2010 Book Reviews

Impressions on reading The Brother of Jesus and the Lost Teachings of Christianity, by Jeffrey J Bütz (Inner Traditions, 2005).

Impressions on reading The Brother of Jesus and the Lost Teachings of Christianity, by Jeffrey J Bütz (Inner Traditions, 2005).

I was drawn to this book because of an interview with this author by Cynthia Logan in Chapter 4 of Forbidden Religion, Suppressed Heresies of the West, Edited by J. Douglas Kenyon (Bear & Company, 2006). The chapter was, essentially, an interview with this author and I was sufficiently intrigued by this interview to go ahead and get this book by Bütz and read it.

What cemented my interest was Bütz' declaration that his purpose was . . . “'bringing others' findings together to allow a bigger picture to emerge'” in turn to “facilitate 'an emerging paradigm shift in the field of Christian scriptures studies.'” Logan captured my attention when she alleged that Bütz said he

“approached the task 'with the eye of a forensic scientist searching for clues at the scene of a crime.'”

Bütz is then said to allege that Jesus was very Jewish until the end and that he was not interested in starting a new religion, he was interested in reforming Judaism. He says the scriptures make it clear that Jesus had siblings, both brothers and sisters, and that the idea of his mother, Mary, remained a virgin after Jesus was born is thus nonsense. OK, Logan definitely had my attention and I next turned to read Bütz' book for myself.

I liked it. In fact I liked it all except for just a few sentences that come toward the end. But those few sentences are important, so I will cite them here.

The earlier chapters are a very good review of materials with which I have become quite familiar over the years, and I fully agreed with this summation of those earlier chapters on page 85 concerning the escalating friction between Paul and the Jerusalem Christians and their leadership:

“The growing animosity between Paul and the Jewish Christians comes even more sharply into focus in the account of Paul's final journey to Jerusalem, where his very presence in the Temple sparks rioting in the streets by the Jerusalem Christians, and Paul has to be taken into custody by a Roman tribune. On the very steps of the Temple, the growing animosity between Paul and Jerusalem comes to a shocking head.”

The next chapter, 5, continues to document this friction, with the surprising idea on page 89 that perhaps the Jewish leadership “purposely lured Paul into a trap,” a trap from which he was rescued by a tribune.

Pages 96 through 99 discuss the high likelihood of both James and Jesus having, in fact, been Pharisees. Remembering that Bütz is a Lutheran minister, this statement on page 99, which follows the very Pharisaic defense of the Law by Jesus in Matthew 5:17-20, is very revealing:

“A more stirring defense of the Pharisees would be hard to find! Clearly, if one can remove the blinders of twenty centuries of Pauline influence, and some five centuries of Lutheran influence, the differences between Jesus and the Pharisees are few.”

This line of reasoning continues on pages 100-101:

. . . “the fact that Peter and the other apostles did hand the reins of leadership to James after Jesus' death strongly suggests that James's teachings and sympathies were in line with Jesus' own.”. . .

“By the time that Luke wrote his two-part history of the church near the end of the first century, the church had largely been transformed from a Jewish phenomenon into a Gentile phenomenon. Therefore, the beliefs and teachings of James slowly were subsumed under the beliefs and teachings of Paul. This also led to a not-so-subtle prejudice against the thoroughly Jewish form of Christianity that the Jerusalem church and its leaders represented, which ultimately led to the elision of James and the ostracizing of the Pharisees in the New testament.

“While James had unflagging zeal for the Law, it was Paul's relentless zeal for the mission of the Gentiles that won the day. Due almost single-handedly to Paul's ceaseless efforts, Christianity increasingly became a gentile movement, and the importance of Jewish law naturally waned. There were also factors beyond either James's or Paul's control—namely the Jewish revolt against Rome in the year 66 and the resultant sack of Jerusalem in 70, resulting in the second Diaspora of the Jewish people. After 70, the Jewish form of Christianity that James had represented, and that was so thoroughly rooted in Jerusalem, found it difficult to survive in the Gentile world, while Paul's Gentile form of Christianity flourished and soon evolved into Christianity as we know it today.

“The emerging Catholic Church quickly abandoned the dogmas associated with adherence to the Law, but it soon developed dogmas of its own to replace them, one of which was the doctrine of the virgin birth. With the rise of this doctrine, and especially with the growth of the belief in the perpetual virginity of Mary, James and the rest of Jesus' siblings became an embarrassment that needed to be hidden in the closet. Soon the memory of their importance, and even their existence, was tragically lost.

“But not lost by all. There were those who tended the memory of James and upheld his theology and teachings. It is to their tragic story that we now turn.”

A number of chapter then follow that document what is known about the remnants that followed the teachings of James. I found Chapters 6 and 7 very enjoyable reading, giving a synoptic overview of the Jewish Christian literature and then also bringing in the literature of Jewish Christianity with Gnostic influences. Owning copies of this literature, and having read much of it, I found Bütz's treatment fair and well done. The conclusion is that Jesus and James were practicing Jews and were respectful of that tradition's Law. The concluding sentences to both these chapters on pages 138-139 are insightful and lead to the disturbing question of which branch of Christianity was orthodox and which was heretical.

This is explored in the following chapters, and I want to cull just a few salient points made by Bütz for later use:

Page 148:

“The anti-Semitic undertones of the mainstream Christian view have also become increasingly apparent. It is a view that has led to some of the greatest atrocities that human has inflicted upon human. It is no exaggeration to state quite bluntly that the ultimate blame for the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the Holocaust can be squarely laid at the feet of this traditional understanding of Jesus and the early church.”

Bütz then suggests we have an opportunity to heal this divide, a theme he comes to in full force in his last chapters, by acknowledging that Jesus was a Jew and did not want to start a new religion (page 148). This was a problem for Paul, who, Bütz says on page 149, . . .”did not know the historical Jesus at all.” Bütz continues to say that: . . . “we see Paul constantly trying to prove that his teachings are valid, especially in his arguments in Galatians, but in most of his other letters as well. In fact, it could be said that the purpose of almost all of Paul's letters was to counteract the authority, beliefs, and practices of James and the Jerusalem church.” Bütz then continues by showing that Acts attempts “to put a Pauline face on Peter.”

Bütz continues this line of argument by showing that those simply labeled “Judaizers” by scholars over the centuries were, in fact, the followers of James, who believed as Jesus believed. The obvious conclusion then is that Paul is a heretic, and Bütz makes this point on page 162 but in an indirect way: . . . “orthodoxy is merely the most successful heresy.” Well said, nevertheless.

On page 167, Bütz cites both Hyam Maccoby and Robert Eisenman (authors who deserve praise for their groundbreaking work in this field of historical inquiry in my opinion) to come to a final conclusion, one cited from an Eisenman book:

. . . “the obvious solution to the problem of the Historical Jesus . . . is simple. Who and whatever James was, so was Jesus.”

On page 176 Bütz suggests that the Cathars of the Languedoc, who were wiped out in a bloody Crusade, . . . “held many beliefs in common with the later Jewish Christians.” That is the first I had heard that one, Since they were devoted to the Gospel of John more than any other, this is a surprise to me. Bütz suggested on page 156 that the remnants of Jewish Christian thought in the New testament are in the books of James, Hebrews and Revelation.

Having thoroughly documented, from a variety of primary, but mostly secondary sources, that Jesus and James were of the same mind where religion was concerned, and Paul and the Christianity that stemmed from his teachings literally warred against this original movement, Bütz now gets conciliatory on pages 176-177 with some wishful thinking about the small difference between the Pauline and Jamesian views on works and righteousness through observance of the Law and grace. Bütz says:

“It is the end result—transformed lives—that matters. And that is all that Jesus, James, and Paul wanted: to transform lives, to enable people to be born anew into life in the Kingdom of God.”

Really? What a surprising conclusion to come to after all of what went before! Incredible.

The last two chapter speak of a healing of the breach between the three people of the book. Good words, and I'll cite a conclusionary paragraph on page 187 that is supported by what came before:

“If Jewish Christianity had prevailed over Pauline Christianity, history would likely have been written quite differently. It is quite likely that such atrocities as the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the Holocaust would never have transpired. If the Jewish Christian understanding of Jesus had prevailed, Jews and Christians might never have parted ways, and Islam would never have become Christianity's perceived enemy. To this day, it is the refusal of the Jews and Muslims to accept the full divinity of Jesus that makes them 'pagans' and 'heathens' in the eyes of many Christians.”

On page 189, Bütz suggests that all three people of the book need to give up something cherished in order for there to be peace between them, and the greater burden is for the Christians to give up their notion of the divinity of Jesus, a notion that did not exist in the religion of James, and therefore was not part of the belief held by Jesus either. But Bütz then confuses the issue (in my mind) by suggesting that the early Christian councils' compromise language, declaring Jesus to be “both fully human and fully divine” can help heal this breach over Jesus' divinity. I just don't think so. How does that even begin to make sense if one is a true monotheist?

Bütz continues on this reconciliation path for a few more pages, but then sneaks this wording into the very last page, 193, into a pretty wide-open description of how the three great religions of the book can be reconciled:

“Christians already know that a fuller revelation of Jesus' teaching came through Paul.”

Say WHAT?!?!

I felt Bütz inching his way to such a statement in the few items I have already cited that seemed to be out of harmony with the overall thrust of the book. But this last statement, to me, undoes all that Bütz has so carefully constructed up to this point. Paul was a heretic from the point of view of James, meaning also Jesus.  Therefore, the Christianity that flowed from his teachings is heretical. That is the point that Bütz made, convincingly, again and again, even on the very page facing this last one where he suggests that the reason for James' removal from importance in church tradition was that

. . .“his very existence pointed to the real humanity of Jesus. As long as James could be ignored, the dogma of the perpetual virginity of Mary, and the associated dogma of the divinity of Jesus, could be more easily asserted.”

But the divinity of Jesus was a Pauline dogma even if the perpetual virginity of Mary was not. The two ideas are easily separable, as Bütz has shown earlier in the book. To suggest that Paul was a recipient of true revelation re-opens the entire controversy that was almost nailed shut by Bütz.

This strange pulling back from the obvious conclusion that Paul was a fraud who fought against James and thus against what Jesus also believed makes me appreciate all the more the new book by Eric Zuesse that I have been privileged to preview and critique as requested by the author. Its title is: CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: How Christianity Was Created by Jesus’s Enemies.

Zuesse pulls no punches. My statement concerning that book, a sentence out of which is used on the back cover of the book, was this:

Your book cleared up some historical mysteries for me. ... Other books have said similar things based on a variety of historical sources that are as questionable as the New Testament canon. But your book is the only one that makes this case, and makes it convincingly, [because here] ... Paul testifies against himself. ... An open-minded reader/juror will come to the conclusion that [Paul] is guilty of inventing a new religion, illegitimately appropriating Jesus from his Jewish relatives and followers, and deifying him, in the process breaking several of the ten commandments and unleashing millennia of deadly fury and cruelty toward [Jesus’s] very own people, the Jews.” Abe Van Luik, Ph.D.

I will amend this page when Zuesse's book becomes available.

Go to Impressions from reading Forbidden Religion

Go to see short statement about Eric Zuesses'  2012 book Christ's Ventriloquists

Go Back to "Book Reviews" listing

Go Back to 2010 Yearbook

Go to ThoughtsandPlaces.Org Home Page.