For the Procol Harum musician, see B.J. Wilson

Dr Barrie Wilson is a Canadian historian, theologian and author, who has been Professor Emeritus of Humanities and Religious Studies at York University in Toronto, Canada since his retirement from teaching in 2006.[1] He specialises in the history of the 1st century BCE and the first two centuries CE, including the life and work of Jesus and the emergence of Christianity. His most recent book is How Jesus Became Christian (2008), in which he argues that the teachings of Jesus were entirely within the framework of Judaism, and that it was only after his death that he was represented (mainly by Paul the Apostle) as a saviour-figure for non-Jews. Partly as a result of his researches on the life of Jesus, Wilson rejected his Episcopalian faith. He married a Jewish woman and converted to Judaism in 1978.[2]

Wilson argues that Paul suppressed the Jewish nature of Jesus's life and teachings as part of a conflict with another group of early followers of Jesus, led by James the Just. Wilson asserts: "The deification of a human, the rejection of Torah, and the creation of a separate infrastructure all placed Paul's religion outside the Jewish family, right from the outset. This contrasts with the teachings of Jesus's first followers, those led by his brother James in Jerusalem, who regarded him as Jewish, worshipped in the Temple and who followed the path of Torah."[3]

How Jesus Became Christian received mixed reviews. James Tabor, chair of the department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina wrote: "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 nonspecialist while thoroughly academic in quality. Jews, Christians, Muslims, and secularists will all find much of fascination and value in this provocative and important work."[4]

Christian reviewers were hostile to Wilson's book. Rev Foster Freed (a Jewish convert to Christianity and a United Church of Canada minister), was critical of Wilson's book. "Wilson, a convert to Judaism from an Anglican background, was obviously motivated to offer this book out of a commendable desire to address the church's deplorable tendency to demonize things Jewish. Unfortunately, too much of his book sounded like a throw-back to the unfortunate inter-religious polemics of an earlier age," he wrote. "Because he regards Saul of Tarsus — the Apostle Paul — as the great corrupter of the message of Jesus, rather than as an authentic interpreter of Jesus's message, Wilson eliminates from his portrait of Jesus any possibility of continuity between Jesus and Paul. While the resulting portrait of Jesus nevertheless offers an important corrective to more standard portrayals, the resulting portrait of Paul — besides being scandalously unfair — fails to locate Paul as the profoundly Jewish thinker that he actually was."[5]


  1. YorkU Research, York University online newsletter, 2010.
  2. YorkU Research, York University online newsletter, 2010
  3. Jewish Tribune (Canada), February 2012 (
  4. Quoted at Macmillan publishers website (
  5. United Church Observer, 2008 (

External link

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