Satisfied and Surprised

I am profoundly satisfied with my present life and also profoundly surprised. But, of course, satisfaction always trumps surprise. The … Continued

I am profoundly satisfied with my present life and also profoundly surprised. But, of course, satisfaction always trumps surprise.

The satisfaction is serenely simple: I am deeply in love with my best friend, my beloved Sarah.

The surprise is very recent — only within the last few years. When I left the Roman Catholic monastic and priestly life in 1969 I went to teach at what is now the largest Roman Catholic University in the world. And — despite several invitations — I never even considered leaving DePaul University until I retired in 1995. The reason was the clarity with which it never confused orthodoxy with integrity.

When I started there in 1969 I also started a long-term and multi-book project on the reconstruction of the historical Jesus and earliest Christianity. The first volume in 1973, for example, was called In Parables but sub-titled The Challenge of the Historical Jesus. By the way, for myself, I do not separate prayer from study. That is one of the gifts I took with me from 19 years of monastic life. Another one is my name — I am John on my passport but Dominic — which has no legal standing whatsoever — is my monastic name and I kept that as a public statement of overall identity.

My own study of the historical Jesus in the matrix of Christianity within Judaism within the Roman Empire steadily pushed me towards the left wing of the contemporary Christian tradition. This was increased — but not created — by my participation with Robert Funk as a co-Chair of the Jesus Seminar between 1986 and 1995. It is probably fair and accurate to describe that Seminar as the left-wing of Christianity in terms of its conclusions about what was factually original in the Jesus tradition inside and outside the New Testament gospels. Life was simpler then. There was only a left and a right wing with regard to Jesus.

In other words, and at least in popular culture, we ended the last century with two visions of Jesus. One vision was of the literal Jesus — the figure obtained from a careful harmony of the four New Testament gospels. The other vision was the historical Jesus — the figure reconstructed through those and other gospels, behind those and other gospels, before those and other gospels.

Then came my surprise as we moved deeper into the first decade of the new century. A third vision of Jesus started to appear to the left of people like myself and other members of the Jesus Seminar. The vision was of the fictional Jesus — the figure married in a novel (The DaVinci Code), crucified in a film (The Passion of the Christ), and buried in a documentary (The Tomb of Jesus). There is even a growing far-left-wing proposing that Jesus never existed and that it was all an early Christian conspiratorial fabrication. Not crucified on Golgotha, as it were, or even on that nearby grassy knoll.

So there are new three divergent base-visions of Jesus — the literal, the historical, and the fictional. I myself, in other words, have not changed — although I certainly have steadily developed — my own reconstruction of Jesus within the best available materials and methods of historical research. But I find myself much more in the center than on the left wing — or, of course, the right wing.

I now find it fascinating to look to my right, bemused — permanently — at that literal Jesus masquerading as the historical Jesus and also to my left, amused — recently — at that fictional Jesus masquerading as the historical Jesus. Surprise, therefore: I have not moved except forward but am now in the center and not the left wing or the right wing. Surprising, that, and also rather satisfying.

  • Adam

    Hi JohnWhat a strange turn of events, but quite so. I’m rather puzzled by the fictional Jesus and the mythical/non-existent Jesus myself. The first puzzles me because I don’t get why occultists and esotericists can’t leave Jesus alone and have to appropriate him for their own spiritual pathways – most of the fictional Jesus writers are into alternative (fictional?) spiritualities.The second really puzzles me because it’s almost a dogma of a particular brand of atheists – an especially American atheism – which utterly bamboozles me why they’ve spilt so much ink and burnt so many neurones trying to deny the historical existence of a particular Jewish prophet/Messiah amongst so many others. If God doesn’t exist – in whatever form – then why bother with the crusade to deny Jesus existed? Clearly a historical Jesus is too much for them, though the clearly political reasons for denying any historical trace of him militates against their general case against the literalist God.And of course the atheists especially detest liberal theologians like yourself because, perhaps, while you’ve made peace with the faith tradition you grew-up in and out-grew, they very obviously haven’t.

  • Anonymous

    Professor Crossan,On reflection, would you not agree that all three visions of Jesus, the literal, the historical, and the fictional, are in fact all fictional?*Best wishes.*fiction = “An imaginative creation or a pretense that does not represent actuality but has been invented.”

  • Norrie Hoyt

    Sorry, the last post was mine.

  • speed123

    Norrie, Norrie, NorrieHow is it that Jews can attack Christians and their beliefs on a constant basis and never by called anti-Christian bigots.If Christians say one thing about Jews or Israel – someone screams anti-Semitism…A double standard I never understood.

  • Viejita del oeste

    Speed123

  • Concerned The Christian

    Speed123,But as per the topic, are you satisfied with your life???Professor Crossan and the other Jesus Seminarians and their books have made mine quite satisfactory since now I have a much better idea of who Jesus actually was. The embellishments have been deleted leaving only the reality of it all.

  • John Dominic Crossan

    Dear Anonymous:

  • Viejita del oeste

    Concerned

  • Norrie Hoyt

    Speed123,I get the impression from your post above that you think I’m Jewish. I’m not. At times in my life I’ve been an emotional Zionist, as many gentiles, including Winston Churchill, have been.I guess I confused you when I mentioned that I’d travelled to Israel and worked there fifty years ago.The members of the kibbutz said I could take Christmas off from work. I guess they thought that since I wasn’t Jewish I most probably was Christian, which I’m not. I declined and spent Christmas Day stacking animal feed bags. I did celebrate Chanukah though. Wonderful people on the kibbutz.

  • Norrie Hoyt

    Professor Crossan,Thank you for your response to my post as “Anonymous”. You are probably right and probably my definition of “fiction” is too broad.I’d been thinking of a “fiction” as being any “made object”, including a writing. Thus, I’ve considered a very accurate autobiography to be a “fiction”. Technically true, perhaps, but a good autobiography can shed useful light on a life.I’m sure the same thing is true of your “historical Jesus.”Thanks again for your reply.

  • Janet

    To Professor Crossan,I thank you and your fellow Jesus Seminarians for the work you have done to try to shed light on the historical Jesus. I am not a Christian but I consider your work extremely valuable for all of humanity, so that humanity can begin to separate fact from fiction.

  • E Favorite

    The “Anonymous” post of 9:07 regarding American athiests was mine.John Connolly – My experience searching for the historical Jesus was similar, but I started out as a believer. (Maybe that’s why I feel comfortable calling him “Jesus.” He wasn’t a close friend, but I did have a passing acquaintance with him.)

  • Anonymous

    Hello, Adam – please name the “American atheists” who, as you say, have “spilt so much ink and burnt so many neurones trying to deny the historical existence of a particular Jewish prophet/Messiah….”

  • Jihadist

    Prof. CrossanJesus as fiction or fact made an indelible impact on the history of the world and in the minds and beliefs of millions.Jesus as fiction of movies, books and Broadway shows is or no concern to me as that is a western phenomena, perculiarity and quirk. Jesus as a Prophet and teacher matters to me. One is content with ones life, but one is never satisfied with what one can and should do as one is only a mortal with a limited time and lifespan. But one do take pleasure in what one has done and to anticipate what one is going to do. Satisfactions are for those who sees absolute perfections in what they have done. Humans, after all, are neither infallible nor perfect, and mistakes and flaws are the norms, not the exception of the human character and behavior.

  • Concerned The Christian Now Liberated

    Jihadist,Jesus, Mohammed, Paul, Smith, Isaiah et al were not prophets. At best, they were fortune tellers for “profits” who hallucinated about visits from “pretty/ugly wingie talking thingies”. Professor Crossan says this about the NT,

  • John Conolley

    Adam,”it’s almost a dogma of a particular brand of atheists”It’s no such thing.I’m a so-called “hard” atheist of long standing. I always assumed Christ (sorry, I just don’t feel good referring to strangers by their first names) was historical. Years ago, when I first saw a book advertised offering to prove He never existed, I said, “Oh, come on.” But I’ve found out that searching for the historical Christ is like searching for psychic phenomena: the closer you get, the more He vanishes. There are vague stories that put him anywhere from 150 BCE to 33 CE, but no solid evidence that puts him anywhere at all. (Flavius Josephus? Faked. Tacitus? Vague. Seutonius? Really vague. Pliny the Younger? Not to the point. Philo? No mention. Dio Cassius? No mention.) Pretty soon, you give up and go with the evidence: He wasn’t there.

  • Concerned The Christian Now Liberated

    Jihadist,Same old “wishy wash” responses as you did not mention Mohammed at all in your commentary. To reiterate, Islam requires that you believe in angels. Without said belief, you would automatically negate your profiteer and his fortune telling since Gabriel as per Islam was the go-between God/Zeus/Mother Nature and Mohammed. So again do you believe in “pretty wingie talking thingies”???????????

  • Terra Gazelle

    Concerned,You say there is nothing you can not see? No Angels. Why? because you have not seen one? Close you eyes…Did everything dissappear because you could not see it? Some times to see, your eyes and mind has to be open to it. If you did not believe in your car keys would you see them? terra

  • Jihadist

    ConcernedDiscussions on faith in On Faith threads is always like five blind men and an elephant. Everyone got it partly right and partly wrong from their own readings, perspectives and experiences. If Moses were to come down the mountain today, the two tablets he carried would be aspirins. Those who never learn from history are condemned to repeat it. You know who said that. What is apparent, it is not Jesus, Paul, Smith et all who personally profitted from organized religion/church since they died. Neither Buddha profited from the unseemly practices of Theravada Buddhist monks in Thailand to charge lay Buddhists for fortune telling on lotteries etc. which is contrary to Buddha’s teachings. I am also an economist by training. I do “fortune telling” too, and it is called “economic forecasting” re economic growths of countries and markets. The focus on “pretty/ugly wingy talking thingies” is a very cute distraction on the larger truths and realities of the human condition and history. “Prophesy turned into history, rather than history remembered” is an interesting quote from Crossan. Bernard Lewis “prophesized” on the end of the world. He was wrong on the date. Samuel Huntington “prophesized” on the clash of civilizations. It did not happen as he predicted. Neocons “prophesized” the invasion of Iraq will bring democracy, peace and prosperity to the Middle East. It did not happen the way they want. You “prophesize” if the Al-Quran is revised, updated, deleted of passages, there will be peace on earth. It will not happen too as you opined. Prophesy is also a reminder of man’s incapacity to learn from history due to overconfidence, false certainties, unwillingness to see limits, and failures to admit mistakes.The prophets were right to teach and focus on the poor and sick, the marginalized and the dispossed for the consequences man will have to face if they don’t. HIV/AIDs and poverty wreck personal and communal human development in every way for example. We are still faced with pestilence and poverty regardless of how beliefs and understanding of religion is revised. And faith give strength to those faced with pestilence and poverty to overcome such adversities. Not “reason in faith”, but realities on faith and prophesies in human existence and history.Have a good work week, whatever your day job is.

  • John Dominic Crossan

    Dear Jihadist,

  • Dr. Freeman

    Professor Crossan,I love your work, as it makes the challenge and scandal of Jesus more real to me than almost anything else out there…However, I’d like to know how or in what way you are still surprised in your study of the historical Jesus and also in your Christian faith? I mean, the enigma of Jesus is that he always tends to show up in the place we “least expect” and consistently disrupts our commonplace assumptions about what it means to be a Christian (e.g. yr own work on the parables clearly demonstrates this…)Do you find that if you think you have Him figured out and pinned down, you lose the passion of faith and your intimacy with Him? Do you experience a passion for Not-Knowing when it comes to Jesus that is always open to surprise, discovery and Mystery??Thanks in advance,Cameron

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