8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Highly recommended, except for the last chapter,
By A Customer
This review is from: The First Messiah: Investigating the Savior Before Jesus (Hardcover)
Michael O. Wise's book The First Messiah is well worth reading for those interested in ancient history, especially Palestine during the first century B.C. This book is a page-turner. It is chock-full of interesting stories from obscure corners of history. Its only drawback is the weak final chapter, which talks about Jesus.
The main topic of Wise's book is crisis cults, in particular, a crisis cult called the Judah cult which began in about 76 B.C. A crisis cult is a cult led by a charismatic figure who persuades a group of people who are in crisis that something is going to happen to change their lives for the better. The something in question is a definite event in space and time. In other words, the leaders of these cults make unambiguous predictions that can easily be confirmed or disconfirmed by anyone. Most of the time these predictions do not come true, which causes profound confusion and disappointment in their followers.
The Judah cult began when a priest in Jerusalem found himself on the outs after a change in political power which produced a change in religious power and practices as well. Railing against the new establishment openly, he found himself exiled permanently. The number of his followers kept dwindling until a prediction of his came true, after which the numbers increased dramatically. But they fell to almost nothing when a second prediction, concerning the year 36 B.C., failed to come to pass.
History has forgotten Judah, if indeed he ever existed and if he was named Judah (Wise isn't sure about the name). Wise and his student Michael Douglas discerned that such a person existed, was exiled, and led a cult on the basis of a new and exciting interpretation of the Dead Sea Scrolls, some of which have turned out to be from the cult and even from Judah himself. One point left unexplained by Wise is why these texts ended up in Qumran, for the group that produced the Dead Sea Scrolls seems entirely separate from the Judah cult (or did I miss something?).
The weakest part is the final chapter, the chapter about the Jesus cult. Throughout the book, Wise talks in general terms about crisis cults and what they are like as well as talking about the Judah cult. Repeatedly, he implies that the Jesus cult is like other crisis cults and that it is like the Judah cult in particular. So I was expecting him to draw certain conclusions about the Jesus cult, which he unaccountably didn't draw. For example, the followers have to decide what to do when the leader's predictions do not come true. I expected Wise to talk about what Christians had to do when Jesus' prediction of returning in the lifetime of the disciples failed to happen. But he says nothing about this. And I expected him to talk about the cultural milieu in which Jesus existed, that he was like other would-be Jewish messiahs in that he felt that the rule of the Romans was the result of sinful practices and that if the Jews could just abandon those practices, then everything would turn out right. Such a messiah would hardly be interested in founding a religion distinct from Judaism. Again, though, Wise says nothing about this. The last chapter is a disappointing end to an otherwise enjoyable book.
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Initial post: Nov 14, 2007 10:50:19 PM PST
David E. Blair says:
A question to "the customer" who wrote this review. How is it you know that Michael C. Douglas is a student of Michael O. Wise? Mr. Douglas received his PhD. from the University of Chicago, and as far as I know, Michael Wise has nothing to do with the U. of C. Where is the connect? Are you an academic who prefers to be anonymous in the matter of this book and the materials it covers? Come out of the closet please.
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