UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds

How Jesus Became Christian

New book about Jesus counters more standard portrayals

By Foster Freed

How Jesus Became Christian
By Barrie Wilson
(Random House Canada) $32.95

York University professor Barrie Wilson’s How Jesus Became Christian is a bound-to-be-controversial re-examination of the Jewish roots of Christianity. Given its subject matter, it is a book to which I wish I could respond more favourably.

Wilson’s account has undeniable strengths. In particular, the sections of the book that deal with the challenges facing the Jewish people in the ancient Greco-Roman world are quite insightful. Those sections have the potential to assist open-minded Christian readers with correcting some of the false impressions concerning Jews and Judaism that continue to be prevalent within the wider Christian world.

It is also clear that Wilson has a high regard for Jesus of Nazareth, offering a portrait of Jesus that rightly (if, perhaps, too one-sidedly) emphasizes his continuity with the Judaism of his times, especially the Judaism of the Pharisaic party. Wilson’s exploration of the Sermon on the Mount is especially helpful, reminding us of the characteristically Jewish emphasis that Jesus placed on actions rather than beliefs.

Alas, it is also in his portrait of Jesus that Wilson’s distinctive biases begin to intrude. Because he regards Saul of Tarsus — the Apostle Paul — as the great corrupter of the message of Jesus, rather than as an authentic interpreter of Jesus’ message, Wilson eliminates from his portrait of Jesus any possibility of continuity between Jesus and Paul. While the resulting portrait of Jesus nevertheless offers an important corrective to more standard portrayals, the resulting portrait of Paul — besides being scandalously unfair — fails to locate Paul as the profoundly Jewish thinker that he actually was.

Wilson, a convert to Judaism from an Anglican background, was obviously motivated to offer this book out of a commendable desire to address the church’s deplorable tendency to demonize things Jewish. Unfortunately, too much of his book sounded like a throw-back to the unfortunate inter-religious polemics of an earlier age. It appears that Wilson’s solution for building bridges between Christians and Jews is for Christians effectively to acknowledge that their religion is based on an ugly series of cover-ups and lies. To the ears of this thoroughly Pauline convert from Judaism to Christianity, that doesn’t sound like much of a solution at all.

Rev. Foster Freed is a minister at Knox United in Parksville, B.C.
Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!
Promotional Image
Promotional Image

Video

ObserverDocs: My Year of Living Spiritually

by Observer Staff

Anne Bokma left the Dutch Reformed Church as a young adult and eventually became a member of the United Church and then the Unitarian Universalists. Having long explored the "spiritual but not religious" demographic as a writer, she decided to immerse herself in practices — like hiring a soul coach, secular choir-singing and forest bathing — for 12 months to find both enlightenment and entertainment.

Promotional Image

Faith

January 2018

In the beginning

by Alanna Mitchell

The award-winning science writer travels to northern Australia to explore the world's oldest creation story

Society

January 2018

The good death

by Pieta Woolley

Anglican professor Donald Grayston made dying in peace a lifetime project. His example is inspiring others to plan a meaningful exit.

Faith

January 2018

Me, Dad and the Almighty

by Anne Bayin

A preacher’s kid pretended to be a devout daughter, but secretly she felt lost in a wilderness of doubt.

Society

January 2018

The good death

by Pieta Woolley

Anglican professor Donald Grayston made dying in peace a lifetime project. His example is inspiring others to plan a meaningful exit.

Faith

January 2018

In the beginning

by Alanna Mitchell

The award-winning science writer travels to northern Australia to explore the world's oldest creation story

Faith

January 2018

Me, Dad and the Almighty

by Anne Bayin

A preacher’s kid pretended to be a devout daughter, but secretly she felt lost in a wilderness of doubt.

Promotional Image