WAS JESUS A CHRISTIAN?

There is a new book just out called How Jesus Became Christian by Professor Barrie Wilson of the Religious Studies Department of York University in Toronto.

According to Professor Wilson Jesus was a prophet, a powerful homilist, a totally devout Jew, who is executed in Jerusalem for being a political revolutionary. His followers carry on with his teachings: Wait for the Kingdom of God to get rid of the wicked, and in the meantime do good for the poor, love your neighbour and so on.

But he and his teachings are highjacked by the religious genius Paul and an elegant writer named Luke the Evangelist – considered one of Paul’s sidekicks – and together they pull off history’s greatest religious cover-up. They repackage a mortal rabbi as the divine son of God in a class mystery religion and shop him big-time around the Roman Empire.

The differences between Paul and Jesus are so great that we have to see two different religions.

Professor Wilson summerizes this way: “Jesus never converted to another religion. Nor did he start one.  If he were to return he’d probably be amazed – perhaps bewildered or possibly even angry – at what has been created in his name.”

It is clear that Jesus remained a practising Jew bound by the Torah until his death. Christianity under the aegis of Paul began much later.

So, in your view, is it reasonable to conclude that Jesus was never a Christian?

Could we conclude further that Jesus would recognize little of his teachings in the Christian church today?

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21 Comments »

  1. 1
    Robaigh Says:

    Feh. It’s too bad that the “publish or perish” mentality that inheres in the university system has given rise to this type of conspiracy theory “scholarship.” I’m not sure how this is connected to a Religious Studies programme. Are all R.S. students required to read this, or only those majoring in Gnosticism?

    The more I think about this, the more ludicrous it becomes – what would Paul and Luke have to gain by undermining every other popularly held religious conviction (including the system of Emperor Worship endorsed and demanded by the political authorities throughout the Roman Empire)? And what did it get them in the end? How silly.

    Was Jesus a Christian? Well, no, not if you consider the definition of a “Christian” as a follower of the Christ. (I’m reminded of Mel Brooks as Hitler in To Be or Not to Be: “Heil myself!”) I would also argue that Jesus, while certainly a practicing Jew, was clearly not bound by the Torah – or at least not bound by concurrent interpretations of the Law – according to scriptural accounts.

    And then, the “Christian church” is hardly monolithic. I think that Jesus would be appalled by certain practices and pleased with others. Did you have something specific in mind when asking this question?

  2. 2
    Robaigh Says:

    That sounded a lot bitchier than it was intended. Sorry.

  3. 3
    David Victor Says:

    I have read Professor Wilson’s book “How Jesus Became Christian” and I agree with the original question posed. I would encourage anyone with a “closed view” such as the post by Robaigh to actually log on to Amazon or visit the local bookstore and actually READ the book before commenting.

    Wilson’s thesis is founded not specifically on the historical texts and written accounts of the time but it also considers the historical context in which these important figures existed. It is probably the most provocative book I have read in recent years.

    To answer the question asked… I would say NO, that Jesus, if he were alive today would not recognize much of Christianity as it was a religion created by Paul who never actually met Jesus.

    Amazing book, well written, and asks all the right questions.

  4. 4
    Chimera Says:

    “…according to scriptural accounts.”

    Well, now, that’s a problem, see. A thing cannot be used as evidence of its own veracity. And there’s no other source of scriptural verisimilitude. And that pulls all biblical “authority” into question, throwing speculation wide open.

    Professor Wilson echoes my own thoughts when I was much younger (before I had figured out that the whole thing is a fiction), and had just finished re-reading Frank Yerby’s Judas, My Brother for the seventh or eighth time, complete with footnotes, reference guide, and bible. The professor and I differ only in a few details.

    I wouldn’t have called Saul/Paul a religious genius, for example. A salesman, yes. A megalomaniac and a sociopath, you bet. A crafty manipulator with his focus on power, absolutely. A puppetmaster, a control freak, a fraud, an exploiter — all those things. But religious? No.

    “…Jesus, while certainly a practicing Jew, was clearly not bound by the Torah…”

    Now, there’s another problem. All Jews were bound by the Torah, and no exceptions were allowed for conscientious objectors, which was how this son-of-a-carpenter-cum-rabbi has been portrayed. He was executed by his own people for the capital crime of blasphemy, through the medium of the Roman court (the Sanhedrin weren’t so bad at being manipulators, themselves, and they were very much afraid that they would lose all their own power over the people if this upstart young freethinker were allowed to continue to preach). The Jews had no death penalty, but they needed to shut him up, so they manipulated the Roman governor to have him executed for “treason.”

    Was Jesus a Christian? Sort of. He probably believed what he, himself, was preaching, which would make him a follower of his own philosophy. It would not have been called Christianity at the time, though.

    Would he recognize “his” church today? Ha! He’d probably make the scattering of the money-changers in the temple look like a tea party. At least they were performing a legitimate service!

  5. 5
    Robaigh Says:

    I did not read the book, but that didn’t appear to be a pre-requisite for commenting. The original poster gave a synopsis and wrote, “So, in your view….” I inferred that commentary would be welcomed based on nothing more than the post.

    As I said before, my tone came off a lot bitchier than I intended it to, and I apologize for that. Nevertheless, I stand by the statement that conspiracy theories are as old as dirt, and the specific Pauline origins theory (speaking of which, if you haven’t seen The Last Temptation of Christ, it’s recommendable) has been around for a long, long time. So again, nothing really new or earth-shattering to see here. If you care to read Wilson’s book, well, bully! That’s good news for him. Can’t begrudge the guy a few bucks, I guess.

    Actually, according to scriptures, Jewish authorities often stoned law-breakers (a form of capital punishment). It hardly seems necessary to have involved the Roman authorities, if it was simply a matter of punishing a run-of-the-mill law-breaker. But if “the whole thing is fiction,” maybe you won’t buy that argument.

    And if it’s fiction, you won’t give much credence to the stories about Jesus and all the other times he broke the law. He healed on the Sabbath; he forgave sins; he allowed his disciples to work on the Sabbath; he associated with a variety of people who were considered by the religious authorities to be unclean. All of these things were criminal offenses, according to Mosaic Law.

    So, as I mentioned, Jesus was not bound by common (legalistic) interpretations of Torah. He WAS bound by the spirit of the Law. IF you trust the scriptures.

    All of this is beside the point of the original set of questions, though. Based on the original poster’s synopsis of Wilson’s book, was Jesus a Christian, and would he recognize little of his teachings in today’s church?

    It’s virtually impossible to answer the first question, since it’s a an issue of definitions (Christian = one who follows Christ, so if Jesus = Christ, no, he can’t follow himself). But did Jesus “found” the Christian religion or was it Paul and Luke (maybe a better way to frame the question, now that I think of it)? I guess I’d point you to a different book, also recently released. Check out N.T. Wright’s Surprised By Hope. He tackles the question better than I could.

    As for the second part of the question, would Jesus recognize little in the modern church in terms of his teachings? Well, I was curious what the original poster meant by that. I know my question sounded pissy. It was not intended as such AT ALL. I legitimately wanted to know what he was shooting for. Was he talking about liturgy and ritual? Denominationalism? People considering him to the Messiah? Right wing fundamentalism/literalism? State churches? It’s a fair question, and clearly much of this came about well after Jesus’s ministry: I’m just asking for some clarification.

  6. 6
    Alex Thomas Says:

    “Thou shalt not commit murder.” But…it’s perfectly OK to pick up a rock and throw it at somebody, and if it just HAPPENS to hit them, and just HAPPENS to fatally injure them, then THAT is God’s will. And if enough such rock throwers participate, then this act of murder cannot be blamed on just any one induhvidual.
    Mother of Heaven, why did Moses even bother bringing the tablets down the mountainside anyway? No wonder Jesus wept. Preaching to morons to grow the *bleep* up and treat each other as though life meant something…it leads me to think that crucifixion was more a relief than a punishment. Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing. They never have. They never will.
    My name is Alex Thomas. Be honest. Be faithul. Be kind. And the rest of you…may your God go with you.

  7. 7

    It’s always amusing to hear those two dirty little words “close minded” attached to an opinion. Ah yes, “close minded.” The leitmotif of the truth seekers.

    If one reads the book and refutes it does that make them “close minded?”

    Leaving one’s mind open to anything can also allow pollution to enter.

    I think one of the gentleman here make a good point: what was to gain from this hoax? The enormity of its designs seem fanciful to me.

  8. 8
    Tony Kondaks Says:

    Jesus was a Christian; Matty and Filipe weren’t. Moises definitely wasn’t.

  9. 9
    jim Says:

    According to Josephus’ writings, Jesus was considered to be a magician. Jesus’ actions have led me to believe that all He was trying to do was get the Jews to act more humane. He was also trying, as was Paul, to convert the Gentiles to a modified Judaism. I also believe that the first people to identify themselves as Christians were the Jesus followers. If Jesus came back to earth He would certainly have to straighten out the world’s main religions beginning with the Roman Catholic Church. Imagine Him standing in St. Peter’s Square and looking around and suddenly the pope is approaching Him and Jesus asks a bystander “who is the guy wearing a gold stitched dress with red slippers, fancy rings, and a portable piddy-pot on his head?” The bystander replied “Why, here approaches the evolution of your descendent of St. Peter. And by the way You have to call Him by some fancy name such as ‘Your Holiness’. Also, Jesus, please ask Him how fast His popemobile goes. He doesn’t walk around town like You did. And do You know he wouldn’t your Mother serve mass.” Happy Easter Everyone.

  10. 10
    Peter LeBlanc Says:

    Its been said that Jesus wasnt a Christian, Mohhammed wasnt a Moslem and Buddha wasnt a Buddhist. The central theme to Christianity and all other religions is to “Love your neighbour as yourself”. The uniquiness about Christianity is that Jesus “Came to save the whole world” and The Ressurrection will manifest itself in a
    “new Heaven and a new Earth” A new Creation, created by a new creature, Jesus. This could only come about by a triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

    Happy Ressurrection

  11. 11
    Chimera Says:

    “Actually, according to scriptures, Jewish authorities often stoned law-breakers (a form of capital punishment). It hardly seems necessary to have involved the Roman authorities, if it was simply a matter of punishing a run-of-the-mill law-breaker.”

    I wasn’t real clear on my point, I see. I’m sorry. My bad.

    The stoning of law-breakers (such as adulterers) was pre-set sentencing. No judge actually had to pronounce sentence — if the transgressor was found guilty, the sentence was automatic. And the Romans, who were the civil government at the time, had no reason to interfere in this.

    But blasphemy was not a run-of-the-mill crime. It was akin to treason and assassination of your head of state and kicking your dog all in one. Such a crime could not be tried in the lower courts. Only the Sanhedrin had the authority to try such a crime under Jewish law. But under Roman rule, they were not allowed the authority to pass a sentence of death.

    This was not a civil crime, it was a religious crime. Under Roman rule, the crime of blasphemy would only have been a bonus. It upset and confused the Jewish authorities, making them more pliable to the Roman governors.

    In order to get rid of the upstart who threatened their power over the religious lives of the people, the Sanhedrin had to convince the Roman governor that he was also a threat to Rome. They managed to do that. And the rest, as they say, is pseudo-history.

  12. 12
    Alex Thomas Says:

    Jesus’ ultimate lesson was to teach people not to fear one another, nor fear one’s own mortality. It appears that few, if any, have taken that lesson to heart. Otherwise, there would have been no Great Schism, no Crusades, no Reformation, no Inquisition, no Burning Times, no Showa (Holocaust). Imagine a world where Jesus’ lesson really took. On the other hand, there would then be “no Heaven…no Hell below us…above us, only sky…” When it comes to treating one another with faith, honesty and kindness, like the song from “South Pacific” says: “You have to be carefully taught.”
    My name is Alex Thomas. Let there be…peace…

  13. 13
    bjones Says:

    Actually the Romans would need to interfere if there was talk of a Jewish form of uprising led by Jesus. The Jewish leaders had so much authority in the community that if they were to be overthrown (maybe Jesus was trying to start a revolution but failed early) then it would be a huge problem for the Romans. The Romans wanted to keep the peace and the Jewish leaders knew they would see this and allow Jesus to be crucified.

  14. 14

    bjones –

    Thank you for our interesting comment.

  15. 15
    Chimera Says:

    bjones: Yes! Thank you!

  16. 16
    Mark Says:

    I’ve read portions of the book, “How Jesus Became Christian” and I am interested in reading comments from those who have read it. It seems to me that the author presents an interesting thesis which draws heavily from the gospel writers and Paul. It certainly addresses a lot of unanswered questions concerning the silent distance bwtn Paul and the gospel writers. Anyone out there who has actually read the book and has studied this issue?

  17. 17

    Mark –

    My wife is currently reading the book and when she is finished I aill have a go at it.

    Thanks for your comment.

  18. 18
    Aminu Danmaliki Says:

    Indeed Jesus was never a Christian and the teachings of Christianity today is in conflict with his teaching

  19. 19
    Qadri Abdul Says:

    Jesus was never a Christian. It was Paul that deviated from the religious and pious teachings of Jesus and he misled his followers called Christians.

  20. 20
    David Says:

    In job it says God punishies us a lot less than we realy should be,for our iniquitys
    Let us be ever mindfull as we go about life.
    After ten years as a bible based christian,-i found a gideon bible,old and new test,whilst trekking the north of Australia.
    I believe a Christian should accept the Torah,Psalms,prohets,the 4 gospels and reverlation as having the authentic voice of yahweh and Jesus.
    Paul and the letters are commentary only,in my opinion,and in reverlation john sees only 12 apostles not 13,on the new jerusalem walls,pillars.
    Which gives credence to the claims paul made himself a apostle for his own reasons,but thats between him and God at the last day.
    I believe pauls encounter on the road,as all born again people expierince a new life when jesus accepts them as repented sinners,who have search for jesus,after a life of living without God in thier life.
    It should be noted 12 is a number with deep impact in the bible,13 is not so just food for thought.
    If paul and muhaamad were truly later light bearers of God,then jesus would have told us so in the 4 gospels,-he doesent so trust jesus,-and if what jesus said is true to the disiples,that God is here now,-amongst you,-he would have told them of things to come things to be wary of,see i tell you before time.?
    Never stop searching and asking jesus for the truth,-settle things with God and jesus alone trust no one with your faith,-you are worth more than many sparrows,-amen.

  21. 21
    Yusufman Says:

    Hello brother, i always worder why christian always claim that jesus is God or is a christia.


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