Concordia welcomed world-renowned historical Jesus expert John Dominic Crossan on Nov. 5. Crossan presented his seminar “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior,” sponsored by the CHARIS Ecumenical Center during the day. He presented “Jesus and the Roman Empire” in the evening, which was the annual Oen Fellowship lecture and coordinated by the department of religion.
Crossan, a professor emeritus of religious studies at DePaul University in Chicago, has written 23 books on the historical Jesus and earliest Christianity. Five of them were national religious best sellers and two were written with last year’s Oen Fellowship lecturer, Marcus Borg. Crossan is co-founder of the controversial Jesus Seminar, a group that votes with colored beads to decide whether the acts and words of Jesus in the New Testament Gospels are historically authentic. For instance, the Jesus Seminar has concluded that the miracles performed by Jesus in the Gospels did not actually happen, but are parables, and Jesus was not bodily raised from the dead.
Dr. Arland Jacobson, recently retired director of the CHARIS Ecumenical Center and F-M Communiversity, said Crossan is controversial because he calls into question the way much of Christianity has misused Jesus for nationalistic or privatistic purposes.
“He wants to free Jesus from the cage in which a lot of conventional Christianity has put him, and that is what makes him controversial,” he said. “What people probably should find controversial is his case against the imperial creed of peace through violence and ‘victory,’ a critique of the Roman Empire which is equally applicable to American imperialism.”
Crossan’s evening lecture centered around “peace through victory,” the Roman empire’s policy and “peace through justice,” the view of Judaism and Christianity. Crossan argued that the matrix, the combination of time, space, tradition, and vision, in which Jesus lived, is crucial to understanding the historical Jesus. He said it is important to understand the matrix because Jesus may have not had the same impact on the world had he not lived in the Roman empire at the right time.
“In other empires, Jesus would have been dead five minutes after he opened his mouth,” Crossan said.
Jacobson agrees with Crossan. Jacobson said that the Roman empire did not rely on force alone in its territorial empire, but on ideology and a policy of allowing provincials significant roles both in the governance of their own area, but also the empire itself.
“Other empires more dependent upon force to maintain themselves might well have quickly gotten rid of Jesus as a nuisance,” he said. “There was a fair deal of tolerance in the Roman empire, certainly of religious diversity so long as it did not threaten the empire.”
Junior Jessica Thielke, a religion major, thinks that the matrix Crossan describes is fundamental to making Jesus who he was.
“I think Jesus was who he was portrayed because of the time period he was born in. I also think that if Jesus had been born in a different time frame, he would have been portrayed differently,” she said.
Thielke thought the lecture was beneficial for religion 100 and 300 students because they are reading works by religious scholars, and while reading the works is excellent, the chance to hear the information in the author’s own words at a live presentation is even better. The opportunity to hear the author speak about his work allows for greater engagement with the text, Thielke says.
“I also think it is valuable to be able to ask the author of the book you are reading what he meant by something and why he wrote what he wrote,” she said.
“Questions are a natural part of understanding information and being able to ask the author questions is important.”
Jacobson calls Crossan “a superb teacher” whom students and faculty alike can benefit from hearing.
“The lectures can present new and challenging ideas, which in the case of Crossan were presented as arguments founded on evidence and research,” he said. “It seemed to me that students were engaged and had good questions.”
Marisa Paulson is a senior and the news & features editor of The Concordian, although she still writes when she can. She plans to attend the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in fall 2011.