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The Jesus Legend Paperback – November 1, 1996
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From Library Journal
In this forcefully argued book, Wells (What's in a Name, Open Court, 1993) presents evidence for the thesis that the New Testament writings form a part of a developing legendary tradition concerning the earthly life of Jesus. The written tradition, he argues, begins from the Pauline letters and early Christian epistles, develops through later epistles such as 1 Corinthians, continues in the full descriptions of Jesus' appearances, and culminates in descriptions of the resurrection itself. Besides evaluating the reliability of the documentary evidence and manuscript traditions and the role of anti-Semitism in the Gospels, Wells engages incisively the works of the most ardent critics of the mythicist view of Jesus, e.g., J. Redford, J.P. Meier, and J.W. Montgomery. Not all readers will agree with the scheme of dating the New Testament writings on which Well's thesis depends, but his critical treatment is nothing less than exemplary. For theological research libraries and readers of popular religious books.
Robert H. O'Connell, Denver, Col.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
The Jesus Legend shows how the story of Jesus developed through telling and re-telling, from an early version in the letters of Paul (who does not mention Jesus in connection with any specific time or place) to the more elaborate and detailed picture later presented in the gospels. Professor Wells discusses the earliest Pagan and Jewish references to Jesus, the dating of the various New Testament documents and the contradictions among them, the authorship of documents as indicated by stylometric analysis, the influence of antisemitism in early Christianity, and the various stratagems resorted to by apologists to deflect historical criticism. Wells also develops his argument by giving detailed answers to recent critics of the mythicist view of Jesus. -- Midwest Book Review
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*He claims that Jesus lived in the second century B.C. (that's right, "before Christ").
*He argues that the Apostle Paul didn't think Jesus was a real human being, against passages like Rom 1:3; Gal 1:19; 4:4 and everything else we know of earliest Christian beliefs.
*Following many of Burton Mack's views on Q (which have been severely critiqued by scholars like Christopher Tuckett and James M. Robinson) he claims that Jesus was something of a Cynic sage who talked a lot about nature and that sort of thing and who tried to be a stick in the eye of society; the ideas we find in Mark, the other Gospels and Paul about Jesus' miracles, the resurrection and eschatological beliefs about a final resurrection, judgment and all the rest were added by later communities of Christians who really didn't know much about the real historical Jesus.
*He claims Mark was written toward the end of the first century, I think around 90 AD.
And these are just a few of radical positions Wells espouses in this book. His views are indeed radical and few reputable scholars would follow him. Wells is obviously intelligent and a good writer but seriously prejudiced against Christianity. Also, he is a controversialist and therefore not to be viewed as reliable.
If you want to understand the origins of Christianity there are better books to read, such as "Fabricating Jesus" by Craig Evans, "Jesus and the Eyewitnesses" by Richard Bauckham, "Reinventing Jesus" by J. Ed Komoszewski, M. James Sawyer, and Daniel B. Wallace, or "Jesus and the Victory of God" by N.T. Wright. But really if you're interested in "finding out the real truth" about Christian origins, don't be lame and think you'll come to any worthwhile conclusions after reading a book or two, especially one like this one from Wells which has an obvious slant. If you're interested in in studying the historical Jesus I recommend immersing yourself in the primary sources. Read the New Testament first of all. Learn Greek. Study the early Church Fathers. Read contemporary works of the early centuries BC and AD, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Pseudepigrapha, the Greek and Latin Classics, etc. It's a tough road but well worth it. Books like Wells' are for people who are looking for reasons to slam Christianity. People who are not well versed in the subject matter discussed in Wells' book will easily fall for his misinformation, half-truths and rhetorical slants. It's very sad.
There is now another book by the same title ("The Jesus Legend") written by Eddy and Boyd. It deals with many of Wells' arguments and will hopefully lead people to more reasonable conclusions in their studies about the historical Jesus.
The discussion of the Gospel of Mark is of particular interest. It is generally believed that Mark was written before the other four Gospels, and that the Gospels Matthew and Luke borrowed heavily from Mark. Therefore, Mark is closer to the origin of the Jesus legend than the other Gospels. The author views Mark as a literary work where drama is enhanced at the expense of realism. For example, the disciples are shown as unable to understand Jesus' parables--which made them seem impossibly dull! This dullness, however, served a dramatic purpose in that they were later able to understand after the Resurrection. He also observes that some aspects of the Gospel of Mark may reflect the conflict between Christian and Jewish communities during the time that the book was written (70-100 AD?)--rather than the situation characteristic of 30 AD Palestine. I would also make an additional observation, that the attempt of the gospels to present Christianity as an otherworldly religion that does not challenge Roman temporal power, was meant to aid Christians at the time of the Gospels' composition.