How Jesus Became Christian
By Barrie Wilson, Ph.D.
317 pages (265 pages of main text), 2008
The history of early Christianity first became interesting to me as a cudgel I could use against the dimwitted teachers at Catholic School. Non-canonical gospels, the fact that the Pope most certainly isn't a direct linear inheritor of the "Throne of Peter", even a child can poke a lot of holes in the myths that less curious Christians take as fact.
How Jesus Became Christian isn't so much about the practical ways in which the proto-Catholic brand of Christianity prevailed, or how it became adopted and co-opted by the late Roman Empire. Rather, it focuses on the theological distinction between Jesus as a Jewish prophet and radical who preached a strict adherence to Torah and the imminent overthrow of Roman rule, and the great bulk of his current adherents who take him as a messiah and don't have anything to do with Jewish rituals and practices.
There's a lot about the sleight of hand that went into the New Testament, with gospels rewritten and books placed out of order to reconfigure Jesus's teachings into a messiah narrative. (Bart Ehrman's excellent "Misquoting Jesus" books are invoked several times.) The Book of Acts and that bastard St. Paul come in for especially close and damning examination. Thanks to no Torah, and especially no adult circumcision, Paul's "Christ Movement" won out over the exclusively Jewish "Jesus Movement".
None of this is entirely new if you're familiar with the topic, but "Christ vs. Jesus" is a great way to frame that tricky idea, and demonstrate why antisemitism was baked into Christianity from the get go. Judaism was a rival, pure and simple, and it had to be attacked as both theologically wrong and scripturally unsound. It was a marketing decision, one that's caused a lot of people to die very bad deaths in the twenty or so centuries since.