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A.N. Wilson, who has written revisionist biographies of Jesus, Tolstoy, and C.S. Lewis, trains his critical eye on the first self-identified Christian writer in Paul: The Mind of the Apostle. Wilson's book may purport to be a biography of Paul, but it is really an argument about the origin and nature of Christianity. His premise is that "Jesus was a devoted Jew who did not seek to found a new religion, but to call his followers to a stricter observance of Judaism." It was Paul, not Jesus, who exemplified the central tensions of Christianity. ("Jewish or non-Jewish? Roman or anti-Roman? Apocalyptic or practical?") And according to Wilson, it was Paul who first claimed Jesus' divinity and called Jesus the messiah. Wilson's argument, though heterodox, is no hatchet-job. Paul may be "widely regarded as someone who distorted the original message of Christianity, by adding 'theology' to the supposedly simple message of love Jesus preached," but Wilson sees Paul as "a prophet of liberty, whose visionary sense of the importance of the inner life anticipates the Romantic poets more than the rule-books of the Inquisition." Wilson concludes that Christianity is "an institutionalised distortion of Paul's thought, the inevitable consequence of the world having lasted ... more than nineteen hundred years longer than he predicted." Wilson's prose is just this lively and provocative throughout, and his observations are always skeptical and forgiving: "Paul did not imagine that there would be such a thing as Christianity, or Christian civilization, any more than Jesus did." --Michael Joseph Gross [via]