Comparing the Historical Jesus: Conclusions

This is the final post in our series comparing the perspectives of J. D. Crossan and N. T. Wright on the Historical Jesus.

jesus_catacombFor John Dominic Crossan, Jesus was an immensely important figure, though not in the typical Christian categories. Crossan uses the context of cultural anthropology, coordinating historical accounts of period scholars, and a historical-critical approach to gospels material to provide the basis for his historical Jesus reconstructions. Using this source material, Crossan’s reconstruction places little historical importance on the canonical birth narratives of Jesus, argues that Jesus practiced teaching and healing in a social sense without ever performing the literally miraculous, and that Jesus of Nazareth was ultimately crucified by the Romans as a result of his causing civil unrest in Jerusalem during the Passover period and for his radically anti-establishment teachings and parables. Concerning the resurrection narratives, Crossan argues that there was no historical bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth and that the canonical accounts of post-resurrection activity are theological constructions. Finally, Crossan writes that Christian faith must return to its historically verifiable roots, with faith consisting of belief in the historical Jesus as a manifestation of God whose open commensality and radical egalitarian form the basis for a world-changing social program.

For N. T. Wright, the Historical Jesus remains inseparable from the Jesus Christ of traditional Christian orthodoxy. Wright argues that the sources available to historians include canonical, Roman, and Jewish accounts, all of which demonstrate the importance of the inauguration of the Kingdom of God within the teaching and healing of the historical Jesus. While Wright does not directly address the birth of the historical Jesus in the manner that Crossan does, he does argue for a strongly contextualized understanding of first century Jewish culture that would include the possible understanding of miraculous birth narratives. Within this understanding, the historical Jesus was crucified by the Romans out of sheer power tactics to prevent a possible rebellion, while the Jewish authorities wanted him crucified because he threatened their way of life with his message. Wright argues that if we can know anything about the crucifixion and death of Christ, scholarship may very well have to understand the event as the greatest in known human history. Finally, concerning the resurrection accounts, Wright wholly argues for a bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from the dead as a foundational understanding and belief of Christianity. The resurrection of Jesus forms for Wright the major basis for the historical and continual impact and importance of the historical Jesus.

Albert Schweitzer

Albert Schweitzer

This series has sought to provide an examination of J. D. Crossan and N. T. Wright’s perspectives on the birth, work, death, and resurrection of the historical Jesus. This has not been a full summary of the positions held by each scholar, but has instead focused on the perspectives provided by each in their general works concerning the historical figure of Jesus of Nazareth.  For Crossan, the historical Jesus was an immensely important figure, though ultimately he argues that Christian faith must return to its historically verifiable roots, where faith consists of belief in the historical Jesus as a manifestation of God’s program of open commensality and radical egalitarian. For N. T. Wright, the historical Jesus and the Jesus Christ of the Christian tradition, as bodily resurrected from the dead forms the basis for the historical and continual importance of the historical Jesus Christ. With these perspectives in mind, we now close where we began, with Schweitzer’s reminder to live in the experience of the historical Jesus:

“He speaks to us the same word: “Follow thou me!” and sets us to the tasks which He has to [fulfill] for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal Himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.”[1]


[1] Albert Schweitzer. The Quest for the Historical Jesus: A Critical Study of its Progress from Reimarus to Wrede. Trans. W. Montgomery (English). Great Britain: A. & C. Black, 1910. Online. http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/schweitzer/.

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