Richard Dawkins cites German professor as authority on historical Jesus

Well, if this doesn’t show the sad state of affairs in the world of militant activist atheism, I don’t know what does.

In Chapter 3 of “The God Delusion”, Dawkins cites a professor of German, G. A. Wells, as an authority on the historical claim that Jesus did not exist.

“It is even possible to mount a serious, though not widely supported, historical case that Jesus never lived at all, as has been done by, among others Professor G. A. Wells of the University of London in a number of books, including Did Jesus Exist? Although Jesus probably existed.” – Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, p.122

Now, there is not one single person in the universe who has a Ph.D in history would take this view in peer-reviewed published work. Not one. Yet Dawkins cites a professor of German to make his case. If this were handed in as part of university assignment, Dawkins would get a big red “F” for FAIL from me.

Rev. Philip Brown comments on Wells’ credibility on historical matters here:

What Dawkins fails to mention is that Professor G. A. Wells from the university of London is NOT a professor of History, Religion, Theology, Philosophy, Literature, or even Anthropology; all subjects that we would be expect him to be an expert in? No! G. A. Wells is the Emeritus Professor of German at Birkbeck, University of London. While Wells does hold a degree in Philosophy his field is in language. Why does Dawkins mention that Wells is a professor and indeed one at the university of London, but fail to mention that Wells is a professor in a field that has noting to do with expertise in assessing validity of historical figures?

Unbelievable. Here is a list of the virtually indisputable facts about Jesus, from respected, skeptical, non-Christian scholars like Norman Perrin and E. P. Sanders. That is how serious people do scholarship. But maybe militant activist atheism is not about scholarship at all.

Here is N.T. Wright’s list from the same page. N.T. Wright taught on the historical Jesus at Oxford, Cambridge, McGill (Canada) and Duke. That is what we call historical scholarship.

– Born in 4 B.C.E.
– Grew up in Nazareth in Galilee
– Spoke Aramaic, Hebrew, and probably Greek.
– Was initially associated with John the Baptist, but emerged as a public figure in his own right around 28 C.E.
– Summoned people to repent.
– Used parables to announce the reign of Israel’s god.
– Conducted itinerant ministry throughout villages of Galilee.
– Effected remarkable cures, including exorcisms, as enactments of his message.
– Shared in table fellowship with a socioculturally diverse group.
– Called a close group of disciples and gave twelve of them a special status.
– Performed a dramatic action in the temple.
– Incurred the wrath of some elements in Judaism, especially among the high priestly establishment.
– Was handed over by this powerful Jewish element to the Romans to be crucified as an insurrectionist.
– Was reported by his followers to have been raised from the dead.

Resources to respond to the proposal that Jesus never existed are here.

17 thoughts on “Richard Dawkins cites German professor as authority on historical Jesus”

  1. Your blowing this out of all proportion! You make it sound like the whole chapter relied on Wells’ book. In fact Dawkins makes a passing statement about it and moves on. Out of a 40 page chapter, Dawkins spends a whopping 4 lines on Wells’ book, he only mentions it to show that it is possible to make a case that Jesus didn’t exist. It looks like you haven’t read The God Delusion at all.

    Also, I’m glad your not marking my assignments! You’d honestly give someone an F for mentioning, in a single sentence, a relevant book, written by a very well educated man, but one which doesn’t happen to be a leading expert in the field?!?!? Using your logic we may as well disregard everything C.S Lewis wrote about Christianity because he wasn’t a professor of Theology!

    One final thing, please stop using the term militant atheism. This is just something that angry religious people do to demonize those that don’t agree with them. Dawkins is many things, but he’s not a violent man, and he certainly doesn’t deserve to be put in the same category as Osama bin Laden! Just because somebody asks you to justify your beliefs DOESN’T make them militant, this is an absurd use of the term. Remember, Dawkins wrote a book, he DIDN’T fly an aircraft in to a building!!


    1. I will try not to say militant atheism in the future. You are right! I did not mean to imply a connection to any violence. You did a great job of correcting me.


  2. Richard Dawkins’ citing of G.A. Wells is quite risible and very unintellectual indeed – and that is not ‘blowing it out of proportion’. What afterall was his point in citing a “professor” of the University of London on the idea that it is even possible to mount a “SERIOUS” historical case that Jesus never lived at all? It would be a far more serious joke for anyone to say that was “a passing statement”, for Dawkins clearly did not intend it as such.

    Besides, I don’t think G.A. Wells argues “seriously” that Jesus “never” lived at all. For those who might care for just the bare bones, I only need quote the following:
    In his book ‘The Jesus Myth’ (1999), Wells departed from his earlier insistence that there was no historical figure at the basis the Jesus of the gospels, acknowledging the Q document as early historical evidence.[8] However, Wells still argues that Paul’s Jesus was “a heavenly, pre-existent figure who had come to earth at some uncertain point in the past and lived an obscure life, perhaps one or two centuries before his own time.”[9] (please see G.A. Wells on Wikipedia, article last modified on 25 July 2010).

    The point has been well answered by Rev. Philip Brown, though. If Dawkins desired to raise a ‘serious historical case’ by citing a “professor of the University of London”, he might as well do us the favour of a university professor of HISTORY – that would make more sense for what he would call “serious”!

    And as has been noted earlier by Wintery, however, there is not one university professor of history that makes a scholarly serious case “that Jesus never lived at all”. Dawkins himself probably understands his own subterfuge in that argument, which might explain his noting that such a position (which he termed “SERIOUS”) is “NOT widely supported” – did he ask himself why that is so? One may then ask: what exactly was his objective – that it is a serious case that “Jesus NEVER lived”, or that “Jesus PROBABLY existed”?? The correlation between ‘never lived’ and ‘probably existed’ is what?

    Oliver, permit me to quote you:
    “One final thing, please stop using the term militant atheism. This is just something that ANGRY RELIGIOUS PEOPLE do to demonize those that don’t agree with them.”
    Would Dawkins qualify then as an “angry religious person” who himself uses that term (‘militant atheist’) to … “demonise” his atheism? I don’t think your reaction was justified or healthy.


  3. Wintry:
    “Unbelievable. Here is a list of the virtually indisputable facts about Jesus, from respected, skeptical, non-Christian scholars like Norman Perrin and E. P. Sanders.”

    Just wondering, but in what way do you mean that to include folks like E.P. Sanders as “non-Christian”? I thought he was a Protestant (which would include him under ‘Christian’)?


      1. Thanks, Wintery – I understand your point (although it seems Michael was reading my thoughts in his comments following yours). Sanders being a [i]skeptic[/i], no problem; but ‘non-Christian’?

        However, I enjoy your blog. A small subject I was searching on the net brought me here and I’m almost addicted! [in small print: Would you take responsibility for my addiction in days to come? hehe].

        Good stuff. Enjoy.


  4. I don’t think it’s reasonable to classify a person as a non-Christian on the basis “that he does not believe in a miraculous resurrection, bodily or non-bodily”. Lots of people who self-identify, and are identified, as Christians do not accept this (widely-held) doctrine, including large segments of the Anglican and Mainline Protestant churches and in particular their clergy.


    1. Except that belief in the bodily resurrection is part of the earliest creeds, so anyone who claims to be a Christian and rejects those is just wrong and confused.

      Look: 1 Cor 15
      12But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.

      This is early, and authentic – Paul is an eyewitness to a resurrection appearance and talked to Peter and James at least twice in Jerusalem. People can deny that this is a non-negotiable of the gospel, but where is the historical case?


      1. I wasn’t making a comment about drawing the “correct” interpretations from the text, but about identification. Again, there are an awful lot of folks who would self-identify as Christians who likely accept that Paul had a visionary experience of profound spiritual significance that has some meaning in their own relationship with God and Jesus, but don’t draw any ontological conclusions from it (or, don’t draw the same ontological conclusions as many other Christians would). As Gwaine says, “Sanders being a skeptic, no problem; but ‘non-Christian’?” Would it really be reasonable to tell these people and their friends and churches that they weren’t “Christians”?

        It seems to me to be more reasonable and accurate to describe Sanders and others who doubt the literal and objective interpretation of the risen Christ him as people who aren’t Biblical literalists, and/or who don’t accept “historical Christianity” or (small-o) “orthodox Christianity” or some such.


        1. Sorry for the late reply(A year later), those who reject resurrection, a central tenet to Christianity is definitely not Christians. Either way, he can define himself as one as most cultists do, but that just doesn’t change the fact. Check history, Christianity is rooted in that “DOCTRINE” that doctrine is not merely an interpretation from the Biblical text, but it was being practice by the early Christians including Peter in his sermon in Acts, historical data will prove this if you are not lazy.


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