While thus far in this series Crossan and Wright have differed on their reconstructions of the Historical Jesus, it is the resurrection that truly demonstrates the divergent perspectives of these two scholars. Crossan writes concerning historicity of the canonical resurrection appearance accounts that, “Jesus’ burial by his friends was totally fiction and unhistorical. He was buried, if buried at all, by his enemies, and the necessarily shallow grave would have been easy prey for scavenging animals… Resurrection is but one way, not the only way, of expressing Christian faith…. Apparition… Is one way, not the only way, of expressing Christian experience…. Christian faith experiences the continuation of divine empowerment through Jesus, but that continuation began only after his death and burial.” Crossan understands the Pauline message of the importance of the typological resurrection of Christ as one way that the message of Christianity could be interpreted and preached in the early first century Greco-Roman context, and that such an understanding should not be taken as normative for the entirety of the early Jesus movement. Continue reading
This post considers Crossan and Wright’s perspectives on the crucifixion and death of Jesus of Nazareth. Crossan understands the reason for the crucifixion of the historical Jesus to rest with his preaching of radical egalitarianism, open commensality, and rhetoric against established Judaism. As a Mediterranean Jewish peasant, Jesus defied the acceptable social standards of behavior and resisted the established Jewish religious understanding of social practices. Arguing for an understanding of the historical Jesus as what amounts to a first century Jewish cynic, Crossan believes that Jesus’ form of social resistance toed the line between the covert and overt rejection of authority; ultimately, such a position made Jesus and his movement a highly volatile mixture in the wake of the apocalypticism of John the Baptist. Jesus’ position with the Jewish authorities did not fare well with his symbolic destruction of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem the week before Passover, the most politically and religiously charged freedom festival that the Jewish people celebrated. Crossan further argues that the canonical accounts of the crucifixion cannot be accurate history, but are instead prophecy historicized that plays into the later understanding of the Christian church. Thus, Crossan concludes that the historical Jesus was crucified as a result of his causing civil unrest in Jerusalem during the Passover period and his radically anti-establishment teachings and parables. Continue reading
Given Crossan’s general view of the world and the relationship between the natural and supernatural, it is not entirely surprising that he grants little historical value to accounts of the miracles of the historical Jesus. Crossan argues that Jesus’ program of ministry focused more on the principles of open social commensality and radical egalitarianism. Based on the prevalence of stories concerned with healing and demonic exorcism, Crossan concludes that Jesus was likely some form of peasant healer, though not in the typical western understanding of the term ‘healer.’ Focusing on the social implications of disease within first century Judaism, Crossan argues for a distinction between ‘illness’ and ‘disease.’ Whereas a disease consists of a medical condition, for example HIV/AIDS, an illness refers to the social ills of that disease, namely community ostracization and ridicule. Crossan writes, “I presume that Jesus, who did not and could not cure that disease [in his example ‘leprosy’] or any other one, healed the poor man’s illness by refusing to accept the disease’s ritual uncleanness and social ostracization. Jesus thereby forced others either to reject him from their community or to accept the leper within it as well.” Concerning demonic possession, Crossan argues that such claims likely reflect the impact of Roman Imperial colonialism and that Jesus may have healed from an entranced state. Ultimately, Crossan’s presuppositions necessarily diminish the historical veracity of any and all miraculous events that have traditionally been ascribed to Jesus of Nazareth. To explain Jesus’ reputation as healer and miracle worker, Crossan argues that process was reinterpreted as event and that Jesus practiced healing in a social sense without ever performing the literally miraculous. Continue reading
Crossan 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.” 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. 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. 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 and general chronological data about the life of Jesus that would have been known by his earliest disciples. 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
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. 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. Second, he considers the accounts of the Greco-Roman and Jewish historians of the age, chiefly Tacitus and Josephus. These accounts Crossan treats with a certain level of scrutiny on most points,  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
“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.”
Thus 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. 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
Writing history is something of a difficult task, in no small measure due to the incredible amount of information that historians must shift through and subsequently leave out when offering their account of the past. Even a rote retelling of a single day in the life of a human leaves out certain contexts and events which occurred; how much harder is summarizing hundreds or thousands of years filled with the lives of millions of human beings and condensing their stories into mere pages. And yet, this is the task to which historians devote themselves. And it is the historical project of the Christian Church to which Tim Dowley and his team of contributors turn to in the second edition of the Introduction to the History of Christianity (Fortress Press: Minneapolis, 2013). Continue reading
Several weeks ago I was chatting with some friends about the topic of God (Yahweh) in the Christian Old Testament. And, as is often the case, we ventured into the topic of whether or not Yahweh commanded genocide during the Old Testament period. While I am by no means an expert on this topic, I proceeded to suggest that God did not actually command genocide in the Old Testament, or at least what we would consider to be genocide in today’s context . Thinking about this topic led me to think more about how we read and interpret the Bible.
Many Protestant Christians talk about reading the Bible “literally.” But I often don’t understand exactly what that means. Websters defines “literally” as “in a literal manner or sense; exactly.” When applied to the interpretation of a written text, this type of reading would seem to indicate that you take the text at its simple face value. But there are many portions of the Bible that even those advocating a “literal” reading of the Bible do not suggest should be interpreted woodenly. For example, the parables of Jesus. Is it possible that the Parable of the Sower or the Good Samaritan were actual events that Jesus was merely repeating for his followers? Possibly. But most people who have read or heard these stories have understood them as parables–stories that Jesus told to make a point and teach a truth–and not as historical narrative. But parables are not the only parts of scripture that should caution our desire to read the Bible “literally.” The Wisdom literature of the Old Testament (the central portion of Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes) and the Psalms are two additional chunks of Christian scripture that most people are hesitant to interpret “literally.” Continue reading
In this series we have examined interpretations of First Corinthians 11.2-16 by three notable New Testament scholars, Richard B. Hays, Richard A. Horsley, and Dale B. Martin. To briefly summarize their respective interpretations and understandings of Paul’s views of the human body, we characterized Hays’ position as that of the socially gendered body, Horsley’s view as the ordered body, and Martin’s perspective as the polluted body. After reviewing each scholars contextual considerations for their perspective, their commentary and interpretation of First Corinthians 11.2-16, and the general shape of their understanding of the construction of the human body found in that passage, we turned to an extended consideration of the conception of the human body that can be drawn from this noteworthy passage in Paul’s first letter to Corinth. Here we argued that each perspective relies heavily upon social scientific reconstructions of the Corinthian context that directly impact conceptions of the human body. We noted that each scholar conceived of the Paul’s understanding of the body within the communal framework of the entire Corinthian Christian body. Additionally, we examined Hays, Horsley, Martin, Osiek and Pouya’s interpretations on the impact of Greco-Roman hierarchical norms on Paul’s conception of the human body. Finally, we explicated the various ways in which these scholars understood Paul’s emphasis on bodily difference in Corinth, arguing that the conception of bodily difference was the unifying feature of these three interpretations of First Corinthians.
Interpretations of Paul’s writings, especially those with potentially profound implications for understanding the human body and its relation to other bodies and persons, will undoubtedly continue for years to come. And while this study has only examined three perspectives on Paul’s conception of the human body taken from a short (though notable) passage of one of his letters, the unifying feature of these interpretations concerning Paul’s understanding of Corinthian Christian male and female bodies as different within the Greco-Roman social context, it may be that this unifying conception of body may very well point to a wider field of interpretive discussion and Pauline thought to be found in later studies of the body. As has been the case with the interpretation (and application) of First Corinthians 11.2-16, only time will tell. Continue reading
Having examined the respective perspectives of Hays, Horsley, and Martin, we now place their understandings of Pauline conceptions of the body in conversation with each other. First, we note the importance of the reconstructed socio-historical context for each of the scholar’s respective views on Paul’s conception of the human body. For Hays, the need to distinguish between Christian bodies and other Corinthian bodies led Paul to argue for the importance of symbolic distinctions between male and female bodies. For Horsley, the need for ordered Corinthian Christians as living distinctly different lives from the chaos of other forms of Corinthian worship led Paul to enforce the ordered hierarchy of the congregation within the paradigm of an honor and shame context. Martin, while paying less attention to the general socio-historical context of Greco-Roman Corinth, nonetheless uses his reconstruction of the rhetorical and medical conventions of the first century to argue for Paul’s understanding of the female body as especially susceptible to corrupting pollution. Continue reading