2017-03-07

G. A. Wells Obituary

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by Neil Godfrey

I was saddened to learn of the death of George Albert Wells via a Facebook friend. The Guardian has an obituary by Martin Jones. Wells’ books challenging the historicity of Jesus were among the first that I read on the question and I have never found their basic arguments overturned. Earl Doherty had quite a different view of the Jesus of earliest Christianity and I enjoyed reading some of the exchanges or criticisms of each other’s arguments that appeared online. In later years Wells did accept that the Q sayings of Jesus originated with some form of “historical Jesus” — but I found his arguments there less cogent than his earlier work.

He became a lecturer in German at UCL in 1949, and was appointed head of department at Birkbeck in 1968. He retired in 1988.

George’s views on the historicity of Jesus – which he first denied, then accepted in a qualified form – were controversial. He published nine books on this subject between 1971 and 2009, most notably The Historical Evidence for Jesus (1982). His work in this field generated debate in the US, where he was awarded the title of Humanist Laureate by the International Academy of Humanism in 1983.

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5 Comments

  • C. J. O'Brien
    2017-03-07 22:41:43 UTC - 22:41 | Permalink

    His “Did Jesus Exist” was my introduction to the idea. Like you, I do not believe his questions of decades ago have been convincingly answered. Only book by him I read, but it was quite influential, as here I am, ten years on, still thinking and reading about early Christianity.

    Sad to see him go.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2017-03-07 23:15:17 UTC - 23:15 | Permalink

      He’s an easy yet thorough introduction to the question. Yes, and by all accounts a real gentleman and scholar. We’d love to see more like him.

  • Kelly Wellington
    2017-03-08 01:44:07 UTC - 01:44 | Permalink

    I must admit, I did not know he was still alive. I, too, began my journey into mythicism with G.A. Wells. It was after exposure to John P. Meier, John Dominic Crossan, Richard Horsley, and Albert Schweitzer. He made the most sense to me and every Christian apologist thereafter seemed to me to be trying to avoid discussing the details….

    I learned a great deal and appreciated it all.

  • Steven Carr
    2017-03-08 08:49:14 UTC - 08:49 | Permalink

    All of his books on religion are well written and clear and worth reading.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2017-03-08 21:50:34 UTC - 21:50 | Permalink

      Yes, I think the simplicity and clarity of explanations are their strongest features. I would often return to them to refresh my understanding of details that were too often taken for granted or elided in other work.

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