John Dominic Crossan:
‘Trying to re-old Christianity’
John Dominic Crossan is so famous from his appearances in TV documentaries about the Bible that he often is stopped in airports and other public places by fans who want to shake his hand. Viewers tend to like him because it is obvious that Crossan loves the central figure in his life’s research: Jesus. But, as a former Catholic priest and a lifelong scholar of Christian history, Crossan also is convinced that Christianity is in danger of losing its original message for the world.
“Now, we’ve got to radically change what we’re saying to the world about Christianity,” Dom Crossan says in a new interview with ReadTheSpirit, which will be published later this week. “But you’ve got to understand: I’m not talking about a message that is new. I’m not trying to re-new the church. You might say I’m trying to re-old Christianity. I want us to return to the original, real and radical challenge Jesus posed to a world dominated by the Roman empire.”
Crossan is the author and star of an elaborate new small-group Bible study with both a full-color book and video messages from Crossan. The Challenge of Jesus couldn’t have come at a more crucial moment in American history. The post-9/11 decade is dawning and Crossan hopes that Christianity can get back on track—and help the whole world get back on a more peaceful course.
“After 9/11/2001, I remember that big service at the National Cathedral in Washington D.C., but I remember thinking: We’ve just missed a tremendous opportunity for leadership as a country. Someone needed to stand up in that cathedral and say: Today, we have joined the pain of the rest of the world. Most countries in this world have been invaded, desecrated, attacked. In that day of 9/11/2001, we understood the pain in our world. We could have invited people all around the world to join with us—not under us—to move toward a better world. At that moment, the whole world was with us—even France. We missed an opportunity to move toward a different vision of how we can live together as people around the world.”
His new 16-week Bible study begins with an in-depth look at the Roman empire into which Jesus and the first Christians brought their startling message of hope and a different approach to human relations. In stark contrast to the Roman mantra of Religion-to-War-to-Victory-to-Peace, Jesus brought a vision of peaceful cooperation in building God’s kingdom. Roman emperors taught—as world leaders do today—that peace comes through war and victory. Jesus taught that peace comes through courage, compassion and a just distribution of God’s resources.
Excerpt: The Challenge of Jesus
By John Dominic Crossan
The study guide is a 160-page book, divided into 16 lessons with color maps, illustrations and photos. The DVDs include 16 lively illustrated talks by Crossan, filling a total of more than 4 hours. Any excerpt merely scratches the surface, but here are a few paragraphs from the opening chapter …
Before Jesus ever existed, there already was in the first century Mediterranean world a human being whose titles were Divine, Son of God, God Incarnate, God from God, Lord, Redeemer, Liberator, Savior of the World. Those were the titles of Caesar the Augustus, that is, Caesar the One To Be Worshiped.
What happens when the titles of the Emperor in Roman Imperial Theology are taken from Caesar and given to Jesus in Christian Jewish Theology? What has changed? Imagine somebody saying to Paul, “What do you mean that Jesus is the Savior of the World? Caesar is already that—so we already have a Savior of the World. Who needs a second one?” How and why, then, did Caesar get such a title, Savior of the World, or Augustus, or all those other divine titles?
Crossan then shows us through words and images how the leadership of the Roman empire violently broke apart into various political factions taking up arms against each other. Finally, there was a showdown that ended these deadly conflicts. Crossan writes …
The date was the 2nd of September, 31 BCE. The place was off Cape Actium, on the northwest corner of Greece. It was the fateful last round in Rome’s Civil Wars. On one side was Anthony, backed by the wealth and power of Cleopatra’s Egypt. On the other side was Octavian. He was not yet Augustus. He would be, in effect, Augustus, by that evening.
Crossan describes the battle and how Octavian, as he became Caesar Augustus, believed that Rome’s gods had sealed his victory. More than that, the Roman leadership came to believe that peace was only possible through war and victory. Crossan describes temples and other inscriptions carved in stone that proclaimed this program around the Roman world—and proclaimed Caesar’s divinity. Crossan writes …
Rome never claimed to have invented that program of peace through victory. They would only claim to have perfected it, to have received it at the will of the gods, to have universalized it to the whole world. Rome would have said that peace through victory was the way of the world, of civilization itself. What other way, Rome would have asked rhetorically, could you even get world peace except through world victory?
We are beginning to see clearly the incarnate program of Roman Imperial Theology. The first title given to Caesar is none of those divine ones I have mentioned up to this point. The first title on inscriptions is always Imperator—which we usually translate as Emperor—but it actually means Victor.
After a successful battle when the general addresses the troops, you can imagine the soldiers, as it were, beating with their swords on their shields: “Imperator! Imperator! Imperator!” It does not mean Emperor. It means Victor or Conqueror! When it became the first title in every inscription—usually abbreviated as IMP—you are making the claim that the Emperor is World Conqueror! It became the title of Caesar, and, thereafter, nobody else gets it except somebody who was part of his imperial family. You are making the claim that the only way you ever get to peace is through victory—and that victory is incarnate in Caesar.
The question we are going to ask is whether there is another way. Is victory the only way to peace? Is violence the only way to non-violence? Is there another way?
READ PART 2: Our interview with John Dominic Crossan.
Interested in The Challenge of Jesus?
Visit the www.FaithAndReason.org website, where you also can see a video clip.
Please connect with us and help us to reach a wider audience
Conversation is far better than the dangerous shouting matches we’ve been witnessing in our global culture. So, please, tell a friend to start reading along with you!
We welcome your Emails at [email protected]
We’re also reachable on Twitter, Facebook, Amazon, Huffington Post, YouTube and other social-networking sites. You also can Subscribe to our articles via Email or RSS feed.
Plus, there’s a free Monday morning Planner newsletter you may enjoy.
Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online journal covering religion and cultural diversity.