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Wells the radical controversialist
on December 23, 2006
I'm surprised how many positive reviews this book has gotten. It is actually a terrible book. Wells makes a number of outrageous claims in this books:
*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.