on October 26, 2004
I have heard Crossan lecture, seen him on TV and read two of his books Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, and his memoir, A Long Way from Tipperary. I logged onto Amazon.com in the hopes of getting a copy of his newest book In Search of Paul co-authored with the archaeologist Jonathan Reed and read the review from Publishers Weekly. That review said it was only for scholars so I decided to avoid it, but then I saw Crossan do an absolutely fascinating PowerPoint presentation on "Religion & Empire, Faith & Violence" with a "Case Study on Roman Imperial Theology," at a seminar in Jackson, MS. There were early copies of In Search of Paul for sale at the book-display, and bought it immediately. Most of the others buying the book were not scholars, but lay people, just like me. I am now about half-way through In Search of Paul and find absurd the Publishers Weekly reviewer's judgment that "this book is written for a sophisticated audience, and therefore will be inaccessible to many readers, but it will be a valuable addition to the scholar's library." The book gives a clear and concise picture of Paul in a historical context with added richness displayed in over 30 color pictures and over 130 black & white ones. This book is emphatically not just for scholars, but reaches the general educated audience on a most fascinating and accessible level. And, although I am only at the half-way point, I am finding it a most enjoyable read-and-look book. I think of it as The Da Vinci Code with pictures, but better researched and better written.
on November 20, 2004
I judge the success of a book by the degree it challenges me, and opens up new perspectives, and this is what Cossan has achieved. I had not realised just how immersed Paul was in his Roman time and culture, how subversive he was to it, and how closely allied he was to Jesus' vision of Jewish justice. I feel that I am 'there' in Roman cultural life, and I feel the immediacy of the man, Paul, on the road, in prison and in the awful death. What the book also does is make me ask many more questions such as why was Paul's vision so quickly muted in the post-Pauline and anti-Pauline developments, how much influence has the classical Roman mind had on Augustine and later Roman Catholic moral attitudes. I want to know more. And, significantly, Crossan and Reed clearly indicate Paul's real positive attitude to women and sex, distinguishing it from the slander often attributed to him. Taken seriously this book is a time bomb for Christian denominations, individual Christians, and for me. But who will heed it? Who did heed the historical Paul? Even Luke in 'Acts' sanitised him. I shall read this book again as there is much to enjoy, much to learn.
on June 24, 2005
There are alot of books about Paul and I've read my share. This book gave me more information about the world around Paul than about him directly. I feel like I know more about the Roman Empire, the Imperial Cult, the status of Jews and the synagogue in the first century, and the patronage system than I could have learned from a cache of historical books. Crossan and Reed bring it all together for a better understanding about Paul.
Crossan let a little of his own beliefs slip into the text. I used to think he was a scholar without "faith." I believe differently now.
on February 9, 2007
I was a little pleased to see that John Dominic Crossan (the main author, I'd say) turns out to be something of a fan of Paul. I had been prejudiced, I suppose, to expect something of a desacralising of the apostle and perhaps some questioning of his state of mind, such as I'd read in books by Burton Mack and, perhaps, Jerome Murphy O'Connor. However, though Crossan sees Paul as a vulnerable human being like the rest of us, he presents him as a genius of politico-sociological analysis (sorry about the jargon) on the one hand and as a theologian with a very clear, very challenging understanding of Christ's purpose as saviour of the world and messenger of peace through justice.
Like an earlier reviewer, I too began skipping the detailed bits about archaeological finds and the material culture of the Roman Empire, though I stayed with any discussion of what these revealed about social stratification, the production and distribution of social influence, and the living arrangements of people in the "insula" (suburbs and blocks of dwellings) and residences of people at the time, because I thought that would tell me something about the structure and practices of the early "house churches" - Paul's audiences. Which it did.
I think the book is very helpful at revealing the political, social and physical context in which Paul worked. It also has a powerful political and theological message that the authors believe is crucial for America in her attempts to impose and defend Pax Americana throughout the world.
Crossan proposes that Paul understood the death and resurrection of Jesus as significant because Jesus was executed violently by imperialist forces. This was seen as necessary to defend the Pax Romana in Judea. Jesus' resurrection, therefore, in Paul's view was an act of triumph over violence and over the imperial belief that peace can be achieved through victory and conquest. It wouldn't have had the same significance had Jesus died peacefully at home and then rose from the dead. Paul confronted the Empire with a model based on faith (surrender to God's will), justice (carrying out God's laws) and equality (within the Christian community at least). This model opposed the Augustan one of piety (cultic devotional practices), victory (violence), consolidation and peace. The latter may be interchanged in sequence, but they rest on continued actual or threatened violence, foundation of the cult of the Emperor as divine and the establishment of patronage and hierarchy - also interchageable - where the pecking order and the privileges attending it were based on access to powerful patrons. There was not much place for women, slaves or minorities in this hierarchy until they had broken through the hierarchical barriers (ceilings?) by one means or another, but Paul's vision of the Christian community itself was egalitarian ("neither male nor female, slave nor free, Jew nor Greek", etc). (The Pauline texts cited in favour of sexism and the like are insertions or from the pseudo-Pauline letters written after his death.)
Something the Publishers' Weekly review seems to have not picked up, but which is a critical component of Crossan's thesis is that Paul was not in fact preaching primarily to the Jews, or to the gentiles. Rather he was trying to capture the constituency knows as "God-fearers" or "believers". They were the pagans attached to synagogues, converted to the monotheism and laws and ethics of the Jews in their towns, but the males were not circumcised, they may not have observed kosher and they probably joined in with other citizens in performance of the sacrifices that were built into much civic ritual. They were sometimes relatively wealthy and perhaps able to provide a degree of protection to the Jewish community. Paul saw them as potential and valuable converts and addressed them as such. As you could imagine, this aroused much hostility to the apostle from the Jews in the cities he targeted.
This review has gone on too long - perhaps an indication of how helpful the book might be. I found it worthwhile and reasonably easy to read. Crossan's message to America is Paul's, that peace through victory does not liberate. It doesn't work, at least in the long term. That philosophy brought us the Pax Romana for a while, but, after centuries of war and destruction, it culminated in 19th century imperialism, 20th century totalitarianism and 21st century terrorism.
on January 18, 2005
Any book by Crossan has its own guaranteed readership, to which I admit I belong. This book, however, is a little different. It is really three books in one:
The first one is a travelogue through the lands where Christianity and its preceding pagan religions originated. Probably written by co-author Reed, it presents interesting glimpses of archaeological sites in Pompeii and Delos, Corinth and Ephesus, to name a few. It details the construction of pagan temples and Jewish synagogues, of the aqueducts and roads that crisscrossed the land. It is also one of the explanations given regarding the reason for writing "yet another book about Paul." We are told that it helps the reader "be there," that it places Paul in context to his time and environment and hence helps the reader understand him better. Frankly I am not much for travelogues, and I just flipped through the pages whenever I got to them.
The second booklet inside the main book, deals with the sociology of the time. The five story apartments where the poor Jews lived in Rome, the villas where the rich people lived, the combination rich house, rental apartments, and shops which would have allowed Paul the craftsman access to rich patrons. The patronage system through which everything got done in those days, moving downwards "from divinity, through royalty, priesthood, aristocracy, and citizens, to the freed, the servile, and the enslaved." This part of the book discusses in detail how Caesar, Augustus, and the other Roman emperors were awarded divinity, and what it meant to the average Roman subject to know that the emperor who governed him was god. And how the Roman government and army had only two purposes: to keep peace and collect taxes. I have to admit that although I was aware that Caesar was apotheosized after his death, I did not appreciate that Augustus and some others were turned into gods while they were still alive, and that the populace believed it. (Try to think of George Bush as a god instead of just a president.)
The third part of this book, and probably the main reason why most people buy it, deals with Paul and his ideas. Here we find Crossan's newest conjecture: Paul was a direct antagonist to the Roman Empire, and this was why he had been prosecuted, not because he had threatened the Hebrew or the nascent Christian system of his day. He justifies this by his definition of two Greek words: kyrios, and parousia. Crossan maintains that when Paul referred to Jesus Christ as kyrios he was directly attacking the Roman emperor, because kyrios meant lord, and only the Roman emperor was lord. So the kyrios Jesus Christ, meant the emperor Jesus Christ, a direct confrontation to the Romans. (One can point out, however, that throughout the Gospel of John the word kyrios has been translated variously as lord, master, sir.) Today, in modern Greek kyrios means sir or boss.
Crossan also defines the word parousia to mean the visit of the emperor to the provinces and cities, and only that. So when Paul talked about Jesus' pending parousia, he was referring to Jesus as an emperor. This nomenclature, kyrios and parousia, thus directly antagonized the Roman authorities and caused them to persecute Paul. It was the Romans, therefore, and not the Jews who were against Paul, and this is the subject of this book. (Crossan does not say why when Paul was arrested in Jerusalem for fomenting trouble, he was escorted out of the city by a force of two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen, and two hundred auxiliaries to protect him from the Jews he had antagonized. I suppose, however, that he could always respond that the army was there to make sure Paul's anti-imperial followers would not attempt to free him.)
To summarize, this is an enjoyable book, but I don't buy Crossan's argument that the Roman Empire felt threatened by Paul and persecuted him. I have a feeling that the book was written just in order to write and sell another book, and perhaps to expense the cost of the authors' trips through the area.
(The writer is the author of Christianity Without Fairy Tales: When Science and Religion Merge.)
on January 17, 2006
Though the title of the book suggests that Paul is the subject of the book, this book is mostly about conditions and culture of the Roman Empire, and how the Caesars developed a "civic religion" in which the Emperor was regarded as divine, the "son of god," etc. Into this world, Paul adopted such concepts to express his understanding of Jesus' message.
The authors also suggest that Paul did not write all the epistles attributed to him, and that Luke's account in the book of Acts is not accurate when compared with details in Paul's "authentic" epistles. The suggestion is that Luke modified the account of Paul's life and times for his own purposes, and that some Pauline epistles were written by others and later attributed to Paul.
If you are willing to accept the hypothesis that the Gospel of Luke, Acts, and several Pauline epistles are not authentic or factual, you will find much to engross you in this book. If you do not accept that hypothesis, the book is nevertheless an interesting, well-illustrated read to gain a sense of what life was like in the Roman Empire and Paul's first-century AD world.
on January 29, 2016
This work approaches Paul from an aspect of how he and his message fit into Roman and Jewish society, so it is also a book about cultures, rituals, philosophies, customs and archaeology. It paints him in a more radical light than I imagined. However, this is a very interesting read.
on November 7, 2015
O.K., so I loved the book, but I have to warn you that there are no images in the Kindle version and, apparently, there are in the paper version. I liked it so much that I bought The John Dominic Crossan Essential Set (4 books for the price of one) after reading it. It develops the idea of what is the true message of Paul when you take into account that half of the letters attributed to him in the New Testament were not written by him, but by later authors who wanted to tame his message of justice, equality and opposition to the Roman Empire and change it to one were the women were silent in church instead of apostles, slaves should not question their status and the Jews were to blame for Jesus' Death, not the Romans. The author takes embarks you on a literal journey where you visit place after place relevant to Paul's life, sadly without images in the Kindle version, to make his point about his vision of Paul as a revolutionary and a mystic, with justice at the center of his message, and not a mysoginist or a religious bigot.
on June 10, 2014
One of the most important lessons you can learn in studying is to read those who disagree with you. Too often, we have the idea that all of them can be liberals who dream night and day about how they can undermine the Bible and destroy the faith of some at every chance. In reality, when you read them, one can often find a seriousness to the Biblical text and get valuable insights in interpretation and in fact make special note of where they agree with you. Of course, I still think they are wrong in much in the long way, but we should listen to their voices as they can most easily question our own presuppositions.
In Search of Paul by Crossan and Reed is a book looking at the Roman Empire's "gospel" in contradiction to the "gospel" that Paul taught. Both sources were claiming that there was a man who was deity and who was going to be the ruler of the world and usher in a new age.
They're right too. Rome was indeed seeing itself in a position of restoring the world and shaping it the way it ought to be and the divine Caesars were bringing blessings to all people. This is probably why elsewhere Crossan has said that Mark 1:1 where it talks about the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus, the Son of God, could be translated as "In your face, Caesar."
This is something I've used in my own apologetic. In the clash of these two forces together, neither one of them wanting to compromise an inch, it is a wonder that it was in fact Christianity that won out. How did a shameful traitor and blasphemer to YHWH (by the standards of the world) come to be the one that eventually even the Roman Emperor bowed a knee to, and this without the Christians raising a sword?
But that is another question for another time and those interested can pursue my writings elsewhere and find my answer.
To return to the review, Crossan and Reed also bank on a hypothesis that Paul in his journeys went most to the God-fearers. These were people who admired the Jewish worldview and believed in the Jewish God, but they didn't follow through entirely. For some bizarre reason for instance, the men were hesitant to get circumcised. I can't imagine why....
Unfortunately, this is what I consider the weakest part. It's not really explained well and when it comes to Acts, the parts that go against the theory are deemed to be non-historical without any real argument. If they give one elsewhere, it would have been good to have seen a reference.
The authors ask why would Jews care about these God-fearers coming to believe in Jesus? They also ask why would the pagans have cared about some pagans becoming Christians. Actually, both of these questions are quite simple to answer.
Jews would care because this would go against the honor of God. They didn't want people going around saying that the Messiah had come and that Messiah was a crucified criminal. It also didn't help that the leaders of Israel were being blamed for this. If this went unchecked, then that would mean that God would surely come and judge the nation. They were in violation of the covenant and the new movement had to be stomped out.
Why would pagans care? Simple. These people would be deviants in society. "You're not worshiping the gods or the emperor? You're in fact proclaiming our gods are not real and that the emperor is not deity? If you keep this up, the gods and/or Rome will judge us!" Both groups had something to gain by going after the Christians.
Despite this disagreement, a good reader will learn much from this book. The story is also told with powerful descriptions of visiting the areas where the events took place in modern times. One gets to see how the Empire was growing alongside of Christianity and go through the letters of Paul deemed to be authentic and see how they could be translated in light of this information.
Another point of interest is that Crossan and Reed want to tie this in to modern America today. How are we like the Roman Empire and differnt from them? I found myself puzzled though in wondering what great message Jesus taught that was so unique that it is still here today from a non-Christian viewpoint. For Crossan and Reed, the impression is that it is about the end of violence, but this does not seem to be the main message of Jesus.
As NT scholars agree, Jesus's message is the Kingdom of God and the message would then be that God has begun His rule and He has begun it in the person of Christ. The resurrection would be the vindication of that claim. (As well as providing forgiveness of sins.) This is the solution to the problem of evil. God is reworking this world and reshaping it by the spread of the Gospel.
Non-violence would be good, but to what end? Just so we can all get along? If Jesus's message had simply been that we should love one another and avoid violence and live in unity, it is hard to imagine how it is that He would have been crucified. It must be something much more radical. This is the problem I have with Crossan's Jesus every time I read about Him. He's a nice guy. There's nothing wrong with being a nice guy, but nice guys while they finish last, do not get crucified.
Despite these differences, I do encourage Christians interested in the historical Jesus and studying Paul to read Crossan and Reed's work. It will be very eye-opening and reading a stance different from your own will help you inform yours.
on June 2, 2014
As other reviewers have noted, this isn't primarily about Paul himself. It presents a detailed picture of life in the Roman empire at the time of Paul and, for me, there was a lot of new information. I came away from the book impressed by the extent to which the message of Paul, and of Jesus, was a challenge to the accepted ideas of that culture.