Dr. Forbes argues that “The Lord Jesus Christ is a totally imaginary figure that evolved from a real man named Jesus. The myth evolved by steps, each step a logical attempt to cope with circumstances in its time.”
This book is a great introductory text for those who are unaware of how the Bible evolved over the first four centuries of the Christian movement (which didn’t even become a “Christian” movement until many decades after the death of the real person upon whom the myth is based). Dr. Forbes presents his own theory of the life, death, and legacy of Jesus. In so doing, he gives a thorough overview of what modern scholarship has to say about the early Christian church and the development of its various writings. Dr. Forbes argues that the Bible is valuable as a collection of pieces of literature, each representative of some time within which that piece of the legend developed. Viewed in this fashion, Dr. Forbes is able to construct a totally logical story of just how a rather insignificant “faith healer” of his day gradually evolved into the supreme religious symbol for roughly 2 billion people. This story needs to be told, and told and told again, in order to combat the disinformation that is inherent in the beliefs of Christians about Jesus. Otherwise, the real truth about Jesus will be buried underneath the legend, which was cast into stone centuries after his death.
This is another in a long series of Book-of-the-Month selections that have focused on various theories about the life and death of Jesus, his immediate family (i.e., James), and his possible “real life” models (i.e., the figure of Judah from the Dead Sea Scrolls). While this month’s selection is an excellent choice as an introductory text, if you desire to explore this subject in greater depth, and with more qualified scholars, you will necessarily need to add some additional materials to your reading list. In addition to this book, I would also consider purchasing:
- James the Brother of Jesus by Robert Eisenman. In a profound and provocative work of scholarly detection, Professor Robert Eisenman establishes James–a figure marginalized in the New Testament–as the leader of all opposition groups in the Jerusalem of his day and spiritual heir–rather than Peter–to his famous brother, Jesus.
- The First Messiah : Investigating the Savior Before Jesus by Michael Owen Wise. In this book, renowned Dead Sea Scrolls scholar Michael O. Wise brings to light the life of Judah, a forgotten prophet who predated Jesus as a messianic figure by a century and has had a profound impact on the course of Christianity and Western civilization. Unlike Jesus, Judah left behind a personal testament, in his own words, of his relationship with God.
- The Jesus Myth by G. A. Wells. Renowned Bible scholar Dr. Robert M. Price writes: “In The Jesus Myth, the latest in G.A. Wells’s series of eagle-eyed scrutinies of the Gospels and of contemporary New Testament scholarship, the author once again takes the role of the Diogenes of the theologians. Charitable yet unflinching, Well’s analysis forces one to the inevitable conclusion that the apologists for the historical Jesus are less researchers than spin-doctors, apparatchniks for an ecclesiastical Politburo. His refreshing intellectual honesty is witnessed by the fact that his own views are amenable to evolution and revision.”
- Who Wrote the New Testament? : The Making of the Christian Myth by Burton L. Mack. Burton Mack proposes that the Gospels are fictional mythologies created by different communities for various purposes and are only distantly related to the actual historical Jesus. This thesis convinced G. A. Wells to revise his prior theory that Jesus was a totally fictional person (see the Wells book, above).
- The Jesus Puzzle by Earl J. Doherty. A new presentation of the argument that no historical Jesus existed. A full and comprehensive survey of the question through an examination of the early Christian record, canonical and non-canonical, from Q to the Gospels, from the earliest Pauline epistles to the second century apologists, along with Jewish, Gnostic, and Greco-Roman documents of the time. The philosophy of the era, its religious expression in the pagan mystery cults, fascinating glimpses into the historical background of the period, an in-depth consideration of the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, are only some of the additional topics covered in the book. A richly-detailed, highly lucid and entertaining account of how Christianity began without an historical Jesus of Nazareth, who came to life only on the pages of the Gospels.
- Jesus : One Hundred Years Before Christ by Alvar Ellegard. Professor Ellegard, a retired literary scholar, also conducts a literary and historical analysis of the early Christian writings and concludes that the gospels, as they are now presented, were products of the second century. “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.”
(This review was written by Bill Schultz.)