Monday, April 19, 2010

Crossan, Jesus, Fox

Apologies for the long gap in posting, which has been a function of lack of internet access rather than lack of time or (heaven forfend!) thoughts ... :)

John Dominic Crossan, author of The Historic Jesus, visited ESR this weekend and was a riveting speaker. He placed Roman ideology side by side against early Christian ideology. The Roman ideological (or theological) paradigm was war leading to victory leading to peace leading to (distributive) justice. In other words crushing the enemy established peace and in a peaceful world society could be ordered in a just way so that people's economic needs were met. Jesus and his followers claimed that to achieve peace and justice, one had to start with non-violence. Non-violence leads to economic justice, which in turn leads to peace. Needless to say, we know which paradigm still dominates today.

Caesar Augustus was worshipped as human and a divine, a God and a son of God because he unified the Roman Empire and brought peace through victory. Jesus, Crossan says, who brought peace through non-violence, was worshipped in the same terms because those were a construct a first century audience in the Roman world would have understood. Further, people in those days would not have challenged Jesus' resurrection--"wonders happened all the time"'--but would have asked, " what does it mean for me? What will it do for me?"

Crossan's most important point--and one he pounded on (and one I happen to strongly agree with)--is that history matters. Jesus arrived in a moment of opportunity, where, because of historical circumstances, his ministry was allowed to flourish for several years. Twenty years earlier or later, Crossan said, and he would have been crushed instantly. That brought mind to the Quakers and their emergence at another "window" of opportunity--the era of relative religious freedom during Cromwell's reign. Twenty years earlier or later and they would have been flattened by a state apparatus designed to keep people in conformity with the dominant ideology. (I might conceptualize this a little differently but that's for another post.)

I remember several times hearing people say, "If George Fox had been born in China, he would have been a Buddhist." OK ... yes, one's faith expression is obviously influenced by one's society. But the point is, George Fox wasn't born in China, Spain or the Ottoman Empire but England. History matters. I remember Tich Nat Hanh writing that if Buddha had lived in the Roman Empire, he, like Jesus, would have been crucified. Well, perhaps ... but the point is, he wasn't. If he had been, I imagine Buddhism would be much different today.

So I wonder: what would Quakerism look like if we were more willing to embrace the possibility of miracle and more rigorous in insisting that history matters? What miracles do we miss? What realities do we distort?

15 comments:

Todd said...

So I wonder: what would Quakerism look like if we were more willing to embrace the possibility of miracle and more rigorous in insisting that history matters? What miracles do we miss? What realities do we distort?

wow....just wow.
todd

Martin Kelley said...

Well and of course from a Christian standpont (and not a history of Christianity standpoint), the timing of Jesus' life was not a historical accident. His genealogy from David, his birth in Bethlehem among the chosen people, and his ministry, death and resurrection were all part of God's plan for the world. Many of the details of his life were foretold in the Hebrew scriptures.

But as you say, that worldview needs a willingness to believe in miracles and an awareness that history matters. I think George Fox would have believed in these no matter where or when he was born.

Diane said...

Martin,

I agree with you and have to see Jesus' birth as a miracle of timing, not an accident ... I have many points of disagreement with Crossan, but do agree that you can't just pluck people out of history at will. As I'm sure you agree, Jesus incarnation was important!

forrest said...

Or a miracle of timing and guidance, and of willingness to follow that guidance to the utmost.

sarafl said...

I think what's often missing in Western Christianity is remembering that Jesus was a child/man of the Middle East. Too often Americans view Middle Easterns as "foreign" or "others", yet the very foundation of Christianity and Judaism is as Middle Eastern religions. Understanding and appreciating Middle Eastern culture, gives new insights into the Bible and Christianity. There's an excellent book called "Pilgrims of Christ on the Muslim Road" which explores/expounds upon this.

Marshall Massey (Iowa Yearly Meeting [C]) said...

I confess I am skeptical of Crossan’s claim that “twenty years earlier or later ... [Jesus] would have been crushed instantly.”

It’s not a new idea. When I was a teen, the minister of the Presbyterian church my family attended preached a whole sermon around the idea that if Jesus had come a century earlier or later, his movement would not have had a chance. I was skeptical of that assertion, too.

After all, a lot of people would not have given a fig for the chances of Christ’s message and Christ’s movement, even coming when it did come. Success always seems so deceptively easy in retrospect!

But I find it much easier to believe that Jesus had no earthly chance of succeeding even when he did come — and succeeded anyway because he was not playing by merely earthly rules.

Chuck Fager said...

<< So I wonder: what would Quakerism look like if we were more willing to embrace the possibility of miracle and more rigorous in insisting that history matters? What miracles do we miss? What realities do we distort? >>

Miracles & taking history seriously: an intriguing juxtaposition.

If "we" (not always sure who "we" are supposed to be)Quakers took history and miracle more seriously, there would, for one thing, be more critical examination of the founders and the sources they left us.

That's because a generation of no-nonsense Quaker historians (taking their work seriously), aided and goaded by some non-Quaker counterparts, have pretty well established that much of the version of early Quaker history passed down to us has been in good measure fiction. Or, more baldly, laced with propaganda, rewriting of facts, and lies.

"Lies." A hard word; but the evidence is plentiful.

Perhaps the primo example of this is one of the most well-known: the complete suppression and destruction of "George Fox's Book of Miracles," by the ruling circle of elders. The manuscript was evidently deemed politically incorrect and off-message.

The late Henry Cadbury, in an amazing feat of scholarly detective work, reconstructed much of the content (described here: http://www.universalistfriends.org/uf050.html#Miracles ).

But there is much other such rewriting of Quaker history by Quakers. The distinguished secular scholar Christopher Hill called a spade a spade here: he said that the Friends in charge rewrote their history as part of their survival strategy.

Such rewriting, moreover, became something of a habit, (see: http://www.quaker.org/quest/issue-8-interview-3.htm ), and extended into the New World too.

It has been an interesting and sobering process for me to come to terms with this long tradition of untruth and prevarication in Quaker "classics" and sources. I've seen later historians make excuses for it, as the efforts of well-intentioned people to "avoid harm" and suchlike. I don't buy the rationalizations. A lie is a lie.

But whatever the reasons, the discoveries bring the great worthies of the olden time somewhat down to earth, not a bad outcome overall.

As for miracles, I'm a partial skeptic: many are the claims, rare is the evidence. Yet it's a mysterious world, and amazing things can happen, if less often than claimed.

In this regard, I recently heard a sermon on the resurrection by a Unitarian preacher. He reported on a survey by a social scientist of people who had recently lost a close family member or spouse.

Almost half of them reported experiences of contact with the departed, from a "sense" of presence, to visual visitations and conversations.

The Unitarian preacher took the fact that "only" half the folks reported such experiences as evidence that they were "merely" internal psychological states, with no external "reality." Comforting wish-fulfillments. He also equated the post-crucifixion appearances of Jesus with these purely psychological phenomena.

By contrast, I saw that glass as half full, not half empty. The fact that so many people had such experiences suggested to me that there was something more than the "merely" psychological going on, at least sometimes. And Jesus? Who knows?

Miracles & history; indeed, an intriguing combination for Friends. And others.

liberata said...

Did Crossan mention in his lecture that he interprets the star, the Wise Men, and Jesus' birth in Bethlehem all as metaphorical ways used by the early Christians of emphasizing Jesus' importance to them? According to Crossan, Caesar Augustus' birth was also foretold or marked by a star. He (and Marcus Borg) also believe that the historical Jesus was most likely born in Nazareth and not in Bethlehem, the "city of David." They see the metaphorical birthplace and also the genealogy as part of the process of saying how special Jesus was.

Crossan points out that by saying "Jesus is my Lord and Savior" was tantamount to treachery (and dangerous to one's health), because it was the same as saying "Caesar Augustus is not my Lord and Savior" (as coins and monuments of the time proclaimed).

So...I guess for me "what it all means" is that I choose to follow the teachings and example of the Nazorean, who paid the ultimate price for what he preached and who begged his Father to forgive those who tortured and killed him -- because he believed that the Father forgave and expected us to forgive. (I think this is the principle called imitatio Dei.) I find it less important to proclaim him divine. I prefer to think of him as "Spirit-filled," as Borg says, and determined to do the will of the Father.

I also think that Jesus found the notion of a forgiving and loving God right in his own Jewish background. For ex

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children,so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;
for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust.
Ps 103

I think that this attribute of God especially "spoke" to Jesus, and so he in turn chose to speak of it a lot.

Micah Bales said...

I appreciate this post.

Micah

Diane said...

Dear Chuck,

Very interesting comments about the suppression of the miracles in early Quakerism! I am more and more of the opinion that suppressing things out of "pc-ness" (or any other motives) leads to distortions that are worse than letting the truth hang out ... :)

Diane said...

Liberta and others,

I too am a true believer ("I'm a believer") and I embrace miracle and the Resurrection and all the rest of the wonder of God breaking through into the incarnate world. Thus, I do come at all this from a different perspective than Crossan. He seems to take more the view that Jesus made cold-blooded calculations about how to lead his "movement," such that --a. you'd have to be God anyway to figure all this out "on the ground" b. this distorts and minimizes Jesus' intimate connection to God and works at crosses purposes with the wildly counter- intuitive Kingdom of God Jesus described and embodied. Crossan is brilliant, however, I think, in his knowledge of the Roman world. I also think that had Jesus arrived in a different time and place, that rub with the incarnate would necessarily have lent a slightly different flavor to his ministry--because the world matters. It's not nothing.

liberata said...

Hi Diane,

>>I too am a true believer ("I'm a believer") and I embrace miracle and the Resurrection and all the rest of the wonder of God breaking through into the incarnate world. Thus, I do come at all this from a different perspective than Crossan.

I respect your beliefs.

>> He seems to take more the view that Jesus made cold-blooded calculations about how to lead his "movement,"

Funny, I've read quite a few of Crossan's books and do not have that impression.


>>the wildly counter- intuitive Kingdom of God Jesus described and embodied.

Crossan is not in disagreement with this, from what I've read of him. In one of his more recent books he takes a very close look at Jesus' dialog with Pilate: "My kingdom is not of this world...If my kingdom were of this world, my followers would have fought..." and sort of wonders out loud how Christianity came to forsake that nonviolent stance.

Nice speaking with you!

Ted M. Gossard said...

I don't have any idea, of course. But good thoughts here. In the fullness of time, or when the time was right God sent his Son, Scripture tells us. We have to look at what is propitious for us, what the movement of the Spirit is for us that we are to move according to. But it needs to be grounded in history, and I would say over Crossan, in the text of Scripture itself within a commitment to the orthodox Christian faith.

marilyn said...

Hi, Diane. This is the first "blog" I have ever seen or responded to-a true blog virgin, I am! I am so glad to be in class with you; to have opportunity to share life and thoughts and experience with you. You are a great resource of learning and love for me. Thank you.See you Tuesday,
Marilyn

Diane said...

HI Marilyn, ... and Ted and Liberata--

Marilyn,

Great that you "dropped in!" Please stop by the blog anytime. I will miss seeing you in class Tuesday nights.

Ted,

Always wonderful to hear from you.

Liberata, Thanks for the interesting comments.