The Historical Jesus: Five Views (Part Two on Crossan)

I have caught up on several chapters now of The Historical Jesus: Five Views (IVP, 2009).  The previous part was on the introduction and the chapter by Robert Price (“Jesus was not a real historical person…probably”).  This chapter is on the views of John Dominic Crossan and “Jesus and the Challenge of Collaborative Eschatology” (pp. 105-32).

Crossan is insistent that Jesus must be understood in the context of the Roman Empire: after all, we must remember that before Jesus there was a human in the first century BCE that carried the title “Divine, Son of God, God from God, Lord, Redeemer, Liberator and Savior of the World’ (p. 109) – Augustus.

In order the get Jesus, though, you need to understand eschatology – not an understanding of end-times, but that the eschaton would be ‘the Great Divine Clean-Up of the World’ (109).  Rulers and their kingdoms would be judged and overthrown by God.  This helps us see that the lines between politics and religion weren’t as firm in their day as in ours.  Jesus was challenging the ideology of Empire, but through non-violent means.

As for the life of Jesus (and Crossan affirms that he was certainly a real being), Crossan traces his thought as follows.  Jesus originally accepted John the Baptist’s theology that saw God’s kingdom as coming imminently (p. 125), but changed his mind (after John was killed).  Instead, Jesus decided to focus on God’s presence now – because John was not rescued by God, the kingdom must be already here and now.  Thus, ‘it is not that we are waiting for God, it is that God is waiting for us’ (125).  That is where Crossan gets the term “Collaborative” – it is an ‘eschatological dialectic between the human and the divine world’ (125).

There are significant differences between John and Jesus’ approach to their ministries.  John was the whole show – he had the power (to baptize) and if he died, his whole ministry died.  Jesus learned from this and took a different approach where he passed on the power and message and equipped others to carry it out as well.  In Crossan’s words, ‘John had a monopoly, but Jesus had a franchise’ (126).  [Nijay: Personally, however pithy Crossan's words are, I don't like the analogy because it makes it sound like Jesus opened a Chicken Shack or something....]

What is God wanting us to do in collaboration?  Resist evil political powers in non-violent way.

RESPONSES: I won’t go through each response, but what several point out is that Crossan has to do a lot of psychologizing in his construction, and we have seen in the past that it is very difficult to presume what was in the mind of Jesus.  Secondly, the Gospels themselves don’t really give us this impression that Jesus’ main interest was opposing Caesar and his way of ruling.  Overall, Crossan takes the Jesus Seminar approach to the Gospels by dicing it up and working from the bits he finds ‘authentic’, and his own analysis is as controversial as any of the other ones performed by Seminar members.

Now, I am not familiar with the details of the Quest, but it seems like Crossan’s approach has similarities with the way that liberal protestants focused on the morality of Jesus versus his Messianism and death/resurrection.

As I read the responses, it confirmed that IVP put together a very good crew in this book – experts who are all along the spectrum of interpretation, but when they agree on a criticism against Crossan (or any other participant), it is helpful to see where methodological consenses lie (though Price is often following his own track, but that doesn’t mean his response points are invalid, just not in line with the others).

More to come…

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3 thoughts on “The Historical Jesus: Five Views (Part Two on Crossan)

  1. Hmm, sounds as though he’s refined things a little bit from his Historical Jesus book (if my memory’s working).

    How does this work though? When John was killed and God didn’t rescue him, Jesus and his disciples gave up on eschatology for a present wisdom. When Jesus was killed and God didn’t rescue him, the early disciples gave up on present wisdom and returned to eschatology (presumably).

    I’ve always thought it very odd that anyone would fit a non-apocalyptic jesus between an apocalyptic Baptist and an apocalyptic Church: it seems to be a reductio ad absurdum on the criterion of double dissimilarity.

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