Whatever you may think about him or his followers, Jesus of Nazareth continues to capture the attention of billions across the planet. From church-going Christians and New Atheists to the media and academics, Jesus remains a pretty popular guy, at least in terms of the time spent discussing this first century Palestinian Jew and his various views on contemporary issues. Amidst these ongoing conversations about what Jesus would think or say about the latest news cycle there are those who have proposed a quest (or, more accurately, quests) for the real Jesus of Nazareth, the Jesus of history who stands behind the Jesus of Christian faith. These voices—which are by no means new—have long influenced the popular understanding of the Nazarene and continue to shape how many people interpret the message of Jesus. However, many practicing Christians remain generally unaware of the divergent claims regarding the “Jesus of Faith” and the “Jesus of History” and are (understandably) concerned when they first encounter such statements. Continue reading
Key for understanding Crossan’s perspective on the historical Jesus is his understanding of Jesus as a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant. In Crossan’s view, this understanding points to Jesus as a religious, social, ideological, and borderline political revolutionary who defied social norms and practiced “a shared egalitarianism of spiritual (healing) and material (eating) resources.” Connecting Jesus with John the Baptist, and a form of Jewish eschatological thinking, Crossan suggests that perhaps the best approach to understanding and interpreting the historical Jesus would be through the lens of an Ancient Mediterranean Jewish Cynic. For Crossan, such an understanding would explain textual traditions of both calls to poverty, social radicalism, commensality, freedom, kingdom language, and talk of followers as royalty. Only with such an understanding, Crossan argues, can we really understand the methods and message of the truly historical Jesus. Continue reading
In Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, scholar John Dominic Crossan presents his reconstruction of the historical Jesus. Citing the fourfold accounts of the canonical gospels as presenting a problem for the Christian tradition when trying to determine the historical narrative of Jesus’ life, Crossan endeavors to make use of historical-critical methodology in determining the true narrative, words, and actions of the historical Jesus. Considering the cross-cultural anthropology, Greco-Roman and Jewish history, and literary and textual considerations of canonical and non-canonical material, Crossan seeks to find accounts that fits the known historical record, cultural expectations, and presents material unique enough to demonstrate the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Crossan operates with a set of presuppositions that some may find difficult to accept, such as his philosophical naturalism on some points. Overall however, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography presents a narrative of the life of Jesus that, given the materials and criteria used by Crossan, presents a problematic image of the historical Jesus. Continue reading
In the third part of The Evolution of God, Wright traces the development of early Christianity and its contribution to growing love and toleration within the Abrahamic traditions, arguing that the Apostle Paul, and not Jesus of Nazareth, produced the thinking and methods of inclusive incorporation into Christian communities that laid the foundations for the tradition’s latter success. However, in order for Wright’s summary of Christianity to fit into his overarching thesis concerning the evolution of God, he makes several claims concerning the historical Jesus, claims that I wish to briefly problematize in this reflection. Each of these considerations touches on an important question regarding Wright’s presentation, namely, does his view adequately address the criterion of historical dissimilarity regarding Jesus? Continue reading
In Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, John Dominic Crossan writes what he calls a “startling account of what we can know about the life of Jesus.”  Crossan, who currently holds a Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies position at DePaul University in Chicago, was co-chair of the Jesus Seminar from 1985 until 1996, and has written over twenty-five books on the historical Jesus and early Christianity.  Written for a popular audience, Jesus portrays Crossan’s personal “reconstruction of the historical Jesus derived from twenty-five years of scholarly research.”  In this work Crossan seeks to outline the life of the historical Jesus that he believes lay beneath the canonical Gospel accounts in a manner as accurate and intellectually honest as possible.  Upon reading this book, the reader will see that Crossan has assembled a variety of interpretations that, when combined with his theological and philosophical presuppositions and understanding of the canonical Gospel narratives, makes for a potentially persuasive and fairly historical narrative of the life of the historical Jesus.
As a part of the Jesus Seminar, Crossan’s name understandably carries with it a certain stigma in certain circles of theology and education. It must be noted that this review attempts to digest and comment upon this particular work from an academic and literary perspective. This review will not provide exegesis of Crossan’s theological or philosophical assumptions and considerations, but will only comment upon the coherency of his arguments as presented in a book intended for popular consumption. Of primary concern for this review will be considering its purposefulness and adherence to such general guidelines of any introductory study of the Gospels, such as those presented by Mark Allan Powell in his work, The Fortress Introduction to the Gospels. Continue reading
In the ongoing search for the Historical Jesus, critically important for many scholars is determining authentic Jesus material in the Gospel accounts. Scholars apply multiform methodology in their interpretations of canonical material, but there are several criteria that the majority employ to determine the historical character of a passage of scripture. Qualities such as the originality or dissimilarity of gospel material from other known sources, multiple independent attestations to a narrative or saying, or the overall thematic coherence are vital to determining authentic Jesus material in the modern historical-critical methodology. Concerning gospel material, even the most skeptical scholars generally agree that Jesus spoke in parables. Thus, proper contextualization and interpretation of parables provide scholars a wealth of information concerning the Historical Jesus. Using material from contextual and New Testament studies, we will examine here the parable of the Vineyard Laborers found in the Gospel according to Matthew 20:1-16 and seek to understand how this parable was received and understood by its original audience, as well as in the gospel and modern contexts.
Many scholars believe that the parable of the Vineyard Laborers, while only appearing in the Matthean account does preserve an authentic parables of the Historical Jesus, primarily due to its genuine originality of theme and general coherence of defying cultural expectations. The parable begins as follows: “For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.” Here, the parable introduces a number of concepts to its audience. First, this narrative concerns itself with defining and perhaps explaining the concept of the Kingdom of God. Next, the hearer learns that the plot concerns a householder, a man of importance, honor, and means. At this point the audience first encounters cultural dissimilarity. This particular householder specializes not in subsistence crops for daily living, but instead owns a vineyard for producing wine, a specialty crop that indicates his elite status in society. However, the Historical Jesus indicates that this householder leaves his house and seeks laborers early in the morning, an action that would undoubtedly cause some level of confusion for the original audience, as elite landowners in the first century Mediterranean context did not hire their own day laborers but instead often relied on brokers or foreman to do so. Continue reading