Comparing the Historical Jesus: Birth Narratives

This is part of our ongoing series comparing the perspectives of J. D. Crossan and N. T. Wright on the Historical Jesus.

Birth of JesusCrossan understands the canonical birth narratives to be theological fictions, as Mark, Q, and the Gospel of Thomas, which he views as the earliest historical sources, do not contain any form of birth narrative. Drawing Jesus into parallel with Caesar Augustus, Crossan writes concerning the miraculous birth narratives that, “greatness later on, when everybody was paying attention, is retrojected onto earlier origins, when nobody was interested. A marvelous life and death demands and gets, in retrospect, a marvelous conception and birth.”[1] Crossan understands the birth narrative of the Lucan account as comparing the birth of Jesus to that of John, who Crossan argues to be more historically prominent.[2] Similarly, the Matthean birth and flight narrative seeks to portray Jesus in light of the life and exodus of Moses, reflecting a theological rather than historical origin.[3] Crossan argues that certain canonical gospel narratives, including the birth narrative, are not historically accurate but rather are theological narrative based upon a reading of Old Testament prophecies and events into the life and times of Jesus. Accounts of the virgin birth, the Davidic line, the magi, shepherds, angels, role of King Herod, and flight to Egypt are all derived not from historical events, but instead a specific reading of Old Testament texts[4] and general chronological data about the life of Jesus that would have been known by his earliest disciples.[5] Thus, Crossan places little historical importance on the birth narratives of Jesus, arguing that in all likelihood he was born and raised like every other Galilean Jewish peasant in the first century. Continue reading

Advertisements

Comparing the Historical Jesus: Sources

This is part of our ongoing series comparing the perspectives of J. D. Crossan and N. T. Wright on the Historical Jesus.
John Dominic Crossan

John Dominic Crossan

Of great importance for all historical study are the sources used in forming narrative perspectives. Some historians are relatively inclusive in their acceptance of source material, drawing from a wide variety of disciplines and quality of material. Others are more selective in the criterion employed to discern source materials for their historical reconstructions. Crossan falls into the later camp, as he employs relatively few sources in his construction of the historical Jesus. Crossan believes that the fourfold narrative of the canonical gospels presents a problem for modern Christianity, and that the historical truth behind the canonical Jesus must be discovered using only the earliest materials.[1] For his construction, Crossan employs three forms of material. First, he engages in use of cross-cultural anthropology to provide a general understanding of the first century Jewish-Mediterranean context.[2] Second, he considers the accounts of the Greco-Roman and Jewish historians of the age, chiefly Tacitus and Josephus.[3] These accounts Crossan treats with a certain level of scrutiny on most points, [4] though some have argued that his critique on non-Christian historical sources only seems to appear in Crossan’s work when his construction cannot make sense of the status quo within the traditional historical record. Continue reading

Comparing the Historical Jesus: Introduction

“He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lake-side, He came to those men who knew Him not. 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]

Jesus IconThus ended Albert Schweitzer’s The Quest for the Historical Jesus and thus began the modern quest to discover the historical figure of Jesus. This search for the historical truth behind the New Testament’s portrayal of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth continues to impact scholarship, theology, and popular culture nearly 2,000 years after this man’s death.[2] Continuing to follow Schweitzer’s example, numerous prominent scholars have offered their perspective upon the Historical Jesus in recent decades. While it remains difficult to “rank” Biblical and historical scholars, few have been as outspoken and influential as John Dominic Crossan and N. T. Wright. Over the next two weeks Pursuing Veritas will examine aspects of how these two scholars reconstruct the birth, work, death, and resurrection of the Historical Jesus. Continue reading

Deaths of the Apostles

Crucifixion of Peter, Filippino Lippi

Crucifixion of Peter, Filippino Lippi

While Christians often talk about the death (and resurrection) of Jesus Christ, they often don’t give much thought to the the deaths of his earliest followers. No doubt this is because of the centrality of Christ’s death and subsequent resurrection for Christian faith. Additionally, the historical sources for accounts of the deaths of the apostles are considerably less reliable than those attesting the final hours of the Lord Jesus’ life. Nevertheless, there are various traditions surrounding the martyrdoms and deaths of the apostles and earliest followers are Jesus which are worthy of our reflection. Below are short renditions of some of the more widely attested accounts of the testimonies of the martyrs (please remember– these are traditions, often put together with spotty and somewhat questionable sources).

Perhaps the most widely known tradition concerning apostolic martyrdom is that of Peter who is said to have been crucified in Rome upside down during the reign of the Emperor Nero (typically dated around 64 CE). According to tradition, Peter felt unworthy to die in the same manner as the Lord Jesus, and thus was apparently crucified upside down on an x-shaped cross.

James, brother of John (not to be confused with any of the other prominent James’ in the early church), was executed with the sword in Jerusalem, and is generally understood to have been beheaded. Some traditions hold that one of the Roman guards assigned to watch him was so overcome by James’ faith that he joined him in his execution. Continue reading