Professor Barrie Wilson published How Jesus Became Christian in 2008. Through surviving writings, this historical analysis traced how a human Jewish teacher and Messiah-claimant became the dying-rising God-human savior of humanity. Wilson advanced “the Jesus Cover-Up” hypothesis, contending that the theology of Paul covered over the teachings of Jesus and those of his first followers, the Jesus Movement led by Jesus’ brother James. Wilson shows in detail how Paul’s theology differs from them in terms of origin, teaching and practices.
Moreover, the New Testament Book of Acts, Wilson contends, represents an influential work of historical revisionism, noting that it is the one work of the Bible that we can compare to something else to judge accuracy. In this case, we can compare what Paul says about himself with what the unknown author of the Book of Acts says about Paul. How Jesus Became Christian was short-listed for the prestigious Cundill prize in History and was awarded the Joseph and Faye Tanenbaum Prize for History at the 2009 Canadian Jewish Book Awards.
James Tabor, chair of the department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, gave a positive review: "Wilson's How Jesus Became Christian represents a much-needed sea-change in our understanding of how one moves from the historical Jesus to the religion called Christianity. It is beyond doubt one of the most significant works on early Christianity to appear in decades. It is bound to stir controversy, but Wilson’s sober and carefully documented assessment of the evidence is as challenging as it is compelling. Wilson writes with an engaging style, accessible to the non-specialist while thoroughly academic in quality. Jews, Christians, Muslims, and secularists will all find much of fascination and value in this provocative and important work.”
Booklist USA (Ilene Cooper) wrote, “Typically, Christians and others have tried to smooth the jagged edges between Christianity as a Jewish sect and as an worldwide religion by making it seem as if the latter evolved from the former….Wilson offers long, fascinating…arguments about why this seeming evolution was more church propaganda than fact, which he backs up with descriptions of the kinds of early Judaism that allow Jesus his place as a Torah-loving Jew who would find Paul’s view anathema.”
The Huffington Post noted, “There are many sources for the following historical interpretation [of how the religious movement we now call Christianity came together], but the most readable and well argued is by Prof. Barrie Wilson, a respected biblical scholar at York University in Toronto….”
Rehash: Having shown that Paul’s religion differs from that of Jesus and his first followers, Wilson argues that the covering up takes place within the Book of Acts. In that late first-century writing, Paul’s non-Torah-observant movement becomes grafted on to a Torah-observant one, the so-called Jerusalem Conference plays an important step in this development. Wilson also notes that the Book of Acts represents an influential work of historical revisionism, noting that it is the one work of the Bible that we can compare to something else to judge accuracy. In this case, we can compare what Paul says about himself with what the unknown author of the Book of Acts says about him. The former represents the Paul of history, the latter the mythologized Paul. The discrepancies between the two are significant as the author of Acts tries to downplay the enmity that existed between Paul and James.
Barrie Wilson has written a variety of articles on Paul, available through his website. These include 'If we only had Paul, what would we know of Jesus?', as well as 'Taking Paul at his Word'. A mini-book, The Jesus Feud represents an attempt to visualize the world of early Christianity, the way in which the followers of James would not – and could not – have interacted with those of Paul. Other writings include a discussion on how to fix the contents of the New Testament. Wilson has spoken in many churches and synagogues throughout North America. (James 2:14-26 contradicts Ephesians 2:8-9, Titus 3:5, Galatians 2:16, and Romans 3:28.)