Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Historical Jesus: Five Views - A Review 5 - Responses to Crossan

Today we come to the responses to the essay by John Dominic Crossan. I found them to be insightful and some came with just a sting or two. More than one response critiqued Crossan for his selective use of source material especially in the Gospels. Price notes “Time and time again amid the deliberations of the Jesus Seminar, I found myself puzzled, shaking my head at the group’s decisions to vote as red (= surely authentic) sayings that Bultmann wouldn’t have touched with a ten-foot pole in his History of the Synoptic Tradition.” (135) Johnson said it was telling “that of all the details concerning Jesus’ movement near or away from the lake are drawn precisely from those narrative portions of the Gospels that Crossan’s methodological principles-established and elaborated in his earlier writings—have already removed from the historian’s available database.” (142) And remember how Crossan said Price’s treatment of Josephus was “not acceptable scholarship?” Well, here’s what Dunn says of Crossan, “The selective acceptance of one sequence of texts, and effective dismissal or denigration of others . . . is poor scholarship.” (145)

The next big common criticism was that Crossan has an over active imagination. Price complains that Crossan creates a superstructure “from first century history and sociology connected with Herod and his motives of self-advancement—exactly none of which is set forth in the text.” (136) Johnson says the juxtapositions Crossan creates between Herod and Jesus don’t stem from the ancient actors or sources by “are entirely due to Crossan himself” and his thesis of “Romanization by urbanization for commercialization” is a product of Crossan’s imagination.” (141)

Price concludes that Crossan has “fallen into the trap of creating a liberal Jesus in his own image” and, tellingly asks, though it could have been said with less sarcasm, “can we picture Herod understanding (I’m not sure I do) what some guy organizing a soup kitchen for lepers has to do with hopes of overthrowing Roman and Herodian rule?” (136 & 137) Bock asks, “why does Jesus challenge customs associated with the Sabbath or ritual cleanliness if Rome is his central concern?” Furthermore, “Jesus is less concerned about who owned the lake than who owned the heart of the people who claimed to be God’s within Israel.” (149) Dunn concludes that Crossan leaves us with a Jesus “who is far too nice to be worth crucifying.” (147)

As insightful as the comments are I sometimes found myself wanting more. For example, Johnson says “not unlike N. T. Wright, Crossan consistently commits the historical fallacy of having ancient characters act and think in virtue of realities that can be known and named only by the present-day historian.” (139) The comparison to Wright is intriguing in its own right. But unlike some of his other comments this one stands alone without further explanation. When I first read it I wrote in the margin “good observation” but as I got to thinking about what “fallacy” is being referred to and that it is something that is “consistently” done I really wished more had been said. The same is true from the other responders. So, I’m back to wondering would the book have been even better if it were only four views and allowed more space for responses.

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