19 December 2007
An intriguing collection of ideas about Jesus, based on circular reasoning
Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography
John Dominic Crossan
"If, by the way, our eyes or heads are now spinning, this is part of the process. We are persuaded of the validity of the argument by the sheer difficulty in taking it apart. It is almost easier just to listen and nod or read and agree that to analyze, explore, and disentangle." Although Crossan makes this comment (on page 150) about those who historicized prophecy by reading the texts of the past into the events of the present, it is just as readily applied to his arguments in this book. While I do not necessarily disagree with his conclusions, most of which boil down to the idea that Jesus threatened the fabric of the social order (both Jewish and Roman) by preaching and living a gospel of radical egalitarianism, I take umbrage with his incessant use of circular reasoning to make his points. For example, Crossan will read a passage from Josephus that explicitly makes a claim, he will assert that this explicit claim was added to Josephus by later Christian editors, and will then use his edited version of Josephus (minus the alleged addition) as evidence to support his thesis; interestingly, he assumes his thesis when editing out the explicit claim made in the first place. This sort of "argumentation" occurs so frequently in the book, which is otherwise very nicely written, that the reader can be forgiven if she begins to accept Crossan's assertions as arguments and facts.
One further problem that continues to plague me about Crossan's vision is why this illiterate peasant made such an impact on the world. I ask this question because, by Crossan's own admission, revolutionaries and sapiential teachers were quite common at the time. Crossan fails to adequately explain how the Jesus of history became the risen Christ of faith, and by extension how this illiterate Mediterranean peasant came to claim the hearts and minds of billions, which is a major hole in an otherwise interesting collection of ideas.
(This review was originally written April 24, 2006.)