Full-Tilt Boogie

This is a blog for transformational thinking enthusiasts.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

John Dominic Crossan Interview

John Dominic Crossan is a leading scholar in the field of the Historical Jesus. He has written several bestsellers on the subject.

Hanley: Professor Crossan, I’d first like to ask you about how you conceive of God. Do you believe in a so-called personal God or how do you think about it?
Crossan: First thing, I don’t think about it in most of those terms at all in order to affirm them nor to negate them. I don’t find them helpful at all. I’ve spent 26 years at DePaul University teaching world religions. And at the end of that time I came to one empirical conclusion – not a conclusion of faith - that human beings are hired-wired for religion in the same way that we’re hard-wired for language. That does not mean we’re hired-wired for English, and it does not mean we’re hard-wired for Christianity. But we are hard-wired for religion. And by religion, I would mean some response, some required response to the mystery that surrounds us. I would not put it any more precise than that in terms of hard-wiring. In other words I take very seriously that human beings throughout human history have tried to—let me put it in the most general terms—name the holy. And whenever they’ve decided not to name the holy, they’ve named in any case usually as unholy. So I think the great experiment we’ve gone through in the last 200 years that the enlightenment has got rid of religion has simply brought in even more horrible types of it than we already knew. And most of the ones we knew were pretty horrible at their worst. So I do not set at all with the theodicy or up in heaven or whether God is a person. I do not think in all that experience that human beings can ever name the holy or the sacred except in metaphor. Therefore to imagine God as a person, to imagine God as a power, like the storm, to imagine God as a process, like say, oh, like we set up the traffic process, shall we say, an order in the universe, or to imagine God as a state. All of these are ways, metaphorical ways, in which human beings across time and space have attempted to articulate that experience of the holy. And I would draw these conclusions. It is not possible ever to do it without a metaphor and therefore any one metaphor is radicalized, if you will, and somewhat relativized by the presence of other metaphors. But the only thing sadder and sillier than attacking a metaphor like God as person is attacking it as a nonperson. You can only replace it by another metaphor, and therefore theism which thinks of God as person anthropomorphically is one of the valid ways human beings have done it. I lived down in Florida. During the hurricane season, we anthropomorphized the hurricanes all over the place. I listened to a guy on the television talking like the character of the hurricane. And hurricane is vigorous. And the hurricane is furious. And it’s none of those things. It’s just a hurricane. So I find no more or less problem with anthropomorphizing God than I do with anything else we do. But I never make the mistake of thinking that that is anything more than metaphor. And then, of course, what I want to know immediately is, ok, fine, but tell me, what’s this metaphor? In other words, it’s not totally irrelevant whether somebody thinks of God as a warrior, a killer in plain language, or a punitive judge, or a loving father. So the refinements of the metaphor God as person become very, very, very important because they will make us who we are. If we have a killer God we will undoubtedly be killers.
Hanley: Absolutely. Well, in some of your work, obviously, you say it in many pages, but sometimes you simplify it into the construction that God is justice. As I think about that, one thing that comes up for me is Darwin and evolution and the idea of survival of the fittest and this point, I suppose, that we’re just animals, and when you bring in the idea of justice that brings in a whole system of meaning. Do we deserve that? Are we making that up? How do you reconcile the justice notion with Darwin?
Crossan: And by using justice, you notice it doesn’t have to be the person of God is just. If you’re thinking in a metaphor of a person, of course, you say God is just. But justice is just fine because as far as I’m concerned I’m accepting Darwin, no problem with that at all. As soon as we become conscious and aware of our responsibility to evolution - I mean, this is why I find Darwin extremely important - we suddenly become aware that it’s going on there. And if we have the possibility, and I go beyond possibility, the inevitability, the duty, the responsibility of taking some control of it since clearly if the fittest, for example, were today those with the atomic bomb and they decided to be the fittest, we would all be “extinctest.” So I take very seriously the inaugural parable--I use that to avoid an offensive word that might be offensive to some, like myth -- in the garden Eden that we chose, not just as we say, a forbidden fruit. But we chose the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. That’s a fairly important distinction. We just didn’t choose knowledge. We choose morality. That’s knowing the difference between good and evil. So I think we are responsible for what we’re going to do with evolution because clearly we’ve passed the point of which we can not only extinguish our life on this earth but again all human life on this earth for sure, all life at all on this world, possibly, and even the world itself. So I don’t see at this point if you never bring up God or bring up anything else, but you simply took Darwin seriously and looked at the world and at ourselves, I think we have a clear responsibility for the future of evolution, if there is going to be a future. I would say, in other words, the justice that I’m talking about is not something external to that process. It’s something that we have become aware of that we have been getting away with pretty much since the Neolithic revolutions, let’s say about 6,000 years ago, we’ve been getting away with little games like empire and injustice and violence. And what is happening is they have been escalating. If the level of violence today was the same as the level of the 1st century, you could simply say, oh, that’s the way it is. It’s like bad weather. You’re just stuck with it. But clearly the level is now escalating. Right you we have a very simple situation where if a certain gentleman in North Korea decides to go down and lob an atomic missile at Seoul, nobody knows what that might lead to any more than they would have known in 1914 when you kill an Arch Duke it would plunge the whole world into war. So I’m simply saying that built into the process of the universe, as I see it, in a totally Darwinian background, if you will, we do not get away with injustice. That doesn’t mean that I can’t cheat you and get away with it. But cosmically speaking and looking over the sweep of things in at least 6,000 years of human history, the price of injustice and its violence is getting worse and worse.
Hanley: Now, you talk about the notion of religion being hard-wired for human beings. And I can see, on the other hand, that through the enlightenment certainly quite a number of people were able to let’s say free themselves of that notion and apparently be more or less happy. And then I look at the religious conflicts through history, right up to today. Is it possible that we’d be better off without the whole system and just get past all of the mythology and get to a point where we see with clear eyes that it’s up to us to create the world we want? There’s no supernatural help. We have to do it. Now, I think your work is very subtle, and it may even lead exactly to that, but it’s still within the whole language of religion and God and so on. So is it possible we need to break free from that?
Crossan: I think that’s the, and I would say honorable, experience that we’ve conducted really over the last 200 years. And since we began with the presumption that religion explained everything, controlled everything, dominated everything, that grasp had to be broken. It had to be broken. And as far as the enlightenment did that, it was absolutely correct in the idea that there are all sorts of things that religion can’t answer. Religion, for me, has to do with meaning. It can’t tell you what happened. It can give you what it thinks is the meaning of what happened. But then when it starts telling you that you can decide, for example, history or science, or anything else by simply religious means, I think that’s what had to be broken at the time of the enlightenment. So that point is the positive side. But the negative side of it is the presumption that science is the total answer. Just for example, I absolutely the next time I go up in a plane want it to be built by scientists. I don’t want it to be built by poets or theologians, or people who tell me if I’m good Christian then I’ll be closer to God and not to worry. I want it done by a scientist. And I’d like to see it working a bit before I try it. But when I said hard-wired for religion, if somebody said hard-wired for meaning, I would have said, fine, that’s really what I’m talking about. The second point would be this. That since I believe it’s hard-wired into our brains, then like everything else it is subject, of course, to corruption and maybe the corruption of the best is worst. So I could make the same argument -- let’s abolish religion because look at all the damage it’s done. And it’s doing it more today maybe than it’s ever been doing. But then I turn around and say, now, we’ve got to work on family. That should go too. And come to think of it, the nation state better go too. So when I look at some of the mega institutions of normalcy in our world, all of them are capable of supreme evil and supreme good. And I find, as I say, after 200 years, it is now extremely naïve, and I’m going to use that word, naïve, to conclude that when we leave out religion nothing worse comes in in its place because I think it’s just another mode of religion without using that term. I’m not convinced we can do without it. And then one final point, I don’t think we human beings can get enough leverage to change civilization and its normalcy without, and I’m not using the word “supernatural,” but without some transcendental leverage point. That would apply to Gandhi just as much as it would apply to a Christ. And I’m saying that not to be polite but because I’m not certain, for example, that the nonviolent resistance which is necessary to establish justice is something we are capable of without a transcendental grounding. I don’t mean by that we’re guaranteed to go off to heaven afterwards, and otherwise we wouldn’t do it. I’m not talking about that at all. I’m talking of - Where do you get the leverage to take on civilization itself if that’s normalcy? Just as some say to me, “Yeah, violence is normal. It’s like the weather and you get used to it.” But having said that, though, John, I would insist that I cannot think of anything more dangerous to the world that we have invented than religious extremism because probably—I say this, probably—there more than anywhere else you’re liable to run into “cosmicide,” that is the happy idea that you can blow the world up because we’re going somewhere else. When that idea is in religion be it Islam or Christianity, I think it is lethally dangerous more than anything else that I can imagine.
Hanley: Now, the Buddhists seem to take it as a matter of course that the essential enlightening insight is to see all meaning as illusory, all stability and certainty as illusory. First of all, do you agree with that point? And if so, how does this notion of justice intersect or can it with the Buddhist enlightenment?
Crossan: Well, there’s a few things. And I prefer to say this in dialog with a Buddhist, but many Buddhists run into the same problem with the war in Vietnam. And say a Buddhist who incinerated himself in the streets of Saigon was operating out of a somewhat, how should I put it, different mode of being than simply “this is all illusion.” I think that was a very clear protest out of Buddhism. And I don’t think a Christian would ever do that. I think that’s one of the places where you glimpse the difference between two profoundly different religions. And that’s not a value judgment. It’s just a statement. That a Christian saint might do all sorts of things, but one of the things probably not done would be incinerate himself. So that was a form of protest that Buddhists had to face themselves and ask, you know, what is our duty to do in this case. How do we resist? And that was their mode, I’m going to say, of nonviolent resistance. But I’m not sure if I would be happy with saying it that way because I think it is dangerously close to the suicide bomber. It’s not the suicide bomber. It isn’t. It isn’t because I kill somebody else, but still it’s violence to yourself. Now, coming out of that tradition you could say, “Well, I don’t exist.” But I think that’s the point where that tradition would have to then ask itself – “What do I do when I’m up against violent injustice in this case? How do I resist it?” And that, I think, only would be one way of doing it. And my suspicion would be that that would never become normative within Buddhism, as a way of doing it I mean. The other thing I would say is that, you know, you have to figure that when the Buddha came out of the palace and saw the suffering around him, one of the questions he should have asked himself was, “Yes, everyone is going to die, the king and the commoner, but in the meanwhile, what is the king doing to the commoner?” So there’s a delicate interface and dialog between justice in the Christian tradition, which by the way, is not what is practiced in the Christian tradition, and I totally admit that, or compassion in the Buddhist tradition. In my own work, as you know, I much prefer to concentrate on Christianity itself, not at all because I’ve any presumption that it is the only way to God or the holy or justice or anything else, as I really don’t, but because it’s my responsibility as a Christian and also as a biblical scholar. It’s my responsibility to watch the things that are done in the name of the Bible. And I would, as I said, much prefer to talk this in dialog with somebody who is doing the same within Buddhism rather than speak about Buddhism as an outsider, even having taught it in class.
Hanley: Well, my background is in philosophy. So I just want to press this a little bit more just on a philosophical level, I suppose. You have this one notion of empty and meaningless, and then another notion of right, wrong, good, bad, justice. Are they just opposite ends of the spectrum and they just can’t really intersect or do you see any connection?
Crossan: If we continue to probe that one example of the Buddhist monk pouring petrol on himself and incinerating himself in Saigon during the Vietnam war, I don’t think he would ever have done that simply and say, “That’s really I don’t exist so I’m just going to burn myself.” That’s a very specific happening. And it’s a very specific example that you would have to say, well, there is a consideration of right and wrong here. Clearly it’s a protest against something. And they must be judging that wrong. They are making a conclusion of this is the way to do it, to protest it. And I think, you know, if you go back to one of the stories about the Buddha’s incarnations, when he finds that the tiger, tigress actually, is too weak to feed her cubs. And he feeds himself to the tigress. I think whether you like it or not there are statements in there about what is good. I presume it would be bad to pass by and say, “Have a nice day tigress, but you don’t exist and nor do I.” I’ve always presumed that in Buddhism, the emptying of the self is so that it can be filled with something else. And that comes remarkably close to what somebody like Paul would tell you in his language that spirit that he has as a character that he has, I might translate it as, it’s no longer his, but the spirit of God. So we can certainly, if you tried to imagine in Pauline language what I might call of the analogy of a heart transparent, a spirit transplant, it would have to be emptied first of all of the old heart. And at that point, yes, you’re getting to a depth of which the two of them could talk to one another.
Hanley: Very interesting.
Crossan: You’d only know that, I think, if you watch what the Buddhist does. Otherwise you could say, “Well, gee, if you don’t exist then you shouldn’t care about ethics or anything else.” And that’s the sort of point at which most religions can be—I’m not saying you’re doing this—can be sort of almost mocked, you know, like looking at Christianity coming out with this stuff about justice. Then you look at the history of Christianity and you say it’s all bunk.
Hanley: My understanding of Nietzsche is that he more or less thought Christianity was the worst idea ever invented for human beings. If he was here and he was his rational self, what would you say to him?
Crossan: And I presume he knows what has happened since his time to Europe?
Hanley: Sure.
Crossan: I would say first of all you know about your present experience of Christianity. You don’t know where I’ve spent my life which is in the 1st century when Christianity started and the fact that Christianity has never even before the New Testament was finished lived up to what it still proclaimed as its purpose, its function, not just its ideal, but its meaning. I would say start reading the New Testament and try to understand it against its own history, against its own time, against its own place, and see what it is saying. And I might mention to him you can see what has happened to your writings in the last hundred years. I presume you don’t agree with its usage in every case. Well, that’s pretty much what happens to anything like this because it takes on the normalcy of civilization. And I’m not surprised, for example, that even before the New Testament ends and as it ends, we’re looking forward to Jesus coming back as a violent killer which is the sort of stuff we want, somebody who will kill other people for us.
Hanley: You mean like, you know, the last judgment?
Crossan: No. I mean the last book of the New Testament. I mean the Book of the Apocalypse, the Book of Revelation. I’m talking strictly within the hundred years from the death of Jesus, you already have a book that looks forward to his return, yeah, for judgment, but first of all for slaughter. So we have a pull, the pull of normalcy for these 6,000 years which is that empire and injustice and control and domination is the way the world has been run. The Roman Empire was just the latest in a dreary line. And we in America are just the most recent in a long dreary line. And the toll of that imperial injustice is mounting, is escalating steadily, and the opposition to it, I mean, the violent opposition to it is escalating from the minor things like barbarian invasions across your frontiers to the sort of stuff we’re up against at the moment.
If people are pretty much convinced for whatever reason - could be totally honorable reasons - that religion is unnecessary, then the obvious thing will be everything I’m saying is just silly. It’s like talking about the advantages of horse drawn carriages or some early Amish, something like that. So I think there is a profound level whether we’re dealing with something which is necessary and we have to get it out there so we can look at it and examine it and see how much of it is destructive and how much of it is affirmative.
Hanley: Now, the Jews started with the notion that our God is the only God. He’s the real God. I think this was a unique point in history. Do you think it would have been better if they wouldn’t have gone to that level? If they would have left it as he’s our special God, would history be better as a result?
Crossan: I actually don’t think so because there is no profound advantage that I can see simply in going from many to one. If you announce that there is only one God, I don’t know if I’m impressed at all. I’d like to find out the character of this God we’re talking about. So what impresses me is not that the Jews are talking about one God for all the earth, which they clearly are, but that you can go through the Old Testament and, of course, there’s all sorts of stuff you may or may not find totally outdated in there. But there’s a consistent insistence that God is a God of justice. I think they got that right. And it comes, no doubt, from a small battered people. Being Irish I have sympathy for small battered people, before they become strong and learn to battle back. And so the important thing is not simply we get from many to one, which I don’t know is good or bad really, until we get a look at the character. But there was a certain complacency and a certain, honestly, too, about paganism that said, “Hey, we all worship different things. So we worship war. We should have a god of war. We worship sex. We should have a god of sex. We worship money. We should have a god of money.” There’s a tremendous honesty about paganism and simply admitting that we worship what we worship. Now, when you say there’s only one God, ok, fine. That’s no big achievement, until you say, well, and this oneness is a God of justice, then I’m interested. If you simply say it’s more powerful than all the others and it’s a bigger killer, then that’s just talking about the American military. It’s stronger than maybe all the other militaries in the world put together. I don’t see how that’s any sort of a moral advancement. It’s simply a matter of raw power. But the important thing for me would be whether you’re going to insist that God is a God of justice and that the world belonging to this God, now in their language, simply will not work any other way. It seems to mean right and totally in evolutionary terms, forget theological terms.
Hanley: Do you think that the Muslim god Allah is a god of justice?
Crossan: Well, yes. But once again, the primary responsibility of each religion right now is to name its own extremists. My primary responsibility is the rightwing Christianity in this country which on a Bible basis is supporting what our government is doing and pushing Israel into probably an insoluble situation. Once again, if I’m talking to a Muslim I know the first thing a Muslim is going to say to me correctly is: “You guys are all talking about justice. Let me talk about Christian history. Let me talk about what you guys have been doing in the Middle East for a hundred years since we discovered oil.” And I’m going to have to admit, yeah, that’s right. The British did it before us. And we’re doing it now. And the only reason we care about you and not Africa is because you’ve got oil. So I know that whether we are talking sort of in an abstract thing about Islam versus Christianity -- in the theory you could say, well, in the theory, Mohammad accepted from the beginning that you could go to war. That was not accepted in Christianity in the theory. In the practice, I think it’s touch and go which has the worst history.
Hanley: But theologically speaking you would say that there is enough of a similarity between the two systems that we could find a lot of common ground?
Crossan: I think so, John. But again, I would really want—and I’m not just being polite—I would want some Muslim who is capable of doing to their Koran – I can’t do it, I really can’t -- what I can do to the New Testament because for example if I as a Christian went into the New Testament and simply focused on the Book of the Apocalypse, the Book of Revelation and said – ‘Well any day now Christ is coming back and he’s going to kill all you evil doers and that’s my position,” I doubt if I’d get much of a response from the Muslim except – “No, Allah is going to do it to you people.” So we need somebody in Judaism, in Christianity, and in Islam, who can read their traditions with the same critical self-consciousness that we’ve used to ours to, in a certain sense, separate the wheat from the chaff. And the chaff is just the normalcy of anyone hearing something radical and saying to themselves, “Oh, yeah, I’m going to tone that down a bit.”
Hanley: Well, let’s go now into your main subject which is the historical Jesus. I know you’ve written thousands of pages on this and I’ve read most of them. In a nutshell, who was this man Jesus of Nazareth?
Crossan: Well, first of all, he was an absolutely valid human being in any way, shape, or form we can designate it. Stick a pin in him, he’d have hurt. So that’s the first thing to say. And the second thing is that he’s living as a Jew in a world in which the titles of Caesar were Son of God, and God, and lord, and savior of the world, all of which made sense to millions of people because he had saved the Mediterranean world, I suppose if you want to be cynical, from Roman civil war, but at least from civil war and destruction. And when these titles are then taken from Caesar, and I mean taken from Caesar, and applied to Jesus, and I’m trusting that the Romans understood it correctly, that the Christians weren’t just all saying, “Well, he’s our little savior, you know, we’ve got a couple of little Son’s of God, he’s just our little local fellow.” That they’re saying Caesar isn’t God because ours is. Then the 1st century question is, “Ok, what’s your program? We know Caesar’s program. We see it all around us. It seems to be highly successful, working very well. What’s your program that you dare to use those names”” It’s really not more profound than if I announced tomorrow, alright, I’m going to be president. The first question anyone, when they finish laughing, is going to be, “Well, what’s your platform?” What’s your program? That’s the 1st century question to Jesus. Think of a world in which human beings could become divine, whether we like it or not after the enlightening, in a pre-enlightenment world like the 1st century that was taken for granted it could happen. So the only question was, “Well, ok, if you’re claiming that this human being is divine, what’s he going to do for us? Or what has he done for us? And why shouldn’t we roll over laughing?” So the big question for me is - What kind of a program is incarnated in Jesus? And I mean incarnated and I’m not using that really as a theological term but to distinguish it from simply a philosopher talking about it because Caesar was not a philosopher talking about it. He was doing it. So the 1st century pre-enlightenment question is not the post-enlightenment questions that you and I might get into such as: Do you think Jesus really was the Son of God? Do you think Sons of God can exist? Do you think gods can create human beings? All of which as far as I’m concerned is simply their way of saying that this guy, Caesar or Jesus, incarnates transcendental possibilities for the world. And I have no problem taking transcendental and referring to it as “radical” if “transcendental” bothers anyone. But I mean, that vision of that kind of staggers our imagination. So as far as I’m concerned, you cannot understand Jesus without knowing that every silver coin in the world he lived in said that Caesar was the Son of God.
Hanley: And Jesus’ program, if I understand you correctly, was about creating equality in the world in a very radical way where social divisions were flattened and everybody was appreciated. Would you agree with that?
Crossan: Well, I’d put it in a slightly more physical way where everyone got a fair shake of God’s world - where a slave might be appreciated. But if we’re coming straight out of the vision of Torah and the prophets, the world does not belong to Caesar and does not belong to us. It belongs to God and must be administered fairly like any steward would administer an absentee master’s domain as it were. So how does everyone get a fair shake out of a world that belongs to all of us? And in one sense the key parable for me, and I’m insisting it’s a parable, is the scene between Jesus and Pilate where Jesus says my kingdom is not of this world. And we usually tend to think, “Oh, that means it’s in heaven or the future, or the interior life.” But, of course, it continues by saying that if my kingdom was of this world, my followers would be in here fighting to get me out. So I couldn’t find anything clearer than that. “Pilate, your kingdom is based on violence. My kingdom is not.” He doesn’t even mention justice. He mentions violence. So the kingdom of Caesar, no matter how peaceful it is, how orderly it is, how prosperous it is, is based on violence. It’s based on the legions all along the frontier holding everyone else at bay for as long as he can do it. The kingdom of Rome is based on the injustice of violence, and the kingdom of Jesus is based on the justice of nonviolence. So you’ve got a radical clash of two visions. And quite frankly, I don’t have a third one. I still can’t see much difference in the world I live in between the clashes of those two visions. The only difference is that the violence is escalating, I mean, exponentially.
Hanley: Now, it seemed like Paul came along and he wanted to focus on Jesus’ death and resurrection and the idea that faith in him as your savior brings you everlasting life. And it seems like that became the dominant idea for believers. And I would say it still is and that Paul kind of obscured Jesus’ main point about actually changing the way things were. How do you see it?
Crossan: John, I don’t know if you’ve ever got a chance to read In Search of Paul, the book that I wrote with the archeologist, Jonathan Reed. It’s very recent. I don’t know if that’s in your reading list.
Hanley: I didn’t get that one yet.
Crossan: It’s fairly important if you get a chance to look at it for a couple of reasons. I spent the last, well, five or six years, since 2000 taking a group into Pauline territory in Turkey every year except 2001. And when you read Paul against the Roman background sitting in the Mediterranean sunlight, you begin to see a very different Paul than the one that’s been mired down in the Reformation. So in the subtitle of that book, In Search of Paul, we called it “How Jesus’ apostle opposed Rome’s empire with God’s kingdom.” And we deliberately wanted to say immediately that the thesis of this book is that what Paul is doing is taking Jesus’ vision of the kingdom of God out of the small world, even of Palestine, out into the great big Roman cities and capital cities and putting it into the language that they would understand and doing it highly successfully. Now, two problems, one, he’s writing letters. And you only understand the letter if you can recapitulate the situation and make it into a story. But secondly, when he focuses on the death and resurrection, that is simply another way of saying: “Ok, he didn’t just die. He didn’t, you know, get his feet wet walking in the water and die of pneumonia and is dead. He was executed.” And when Paul says death, he always means that. It would be totally different in Paul’s theology if Jesus had simply died the normal way, just died of old age, and rose from the dead and all the rest of that stuff. That would gut Paul’s theology like gutting a fish because the point is that Jesus was executed officially and legally and formally and actually properly from their point of view by Roman authority. Pilate was not having a bad day. And if he was resurrected by God, then the judgment of Rome is being reversed and that puts God on a collision course with Rome. So whether you take the resurrection literally or metaphorically, it is a statement that a legal execution by the highest authority of his time was reversed by God. So I can either focus on the life of Jesus and see a vision of the kingdom of God as anti- Rome, an alternative kingdom, and I can’t really bracket the life because otherwise I wouldn’t know why he was executed. And I think if you pushed Paul and said, “Well, wait a minute, Paul, now you’re saying Jesus was executed officially. Then he must have been a criminal, right?” Paul would have to back into his life whether he liked it or not. But basically for him taking it for granted that Jesus was not a criminal or a murderer or something, he can focus on he was executed by Rome, raised by God. God’s on a collision course with Rome. Which side are you on? So then if you are with Christ, you’re in danger and if you’re with Rome, you’re not with Christ. So it’s the same kind of either/or with these two visions. It just comes out in different theology.
Hanley: Very interesting.
Crossan: He doesn’t accept the whole Pharasaic background of the general resurrection. All of that stuff, I could see a Jew in the 1st century becoming a Christian and not even knowing anything about the resurrection and not particularly caring. Just figure that Jesus spoke for God. He’s the revelation of the kingdom of God, the presence of the kingdom of God. What happened to him? He got killed. Of course he got killed. That’s what happens to most of the prophets.
Hanley: So where was the major shift then because, I mean, eventually a thousand years later they’re in Jerusalem, not they, but I mean Christians are in Jerusalem slaughtering thousands of people in the name of God and believing that what’s important is that they’re going to get everlasting life. Was that Nicene or where did this shift occur? If Paul was more or less close to Jesus’ vision, although putting a different emphasis, where did it all go wrong?
Crossan: To understand why it went wrong it is necessary to go back a little bit and repeat again the radicality of what is being asserted. It went wrong in the air between the mouth of Jesus and the ears of people who heard it as he said, “Blessed are the poor" - "Blessed are the poor? Oh, my God. Oh, he must mean poor in spirit. And we’re all poor in spirit.” If you recognize what you’re up against, one shouldn’t be surprised at what went wrong. But, for example, to specify, you’ve got Paul insisting on equality. You’ve got Paul in the authentic letters—I’m talking about the seven letters that the scholars agree were written by Paul—insisting for example that Philemon as a Christian cannot have so much as a Christian slave. And by the time you get to the post-Pauline, pseudo Pauline, and anti-Pauline letters, like Colossians and Ephesians or Timothy and Titus, you’ve settled down quite happily for Christians to have slaves and for man to be running the church and not women. So even in the use of Paul, first of all, you can already see in the letters attributed to Paul but not written by him, and I’m just going with the consensus of the scholarship there, you can see they are already trimming him back to Roman normalcy. The huge, huge one is that when Jesus comes and announces that the kingdom of God is here and it’s a matter of taking it, entering it, it’s available, it’s not coming in the future, it’s available right here and now, you’ve been waiting for God and God is here waiting for you, that’s why nothing has been happening, we immediately invent something, a second coming. And the second coming is going to be violent. So we have the parable, and I do think this is a historical incidence of Jesus almost lampooning Pilate by riding into Jerusalem on a donkey and possibly even a female donkey on what we call Palm Sunday about the time that Pilate would be coming in from the western side of the city with his extra soldiers for Passover. When Jesus does that, we have him coming back in the Book of the Apocalypse on a warhorse. And he’s going to slaughter his enemies, which is everyone else except us good people. So before you even get out of the New Testament you’ve already settled down to, “Ok, we Christians are not going to kill,” which is at least better than the left behind theories which announce when Jesus come back the Christians are going to cooperate with them to kill. But at least in the New Testament you have got to the point of ok, I’ll just turn the other check stuff. That was great. That was great. Now come back and get it right. Come back as a killer, and not to kill us, of course, but to kill others. So we’ve already acclimatized. Now by the time you get to Constantine, and you raise the issue, then, well, if after all Jesus is going to come back as a killer to kill evil people, why can’t Christians at least have a just war? So we make a move to just war. And then by the time you get to the Crusades, of course, just war has been used to explain something which is execrable, going to Jerusalem to tack back the holy sites. So it’s a process that is not something that I see unique to Christianity. It is that again and again at the heart of great religions is a radical impulse which would, if it was followed through, give us a world of peace before it’s too late and which then immediately—and that’s what I meant by the crack about “in the air”—immediately somebody listening to Paul that, “We’re all equal inside the Christian community, so a Christian master or mistress can’t have a Christian slave inside the Christian community - That’s what he’s talking about, he’s not about outside -- and I’m listening to that saying, “Well, what you really mean is that I must consider that before God, me and my slave are equal inside before God, on the inside, but on the outside I’m the boss and he’s the slave.” So, even as Paul is saying this, you can see him wrestling with his communities because they’re already saying, “Oh, come on. Equal? Well, yeah, inside before God, spiritually.”
Hanley: Very good. Now, I want to get into a little bit of, I guess, inside scholarly baseball here. I’ve read a couple of Bart Ehrman’s books. And he’s very entertaining and seems very knowledgeable. He takes you to task for your view of Jesus in the sense that he claims the evidence shows he was an apocalyptic prophet which means he was imagining the world was coming to an end within a few short years and so his message was just that we need to prepare ourselves for that end. And he argues that your reading just doesn’t have a basis in the evidence. What’s your response to that?
Crossan: Well, first of all, he hasn’t read me. He’s glanced through some stuff. He doesn’t do his homework. Let me put it very clearly what I’ve said. I said that from the very beginning Jesus is an eschatological figure. And you have to explain that. That means that he’s part of the Jewish tradition that God is going to clean up the mess of the world one of these days, to give it as a big word. Secondly, “apocalyptic” means a claim that you have a revelation about what I would call this clean up. Thirdly, nobody, no Jew or Christian in the 1st century imagined the end of the world. Ehrman is flatly wrong to ever use that expression, “end of the world.” That’s something you and I can imagine because we can do it. We were talking earlier about we know how to end the world. In this tradition you would never have imagined God ending the world because only God could do it. And God had certified after the flood game that he’d never try that one again. So what they talk about, and this is exactly what they talk about, is “end of this eon.” Unfortunately the King James Bible translated that as the “end of the world.” That’s where the problem came from. They talk about the end of this eon, and this eon is, even in the phrase “this world,” is what we have done to God’s creation, the mess the world is in. That’s what, for example Jesus meant by saying my kingdom is not of this world. So it’s not the end of the world. It’s - How do you end the normalcy of injustice and violence and everything else in this world? The idea that the world is going to end and we’re all going off to heaven or something like that is simply not in the New Testament. It’s not even in the Book of the Apocalypse where, when you get the whole thing fixed up, it comes down from heaven to earth. So he is flatly wrong and so is any other author who says “end of the world” as anything to do with apocalyptic eschatology. It’s just wrong. It’s not wrong in the sense of a different interpretation. It’s just wrong. So we’re not talking about the end of the world. We are talking about – “How is God going to end this evil control of violence and injustice and how soon?” Alright? So that’s what we are talking about. The difference say between John the Baptist and Jesus is that John the Baptist said God is going to do it soon. And Jesus said it has already begun. Now, if you want to call that apocalyptic eschatology, I have no reason to bother fighting it. It just depends. It’s a different apocalypse. Apocalypse means revelation. So the use of apocalyptic eschatology to mean that the end of the world is coming soon is simply bad history, not just bad theology. And part of Bart Ehrman’s problem, if you read his Misquoting Jesus, is that he’s lost on La Salle Street in Chicago. He’s never got over the Moody Bible Institute. He’s still trying to fight his way out of it. You’ve read Misquoting Jesus?
Hanley: Yes. Explain that a little further.
Crossan: Well, you have to look at two sections. The middle chapters of that book, all seven chapters--and this I’ve said in reviewing it in public with him there so he’s had a chance to respond to it—the chapters of that book are all first rate. They’re clear. They’re right. They’re correct. I don’t think there’s a thing I would disagree with in all of those chapters. They are talking about how scribes have intentionally, not just by mistake, changed the text of the scriptures. No problem. I would only say that we’ve been saying for years that Matthew and Luke changed Mark. And that’s even bigger changes. And that John came up in a totally different one. So what the scribes did was Mickey-Mouse compared to what the gospel writers did to one another. But leave that aside. Then in the prologue, and the epilogue -- I don’t know -- he may have called them introduction and conclusion -- but in the chapters before and after he tells this whole story about starting off as a fundamentalist, and all the rest of it, trying to get out of that, and how all of this scribal alterations means that the Word of God can not be normative or whatever it is for Christians. But that phrase “the Word of God” is a theological phrase. It’s not an historical phrase. An atheist can talk about the words of the Bible or the words of the scriptures. “The Word,” singular, capitalized, “of God” is a theological phrase for the message of the Bible so far as you can figure out what it is. And therefore whether changes in the words change the meaning of the Word, is a whole theological issue. And he doesn’t seem to even know he’s moved from one register to the other, in the same way that if you’re going to quote me now from what I’ve said - and I take it for granted you’re not going to quote me word for word in everything I’ve said in an hour - you understand that you summarize it. And I take it absolutely for granted that you get it right. And you could call that the word of Crossan, if you will, or the message Crossan, or whatever. And the fact is you may have changed the words. I don’t see how that’s going to invalidate that. So, his book is historically excellent on textual criticism, and theologically, I’m going to use the expression, “naïve,” because anyone who wants to debate whether the Word of God is still valid in the Bible despite all the changes -- just like the fact there’s four different versions of the gospel and just like the fact Paul has changed all the stuff we’ve been talking about -- is entering a theological debate, not a historical debate in the sense that you can say, “Well this is not the first word, and the word has been changed.” You would have to say, “Yeah, this word has been changed without a doubt, but has the capitalized “Word” then been lost?” It’s a theological debate. I would say without any doubt that the Word of God had been lost in the Book of Apocalypse, that the Book of the Apocalypse is the last great refusal of the Bible to accept the challenge of God’s radicality by coming up with a violent god. So it’s not that I won’t make the judgment, but I know I’m making a theological judgment. If somebody were to say to me, “Well, it says Jesus is coming back and it says that Jesus is doing it and it’s in the Bible, so, it’s got to be right,” I say, “nope.” It’s already trying to get back to the normalcy of human civilization by de-radicalizing God and making him just like us, violent.
Hanley: So just to be clear, what do you mean exactly when you talk about he’s trying to get out of Moody Bible Institute?
Crossan: Well, in the overture to that he says that he was trained in verbal inerrancy of the Bible so that every single word in there is accurate. We’re not talking about the general message exactly or anything else. It’s every single word is perfect. Again, suppose you were transcribing me, when you tape me, and you transcribe me and you claim that every single word is what I said. And I get into an argument – “No, you misheard me. Don’t, you know?” He’s claiming that the Bible is every single word. And I don’t know how the hell you do that when you’re translating into English. But I suppose that they probably would say the King James Bible every single word in it or something. But he then fights his way out of that with, wait a minute, we can’t trust the words. The words have been changed. That’s a fact. Therefore the Word of God is not relevant. How can Christians trust the Word of God? If you read the seven chapters—I think it’s seven chapters—you will never find the expression “Word of God” used in the chapter. I think it’s quoted by somebody quoting somebody else using it. But he himself never used it. So he wrote, obviously, the introduction to his, whatever it is, before and after. And that’s where he introduces the whole thing that the changes in the words of the Bible has invalidated the Word of God. I find that silly. I don’t have a use for it. And it’s not at all that I’m afraid to say it. I just said that the Word of God has been absolutely invalidated by the Book of the Apocalypse on a more profound level than he could ever even imagine. And if that’s the last word, if I were to think that the last word of the Bible, the climax, like you know, in any story you’re watching the last great message from God, is that I’m going to come back, be it distant or imminent, I don’t care, and I’m going to slaughter all the evil doers, which is everyone except, you know, my own little group, I would say to that God, what Mrs. Job said “Curse God and die,” you know with as much dignity as he can muster because that’s a God I would not worship. That’s a killer. It might scare me. But it’s like living under Hitler or Stalin and you might keep your head down and your mouth shut, but I hope the hell you know it’s a monster.
To conclude one thing. What I am insisting on is what Jesus is saying is not that it’s coming soon, even the end of this evil eon, but that God has already begun to do it. So the kingdom is already here. And, therefore, of course, you would have to say, - if anyone is going to say the world looks just the same today Jesus as yesterday - he’s going to say, “Yeah, you were expecting God to do it all and what I’m announcing is”—this is my phrase now—a collaborative eschaton in which we have to cooperate with God.” Wait a minute. God’s not going to do it? Yeah. We’re not going to do it without God? Yeah. God is not going to do it without us? Yeah. So it’s a collaborative eschaton. And I find exactly the same thing in Paul because he’s claiming that the general resurrection has already begun with Jesus. So in other words, we’re in an in between period and I’m going to give them the integrity of their mistake of thinking that the end of the beginning would be soon. They’re insisting it has begun and it will be over soon. That’s the difference between you and I saying “Well, we’re going to take a degree, started a degree and it will be over soon.” If Jesus said it will be over soon, he was wrong. That’s, I’m saying “if” because that’s debated among scholars, depends on what you attribute to Jesus. Paul certainly said it would be over soon. But what he’s saying is “over soon” is not the coming but the ending of what has already come. I’m not surprised that they blew that one because they’re announcing a huge unexpected shift in expectation from it’s coming soon to it has already begun and it will be over soon, -- kind of reassuring you that don’t worry about the shifts, it won’t change too much. That’s the way I see it. And I have the evidence for that. I have the evidence that Jesus and Paul are telling their people that the kingdom is here, that they have to live in the kingdom, that Paul is telling people they are in Christ, and they’re being changed every day into the likeness of God. The language is there. What he is seeing is a quite correct thing that many of them are expecting it all to be over soon. But that’s right. But what they are expecting is that the arrival of the kingdom, which is already here, will be over soon. And they were simply wrong on that. And the Christians who are still talking today I presume to be wrong on that. We’ve been wrong now for two thousand years on “over soon,” so I’m taking it for granted that we’re still going to be wrong for a long time.
Hanley: So just to be clear, so you’re saying that Jesus and Paul were telling people that the kingdom is here and the end of the old way is soon and this new way is here for evermore?
Crossan: Yes. The difference would be John the Baptist is talking in classical apocalyptic eschatology. Any day now God is going to come to clean up the mess of the world. It’s not “the end of the world.” That phrase is out for me. And any scholar who uses “end of the world” is mistaken. Ok, just keep it short. Because that’s not the way they thought. That’s the way we think. But no Jew or Christian thought God would end the world because God made it. That would be saying the creation had been a mistake. They’re expecting to clean up to create a just world, a peaceful world, and a world that is not nonviolent. John the Baptist saying – “Any day now God is going to come and do it. All we have to do is wait, you know, be faithful, pray, we don’t have to do anything.” Jesus arrives and said, “No. It has already begun because we are being called to cooperate with God to enter ‘the kingdom’.” Paul says the same thing in different language. Now, maybe Jesus does, and Paul certainly does say “and this program of the kingdom as a temporal span, could be short.” Paul certainly says it. Jesus as I said, I can’t be certain of it. That’s not just, you know, trying to make him right. It’s because some of the phrases attributed to him like Mark 9:1 ‘There’s some standing here that shall not taste death before they see the kingdom of God coming in power” may be from Mark rather than Jesus. But for the argument, I would simply grant it, Jesus and Paul say it has already arrived. Get with the program. And it will be over soon.
Hanley: Well, then what would happen? I mean, if they’re talking about this worldly transformation and the kingdom is going to come, but it’s only going to last a short time, well, then what’s next?
Crossan: What you get then is a wide open question. Paul is nice and vague. He says, “Well, when Jesus has established the kingdom, we hand it over to the father.” Ok. Because they don’t have a clue. And they’re making it up as they go along. I mean, if the only thing that Christians including Jesus were saying is that it will be over soon, Christianity should have lasted maybe about two generations, at the most. But if it’s saying “It has already begun, get with the program and see how better the program is than say the Roman Empire,” then people could accept that. And then as they see the meaning of what they are doing, they can kind of rest easy on “Yeah, I guess so, whatever, some time in the future, sure, eventually.” They don’t even bother opposing it. They just tuck it away safely into the future, you know. My example would be if Martin Luther King said everything he said about civil rights and everything because in the year 2000 Jesus is going to return and we have to get it all right before he arrived. And let’s say we did what we did. And comes the year 2000, and we say, “Well, I guess he was wrong on that. But this is the right way to live. This is what our constitution says. This is really what our Declaration of Independence is about. This is the way to live. So, ok, he was wrong about that. But we were right to do this.” So that’s pretty much the way I see it. This is why I have no problem saying they kind of just let it drift away eventually.
Hanley: So Jesus and Paul were emphasizing the shortness of it to make it more palatable like, “Well, you won’t have to be this radical for very long but if you do it for this short amount of time, that will be good enough - You’ll have everlasting life?”
Crossan: I honestly don’t think that’s the way they were thinking. That’s the way we’re thinking. I think it’s much more that when you have a giant mutation either politically or religiously… For example, when you invent the automobile, it’s easier to think of it as a horseless carriage, you know, no big deal. We just won’t have horses anymore than to really try and imagine that this is going to change the world in ways that we still haven’t a clue how it will all end and the day may come where we will curse the fact that we ever invented oil and all the rest of it. So whenever you get a huge mutation like that, just very personally, I had no problem moving into a computer because I thought it was just a real smart way of correcting all your mistakes on a typewriter. I thought this is a newer typewriter like the Selectric III and you can make all these changes and I moved overnight into using a computer. Now, if I had gotten a glimpse of what this revolution was going to be like, it probably would have scared the living daylights out of me to move. So whenever you get a huge mutation, you’re going to say things like, “Oh, it’s just, you know, the kingdom has arrived and it will be over soon. Don’t worry.” I don’t think it’s a—how would I put it—a design to seduce people into compliance by telling them it wouldn’t be long because they recognize immediately that it could be very short because the Romans might kill you for this. I think at that stage they couldn’t imagine it any other way than simply a minor blip on the old idea that God’s going to come soon and clean up the world. And ok, God has arrived to do it. And we’re supposed to help and get with the program, but it’ll be over soon. I see it almost as the inevitability of any huge mutation in human experience -- an attempt to say it’s really not as radical.
Hanley: I don’t see…why would that motivate people, though? I mean, why go to all this trouble to change it and then it’s just going to revert back?
Crossan: Well, the magic of that very often would be if you really followed it and you emphasized the proximity then you might say, “Well, we just wait, you know, we just wait.” So in one sense I think it is the positive aspects of an alternative universe. I kind of see how we’re living, see how much better life would be if you belonged to a small Christian community in the huge anonymity of a Roman city. You say to yourself, “Yeah, that makes sense to me, yeah, I can see how this is better, and, fine, whatever about the future.” But, you know, I don’t find that the most rabid people in this world who are rightwing Christians and are certain it’s almost over have stopped taking out life insurance, have stopped taking out mortgages, have stopped doing all the things that would tell me they really don’t believe they’re going to be around and their children are going to be around. So I figure, ok, if there’s a fair inconsistency in any of these things, and it will probably make more sense if they simply said, “Well, we’ll just wait then.”
If you get a chance to take a fast look at In Search of Paul because that also brings this to Paul. And I don’t know if you’ve seen Marcus Borg’s book and my book on The Last Week.
Hanley: I have it right in front of me.
Crossan: Ok. That would bring some of this stuff up to date too in terms of Mark, at least.
Hanley: Great. So let’s go back to try to describe as best you can the apostles. Jesus is dead, and in that ten year period after his death, what happens?
Crossan: The first thing we know for sure is that they all seem to get out of Galilee and go to Jerusalem because within three years Paul is looking for them and he doesn’t go wander around Galilee, and knocking at Capernaum and Nazareth to say where are they. So this is a crucial thing for me. I think the reason is that they are expecting Jesus to return. And they don’t think that anyone in their right mind would return to Nazareth. So it must be to Jerusalem. So I think it’s a crucial step that they decide to go to Jerusalem. I think that puts them into the middle, first of all, of a great pilgrimage city. In other words they go urban in plain language otherwise all of this resurrection and everything else could have died out in the hills of Galilee in two generations. They go urban and within a couple of years we know that they are in Antioch and Damascus, within three years at least. So as soon as they are in Jerusalem there are on urban grid. And they’re moving into the cities of the Roman Empire. So that’s one thing that is happening. The second thing that is happening is this. I think it is historically true that followers of Jesus had visions of him after his execution. In fact that wouldn’t surprise me, a priori. If we didn’t have evidence of it, I would say from psychological anthropology the existence of visions of the beloved dead, especially of somebody killed brutally or suddenly or somebody who has disappeared and no bodies are found, it is almost inevitable. I think there’s cases of something like 70 to 80 percent of cases like that and even more so among women than men that they have visions of the beloved person as real to them as if we were sitting across the room from one another either in dreams or they see the person going down the street. So I take it for granted that there were visions. Now, I do not take for a moment the stories that we find in the New Testament about the competition between who had them, or whether it Peter or the beloved disciple. I do not think those are stories of what happened immediately afterwards, but that they were visions. That sounds right to me. Therefore I think what they have to put together is two things. Jesus has told them and they have experienced that the kingdom is already here. Ok. That’s the first absolute thing they’re holding on to. They’ve experienced the power. So there’s a pull from simply saying to themselves, “This was all a terrible mistake; let’s go back to Galilee and forget it.” That’s one historical event, whether it’s right or wrong, but that Jesus has told them all of this and they’ve accepted it; that happened. And put that together with the apparitions, visions -- I’m using that in exactly the same sense as if you had a vision of anyone who is not defrauding us and lying has had a vision. When you put those two things together, then you’re ready to make an interpretation. Then if the kingdom has begun, and if Jesus has appeared to us, then the general resurrection which was expected to be the first part of the great clean up within certain strands of Judaism, Pharasaic strands especially, has already begun. So when you get to Paul, for example, his argument is not simply that Jesus is exalted to sit at the right hand of God and be lord of the universe. That’s exaltation. It is that the resurrection of Jesus begins the general resurrection, which is a different theological way of saying the clean up has begun if you’re especially in the Pharasaic strand of Judaism. So that would be my explanation as an historian of how do you explain their resurrection faith. I mean you could simply say of course they were totally wrong but you still have to explain how did they come up with such a weird idea. They could have said, this is staying strictly within Judaism that like Enoch had been taken up to God or Elijah had been taken up to God, that Jesus had been taken up to God and you could even say he is now, you know, Lord of the Universe, sits at the right hand of God, all the rest of that stuff, and that would simple be called exaltation. You’d never use resurrection for that. It would be a unique special privilege for Jesus, even if you wanted to say body and soul and everything. That’s just special. That’s for Jesus. But to use the word “resurrection” in the 1st century context is to claim that what some people expected to be the first element of the clean up, the resurrection of the dead, especially the martyrs, begins with Jesus, is another way of saying the key word for me in early Christianity “already” as in the kingdom has already begun. The general resurrection has already begun or in our book, The Last Week, the Son of Man is already here. The claim of Christianity they think as essential can be distilled down to that one word, “already.” And then what’s going to happen next and all the rest of it is pure guess work, no matter who it comes from, including Jesus.
Hanley: Do you think that his main disciples practiced what he wanted them to – as you explain it in your books, open commonality and free healing? Did they travel around and try to break down social barriers or did they already very soon after he left just become more institutionalized?
Crossan: Well, the evidence you have, for example, is that James, brother of the Lord, James of Jerusalem, seems to be conducting sort of a common life group in Jerusalem. I don’t think of him really as being sort of the pope ahead of time or the head of the church or anything. But I see him as the leader of a sort of an ideal group called “The Poor.” They’re living not so much in poverty as in shared possessions, exactly similar like the people down in Qumran are doing, presumably the Essenes. They are living a shared life. I see Paul’s community as trying to do the same thing. That’s why he’s having so much trouble with them. And all of the problems that he’s having with them, he wouldn’t be having if they weren’t trying to do that or if he hadn’t been promoting the ideal of a shared life. The problems of the Eucharist at Corinth is some people love more than others. Are we all going to share the best food? Are we all going to share the cheapest food? Do some of us take good stuff and the rest take ordinary stuff? And do you have a common meal that they all eat together but each bring your own? All of those problems only come up because they’re trying to live a shared life in the normalcy of Roman hierarchy. So, yeah, they are definitely trying it. And they are pulling against the drag of normalcy as I call it, as best they can.
Hanley: What was the name of the group James started?
Crossan: They are called “The Poor,” and that’s the collection that Paul is taking up for the poor in Jerusalem and sometimes misunderstood like he’s taking up a collection for the street poor of Jerusalem, you know, like we might talk about the poor or the homeless or something like that. I think “the poor” is the name of what would later be in the monasteries would be called the vow of poverty, that he’s really having a group of shared possessions. I don’t know whether it is celibate. It may well be celibate even- it was already there at Qumran so it’s not something that Christianity invented. It’s already in Judaism. It’s already in Philo and in Egypt. So the idea of what we call a monastic life in plain language did not start in Christianity. It started in Egypt for men and women.
Hanley: Was this group of the poor the Ebionites or is that different?
Crossan: It may well be the group that we call Ebionites or they may be variations on the same thing, or they maybe somewhere in between. But once it’s clear that the matrix is already there in Judaism for this type of life, then the margins of whether this is Jewish Christians I would think it’s probably the same phenomena. It’s an attempt to live a shared life is the way I would put it. The vision is not just social welfare, the vision is if the world belongs to God and the stuff of the world is God’s, then what we’re saying is not it’s mine or yours - rather that we share it, like they did at Qumran with the Essenes when after one or two years of trial, they turned all their goods over to the community.
Hanley: Last question here. I know for you worrying about the afterlife is just really not something you’re interested in. And I tend to feel that way myself: (a) maybe it’s obviously, but let’s just say it, why are so many people consumed and obsessed with this idea, and (b) why would it be better for them to let that go if you are willing to say such a thing?
Crossan: Oh, yeah. I mean, I would be willing to put it this way. The focus should be - when Christians say the Our Father, the Lords Prayer, they talk about God’s kingdom coming, they talk about God’s will being done on earth, right? That’s what interests me. I take it for granted that when anyone has talked about the future ever, they’ve usually been wrong so far as we’ve been able to check it. I am interested is what I’m going to call the other life. That is the alternative mode of life to what we have right now which is the possibility that’s right here and now of a just world which we see in—how would I call it—the flip image of what we do normally every day. But it’s not an afterlife. It’s not a future life. I guess it’s future in the sense that we haven’t got there yet. But the afterlife totally disinterests me. It’s up there with the leprechauns as far as I’m concerned. I can’t tell you why there are so many television programs or movie programs about ghosts. It tells me the total failure of the enlightenment to enlighten people about this because what we’ve got now is more movies about ghosts and “supernatural”--I’m putting that in quotation—beings. And nothing seems to sell as well. So I’m not interested in transcendental snake oil at all. But I wouldn’t even want to say what I’ve just said because that immediately for most people shifts the emphasis to an argument. And I say, fine, whatever. I’m only interested in how is this world to be taken back from the thugs and given back to God. So that’s what interests me. And that’s actually what I see Jesus is interested in, Paul is interested in. They don’t say what I’ve just said. But anything they’ve said about the future has been wrong. Why would I presume that the answer is right? It’s when they say it will be over soon and it will be like this, well, they were off by two thousand years. But it will be still like that. I’m willing to say the second coming will not be soon. The second coming will not be violent. The second coming will not be literal. The second coming is what will happen when we Christians accept that there was only one coming and get with the program.
Hanley: Well, I think that’s incredibly well said and a great place to bring this to a close.
Crossan: Ok. Thank you, John, very, very much.


At 8:25 PM, Blogger nickcody1001 said...

I just read this fascinating interview eight years after it was posted. So this question is probably tossed into the wind, "Could the supposed words of Jesus and Paul about the end of an eon 'coming soon' have referred to figurative time, not literal time? In other words, "soon" in terms of the human species might be thousands of years. If the life of Jesus marks year zero, and a justice-over-violence society is manifest in the year 2500, isn't that "soon" in terms of human development? I know Paul and Jesus weren't referring to such cosmic timelines, but it still gives them a way of being "right". Right?


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