Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography

Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography

Jesus is a magisterial distillation of Crossan's lifelongwork on the gospels & Jesus.

Reviews of the Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography

What i appreciate most about this work, aside from this meticulous textual analysis, is his placing the happenings of scripture related to Jesus' birth, ministry, and death in their historical socio-cultural context.

Crossan has been accused of trying to make Jesus into an IRA militant. This is the most affecting account of the man, Jesus, I've read outside the Gospel of Mark or Dostoevsky's Grand Inquisitor.

2) His self-selection of evidence: Crossan says he only chose things repeated by two or more independent sources (generally not counting Mark/Matthew/Luke as independent). He claims that the Gospel of Peter is an independent source (perhaps the only historian who believes that?), and says the writer of the Epistle of Barnabus didn't have knowledge of the gospels, yet at times refuses to count John and Mark as sources independent from each other. He states that: When today we read his words in fixed and frozen texts we must recognize that the oral memory of his first audiences could have retained, at best, only the striking image, the startling analogy, the forceful conjunction, and, for example, the plot summary of a parable that might have taken an hour or more to tell and perform. After the suspicious dating, selective use of the multiple source criteria, the elimination of all miracles and healings and fulfillments of prophecy, and the reduction of all stories, parables, and events down to the sentence or two that fit Crossan's case, I'm not sure that more than 1-2% of the Bible would fit Crossan's about Jesus. So because most people were illiterate (and his degree of certainty on the literacy level of the Jewish state is remarkable!), and because Jesus was probably peasant lower class (based on his occupation in a single source), therefore Jesus MUST not have been able to read, and therefore he can't have known precise texts? To say someone, especially someone with as unique an influence as Jesus, can't have known religious texts based on that series of logical jumps is tenuous. But Crossan goes on to use that argument to deny as historical every passage where Jesus reads, shows intimate knowledge of scripture, or purposely fulfills any prophecy. (I wonder what the cross-cultural precedents are for illiterate, unknowledgable, impoverished, powerless religious men attracting a cadre of literate, wealthy, educated followers who get more devout after their leader's death than they were before.) On top of that, he then goes on to deny that the two educated followers of Jesus named in the Bible were actually real, because doing so is helps his case that the resurrection isn't real! Crossan's hypothetical educated Jesus-followers are more believable to him than the ones we actually have texts about. This is based off of the anonymity of one of the disciples traveling to Emmaus (One named and clearly male, one unnamed and probably female), Paul saying he had the right to take a believing wife, and Crossan's hope that Jesus was a perfect example of equality who in every way transcended his culture. Jesus doesn't wear the dress or carry the characteristic tools of a cynic, teach the individualism of a cynic, or have the hopes (or lack thereof) of the cynic, and may not even have had any knowledge of the cynics because there's no evidence of them ever present in rural Hebrew culture, but Crossan explains away these issues by assuming that Jesus's differences just go to show you what a peasant Jewish cynic would look like. This is a real stretch Crossan claims Jesus couldn't have known more than some loose ideas from the scriptures himself, but that his disciples were well-educated Scribal geniuses. Crossan's theory has Jesus's followers making leaps back and forth across the Bible, going on treasure hunts across texts (for instance, connecting two passages solely because they're both in Isaiah, although they're 54 chapters apart), and then uniting four or five texts at the same time to cause them to mean something that no one had ever said they meant before so that they could create a new nonhistorical event based on this novel combination. (Crossan bases this off of the fact that James was in Jerusalem and had some sort of influence by his death, though he was executed by the authorities.) All nature miracles, feeding miracles, and post-resurrection appearances were invented to defend the leadership of the disciples over the masses and Peter's primacy at the top, especially over John, Thomas, and Mary. Crossan states this even as he admits that Mark spends most of his gospel building a case against the disciples in general and John actually elevates the disciple who Jesus loved over Peter at times and gives Mary a special status as the first to meet and tell about the resurrected Christ. But...according to Crossan, Jesus was eaten by dogs and was never buried (he was too poor to bury and those rich followers of Jesus were made up don't think about those learned scribes that searched the scriptures right now), and the resurrection was a metaphor.

Besides, ever since Paul began writing letters, it has not been the man Jesus who has been important to the Christian faith, to the development of theology, but rather the resurrected Christ, the Incarnate God. However, Crossan knows this material well and constructs an interesting possibility of what Jesus may have been like - a Jesus more acceptable to modern susceptibilities - one without the supernatural, other-worldly aspects no longer believable. My strong suspicion is that the purpose of this current search for the "historical Jesus" is to provide comfort to those modern Christians who are having trouble affirming the old theology, doing so by giving them a Jesus they can intellectually accept - one they believe in - giving them a way to still consider themselves Christians.

Even when he quotes an author (Thomas Carney) who asserts (twice in the passage quoted) that modern understandings of class do little to illuminate ancient culture--that understanding the client-patron system is far more useful--he seems not to notice. Based on two Biblical passages (one, really, since one is based on the other) he asserts unreservedly that Jesus was a tekton--a step lower than a peasant (he claims), and was certainly illiterate. Reading the newspaper? Or only reading Henry James?

As all the Christian layers are peeled away, Crossan paints a vivid portrait of this first century Galilean peasant, whose ministry of open commensality and social healing appears far more powerful and understandable than the N.T.'s miracle working 'Son of God'. When Jesus is stripped of the myths of Bethlehem, water walking and Easter we see a historical Jesus...'they were hippies in a world of Augustan yuppies' writes Crossan, 'a religious and economic egalitarianism that negated alike and at once the hierarchical and patronal normalcies of Jewish religion and Roman power.

For 3/4 of this book, Crossan strikes me as a typical lapsed believer who has to explain away everything that doesn't fit with his theory/reading of Jesus.

Crossans research is controversial, more focused on the real life of a first-century sage (Jesus) than in the messianic God-man Christianity turned him into.

John Dominic Crossan is generally regarded as the leading historical Jesus scholar in the world.

  • English

  • Religion

  • Rating: 3.96
  • Pages: 209
  • Publish Date: February 17th 1995 by HarperCollins Publishers (NYC)
  • Isbn10: 0060616628
  • Isbn13: 9780060616625