Jesus : One Hundred Years Before Christ

The overwhelming majority of the hundreds of books dealing with the origin of Christianity have been written by theologians presenting interpretations of what the Gospels and Acts tell us about Jesus and the early Church. By contrast,I deal with the subject as a historian, asking, which are our sources? when were they written? how reliable are they? Modern scholars, including theologians, agree that the gospels were all composed after AD 70. I go further than that, and date them to the second century CE, based on an analysis both of their contents, and on their language. A comparison with first century texts, above all Paul, but also other Christian writings which can be fairly certainly dated to the first century, shows that these early texts, remarkably, have very little to say about Jesus’ life, doings, and death. The faithful of the Church apparently regard him as long since dead, and only experience him in visions, as raised to heaven. The Gospel story is seen to be built on Old testament passages interpreted as Messianic prophecies, on Wisdom sayings which are put in Jesus’ mouth, and on theological concepts worked out in popular versions of Greek influences the Church needed a concrete and engaging myth of origin that could appeal to ordinary people. The result was the Gospels I owe a great deal to several book by George A. Wells, who first dealt with the subject in 1971. Recently the fictional nature of the Gospel story has been brought out by T. Freke and P. Gandy, and by Earl Doherty. The large majority of theologians have passed over the ideas of these authors in silence. Hopefully that will change after the publication of The First Messiah by the highly respected Qumran specialist, Michael O. Wise. He presents a fascinating story of the Teacher of Righteousness of the Qumran Scrolls as the First Messiah. This is very much in line with my own view.