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How Jesus Became Christian Hardcover – March 4, 2008

4.1 out of 5 stars 76 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Of the making of Jesus books there appears to be no end. Although Wilson, professor of religious studies at Toronto's York University, treads familiar ground already covered by Geza Vermes in Jesus the Jew and Amy-Jill Levine in The Misunderstood Jew, he provokes new thoughts about Jesus' identity. Taking up where Robert Eisenman left off in James, the Brother of Jesus, Wilson calls his argument the Jesus Cover-Up Thesis and claims that the religion of Paul displaced the teachings of Jesus so that Paul's preaching about a divine gentile Christ covered up the human Jewish Jesus. Wilson helpfully surveys the political, social and religious contexts of ancient Palestine, demonstrating that the religion of James, the brother of Jesus, was much closer to the religious practice of Jesus himself, but that the followers of Paul suppressed Jesus' teachings in favor of their own leader. Wilson challenges the veracity of the book of Acts, arguing that the followers of Paul created these tales to support the heroic character of their founder in his quest to establish a new religion. Wilson's instructive book introduces important questions about early Christianity for those unfamiliar with the debates about the historical Jesus. (Mar.)
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"A seminal work…. His style is engaging and meant for a popular audience. This theological detective story deserves wide readership and discussion."
The Hamilton Spectator

"Forget about Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code and fictional conspiratorial machinations about whether Jesus and Mary Magdalene had children, Barrie Wilson has produced a significant and sensational work of scholarship. And it is truly religious dynamite." —The Globe and Mail

"Move over, Dan Brown, there's a new Jesus conspiracy theorist in town."
Kirkus Reviews

"The New Testament Gospels, particularly the Acts of the Apostles, are presented as early examples of sophisticated spin.. the book is certainly controversial"
The Times (UK)

"A tour de force."
— Simcha Jacobovici, Producer/Director, The Lost Tomb of Jesus

"How Jesus Became Christian is a groundbreaking and highly controversial work that is sure to provoke considerable attention."
— Prof. Patrick Gray, University of Toronto

"Wilson’s learned foray into the great debate over Christian origins is to be heartily welcomed. Agree or disagree, the eager reader will be gripped — and at times possibly shocked — by the author's bold investigation of one of the greatest mysteries of all time: how did the Christianity of the earliest Church become the orthodox ‘churchianity’ of the mid-fourth and all succeeding centuries?"
—Tom Harpur, author of The Pagan Christ

From the Hardcover edition. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; First Edition edition (March 4, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312362781
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312362782
  • Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (76 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,248,059 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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I was baptized in my early forties, and thought I understood the New Testament. After all, I believed I was a critical thinker... but now I can see how I completely missed the obvious.
The revelation started several years ago, when I started hearing sermons from well-intentioned pastors vilifying "the Pharisees". From reading works by Brad Young and others, it was apparent that your average preacher didn't know a Pharisee from a Sadducee (they pronounced the word sad-juicy) from a Zealot. Worse still, these "shepherds" were using the word "Sadducee" as a code-word for "those God-hating Jews". The second charged word I kept hearing, usually extracted from one of Paul's writings, was "The Law" usually associated with slavery, bondage, or worse.
After reading Heschel and others, I could not understand how the Hebrew Bible could be such a harsh task-master. One look at a photo of Rebbe Schneerson's eyes and you know this man did not suffer from the weight of the Torah. Then I was hit over the head three times: Flusser's "Sage from Galilee" Bart Ehrman's "James, the Brother of Jesus" and now "How Jesus Became Christian". There are others, but I loaned them to friends.
Barrie Wilson's book is not the most exhaustive, but it is the best balanced. It starts with the birth of two distinct movements in Rome in the early twenties AD. One based on those who actually knew and followed Jesus, and the other based on wild speculation by Paul of Tarsus after being thrown from a horse. Unfortunately, the competition was fixed early-on.
Paul had the advantage of being a Roman toady, whereas James et. al. was seen as a political liability to the stability of Rome (Pax Romana).
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Format: Hardcover
As another reviewer wrote, most of this is not new material, but Wilson does a pretty good job summarizing it - particularly for the layman. What is also not new, but is controversial, is that he also pins Christian antisemitism very directly on Paul's theology - particularly the "Christifying" aspect (and the proto-orthodox writings of others). John Gager wrote more extensively about the origins of antisemitism in the early centuries of Christianity in 1983. Wilson's book is provocative, particularly in how much it positions Paul's theology as essentially a new religion.

I see three basic scholarly schools of thought in the new Paul research: 1) Paul is misunderstood by most Christian theologians as advocating supersessionism of Judaism, he actually meant those ideas to apply only to Gentile converts (Gager, based much on Lloyd Gaston); 2) Paul is fully supersessionist and dimisses the torah completely (Wilson, Macoby, et al); 3) Somewhere kind of in-between: N.T. Wright. I'm really intrigued by Wright, but don't fully understand his position (or maybe I'm just not convinced). He certainly seems to be "softening" the typical evangelical/conservative "justification by faith" position, but he still views Paul within the realm of torah is meaningful only as transformed by belief in Jesus.

Wilson's book lays out the issues and dilemma one faces when trying to really come to terms with Paul in history. I offer the previous three as a quick summary of the debate positions (I may not be fully accurate in them). I'm finding myself somewhere in between #1 and #2 - I have more reading to do by Dunn, Gager, Gaston, and Sanders.
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Format: Hardcover
Like many of us, Barrie Wilson wants to know "How did the Jewish Jesus of history become the Gentile Christ of faith? How did early Christianity become a separate religion from Judaism? What really accounts for Christian anti-Semitism?" He seeks answers partly by comparing different accounts within the scriptures -- Paul's own accounts compared with Luke's version of the same events in Acts, or Jesus' teaching about the Jewish law compared to Paul's. The results are fascinating, and come close to demolishing any justification for a wall between Christianity and Jesus' own Jewish faith.

Where Jesus pushed the spirit of the Torah beyond external deeds to deal with the inner conflicts behind deeds, later Christians presented Christ as invalidating the Old Testament law. Where Jesus urged "Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven" (Matt. 5:19), Paul, with his independent revelation, argued that the entire law of Moses was needless. Since Abraham had faith before the law appeared, everything which happened since (until Jesus) was irrelevant. Now, Paul claimed, anyone who continued to observe the Jewish law was "under a curse", and "No one will be justified by the works of the law" (Gal. 2:16). At least, as Wilson points out, Paul did not try to cite Jesus himself as the source of this teaching.

The book holds much more, but let me quote one among several conclusions: "What we have today in Christianity is largely Paulinity, a religion about the Gentile Christ that covers over the message of the Jewish Jesus of history. Second, it involved a hostile differentiation, with scathing attacks by the Proto-Orthodox on anything Jewish.
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