Jesus: a Revolutionary Biography

John Dominic Crossan, Harper, 1994, reviewed by Vern Ratzlaff

        Crossan presents his analyses of Jesus primarily from the four canonical gospels, the reconstituted Q-document and the Gospel of Thomas; he does his analyses from three perspectives: cross cultural anthropology, Greco-Roman and Jewish history and economics in the first quarter of Jesus’ century, and the literary/textual

        His writing reflects both small and large issues, eg leprosy and the social class system. Leprosy. He describes the difference between clinical leprosy today (Hansen’s disease) and the scaley/flakey skin condition (as well as signs of the skin diseases on clothes and home walls; those confronting Jesus had both a disease (scaly skin) and an illness (social stigma). Jesus’ actions put him on a direct collision course with priestly authority, Judaism of Galilean peasant against Jerusalem priests (p 83).

        Crossan points to cultural studies that show on one side the Rulers and Governors (making up 1% of the population but owning half the land), priests (owning 15% of the land), retainers and merchants, peasants (the vast majority of whose annual products of about 66% were taken in taxes), up to 20%, the beggars and expendables. But the major problem with Jesus was not his theology, but his eating indiscriminately with a wide selection of cultural/social groups. Eating, culturally, reinforces social distinctions; table fellowship is a map of economic discrimination, social hierarchy and political differentiation.

        Jesus’ open table was using the table as a miniature map of society’s vertical discrimination and lateral separation (p 69); an open table was an embodiment of radical egalitarianism.

Vern Ratzlaff is a pastor and professor of historical theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.