Jesus and the Violence of Scripture

John Dominic Crossan has bad rap with evangelical Christians but in all truth he is a world renowned and pre-eminent scholar whose work is carefully argued and worthy of serious consideration. I have generally enjoyed his contribution to Christian history (e.g., The Birth of Christianity , The Historical Jesus , Jesus a Revolutionary Biography ) and given my belief in the accommodation of scripture and serious problems with its darker portions, his obviously provocative work, Jesus and the Violence of Scripture, How to Read the Bible and Still be a Christian, immediately caught my eye.

I’d like to offer some comments and points from the book and discuss the less congenial Jesus found in parts of scripture and the book of Revelation in particular. What is everyone’s thoughts about Christ the Conquerer in Revelation?

I see that he is also going to point out something many conservatives will not like: trajectories on slavery and misogyny inside the Christian canon. He sees serious difference on women and slavery in what he deems real-Paul (7 genuine epistles), post-Paul (3 epistles) and anti-Paul (pastorals). A review of chapter 1 with some of my own thoughts below:

Chapter one starts off with a bit of biography. Crossan explains his education, what caused his split from the Catholic faith (birth control) and hints at ultimately how he navigated faith and history throughout his career. He said he was a Christian before a historian so he is aware at the different lenses for viewing the Bible. He also speaks of a formative incident that had a lasting impact on him that occurred while watching a Passion play. There is a legend of surviving villagers ravaged during the Bubonic plague 400 years ago. In exchange for deaths to stop their end of the bargain was a passion play that was performed yearly from 1634-1680 and then in ten year increments ever since then. The passion includes the final portions of Jesus’s ministry as recorded in the Gospels from the triumphal entry to the empty tomb. Crossan includes a review of that play from none other than Adolf Hitler:

“It is vital that the Passion Play be continued at Oberammergau; for never has the menace of Jewry been so convincingly portrayed as in this presentation of what happened in the times of the Romans. There one sees in Pontius Pilate a Roman racially and intellectually so superior, that he stands out like a firm, clean rock in the middle of the whole muck and mire of Jewry.”

Anti-Semitism is something the modern church should strive to avoid but literal adherence to the Gospels does not always make that easy. The problem for Crossan was the sudden shirt in the Crowd during the passion. How Jesus could draw such a large crowd during the triumphal entry that was positive to him, how could his appeal be so great in the Temple the Jewish leaders were afraid to arrest him, but now the crowds and the Jews are adamantly demanding his crucifixion? The live version exacerbated the problem for him. It struck a chord. “How had the same crowd that filled the huge stage that morning to welcome Jesus on Palm Sunday become changed by afternoon to cry for his crucifixion on good Friday. It was for me a quiet but clear epiphany that something was missing from the story of Jesus’s passion, something was wrong when acclamation became condemnation without any explanation. ”[1]

The Matrix for Interpreting Jesus
Crossan puts forth a nonviolent reconstruction of Jesus and tells us that understanding a text in its proper historical context is essential. He calls its historical backdrop its “matrix.” For Martin Luther King Jr. the matrix is American racism, for Mahatma Gandhi it is British imperialism and for Jesus, “violent and nonviolent resistance to Roman power and imperial oppression.”

The Cleansing of the Temple
After he put forth his book on the Historical Jesus he found himself surprisingly invited to give talks at many churches on his vision of Jesus. Several issues always came up. The cleansing of the Temple and the book of Revelation. According to Crossan, the cleansing of the Temple was not a violent incident. Pope Francis agrees: “It certainly wasn’t a violent action. So true is this that it didn’t provoke the intervention of the guardians of public order – of the police. No!”[2] Some scholars think the lack of temple authorities stepping in is evidence of Jesus’s popularity which could mitigate this conclusion. What Crossan gets absolutely right is that historically speaking, Jesus was not considered a threat and therefore was not a violent person. If Jesus was a violent threat Pilate would have rounded up his closest associates and crucified them alongside him. That Jesus was crucified but none of his closest disciples were makes this all but indisputable.

As for the temple which some suggest depicts a violent Jesus, Crossan writes, “Jesus’s action in that case was a prophetic demonstration against worship in the Temple excusing injustice in the land—injustice exacerbated, of course, by necessary high-priestly collaboration with Roman imperial power and control. That is why Jesus quoted Jeremiah’s den of robbers” (Jer. 7:11; Mark 11:17). (Jesus was not accusing people of thievery in the Temple. A “den” is not the place for robbery and injustice inside, but the hideout from robbery and injustice outside.) Jesus was, in fulfillment of God’s threat in Jeremiah 7:14, symbolically “destroying the Temple by overturning its fiscal and sacrificial bases.” He also goes on to note that John makes it explicit that Jesus used a “whip of cords” to drive livestock out in a “religio-political demonstration.” He wasn’t using the whip on people. Crossan goes on to say that Mark emphasizes this nonviolence in contrasting Jesus with a violent and murderous Barabbas (15:6-9) and John 18:36 has Jesus explicitly state to Pilate his followers are nonviolent because his kingdom is not of this earth.

Crossan may be accused of taking the word den too literally but it is clear that neither Jesus during his lifetime nor his followers immediately after his death were opposed to temple worship. Quite the opposite in fact. John has a multi-year ministry and Jesus would have most likely went to Jerusalem during Passover many times to worship at the temple. He instructs a healed person to go and make the appropriate sacrifices in the temple. After his crucifixion, we can glean from Paul and Acts that some of his followers took up shop in Jerusalem, maintained temple worship and purity regulations in addition to observing Jewish festivals. Jesus and his immediate followers even after his death did not stop engaging in the temple’s cultic practices.

A thorny issue pops up immediately here if we view Jesus as cleansing the temple of corruption. In Mark, our earliest account of this incident, Jesus drives everyone out–the corrupt sellers and even the buyers who are being swindled. The buyers did nothing wrong. Why were they targeted? Matthew who copied Mark retains this but Luke omits this part and has Jesus only driving out the sellers which makes more sense in a “cleansing.” In John, where the temple incident comes chronologically much earlier in his ministry, Jesus is reported as only driving out the vendors and the livestock.

Another problem here is that commerce was a vital part of temple worship. People traveled great distances to the Temple and it was scarcely feasible for them to bring their own animals to sacrifice, especially if they were to be unblemished. How were people from different lands expected to have the proper coinage? Money changers were vital to proper temple worship. Paula Fredriksen asks of this incident, “Were pilgrims coming in from Egypt or Italy or Babylon supposed to carry their own birds with them? pick them up anywhere? have their own supply of Tyrian coinage, or hope they would get some somehow during their trip?”[3] Commerce in the Temple had existed for a very long time. It might be argued Jesus wanted the selling done outside the Temple but this is a highly nuanced and troubling issue. At least since the time of Solomon this commerce was occurring and the point of the Temple or generally any temple in antiquity was a place to make offerings and worship God. It makes sense to obtain your animals and necessary coinage there. Fredriksen writes, “Pigeon vendors and money changers, in other words, facilitated the pilgrims’ worship of God as he had commanded Israel through Moses as Sinai. Jesus’ gesture therefore could not have encoded “restoring” Temple services to some supposed pristine ideal, because there had never been a time when its service did not involve offerings.”

As we can see from Jewish writings including Apocrypha and the Dead Sea scrolls, there was an expectation by some that God would destroy the temple and rebuild a better one (see the accusation in Mark 14:58). This is not a cleansing per se. Jesus is not telling his followers to avoid a corrupt temple and that is why they did not after his death. In Mark the scene is a prophetic gesture depicting the expected destruction of the temple by God. The withering of the fig tree which represents the temple makes this all too clear. The fig tree was not cleansed. It was destroyed. Completely destroyed ( withered from the roots ) even as the temple was razed and torn down piece by piece.

The temple had its own security and during festivals like Passover, the number of Roman soldiers in the area was beefed up as well precisely to quell such disturbances. Oddly, both of these parties are largely silent and inoculated here while Jesus performs this action, the same rock star Jesus who just entered Jerusalem in a crowd as a king during Passover, their penultimate liberation festival! Viewing this as a limited and non-violent prophetic gesture on a smaller scale where Jesus predicts God’s eschatological judgment on the temple and possibly it subsequent destruction makes more sense in historical context. It is possible all four evangelists write after the destruction of the Temple and a legitimate prophetic gesture by Jesus condemning Temple practices were turned into an ex eventu prophecy about its destruction as well. The Gospels do not permit a high degree of certainty here, only that Jesus was displeased by something happening in the temple and enacted a prophetic demonstration of of what is found in Jeremiah against it.

Crossan considers the Temple cleansing the easier of the objections against a nonviolent Jesus to answer. The book of Revelation with its gory details is another matter. Those who think Divine violence is really just a problem in the Old Testament clearly haven’t read the entire Christian corpus. A very strong argument could be made that Revelation is the worst of the worst in this regard. Crossan tells us the good-cop New Testament and bad-cop Old Testament doesn’t work for those of us who have read all of the Bible and that is an anti-Judaism, Christian stereotype. Ananias and Sapphira might be able to tell us more about it.

Rev 14:19-20: 19 So the angel swung his sickle over the earth and gathered the vintage of the earth, and he threw it into the great wine press of the wrath of God. 20 And the wine press was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the wine press, as high as a horse’s bridle, for a distance of about two hundred miles.

The book of Revelation is violent and if taken lierally, on a scale far outweighing all the violence in the Old Testament combined. The biggest concern is the same Jesus who tells us the parable of the good Samaritan, that God sends his rain on the just and unjust, that we should turn the other cheek, to love our enemies, that whoever lives by the sword shall die by it and for Peter to put his sword away, is going to bring forth epic violence, death and destruction in the end. He unleashes the four horsemen. In Revelation 19 the nonviolent and sacrificial lamb of God becomes Christ the Conqueror. Fortunately, none of these metaphors appear to be truthful. Revelation is largely concerned with Rome and gets much of it wrong if we read it concordantly. Crossan considers it “profoundly wrong” about Rome:

[1] Rome’s destruction was said to happen soon and climax with the second coming (Rev 1:1, 2:16, 3:11, 11:14, 22:6-7, 22:20), but as Crossan writes “the Western Roman Empire continued until the 400s and the Eastern until the mid-1400s.”

[2] Roma was converted to Christ after Constantine’s conversion in the 300s, not destroyed by him. Crossan notes, “Only Luke-Acts imagined the future correctly as Roman Christianity.”

[3] Clearly the destruction of Rome was not a “consummation of the world, the establishment of a new heaven and a new Earth in that wedding feast of divinity and humanity (21:1-5). That heavenly vision is still a consummation devoutly to be wished and very far from clearly imminent.”

My fellow Christians who read Revelation and profess Biblical inspiration may want to take a cue from John Walton’s playbook in regards to the primeval history in Genesis. Revelation was written for us but not to us. Any purpose or meaning we glean from Revelation should be tied into whatever issues its audience was facing at the time of its composition. In all likelihood, the destruction of the Temple was part of that backdrop. In other words, to us its less about the future and more about past . To its original audience it was about the present .

A part of the chapter I found fascinating is how the violent vision of Jesus in Revelation was amplified by the Left Behind and the Narnia series in recent times. The Left Behind “books and their subsequent movies and games, arranged multiple and discreet Biblical images of cosmic consummation into a more or less coherent scenario. But in doing so they made one egregious expansion beyond even Revelation’s divine violence. The great final battle was to involve not just Christ and the angels, as in Revelation, hut humans as well.”

In the second to last book of the Left Behind series, the protagonist Mac who had been converted to Christ sprays his uzi outside Jerusalem’s Damascus gate at over a dozen GC from behind. “He felt no remorse. All’s fair . . . It was only fitting, he decided, that the devil’s crew were dressed in black. Live by the sword, die by the sword .” Crossan writes, “Notice how the authors (ab)use the warning of Jesus that “all who take the sword shall perish by the sword” (Matt. 26:52). Jesus said “all,” but Mac lacks any sense of self-criticism—or even the grace of irony. “

In Narnia, four children also partake in the final battle. For those familiar with the tale, Peter kills the wolf-monster and Aslan, the Lion who represents Christ, tells hm “You have forgotten to clean your sword . . . whatever happens, never forget to wipe your sword.” Crossan’s response to this is, “I have to recall a different admonition to another sword-yielding Peter: “Put your sword back into its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matthew 26:52).”

Crossan in giving talks in churches about the nonviolence of Jesus writes of Left Behind and Narnia, “Both of those series generated questions and objections from my lecture audiences when I spoke of Jesus’s nonviolent resistance to Rome’s control of his first-century Jewish homeland. If I wanted to speak, as I did, about the historical Jesus, my audience asked, as they should, about Revelation and its divine violence now at least fictionally supported by human violence.”

Crossan ends the chapter noting “bipolar” visions of God in scripture that he bifurcates as follows: “the Biblical God is, on one hand, is a God of nonviolent distributive justice and, on the other hand, a God of violent retributive justice. How do we make sense of this dual focus? How do we reconcile these two visions? . . . Do we choose to follow one or the other option since both are presented as the character of the Biblical God?"

[1] Crossan, Jesus and the Violence of Scripture, Page 5

[2] Article by Pope Francis, Jesus Cleanses the Temple.

[3] Paula Fredriksen, Jesus of Nazareth p 269)

I also read something recently from Dale C Allison that I found relevant to the angry or “vitriolic Jesus” in a review of Harrington’s Commentary on matthew:

"The Jesus of Matthew 23 does not err in mercy. On the contrary, he passes from woe to woe, each indictment only calling forth another. His vitriol depicts the scribes and Pharisees as more than hard-hearted: they are already suffering spiritual rigor mortis. None of this, however, seems fair or productive. While one should not embrace a romantic notion of the Pharisees, we yet have reason to believe that the best of them were admirable men who faithfully practised their religion and honestly doubted that the Messiah had come. How then do we understand our text?

The answer is that Matthew 23 should be regarded as, among other things, a typical piece of Jewish polemic. Without either excusing the scurrilous language or minimizing its historical misuses, we can recognize its thoroughly conventional character. As L.T. Johnson has put it, with reference to the slander of the NT in general, the polemic is typical of that produced by rival claimants to a Graeco-Roman philosophical tradition: the way the NT talks about its Jewish opponents is just the way all opponents talked about each other back then (“The New Testament’s Anti-Jewish Slander and the Conventions of Ancient Polemic”, JBL 108 [1989] 419-441).
It is particularly noteworthy that, to judge from extant sources, the Jewish polemic against other Jews was no less expansive and harsh than Matthew’s polemic. Josephus depicted the Zealots or Sicarii as murderers, transgressors of the laws of God and nature, impostors, madmen, hard-hearted wretches, “bastards” and “scum” more wicked than Sodom, as men guilty of “barbarity … avarice … impudent undertakings … wicked practices … impiety … tyranny over others … the greatest madness … wild and brutish disposition” (Bell 4,377-8; 5,401-19.442-5; 7,252-74).

The author of the Psalms of Solomon 4 (a Pharisee?) wrote of his Jewish opponents (Sadducees?) that they were profane, with hearts far from God; that they broke the law and were verbose and ostentatious; that they lacked self-control and looked upon women to lust after them; that they sought to impress people and desired the property of others; and that they were hypocrites who “defrauded innocent people by pretense”.

Of the vicious polemic of the Dead Sea Scrolls I need not offer details here, so well known is it. Suffice it to recall two facts: (i) the covenantors laid every sort of pejorative adjective upon “the sons of darkness”, whom they cursed in their rituals (note esp. 1QS 2,4-10 and the enemies of the psalmist(s) in 1QH) and (ii) 4QpNah accuses “the seekers after smooth things”, whom most identify as Pharisees, of conducting themselves in deceit and falsehood, of offering “guilty counsel”, of speaking insolently, and of leading Ephraim astray with " false teaching ", " lying tongue “, and “deceitful lip” (4QpNah frags. 3-4 ii 2.6.8-10).”

Allison goes on to list a large number of other parallels. Interestingly enough, there is nothing remotely anti-semetic about Matthew 23 and Jesus, assuming the contents of the chapter are attributed to him, can hardly be considered vitriolic in his own context considering this rhetoric was par for the course.

A listing from Allison that could be multiplied many times over:

  • Good in appearance only (cf. vv. 2.25-28): Ps Sol 4,2.7.19; 1 En 94,6; Josephus, Bell 2,255;
  • Hypocrites (cf. vv. 3.13 etc.): Ps Sol 4,6-7; 1QS 4,14; As Mos 7,5-10; Philo, Em Gai 25,162; Josephus, C Ap 2,142-4;
  • Misleaders (cf. vv. 13-16.24): CD 5,20; 4QpNah 3-4 ii 8; 1 En 98,15; T Levi 10,2; b Sanh 43a;
  • Blind (cf. vv. 16.17.24): 1 En 90,7; Wis 2,21; Philo, Vit con 2,10; Josephus, C Ap 2,142; Bell 5,572;
  • Foolish or ignorant (v. 17): Wis 13,1; Sir 50,26; 1 En 98,3.9; 1QH 4,8; Philo, Vit con 2,10; Josephus, C Ap 2,37.255; Bell 3,381; 5,417.566; b. Ye 63b; b.Er 101a;
  • Teachers of wrong halakah (cf. w. 16-22): 1 En 99,2; T Levi. 14,4; lQpHab 8,10; 1QH 4,10-12; m.Ned 3,10; m.Git 1,5; m.Mak 1,6; t.Yad 2,20;
  • Guilty of economic sins (cf. v. 25): Ps Sol 4,9-13.20.22; 1 En 63,10; 94,6-8; 97,8; As Mos 5,5; 7,5-7; lQpHab 8,11-12; 9,4-5; Wis 2,10; T Levi 14,5-6; Josephus, Bell 5,402; 7,261;
    - Guilty of sexual sins (cf. v. 25): Wis 14,22-28; Ps Sol 2,11-13; 4,4-5; 8,9-10; CD 4,19-21; 5,6-12; MMT (= 4Q394-398) 14,86-89; T Levi 14,5-6; Philo, Em Gai 18,120; Josephus, Bell 5,402;
    - Unclean (cf. w. 25-28): lQpHab 8,12-13; Ps Sol 8,11-13.22; T Levi 16,1; T Ash 2,9; As Mos 7,9-10; Josephus, Bell 4,382; m.Nid 4,1-2;
    - Persecutors and/or murderers of the righteous (cf. w. 29-37): T Levi 16,2- 3; Wis 2,12-20; 1 En 12,5; 95,6; As Mos 6,3-4; ÎQH 2,21; 4,8-9; lQpHab 11,4-8; Philo, Em Gai 18,120-122; Josephus, Bell 2,254-258; y.Shabb 1,4;
    - Likened to sinful generations of the past (cf. w. 30-32): T Levi 14,6; Josephus, Bell 5,411.442.566;
    - Compared with snakes (cf. v. 33): 1QH 5,27; Philo, Em Gai 26,166; Ps Sol 4,8;
    - Destined for eschatological judgement (cf. w. 33.35-36): 1QH 3,11-18; 4,18-20; lQpHab 10,12-13; 11,14-15; 4QpPsa 1-10 iii 12-13; 1QS 2,7-9; 1 En 62,1-16; 94,9; 96,8; Ps Sol 14,9; T Levi 15,2; m.San 10,1;
    - The cause of God forsaking his temple (cf. w. 37-39): Josephus, Bell 2,539; 5,412.419; T Levi 15,1; 16,4.

Jesus and the Biblical authors, like most ancient Jews and Gentiles would have been banned from biologos since gracious dialogue apparently was not the norm! :slight_smile:

Jesus refused to fulfil their desperate nationalistic longings, their degraded, unenlightened longing for justice, of five hundred years. He proved He was the Messiah and then that He wasn’t. He refused to usher in paradise on Earth starting with the Jews in a terrifying display of supernatural power against Rome. Which meant He couldn’t. Which meant He was false, a fraud, a liar, a traitor. All pretty natural. To those who didn’t know that He WAS God on Earth, He was the greatest disappointment possible, especially after His symbolic act of social justice in cleansing the Temple, violence against illegal, corrupt, profane tables, money and beasts. Furthermore His refusal was the refusal of all offensive violence. To me Crossan overstates Jesus’ resistance to the state monopoly of institutional, legal, violence. He didn’t resist at all. Neither did He in any way preach resistance in any recognizable form. Even His closest followers after the event, typically in the person of Peter and whoever wrote Revelation; they didn’t understand that for years, decades, if ever. Violence is human. God is not.

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What is so illegal, corrupt and profane about these tables, money and beasts? They were an essential and necessary component of Temple worship. From above:

Another problem here is that commerce was a vital part of temple worship. People traveled great distances to the Temple and it was scarcely feasible for them to bring their own animals to sacrifice, especially if they were to be unblemished. How were people from different lands expected to have the proper coinage? Money changers were vital to proper temple worship. Paula Fredriksen asks of this incident, “Were pilgrims coming in from Egypt or Italy or Babylon supposed to carry their own birds with them? pick them up anywhere? have their own supply of Tyrian coinage, or hope they would get some somehow during their trip?”[3] Commerce in the Temple had existed for a very long time. It might be argued Jesus wanted the selling done outside the Temple but this is a highly nuanced and troubling issue. At least since the time of Solomon this commerce was occurring and the point of the Temple or generally any temple in antiquity was a place to make offerings and worship God. It makes sense to obtain your animals and necessary coinage there. Fredriksen writes, “Pigeon vendors and money changers, in other words, facilitated the pilgrims’ worship of God as he had commanded Israel through Moses as Sinai. Jesus’ gesture therefore could not have encoded “restoring” Temple services to some supposed pristine ideal, because there had never been a time when its service did not involve offerings.”

We have to dig deeper for why Jesus enacted a prophetic gesture in the Temple. Mark, writing ca 75CE absolutely connects it to the destruction of the temple (fig tree withers from roots and temple is razed to the ground). Marks account is not without its problems, however.

Vinnie

Yes, I do as well. I cannot know this for absolute certain. Paul could very well be a product of his own culture which I have little doubt would look unacceptable to us.

Jesus IS nonviolent. But I cannot agree with a reduction of Jesus to this alone to prop up a claim that there is never any reason that violence could ever be justified. Jesus never said anything of the sort and in fact said many things to the contrary.

I don’t believe Jesus ever said anything like, “… and if a man rapes your wife, then offer up all your daughters to him as well.”

I think there is a very clear direction to the violent words and actions of Jesus in the gospels and it is towards the abuse of religion. That is not something I would ever want discounted in any way.

But perhaps your argument is that Crossan is doing no such thing… your final quote is intriguing and worthy of some thought…

I am really not sure what that means… I can only reiterate my thoughts about the logical role of mercy in justice. Mercy plays a positive role for this simple reason that making mistatkes is part of the process by which we learn… thus it is a good idea to give people the freedom to learn from their mistakes. On the other hand, if they prove they are unwilling or unable to learn from their mistakes then mercy no longer serves any good purpose.

Oh I’m sure it was legal, my bad, the gangsters always buy the law. I’m a simple man. I love Jesus’ radicalism, His act of social justice at the black heart of society. What He said stands for me, even if Quelle made it all up, even for ‘John’, and it wasn’t a nail in Jesus’ cross.

Well thinking about this…

You don’t see much distributive justice in the Bible because I doubt they had any notion of such a thing… unless by distributive justice you simply means that the same rules apply to all. And in some sense this is the most violent justice of all since all will meet the same violent end if they seek to defy gravity or eat the wrong sort of things.

Most justice you see in the Bible is retributive for simple reason is that is where the concept of justice in the understanding of most people is applicable.

But personally I doubt if either concept of justice is really applicable to God. He sets up the world to work according to fixed rules because the process of life requires this and so everyone will reap what they sow accordingly, but this is not really a preoccupation of God. He is much more interested in helping us to learn from our mistakes and change for the better and that is why He is so freely merciful. I don’t think the flood was retributive any more than the Babylonian captivity or the trials of Job. I simply don’t think any of it was about justice at all.

Yes, there is no certainty in knowing things using situational epistles. We can’t read Paul’s mind directly, ask him for clarification and we only hear one side of the phone call to be honest. There is also no certainty in saying Paul didn’t write certain epistles. In the end we only have probability judgments and Paul certainly is a product of his culture like everyone else as the head covering issue shows. But the question for me is did Jesus cause Paul to buck the system a bit and did the later authors writing in his name normalize and Romanize him? Because I don’t think anyone can doubt Paul believed in equality in Christ? But was that just a punchline? Or did he really mean it? I think a good argument can be made on slavery, patriarchy and asceticism that the Paul of the seven accepted epistles is more radial than the Paul of the pastorals (which are largely thought to be written in his name). The pastorals are even “anti-Paul” to an extent whereas the three remaining epistles that are disputed seem to be in the middle. Crossan: "In other words, the radical Paul is being deradicalized, sanitized and Romanized. His radical views on, for example, slavery and patriarchy, are being retrofitted into Roman cultural expectations and Roman social presuppositions **

Crossan writes, “For Paul, Christ had died by Rome to live with God. So, by baptism—imagined as a metaphor of burying in the grave rather than a metaphor of washing in the baptismal font . . . Christians had died to Rome to live for God . . . That is, they have died to the core Roman values of victory and hierarchy and their derivative values of patriarchy and slavery. ”

Admittedly there are a lot of moving parts in this interpretation, but that notwithstanding, notice how real Paul in the 50s is domesticated and normalized to Roman society over time. “Paul’s vision of the radicality of God has been co-opted by the Roman normalcy of civilization .” We see God’s accommodated scripture in tension with itself.

I see a similar trajectory with women as well if we accept the scholarly consensus on Paul. This also presumes with many scholars that 1 Cor 14:34-35 is an interpolation.

His view is that we can clearly see Revelation, the radicalness of God in scripture, but its too radical and the Bible itself tones it down. I get the sense of a Canon within the Canon. His hermeneutic at finding truth is almost evangelical. He uses Jesus. He said as Christ-hans, not Bible-ians, that if Jesus was the face of God on earth, the incarnation, then we use Jesus to determine what God is like. Of course, he prizes his own historical reconstruction which is where the issue gets a bit messy.

But the idea is scripture says “yes and no” on certain issues and presents competing images. For example, are we to imagine Jesus as riding on a peace-donkey into Jerusalem or as the conquering Christ on the white horse with bloodstained robe? Maybe both? I see Revelation as relevant when it was written. It is not about the future for us and Crossan views a nonviolent Jesus on a peace donkey as the radicality of God and the conquering or apocalyptic Christ on the war horse in Revelation as the normalcy of civilization. “ He also notes how the prophecy Jesus enacted from Jeremiah was written in direct contradiction to Alexander the great. "The Biblical pattern of yes-and-no justifies my choice of the nonviolent Jesus of the Incarnation over the violent Jesus of the Apocalypse as the true Jesus”Christianity’s godsend is not a book but a person, and that person is the historical Jesus. It is precisely that historical Jesus who Christians proclaim as “the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4). Succinctly put, for Christians, Incarnation trumps Apocalypse.”

Oh I agree completely. I wrote this: “In the introductory section some of the evidence for a nonviolent Jesus was laid out. We find it in the sermon on the mount and many sayings attributed to him, of which many historical scholars consider to be reliable. We also know that his followers were not crucified alongside him. If he were any threat whatsoever, Pilate would have rounded up his closest associates and put them next to the two unknown individuals crucified alongside him. The Jesus behind the material in the sermon on the mount, the sacrificial lamb who laid down his life is turned into a conquering, blood soaked warrior in the book of Revelation. None of this again is to say Jesus never got angry or Jesus thought that if a man were raping your daughter you should sit idly by and just peacefully lament what was happening or offering him her sister as well. Just as C.S. Lewis thought of people who took heaven’s streets being made out of gold literally, people who interpret “nonviolent” in such a fashion are probably not yet ready to be reading books intended for grown-ups.”

Here is what he thinks. In normal usage justice is retributive (courts, department Justice, military and emphasize punishment and penalties). “Each crime is met with a corresponding punishment. That is retributive justice. There are, however, two forms of justice–the justice of distribution and the justice of retribution–a distinction of extreme importance for both the Bible and this book.” He thinks distributive justice is primary and retributive is secondary.

As an example: “a judge is accused of racial prejudice in court proceedings. The prosecutors select one hundred cases of identical crime and circumstances involving white and black defendants. They find that the judge set bail and inflicted sentences two to three times as severe in black as in white cases. The conclusion is that the judge did not distribute retributive justice fairly, equitably, and justly.”

I’m not fully following him here but he goes on: "In other words, for me–and for the bible–the distributive justice is primary; retributive justice is secondary and derivative. Put another way: justice is about the fair distribution of the subject involved. In the Bible, it is primarily about a fair distribution of God’s world for all of God’s people. For example, when the Bible cries out for justice, can one really think that it is demanding retribution?

Give justice to the weak and the orphan;
maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute.
4 Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” (Psalm 82:3-4)

The heart of God’s justice is to make sure that the “weak and the orphan” have received their share of God’s resources for them to live and thrive. Retributive justice comes in only when that ideal is violated."

It is hard to fully follow his thinking but I have a bunch more to read. He thinks justice is a matter of restorative righteousness and distributive justice and that is why “the Biblical tradition can accept extreme poverty as sometimes necessary (for example, during the Exodus from Egypt) but not extreme inequality. Imagine, it thinks, of entering a peasant household and finding some of the children starving while others are overfed That his the obscenity haunting the Biblical imagination, causing its God to demand adequacy for all and enough for each.”

He also obviously referenced God sending his rain on the just and unjust. I’m not fully following all his thinking on this yet though nor am I convinced by it yet though some points are very worthy of consideration. I do agree with him though that that the conquering Christ of Revelation is not the real Jesus.

There are different interpretations about this. My answer is yes, God includes both sides. John wrote that Jesus came with grace and truth. If we drop either, we do not have full gospel.

God is a judge that does not hide the truth about us or others. Righteousness demands reaction and judgement for every bad act.

Grace came visible in Jesus. Jesus was punished for our sins, there is no need for a second punishment if we are in Christ. This opens the way for the blessings God gives.

We put quite much weight on deaths. In my opinion, too much. We all die, sooner or later. When we die is not the most important detail, it is more important to be ready for eternity, have peace with God. I try to remember this when I read about the deaths in the Old Testament. What is this life compared to eternity? Just a short moment.

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“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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