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Bible scholar talks about Jesus' divinity

Bible scholar John Dominic Crossan is a controversial figure within Christianity. That's pretty well bound to happen when you're a New Testament authority who publicly says things like he doesn't take the resurrection of Jesus Christ literally. C...

John Dominic Crossan
John Dominic Crossan presents "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior" on Thursday at Concordia College. Special to The Forum

Bible scholar John Dominic Crossan is a controversial figure within Christianity.

That's pretty well bound to happen when you're a New Testament authority who publicly says things like he doesn't take the resurrection of Jesus Christ literally.

Crossan, a former Catholic priest, is no stranger to conflict. For example, the author and DePaul professor emeritus co-founded the Jesus Seminar. The participants in that effort voted on the historic authenticity of sayings and events attributed to Jesus in the New Testament Gospels. Their work flew in the face of more traditional interpretative methodology and raised hackles.

Crossan, who has written or co-written more than a dozen books, makes his way to Concordia on Thursday to present "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior" in an event hosted by the CHARIS Ecumenical Center. He spoke with The Forum from his home in Minneola, Fla., about the nature of the resurrection, the historicity of Jesus, justice and more. Here are topical excerpts of that conversation:

On the historical authenticity of the person of Jesus:

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"With the vast, vast majority of scholars, I am completely convinced that Jesus existed. Now, that's not an act of faith. That's a judgment of history in the same way as if you asked me, do I think Karl Marx was a real person or was he kind of manufactured as a figurehead or something like that ... As a historical conclusion, I think the idea that Jesus didn't exist is ... basically silly."

On the historicity of the crucifixion:

"Yes, of all the things, if I was putting a hierarchy of the things we're surest about (Jesus), that would be No. 1. Well, I guess that he was a Jew might be

No. 1."

On who/what Jesus was:

"I would put it this way, as a historian I'd reconstruct Jesus as a peasant with an attitude. And as a Christian I think his attitude is the attitude of God."

On the resurrection:

He says he believes in the resurrection, but metaphorically, not literally. "I do not think if you were standing outside a tomb on Easter Sunday morning, you'd have seen Jesus come out. I think that in the first century you're in a pre-Enlightenment world where people believed that wonderful things could happen. They believed, for example, if you're a Roman that Caesar Augustus has ascended into heaven and that's why the Roman Empire is doing so well. So when Christians say Jesus has ascended into heaven, they're making a claim for what process rules the world. Do you get peace through victory, which is the Roman mantra? Or do you get peace through justice, which is the Jewish and the Christian mantra? So I take it metaphorically. I take it absolutely seriously, programmatically, functionally. I think it's absolutely right, but I don't take it literally any more than I would take Jesus is the Lamb of God literally."

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Distinguishing between the historical Jesus and the Jesus of American Christianity:

"If I had to go for one thing, it would be violence. Speaking now as a historian, I am convinced ... that Jesus was a non-violent revolutionary, or a nonviolent resistor. I don't use the word 'revolutionary' as if it presumes violence. ... Now as a Christian, I think that also revealed to me the character of God. So the vision in America that came, say, from the 'Left Behind' series where Jesus is coming back violently, in other words, to negate the Incarnation and do it all over again violently, and that that basically justifies our violence, is the most important difference for me."

Was Jesus God?:

"I've got a picture on my desk of my wife. If you came in and said, 'Is that your wife?' I think it would be silly of me to say, 'Well, no, no, no. That's just a picture of my wife.' I would say, 'Yes, of course.' So if you say, 'Is Jesus God?' it's exactly true to say that in the same way. Jesus is the revelation of God; Jesus is the image of God, the Word of God, the Lamb of God, the Son of God, all of those titles want to say, 'This is what God looks like.' "

On what we should take from the life and teachings of Jesus:

"I think of it as an early distant warning about the dangers of violence ... Now after 2,000 years later, I think violence endangers our species. ... And there's a huge question whether as a species we can survive if we cannot control violence. Not because we're getting more evil. I don't believe that for a second. We're just getting more dangerous toys."

If you go

  • What: “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior” presentation by John Dominic Crossan
  • When: 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Thursday
  • Where: Knutson Campus Center, Concordia College
  • Info: Cost is $125. Lunch and refreshments included. Call (218) 299-3566.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Shane Mercer at (701) 451-5734

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