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.
From Library Journal
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