Posts Tagged ‘John Dominic Crossan’

Book Plunge: In Search of Paul

June 10, 2014

Do Crossan and Reed find him? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

One of the most important lessons you can learn in studying is to read those who disagree with you. Too often, we have the idea that all of them can be liberals who dream night and day about how they can undermine the Bible and destroy the faith of some at every chance. In reality, when you read them, one can often find a seriousness to the Biblical text and get valuable insights in interpretation and in fact make special note of where they agree with you. Of course, I still think they are wrong in much in the long way, but we should listen to their voices as they can most easily question our own presuppositions.

In Search of Paul by Crossan and Reed is a book looking at the Roman Empire’s “gospel” in contradiction to the “gospel” that Paul taught. Both sources were claiming that there was a man who was deity and who was going to be the ruler of the world and usher in a new age.

They’re right too. Rome was indeed seeing itself in a position of restoring the world and shaping it the way it ought to be and the divine Caesars were bringing blessings to all people. This is probably why elsewhere Crossan has said that Mark 1:1 where it talks about the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus, the Son of God, could be translated as “In your face, Caesar.”

This is something I’ve used in my own apologetic. In the clash of these two forces together, neither one of them wanting to compromise an inch, it is a wonder that it was in fact Christianity that won out. How did a shameful traitor and blasphemer to YHWH (by the standards of the world) come to be the one that eventually even the Roman Emperor bowed a knee to, and this without the Christians raising a sword?

But that is another question for another time and those interested can pursue my writings elsewhere and find my answer.

To return to the review, Crossan and Reed also bank on a hypothesis that Paul in his journeys went most to the God-fearers. These were people who admired the Jewish worldview and believed in the Jewish God, but they didn’t follow through entirely. For some bizarre reason for instance, the men were hesitant to get circumcised. I can’t imagine why….

Unfortunately, this is what I consider the weakest part. It’s not really explained well and when it comes to Acts, the parts that go against the theory are deemed to be non-historical without any real argument. If they give one elsewhere, it would have been good to have seen a reference.

The authors ask why would Jews care about these God-fearers coming to believe in Jesus? They also ask why would the pagans have cared about some pagans becoming Christians. Actually, both of these questions are quite simple to answer.

Jews would care because this would go against the honor of God. They didn’t want people going around saying that the Messiah had come and that Messiah was a crucified criminal. It also didn’t help that the leaders of Israel were being blamed for this. If this went unchecked, then that would mean that God would surely come and judge the nation. They were in violation of the covenant and the new movement had to be stomped out.

Why would pagans care? Simple. These people would be deviants in society. “You’re not worshiping the gods or the emperor? You’re in fact proclaiming our gods are not real and that the emperor is not deity? If you keep this up, the gods and/or Rome will judge us!” Both groups had something to gain by going after the Christians.

Despite this disagreement, a good reader will learn much from this book. The story is also told with powerful descriptions of visiting the areas where the events took place in modern times. One gets to see how the Empire was growing alongside of Christianity and go through the letters of Paul deemed to be authentic and see how they could be translated in light of this information.

Another point of interest is that Crossan and Reed want to tie this in to modern America today. How are we like the Roman Empire and differnt from them? I found myself puzzled though in wondering what great message Jesus taught that was so unique that it is still here today from a non-Christian viewpoint. For Crossan and Reed, the impression is that it is about the end of violence, but this does not seem to be the main message of Jesus.

As NT scholars agree, Jesus’s message is the Kingdom of God and the message would then be that God has begun His rule and He has begun it in the person of Christ. The resurrection would be the vindication of that claim. (As well as providing forgiveness of sins.) This is the solution to the problem of evil. God is reworking this world and reshaping it by the spread of the Gospel.

Non-violence would be good, but to what end? Just so we can all get along? If Jesus’s message had simply been that we should love one another and avoid violence and live in unity, it is hard to imagine how it is that He would have been crucified. It must be something much more radical. This is the problem I have with Crossan’s Jesus every time I read about Him. He’s a nice guy. There’s nothing wrong with being a nice guy, but nice guys while they finish last, do not get crucified.

Despite these differences, I do encourage Christians interested in the historical Jesus and studying Paul to read Crossan and Reed’s work. It will be very eye-opening and reading a stance different from your own will help you inform yours.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Apostles’ Creed: And Was Buried

May 13, 2014

Was Jesus buried? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

As we look at the Apostles’ Creed, the next claim to look at is that Jesus was buried. This is highly important since Bart Ehrman has come out lately saying he does not think that Jesus was buried, a position that has been held by John Dominic Crossan as well. An excellent rebuttal to Ehrman can be found by Greg Monette here.

So is there any evidence that Jesus was buried?

Well all of our texts that speak about this do indicate a burial. The 1 Cor. 15 creed says that Jesus was buried. This would not mean being thrown into a common grave to be eaten by dogs. That would not be a burial but would rather be a lack of a burial.

It is true that this was the common treatment of people who were crucified in the Roman Empire, but in Israel, things were done a little bit differently. They had scrupulous views on how the dead were to be treated and this included even the criminals. To do otherwise would be to desecrate the persons involved. With Passover coming, the people of Israel would want to remove any uncleanliness from the people and the land.

Now some might say that this did not take place in the war on Jerusalem around 70 A.D., but this was hardly a normal time. Most of these people would not be buried because the Israelites were too busy trying not to be killed and the Romans weren’t really caring about Jewish sensitivities at that time.

It’s also important to note that the burial would not be talked about as much because the burial of Jesus was not an honorable burial. When we look at the account we find that it is not Jesus’s family that buries Him, as would be the case in an honorable burial. It was instead Joseph of Arimathea, a practical stranger to Him.

Also, Jesus was not buried in the tomb of His family. Many times in the book of Kings, we will read about a king and how he was not buried with the kings. How the king was buried spoke volumes about how his life was to be viewed. A good burial would mean a good life. A bad burial would mean a bad life.

In fact, this is even one of the judgments pronounced on a prophet who disobeyed God in the book. He is told that as punishment for his disobedience, he would not be buried in the tomb of his ancestors. For us today, we would say he got off easy. The ancient world would have been aghast and thinking that this is someone they don’t want to model themselves after!

Also, Jesus’s family was not allowed to mourn for Him. This would be another aspect of the shame. We don’t read accounts of His mother Mary going to the tomb or of His own brothers going to the tomb. Jesus’s burial was meant to be a mark of shame to Him.

So what about Joseph and Nicodemus wrapping him up and giving him a burial and covering his body with spices? They couldn’t make the burial honorable, but they wanted to make it a little bit less dishonorable as difficult as that was.

This fits us in then with the criterion of embarrassment. The burial of Jesus is not something that people would want to talk about as much because of the high nature of it being dishonorable. If Jesus was raised from the dead, the burial could easily be skipped over provided one mention that He had died and the nature of His death would indicate the divine vindication that took place with His resurrection.

For these reasons, I conclude that the burial is indeed a historical reality.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Five Views on the Historical Jesus

May 7, 2014

What do I think of the five views? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Historical Jesus study is one of the most controversial fields today. Despite what many atheists today think, it’s not filled with conservative evangelical Christians. Oh sure, some are in there, but any one can be a historical Jesus scholar regardless of their worldview.

So what happens when you get five scholars from five different fields to come on? Everyone ends up critiquing everyone and that’s the great benefit of these counterpoint books. One gets to see multiple perspectives and how they interact.

The first view is Robert Price’s.

It’s hard to say that without snickering.

Why? Because Robert Price is one of few on the planet in the field who actually holds to the idea that Jesus never existed. His essay naturally fails to deliver as he does not interact with sources outside of the NT hardly, such as Tacitus, and he too quickly dismisses the passages in Josephus. Meanwhile, he wants to find a parallel for everything in the Gospels somewhere in the OT, and some of them particularly amusing. For instance, the healing of the paralytic in Mark 2 who was lowered through the roof is based on King Ahaziah being afflicted by falling from his roof and then the result of him lying in bed.

If you think I’m making that up, it’s on page 69. I am not.

Now of course there are some Old Testament parallels, but it should not surprise us the NT would be written in the language of the OT since these were people familiar with the OT and would be making allusions to it seeing Jesus as a fulfillment. This would in fact give honor to the person of Jesus.

The responses are just as hilarious, particularly James Dunn’s response. Dunn is absolutely stunned that someone like Price even exists. Interestingly, another scathing critique of Price’s essay comes from John Dominic Crossan.

Crossan’s essay is in fact where we’ll go next.

Crossan presents a Jesus who interacts much with the politics of his day and talks about God bringing His Kingdom. So far, so good. Yet for Crossan, Jesus had followed John the Baptist in a more apocalyptic message, but then toned it down when He saw John beheaded and decided to say the Kingdom was here in the sense that God was making His presence known. It was already here. From that point on, Jesus is a teacher of the love and grace of God.

It sounds well and good, but keep in mind Crossan has also said the crucifixion of Christ is as sure a fact as any in ancient history. As I read Crossan’s essay I kept wondering “How on Earth would this Jesus be crucified?” This Jesus might be at worst an annoyance, but He would not strike anyone as a political revolutionary. He would not be teaching a message that would be radical to the people of the time.

This Jesus then is not the one that I think could be the Jesus of the Gospels. He would not be someone who is stirring up controversy whatsoever. Pilate would not have considered him a threat. No one would have considered that He was in anyway thinking He was a Messiah or a King.

The next essay is by Luke Timothy Johnson. Johnson has a unique approach and it’s rather difficult to figure out. He wants us to study history, but he wants us to realize that history has limits. From what I gather, Johnson is more interested in us getting to know the person of Jesus by reading the Gospels as literary works. No harm there. That should be done.

My concern with this is that it gives the impression that it’s praising history from one viewpoint and going against it from another. If Johnson’s view is that studying the Gospels will not tell us everything about the historical Jesus, well who would disagree with that?

At the same time, I do think Johnson deserves the rightful praise for reminding us that whatever genre the Gospels are, and I hold that they are Greco-Roman bioi, that we should definitely read them as works of literature.

The next essay is James Dunn. Personally, I found this one the most helpful essay of all. Dunn presents a brief look at what he has in Jesus Remembered, a massive work of his on the historical Jesus. He invites the reader to look into the question of the oral tradition and reminds us that our society is different from theirs.

He also asks us to look at why things happened. Why did Jesus have such an impact on the disciples and this even before the events of Easter? What was it about Jesus that made the difference? These are the kinds of questions that need to be asked, especially when dealing with more fundamentalist types like Bart Ehrman.

Finally, we have an essay by Darrell Bock. Bock comes from the evangelical sphere so he’s also the only one to really talk about the resurrection. I found Bock’s essay interesting but in some places, lacking. Why when Pilate’s actions are mentioned is not the death of Sejanus mentioned that would highly affect Pilate’s response? Still, one will find a good presentation of a common evangelical view of Jesus in Bock’s essay.

Of course, a book like this cannot cover everything, but it will give the layman a good introduction to how historical Jesus study takes place. I highly recommend it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 2/1/2014: Mark Goodacre

January 30, 2014

What’s coming up on 2/1/14 on the Deeper Waters Podcast? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters!

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The Gospel of Thomas is a work that most date to the second century in NT studies, but there are some exceptions. If you picked up a book made by the Jesus Seminar called “The Five Gospels” you’d find that that fifth Gospel is Thomas. John Dominic Crossan, for instance, dates the work to the first century.

What is the Gospel of Thomas and does it really date that far back? Should it really have been in the canon or is the Jesus Seminar getting something wrong here? For this, I decided to talk to someone who has recently written a book to show that in fact, Thomas depends on the synoptics Gospels.

That’s Dr. Mark Goodacre. Goodacre studied at the Exeter College at the University of Oxford in the U.K. earning a B.A. in theology followed by a Master’s and PH.D. in NT Research. He currently is professor of NT and Christian origins at Duke University in North Carolina and is the host of the NT Pod and runs the NTWeblog that can be found here. More on Goodacre can be found here.

Dr. Goodacre will be telling us about his reasons for thinking that the Gospel of Thomas depends on the Synoptics which would both lead to an early dating possibly for the Synoptics as well as a late dating for the Gospel of Thomas.

While he’s here, I also plan on having us discuss Goodacre’s theory of Q. Much of NT scholarship places great emphasis on a source for the NT called Q. Q is short for Quelle, the German word for source, and is supposed to be a source that was used by the writers of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

There is a problem however.

We have never once found a document that is Q.

Despite this, numerous theories have been built on Q and what it looked like. Some scholars like Burton Mack have even made layers that are supposed to be within Q and have made claims about different communities that have different levels of those layers and what they believed about the historical Jesus.

Goodacre’s position is definitely in the minority, but it is one that I think we should all be listening to. After all, if the majority in this case is wrong, we want to know it. If Goodacre’s case is not right (And I’m quite skeptical of Q myself so I’m open to it), then those who hold to the Q theory can get to see some of the best objections to their theory getting us closer to what the truth is in any case.

So please be sure to be joining me this Saturday for a fascinating conversation with Dr. Mark Goodacre. The show will be airing from 3-5 PM EST on Saturday, 2/1/2014. As always, if you want to call in and ask a question, you can use the number 714-242-5180 to do so.

The link to the show can be found here.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Resurrection of Jesus

July 29, 2013

What do I think about Crossan and Wright in dialogue? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

In “The Resurrection of Jesus”, a dialogue takes place between N.T. Wright and John Dominic Crossan on the resurrection with several essays following by noted scholars on the subject. I wish to focus my main part of the review on the dialogue between Crossan and Wright.

As readers of the blog know, I have a strong bias with N.T. Wright. I am a fan of his series and try to read anything he wrote and listen to any podcast that he is on. If I am ever given a chance to review an N.T. Wright book, I take it immediately. Thus, I not only get to review a great book, but add one to my collection.

Naturally then, I thought Wright was stellar, but my problem with the debate is that it had little to say about history from what I saw. Crossan takes a quite postmodern approach and wants to discuss interpretations rather than what really happened. Trying to have the dialogue take place then is akin to trying to nail jell-o to the wall.

Yet Crossan’s whole position is problematic. It is as if it doesn’t matter at all if Jesus literally arose or metaphorically arose. We’re all still Christians and we have to get about the work of the Kingdom! I’m not ready to jump on board. If Jesus died the death of a wicked blasphemer and I have no reason to believe He was vindicated, then why should I waste my life following Him?

On the other hand, if Jesus was resurrected, this means just more than that a dead guy came to life again. As Wright says, if the thief next to Jesus had been resurrected, it would have been considered a strange world. No one would go out and immediately proclaim Jesus as the Messiah.

The resurrection of Jesus would then mean that our real material world and all that is in fact immaterial is on the path to restoration. God is building His Kingdom right now and we are the ones that are at work. Eventually, death itself will be obliterated. The story cannot work both ways. Either death has the final say on Jesus, or Jesus has the final say on death.

Crossan’s approach should be a reminder to Christians that we need more than history. We need to have a whole interpretive grid into which to fit the resurrection and to show what a difference it makes. We are becoming a more and more postmodern society in America with everyone’s view being seen as just as good as anyone else’s. (Except those darn evangelical Christians.)

We also need to firmly set up what is and isn’t a Christian. Crossan wants to include himself. If we do not think he is one, why not? If we say the physical resurrection of Jesus, then we have to ask why is that a clincher? Why does it matter?

As I have said many times before, Christians need more than just knowing how to establish the resurrection. They need to be able to show what a difference it makes and how it fits into their worldview beyond “Christianity is true.”

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Fabricating Jesus

June 6, 2013

Is Craig Evans’s book worth reading? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

In Fabricating Jesus, Craig Evans takes a look at how modern scholarship mislead the populace and miss the real Jesus. Evans’s work is witty and engaging and the bluntness with which he speaks I find extremely appealing. How can you not love a work that has a chapter all about hokum history with after reviewing a claim saying something like “Let me get this straight.”

Yet in that, there is also a pastoral heart. Evans, for instance, writes about Ehrman’s deconversion experience and how it started with a paper he wrote on Mark 2. (For details, most any book of Ehrman’s seems to have it in there.) Evans says he has empathy for Ehrman, but is just puzzled by what happened. I wanted to cheer when Evans said what I’ve been saying for awhile, that Ehrman is still a fundamentalist.

Evans looks into the writings of a number of scholars and points out how they held a faith in childhood that never seemed to grow up. What you learn in Sunday School is often quite basic and should be subject to change, but these scholars had equated what they learned with what Christianity was entirely. In the work, he discusses other scholars who left the Christian faith such as Robert Funk, James Robinson, and Robert Price.

Evans also says he can’t believe he’s having to write against some of the arguments that he is dealing with. It would be more understandable if some of them were being shared by just popular writers or your internet atheists, but a few are actually held by people who are scholars!

For instance, Evans wants to know how the Jesus of the Jesus Seminar would have got himself crucified. What great threat was he? Why should he consider Secret Mark or the Egerton Gospel or the Cross Gospel or the Gospel of Thomas reliable sources the way Crossan does? This is especially so with the first one since a conclusive case has been made that it’s a forgery. Why should he also think that Jesus was a cynic sage wandering around Israel?

Evans also covers other topics such as other gospels that supposedly didn’t make the cut and the misuse of Josephus by modern scholars. Furthermore, he deals with the idea that there were lost Christianities by explaining many writers *cough* Bart Ehrman *cough* take a second century idea and transplant it into the first century. The first century church had its divisions, yes, but nothing like what we see in Lost Christianities.

An amusing section is that on hokum history. In this one, he deals with claims such as those of Baigent, Leigh, and Lincoln, claims that were highly influential on a book like The Da Vinci Code. Claims that no one in their right mind should believe, but claims several people do believe and this largely because of the Da Vinci Code popularizing them.

Included in that section is James Tabor. While Tabor is a scholar, his arguments in the Jesus Dynasty contain some quite unscholarly claims, such as the reliance on a 16th century mystic. Of course, Tabor rules out at the start any idea that maybe Jesus actually was virgin born and was resurrected.

The final chapter, aside from appendices, is a statement on who the real Jesus is, which is a powerful and moving piece. Evans concludes that the gospel does stand up to scrutiny and he’s convinced that more real scholarship will further show there is no division between the Jesus of faith and the Jesus of history. Perhaps it could be the strange case that the gospels really did get it right and modern scholars with modern presuppositions have often got it wrong?

Fabricating Jesus is another book that I cannot recommend enough. Anyone interested in learning about how modern scholars go wrong on the historical Jesus owes it to themselves to pick up a copy of this work.

In Christ,
Nick Peters