THE BIRTH OF CHRISTIANITY
Discovering What Happened in the Years Immediately After the Execution of Jesus
by John Dominic Crossan
HarperCollins SanFrancisco (1998)
On the Roads of Galilee
At two points in this grand, sprawling work, John Dominic Crossan throws out a plaintive question. Near the outset he asks [p.26]: "Why is Jesus, alone of all historical figures, so covered by a cloud of unknowing and a cloak of protective invisibility?" Almost 400 pages later he reiterates [p.404]: "Why is Jesus more unknowable or less reconstructable than any other ancient person about whom data has survived?" Both questions, however, are offered in a tone of reproof, against those who thus lament the virtual impossibility of uncovering the real historical Jesus, those guilty of "historical agnosticism." After his first question, he goes on to observe: "If Jesus is but a figure like Zeus, historical reconstruction is quite absurd. If Jesus is but a figure like Hamlet, historical reconstruction is equally absurd. The former lives only in myth, the latter only in literature. Jesus may live in both those realms too, but he also lived in history."
That latter claim is a key question which Dr. Crossan does not directly address in this monumental book, but has he proven the point simply by association? Does his presentation of Christianity's "birth" silence those gloomy agnostics and draw Jesus of Nazareth out of the realm of myth and literature, to set him down under the historical spotlight? I would have to say that this is not the case.
There is much in this book to excite the reader. It's colorful, highly informative, even gripping at times. There are numerous perceptive analyses and fresh insights. Crossan has a vast command of language and imagery, and a great talent for clever repartee and turn of phrase. But he's also self-indulgent, and his digressions and wealth of background material make heavy demands on the reader's powers of concentration and organization; they often stretch the thread of his presentation close to the breaking point. He can offer weak and strong arguments alike with an equal degree of confidence and subtlety. In short, John Dominic Crossan is a force of nature on the New Testament landscape today, and this book shows why he enjoys the influence and stature that he does.
What it also demonstrates is the profound uncertainty which still exists in any attempt to place the historical Jesus on a firm footing. The book's title itself is not a little misleading, especially in the implications of the subtitle: Discovering What Happened in the Years Immediately After the Execution of Jesus. If readers expect that Crossan will deliver on a promise [p.15] to reveal "what happened to Jesus' first companions in the days and weeks, months and years immediately after (Jesus') execution," they will come away disappointed. We get no such nitty-gritty itinerary, not even in general outline. Of course, the record will not allow such a thing, not even remotely—and, given the chimerical substance of the Gospel passion account (which Crossan admits), we do not get it even for the time before the execution, which Crossan includes in his stated "concern" for "the continuity of Jesus' companions from before to after Calvary." This is a "birth" which still takes place below any observable horizon, to be inferred only from distant, muffled cries and flashes of light reflecting from a treacherous and murky sky.
It's also a birth which transpired simultaneously in two different worlds—indeed, two different universes—like the delivery of twins a thousand miles apart at the hands of two unrelated teams of midwives. Crossan calls it [p.415] a birth which "took place along (a) fault line," a deep crevasse between "rural Galilee and urban Jerusalem." This is because Christianity, as Crossan and modern scholarship have been forced to present it, comprises "Twin Traditions," two spheres of reaction to and thought about the historical Jesus which seem to have nothing in common, nothing to do with one another. Crossan exercises great ingenuity in trying to bridge that crevasse, to create points of contact between them, linking threads. The strength of those threads is not enough to bear the pressure of separation.
The first Twin (it would be difficult to say which is the older) that Crossan addresses is the one in Galilee, the response to Jesus' teachings and miracle-working. The second Twin proceeds from Jerusalem, responding to Jesus' death and perceived resurrection, declaring him Son of God and Savior of the world, and carrying that message to half the empire in an amazingly short time. Much of the incompatibility between those two children of the Christian womb I'll leave until later, as Crossan himself does. And when he discusses the methodological basis on which he creates his birth picture, he focuses chiefly on the Galilean scene. So let's turn to that first.
[Note: This review is a long one and covers a lot of ground, and may, like the book itself, make some demands on the reader's digestive powers. I have followed in general layout the thread of Crossan's own presentation, but as always, I use the occasion to argue my own case. I trust the reader will bear with this in-depth amalgam of describing the book's content (often informative in itself), disputing many of its conclusions, and advocating the alternative views of the Jesus Puzzle.]
Text and Context
Crossan's "method, method, and once again method" [p.44] may seem sound enough in principle. It involves a linking of "Text and Context". In keeping with the sociological approach he began in The Historical Jesus (1991), Crossan focuses on using archaeology, history and anthropology to unearth a picture of Lower Galilee in the 20s of the first century, and then linking to that "Context" the earliest recoverable layers of those Christian "Texts" which relate to this geographical area and situation. Such texts are chiefly the Q Gospel extracted from Matthew and Luke, and the Gospel of Thomas, whose oldest layer bears an obvious affinity and relationship to the early layers of Q. Supposedly, those bedrock strata of sayings and miracle-working, compatible as they are to the history and social situation of early first century Galilee, and being ascribed to Jesus, should give us as accurate a picture as we are likely to get of the historical figure himself, what he said, what he did, what he stood for. Context and text come together to define the historical Jesus.
Crossan's picture of Galilee in the third decade of the first century is rich and fascinating. Increasing urbanization of the country under Roman rule (Herod Antipas had just rebuilt Sepphoris and founded Tiberias within 20 miles of each other) had devastating effects on the surrounding agrarian population. The new centers tended to drain the agricultural resources of the area, placing increased burdens of work and taxation on the rural peasantry. Urban elites gained ever greater ownership of the farming land, indenturing or dispossessing the peasants, often driving them to become beggars or bandits—or, only a notch higher, struggling artisans. Exploitation accelerated and the gap between rich and poor widened.
Oppressed peasant classes rarely have the opportunity for open revolt, and virtually never successfully. Their response is almost always one of attitude: adopting highly critical stances against ordinary social conventions and political power structures. They refuse to cooperate any more than they have to with those in authority. They criticize wealth, the values of the cities and ruling circles, the traditional religious institutions which are usually under the control of the rich establishment. A kind of counter-culture movement with radical standards and expectations may develop which the newly disadvantaged can take part and take heart in. There may be new religious and mythical dimensions to its outlook and expectations. If the dispossessed themselves lack the power to bring about change or restitution, a supernatural power is regarded as being on their side and promising to effect the desired radical change and reversal. Utopias are envisioned and looked for. The focus on evil in the world becomes less a concern with an individual's evil than with the evil arising from class inequalities. The prevailing outlook becomes a resistance movement against systemic evil.
In any Jewish milieu, another factor enters the picture. The best of the Hebrew biblical tradition, one expressed chiefly in the prophets, is the concept of the God of Israel as a God of justice and righteousness, one who champions the powerless, the vulnerable, the unfortunate. Here Crossan details and illuminates the interaction between concepts of righteousness/justice and holiness/purity, the various and evolving law codes of biblical history, attitudes to Sabbath rest, slavery, indebtedness, ownership of land as divine gift. (Crossan does this sort of thing at every turn, which is what makes his books so challenging, but also rewarding. He doesn't just lay a groundwork for his main material, he raises whole cities to house it!) Social unrest and resistance may thus be grounded in the view that class inequalities and the suffering of the poor are contrary to God's will and that he will intervene before long to right all wrongs.
Thus Crossan sees a Galilee in the 20s pervaded by a peasant resistance movement brought about by the deleterious effects of increasing rural commercialization and fed by traditional streams of religious idealism for social justice. This lower class resistance to Roman rule and its compromised Jewish aristocracy is witnessed by the many recorded disturbances in the supposed time of Jesus: prophets leading groups into the desert, to the banks of the Jordan, "usually unarmed, always slaughtered" [p.210]. This social unrest eventually led to an explosion of banditry, political instability, finally to outright revolt culminating in the disastrous Jewish War of 66-70, but in the Galilee of the 20s and 30s it created the so-called Kingdom of God movement. For Crossan and others in the field, its driving force, its chief innovative wellspring, was Jesus of Nazareth.
An Individual or a Movement?
How does Crossan characterize and describe this Jesus? One of the curiosities of this book is that no really tangible image of Jesus ever emerges from its pages. He is described [p.235] as a "peasant from a peasant village," assumed to be "illiterate until the opposite is proven." Judging by Mark 6:3 and its reference to Jesus as "tekton" (carpenter), he was probably a dispossessed peasant, a landless laborer forced into an artisan pursuit which had no pride of status, simply because most such individuals had emerged from a dispossessed background. Borrowing a term from John Meier, Crossan describes him [p.351], and the movement he was a part of, as "marginalized," operating on the fringes of mainstream social and political participation, in quiet (and sometimes not so quiet) opposition to them. Beyond such descriptions, and apart from the teachings and acts themselves which are supposed to be his product, very little 'flesh and blood' sense of the man himself comes across. Some of the reasons for this will become evident.
Thus Crossan has arrived at his methodological juncture of Text and Context, and he now proceeds to open up the Q Gospel and the Gospel of Thomas to reveal the mind and program of the historical Jesus in the Galilean phase of his career. But there is a potential fatal flaw in the method, since it passes by and ignores a more fundamental question. If there was an historical Jesus, then the earliest layer of the texts under consideration would logically be closest to that figure, and if this coincides with the established context, then there is a high likelihood that we would indeed have uncovered the "authentic" Jesus. But if there was in fact no Jesus of Nazareth, and it is possible to view the earliest layers of those texts in a different light—a ground zero which is empty of such a figure and precedes the development of an artificial historical Jesus—then these bedrock layers of text could still coincide with the context Crossan has laid out if they can be seen as residing in Galilee.
Thus what we would arrive at is not an historical Jesus, but a broad movement which did not owe its source and wellspring to the force of one man—(or there may have been some influential individuals involved whose names have not survived)—a movement for which an artificial Jesus figure was later developed to represent or symbolize. A saying or anecdote attributed to Jesus may fit Crossan's context, but it may equally well be a saying or anecdote which belonged to the teachings or experiences of a community, a reform/resistance movement, a sect in conflict with the establishment, only later to be placed in the mouth or at the feet of an invented Jesus. How can we tell whether "Ask and you will receive, seek and you will find," was spoken by a Jesus or simply by a Kingdom group's spokespersons? And are there in fact indications within the evidence itself, backed up by deductive reasoning we can bring to that evidence, which point in the latter direction?
To this unaddressed and unproven assumption by Crossan and others, that there was an historical Jesus, we must add a glaring omission: the failure to find corroboration for the Galilean picture of Jesus within the earliest extant record, namely the epistles. These documents, of course, belong to that other non-identical Twin which by definition had nothing to do with its sibling, much less bear any resemblance to it. But can that dismissal be so cavalierly made? The second Twin, with its epistolary texts, may not reside in the main "context" of Galilee, but it did presumably emerge from the same womb, in reaction to the same historical figure. If we cannot find any trace of that figure in Paul and the rest of the early Christian correspondence, any trace of the same man as the wellspring of Paul's faith, this would indicate that the earliest layers of the Q and Thomas texts were something entirely unconnected with that faith, and that the two Traditions only meet at the artificial intersection point created by the evangelist Mark. In addition to all else, if no Galilee and no historical Jesus lie behind Paul, it becomes much less likely that the earliest layers of Crossan's texts refer to any such figure. (Crossan does attempt to uncover some common ground between the two Traditions, those linking threads I mentioned earlier, but I hope to demonstrate that they are more wishful than substantial.)
Two Complementary Texts
In the excavation of Jesus from the Q Gospel and Gospel of Thomas texts, Crossan begins by noting that the two documents (one unearthed from the sands of Egypt, the other quarried from the pages of Matthew and Luke) have about one-third of their content in common. Those parallel sayings which appear in both, with close wording or sentiments, number 37. These are referred to as the Common Sayings Tradition (abbreviated to CST). Crossan accepts that the Gospel of Thomas is not derived, directly or indirectly, from the Synoptic Gospels. That is, of those sayings in common between Thomas and Q, the former does not represent an extraction from some canonical source or sources. (As for the rest of the sayings in the Gospel of Thomas which have no parallels in Q, many of them have an orientation toward gnosticism; these undoubtedly represent a layer which was added later, perhaps over time, and perhaps even after the canonicals were written.)
The implication which modern scholars tend to draw is that Q and Thomas are more or less independent witnesses to the teachings of an historical Jesus. And yet such a conclusion of independence is clearly compromised by the relationship between the two documents. Precisely what is that relationship? Crossan quotes [p.247-8] Helmut Koester (Ancient Christian Gospels p.95,150): "The materials which the Gospel of Thomas and Q share must belong to a very early stage of the transmission of Jesus' sayings. . . . Thus, the Gospel of Thomas is either dependent upon the earliest version of Q or, more likely, shares with the author of Q one or several very early collections of Jesus' sayings. . . . The close relationships of the Gospel of Thomas to Q cannot be accidental. . . . The Gospel of Thomas is either dependent upon Q's earlier version or upon clusters of sayings employed in its composition."
Koester's basic conclusion seems undeniable. Given the fairly high degree of common wording or sequence of ideas within the units of the CST, to arrive at such a thing through oral tradition alone is next to impossible. Crossan has spent considerable space [p.59f] analyzing the nature of memory and how oral transmission works. Memory, he says, tends to recall the gist of something and then supply details and personal syntax to convey that gist. Drawing on studies of Balkan storytellers, he shows that oral performers 'remember' their epic tales by retaining a matrix, a series of interrelated elements, and not any syntactical arrangement. Each performance becomes a fresh creation, often of different length and different patterns of combination of those elements. Accuracy of reproduction from one telling to the next, and certainly from one generation to the next, is a very rare exception. Quoting a study by Sir Frederick Bartlett [p.83], Crossan shows that oral transmission of even a short, simple anecdote along a chain of different people "normally brings about startling and radical alteration in the material dealt with . . . names and numbers rarely survive intact." Recall has a "constructive character," which clearly means "creative" or "inventive." Impression is what survives, the rest is invented detail to provide it with a reasonable setting.
Thus if Q and Thomas were independently based on oral tradition, it is highly unlikely we would find as much parallel wording and sequence of ideas within the units, nor so much overall content in common within that portion of Thomas which is reasonably to be regarded as early and not part of the later layer which has moved in a gnosticizing direction. Crossan, seemingly chafing at his background conclusion about oral transmission, raises the question [p.249] of why, if there is in fact a literary relationship, even at a very early stage, between Q and Thomas, we see no trace of a common structure, not even an occasional "common order or parallel sequence in the way the common material is presented in the two gospels." On that basis, he wants to rule out "some documentary or written source common to both Gospels."
But I would suggest that there are two related solutions to this problem. One, as Koester puts it, is that both Gospels go back to a single root collection of sayings (unattributed, by the way, to any one individual). This was picked up by two different groups in two different locales. One eventually evolved into Q, the other into the Gospel of Thomas. The second is that one or both branches of the original document, but especially the Q branch, underwent its own radical revision, thus destroying any trace of common sequence.
This is especially notable in Q itself, which shows a much higher and more sophisticated degree of organization than Thomas. Crossan outlines [p.249f] how John Kloppenborg was influential in revealing the three fundamental strata of material within Q, Q1 being six sets of wisdom speeches, hortatory in nature, following wisdom principles in their mode of argumentation. He and others have pointed out how 'cosmopolitan' these sayings are, even enlightened, with little or no trace of a specifically Jewish focus and lacking an apocalyptic and polemical character. That Jewish focus, together with an atmosphere of conflict of a sectarian and apocalyptic nature, is introduced by the Q2 layer of sayings. Into the earlier Q1 collection the Q2 material was at some unknown time inserted. "The latter broke into the former's finished products," is how Crossan states it [p.250]. Who knows to what extent a reorganization of the combined material was performed upon such an incursion, and whether this could answer Crossan's objection [p.249] to a written ancestor: "Neither is there any reason why two gospels so loosely organized would have needed to revise an original common pattern were it present." An even more compelling reason would have been the introduction of an historical founding figure for the Q community at a Q3 level, a stratum which Kloppenborg establishes but puts very little into. I'll have more to say about the Q3 level presently.
Both the Gospel of Thomas and Q have different organizing principles, especially in those recoverable early layers. The former lists some of its sayings according to catchword associations from one to the next, while Q has "been organized thoughtfully into topical groupings" [p.241]. Whether or not the more crude organization of Thomas reflects something close to the original collection, these two different approaches reveal again that one or the other, no doubt Q, was subjected to a revision and reordering which would have destroyed any trace of common sequence between them. And where Q3 suggests a phase of redaction to introduce a figure to whom the collection of sayings could be attributed, a similar secondary introduction—though far more crudely—of a Jesus figure is patently possible in Thomas. For Jesus as speaker is simply tacked on at the beginning of most of the Thomas sayings units, either in the form of a bare "Jesus said" or occasionally a set-up context involving an exchange between Jesus and some disciple or other. It is impossible to tell just when that secondary attributive layer was added, or whether it was before, during or after the overlay of gnosticizing sayings, but there is nothing to prevent such an attribution from being a second century product, added in response to the spread of a newly-developed historical Jesus.
Reaching the Bedrock
In examining the Common Sayings Tradition, those 37 parallel sayings between Thomas and Q, Crossan is attempting to dig down to the very earliest forms of those sayings, to establish the original nature of the teaching message which the CST represents. To do this, he identifies the main thrust of each document as it went through its own history of redaction; that is, in what directions do the documents seem to diverge, one from the other? The basic answer is that Q evolves in the direction of apocalyptic eschatology, while Thomas moves toward ascetic eschatology (as part of its later evolution toward a more strongly gnostic philosophy). If one can isolate sayings or strata which lie prior to either of these divergences, one has presumably arrived at the original nature of the teaching.
I should stress that this examination is only within the CST, those 37 parallel sayings. Out of the 37, some in Q show elements of redaction (when compared with their Thomas counterparts) which move in the apocalyptic direction, while some in Thomas show redaction (when compared with their Q counterparts) which move in an ascetic direction. Still others of the parallel sayings mutually diverge on their respective paths, so that we do not possess any earlier, unredacted forms in either document. Finally, a residue in both have been unredacted along either of their respective redactional paths, and so represent the original forms and content of these sayings.
To define those redactional directions, Crossan first points out that the term eschatology should be applied in a kind of "pure" meaning, as a genus, i.e., as referring to a context which regards the world as about to change, or as already in the process of changing—changing but not being destroyed, not undergoing some cataclysm. The "ending" in the "eschat—(eschaton)—ology" is simply a reference to the passing away of the old order and the institution of some new one, one involving divine intervention and a reversal/restitution process. Once one introduces a cataclysmic dimension, such as Q does with its arrival of the Son of Man (Lk./Q 3:15-18), or in its warnings of destruction for unresponsive towns like Capernaum (Lk./Q 10:13-15), this becomes apocalyptic eschatology. As far as Q is concerned, Crossan defines [p.259-260] the original Jesus movement's "eschatology" as radical, counter-cultural, this-world-negating, "a divinely-mandated utopia." But it is not yet apocalyptic, because that element comes only with Q2 which is a later overlay and not authentic to the historical Jesus. And it is also a realized or actualized eschatology, in that this new world, this divinely-radical social system, is now present in the counter-culture itself, in the conduct and work of those advocating and taking part in it.
The Thomas community, on the other hand, never moved in an apocalyptic direction. Its own eschatology, its vision of the new and radical world order, involved the adoption of an "esoteric ascetical eschatology, a world-negation based on secret wisdom demanding celibacy as a return to the unsplit state of the Primal Androgynous Being" [p.270]. This path is obviously moving in a gnostic direction. But its fundamental element of secret, inward-looking wisdom gives it a present focus, something achievable within the individual and within the group right now, as opposed to looking forward to some great climax in the future. Thus it, too, has a realized eschatology.
Crossan's conclusion, then, is that if Thomas is evolving in its own particular way, and Q in a different one, neither one of these represents the original character of the sayings and the movement itself. Thus it is within the non-redacted versions found either in Thomas or in Q, or those found unredacted in both Thomas and Q, which must represent the philosophy and teachings which lay at ground zero. These, in Crossan's view, are to be placed at the feet of the historical Jesus.
To define this bedrock, historical Jesus layer, Crossan uses the term ethical eschatology. It is neither yet apocalyptic, nor does it seek a gnosticizing inner wisdom which enables one to reach some world-negating primordial state. Instead, it is a more basic form of resistance movement, criticizing the systemic evil of class inequality and misfortune resulting from the increased urbanization and commercialization of the Galilean countryside, and seeking to substitute for its members a radically different form of social interaction. Those 37 sayings of the CST, when reduced to their original character, reveal a Jesus who saw himself as acting on a "transcendental mandate," advocating an ethical radicalism which elevated the poor, the disadvantaged, the persecuted. He "healed" by alleviating the sense of despair and marginalization, by bringing the sick of heart and fortune into a new world of divine acceptance and sense of belonging. (Crossan's discussion of healing [p.293f], including the distinction between "illness" as psychological reaction and "disease" as clinical abnormality of bodily structure and function, is quite fascinating.)
The Original Q
Crossan has uncovered the bedrock of a movement in Galilee, arising out of growing social and economic pressures brought on by urbanization and the concentration of power and ownership of the land in the hands of a rich elite. (Some might say that this picture is seen through the lens of an historical background of poor peasantry in Crossan's own Ireland.) But before looking more closely at the components of this movement, we have to begin recognizing the problems in placing its declarations in the mouth of an historical Jesus.
The first problem lies in the question of ethnic character within the Common Sayings Tradition, whether reflected in Q1 or in the parallel layer of Thomas. This is supposedly the preaching of a long-awaited (in one form or another), biblically-based, Kingdom of God, within the context of a Jewish tradition about a God of justice and righteousness. Moreover, it is a preaching led by an ethnic Jew. (Crossan doesn't actually call him a "rabbi" but most scholars would probably not shrink from using this term.) And yet where is the Jewish character of this bedrock layer? There is no sign of it in the sayings themselves. In one of his many epigraphic quotes heading Chapter and Section, Crossan offers [p.258] these words from N. T. Wright's The New Testament and the People of God: "Far more important to the first-century Jew than questions of space, time and literal cosmology were the key issues of Temple, Land, and Torah, of race, economy and justice. When Israel's God acted, Jews would be restored to their ancestral rights and would practice their ancestral religion, with the rest of the world looking on in awe, and/or making pilgrimages to Zion, and/or being ground to powder under Jewish feet."
But where are all these Jewish preoccupations? There is not a murmur of them in Q1 or the parallel layer of Thomas. Where is the divine mandate, the will of the covenantal God of Judaism, the fate or role of the gentile, the restoration of Zion in a new Jerusalem? The Kingdom is referred to 17 times out of 132 sayings in Thomas, 10 times out of 101 sayings in Q, and 4 times out of the 37 sayings of the Common Sayings Tradition— always simply in terms of "God" or "the Father" or "the heavens." Since Jews were not the only race to speak of a Kingdom of God, not the only ones to call the highest God "Father", and certainly not the only ones to envision some 'new world' in a heavenly setting, none of these things can be said to have a clear Jewish fingerprint. The specifically Jewish elements enumerated above by Wright don't appear in these sayings. The prospect of divine intervention hovers in the background of all this counter-cultural expression, but there is nothing to exclusively identify it as proceeding from the Jewish Deity. And despite the emphasis in the prophets, Jews were not the only people in the ancient world to have a concept of social equality and justice. The Roman philosopher Epictetus in the late first century was a figure very like the Gospel Jesus in many ways, with a very similar program.
If the CST is to be rooted in a Jewish rabbi, whether a landless laborer or not, would we expect to find this complete void (beyond a passing reference to Solomon) on all things specifically Jewish? Would this Jesus never have expressed himself in Jewish terms, never given voice to the tradition of Yahwehan justice and righteousness, to the prophets as biblical precedent? Would he never give a hint of the traditional question (again going back into the prophets) of whether the people's sins and the need for repentance had anything to do with the present state of affairs, something we see reflected in the preaching of John the Baptist? Would he never have allowed any flavor of prophetic or apocalyptic fervor to pass his lips? Why is it left to the Q2 generation to introduce such elements? Could it be that the bedrock layer of Q is not Jewish at all, but arises from a more cosmopolitan source, adopted, and to some extent adapted, by a Jewish (or at least Jewish-sounding) community whose real character emerges in Q2? More on this presently.
The second problem relates to the presence of specific references to Jesus himself in these bedrock layers. When one notes that, comparing the Matthean and Lukan usages of Q, there seem to be no contexts provided for any of the Q1 sayings, and thus no usage of the name "Jesus" itself except for one composite set of three chreiai in which Jesus is presented as answering three successive questions put to him (Lk./Q 9:57-62), one realizes that Jesus as an identifiable, designated figure is given virtually no association with the content. This is reduced to actual zero when that set of three chreiai, when compared with the Gospel of Thomas, can be seen as an artificial construction at a later redactive stage of Q.
Does this compute? If an historical Jesus was the driving, innovative force behind the movement, the originator of its sayings, the hero and leader of the Q community and presumably regarded as such by the Thomas community, why is his impact not stronger on the original stratum of material? Why are there no contexts preserved—or invented—for any of the sayings? Why wouldn't a certain degree of understandable hero-worship translate into incorporating his name, his personality and background, the circumstances of his ministry—anything!—into the preserved and transmitted traditions of the community, if only at the stage of writing it down? Why is it that commentators like Crossan must remark that the emphasis in all the early Christian tradition is solely on Jesus' words and not on his person, his experiences?
Does it make sense that there would be no focus at all on accepting Jesus' words because they were his, of having faith in him as their originator, of giving him some kind of—I hesitate to use the word 'redemptive'—let's say 'emancipative' role? Instead, the sayings speak solely of the words themselves, of the new lifestyle and outlook they advocate, and nothing of their source. In Q, the anecdotes which surround a few of the sayings, which start to provide contexts and characters, come only at a later stage, and in Thomas they lie entirely in those little prefaces which bear all the signs of later appendages.
The void in the Common Sayings Tradition points to the absence of a focusing figure. It points to a message and lifestyle not tied to any originating charismatic individual. If Jesus was responsible for all this, it would have led to a hero-fixation which could not fail to have found its way immediately into the sayings and anecdotes of a preserved and transmitted tradition. We'll see this 'group' character more clearly in a moment when looking at Crossan's picture of the components of the movement itself.
A Darkened Spotlight
The other consideration is that if such a wide-ranging movement and radical philosophy were the product of one man (and is such an achievement even conceivable?) rather than of a more amorphous group, that man would have had a spotlight shined upon him by everyone around him. There is no way he could have escaped notice by the writers of the time, and certainly no way Josephus would have restricted reference to him to that "authentic" residue of the Christian Testimonium Flavianum in Antiquities 18. "Wise man" wouldn't have begun to cover it. In any case, such a radical message which involved resistance, divine retribution and the overturning of classes and fortunes—not to mention of the world itself—would hardly have sat well with the Josephus who had no sympathy for revolution and was a favored client of the Flavian establishment. Even that "neutral" residue could not have proceeded from Josephus' pen. (See my Supplementary Article No. 10: Josephus Unbound: Reopening the Josephus Question.)
As a corollary to this observation, could the career of such a mover and shaker, after he went off to Jerusalem to get himself executed and give rise to a whole other Tradition, could it have had so little impact as to disappear without a trace among those who responded to that death and perceived resurrection? Could Paul, who devoted his life to carrying the message to the gentile, have been so little impressed by Jesus' achievement in Galilee that he shows not the slightest interest in mentioning it to his audiences and converts—indeed, not the slightest knowledge of it?
And there is more to be drawn from Paul's silence on the Galilean Jesus. For Paul in many ways shares in the issues that figure in the radical resistance movement in Galilee. He certainly has an interest in eschatology, in the passing away of the present order. He advocates class equality. "There is no such thing as Jew and Greek, slave and free man, male and female" (Gal. 3:28). He is intimately concerned with the divisive effects of purity rules, the denying of table fellowship to the unclean (which includes the disadvantaged and 'sinners' of the Galilean milieu), and with the application of the Jewish Law. If all these things lie at the center of Paul's concern, his own 'social program', why in view of the overlap with Jesus' own is there not some recognition of the parallels in Jesus' own career? How can he not be intensely interested in Jesus' views on these matters, on the example he set in his own preaching? In view of these common issues, why is it that the one Twin was not integrated with the other right from the beginning— but only when the later Gospels came along? If, on the other hand, Paul has derived his concerns from the broader scene of the day, which was saturated on all sides with apocalyptic and end-of-this-world expectation, with social and religious reform tendencies not exclusive to Galilean urbanization, does this not further justify regarding the Q/Thomas bedrock as simply one phase, one locale's sharing in some of this wider bubbling pot, making it unnecessary to attach such a movement to one individual, let alone the Jewish Jesus Crossan and others present?
Crossan quotes [p.300] James C. Scott's picture (in Protest and Profanation: Agrarian Revolt and the Little Tradition) of a universal type of radical symbolism found in folk cultures everywhere (slightly paraphrased): "the vision of a society of brotherhood in which there will be no rich and poor, no distinctions of rank and status, the elimination of religious hierarchy, with property typically held in common and shared, all unjust claims to taxes, rents and tributes to be nullified. Greed, envy and hatred will disappear in an Eden-like Utopia." It would seem that an historical Jesus is unneeded at the origins of Q and Thomas.
An Evolving Q
Crossan addresses none of these dilemmas in locating a Jesus at the roots of Q and Thomas. Nor does he examine the signs within Q itself that no Jesus lies within the ken of the early compilers and redactors of the Q document. To point to them briefly: Reference to Jesus is missing in such places as Luke/Q 11:49 which speaks of those whom Wisdom has sent, and in the Son of Man sayings which are not identified with Jesus. The Q2 community looks back (Lk./Q 16:16) and sees only John the Baptist as marking the turning point to the preaching of the Kingdom, failing to include Jesus himself. John in the Q2 layer (3:16-17) prophecies an End-time judge (the Son of Man), not a teacher-founder Jesus. Overall, the strongly sapiential nature of the sayings in the early layer of Q suggests that Wisdom herself may have been regarded as the source of the teachings, something borne out by 11:49's "the Wisdom of God said:" (which Matthew caught and changed to a quote from Jesus' mouth).
Moreover, comparison of Q and Thomas indicates the highly redacted nature of the Q document before it reached Matthew and Luke. I regard the Q3 level as representing a wholesale recasting of certain early material to reflect the invention of an historical founder figure (who may or may not at that initial stage have been given the name Jesus). I have just pointed out that in the very first Q unit (from Q2: Lk./Q 3:7-9/16-17), John makes no reference to Jesus; his "one to come" is obviously the apocalyptic Son of Man. But once an historical 'Jesus' is introduced into Q, he has to be aligned with John, and to do this the Q3 redactor constructed the elaborate 'dialogue' of Luke/Q 7:18-35. He put together a number of earlier discrete pieces, scripture quotes, sayings and parables. One of these, in a more primitive form, appears in the Gospel of Thomas as No. 78:
Crossan examines [p.305f] this question in comparing the different approaches to eschatology in Q and Thomas. He asks what was the initial version in the Common Sayings Tradition. Was it something like the Q version, with its application of the reed saying to a John/Jesus dialogue, or was it the simpler Thomas version which seems to have no connection with John? His conclusion is that Thomas has removed the reference to John, broken up the complex found in Q, throwing parts of it away and distributing the remainder at unsequential points throughout the Thomas collection. Not only does this seem like a dubious proposition per se, it goes against fundamental principles that are used in assumptions elsewhere which Crossan could not do without. It is unlikely he would want to give tacit support to those who argue, as part of their rejection of Markan priority, that Mark could very well be explained as a radical truncation of Matthew and Luke. Nor, surely, would he want to undermine the reconstruction of Q based on the Lukan order by having to allow, as a close parallel to his own proposal, that Luke could very well have broken up a Q block represented by Matthew's Sermon on the Mount and scattered its parts all over his own Gospel map.
But Crossan's arguments for deciding that Thomas has indeed broken up Q's 7:18-35 complex hardly stand up to close examination. His main motivation for saying so seems to be his desire to show Thomas at work in rejecting (or "negating") apocalyptic eschatology. It is hard to believe that Crossan does not regard the 7:18-35 complex as heavily redacted at some stage of Q which Thomas would never have known, and thus any apocalyptic nature of the CST form would hardly have been so demanding of 'negation'. The elimination of John from this sayings complex would not only reduce Thomas's references to John the Baptist to one (#46), it demolishes the only unit which makes a comparison between Jesus and John, declaring Jesus superior. This is something one would think would be of considerable, even overriding importance. After all, #46 is also concerned with the question of who is superior to John—in this case, every 'child' belonging to the Thomas Kingdom movement.
In sum, it seems much more likely that the redactor would simply have reworked the John-Jesus complex along lines more acceptable to his editorial agenda (as he did the "Greater Than John" saying of 7:28, as Crossan points out [p.309]). Koester takes the opposite view to Crossan [p.307], and decides that Thomas #78 reflects the original version of the saying, one which had no relationship to John and which Q pressed into service in "the context of sayings about John the Baptist." This speaks volumes for the redactional gauntlet which Q passed through in its history. It also shows the extent to which fundamental elements of the eventual Gospel picture—such as the relationship between Jesus and John (a matter which Thomas is now left silent on)—are likely to be sheer invention.
A Cynic Jesus
By now, the view expressed most prominently by Burton Mack, but endorsed by others, should be familiar: that Jesus was a "Cynic-style sage." This is because much of the content of the Q1 and corresponding Thomas material, as well as the way it is presented, bears a strong resemblance to the message of an important counter-culture movement of the time, spread by wandering Cynic philosophers. Crossan refuses outright to read anything into that resemblance. In An Aside on Cynicism [p.333] he admits the similarities, but claims "whether Galilean urbanization brought Cynicism to Sepphoris and/or whether Jesus actually knew about Cynicism are questions beyond proof or disproof."
Once again, however, this question is based on an unexamined assumption about the existence of an historical Jesus. Rather, the question should be phrased this way: Given the cosmopolitan, perplexingly non-Jewish character of Q1, with its lack of attention to the character of Jesus, together with the known presence throughout the empire of a Greek philosophical movement with many elements in common with the Q1 material, should consideration not be given to the possibility that the bedrock texts point to a Cynic or Cynic-like source, that they are the expression of a movement with a cosmopolitan character and not the innovative product of a single—Jewish—individual, one who has to be styled an anomaly in the best of views? It then becomes not a matter of "proving" specifics, but of arriving at general likelihoods based on the evidence—which is all, in principle, that we can expect to arrive at in historical research.
Itinerants and Householders
In detailing the make-up of the Galilean resistance movement, Crossan divides it into two complementary components. He quotes [p.278-9] Gerd Theissen as noting that the ethical radicalism of some of Jesus' sayings are "absolutely impractical for everyday behavior." Not only is it difficult to apply them within a settled community, one has to wonder who would have taken such things seriously, who would have preserved and passed them on through oral tradition over a period of decades? The renunciation of home, family and possessions can only be "the radicalism of itinerants." An essential element of the Galilean movement is necessarily to be seen as "homeless charismatics." Not only does this conform to the general context of dispossessed and counter-cultural members of a disillusioned rural peasantry, it fits into the Cynic missionary scenario very well.
The other side of the coin is "the sympathizers in the local communities." The two form a complementary, symbiotic relationship. These settled sympathizers Crossan refers to as "the householders," those who receive the wandering charismatics, who listen to and sympathize with their counter-cultural message. They are also the recipients of the healings, in return for which the itinerants are fed and given lodging until they move on.
These itinerant prophets preach a message which Crossan sees epitomized in the Beatitudes, sayings which give heart to the poor, the underprivileged, those exploited by the rich and powerful. Jesus is speaking, as Crossan puts it [p.324], to "the dispossessed peasants, seeking to restore their dignity and security in the name of the Lord." If this was a message originating with and articulated by Jesus, two problems arise here. If, as Crossan claims, Jesus preached in Aramaic and did not speak Greek (since this would lift him out of the dispossessed and illiterate peasant category), why were his words consistently translated and transmitted in Greek? How did Jesus' original language not come to be preserved? Should not some trace of an Aramaic dimension surface somewhere?
The other problem is Jesus' evident immunity from prosecution—at least while he was in Galilee. Any individual who had such charismatic power and influence to create this kind of radical, widespread movement, especially among the unsettled lower classes, would soon have come to the attention of the authorities. Whether his preaching actually led to insurrection or not, the fear would have been there. Long before he made his way to Jerusalem, such an individual would have been seized and likely executed as a subversive. He would hardly have been allowed to function unimpeded. He would hardly have managed to preach to large crowds in public places, to fire up elements of the lower classes with reputed miracles of feeding, healing or tampering with nature. Again, such a man with such an influence would not have escaped the notice of contemporary writers and subsequent historians. (Some of this picture admittedly derives from the Gospels; perhaps Crossan would claim that the authentic Jesus kept a 'lower profile,' but then one faces a greater difficulty in understanding how he generated and shaped the movement.)
If, on the other hand, the movement was not focused on an individual, but was a kind of undercurrent which the authorities could not get a handle on and were probably disposed to ignore if it didn't break out into some kind of revolt, the picture created by early Q and Thomas makes much better sense. Much of the content of these early texts are little more than instruction manuals. They specify the course and conduct to be followed by the wandering charismatics themselves. They are a rallying cry for the dispossessed and the dislocated, an invitation to join in a "companionship of the Kingdom," focusing on one's own lifestyle and commitment to others in a Kingdom of God on earth. In the Gospels, this companionship and invitation is shrunk to apply simply to Jesus' immediate disciples and their program of preaching under Jesus' direction.
If the sayings of early Q and the Gospel of Thomas largely reflect the voice of the itinerant prophets, Crossan now goes on to examine a document which sounds the reverse side of the coin. The Didache is the voice of the householders, the settled sympathizers who receive and deal with the itinerants. The title of this 'church manual' means "Teaching" or better "Training", and in later times its authorship was assigned to the "Twelve Apostles". But at its inception around the end of the first century (the usual dating, though elements may go back further than that) there was no sign in the document itself—and still isn't—of any followers of Jesus of Nazareth or indeed of any concept of apostolic tradition.
Crossan places the Didache earlier than the "finished Q" which ended up in Matthew and Luke. He asks if the Didache knows the Q Gospel at a stage between the basic CST and the final version of Q. This is difficult to establish without a source text for Q, but even a comparison with our texts of Matthew and Luke has led scholars to an impasse. Most of the studies Crossan quotes [p.835-6] are doubtful of the Didache's dependence on the Synoptics, though one passage (1:3-5) is so close to the corresponding section in Matthew's Sermon on the Mount that someone like Koester (Ancient Christian Gospels, p.17) regards it as drawn basically from Matthew with some harmonization with Luke. However, on these grounds, he regards it as a mid-2nd century interpolation.
That passage is part of a "Two Ways" preface to the document. This is an ethical compendium of do's and don't's which has roots in Jewish tradition and which is found in other early Christian writings like the Epistle of Barnabas. The problem is, and it throws a monkeywrench into Crossan's careful presentation of this document, there is no attribution of this particular passage, or of the whole Two Ways compendium, or indeed of anything of a teaching nature in the entire Didache, to a Jesus figure.
Thus Crossan's presentation of the Didache as the voice of the householder community (in some unknown location, probably in Syria) in response to the wandering charismatics who owe their origins and traditions to the Galilean Jesus suffers from a fatal flaw. It may be that the Didache community stands in a general line of development from the sort of context Crossan has established for rural Galilee (and probably beyond). And it is still "profoundly Jewish" in character [p.372], though it has admitted many gentiles to its ranks. Being several decades distant from the movement's inception in the 20s and 30s, it is now exercising control and imposing a structure on the activities of the itinerant prophets who visit it, codifying within the Two Ways format the radical ethic of the original period. But where in all this is the man who was supposed to have begun it all?
Crossan admits several times that the Didache does not cite Jesus as the source of its sayings, though he never attempts to resolve this curious conundrum. How ironic that while the other Twin of the dual tradition, responding only to Jesus' death and resurrection, is supposed to be characterized by a lack of interest in Jesus' life and work, when we turn to its opposite sibling we find the same void! Within the Two Ways compendium, 1:5 directs the reader to "give to everyone who asks you," a sentiment coming from the Q1 layer, as it appears in Jesus' mouth in Matthew 5:42 and Luke 6:30. Yet the Didache can only say that this comes from God; it is "the will of the Father." In the preceding verses we have the most radical of Jesus' alleged ethical innovations: "If a man strikes you on the first cheek, turn to him the other cheek also," along with admonitions to go the extra mile, to give both shirt and coat. No attribution to a Jesus figure. "Blessed is he who gives" according to the commandment, or "rule", it says later. Would it have been too much to ask that the writer or redactor of this passage have said, "according to Jesus' commandment"?
The second Mandate of the Shepherd of Hermas contains a very similar passage about giving to all who ask, and it too cites this commandment as coming from God, not Jesus [see p.394]. Does this not point to the real source envisioned throughout the Didache, to the likelihood that Crossan's "context" movement had no single innovator as its fountainhead, but was a general grassroots response to the conditions of the time, one which regarded God as its inspiration and the source of the radical ethic it proclaimed? The same lack of focus on a Jesus in the earliest layer of Q suggests the same thing, with perhaps a view toward Wisdom as an intermediary channel. Crossan wants to suggest [p.392] that this "manifesto of the itinerant prophets" was accompanied by a "Jesus said." But this is wishful thinking. If the wandering prophets cited their ethic as the "words" of Jesus or a summary of his "ways" [p.392], declaring that this is what Jesus wanted or recommended [p.382], and the Didache was the response of the householders who sought to place on 'paper' some kind of workable limit on the preaching of the itinerants, it is unlikely that the question of what Jesus had actually said, wanted, or was going to have to settle for in the real world, would not have received some attention in its pages.
[Note: The following section devotes considerable space to examining a secondary, if important, point in the Didache's content. Those who wish to continue on with the main thread of the Review may jump directly to the next heading, A Messiah in the Didache.]
"The Lord" in the Didache
From the orthodox point of view, one of the curiosities of the Didache is its use of the title "Lord". If Jesus is never directly cited by name (except in the eucharistic prayers of chapter 9, which I'll look at in a moment), is he perhaps to be included some of the time in the frequent references to "the Lord"? Recognizing the difficulty in reliably making such a reading, Crossan explains it this way [p.377]: "The Didache has a calculatedly ambiguous use of Lord to mean "the Lord God" and/or "The Lord Jesus." He quotes Ian Henderson's styling of the term "Lord" as "the Didache's ambiguous theo-/christological symbol." This spiriting in of Jesus under a cloak of alleged ambiguity is suspect, for a careful consideration of its usage in this document shows that "the Lord" always refers to God, even in that case in which Crossan is most anxious to claim the meaning 'Jesus' (11:8).
Chapter 11 of the Didache deals with how to judge and respond to the visiting itinerants. Estimating the validity of their teaching is obviously of paramount concern, and yet no sentiment is expressed that such teaching should be judged according to how it conforms to what was Jesus' own teaching. Crossan does not address this glaring silence. Instead, he falls back [p.377] on the idea that the itinerants must conform in their behavior to the lifestyle of Jesus. This is based on 11:8: "Not everyone who speaks in the spirit is a 'true' prophet but only if he has the character [tropoi] of the Lord." Maxwell Staniforth, in the Penguin translation, expands that last phrase to: "unless they also exhibit the manners and conduct of the Lord." Literally, the Greek is ean echei tous tropous kuriou, "unless they have the ways—(Crossan offers 'manner, way, kind, guise, way of life, turn of mind, conduct, character' as possible meanings of tropos)—of the Lord."
What Crossan overlooks, however, is not the possible meanings of the word tropos itself, but the meaning of the phrase as a whole. First, keep in mind that this document probably comes from the late first century, long after Jesus would have passed from the scene. Any lifestyle of Jesus would lie in the past, and if appealed to would undoubtedly be done in terms of a past phenomenon. The phrase above lacks this past dimension and has a very present flavor. Whatever this tropos is, it seems to be a standard which operates in the present. By way of comparison, look back a few verses to another phrase, twice repeated. "Receive (the itinerant preacher) as (you would) the Lord" (11:2), and "Let every apostle who comes to you be received as the Lord" (11:4). For both the Didache's writer and its readers, there can be no question of receiving Jesus at this time, since he is long gone, and yet the sense of present receiving, of present—if theoretical— opportunity to receive "the Lord" now, is very much there. If the intention were to draw a parallel between how the householder should receive the itinerant prophet and how he would have received Jesus in the days when Jesus himself was travelling from place to place, that past concept would likely, I think, be reflected in the choice of words.
Two other incidental elements: Both of the above verses have illuminating antecedents. Before 11:4, verse 3 says: "As regards apostles and prophets, act thus according to the ordinance of the gospel" [trans. K. Lake, The Apostolic Fathers (Loeb), p.327]. Lake observes that this ordinance is not known, nor its source, and "gospel", virtually all would agree, does not refer to a written gospel but simply to the preached message, the "euangelion". But if Jesus can be imagined in the very same verse as arriving at the door, if he can be held up in the key verse 8 (which I'll get back to in a moment) as the very model by which behavior is to be judged, surely he as the source of the message and teaching itself would spring to mind—and pen—here, as the author of the ordinance, rather than the impersonal word "gospel"!
The second incidental element is the initial half of that verse 2 quote: "But if the teaching (of the itinerant prophet) be for the increase of righteousness and knowledge of the Lord . . . (receive him as the Lord)." Knowledge of the Lord. Especially in conjunction with the term "righteousness". Could anything smack more strongly of traditional Jewish concepts, and terminology, about learning of God and his ways? If instead Jesus of Nazareth were implied here, it seems clear that to distinguish it from the natural understanding of a phrase like this as referring to God the Father, a specific departure from Crossan's "calculated ambiguity" would have to be made. Instead, the constant and pervasive use of "the Lord" with no designation anywhere that this term also encompasses Jesus, seems to rule out any such meaning or ambiguity.
I'll return to an overall analysis of the Didache's term "Lord" in a moment, but first back to our 11:8 verse and its tropoi of the Lord. If the sentiment seems to lie very much in the present, what could the phrase mean? One might think that the writer is not likely to be speaking of God's manner and conduct; although an earlier verse which I will examine shortly seems to say that very thing, and even 1 Peter 1:15 can speak of being "holy in all your behavior, even as the One who called you is holy," which the scriptural reference quoted makes clear is a reference to God. In any case, there is a much more natural way of interpreting it. Bauer's Lexicon (unnoted by Crossan) offers as a translation of exein tous tropous kuriou, "have the ways that the Lord himself had, or which the Lord requires of his own" (my italics). Just as we would say that "following the ways of the church" does not refer to the actual behavior of the church hierarchy, but rather to the requirements laid down by the church, so surely does the Didache's phrase mean that the itinerant prophets must exhibit—not Jesus' past behavior, but a conduct in their own present as required now by "the Lord." Crossan's "lifestyle of Jesus" thus evaporates into the wind, and we are left with no reference at all in Didache 11 to either the example of Jesus' conduct or his teachings in relation to that of the itinerant prophets.
I am devoting a lot of space to this document, simply because Crossan has placed it on the table as one of the people's main exhibits in evidence for an historical Jesus at the roots of his Galilean resistance movement. If in fact this document can be shown to contain no such figure, his case must of necessity collapse. So let's look a little further at the term "Lord" in the Didache, and the light it throws on the nature of the community and its origin.
A careful examination of the roughly two dozen times the title is used leads to the conclusion that it is exclusively a reference to God, never to Jesus. Some uses are obviously so, and since the writer or redactor fails to make any distinction for a separate application to Jesus, we are led to assume uniformity. Here is a passage from the Two Ways section which opens the document (using Staniforth's Penguin translation with the odd alteration in the direction of the literal):
Not only are the Didache's apostles welcomed as one would welcome God, not Jesus, they come and speak in his name, not Jesus' name: "Everyone who comes in the name of the Lord is to be made welcome." Parts of the eucharist prayer tie the concept of "name" unambiguously to the Father, again with Old Testament allusions:
"Thou, O Almighty Lord, hast created all things for thine own Name's sake." (10:3)
Furthermore, we have in the Didache two references to the "gospel" of "the Lord." One is general: "Be guided by what you have (echete: "have", not "read" as Staniforth fancifully translates) in the gospel of our Lord" (15:4). Koester acknowledges that such references are unlikely to mean a written Gospel, but rather the oral message and instruction issued by the charismatic apostles of the community. This extends even to the other reference, a specific citing of the Lord's Prayer (8:2), which is a little different from Matthew's and is considered earlier. This citing is prefaced by: "Pray as the Lord commanded in his gospel. . . ."
In view of the continuous and unqualified use of the term "Lord" as applied to God in this document, and the lack of any general appeal to the teaching of Jesus, we have every reason to take this as a reference to God, to the message and instruction the itinerants carry which is regarded as coming from him, whether through inspiration or scripture. (See also my argument above that since "the gospel" in 11:3 is not attributed to Jesus, that it has no specific sense other than God's gospel.)
A prayer like this, probably formulated at some time in the community's past or contained in the traditions they have inherited, would now be part of such a gospel, seen as "commanded" by God. (Note above, 4:13's reference to "the commandments of the Lord," which the context identifies as God.)
Chapter 16 shows an understanding of the "coming of the Lord" as that of God, not Jesus, for "Lord" is quoted in a Zechariah passage about the coming Day, and no switch in application to Jesus is indicated. (It goes without saying that the Didache displays no knowledge of Jesus as the Son of Man, which calls into question any direct line of development from the Q community.) Finally, we must take 14:1's reference to "the Lord's Day" not as a Christian commemoration of Easter and a reference to Jesus, but simply as the Jewish Sabbath, for the "sacrifice" referred to which is embodied in the thanksgiving meal is an Old Testament type "offering", with no hint of a connection to Jesus or his death.
A Messiah in the Didache
If, then, "Lord" in the Didache is universally a reference to God, what role does this leave for a Jesus in the document's thinking? He is confined solely to the eucharistic prayer, in a context like that, for example, of the second verse:
Christ? This is certainly a curiosity. Outside the eucharistic prayers, where it appears once, the term "Christ" is used only here in the Didache. More important, it is a term which never appears in either Q or the Gospel of Thomas. Indeed, one would not expect to find it in the latter documents. Certainly as Crossan presents his "texts" within his "context", the Galilean movement is not concerned with a Messiah, and would be unlikely to elevate its Jesus to that level—certainly not without doing so in words and showing the very focus on the powerful hero-figure which I demonstrated was in missing in Q1. Even less would the movement be likely to elevate its Jesus even higher, to full divinity, and thus what would the divine title "Lord" be doing in the Didache as including, right beside God himself, the figure of an historical head of a resistance movement, no matter how heroic?
By a similar token, what is the name "Christ" doing in the Didache? If the itinerants could be said (at least the bad ones) to be "peddling" Christ, and this is supposedly the same person who originated the movement and provided its radical teachings, why is such a role and attribution so resoundingly missing in the rest of the document? Why here would such a designation be used for him? Why, indeed, in those eucharistic prayers we dipped into earlier, in addition to designating Jesus as a "child/servant" who reveals life and knowledge of God, does it say, "Thine (i.e., God's) is the glory and the power, through Jesus Christ, for ever and ever." This clearly refers to the divine, cosmic Son, in whose name the baptismal rite is also performed, along with those of the Father and the Holy Ghost.
I am surprised that Crossan has ignored this entire question, or not taken refuge in suggesting that such a reference may be a later interpolation, since this elevation of Jesus to part of the Godhead should not belong in his picture of the Didache community. Is this not a leakage into the Galilean resistance Tradition of an important element from the other Twin? And if this heavenly Son lurks somewhere in the thinking of the Didache community, and he is to be equated with the radical Galilean preacher Jesus, why is no such equation ever discussed or even hinted at in the text itself? Considering that he is silent on the whole matter, it would be interesting to know how Crossan reconciles this element, which emerges in 12:5 and in the eucharistic prayers and baptismal rite, with his picture of the illiterate peasant Jesus who began the counter-cultural movement in Galilee.
In the Streets of Jerusalem
The Divided Tradition
Dr. Crossan now leaves the Didache with its itinerants and householders preserving the work of the historical Jesus without mentioning him, and shifts his attention to the other Twin. In comparing the two siblings, he points out the most obvious incompatibility between them. By way of Helmut Koester [p.407-8], we are told that the kerygma of Paul leaves no traces in the earlier collections of Jesus' sayings. "The Gospel of Thomas is a sayings collection which is more primitive than the canonical gospels, (and yet) its basic principle is not related to the creed of the passion and resurrection." Not only is the Gospel of Thomas silent on "the keystone of Paul's missionary proclamation," but Q "also does not consider Jesus' death a part of the Christian message," and "is not interested in stories and reports about the resurrection and subsequent appearances of the risen Lord."
And yet Crossan insists [p.408], despite the great divide between the Traditions, that both "represent very early but divergent messages of Christian salvation." He will do his best to forge parallels and links between the two, and particularly in the matter of viewing the message of Thomas and Q as offering "salvation". But what he, Koester and others fail to face head on is that the two Traditions have nothing in common which is not a feature of the larger first century scene, nor does either one show knowledge of the other. The sayings tradition and the death and resurrection kerygma inhabit two different universes, and to envision that the same man could have given rise to both, to such diametrically unrelated "responses" which went on to thrive in complete isolation from one another, is a conclusion probably unparalleled for its audacity in the history of any field of scholarship.
The first common element between the Twin Traditions which Crossan claims represents a linking factor is their mutual interest in eschatology. Certainly Q is concerned with the End-time and the arrival of the Son of Man. The Pauline tradition also looks toward some imminent end or transformation of all things. But considering that virtually every sectarian and reform/resistance movement of the first century, Christian, pagan or Jewish, had some kind of eschatological expectation, this hardly links the two Traditions in a meaningful way. And what of the common elements that are lacking between the two eschatologies? Paul shows no sign of either Jesus' own reputed predictions about the End-time as contained in the Q2 layer, nor his identification with the Son of Man. He shows no linking of Jesus with John the Baptist and his preaching. Q and Thomas in turn contain no thought that Jesus will return from heaven one day to bring about this end phase. Why are all the eschatological associations with Jesus in one area totally different from those in the other?
Quoting Stephen Patterson, Crossan claims a commonality of social radicalism [p.410]. But this, too, forges no secure link between the Twin Traditions. Every reform / apocalyptic sect in the first century (and probably at any time) had some kind of radical ethic. Paul has his own radicality, but it relates to the immediate means to impending salvation; he shows little interest in general ethical concerns and certainly not for the type which saturates Q and Thomas. Furthermore, what he does advocate is never attributed to a Jesus figure on earth, and thus the basis for commonality is voided. Could a man who gave rise to a widespread social radicalism that survived for decades have moved less than a hundred miles south and had none of that teaching career impact in the slightest on his new listeners? Would those who responded to him in the new location have absorbed nothing from the former phase of his life, could they have remained ignorant of it or rejected it as of no consequence?
Moving to the City
This brings us onto another patch of shaky ground, something neither Crossan nor Koester, nor anyone else that I know of, addresses: explaining the movement of Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem. (Burton Mack asks 'why' he did it, but does not probe further.) If Jesus was involved in a counter-culture movement to bring hope and new meaning to the lives of dispossessed farmers, directing homeless followers to carry his 'new-society-now' message to the towns and villages of Galilee and perhaps beyond, why did he go to Jerusalem at all? What did he expect to accomplish there, with his brand of itinerant lifestyle aimed at a rural peasantry? Presumably there would have been no natural audience for his preaching. Or, perhaps he wanted to bring his message to the disadvantaged of the urban ghetto. If so, why was he not successful? Why could he not spread a similar kind of radical ethic to the downtrodden of the city? For he quite clearly failed, since the Jerusalem response ended up having nothing to do with sayings or miracles or any other aspect of his life and work. Instead, it consisted of a bizarre and cosmic interpretation of his death, to which was added a perceived rising from the grave. If those involved in this response spurned his teaching, what other reason did it have to turn him into the Son of God?
And who came with him to Jerusalem? No doubt Crossan would presume he was accompanied by at least a few of his Galilean followers. And surely some of them would have joined in the 'new' response to Jesus in Jerusalem after his death. It would be strange to imagine that they did not, that the new Tradition was brought into being by a completely different set of people—contrary to the Gospel picture which has Peter and the other apostles Paul knew as originating from Galilee.
Were those followers not able to leave any mark on the new movement? Did the new group in Jerusalem hold up their hands and say: "No, no, we're not interested! Don't tell us about his sayings, don't tell us about his views of a new society, about his miracles. We reject them all as having nothing of value to add to what we want to do to him—turn him into the Son of God and Savior of the world, translate his death into a cosmic event which gives salvation to humanity. We've decided that he rose from the dead. We want to make him a part of God, give him all the divine titles, and bring the wrath of every traditional Jew in the empire down on our heads. We'll make him the Messiah and scour the scriptures for prophecies about him. But what he accomplished on earth has nothing to do with our desire to do all this, thank-you very much."
Bizarre doesn't begin to cover it. A displaced peasant, a landless laborer, who (as Crossan presents him) couldn't read, couldn't write, couldn't speak Greek, makes his way to the capital city of Judaism with its sophisticated ruling elite, its Temple, the center of religious and imperial authority, promptly gets himself executed in the most ignominious fashion, and is then elevated by souls unknown to the highest level of divinity just about any human has ever reached. And the one thing which might conceivably have made some impression on those who engineered this fantastic response, a set of radical and visionary social reforms (even if they couldn't possibly be put into practice), is not even allowed to enter the picture, whose echo never puts in an appearance in the new "tradition". Even if Crossan is exaggerating Jesus' deficiencies, what scenario could possibly explain how such a thing came to pass?
Crossan admits [p.415] that the Jerusalem Tradition moved "from Jerusalem to Damascus and Antioch at a very, very early date." The Galilean tradition also moved north into Syria, as evidenced by Thomas and the Didache. This picture of two unrelated and unrelatable movements whom no one can reconcile or make sense of together, whose trajectories only meet decades in the future as far as the record is concerned, is what Crossan presents as the "birth" of Christianity.
But like Mack before him (see my review of Who Wrote the New Testament?), he is not impervious to the sheer wonder of it all. After noting that the Jerusalem Tradition made a leap as far as Rome some time in the 40s, as evidenced by Claudius' expulsion of Jews from that city (assuming Suetonius' "Chrestus" is a reference to Christ) and by Paul's letter to the Romans which looks back on a community established there "for many years" (15:23), Crossan remarks [p.416] that "if you move from Jesus in the tiny hamlets of Jewish Lower Galilee to Paul in the great metropolises of the pagan Roman Empire, the leap seems unimaginably great and miraculously inexplicable." He tries to alleviate this miracle by postulating an intermediate step, as represented by smaller urban centers like Damascus (population 45,000), seeing this as midway between Capernaum (1,700) and Ephesus with its 200,000 or Rome with its teeming half million and more. But this progression doesn't work, for Damascus had a flourishing Christian community before Paul's conversion, which has to have been no more than two or three years after Jesus' death; this would bring that Damascus community into existence almost before Jesus' corpse had turned cold (if not sooner). And it had to have been of the same nature as the one in Jerusalem, namely a part of the death and resurrection Tradition, and thus it demonstrates no connection or line of development with Capernaum.
The Common Meal
Crossan then turns to what for him is the most important linkage between the Twin Traditions, that of the communal meal, or table fellowship. Once again, however, this is not something unique. Sharing food was a practice which had social and religious significance in virtually all groups within society which saw themselves as separated from the mainstream, and even in the mainstream there were thanksgiving repasts, guild associations with meals, various rituals and observances which entailed the ingestion of food and drink. Crossan himself points out [p.419] by quoting Peter Brown that "the urge for the banquet" was a widespread Mediterranean feature. Once again, the pertinent question is: what were the differences in meal practice and its significance between the two Traditions, and do these point not to some linkage between them but to unrelated phenomena in two separate movements?
Crossan thinks to compare the eucharist in the Q tradition (which he identifies with the meal of Didache 9-10) with the Lord's Supper found in 1 Corinthians 11:23f, which he regards as absorbed by Paul from the Jerusalem tradition. But there is a huge gulf between the two. The first is a meal of thanksgiving very much in the line of Jewish practice; the other is a sacramental ritual with strongly Hellenistic overtones similar to the sacred meals of the pagan mystery cults. Crossan declares [p.420] that both go back to the meal practice of Jesus, but the Didache says no such thing. (Anyway, why would the eating be adopted in Jerusalem but not the teaching? Are they really separable?) Finally, he claims that the line of development was from the more basic, Jewish form of the Didache to the sacramental Lord's Supper of 1 Corinthians 11, but in terms of the documents they are found in, the latter predates the former by several decades. And no direct mention of Jesus' meal practice is found in Q or Thomas, which are supposed to be a kind of 'ancestor' to the Didache.
Crossan attempts to link the "servant" Jesus of the eucharistic prayers in the Didache to the "Servant" of Deutero-Isaiah. Because Isaiah's Servant is a "suffering figure" and perhaps meets the ultimate fate of death in the third Song (52:13-53:12), this is supposed to indicate that the Didache, even if it contains no explicit references to such things, is cognizant of Jesus' suffering and death, and thus (I assume) the Passion probably figures in the community's theology. By this dubious leap of implication, Crossan seeks to cast yet another line joining the two Traditions.
I happen to think that they are linked, as I outlined earlier in observing that the Didache does contain overtones of the cosmic Son and Christ. But since other documents contain such a Son without any death or sacrificial concept attached to him (such as the Odes of Solomon, the Shepherd of Hermas, and even the epistle of James), there is no compelling need to attach a Passion awareness to the Didache community. Coming at the end of the first century, I would say that this community's presumed line of development from the Galilean resistance movement—which still lacks, to judge by the document itself, a teaching itinerant founder Jesus—has now come to include certain philosophical elements of the spiritual Christ concept. Perhaps this is due to its probable location in Syria, where such an 'intermediary Son' philosophy seems to have been strong.
The Jerusalem Community
When Crossan switches his focus to the Jerusalem community, he asks certain questions about it. Some of them seem to be designed to create more links to the Galilean Tradition. Did the Jerusalem community live together communally? Was the collection Paul made in the Diaspora churches for the "poor of Jerusalem" simply a relief collection for the destitute of Jerusalem, or was the community itself as a whole called "The Poor Ones", signifying that it lived according to a form of communal sharing? This would bring it closer to the type of movement found in the Galilean Tradition. But Paul provides no evidence that such a view is correct, and 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 gives a fairly good indication that it was a cultic sect from the beginning, having visions of a 'risen' Christ and preaching, like himself, that Christ had died for sin. Such things hardly place it in the Galilean line of Q and Thomas.
Once again, we are faced with the question of who made up the Jerusalem community and what relationship, if any, it had to followers of Jesus from Galilee. If some of them came from the land of Jesus' principal ministry (for surely Jesus would not have migrated to the city alone), having travelled with this illiterate peasant for who knows how many years, how did they make the quantum leap to cosmic Christ and the kerygma of death and resurrection? Why at the same time did they abandon all concern for his former teachings and miracles, for the resistance movement which had been his raison d'etre and their own reason for following him?
And yet if they were on the scene for the great event of the death and resurrection, responding to it by joining in a new group of "brothers" and apostles to proclaim the new cosmic Jesus, why were not the two Traditions automatically linked from the beginning? Presuming that those followers from Galilee did not sever all connection with others back home, why did the Q community not learn of the death and resurrection? Why was it not drawn to absorb that new response to their own native son Jesus, now elevated to the rank of divine Son and Savior?
The Passion Narrative
Helmut Koester (Ancient Christian Gospels, p.127f), as quoted by Crossan [p.477], voices what is becoming almost a standard view among critical New Testament scholars today. That most, perhaps virtually all, of the Passion account in the four canonical Gospels does not reflect what actually happened. The genuine historical details of what transpired at Jesus' trial (if there was one) and at his execution seem not to have survived in Christian consciousness, probably because they were unknown to his followers. Instead, the Jerusalem community created an (at first oral) narrarative framework for that event by drawing on scriptural passages mostly from the Psalms and Prophets, stringing them together to create a tale which could be told and transmitted, and which would reflect through its scriptural make-up traditional motifs and understandings for a new Jewish faith movement.
They have come to this conclusion because virtually every detail of the Gospel Passion story can be shown to have a parallel in scripture, and because even the intermediate and large-scale structures of the account are scripturally determined. Also, no other details outside this scripture-based account surface anywhere in Christian tradition from that point on.
A number of evident objections to this theory offer themselves.
(1) Can 'oral tradition' function and survive in such a framework? Does a preacher-prophet 'tell' of an historical event to his own or his listeners' satisfaction by giving it an entirely scriptural content? If the speaker is preaching Jesus and his story to a group of potential converts, does he communicate the details of his Passion account with a proviso at each step of the way: "Now, the gambling for Jesus' clothes at the foot of the cross, that too didn't really happen—that's from Psalm 22." How would the listener, especially a gentile, adjust to this kind of preaching and 'tradition', and how would he in turn pass it on to others? If it be claimed that we see this kind of thing in documents like 1 Peter (2:22) and 1 Clement (ch.16) where the writers talk of Jesus' humility and suffering by summarizing or quoting a scriptural passage like Isaiah 53, I would argue that they are not presenting 'history' at all. They are presenting scripture, which is regarded as embodying or revealing the Christ event which has taken place in the mythical realm, like the myths of all the other savior gods of the day.
(2) Why would no details of the historical event of Jesus' death be known and integrated into the oral traditions, so that something else besides scripture would show up in the Passion account? Crossan quotes [p.477] Raymond E. Brown who calls it "absurd" to think that some information, some historical raw material, was not available to Jesus' followers after his death. Such a thought is certainly intuitive. And yet, the whole narrative can be broken down into echoes of scripture alone, and that includes all the details preceding the time of Jesus' arrest, when the disciples were separated from him. Why is the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, the Last Supper, the Garden of Gethsemane, the arrest itself—namely, the period of the Passion when Christian witnesses were in abundance—equally scripture-saturated and as lacking in hard historical material as the trial and crucifixion portions?
(3) Why in the epistles (like 1 Peter 2:22 and 1 Clement 16) do we find not even a reference to the basics of the Passion story? Why can Paul not even tell us that Jesus was tried—by Pilate or anyone else? That Calvary was the place of execution? Why is there no sign in the entire first century record of anyone ever visiting these places, let alone holding vigils, memorial services, celebrations there?
(4) If not even the basics were known, how could that death have made such an impact that people would bother to set it in scripture? What would have captured the imagination of preachers and believers across the empire if nothing of its historical circumstances was known or integrated into the story? What could have been the fuel that launched this amazing response to Jesus—especially since his teachings made no impact? Who would have noticed or cared if some simple, illiterate Galilean peasant had come into town, perhaps with a few followers, done a bit of preaching and eating, only to get himself seized and executed by the authorities under unknown circumstances? Who would have been so overwhelmed by this event that they immediately ransacked scripture to create a story about him, delved into the full range of contemporary Greek and Jewish philosophy about intermediary forces between God and humanity and turned this illiterate peasant into the equivalent of the Logos and personified Wisdom? Who would have made him creator and sustainer of the universe and regarded that unknown, obscure death as the redemptive moment of God's salvation history?
In examining the Passion narrative, Crossan asks three basic questions. Is any of it "history remembered" or is it all "prophecy historicized"? If the latter, why was the exegesis of scripture turned into a story, with plot and characters, and who did it? Finally, within the surviving 'record' of the Passion account in its various Gospel embodiments, what is the sequence of development, the "genetic relationship"? Which one came first?
Majority New Testament scholarship since the late 19th century has endorsed the view that of the four canonical Gospels, Mark was written first. Later, Matthew and Luke reworked Mark, adding Q and perhaps some extra material of their own. One of the principles determining this judgment is whether redactional fingerprints identified with one evangelist can be found in another, indicating borrowing. The borrower may then also make further redactional changes to the borrowed piece to fit his own agenda, which confirms that it is a subsequent stage.
This investigative process also gives strong indication that even John is based, at least in its Passion account, on Mark or some Synoptic source. The classic 'proof' of this is the presence of Mark's practice of "intercalation" in John's scene of Peter's denial. Mark has a habit of 'sandwiching' an anecdote (a "framing event") around another anecdote (an "insert event"), both of them "mutually interactive; they interpret one another to emphasize Mark's theological intention" [p.106]. The best example is the splitting up of the denials by Peter into two parts (14:53-4 and 14:66-72) by inserting into the middle the questioning of Jesus by the Council and the High Priest (14:55-65). As Crossan puts it, quoting Tom Shepherd: "(Here) is a supremely ironic contrast: 'Jesus gives a faithful confession of his Messiahship and receives the sentence of death. Peter denies his Lord three times and saves himself from suffering.' " This sort of thing is entirely a literary device and could not possibly have been transmitted through oral tradition.
Matthew and Luke are clearly dependent for this feature on Mark, rather than some other way around, but John, in his presentation of the same scene, does precisely the same thing, that is, he splits up the denial process by inserting the High Priest's questioning of Jesus between Peter's first denial and his other two. While a diminishing proportion of scholars still resist seeing John as dependent on the Synoptics in any way, genetic relationships like this between John and Mark are swinging opinion toward a general consensus: John is indeed dependent on Mark for his Passion story, and thus within the canonical Gospels at least, there are no multiple, independent corroborative versions of the key happenings which are supposed to lie at the base of the Christian movement and the story of Jesus. All we have is one story, one version, one pattern of incidents that have "preserved" the supposed central event of Christianity. And this pattern, this story, Crossan and others now admit, is entirely dependent on a culling from scripture of individual passages and motifs which seem to be grounded in no corresponding details in history beyond the fact of the death itself.
Crossan does not ask a natural question proceeding from this: even if the actual historical details of the obscure event of Jesus' death were unknown, thus forcing Christians to go to scripture to articulate that event, why, among all the Christian communities spread across half the empire, did only one community, perhaps only a single person, decide to do such a thing—and that only after a few decades had passed? Why did other Christian communities, other exegetes, not feel the need for some articulation of that unknown event? Why did the forces which impelled 'Mark'—or some predecessor—to construct a midrashic story from scripture not operate in other locales, producing other tales of the Passion which were quite different? Or, if this process of scriptural exegesis to embody the unknown event of Jesus' death was something which arose early and developed at first through oral tradition, why did that tradition not crystallize into independent written versions in many other communities?
The fact that it did not would seem to be pretty conclusive evidence that no such process of oral tradition took place, no exegesis, no articulation into midrashic story, before Mark himself, or at least before the first written version of a Passion account if one preceded Mark. This would certainly seem to be the situation, if only because the epistolary record and other early Christian documents, even well into the second century, show no knowledge of any story of Jesus of Nazareth. So Crossan's process of exegesis leading to story (which I'll detail in a moment) seems not to have put in an appearance on the Christian scene before that first written account was created.
All things considered, the inescapable conclusion would seem to be that no such events, even in a basic way, took place at Christianity's inception, and only with the construction from scripture of the first narrative of a Jesus of Nazareth—which the movement eventually adopted as history—was such an idea let loose in the world.
The Gospel of Peter
While Crossan shares with majority scholarship the principle of Markan priority within the canon, he is almost unique in inserting another element into the picture of the evolution of the Passion narrative. Within the recently recovered Gospel of Peter, which comprises a Passion account that begins after Pilate washes his hands (the earlier part is missing) and extends through an unusual resurrection scene, Crossan perceives an imbedded antecedent he calls the "Cross Gospel" which he believes was the first Passion narrative written, and on which Mark drew for his own story. This theory Crossan has outlined in previous books, The Cross That Spoke and parts of Who Killed Jesus?
Crossan's breakdown of the Gospel of Peter into early and late strata, the latter being later than the Synoptics and dependent upon them, is by no means unpersuasive, but is his ultimate conclusion necessary? His bottom line is that he cannot see how some of the distinctive features of the Gospel of Peter, things which he locates in the earlier stratum, are explainable if the entire product is post-Synoptic. Those distinctive features are:
(1) It is Herod and the Jews who carry out the crucifixion of Jesus, not the Romans.
(2) While the Jews as a whole, authorities and "people", do the deed (and, in Crossan's earlier stratum, they are assumed to perform the burial), the people repent afterwards and the focus is thrown back on the "scribes, Pharisees and elders," leaving these authorities to mount a combined Roman-Jewish guard at the tomb, lest the body be stolen and the people regard Jesus as risen from the dead.
(3) Alone of all the Gospel accounts, the Gospel of Peter depicts an actual resurrection, with Christ emerging from the tomb on the arms of two angels, all three being towering figures that reach or surpass the heavens. A voice out of heaven asks Christ if he has proclaimed to the dead righteous in the underworld, and the image of the cross which follows the three out of the tomb answers "Yes." (Crossan takes this talking cross to be an actual "cruciform procession" of raised souls, making this a "communal" resurrection of Jesus and the righteous.)
(4) Pilate, on hearing all this, declares Jesus to have truly been the Son of God, as do the guards who witnessed the resurrection.
The question of the strata of the Gospel of Peter and its relationship to the Synoptic Gospels is a huge subject, which I will not attempt to detail here. Nor do my own interests require the disproving of an earlier Passion narrative in the Gospel of Peter or even the placing of it pre-Mark, although I think that such a complicating factor is unnecessary. So I will simply raise a few questions about Crossan's Cross Gospel before going on to examine how he wishes to apply it in the context of the Twin Traditions.
He details three scholars (Alan Kirk, R. E. Brown, Susan Schaeffer) who explain the Gospel of Peter as a post-Synoptic redactional product whose motivation was the creation of a story which is strongly anti-Jewish, in that the villainous Jews kill Jesus, and the Jewish authorities seek to suppress the truth of the resurrection. Crossan counters this by pointing out that, yes, the Jewish people are involved in the execution, but they repent afterwards and it is only the authorities who emerge tainted in the end. This may serve to criticize Kirk et al for not being finely nuanced enough, but Crossan's objection does not of itself disprove their basic contention. Perhaps we simply need to see the redactional motive as arising out of a situation in which the writer of the Gospel of Peter wishes to place blame on the Jewish authorities but ultimately exonerate the people themselves. Conceivably, some Jewish Christian group in the second century might fit that bill (but see below).
On the other hand, one might ask if the lamenting of the people at the deed they have done is necessarily a mark of exoneration. Might it not serve to highlight their evil deed through their own recognition of it? (Was Judas exonerated by his admission of guilt in Matthew 27:3-5?) Simply shifting the focus to the authorities, something which is required by the story itself, does not necessarily whitewash the people from their earlier responsibility.
To what extent is it feasible to see the elements of the Cross Gospel as the earliest expression of a Passion narrative? (This is with the assumption that neither this version nor that of the canonicals reflects actual history.) Is the focus on the guilt of the Jews liable to have been a natural expression of the mid-first century, or at least at some point before Mark was written? Would Christians at this period have been so anti-Jewish that they would create a story of Jesus being executed by the Jewish people—even if they repented? (Especially since it would have been counter to the historical situation that in this period the Jews under Rome did not have the right to perform capital punishment.) Were not most Christians at that point Jews themselves? Would the movement be so advanced that the influence of the Jewish authorities could be regarded as already having prevented a mass conversion of the Jewish people?
The canonical Gospels show an evolution toward ever greater anti-Semitism, and traditionally scholars have seen this as a reflection of the deteriorating relations between the Pharisaic authorities and the Christian 'sects' still attached to the synagogue, a deterioration which is usually located during the period after the Jewish War and which finally led to a rupture toward the end of the century. If the Cross Gospel reflects an even greater tone of anti-Jewishness, should it not logically follow in sequence to the canonicals, and not be placed before them?
Looking at things from the other direction, if, as many maintain, one of Mark's objects is to whitewash Roman responsibility for Jesus' death, why, if he is drawing on the Cross Gospel, would he water down the element of Jewish responsibility? Why not leave the crucifixion in the hands of the Jews? Why make Pilate responsible for turning Jesus over to be crucified even though he is convinced of Jesus' innocence? By a similar token, the Cross Gospel has an elaborate resurrection scene, even if rather bizarre. If Mark is using the Cross Gospel, why would he simply strip the whole thing away and replace it with a bare 'empty tomb' scene? Would none of the canonical writers want to follow the Cross Gospel's example and provide some description of the actual resurrection? The greater complexity of that element of the story should logically place this scene subsequent to the canonicals.
On the other hand, one must ask, if the entire Gospel of Peter is post-Synoptic, who would change the picture of Roman crucifixion to one by Jews? Could a Jewish Christian group do such a thing? Does having the people "repent" and highlighting the villainy of the Jewish authorities do much to alleviate the picture of Jews killing Jesus? How effective would it be in countering Matthew's virulent "His blood be upon us and upon our children" (27:25)? If it all comes from the hand of a 2nd-century gentile group, why bother giving the Jewish people any 'out' at all—unless this is required for plot purposes, namely the guard at the tomb? There are problems all round, and this only begins to itemize the difficulties in resolving the thorny questions surrounding the Gospel of Peter.
Crossan offers [p.505f] a scenario in history which he thinks would provide the social setting for the creation of a Passion narrative having the features of the Cross Gospel. This he locates during the reign of Agrippa I who in the year 41, according to Acts 12:1-4, executed the apostle James and arrested Peter (who escaped from jail through angelic intervention). This was ostensibly to gain the favor of the people. Quite apart from whether Acts' account is at all historically dependable, this is thin stuff on which to hang the Cross Gospel's story of Jesus' execution: a "retrojection" of the situation in 41 back to the year 30, creating a story in which the Jewish authorities (=Agrippa) are responsible for Jesus' death, the Romans have nothing to do with it (=their non-involvement in the death of James), and the people aid in the crucifixion (=their approval of Agrippa's action). Supposedly, the writer of the Cross Gospel could only create a credible scenario for Jesus' death if it mirrored a contemporary situation in the writer's real life. Be that as it may, Crossan, as we shall see, fails to align this piece of rationalization with a later suggestion that the first story of Jesus' trial and execution was actually created by women lamenting over his death.
But I would offer a different sort of objection to the Agrippa scenario. If the earliest account of a Passion was constructed out of scripture in the early 40s, two problems arise. First, we have an account which is formulated little more than a decade after the time in which it is placed; either it is declared from the outset to be midrashic fiction, or else a lot of people are going to be available to declare that in fact these 'events'—especially Jesus' crucifixion by Jews—never happened. Second, if a Passion narrative were written so early and began to circulate, why is there no sign of it in Paul and the other early epistle writers—or even the later ones? Why are there Christian writers even in the second century who show no knowledge of any Passion account? It is the same sort of argument I have used to question the common dating of Mark (in the 70s) as being too early, or else to suggest that the first Gospel rested in some community for decades simply as an acknowledged piece of midrashic symbolism, to emerge into wider Christian consciousness only much later when it began to be looked upon as history.
Crossan's own linkage [p.512f] of the Gospel of Peter with the 3rd and 4th century Pseudo-Clementine literature seems counter-productive. He points out that Recognitions 1:33-44 talks of a split between the Jewish people and the Jewish authorities, and later it has an anti-Pauline view which sees Paul as to blame for all Jews not becoming Christians; all these are motifs reminiscent of his Cross Gospel. Regardless of what sources may be involved in the Recognitions (including dependence on the finished Gospel of Peter), it does show that for the later community which produced that book, such issues continued to have meaning, and thus even these elements of the Cross Gospel could proceed from a later time.
Persecution and Vindication
As additional support for his view of a pre-canonical stratum in the Gospel of Peter, Crossan addresses the question of the biblical model which the Passion narrative as we have it follows, namely the story which modern scholars call the Suffering and Vindication of the Innocent Righteous One. This type of tale appears throughout Jewish writings (the story of Joseph in Genesis, Tobit, Daniel 3 and 6, Esther 3, Susanna, 3 Maccabees 3), ultimately going back to the pagan Story of Ahiqar. The Passion narrative of Jesus as found throughout the Gospel record is closely allied with this archetypal, recurring story in Jewish tradition about a righteous man who is falsely accused, persecuted and condemned to die, but is ultimately rescued and exonerated and installed in a high, favored position; in the later literature he is vindicated after death by being raised to a high position in heaven.
Crossan claims that this biblical archetype best fits his Cross Gospel, even moreso than Mark and the other canonicals. He tries to show [p.503] that the emphasis in the Passion narrative of the Cross Gospel "is not just exclusive, personal and individual with Jesus but inclusive, communal and collective for both Jesus and the holy ones of Israel." This is most evident in the resurrection scene, when Jesus walking out of his tomb is followed by the "cruciform procession" of the souls of the righteous whom he has raised, along with himself, from Sheol. As for the scriptural antecedents of the other features of the Cross Gospel which Crossan lists, these are also present in the Markan Passion narrative and so such a "collective" significance would be equally present there.
It is certainly the case that the Suffering and Vindication motif in the scriptures (Crossan prefers to refer to it as "persecution-vindication"), though cast in terms of stories about individuals, is symbolic of the Jews themselves, either as a nation under the heel of foreign domination, or as the righteous among the Jews who suffer at the hands of an aristocracy which has collaborated with the overlords and/or compromised on biblical principles. In any case, the Suffering and Vindication theme is a communal one, representing a collective experience. One of the basic themes of Jewish expectation in the 'inter-testamental' era was that the souls of the righteous would share in the Kingdom, that God would not simply forget about all those who had lived and died before his great day of intervention.
Thus, since the Cross Gospel can be shown to have a strong sense of this collective motif, it must be regarded, in Crossan's view, as early—which is to say, contemporary with Q. This conclusion he is going to use to draw much-needed implications for the other branch of the Twin Tradition, the one represented by Q and Thomas, the one which on the surface contains no awareness of, let alone theology about, the death and resurrection of Jesus. For if the Cross Gospel, with its persecution-vindication element as applied to Jesus is shown to be earlier than all the rest and contemporary with Q, this, perhaps by osmosis, supports and defines the persecution-vindication motif Crossan sees in the Q document.
But this has to be regarded more as smoke and mirrors than actual substance. First of all, what is the Suffering/Persecution and Vindication element in Q? The community sees itself as continuing the work of the prophets—indeed, they have been sent by Wisdom herself (Lk./Q 11:49), and they continue to suffer persecution and death at the hands of an unresponsive establishment. This is naturally a collective experience, the "occupational hazards of the envoys of God or Sophia," as George Nickelsburg, quoted by Crossan, puts it. But this could hardly be otherwise. The experience of many sects is collective persecution and often death (consider Waco or Jonestown). It is almost an inevitable effect of sectarian resistance and would be so especially on the Galilean scene which Crossan portrays. Q could do no other than focus and comment on its own experience of such things, and to see it as part of ongoing motifs in Jewish history and literature. And its future expectations may well represent 'vindication' in its own mind, although the only explicit reference to vindication comes in the cryptic 7:35, where it is Wisdom's vindication.
But to take the step of saying that this is Q's way of dealing with the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus (off in Jerusalem), placing it into a theological mode which the community "lived" and understood through present experience and future expectation—when no death of Jesus, let alone a resurrection, is ever mentioned—is a leap of faith. There is still no deeper significance, let alone an expiatory one, attached to the persecution of the Q prophets—a motif, by the way, which cries out for an explicit tie-in with Jesus' own death. If Jesus lurks in the background of Q1 and Q2, it is not in any role distinct from the community itself. Even in the Dialogue between Jesus and John the Baptist no death of Jesus is introduced—despite, we have to assume, Q's knowledge of the execution of John for his efforts. Crossan is hardly justified in speaking [p.503] of "an alternate mode [that is, in Q] of describing or theologizing about the Death Tradition."
This is all part of a mighty effort to bridge the gulf between Galilee and Jerusalem, to fill in the painfully evident void in Q and Thomas on the great event which supposedly lies at the heart of the Christian movement. Crossan goes further and declares [p.504] that the Life Tradition and Death Tradition (Galilee and Jerusalem) "share a story pattern—the general persecution-vindication theme, with its emphasis on communal rather than individual persecution and on corporate rather than personal vindication." However, there is a big difference here. The biblical story pattern is clearly present within the Cross Gospel and is explicitly applied to Jesus. In Q it is simply presumed to lie in the background, and is something mirrored by the community's own experiences. Nor does the Q Jesus, even at the Q3 level, personally undergo or do anything that guarantees salvation, beyond providing the teachings which guide the community and lead it into the Kingdom. At the end of the day, Q and Thomas still have no dying and rising Jesus, much less any 'theology' which could feasibly be attached to such a figure, and if there were no Jesus of any sort involved in the Q tradition, the same 'persecution-vindication' reading would still result.
The Q community's eschatology may be real in the minds of its members, but it bears no resemblance to Paul's paradigmatic one in Romans 6:5: "For if we have been incorporate with him in a death like his, we shall also be one with him in a resurrection like his." That is the world of the mystery cults, with the initiate sharing in the nature of the savior god and receiving guarantees, through sacramental linkage, commensurate with the god's own experiences. None of that is remotely a part of Q. Paul needs a Jesus—one in the spirit realm if not on earth. Q needs neither. The Twin Traditions remain as far apart as ever.
A Void Beyond Scripture
Crossan puts several nails into the coffin of historical origins for the Passion account. History remembered must concede the entire field to prophecy historicized. He concedes [by quoting R. E. Brown's assessment of him, p.520] the "brute fact" that "those closest to Jesus knew almost nothing about the details of the event (of Jesus' death). They knew only that Jesus had been crucified, outside Jerusalem, at the time of Passover, and probably through some conjunction of imperial and sacredotal authority." (I note in passing that these 'brute facts' seem unknown to Paul and all the other early epistle writers.) His reasons for rejecting any element of 'history remembered' in the details of the story are two. I'll quote him at length, since it voices the view I have long stated myself:
And yet the objections expressed by Brown, which Crossan admits seem "at first sight both obvious and commonsensical" are still valid. Why would the apostles not seek—and successfully—to learn some of the details? How could none be available? More to the point, I would add, how could none be artificially developed, perhaps from rumor, perhaps from speculation, perhaps from the ever-present visionary experiences of the time, and presented as history, not referring to scripture or resulting from a culling of its pages? How could dozens if not hundreds of Christian communities across the empire focus their faith and ritual on an event about which nothing was known, which had produced no available information, without, as the only solution, inventing some detail, either through speculation, imagined revelation, or even by consulting scripture for prophecy? For we still face the fact that not even the latter option was followed except in one place. Only one such scripture-based narrative was produced, which all others copied.
The only feasible answer is that, even for the so-called Jerusalem Tradition, the death of an historical Jesus was not the governing idea of the faith, not the event which lay at its inception. Those dozens or hundreds of communities, many of which arose on their own with no input from Jerusalem, got along very well for decades without any Gospel story because Christian minds knew nothing about seminal events in Judea or a figure who had undergone them. They believed in a divine Christ whose redemptive death and rising had taken place in the spiritual world of myth, like the activities of all the savior gods of the time. Only in such a context does it make sense that only one person or community came up with the innovative idea of creating a midrashic tale which personified the community's activities in a divine/heroic founder figure, in the 'event' of a death and resurrection which symbolized not only the spiritual Christ's fate in the mythical world, but the experiences of the believers who suffered a persecution and vindication of their own. That symbolic story was picked up by other nearby communities who saw its potential and reworked it according to their own particular agendas and circumstances.
Just exactly when a critical mass was reached and it occurred to someone that this might indeed be history is impossible to tell, but the idea had been born in some fashion by the time of Ignatius (c.107) and those who supplied Tacitus with hearsay information for his Annals. Josephus some 15-20 years earlier knew nothing.
I make that last remark because no reliable residue can be extracted from the Testimonium Flavianum: see my Supplementary Article No. 10: Josephus Unbound: Reopening the Josephus Question. Moreover, this judgement is supported by Crossan's own observation [p.11] that "in the section about Pontius Pilate in Jewish War (written some twenty years earlier than the Antiquities of the Jews) . . . nothing at all is said about Jesus." This is backed—a coincidence?—by a similar silence about Jesus and Christianity on the part of Tacitus, in his earlier treatment of the reign of Tiberius in the Histories [p.9]. Whenever the first Gospel narrative was created, its ideas were to start filtering into Christian, and non-Christian, consciousness as history only around the year 100 or so.
Exegesis vs. Story
In the final chapter of the book, Crossan attempts to answer his question of why exegesis developed into story. That is, if details of Jesus' death were unknown, and if early Christians went to scripture to find prophecy or elucidation of the event, why were those prophetic details fashioned into a story?
At the posing of a question like that, the average person might ask, Why not? Or better still, how could a story avoid being fashioned simply as a vessel to hold the scriptural 'data'? To some extent, Crossan counters this by pointing to the Epistle of Barnabas, which has exegesis without story. (In my view, there are the rudiments of a story there, and Barnabas straddles the dividing line between a Christ who lives in scripture and one who was envisioned as having been on earth. At the very least, Barnabas—which Crossan wants to date in the 90s of the first century, while most others place it around 110-120—shows no familiarity with a written Gospel, Passion narrative or otherwise, which would be an astonishing fact if a Passion narrative had been in circulation since the early 40s, or even Mark since the 70s!)
In any case, Crossan postulates [p.527f] the creation of the Passion story through a completely unexpected idea, which he has built upon some recent studies (by Kathleen Corley and Marianne Sawicki) about women's role in the early Christian movement and their social practices. This relates to "the cross-cultural anthropology of female lament tradition." Crossan quotes Corley as suggesting that women, whose social status gave them the role of lamenting over the dead, expressed their grief about the execution of Jesus by formulating a poetic story, sung and repeated "which could have preserved basic details of Jesus' death." A quote from Sawicki suggests that "such grief over loss of (Jesus') body was the starting point of the reflection that culminated in a 'finding' of the empty tomb and a 'seeing' of Jesus as already risen from the dead."
If that were all it took, history would be full of imagined risings from the dead, but Crossan goes on to qualify these suggestions, which he links with Helmut Koester's view [p.534] that "the different versions of the Passion narrative in the Gospel literature draw from the oral performances of the story in ritual celebrations, ever enriched by new references to the scriptures of Israel." Crossan asks the question, are the different versions of the passion-resurrection in our gospels but the written accounts of oral multiforms?
The problem is, he has already proven that they cannot be, by his demonstration that all narrative levels of the Passion narrative are scripturally controlled, surface, intermediate, and deep. He hasn't left any room for female lament practices—for which, in any case, there isn't any evidence anywhere in the Christian record. Thus one wonders what his point can be when he summarizes toward the end [p.571-3] that "It was men who created exegesis (of scripture) while women wove the exegetical fragments into a sequential story."
Crossan has rejected the idea of oral multiforms surviving in the different Gospels. But has he substituted anything that makes sense? "Exegesis was there first. Exegesis became story." When? Did the women wait 5 or 10 years to allow the men to plumb scripture, get the elements on the table, and then the women looked them over and decided to weave a story out of them? Lament makes sense only immediately, not ten years later. Was this woven story equivalent to the Cross Gospel? To the Passion narrative of the Gospel of Mark? I thought even the large-scale structures of the Passion narrative (i.e., story) were scripturally controlled—the result of exegesis? When and where did the women sing these stories of lament? Why were they not heard and passed on by others, to surface somewhere in different written accounts? Did they give an exclusive contract to the writer of the Cross Gospel? Did they consciously construct their lament according to the Agrippa scenario?
Crossan has to further introduce the ongoing exegesis performed upon the newly created story, something that "continued on its own trajectory" reaching into the second century in the Epistle of Barnabas. Yet Barnabas, by Crossan's admission, doesn't know the story, he's off in an exegetical world of his own. Presumably this remained the ken of men. And how to account for the problem that women in the Gospels are portrayed so negatively (except in the Cross Gospel, which doesn't have any women). In detailing the whole Gospel tradition and evolution about women at the death, burial and tomb, Crossan points out that these traditions are extremely negative toward them. They stand "far off" at the crucifixion in Mark; Mark has them go to the tomb prepared to find only a corpse (thus sharing in the disciples' disbelief in Jesus' predictions about his own resurrection); they flee at the sight of the angel and fail to follow his direction to 'tell the disciples'. But is all this negativity the product of the lament tradition—by women? Hardly, one must assume, if only because such elements are the product of later (post-Cross Gospel) phases of the passion-resurrection story, overlays by those incorrigible exegetes, the men. Not only have the women lost their control over story, when they did have it (reflected in the Cross Gospel) they failed to introduce any women at all, since in that early stratum of the Gospel of Peter there are no women.
Women at the Tomb
Does this mean Mark invented the women characters of his Gospel: Mary Magdalene, Mary mother of James and/or Joses, and Salome? Not so, says Crossan [p.562]. Earlier, he allowed Claudia Setzer to voice the opinion that the later evangelists soft-pedalled the role and importance of the women in the tomb narrative, but "their discomfort hints at how firmly entrenched the tradition of the women's involvement must have been, since the authors do not feel free to eliminate it" [p.545]. And yet if the Cross Gospel came first, and it has no women at all, where is this firmly entrenched tradition? If it was firmly entrenched, why does Paul show no sign of it in his recounting of the 'seeings' of the risen Christ in 1 Corinthians 15? If the women had a role in the burial in terms of anointing the body (which Crossan, endorsing those studies on women's role, allows as one of their cultural activities), why does no such role appear in the Cross Gospel, let alone in Paul?
In fact, Crossan undercuts his colleagues by stating clearly [p.552] that Mark created both the story of the empty tomb and with it the role of the women, as well as the burial story which the women were a part of as preparation for the tomb scene. He has claimed that the burial story of the Cross Gospel, in which Jesus was buried by his enemies (which may have amounted to no more than leaving the body in an open pit covered by lime) is earlier than Mark, with no women present. And his implication is that 1 Corinthians 15:5-7 reflects the Jerusalem community's tradition about the resurrection. But no women are there either. Thus, the very first evidence of any women at all surrounding Jesus' death and resurrection comes with Mark, and it is preceded by a resounding lack of evidence.
Crossan suggests that these women disciples in Mark's Gospel, as well as the men disciples, were meant to serve as models of failure—even if pardonable failure. He points to the unnamed woman at Bethany (Mk. 14:3-9) who does the anointing—of Jesus' feet—before the crucifixion, and she represents the one figure who (through processes unknown) realizes that no anointing can take place after his death because Jesus is going to rise. This, by the way, parallels the other believer in the Gospel—also a non-disciple—the centurion who at the moment of Jesus' death declares him to be the Son of God. (All this supports my contention that the primary purpose of Mark's Gospel is as 'lesson' to the community, and lessons are best imparted by fictional stories and characters which embody the points that need to be made. This alone is sufficient cause for exegesis turning into story. Moreover, if so much of Mark's content can be seen from this vantage point, why not the entire Gospel, including the character of Jesus of Nazareth?)
But if the women cannot be found before Mark, what evidence is there for their very existence? If neither the Jerusalem traditions reported by Paul nor the Cross Gospel have any sign of them, why are they not to be considered Mark's creation? The best that Crossan can offer [p.559] is not persuasive. He makes a parallel with the male disciples presented by Mark, "among whom are the inner three of Peter, James and John." But these three are attested to in Paul (Galatians 2:9 and Peter elsewhere as well), whereas the women are pointedly not attested to by Paul or anyone else. Thus his statement that "Mark also knows a group of female disciples . . . Just as with the men, so also with the women" is entirely unfounded. His declaration that "the inclusion of the women watching the crucifixion is received tradition" has no evidentiary basis, unless he is really offering as such this observation: "...because the male disciples had fled; if the women had not been watching, we would not know even the brute fact of (Jesus') crucifixion."
First of all, the fleeing of the disciples itself is a scripture-controlled detail: Zechariah 13:7, "Smite the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered." (Matthew spells out the scripture derivation in 26:31.) We cannot know even that element of the Passion story as fact. Paul makes no reference to any desertion of Christ by the disciples at the time of the crucifixion, which together with an equal silence on the denial by Peter shows he had nothing to throw in Peter's face when they disagreed so vehemently on the question of table fellowship with the gentile, in Galatians 2.
Second, are we to believe that only the witness of women made possible the knowledge by early Christianity of the fact that Jesus had been crucified? Even if no followers stayed around to witness the execution, could they have found out later through no other channel? In any case, it seems we don't even know that Jesus was crucified on Calvary. No one in the entire record of Christian correspondence during the first century so much as mentions the place, let alone visits it. Considering the utter blackout on historical, non-scripturally controlled details, for all we know Jesus may have been dispatched in a prison.
Later [p.562] Crossan justifies his claim that Mark did not invent the three women on the grounds that he needed them to serve as "authority to be criticized." This reasoning is surely deficient, for if they did not exist, Mark would have invented them to serve those needs, just as he invented (so says the Jesus Seminar and others) Judas and Joseph of Arimathea. Just as John invented the Beloved Disciple (which Crossan mentions in the next breath as a "similar situation"). The unnamed character in the Fourth Gospel is there to serve as an apostolic link to the Johannine community from its new historical Jesus.
Thus, if there is no evidence before Mark for the women and their role at the burial and tomb, and the Cross Gospel which is supposed to be the earliest translation of the female-lament rendition of 'exegesis plus story' has no sign of any women, and if the presumed Pauline record of the earliest Jerusalem tradition has no women attached to the sightings or visionary experiences following Jesus' resurrection, what is the meaning—let alone the logical sense—of this final summary on the topic [p.573]: ". . . in the Jerusalem community the female lament tradition turned the male exegetical tradition into a passion-resurrection story once and for all forever. The closest we can get to that story now is the Cross Gospel. The gift of the lament tradition is not just that we know the names of Mary Magdalene and the other women, but that their passion-resurrection story moved into the heart of the Christian tradition forever." Considering that Crossan has previously done his best to demolish any possible connection between the women as they emerge in the canonicals and the earlier period of the lament tradition which he says produced its story "within a decade of the death of Jesus," he has set up impossible contradictions here.
The 'female lament tradition' as applied to the death and resurrection story is a recent theory advanced by a few women scholars. To explain the lack of mention of such a thing in the Christian documentary record, Crossan intimates that it may have been removed, again by those unsavory male exegetes. Considering that Crossan has quite clearly failed to integrate the lament tradition into those elements which form the core of his own thinking about the roots of Christianity and its story of Jesus, one wonders that he troubled to introduce it at all. In any case, his theory of exegesis to story ultimately fails because it is based on the concept that exegesis need not produce a story, that it can be sufficient unto itself.
As I noted earlier, he points to the Epistle of Barnabas as evidence. But there is a common sense flaw here, which can only be eliminated one way. I would challenge anyone to envision that, with the historical fact of a death experienced by Jesus of Nazareth in the background, that someone could go to the sacred writings and extract elements from them to 'elucidate' or substitute for those unknown details, and not automatically turn them into a story, a story being a chain of events with the involvement of characters from a beginning to an end. The very fact that Jesus had clearly undergone an actual story—even if it was unknown—would impose that form on the scriptural exegesis. The human mind could not operate in any other fashion. If from scripture could be extracted an entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on a donkey, a keeping silent under questioning, a scourging, a piercing and nailing, a taunt from bystanders, a gambling for clothes, a darkness at noon, how, given the perception that these things stood for—perhaps even revealed—a sequence of events that had happened to a human man in recent history, how could they not on the exegete's table fall into a story pattern? How could they be discussed and transmitted except in the context of a story? And if those elements also served the purpose of imparting lessons, this could only be in the form of a story, or at least in anecdotes which were placed in the context of a story. Crossan's absolute division between the process of culling from scripture and the weaving of a tale from those cullings has no compelling basis.
Except in one situation.
If no tradition of an historical Jesus existed, and Christ was a deity who was regarded as having undergone his sacrifice in the spiritual realm at the hands of demon spirits (as Paul implies in 1 Corinthians 2:8), this culling from scripture would be a spotty affair. Such elements would be looked upon as chinks onto the vast unknown sphere of the mythical world of the supernatural. There would for some time be no compelling pressure to organize those chinks into a story, since there would be no question in anyone's mind of them standing for the details of an historical event. Although for Paul, scripture is the source of his gospel about the Christ, he is concerned with elucidating Christ's nature and redemptive acts, not with representing a life recently lived. He clearly gets along very nicely without a story, since he never provides a hint of one. When 1 Peter and 1 Clement seek to illustrate Jesus' suffering and humility, they simply quote or paraphrase Isaiah 53. They, too, don't need a 'story' because these things did not happen in history and no one needed to fill in the great gaps of an obscure historical event.
The great culling of scripture comes only with the Gospels, indicating that it was only at that time that a story line had to enter the picture. Not because history suddenly came into Christian consciousness, but because the first evangelist was creating a tale that—even if symbolic—had to be placed in earthly time and space. Only now was that great variety of scriptural material needed, and it was promptly drawn on as the natural source for such a story. Thus story and exegesis did not form two incompatible phases. Exegesis did come first, as the source of the spiritual Christ and his elucidation. But story was written by the exegete-evangelists at the very moment, and not before, that they decided to give their readers a Christ in midrashic fiction.
In the creation of the pre-Passion part of their story, the evangelists drew on the traditions of the Q community, since Mark—whom many modern scholars (like Burton Mack) are locating not in Rome but in southern Syria, not too far from Galilee—seems to have had close contact with its traditions of sayings and miracles, even if he did not possess a copy of the Q document. In fact, as I outline in my book, The Jesus Puzzle: Did Christianity begin with a mythical Christ?, the Markan community may well have have one foot in the wider Kingdom of God movement, the other in the cultic camp of apostles like Paul. Mark may even be drawing on some impressions of the Q founder (the invented one) who served as a focus, in sectarian fashion, for all these things. Thus the features of the peasant resistance movement in Galilee were wedded to the savior god Jesus who underwent death and resurrection.
This amalgamation of two separate phenomena on the first century scene, juxtaposed in close geographical proximity in the Palestine-Syria area but standing universes apart in philosophical nature, came together in what must be the most bizarre wedding in human religious history. This was the "birth" of Christianity as we know it, and as people like John Dominic Crossan write books about it in an attempt to solve its maddening puzzles.