] was Wells's second book, followed by Wells's third, "The Historical Evidence for Jesus" (1982) ["HEJ"]. Wells brought some refinements to the original argumentation of JEC.
Wells was happy enough with his DJE? (1975) to allow a second, "revised, corrected, and expanded", edition, DJE? (1987), which could now include references to the previous HEJ (1982). The cover of this DJE? (1987) said that the first book, JEC (1971), "has been superseded by the two successors". All the page references below are to this 2d edition, DJE? (1987).

Soon after, with bolstered confidence in the reception of his thesis by publishers and the public, Wells produced a 2d ed. of HEJ (1988). Followed the next year by his fourth book on Jesus, "Who Was Jesus? A Critique of the New Testament" (1989) ["WWJ?"], recapitulating the whole story of Gospel Jesus.

All this sounds a bit confusing, but Wells, untiringly through his whole life, kept revising, correcting, expanding his previous arguments, and remaining very responsive to current criticisms. To master the full extent of his immense erudition, a student has to go through his eight books on Jesus and the Origins of Christianity, his five books of insightful "Reflections" on religion, mythology, language and belief, and his two historical books on John M. Robertson and David Strauss.
A complete review of Wells's thinking should also include the three books he has edited on the work of his rationalist mentor, F.Ronald H. Englefield (1891-1975), a rationalist critic of the vague language used in religion and philosophy.

It is significant that Wells decided to address all the questions confronting his first book, JEC (1971), not by re-editing and revising it, but by publishing this second book, DJE? (1975), and its revised version, DJE? (1987).
In his foreword to his third book, HEJ (1982), and its revised edition, HEJ (1988), Wells explained the new perspective followed in his second book, DJE? (1975).

"Of the many critiques which were made of my first book on Christian origins, JEC (London, 1971), three were substantially just:
(1) The work relied more on the pioneer critics of the 19th and early 20th centuries than one would expect of a book published in 1971. [Most vanished afterwards.]
(2) It gave too much attention to (and was not entirely accurate in its representation of) the pagan background of earliest Christianity, thus neglecting some of the Jewish factors in the origin of this undoubtedly Jewish sect.
(3) It too readily posited interpolation (rather than redaction of traditions of different provenance) to account for unevennesses and contradictions in early Christian documents.
I was able to profit from these criticisms when I wrote the sequel volume, "Did Jesus Exist?" (London, 1975)...
My fundamental theses remain the same: namely, the earliest references to the historical Jesus are so vague that it is not necessary to hold that he ever existed; the rise of Christianity can, from the undoubtedly historical antecedents, be explained quite well without him and reasons can be given to show why, from about AD 80 or 90, Christians began to suppose that he had lived in Palestine about fifty years earlier." (p. ix)

THE SURPRISING SILENCES OF G.A. WELLS -- HIS PRACTICE OF ABUNDANT REFERENCES FROM OBSCURE MODERN ACADEMICS WHILE SUPPRESSING REFERENCES TO THE JESUS DENIERS OF THE 19TH AND EARLY 20TH CENTURIES.

In spite of Wells's overzealous acceptance of the criticisms of contemporary theologians, the connection of JEC (1971) to the past history of "Die Frage nach der Historizität Jesu" ("the question of Jesus's historicity") makes this first book even more valuable. For it acknowledges that those 19th and early 20th c. pioneers were the real creators of the fundamental ideas that gave substance and validity to the thesis of Jesus's non-existence.
JEC (1971) was the original, spontaneous, untrammeled, result of Wells's research into the question of Jesus's historicity, from 1946 to 1971. His new willingness to revise his original account reflected his accommodating the "substantially just" criticisms from modern academics. Wells wanted to be considered a member of the academic club of NT scholarship. But he had to deal with the lifelong accusation of being "only" a professor of German, and not an accredited NT Ph.D.

Wells squarely confronted the matter of his qualifications in the Introduction of DJE? (1987). "Amateurs not committed to orthodox premises" have caused orthodox theologians to revise their views. He cites "amateur critics" such as Reimarus, the first to raise serious questions about Jesus; John William Colenso, who questioned the literalness of the Pentateuch; and Voltaire, who questioned the despotism of the Church. They have "survived the oblivion which has overtaken the experts they criticized."
Most NT historians are Christians or from a Christian background, and are encumbered with an UNAVOIDABLE PERSONAL BIAS. The question of Jesus's historicity is a historical problem subject to historical inquiry. "It is not to be settled by enthusiastic believers or disbelievers, whose approach is sentimental rather than scientific, nor by people who allow their profession to influence the conclusions they reach." (p. 2-3)

Clearly, Wells's new focus of paying exaggerated attention to the "substantially just" objections of contemporary scholars, to the detriment of past scholars, seems primarily motivated by Wells's effort to see his second book better welcomed by publishers and contemporary theologians. He was acting in good faith, but a cynical observer would certainly remark that this policy of scholarly "peace and friendship" was going a bit overboard towards ignoring the creators of the past mainly to be acceptable to marginal modern critics.

Wells met the question of the historical evidence for Jesus (and the lack of it) in the early Christian documents during his year abroad in Switzerland in 1946 as a 20-year old student of German rooming with a Swiss Protestant pastor who was a pupil of Albert Schweitzer (still very much alive then, d. 1965). He was introduced to Schweitzer's momentous "Von Reimarus Zu Wrede - Eine Geschichte Der Leben-Jesu-Forschung" (1906), translated as "The Quest of the Historical Jesus: A Critical Study of its Progress from Reimarus to Wrede" (1910). Wells revealed it took him three years to find a publisher (Pemberton) for his first book, JEC (1971), which may have been a somewhat traumatic experience. But the 3,000 run sold out very quickly, and Pemberton easily accepted his second book, DJE? (1975).

Well aware of the treatment of "Das Ignorieren" and "Das Totschweigen" inflicted on Bruno Bauer and Arthur Drews by German academics, who buried their books for decades, Wells opted to minimize discussing his indisputable debt to the real pioneers of Jesus denial in the 19th and early 20th c., still so visible in his JEC (1971).
His new, more prudent strategy, consisted in omitting most references to the past pioneer critics, and revisiting and amplifying all the original topics and themes of his first book with a new emphasis on abundant quotations from contemporary scholars.

Wells's new perspective on current academic NT analysis led him to replace his "Index of Biblical References" (including OT/NT) in JEC with a still very serviceable 6-page "Index of NT References" in DJE? (1987).

Wells now tends to sprinkle his book with the names of obscure modern academics -- serving either as Wells's punching bags, or as unwilling endorsements of his own ideas -- even though their contributions may remain marginal to the main sweep of historical criticism, and may be soon forgotten. Their names are unknown to most lay readers, and do not claim the kind of status reserved to the iconic pioneers of the 19th and early 20th c. -- who had been cited less guardedly in JEC (1971).

An unintended consequence of this new strategy, with its overabundant citations of unknown academics, nearly on every page, is making Wells's scholarly erudition a rather rebarbative exercise to unlearned readers, who much prefer a smoothly flowing story with a sense of progression towards some exciting revelation.
Some of Wells's scholarly finds are extremely valuable (even to a scholar of Robert M. Price's stature, who admitted learning recondite or esoteric details from Wells's extensive prospection of the academic field), but many are simply unknown scholars whose main value is to justify usable quotations, pro or con, in Wells's argumentation.
Economically secure thanks to his professorship of German culture and civilization at Birkbeck College (Un. of London), Wells, all through his career, has been aiming at SCHOLARLY EXCELLENCE, recognition as an elite scholars' scholar, rather than striving for popular appeal with the uninformed public.

Fortunately, in subsequent books, feeling more assured of the reception of his work by publishers and the public, Wells came back to a more balanced treatment of past scholars, no longer hesitant to quote De Wette, F.C. Baur (never cited in the present book), Strauss (cited only once here), Weiss, Wrede (who's that?), Reimarus, Robertson (cited only twice here), Schweitzer (inescapable, but only briefly cited four times in the present book), and the other great pioneers of historical criticism in Germany and England. Wells corrected his overreaction in DJE? (1975) and HEJ (1982) by giving again more space and credit to the arguments of past scholars.

It is clear that Wells has always been mindful of the silence ("Das Ignorieren" and "Das Totschweigen") imposed on the works of Bruno Bauer and Arthur Drews by German academics, a silence to which Wells himself contributed.
Schweitzer had showed more self-assurance than Wells, and did not shrink, in his "Quest" masterpiece, from giving a prominent place to the revolutionary ideas of Heinrich Paulus, David Strauss, Christian Wilke, Christian Weisse, Bruno Bauer, Johannes Weiss, Wilhelm Bousset, Adolf Julicher, Julius Wellhausen, Albert Kalthoff, Eduard von Hartmann, William Wrede, and Arthur Drews.

In the "Quest", Ch. XI is dedicated to Bruno Bauer (p. 137-160), who is shown as the FIRST NT scholar to explicitly deny the historicity of Christ, in his "Kritik der Evangelischen Geschichte der Synoptiker" ("Criticism of the Gospel History of the Synoptics", 3 vols., Leipzig, 1841-1842; quotation in vol. III, 1842, p. 308).
This denial of Jesus's existence was repeated and strengthened ten years later in "Kritik der Evangelien" ("Criticism of the Gospels", 2 vols., 1850-1851, Berlin).
Those key books have never been translated into English, but are thoroughly analyzed by Schweitzer in Ch. XI. And they are well known of G.A. Wells, who, astonishingly, never cites them, in a strange display of pusillanimity.

To deal with Arthur Drews and his "Christ Myth" books, Schweitzer added five chapters to his 2d edition of the Quest (1913), presenting a detailed critique of Drews's new "non-historicity of Jesus" thesis in Ch. XXII and XXIII. Drews remained in friendly touch with Schweitzer until his death (1935).

Wells is careful to avoid referencing Drews, even though his scholarship retraces the steps of Drews's radical arguments. Schweitzer's systematic review of past scholars -- what makes the "Quest" such a milestone -- is, surprisingly, not even mentioned in Wells's books. One could easily ironize on the reasons for the "silences" of G.A. Wells.

Wells, the super-diligent scholar, is acutely aware of the German texts which have launched and promoted the idea of the non-existence of Jesus, and he has, in fact, closely adopted their basic critical ideas.
Nonetheless, the names of Bruno Bauer, Edwin Johnson, Albert Kalthoff, Arthur Drews, Thomas Whittaker, Peter Jensen, William B. Smith, and, a fortiori, the Dutch radicals, are rarely or never mentioned in his works. Paul-Louis Couchoud, whose ideas are often paralleled by Wells's argumentation, and who was abundantly cited in JEC (1971), practically disappears later from Wells's references.

For Wells, raised for years in the cocoon of Sunday School Anglican Christianity, the fear of ostracism and rejection, the need for acceptance, remained a powerful motivation in his choice of references and his selective disclosure of the effective influences shaping his ideas. Wells, an honest scholar, let himself become too easily influenced or convinced by the criticisms of contemporary NT scholars.

The only references to pioneers have been to David Friedrich Strauss, and John Mackinnon Robertson, a personal idol of the rationalist Wells. Couchoud dedicated his important "Creation of Christ" (1939), to Robertson. But Robertson's name is only prudently and parsimoniously cited by Wells.
However, to do Robertson full justice, Wells edited a separate book on "J.M. Robertson (1856-1933 : Liberal, Rationalist and Scholar), (Pemberton, 1987). He did the same for David Strauss, by re-editing Strauss's last book, "The Old Faith and the New" (1st ed. Berlin, 1872; Wells ed., Prometheus, 1997).

WELLS HAS NEVER PRODUCED A COMPLETE HISTORY OF THE DEBATE OVER THE HISTORICITY OF JESUS

Wells's sensitivity to the concerns of minor academics of the late 20th c. is a loss for those of us who are more interested in the significant thinkers who have created the original ideas and marked the milestones in the history of higher criticism. Wells has gained the right to belong to that select group, but few of the academics he's selected for meaningful quotes can pretend to this kind of recognition.
The title of Wells's latest book, "Cutting Jesus Down to Size: What Higher Criticism Has Achieved and Where It Leaves Christianity", (2009), promised a history of Higher Criticism, but, in all fairness to the pioneers of historical criticism of the 19th and early 20th c., Wells has not delivered the thorough historical review he is so uniquely well-equipped to provide.

WELLS CAUTIOUSLY DISTANCES HIMSELF FROM THE WILD SPECULATIONS OF POPULAR JESUS DENIERS

Wells has been consistently wary about his claims being confused with the wild speculations of popular "mythicists."
In DJE? (1987), he railed: "Theorists who explain Christianity without positing a historical Jesus are normally accused of introducing unnecessary complications, not of over-simplifications." (p. 175).
In the last page, Wells vigorously protests against accusations of having to impute "dishonest fabrications" to the early Christian writers in order to support his thesis that the origins of Christianity cannot be explained by a historical Jesus. Wells objected to Reimarus's suspicions "who in 1778 accounted for the contradictions between the gospel resurrection narratives by supposing that Jesus's disciples stole his body from his tomb and then composed, with slender agreement, accounts alleging his subsequent appearances." Wells gives the benefit of "good faith" creation of their stories to early Christian writers, and absolves them of intentional fraud. (p. 217).

Already Wells had ended JEC (1971) by issuing a similar warning against the wild speculations of Jesus's existence deniers:
"All the writers I have discussed in this epilogue simply take for granted that the gospels can supply some reliable information about a historical Jesus. It is time this assumption was challenged.
 Even with its aid, much speculation is needed to supplement the records. Those who deny the historicity of Jesus have so often been accused of basing their case on wild speculations, of constructing, in Loisy's phrase, "air-drawn fabrics". But it should now be obvious to the candid reader that an intelligible Jesus can be extracted from the gospels only by the kind of speculative inferences that have been held to discredit the mythicist case".
(JEC, "Epilogue: Some Recent Studies of Jesus", 1971, p. 331-2).
The quote is from Alfred Loisy, "The Birth of the Christian Religion", (1933, transl. L.P. Jacks, 1948, p. 11, available online.)

Wells belabors this important point again in HEJ (1988). He recalls that "Whether Jesus existed was fiercely debated at the beginning of this century," (p. 218), and he cites approvingly the excellent accounts of the famous controversy, which raged internationally in the 1880-1939 period, by ARCHIBALD ROBERTSON in "Jesus: Myth or History?" (Watts, 1946); and by HERBERT CUTNER's remarkable "Jesus: God or Myth? An Examination of the Evidence" (The Book Tree, 1950). Wells mentions John M. Robertson as "the ablest" supporter in this period of the "negative view" arguing that Jesus is a myth.

Wells goes on to pinpoint the "two mistakes" made by other Jesus deniers:
"[1] They set aside as interpolations all NT passages they found inconvenient,
[2] and they tried to explain Jesus away in terms of pagan parallels (as simply another Osiris or Hercules), when the Jewish background is clearly of greater importance.

The negative view gained some support from radical Dutch theologians of the day (for example W.C. van Manen and G.A. van den Bergh van Eysinga) who regarded all the Pauline letters, the earliest witnesses to a human Jesus, as 2d-c. forgeries." (HEJ, p. 218-9).

"One reason why NT scholars of today treat present-day rationalist writers on the NT with some disdain is that so many of the latter continue in the mistakes made early in this century. This is particularly true of French rationalism." (p. 219). 

Wells, as examples of objects of "disdain", points his finger at Guy Fau ("La Fable de Jesus-Christ", 1964), William B. Smith ("The Birth of the Gospel", 1957), and John Marco Allegro ("The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross", 1970). (p. 219-223).

This makes it clear why Wells has avoided a second edition of JEC (1971), because of the very partiality of his first book to the "two mistakes" now decried in his third book. Perhaps Wells, in his desire of being accepted by publishers and scholars, has paid too much attention and given too much credence to the criticisms mailed to him in response to his first book.

Wells never mastered the use of the computer and the Internet, doing all his communications by mail with the help of a secretary. Which explains his relative obscurity among the young public raised on the Web.
One way to combat this ignorance among the young and relaunch interest in his elite scholarship would be to post online, for instance, his first book, JEC (1971). An idea that, so far, does not seem to have generated any enthusiasm in his publishers and Wells himself.

I think that any study of Wells's thesis should overrule Wells's later qualms and squarely start with JEC (1971) as being the original, unrevised, stage leading to the ulterior development of his ideas. The most significant passages are the topics and names appearing in JEC (1971) but omitted from Wells's successive books.

The caution expressed by Wells, of not getting identified with many of the "present-day rationalist writers on the NT", is revealing. His obsessive concern is about avoiding the "disdain" of established biblical scholars, gaining their respect as an honest, thorough, and reliable NT scholar himself, free of wild speculations, and getting his work effectively read and discussed, instead of being dismissed out of hand, even if his conclusions should end up getting rejected on ideological or theological grounds.

All this is further proof of Wells's thorough familiarity with all the significant figures in the history of the Jesus myth school, and his insistence that his DJE? should not be confused with popular denials of historicity.
It is also strong evidence that Wells was in a unique position, with his intimate knowledge of German historical criticism in the 19th and 20th c., to produce a major 1790-2000 history of the debate about "Die Frage nach der Historizität Jesu". That he never tackled this huge project is a straight loss to scholarship. At the end of his career, with all his books in print and selling well, his reputation all established, he could have been inspired by the courage of Schweitzer in giving to the pioneers of Jesus denial a full and fair treatment.

After JEC (1971) and DJE? (1975/1987), Wells continued refining and expanding his thesis of the early Jesus with two more books, HEJ (1982/1988) and WWJ? (1989).
This group of four books focusses on the silences encountered among Jewish and Roman witnesses, and in the epistles of Paul and other early Christian writings. They stress the supernatural aspects of the Jesus figure depicted in those early Christian documents, and that the origins of Christianity can be explained without the fiction of a historical Jesus.

THE IMPOSSIBILITY OF DISCOVERING ANYTHING ABOUT THE HISTORICAL JESUS WILL NOT SERIOUSLY AFFECT THE PERSISTENCE OF THE JESUS OF FAITH.

At the end of his Introduction, Wells ponders the question of the impact of historical criticism on ordinary Christian believers.
"I have also been asked whether the non-existence of Jesus need make any difference to anyone's religious ideas. This is a matter on which theologians are divided. Bultmann's view is that if the Jesus of faith is religiously satisfying, his historicity need not be insisted on. Nineham has replied that such a standpoint reduces the gospel to a senseless paradox; that he cannot believe that God would 'proclaim salvation through a series of false statements about the life of a man who either never lived or was in fact toto caelo different from the statements about him'.

With this I can sympathize. If Jesus is the revelation of God in human form, then clearly, if there was no human form, there was no revelation of God. If however the believer is prepared to DISREGARD QUESTIONS OF MERE HISTORICAL FACT, and concentrate on some kind of `HIGHER' TRUTH WHICH IS EMBODIED IN THE GOSPELS, then my views need not concern him, any more than his concern me" (DJE? 1987, p. 9.)

In Wells's important book, "Religious Postures: Essays on Modern Christian Apologists and Religious Problems" (1988), Ch. 2, "The Rise of Radical Biblical Scholarship" (p. 25-63), he notes that the higher criticism launched in Germany by Wilhelm M.L. de Wette (1780-1849) in his "Beiträge zur Einleitung in das Alte Testament" ("Contributions to an Introduction to the Old Testament", Halle, 1806-7) revealed that the pseudo-history of the OT was just mythology. 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.

David Strauss applied the same techniques of historical criticism to the NT, and, similarly, in his revolutionary "The Life of Jesus: Critically Examined" (1835), revealed, in a "cold-headed" spirit, the mythology of all the supernatural events in the NT.

"Critically examined" had been the new motto of Enlightenment studies on the Bible, ever since Reimarus's work and Baron d'Holbach's "Histoire critique de Jésus-Christ, ou Analyse raisonnée des évangiles", ("Ecce Homo! Or, A Critical Inquiry into the History of Jesus Christ; Being a Rational Analysis of the Gospels", 1770), the first critical life of Jesus Christ in history, 65 years before Strauss.
The eventual result of German radical scholarship was to undermine any belief in the possibility of EVER DISCOVERING ANYTHING RELIABLE ABOUT THE HISTORICAL JESUS.

But this disturbing conclusion, the gradual disappearance of a historical Jesus, well epitomized in Albert Schweitzer's epoch-making "Quest of a Historical Jesus", did not faze Christian believers, who have taken refuge in the "Jesus of Faith". Jesus Christ lives in his "real presence" in the hearts and souls of the worshippers.

Already at the very origin of the Christian cult, it has been the reality of the worship of Jesus that has given substance and vitality to the figure of Christ. This worship was maintained by the bewildering variety of Christian churches throughout the centuries of history. And it is this worship that now preserves the "real presence" of Jesus Christ for believers.
As so many critics of the past -- including Christopher Hitchens -- who have deemed the universal rationalism of the Enlightenment to be a naive belief in the ineluctable march of "Progress", Wells is aware that the conclusions of radical Biblical scholarship are NOT going to affect believers solidly indoctrinated since infancy. The best chance of radical critique is to affect the minds of the young in the new generation. OLD IDEAS CHANGE ONLY WHEN THEIR SUPPORTERS DIE.

In his recent book, "Cutting Jesus Down to Size" (2009), in the section "From Reimarus to Schweitzer" (p. 247-274), Wells, once again, comes back to the topic of Schweitzer being unwilling to abide by the conclusions of his own "Geschichte der Leben-Jesu Forschung" ("Quest"). He shows that Schweitzer, following Johannes Weiss, also "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 was abandoning the unattainable historical Jesus for the comforting and inspiring Jesus of Faith, taking refuge in a mystical union with Jesus Christ. He put his words into action, abandoning his brilliant prospects as a theologian, organ player, and medical doctor, to become a missionary of that Jesus of Faith in Gabon.

But to this day, JEC (1971) has, sadly, not received a second edition, and not been, alas, posted online, which I think is a serious misjudgment on the part of the publishers, Prometheus or Open Court. Unless it is, more likely, Wells himself, still smarting from the memory of early academic criticisms, who has remained opposed to its republication.
Wells remains determined to avoid the fateful "Das Ignorieren" and "Das Totschweigen" inflicted on Bruno Bauer and Arthur Drews in Germany, on William B. Smith in the US, and on P.L. Couchoud in France.

"DID JESUS EXIST?" (1987) IS A CHEAPO PRODUCT UNWORTHY OF THE HIGH QUALITY OF WELLS'S RESEARCH

However, with DJE?, I expected a quality book, and was vastly disappointed.
The physical product is, by far, the worst book in my collection of Wells's works. It still sells for $24, when in fact this is a cheapo paperback unworthy of the high-quality of Wells erudition. The price is the same as that for HEJ (1988), which is a much larger book with larger print and larger margins, and which does a far better job of keeping the pages glued to the spine.

In short I found DJE? (1987) completely UNSERVICEABLE and UNREADABLE. If you wish to "study" the arguments of this book for any kind of research, forget about it. The font is too small and compact, the microscopic presentation of the notes, with no line spacing, absurdly impractical.
It is infuriating to discover that the spine soon breaks and all the pages are coming off.
At first I thought that scotch tape could keep pages from falling off, but by now, after only a few uses, the whole books is disintegrating. Forget the scotch tape. This book is of no use, either for superficial reading or intense scholarly studying. It is produced as some kind of disposable cheap literature. I'm ready to throw my copy away as soon as a decent version which holds its pages, and is readable, preferably in hardback, comes out.

So I now recommend interested readers to buy the cheapest used version on Amazon, or get their information from Wells's later books, especially "The Jesus Legend" (1996) and "The Jesus Myth" (1999), all the way to the latest one, the excellent "Cutting Jesus Down to Size" (2009).
Or consult DJE? at your local library, and buy it only when a new, proper, edition comes out, which should happen sooner than later.

Sorry for the kvetching. But how can Prometheus not feel shame, and naively believe it can serve the cause of rationalist thought by printing this remarkable scholarly research in such a cheap format? I remain dumbfounded by such misguided strategy.

I wrote to Prometheus's president (Jonathan Kurtz) to voice my bitter disappointment, as a researcher subjecting my study books to heavy use, and suggest a decent re-edition of this capital work. (See my letter below in the first comment). Will this feedback from the market have any effect on the publisher?

THE SWITCH FROM PROMETHEUS TO OPEN COURT HAS BROUGHT ABOUT SOME IMPROVEMENTS, BUT NOT ALL

How can Prometheus sell this cheapo at such a high price? It may not have paid off for Prometheus. And it is a sheer disservice to Wells's cause. I would have been willing to pay $10 or $15 more for a quality product.

Publishing a new book on Jesus by a newcomer, in an immensely saturated market, is a nerve-racking challenge. (The market is said to offer some 10,000 new titles in English alone per year!). After wasting 3 years to get Pemberton for his first book, perhaps Wells was so happy to see Pemberton/Prometheus accept his second book that he stifled any misgivings about their miserable production.

Wells switched to OPEN COURT PUBLISHING Co. (Chicago) for his fourth book, WWJ? (1989).
If Wells had paid closer attention to the pioneers of the Jesus denial, he might have discovered that Open Court had published two outstanding pioneers, William B. Smith's Ecce Deus, studies of primitive Christianity" (1912), and Arthur Drews's classic "The witnesses to the historicity of Jesus" (1912). Wells might have tried sooner to interest Open Court.
On another hand, with his first book, Wells was still unknown and his market potential unproven, and it's only later that the success of his first three books may have made him acceptable to Open Court.

Still, retrospectively, it does seem that Open Court was a natural for G.A. Wells. The latest, the 8th book in the series on Jesus, "Cutting Jesus Down to Size" seems to be the best physical product. However, I am sorry to report that the end pages are already ungluing from the spine.

And I couldn't help complaining about the inexplicably faint printing of the 7th book, "Can We Trust the NT?" (2004) in an Amazon review, "The hard-to-read print makes this important book practically unserviceable."
Meanwhile, the 3d book, "HEJ" (1988) by Prometheus, still shows the best gluing performance, keeping all the pages firmly attached to the spine, but making it pretty hard to keep open (I use soft weights), and the paper is of low quality. But at least it does not disintegrate after light usage.

Studying the arguments of DJE? (1987) would gain from a comparison with JEC (1971) and HEJ (1982/1988). This would be feasible only if JEC (1971) was soon re-edited in a print format of decent quality, or sold as an E-book, or even, better, posted online (as so many titles of UC Press). Both JEC and DJE? would regain the kind of visibility and the wider readership that their content deserves.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on August 15, 2012
There's no easy answer to the riddle of the historical Jesus. I've been trying for a decade to put the pieces together ([...]), and still feel like I've just scratched the surface. Wells take on the issue is well reasoned and provides a lot of evidence. Worth reading for the content and strong writing, even if you disagree with the conclusion.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
George Albert Wells (born 1926) is an Emeritus Professor of German at Birkbeck, University of London. He also wrote books such as The Historical Evidence for Jesus,Who Was Jesus?,The Jesus Legend, etc. This 1986 edition is a revision of his 1975 book.

He wrote in the Introduction, "In my earlier book, The Jesus of the early Christians: A study in Christian origins... my purpose was to show the difficulties and problems which arise when the gospels are interpreted as historical records, and how Christianity could have arisen even had there been no historical Jesus... In the present book I discuss... more fully... the gospel evidence for Jesus' existence... In this present book, I try to indicate more fully what motives led to their [gospels'] composition." (Pg. 2-3)

Of the quotations in Josephus ], he comments, "In Josephus' entire work the word 'Christ' occurs only in the two passages about Jesus and his brother James. This hardly strengthens the case for their authenticity... The words have the character of a brief marginal gloss, later incorporated innocently into the text. Josephus probably wrote of the death of a JEWISH Jerusalem leader called James, and a Christian reader thought the reference must be to James the brother of the Lord... Other interpolations are known to have originated in precisely such a way." (Pg. 11)

He argues, "The view that the passage [about the Lord's Supper in 1 Cor 11:23-25] is a cult-legend is supported by the fact that the version of it recorded in the earliest gospel (Mk 14:22-25) does not fit the context the evangelist has given it... the command to 'do this in remembrance of me' is recorded in Paul's version... but not in the gospels (except in some manuscripts of Lk [22:19])... To suggest that an ordinance of such importance was made by Jesus, but forgotten by all the evangelists... is tantamount to abandoning all confidence in the gospels." (Pg. 27)

He asks, "Why is it that, although many theologians have their doubts about a great deal that is recorded in the gospels, nearly all commentators try to preserve a historical nucleus and shrink from admitting that the chief character in the story is legendary? One reason... is that there is now such a vast literature on Jesus that further contributors to it are more than pleased if they can convince themselves they they do not need to study certain elements of it." (Pg. 205) He further wonders, "Where is the difference between saying that we know next to nothing about Jesus and the position that the NT provides insufficient basis for believing that there was a historical Jesus?" (Pg. 214)

Wells [as well as Robert Price's Deconstructing Jesus, and Earl Doherty's more derivative The Jesus Puzzle] is probably the best advocate of the "Jesus Myth" theory today, and his writings (which overlap, somewhat) are "must reading" for anyone studying this matter..
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on January 31, 2013
This book is a classic text that ponders the historical existence of Jesus. The reader needs to decide for him-herself on the merits of the research. It is somewhat cumbersome to read because the pages are long and the print is small. One thing you notice about this book--Wells uses an abundance of source materials. Sometimes it seems like an entire paragraph is a series of citations. A contemporary book on this theme is DID JESUS EXIST? by Bart Ehrman (HarperOne, 2012).
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12 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on May 7, 2007
Fascinating book. The chapters on synoptic gospel-to-gospel inconsistencies, gospel editing from church fathers with an obvious agenda, and the similarities of the Jesus story to those of pagan gods were particularly compelling. This book convinced me that agnosticism is a very reasonable stance.
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16 of 35 people found the following review helpful
Wells has made a cottage industry of questioning whether Jesus existed. In addition to this book he has written The Historical Evidence for Jesus [1988]and Who Was Jesus ?: A Critique of the New Testament Record [1989]. At one time he seemed willing to admit that Jesus actually existed around 200 BC (The Jesus Legend [1996]), but he apparently has reconsidered with The Jesus Myth [1998].

In this book he takes the position that Jesus was invented by Paul, embellished by the catholic and pastoral epistles, and placed in somewhat of a final form by the Gospels. The pagan mystery religions, with their dying and reborn divinities, served as a model for Paul's Jesus, and from there Jesus sort of morphed into a quasi-historical figure by the process of reading Biblical prophecies and making up details of his life to fit the prophecies.

Wells begins his argument by noting that the extra-Biblical testimony to Jesus is both sparse and late. Later on, however, he admits such a one as Jesus would likely have lived under the radar screen of widespread public awareness. He completely rejects both of Josephus' references to Jesus as Christian interpolations. Scholars generally agree that Josephus' longer notice of Jesus has been reworked by Christian copyists, but they use the second, less complimentary reference as evidence that the first was reworked by Christian revisionists. See
Jesus and Christian Origins Outside the New Testament.Wells then tries manfully to show that when Paul speaks of meeting the brothers of the Lord, he is using that term metaphorically and doesn't really mean that they were actual brothers (or half-brothers, or step-brothers) of Jesus. In so doing he manages to turn in as fine an example of straining at a gnat to swallow a camel as can be found in Biblical interpretation. He takes the fact that Paul voices opinions compatible with Jesus' teaching without attributing them to Jesus to mean that Paul knew nothing of the earthly Jesus. As I demonstrated in my reference to straining at gnats, it is quite possible to echo Jesus' words without attributing them to him. (See Mt. 23:24). As Wells grudgingly admits, absense of evidence is not evidence of absense. Although Wells argues strenuously, without citation of evidence, that the incidents in Jesus' life were invented to fulfill Bible prophecy. What is much more likely, and what we can find evidence for having happened in other circumstances, is that actual historical events get interpreted as having been prophesied by earlier writings. Nostradamus is a fine example of the phenomenon, where his ambiguous verse gets twisted to fit every major happening in current events. I distinctly remember a noted psychic claiming on television that the Watergate scandal was prophesied in Nehemiah, because it refers in chapter 8 to a water gate. It is much more likely that Biblical prophecy was interpreted in light of historical events than that quasi-historical events were made up to fulfill Biblical prophecy. Wells mentions Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna (70-156), in order to date the writing of Matthew and Mark, but never deals with the evidence that Polycarp was a student of one John, an apostle who knew Jesus. Again he mentions Papias (60-135), but never deals with Papias' personal acquaintance with an apostle named John nor with Papias' statement that he collected reminiscences of Jesus by eyewitnesses to his ministry. See Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony.

Wells tries manfully to prove Jesus did not exist, but there is much more evidence for Jesus' existence than for the Trojan War, which is accepted as having actually happened (The Trojan War: A New History) or King Arthur, who is agreed to have been an actual historical person (The Discovery of King Arthur).
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10 of 25 people found the following review helpful
The author stresses the silence of Paul and first century documents about the earthly life of Jesus, which is a fact.

But when he studies the origin of the gospels he considers its sources to be oral tradition, even if it doesn't come from eye witnesses.

This is a contradiction.

If there was an oral tradition, how could there have been Paul's silence?

The book was written in 1975. Modern scholars forward more consistent explanations.

There was no oral tradition about Jesus. The gospels were written based on the Old Testament, on myths of ancient civilizations and Luke and Mathew on a gospel known as Q (source) collecting hellenizing sayings in circulation and then attributed to Jesus.

I did expect much more from this book.
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