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Life Arts    H3'ed 3/9/22

John Dominic Crossan on Jesus's 93 Original Sayings (REVIEW ESSAY)

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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) March 9, 2022: In my OEN article "Amy-Jill Levine on Jesus's Parables" (dated March 6, 2022), I first highlighted the 2014 book Short Stories by Jesus: The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi (New York: Harper One/ Harper Collins) by the self-described "Yankee Jewish feminist" biblical scholar Amy-Jill Levine of the Vanderbilt Divinity School in Nashville, Tennessee.

Next, I pivoted to highlighting the relevant work of my favorite scholar, the American Jesuit Renaissance specialist and media ecology theorist Walter J. Ong (1912-2003; Ph.D. in English, Harvard University, 1955).

Here's the link to my OEN article: Click Here

However, it now strikes me that I should also highlight the 1994 book The Essential Jesus: Original Sayings and Earliest Images (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco/ HarperCollins) by the biblical scholar John Dominic Crossan, who is a specialist in the historical Jesus - the first-century Jewish teacher/preacher who was crucified in Jerusalem by the local authorities of the Roman Empire on trumped up charges at the time of the Passover. The charges were trumped up because there is no credible evidence that the historical Jesus was advocating political sedition against the Roman Empire.

On the contrary, the evidence suggests that he was advocating what we today would style peaceful non-violent resistance to the Roman Empire - but not necessarily the kind of peaceful non-violent resistance that Henry David Thoreau or the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., would later become famous for in American history. Nevertheless, a form of peaceful non-violent resistance that would be meaningful to first-century poor Jewish peasants (in terms of the broad category of class that Crossan works with) in rural areas of the Jewish homeland, the practice of which would re-animate their Jewish lives as nobodies (another term for class that Crossan also works with).

A word is in order here about Crossan careful terminology. First and foremost, Crossan is a biblical scholar. So he writes with the precision of a biblical scholar. Precise words are important for him. In this way, he is a highly literate author (in Ong's terminology).

Now, Crossan is also the author of two books about Jesus' parables (1) In Parables: The Challenge of the Historical Jesus (New York: Harper & Row, 1973); and (2) Cliffs of Fall: Paradox and Polyvalence in the Parables of Jesus (New York: Seabury Press, 1980).

In addition, Crossan published the ambitious 400-page book In Fragments: The Aphorisms of Jesus (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1983).

Then Crossan synthesized these three books in his magnum opus The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco/ HarperCollins, 1991) - Crossan's magnum opus. Crossan's 1994 book on Jesus's original sayings is a follow up to the success of his 1991 book about Jesus as a Mediterranean Jewish peasant nobody, who, in Crossan's view was not literate (p. 147). In addition, Crossan claims that the Jewish homeland was also part of the larger cross-cultural honor-shame practices and patriarchy of the Mediterranean region.

Which is to say that Crossan sees the historical Jesus as a Jew who could not read Jewish scripture. However, the historical Jesus was not uneducated about Jewish scriptures.

Moreover, up to a certain juncture in his life, he was a follower of the apocalyptic Jewish preacher John the Baptist. However, when the historical Jesus emerged as an independent teacher/preacher, he was not advocating the apocalyptic eschatology (end-time) that John the Baptist had been preaching. Rather, according to Crossan, the historical Jesus was advocating something else that may have sounded similar, but that was significantly different.

Even though the emergence of the historical Jesus as an independent teacher/preacher to his fellow first-century poor Jewish nobodies is well known, we should pause long enough to note here his break with John the Baptist, which pre-dated the beheading of John by the local authority of the Roman Empire.

If we accept Crossan's view of Jesus's ministry as a healing ministry, then we might wonder if a significant healing experience precipitated Jesus' healing ministry. If Jesus experienced a significant healing experience, then he would have searched for a way to explain it to himself and others, using the conceptual resources of his first-century Jewish oral education in scriptures. If his healing experience seemed wonderful to him, he might understandably attribute it to God.

In any event, we know that the historical Jesus went forth to prompt his fellow first-century Jews to experience the kingdom of God - which he himself presumably experienced and lived to tell them about. Because he enacted, and advocated, fellowship, we may suspect that the fellowship program that he enacted somehow resembled the psychodynamics involved in his own precipitating healing experience.

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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