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, but he is not the first to point them out, and his lurid prose detracts from his conclusions. Proclaiming that “Paul was obsessed with the foreskin” or comparing early struggles between forms of Christianity to marketing wars between Coca-Cola and Pepsi, he seems more interested in catering to readers’ thirst for sensationalism rather than in reviving their understanding of Jesus as a faithful Jew. The book is targeted to those who have not studied religious history. The author assumes that readers may not realize that Jesus and his earliest disciples were Jewish, something even the most unread pew-warmer usually knows.
Wilson’s self-important, overly dramatic approach overshadows the significant questions he raises.