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Customer Review

on February 26, 2003
Religious faith is probably the single most important idea in the Western world. It has compelled people to travel to distant lands, to help those less needy, to give up fortunes to those in need and to dedicated one's life to service and/or study of a higher power. Wells does not contest this. More refreshingly, he does not address the issue with the anger, scorn or vicious condescension often found in works like this. (Don't authors who engage in this invective realize how they sabotage whatever hope there was of making a point?)
Wells has been "preaching" the Gospel of a Christianity without a historical Jesus for some time. His series on this subject contains brilliant insights though the themes are repetitive. To wit, there is no external documented record of the man "Jesus" (besides an interpolated Josephus), Paul seems never to have heard of a Jesus of history, the Christ story is like others of that time, Paul was either mixed up or refining a philosophy involving the ancient "Wisdom" doctrines, etc...
What bothers me about his conclusions is that for some reason a group of people believed in "Someone" enough to die for this belief. This in itself is not radical: There are numerous incidents of apparently rational people defending to the death such ideologies as fascism, communism, racism and tribalism. The actions of the first Christians make sense only if they truly believed that their Savior was a real person at one time. The weakness in Well's thesis is explaining how early believers totally misconstrued Paul's message in an amazingly twisted act of interpretation. Even more, how did the whole idea of Jesus story get started?
Wells is best at using scholarship to highlight obvious changes or additions to the text, to point out contradictions or more revealingly - how the life of Jesus became more detailed as one moved further from the date he lived. Paul seems to have matched "someone" with several unrelated prophecies in the Old Testament and arrived at a new theology. He seems totally unaware of a historical "Jesus" - only a risen "Christ". This is reminiscent of the modern German school of Bibical criticism that accepts a Jesus of faith if not a Jesus of history - a preposterous viewpoint in my opinion.
Not only is Wells fair, he is also just, quoting scholars with differing opinions and admitting the possibility of truth to their ideas. The book contains numerous footnotes, references to hosts of scholarly works and an excellent bibliography. This is an excellent book sure to provoke discussion.
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