John Dominic Crossan
Jesus the Wisdom Sage
In the work of John Dominic Crossan, there is a refreshing emphasis on methodology. To this end, Crossan has compiled a database of the attestation for the Jesus traditions by independent attestation and stratification, provided by Faith Futures Foundation in the links above. Crossan in The Historical Jesus explains that his methodology is to take what is known about the historical Jesus from the earliest, most widely attested data and set it in a socio-historical context. The bulk of the common sayings tradition shows itself to be specific to the situation that existed in the 20s of the first century in Galilee in which the agrarian peasantry were being exploited as the Romans were commercializing the area. The historical Jesus proves to be a displaced Galilean peasant artisan who had got fed up with the situation and went about preaching a radical message: an egalatarian vision of the Kingdom of God present on earth and available to all as manifested in the acts of Jesus in healing the sick and practicing an open commensality in which all were invited to share. The historical Jesus was an itinerant whose mode of teaching can be understood on analogy with the Cynic sage but who was nonetheless a Jew who believed that the kingdom was being made available by the God of Israel to his people. The revolutionary message of Jesus was seen to be subversive to the Roman vision of order and led to the fateful execution of Jesus by Pilate on a hill outside of Jerusalem.
In The Birth of Christianity, Crossan re-iterates an emphasis on methodology in laying out his presuppositions about the gospel texts as forming the basis for all of his other judgments about the historical Jesus and early Christianity. Among these are the existence of an early Cross Gospel reconstructed from the Gospel of Peter as elaborated in his tome The Cross that Spoke as well as his belief that the Gospel of John is dependent upon Mark. Crossan also explores the development of two different traditions from the historical Jesus, the Jerusalem tradition in which Jesus is believed to be the resurrected Christ, and the Q Gospel tradition in which Jesus is remembered as the founder of a way of life. For the former, Crossan reconstructs a group in the city of Jerusalem who shared everything in common and awaited the coming of Christ in power. For the latter, Crossan identifies Q, the Gospel of Thomas, and the Didache in which itinerants preach the teachings of Jesus and are supported by sometimes-critical communities. Both traditions are connected in their practice of share-meals and their origins in the historical Jesus.
Jesus the Man of the Spirit
Borg makes two negative claims about the historical Jesus: he was nonmessianic, which means that he didn't claim to be the Messiah or have a message focused on his own identity, and he was noneschatological, which means that he did not expect "the supernatural coming of the Kingdom of God as a world-ending event in his own generation" (Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, p. 29). Borg summarizes his view of the historical Jesus in these words: "he was a spirit person, subversive sage, social prophet, and movement founder who invited his followers and hearers into a transforming relationship with the same Spirit that he himself knew, and into a community whose social vision was shaped by the core value of compassion" (op. cit., p. 119). By "spirit person," Borg means that Jesus was a "mediator of the sacred" for whom the Spirit or God was a reality that was experienced. Based on his experience of the sacred, for the historical Jesus compassion "was the central quality of God and the central moral quality of a life centered in God" (op. cit., p. 46). Jesus spoke against the purity system in sayings like "blessed are the pure in heart" and in parables like that of the Good Samaritan. The historical Jesus challenged the purity boundaries in touching lepers as well as hemorrhaging women, in driving the money changers out of the temple, and in table fellowship even with outcasts. Jesus replaced an emphasis on purity with an emphasis on compassion. The historical Jesus spoke an alternative wisdom in aphorisms and parables that controverted the conventional wisdom based upon rewards and punishments. The earliest Christology of the Christian movement viewed Jesus as the voice of the Sophia. The images of Jesus as the Son of God and the Wisdom of God are metaphorical, just as much as the images of Jesus as the Lamb of God and the Word of God.
Jesus the Prophet of Social Change
Hyam Maccoby writes (8/5/01): "I write on Christian origins from the standpoint of a scholar of the ancient Jewish writings, including the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Mishnah, the Talmud, and the Midrashim. My view on Christian origins is that Jesus was a Jewish messiah-figure who had no intention of starting a new religion. The real founder of Christianity as a separate religion was Paul. Jesus died on a Roman cross because he was considered a threat to the Roman occupation of Judaea, not because he was regarded as heretical or blasphemous by the Jewish religious authorities, the Pharisees. His Jewish opponent was the High Priest, who was a Roman appointee, who acted for political, not religious motives, in arresting Jesus. Jesus was not a military figure, but, like Theudas, and some other contemporary messiah-figures, relied on the hope of divine intervention, which he thought would take place on the Mount of Olives."
Jesus the Apocalyptic Prophet
Bart Ehrman compares the historical Jesus to the apocalyptic prophets that have appeared throughout history proclaiming the end of the age. Ehrman argues that since John the Baptist was apocalyptic and since Paul was apocalyptic and since the Palestinian Jewish milieu was apocalyptic, it only makes sense that the historical Jesus was apocalyptic too. Ehrman argues that those documents with elements of realized eschatology - the Gospel of Luke, the Gospel of John, and the Gospel of Thomas - prove to reflect the softening of apocalyptic expectation at the end of the first century or in the early second century. Ehrman proposes that the teachings ascribed to Jesus make sense as an "interim ethic" that is intended to apply to the short period of under a generation between the time of Jesus and the end of the age. Ehrman also makes sense of the cleansing of the Temple in the context of the eschatological expectations of the historical Jesus. Ehrman believes that the model of Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet is the best lens with which to understand the life of the historical Jesus and the history of the movement that continued his legacy.