Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Why I Distrust Crossan

As I contemplate whether the next book I tackle should be Crossan's latest offering (The Last Week, with Marcus Borg), it occurs to me that, while I generally enjoy Crossan's work, and invariably recommend it (despite my adamant disagreement with virtually every conclusion he reaches), I approach his scholarship with a jaundiced eye. It is not enough, in this instance, to suggest that the agenda he brings to the table has always seemed transparent to me: it doesn't need to be, he makes it quite clear to even the most Crossan-friendly reader (again, I apologize for the lack of specific references, still working from memory). In Jesus at 2000 (ed. Marcus Borg), during the Q&A session following his paper, Crossan notes that he "would not like" an apocalyptic Jesus, and likens apocalypticism to "divine genocide." Fortunately, Crossan does like Jesus, and while ostensibly the notion that Jesus was non-apocalyptic came before his liking for him, it at the very least opens the door to the converse. It is extremely serendipitous that, contrary to all appearances, Jesus did not, in fact, believe in divine genocide.

Taken on its own, that might set flags up, but is not likely lead to the baser distrust I have for his work in general. The nail in the coffin came in the form of In Search of Paul (with Reed). Paul, Crossan informs, was indeed apocalyptic (really no getting around that one). But then, with nothing leading to it demanding such "exegesis" (by which I mean eisegesis, of course), and absolutely nothing offered in support of his reading, Crossan informs the reader what he thinks Paul would have said. If asked about his failed apocalypticism, Paul would respond that, well shucks, sure he preached an apocalyptic message. But it wasn't central--it's not like he really meant it! How do we know Paul would say this? Well, Crossan told us so! Apparently that is good enough, because nothing else is offered. Apocalypticism is thus casually dismissed, while we continue our quest for a happy Paul, preaching a feel-good message of an egalitarian brotherhood of men and sisterhood of womyn (if you read the book, you too will be convinced that Paul would spell "women" with a "y". I soon learned that it was all but central to his message, easily surpassing the more overt eschatology and belief he lived in the Messianic Age).

Agenda rules the day in Biblical scholarship at large, I think--few are those who come to the table with none whatsoever. Indeed, as Arnal has--I think convincingly--shown, even the most Sandersian (It's just too good a word not to add to my regular vernacular) Jesus is frequently borne of a predetermined construction. But it is this dilettante's opinion that Crossan flaunts his too vividly, seemingly oblivious to its implications. A brilliant scholar, to be sure, but one I am not convinced is even making an effort at objectivity anymore.

And that, my friends, is why I distrust Crossan.

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