‘The Claim of Human Resurrection in the New Testament

Church leaders

A summary of John Dominic Crossan’s remarks at his second seminar on October 26, 2019 – by Tricia Aynes

“Resurrection is a metaphor,” says John Dominic Crossan.  “If you were there, you could have seen the crucifixion.  But metaphor creates reality if you live it, if you participate in it.  That’s why nobody tried to describe it at the time.  Think of the ingredients.   How does the execution of Jesus save the human race from death?  Non-violent revolution against violence itself is the only thing that will save our species.  That is what the metaphor means.  Have the respect to translate the metaphor before you deny it.”

IUCC was honored to welcome Dr. Crossan as guest lecturer for two seminars on Saturday, October 26.  The famed theologian and author’s second seminar, entitled “The Claim of Human Resurrection in the New Testament,” is summarized in this article. 

When looking at the topic of resurrection, Crossan asked the audience to use his matrix: a common sense approach he has developed to understand the stories of the Bible.  “The problem with the matrix is you have to try to get back to the time and place of the events to understand them,” says Crossan.  “Back off and ask: what did that mean in the first century – at that time and place?  What was going on?  Use common sense.  If you have a matrix, you can ask some key questions: Why did Jesus happen when he happened and where he happened?  What did Herod Antipas do in the 20’s that got John and Jesus excited enough to oppose him?  Put it in the matrix.  Why were there so many references to fishing?  Why does Matthew say that Jesus left Nazareth and went to Capernaum?  Put John and Jesus aside for a moment and concentrate on why Herod made the big move.  Why did he change the location of his capital?  Why the leapfrog?”

Per Crossan, “Herod the Great is the first Roman-appointed King of the Jews.  He was told to Romanize the Jewish homeland – to globalize it.  That’s his job.  What does he do?  He builds a giant port on the coast and puts in all-weather stuff to move the legions.  He calls the city Caesaerea, which makes his Roman masters happy.  To keep the Jewish population happy, he expands the temple.”

Herod the Great seems to have been well received in Rome as a King of a client-state.  He lasts to 4 BC and dies.  Upon his death, Herod the Great’s kingdom is split among his children, and his son Herod Antipas (‘Antipas’) becomes a Tetrarch (ruler of ¼ of the kingdom).  Crossan believes that Antipas is disappointed and resentful that he is only a Tetrarch and not a King like his father.  He becomes ruler of the Galilee and Perea areas, but he’s not satisfied.

Crossan believes that Antipas wanted to raise money to impress the Romans but felt he couldn’t push more taxes on the general population.  Crossan theorizes that “Antipas built the city of Tiberias on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee and moved his capital there.  Why?  He wanted to commercialize fishing in the Sea of Galilee to promote Mediterranean globalization.   He was not trying to impoverish the people, he was trying to increase income.  He wanted to integrate the fishing industry into the Roman economic system.  This required all sorts of dislocation and was intrusive.  It made life very difficult for people, especially fishermen.   John and Jesus rose up in opposition to Antipas.” 

“John and Jesus were experimenting with non-violent resistance,” continues Crossan.  “Within the matrix, we can get a sense of why Jesus’ disciples are ex-fishermen.  Jesus is not talking to the poorest of the poor – he’s talking to those who were at subsistence level but aren’t there anymore due to the actions of Antipas.  Things were all right yesterday, and then something happened to change that.”

Crossan adds, “The matrix is open – a living sort of thing.  I think Jesus learned from John what to do and what not to do.  What is John’s vision?  John believes that God is coming soon and here’s what we have to do: we’re going to re-enact the return from exile, then God will come.  The people must come through the river Jordan and be purified – that’s John’s tremendous vision.  Jesus accepts John’s vision and is baptized in the Jordan.  But God doesn’t come, and now John is dead, executed.  So Jesus changes his mind.  He sees that people have been waiting for God’s intervention, but what if God is waiting for US to collaborate?  The covenant is a two-way relationship.   I think Jesus’ program is that God has been waiting for us to collaborate with Him.  It’s not tradition, it’s wisdom.  The kingdom of God is already here, we just need to enter it.  If we don’t enter the kingdom of God, it won’t happen.  If the time and place are right, things CAN happen.  John fasted for what was coming, but Jesus feasted for what was already there.”

“Jesus is calling for collaboration and participation with God, without which things won’t happen.  He takes his movement to Jerusalem to demonstrate.  Jesus is invited to come to Jerusalem and told he will be protected.  The question is: why did it take him so long to get executed?  Every night he gets out of the city and stays in Bethany. 

The crowd is on his side.  The most important witness to his execution is Pilate.  Roman policy was to grab the leader and crucify him to make a point.  But the Romans didn’t round up his closest followers because they considered Jesus a non-violent resister to Roman law and order – they wouldn’t have done it if they considered him a mere nuisance.”

Crossan finds it noteworthy that the Bible describes the consequences, results, and effects of the resurrection – things you can infer – but does not describe the resurrection itself. “Where’s the description of the moment itself?  This opened up a vacuum.  The earliest appearance of an attempt to describe it was in 350-400 Ireland when well-to-do Christians wanted to be buried in sarcophagi covered with pictures.  It took 500 years before art showing Jesus resurrected appeared.  In 799 in Constantinople, the same process was going on.  Where to find an image?  Instead of showing the emperor’s boot on a neck, images showed Jesus coming out of the tomb with one knee up and one knee down: a picture of liberation.  Some images showed Jesus leading Adam and Eve.  It wasn’t until 700-1200 that Jesus became an equal opportunity resurrection.” 

When asked during a question and answer period about evolution, Crossan responded, “The mystery of evolution is ongoing – oil and stone – I can’t not see it, can’t separate it.  The reason all empires have fallen is they’re against evolution – evolution is not on the side of justice.  If you start with evolution, our human mind is incapable of looking at the big bang and not asking questions.  I think God is the response of the human mind to the fact of evolution.  Start with evolution and see where you go.  Vision is your icon.  All human creativity is based on time and place.  Two vectors cross in evolution.  Our human contribution is escalatory violence.  How do we as a species protect ourselves from escalatory violence?  All we’ve got is knowledge of good and evil.”

When asked about racism and evolution, Crossan’s response was clear and profound: “Racism is against evolution.  For the fittest to survive, you need variety and diversity.  Diversity is the model we’re getting from evolution.  We don’t know which version is the fittest to survive.  Evolution is against racism.  Heaven and hell are not places in the future – they’re options in the present.”

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