Ellegard staggers from painful error to laughable error, as he argues that Jesus never existed, Paul never believed in a human Jesus, and the gospels were written some hundred years after Paul.
Apparently Ellegard has no background in biblical studies, Second Temple Judaism, ancient history, or anything relevant to his subject.
Ellegard claims earliest Christianity, which Paul believed, was a mild variant of the Essene philosophy. This makes no sense. Two years after the crucifixion, Paul sent from Jerusalem to persecute this group. And Paul describes his actions with the words 'ediokon' and 'eporthoun' and both indicate cruel, violent action - which is unbelievable against the Essenes.
No, Paul was sent out to persecute the early Christians because they were proclaiming Jesus the equal of God, a concept anathema to the fiercely monotheist Second Temple Jews.
Martin Hengel (who was perhaps the most famous biblical scholar in the world) wrote: "It is impossible to conceive of first-century Palestinian Jews accepting elements of paganism, or compromising their strict monotheisim" (p 54) from "The Hellenization of Judaea in the First Century after Christ",
As Lester Grabbe says: "The Jews always maintained one area that could not be compromised...religion. In the Greco-Roman world, only the Jews refused to honor gods, shrines and cults other than their own" (p 170) from "Judaism from Cyrus to Hadrian".
And good luck trying to convince anyone the Pharisees wanted to persecute the Essenes, a group they apparently mange to ignore for decade upon decade. Pliny and Josephus, who claimed to be a Pharisee, wrote nothing but kind words about the Essenes.
Actually, I cannot think of a single biblical scholar, either theist or nontheist, who disagrees that Paul's epistles date to only 20 years after the crucifixion. Why couldn't Ellegard accept the near unanimity among scholars?
I loved this statement of Ellegard's : "The Church of God (what Ellegard calls the early Christians) in Paul's time had an unmistakeably Jewish character" (p 24), and all of Paul's letters "were apparently all addressed to a predominantly Jewish audience" (p 35) which is to utterly ignore the fact that Paul claims he was converting Gentiles. Or that Paul got into an argument with other apostles about whether or not to keep Jewish law regarding circumcision.
More funny mistakes: Ellegard asks why, if "the common language was Aramaic, it is hard to see why all early Christian writings are in Greek" (p 5). What a mystery! Gee, only every single person who has read anything about Second Temple Judaism or the Roman empire knows that Greek was the common language at the time. And in Galilee most Jews were not only bilingual, but, perhaps, judging from such archaeological digs as at Masada, perhaps spoke three languages.
Ellegard claims "Christianity and Gnosticism were nearer to each other in the first century AD than in the second" (p 94). Total nonsense. There were no Gnostics in the first century, period, and I defy Elegard to name one. Here's a book to prove him wrong: "A Separate God" by Petrement.
Here's a real howler: "Lack of evidence makes it impossible for us to say whether the Gnostics were from the start connected with the Essene movement" (p 173). The Essenes vanished after the war that ended in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. And the Gnostics didn't form their various philosophical schools until at least one hundred years after the crucifixion. There was no point of contact at all.
More hilarious statements: Ellegard keeps saying--and he must mention it in every chapter of the book--how suspicious he finds that "none of the letters" (p 140) Paul wrote betray any interest in Jesus' earthly life.
Lack of interest in Jesus? Paul was whipped and locked up, slogged from town to town, and eventually had his head chopped off for Jesus. And he had no interest in the life of Jesus? How logical is that? How could anyone believe it? But Ellegard insists Paul isn't interested in Jesus because, in his letters, he fails to relate the history of Jesus' life. Yes, that's his proof and he's sticking to it.
Now, when was the last time you emailed your best friend and relayed the entire history of your life? Why would you? Why wouldn't your friend already know it? And why didn't Ellegard ask himself this basic question??
The epistles were letters of encouragement or reproof. They were sent mostly to congregations Paul himself had founded and with whom he had lived for considerable periods of time. Paul keeps reminding his congregations to hold fast to 'the traditions' he gave them. If he had already taught these 'traditions', why repeat them?
Ellegard simply falls flat on his face when trying to shove the evidence around to fit his preconceptions. If Jesus never existed it would be difficult for him to have a brother. So Ellegard trys to explain away that Paul "On one occasion (mentions) 'the Lord's bother' which theologians have all too rashly interpreted as 'brother in the flesh'" (p 14-15). Oh, those rash biblical scholars who worked for long years studying ancient languages and ancient history and textual problems and Second Temple Judaism and all the things Ellegard knows zip about.
In fact, Ellegard keeps calling biblical scholars theologians, which is to ignore the fact that a large number of biblical scholars are atheists, and that many more hail from other academic backgrounds, like history or archaeology, that have squat to do with religion. I presume he simply doesn't know. So he grumbles about how "the overwhelming majority of theological scholars, who have been practically alone in studying these matters in depth" (p 44) before Mr Ellegard came along in all his sparkling wisdom.
So it was all 'theological scholars' who instituted the search for the historical Jesus?? Pretty hard to ignore thousands and thousands of books by atheists written over the last three centuries, but Ellegard has managed it somehow.
Another funny Ellegard mistake is when he talks about 1 Clement and says "Clement sometimes calls Jesus 'High Priest' thus emphasizing the connection with ancient Jewish history, and also, it should be noted, with the Qumran Essenes" (p 43). Oh, for pity's sake. As if the Jews didn't have a high priest in the temple, and as if the mention here wasn't to the Davidic priestly and genetic heritage of Jesus.
A few sentences later Ellegard is again deeply suspicious because Clement doesn't mention Jesus' death "who according to the Gospels must have been contemporary with" the deaths of Peter and Paul" (p 43 ) Yeah, I know. Makes no sense to me, either.
Loved this one, too, when Ellegard is just utterly mystified because the Didache mentions "the gospel" three times and "In all these instances the word 'gospel' seems to refer to a written text" (p 53). Go figure, using the word gospel to mean written text.
And you can't have attended Biblical Scholarship, the Basics, to puzzle over, as Ellegard does, "Barnabas' technique of extracting information about Jesus from the Old Testament" (p 69). Clearly, Ellegard has never once heard of typology.
Ellegard is also deeply, deeply suspicious that Jesus and Philo harp on some of the same themes. Why, people from the same era harping on the same themes, can you imagine?
Here is Ellegard muttering suspiciously about "the excellent Greek style of these letters seemed difficult to reconcile with the idea that they had been written by unlearned fishermen" (p 140). Ellegard seems not to have noticed that 1 Peter mentions an amanuensis, Silvanus.
Ellegard claims "The word 'witness' (martius) does not imply 'eyewitness'" (p 145). I won't bother with an explanation, but read Bauckham's "Eyewitnesses to Jesus". to learn how funny this is.
Ellegard falls down yet again: "Ignatius is earlier than the gospels" (p203) he argues, and then points out this deeply suspicious fact: "He mentions Peter, but he calls him an apostle" (p 203). I don't know about you, but I am just dumbstruck at how suspicious it is that Ignatius called Peter an apostle.
Now, the letters of Ignatius, the overwhelming majority of scholars agree, date to around 110 AD. They were written to various early Christian congregations as Ignatius journeyed to his death in Rome, where he was fed to the lions.
Why, why didn't Ellegard wonder why the Romans wanted to kill Ignatius, if all he believed in was a mild variant of the Essene philosophy? Why was he being tossed to the lions? For that matter, why did Nero order an "immense multitude" (most scholars take this to mean thousands) of Christians in Rome lathered with pitch and burned alive in his gardens some 40 years before Ignatius if there were no Christians yet? Why was Pliny writing about persecuting Christians at just about the same time as the letters of Ignatius? What about the Ryland fragment? It's Ellegard's blithe unconcern with basic questions like these that are so maddening. He appears not to come in contact with logic at all.
It's Ignatius, of all people, Ellegard blames for the start of Christianity. (Yes, yes, I know, Ignatius was martyred because he was a Christian, but we are talking Ellegard here). Ellegard's theory is that Peter and Paul only experienced a risen Christ. A vision. Then, later on, other writers, taking clues they hunted down in Ignatius, decided there must have once been a real, live Christ.
And for these dreamed up clues, and the silly visions, they were willing to give up the games, give up the theater, pray all the time, give money to charity, and be persecuted and perhaps martyred. Oh sure.
Here is a quote from Ignatius' letter to the Church of Smyrna which proves Ellegard is wrong, wrong wrong: "In regard to the Lord, you firmly believe that he was of the race of David according to the flesh, but God's son by the will and power of God; truly born of the Virgin and baptised by John, that all justice might be fulfilled; truly nailed to a cross in the flesh for our sake under Pontius Pilate and the Tetrarch Herod, and of his most blessed passion we are the fruit. And thus, by his resurrection he raised up a standard over his saints and faithful ones for all time (both Jews and Gentiles alike) in the one body of his Church. For he endured all this for us, for our salvation; and he really suffered, and just as truly rose from the dead...When he visited Peter and his companions, he said to them: Take hold of me, touch me and see that I am not a spirit without a body. Immediately they touched him and believed...In addition, after his resurrection, the Lord ate and drank with them like a real human being, even though in spirit he was united with his Father".
Now how could Jesus be "truly born" and "truly nailed to the cross" and "ate and drank" if he had been a vision?
At the end of the book, Ellegard kindly tells Christians that "I cannot see that it makes much difference whether Jesus lived on earth...or indeed was a theological construction" (p 267).
Why no, whether or not there is an afterlife should be of no concern to anyone.
Ellegard scolds "religious people" who have been "extremely reluctant to admit what modern scientifically informed people now usually take as self-evident, namely, that none of the sacred books...contain...God's Word" (p 267).
If Ellegard is an example of scientifically informed people, frankly, even worshipers of aliens from Planet X look smart.
But now that the enlightened Mr Ellegard has arrived, heaven knows what we will do with all those churches.