Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
The Historical Evidence for Jesus Paperback – January 1, 1988
The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
Customers who bought this item also bought
What other items do customers buy after viewing this item?
About the Author
G. A. Wells (1926 - 2017) was a professor of German at Birkbeck College, University of London, and the author of Did Jesus Exist? and The Historical Evidence for Jesus.
Top customer reviews
Laying aside the aesthetics and writing style, Wells provides an excellent description of the difficulties in using New Testament material for biographical purposes. From there he proceeds to identify the Jesus of Paul and other first Century pre-Gospel writers, who is very different from the Jesus of the Gospels. Wells tends to believe that there is little we can really know about the historical Jesus, and he goes to great lengths to explain the reasons why it is unlikely that Jesus performed miracles, had brothers and sisters, spoke in parables, etc.
Wells is excruciatingly fair in his approach, usually giving both sides of the argument, and explaining his own position.
In summary, this is a scholarly book that has good material, but it suffers from an academic penchant to spend too much time offering other people's research. Were Professor Wells able to take his enormous knowledge and advance his own theory, this book would offer a greater contribution.
He admitted in the "Acknowledgments" section of this 1982 book, "Of the many criticisms of my first book on Christian origins, The Jesus of the early Christians, three were substantially just: (1) The work relied more on the pioneer critics of the nineteenth century and early twentieth centuries than one would expect of a book published in 1971. (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 unevenness and contradictions in early Christian documents. I was able to profit from these criticisms... In the present volume I shall try to answer criticisms of that book and to come to terms with some of the substantial body of apologetic and critical literature concerning the New Testament that has appeared in the meantime." (Pg. ix) He adds, "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." (Pg. ix)
He comments on the famous quotation from Tacitus ]: "There are three reasons for holding that Tacitus here is simply repeating what Christian had told him. First, he gives Pilate a title, procurator, which was current only from the SECOND half of the first century. Had he consulted archives which recorded earlier events, he would surely have found Pilate there designated by his correct title, prefect. Second, Tacitus does not name the executed man as Jesus, but uses the title Christ (Messiah) as if it were a proper name. But he could hardly have found in the archives a statement such as 'the Messiah was executed this morning.' Third, hostile to Christianity as he was, he was surely glad to accept from Christians their own view that Christianity was of recent origin..." (Pg. 16-17)
He admits, "Paul's letters, we saw, were written before 60 AD. He himself says that he composed them late in his career as a Christian, and that they were already Christians before his own conversion. Christianity existed, then, by about AD 30." (Pg. 37) He states, "If Paul means [by 'James, the brother of the Lord' in Gal 1:19] blood brother of a historical Jesus, then it would suffice to establish---against my view---that Jesus had really lived in the first half of the first century. Furthermore, I must admit that this interpretation of Paul's words does seem the immediate and obvious one... [But this] has to be weighed against other texts... Paul writes not of Jesus' brother, but of 'the brother of the Lord'; not of Jesus' brethren but of 'the brethren of the Lord' (1 Cor 9:5). The phrase could designate a group of Christians who were... [a] fraternity of Messianists not related to Jesus but zealous in the service of the risen one." (Pg. 167-168)
He observes, "Whether Jesus existed was fiercely debated at the beginning of this century, and Archibald Robertson's Jesus: Myth or History? gives a good account of the controversy. The account of it in H. Cutner's Jesus: God, Man or Myth? is also of interest... Those who took the negative view... made two mistakes: they set aside as interpolations all New Testament passages they found inconvenient and they tried to explain Jesus in terms of pagan parallels... when the Jewish background is clearly of greater importance." (Pg. 218-219) Wells also rejects writers such as John Allegro's The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross, saying, "if the only arguments impugning Jesus' historicity are of the caliber these writers offer, then it is firmly enough established... I had tried to show in this book that ... there is no ground for such a confident attitude." (Pg. 223)
Wells [as well as Doherty's The Jesus Puzzle] is probably the best advocate of the "Jesus Myth" theory today, and his writings (which overlap considerably, unfortunately) are "must reading" for anyone studying this matter.