Reviewed by Lloyd Geering, SOF NZ Newsletter #4, July 1993
Wilson is a journalist, highly regarded for his biographies of C.S.Lewis and Tolstoy. This book caused a little stir when first published last year. What makes the book so interesting is not so much what he says about Jesus but how he came to write the book, and to discard his belief in Christianity, as a result. He tries to investigate the New Testament with as little religious bias as possible, either for or against traditional Christianity. He had remained a practising Christian for many years, trying, he said, to "avoid facing the implications of what he had studied when he read theology at Oxford". He has now come to see that "the Jesus of History and the Christ of Faith are two separate beings, with very different stories".
Much of the material will be familiar to those who acquainted with New Testament study (particularly in the earlier part of the book) and he draws considerably from the Jewish scholar Geza Vermes.
Because he approaches the subject with the freshness of journalistic enquiry he sees possibilities which may not occur to New Testament scholars (and it must be conceded that most New Testament scholars are writing from within a commitment to Christian orthodoxy). The freedom to speculate, which he draws upon, does not mean that his hunches are right, yet he does produce a very plausible portrait of the human Jesus. He suggests, for example, that the Cana story preserves memories of Jesus' own wedding. Many will find unconvincing, some of his speculative reconstructions.
The book has been strongly criticised to the point of condemnation by more orthodox NT scholars such as N.T.Wright, in Who was Jesus? (SPCK, 1992).
Wright, a NT scholar of Worcester College, Oxford has sharply condemned, often with emotive language, Barbara Thiering's Jesus the Man, Wilson's Jesus and Bishop John Spong's Born of a Woman:A Bishop Rethinks the Birth of Jesus.
Thiering's book is admittedly somewhat bizarre, depending as it does on a mode of interpreting the Gospels which no one else at all has found acceptable. But the books by Wilson and Spong are in quite a different category.
John Spong, who visited New Zealand in 1991, has recently published a book on the Resurrection of Jesus and plans to visit New Zealand in July 1994.
Some SOFN groups have been studying Spong's book Into the Whirlwind.
One of the best surveys of where contemporary scholarship stands on issues relating to Jesus is : John Bowden, Jesus: the Unanswered Questions, SCM,1988, $39.95. Bowden is an Anglican priest and editor of SCM Press. He writes from the questioning point of view which those linked with SOFN will find congenial.
Some of the most interesting religious writing is coming from those with a Roman Catholic background. For example, there was Jesus who Became Christ, Collins 1975, by Peter de Rosa, and some excellent little books by Hubert Richards, who visited NZ in the '70's.