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Plunge into the quest for the Jesus of history!,
This review is from: The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant (Paperback)
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.