The Historical Jesus Then and Now:
Last weeked Tom McMahon attended a series of lectures by the renowned scholar John Dominic Crossan at the local Presbyterian Church in his neighbourhood in San Jose. This morning (Sunday Australia time) I received these notes of those lectures and was intrigued enough to go off doing a whole lot further research on the net. In his postscript to the notes you will read this assessment by Tom: "In 12 years of Catholic seminary and 52 years of study as a roman priest I have never before heard such meaningful explanations of the Jesus message". I'm sure others will get value out of Tom's notes as well. Using this as a starting point you'll find a heap of further information available on the net. One of the fascinating things I found was The Jesus at 2000 E-mail Debate. During the Lenten season of 1996, Harper San Francisco publishing company sponsored an e-mail debate which explored the significance of the historical Jesus for Christian faith. The seven-week debate took place between John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg, both members of the Jesus Seminar, and Luke Timothy Johnson, the Seminar's foremost critic. Each week except for the last consisted of a main message from one of the participants and replies from the other two. You can still find the text of that debate on the net at: www.ntgateway.com/xtalk/debate.html BMC
Stone Church of Willow Glen made possible an understanding of the life of Jesus Christ that excited me; John Dominic Crossan offered six presentations that dealt with roman imperial theology and a contrasting world theology of Christianity. We experienced a study of Theos - the Greek word for God - and the differing world views of Rome and Jesus. For me a key experience was Dominic's appreciation of the words kingdom, heaven and empire. (I attempt to stay close to the notes I took; personal interpretations and additions I will set apart in parenthesis, as are these words). I follow Crossan's outline of Friday, Saturday, and Sunday as he presented.
Friday: We are introduced to the naval Battle of Actium, 2 September, 31, before the common era; Conceived of Apollo and adopted son of Julius Caesar, Caesar Augustus defeats Mark Anthony and Cleopatra, becoming the sole Emperor of Rome ( dictator ) and is given titles such as God, Son of God; Augustus brings peace by war, Pax Romana, to the empire and Roman citizens elevate him to divine status for his huge contributions and massive service to the human race.
In contrast Jesus and his followers will bring peace through justice. Jewish-Christians will view the earth as God's property and equal distribution of the riches of creation will be the key note of the Christian program. The Gospels refer to God's kingdom/empire/world as the kingdom of heaven. Roman empire builders will take over the fishing industry on the Lake of Galilee and Roman architects, dislocating the poor and building the city of Cesarea-Phillipi; the tax base is increased, squeezing out the little fisherman and local vendors. (We see it today as corporate globalization.)
Jesus' ministry is one of peaceful protest for justice that will bring about the wrath of Roman power. Two theologies will clash, not in the far off heavens but here on earth; it will be the age old story of civilizations, Yahweh's people vs. exploitive power. The generous God of Genesis is pitted against the god of greed and selfishness. (Is 2006 exempt from this human struggle?)
Saturday: As the Hebrew people wait for salvation (not the soul saving kind up in the heavens) from Roman tyranny and burdensome taxation, John the Baptist, replaying Exodus, is put to death for preaching resistance. Jesus learns from John's execution that the annihilation of the one man kills the movement; Jesus forms community, followers who will carry on his program if he dies. John preaches that God will come soon and when John dies God does nothing; the Jews are puzzled, curious as to what God will do with the Gentiles (Roman invaders). What will the earth look like when Yahweh sits on the throne of Rome? Extremists see Armageddon coming soon, the final battle. Jesus says the kingdom (God's empire) is already here; look inside yourself and love (be just) to your neighbor.
Food is key; heavy taxation erodes the ability to buy food. Jesus, a social advocate, has the people share bread and fish and encourages taking care of the blind and infirmed; take control of life … take it back from the Romans in a non violent resistance program. The God of Jesus is non-violent and just. The followers of Jesus will be fishers of human beings in non violence. (Think Ghandi, Martin Luther King.)
The Romans will have to kill more people than Jesus to stop this movement. (Like in Casablanca) to kill a violent movement one rounds up and imprisons the crowd (Barabas and the usual suspects), whereas a non-violent movement one takes out the leader. Jesus must die, not for preaching love of one another but for how you love your neighbor. Christian spirituality is incarnational. (carne = flesh). The Jesus message is "get with the program"; don't just pray about it, make it incarnate. The dispossessed of Jesus time are discontented with the empire and Rome says "this is not right … he's got to go". Ghandi and Martin Luther King spoke the same language.
Contrary to the old version of the Passion Play at Oberammergau with huge crowds, Jesus royally enters Jerusalem riding a donkey, perhaps a crowd of no more than a dozen, and addresses the temple, as did Jeremiah, symbolically destroying the place where God resides; hereafter God will be found in the hearts of humans, (that which spirits them).Hiring and firing the temple priests is bad business; the temple is no longer a sanctuary. (what lessons we can learn today concerning institutional religion and our need for reformation). The crowd mutates from Palm Sunday to viciousness on Good Friday; more on this in Dominic's new book, with Marcus Borg, THE LAST DAYS. If you are a healer you are within the kingdom of God.
The Resurrection … dogma is irrelevant in the first century. Justin Martyr is saying that "our guy has done more for the world than all your people put together" and we are saying nothing more than what you have already said (about salvation) through the Jesus influence. Jesus coming out of the tomb bodily is myth at best and literal at its worst. Going to the matrix one becomes aware that Jews did not have an after life or body resurrection. In Jesus Paul will say all have risen, a general body (church/community) resurrection. Justice will recognize injustices of the past. Jesus is the WAY; Jesus goes down into sheole and brings out all those who have suffered injustices, proclaiming liberation. Symbolically Jesus is seen as coming forth from the "tomb" holding hands with Abraham, the prophets, and the just. Paul will speak of justice as God's wisdom in contrast to the folly of the world. (and I dare not take this out of the physical world in which I presently live; I have a great need to dialogue about this Jesus way.)
Sunday sermon and discussion: Pages of my notes show John Dominic Crossan moving into the modern world, applying the Jesus message to such as globalization and our every day way of life in 2006. Rather than attempt to capture his thoughts, making this paper too long, I prefer to return to Stone Church for a series of discussions centering on Crossan's themes. As Dominic spoke I interiorly asked myself some of the questions he proposed, such as "has my religion changed me?" and "what is my history as a Jesus follower?" I shall use the Stone Church discussion as an examination of conscience. Conversion, you know, is the process of turning around and walking the other way; I am not interested in what you are doing yet I am interested in where I stand. Peter uniquely asked Jesus: quo vadis (literally, to where do you go) I too ask the same question and I sense I will receive a worthwhile answer as I dialogue with others who meet Jesus on the dialogue Emmaus road.
Post Script: I was profoundly influenced by John Dominic's wisdom. In 12 years of Catholic seminary and 52 years of study as a roman priest I have never before heard such meaningful explanations of the Jesus message. Mine is an Irish background, Potato famine people of the 1800's, and I could read into Dominic's presentation the injustices done to the Irish people under Cromwell and English Empire. I prefer today to look at modern day injustices in places like Iraq, Rowanda, Moldova, and our USA, etc, etc.
What are your thoughts on this commentary?