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The Essential Jesus: Original Sayings and Earliest Images Hardcover – January 1, 1998
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John Dominic Crossan's collection provides readers with a fresh look at the central lessons of Christianity's great teacher in his depictions of the "historical Jesus ... in both his vision and program." His excellent introduction puts forth the radical thesis that Jesus is best understood as a social reformer, a poor Jew in an occupied country who stressed social equality as much as or more than individual salvation. Attempting to see Christ not through 20th-century eyes but in the social, political, and economic context in which he lived and taught, Crossan points out that for the first 300 years after his crucifixion what was emphasized was not Jesus' divinity but his concern for communal empowerment. The picture that emerges is of a political and social rebel, a fearless champion to the poor and dispossessed.
Crossan's translations of Christ's sayings gathered from the four canonical gospels and the Gospel of Thomas are paradoxically both new and familiar, and their newness helps readers break outside their preconceived ideas of what they may consider to be "essential" about the revolutionary Galilean's message. Renderings such as "the somebodies will be nobodies and the nobodies will be somebodies" give well-known biblical verses renewed impact. Each saying stands alone and is meant to be read like poetry or dialectical argument, to be savored and enjoyed for its simultaneous simplicity and power. Scattered throughout the text are images of Jesus in Pre-Constantinian Christian reliefs and frescoes. Crossan explains that their emphasis on Jesus' concern with open healing and shared eating are further evidence of his radical social commitment. Those who are not afraid to challenge their assumptions about Jesus' teachings will find much of value in this volume. --Uma Kukathas
From Publishers Weekly
With a concise gathering of 88 sayings by Jesus and 25 pre-Constantinian Christian paintings and other works of art of Him, Dom Crossan once again focuses on the Galilean "in his actual life" rather than on the canonical Jesus of the New Testament's four gospels. Jesus, Crossan believes, was a plainspoken sage; and "communal empowerment" together with healing comprised the core of his message about the "program and presence" of the kingdom he pointed to. Appropriately, the 25 early depictions, juxtaposed here with the sayings, emphasize how Jesus was understood before his revolutionary humanity was transfigured by the later creeds and theology of Christian orthodoxy. Crossan's eloquent pairing of the teachings and the imagery amplifies his The Historical Jesus and Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, as well as The Five Gospels from the Jesus Seminar of which Crossan is a prominent member.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Not so -- this is much more than a Jesus Seminar pamphlet of "authentic sayings of Jesus." As a previous reader mentioned, there's one quote per page, but there are endnotes with a couple paragraphs of commentary per quote, plus a decent forward on the Kingdom movement vs. the Jesus Movement. More on the art at the end.
I found the vast majority of the quotes to be aptly chosen and thought provoking. I think it is a mistake to consider them "light." I sat there with a couple bibles and a couple different volumes of commentary dissecting each one. It's great for people like me who got wrapped up in theological niceties and historical circumstance, only to find ourselves losing touch with what Jesus _said_. It brings us back to the word whilst still humoring us with wholesome academic goodness.
Assuming my situation is not a singular phenomenon, of course.
The plates are indeed reletively poor reproductions, but such is the nature of inexpensive mass production. There are also even more lengthy endnotes on the 25 plates reproduced in the book, plus descriptions, locations, context, etc. of a good 40 more that do NOT appear in the book. It's certainly a good starting point for doing further research on early Christian art -- for the price, having that reference alone is worth it.
Taking price/performance into account, it's a five starer. Granted, I would have liked a little more commentary on each quote (which raises more questions than it answers, though assumably this is the point in the process of provoking thought), but we can't have it all, now can we?
The problem for Crossan, is that ancient people had far better memories than he'll ever know. When you consider bards in the Central Caucus region could recite the Epic of Gilgamesh from memory, or the bards of Serbia who could do like wise with similar tales. This phenomena is documented, but yet Crossan and the Jesus Seminar people, impose their limtations on those in the past. This is shoddy anthropology and smacks of promoting a point of view with selective research. The methodology overall is flawed and tells me more about Crossan than it does Jesus.
Sadly when all is said and done, what's left of the Gospels is very short uninspired prose that reads like newsprint. It is very doubtful such prose could have ever been uttered by Jesus considering how tepid and banal the translations turned out to be. Let alone inspire anyone to follow it. It makes Jesus out to be a boor and second rate rabble rouser and the Apostles a group of nincompoops by following him.
The book should appeal to reformists or the New Age type Christians like Spong and others of his ilk. If you are of Orthodox, Catholic or a more traditional Protestant denomination there is nothing here for you.
In closing, it won't get you nearer to the truth of what Jesus did or did not say. Though it will tell you much about Crossan's
agenda driven research.
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Coming to an art gallery near you :)