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The Jesus Legend
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on March 3, 2017
Excellent study. Solid proofs. Compelling argument. Well written!
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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.
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on June 2, 2014
The author provides the reader with a careful survey of the New Testament writings that have come to represent the life and teachings of Jesus. In doing so, he asks us to imagine the world that was the source of these writings--one that existed well before modern printing, editing, and journalism. He makes it clear that the various writers who composed the Gospels, Pauline letters, and so fourth were often unaware of each others writings; while at other times they borrowed from each others work. The working of these many hands led to various issues becoming clouded. For example, was the kingdom of God immediately at hand and about to arrive before the last of the disciples died, or was this event to occur in the distant future? It also seemed that the Pauline letters were written without any knowledge of Jesus' supposed biography. Such discrepancies are in keeping with the account of a life that is largely legendary--which is the central and well-argued point of the author.

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.
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George Albert Wells (born 1926) is an Emeritus Professor of German at Birkbeck, University of London. He also wrote books such as The Historical Evidence for Jesus,Did Jesus Exist?,Who Was Jesus?, etc.

He wrote in the Introduction to this 1992 book, "My earlier books have naturally met with a very mixed reception. Numerous scholarly reviews have allowed that I had pointed to important issues and problems, although they could not agree with my conclusions... I have felt obliged, in this present book... to allow that the obscure Jesus of the Pauline and other early letters is not the only historical or quasi-historical figure from which the very different Jesus of the gospels developed... Readers will see that in this book as in previous ones I owe a great deal to the painstaking work of the scholarly and critical theologians, and have not ignored that of their more traditionally-minded and conservative colleagues." (Pg. xxix-xxxi)

He says, "It is tiresome to have to set out, once again, the relevant data, but it is the only way to deal effectively with misrepresentation. Not only the Pauline letters, but all early Christian epistles... fail to confirm what is said of Jesus in the gospels. They do not portray his life as mythical, but do not set it in any historical context." (Pg. 12)

About the authorship of Mark, he comments, "If Peter is ultimately behind Mark's portrait of him, then he was very negative about himself... Apologists maintain that only Peter himself could have reported so negatively. But Mark portrays all the disciples negatively for what... have been called 'dogmatic reasons.' Matthew and Luke accept Marcan references to Peter so as to present him more favourably ... I give numerous instances in this book of where they adapt other Marcan material equally freely; and they would surely not have done this is Mark had been accepted as based on Peter's first-hand experience." (Pg. 76)

Of Frank Morison's book, WHO MOVED THE STONE, he comments, "to what extent his views carry weight can be estimated from his claim that we know Jesus's twelve disciples 'better than any other single group of persons in antiquity,' when in fact no NT lists of the twelve contain even identical names, and most of the twelve are hardly mentioned at all except in these lists." (Pg. 114)

He concludes on the note, "Sermons and religious broadcasts are nearly always worded as though New Testament scholarship did not exist. Most believers are never informed of just how flimsy is the historical evidence for the stories about Jesus they take for gospel." (Pg. 208)

Wells [as well as Robert Price's Deconstructing Jesus, and Earl Doherty's more derivative The Jesus Puzzle] is probably the best advocate of the "Jesus Myth" theory today, and his writings (which overlap, somewhat) are "must reading" for anyone studying this matter.
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on July 29, 2003
Once you have read one of Professor Well's books you have read them all. They are like a Symphony in which every movement is a variation of the same theme. That being said, each is a good reads.
The author knows the details of the Gospels better than 99% of most preachers. He also knows the historical setting, the language and cultural landscape. While I may or may not agree that a historical person existed from whom a religion emanated, I will agree that there is no evidence (besides the Bible) that a "God" lived in Palestine, rose from the dead and ascended to his new home in the clouds.
Wells has made the same arguments numerous times - Paul wrote before the Gospels and knew nothing of a historical Jesus, the Gospels began the biography of the Messiah and each succeeding Gospel not only grew more elaborate but started further in the past. Mark opened with the Baptism of the adult man, Mathew and Luke at the birth and John at the beginning of time ("In the Beginning was the Word..."). There are no verifiable historical documents on this person which seems strange if folks were raised from the dead or made to walk or 5,000 people were fed from a small lunch.
I should add that Wells is extremely fair and even empathetic to his scholastic foes. He is always respectful, never crude or angry. He even allows them to speak in their own words before demolishing their argument. Get one of the books and enjoy.
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on January 19, 1998
Wells challenges us with his title of the "Legend" of Jesus. Having obtained our attention, he proceeds with the skill of an historical surgeon. Having laid out his sharp instruments of arguement, he then cleanly cuts into the body of historical reference. Like a conjuror, he performs his magic with flourish and we are left with the bare bones. Being left with the skeleton of a figure left me deprived of seeing the musculature. While I enjoyed the book very much, I was however left with the feeling that I had taken apart the mechanism of my expensive watch - and was no nearer comprehending Time! This book should be read alongside the revelatory and compulsive "The Autobiography of Jesus of Nazareth and the Missing Years" by Richard G. Patton. Both these authors appear to be in harmony with their view of the human being that we refer to as Jesus, but Patton not only shows us the musculature of body, he even makes it breathe! Wells has done us all a great service in objectifying how the Jesus we have been presented with by the 'establishment' has been manipulated and can be proven to be so. Well worth reading.
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on July 31, 1998
I'll open with the caveat that it is clear that this book is prime intellectual material; however, if you don't know the whos, wheres, and why nots of Christianity and Judaism, including the complete biblical vocabulary, then this might not be the book for you. I purchased The Jesus Legend hoping to learn an objective lesson about the life and times of Jesus and the creation of the church. Unfortunately for me, and I would assume anyone without a substantial grounding in theology and the history of Christianity, it quickly becomes obscure. Don't try to read it on an airplane without a dictionary, for example. Furthermore, the author spends a great deal of time defending his earlier works and counter attacking his critics, so it isn't a good first entry into an understanding of the historical Jesus. I would appreciate any emailed suggestions from other interested secular surfers on what that book might be.
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on July 23, 1999
Professor Wells exposes quite persuasively the sham made by some catholic and protestant Bible comentators in order to hide the historical unreliability of the New Testament and their characters. People tend to believe that something which everybody is familiar with has to be true, but even at the end of last century people and scholars satirized Darwin because of his unbiblical version of the creation of man - well, nowadays, people don't think still that Adam and Eve were real historical characters. Scholars of every scientific field have shown the Bible to be innacurate in several ways, including in History, yet the christian Churches still resist to give up some pieces of our History which were written exclusively on the Bible and that have no sort of consistency whatsoever. I think that the historical pursuit of thr real Jesus or the legend that was built around a purely mythical Christ will have a meaning so great in the field of History, as the discoveries of Galileo and Darwin had in the field of Science. Wells builds his argument about how the legend of Jesus developed by trying to see the implications of the theological evolution seen if we put the early epistles of Paul, the sayings attributed to the Q gospel, the synoptic gospels and the Gospel of John in their correct chronological order (as I have ordered them). Then we can see how the notion of the existence of Jesus Christ changed in this short period of 50 or 60 years: from a supernatural risen Christ with no specific historical existence in Paul and a kind of Cynic teacher in Q appeared several inconsistent stories about a Son of God cruxified by Pilate. The writers of the gospels weren't ancient historians as many people believe - their writings reflected the problems of their small community and the theological goals of their leaders: for every problem which aroused a christian prophet built a saying of Jesus or a miracle made by him which supported his own point of view on the issue. And so appeared so many contradictory sayings of Jesus with no specific chronogical order or geographical background in the gospels. If we believe that the gospels show us the real teachings of Jesus, then we had to say that Jesus at the very same time was: a Jewish who obeyed the Law, an anti-Semitic leader, a miracle-worker who acted for the crouds and at the same time a man who tried to act anonimous (but how can a great miracle-worker who acts for the crouds be anonimous?). Also, the writers of the gospels show us a group of 12 incredibly stupid apostles and don't date the Passion at the same time. Many of the events described in the New Testament appear to be things just build to fulfill the Old Testament prophecies. Yet, I think that there were several things forgotten by Wells: the inconsistent dating made by the gospels of Jesus supernatural birth and the inconsistency of the Passion events in the Roman world background: Pilate was a cruel man and wouldn't defend a man accused of social disorder; also, Pilate wouldn't deliver Jesus to Antipas, the lord of Galilea, because he had no kind of power in Jerusalem. Also, Wells should have given some further discussion of the thesis made around the Dead Sea Scrolls and the book can, perhaps, confuse a reader somewhat less informed in this matter because of its many citations of other scholars and the several critics made to their books. Wells finishes his book criticizing the distortion of the Scriptures made by christian Bible commentators for support of their conservative ethics: they only pick up some epic phrases, get rid of some complicated sayings by explaing that they're only methaphorical or with no significant meaning and convince others of a great, uniformal moral written on the Bible. Yet, there is no uniformal moral on the many books of the Bible, because they were written by several different people, in many different backgrounds and in the course of many centuries. However, we have to resist this view of the great morals given by the Bible, because the teachings of Jesus and the Jewish prophets are not as pacific as they say: in the Old Testament God says to Moses to kill all the homossexuals, the worshippers of idols, the adulterous and maim the criminals, then God tells David to massacre every living person of the unjewish population in the land of Israel - including women and children; finally, Jesus prohibits the divorce between christians and says he is the only way to God and that the Jews will all be condemned to Hell - some epistles even say that everyone who doesn't worship Jesus Christ is a son of the Devil. Clearly, the precepts of the equality of all men in God's eyes were only meant to christian believers and not to unbelievers (who are described as the assassins of Christ and sons of the Devil). I believe that most people never read one piece of the Bible, because if people did so they wouldn't still think that Jesus was a peaceful man and that the Bible teaches only good things which can be applied in our real lives.
Carlos madeira 20th of July of 1999
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on July 6, 2003
Once you have read one of Professor Well's books you have read them all. They are like a Symphony in which every movement is a variation of the same theme. That being said, each is a good reads.
The author knows the details of the Gospels better than 99% of most preachers. He also knows the historical setting, the language and cultural landscape. While I may or may not agree that a historical person existed from whom a religion emanated, I will agree that there is no evidence (besides the Bible) that a "God" lived in Palestine, rose from the dead and ascended to his new home in the clouds.
Wells has made the same arguments numerous times - Paul wrote before the Gospels and knew nothing of a historical Jesus, the Gospels began the biography of the Messiah and each succeeding Gospel not only grew more elaborate but harkened back further in time. Mark started at the Baptism, Mathew and Luke at the birth and John at the beginning of time. There are no valid historical documents on this person which seems strange if folks were raised from the dead or made to walk or 5,000 people were fed from a small lunch.
I should add that Wells is extremely fair and even empathetic to his scholastic foes. He is always respectful, never crude or angry. He even allows them to speak in their own words before demolishing their argument. Get one of the books and enjoy.
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on July 6, 2003
Once you have read one of Professor Well's books you have read them all. They are like a Symphony in which every movement is a variation of the same theme. That being said, each is a good reads.
The author knows the details of the Gospels better than 99% of most preachers. He also knows the historical setting, the language and cultural landscape. While I may or may not agree that a historical person existed from whom a religion emanated, I will agree that there is no evidence (besides the Bible) that a "God" lived in Palestine, rose from the dead and ascended to his new home in the clouds.
Wells has made the same arguments numerous times - Paul wrote before the Gospels and knew nothing of a historical Jesus, the Gospels began the biography of the Messiah and each succeeding Gospel not only grew more elaborate but harkened back further in time. Mark started at the Baptism, Mathew and Luke at the birth and John at the beginning of time. There are no valid historical documents on this person which seems strange if folks were raised from the dead or made to walk or 5,000 people were fed from a small lunch.
I should add that Wells is extremely fair and even empathetic to his scholastic foes. He is always respectful, never crude or angry. He even allows them to speak in their own words before demolishing their argument. Get one of the books and enjoy.
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