Jesus: One Hundred Years Before Christ Hardcover – October 1, 1999
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From Library Journal
-David Bourquin, California State Univ., San Bernardino
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
About the Author
- Publisher : Abrams Press; First Edition (October 1, 1999)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 320 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0879517204
- ISBN-13 : 978-0879517205
- Item Weight : 1.45 pounds
- Dimensions : 5 x 1 x 8 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #2,977,935 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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1: The Teacher of Righteousness is behind the figure of Jesus. Ellegard searches for further confirmation in early Christian texts where he finds indications that Jesus was not considered as a man but as a spiritual savior, a mythical Messiah. When speaking of Jesus his missionaries must have been referring to some distant past. So the Jesus of the Gospels was a reinterpretation of the Essene Lawgiver, whatever came out of the story afterwards in the hands of Diaspora communities, be they Jewish, Gnostic or Christian. I can globally agree. Ellegard gives no particular reasons for the renewed first century interest in the Lawgiver. He also considers, a mistake I believe, that the Teacher of Righteousness had not been given a Messianic status before Christianity and concludes that it was Paul around the thirties who gave Messiah-ship to Jesus as a result of his visionary revelations. Relying on Paul’s visions to glorify the Jesus/Teacher as a Messiah considerably weakens his claims of keeping to an historical approach. He doesn't seem very aware that community strategies with their campaigning messages are behind all religious texts.
2: Ellegard is a specialist on dating texts. Here we find his most exclusive contribution. His linguistic analysis makes him consider that several texts, usually dated to the second century, belong to before the Temple was destroyed in 70 CE. And vice-versa, according to his criteria the Gospels, usually considered as first century documents written or at least started after the Temple's destruction, belong to the second century. (See Tyson: Luke-Acts and Marcion; a defining struggle. Tyson shows that the infancy and childhood chapters 1 and 2 were written late and essentially to establish a wide anti-heretical front)
Ellegard shows a lot of intellectual curiosity and explores well beyond official lines. Readers will find many ideas to graze on, whether they finally accept or reject them.
He begins this 1999 book by saying, "I shall argue in this book for an entirely new perspective on the earliest history of Christianity... I argue that the earliest Christians, among them Paul, regarded Jesus as a great Jewish prophet and teacher of their movement---but one who had lived in the distant past. To them, accordingly, he was not a contemporary, crucified before their eyes, but a historical figure, on a par with the Old Testament prophets... When Paul and his companions experienced ecstatic visions of Jesus as a heavenly figure, they inferred that Jesus had been 'raised from the dead' by God. They also thought that Jesus' appearance to them at this particular time... was a sign from heaven that the Last Day, God's Final Judgment, was now at long last approaching." (Pg. 1)
He states, "The Jesus of the six early documents [The Shepherd of Hermas; the Didache; 1 Clement; the Letter of Barnabas; the Letter to the Hebrews, and the Revelation of John] treated in this chapter was primarily a teacher and prophet, and an adviser on points of liturgy and worship. He was closely attached to the communities which in the first century, and earlier, were commonly referred to as ... the Church of God. They regarded him as a pre-existent interpreter of God's words, and as a revealer of religious truths and mysteries, e.g. the Ellegårdpromise of immortality... the Saints came to look upon Jesus as having impersonated the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53, and his suffering death came to be interpreted as a sacrifical act." (Pg. 77-78)
He argues, "there is hardly any room for doubt: the earliest writers do not provide any information about the earthly Jesus, simply because they not know much about him. Now, if they do not know, they cannot have been Jesus' companions and contemporaries. Yes Jesus was clearly a well-established and revered figure in the Churches of God. The only natural explanation, it seems to me, is that Jesus' fame was of long standing... Jesus was by no means a near contemporary of these early Christians, but a figure belonging to the late second century BC." (Pg. 141) He adds, "Paul's virtually complete silence on the earthly figure of Jesus had a very simple explanation: he was convinced that the figure that had appeared to him in his visions was a teacher and prophet who had lived and died long since." (Pg. 157)
He summarizes, "the Jesus of the first Christian visionaries was, at least to many of the first Christians, the revered Teacher of Righteousness of the early Essene movement... the main question now is not whether the Teacher of Righteousness of the Essenes was in fact the figure---historical or not---behind the Jesus of Paul and his contemporaries. That may now be regarded as settled. The main question at this stage is why the second-century Christians substituted another, fictional Jesus, and how they managed to convince their communities on this point, and how they succeeded in obliterating virtually all evidence about the original, Essene Jesus." (Pg. 158)
He concludes, "In this book I maintain that precisely the basic story of Jesus in the Gospels has to be completely abandoned as an account of 'what really happened.' ... Jesus of Nazareth, born of Mary at the end of Augustus' reign, is a fiction created in the second century by the Gospel writers... They knew Jesus because he was the great prophet and founder of the religious movement that they belonged to, namely, a branch of the Essenes... The change of focus from a heavenly to an earthly Jesus seems to have been initiated by the highly respected Ignatius, bishop of Antioch... at one stroke Ignatius made Jesus a contemporary of Paul and his colleagues among the apostles." (Pg. 258)
The notion that Jesus was the Essene "Teacher of Righteousness" isn't particularly original, but Ellegård's other arguments are, if not particularly convincing historically, at least provocative. Those interested in "Jesus Myth" theories will probably enjoy this book.
Top reviews from other countries
I wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone willing to approach the "Christian origins" question with genuine openness rather than just looking for excuses to dismiss unconventional ideas as a potential threat to their faith. After all, if Ellegard is right, then Paul and his first-century colleagues found it perfectly possible to live out a full-blooded faith despite knowing nothing of any "Jesus of Nazareth" as described in the gospels -- so why shouldn't twenty-first century Christians do the same?