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The Jesus Legend Paperback – November 1, 1996

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Open Court Publishing Company (November 1, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812693345
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812693348
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #207,981 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

In this forcefully argued book, Wells (What's in a Name, Open Court, 1993) presents evidence for the thesis that the New Testament writings form a part of a developing legendary tradition concerning the earthly life of Jesus. The written tradition, he argues, begins from the Pauline letters and early Christian epistles, develops through later epistles such as 1 Corinthians, continues in the full descriptions of Jesus' appearances, and culminates in descriptions of the resurrection itself. Besides evaluating the reliability of the documentary evidence and manuscript traditions and the role of anti-Semitism in the Gospels, Wells engages incisively the works of the most ardent critics of the mythicist view of Jesus, e.g., J. Redford, J.P. Meier, and J.W. Montgomery. Not all readers will agree with the scheme of dating the New Testament writings on which Well's thesis depends, but his critical treatment is nothing less than exemplary. For theological research libraries and readers of popular religious books.
Robert H. O'Connell, Denver, Col.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.


The Jesus Legend shows how the story of Jesus developed through telling and re-telling, from an early version in the letters of Paul (who does not mention Jesus in connection with any specific time or place) to the more elaborate and detailed picture later presented in the gospels. Professor Wells discusses the earliest Pagan and Jewish references to Jesus, the dating of the various New Testament documents and the contradictions among them, the authorship of documents as indicated by stylometric analysis, the influence of antisemitism in early Christianity, and the various stratagems resorted to by apologists to deflect historical criticism. Wells also develops his argument by giving detailed answers to recent critics of the mythicist view of Jesus. -- Midwest Book Review

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Avid Reader on July 29, 2003
Format: Paperback
Once you have read one of Professor Well's books you have read them all. They are like a Symphony in which every movement is a variation of the same theme. That being said, each is a good reads.
The author knows the details of the Gospels better than 99% of most preachers. He also knows the historical setting, the language and cultural landscape. While I may or may not agree that a historical person existed from whom a religion emanated, I will agree that there is no evidence (besides the Bible) that a "God" lived in Palestine, rose from the dead and ascended to his new home in the clouds.
Wells has made the same arguments numerous times - Paul wrote before the Gospels and knew nothing of a historical Jesus, the Gospels began the biography of the Messiah and each succeeding Gospel not only grew more elaborate but started further in the past. Mark opened with the Baptism of the adult man, Mathew and Luke at the birth and John at the beginning of time ("In the Beginning was the Word..."). There are no verifiable historical documents on this person which seems strange if folks were raised from the dead or made to walk or 5,000 people were fed from a small lunch.
I should add that Wells is extremely fair and even empathetic to his scholastic foes. He is always respectful, never crude or angry. He even allows them to speak in their own words before demolishing their argument. Get one of the books and enjoy.
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21 of 26 people found the following review helpful By bradford03@sprynet.com on July 31, 1998
Format: Paperback
I'll open with the caveat that it is clear that this book is prime intellectual material; however, if you don't know the whos, wheres, and why nots of Christianity and Judaism, including the complete biblical vocabulary, then this might not be the book for you. I purchased The Jesus Legend hoping to learn an objective lesson about the life and times of Jesus and the creation of the church. Unfortunately for me, and I would assume anyone without a substantial grounding in theology and the history of Christianity, it quickly becomes obscure. Don't try to read it on an airplane without a dictionary, for example. Furthermore, the author spends a great deal of time defending his earlier works and counter attacking his critics, so it isn't a good first entry into an understanding of the historical Jesus. I would appreciate any emailed suggestions from other interested secular surfers on what that book might be.
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51 of 70 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on July 23, 1999
Format: Paperback
Professor Wells exposes quite persuasively the sham made by some catholic and protestant Bible comentators in order to hide the historical unreliability of the New Testament and their characters. People tend to believe that something which everybody is familiar with has to be true, but even at the end of last century people and scholars satirized Darwin because of his unbiblical version of the creation of man - well, nowadays, people don't think still that Adam and Eve were real historical characters. Scholars of every scientific field have shown the Bible to be innacurate in several ways, including in History, yet the christian Churches still resist to give up some pieces of our History which were written exclusively on the Bible and that have no sort of consistency whatsoever. I think that the historical pursuit of thr real Jesus or the legend that was built around a purely mythical Christ will have a meaning so great in the field of History, as the discoveries of Galileo and Darwin had in the field of Science. Wells builds his argument about how the legend of Jesus developed by trying to see the implications of the theological evolution seen if we put the early epistles of Paul, the sayings attributed to the Q gospel, the synoptic gospels and the Gospel of John in their correct chronological order (as I have ordered them). Then we can see how the notion of the existence of Jesus Christ changed in this short period of 50 or 60 years: from a supernatural risen Christ with no specific historical existence in Paul and a kind of Cynic teacher in Q appeared several inconsistent stories about a Son of God cruxified by Pilate.Read more ›
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful By jashead@cactusinc.com on January 19, 1998
Format: Paperback
Wells challenges us with his title of the "Legend" of Jesus. Having obtained our attention, he proceeds with the skill of an historical surgeon. Having laid out his sharp instruments of arguement, he then cleanly cuts into the body of historical reference. Like a conjuror, he performs his magic with flourish and we are left with the bare bones. Being left with the skeleton of a figure left me deprived of seeing the musculature. While I enjoyed the book very much, I was however left with the feeling that I had taken apart the mechanism of my expensive watch - and was no nearer comprehending Time! This book should be read alongside the revelatory and compulsive "The Autobiography of Jesus of Nazareth and the Missing Years" by Richard G. Patton. Both these authors appear to be in harmony with their view of the human being that we refer to as Jesus, but Patton not only shows us the musculature of body, he even makes it breathe! Wells has done us all a great service in objectifying how the Jesus we have been presented with by the 'establishment' has been manipulated and can be proven to be so. Well worth reading.
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