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Life Arts    H4'ed 4/28/15

Crossan"s Long Game for Advancing Bottom-Up Change in American Culture (REVIEW ESSAY)

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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) April 28, 2015: Progressives and liberals may hope to see significant bottom-up change in American culture. However, because a substantial number of Americans still claim to be Christians, a certain critical mass of Christians will probably have to emerge for significant bottom-up change in American culture to emerge.

In this connection with this possibility for significant bottom-up change to emerge, the biblical scholar John Dominic Crossan, a gifted writer, has published an accessible new book HOW TO READ THE BIBLE AND STILL BE A CHRISTIAN: STRUGGLING WITH DIVINE VIOLENCE FROM GENESIS THROUGH REVELATION (2015). Evidently, as the title suggests, he still considers himself to be a Christian, but a Christian who is struggling with how to interpret the various suggestions of divine violence from Genesis through Revelation.

Born (in 1934) and raised in Ireland, Professor Crossan, a laicized former Roman Catholic priest, has become a naturalized American citizen. Retired from DePaul University in Chicago, he and his wife now live in Florida.

Crossan's new book is not only accessible, but also a tour de force of his thought. But you don't have to take my word about this book being a tour de force. He himself says, in parentheses, "(This book is an act of power -- but it could not and should not be one of force -- only of persuasion)" (page 238).

Ah, yes, persuasion. Aristotle sees civic orators as engaging in the art of persuasion by using three kinds of appeals to persuade the audience: (1) logos, (2) pathos, and (3) ethos. In his role as a public intellectual in his new book, Crossan uses all three of those appeals as he constructs his carefully crafted argument -- the kind of argument that Aristotle would categorize as epideictic civic rhetoric (i.e., civic rhetoric centered on values).

As part of the ethos that Crossan wants to project to his presumably Christian audience, he recounts the course of his life in broad strokes (pages 3-7). You see, before he published his major scholarly book THE HISTORICAL JESUS: THE LIFE OF A MEDITERRANEAN JEWISH PEASANT in 1991, he had been an industrious and creative scholar in the ivy tower -- not a public intellectual.

But Crossan's life began to change after Peter Steinfels' front-page Christmas story about Crossan's 1991 scholarly book appeared in the New York Times for December 23, 1991 -- and was reprinted by other papers nationally and internationally, as he explains (pages 6-7). As a result of that publicity, he began to receive invitations to speak at churches. American churches represent grassroots-level organizations. So his speaking in grassroots-level organizations can be seen as a kind of bottom-up effort to change American culture. (But I dare say that Crossan probably has not been invited to speak at many Roman Catholic churches.)

In this way, Crossan began to emerge as a public intellectual and civic orator speaking out about values. For example, in his prophetic book GOD AND EMPIRE: JESUS AGAINST ROME, THEN AND NOW (2007), Crossan presents his strongest argument about American values. Basically, he argues that the historical Jesus stood in non-violent resistance to and opposition to the Roman Empire in the Jewish homeland in the first century, and so his American followers today should stand in non-violent resistance to the American Empire today. Unfortunately, Crossan's 2007 book did not have a big impact.

Regarding the history of the American Empire, see Martin E. Marty's book RIGHTEOUS EMPIRE: THE PROTESTANT EXPERIENCE IN AMERICA (1970).

Disclosure: In 1995, I helped arrange to have Professor Crossan speak at the University of Minnesota Duluth. On Friday evening, April 7, 1995, he spoke to an overflow crowd at a free public lecture on the quest for the historical Yeshua (the Aramaic name of Jesus), and then on Saturday, he gave a day-long workshop to about 75 people who paid to attend it. I also arranged to have my review of Crossan's then-new book WHO KILLED JESUS: EXPOSING THE ROOTS OF ANTI-SEMITISM IN THE GOSPEL STORY OF THE DEATH OF JESUS (1995) published on Sunday, April 9, 1995, in the Duluth News Tribune.

After Crossan's 1995 book was published, James Carroll, another laicized former Roman Catholic priest, detailed certain aspects of the tragic history of anti-Semitism in Western culture in his book CONSTANTINE'S SWORD: THE CHURCH AND THE JEWS: A HISTORY (2001).

For a careful examination of each anti-Jew expression in the New Testament, see Willis Barnstone's excellent point-by-point annotations in his book THE RESTORED NEW TESTAMENT (2009).


The historical Yeshua was a first-century Jew. Tragically, he happened to be standing in the wrong place at the wrong time, and as a result he was crucified under the authority of Pontius Pilate at the time of the Passover celebration in Jerusalem -- most likely as a crowd-control measure, as Paula Fredriksen argues in her book JESUS OF NAZARETH: KING OF THE JEWS (1999).

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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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