Who Is Jesus?

by John Dominic Crossan (Harper Paperbacks) 1996,

This was reviewed by Alan Goss of Napier in Newsletter 28.

John Dominic Crossan is Emeritus Professor of Biblical Studies at De Paul University in Chicago. He left the priesthood in 1969 in order to marry. He has written extensively, including the best-selling Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography.

The book reviewed here is written in a popular question-and-answer style and makes available a lifetime of scholarship about the historical Jesus. Each chapter opens with a selection of brickbats and bouquets—mainly the latter—from readers of Crossan's previous works. His aim is to help the non-specialist understand better the man Jesus and his times and the impact that his life had, and continues to have today.

In my view he succeeds.

Crossan is a member of the Jesus Seminar, a group of scholars whose methods have attracted much media attention. They use red (most likely) pink, grey and black (very unlikely) beads when voting, to indicate their views about the historicity of Jesus' wor ds.

In this book Crossan sifts out what, in his view, is likely to be historical and what seems to be interpretation, e.g. the disturbance in the Temple is historical, the triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday) is interpretation. Crossan also argues that the story of Jesus' burial by his friends is unhistorical, he was probably buried by his enemies, not in a tomb but in a shallow grave. The niceties of the empty tomb stories were invented to give Jesus a burial with dignity. And there's much more.

Many people are helped and their faith is strengthened by this more open, critical approach to the gospels. But how many of them are in church on Sunday is another matter.