He wanted adventure and travel. The missionary priests who visited his boyhood school with stories of mission trips to Africa seemed to offer both.
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Crossan says his father, a banker, and his mother, a housewife, didn't push religion on him. He was raised in a traditional Irish Catholic church where faith was "undiscussed, uninvestigated and uncriticized. Yet Crossan immersed himself in the world of the Bible for the rest of his adult life.
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When he entered a monastery at 16, church leaders told him they wanted him to be a scholar because he had already taken five years of Latin and Greek. He became a priestly prodigy: ordained by 23; a doctorate at He studied in Rome and Jerusalem, and eventually became a New Testament scholar who became known as an authority on the parables of Jesus. Crossan saw them as subversive literary gems.
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His days as a priest would end, though, because of the same forces that shaped the rest of his career: the clash between church dogma and scholarly truth. Crossan says it was "bliss" being a priest and scholar in the mids because the Roman Catholic Church had instituted a series of modernizing reforms. But conservative church leaders fought those reforms, and Crossan says they pressured him to steer his research toward conclusions that reinforced church doctrine.
He left the priesthood in after he angered church leaders by publicly questioning the church's ban on birth control. He married, and settled into a career of teaching and writing books that were read primarily by other scholars. In , Robert Funk, a New Testament scholar, asked Crossan to join him on a risky mission: Expose the public to academic debates about the historical Jesus.
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The seminar was Crossan's first wide exposure to the public. The media gravitated to him because he was a scholar who didn't talk like a scholar. He became known for his sound bites -- inspired, he says, by Jesus' use of parables to distill complex truths in pithy but provocative sayings. Explaining why America's reliance on military might was similar to Rome's, he told Time magazine:. The good news: God says Caesar sucks. The bad news: God says Caesar is us. The book became a bestseller, and Crossan followed up with more. He says people were anxious to embrace a faith with "brains and heart," and learn the history behind the text, not just its wording.
A lot of this is becoming mainstream. A casual search of Crossan's name online turns up plenty of insults and warnings not to read his books. Crossan says, however, that he's "trying to understand the stories of Jesus, not refute them. Consider his understanding of the resurrection. Jesus didn't bodily rise from the dead, he says. The first Christians told Jesus' resurrection story as a parable, not as a fact. God is on the side of the crucified one. Rome's' values are a dead issue to me. People like to talk about Scripture, but Christians should also know history to understand Jesus, Crossan says.
In Jesus' time, Rome was forcing many Jewish families into destitution, with high taxes and land seizures.
Some Jews advocated violent rebellion, but others opted for non-violent resistance. Jesus called for nonviolent resistance to Rome and just distribution of land and food. He was crucified because he threatened Roman stability -- not as a sacrifice to God for humanity's sins, Crossan says. If you believe in a God that uses violence to "save" humanity, you'll start believing that violence is permissible in certain circumstances, such as suicide bombing or invading other countries to spread democracy, Crossan says. The human addiction to violence, though, is so ingrained that even the authors of the New Testament had trouble accepting Jesus' nonviolence, Crossan says.
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Crossan's proof: Jesus preaches nonviolence at the beginning of the New Testament. By the book of Revelation, he's leading armies through heaven to kill evildoers. The words "brilliant," "keen mind" and someone who "loves the Bible" are often used by fellow scholars to describe Crossan. They say he is generous with his time, funny and personally warm. He sees the world as a place where values matter. Ben Witherington, a New Testament scholar who has written several books about the early Christian community, says Crossan's work allows people to sidestep questions like: Did he come to save the world?
Is he the son of God? Witherington says Crossan is trying to find a nonsupernatural way to explain Jesus and Scripture, and "the shoe doesn't fit. If you have a problem with the supernatural, you have a problem with the Bible. It's on every page. One of the most persistent criticisms of Crossan's work is that he's turned Jesus into a peasant insurrectionist because his Irish ancestors battled the British Empire. Crossan says growing up Irish "makes you skeptical about empire. Reviews Review Policy.
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