Jesus : A Life

by A. N. Wilson

Hardcover, 1992



Call number




W. W. Norton & Company (1992), Edition: 1st American ed, 288 pages


"Extraordinarily entertaining....Learned, witty....Wilson [is] a gifted novelist and diligent biographer."-Newsday

User reviews

LibraryThing member neurodrew
I have been motivated, over the past month, to read about Christianity. This volume is, in a sense, revisionist. It purports to discuss the latest scholarship as of the date of its publication, 1995, and presents a view of the historical Jesus. The gospels, it points out, were written in about
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60-100 CE (for Common Era), and represent as much an attempt to present a Hellenized theology, and to keep the all-powerful Romans from becoming suspicious of revolution, as to record the doings of an actual person. Nonetheless, Wilson tries to identify, by internal textual criticism, elements that are likely memories of Jesus. John's gospel is very different from the other three, and may draw on a different tradition or witness; Matthew Mark and Luke may have a common source document known as Q. Paul's epistles are the earliest works, and he is the true organizer of the wider and hellenized chuch, whereas James, Jesus' brother, and a group in Jerusalem, remained true to Jewish teaching and insisted that converts follow Jewish law. Wilson suggests that Jesus was involved in a failed civil revolution when he was taken to the crucifixition.
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LibraryThing member goosecap
Andrew is an honest skeptic. And at least the book is readable, which was not my experience with Albert Schweitzer’s Quest of the Historical Jesus, you know. And that cover with the gold flecked with blood that his publisher got for him is pretty.

And there is indeed a sort of skepticism
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appropriate to a non-Christian, to an irreligious or non-spiritual person; Rodney Stark in his church history errs too much on the side of being “pro-“Christian, without being a Christian, which is a little weird. Of course, one hates to tell people what to do, and history, community, Is a part of religion, and yet Christian religion is not the worship of the village, you know. I’m not sure how else to put it, without being…. I don’t know. “Our village is the best village there is. It’s positively Shakespearean! Jesus belongs to the village, our village!” The person who wants history to be their religion ought at least to acknowledge that it’s not Christ they seek.

And of course, on the other side, it’s nice that he’s not like Downfall Dawkins, who’s kinda funny, like a sort of less sympathetic Malcolm X. Ah, the laffs…. I don’t know.

…. It is true, in my opinion, that a gospel is not really meant to be “historical” in the Wilhelmine sense, that, for example, sleepy religion (religion as education meetings) present gospels as, to present the modern Westerner with something familiar. I could elaborate on that, (—We’re going to kill you. —Yes, I suppose you will), but if I explained how I view it, I would probably come off as a kook, you know…. And certainly there are inauthentic “gospels”, but I don’t know if Wilhelmine history is really the answer. Plenty of evangelicals, in fact if not in word, come close to talking to people as if Jesus died on the Cross, “as an example to you lot—this is what happens to you, if you step out of line”, but it’s not because they’ve been Too Creative and written some new creative thing, literally, at least, you know.

But at the risk of being cliche there is a sort of faith to the belief in the primacy of the third topic in philosophy, intellectualism, you know. —I KNOW that prophecies aren’t true, so if a gospel says Jesus was born where the prophecies say, I KNOW it must have been somewhere else, I JUST KNOW, I don’t need the lost/never kept village birth records!

That said, a lot of people who take that point of view become quite unbearable in a way—I suppose it is a sort of elitism, you know, but I suppose that there can be a gentle elitism in addition to a really arrogant kind, if that makes any sense—and Andrew seems to be, I don’t know, just kind of a ‘gentleman’, if you will.

…. Anyway, it’s certainly of prime importance to see that Andy doesn’t deny the Christ of Faith to make me sad, you know; of course, as you begin to be able to really ‘develop’ and understand religion in a deep and real way, there’s the corresponding ‘risk’, if you like, that you won’t understand or ‘believe’ at all. And also, to see Jesus as a Jew, as a hasid, even as Only a hasid, is certainly, well, it’s certainly not very imaginative—“the Key to Reality” ~*shrugs* “Or, just like his parents”—but despite being overly-“realistic” and normal, it’s not exactly a Hostile thing to say at all, *and much closer to “the truth”, if you like, than many a chauvinist fantasy*.

Suppose for the sake of argument that I’m closer to “da Trut’” than he is. I still hold as a very firm belief that God sees, and takes into account, that his “disbelief” or whatever came about not from willful malice, in that sense not from choice, but as the I guess “natural”—sometimes good sometimes bad—result of gaining the capacity to either acquire deeper truth or lose common “truth”, due maybe partly to that is hard to really know certain things when you are not uncomfortable to some extent, but also clearly because those “common truths” were in effect made “lies” by the people who lived them. Or, again, maybe “faith” is just harder to come by for certain classes or personality types, thus making “faith” as the good thing we want or whatever harder to get and its absence easier to excuse, and actually unwrapping and successfully unpacking that gift of faith an even more noble thing should it happen. (And blah blah blah, I do not glorify God by pissing on my brother, therefore hell-spawn am I, lolz! Blah blah blah, condemned! That’s right, keep moving people, nothing to see here. Just enforcing the rules for God, just like Satan. 😸 “To defend is to indite”, of course. (Either/Or, part B).)

…. Andy is like a lot of people in that he is turned off to Christians, probably by our pride, but also he finds the “not common sense” view of not boasting about what a good little boy you are if you’re a good little boy, to be strange and mystifying, and also I probably don’t understand it—especially unconsciously—and so how could Andy really wrap his mind around Christian humility when all the Christians he knows are so damn proud, you know.

I mean, get a load of it, right. Atheists are bad; they’re almost as bad as the Catholics. I am very very very VERY upset with you, *bangs table and starts screaming*, But I Am Hiding It Very Well! I Am A Good Little Boy! 😸

(Andrew does have a certain genius, though, for detail, and I think that some of the odd details he writes are true.)

…. I’ll probs finish this, since I used to feel a sort of affinity for Andy—a thinker! think-think, away!—but now, I think it highly unlikely I’ll read any of his other books; he’s exactly the guy I Don’t need in my life. (Although I do feel bad for him, not hostile.) He’s the snobby atheist. He’s attracted to religionists for being so snobby, but then rejects them in the end for not being snobby enough, 100% of the time. Even God has to be punished if he transitions from snob to slob, right…. “I awake to see that no one is free,” Chris Martin sang once. But he’s the cool atheist, right, which is a bit of an improvement. Andrew here is like, always writing a book called, The Snobs.

…. [It is kinda weird. Jesus is the most obvious source of religious authority, which is bad, and therefore what he teaches, although, you know—do what you want, if you want Jesus, fine—is a little dubious and maybe silly, because we can’t have religious authority; so if he says, “Too much religious authority!”, that’s bad, because, ah, well, don’t think about it. Trust me, I’m the scientific historian. That’s the funny thing about the classic atheist; they’re usually not as theatrical as Downfall Dawkins, but they’re like, Well, we can’t have the authority; you’d get in my—well! Everyone’s way! But they also think, you know, Well, I’m an expert; I know better than the little people who went to “the community college of the Ivy League” (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend). This religious anarchism where everyone has a voice before God really needs to get cleaned up! Darling, you pay me, oh I don’t know, $220,000 over four years, because I like you, you know, and then in time, when you have seniority…. And don’t worry, the religious authority won’t get in the way. 😸🧠🥸

And incidentally, they also tend to do a very bad job at getting people in touch with their inner money-making power, the Chess Club types, you know. You have to forget a lot of it if you really want to be a big business, but they also try to silence people—or mock them, at the very least, “You are not enough!”, who haven’t paid the equivalent of a f*ck*ng nice house in schooling fees, right.

So, there’s that.]

…. (Shrugs) Oh well. Goodbye Andrew.

…. (the door clicks gently on my way out.) I mean, I know that Miss George Eliot liked this sort of thing, but reading “Middlemarch” would probably be a better use of one’s time. I’m a sucker for non-fiction, but in the end telling stories is better than un-telling stories, as non-fiction at its worst can be. Though of course, Victorian stories…. Heh.

(sips tea) Jesus died so we can be normal.
(sips tea) Jesus isn’t nearly normal enough for me. You know, I’ve discovered (blah blah blah, some stupid thing).
(sips tea) Tell me more.

…. (puts his ear to the door to hear the last line) (cackles uncharitably) That was funny. Well, nobody can accuse atheists of being optimists! 😸
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Physical description

288 p.; 9.6 inches


0393030873 / 9780393030877
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