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Jesus theories

There are dozens and dozens of books in print claiming to have discovered who the "historical Jesus" really was. Here's why: by the early twentieth century rationalist scholarship had destroyed the idea that the gospels are eyewitness records, or even histories at all. They are theologies, written around older collections of sayings and stories (so the theory goes).Fine. Now what? The way to understand Christianity seemed to be to get at the real historical Jesus by studying those sayings and stories. Twentieth century New Testament scholarship focused on finding the real "Historical Jesus" in the "authentic" sayings and stories of the New Testament.

Trouble is, the search for the historical Jesus gives different people different Jesoi. Here's now it's done. You pick a theme—Cynic philosopher, magician, Rabbi, end-of-the-world visionary—and emphasize the New Testament verses that confirm that theme. Verses that confirm a different theme, you dismiss.

Here's a smattering:

The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross
A Study of the Nature and Origins of Christianity within the Fertility Cults of the Ancient Near East

by John Allegro

What you'll find:
Jesus was a mushroom. Or, rather, the early Christian experience of Jesus was actually a mushroom induced hallucination.

Not quite as nutty as it sounds, since a number of cultures do use hallucinogenic mushrooms in religious rituals. Still, one wonders, what the hell were you thinking, John? This book destroyed Allegro's academic career.



Cynics and Christian Origins
by F. Gerald Downing

What you'll find:

An influential book with many striking parallels between the lifestyle and sayings of Jesus and the lifestyle and sayings of Hellenistic philosophers of the Cynic school

Even if it weren't true, Downing's book would be a fascinating look at a niche of ancient history/ thought you didn't know existed. Would be, that is, if Downing could write a coherent paragraph, and organize his ideas. He can't. I've read hundreds of books about Christian origins — this one is absolutely the worst, coherence-wise. I wonder if Downing was sampling some of Allegro's Jesus mushroom.



The Jesus Puzzle
Did Christiantiy Begin With a Mythical Christ

by Earl Doherty

What you'll find:

Amateur scholar Doherty lays out his detailed version of the theory that there never was a person Jesus, and Christianity began entirely from a myth.

a good look at the state of the evidence about a "historical" Jesus

Doherty, like professor G.A. Wells, notices that Paul and the other first century New Testament authors never give details about the Jesus of later Galillean legend. From which Doherty concludes there never was a Galillean Jesus; Christianity started wiht a mythic godman, later generations invented the earthly "history."

Good use of primary sources, but this theory can only be correct if a number of odd coincidences explain away evidence that does seem most naturally to point to a real person Jesus.



The Historical Evidence for Jesus
by G.A. Wells

What you'll find:

Wells is an emeritus professor of German and amateur scholar of Christian origins. His theory is either that
» there never was a real Jesus, the New Testament Jesus is a myth, or
» there was a real Jesus, the New Testament Jesus is a myth.

Intricate deconstructions of the orthodox legend of Christian origins.

Wells thinks Paul's Jesus was a made up mythical Hellenistic godman, in evidence of which he dwells on the lack of evidence, in Paul and all the other first century epistles, of any history of Jesus' life on earth. The Jesus of the NT gospels was invented later.

It's hard to remember what's in each of Well's books, there's repetition and overlap. I'd suggest starting with The Historical Evidence for Jesus.

Can We Trust the New Testament
Thoughts on the Reliability of Early Christian Testimony
by G.A. Wells

The Jesus Legend
by G.A. Wells

The Jesus Myth
by G.A. Wells



Jesus the Magician
Charlatan or Son of God?
by Morton Smith

What you'll find:
It is certainly true that the ancients had magicians. Hot shot professor Smith thinks Jesus was one of them.



The Lost Gospel: The Book of Q & Christian Origins
by Professor Burton Mack

What you'll find:

The complete text of the famous Q document from which Luke and Matthew copied many of their quotations of Jesus

A readable review of where Q came from.

An non-apologist professor's analysis of Q's implications for Christian origins.

Basically another Jesus Theories book.

Deconstructing Jesus
by Robert Price
Professor of Biblical Criticism at the Center for Inquiry Institute, member of the Jesus Seminar, and editor of the Journal of Higher Criticism

What you'll find:

A non-apologist New Testament scholar's analysis of the Christ-myth

Basically another Jesus theories book.

Is this the final word on who Jesus was or wasn't? No, it's not. It is a useful look at the methods and conclusions of modern New Testament scholarship—by an academic who isn't impressed by either.

Price is an academic who understands the orthodox scholarly theories, though he doesn't buy them. His theme is that nothing we know about Jesus is historical, everything is mythical.

The book follows the regulation scholarship, starting with the "Jesus People," (an academic term for Jesus' first followers; the Jesus People weren't really Christians, since they didn't believe Jesus was God or that he had risen from the dead), on to the first groups who worshiped Jesus as God, the Christ-cults (another academic term), through Jewish Messianic expectations, non-orthodox early Christianities and even ancient novels, which reveal a cultural theme of escape from crucifixion.

The point is not one-for-one parallels between Jesus and, say, Mithras or Osiris.  The point is that  the first Christians took the basic ideas of their culture and adapted them to their new faith.