Customer Reviews: One Jesus, Many Christs : How Jesus Inspired Not One True Christianity, but Many
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on July 14, 2000
The Kirkus review above gives a good description of the book. The author, Gregory Riley, is a professor at Claremont College in California. He provides a good history of Greek and Jewish legends, along with the details of how they could have affected early Christian writers. He also shows the development of dualistic and Hellenistic beliefs (body-soul and God-Satan) in the late Old Testament and New Testament writers. I would also mention Riley's emphasis on the diversity of early Christianity (which was lost for the most part in the 4th Century when Constantine took over the church and imposed uniformity, and which was regained again in the Protestant Reformation in the 16th Century). What Riley might have ignored is the intense, often bloody rivalries between Christian sects, then and now. As Garry Wills mentions in "Papal Sin," there is evidence that Peter and Paul were fingered by a rival Christian group as instigators of the burning of Rome, resulting in their execution. Christians--and members of all religions--will find diversity and harmony difficult as long as they are committed to the idea of absolute truth.
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on January 15, 1999
After a broad overview of the various views of Jesus in the early church, the majority of Riley's book is occupied with explaining Jesus' appeal to first and second century pagans. The life of Jesus follows the heroic pattern so familiar to them in the stories they had heard all their lives. Like Achilles and Heracles, Jesus learns through suffering, brings liberation to his people, and wins eternal life. But the real appeal of Jesus is that the gift of eternal life--once reserved for semi-divine heroes and sage philosophers--is now offered to even the most lowly in society. This makes Jesus not only worthy of emulation--but worth dying for. This leads Riley into an in-depth analysis of the reasons for Rome's especially virulent persecution of the early church. I found this part of the book a bit tedious, but overall the book is highly accessible and provides welcome insight to any individual in the process of forming his or her own personal christology.
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on December 11, 1998
Gregory Riley's contribution to the growing debate about one way to God or many ways to God demonstrates that the paradigms which the New Testament writers drew upon as they wrote about Jesus of Nazareth trace some of their origins to the heroes of the Graeco-Roman world. Though the overall approach of the book does not seem to me to describe "many Christs", "Christ" being the technical word for "anointed one" or "messiah", he makes it very plain that in Jesus of Nazareth we find a historical figure who commanded the respect, adoration, and the desire by many to emulate Jesus as a heroic figure and define their own understanding of true heroism in indvidual Christians. This desire has produced a living movement, the church, and its core beliefs, which have given deep meaning to the struggles of life, suffering, death, and life after death.
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on November 7, 1997
With his classic classroom humor, Riley shows us that the origins of Christianity were a blend of ideas from a "primordial"soup of many ancient cultures. In order to describe who Jesus was, the writers of the Gospels used story lines and formulations that would best be understood by those who could read in the Greco-Roman world, the hero stories by Homer. Riley's ideas liberate Christianity to continue in relavance to the cultures where it is found and introduced, even the cultures of the 21st century. This book is easy and stimulating reading and a must for any religious scholar.
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on July 11, 2007
Professor Gregory Riley's "One Jesus, Many Christs" (2001, 228 paperback) attempts to presents a first century classical view of Jesus of Nazareth. The book's scholarship is apparent and well documented with the helpful in-the-text style referencing.

Riley basic premise is that the world of late antiquity (roughly Jesus' era) was replete with heroes and "Christs" ("Messiah's" for Jews). He presents a fascinating study of ancient world heroes.

He compares Jesus to Achilles, parallels Hesiod's narrative with the Nazarene's, equates Oedipus to Job, introduces Elysium (similar to the Testamental "Heaven") as the post life heroic abode, and compares Jesus' movement to the Greeks' adoration for the god Asclepius. In the end, the Jesus movement wins.

Hercules' and Hermes' origins in Grecian schools of thought are thoroughly explained. From this background Riley suggests Jesus as a "classical hero" with "cosmic destiny" (page 81). One wonders why the Hebrew concept of "Messiah" is not also considered?

Riley offers plenty of fuel for thought: God's destruction of Palestine (presumably by the Romans of AD 70) is the result of divine revenge for killing Jesus and the martyrs (page 86), Jesus' passion and trial show his character (page 87), and early Christianity's most radical, and unique, claim was the eternal promise for everyone, not just heroes (page 93).

Although Riley quotes the Bible extensively (with a 2-page "Biblical Citations" index) the book reads like an ancient Greek world primer. The book is interesting and helpful, but it fails to fulfill the expectation presented by its title. (A better title might be: "Jesus and the Greeks" or "Jesus as Olympian".) This text needs less Grecian recovery and more New Testament discovery.

This book is recommended to all students of ancient Greece, mythology buffs, classical scholars, and those already biblically well read.
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Gregory Riley is professor of New Testament at the Claremont School of Theology; he has also written books such as River of God, The: A New History of Christian Origins and Resurrection Reconsidered.

He wrote in the first chapter of this 1997 book, "There really were several Christianities, each giving expression to something about the person of Jesus that it found to be essential, but none with the same conception or formulation. So we may return to our original observations: (1) Christian missionaries preached different and even contradictory doctrines about Jesus; and (2) they nevertheless eventually won over the Roman world. It therefore must not have been the doctrinal content that was at the core of the appeal of the message. So what was?" (Pg. 14)

He states, "It is remarkable how narrowly Christianity escaped becoming a rather different religion. Had politics turned out differently in the fourth century, the Church might have defined 'orthodoxy' as Arianism, instead of believing in the Trinity as the Nicenes did and the Church does today. Non-Trinitarian Christianity survived in the East long after the age of the creeds into the time of the Arab conquests in the seventh century and later... One should keep in mind that no one in the first century was a Trinitarian in the sense defined by the fourth-century Church." (Pg. 6-7) He adds, "If the sentence 'Jesus was a Jew' actually meant something like 'Jesus was a Jew like other Jews we [think we] know of and are comfortable with,' then we would not have Christiantity today." (Pg. 9)

He observes, "It seems that there never was unanimity of opinion concerning Jesus, and that he himself did little to clear things up... [In Mk 8:27-29] Four different answers are given, and one of the points of the Gospel of Mark is to redefine the correct one, to claim that Jesus is the messiah but not the type of messiah Peter was looking for. Mark, therefore, gives a fifth answer. The confession that Jesus was Messiah... is what made a Jew into a Christian Jew, but immediately there was fundamental diversity of opinion about what that might mean." (Pg. 98)

He concludes, "One aspect of the genius of Christianity, in its solution to the seemingly intractable problem of understanding the nature of Jesus, was that it found a way, in its traditions and stories and liturgy and creeds, to meld what was important, the two categories of heroes and gods, and allow them to serve as means to understand Jesus, the God who had descended from heaven and lived as hero and savior." (Pg. 138)

This book will be of interest to those looking studying the development of Christology, as well as early Christian history.
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on September 8, 2006
This book provided me with a useful overview of some of the Graeco-Roman stories of heroes and gods, and how they compared with the story of Jesus. Riley argues that a large component of how early Christians understood Jesus was as a hero. They then followed Jesus by imitating him, themselves becoming heroes in a way.

He also outlines some doctrinal differences between early Christian sects that may have been due to different cultural understandings of Jesus. Included in this is how different sects considered Jesus to be mere man, semi-god, angel or an emanence of God. Towards the end of the book is some discussion of the persecution of the early church, and how the ideals of heroes, atheletes, gladiators and martyrs gave courage to the early Christians and led to the growth of Christianity. But this latter discussion seemed to me less useful than the first parts, perhaps because it covered some material I alread knew.

I was relatively unfamiliar with Graeco-Roman ideas of the gods and heroes when beginning this book, so I found it very interesting. This was the reason I purchased it. My only complaint is that some statements are not referenced, and he does cites only ancient sources.

On the whole, though, I found it thought provoking. It was a useful and insightful discussion of Greaco-Roman and Semetic concepts about the gods to aid in understanding the ideas expressed in the New Testament and by the early Christians. It is well worth a read if you wish to investigate this topic.
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on February 3, 2010
This book helped tie up some loose ends I had in my own independent studies of the figure of Jesus.
In many ways I wish I could have stumbled upon this book first when I began my studies of Christianity's famous founder.
Riley details the classic history that surroned the time of Jesus and the people who would come to follow him afterwards,while adding his own commentaries on the social and spiritual world that was inhabited by the Greeks.
Riley shows us that what helped rise Christianity to the place it's at today is the fact that while the mystery cults eluded to ancient hero's of a distant past that give us a guide map to salvation Jesus was contemperary and one only needed to believe in his cause to be given eternal life. Something that until then was reserved for the higher caste of society.

If you want to further,or begin your research on Jesus I would suggest this book as a great reference no matter were you're at in your studies.
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on July 19, 2015
This book was recommended to my by my Lutheran Pastor when I was struggling with the inconsistencies of the New Testament.
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on September 23, 2015
One of the most brilliant books on Jesus I have ever read.
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