Book review: Who is Jesus?

by John Dominic Crossan and Richard G. Watts


This is a short, very readable book (now fifteen years old) that does an excellent job of introducing the Historical Jesus; Crossan’s take in particular. Labeled by liberal Christian Marcus Borg as the “premier Jesus scholar in the world today,” Crossan’s picture of Jesus is controversial and base … which is precisely what you would expect of research into the “historical Jesus.” It’s about the flesh-and-blood man who walked the earth, not the legends that grew about him. A series of contrived questions meant to introduce the topic and the scholarship of Crossan and Watts steer the reader through the life and death of Jesus; how he lived, what he taught, what he really hoped to accomplish.

According to Crossan, Jesus was not really born of a virgin, performed no nature miracles, and never rose from the dead. Probably, he was never buried to begin with, as that would be uncommon for a crucifixion victim. Jesus was a social revolutionary with a humanitarian vision of a “Kingdom of God,” which, by Crossan’s definition, is how Jesus imagined “the way a kingdom on this earth would be established if God were in control.” This vision left Jesus in conflict with the Roman Empire, and eventually led to his arrest and sentence. By the Romans, of course, not the Jews.

Crossan insists that his book is not meant to be about Christ, but only about Jesus. Faith is not about Jesus, or about any historical reconstruction of his life, but about Christ. “Jesus”is the historical person; “Christ” affirms who he is for believers, and Christian faith is always faith in the historical Jesus as a manifestation of God to us. As Crossan explains, faith cannot ignore or bypass the historical facts, but faith goes beyond the facts to wrestle with the meaning.

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