Second thoughts on John Dominic Crossan

I had put J. D. Crossan in a kind of mental “bad liberal” box and so had mostly avoided reading him. (By which I mean I thought of him as someone whose project was strictly one of “debunking” traditional Christian claims.) But then I read Crossan and Marcus Borg’s The First Paul and liked it a lot! Oh no! Maybe Crossan’s not so bad after all! In retrospect, I think I have been overly influenced by L. T. Johnson’s The Real Jesus, which casts aspersions on the theological usefulness of “historical Jesus” research generally. I think Johnson makes some good points, but I think historical Jesus research has more relevance to faith than he allows. Which makes me wonder if there are other Crossan books I should read. Has anyone read his big historical Jesus book? Any thoughts?

13 thoughts on “Second thoughts on John Dominic Crossan

  1. Once a very long time ago. I don’t remember much about it at all, but I do remember not being especially impressed by it; it seemed to me at the time to be both excessively speculative and excessively pick-and-choose with its evidence. I do remember liking some things he said about Jesus and open commensality, although I don’t recall definitely which book it was I was reading when I liked what he was saying about it.

  2. Chip Frontz

    Hi Lee!

    JDC is still in my ‘bad liberal box’ because of things I’ve read about him. Guess I’ll have to read ‘The First Paul.’

    My historical Jesus reading includes N.T. Wright’s ‘Jesus and the Victory of God’ and the first two parts of John Meyer’s ‘A Marginal Jew.’ Both, in my view, allow for some creative speculation while not making unverifiable claims regarding Jesus’ self-identification.

    1. Chip – I’m not saying you will like/agree with TFP, but it is certainly not a debunking. (Well, maybe a debunking of a certain way of reading Paul.)

      Wright’s and Meier’s tomes are both pretty imposing. I will have to see about getting a hold of one or both of them, though.

  3. No, he really does belong in the bad liberal box. The major issue with Crossan’s Historical Jesus stuff is a fundamental mishandling of sources. In particular, he dates traditions contained within the non-canonical gospels of Thomas and Peter far earlier than scholarship is willing to, and does a very selective reading of these to reinforce the points he’s already decided upon. I heard him speak in 1996 right around the time of his major HJ activity and was underwhelmed. While he is an entertaining speaker, he can’t entertain away the gaping holes in his project. Ironically, the Q&A section of his talk (which took place at an RC church) was basically him trying to answer questions on the implications of his research on the BVM (which apparently irritated him no end…).

    Luke has to be properly understood. His major problem with most HJ scholarship is that it doesn’t respect both the nature and the volume of the evidence that we have. Most reconstructions go much further than the evidence will allow them to go. The danger in his position is that it can be turned to docetic purposes. We have to affirm the Incarnation and when we affirm the Incarnation we affirm that Jesus made himself present in history. If he’s present in history, he must be historically knowable. Luke’s rejoinder is that while that’s all true, the specific historical data around Jesus simply isn’t accessible.

  4. It’s not historical Jesus material, but since Meier came up, I remember really liking his collaboration with Raymond Brown, *Antioch and Rome* (again this is something I read years ago); it’s also a pretty manageable tome, if you haven’t read it.

  5. Affirming the particularity of Jesus in the Incarnation, at the same time, I have to say that actually because in part the historical data isn’t accessible, allows for the possibility of Jesus speaking to us in each age, allows for what we Anglicans call incarnational, that is, that because the Creator has become a creature, nothing that is not creaturely is beyond God’s concern.

  6. While interesting, the issue I have with much HJ is precisely overshooting the mark and not admitting three things, 1) that the texts they are relying upon are not history in our modern sense, but closer to a genre of theological narrative, 2) that history involves reconstruction and interpretation of sources, and 3) because these are so, the absolute claims made by many HJ scholars often while telling us how wrong those more doctrinally concerned are comes across as a rigidity they claim for those with whom they disagree.

  7. Pingback: Scandal of particularity « A Thinking Reed

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