Every ten years or so, some writer of consequence outside the worlds of theology and New Testament studies decides that he can no longer stomach the double talk of the professionals, and will shake off the formal Christian pretensions. This can prove hazardous. One of the funniest pieces ever to appear in the very agnostic New Statesman & Nation was a review of such a book by the redoubtable Robert Graves. No one, however, will laugh at Mr. Augstein. Long the editor of Der Spiegel, the world's premier news magazine, he has always run literate and informed coverage of religious affairs. The book makes use--on a selective basis-of the best European biblical scholarship at least up to the date of original German publication a few years back. The thud of body blows resounds throughout. In addition to the demands on the reader of following a close technical discussion of ""the Gospel Story"" and its Old Testament background, a persistent contentious, sarcastic note obstructs. What the author says is ""Look, the best professionals say we can know nothing of the possibly historical figure Jesus. The bloated, devious construct of 'belief' claiming divine authority, which the churches use to enforce a self-serving pattern of morals, manners, and political policies, is not to be borne."" Beyond this, he probes the functions of the Christian symbolic construct in the Western life of the subconscious and asks, if this is no longer credible, what can take its place? Like Hans Kung's On Being A Christian (1976), which deals with many of the same issues in a different tone of voice, the American writer he looks to here is Marcuse. This is very much a European book, but one that can generate American discussion. A judicious afterword by David Noel Freedman of the University of Michigan helps put things in perspective.