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105 of 111 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Plunge into the quest for the Jesus of history!
The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant is but one of a long list of controversial works that J. D. Crossan has produced. To be honest, I struggled through the first half of this 500+ page study--Jesus is barely mentioned until chapter 11. Instead, Crossan spends the first ten chapters carefully laying the groundwork for his research. By the...
Published on September 26, 2004 by John Dewey Remy

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59 of 73 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Programatically Retrojecting Postressurrectional Manifestations
When I read a book that I don't understand, I try to determine if it's the author's fault or my ignorance and mental deficiencies. In the case of "The Historical Jesus" it's mostly the author's fault.

First of all, the cover misdescribes the book as "the first comprehensive determination of who Jesus was, what he did, what he said." But Jesus is barely...
Published on January 5, 2006 by Smallchief


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105 of 111 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Plunge into the quest for the Jesus of history!, September 26, 2004
The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant is but one of a long list of controversial works that J. D. Crossan has produced. To be honest, I struggled through the first half of this 500+ page study--Jesus is barely mentioned until chapter 11. Instead, Crossan spends the first ten chapters carefully laying the groundwork for his research. By the time I reached page 225, I had covered social relationships unique to the Mediterranean region, a variety of peasant responses to political and religious oppression (especially in Palestine during the first century C.E.), Jesus' philosophical and religious contemporaries (especially from the poorest in society). Crossan approaches his study of Jesus armed with anthropological, sociological, historical and literary tools, and focuses especially on where all of his tools converge.

Especially noteworthy is his approach to the documentary evidence of Jesus' words and deeds. He draws upon 200+ years of New Testament exegesis and Christian Biblical studies to create "An Inventory of the Jesus Tradition by Chronological Stratification and Independent Attestation." I was probably more excited by this Appendix than by most of the book. The first stratum (30-60 C.E.) contains: several Pauline epistles; non-canonical gospels and fragments, including the Gospel of Thomas, and the Gospel of the Hebrews; and finally sources now embedded in the canonical Gospels, including the Sayings Gospel Q, the Miracles Collection and the Cross Gospel. The Gospel of Mark, which I had always considered one of the oldest sources, falls into the second stratum (60-80 C.E.), and Matthew, Luke, and John fall in the third stratum (80-120 C.E.) (along with many other documents/fragments in these strata). He then creates a hierarchy of sayings and stories based on the strata and the level of independent attestation. The lower the stratum (i.e. the closer in time to Jesus) and the greater the number of independent sources, the greater the weight/probability that Crossan assigns to that tradition.

Armed with all of these powerful tools, Crossan reaches the following conclusion about the original Jesus of history: Jesus was a "peasant Jewish Cynic." He preached and practiced radical egalitarianism symbolized by an open table at which the despised and outcast (including women) were welcome, and where he, though teacher and healer, was also a lowly servant. At some point he left rural Galilee for Jerusalem, and after creating a disturbance at the temple, was promptly crucified. The passion and resurrection stories were slowly built up from scriptural exegesis as scribal followers tried to make sense of what had happened to their master.

The Historical Jesus is heavy reading on multiple levels (regarding both faith and scholarship). If you haven't read anything yet on the historical study of Jesus, I highly recommend the approachable (and much, much shorter) Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, which is a popularized and condensed version of The Historical Jesus.
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37 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Incredible work of history and textual criticism, August 4, 2008
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This is a very thorough textual analysis of primary documentation for the life of Jesus. It is also not a book for everyone. I would specify three possible types of reader, one of which should not read the book, another that doesn't need to, and those that will thoroughly enjoy the work.

The first is that reader for whom the New Testament (NT) is the be all and end all on Jesus and his message. This person will see any confusion in the sources of the NT as being purely a problem of their own lack of understanding; if the texts say something that is internally inconsistant, it must be that only God or his elect are able to understand and lesser individuals are to accept on belief alone even if it doesn't make sense. For this person, the book will only serve to anger you. That will raise your blood pressure, and you don't need that. I would advise you not to read the book for your own health and safety.

The second type of reader is that for whom the story of Jesus as you learned it in Sunday school is your primary religious referent, and you rarely ever delve much into the actual NT. In short, you believe because you like the story as presented to you and the precepts it teaches as you were taught them, and you don't care if it's true or not. My advice for this reader is that you don't really need to read the book, but if you do, it won't upset you in the slightest. You might actually enjoy learning some new things you didn't know before about the history of the period.

The final category of reader is one who is passionately fond of history and enjoys a good textual criticism done by people who know how to do it well: ie. those people who know the languages in which the documents are written to such an extent that they are able to pull out every nuance of meaning from every word, and who know their history well enough to understand the significance of what is said in the primary texts. In fact, they know history so well, they actually know when they are being led astray by the agenda of the original author. This book was, in fact, actually written for this type of intellectually curious reader.

The author, Professor John Crossan, is a Biblical scholar of some note, whose credentials make him an adequate textual critic. He is also well up on the secondary sources in his field of study, both those that disagree with him as well as those that agree. He is also able to accept criticism logically rather than emotionally and emend his own point of view if he feels that the critic has a better take on the material. This shows an open mind and one that is able to assess the data dispassionately rather than assume a defensive posture toward a critic. Since individuals in history can be at times quite nasty in their criticisms, this is no mean feat in and of itself. He also tells the reader what he "used to believe" and what he now believes and why, so that one learns the thinking behind his scholarly decisions.

The first 200 pages of the book--it is a lengthy tome of 426 pages of actual text and 34 Roman numeral introductory pages--are actually preparatory chapters. That is, they are intended to make the beginner an "expert" in the history of the Mediterranean world from 100 BC/BCE to 100 AD/CE. They get rather lengthy and one begins to wonder just when Jesus will actually be part of the discussion.

Here one learns something of Roman imperialism, Hellenistic culture, Jewish culture, how Jewish culture had changed from the Mosaic period to the Temple Period and from that to the Period of Herod and the Second Temple, and about the violence that brought about the destruction of the Temple. One learns about the lives of the various classes in antiquity, how each perceived their world, what aroused them to action or even rebellion, and what happened when they did so.

One definitely learns that this was a very turbulent epic. As one of my professors in the History of Hellenistic Religions once said, "if the person of Jesus didn't exist, someone like him would have." In short, it was time. This book makes that statement even more apparent.

Although I enjoyed this material, I found myself eager to get on with the "good stuff" about Jesus. The point of the author's taking time and paper to put the data in front of me, became more apparent when I actually got to the "good stuff" because the textual critique was very confusing unless set against the background provided in those 200 pages I was so impatient to get through! Many of the stories from the Bible have seemed a little short on detail to me. In fact, some of them seem a little odd. Why would someone as important and distant as Herod and his wife care what a grungy old cynic like John the Baptist thought about their marriage? Why would they even know about him at all? This book tells the reader exactly why. It becomes abundantly clear why an army was sent to disburse his followers and take his head to the king. Why did the Temple authorities take so against John the Baptist and against his successor Jesus of Nazareth? Why would they care about either, and why go along with the execution of both? Here again the author makes it abundantly clear why, what was at stake, and what the two leaders were seen as doing.

In all an incredible work of history and scholarly criticism.
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32 of 37 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The book that converted me to Christianity, November 1, 1999
By A Customer
I do not claim to understand all of the subtleties of Crossan's scholarly methods, but it is his insistence on peeling away layers and centuries of mythology to seek the truth beneath that taught me that one does not have to check one's brain at the church door. That in itself was a revelation to me. Regardless of whether history vindicates Crossan or not, this book represents a path of inquiry that should be pursued further. The superstitions of the Middle Ages don't work anymore. I began the book as a curious atheist and finished it as a prayerful Christian.
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59 of 73 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Programatically Retrojecting Postressurrectional Manifestations, January 5, 2006
When I read a book that I don't understand, I try to determine if it's the author's fault or my ignorance and mental deficiencies. In the case of "The Historical Jesus" it's mostly the author's fault.

First of all, the cover misdescribes the book as "the first comprehensive determination of who Jesus was, what he did, what he said." But Jesus is barely mentioned until page 227. Before that, in Chapter 8, for example, the author embarks on a long essay on magic and Elijah that is hundreds of years removed from Jesus. In 500 pages the author says practically nothing about who Jesus "was, what he did, and what he said." This is a book about Mediterranean society of the first century of the Christian era rather than Jesus. Parts are interesting and enlightening which is why Crossan gets three stars from me; parts are relevant; parts are incomprehensible.

Second, is the issue of an index -- or lack thereof. Crossan has eighteen pages at the end of the book in appendices filled with mysterious numbers and references that bear no relationship whatsoever to a conventional index. Crossan reveals at page 421 that, in his opinion, Jesus was a "Jewish peasant cynic." Well, that's interesting, please explain. What's his definition of a cynic and how does he arrive at that conclusion? Perhaps it was divine inspiration because there's no index to lead you back to additional information. Thumbing through the book I finally found on page 74, a brief, incomplete, and confusing description of cynicism. That's all folks. You'd think that if an author was going to conclude that Jesus was a cynic, he'd give us a bit more background on the subject. OK, maybe I can figure out what a cynic is. but what's a peasant cynic? And what in the world is a "Jewish peasant cynic?"

Then, there's his multi-syllabic language -- as exemplified by the title of this review which is taken from a sentence on page 396. If you understand this phrase, perhaps you will like the book.

That's just a sample of my criticisms of this book. Along the way, however, the author explores some interesting issues: the honor code of the Mediterranean, the role of bandits in society, etc. Interesting -- but to spend more time on a discussion of banditry than the highlights of the life of Jesus seems a bit odd for a book titled, "The Historical Jesus." If you're interested in learning about Jesus and his life this is not the book for you.

Smallchief
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41 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not for amateurs, June 10, 2000
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Crossan's work is a complex and thorough approach to the Jesus material in the New Testament, as well as to the socio-political period in which Jesus lived. In his preface, Crossan clearly outlines the assumptions that undergird his understanding of both; and I would caution any reader to keep those assumptions in mind. Taking that caveat into account, however, this is a brilliant magnum opus by an outstanding scholar; but one that will take considerable effort for someone not already familiar with the field to understand.
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41 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Welcome to the wonderful world of Crossan, January 17, 2000
This book is possibly the greatest and most profound book concerning the historical figure of Jesus written since Schweitzer's historical Jesus. Crossan sloshes through some very complex ideas and is not exactly an "easy read" but he is well worth while. Crossan both shirks the the extreme inclusivism of the more theological Christian interpreters who wish to veiw everything in the New Testament as absolute history, and he disregards the hyper-critical scholars who wish to relegate the story of Jesus to the status of a fable. He honestly and carefully determines exactly what he concludes Jesus was like based solely upon what he can reliably prove is historical. His lines and rules are clear and very rational. He presses his own views based only on extensive and careful study. His book is masterful and should be an essential reading for any Christian or anyone who simply wants to understand the historical figure of Jesus better.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Massive, Important Scholarship, August 21, 2007
For all its flaws, John Dominic Crossan's "The Historical Jesus" is certainly essential reading for anyone interested in, well, the historical Jesus. Crossan is a scholar of the first order, and his massive erudition brings together otherwise disparate pieces of ancient history and literature, biblical and secular, to create an honest and methodologically consistent portrait.

Alas, it is his method in which I think the most flaws are to be found. The two most cited sources for his program of stratifying the "first layer" of the Jesus tradition which then moves on to multiple attestation are the "Sayings Gospel" Q and the extracanonical Gospel of Thomas. While Q is a pretty uncontroversial result of over a century of scholarship, it is uncertain, first, whether such a document exists, and second (and much more controversially) whether different layers of its construction can be identified. As for the Gospel of Thomas, his remarkably early dating in the 50s CE (compare with canonical Mark, which in his view does not come around until the early 70s, although here he is at least more or less backed up by the majority of critical scholars) is certainly open for debate. John Meier, in the first volume of his "A Marginal Jew" series, convincingly summarizes a case for the dependence of Thomas on the synoptic gospels. It is something of a shame that Crossan's portrait of Jesus depends so heavily on questionable dating; the preacher of a sapiental Kingdom of God, at least, would not have anything near the force it currently does were the Gospel of Thomas put in the second century, which is where many scholars place it.

Still, the merits of this work are many and much-needed. Among them are his critical reading of Josephus, the analysis of different protest movements in the Roman Empire (which follows on the work, primarily, of Richard Horsley), and his always insightful reading of Jesus' parables. While Crossan is often credited, and criticized, for classifying Jesus as a sort of Jewish cynic, I don't think the radicalism he sees is necessarily dependent on any philosophical "type." It's a natural enough result of his stratigraphy of the Jesus tradition.

No one can accuse Crossan of being unprovocative, and this work has inspired lively debate within the now puttering historical Jesus enterprise. Even if you disagree with him utterly, he is a force to be reckoned with. I find that my loyalties lie more with scholars like Meier and E.P. Sanders, since their portraits do not rely on terribly specific dating of the gospels, much less different layers within them, which I believe Crossan judges with too much confidence. Meier's volume 1 to "A Marginal Jew," mentioned above, contains the best criticism I have seen of Crossan and others' tendentious dating methods. Donald Harman Akenson, in his "Saint Saul," also has good critiques of such methods, although at times his criticisms amount to little more than personal attack.

As Crossan says in the closing paragraph, "if you cannot believe in something produced by reconstruction, you may have nothing left to believe in." In this I think he is quite correct, and even if his isn't the best, it is certainly one of the most formidable and enduringly interesting.
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22 of 28 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Very Tough Going, May 7, 2001
By A Customer
I've been devouring books on the historical Jesus for years, so I'm not really a beginner on the subject. But I found this book very difficult to get through. Crossan starts by saying we know very little about Jesus, so he'll use what we know about Jewish peasants and generalize. Then he states that we know very little about Jewish peasants, so he'll use the peasants of the French revolution and generalize back to 1st century palestine. The further you go, the further you feel you are from any solid information about Jesus. Add to this the growing view that Jesus was not a backwater peasant, but lived only four miles from a major metropolis, and you begin to wonder if any of Crossan's theories are worth wading through.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Thorough Analysis., January 3, 2002
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"The Historical Jesus : The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant" is a fine analysis of the world into which Jesus was born. The book draws on a number of significant sources beyond the books of the Bible, providing a wealth of background into the various societies and cultures. He provides generally lucid explanations of different aspects of people living these many centuries ago, allowing the reader a better understanding of how people thought and how Jesus' words and actions mesh with who he was in time.
While the author provides a wealth of information in a scholarly fashion, my only problem (and it is not a terrible problem) with the book is that Mr. Crossan attempts to cram too much information into one book. It certainly is a challenge to finish, but ultimately its completion is worth the effort.
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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent discussion about the world in which Jesus lived, March 27, 2000
By 
MV (Billerica, Massachusetts) - See all my reviews
A wonderful combination of research and faith. Crossan does not try to invent a life of Jesus. Instead he discusses the culture and the politics of the world that surrounded Jesus. By doing this, Crossan attempts to explain the actual meaning of Christ's message. Crossan argues that the "Kingdom of God" should be in the present, rather than in an eschatological future. In all fairness, however, the book is in serious need of a subject index. The sheer size of the book may be a little overwhelming for the average reader, but worth the read. I recommend beginning with Crossan's "Who killed Jesus" or "The Cross That Spoke" unless the reader is fully prepared for serious, albeit worthwhile, work.
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The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant
The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant by John Dominic Crossan (Hardcover - Jan. 1992)
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