Sunday, March 13, 2011

Who Is Jesus - Book Review

Who is Jesus?: Answers to Your Questions About the Historical Jesus. By John Dominic Crossan and Richard G. Watts
If you’re looking for a readable book that tells about Jesus with some controversial ideas, this is it. It’s not a biography of Jesus. It’s not strictly traditional, although it covers traditional teachings about Jesus. It focuses on the Jesus of history, the Jesus who was born, taught, healed people and died on the cross. It comments on the Christ we find in Church, known as the Christ of Faith. The Christ of faith is the Christ made known by the people who knew him and lived after him as they tried to make sense of the things Jesus said and did.
The short book is written in a question and answer format with information given in small segments for readability. Chapters present good questions, including: Why Not Just Read the Gospels? Son of God, Son of the Virgin Mary? What Does John the Baptist Have to Do with Jesus? What Did Jesus Teach? Did Jesus Perform Miracles? Did Jesus Intend to Start a New Religion? Who executed Jesus and Why? What Happened on Easter Sunday? How Do you Get From Jesus to Christ?

John Dominic Crossan is a biblical scholar who was on the faculty of DePaul University and member of the Jesus Seminar. He collaborated with Richard Watts to introduce basic questions and conclusions of Jesus research to general readers. While I find that generally Crossan is not easy to read, this format makes his thought quite accessible to ordinary people. In the introduction, Crossan says, “We sent it out in confidence that many will find it helpful, precisely because it has grown out of the struggle of ‘real people’ to reconnect with Jesus by meeting him in the setting of his own first-century world.” Richard Watts was a pastor in a church in Normal. Illinois.

One theme that appears in Crossan's writing is the cross-cultural aspect of events in the stories of Jesus. He refers to the cruel domination of the people by the Roman Empire and the collaboration of the Jewish authorities in the domination. For example, this comes out in his explanation of the events around the cruxifixion at the time of the Passover. He points out that Jesus' "cleansing" of the Temple was a symbolic act. He says, "The Temple was and had to be the seat of collaboration with the Roman occupation authority. The High Priest had to be, whether he liked it or not, the link between his colonized people and their imperial overlords. In such a situation, any Jew...could have performed an action like that of Jesus. It was a symbolic destruction of the Temple as hopelessly and irrevocably contaminated and compromised. Was it the house of prayer and sacrifice or the seat of collaboration and oppression? Was the High Priest legitimate or even valid and what did such invalidity do to the house of God?" (p. 102-3). This act led to his execution by the Roman Empire. Jesus was a political dissident.

While saying the cruxifixion definitely happened, Crossan says that he doesn't think the Resurrection of Jesus is a historical event, although he believes that it exists in that Jesus continued and continues to live in the people. He says, "But maybe resurrection is simply a word-picture of Jesus' continuing presence among his followers....somehow Jesus was still with them [his followers]. So they struggled to find a way to express that powerful and empowering presence of Jesus. That way was the Easter story."  Make of this what you will. Crossan is a scholar of the historical Jesus.
The book is now new. It was published in 1996. It is available through