John Dominic Crossan
How the West Lost and the East Kept the Original Easter Vision
Hello everyone, my name is Ron Way, and I'm going to be your host here today on AuthorTalk and Rising Light Media for a part two. Part two. I'm interviewing one of the foremost Jesus scholars of our time. His name is John Dominic Crossan, better known as Dominic or Dom. He is not only professor emeritus at DePaul University and bestselling author, he's alSo, the creator of a new book entitled, "Resurrecting Easter," and he's alSo, a good friend of mine for well over 20 years. Welcome back to a second edition of AuthorTalk, Dom.
Dominic Crossan: And always great to be with you, Ron. Thank you very much.
And I thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, I will say, as an aside, but as a precursor, if you haven't listened to part one of the interview, and you're just picking this up this week, go back on the website that you're on right now or in iTunes and listen to part one of the interview, because that sets up this part and it's fascinating.
Dominic, this time I'm going to ask you to give me a little bit of a story. Tell everybody how you got into this field of biblical studies, because I think it's fascinating. You come from Ireland. And you were picked up and hauled off by the Catholics. Tell us that quick story, would you Dominic?
Go way back fast. Basically, in 1950, I entered the Roman Catholic monastic order, my name was John Crossan then, So, they gave me the middle name Dominic, or the new name Dominic, as in the Bible, new vocation, new name, that's why I kept it. So, 19 years later, having kind of finally discovered that celibacy was vastly overrated, I left the monastery and the Roman Catholic priesthood, but I kept my middle name Dominic or Dom. So, what happened, actually was, I entered the monastery and they said, "Wait a minute, you've had five years of Greek and five years of Latin at a classical boarding school in Ireland, you're going to become a professor." So, they decided. I had no problem with that. But like going into the army, at the monastery, you go in to do what you're told.
Dominic Crossan: So, they decided I was going to be a professor and they sent me on to get a doctorate and that to specialize two years in Rome and exegesis two years in Jerusalem and archeology. And all of that was decided by my order, for which I'm very, very grateful to them. So, that decision was made. They made me a biblical scholar.
Wow. And then, eventually you left the priesthood, you got married, and you taught at DePaul University your whole career, I think, as a teacher, didn't you?
Dominic Crossan: I love DePaul. I think it's a great university, quite frankly. I went there in what? '69? And I stayed there till I was 61 in '95. And the reason I took early retirement was I loved teaching undergraduates and doing my own research, but then I started to get invited to churches for the whole weekend, Friday night, all day Saturday, even preaching on Sunday, churches all around this country and Canada, to talk about the historical Jesus and how this was changing how we looked at Christianity when you look at it, not just theologically, but historically as well.
So, I couldn't do all of that. So, in '95, I took early retirement an "alleged retirement," put it in quotation marks. I've been full-time writing and lecturing round the country ever since. And thank God, I'm still able to do it.
And a brilliant speaker as well, Ladies and gentlemen. If you ever get a chance ... Do you ever do the traveling Jesus Seminars, Dominic?
I don't do them, because I had my own sort of whole list of places to go to, So, I was never in the Jesus Seminar group.
Well, if you ever get a chance to hear Dominic talk, he is, as you can tell from this recording, he's an amazing speaker, and he has a wealth of knowledge about the historical Jesus especially. And he is just a delight. You will learn from him as I have learned throughout the years. Dominic, let's jump back into your book, if you don't mind.
Dominic Crossan: Okay, Ron.
Everyone tends to forget that Jesus was Jewish, not Christian. He was steeped in his Jewish world, not the world 100, 200, or 2,000 years later. How does Jewish tradition envision resurrection? I want to hear your thoughts on that, because that's where his ideas would have been fermented from? Individual/tribal? Individual or a tribal? Jews alone or for all?
No, in Jewish tradition, up to and including the time of Jesus, it was perfectly possible for an individual, a very holy person like Enoch, or Elijah, or possibly even Moses, to be taken up to God. They would have called that "ascension," "assumption," if they're using Greek, they might call it "apotheosis." And that was understood in the culture, even the Romans would have said, "Okay, of course. Augustus, or Julius Caesar, and our great Romulus, they were all taken up to God." They understood that. They would call that "ascension," as I said, or "assumption."
The Jewish word, "resurrection" is something completely different. It's talking about what's going to happen at the end of time when the entire human race rises to be judged by God and to be sent into one of two locations: Heaven or Hell. And this is only arriving into the Jewish tradition, oh, about 100 years, 150 years before the time of Jesus. It hasn't been there for most of the Jewish tradition.
Now, when I look at that tradition, by the way if I may speak for myself, I think I'd reverse it. It's not that there's going to be a judgment at the end of the human race and then we all go off to Heaven and Hell. I see Heaven and Hell as options in the present, not locations in the future. And, quite frankly, after the 20th century, Hell seems to be winning hands down, but you leave that aside.
I do think, however, if you take evolution, I'm talking especially about human evolution, seriously, we have a problem as a species about whether we're going to destroy ourselves and our world. How is this story going to end up? If you looked at the trajectory of human evolution since we left Africa 70,000 years ago, and said, "How is it going to look a couple of thousand years from now? Which option will it go?" Will we have created Heaven and Earth? Or will we have created Hell and Earth? If we've created Hell and Earth, we're probably going to destroy ourselves.
So, I reverse that. But I think the basic intuition is profoundly right. The human race, the entire human race, I mean the species, is accountable to itself for what's going to happen. And nobody is going to take it off to another world somewhere else as if our world were some kind of a cheap motel or something, and it's fine, we can go home afterwards and abandon it.
So, I take that very, very seriously. But I do not take Heaven and Hell or the final judgment as literal events way off in the future. They're going on every moment of every day in one of two directions.
Dominic, there's two competing themes that I want to tackle here and I ... First, let me just start with the historical Jesus, steeped in his own Judaism, which I didn't realize that that changed about a hundred years before Christ, or before the Common Era, So, that there became a Heaven and Hell that wasn't in the older teachings of the Bible, Old Testament.
Dominic Crossan: No, it's not.
So, you have to ask yourself, "What did Jesus think? And do his words or the remembrances of his words and deeds, do they lean to one side or the other?" Do you think he agrees with you, Dominic? Or not? Here's what keeps popping into my mind. Paul, really, is the earliest writings we have of at least somebody that knew early Christians, Peter, John, maybe a few of the others that were in the early Church or followed him around and hounded him, and in him you don't ... Do you see one or the other? Because I think, in reading him, he believes, at least this is the way it came down to us, the western tradition of: You have to believe in Jesus Christ as your personal savior, otherwise you're not going to be risen at the end of time. Historically, he's really the first writer we have. How do you break away from that? Or how did the Eastern Church break away from that? Or was there a complete separation already happening quite early in the Church? And So, the Syrian arm of the Church was going one way, Paul was going another toward the West.
Okay, let me go back to Jesus, since you began there. The most striking thing about Jesus, he may well have accepted the general thing that was just coming into Judaism at the time, but what is striking is his indifference to it. Jesus speaks, for example, in the Our Father, the Lord's Prayer, as we call it, "As in Heaven So, on Earth." There's not a word in the Lord's Prayer about, "If you don't do this, you won't get to Heaven or Hell." It just ain't in there. It's about how God's world is supposed to be run. It's something that goes back completely. I don't think Jesus said anything in the way that isn't contained in Genesis 1 already, how we're supposed to live on this earth. So, it's about the earth. I would imagine that Jesus would have said, "Yeah, whatever is in the future and the next life, that's up to God. Mind your own business. Your business, dear listener," he would have said, "is what are you doing ...
Ron Way: Now.
"... to make this God's earth here and now every day? Full stop," I think Jesus would have said, "using the next life as an excuse for your responsibility in this one." Because the Romans did really not crucify people for talking about the next life. Pilate would have been very happy to say, "Okay, Jesus. You talk about Heaven. I'll talk about Earth. You talk about the next life. I'll talk about this life. Off you to go Galilee and have a nice life." They crucified him because he was saying, "Your system for this world is not God's system." That is called treason. So, I'm arguing, not So, much what Jesus would have thought about the next life, because I can't find much, to be honest, that makes much sense. It's mostly about this life and how to live here below.
And Paul is doing the same, for example, he tells Christians that they're supposed to be living risen lives, they're supposed to have already died like Christ to Roman values, as Christ died from Roman values. He tells them they're supposed to be living neither male nor female, slaves nor free, Jew nor Gentile. That's radical stuff, because the Roman Empire was a slave economy, built on slavery. So, to come along blithely and say, "Oh, Christians don't have Christian slaves," as Paul does in his authentic letters. I'm not talking about Colossians and Ephesians, which are later trying to domesticate Paul back to Roman values. They're talking about this world. And the whole refuge into the next world, as if we're on the Titanic, and don't worry about the ... Because we've got lots of lifeboats and we can all go off somewhere else. That's not the way I see the Jewish tradition for a thousand years before Jesus ever arrived.
And, in a way, when you start talking about Heaven and Hell, it's ... I'm not going to say it's a loss of faith or hope, but it's kind of a loss of confidence. It's a loss of nerve. I think the prophets would've said, "We can try and do our best to see how we're supposed to live in this world to make this world the way God wants it."
When you say, "Well, we can't do that. We give up. Doesn't make any sense. Let's talk about Heaven and Hell." You've quit.
Ron Way: Right. You're not participating in this adventure of changing the earth.
Dominic Crossan: The Kingdom of God is about deserts.
Right. You know, I love three quotes from your book, and I'm going to try to get these in before we run out of time, because I think it's important to offer intriguing opportunities for the future of our human race. Listeners to this podcast know that as a retired naval officer, I struggle with the early teachings of Jesus, which say we have to turn the other cheek and love our enemies. Of course, today, my mind runs to ISIS and radical Islam as brutal examples of people. I cannot imagine being influenced by peaceful non-violence. But then again, in Jesus' time, he lived with the Romans who ruled with brutal efficiency. Jesus was, after all, like you say, crucified for insurrection, not religious beliefs, right?
Dominic Crossan: Right.
So, I’m going to read three quotes, and I just want you to comment on them. And they're all on the same page, 186. "When Christ, rising from the dead after being executed for nonviolent resistance against violent imperial injustice, grasps the hands of Adam and Eve, this refers to the painting again, he creates a parable of possibility. That's what intrigued me, and a metaphor of hope, that's what intrigued me, for all of humanity's redemption."
Well, first of all, thank you, because I suppose if I had to choose one thing from the whole book, that's probably going to be it, So, thank you for doing that.
Ron Way: Oh, okay.
Yeah, what I'm really talking about here ... I'm really not talking about pacifism, for the moment. I'm going to admire anyone who can do that, but very often, pacifism, if you say, "Well, we're going to be pacifists. You have to be a pacifist." And people will say, "You mean, if I'm in an alley, and somebody is beating a little child to death, I can't intervene?" What I'm really asking is a bigger question, because this is a question I see being asked in the Bible. The question is this: we are a species who are not constrained, like all other social species, by instinct, only by conscience. Looking at the records of the last, say, 3,000 years, just to keep it simple, we've gone from the iron sword to the atomic bomb in 3,000 years. Now, looking at the trajectory of escalatory violence, not of evil, but just of escalatory violence, weapons I'm talking about, in our history, what do you think the next 3,000 are going to be like? We've never, never had a weapon we didn't use. Yes, well, you can argue we didn't use the hydrogen bomb yet, but basically, we always make better weapons.
So, my question is not addressed to pacifism, it's: What do we think will save our species from destroying itself, since we're getting better and better at everything, and therefore, getting better and better at killing one another? I'm not even talking about schools at the moment, but that's alSo, there. So, the question that's asked is: Is violence So, endemic to the human race, So, part of our nature, our nature, not our culture, but our nature, that we're simply a doomed species? We can't do anything but destroy ourselves. I don't think that's right. I think human beings can learn, for example, to evacuate an 80,000 seat football stadium without pushing. I think we can learn to walk down the street without saying, "Get out of my way." Now, we're not so, good when we're in cars, because that's something else, we can't handle power. I think I see no reason why human beings cannot learn that violence is so dangerous that we have to do to violence what we did ... Get rid of it before it destroys us. So, that's what I mean by that parable of possibility. We can change. Human nature is capable of changing.
Ron Way: : You're an optimist there.
Dominic Crossan: No, you're quite right. I mean, I don't know if I'm an optimist. I really see two options. The only thing I can see that can stop violence is not superior violence, and that's the myth of empire. The Romans said, "Well, if we use sufficient violence, we create a Pax Romana, which it did. But I think Jesus, a Jew like Jesus would have said, "Well, we've got this now for the Assyrians, the Babylonians, Medes, Persians, Alexandrian Greeks. Romans, you guys don't get peace, you get lulls in the action until the next round." So, I see these as two options. I'm not saying which option I think we are going to choose. I'm just simply saying there's two. I don't see the inevitability that we will destroy ourselves, but I think it has to be said loudly and clearly that there is another option. It's been there. It's imagined in these images that fill this book. For the hand of the crucified one, crucified for non-violence, non-violent resistance to violence, grasped the hands of the human race to take them out of death.
That's the only meaning I can really see in it, otherwise I don't know what the metaphor means. I don't even know how to interpret it. Irrespective, as I say, of whether you think it's weird, wild, wrong, right, whatever. You're looking at an image, and you're asking, "What message do I get from this image?" Then you have to say, "And I think it's wrong. I think it's absurd." Or, "I think we have to learn to live by it."
And of course, I think you summed it up. You said, "Nonviolent resistance is, alone, capable of saving us from species death."
I'm really not, honestly, not making a moral or an ethical judgment there. I'm making, I don't even know if it's an historic judgment, it's more an evolutionary judgment to be saying, "Okay, let's look at the human race, our species, for the last at least 3,000 years," You know, you could push it back 10,000 to the neolithic revolution, but I settle for 3,000 years, because that's within our time span that we can easily hold onto. Look at the trajectory as if you were looking at, say, a patient whose temperature is 99, then 100, then 101, then 102, then 103, and eventually you get, "Wait a minute, this trajectory is bad."
Ron Way: It is going to end in death.
Dominic Crossan: Unless something changes, this poor patient is going to die.
I get it. I get it. And in our particular case, in the Christian world, we use Jesus as the prime example. For he actually said, "I'm not going to resist," and because of that, he was killed, but he gave that example with ultimate faith in a Father, his Abba.
Well, that's our Christian story. That's why we're called "Christians," which simply means taking Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ. We're not called "Biblians," you know? We're called Christians. This is our model. The Bible points us, of course, to Jesus, but Jesus is, for us, the norm of the Bible. So, that's what we've committed ourselves to as Christians.
And the more I've been thinking about it, the more I am fully in agreement with you. I don't quite know how to implement that other than my own little sphere of influence. But boy, don't we need it? I mean, I am so sick of the news, and the fighting and the, "You're right. You're wrong." I mean, it just doesn't lend any solution that is good.
But, for me, the only validity of a world religion, to use that term, any world religion, is not that it's spread around the world, that could just be a flu.
So, spreading around the world is no big deal today. What does it say to the world? So, I would ask of Christianity, and any other world religion, by the way. Of course, you speak to your own people in your own language and your own idiom, your own tradition, that's profoundly correct. But what do you have to tell us about the future of the human race? If you don't really have anything to tell us about that, then I rather think you're probably just entertainment and people who want entertainment or a vacation, that's fine. I mean, we all like that. Entertainment is fine. I'm not against it. It's just that you can't base your whole life on it.
Ron Way: Wow. Some deep thoughts here, Dominic. Gee-whiz. We're normally arguing over the meaning of a single Greek word. Now you've gotten this deep. Holy cow, this must mean you're getting old.
Dominic Crossan: Maybe it does. No, I've been looking at these images for 15 years, and they're seared into my consciousness. I think that's what's happened.
That is absolutely right. Holy cow. Dominic, thank you for taking your time to do a two-episodes interview for this amazing book. Ladies and gentlemen, this is a book that I really worth reading. You can tell that this is heavy stuff, but the book is beautiful. I mean, the photographs. You can follow the trajectory of our faith, eastern or western, but Christian, nevertheless, through this book that he has written for us along with his wife Sarah. The book is named Resurrecting Easter: How the West Lost the East Kept the Original Easter Vision. And it's meant for good reading and an amazing visual experience. Dominic, thank you for being on AuthorTalk today, and I do appreciate you more than you can imagine. Thank you very much.
Dominic Crossan: Oh, it was a pleasure.
Ron Way: Please say "hi" to your wife for Trudy and me.
Dominic Crossan: All right. Thank you very much and goodbye, Ron.
Ron Way: Goodbye. Have a wonderful evening. Ladies and gentlemen, that's it. The end of a two-part series, and we'll be back again. Until that time, this is Ron Way, your host. I remain faithfully yours.