The Birth of Christianity: Discovering What Happened in the Years Immediately after the Execution of Jesus

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John Dominic Crossan, expert on the historical Jesus, explores the lost years of earliest Christianity, those immediately following the execution of Jesus. He establishes the contextual setting by an interdisciplinary combination of anthropological, historical, and archaeological approaches. He identifies the textual sources by a literary analysis of the earliest discernible layers within our present gospels, both inside and outside the New Testament. Context and text come together to challenge long-standing ...
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John Dominic Crossan, expert on the historical Jesus, explores the lost years of earliest Christianity, those immediately following the execution of Jesus. He establishes the contextual setting by an interdisciplinary combination of anthropological, historical, and archaeological approaches. He identifies the textual sources by a literary analysis of the earliest discernible layers within our present gospels, both inside and outside the New Testament. Context and text come together to challenge long-standing assumptions about the role of Paul and the meaning of resurrection, and to forge new understanding of the birth of the Christian church.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
A preeminent scholar in the historical Jesus field, Crossan provides an engrossing new understanding of the birth of the Christian faith.
Christian Century
Crossan's theology is breathtaking.
San Francisco Chronicle
Flashes of genius.... He writes with deep understanding and compassion.
Elaine Pagels
Crossan's works have stimulated some of the most intense discussion among New Testament scholars today.
Toronto Star
A must read for those with a serious interest in Jesus and the early church.
St. Louis Post Dispatch
Crossan has an exceptional command of the tools of a first rate public intellectual.
St. Louis Post Dispatch
Crossan can be credited with an exceptional command of the tools of a first-rate public intellectual.
In The Birth of Christianity Crossan has once again shown his impressive breadth of interest and depth of analysis. The amount of detail is breathtaking ... there are many new and rewarding insights here.
National Catholic Reporter
In The Birth of Christianity, Crossan pries open some familiar assumptions that help us avoid the ongoing surprise of the gospel and the radical claims it makes on us. ... Crossan...has added his share of both light and salt to an often stolid field only specialists can access.
San Francisco Chronicle
Flashes of genius...He writes with deep understanding and compassion.
Toronto Star
Ambitious and groundbreaking, The Birth of Christianity is a must read for those with a serious interest in Jesus and the early church.
Christian Century
Crossan's theology is breathtaking, stunning, and compelling.
Religious Studies Review
Crossan has given us a well written and highly informative patchwork quilt of a book ... for anyone interested in gospel origins, this is a most valuable, insight-filled book.
A. K. M. Adam
Crossan's work is ... in certain respects positively brilliant. [His] research itself is a fascinating addition to the literature on early Christianity...[he] is refreshingly honest about the force of his claims.
Elaine Pagels
The works of John Dominic Crossan—learned, original, and often controversial—have stimulated some of the most intense discussion among New Testament scholars today.
Robert W. Funk
Christianity arose out of the interaction of the historical Jesus and his first companions. It was not invented by Paul. That is the stunning hypothesis of Crossan's The Birth of Christianity. Like the master craftsman he is, Crossan has forged a picture of earliest Christianity—of the dark years, the 30s and 40s—in debate with other scholars and in the combination of social science theory, Galilean archaeology, close textual analysis, and historical reconstruction. No one controls the issues, the data, and the options as well as Crossan. His reconstruction is essential reading for anyone serious about Christian origins and its fate in the third millennium.
John Muddiman
...[U]ntil his critics, many of whom [Crossan] amusingly savages in this book, come back with counter-arguments, this version of what happened in the years following the Crucifixion must be read by all serious students of Christian origins. It should also be read by the not so serious student of stylish prose. For Crossan is a brilliant writer. He follows a single coherent train of thought, uninterrupted by the distraction of footnotes and punctuated by pellucid summaries. His chapters begin with well-chosen epigraphs from the works of others, which he either demolishes or reconstructs. At points where attention might wander, inevitable in a lengthy academic work, he inserts some insightful interdisciplinary parallel, or personal anecdote, or disarming direct address to the reader.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060616601
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 2/1/1999
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 688
  • Sales rank: 679,606
  • Product dimensions: 6.12 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 1.56 (d)

Meet the Author

John Dominic Crossan,professor emeritus at DePaul University, iswidely regarded as the foremost historicalJesus scholar of our time. He currentlyserves as the president of the Society of BiblicalLiterature. He is the author of severalbestselling books, including The HistoricalJesus; Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography; and,most recently, The Greatest Prayer. Crossanlives in Minneola, Florida.

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Read an Excerpt

Voices of the First Outsiders

Chronologically the first pagan to mention Christians was Pliny in 111, after him Tacitus in 115 and then Suetonius after 122. From among these three Pliny describes a situation in 111 a.d., and Tacitus deals with the fire of Rome in 64 a.d. But Suetonius in addition to Nero's persecution [in a.d. 64], refers to an incident [in a.d. 49] which is interpreted by some as having to do with Christianity prior to the fire of Rome.
Stephen Benko, "Pagan Criticism of Christianity During the
First Two Centuries a.d.," ANRW 2.23, p. 1056
Three pagan Roman authors, writing within a few years of one another at the start of the second century, agreed completely and emphatically on the nature of the Christian religion. Pliny was a correspondent of Tacitus and a friend of Suetonius, the former both imperial governors from the highest echelons of the aristocracy, the latter an imperial secretary from its middle reaches. They concurred that Christianity was a "superstition" and differed only on the most appropriate negative adjectives to accompany that pejorative term. These are their considered judgments:
"a depraved and excessive superstition" (superstitio prava, immodica)
"this contagious superstition" (superstitionis istius contagio)
Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus, Letters 10.96
"pernicious superstition" (exitiabilis superstitio)
Publius Cornelius Tacitus, Annals 15.44.3
"a new and mischievous [or: magical] superstition" (superstitio nova et malefica)
Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, Lives of the Caesars: Nero 16.2
For those first pagan outsiders, Christianity was, cumulatively, a depraved, excessive, contagious, pernicious,new, and mischievous superstition. Religion, to put it bluntly, was what aristocratic Romans did; superstition was what others did--especially those unseemly types from regions east of Italy.
A Depraved Superstition
Cicero is generally thought to be the most representative of the great writers of the late Republic, and his letters provide the most revealing information about his times. It is 150 years before the Empire has its letter-writer in Pliny. He has left a more faithful and less prejudiced picture of Rome as he knew
it than did any of his contemporaries, and in him we can see best how a Roman of his class lived and thought at the turn of the first century.
Betty Radice, The Letters of the Younger Pliny, p. 12
Among aristocratic Roman writers, we learn most about earliest Christianity from Pliny the Younger, so called to distinguish him from his uncle, Pliny the Elder, commander of the western Mediterranean fleet, who died during Vesuvius's eruption in 79 c.e. The emperor Trajan sent the younger Pliny as his emergency legate to Bithynia-Pontus on the Black Sea's southern coast, a disturbed province that had brought official charges against its two preceding governors. He arrived there in the late summer of 111 but was dead, business unfinished, within two years.
In the midst of his tour he encountered accusations against the Christians in a city of northern Pontus. These attacks were probably put forward by pagans whose temples and sacrifices were economically damaged by Christian monotheism. The reversal of that social situation is, at least, the good result Pliny reports from his actions (Radice 1969:2.404-405).
'Tis certain at least that the temples, which had been almost deserted, begin now to be frequented; and the sacred festivals, after a long intermission, are again revived; while there is a general demand for sacrificial animals, which for some time past have met with but few purchasers. From hence it is easy to imagine what multitudes may be reclaimed from this error, if a door be left open to repentance. (Pliny, Letters 10.96)
I cite in great detail the report he sent back to Trajan about that situation, as well as the imperial reply to his queries. It is an extraordinary interchange. In reading it, recognize that this is the moment when pagan Rome chose the official program of reaction that would eventually lead to Christian victory.
Pliny's actions developed over two stages. First, those Christians who had been denounced to him were brought before his tribunal (Radice 1969:2.401-403).
I interrogated them whether they were Christians; if they confessed it I repeated the question twice again, adding the threat of capital punishment;
if they still persevered, I ordered them to be executed. For whatever the nature of their creed might be, I could at least feel no doubt that contumacy and inflexible obstinacy deserved chastisement. There were others also possessed with the same infatuation, but being citizens of Rome, I directed them to be carried thither. (Pliny, Letters 10.96)
Those first trials were probably of the more obvious leaders, more distinguished members, or more aggressive proponents of local Christianity. The impression is left that these all confessed and died as martyrs. And their ac-
cusers were apparently named and known individuals. But then something happened that moved the process to a second and more serious stage (Radice 1969:2.402-403).
These accusations spread (as is usually the case) from the mere fact of the matter being investigated and several forms of the mischief came to light. A placard was put up, without any signature, accusing a large number of persons by name. Those who denied they were, or had ever been, Christians, who repeated after me an invocation to the Gods, and offered adoration, with wine and frankincense, to your image, which I had ordered to be brought for that purpose, together with those of the Gods, and who finally cursed Christ--none of which acts, it is said, those who are really Christians can be forced into performing--these I thought it proper to discharge. Others who were named by that informer at first confessed themselves Christians, and then denied it; true, they had been of that persuasion but they had quitted it, some three years, others many years, and a few as much as twenty-five years ago. They all worshipped your statue and the images of the Gods, and cursed Christ. (Pliny, Letters 10.96)
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Table of Contents

Preface: The Lost Years
Prologue: The Content of Your Vision
Ch. 1 Voices of the First Outsiders 3
Ch. 2 Reconstructing Earliest Christianity 19
Ch. 3 The Mystique of Oral Tradition 49
Ch. 4 Does Memory Remember? 59
Ch. 5 A Tale of Two Professors 69
Ch. 6 Chasm or Interface? 85
Ch. 7 Admitting Gospel Presuppositions 95
Ch. 8 Relating Gospel Contents 103
Ch. 9 Comparing Gospel Manuscripts 121
Ch. 10 The Problem of Methodology 139
Ch. 11 Cross-Cultural Anthropology 151
Ch. 12 Judeo-Roman History 177
Ch. 13 Galilean Archeology 209
Ch. 14 A Comparison of Two Early Gospels 239
Ch. 15 Apocalyptic and Ascetical Eschatology 257
Ch. 16 Ethical Eschatology 273
Prologue: The Meaning of Healing 293
Ch. 17 Negating Apocalyptic Eschatology 305
Ch. 18 Affirming Ethical Eschatology 317
Epilogue: The Social Status of Jesus 345
Ch. 19 Criticizing the Householders 355
Ch. 20 Controlling the Itinerants 363
Ch. 21 Interpreting the Commands 383
Ch. 22 A Divided Tradition 407
Ch. 23 The Common Meal Tradition 423
Ch. 24 Communities of Resistance 445
Ch. 25 The Other Passion-Resurrection Story 481
Ch. 26 Exegesis, Lament, and Biography 527
Epilogue: The Character of Your God 575
Appendixes 587
Bibliography 607
Subject Index 633
Author Index 643
Text Index 647
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 7 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 22, 2002

    Makes you think

    As usual Crossan reaches into his bag of tricks and over investigates the faith in order to fill up yet another book. I enjoy his writing, and buy everything he puts out (God help me!) but I agree with only about half of what he writes. I think we both agree at this time that there WAS a Jesus, but we separate shortly thereafter. Still he is a master theologean and you should investigate his works and ideas if you want a well rounded view of the early years of Christianity.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 29, 2012

    Liberal 'scholarship'

    J. D. Crossan is a fairly well-known "liberal 'scholar'" who will undoubtedly have a lot to answer for his efforts to deconstruct the bible unless he repents. Reading one of his books and believing that you are reading a good book is comparable to reading one of the worst tabloids and believing that you are reading a magazine such as Scientific American. DO NOT waste time reading any of his material. Reading his material could be detrimental to the un-learned and inexperienced.

    2 out of 13 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 12, 2002

    Loved the Jack Hamilton - Tony Conigliaro reference

    First Crossan is brilliant. He is also a Christian and his approach is ultimately from the Christian perspective regardless of James Carroll ("Constantine's Sword") relying on him extensively to make the point that the New Testament was edited prior to Nicaea to put the onus on the Jews instead of the Romans for the crucifixion of Jesus. But lets get to Jack Hamilton. Crossan refers to a NY Times interview of Hamilton many years after the 1967 beaning of Tony C in which Jack iterates several inaccuracies relating to the event (day vs night game...). Crossan pointed out that Hamilton's motivation (denied by JH) may have been exoneration of malice. But Crossan's conclusion: "Conigliaro's injury and his (JH's) own innocence fused not just to recollect the event accurately(!) but to reproduce the event appropriately". But Hamilton did no such thing. His inaccuracies betrayed his motivation eg to establish innocence. Crossan managed to make a damning case that Hamilton very likely did have "malice" by virtue of the (c pp 61) CLEAR "distinction in Hamilton's memory between correct and false details". The one fact that Crossan did not know was that the Conigliaro beaning was one of a series of incidents in a beanball war that went back at least to 1965 when Radatz nearly killed Buck Rogers and was going strong in the 70s when it finally petered out. My conclusion. If you have an agenda like Crossan has (one I approve of) to make the message of Jesus paramount over the literal historicity of the gospel accounts then you are very much liable to come to some debatable conclusions. Then in addition if you ignore the other side - meaning the Jewish writers like Eisenamnn "James the Brother of Jesus" and Norman Golb - you will miss critical issues such as the Herodian faction vs the Zealot faction and in the case of Golb the point that there never was enough evidence to support the conclusion that the library at Qumran was an Essene library vs a place where cross sectional writings were stored to escape the 70 AD Roman pillage. Another writer who's works make an interesting backdrop to the entire Jesus issue is Barbara Thiering. Unfortunately her conclusions are simply too radical and thus are simply not debated in the mainstream (heck Golb thinks Eisenman is radical). The best idea that Thiering has propounded from her analysis of the Dead Sea pesher vis a vis the New Testament is the simple 20th century adage "follow the money".

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 5, 2013

    thoughtful many disciplined book

    Crossan does a masterful blending of history, anthropology and archaeology. pre-suppositions are always a determining factor when one mixes theology with any other discipline.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted August 4, 2013

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    Posted January 22, 2012

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    Posted April 29, 2010

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