Jesus of Crossan, Islam and Violence, Judaism and Christian ‘Fulfillment’

Leonard O Goenaga

Religion Analysis

April 23, 2007

Essay 1) Jesus of Crossan

The question of Jesus’ divinity has been an issue hotly debated. Whether in scholastic, philosophical, to theological circles, the issue on whether Jesus of Nazareth claimed to be God and whether he was, is extremely important to the Christian faith. If Jesus never claimed divinity, and never atoned humanities sins, then where does it leave both Jesus and Christianity? Dominic Crossan is addressing this very question as he attempts to challenge the traditional and ‘dogmatic’ view of Jesus in his book Jesus A Revolutionary Biography. Now to coin the title revolutionary is interesting, since scholars have attempted to define Jesus in light of historical criticism for a while now. Does this historical criticism of Dominic Crossan leave us with an individual worthy of praise, and what effect does his historical critique have on the Christian faith in modern days?

Now it’s easy to agree with him on one thing: if Jesus walked into a modern day mega church, or a gold plated cathedral, he would be puzzled and maybe even shocked at it’s wealth. Besides that, the rest of his arguments are a bit stretched. To call them historical is, in a sense, deceiving. Just as he claims the disciples have  “prophecy historized, and not history memorized”, so is he guilty of this (Pg 152)[1]. He skillfully weaves modern day social attitudes to explain all actions of history, and crafts the character of Jesus within his understanding of history and his opinions. The key to understanding and critiquing Crossan is in finding his world-view and opinion. By finding these views, we can begin to piece together how it is he interprets Jesus. After evaluating his view of Jesus of Nazareth, and his personal opinion where does his views leave the Christian faith?

Dominic Crossan uses a three-vectored approach towards the study of such historical claims as Jesus’ life-story. “The first vector is cross-cultural anthropology”, which is based on “what is common across history to all types of the same ecological and technological type.” (Pg XII). “The second vector is Greco-Roman and especially Jewish history,” (Pg XII). The third vector is “the literary or textual,” and is the vector I find myself most at odds with Crossan. Here he truly imbues his own opinion with his own interpretation, even though I credit him for exposing some remarkable similarities between Jesus, James, and Moses. (Pg XII, Pg 5, 10). Dominic’s view on Jesus can be shortly summed up as a “peasant Jewish cynic,” (Pg 198). In his book, he completely tosses aside any miracles or divinity, and leaves us with no reasoning on whether divine acts are possible. Rather he makes the presupposition that all acts of miracles and divine healings are not possible in a physical sense, but are really things to be interpreted. In regards to his virgin birth, Dominic says “I understand the virginal conception…to be a confessional state about Jesus’ status and not a biological statement about Mary’s Body,” (Pg 23). He explains “the divine origins of Jesus…just as fictional or mythological as those of Octavius,” (Pg 26-27). He uses this perspective to address such issues as Jesus’ healings and exorcisms. His personal opinion is shown in healings where he “presume[s] that Jesus, who did not and could not cure that disease or any other one, healed the poor man’s illness by refusing to accept the disease’s ritual uncleanness and social ostracization,” (Pg 82). Again, this personal opinion imbued in historical interpretation is seen where he says that he “do[es] not believe there are personal supernatural spirits who invade our bodies from outside, and replace or jostle with our own personality,” (Pg 85).  One last pinnacle act of Jesus’ divinity was his resurrection and raising of the dead, which Crossan casts aside as prophetic interpretations by Paul and other disciples.

Besides some ridiculous claims, such as comparing the twelve disciples and Jesus to bandits and thus proving the twelve never existed, his personal views and interpretations are staggering in light to Christian faith (Pg 108-109). We must honestly ask ourselves whether Jesus merit’s the praise and worship found in Christianity. Using Crossan’s model, we’re left with a Jesus who couldn’t heal, exorcise, or resurrect besides in a watered down ‘political’ sense. Crossan exposes Jesus as a mere lovey-touchy peasant, who would deserve as much worship we credit to political leaders. He interprets the kingdom of God as a community of shared healings and eating; which is a Marxist like society without any form of discrimination and hierarchies (Pg 113). Although Jesus did make such interesting political claims, where is the rest of the bible? Can we merely have ‘faith’ in explaining his acts, miracles, and message as the disciple’s exaggerations?

Can Crossan completely toss aside everything divine or miraculous as a political message? If Jesus never physically healed people, why were mere peasants chasing after him in crowds? We’re they craving the hippy lifestyle? What of the blind and the deaf? Did he merely walk up to touch them, and thus in a political sense restored their ‘dignity’ instead of restoring true sight? Why didn’t any early Jews or Christians (who knew Jesus) correct the disciple’s divine interpretation of Jesus? Are we to interpret all his events as merely political? If so we’re left with a Jesus along the ranks of other religious leaders, who can not heal us of our sins or redeem our souls, but rather teach us how to behave. Crossan’s Jesus is his own invention, and one that is no more worthy of a religious movement than Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, and Mother Teresa.

Essay 2) Islam

After the awful events of 9/11, the radical sector of Islam has been in the spotlight of world events. This awful event, fueled by political and religious zeal, was one that completely turned the world’s attention on the religion of Islam. Post 9/11, people are more inclined to believe that Islam is a religion of violence, even though it claims to truly be a religion of peace. People perceive Islam as religiously justifying violence, war, and hatred. Is this true? Is it fair to assume that in its nature Islam is violent? What does Islam have to offer, and is it worthy of being believed and followed?

Arabic Muslim countries have done their part in sharing knowledge with the world. Whether its famous Arabic astronomy (stars), Arabic mathematics (algebra), or chemical expressions (alchemy, alcohol), Muslim nations have a strong scientific history. Besides fantastic scientific contributions, what does Islam offer? To first understand the threat Islam may or may not pose, we must understand the religion. Islam arrived as a divinely inspired message through the prophet Muhammad. This message revolved around a belief in one God, and as Sura 112 declares: “Say: God is one; God is eternal; He did not beget and is not begotten, and no one is equal to Him,” (Koran).[2] With God’s oneness in place, Islam teaches that “the duty of human beings is to surrender to this unique, omnipotent God, the Merciful, the Compassionate,” and “to surrender from the bottom of one’s heart, with one’s whole soul and one’s entire mind,” (Schimmel Pg 14).[3] The word Islam itself means, “complete surrender to the Divine will; and the one who practices such surrender is a Muslim,” (Pg 14).  Islam takes into account the prophetic message of God as found in the Torah, the Psalms, the Gospels, and the Koran, and credits Muhammad as God’s final prophet. The religion is also structured into five pillars that make up the bulk of Islam (faith, ritual prayer, the alms tax, fasting in Ramadan, and pilgrimage to Mecca) (Pg 34-35).

At first we cannot see an exact threat in Islam’s teaching. It seems a rather devoted worship to the oneness of God. However, that changes when we address certain claims made by Islam. One of these claims directly threatens Judaism and Christianity. This is where Muhammad claims, “the version revealed to him contained the true and real text of these stories and that the faith preached by him was much older than that professed” by Jews and Christians (Pg 16). Here we began to receive Islam’s critique on the Jewish and Christian’s ‘corruption’ of the message of God. From this point, we can begin to see the foundation for a conflict between the great religions, and foreshadow events to come. In addition to this, we can foreshadow conflict by studying the nature of Muhammad’s early military conquest, and the battles fought against Jewish and other tribes. Towards the end of Muhammad’s life, his teachings have parted from their original “eschatological threats” to “injunctions and rules for the political and social structure of the nascent community,” (Pg 17). Here, Islam takes a political nature, and turns it’s devotion of God towards an Islamic legal and governmental system. Here is where our problem arises.

Some even argue that Islam, in its nature, is not democratically friendly. This is probably seen most visually in current Islamic governments; such as Shari’ah law and the Iran. In these nations and their interpretations of Islam, it is completely just to stone a homosexual or adulterer, yet it’s punishable to speak against the prophet Muhammad and Allah. If you’ve ever watched a video of the savagery of stoning a woman for claims of adultery, you’ll understand where we can perceive there to be an issue with Islamic law and human rights. To be fair, are these crimes committed in the name of Allah truly Islamic mandates, or are they the twisting of clerical teaching? Where do the lessons of various Imams and clerics conflict with teachings of the Koran, and if Islam is (as it says) a religion of peace, why is there such success in the radical Islamic movement? Are Islamic terrorist completely wrong in their interpretation of the Koran, or does the Koran contain enough scripture for them to justify their horrendous actions?

Are Islamic terrorist merely emulating the early military conquests of Muhammad and his successors in the form of ‘jihad’, or are they completely mistaken? Sadly, this isn’t a question we non-Muslim’s can address. The issue of whether the Koran is misinterpreted in the form of Shari’ah law and clerics isn’t something outsiders of Islam can comment on. The issue does not remain in the hands of religious scholars or politicians, but in the hands of Muslims themselves. They are the ones who must decide whether such Islamic punishments are really Islamic, and whether they’re characteristic of Allah. It is up to those within the Islamic camps to address the issue of ‘runaway Islam’, and to address the issue of those radicals who have hijacked Islam’s ‘peaceful’ nature. Upon this success, we may more comfortably conclude that Islam really is a religion of peace, but until then we are left asking ourselves whether Islamic radicals are making the mistake of interpreting Islam, or whether their interpretation really holds ground.

Essay 3) Judaism

As a new covert to Christianity (since Feb. 2, 2005), I’ve often been taught that Christianity was the fulfillment of Judaism. These lessons usually credit Judaism’s main goal as preparing the way for the Messiah. As chapter 40 of Isaiah puts it, “prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God”[4] (Is. 40:3), and I perceived Judaism as preparing ‘a highway’ for Jesus’ arrival. I had perceived the Jewish religion to be rather ‘obsolete’, since it’s role in preparing the path for the Messiah was complete through Jesus, but that changed this semester. Some new Christian friends began to teach be that the Jewish people had a special relationship and role with God. This special relationship that God had with the Israelites, as revealed in the Old Testament scripture, was something special and unique.

The word ‘old’ in Old Testament itself is deceiving, and evident that even in its Christian title are the Jewish texts perceived as outdated. As I’ve learned in my Religion Analysis course and through friends, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Leviticus 11:45 hints to the unique relationship the Israelites and Jews have to God, for as it says, “therefore be holy because I am holy,” (Lev. 11:45)[5]. However, this unique relationship stretches beyond Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob’s original covenant. After the coming of Jesus and Christianity, Judaism has done an incredible job of organizing itself. Under the pressure of mass exodus, Christian persecution, and Arab governance, Judaism has neatly redefined its temple-centered nature. Without the ability to make the temple its religious center, pharisaic Judaism evolved into the rabbinic form, allowing it a flexibility that greatly helped its survival. Rabban Johanan, and his group of scholars (Tannaim), paved the way for individuals like Rabban Gamaliel II to re-establish the important Jewish court known as the Sanhedrin (Cohn-Sherbok, Pg 41)[6]. In addition to the re-established Sanhedrin, and the transfer of temple duties to the synagogue, the oral tradition of Jewish law and teaching was written down, which formed the Mishnah (Cohn-Sherbok, Pg 43). This text divided the extensive oral tradition into six orders (Zeraim, Mo’ed, Nashim, Nezikin, Kodashim, and Tohorot), which helped preserve the Jewish faith. In addition to the re-established Sanhedrin, the synagogue, and the Mishah, the Jewish people collected several laws, religious texts, sciences, teachings, and four of the Mishnah’s into the authoritative text of the Talmud. With the creation of the Talmud came it’s use as the center for Judaic studies, which resulted with the yeshivot (academies), kollelim (higher academies), and batei ha-midrash (houses of study) (Cohn-Sherbok, Pg 49). All these factors show the resilience of Judaism, as well as its success as a religion to organize under several hostile environments (exp: post Christianity).

In addition to the adaptive organization of post temple Judaism was the extensive and successful tradition of Jewish philosophy. This can be seen in early Jewish philosophy, as well as medieval and post-enlightenment schools of Jewish thought. One prominent piece of Jewish philosophy was Saadiah Gaon’s Emunot ve-Deot. It “is generally regarded as the first great Jewish philosophical classic,” and addressed issues ranging from reason, knowledge, and the soul, as well as responses to Karaite, Zoroastrian, and Muslim critiques (Pg 64-65).  Other prominent Jewish philosophical works included Judah Halevi’s Kuzari, Moses Maimonides’ Dalilat al-Hariain, and the works of Philo (Pg 64, 66-67). In addition to the success of early Jewish philosophy was the success of the Haskalah (Jewish Enlightenment). During the Haskalah, Jewish philosophers like Moses Mendelssohn explained the Jewish religion as ‘to call wholesome and unadulterated idea’s of God and His attributes continuously to the attention of the rest of mankind,” (Pg 95).  These and several other Haskalah philosophers and thinkers helped further define the Jewish religion and it’s followers role in the world, as well as modernizing the Religion with it’s day and age.

By looking at the Jewish religion’s ability to address philosophical and organizational issues apart from Christianity, we can begin to understand how it’s far from being an old and obsolete covenant. As later Jewish philosophers and scholars explain, the Jewish religion still has the role of reflecting “unadulterated and wholesome ideas of God to the attention of humanity,” (Moses Mendelssohn, Ph 95). As the later thinker Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888) explains in The Nineteen Letters on Judaism, the “mission of the Jewish people…is to illustrate to the rest of humanity the joy to be found in obedience,” (Cohn-Sherbok Pg 100). Even in our modern day, Judaism has continued to express remarkable flexibility in its ability to adapt to the modern age in the form of Reformed, Conservative, and Orthodox Judaism.

Without the arrival of the Davidic Messiah as explained in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), and with Christianities failure to bring about the messianic physical kingdom as explain in scripture, modern day Judaism has a compelling case against the ‘suffering servant’ messiah found in Christianity. To add this case with Judaism’s ability to organize under intense conditions, as well as its successful philosophical movements, we can see Judaism as being apart from its Christian neighbor. Although Christians may refer to the Old Testament as ‘old’, “Judaism has always adapted itself to changing times and circumstances,” and will surely continue to do so (Pg 133).

Works Cited and Footnotes Below

[1] Jesus A Revolutionary Biography, A startling Account Of What We Can Know About The Life of Jesus, John Dominic Crossan.

[2] The Meaning of the Glorious Koran, Sura 112.

[3] Islam An Introduction, Annemarie Schimmel

[4] TNIV, Today’s New International Version Bible, Isaiah 40:3

[5] TNIV, Today’s New International Version Bible, Leviticus 11:45

[6] Judaism A Short History, Lavinia and Dan Cohn-Sherbok


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