Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography

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The controversial, bestselling account of what we can know about the life of Jesus.

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The controversial, bestselling account of what we can know about the life of Jesus.

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Editorial Reviews

New York Times Book Review
Crossan paints his Jesus with great warmth and power. He achieves a portrait that both takes in the contemporary background yet accounts for Jesus' distinctiveness...This Jesus is a Jewish peasant, with a direct sense of God's immediacy, who shatters all social restraints.
National Catholic Reporter
This is an extremely interesting, erudite, informative, must-read for anyone interested in the New Testament...Read it.
Robert W. Funk
Jesus is a magisterial distillation of Crossan's lifelong work on the gospels and Jesus. It deserves careful and extended consideration by everyone seriously interested in the enigmatic sage from Galilee. With his work on Jesus, Crossan joins the ranks of the truly great biblical scholars of the twentieth century. His 'revolutionary biography' is the biography of a revolutionary: the book and its subject are rebels in the cause of truth.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061800351
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 10/6/2009
  • Pages: 232
  • Sales rank: 446,232
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

John Dominic Crossan, professor emeritus at DePaul University, is widely regarded as the foremost historical Jesus scholar of our time. He is the author of several bestselling books, including The Historical Jesus, God and Empire, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, The Greatest Prayer, and The Power of Parable. He lives in Minneola, Florida.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

A Tale of Two Gods

Whereas Providence . . . has . . . adorned our lives with the highest good: Augustus . . . and has in her beneficence granted us and those who will come after us [a Savior] who has made war to cease and who shall put everything [in peaceful] order . . . with the result that the birthday of our God signalled the beginning of Good News for the world because of him . . . therefore . . . the Greeks in Asia Decreed that the New Year begin for all the cities on September 23 . . . and the first month shall . . . be observed as the Month of Caesar, beginning with 23 September, the birthday of Caesar.

Decree of calendrical change on marble stelae
in the Asian temples dedicated to the Roman
Empire and Augustus, its first emperor

And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end .... The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.". . .

And the angel said to them, "Be not afraid; for behold I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord."

Message of the angelsto the Virgin Mary
at Nazareth and to the shepherds at Bethlehem
(Luke 1:31-35 and 2:10-11)

The Trojan Caesar Comes

Twice within a hundred years, on different shores of that cruel and beautiful Mediterranean Sea, a man was acclaimed son of god when alive and, more simply, god when dead. Octavius, however, stood at the height of the Roman aristocracy, Jesus near the bottom of the Jewish peasantry. No surprise, then, that for the former's life story we have exact dates and precise places, and for the latter's, neither.

Gains Octavius was born on 23 September 63 B.C.E. and became the adopted son and legal heir of Julius Caesar, who was assassinated on 15 March 44 B.C.E. After Caesar's deification by the Roman Senate on 1 January 42 B. C. E., Octavius became immediately divi filius, son of a divine one. But even where those secure dates were easily available, it took mythology over history, faith over fact, and poetry over chronicle to tell the tale of Octavius becoming Augustus.

As early as 40 B.C.E. after a decade of civil war, the poet Virgil wrote rhapsodically in his Fourth Eclogue of an imagined child newly born into a world newly peaceful as Octavius and Anthony were sealing future friendship at Brundisium, on the heel of Italy. This was to be that child's future in a world of ecstatic peace:

But when maturing years make you a man,
Even the merchant will give up the sea,
The pine will not become a trading ship,
For every land will furnish everything.
The soil will not endure the hoe, nor vines
The pruning hook; the vigorous plowman will
Release his oxen from their yokes; no dyes
Will teach bright-colored falsehood to pure wool:
The ram, in the meadow by himself, will blush
Sweet crimson murex-color, then will change
His fleece to saffron, while, spontaneously,
Vermilion clothes the young lambs as they graze.

But apart completely from such an ideal vision, even ordinary, everyday, normal peace would not arrive for another decade, when, off Actium, on Greece's western coast, Cleopatra's battle flotilla would pick up the defeated Anthony and head home to Alexandria and the asp.

Virgil, combining magnificently musical poetry with consummately political propaganda, moved immediately to give Octavius and his Julian heritage a mythological genealogy worthy of the new Roman order. He went back for inspiration to the only possible source, to Homer--the "bible," if ever there was one, of Greco-Roman paganism. He fused together Homer's two Greek epics--the Iliad, about waging war abroad, and the Odyssey, about coming home again--into his own Latin Aeneid. Julius Caesar and Gaius Octavius were celebrated as heirs to an ancient and even divine ancestry. For Aeneas--son of a human father, Anchises, and a divine mother, Aphrodite--had saved both his father and his own son from the embers of Troy's destruction and brought that son, Julus, to Italy as sire of the Julian family. In the words of the Aeneid's first book:

The Trojan Caesar comes, to circumscribe
Empire with Ocean, fame with heaven's stars.
Julius his name, from Julus handed down:
All tranquil shall you take him heavenward
In time, laden with plunder of the East,
And he with you shall be invoked in prayer . . .
And grim with iron frames, the gates of War
Will then be shut.

Even where all the dates and places were exactly known, mythology alone was adequate for a radically new vision of Roman society. But whether we term it mythology, ideology, theology, or propaganda, at its root was the historical fact that Octavius had ended twenty years of civil strife by emerging as the one and only victor. He was now Augustus, a title poised with marvelous ambiguity between humanity and divinity. He was also Princeps, a title poised with equal ambiguity between kingship and citizenship. Call him first among equals, with all the equals dead. And, lest we sneer too readily at this mixture of history and mythology, remember that we are always better at separating such mixtures in other lives, in different societies, and in alien cultures. Our own mixture we too seldom see at all. In any case, the Roman Senate deified Augustus on 17 September 14 C.E., a scant month after his death on 19 August. He was now divine not only by ancestry or adoption but in his own right as well because of all he had done to unify Roman power internally and to consolidate Roman power externally. Which returns the discussion to Jesus.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 10 )
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 11 of 10 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 20, 2013


    So, I have a few questions. Please, don't take offense I'm honestly curious. Lately it seems many are being mean to ga<__>ys. They say the devil created them, but they say Go<__>d is more powerful. So couldn't he just stop him?

    0 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 23, 2013

    To mo

    Any arguments on evolution?

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 19, 2013

    Just a question...

    I mean for nos rudness of causing an uproar but what are your initial thaughts on neopaganism? Please no harsh answer, im just a peacefull curious person looking for a peacefull answer

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 20, 2013


    Yep I totally agreed. And about the differences between Lutheran abd Catholic im not totally sure, but we both believe strongly in God and Jesus. I think its more our style of faith. We believe faith and forgiveness with God will take us to heaven rather than only good works, but ee still try to do good things of course. Catholics follow the pope and Lutherans follow the teachings of Martin Luther. Anyway sorry for long speal!

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 7, 2013


    So wut r u trying to say

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 29, 2012


    Luv u jesus

    0 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 7, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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    Posted July 2, 2011

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 21, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted September 30, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted December 20, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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