on 5 June 1999
As has been true with all of Wells' works in the field of the "un-Historical Jesus," the problem with this book is not so much the author's lack of standing as a Scholar in the field of New Testament Biblical Criticism as it is his utter failure to apply the standard tools and controls of the Historical-Critical field. It is this failure which has doomed Wells to abject obscurity among the REAL scholars of modern liberal Historical-Criticism. Sadly, most of his arguments are built upon a tangled web of "silence," and it is such arguments that fail the test of parsimony and leave Wells out in the cold.
For example, one of the principle claims of this book is that Paul didn't know anything about a real-life, Historical Jesus. Indeed, according to Wells, Paul cooked up Jesus out of the Jewish figure "Wisdom." Never mind the fact that, in Hebrew literature, wisdom is usually personified as a female -- known, in the Proverbs, as "Lady Wisdom" -- Wells speculates that a personified "Wisdom" is at the heart of Paul's theological proclamation. Now, as absurd as this theory sounds, the grounding for his argument that Paul didn't know anything about a real-life Jesus is equally absurd ... it is based upon Paul's near-total silence regarding the Historical Jesus. Wells asserts that, because Paul doesn't tell us anything about the life and teachings of Jesus, Paul must have been ignorant of such information. His conclusion is the grounding for much of his entire theory regarding the nonexistence of Jesus ... and, as such, is crucial in his argument. What Wells cannot obfuscate, with his elaborate theory regarding Jesus really being Lady Wisdom, is that his theory is fallacious from its foundation in Paul's supposed ignorance of the historical Jesus. Arguments that are built entirely out of silence usually are. For instance, Paul's silence can be FAR more easily and parsimoniously explained by realizing that Paul's letters are occasional literature, written in response to questions and problems that had come up in Paul's churches. As such, it was not Paul's intention to lay out the detailed content of the kerygma in the context of his letters ... that material was better presented in preaching ... and so his silence on such topics should not be construed as indicating an ignorance on such matters. Other reasons for Paul's silence have been presented, and all of them are far more reasonable than Wells' conclusion that Paul's silence = Paul's ignorance. Wells' argument from silence, in the end, comes up empty.
This should go a long way toward illustrating the problem which exists with most of Wells' theories; he takes valid observations and correct information -- in this case, the near-silence of Paul on the Historical Jesus -- and draws conclusions that are neither the only valid conclusion, nor are they even most likely ones. He does this regarding Paul's silence, as well as regarding the silence of most secular authors from the period. Indeed, even where we have historically relevant data from non-Christian sources like Josephus, Tacitus, and Pliny the Younger, Wells always leans toward the least likely, anti-Christian, conclusions.
The vast majority of "high-powered critical scholars," whom Wells quotes and twists in his attempts to prove his points, NEVER cite Wells nor recognize his argument as being valid. Indeed, for the most part, scholars have considered Wells' work to be the result of unbridled hyperskepticism ... hardly a balanced approach to the question of the existence of the Historical Jesus. Fundamentally, the problem with Wells is that he assumed his conclusion before he began his "search" ... and then he only searches under certain rocks, and in such a way, so as to ensure that he won't find an Historical Jesus. Wells begins with the assumption that Jesus didn't exist, and then proceeds to prove his assumption utilizing the content of critical scholarship, true, but without the controls that make critical scholarship so very sound. He has set out to prove that Jesus didn't exist, and then only accepts as valid the evidence which he can interpret to prove his point. In other words, his bias has predetermined his conclusion. Don't buy this book; it is not an example of New Testament Critical Scholarship. Rather, if you want to see TRUE scholars at work, click over to the writings of Sanders, Johnson, Kee, Crossan, Hayes, Funk, or Mack, and purchase one of their books. Wells' theories are out beyond Pluto.