Franz Joseph Haydn Sonata in E flat (Hob. XV/52), Mvt. 3

Materials Forwarded by Fr. Claude Mostowik, MSC

Dear Brothers and Sisters MSC Social Justice Contact Persons and Other Persons,


Last year I sent a copy of the transcript of an interview with John Dominic Crossan on his very challenging and confronting views on the Historical Jesus.  Here is another such interview on ABC Radio National on the Resurrection.  Equally challenging!


Warm wishes,


Claude Mostowik, MSC

with Rachael Kohn
on Sunday 23/04/00

Easter Special: John Dominic Crossan and the Resurrection


The theological meaning of Jesus' resurrection may owe little to what Jesus himself would have understood by the term. John Dominic Crossan is a leading Jesus scholar who believes the notion of God's justice is largely forgotten in the conventional interpretations of the Easter story.
A full web transcript is now available.

Details or Transcript:

John Dominic Crossan and the Historical Jesus.

Jesus' resurrection is a central tenet of Christianity. But what if Jesus' understanding of it was different from that of Christianity?

John Dominic Crossan argues that Jesus' understanding of God and resurrection was Jewish, and therefore different from the way the early Church conceptualised them.

Crossan is a controversial expert on the historical Jesus, and best-selling author of The Birth of Christianity and Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography.

A full transcript of the program follows.

How do you imagine God? For two millennia Christians have looked to Christ as the incarnation of God on earth.

Hello, and welcome to a special program on The Spirit of Things, featuring today's foremost and controversial Jesus scholar, John Dominic Crossan. I'm Rachael Kohn.

Rachael Kohn: Even the earliest known records of Jesus, the Gospels, show some variation in his personality. For example in Mark, he's primarily a healer, a miracle worker, a hidden Messiah; in Matthew he comes across as a very public lawgiver.

What was he really like? Did he regard himself as the Messiah, and God's only begotten son?

In modern literature's most powerful treatment of the figure of Jesus, Nikos Kazantzakis depicts Jesus as anything but a man certain of his heavenly mission.

Jesus: You think it's a blessing to know what God wants? I'll tell you what he wants, he wants to push me over. Can't he see what's inside of me? All my sins?

Man: We all sin.

Jesus: Not my sins. I'm a liar, a hypocrite, I'm afraid of everything, I don't ever tell the truth, I don't have the courage. When I see a woman, I blush and look away. I want to, but I don't take her, for God, and that makes me proud. And then my pride ruins Magdalene. I don't steal, I don't fight, I don't kill, not because I don't want to but because I'm afraid. I want to rebel against you, against everything, against God, but I'm afraid.

The Last Temptation of Christ

Rachael Kohn: 'A man afraid of everything' would certainly not describe the Jesus of John Dominic Crossan. But his Jesus is not far from controversy either. In his numerous tomes on Jesus, Crossan sets him firmly in the context of first century Judea: Jesus is a Jew, a peasant, and a healer, with a social mission to the poor and disenfranchised.

Dom Crossan was in Australia briefly last week, giving a series of lectures to a joint conference of the Australia and New Zealand Association of Theological Schools and the Australian and New Zealand Society for Theological Studies.

I went out to St John's Centre in Morpeth, New South Wales, to talk to him. Earlier that morning, Dom Crossan gave his audience an idea of the academic milieu that shaped the way he has thought about Jesus.

John Dominic Crossan: Since incarnation is about locality, let me say at least three factors that I see influencing the work that I am doing and other people like me. One is the situation in a Department of Religious Studies at a university; not in a divinity school where you might have the luxury of four other colleagues of the New Testament alone and could talk serenely to one another forever.

Across the hall from me at de Paul University were two women; one was a black Muslim woman, who was a Muslim. Next to her was a white woman who was an expert on the Aztec religion. I don't think she was an Aztec but she was an expert on the Aztec religion. Now if I were to talk to them about the historical Jesus, I would be probably met with a great polite interior shrug. So what? If I wanted to talk to them say about how you might be able to reconstruct peasant society by anthropology and all the rest of it, then we were talking to one another. So in one sense that's part of one of the influences playing on me.

The second one is this: at the moment, at least in North America, certain scholars who have a sort of a sense of the ethics of public discourse, have done a sort of an end run around the churches, quite deliberately, straight to the laity, which is forcing a lot of ministers who would just as soon none of this stuff came up and they didn't have to think about it, to respond to their parishioners who ask for example, 'How can a weirdo like Crossan say what he's saying and claim he's a Christian?' Or, 'Why weren't we ever told this before?' So no matter what side it comes from, as it comes up from cable into PBS and finally it looks like ABC, American ABC, (Peter Jennings is going to do something on the historical Jesus, a 2-hour program) it's coming into popular consciousness. That's a second factor playing on this.

The third one is, and these are really all from the '90s, the third one is even more interesting. There are more and more Jewish scholars teaching New Testament. Not just teaching the history of the first century and 'PS there's some New Testament stuff in there'. No. A colleague, friend of mine
for example Amy Jill Levine at De Paul University is teaching New Testament. Now if I have to sit with her at a seminar and talk about the New Testament, very interesting things happen. Very interesting things happen of course when a male and female, a female and a male get together to talk about anything. When a Jew and a Christian get together, first of all the Christian doesn't get away with a lot of the - I'm sorry, I was going to say 'crap', so - that you used to be able to get away with. You don't get away with that sort of stuff.

Now there's another side to it which is equally interesting. For example, next year Amy Jill and I are doing a two-day seminar at a parish in Michigan. It's a parish. It's a two-day seminar at a parish. We're going to talk about what I'm going to talk about this morning: the life, the death and the resurrection of Jesus. It used to be 'Well resurrection, that has to deal with Christian faith, so we don't need to talk about that'. But the question that we're going to be asking, and I insist it is equally to be asked from a Jewish, as a Christian point of view today, is in the first century when a Jew or a Christian Jew said 'resurrection' or Jesus is raised, what did they mean?

Now bracket for the moment do you believe in it or not. What did they mean?

John Dominic Crossan: The biggest thing at the end of the 20th century, from the end of the 19th century, is that we're asking a new set of questions. Namely, what did people in the first century understand when they told the following story, for example: At the end of the 19th century you read the story, Jesus walked on the waters, and you might have a big debate. The pious pastor might say 'Only once in the whole history of the world there was a person who could walk on water, namely our Jesus.' And the village atheist came along and said, 'That's rubbish, nobody ever walks on the water, and we all know that, that's silly.' Now we don't argue like that, we say when a first century person told that story what did that first century person want to communicate? And we say it's as dumb to get into that argument you've just been in as to argue that Aesop was trying to tell us that animals could speak in Ancient Greece, and then you could argue back that yes, they could by the power of Zeus. So "what did they want to say?", is the first question.

Now what I notice for example, as a historian reading these stories, is that when you get to the so-called nature miracles, the walking on the water, or the miraculous catch of fishes, they're done especially for the insiders, for the disciples. Usually healings and exorcisms are done for people along the road, as it were. Jesus doesn't come on the water to save the fishing fleet from Capernaum, he comes on the water to save the disciples. Now when I read that story, what it screams at me is it's a parable, dummy, it's a parable, don't you get it? If the leadership of the church takes off in a boat without Jesus, it will sink, it will get nowhere.

Rachael Kohn: But you seem to be using different sort of tools than the historians of the past; you're not seeing these as events so much, as, as you say, stories, ways of understanding. Is anthropology providing something of a way into this world, in which one accepts the world view of the people that one studies, first and foremost?

John Dominic Crossan: It is. You begin really with cross-culture anthropology, and you try and almost forget what you know about Jesus, and the whole theological, perfectly valid, 2000 years of theological freight that is carried by these stories. And there's nothing wrong with that, except it makes it very hard to ask an historical question without getting negative answers: 'This didn't happen', 'That didn't happen', 'This didn't happen'. When you come
in through anthropology and history, you start asking, within its own
framework, within its own time span, what would a person have understood by these stories? Now for example, we know once again that Jesus told parables.When he wanted to say something really profound about God, he went into parable. I don't find it surprising then that when earliest Christianity wanted to say something profound about Jesus, they went into parable too. That doesn't mean everything is a parable. When it says Jesus was in Nazareth I don't think that's a parable, I think Jesus was in Nazareth. When it talks about Jesus walking on the water, I don't think that's the point at all, I think the point is that the church without Jesus sinks. And it really fascinates me that by the middle of the first century, somebody had to tell a story to warn the leadership of the church not to embark without Jesus aboard. In other words, they needed to be warned. That's an interesting point.

Rachael Kohn: Now your own work, the latest one, The Birth of Christianity is looking specifically at the early period in the 30s and 40s where there are not texts extant, a great deal of imagination has to be used. Is that why anthropology is particularly helpful there, because you're drawing on, in some cases, present ontological experiences and drawing or abstracting from them the kind of experience that you're trying to describe in that period?

John Dominic Crossan: Yes, there are no documents that anyone has a copy of that are dated to the 30s and the 40s; like the copies of Paul's letters are dated to the 50s. So first of all you're not going to find a text; you may find a source in another text, but that leaves a huge vacuum. And then the danger is, you either build theology on that, which is perfectly all right, but then the counterpoint to that is to attack that theology. So if you leave that aside what you have to do is read the anthropology. What happens, for example, in the cities? In the move for example, for some Early Christians, from the small tiny hamlets ? Within two or three years we find these Christians are in Antioch and Damascus and Jerusalem. Paul is persecuting Jewish Christians in Damascus within two or three years of the death of Jesus. What are they doing there? There is a move to the cities, so sociology and anthropology helps you to fill out that sort of background.
What were the cities, then, of the Roman Empire like? What was it like to be the underclass maybe in those cities? So yes, without that I think these are like ghosts moving around in the mists; we don't see anything, they're just vague figures. I find anthropology is a marvellous discipline to shock me out of my own world into another world.

Rachael Kohn: Well another discipline or area of study that has had an impact in this field of the life of Jesus research is Jewish studies, and I wondered whether you could comment on the ways in which Jewish scholars now looking at the New Testament have helped to understand the world in which Jesus lived?

John Dominic Crossan: One of the talks I gave here in the conference at Morpeth, was about the Resurrection. And I really asked a question there that I had learned from listening to a Jewish scholar ask it, which was a terribly simple one when you think of it. What did it mean for Jews in the first century to use the term 'resurrection'? If one Jew said to another 'God has raised Jesus' or anyone else from the dead, what did they mean?

Now usually when we Christians debate about the resurrection, we debate about whether bodies came out of the tomb, we debate about apparitions, we debate about the theology of the resurrection and do we believe it, and how we believe it. And I had never heard anyone really ask that most obvious question until I heard a Jewish scholar, an expert in the New Testament, ask that question.

Rachael Kohn: But isn't this a perilous area since Jews don't accept the divinity of Jesus; they're understanding of resurrection will be profoundly different from the Christian one?

John Dominic Crossan: That's exactly the anomaly, because you could say today, 'Now if you are a pious, believing Jew of course you do not believe Jesus rose from the dead, but you can still ask and you must ask - and in fact we must be able to agree on the answer to this question if we're doing historical scholarship - What did it mean, what did one Jew think they were saying when they said to another 'Jesus is raised from the dead', bracketing for the moment whether they believed it or not. What did the term 'resurrection' simply mean? Did it mean for example a body coming out of the tomb? What did it mean for those first century Jews?

That is very, very new and I don't know if it's happening in many places except where you do have Jewish scholars who are now experts in the New Testament, not just in first century Judaism, but in the New Testament.

Rachael Kohn: Can you describe what Jesus might have thought about resurrection?

John Dominic Crossan: I think the negative, if I could start with the negative, is that we today are primarily concerned in highly individualistic terms with Me. I want to know do I survive, am I going to continue, is there life after death for me? The crucial thing for first century Jews was not about Me but about God, whether God was just. And it was raised by the fact that with increasing violence throughout the centuries since the time of Alexander the Great, the Jewish homeland had been awash in blood. The Egyptian, the Greco Egyptians coming through, the Greco Syrians coming through, then the Romans, then the period of Herod; every time you looked, there was revolution because were being killed, it was martyred. And it looked like it was the more just people who were being martyred. Now what they asked themselves was where in all of that was the justice of God. It's a terribly simple question, it wasn't 'Do I live on?' but 'Is God just?' And if God is not just, who cares about anything else, because the world then is utterly meaningless.
So when they said 'resurrection' what they were stating was an act of faith that some day, somehow, and then it gets very vague how and when and all the rest of it, God is going to vindicate those who have suffered in their bodies, been martyred, been marginalised, been destroyed, and somehow it has to have to do with the bodies, it cannot be simply the Greek idea that immortality is the soul, which is very nice, but it's sort of 'for all of us'. So if the torturer and the tortured both have an immortality of the soul, that doesn't say anything about the justice of God.
So the problem they're struggling with, now you could say, 'Well the solution they came up with that some day, somehow, there'll be a resurrection of the dead especially', that didn't happen the way they expected, sure. But that's all right, they're asking the right question. Is God just? And especially, how does God handle the sufferings of the innocent?

Rachael Kohn: So is it then a particularly Greek departure to see Jesus'
resurrection as unique?

John Dominic Crossan: It would be a particularly wrong departure to think of Jesus' ressurection as unique. In fact I don't even want to use the term 'resurrection' for that. If you had somebody in the first century who wanted to talk of a unique privilege given to Jesus because he was a very holy
person, because he was a Messiah, because he was the son of God, but uniquely special to him, the term you would use is exaltation. Jesus had been exalted to the right hand of God, maybe like Elijah had been taken up, or Enoch had been taken up, or maybe Moses had been taken up, very, very holy people in the past, in a sort of unique privilege were taken up to dwell with God. It really had no corporate extension and it didn't really touch this question of the justice of God for the persecuted martyrs. So resurrection should be distinguished from exaltation. Exaltation is sort of individual, special, privileged, and resurrection has to do with how the justice of God handles not just Jesus, but everyone who has suffered unjustly and who has died as a martyr, especially the martyrs, they're sort of the core, and you can go out in ripples from martyrs to say, 'Well what about the just who would have been martyred if they had a chance?' as it were. 'What about the just who died peacefully?' and it goes out in ripples from there. But the core of it is, the justice of God.

Rachael Kohn: And the core of it is too, that Jesus was exalted and the resurrection, the corporate resurrection is still anticipated. Is that correct?

John Dominic Crossan: Some of the very earliest texts almost in our creed we talk about 'He descended into hell' and in general we don't have a clue what on earth that means. And one of my students once said, 'Well he must have gone down there just to check it out.' Because hell of course, is the place
of damnation. What you're imaging there is Hades or Shed is the place underneath the earth where the just and the martyred are waiting for God's revelation of justice. And what Jesus does is go down in a way to lead them forth, because if Jesus is resurrected without them, we're not talking resurrection. So corporate doesn't just mean Jesus now, everyone else whenever, it means well we have to fix up all the past before we can trust this God for the future. How should we trust the justice of God for the future when we have a long history of martyred Jews who have died before Jesus, who wasn't the first, and he was not going to be the last, and somehow Jesus must go down into Sheol and lead them forth, liberate them, or else we can't trust this God any more. And that's a very difficult thing for most Christians I think, to think of, because it's sublimely mythological.

Rachael Kohn: One of the most central and important beliefs of the Christian church is in Jesus' bodily resurrection. How do you understand it?

John Dominic Crossan: Negatively and positively once again. Negatively, just to make it clear, the bodily resurrection of Jesus has nothing for me to do with what happened to the body of Jesus. Most crucified criminals in the Roman Empire were either left on the cross as the supreme conclusion and consummation through this public warning that crucifixion was, or they were speedily buried in a limed pit as the soldiers got finished with their day's work and got out of there. And if you've seen the rocks around Jerusalem it's hard to even imagine where they found somewhere to bury them. But what bodily resurrection has to do with me is that it is the life of Jesus in the body.

This life lived for justice, which is perennially, continuously, normative for Christians of all time. It is the body of Jesus which lived and died for justice, which is normative for us. Where I see that most clearly is that when in Christian gospel, Christian art, Christian mysticism, Jesus reappears, the wounds are always still there, they seem to never heal as it were, even after 2,000 years, because it's always the crucified Jesus who is bodily normative.

So that if you were a stranger from another land and you saw a picture, say, of a medieval artist of Jesus appearing to somebody, you'd say, 'Well why has he got holes in his hands?' and if I were to explain that to you, I'd have to explain to you everything about Roman crucifixion and then you'd say, 'Well then he must have been a criminal, right, if he got crucified?' I'd have to explain to you the whole life of Jesus. So if the wounds are there, everything is there, and in that sense for me, it is the body of Jesus which is normative for Christianity, not the ideas of Jesus or the words of Jesus, but the life of Jesus. And that if you do lead a life for God's justice, you will probably almost certainly, unfortunately, be executed. Or you would be marginalised or annihilated, whichever way your society gets rid of people who threaten it too much. So it's that bodily content I want to keep there, otherwise Jesus is a philosopher who had beautiful ideas, and we just read his works, and we don't need the body, and we don't need the life, and we just have the ideas. And I don't understand Jesus to be about ideas. It's about incarnating God's justice and a life.

Rachael Kohn: So you see Jesus as very much a social reformer an egalitarian, a model man, a man of God, who obviously lived within a milieu which had apocalyptic beliefs. How did he see himself in relation to God's role in the world?

John Dominic Crossan: I probably would not make those initial options disjunctive. Yes, Jesus was a full human being in the full sense of the word, but in the world in which Jesus lived, every coin of Caesar for example, bore the words 'Son of God' in Latin. Caesar was in effect, one of the incarnations of God on earth, and that made a lot of sense to millions of people. The power of God was clearly operative in Caesar who controlled the Mediterranean world, had the legions and all the rest of it. Now for somebody to look at Jesus and say, 'No, I do not find God, the Roman god of power as it were, incarnate in Caesar, I find the Jewish god of justice incarnate in Jesus', that is an absolutely possible Jewish act of faith in the first century, absolutely possible, that somebody could look at Jesus and say, 'This radical critique of Roman normalcy is the way God wants us to live, not just Jesus to live, but us to live.' Somebody looking at Jesus can say then, 'I see God here.' And they might even get into an argument, 'No, God is in the temple; this is the house of God', and they could say, 'No, the house of God has gone over to the Roman side, it's with Caiaphas who collaborates with Rome, I can no longer find God in the temple. I find God in this life.' That is an absolutely possible first
century argumentation.

Now another Jew could say, 'No, that's rubbish, I find God only in following the law of my people. I find God only in going down to Qumran and living with the Essenes. I find God only in rising against the Romans.' But the real question you're asking is not only first century where do people find God, and one of the options is in this sort of life that Jesus is living. So on the one hand he's utterly human, of course, he's not a divine being masquerading down here as a human being. But it is absolutely possible for somebody to look at Jesus and say, 'Here is I find God' and in fact Jesus himself is making some pretty strong statements when he says, 'This is the kingdom of God and that is not', because you could say, 'Well how do you know what is the kingdom of God? You're claiming to know the will of God, you're claiming special divine knowledge then?' I think Jesus would probably answer, 'Well isn't it obvious? We have always believed in a God of justice, we've had a covenant with a God of justice, you think this is justice?' I don't think Jesus would say, 'Well I've come down from God to tell you the message.' He probably would say 'Open your eyes, you think this is just? You think this is what God wants?' Once again, some people would say, 'Well yes, I have no problem with this.' Other people would say, 'No, I don't think this is right. I think you're right, this is not what God wants.' So it is claiming a divine knowledge, if you will, but in one sense it's no different than the prophet Amos hundreds of years before saying, 'You think the covenant is just about worship? The covenant is about justice.' And you say, 'Well how do you know that?' 'Well, isn't it obvious? And of course the answer is to some people, it's very obvious, to other people it's not obvious at all.

Rachael Kohn: Now I guess we can say that a lot of Christians throughout centuries and certainly now, have a strong commitment to justice and they also believe that Jesus is God, is divine, and did bodily resurrect in the way in which Christine doctrine spells it out. In your view of Jesus, which I believe kind of takes him off that pedestal of God, does anything really change?

John Dominic Crossan: What changes for me is first of all the character of God. And what changes for me not the pedestal. In one sense I don't take Jesus off the pedestal, but I keep asking what's the content? And what's crucial for me, you see, is that very often we have an easier question: 'Does God exist? Yes or No. Is Jesus son of God, yes or no.' The first century options were different. 'Does God exist as the Jewish God of Justice or as the Roman God of power?' Is God incarnate in say, a Jesus? Or is
incarnate in a Caesar? That's a much rougher disjunction, because there isn't that possibility agnosticism. Well let's wait and see. And it's not that I want to really take Jesus off the pedestal, I want to know what he's up there for. We sometimes have put monsters on pedestals, killers, and years later we topple them off their pedestal. So before I want to genuflect at that pedestal, or to genuflect before this God, I want to know the character of this God. There have been killer Gods and killer sons and killer people of God. So it's a necessity to ask the question of the character of God, to make sure what we're worshipping, because we worship some funny stuff, especially in this century.

Rachael Kohn: Well indeed Jesus can be worshipped in very many ways, in Killer ways and then ways that lead to justice, so the onus is more on those who respond to him or interpret him.

John Dominic Crossan: I think it is, and it's very hard however if somebody says, you know, to love your enemies. You could say, 'Well I'm going to love them to death.' We've done that sort of stuff so it can be done. But if you really start with love your enemies, and if you look at the tradition of the first Christian centuries, nobody ever seems to suggest well if they come after us to persecute us, is it alright to kill a few? Defensively, of course.

That seems to be an option absolutely ruled out, beyond even discussion. I mean you will get a discussion later whether a Christian can be a soldier. But nowhere in the first century does anyone ever discuss seriously even defensively , and I think when Christians start using that 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you', they're really taking that even defensively, since you don't want to be killed, you cannot even kill in self defence. So I think that's part of this message, and its profound depths, and I don't think that's negotiable.

Now when you get something like the Apocalypse of John, when this avenging God is going to have blood to the bridle bits for 200 miles, I think that's venous, I don't think that's justice, I don't think that's Jesus, and I don't think it's the God of Jesus. That's the killer God, and the trouble with the killer God is that it justifies us doing the same, and in fact it invites us maybe to start with a bit. We might jump start the Apocalypse, because if God is going to kill then I really don't see the reason why carefully and selectively of course, we mightn't be able to do it too. It's a final solution to the problem of evil, kill the evildoer.

Rachael Kohn: John Dominic Crossan, author of The Birth of Christianity and Jesus, a Revolutionary Biography is our special guest on The Spirit of Things.

It's clear that for Dom Crossan, Jesus is not waiting for a great apocalypse of God to set the world straight, but is taking upon himself the role of reformer, passionately committed to social justice. According to his God, one doesn't kill the evil doer, but saves her from a swift and deadly punishment. This is a scene from The Last Temptation of Christ, after which you'll hear Dom Crossan spelling out to his audience one of the key aspects of Jesus' ministry: healing and eating with the poor and the destitute.


Man: Get out of the way! Get out of there! Get out of the way! This is not
your business, do you want to get hurt?

Man: Don't you hear what he said, idiot, move!

Jesus: No, I don't want this.

Man: Listen to him, he doesn't want this. Well, we want it.

Jesus: Why?

Man: We don't have to tell you why?

Man: It's bad enough we live in a whorehouse, but she's a Jew, she works on the
Sabbath, she goes with Romans on the Sabbath, she broke Moses' law, she dies.

Jesus: Who has never sinned, who? Which one of you people has never sinned?
Whoever that is, come up here and throw these.

Man: I have nothing to hide.

Jeus: Good. Take this, it's bigger. Be careful Zebede, there is a God. He's
seen you cheat your workers, he's seen you with that widow, what's her name?

Woman: Judith.

Jesus: Judith. Aren't you afraid God will paralyse you if you lift that stone?
That your arm will wither, that you'll lose all strength?

John Dominic Crossan: When I was studying all this anthropology stuff over here and trying also to decide what was the earliest texts from the Jesus tradition, I began to get all sorts of stuff about eating coming up. And to be honest with you, I didn't have a clue what to do with it in the beginning. Because being a fairly well fed westerner all my life, food was never really high on my consciousness, it was always there, you just took it for granted. So it was really the anthropology that helped me understand why maybe food was important. So I began to focus on the text where Jesus tells his companions, I am not saying his disciples, I am using an equal term, his companions, to go out and do the same thing that he was doing, to go do it, 'Go out and heal those with whom you eat, and eat with those whom you heal, and announce that the Kingdom of God has come among you.' Now notice, by the way, there is nothing here about handouts at the door. This is not a kingdom of beggars, there is something else going on here. So this was something which jumped out at me, it didn't quite fit, it wasn't just a saying of Jesus', it was a saying about doing, it cut across this distinction of the words of Jesus, the deeds of Jesus. This was 'go do it' stuff. So let me look at that text for a moment, and the heart of it is that dyad of eating and healing.

Now, remember my whole context. The context is the commercialisation of Lower Galilee under Herod Antipas. What did that do? From anthropology and history the suggestion was that it tore the fabric of peasant society apart, tore apart the safety nets that protected the kinship, security of the small villages. Therefore it affected families, therefore what it was doing is
(this is a terrible word I learned from the anthropologist) it expanded the expendables. It expanded the expendables. The expendables are that 5% in normal times of cheap labour that's always there because they're desperate, expanded them maybe from 5% to up to 15%. An example would be when Jesus tells a story of the owner who goes in at vineyard time at the harvesting
time in the vineyard, and he can go in to the marketplace at what, 6 o'clock, 9 o'clock, 12 o'clock, 3 o'clock and 5 o'clock and still find labourers there waiting. Just what the owner wants. Cheap labour, available even at 5 o'clock so he can sort of inch away through the day, not spend an extra cent, cheap labour. Lots of expendables. So that's the general background.

Now Jesus tells people first of all to go out and go do what he's doing. I want to stop there for a second. It's very easy to imagine Jesus setting up at Nazareth which is I'm quite certain what the family would have wanted him to do. We have here a powerful healer, just what we want. Settle down at Nazareth and the family will broker you to the countryside. It will be good for us, it will be good for the town, the village, the hamlet, it will be good all round. Settle down. Peter probably wanted the same thing at
Capernaum, settle down. You notice that story in Mark's gospel where Jesus is a highly successful healer and Peter of course wants him to settle down. Jesus keeps moving around. Jesus keeps moving. The movement itself is a symbolic statement of the non-hierarchical, non-localisation of place. To
keep moving is to deny the hierarchy of place, which is to deny the hierarchy all the way down the line. He doesn't settle down and tell people 'Go out and bring people to me. I am the kingdom, I have the kingdom, I am the monopoly.' You want the kingdom, you take it to people. So that's the first thing.

The second thing is this dyad of eating and healing. And I'm going to put that in terms of another diad, the poor and the destitute. The poor are probably the ordinary peasants, they would probably call themselves poor, that is, they're living at subsistence level, most of their surplus being taken by taxes and everything else. They are the poor, and they might well be proud of themselves. 'We are the hardworking poor, not them idle rich.'
But the destitute, everyone knew exactly what they were, destitute meant the beggars. And Jesus is always talking about the destitute. Every time in your New Testament you find the word 'poor', cross it out and put in the word 'destitute'. The Greek have two very simple words 'penes' which means 'poor', 'penury' in English; and 'tokas', 'tokas' means 'destitute', and they knew very clearly the difference because the difference between somebody who still has the family farm and is making it just from year to year and somebody who has lost the family farm, or been pushed off it.

So Jesus tells these people to go out and interact at the lowest two levels of peasant society as it has been ripped apart. The line between the poor and the destitute. Now when I find Jesus talking about the destitute, I'm not hearing it all some sort of a general de-localised, generic interest in beggars. And it's almost condescending to Judaism to hint that they'd needed a Jesus to tell them about compassion. We're not talking about compassion at all, we're talking about this fall-off, if you will, of the poor into the destitute, and trying to bring back together from its lowest levels upwards, this peasant society which has been ripped apart from commercialisation. To put together facing one another, maybe at an open door, as it were, the poor and the destitute; the itinerants and the householders; those who need healing, and those who need eating. And notice in all of this the focus on the body. Eating and healing. It's not 'go out and give them a sermon', it's not 'go out and tell them about heaven after they die', it's 'go out and talking about bringing together eating and healing, taking back control of our own bodies.'

Rachael Kohn: I guess finally, I mean one could say that you're reading Jesus in a very selective way, in a way that he comes up smelling like roses. Do you ever have twinges of conscience that perhaps your Jesus is too culturally comfortable for you?

John Dominic Crossan: I don't really have twinges of conscience as long as this is held. Jesus was executed. That's one of the things I'm surest about. He wasn't just lynched by an angry mob. Official Roman authority, and I don't think Pilate was a monster, he was a second-class governor, and he wasn't a very nice person, but even to waste a squad on an execution, on the public execution which was crucifixion, meant that the governor had made a decision what this man is doing is not only dangerous, but it is publicly dangerous. It's necessary to make a public exhibition of this, as distinct from simply slitting his throat and throwing him over the wall of a prison. Jesus was executed by normal Roman authority. Now that's where I start. So either I then conclude that the Romans were a particularly cruel people, of course, who just killed just about anyone, or Pilate was a complete idiot. Or I presume that Pilate got it right, that what Jesus was doing was subversive to the normalcy of the Roman Empire.

Now I don't think the Roman Empire was particularly cruel or anything else, if anything it was too multicultural, that was its weakness. So Jesus today that I have to imagine, is a Jesus who would be in the normalcy of our world, executed maybe, but we don't execute people, I'm talking now from the point of view of the States, we tend to assassinate people like that, or if we don't we simply marginalise them. Oprah would have all those who think they are Messiah on her show, and we'd have six people who all claimed to be the Messiah, and we'd have got rid of Jesus and laughed him out of town. So as long as the Jesus that I'm hearing is there, I don't find him very comfortable.

This is a Jesus who is criticising the systemic evil of normal life, not the systemic evil of the peculiarly "atrociously evil Roman Empire which thank God, nobody has ever been like in the whole history of the world". That would be comfortable. Even an apocalyptic Jesus that says some day in the future God is going to do something, I can be quite comfortable with that. This is a Jesus that says 'You take a good look at normalcy, it's violent, and if you take a good look at the normal violence of life, the normal violence of life, God's on the other side.' I don't feel particularly comfortable with that, I really don't. I would much prefer a Jesus who said, 'You have to give one-tenth of everything you have to the poor', that's compassion. That I can do. Systemic justice is far trickier stuff, because it's bigger than we are. Injustice on an individual level you can say, 'Well I try not to be unjust', and that's very good. But systemic injustice is what we usually think of as normalcy. Most decent Romans, and I mean decent Romans, would have looked around their empire and said, 'It's the best thing that's come down the pipe for a long time, it's really pretty decent. Look at the booming economy. We have peace, we got rid of the pirates, we got the roads safe from brigands. This is a really nice place to be.' And Jesus said it's not the Kingdom of God. Oops. It isn't? For millions of people, it was. So I find that highly subversive, I don't find the Jesus that I'm thinking of comfortable, and I can be absolutely comfortable with an apocalyptic Jesus because he was simply wrong. As long as he's wrong I don't worry about him, and basically everyone else who was announcing in the year 2000 at midnight, the end of the world is coming, I expect them to be wrong. Now if they're right of course, I'll be very uncomfortable that night. But as long as everyone for 2000 years has been wrong about the apocalypse, I can be quite comfortable with it. It's space fiction.

Rachael Kohn: Dominic Crossan it's been great talking to you. Thank you forbeing on The Spirit of Things.

John Dominic Crossan: Thank you very much Rachael, my pleasure.

Rachael Kohn: John Dominic Crossan, Emeritus Professor of DePaul University in the United States, is the author of The Birth of Christianity published by Harper Collins in Australia. And he's author of several other works on Jesus, including Jesus, a Revolutionary Biography.

The Spirit of Things is produced by me and Geoff Wood, with Technical
Production by John Diamond.

So long from me, Rachael Kohn.

Forwarded by Fr. Claude Mostowik, MSC
MSC Justice Office

Call to end ‘sin of racism’

Special to the National Catholic Reporter

“Racism thrives,” declared the six Illinois Catholic bishops in the first pastoral letter ever issued by the state’s hierarchy. They urged Catholics to unite in pledging, “We will not live with the sin of racism any longer.”

But the brief, 1,400-word statement was immediately criticized by some black Catholics as flimsy and lacking in substance. “This document has as much meat as a slab of ribs eaten by 100 hungry people,” said Ralph Shaw, a Chicago permanent deacon and co-publisher of Deliverance, a newsletter on African-American Catholic issues.

The bishops’ letter, titled “Moving Beyond Racism: Learning to see with the eyes of Christ,” (signed by the 14 Illinois bishops including the state’s eight auxiliary bishops) cited the dragging death of an African-American in Texas and the sexual assault on a Haitian prisoner by Brooklyn police as examples of extreme racism. It also noted more subtle forms of racist action: realtors who steer clients along racial lines, police “who routinely profile black drivers” for checks, “parents who drive by excellent schools with substantial black enrollment” to register their children at all-white facilities.

At a news conference at a Chicago west side Catholic parish, Cardinal Francis George said the letter has been in preparation since 1994, but he noted, “The bishops are sometimes slow to get their act together.” His words were well chosen, since the letter was presented on April 3, the eve of the 32nd anniversary of the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The remedies proposed in the letter were modest: People should “pray for an end to racism,” get to know people of another race, refuse to use biased language, teach toleration to children, elect public officials who work for racial justice, avoid investment in companies that support racist policies and “ask media people to publicize good people and actions in every racial group.”

Belleville Bishop Wilton Gregory, an African-American and the vice president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, told NCR the recommendations were simple and the document “purposely brief” so it could get “to the heart” of people in the pew. “The average person won’t read a long letter,” he explained. “We want people to read this one.”

Said Shaw, who facilitated a retreat for Chicago’s black deacons last year, “We’ve been through all this for years, and there’s nothing here in this letter. Racism is more than just another problem, and it takes more than a feather to put a dent in steel.”

Another Chicago activist, Sheila Bourelly, said what’s needed is a plan of action on racism at the archdiocesan level. “We don’t see any changes downtown,” she said. “If all your advisers are white, nothing important is going to happen.”

Meanwhile, the Chicago archdiocese announced that a Black Catholic Convocation of leaders, more than a year in planning, would be held next Nov. 3 and 4 at Chicago’s Loyola University. The city will also host the next National Black Catholic Congress in 2002.

National Catholic Reporter, April 14, 2000