Christology

Judas, We Hardly Knew Ye

It’s been a summer of sizzle and burn—theologically speaking—here in these United States. First, we find out that Christianity’s arch-traitor, Judas, has his own “gospel.” Then Dan Brown, an inventive novelist of dubious literary skill, brings to the big screen his shocking revelation that organized religion is as fertile a ground for the action thriller as Michael Crichton’s world of scientific R&D and Tom Clancy’s black ops underworld. And, let’s face it, there is no religion more organized than my beloved Catholic Church.

Let’s start with The Da Vinci Code (book and movie). Dan Brown is a hack novelist who hit upon a winning formula (spoiler alert!)—that Jesus had a child with Mary Magdalene, that their blood line survived through the ages, and that a secret para-Vatican society was charged with keeping you and me from finding out. Like most spinners of tales, Brown took the shred ends of history, threw them all in a blender, slathered them on a page with protagonists, antagonists, a central mystery (plus excellent car chases), and served it up hot off the grill to a religiously charged public. The secular fundamentalists love it because it “proves” Christianity is a bunch of bunk. The Catholic fundamentalists love it because it boosts their direct mail returns as they wage their war against “creeping gnosticism” in this post-modern era.

My greater concern is for those who are unable to distinguish between fact and fiction. Psychologists recognize this phenomenon in children who falsely perceive television programs to be “real.” When adults are unable to make this distinction because their knowledge is not broad enough to put the fiction in a factual context and they rely heavily on personal experience and individual emotions not tested in community, the results historically have been disastrous.

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Sojourners Magazine August 2006
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The Mystery of the Resurrected Rabbi

It was Holy Thursday. It seemed the appropriate question: "Professor Crossan, the Jesus Seminar just announced its conclusions on the resurrection. The seminar, of which you are a member, has concluded that Jesus didn't really rise from the dead. What's up with that?" Or words to that effect. I went to hear John Dominic Crossan, professor at DePaul

University and the author of many books on the historical Jesus, including Who Killed Jesus? Exposing the Roots of Anti-Semitism in the Gospel Story of the Death of Jesus, with all the conservative evangelical skepticism I could muster. To me, Crossan and the Jesus Seminar, a group of scholars whose controversial pronouncements on the historical realities of Jesus have angered many, are the pariahs of biblical scholarship.

Crossan smiled. He's a slight man with an Irish lilt to his voice. His manner, like I imagine his oft-cited St. Patrick's, could charm serpents to the sea. "For me, it could go either direction," he said. "Whether he rose physically from the grave is not central. The effect was that people, after the resurrection, were now associating Jesus with their connection to God. He was providing them a way to get in touch with the spiritual. Whether he was in the body or not, the disciples were experiencing Jesus in a radically different way-regardless of distance, time, or physical obstacle. I mean, he was coming through locked doors."

Provocative words. The seminar has sought to dismantle systematically many of the core beliefs of Christianity (see "The Jesus Seminar," below). Yet while affirming his view that the resurrection was not historical fact, Crossan did acknowledge that something historically valid happened after the crucifixion that was real and powerful.

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 1996
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