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The Birth of Christianity : Discovering What Happened in the Years Immediately After the Execution of Jesus Paperback – March 3, 1999

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Editorial Reviews Review

John Dominic Crossan is the leading contemporary scholar on the historical Jesus, which means that his vocation is to look behind, around, and through Christ's resurrection, toward the goal of establishing what can be known about the life of Jesus of Nazareth.

His search for the historical Jesus, however, takes place in the larger context of the life of the church. Among the goals of The Birth of Christianity is to teach readers how our habits of worship have created false gods. To that end, Crossan attempts to unearth the religion's earliest forms. What did Christianity look like, Crossan asks, between the crucifixion and the conversion of Paul? And what might Christianity look like today had Saul never set off toward Damascus?

Crossan's conclusions don't come from newly discovered documents; they come from freshly-minted academic methodologies. He uses anthropology, history, and archaeology to construct his arguments about the essential nature of both Jesus' religion and Paul's. The 25-cent summary of his conclusion is that Jesus did not recognize the dualism between spirit and flesh that formed the basis of Paul's apocalyptic Christianity. In other words, Jesus was more Jewish than Paul.

The ramifications of this argument are huge. Crossan says much of Christian worship--and many of the world's injustices--are based on the dualistic Christ that Paul preached. Though Crossan doesn't bully readers into accepting his conclusions, he does press hard for them to situate their own beliefs in relation to his interpretations of Jesus and Paul. At every point in the evolution of his argument, he asks readers questions such as "How do you understand a human being?" and "What is the character of your God?" Then he proceeds to answer these questions himself. Finally, he tells readers what he thinks these answers mean.

It's an incredibly civilized style of argument--both spiritually and intellectually respectful and always rhetorically engaging. Though The Birth of Christianity weighs in at almost 600 pages of text, you'll probably want to read every word. And after that, you'll probably be hungry for more. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

In his latest book, Crossan (New Testament, DePaul Univ.) asks, "What in that original interaction [between Jesus and his first companions] made continuation from before to after [the Crucifixion] possible or even inevitable?" As with his massive The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Peasant (LJ 2/1/92), Crossan incorporates crosscultural anthropology, literary analysis, and the history and archaeology of Roman Judea in the first century C.E. to answer his pivotal question. Reading early Christian texts against a background he rigorously establishes in the first half of the book, Crossan teases out a picture of infant Christianity. Though he may not convince all readers?his case rests heavily upon the priority and independence of questionable documents?Crossan's work cannot be rejected out of hand. Recommended for seminary and academic libraries.?Craig W. Beard, Univ. of Alabama at Birmingham Lib.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 688 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne; 1 edition (February 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060616601
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060616601
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.6 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (84 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #264,563 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John D. Crossan is generally acknowledged to be the premier historical Jesus scholar in the world. His books include The Historical Jesus, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, and Who Killed Jesus? He recently appeared in the PBS special "From Jesus to Christ."

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

83 of 84 people found the following review helpful By William Alexander on September 6, 2003
Format: Paperback
One reviewer has remarked that Crossan brings up a lot of great ideas that you don't necessarily agree with and I agree with this. Being of the Jesus Seminar, many of the conclusions that Crossan draws are controversial and may lack familiarity; they are also sometimes quite unconventional and not always completely persuasive. However, Crossan is a brilliant scholar who has studied the Jesus question for decades and it shows. He goes further into the minutia of the study than the majority of his colleagues and for this his work deserves to be admired and studied. He brings an extraordinary wealth of information to the table when he discusses an issue and never fails to advance compelling ideas and conclusions. His methodology is thorough and comprehensive, much more so than many other scholars.
This work, a follow up to The Historical Jesus examines Christian beginnings in an archaeological and anthropological context with a careful discussion of the roles of oral tradition, literary developments, community tradition, and gender roles. A very interesting set of chapters concerns the ability and role of memory in oral tradition. He makes it plainly clear that absent an accurate, recorded history of even the simplest event, the original story cannot but evolve and change as it is re-remembered, re-told, re-imagined. As in other cases, these acknowledgments are extremely helpful but not as persuasive as they might appear to be. In ancient cultures where oral tradition was the only way of transmitting stories among illiterate peasants, memory was emphasized and specific memorization of even long texts and stories occurred regularly.
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89 of 99 people found the following review helpful By Sharon Adams on January 31, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I purchased this book with great expectations. The title and the author's credentials and reviews led me to believe I was ready, indeed eager to tackle it. I am a lay-reader, with a keen interest in the historical Jesus and the historicity of Christianity, especially as research reflects and illuminates my faith.
While I commend Crossan for his scholarship, I feel strongly that he needs to edit and refine his material for the lay-reader. Much of these book is a dialogue between the author and his scholarly colleagues in theological circles, especially the Jesus Seminar. Of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong with such a dialogue, but the book shouldn't be marketed for the general public, except possibly as a reference source.
The author needs to compare his writing and editorial style to recent books by Dr. Marcus Borg.
Terms, historical personalities and theological works need to be clearly defined, with plenty of transition review between sections and chapters.
Crossan deserves a wide audience, especially among lay-persons.
This book is simply too advanced, and belongs primarily theology collections.
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61 of 68 people found the following review helpful By on January 13, 1999
Format: Hardcover
John Dominic Crossan, the leading contemporary scholar on the Historical Jesus, brings the disciplines of anthropology, history and archeology to bear in reconstructing life in the decades of the 30's and 40's AD. One intriguing thesis of the book is that the Christianity of the disciples may have been quite different from that handed down to us by Paul.
Exploring that thesis, Crossan stimulates the reader to rethink one's ideas on history and Christianity. Along the way, he challenges modern intellect by bringing into play current images and words like reconstruction and interactivity. Crosssan compares the process of reconstructing history with looking down a well at your reflection. When you see your reflection, you cannot know the character of the water in the well, you must disturb it to do so. Disturbing the surface of the water distorts ones reflection. So the process of historical reconstruction goes on, using current science and knowledge to reconstruct the past and drawing from ancient interaction, lessons that increase our understanding of the human condition. As a Real Estate professional, I especially identified with Crossans description of the convergence of the Roman culture that treated land as an exploitable commodity with first century Judaism that looked at land as a Gift from God. As a recent visitor to Israel, I witnessed to current manifestations of the same forces. Crossan's description of Roman commercialism and it's effect on Jewish peasants in the area of the Galilee in the early first century was, for me, a fascinating and illuminating experience.
From a firm, multi-discipline foundation, Crossan examines the Q Gospel, The Gospel of Thomas and the synoptic Gospels.
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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful By KDH on August 9, 2005
Format: Paperback
In the Birth of Christianity John Dominic Crossan's topic is the development of early Christianity. Crossan primarily focuses here on the twenty to thirty years between the beginning of Jesus' public ministry and the early to middle part of Paul's public ministry. The thesis of Crossan's massive work is that early Christianity was a Jewish sect which developed through two great traditions - one based upon Jesus' sayings, the other based upon Jesus' vindication over death.

Crossan calls the tradition of Jesus' sayings the "Life Tradition." Much of Crossan's exploration of this tradition is based upon his understanding of Jesus as an ethical eschatological prophet rather than an apocalyptic eschatological prophet.

The second tradition Crossan labels the "Death Tradition." Crossan's assertion here is that the stories of Jesus' passion - and particularity those of his resurrection - were developed by the early Jerusalem Christian community. Perhaps after being inspired by visions of a spiritual Christ, members of this community became fascinated with the idea of the vindication of the righteous. Crossan explains that this idea is strongly Biblical and is also a part of other ancient stories. From this community the story of Christ's passion and resurrection was developed. Crossan describes this process as prophecy historized, rather than history remembered. He argues that if Christ's passion and resurrection as portrayed in the Gospels is historical one would expect to have more early records of it.

Much of Crossan's work, particularly his investigation of the Death Tradition relies upon Crossan's "Cross Gospel". This Cross Gospel according to Crossan is an early pre-Markan tradition which is imbedded in the Gospel of Peter.
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