By Spencer D Gear PhD
John Dominic (Dom) Crossan
Chapter 1 (the Preface): John Dominic (Dom) Crossan of the Jesus Seminar fame deconstructs the Gospel texts with a creative freedom to add to or subtract from the material. He has no qualms about making the text say what he wants it to say. What presuppositions could drive such a person-centered manipulation of the text?
Chapter 2: Reader-response is “a literary criticism that focuses primarily on the reader’s reaction to a text.” Why would I, an evangelical Christian, desire to investigate and publish the teachings of an eminent historical Jesus scholar with prolific writings over the last four decades, but whose teachings are unorthodox?
Chapter 3: You may not have read much of Crossan or Derrida [pronounced der-ee-dah or phonetically, ?d?r i?d?]. However, promotion of this deconstructionist ideology leads to the death of the author, ruin of the pastor’s message, and the trashing of anything you read or listen to. How could that be?
Chapter 4: In 1968, another deconstructionist promoter, Roland Barthes, acknowledged that a work may originate with an author but its destination was the reader. His pointed assessment was that “we know that in order to restore writing to its future, we must reverse the myth: the birth of the reader must be requited, “one good turn deserves another,” by the death of the Author”.
Chapter 5: Barthes, a deconstructionist, stated: “Writing is the destruction of every voice, of every point of origin.”
Chapter 6: Crossan received his theological doctorate in Ireland, then taught in Roman Catholic biblical institutes and seminaries in Rome, Chicago and Jerusalem until he resigned from the priesthood in 1968, to marry and to be able to think critically according to his training and not be criticised for such reasoning.
Chapter 7: The rationale for my research was to pursue Crossan’s challenge that Gospel presuppositions dictate methods and models for examining the historical Jesus and early Christianity and that wrong presuppositions weaken or may invalidate a research project. The foci of this study will be some of Crossan’s controversial presuppositions of the resurrection tradition.
He stated that the Gospels are “consummate theological fictions” that are “neither histories nor biographies” and “tell us about power and leadership in the earliest Christian communities.”
Chapter 8: Crossan is one of the leading contemporary advocates of reconstruction of the Scriptures. He admitted: “I believe, as a Christian, in the Word of God, not in the words of specific papyri or the votes of specific committees. But fact and faith, history and theology intertwine together in that process and cannot ever be totally separated.”
Chapter 9: There have been challenges to Crossan’s scholarship including that by noted British historical Jesus’ scholar, N T Wright, whose assessment of the content of Crossan was that it “is almost entirely wrong.”
Chapter 10: Crossan admitted that “my endeavour was to reconstruct the historical Jesus as accurately and honestly as possible. It was not my purpose to find a Jesus whom I liked or disliked, a Jesus with whom I agreed or disagreed.”
Chapter 11: His methodology involves “a triple triadic process” that attempts to synthesise anthropology, history, and literature. Weakness in one area imperils the integrity and validity of the others. His method demands “equal sophistication on all three levels at the same time.”
Chapter 12: In addition to the use of the extracanonical material in the strata, Crossan also is committed to the “multiple independent attestation” of the Jesus’ tradition. He states that his discipline “is to work primarily with plurally attested complexes from the primary stratum of the Jesus tradition.”
However, there is a further factor that influences the Gospel accounts, textual “freeplay, that is to say, a field of infinite substitutions.”
Chapter 13: Concerning Christ’s resurrection, Crossan’s view was that the apostle Paul did not consider Jesus’ resurrection as “a special or unique privilege” because he was Messiah, Lord, and Son of God. Crossan does not see that Jesus’ case would be a parallel to that of Elijah, taken up by God and with “wider communal or cosmic effects.” His perspective is that Jesus’ resurrection is “an apparition with cosmically apocalyptic consequences,” but it is an apparitional vision “of a dead man who begins the general resurrection” (emphasis in original).
Chapter 14: I close with a warning in using this idiom: For evangelicals, there is a legitimate use of allegory as seen in Galatians 4:24-31 with the “figurative” use of Hagar and Sarah. Hagar was the slave woman who had a child to Abraham while Sarah, the free woman, had a child to Abraham. The two women represent two covenants (Gal 4:24).
But evangelicals are ‘skating’ too close for comfort, or are “dangerously or uncomfortably near” deconstructionist hermeneutics? John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress was written legitimately as an allegory of the Christian life. Allegorical interpretation has been called, typological or symbolic interpretation. The label doesn’t matter but it is illegitimate if it removes the interpreter from the literal meaning of the text. The problem with allegorical interpretation is that it seeks to interpret every biblical passage allegorically.
Chapter 15: This is what happens when the fixed meaning of a text is allowed to be used in freeplay:
“How to Flee From a Big Fish, it’s obvious the prophet didn’t have a lick of sense. The belly of a fish was his 3-day home when obeying God was the better option. The book of Jonah is more than a “whale of a fish story”. The biblical story shows how God uses people, animals and natural elements to offer repentance to a sinful nation and a rebellious messenger.”
Words, grammar and syntax are stripped of literal meaning, as with Crossan’s writings in allegorical interpretation and textual freeplay. Freeplay with the text strips it of literal meaning and replaces it by a readers’ understanding. Bye, bye literal interpretation and welcome the readers’ freeplay! So, “I call it as I see it,” is following Crossan’s call: “I formulate it here as I see it.”
See “Christ Myth Theory.”
A 3rd-century fragment of Paul’s Letter to the Romans.
Chapter 16: References
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Crossan, John Dominic. Raid on the Articulate: Comic Eschatology in Jesus and Borges. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1976.
Crossan, John Dominic 1982. “Difference and divinity”. In R Detweiler (ed), Derrida and biblical studies, Semeia 23, 1 January, 29-40.
Crossan, John Dominic. The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991.
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 Cambridge Dictionary. (s.v. “requite”), 2023.
 The Historical Jesus, 1991.
 See Crossan “Historical Jesus as risen Lord,” 1999, p. 29.
 Betsy Wise, Quora, “What is the allegory about Jonah and the whale, in the Christian Bible?”
 Crossan, The Birth of Christianity, p. xxx.