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One Jesus, Many Christs : How Jesus Inspired Not One True Christianity, but Many Paperback – Large Print, October 1, 2009


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Fortress Press (October 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B002SG6I4G
  • Product Dimensions: 10.5 x 8.2 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,750,085 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

In this work, Riley (New Testament, Claremont Sch. of Theology) carries forward the impetus of his previous work in demonstrating the diversity of beliefs by early Christians as exemplified in the writings of Thomas and John. The thesis of the present work is that the compelling center and consensus of early Christian belief about Jesus lay not so much in agreement about any particular belief regarding Jesus' ethnic or ontological origins (his Jewishness or divinity), nor even in any shared view that might require assent to a doctrinal commitment. Rather, what made Christianity so resilient was the commitment of its adherents to the notion that "Jesus was their hero." Riley explicates the notion of Jesus as hero on the basis of literary analogies drawn from the role of other heroes in different stories of (mainly Greek) antiquity. This well-argued work is richly illustrated with literary connections between biblical and Greek portrayals of heroic traits and makes what will probably prove to be a significant contribution to the quest for an explanation of the rise of early Christian notions of Jesus. Well suited to educated lay readers and highly recommended for theological research libraries.?Robert H. O'Connell, Denver, Col.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Kirkus Reviews

An insightful portrayal of Jesus as a classical hero-martyr, by New Testament scholar Riley (School of Theology, Claremont). The first half of the book is a quick romp through Greco-Roman heroic literature, but with a point: Riley argues that Jesus had a lot in common with familiar figures like Hercules and Achilles. The classical heroes claimed a mix of divine-human parentage, usually with a virgin human mother and a god for a father; they possessed some remarkable or even miraculous skill; they had divine enemies and were hated by powerful humans; they died, often young and violently, as martyrs for a principle; and their deaths powerfully transformed other people's lives through emulation. Jesus fits the bill perfectly, Riley argues, because the Gospel writers had obtained a classical education, which meant that they were thoroughly steeped in heroic lore. Early converts readily embraced Christianity's message, despite tremendous penalty from a hostile Roman government, because it captured the heroic formula that peasants had heard recited and then memorized. The second half of the book drives home this point about the source of Christianity's popularity. Riley demonstrates that it certainly wasn't doctrine that attracted the masses, since the earliest apostles couldn't agree on the most basic tenets of the faith. Dozens of sects arose in different cities, all claiming to be the religion of the risen Christ (though whether he had risen in spirit or body was itself a subject of heated debate). What they could agree on was that Jesus was a hero and that they, as martyrs for the faith, could become heroes themselves. Such faithfulness constituted the religion of Christ into the fourth century, which witnessed the conversion of Constantine and the great creedal controversies. Written in a refreshingly easygoing style, this new view of why Jesus' radical message spread so rapidly is clearly aimed at a mainstream audience. -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 28 people found the following review helpful By William H. DuBay on July 14, 2000
Format: Hardcover
The Kirkus review above gives a good description of the book. The author, Gregory Riley, is a professor at Claremont College in California. He provides a good history of Greek and Jewish legends, along with the details of how they could have affected early Christian writers. He also shows the development of dualistic and Hellenistic beliefs (body-soul and God-Satan) in the late Old Testament and New Testament writers. I would also mention Riley's emphasis on the diversity of early Christianity (which was lost for the most part in the 4th Century when Constantine took over the church and imposed uniformity, and which was regained again in the Protestant Reformation in the 16th Century). What Riley might have ignored is the intense, often bloody rivalries between Christian sects, then and now. As Garry Wills mentions in "Papal Sin," there is evidence that Peter and Paul were fingered by a rival Christian group as instigators of the burning of Rome, resulting in their execution. Christians--and members of all religions--will find diversity and harmony difficult as long as they are committed to the idea of absolute truth.
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31 of 36 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 15, 1999
Format: Hardcover
After a broad overview of the various views of Jesus in the early church, the majority of Riley's book is occupied with explaining Jesus' appeal to first and second century pagans. The life of Jesus follows the heroic pattern so familiar to them in the stories they had heard all their lives. Like Achilles and Heracles, Jesus learns through suffering, brings liberation to his people, and wins eternal life. But the real appeal of Jesus is that the gift of eternal life--once reserved for semi-divine heroes and sage philosophers--is now offered to even the most lowly in society. This makes Jesus not only worthy of emulation--but worth dying for. This leads Riley into an in-depth analysis of the reasons for Rome's especially virulent persecution of the early church. I found this part of the book a bit tedious, but overall the book is highly accessible and provides welcome insight to any individual in the process of forming his or her own personal christology.
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22 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Barnabus on December 11, 1998
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Gregory Riley's contribution to the growing debate about one way to God or many ways to God demonstrates that the paradigms which the New Testament writers drew upon as they wrote about Jesus of Nazareth trace some of their origins to the heroes of the Graeco-Roman world. Though the overall approach of the book does not seem to me to describe "many Christs", "Christ" being the technical word for "anointed one" or "messiah", he makes it very plain that in Jesus of Nazareth we find a historical figure who commanded the respect, adoration, and the desire by many to emulate Jesus as a heroic figure and define their own understanding of true heroism in indvidual Christians. This desire has produced a living movement, the church, and its core beliefs, which have given deep meaning to the struggles of life, suffering, death, and life after death.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 7, 1997
Format: Hardcover
With his classic classroom humor, Riley shows us that the origins of Christianity were a blend of ideas from a "primordial"soup of many ancient cultures. In order to describe who Jesus was, the writers of the Gospels used story lines and formulations that would best be understood by those who could read in the Greco-Roman world, the hero stories by Homer. Riley's ideas liberate Christianity to continue in relavance to the cultures where it is found and introduced, even the cultures of the 21st century. This book is easy and stimulating reading and a must for any religious scholar.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Readalots on July 11, 2007
Format: Paperback
Professor Gregory Riley's "One Jesus, Many Christs" (2001, 228 paperback) attempts to presents a first century classical view of Jesus of Nazareth. The book's scholarship is apparent and well documented with the helpful in-the-text style referencing.

Riley basic premise is that the world of late antiquity (roughly Jesus' era) was replete with heroes and "Christs" ("Messiah's" for Jews). He presents a fascinating study of ancient world heroes.

He compares Jesus to Achilles, parallels Hesiod's narrative with the Nazarene's, equates Oedipus to Job, introduces Elysium (similar to the Testamental "Heaven") as the post life heroic abode, and compares Jesus' movement to the Greeks' adoration for the god Asclepius. In the end, the Jesus movement wins.

Hercules' and Hermes' origins in Grecian schools of thought are thoroughly explained. From this background Riley suggests Jesus as a "classical hero" with "cosmic destiny" (page 81). One wonders why the Hebrew concept of "Messiah" is not also considered?

Riley offers plenty of fuel for thought: God's destruction of Palestine (presumably by the Romans of AD 70) is the result of divine revenge for killing Jesus and the martyrs (page 86), Jesus' passion and trial show his character (page 87), and early Christianity's most radical, and unique, claim was the eternal promise for everyone, not just heroes (page 93).

Although Riley quotes the Bible extensively (with a 2-page "Biblical Citations" index) the book reads like an ancient Greek world primer. The book is interesting and helpful, but it fails to fulfill the expectation presented by its title. (A better title might be: "Jesus and the Greeks" or "Jesus as Olympian".) This text needs less Grecian recovery and more New Testament discovery.

This book is recommended to all students of ancient Greece, mythology buffs, classical scholars, and those already biblically well read.
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