Dominic Crossan: The Historical Jesus ‘The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant’
Dominic Crossan offers us a portrait of Jesus as a Jewish cynic peasant who offered miracles and welcomed the outcasts. Jesus was not, in Crossan’s assessment, an apocalyptic prophet but a preacher of an egalitarian kingdom which rejected human hierarchy. When looking at the methodology of Crossan, particularly in regard to his use of ‘criteria’ the task is made relative simple by the fact that Crossan declares up front his methodological approach and provides in the appendixes of his book the results of this method.
Crossan’s methodology involves a ‘triple triadic process’ which seeks to fuse together social anthropology, Hellenistic and Greco-Roman history with ‘literature of specific sayings and doings.’ In other words Crossan reads material which he has judged as authentic through the lens of both anthropology and Greco-Roman history.
Words are judged authentic through a process of
ii) stratification ,
i) Inventory: This ‘initial step involves a complete declaration of all major sources and texts, both intra canonical and extra canonical’ and placing them ’ in their historical situation and literary relationship.’2 This inventory is found in Appendix 1 and spans from 1 Thessalonians (50C.E) to Gospel of Peter (middle second century). It includes material from the ante-Nicene fathers, Didache and the Gospel of Thomas.
ii)Stratisification: Each source or text is placed into a chronological category of
First Stratum 30-60C.E,
Second Stratum 60-80C.E,
Third Stratum 80–120C.E
Fourth Stratum 120-150C.E
iii) Attestation: Each unit (complex) within a source is looked at in terms of ‘multiplicity of independence’.
Crossans methodology is best illustrated through looking at an example of what he has done for all the Jesus tradition.
eg. 20 Kingdom and Children [1/4]
1) Gos.Thom. 22:1-2
2) Mark 10:13-16=Matt 19:13-15=Luke 18:15-17
3) Matt 18:3
4) John 3:1-10
This is a complex which is given a name and number . (20 Kingdom and Children). It is found in ist earliest form in the first stratum, 30-60C.E ( 1/4) and is attested in four independent sources(1/4). The independent sources are then listed. (Thomas, Mark, Matthew and John) . With this inventory a simple guideline is followed
‘My methodological rule thumb is that the lower the number left of that stroke and the higher the number to its right the more seriously the complex must be taken’ 3
It may appear on first sight that Crossan strives and aims for objectivity, for in using a nuanced version of ‘Criteria of Multiple Attestation’(CMA)4 he appears to provide an objective list of authentic Jesus material. Yet this is to misread Crossan for
‘my methodology does not claim a spurious objectivity, because almost every step demands a scholarly judgement and an informed decision. I am concerned, not with an unattainable objectivity, but with an attainable honesty’ 5
From this brief survey of Crossan’s methodology we can see that he modifies CMA, the modification taking place in his use of extracanonical sources without any preference to the canonical gospels, and his ‘sophisticated system’ of placing each tradition in a complex which gives the dating of the pericope and its ‘attestation’.
Critique of Crossan’s Methodology
For a full criticism of the ‘Criteria of Multiple Attestation’(CMA) see the relevant part of this paper.
A) A quick glance at the Crossan’s inventory reveals a number of interesting features, each of which has an impact on the bedrock historical tradition. For instance Crossan assumes an early dating to part of the Gospel of Thomas. Similarly, an earlier version of The Gospel of Peter called the Cross Gospel is dated to 50AD. Without going into specifics it is to be noted that the dating of these documents is in opposition to scholarly consensus– not that scholarly consensus in itself guarantees truth but any bucking of the scholarly trend should involve, and this is lacking in The Historical Jesus, detail and argument.6 The same can be said for his late dating of Matthew and Luke.
B) Crossan seeks to distinguish between the different layers of a text, at times placing an earlier form of a second century document, Gospel of Peter/Thomas, into the earliest years of the Church. Witherington rightly asks,
Yet, one may properly ask, how is it possible with any degree of objectivity to accomplish this task when we do not have the texts of the earlier layers of the Gospel tradition?7
C) Unlike Meier, Crossan is inconsistent with his own methodology, and at times, particularly in regard to miracles, goes against his own ‘rule of thumb. He writes,
We have no textual gospel of miracles similar to that textual Gospel of sayings. Furthermore, while we have as high as sixfold independent attestation in the primary stratum of sayings, we never get higher than twofold for that of the miracles. And the closest we get to a triple attestation is in the second stratum (appendix 6). One might almost conclude that miracles come into the tradition later rather than earlier, as creative confirmation rather than as original data. I think, however, that such a conclusion would be completely wrong. The better explanation is just the opposite. Miracles were, at a very early stage, being washed out of the tradition and, when retained, were being very carefully interpreted.8
It seems then that Crossan has the liberty of going against his methodology when he think it does not lead us to the authentic portrait. His criteria, then, are not autonomous but are subservient to other overarching concerns.
1 Crossan, John Dominic: The Historical Jesus : The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant
2 Crossan The Historical Jesus xxxi
3 Crossan The Historical Jesus xxxiii
4 CMA will be discussed for fully later in this paper
5 Crossan The Historical Jesus xxxiv as Wright comments ‘the massive inventory of material is bound to look like a thoroughly modernist piece of work, appearing to lay firm, almost positivist, foundations for the main argument of the book.’ J&VOG 50 and in a more polemical style Wright Jesus and the Victory of God 47-55, also Witherington, Ben: The Jesus Quest : The Third Search for the Jew of Nazareth. Ch 3
6 For a helpful discussion see Meier A Marginal Jew Vol1 112-166
7 Witherington, Ben: The Jesus Quest : The Third Search for the Jew of Nazareth. 77
8 Crossan The Historical Jesus 310