How Jesus Became Christian

Barrie Wilson, Ph.D.

St. Martin's Griffin



Trade Paperback

336 Pages


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How Jesus Became Christian looks at how one of the world's great religions prospered and grew at the cost of another and confronts a fundamental question about religious history: Who was Jesus Christ—a Jew or a Christian?

In his investigations, Barrie Wilson wonders how a young, well-respected rabbi became the head of a cult that bears his name, esopused a philosophy that he wouldn't wholly understand and possessed a clear streak of anti-Semitism that has sparked hatred against the generations of Jews who followed him. Wilson seeks the answer by recreating the Hellenistic world into which Jesus was born—a theologically cacophonous world guided by Greek philosophies, oriental religions such as Mithraism, and the Egyptian cults of Isis and Osiris. He looks at the rivalry between the 'Jesus movement,' led by James, informed by the teachings of Matthew and adhering to Torah worship, and the 'Christ movement,' headed by Paul, which shunned the Torah.

Wilson suggests that Paul's movement was not rooted in the teachings and sayings of the historical Jesus, a man Paul never met, but solely in Paul's mystical, idealized vision of Christ. Wilson goes on to show how Paul established the new religion through anti-Semitic propaganda, which ultimately crushed the Jesus Movement. This is a provocative, well-written religious history about the core differences between Christianity and Judaism.


Praise for How Jesus Became Christian

"Wilson's How Jesus Became Christian represents a much-needed sea change in our understanding of how one moves from the historical Jesus to the religion called Christianity. It is beyond doubt one of the most significant works on early Christianity to appear in decades. It is bound to stir controversy, but Wilson's sober and carefully documented assessment of the evidence is as challenging as it is compelling. Wilson writes with an engaging style, accessible to the non-specialist while thoroughly academic in quality. Jews, Christians, Muslims, and secularists will all find much of fascination and value in the provocative and important work."—James D. Tabor, chair of the department of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and author of The Jesus Dynasty

"Barrie Wilson has produced a significant and sensational work of scholarship. And it is truly religious dynamite."—Globe and Mail (Canada)

"Wilson's learned foray into the great debate over Christian origins is to be heartily welcomed. Agree or disagree, the eager reader will be gripped—and at times possibly shocked—by the author's bold investigation of one of the greatest mysteries of all time: How did the Christianity of the earliest Church become the orthodox 'churchianity' of the mid-fourth and all succeeding centuries?"—Tom Harpur, author of The Pagan Christ

"Wilson, in an immensely readable and and informative book, has put the pieces together in a compeling way to reveal a startling conspiracy. This conspiracy is soundly developed out of real historical evidence . . . the suppression of Jesus' real message and his real Jewishness in favor of Paul's message about a Christ for the Roman world, the remarkaby successful cover-up story provided by the Book of Acts, and the roots of the anti-Semitism endemic to the new religion of Christianity . . . A groundbreaking and highly controversial work that is sure to provoke considerable attention."—Patrick Gray, professor at York University and Toronto School of Theology

"Move over, Dan Brown, there's a new Jesus conspiracy theorist in town. Jesus having a wife and child is nothing, asserts Wilson (Humanities and Religious Studies/York Univ.). The real secret is what he terms 'the Jesus Cover-Up.' The original 'Jesus Movement' led by James, the author avers, was eventually overtaken by Paul and his fabricated 'Christ Movement,' which stripped Jesus of his Jewishness and de-emphasized his teachings. Paul, described by Wilson as 'a Jewish dropout,' catered to the 'God-fearers' of his time, gentiles who admired Judaism but were hesitant to fully convert. Paul's version of Jesus as deified Christ was in marked contrast to the Jesus-as-teacher-cum-messiah held by the original Jesus Movement in Jerusalem. If Wilson is to be believed, Paul was the greatest con artist of all time, inventing a new religion and propelling it into eventual prominence. The Book of Acts is basically complete fiction, asserts the author, written by one of Paul's followers to graft the two movements together in the popular conscience; the attempt worked so well that everyone has been deceived for centuries. Wilson identifies many intriguing ambiguities in Christian scripture."—Kirkus Reviews

"Wilson, professor of religious studies at Toronto's York University . . . provokes new thoughts about Jesus' identity. Taking up where Robert Eisenman left off in James, the Brother of Jesus, Wilson calls his argument the Jesus Cover-Up Thesis and claims that the religion of Paul displaced the teachings of Jesus so that Paul's preaching about a divine gentile Christ covered up the human Jewish Jesus. Wilson helpfully surveys the political, social and religious contexts of ancient Palestine, demonstrating that the religion of James, the brother of Jesus, was much closer to the religious practice of Jesus himself, but that the followers of Paul suppressed Jesus' teachings in favor of their own leader. Wilson challenges the veracity of the book of Acts, arguing that the followers of Paul created these tales to support the heroic character of their founder in his quest to establish a new religion. Wilson's instructive book introduces important questions about early Christianity for those unfamiliar with the debates about the historical Jesus."—Publishers Weekly

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How Jesus Became Christian

Jesus was thoroughly Jewish. Mary, his mother, was Jewish, and Judaism was the religion he practiced throughout his life. Jesus' teachings focused on the important Jewish...

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  • Barrie Wilson, Ph.D.

  • Barrie Wilson is Professor of Humanities & Religious Studies at York University in Toronto. A specialist in early Christian origins, this is his first book intended for a general audience. Building on contemporary critical scholarship, it addresses some of the major puzzles he has identified in teaching biblical studies over a twenty-year period. An award-winning educator, his previous academic books focused on textual interpretation.

  • Barrie Wilson Ph.D.