The death of Jesus is one of the most hotly debated questions in Christianity today. In his massive and highly publicized The Death of the Messiah, Raymond Brown -- while clearly rejecting anti-Semitism -- never questions the essential historicity of the passion stories. Yet it is these stories, in which the Jews decide Jesus' execution, that have fueled centuries of Christian anti-Semitism.
Now, in his most controversial book, John Dominic Crossan shows that this traditional understanding of the Gospels as historical fact is not only wrong but dangerous. Drawing on the best of biblical, anthropological, sociological and historical research, he demonstrates definitively that it was the Roman government that tried and executed Jesus as a social agitator. Crossan also candidly addresses such key theological questions as "Did Jesus die for our sins?" and "Is our faith in vain if there was no bodily resurrection?"
Ultimately, however, Crossan's radical reexamination shows that the belief that the Jews killed Jesus is an early Christian myth (directed against rival Jewish groups) that must be eradicated from authentic Christian faith.
This book is not exactly what it purports to be. It does little to expose the roots of anti-Semitism in the gospels, and it does even less to answer, or even ask, the question of the title: Who Killed Jesus? Instead, this book is merely a literary exploration of the roots of the gospels themselves; what was their genesis? Admittedly, the discussion of whether the gospels are history remembered or prophecy historicized (the author's phrase) is interesting, but it has been done before, many times. To actually explore the inconsistencies in the gospel, and try to get down to the root of who killed Jesus, and to trace the growth of anti-semitism in the gospel, rather than just continue to beat the bushes for literary priority between "Mark" and "Peter" - well, that wasn't what I signed on to read. The author does make a case for the primacy of Peter that is marginal at best, and some of his arguments appear to work better for the other side. The one time he came close to a truly convincing argument was in discussing the vinegar to drink verses. That time, I thought he had some really good arguments. Also, I always find it suspicious when an author tells you that a large portion of a source (in this case, the gospels) should be regarded as myth, but then accepts other parts as history with no clarification of what other evidence he has in support of that (and citing Josephus is questionable, at best, since Josephus wasn't even born when the crucifixion occurred, and therefore could not be considered anything more than hearsay, even if the phrases included are valid). Overall, a disappointment, but with some interesting tidbits.read more
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