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One Jesus, Many Christs: How Jesus Inspired Not One True Christianity, But Many

One Jesus, Many Christs: How Jesus Inspired Not One True Christianity, But Many

Book Description

In One Jesus, Many Christs Gregory Riley reveals that–from the very beginning–there was not just one true Christianity, but many different Christianities. Riley shows that early Christianity harbored major doctrinal differences about all aspects of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and divinity. United by passionate allegiance to Jesus as hero, these early, doctrinally diverse Christianities led to the development of many different Christian churches today.

An expert on the historical context in which Christianity arose, Riley illuminates the Greco-Roman world of the early Christians, a world steeped in heroic ideals. Jesus was embraced as a new and compelling hero that one could follow into a whole new life of caring community and transcendent hope. Riley boldly asserts that it was only as Christianity became the religion of the empire that the myth of the Apostles’ Creed was created, thereby promulgating the illusion that the Apostles had gathered together and agreed upon a core set of doctrines essential to the Christian faith. But the reality is that doctrinal orthodoxy was not an issue for the early Christians. Rather, they focused, in quite varied ways, on following Jesus as a model for living.

This book not only provides a new understanding of the nature of earliest Christianity, but it also conveys a vital message for today about what Christian faith is really about. Riley reveals the authentic character of Christianity as inherently pluralistic and tolerant of diverse ideas while passionately centered in Jesus.


Chapter 1
1 Jesus and the Varieties of Early Christianity

Chapter 2
15 The World of Jesus the Hero

Chapter 3
31 The Story of the Hero and the Ideals of Antiquity

Chapter 4
61 The Story of Jesus

Chapter 5
97 Many Christs

Chapter 6
139 Christians as Heroes and the Pattern of Early Christian Life

Chapter 7
179 Martyrs as Heroes

Chapter 8
205 Imitators of Christ

211 Index

227 Biblical Citations


“As the ancient imagination moved up or down the Great Chain of Being, it knew of gods, spirits, heroes, and humans. But where did Jesus fit into that range with all its porous interfaces? … In this powerful, provocative, and persuasive book, Greg Riley challenges us to see Jesus in those first Christian centuries as believers argue him up and down that hierarchy of being.”
–John Dominic Crossan, Author of The Birth of Christianity

“For centuries, those writing about Jesus have asked what can he mean to us? Finally, in this profound and graceful work, Gregory Riley asks the obvious question: What did Jesus mean to them? How was the Christ story understood by pagans? Riley shows that Jesus fulfilled every aspect of the classical Hero, and that the extraordinary prospect he held out to ordinary men and women was to become heroes, too.”
–Rodney Stark, Author of The Rise of Christianity

“In this clearly and elegantly written book, Gregory Riley draws on his deep and detailed knowledge of ancient Indo-European and Semitic cultures, and especially the epic traditions of the paradigmatic hero, in presenting an original and compelling interpretation of the ancient testimonies to the story of Jesus and the role of these testimonies in the spread of the Christian religion in the Roman Empire.”
– Birger A. Pearson, professor emeritus of religious studies, University of California, Santa Barbara, editor of The Future of Early Christianity