It starts off like this:
The review goes on to develop this argument that the miracles that Jesus is alleged to have performed were no different from those of many others, and the more sceptical individuals around regarded all of them (Jesus included) as magicians. Raising from the dead, conjuring food from thin air, stilling storms, turning water into wine were all standard tricks of the era.In the 1st century AD, in the east there was a prophecy. It said that a man would come from Judaea, and he would rule over the entire world, and it was believed by many. One day, soon after visiting the temple, two men approached the man about whom the prophets had spoken. One was blind, the other was lame. They asked him to heal them. He spat on the eyes of the blind man and touched the heel of the lame. The blind man saw, the lame man walked.
The wonder-worker was Emperor Vespasian. And, as Robert Knapp shows, he wasn't the only one. Christianity would later like to portray the coming of Christ as so influential because it was unique, falling like a pebble into a still pond, disrupting everything. It was nothing of the sort.
The 1st century teemed with magic. It wasn't just Vespasian. People were being raised from the dead, healed of their lameness and cured of their blindness all over the place by all sorts of people. And wherever this happened, people believed.
One of the most accomplished of these magicians was a Samaritan called Simon. His story is also a touch familiar. As one ancient Christian text records, Simon "did mighty acts of magic...was considered a god [and] persuaded those who adhered to him that they should never die". Simon duly gathered a crowd of devoted disciples around him, including a former prostitute...... The Christians later got quite cross about Simon.
So why did Christianity succeed, if Jesus was apparently no different from many others? Knapp reckons that the main reason was simply that Jesus was a very good magician, better than the opposition, and his following snowballed accordingly. The more followers he had, the more his credibility grew. Also, the fact that much of his preaching was "sensible and good" helped - as did the adoption of Christianity by Constantine three centuries later.
An interesting take on the background. And before we laugh at how credulous people were then, just think about how compelling the evidence is for the Mormon religion, let alone the Church of Scientology