Since crucifixion was often accompanied by scourging, it is no
surprise to read historical accounts showing a pattern of behavior
like that of this Roman general: "At last Sarapion a Syrian, having
betrayed the citadel, all the fugitives fell into his hands, whom
having first scourged, he afterwards crucified." (Siculus, Diodorus.
Library of History, Fragments of Book XXXIV. Complete Works of
Diodorus Siculus (Delphi Ancient Classics Book 32)
(Kindle Location 28193).) So it seems fairly cut and dried that
Jesus, whom Crossan admits was crucified, was also scourged
beforehand. But wait; not so fast. We have a magic cause-and-effect
forestalling device powerful enough to prevent what is normal from
happening: it was prophesied.
The prophetic scriptures, which testify that the Messiah would be
crucified, also testify that He would be struck:
"I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them
that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and
spitting." (Isaiah 50:6).
Oddly enough, Crossan wants to offer Isaiah 50:6 as the
smoking gun that the gospels are prophecy historicized rather than
history remembered: "My historical reconstruction is already quite
clear. Jesus may well have been flogged as part of the regular
brutality preparatory to Roman crucifixion. . .But any
mention. . .of scourging, buffeting, and spitting comes from Isaiah
50:6. . . .Nowhere can you see the process of historicizing
prophecy so obviously as here." (John Dominic Crossan, Who Killed
Jesus? p. 132). A strange hill to die on, realizing that he himself
concedes Jesus was most probably beaten prior to crucifixion,— which
he concedes is historical,— as were most people who were crucified. But
those who report that this is just what happened are not reporting the facts,
they are inventing them. . .obviously! If you
think they actually 'buffeted' him, you're promoting the "longest lie"!
Historian Cassius Dio tells us that Vitellius, whose brief reign
as emperor ended in a short but sanguinary civil war, was
'buffeted:' "Then they conducted the Augustus to the Forum, where he
had often addressed the people. Some buffeted him, some plucked at
his beard, all ridiculed him, all insulted him, laying especial
stress in their remarks on his intemperance, since he had an
expansive paunch." (Cassius Dio, Roman History, Book 65, Chapter
20). Wow, plucking the beard— that's Isaiah 50:6: "I gave my back to
the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid
not my face from shame and spitting." So what does that mean?
Nothing at all. If you're going to be an atheist, you have to learn
how to saw 'that's just a coincidence.' The atheists believe in
coincidence, as theists do not; in fact, the atheists believe the
animals we see around us are a chance assemblage, which could have
turned out quite differently. Our newly-minted atheists of the
'Jesus' Publishing Industry do not believe in coincidence. They
think what they do has something to do with the 'Enlightenment' but
it's just Loony Tunes. If your theist friends come to you, Mr.
Atheist, and say, 'We prayed for our friend who was ill, and he
recovered,' what do you say? 'That's just a coincidence. Most
illnesses resolve on their own after a brief spell. There are even
instances recorded of spontaneous remission of cancer. Ho hum.' What
should you stop saying, Mr. Newly-Minted Atheist? 'You're lying!
Prayer does not work! He must have died, and you're hiding the
body!' You'll end up in the asylum if you keep talking like that. To
say, 'Prayer does not work,' is tendentious, but someone might
support that view. But to say 'Prayer does not work, therefore no
thing prayed for can possibly happen,' is not rational. What
possible mechanism can be envisioned by which the universe could
detect otherwise commonplace events, like recovery from illness, or
getting a coveted job, as 'things prayed for' and then preclude
their occurrence? But this is the whole basis of this 'scholarly'
enterprise: things prophesied cannot possibly happen, even
non-miraculous things like 'buffeting.' What conceivable mechanism
in the natural world could be imagined to produce this result? If
you prophesy it, you've jinxed it?
Once you've conceded that Jesus a.) existed, and b.) was crucified,
then you've already given away that He was 'buffeted.' Just drop it.
Crossan constructs his own Rube Goldberg apparatus to get from the
prophecies to the reports; in his time-line, the Cross Gospel
embedded in the apocryphal Gospel of Peter is the mother lode, the
very source of the whole story. He leaps from one thing to another:
the events do not need to be bracketed together, nor the language
identical, which makes sense, because personally I think 'beating' and 'buffeting' are much the same
thing. It's allowed to bridge the gaps with invented rituals like
'nudging with reeds,' not otherwise known. Crossan, unlike some of his colleagues, is aware that it is at
least theoretically possible for an observer of contemporary history
to look back into prophecy to find the meaning of current events,
but not here, the stakes are too high. If Isaiah prophesied that the
Messiah would be beaten, then it cannot have happened.
This way of remaking history, popular with the Jesus Seminar, ensures that one's expectations never
go unfulfilled and no fondly held theory is ever disconfirmed. One need
not tailor the theory to fit the facts, when the facts can simply be
obliterated to conform to the theory.
One of Crossan's colleagues wrote a book called 'The Incredible
Shrinking Son of Man,' and one might liken this project to that.
What have we left of Jesus, reduced to a minor-league Cynic? They
breathlessly inform us, free healing and open commensality. What?
That means He ate with sinners. And indeed He did. Here they have
tripped themselves up, because if Jesus was a down-and-outer as they
say, what was so remarkable about Him consorting with other
down-and-outers? He was just hanging with the home folks. According to
Crossan, Jesus and His followers did not even know any literate
To find an ancient worthy willing to lower himself, he should look to Nero
Caesar, who, like juvenile delinquents of the present day, used to
hang with a rough crowd in his nocturnal ramblings through the city,
even committing crimes himself: "After it was dark, he used to
enter the taverns disguised in a cap or a wig, and ramble about the
streets in sport, which was not void of mischief. . .He broke open
and robbed shops; establishing an auction at home for selling his
booty." (Suetonius, Lives of the Twelve Caesars, Nero Caesar,
Chapter XXVI.) Criminals are difficult to place on the social
ladder, but Crossan classes them down there with day laborers. Here
was the individual atop the social pyramid, associating with the
disreputable tavern crowd. He may not have realized it was an
'honor-and-shame' society. Would it have been dangerous, revolutionary
even, for Jesus and His 'peasant' followers to associate with
literate folk? Who can say? They didn't know anybody like that.
Unscrupulous antique dealers do something called 'distressing.'
Having purchased items which maybe are not so old, they make them
look old, by dipping the white paper in tea, or sanding down sharp
edges to make them look worn by use. Crossan gives us a
distressed ancient world. In his Palestine, there is no upward
mobility. None. In his first century, no Roman ever suspected that a
few more rotations of the goddess Fortune's wheel would have ended with
those now served at table, serving. Just so you know: "For example, Pacuvius: 'The goddess Fortune is mad, blind, and stupid, some philosophers maintain. They declare that she stands upon a revolving globe of stone; whither Chance impels the stone, thither, they say, does Fortune fall.
. .Moreover they declare that she is mad because she is cruel,
uncertain, and inconstant. . .'" (On Rhetoric to Herennius, Book 2,
"She [Nemesis or Adrastea], as queen of all causes of
events, and arbitress and umpire in all affairs of life, regulates
the urn which contains the lots of men, and directs the alternations
of fortune which we behold in the world, frequently bringing our
undertakings to an issue different from what we intended, and
involving and changing great numbers of actions. She also, binding
the vainly swelling pride of mankind by the indissoluble fetters of
necessity, and swaying the inclination of progress and decay
according to her will, sometimes bows down and enfeebles the stiff
neck of arrogance, and sometimes raises virtuous men from the lowest
depth, leading them to a prosperous and happy life. And it is on
this account that the fables of antiquity have represented her with
wings, that she may be supposed to be present at all events with
prompt celerity. And they have also placed a rudder in her hand and
given her a wheel under her feet, that mankind may be aware that she
governs the universe, running at will through all the elements."
(Marcellinus, Ammianus. Delphi Complete Works of Ammianus Marcellinus (Delphi Ancient Classics Book 60)
(Kindle Locations 837-844).)
Nobody is forcing the ancients to describe the mistress of all
the world as standing upon a wheel. If they had wished to convey the
static inertia and motionlessness of Tibet or India, they could have
portrayed her standing on the pavement. And it isn't just pagans who spied the
fickle goddess poised behind economic affairs: “One day has cast one man down from on high and
destroyed him, and another it has raised up, nothing that belongs to
our human race being formed by nature so as to remain long in the
same condition, but all such things changing with all kinds of
alteration. Do not men become rulers from having been private
individuals, and private individuals from having been rulers, poor
from having been rich, and very rich from having been poor; glorious
from been despised, and most illustrious from having been infamous?”
(Philo Judaeus, quoting "some one or other," On Dreams, Book I,
Chapter XXIV, 154-155). Why do these people see their world so
differently than he does? They did after all have what was fundamentally
a free market economy, which produced uniform results in that day as
in this. There was creative destruction then too.
In order for the flickering light to shine
from their miniaturized Jesus, His surroundings must be made as dark
as a coal chute. And certainly that world was dark enough, for the
Lord's light to shine and overpower; He will stand out in high relief,
even if no one has gone around scrawling over everything with a
black crayon. But this artificially
distressed world, in which the upper crust would have been astounded
to discover those below them in the social hierarchy were human
beings, is a fantasy. There never was any such world.
Crossan himself is aware that the municipal pagan temples held
dinners to which all were invited, "In some ways, sacrifice was a
civic performance with procession, pomp, and song, but it was also a
civic feast, an open-air barbecue that for many was a rare chance to
eat meat. And it not only bonded community and deity, it also bonded
community members together and articulated clearly their social
hierarchy." (John Dominic Crossan and Jonathan L. Reed, In Search of Paul, Kindle
location 928). So now, just as we have discovered Jesus in His
teaching was only domesticating for a provincial audience an already
well-worn commodity, Cynicism, are we supposed to realize 'open
commensality' is just what the pagan temples offered? Holding a temple
feast and inviting the poor was not exactly novel in Judaism either:
"You shall observe the Feast of Tabernacles seven days, when you
have gathered from your threshing floor and from your winepress. And
you shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter,
your male servant and your female servant and the Levite, the
stranger and the fatherless and the widow, who are within your gates. Seven
days you shall keep a sacred feast to the Lord your God in the place
which the Lord chooses, because the Lord your God will bless you in
all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you
surely rejoice." (Deuteronomy 16:13-15). The Testament of the
Twelve Patriarchs says, ". . .and I shared my bread with the poor. I
never ate alone. . ." (Testament of Issachar, Chapter 7, Testaments
of the Twelve Patriarchs).
Even when the fearful autocratic emperors forbade dining
societies, they were obliged to allow the Jews to continue with
their common meals: "For even when Gaius Caesar, our general and
consul, by his decree prevented the Bacchic revelers from gathering
in the city, he did not prevent these people [Jews] alone from
gathering together their goods and sharing their common meals.
Likewise, while I prevent other such revels, I permit these people
alone to gather according to their ancestral customs and laws and to
hold their feasts." (Josephus, Jewish
Antiquities, 14.215-216, quoted p. 252, Race and Ethnicity in the
Classical World, Kennedy, Roy and Goldman). A common table
was an important part of the religion, not any Christian innovation.
Jewish legend reports of
the righteous Job, that he himself provided the entertainment for
his visitors of modest circumstances: "Job's consideration for the
poor was so delicate that he kept servants to wait upon them
constantly. . .He did not rest satisfied at supplying the material
needs of those who applied to him. . .After a meal he was in the
habit of having music played upon instruments, and then he would
invite those present to join him in songs of praise to God. On such
occasions he did not consider himself above playing the cithern
while the musicians rested." (Louis Ginzberg, The Legends of the
Jews, Volume 2, Kindle location 2547). Now if you are looking for
people in the ancient world who really were beyond the social pale,
professional entertainers fit the bill. But wait: Nero Caesar,
master of the world, famously fiddled while Rome burned! This momentous discovery
of our common humanity was not news to either tradition. The
idea of masters and slaves sitting down to a common repast, with
masters serving and slaves reclining, was nothing shocking or unprecedented
to a Roman crowd; they did that on the Saturnalia, at the end of every
year. Cato ate with the slaves every day:
"He was amazed to hear them tell how Cato, early in the
morning, went on foot to the market-place and pleaded the cases of
all who wished his aid; then came back to his farm, where, clad in a
working blouse if it was winter, and stripped to the waist if it was
summer, he wrought with his servants, then sat down with them to eat
of the same bread and drink of the same wine." (Plutarch, Life of
Cato the Elder, Chapter 3.1-2, Parallel Lives).
Common dining arrangements characterized several of the ancient
polities, including Rome in its earlier stages:
"The members of each curia performed their appointed
sacrifices together with their own priests, and on holy days they
feasted together at their common table. For a banqueting hall had
been built for each curia, and in it there was consecrated, just as
in the Greek prytanea, a common table for all the members of the
curia. . ..This institution, it seems to me, Romulus took over from
the practice of the Lacedaemonians in the case of their phiditia,
which were then in vogue." (Dionysius of
Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities, Book II, 23.2-3).
The 'curia' in question are not any insititution of the Roman
Catholic church, but rather a subdivision of the population: "Then he
subdivided each of these three groups into ten others and appointed
as many of the bravest men to be the leaders of these also. The
larger divisions he called tribes and the smaller curiae, as they
are still termed even in our day. . .This was one division made by
Romulus, both of the men and of the land, which involved the
greatest equality for all alike." (Dionysius of
Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities, Book II, 7:2-4). The
reason, incidentally, why the Spartans ate at common messes was the
same as why the Red Chinese did so at the time of Mao
Zedong's Cultural Revolution: because the totalitarian state wanted
total control of men's minds, and perceived the nuclear familar as a
dangerous rival. But the idea of members of different social orders
sitting down to a common meal would hardly have been perceived as
unprecedented or revolutionary, given the many precedents in
Perhaps fearing that open commensality cannot bear the weight he
lays upon it, Crossan sometimes implies that seating arrangements,
or equal portions of food, are the real issue. But how revolutionary
are these finer points, when Caesar "once threw a baker into prison,
for serving him with a finer sort of bread than his guests. . . ."
(Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars, Life of Julius Caesar, Chapter
XLVIII.) In truth, having eliminated most of what Jesus said and did,
and denied the significance of the rest, they are left having to
make much ado about nothing, it being otherwise a mystery why so many
followed unto death a man who did nothing and said nothing.
The word-shattering things that Jesus did say and do, these
people react to as does the vampire of legend to the cross. He
claimed to be God incarnate come to visit His people. They will have
none of it, nor of the miracles with which He substantiated His
claims. But what they will allow to remain to the 'historical Jesus'
is so pallid, so wan, that it leaves gaping open the question, why
did this movement conquer the world in such a short time, if all
they had to offer was namby-pamby stuff like 'open commensality'?
Their proposed answer is that 'open commensality,' which does not
excite us, cannot have been perceived by these down-trodden peasants
as no big deal, given their level-to-the-ground social status. But
the reality is, this kind of stuff would have seemed as namby-pamby
to them as it does to us. It was not unprecedented, it was not
revolutionary, and Jesus would have remained a local phenomenon if
this was all He had to offer.
Were the pagan gods such snobs as to despise the humble
cottager's table? Though modern 'scholars' have determined they
were, this is not the unwavering testimony of antiquity:
"Jupiter came here, once upon a time,
Disguised as mortal man, and Mercury,
His son, came with him, having laid aside
Both wand and wings. They tried a thousand houses,
Looking for rest; they found a thousand houses
Shut in their face. But one at last received them,
A humble cottage, thatched with straw and reeds.
A good old woman, Baucis, and her husband,
A good old man, Philemon, used to live there."
(Ovid, Metamorphoses, pp. 200-201)
Were the gods prepared to take the "longest journey in the
Greco-Roman world, maybe in any world, the step across the threshold
of a peasant stranger's home?" (John Dominic Crossan, The Historical
Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant, p. 341). Um, yeah.
Did you know that "From Zeus come all beggars and strangers"?
(proverbial saying quoted in Julian the Apostate, Letter to a
Priest, 291). Why toss up all this dust about it? This website was not set
up to defend the honor of pagans unfairly maligned by their critics.
But this stuff gets to be like Ripley's Believe it or Not. Do I
believe there was ever a first century Roman empire in which there
was no upward mobility?: "Upward mobility was unknown, social
movement was as a rule downward. . ." (John Dominic Crossan and
Jonathan L. Reed, Excavating Jesus, Kindle location 1205). No, I
don't. But there's a sucker born every minute, and there are plenty
of young people who are gullible enough to believe anything. Consider
the case of Theocritus, though it's somewhat after our period:
"But he [Caracalla]
dispatched Theocritus with an army into Armenian territory and
suffered defeat amounting to a severe reverse at the hands of the
inhabitants. Theocritus was of servile origin and had been brought
up in the orchestra; he was the man who had taught Antoninus dancing
and had been a favorite of Saoterus, and through the influence thus
acquired he had been introduced to the theater at Rome. But, as he
was disliked there, he was driven out of Rome and went to Lugdunum,
where he delighted the people, who were rather provincial. And, from
a slave and a dancer, he came to be an army leader and prefect. He
advanced to such power in the household of Antoninus [Caracalla]
that both the prefects were as nothing compared to him."
(Cassius Dio, Roman History, Book 78, Chapter 21, Kindle location 22954,
Crossan is thinking of an inert, static society like medieval Europe
or Hindu India under the caste system, where one's birth determines
every thing else in life. That's not the world of classical
antiquity. Here was a world in which Fortune turned her wheel with
vigor, one might almost say with divine power.
Am I suggesting that Jesus was a minor, provincial figure,
retailing for a domestic market the Roman Saturnalia? Of course not!
The Saturnalia was a drunken rout in honor of a pagan god, and I
doubt Jesus ever spent thirty seconds thinking about it. Any
thinking person who looks at slavery must reflect, how easily the
roles could be reversed. What I do
not understand is why the liberals dance in excitement around their
tiny 'Jesus,' who has nothing novel to offer but 'open
commensality.' If that's all you got, then you ain't got much. Theirs is
a 'Jesus' whose bones were scattered by dogs, just like Jezebel; a Cynic philosopher,
but not the original nor a major Cynic philosopher, and what does he
have to offer us? A pot-luck supper. In order to make him appear anything remarkable, they
must invent an entire world, a very dark world, an 'ancient' world
though it's brand new; but they are fully
up to the task. I would invite them to come to know the real Jesus,
who needs no such assistance. This whole project shows how people can
invent something like witchcraft, and then scare themselves silly
screaming at the witches. There was an ancient world, an
'honor-and-shame' society, where no rich man ever dreamed of sitting
down at the table beside a poor man, until one "illiterate peasant"
made that world-shaking demand; but the fact of the matter is, there
was no such ancient world. Crossan should concentrate on keeping Saturn
in Saturnalia and leave the church alone.
What the unbelievers say nowadays is that the Bible is
"The harsh, cold fact, however, is that these rich metaphoric,
engaging ideas — whether philosophical, scientific, or religious —
are stories, although some are based on more evidence than others.
Even if you do not believe or accept this as a given, you should be
aware that this is what every modern-day secular university is
teaching, either implicitly or explicitly. . . .We are big animals.
The rest of our stories about our origins are just that, stories that comfort, cajole, and even motivate — but stories nonetheless."
(Michael S. Gazzaniga, The Ethical Brain, pp. 164-165)
Another word that means 'story' is 'myth.' To this challenge,
'Christians' like John Dominic Crossan reply, you couldn't be more
right: the New Testament is largely fiction. They serve a god who can do
no miracles, because it would be somewhat retrogressive of him even to
try; and for people like this, being up-to-date is everything. People should junk this form of 'Christianity' in favor of the real thing.
We can believe the good news, a phrase which, incidentally, far from
being borrowed from the Caesars, goes back to Isaiah, "O thou that bringest glad tidings [ευαγγελιζομενος] to Zion, go up on the high
mountain; lift up thy voice with strength, thou that bringest glad
tidings [ευαγγελιζομενος] to Jerusalem; lift it up, fear not; say
unto the cities of Juda, Behold your God!" (Isaiah 40:9).
By isolating Caesar and Jesus from their surroundings, Crossan
can make it appear as if every claim of Jesus was an intentional
echo of a claim made by Caesar; but every ruler who claimed to be
God, as many did, including Nebuchadnezzar and the prince of Tyre, has
said more or less the same thing, of the necessity of the case. A
text included in the Dead Sea Scrolls says, of one such claimant, "
[Also his son] will be called the Great, and be designated by his
name. He will be called the Son of God, they will call him the son
of the Most High. But like the meteors that you saw in your vision,
so will be their kingdom. They will reign only a few years over the
land. . ." (A Vision of the Son of God, Dead Sea Scrolls, Michael
Wise, Martin Abegg, Jr., and Edward Cook, p. 269). What has this
"Son of God" got to do with Caesar? Nothing at all, because when
that 'Vision' was published, no one in Republican Rome went by that
title. Caesar did not invent these titles, and he came quite late to
the game of claiming them. So when Jesus does lay claim to these titles,
there is no reason to take Him as making a droll political
commentary on Caesar.