John Dominic Crossan 

Me and Thee
Japanese Warlord
The Farmer Feeds Them All
Cultured Class
What is a Peasant?
Gospel of Thomas
Bed of Procrustes
Second Generation
Offhand Brutality
To the Smiters
Open Commensality
Middle Class
A World of One's Own

That's What You Are, What Am I?

John Dominic Crossan is one of the savants of the 'Jesus Seminar,' who have deconstructed Christianity according to their own lights. He claims to be a Christian, although he does not believe what the church historically has believed about Jesus, and which evangelicals still believe: that He is God incarnate, that He rose from the dead, that He will come again to judge the quick and the dead, etc. Of the multitude of 'Jesuses' these folks peddle, what are his wares?: "The historical Jesus was a peasant Jewish Cynic." (Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, John Dominic Crossan, p. 198.)  A more engaging and thoughtful writer than most of this crew, he has harsh words for his colleagues:

  • “Historical Jesus research is becoming something of a scholarly bad joke. There were always historians who said it could not be done because of historical problems. There were always theologians who said it should not be done because of theological objections. And there were always scholars who said the former when they meant the latter. Those, however, were negative indignities. What is happening now is rather a positive one. It is the number of competent and even eminent scholars producing pictures of Jesus at wide variance with one another. . .Even under the disciplines of attempting to envision Jesus against his own most proper Jewish background, it seems we can have as many pictures as there are exegetes. . . But that stunning diversity is an academic embarrassment. It is impossible to avoid the suspicion that historical Jesus research is a very safe place to do theology and call it history, to do autobiography and call it biography.”
  • (The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant, John Dominic Crossan, Kindle location 422-430).

Jesus Christ Pantocrator

Certainly the man has a point; the "problem of multiple and discordant conclusions" leaps out at the reader at every turn. One must wonder why the academy is willing to play host to such as disreputable enterprise as historical 'Jesus' research, given the difficulty in differentiating it from bad religion generally. These authors are aspiring cult leaders, who cannot wait to share their 'Jesus' with impressionable young students. Their only point of commonality is their disdain for the 'Jesus' of the church. Their new and improved version discards unwanted characteristics, such as the antiquated Victorian morality of the church's Jesus, who disapproved of divorce. Ridding him of that unwanted baggage, the 'Jesus Seminar' gave us the hippie Jesus, a wandering cynic sage, a wise man after their own hearts. This is par for the course; it is what these people do.


Japanese Warlord

John Dominic Crossan addresses his own concern about the excessive plethora of 'Jesuses' spun out by the modern 'Jesus' publishing industry by emphasizing methodology. Crossan will only accept information about the 'historical' Jesus if multiple independent attestation is available. The activities of the 'Jesus' publishing industry are sometimes described as using the historian's tool-box to approach the Jesus of history, but neither this tool, nor many of the others, is found in the historian's tool-box; historians routinely believe facts about the 'historical' Alexander the Great or the 'historical' Nero Caesar which are solely attested.

How credible is the much vaunted methodology of contemporary 'Jesus' scholarship? If you ever want a good laugh, try out the 'Criterion of Dissimilarity' on documented history: this means that the 'historical' Karl Marx can only have said things with which Marxists would disagree, or that the 'historical' Martin Luther can only have said things that would appall Lutherans. If there really is no point of agreement at all between the Marxists and the 'historical' Karl Marx, then why did they choose this figure to be their touch-stone in the first place? The 'dissimilarity,' moreover, is doubled, so that the 'historical' Karl Marx cannot have said anything a nineteenth-century German would have been likely to say; he is tongue-tied in both directions, forward and back. In fairness to Crossan, he employs only one half of the Criterion of Dissimilarity; like Geza Vermes, he must have a 'Jesus' who blends into the Judaean wall-paper, who is so unremarkable the reader is left wondering how such a pallid, unexciting figure could ever attract a following. He still demands a 'Jesus' unlike any the Church knows. This criterion is an acid bath which seeks to obliterate any actual features of Jesus of Nazareth.

Another pillar is the inter-disciplinary approach. This means that, for the cranky, idiosyncratic, and strange world of classical antiquity morphing into world empire, we substitute more familiar 'peasant' societies, such as those found in the Third World. All who ever learned history under Marxist auspices are familiar with the construct that, not shared political ideals, not religious aspirations, not powerful personalities, govern history, but rather only the organization of the means of production. These other factors, including philosophies and intellectual movements, whether captivating or repellent, and the varied artwork and literary presentations designed to make them attractive, are all mere epiphenomena thrown out by that one moving wheel, the means of production. It is the independent variable, all the rest depend thereon. These people have adopted this general principle. They categorize various civilizations according to the technical means of production then in use, and impose as a result a priori characteristics, which, they believe, must be shared by all societies that rest upon a similar material basis.

What has Athens to do with Jerusalem, or Tokyo for that matter? Everything, according to these people:

  • “On the other side of the great divide was, above all, the Peasant Class, the vast majority of the population. . .Put concretely: 'in the sixteenth century, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the then effective ruler of Japan, abolished all taxes except the land tax, which he then set at two-thirds of the total crop. This is probably the best indication we have of the total take of the political elite' in the average agrarian state.”
  • (The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant, John Dominic Crossan, p. 45.).

The reader is surprised to discover that the best evidence for conditions in the first century Roman empire comes from sixteenth century Japan, which one would not have thought to provide any evidence at all. In his 'Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography,' Crossan will cite this two-thirds figure, without warning the reader that it comes from medieval Japan (p. 25). The alert reader will notice this 'bait-and-switch' taking place continually with these writers. This approach either opens a magic window into the ancient world, allowing us to see what is otherwise obscured in darkness, or a door into the world of make-believe. These 'agrarian' societies must be all alike, you see, because otherwise they would be different. To judge by the outcome, it's more the latter: a magic lantern. This is the way to make a world, not discover one. The result is a pastiche, with bits and pieces drawn from here and there: medieval Japan, the contemporary Third World; a jumbled jambalaya with ingredients garnered from near and far.

To give him credit, Crossan is aware that, ideally, the insights provided by the a priori approach should be confirmed by study of local conditions, not imposed willy-nilly. He does make some effort to provide this local color, but it often doesn't fit the bill. When his description of Cicero's tender concern for his slave Tiro fails to confirm his point about the "inhuman brutality" of Roman slavery, and indeed Roman slavery could be cruel indeed, he sails onward, tacking toward "the other extreme," magnificently unperturbed, as if the point were demonstrated after all. To exemplify the problem, consider his travelogue 'In Search of Paul.' Wishing to make a point about "the Caesars' insatiable desire for sexual control and domination," (John Dominic Crossan and Jonathan L. Reed, In Search of Paul, Kindle location 4779), he notes, "But, most shamefully, Nero later married another man, but made himself the woman. . ." (John Dominic Crossan and Jonathan L. Reed, In Search of Paul, Kindle location 4779). This, Nero's second marriage to a man, almost makes you think his desire for "domination" was not so insatiable after all. (And as to Caesars, recall it was said of the first, "That will not be very easy for a woman to do," (quoted in Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars, Life of Julius Caesar, Chapter XXII).) Some authors might pass over unsuitably refractory information in silence; he makes it the basis of his case. He is capable of quoting an author who estimates ancient literacy at 10-15% as proving his own estimate of 2-3%; this is only off by a factor of five!

One must allow that it is good to stress that first century Palestine was not just like our society, only without air conditioning. Ancient Rome did not have a modern industrial economy. Slavery was a huge barrier, and wars for imperial expansion or preservation ensured a perpetual ready supply of fresh slaves. Since human labor cost almost nothing, there was no incentive to conserve it by inventing 'labor-saving' devices. Thus, although there were large scale agricultural, mining and manufacturing operations, the modern leap forward in productivity never happened. Unlike modern conditions, raw materials were very valuable, and labor very cheap. Transport added to the cost of materials; not that, when it worked, water transport was so very expensive, but ancient voyages often ended with the crew swimming for their lives and the cargo at the bottom; the risk premium was very high. In nineteenth century Britain, it made sense to truck in a gleaming new steel machine which might replace the labor of two or three weavers, because for other mainly political reasons, human labor had become costly. In ancient Rome it did not make sense; if the weavers died, replace 'em, buy new ones.

While one can sympathize with Crossan's desire for the reader to understand the differences between our world and the world of the first century, the process goes too far, into the realm of caricature. People back then were not very healthy: fair enough. How much more blessed we are; indeed, Crossan and his friends seem to live on some happy island: "'Death, happily, tends to be remote from our experience, if we are below 30.'" (Thomas Carney, quoted p. 3, John Dominic Crossan, The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant). Malaria was endemic in the ancient world, a recurring disease with no cure. Thucydides describes a terrifying epidemic: was it measles? typhoid fever? Ancient medicine could be more of a hindrance than a help. Though formally committed to the most punctilious empiricism, the doctors fell into the grip of theorizing run wild. Theories about the 'humors' helped no one and likely led many to an early grave, as the therapies built upon that shaky foundation, like bleeding, probably gave the final push to the exits for many already debilitated sufferers.

But when we let our imaginations run free about how bad things were back then, we make assumptions about the 'look-and-feel' of antiquity that actually cannot have been the case. Stroll through ancient Rome: do pale, blind, crippled children meet your weeping eyes? No, they killed them. They actively practiced eugenics, and to give the devil his due, the problem with eugenics is not that it doesn't work, but that it works at such a terrible human cost: the destruction of those who are less than perfect. Ancient Rome would not have presented the appearance of a modern Third World city, not because they were able surgically to correct visible birth defects, but rather because those so afflicted were not allowed to come to maturity and reproduce. Apologists for Judaism like Josephus were well aware that their religion's prohibition of infanticide was counter-cultural. Because of the victory of Christianity that is the viewpoint that prevailed, thank God, and contemporary Third World cities live under Islam or Christianity's condemnation of killing infants, or similar ethical constraints; that is why we see visibly deformed children in those places.

Likewise, the Romans, who sweetened their baked goods with honey, cannot have manifested the diseases of sugar metabolism like diabetes which are so prevalent today, which introduce a very high prevalence of conditions like Alzheimer's for which they are a risk factor. As we shall see, this is a form of oppression, in Crossan's view; but this one you can't pin on Roman imperialism! Some of our problems they did not have, like AIDS, while they had a unique set of health issues all their own. Remember the movie-makers who just barely avoided getting laughed out of the theater for showing a Roman gladiator eating a plate of potatoes? Potatoes are New World, the Romans did not grow them. Showing Romans suffering from polio and hepatitis would be a similar blunder, or cholera, which only broke free from the Ganges River in the nineteenth century. On the other hand, the Romans made extensive use of lead, which has a very low melting point and is easily worked, even in settings which were inappropriate and deleterious to human health. Women used white lead as a cosmetic. Flint, Michigan has not such a problem with lead in the water as did the ancient Romans, even though the architect Vitruvius already understood that lead was not to be used for water-in fittings.

Et in Arcadia Ego, Nicholas Poussin
Nicholas Poussin, Et in Arcadia Ego

Taking Crossan's approach, of generalizing the situation of any and all "pre-industrial" societies, of looking at the Third World or pre-modern Europe and worsening it in our minds, misses both the highs and the lows. Young people are already too prone to believe that those who lived before the invention of the i-phone were not fully human; their preceptors should emphasize rather what remains the same in human nature. The reader who picks up first century documents with the expectation of encountering "poor ornery people like you and like I" ('I Wonder as I Wander') is not making such an ahistorical assumption, as compared with the utterly alien terrain of the Jesus Seminar. These sweeping generalizations, about 'honor-and-shame' societies and the like, imported from other times and places, end up creating a land of make-believe. In fact the reader of first century literature is 'buffeted,' if you will, on both sides, by the shock of the familiar, as we read a love letter from a Roman husband to his wife, and the shock of the unfamiliar, as we realize these people found entertainment in watching human beings hack each other to death.

Those of us addicted to toga-and-sandals epics find frustration gazing at the inevitable oily villain, the character who represents the Roman government. Do they really believe these people conquered the world despite the fact that not a one of them was the least bit personable? Hint: if you want to conquer the world, lead off with a smile and a shoe-shine. Even amongst the murderous Comanches, how to become a great chief: "In a world of sullen, dispossessed Indians, camped disconsolately in tipis in the grassy, rolling hills and stream bottoms around Fort Sill, Quanah made a point of being cheerful, helpful, and cooperative." (Empire of the Summer Moon, S. C. Gwynne, p. 291). Crossan insists on looking through the wrong end of the telescope, and reports everything he sees as dirtier, nastier, and worse than our lovely selves. While no Christian could join Nietzsche in idealizing the ancient world as an oasis of sun-light and health, as opposed to the twilight of the sickly modern Europeans of his day, there are in fact two sides to this equation. Some of our diseases, they did not have. The syphilis that destroyed Nietzsche himself came back with Columbus. As Nietzsche realized, you cannot have eighteen centuries of Christians offering tender loving care to the sickly without more than a few of these sufferers piling up in the back wards, which did not happen back when they culled them from the herd:

"But when they had given comfort to the sufferers, courage to the oppressed and despairing, a staff and support to the helpless. . . .what else had they to do in order to work systematically in that fashion, and with a good conscience, for the preservation of all the sick and suffering, which means, in deed  and in truth, to work for the DETERIORATION OF THE EUROPEAN RACE?. . .If one could observe the strangely painful, equally coarse and refined comedy of European Christianity with the derisive and impartial eye of an Epicurean god, I should think one would never cease marvelling and laughing; does it not actually seem that some single will has ruled over Europe for eighteen centuries in order to make a SUBLIME ABORTION of man? He, however, who, with opposite requirements (no longer Epicurean) and with some divine hammer in his hand, could approach this almost voluntary degeneration and stunting of mankind. . .would he not have to cry aloud with rage, pity, and horror: 'Oh, you bunglers, presumptuous pitiful bunglers, what have you done!. . .How you have hacked and botched my finest stone!'. . .SUCH men, with their 'equality before God,' have hitherto swayed the destiny of Europe; until at last a dwarfed, almost ludicrous species has been produced, a gregarious animal, something obliging, sickly, mediocre, the European of the present day." (Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, Chapter III, Kindle location 827-850).

Truth to tell the ancients were shorter in stature, it is not we who are "dwarfed;" eugenics can not do all the magic Nietzsche expected of it. Nevertheless, given the Greek cult of athleticism, and the social expectation in the Roman world that young men should devote their leisure time to military exercises, it would be surprising if they did not achieve some gains in physical fitness, as the Nietzschean Nazis would also in their turn seek to realize. They weren't so sick and we're not so healthy.


The Farmer Feeds Them All

Though John Dominic Crossan is not from here, he does live here, and surely he must at some time have wandered into a Fourth of July celebration and heard a paean to the noble farmer:

  • “Let sailors sing of ocean deep,
    Let soldiers praise their armor,
    But in my heart this toast I'll keep,
    The Independent Farmer.
    He cares not how the world may move,
    No doubts nor fears confound him,
    His little flock is linked in love as household angels round him.
    The gray old barn whose door enfold
    His ample store in measure
    More rich than heaps of hoarded gold,
    A precious, blessed treasure
    He loves his country and his friends,
    His honesty's his armor,
    He's nature's nobleman in life,
    The independent farmer.
    He is nature's nobleman,
    The independent farmer.”
  • (W.W Fosdick, G.F. Root, p. 255, The Independent Farmer, Heart Songs Dear to the American People.).

William Jennings Bryan Home

Our Founding Fathers borrowed this pro-farmer rhetoric from the Roman Republican writers. Indeed the Roman authors of the imperial era continued to write as if they were republicans in their enthusiasm for the sons of the soil. The ideal was a farmer like Cincinnatus, who dropped his plow, went to save Rome, and then returned to his plow, asking nothing for himself nor trying to build up any power base. "In those days there were senators, i.e. old men, on their farms. For L. Quinctius Cincinnatus was actually at the plow when word was brought him that he had been named Dictator. . .In my opinion, scarcely any life can be more blessed, not alone from its utility (for agriculture is beneficial to the whole human race), but also as much from the mere pleasure of the thing. . ." (Cicero, On Old Age, 16.).

"That the Romans on learning that Minucius with some followers had been intercepted in a low-lying, bushy place elected as dictator against the enemy Lucius Quintius, in spite of the fact that he was a poor man and at the time was engaged in tilling with his own hands the little piece of ground which was his sole possession: for in general he was the peer in valor of the foremost and was distinguished by his wise moderation; though he did let his hair grow in curls, from which practice he received the nickname of Cincinnatus." (Cassius Dio, Fragment XXII, Chapter 2, Kindle location 24347, Delphi).

Or Manius Curius:

"Near his [Cato's] fields was the cottage which had once belonged to Manius Curius, a hero of three triumphs. To this he would often go, and the sight of the small farm and the mean dwelling led him to think of their former owner, who, though he had become the greatest of the Romans, had subdued the most warlike nations, and driven Pyrrhus out of Italy, nevertheless tilled this little patch of ground with his own hands and occupied this cottage, after three triumphs." (Plutarch, Life of Cato the Elder, Parallel Lives, Chapter 2.1).

One must admit it is an attractive ideal, of economic self-sufficiency combined with a disinterested love of country:

"Happy the man, whose wish and care
A few paternal acres bound,
Content to breathe his native air,
In his own ground.

"Whose herds with milk, whose fields with bread,
Whose flocks supply him with attire,
Whose trees in summer yield him shade,
In winter fire." (Alexander Pope, Ode on Solitude)

The discovery that Pope was not himself a farmer does not destroy the ideal. Those old enough to remember the 'hippies' of the 1970's will recall that they had their own 'back-to-the-land' movement, recalling the ancient Roman vision of agriculture as the only truly virtuous occupation. Often enough the 'Jesus Seminar' presents us with the 'hippie Jesus,' but here, Crossan just doesn't get it. The ideal was not an absentee landlord, but a real farmer, like Cincinnatus, who although he may have employed hired field hands or owned slaves, did also himself get his hands dirty with the soil. Whether in Ireland people praise the family farmer, I do not know; perhaps if tenancy is the norm, it would be a cruel joke, since the share-cropper is not the most, but the least independent, of men. So even Crossan's bank manager dad may have tactfully left the topic alone. In any case, somehow or other Crossan manages to take this ideal, which we have all heard held up to admiration, even if only on a dopey TV show like 'Green Acres,' and turn it into something sinister and alien.

Let us see if we can follow his example, by reasoning as follows: America has an elaborate system of farm subsidies which were enacted to preserve the family farm, thought to be the bedrock of republicanism. Once upon a time, the family farm was deemed the backbone of our Republic. At this late date in history, persons employed in agriculture in any capacity have fallen to such a small proportion of the work force that, if farmers really are the pillar holding up our Republic, it must have fallen long ago. We all know that the legal provisions, still in force, intended to protect the family farmer from the vagaries of the market-place, mostly work to the benefit of corporate agribusiness. And so we conclude, heh-heh, corporate agribusiness was the ideal all along. Except it wasn't. It is just difficult to write legislation which will benefit the family farm, mostly organized into corporations, and not corporate agribusiness; after all those people have families too.

Crossan wants to transform the Roman ideal into the absentee landlord versus the peasant proprietor. Tracing back the names of the great aristocratic families, one discovers oneself in the produce section. Even our author's favorite equestrian, Cicero, has a name that probably comes from the chick-pea, 'cicer,' and so it is also with many aristocratic names. Lest we forget, this is the man who doesn't want us to forget the fraternal equality of men: "For if in our social relations we desire that distinctions of wealth and poverty should not induce us to forget the fraternal equality of men; why should we throw a stumbling block in the approaches of mortals to their Maker, by requiring costly sacrifices and offerings." (Cicero, Treatise on Laws, Book II).

The sturdy Roman citizen soldier fought without yielding to protect his hearth and his liberty. At the demise of the republic, they had come very far from their roots: their progenitors were frugal, they were sybarites; their progenitors stood ready to pull down their togas, revealing their wounds all on the front, none on the back; maybe their offspring didn't even have any wounds. How could the empire continue, when the virtues which birthed it had been extinguished? Well, as they discovered, you can hire people. Absentee landlords were very common after a certain point, as economies of scale kicked in on large estates. Bigness as such was no more celebrated than is our corporate agribusiness; policy-makers were troubled by these developments and kept trying to dial them back. That is mostly how we know about them.

It is understandable that a self-professed Christian author would want to paint the night into which the light of Christ shone as dark as possible, and certainly no one could claim the Roman empire was not brutally oppressive and exploitive. But to try to force Cicero to be the one to say it is unfair. Indeed one will look in vain for any writer who says, 'We Romans love agriculture because it allows us to exploit people.' The constricting hand of the social sciences must first squeeze everyone into the same mold before Crossan can work with them. The Romans used to say, quot homines, tot sententiae,' which means there are as many opinions as there are men. Too true! The difficulties this truism presents for sociology are apparent, and recall we are employing an interdisciplinary approach which allows us to shape ancient society in according with presumed sociological norms.

In fairness to the sociologists, behind all the noise of jangling opinions, and viewpoints heard from one speaker only, there remains a faint signal which can be heard if closely attended to. Societies do differ in their most basic values. One is entitled to listen to the signal, but only while realizing how much noise needed to be suppressed to hear it at all. People are not little tin soldiers lined up in a row, and when they open their mouths, what comes out need not be, all in unison, that very faint signal the sociologist thought he heard. Rome was oppressive, true, but Crossan's demand that every mother's son ever born to Rome must have mouthed, from birth to death, nothing but oppressive sentiments is really too extreme and lands us in the realm of caricature, not history. The very best of the Roman moralists, while not rising to the level of Christian charity, are not to be blamed for the very worst abuses of that greedy, avaricious system; if the Romans had listened to their Cicero's and Seneca's, they would not have been as bad as they actually were. Sometimes these authors say pro-social things, believe it or not.

The materialist vision of history that pervades this 'cross-disciplinary' approach is a kind of 'Marxism-lite.' Would that it were Marxism heavy, the real thing, because no real Marxist could so trip himself up over his own feet lamenting the rough lives of the 'peasants' without differentiating between peasant proprietors, tenants, landless agricultural workers, and rural slaves. In fairness to Crossan, his later writings break free from the hopeless confusion of 'Revolutionary Biography,' presumably in response to external criticism. The conclusions, however, which follow from the initial incoherent analysis waver not one iota; they are untouchable. Clarity on this point, whether our 'peasants' are yeoman farmers or landless tenants, or hired hands, or even slaves, would help in our author's earnest effort to ascertain whether artisans rank 'higher' or 'lower' than 'peasants' in his social hierarchy, which itself gets oddly warped into 'artisans'='peasants,' as if 'lower than' meant 'the same as.'

Crossan seems to have confused the concept of social class with caste, such as is found in Hindu India, an irrevocable distinction of birth. It is not conventionally the case that whatever people born on a farm do later in life, they do as hyphenated peasants, so that a young man who leaves a failing farm to go to sea becomes a peasant-sailor, or who joins the military a peasant-soldier. Did his banker father inculcate this disdain into him, as if being born on a farm were a stain that cannot be washed away, so that if you take up medicine you cannot be a doctor but a peasant-doctor, and even if you inherit the trade of carpentry you must remain a peasant-artisan? There is a hopeless and inextricable confusion in his category 'peasant.' Some of the time, Crossan's 'peasants' are family farmers (no kidding). But then Crossan's "peasants. . .know all about absentee landlords" (John Dominic Crossan, The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant, p. 351). How would they know when he defines them as land-owners? This social map is so incoherent that, not only can these very different functions not be distinguished, even people not involved in farm work, but who happen to live in an 'agrarian' society, end up classed as 'peasants.' A tight and well-defined class, it is not.

Though there was always a counter-current,— in the fourth century B.C. Gaius Licinius Stolo had established a law limiting the amount of public land a farmer could own,— this viewpoint had not been able to institutionalize itself in the Roman polity, and in our period Cicero was opposed in principle to agrarian reform. What Cicero did not know, and which may indeed be somewhat counter-intuitive, is that a big farm isn't simply bigger and better than a small farm. What he did not know, but every Bible reader has heard, is that joining lot to lot is inherently exploitive: "Woe to those who join house to house; they add field to field, till there is no place where they may dwell alone in the midst of the land!" (Isaiah 5:8). God made a fair distribution of the land, the major productive resource in that state of the economy, by lot, and expected it to be reconstituted every Jubilee. Praise God, we know better than the nations, or we should know better, because He taught us:

The law of Moses gives us our grounding in what is right and wrong. What is economic justice, versus oppression? That's not where Crossan starts nor where he ends. No one can argue, against Crossan and his sources, that the Roman empire was anything other than brutally oppressive; it was a slave society. The trouble is, they see very little difference between the world as it then was and the situation of Third World peoples today vis-a-vis the United States: "Who they [Rome] were there and then, we are here and now. We are, at the start of the twenty-first century, what the Roman Empire was at the start of the first century. Put succinctly: Rome and the East there, America and the West here. Put more succinctly: they then, we now. Put most succinctly SPQR is SPQA." (John Dominic Crossan and Jonathan L. Reed, In Search of Paul, Kindle location 7351). Really? Compare how we dealt with our mortal enemies, Germany and Japan, when they fell at our feet, with how Rome dealt with Carthage! But to him the two are the same. Both situations, American private enterprise and Roman slavery, fall equally far from their ideal of communism. But so does Moses. God's word does not mandate communism, only a fair shake.

Crossan allows Moses his protest against Roman exploitation: "My point, however, is that those ancient laws precisely as ideal vision or ideological promise refuse to see debt, slavery, or land expropriation simply as standard business transactions and normal economic activities." (John Dominic Crossan, Who Killed Jesus? p. 41). Indeed. But Moses begins and ends with the family farmer in possession of the field; collectivization is an equal offense against the law of Moses as is commercialized gigantism, for the very same reason. What Crossan's 'peasants' want is "all in common:" "It will be enough to put all in common and to share with justice what is produced." (Unnamed peasant woman, quoted p. 207, John Dominic Crossan, The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant). But Moses, despite the radical character of his legislation, does not leave us with "all in common." What the real Galilean peasants would have wanted was a Jubilee. This is not what Crossan and his crowd want.

Crossan points out that the law posits that the land belongs to God. That is certainly true; the cattle on a thousand hills belong to God:

"For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills. I know all the fowls of the mountains: and the wild beasts of the field are mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell thee: for the world is mine, and the fulness thereof." (Psalm 50:10-12).

But be cautious against allowing Crossan one of his trademark substitutions: that all land belongs to God does not mean that the land belongs to the collective. How many more millions of farmers will have to die, beyond those of Russia, China, and Ethiopia, before these people concede that the 'peasants' do not want collectivization? At the Jubilee, the land does not revert to the control of the commune, but to those individuals who have a legal right to it. Land ownership reverts to the status quo ante; the Jubilee is "the return to the ancient allotments of property at the end of every fifty years" (Philo Judaeus, A Treatise on the Meeting for the Sake of Seeking Instruction, Chapter XVII). It has nothing in the world to do with communal land ownership, which is not a recognized Mosaic institution.

And so first century advocates of land reform would have found encouragement from Moses, not advocates for communism. However, it would have been difficult to hold a Jubilee in Galilee given the lack of continuous Jewish occupation; that region was reconquered by the Hasmonean rulers and Judaism forcibly re-established. So who were the legitimate descendants of the ten northern tribes? Were these people 'lost,' never to be found? What was the status of the existing inhabitants of Galilee? Did they deserve to get kicked out in favor of some 'returning' group? Was that the great future they were to await in the Messianic restoration? The tribe of Judah had no northern inheritance; who did, if not the descendants of the ten northern tribes? Should they simply press the 'reset' button?:

'It shall be that you will divide it by lot as an inheritance for yourselves, and for the strangers who dwell among you and who bear children among you. They shall be to you as native-born among the children of Israel; they shall have an inheritance with you among the tribes of Israel. And it shall be that in whatever tribe the stranger dwells, there you shall give him his inheritance,' says the Lord GOD.” (Ezekiel 47:22-23)

It seems to me the prophecies of the return from exile of the northern tribes were fulfilled when the region was converted to Christianity, thus rejoining the people of God. But the issue of land inheritance must have been a thorny problem. When, today, they test the DNA of some ancient person dug up from an English bog, where they used to toss the very frequent victims of violence, there is often a good match with the local villagers. England, like other places, has a history; the Romans invaded, the Anglo-Saxons invaded, the Normans invaded, etc. But the bog people wouldn't have looked out of place. So in spite of deportations and resettlements, there is still an inheritance. Some people in the northern part of Palestine, like the Samaritans, didn't think the northern tribes were 'lost;' they thought they were them. Was the Lord sympathetic?

The Galilaeans had been forcibly converted to Judaism. Were they then proselytes, as were the Idumaeans? Proselytes are legitimate members of the commonwealth of Israel, in all respects except one: they do not receive any land inheritance in Israel. But should these people be classed as proselytes, realizing that some of them, such as the Samaritans, claimed racial descent from Israel?

It is often noted that John the evangelist uses 'Jew' as a pejorative term. When people attach negative connotations to one of their own group descriptors, as often happens with African-Americans, it is certain they have their own preferred term waiting in the wings. So what is it for John and Jesus? It seems to be 'Israelite:' "Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!" (John 1:47). 'Israelite' differs from 'Jew' in that it incorporates, not one tribe only, nor even the northern tribes exclusively, but all of Jacob's sons. Jesus chose twelve disciples to govern the twelve tribes, not two and a half. Was He open to some of these land claims?

The Pharisees were not; the Samaritans turn up in the Talmud under the heading 'Cutheans;' they are foreigners and that's all there is to it. Instead of embarking on a wild goose chase looking for the 'lost' tribes, perhaps it would have been more productive to begin the search closer to home. Even the Qumran group had grown tired of a Judeo-centric religion: "When the total years of this present age are complete, there will be no further need to be connected to the house of Judah, but instead each will stand on 'his own tower; 'the wall is built, the boundary removed' (Mic. 7:11). (Damascus Document, The Dead Sea Scrolls, Michael Wise, Martin Abegg, Jr., and Edward Cook, pp. 54-55). Maybe that looks toward on opening to the Gentiles, as happened with Christianity, or maybe it looks to 'finding' what was not necessarily 'lost.' Perhaps the 'return from exile' for the Northern tribes awaited only dropping the arbitrary demand for racial purity. Whatever was sought, it certainly could not be found in the direction in which Crossan wants to go; communal land ownership was every bit as illegal under Moses' law as any other large combination estate whose constituent parcels were not held by the rightful heir.

The official Judaism of the first century was turning away from scrupulous observance of Moses' legislation, as witness Hillel's rescinding of debt cancellation at the sabbatical year. While finessing the economic law, they were making a big push for personal cleanliness and other matters that were not so important. Thus dispossessed farmers yearning for a Jubilee may well have been numbered among those hungering and thirsting for righteousness at the time of Jesus' first advent. However if this were the main thrust of Jesus' teaching,— if He had been, in fact, a peasant rebel,— one would expect more material touching upon this topic to survive in the archives. It would certainly be true, however, that a Jewish home constituency would see exploitation and oppression in patterns of land acquisition that might seem unobjectionable to their Roman overlords. Just as in the Radical Reformation, Moses can be a spark that sets rebellion alight.

But Moses is not such a voice in the wilderness as Crossan seems to think. The Romans rose to the ascendency over the world, not as a nation of slaves, but as a nation of free farmers: "The common assembly and the army consisted of Roman farmers; what as soldiers they had acquired by the sword, they secured as colonists by the plow. . .The acute soldier's eye of Pyrrhus justly discerned the cause of the political and military ascendency of the Romans in the flourishing condition of the Roman farms." (Theodor Mommsen, The History of Rome, Book 2, Chapter VIII, Kindle location 8218). But, observing what a money-machine large estates tended by slave labor in Sicily were for their Carthaginian overlords, the Romans too took to joining lot to lot. When the balance was upset, the immediate political reaction was to re-establish it. Thus, the impulse toward land reform was not unknown to the Romans, though long term economic currents might run in the contrary direction. The people he hates, the Caesars, were this policy's champions: "The land of Stellas, consecrated by our ancestors to the gods, with some other lands in Campania left subject to tribute, for the support of the expenses of the government, he [Caesar] divided, but not by lot, among upwards of twenty thousand freemen, who had each of them three or more children." (Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars, Julius Caesar, Chapter XX).

The reader who grounds back to earth will recall that Julius Caesar was a popular demagogue. Future observers looking back realize it was a cheat, because the plebeians who looked on unmoved as he stripped the Senate of power received little from the imperial system but bread and circuses. Once the radical levellers like Catiline and Clodius had served their purpose, as stepping-stones for the autocrats' rise to power, we hear no more of their agenda. One might compare the situation to the Soviet Union after the Bolsheviks seized power. This putsch was represented as the people rising up, but after decades of one-man rule under Lenin and Stalin, few of the trappings of democracy, like contested elections, remained. One of the issues that concerned Julius Caesar and the democrats of his day was the dictator Sulla's suppression of traditional popular offices like the tribunate; Tiberius, the third emperor, did away with any pretense of popular elections altogether: "It was then for the first time that the elections were transferred from the Campus Martius to the Senate. For up to that day, though the most important rested with the emperor's choice, some were settled by the partialities of the tribes." (Tacitus, Annals 1.15). The Caesarian party were not true friends of democracy, though they rose to power by pandering to the masses. Still, why can this man not tell his friends from his enemies? Why demonize his friends? If the government really wanted to reduce all farmers to slavery, why did they keep enacting legislation to prevent it?: ". . .he made a law. . .and that those who made a business of grazing should have among their herdsmen at least one-third who were men of free birth." (Suetonius, Lives of the Twelve Caesars, Julius Caesar, pp. 25-26, Modern Library). We know about the growth of the latifundia, mostly from the constant endeavor of the government to break them up.

While pagan Latin economic ethics does not rise to the level of Moses, to reduce it to 'exploitation is good' is not fair. Crossan completely overlooks the vigorous class warfare that was Roman politics; policy-makers were well aware that the farmer wanted to own the land he farmed. And to drag the United States into this is absurd, given that our long-standing domestic agricultural policy, partly informed by Mosaic concerns, gave extraordinary protection and encouragement to the family farm. For many years, we encouraged our Third World allies with backward systems of land tenure to enact land reform. How did our client, the Shah of Iran, get into trouble with the mullahs? He confiscated their land, just like in the French Revolution!

The Roman adventurers who took charge in Sicily robbed the place blind. They took everything that was not nailed down. Shall we look for an apt quote from Cicero, our go-to Roman,— himself a 'new man,'— to explain this exploitive and oppressive, indeed piratical, behavior? Oh wait, he wanted the guy that did it to be prosecuted:

 Against Verres 

Let's do a little more fact-checking. Unlike modern attorneys, Cicero did not charge his clients a fee. This custom in the first place arose from ethical perfectionism: the Romans thought, if he believed the guy to be innocent, he ought to speak for him without charge; if he thought the guy was guilty, he should keep quiet. But the services of a lawyer as gifted as Cicero do not come cheap; this initial service begins a life-long exchange of 'benefits,' to which the 'paid' stamp can never be finally affixed. One must agree with Crossan and other good government advocates that this is not the way to run a railroad; the fact that somebody's nephew needs a job is not the way to staff the public service. But was the system really as intrinsically and intentionally corrupt as he claims? It could become a Ponzi scheme in reverse, an upward soaring parabola of 'benefits' transferred in which I give you ten dollars, you give me a hundred dollars; I give you a thousand dollars, you give me ten thousand. . .Yikes! It could become like the legendary Potlach of the Pacific Northwest, conspicuous consumption in which gift-givers threw expensive blankets into the fire, simply because they could. But the gift-giver could also ultimately become like the gods, who give gifts just because they are good:

"Secondly, the sacrilege and indifference to religion of some men does not prevent even the immortal gods from continuing to shower benefits upon us: for they act according to their divine nature and help all alike, among them even those who so ill appreciate their bounty. Let us take them for our guides as far as the weakness of our mortal nature permits; let us bestow benefits, not put them out at interest." (Seneca, On Benefits, Book I, Chapter 1).

Cicero also ultimately felt that justice was its own reward:

"If a man does good without expecting any recompense for his kindness, then it is gratuitous: if he does expect compensation, it is a mere matter of traffic. Doubtless, he who truly deserves the reputation of a generous and good-natured man, performs his philanthropical duties without consulting his secular interests. . .Besides this, if we weigh virtue by the mere utility and profit that attend it, and not by its own merit, the virtue which results will be in fact a species of vice. . .It therefore necessarily happens, that those who measure virtue by profit, acknowledge no other virtue than this usurious vice." (Marcus Tullius Cicero, Treatise on Law, Book 1).

But no matter what, for Crossan, the favor-exchange system must be oppressive; his 'Jesus' after all lives to resist the normalcy of "both social oppression by class and colonial oppression by Rome." (John Dominic Crossan and Jonathan L. Reed, Excavating Jesus, Kindle location 4194). Why is a self-advertised 'scholar' so jaundiced? Why can he not for one moment stop drilling into the reader that the Romans were evil, evil, evil? Sometimes when people are so insistent on the evil of others, as when medieval peasants insisted the Jews had poisoned the wells to spread plague, it is not the others who are evil. It would be an interesting study to compare and contrast Roman and Zealot ideas on land reform; although Josephus unfortunately does not delve into their views in any detail, it stands to reason that the Zealots were people of the Jubilee, and on the Roman side we have the Gracchi:

"For I will speak the truth, O Romans; I cannot find fault with the general principle of an agrarian law, for it occurs to my mind that two most illustrious men, two most able men, two men most thoroughly attached to the Roman people, Tiberius and Caius Gracchus, established the people on public domains which had previously been occupied by private individuals. Nor am I a consul of such opinions as to think it wrong, as most men do, to praise the Gracchi; by whose counsels, and wisdom, and laws, I see that many parts of the republic have been greatly strengthened." (Cicero, The Speech of M. T. Cicero in Opposition to Publius Servilius Rullus, A Tribune of the People, Concerning the Agrarian Law, The Second Speech, Section 11, Complete Works of Cicero, Kindle location 15719).

How aware were the Jews of the political thought of the rabble-rousing tribunes, and how aware were the tribunes of Moses? The answer is not likely to be 'not at all:' when the French were trying to hold on to their empire in Algeria and Indochina, their efforts were hampered by a continuing radicalizing process. But this was no dangerous exposure to the indigenous culture of Indochina or northern Africa. An apolitical young man like Pol Pot who travelled to France to continue his education and acquire useful skills was shipped back home a thoroughly indoctrinated, prating Marxist-Leninist, because that is what they were teaching in the universities. While comparing Roman and Jewish ideals of land reform would be an interesting study, Crossan is certainly not the man to execute it, because his 'cross-disciplinary' approach produces nothing but garish caricature. While the Roman Empire was undeniably wicked and oppressive, what is he feeding us but propaganda, old fashioned agit-prop? If this is scholarship, why is it so necessary for there to be good guys and bad guys, and why must the one group shine as the sun, the other dim into the blackness of night?


 Lucius Annaeus Seneca 
On Benefits

Cultured Class

Let's watch the 'cross-cultural' approach in action, and see what it can do for us. In Luke, Jesus reads aloud from a scroll, suggesting He was literate. Can anybody prove He wasn't? Why, yes: He's a "peasant," you see:

"If, for example, we are tempted to describe Jesus as a literate middle-class carpenter, cross-cultural anthropology reminds us that there was no middle class in ancient societies and that peasants are usually illiterate; so how could Jesus become what never existed at his time?" (Jesus, A Revolutionary Biography, John Dominic Crossan, p. XII).

In fact, the actual circumstantial evidence that survives from antiquity suggests about a 25% literacy rate, and certainly no lower than that for Jewish males in Palestine. How are we going to get around this embarrassing circumstance? By importing our evidence from medieval Japan and China, where the unwieldy alphabet did not encourage mass literacy? Don't laugh; he employs this mix 'n match "methodology" routinely.

In meeting an affluent Roman couple, one would expect both the man and the woman to be literate. What about an artisan? Crossan gives an example of an Egyptian weaver who was illiterate; we know this because someone else had to sign a legal document for him. Illiteracy unfortunately was common in the ancient world. But it was not so common that we can assume without further investigation that a given artisan was illiterate. Egypt, before it became integrated into the Greco-Roman world, had a caste system requiring sons to follow their father's profession, whether he was a soldier, priest, farmer, or artisan. The artisans had no political rights and were discouraged from acquiring an education:

"Furthermore, one may see that the crafts also among the Egyptians are very diligently cultivated and brought to their proper development; for they are the only people where all the craftsmen are forbidden to follow any other occupation or belong to any other class of citizens than those stipulated by the laws and handed down to them from their parents, the result being that neither ill-will towards a teacher nor political distractions nor any other thing interferes with their interest in their work.
"For whereas among all other peoples it can be observed that the artisans are distracted in mind by many things, and through the desire to advance themselves do not stick exclusively to their own occupation; for some try their hands at agriculture, some dabble in trade, and some cling to two or three crafts, and in states having a democratic form of government vast numbers of them, trooping to the meetings of the Assembly, ruin the work of the government, while they make a profit for themselves at the expense of others who pay them their wage, yet among the Egyptians if any artisan should take part in public affairs or pursue several crafts he is severely punished."

(Siculus, Diodorus. Complete Works of Diodorus Siculus (Delphi Classics) (Delphi Ancient Classics Book 32) (Kindle Locations 1602-1609). Delphi Classics.)

Now we know why Egypt was selected for our example! But notice that Diodorus says it was not like that elsewhere. What is the dividing line, in the ancient world, between the elite one-percent and the masses? Literacy it isn't:

A Priori Desiderata
Reality It Takes a Village
School-houses Quintilian
Public Library Grants to Education
Normalcy Hellenic Civilization
Voting Child of Destiny
Liberal Education Old Deluder
A Father Set Free Caius and Caia
Down on the Farm Learned Slaves
Women's Literacy Enlightened Audience
Fame and Fortune The Public
Sign-board Fair Warning
Inscriptions Spare No Pains
Those Left Out Shorthand
Caesar's Army Small Print
Writing on the Wall Ordinary
Believe it or Not Barbarians

Crossan alleges a literacy rate of "a few percent:" "First, since only a few percent within the Roman Empire could ever have read or would ever had heard a Virgil, a Horace, or an Ovid. . ." (John Dominic Crossan and Jonathan L. Reed, In Search of Paul, Kindle location 5167). But he himself is capable of citing evidence to the contrary, as when he quotes Pompeian graffiti "And again, 'Few women have known that I, Floronius. . .soldier in the VII Legion, was here: And I will do me only six' (CIL 4.8767)". (Pompeian graffito, cited at Kindle location 4720, In Search of Paul, John Dominic Crossan). If a rough soldier was competent to scratch this message in the wall, where is Crossan's rigid hereditary caste system, where only the upper two or three percent were literate? This is agenda-driven scholarship, where the conclusion comes first, and is untouchable by any accumulation of evidence.

  • “Under the influence of such circumstances Roman instruction developed itself. It is a mistaken opinion, that antiquity was materially inferior to our own times in the general diffusion of elementary attainments. Even among the lower classes and slaves there was much reading, writing, and counting: in the case of a slave steward, for instance, Cato, following the example of Mago, takes for granted the ability to read and write. Elementary instruction, as well as instruction in Greek, must have been long before this period imparted to a very considerable extent in Rome.”
  • (Theodor Mommsen, The History of Rome, Volume III, Chapter XIV, Kindle location 16153).

Even Crossan understands that the epitaphs on Roman tombs are intended to speak to us, the passersby: "Think of all those Roman graves whose epitaphs address the passerby in direct discourse: the I can still speak to a you" (John Dominic Crossan, Who Killed Jesus? p. 161). Who were their intended readers? Varro concurs, the "passersby:"So also the monimenta ‘memorials’ which are on tombs, and in fact alongside the highway, that they may admonere ‘admonish’ the passers-by that they themselves were mortal and that the readers are too." (Terentius Varro, Marcus. On the Latin Language, Book VI, Chapter 59. Delphi Complete Works of Varro (Illustrated) (Delphi Ancient Classics Book 80) (Kindle Locations 7271-7272).) But, these geniuses tell us, only one percent of the populace can have been literate. Really, the dead wanted specifically to address the top one percenters, people who presumably did not care much about them when they were alive? Why speak to those people at all, if they were only ones with ears to hear? Didn't they rather intend for their parting comments on leaving this life to be read by people like themselves? If it is objected, the tombs were erected by the elite, certainly many were, and ostentatiously so, but not all: "The freed slaves of the Flavii, for example, erected a tomb for themselves at the crossroads by the Nucerian Gate that resembled a kind of apartment house. . ." (Paul Zanker, Pompeii: Public and Private Life, p. 76). Crossan himself gives a memorial inscription put up by a carpenter's widow, while remaining magnificently impervious to what implications this may have for his claim of starving "artisan-peasants:" "(Memorial) to Tiberius Flavius Hilarion, freedman of Tiberius, decurion of the collegium of carpenters in the 15th lustrum, inspector of the ballot-box for the elections in the 16th lustrum. . .This monument was put up by Claudia Prisca to the best of husbands." (John Dominic Crossan, The Birth of Christianity, p. 345). Claudia wanted it known that her husband was a good man. Who did she want to know that? The top one-percenters? Or people like herself?

The great dividing line in the ancient world was between slave and free. The free population ran the gamut from destitution to immensely wealthy. In place of the actual social structure, Crossan gives us a colorful fable of the 'peasants' (almost everybody) versus the one percent. The 'peasants' were not literate (meaning, almost nobody was). But this is a fairy-tale. This point is hugely important to these people because, if ancient literacy rates were as high as the evidence indicates, then there is no special reason to question the timeliness and accuracy of the gospel record. According to Crossan, we must make the leap between two completely separate classes to arrive at the gospels: because Jesus' 'peasant' followers cannot have been literate, scribes from the 'retainer' class must enter the scene. These latter, who were never followers of the 'peasant' Jesus, have no actual information. I kid you not:

  • “Jesus' Kingdom movement among the illiterate peasant class could have died out within one or two generations as a local or regional phenomenon had not literate leadership from at least the lower echelons of the scribal or retainer class been also early at work. Understand the importance of that distinction between the illiterate peasant and the literate retainer class. . .Somewhere, sometime, somebody did something rather extraordinary with those dozens of Old Testament texts 'foretelling' the passion-vindication of Jesus. This author combined them into a coherent story with those prophetic texts as a new hidden substratum.”
  • (John Dominic Crossan, Who Killed Jesus? pp. 11-12).

In other words, according to Crossan, the gospel narratives are an intentional fraud, a fictional novel filled with made-up information culled from the Old Testament prophecies of a suffering Messiah. The procedure, according to him, is "Hide the prophecy, tell the narrative, and invent the history." (John Dominic Crossan, The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant, p. 372). Is it introspection which convinces him that making stuff up does not cross any ethical red lines? The reader should realize that his social paradigm comes from sixteenth century Japan, not first century Palestine. It is the same old switcheroo. There is a sucker born every minute, and this scam continues to claim victims, even amongst careful and intelligent readers, "Historians such as Richard Horsley and John Dominic Crossan have spent decades studying the overall military and economic contexts in which Jesus and the apostles moved. They both conclude that the people of Palestine were under increasing economic stress as taxes were vastly increased, massive debts and conscripted labor became more common. . ." (Robert J. Hutchinson, Searching for Jesus, p. 188). This reader does not understand where Crossan's economic statistics come from; he naturally assumes, from decades of study of the ancient world. In reality, this information is ported in from medieval Japan under the pretext that one 'agrarian society' is much like another, so what difference does it make. Certainly it is a struggle to keep up with the rates of taxation demanded by Japanese warlords! And indeed the Roman empire was oppressive, but when it comes to statistics, we are in fantasy-land.

Back to reality: Horace's father, a freed slave who owned a farm, gave his son an education; where are our 'illiterate peasants?' Perhaps Gaius Marius, his life started inauspiciously enough: "Gaius Marius, the son of a poor day-laborer, was born in 599 [A.U.C.] at the village of Cerestae then belonging to Arpinum, which afterwards obtained municipal rights as Cereatae Marianae and still at the present day bears the name of 'Marius' home' (Casamare). He was reared at the plow, in circumstances so humble that they seemed to preclude him from access even to the municipal offices of Arpinum. . ." (Theodor Mommsen, The History of Rome, Chapter VI, Kindle location 20380). Except Marius was elected consul seven times.

But this is fundamental: to John Dominic Crossan, the gospels are 'prophecy historicized' rather than history remembered: "My proposal is that Jesus' first followers knew almost nothing whatsoever about the details of his crucifixion, death or burial. What we have now in those detailed passion accounts is not history remembered but prophecy historicized." (John Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, p. 145). In other words, they made it all up, to conform to the Old Testament predictions. Who would do this but liars and fakers? If Jesus' influence over His first followers was to turn honest men into charlatans, why would anyone subsequently follow Him? Realize also that the only circumstance in which someone could get away with a monumental fraud of such a brazen character is a low-information society in which hardly anyone was literate, so on both ends, it has to have been that; they have staked their all on this claim. Is this what history gives us for first century Palestine?:

Why the 'peasant' twaddle in the first place? Because: "Peasants, almost by definition, are illiterate." (John Dominic Crossan, The Birth of Christianity, p. 234). Rather redundantly by his own understanding, Crossan's Jesus is not only a 'peasant,' but "an illiterate peasant." (John Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, p. 58). To Crossan, 'peasant' means anything and nothing: either a class including almost everybody, or a sub-class of the rural population. Possibly 'exploitation' is a required element of the definition, or maybe not. Think he borrowed his classification of Jesus as 'peasant' from Gerhard Lenski? Guess again; by his own admission, Jesus' place in Lenski's scheme of classification is in the Priestly Class, which includes all religious teachers, however called and compensated: "In the first-century Jewish homeland, then, Sadducees, Pharisees, Essenes, John the Baptist, and Jesus all belonged to Lenski's Priestly Class — a result so confusing that a modified classification is clearly needed." (John Dominic Crossan, The Birth of Christianity, p. 172). Clearly; Lenski puts Jesus over on the other side of the great divide, and that won't do. So let's toss out Lenski, let's toss out the dictionary and call Him a 'peasant.' Cannot everyone see this is nothing but propaganda?

The literacy rate in antiquity is absolutely critical to the 'Jesus Seminar' and related endeavors. Study it carefully, because nothing is more important. How do we know that the documents of the New Testament were not written by apostles and people within the circle of the apostles, as tradition indicates? Why, because hardly anyone in that day was literate! Don't buy this oft-repeated claim without making careful inquiry: whatever the state of affairs in medieval Japan may have been, a literacy rate of 2-3% is not accurate to the world of classical antiquity, nor the imperial world into which the gospel proclamation rang out, nor even as the Christian world sank beneath the waves into the dark ages. It's not even close. Now once we get to the dark ages, maybe you're on to something. Part of the problem here may be a mistaken denominational emphasis which causes him to perceive more continuity between antiquity and the dark ages than is actually there.

Some extraordinary illogic follows from rewriting scripture along the lines of prophecy historicized. If a pagan shaman were to emerge from his hut to prophesy, Christians and atheists must agree he is adding little new information to our store of knowledge. He calls the coin toss as 'heads,' and so it falls. He announces that the sun will rise tomorrow, then returns back inside to his contemplations. Would any sane person conclude that the coin must really have fallen as tails, in spite of appearances, and the sun cannot rise tomorrow, just because he said it would? How do we know these new things? Whence has come this new flood of information into the system, when the shaman cannot have provided it? Yet this is continually the unreason we get from this author: Jesus cannot have been 'buffeted' on or about the time of His crucifixion; this never happened. It is certain it never happened. We know this how? Even today, the video camera in the squad car catches the occasional police officer buffeting a suspect, although we have a strong Constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Prophesying that Jesus would be 'buffeted,' knowing He was crucified, is more like prophesying the sun will come up tomorrow than like prophesying darkness at noon; it is something very likely to occur. But we know it never happened, because it was prophesied. If it was prophesied, it cannot have happened. You might think I'm kidding but I am not. The Jesus Seminar operates under the rubric, if it was prophesied, then it is impossible for it to have occurred, even for what would otherwise be a normal and expected concomitant to a known event, as 'buffeting' is to 'crucifixion:'

Crossan is a great believer in the autonomy and right to domination of 'scholarship:' if 'scholars' concur that the gospels are fiction, then so they are. There is no room in his world-view for a reductio ad absurdum: if 'scholarship' concludes the gospel authors were just making this stuff up, when none of their readers so understood them, then that conclusion is so obviously and egregiously false that the 'scholars' must go back to the drawing board. If the hypothesis of Marcan priority drives us into the ditch of assigning fiction-writer status to Matthew and Luke, then Marcan priority is a valueless hypothesis. The way he does 'scholarship,' there is never any check on the process, never any possibility of falsification, there is only one gear and one direction: forward. The unanimous testimony of antiquity is that Matthew wrote first: "And we will begin with Matthew, who is reported by tradition to have published his Gospel before the others, to the Hebrews, those, namely, of the circumcision who believed." (Origen, Commentary on the Gospel of John, Book Six, Chapter 17, p. 591, ECF_0_10). Not only must he discard all available direct testimony, but also the evidence of dispersion: Matthew is quoted by the Didache, Justin Martyr, and other early writers; Mark is not.

John Dominic Crossan complains about this colleagues, that the reader knows their conclusions before reading the proofs by which the conclusions were ostensibly arrived at. But there is nothing unexpected here either; Crossan's is a lefty Christ, and the villains are all the usual suspects. Doesn't he almost look like Che Guevara, sporting a red beret? At least Crossan is aware, as some of his followers are not, that Jesus was non-violent both in theory and in practice. Incidentally, the reader who wants to see this done right should read Karl Kautsky; now there was an author worth reading! If a red-tinged Jesus is what you absolutely, positively must have, you can download his 'Foundations of Christianity' for free. At least this author knows how to use Marxist terminology correctly. Kautsky does not to be sure give us Jesus in a red beret, because he follows Bruno Bauer in his skepticism that anything can be known about the historical Jesus; but he compensates by giving us the early church all decked out in matching red berets, marching in lock-step and singing a chorus of 'The East is Red.'

The theory of rent was one of the perplexing topics tackled by the infant science of economics in the nineteenth century, by David Ricardo and others: for what is the tenant paying when he pays the land-owner rent? The answer taken for granted by Crossan and his sources: nothing, this is pure exploitation, the land-owner is stealing the "surplus value," if you please, contributed by the peasant, the innocent reader should understand is tendentious and not accepted by all schools of economics. There is even a case to be made against land reform: "The matter at issue is, whether power is to be given to Marcus Antonius of oppressing the republic, of massacring the virtuous citizens, of plundering the city, of distributing the lands among his robbers, of overwhelming the Roman people in slavery; or, whether he is not to be allowed to do all this." (Cicero, The Fifth Philippic, 6). Why did Cicero call the recipients of redistributed land "robbers"? Is it simply because he is evil? Was the party of Caesar on the side of the angels? And can't he at least give credit to Caesar for being on his side rather than pretending otherwise? Mightn't an objective student of history want to know why some people were against Caesarism?

Capitalist economic theory builds on the perception that economic relations can be mutually beneficial, that rational actors might willing enter into contracts with one another for the exchange of goods and services; Crossan's assumption that "surplus value" is produced by workers/peasants and then stolen by other parties is not the only possible way of looking at these matters. In his scheme of things, if one party is well-to-do, he must have stolen it from someone less well off: "That, in fact, may be the only logic that makes redemptive almsgiving religiously  valid in the sight of God. It is actually restitution as it were, of stolen goods." (John Dominic Crossan, The Birth of Christianity, p. 402-403). Look at his example of an oppressed person, as seen  her doctor's eyes:

"'Today I saw an obese hypertensive mother of six. No husband. No family support No job. Nothing. A world of brutalizing violence and poverty and drugs and teenage pregnancies and — and just plain mind-numbing crises, one after another after another. . .In fact, her body is the product of her world. She is a hugely overweight misshapen hulk who is a survivor of circumstances. . .Hey, what she needs is not medicine but a social revolution.'" (quoted p. 299, John Dominic Crossan, The Birth of Christianity).

Who stole anything from this woman? Who unjustly enriched himself at her expense? What "surplus value" has she created, to be looted by the oppressors? Traditional morality, the 'patriarchy' if you will, does not look to push this woman further down, but to empower her.

Or again: from the standpoint of 'patriarchy,' what could be a bigger disaster than the virgin Mary? Her husband was not the father of her child. Yet she has to fit the very profile of what they're looking for: "It is  easy to understand the importance of Mary, as Virgin-Mother, in such circumstances She is exactly what one wishes for but can never obtain: maternity without the loss of virginity, progeny without the necessity of sex, and, therefore, competition for resources without the need to cooperate for the most important one." (John Dominic Crossan, The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant, p. 14). With Crossan, we know the conclusion, even when the proofs rebut it.


What Is A Peasant?

This is the sixty-four thousand dollar question. John Dominic Crossan's great discovery is that Jesus was a "peasant:" "This book is concerned with Jesus of Nazareth, a peasant who died around 30 C.E.. . ." (John Dominic Crossan, The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant, p. 218). This comes as a surprise because Jesus, whose work history includes employment as a carpenter and as an itinerant preacher, does not fit the dictionary definition of a 'peasant.' To American ears, this word has a European sound, and calls to mind patterns of land tenure quite unlike the American, or Mosaic, paradigm. 'Peasant,' from French paysan, simply means "A rustic or countryman; one occupied in rural labor." (Webster International 1965); but it is sounds like it should mean 'serf.' Medieval Europe slumbered under the impression it was a Christian society. But then they translated and published the Bible. The upheavals of the Radical Reformation were fueled by the realization that the characteristically European patterns of land tenure were not only not established by Moses' legislation, they were actually criminalized by it. While Christians do not generally believe the Mosaic law is a universal law code, it also cannot be ignored. Let us see what Crossan means by a 'peasant,' and whether we can find clarity, consistency and univocality in his use of the term.

Jesus is a 'peasant' only if almost everybody else is as well. If we define 'peasants' to be all those not in the top 1% elite, then Jesus is a 'peasant.' So are almost all of the rest of us. The authors of the Jesus Seminar like to invent their own word meanings, so that Jesus, a carpenter, who would not fit the common-place dictionary definitions of a 'peasant,' becomes a 'peasant,' as the word is redefined so as to include street-sweepers, bakers, vaudeville performers and carpenters beneath its expanding umbrella. Indeed Jesus would become an 'admiral' if one redefined the word. One hopes there are no young people so gullible and naive as to mistake this preference for novel and unusual terminology for a 'discovery.' Only two classes are needed, they tell us, to unravel an 'agrarian' society; but later on it turns out for a full enumeration we need 'merchants' and 'priests' and even 'artisans,' like the carpenter Jesus. Do they therefore correct this misidentification of Him as a 'peasant'? No. It's propaganda, a put-down, no more. Once the label is laid on Him, it sticks to Him, even where, for others, the definition of 'peasant' reverts to common usage.

What do Crossan's 'peasants' want? Communism, of course: "It will be enough to put all in common and to share with justice what is produced." (Sicilian woman quoted p. 74, John Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography). Is that actually what 'peasants' want? And who are 'peasants'? Recall, Crossan's use of the term moves in and out like the slider of a trombone; the term is far from univocal, though it is critical to his concerns. Sometimes its meaning expands to envelop almost everyone who happens to live in an 'agrarian' society. Thus, even the carpenter and itinerant preacher Jesus can become a 'peasant,' a designation which no longer has anything to do with one's occupation. American farmers have never accepted the designation 'peasant,' which is perceived as an insult, like calling urban dwellers 'rabble.' Then it turns out, to our surprise, that a mislabeled economic class which includes almost everybody and everything is less than useful. So we abandon it and institute an entirely different scheme, under which Jesus cannot be categorized as a 'peasant,' although the term is never withdrawn.

Crossan's category 'peasant' thus expands and contracts like an accordion. Since he uses the term continually, yet without clueing the reader as to whether he intends the expansive or the limited meaning of the term, it is impossible to know what he means much of the time. Once we're done insulting Jesus with the 'almost everybody' use of 'peasant,' not known to the dictionary, we drop that and discover that our 'peasant' is actually a family farmer, cultivating his own land:

  • “On the other side were, above all, the Peasants. . .If they were lucky the lived at subsistence level, barely able to support family, animals, and social obligations and still have enough for the next year's seed supply. If they were not lucky, drought, debt, disease, or death forced them off their own land and into share-cropping, tenant farming, or worse.”
  • (John Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, p. 25, emphasis added).

Notice, please, our 'peasants' have "their own land:" they are, in short, family farmers, peasant proprietors, kulaks. Crossan does not say whether, having fallen, they yet remain in the same class where they began, before they fell. In his analysis of the first century economy, in his portrait of Jesus the Revolutionary, he offers no other category for tenants or landless agricultural workers. So we discover that our family farmers, having begun the vertiginous drop from the heights of self-sufficiency to the depths of dependency and powerlessness, are still in exactly the same place from which they started, because once a 'peasant,' always a 'peasant.' As economic analysis, this is useless.

Let us recapitulate our efforts to shoe-horn Jesus into the category of 'peasant,' a category to which no economic activities He is known to have engaged in would naturally assign Him. Having begun with 'everybody's a peasant,' we end with 'peasant'=family farmer, share-cropper, agricultural day laborer, rural slave, plus the occasional carpenter. Though an improvement over 'everybody,' this is still a bloated category. It would be better to lay out the dynamic situation, because when land-owners are losing their land, they end up in a very different category from that in which they started!

Is it really true that the family farmer wants communism? This and only this is suggested by the compassionate Crossan. No other program is offered. Recall the difficulties the Bolsheviks encountered persuading the kulaks, the 'rich peasants,' that they wanted collectivization. In the end those unfortunate peasant folk ended up liquidated, because they really just don't get all the fine sounding things John Dominic Crossan is saying in their names:

The dispossessed, landless, destitute rural population can be a revolutionary element in society, because after all what have they got to lose? The family farmer almost never is. It is misleading to call these people 'rich peasants,' as the Bolsheviks did; the difference between them and others is that they own their own land, by whatever sacrifice it took to acquire it. The 'independent farmer' will hold onto the deed to his land until the Bolsheviks take it from his cold, dead hand. Upon trying the experiment, will Crossan find that he needs to explain to us how evil the kulaks are, and why we should hate them? Many others who shared his sympathetic concern for the peasantry, and believed in his suggested remedy for their plight, have found it necessary to go that route.

What does John Dominic Crossan mean when he calls someone a 'peasant'? Perhaps he means to refer to almost the entire population of an 'agrarian' society, regardless of occupation or place of residence. Sometimes he does mean that, as when he calls Jesus a 'peasant.' Or perhaps he means family farmer. Sometimes, no joke, that's what he means; that's how he defines the term. Or perhaps he means the dispossessed mass of the rural population, including landless day laborers and slaves. This group is perennially dry tinder to any revolutionary match, though what they want is land, not "all in common." Sometimes, as when he discusses uprisings in the holy land as described by Josephus, Crossan has in mind this third category. Yet he equivocates on the term: Jesus, who is a 'peasant' only under the first, almost all-inclusive usage, drifts into the third category, because once the label is attached to him, it sticks and never comes off. When the discussion turns to those who are properly peasants according to common usage, there He still remains, even though He is not a member of the class. Jesus enters the category along with the longshoremen, physicians, fortune-tellers and fishermen; but then as gravitation draws the term 'peasant' back down to its signification in common usage as referring to the agricultural work force, see Him there still, leading a 'peasant' revolt. What happened to the longshoremen? Can a scholarly work depend so heavily upon a blatant and transparent equivocation? Welcome to the world of the Jesus Seminar.

He has said that he uses 'peasant' as a technical term; however, the word blazes across the reader's attention in book titles without warning that it is being applied in any special, non-traditional but agreed-upon sense. People therefore must assume it means what the word commonly means. But it is just false that Jesus is a 'peasant' under the dictionary definition, much less the insulting colloquial one. Thus, it is simply propaganda, a way to demean the Lord.

Who can tell which of these three distinct categories Crossan has in mind in any given instance; he uses words to build atmosphere, not with any definite signification. What remains constant is that we are supposed to get really, really angry, though at whom is not always clear. His 'Jesus' must be a "peasant nobody," he attaches this label to him as a badge of irrelevance, and even though the cost of sticking it to him is that Crossan must use one and the same term, 'peasant,' in three different significations all in the same sentence or paragraph, this is a cost he is willing to pay.

What did the 'peasant' Jesus offer to His 'peasant' constituency? Let's look at the program and see how well it works: "The Kingdom of God movement was Jesus' program of empowerment for a peasantry becoming steadily more hard-pressed, in the first-century Jewish homeland, through insistent taxation, attendant indebtedness, and eventual land expropriation. . .Jesus lived, against the systemic injustice and structural evil of that situation, an alternative open all who would accept it: a life of open healing and shared eating, of radical itinerancy and fundamental egalitarianism. . ." (John Dominic Crossan, Who Killed Jesus? p. 209). How "radical itinerancy" is supposed to work as a practical farming program Crossan does not say. Hydroponics?

Like someone making a bed with a sheet too small, when Crossan pulls at the bottom, the top pops out, and when he pulls on one corner, the other side pulls away. He wants to impress upon the reader the sheer inertia of peasant societies: "'The life of men, beasts and earth always seeming shut in a motionless circle, closed away from he changes of time. . . Always the same thing, unchanging. Always.'" (quote from Ignazio Silone, John Dominic Crossan, The Birth of Christianity, p. 138). But then we discover that, far from static, the ancient economy showed a considerable amount of dynamism: "History concludes that the Roman Empire in the first common-era century was in an economic boom (insofar as ancient economies could boom) under Italian peace and Augustan prosperity." (John Dominic Crossan, The Birth of Christianity, p. 148). Indeed. Crossan is aware there were freed slaves who were millionaires, yet he wants it understood that world allowed for no upward mobility! He should remove his under-sized 'peasant' armature, which is choking the victim. Other than allowing him to flaunt his disdain for the "illiterate peasants," namely Jesus and his followers, it accomplishes nothing; it certainly does not help people to understand the first century world. One of the things the ancients did have was a free-market economy, and like elections, another thing not seen during the long dark ages, this shakes things up.


Gospel of Thomas

John Dominic Crossan believes the Gospel of Thomas to be very early. Others think it is a late and secondary. Just imagine, for a moment, if Crossan is right. Because it is certain that the Gospel of Thomas did not originate under the purview of the apostles who nurtured the infant Christian church, it offers independent and early confirmation of significant gospel teachings, such as that Jesus taught that He is the Son of God! Sometimes your copy-cats can say a lot about you. Simon the Samaritan, according to the earliest church history sources, was a Jesus copy-cat who claimed to be God. The 'Jesus' publishing industry assure us Jesus Himself cannot have made such a claim. Why, if He had, He'd have been a lot like his copy-cat!:


Entertainment Value Who, What, When
Accursed Genealogy
Resurrection in the Flesh Destroy This House
James the Just Child of a Whore
Two Advents Punch-Line
Pseudo-Clementine Library Live Food
Dog in the Manger Infinite Loss
Lift the Stone The Vineyard
The Son of Man Burgess Shale
Be Passersby Trinitarian Formula
Excluded Middle Do It Yourself


It is striking how people can sometimes tell the truth all in spite of themselves:

"That explicit rephrasing and direct application underlines what is evident in John the Baptist's sermon when it is taken by itself and apart from its present location in the gospel sequence. John was not talking about Jesus at all but rather about the imminent advent of the avenging apocalyptic God." (Jesus, A Revolutionary Biography, John Dominic Crossan, p. 38).

John was a precursor for whom? For the living God. There must be some mistake, sputters the Jesus Seminar. There is none, say His people.

He chides, in his usual hectoring tone, "And the New Testament gospels do not admit that it was God rather than Jesus whose advent John was announcing." (John Dominic Crossan, Who Killed Jesus? p. 42). Oh, they admit it! They glory in it! But omit the "rather than."

Like others of the 'Jesus Seminar,' his 'Jesus' is non-apocalyptic, but he realizes John had to be. How to make the transition between the apocalyptic John the Baptist movement, and the easy-going Cynic Sage? Easy! His 'Jesus' simply has a change of heart!:

"Even Jesus himself had not always seen things that way. Earlier he had received John's baptisms and accepted his message of God as the imminent apocalyptic judge." (John Dominic Crossan, The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant, Kindle location 133).

Reality is silly putty to these people.


Bed of Procrustes

The intent of any system of classification is not to invent a new reality, but to mirror what is already there. The world of classical antiquity left behind a more than ample store-house of information from which to determine circumstances like literacy, and that is where to look for the information. The 'cross-disciplinary' approach is their 'Easy Button:' if you don't like the evidence you have, toss it out and substitute the evidence you like better. Does the world of classical antiquity not work for you? Substitute medieval Japan. But the evidence should be allowed to speak for itself; it should not be squeezed into a Procrustean bed which does not fit.

We know the Rabbis practiced various trades, including carpentry:

"R. Huna was accustomed frequently to pass the door of R. Abin the carpenter. Seeing that he habitually lit many lights, he remarked, Two great men will issue hence. R. Idi b. Abin and R. Hiyya b. Abin issued thence." (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbath 23b).

The celebrated Hillel would seem to have broken the mold a bit; he worked as a day laborer:

"It was reported about Hillel the Elder that every day he used to work and earn one tropaik, half of which he would give to the guard at the House of Learning, the other half being spent for his food and for that of his family. One day he found nothing to earn and the guard at the House of Learning would not permit him to enter. He climbed up and sat upon the window, to hear the words of the living God from the mouth of Shemayah and Abtalion — They say, that day was the eve of Sabbath in the winter solstice and snow fell down upon him from heaven. When the dawn rose, Shemayah said to Abtalion: Brother Abtalion, on every day this house is light and to-day it is dark, is it perhaps a cloudy day. They looked up and saw the figure of a man in the window. They went up and found him covered by three cubits of snow. They removed him, bathed and anointed him and placed him opposite the fire and they said: This man deserves that the Sabbath be profaned on his behalf." (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Yoma 35b).

There is no special reason to dismiss this tradition as legendary, even though the three cubits of snow may be pushing it. We know students today who work at menial jobs while pursuing their education; there is no reason to suppose no one did that then. That Hillel worked as a day laborer gives us very little information about the literacy rate of day laborers, as he is only one instance. It would be fatuous to suggest Hillel must have been illiterate, because he worked as a day laborer. The Rabbis seem generally to have preferred the skilled trades. They do not seem to have clustered into any particular occupation, but chose a trade as convenience and inclination dictated, because: "It teaches that the Holy One, blessed be He, made every man's trade seem fine in his own eyes." (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Berakoth 43b). Though artisans are unlikely to have been rich, they weren't starving either: "Raba remarked: They might say [inwardly]: Though a famine last seven years it does not pass the artisan's gate." (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 29a). Common sense tells us that skilled labor must have been recompensed at a higher rate than unskilled, as today. If a plumber received the same wages as an unskilled day laborer, who would bother to invest the time to acquire the trade?

Could it be that, while the Jews respected honest manual labor, the Romans despised it as he claims? This is not very likely, realizing that one of the centuries into which the voting populace was divided was made up of smiths and carpenters: "As it is, you see that the plan is such that the [eighteen] centuries of knights, including the six original centuries, added to the centuries of the first class and supplemented by the smiths and carpenters, who were organized as a special century because of their importance to the city, make up altogether eighty-nine centuries." (Cicero, On the Commonwealth, Book II, Chapter XXII).

Christian interpreters have struggled to find typological significance in Jesus' practice of the trade of carpentry. In spite of efforts to link it to the wood of the cross, there doesn't seem to be any. Evidently, this information is in there simply because it's true. John Dominic Crossan struggles to craft a social pyramid which comes out with carpenters at the bottom, but the fact that this is a skilled job category makes his task difficult. Aren't day laborers, by definition unskilled, lower down than skilled workers? But nothing fazes our intrepid author; he accomplishes the mission, by pushing day laborers down into the same category as criminals! I kid you not, dear reader:

"Beneath them were the Degraded and Expendable classes — the former with origins, occupations, or conditions rendering them outcasts; the latter, maybe as much as 10 percent of the population, ranging from beggars and outlaws to hustlers, day laborers, and slaves." (John Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, p. 25)

An economist might be perplexed to learn that day laborers actually belong in the same class with "outlaws," given that the former contribute to the GDP and the latter do not. It is a good rule in classifying to sort like with like, otherwise you might end up with an ill-sorted category. Other oddities in this division of labor include dramatically understating the incidence of slavery.

We know that God prefers the small to the great, the weak to the strong, and the poor to the rich. Perhaps the Lord should have come into history as a landless peasant, or a homeless beggar, or even the leper carefully changing his bandages in sequence, as so always to be ready for his call, of the Talmud's imagination. After all, if Jesus had sat in the public streets and begged, he would have been like Augustus Caesar: "I have also heard the story that on one day of the year, following some oracle or dream, he would assume the guise of a beggar and would accept money from those who passed. This, whether trustworthy or not, is a prevailing tradition." (Cassius Dio, Roman History, Book 54, Chapter 35). While I share Cassius Dio's skepticism that Augustus actually did any such thing, he wanted it believed that he did, thus establishing the "prevailing tradition." So Jesus could have begged; after all beggars fall into the same category as day laborers, in this nutty scheme. But He did not. Why not simply accept the facts, thus eliminating the constant term-switching that is needed for Crossan to keep juggling balls in the air:


Second Generation

The Jesus Seminar seems a bit passe. Certainly we'll never see again the kind of hoopla and free publicity the mainstream media of the day provided for this publishing venture. The mainstream media itself is passe, given their inability to understand that not everyone shares their enthusiasm for attacks on Christianity. But John Dominic Crossan is not gone or forgotten. This viewpoint has institutionalized itself. Consider Reza Aslan: a young evangelical, he made the mistake of attending a Catholic university, discovered there that the gospels are made-up mythology, and reverted to his ancestral Islam. Now he regurgitates what he learned there, all about Jesus the 'peasant.' They know it is true because so they were taught. It becomes clear with the second generation, the Crossan-wich cohort, that the intent of this venture is not to celebrate the Lord, but to demean Him. The whole point of this 'peasant' charade is to make possible formulations like this: "a peasant nuisance nobody like Jesus." (John Dominic Crossan, Who Killed Jesus? p. 117). They realize that in American English 'peasant' is an insult, as 'carpenter' is not. American ears cannot hear any put-down in 'carpenter,' though they assure us it was otherwise in antiquity, and so they have to make him into something else to reclaim it; that's why they toss the dictionary in the trash can and call this carpenter a 'peasant:'

It's interesting to reflect that this has happened before. Everyone has heard of a religion called 'paganism,' but no worshipper of the gods ever called his devotion 'paganism.' So where did the word come from? It means 'peasant:'

“'Paganus' to a classical Roman was something like “peasant,” and indeed the English word peasant descends to us from the same root as does pagan. A pagus was a country district, a paganus someone who lived there; so Cicero tosses off a phrase about pagani et montani, 'peasants and mountain-folk.'”

(O'Donnell, James J. (2015-03-17). Pagans: The End of Traditional Religion and the Rise of Christianity (pp. 159-160). HarperCollins.)

Nothing new here. Want to express your contempt for an unwelcome religion? The 'p' word is always there.


Offhand Brutality

It was Jesus' fate to live, and die, at the intersection of two societies both with strong legal traditions of due process. It is common nowadays for those who want to discredit the gospel record to try to harness people's moral fury against anti-semitism to their program, and Crossan is no exception. The so-called 'Jewish trial' is disliked, so whether we find it possible or otherwise, it is disposed of with offhand brutality:

"And it is now impossible for us to imagine the offhand brutality, anonymity, and indifference with which a peasant nobody like Jesus would have been disposed of." (John Dominic Crossan, The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant, Kindle location 150).

Actually we can only "imagine" it because the Jews, just like the Romans, loved to hold trials. This is not always possible: even our own country, with its strong fourth amendment protection for due process, found itself unable to put on an evidentiary proceeding for every insurrectionist gathered at Gettysburg, an anonymous bullet, not wrapped with a subpoena, being the only practical counter to provocation on that scale. People should stop imagining things and start looking at the facts. We prefer to give 'em a fair trial and then hang 'em, so did they:

The Romans, like the Jews, liked to hold trials, as Tertullian reminded his accusers: "They have full opportunity of answer and debate; in fact, it is against the law to condemn anybody undefended and unheard." (Tertullian, Apology, Chapter 2). We owe a lot to the tradition of respect for due process handed down to us by these two societies. But even though we have a constitutional amendment mandating due process, lynch mob justice is not unknown in American history. That something is illegal does not mean that it never happened, only that, whenever it happened, it was illegal. Still, when you hear that someone was executed in America, you should not assume a lynch mob did it. And accusing everyone who disagrees with you of anti-semitism is not an argument. Crossan demands that we exercise our imaginations:

  • “I doubt very much if Jewish police and Roman soldiery needed to go too far up the chain of command in handling a Galilean peasant like Jesus. It is hard for us, I repeat, to bring our imagination down low enough to see the casual brutality with which he was probably taken and executed.”
  • (John Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, p. 152).

"Imagination" isn't much of a resource to turn to, nor is substituting sixteenth century Japan for first century Palestine, nor Berber tribesmen for Jews. Why these desperate lunges in all possible directions? Why is it always necessary to substitute some other time, some other society? Because the world of classical antiquity just doesn't work for our author.

The Romans, who understood and articulated the principle of due process, did not live up to their understanding; extra-judicial murder flourished under the imperial system. Nor was the Jewish system perfect; however, the Zealot murderers these people idolize not only fell short of perfection, but really weren't even trying: "He [Matthias] is accused nor is any opportunity of defense given, before trial he is sentenced to execution nor are his progeny spared but are joined to the punishment. . .'Let the enemy feel pity, because the ally does not feel pity, let the Romans judge, because Simon kills without a trial.'" (Pseudo-Hegesippus, Book 5, Chapter XXII, pp. 347-353). The thousands of Jews murdered by the Zealots received revolutionary justice, i.e., they did not receive due process, not even in semblance. The gospels mention two trials, or three if the hearing before Herod is included, a Jewish trial and a Roman trial. There is nothing impossible nor even unlikely about such occurrences. In the offhand brutality with which he throws off these facts, Crossan is not acting as a historian

Having substituted other societies for the one under discussion, he urges us to narrow our eyes in anger and glare at our class enemies, as he points them out to us. There is always a villain to hiss at, on cue. Indeed, Christianity itself is heinous. Crosssan identifies the gospel accounts as a "lie,"—"the longest lie,"— "fiction," and "propaganda." (John Dominic Crossan, 'Who Killed Jesus?' p. XII). Such passes for objective scholarship nowadays. Is our blood supposed to boil when we hear of what the British did in Ireland? The reader is sorely tempted to say something bad, like 'The mistake Britain made in Ireland is that they were too lenient.' His 'Jesus' becomes no more than a token, a counter, for anti-imperialism: "I do not accept the divine conception of either Jesus or Augustus as factual history, but I believe that God is incarnate in the Jewish peasant poverty of Jesus and not in the Roman imperial power of Augustus." (John Dominic Crossan, The Birth of Christianity, p. 29). God never became incarnate as "poverty." As the donkey is to the Democratic Party, and as the elephant is to the Republican Party, so is his 'Jesus' to the anti-imperialist party; he is their 'Pepe' if you will.

The problem isn't so much that imperialism is a good thing, but that this 'Jesus,' reduced to a poster-boy for Third World political concerns, namely anti-Americanism, is no substitute for the real thing. In this way of looking at things, anti-imperialism is the really important thing. Did God come down to dwell among men? That's important, because it tells us that imperialism is wrong, which we already knew anyway. . .and to hear us tell it, we don't do it. His 'god' is no more than Justice personified. Religion, in his view, is a myth, a story we tell ourselves about life, and the really important thing is the political consequences of this myth: if benign, the myth is 'true,' after a manner of speaking.

The Jesus Seminar gives us a form of religion, but it is a religion which tells us only what we already know, and features a god who assures us, 'You are a really good person, not like that imperialist over there. You care. You burned an American flag.' But religions of self-celebration are generally useless; the voice of a 'god' is not needed to tell us how swell we are, since we are prone to think well of ourselves anyway.

One of the consequences of the 'inter-disciplinary' approach is that the villain is always the same, though he hide behind a multiplicity of masks. Grievances against one imperial power, like Britain, may be freely projected back into Roman Palestine, because it's always the same thing: ". . . will Turkey be a full member of the European Union; will Turkey be the first on-European and non-Christian country to join that alliance? If not, if its 65 million inhabitants are excluded, we will then know that the new motorway is, like its ancient predecessor, again about empire, still about empire, always about empire." (John Dominic Crossan and Jonathan L. Reed, In Search of Paul, Kindle location 2857). No need to inquire about local concerns, they only confuse the issue; but when has an actual empire been unwilling to enlarge its territory? And we had better get with the program, or else: "And, after two thousand years. . . we also know that it must work out somehow if the earth is to have any future. . . .Is it not clear by now that the safety of the world and the security of the earth demand the unity not of global victory, but of global justice? Otherwise, God will still be God, but only of the insects and the grasses." (John Dominic Crossan and Jonathan L. Reed, In Search of Paul, Kindle location 7176).

We do know of many extra-judicial murders carried out by the Roman state, as well as the Jewish state. Herod the Great dispatched various family members without benefit of a hearing. But we also know that his Roman overlords encouraged him to hold trials:

"Now, as soon as they had sailed to Rome and delivered the king's letters to Caesar, Caesar was mightily troubled at the case of the young men [Herod's sons]; yet did not he think he ought to take the power from the father of condemning his sons; so he wrote back to him, and appointed him to have the power over his sons; but said withal, that he would do well to make an examination into this matter of the plot against him in a public court, and to take for his assessors his own kindred, and the governors of the province;— and if those sons be found guilty, to put them to death; but if they appear to have thought of no more than only flying away from him, that he should, in that case, moderate their punishment." (Flavius Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Book I, Chapter XXVII, Section 1, p. 461, The Complete Works of Josephus).

A public hearing is the way they preferred to do things, as did also the Biblically minded amongst the Jews. The principle that the accused has a right to a fair trial is stated by many ancient authors, both pagan and Jewish:

"For if the right of defending themselves is given to sacrilegious persons, and to traitors and sorcerers, and if it is lawful for no one to be condemned beforehand, his cause being as yet untried, we do not appear to ask unjustly, that if there shall be any one who shall have fallen upon this subject, if he shall read it, he read it throughout if he shall hear it, that he put off the forming of an opinion until the end." (Lactantius, The Divine Institutes, Book 5, Chapter 1).

In a letter to the emperor, Herod Agrippa makes the weighty accusation against Pontius Pilate, that he executed people without trial:

"But this last sentence exasperated him [Pilate] in the greatest possible degree, as he feared lest they might in reality go on an embassy to the emperor, and might impeach him with respect to other particulars of his government, in respect of his corruption, and his acts of insolence, and his rapine, and his habit of insulting people, and his cruelty, and his continual murders of people untried and uncondemned, and his never ending, and gratuitous, and most grievous inhumanity.'" (Embassy to Gaius, Philo Judaeus, Chapter XXXVIII).

Both Romans and Jews would have understood this charge as an accusation, not as a matter-of-fact statement of the way things worked in that world. No doubt it was true. But the accusation is not that he never held trials, or that no executed person ever saw the inside of a courtroom on his way to the stake. Rather, he should never have done this at all. We are not justified in assuming Jesus of Nazareth was one of these people murdered "untried and uncondemned." It is not that we are importing our own sensibilities into the ancient world in expecting a trail: "It is difficult for the Christian imagination, then or now, to accept the brutal informality with which Jesus was probably condemned and crucified." (John Dominic Crossan, The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant, p. 390). It was their perception also that there ought to be a trial. That doesn't mean there always was, but it does mean that actual evidence cannot be so easily swept away in favor of "imagination."

There is plenty of evidence for a Roman trial and a Jewish trial, and no credible evidence against. All that stands against is this 'peasant' drivel. Truth to tell, Crossan seems troubled that his case rests upon this persistent falsification, and keeps casting about for some good reason to call Jesus a 'peasant.' Here is the geographical case: "First-century Nazareth was a peasant village in an agrarian society. And first-century Nazareth was Jewish village adhering to the Temple-oriented Judaism of its day. Jesus, then, was a Jewish peasant." (Kindle location 1174). I like that one, it's very flexible. Arpinium was a peasant village in Italy. Cicero was born near there (Jesus was not born in Nazareth, but these people think He was). Therefore, Cicero was an Italian peasant. Whee! Forcing the ancient world into the mold of medieval Japan is like saying, my cat must be exactly like a dog, or like a cow, because they only category I know how to bring to bear is 'quadruped.'

Cicero was not a peasant, but neither was his placement in Crossan's imaginary caste system just as Crossan assumes. As his adversary Calenus pointed out, Cicero was a scion of the middle class: "Certainly neither family nor wealth was bequeathed him by his father the fuller, who was always trading in grapes and olives, a man who was glad to make both ends meet by this and by his washing, and whose time was taken up every day and night with the vilest occupations." (Calenus, quoted in Cassius Dio, Roman History, Book 46, Chapter 4). Cicero's dad was quite successful at his clothes-cleaning business and his other ventures, because probably nobody had ever told him there was no middle class in antiquity.



People have long noticed that there were affinities between the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth and certain sentiments expressed by some Cynic and Stoic philosophers. And so in their simplicity, the early Christians gave us Seneca the Christian convert, who corresponded with Paul, and Epictetus the Christian. We laugh at such simplicity today; surely if Seneca and Epictetus knew that a Savior had come into the world, they would have mentioned this, which they never do, and readers should not hype isolated and even trifling correspondences into total conformity, which is far more than is really in evidence. And so today we do it just the other way around: we make Jesus into a 'Cynic Sage,' based on these same few, isolated, points of similarity. There is an equal amount of falsification going on, because the subject must be mashed and squeezed into total conformity when the evidence does not show total conformity, but rather only a few points of contact.

According to Crossan, Christians are mightily afraid, because they haven't yet learned that the time arrow points in only one direction:

"'Now the spirit of patient endurance the Cynic must have to such a degree that common people will think him insensate and as stone; nobody reviles him, nobody beats him, nobody insults him; but his body has himself given for anyone to use as he sees fit.' (Epictetus, Discourses 3.22:54-56, 100). . .It is fascinating to watch the Christian nervousness of some earlier translators in handling that passage. Elizabeth Carter compares it with Matthew 5:39-44 but notes 'that Christ specifies higher injuries and provocations than Epictetus doth. . .'" (John Dominic Crossan, The Historical Jesus: The life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant, Kindle location 2256).

"Christian nervousness?" Christians do not know that you can't step in the same river twice, and a philosopher teaching decades after Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount, and after Matthew published it, cannot have been the source for Jesus' teaching of non-violence and non-resistance to injury? Crossan spells it out in his later 'Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography,' "Does Epictetus sound too much like Jesus?" (p. 121). So much so that he could be suspected of copying? No, it's the earlier Jesus who is suspected of copying, and darn near caught red-handed! This is the pretzel logic of 'liberal' Christians.

Burton Mack at least is willing to let his 'Cynic Sage' Jesus be a Cynic; the Cynics were drop-outs. You remember, Tune In, Turn On, Drop Out? John Dominic Crossan cannot let the Cynics be Cynics, he must remold these apolitical passers-by into lefty revolutionaries, lest otherwise the inhabitants of the Third World fail to understand they must throw off American hegemony. Anti-imperialism is all the world to Crossan; it is more important than Jesus, his 'Jesus' is only of interest because he was an anti-imperialist. But not only can it not be shown that the Cynics were anti-imperialist, these arrogant elitists were not even pro-democracy. Cynicism arose in a Greek democracy which placed considerable demands on the time and attention of its male citizens; the Cynics said, 'Don't do any of that.' Cynicism took its rise from the teachings of Socrates, as profound an anti-democrat as ever lived. The "Jewish Cynic" who is also a "peasant revolutionary" is a square circle, hot ice. Crossan is aware that "they [the Cynics] showed little sense of. . .communal action" (The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant, Kindle location 9665). No kidding, they were misanthropes.

That is on the plus side for Mack. On the minus side, the caliber of mind here on display is such that he can argue as follows: The ancients used a school exercise of instructing the pupil to write a speech, say, such as would have been delivered by Dwight D. Eisenhower to the troops on the eve of D-Day. This performance was then evaluated as to its psychological and historical aptness to the occasion. Therefore, we know that the ancient historians made up speeches and even events. If you stumble at that 'therefore,' dear Reader, the Jesus Seminar is not for you.

The intent of making Jesus a 'Cynic Sage' is to make Him sympathetic to the aging hippies of the Jesus Seminar. But it carries the consequence also of reducing Him to the status of a provincial copy-cat of a well-known and well-publicized brand of the day: "The second strand comes from the tension seen in this book's first part between what might be termed the yuppies and the hippies of the century century C.E. . . .Cynicism represented a countercultural phenomenon and especially in its popular and peformancial aspects would have been known and recognized wherever Greco-Roman culture had penetrated." (John Dominic Crossan, The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant, page 303). In pursuit of their twin goals, both to make Jesus relevant but also to make Him insignificant, a "peasant nobody," they overstate the similarities between Cynicism and Christianity and ignore the many divergences.

His is a do-it-yourself religion. Crossan's Kingdom of God is a Kingdom without a King:

"You are healed healers he said, so take the Kingdom to others, for I am not its patron and you are not its brokers. It is, was, and always will be available to any who want it." (John Dominic Crossan, The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant, Kindle location 133).

The suggestion has been made, why wait? All that hinders the kingdom coming is us: "The Government of all, by all, and for all, is a democracy. When that Government follows the eternal laws of God, it is founding what Christ called the kingdom of heaven." (Theodore Parker, Works of Theodore Parker, Kindle location 2745). But Crossan's lefty approach, of assiduously teaching people to hate the imperialists because this is the truth that will set you free, is a known quantity. Every year they will have to come up with a new reason why the crops failed. We've seen it before, who would want to see it again?

The leading lights of the Jesus Seminar are great enthusiasts for Jesus but it is of course always and only the 'Jesus' of their own personal creation. The quality of 'scholarship' here on display is no better and no worse than that customary in the field of bad religion. It is a bit rich to be asked to accept a failed Roman Catholic priest like Crossan as if his Olympian objectivity were beyond question. Through it all, he retains certain Catholic preconceptions: the harrowing of Hell must be an early and authentic doctrine, salvation is by faith-plus-works, etc. How to account for the abrupt ending of Acts? Why, naturally, Luke is "establishing Rome for Christianity as Jerusalem was for Judaism." (John Dominic Crossan and Jonathan L. Reed, In Search of Paul, Kindle location 7119). He abandons Mary, though: if she can't be perpetually a virgin, then she can't have been a virgin at all! Here is what you get from these gurus and charlatans: "We now say what Paul never imagined. There are twin covenants, one Jewish and one Christian. . ." (John Dominic Crossan and Jonathan L. Reed, In Search of Paul, Kindle location 6943). Their intent is not to offer meaningful interpretation of first century documents, rather 'Paul says this, but I say that.' Consumers of this material should understand what they are getting for their money: bad religion. Still, there are real synergies between Cynicism, Stoicism and Christianity.

Where there is convergence, there are several possibilities: The two who agree may have independently arrived at the same thought. This happens; the Patent Office is not entitled to laugh the claim out of the court. But when the same thought springs into two minds, 'influence' is always the simpler and more economical explanation, if circumstances do not rule it out. A subterranean stream is another live possibility. So much has been lost from the material remains of the classical world, that we see as if by flashes of strobe light rather than continuously. Could it be that Cynics and Stoics always commended non-violent resistance, but that their earlier works in this vein have been lost? It is conceivable, but realizing that these authors do not cite only those of their own tendency,— the Stoic Seneca is always quoting Epicurean epigrams,— the simplest and easiest explanation is that they had heard the Sermon on the Mount, and were captivated by it. Mohandas Gandhi, when he heard the Sermon on the Mount, had no intention of becoming a Christian, but it changed his life. The remaining possibility is that these future figures changed the course of the past. Liberals are continually assuring us that this happens all the time, that Domitian's taking on titles not assumed by emperors before him caused Jesus to acquire these titles, that Philostratus writing his Life of Apollonius, a sort of pagan 'gospel,' created the genre of gospel writing, etc. But you have to be a 'liberal' to understand how this could possibly work, absent a miracle of God, because it seems to violate the laws of physics. The very real, if fleeting and occasional, affinities between the gospels and Seneca do call out for explanation. The best and simplest explanation is the influence Jesus of Nazareth had upon his contemporaries:

While Cynicism was not a meaningful influence on the gospel in its earliest days, in time things began to go more Crossan's way. It cannot be denied that this philosophy was a major influence on later Christianity, or at least one practice within that religion. The pagan Romans, like Americans today, believed you should be grateful to the people who nurtured and schooled you, and give back to your community. But in time, they had to coerce people to accept the civic honors and offices that once they had vied for, because nobody cared. What made the difference? What killed patriotism? Part of the answer must have been Cynicism, and an offshoot of Cynicism called the monastic movement. Crossan wants to see monasticism as early and authentic to Christianity, though most evangelicals do not; he even wants to take the Acts of Paul and Thecla seriously. The so-called evangelical counsels are authentic, but where is there any suggestion that those who are celibate or live in voluntary poverty should form homogeneous communities of their own, turn their backs on the larger society, and denounce and defame the church as 'the world'? What is not intrinsic must come from somewhere else. Gnosticism's two-tier church of the perfect and the hearers set the pattern institutionally, but whence comes the mean-spirited, misanthropic note that begins to sound, against one's fellow Christians? Later enthusiasts for the monastic movement would comb the scriptures, trying to find some precursor, perhaps in the preacher's world-weariness in Ecclesiastes, but there really is none. The idea that dropping out and living as a parasite, is a good thing to do and not a bad thing, and that the people who live like that are morally superior and not somewhat lacking, was original and central to Cynicism. So at a certain point there does begin a convergence. And not only that, but the national liberation movements led by their Boudicca's and Arminius's, which failed so signally during the expansionist phase of the empire, begin to succeed. The current reverses, and the empire cannot defend itself; the best and the brightest withdraw into the monasteries, leaving public life to buccaneers. So entered the golden age into human history. . .or, oops, it was the dark ages actually.


To the Smiters

As noted above, John Dominic Crossan claims the gospels are works of fiction rather than history, 'prophecy historicized' rather than history remembered. How do we know this? Because many of the circumstances of the Messiah's life were described in the Old Testament. There are indeed many Old Testament verses that speak of a coming king, of one beloved and specially chosen by God. Psalm 22 tells of one whose hands and feet are pierced:

In no way is the Kingdom "brokerless," nor does it lack a King. Even pagans might know who 'the' king was: "Why, indeed, should I apply the word king — a name which belongs properly to Jupiter the Most High — to a human being who is greedy for lordship and exclusive dominion and who is the slave-driver of an oppressed people?" (Cicero, On the Commonwealth, Book I, Chapter XXXIII). Jesus is king, as Caesar was not; not until the Goths conquered Rome was Rome's ruler properly styled a 'king.'

One must concede to John Dominic Crossan that very many Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah were fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth. At this the atheist mind becomes uncomfortable and begins casting about for a way out. They prefer to post-date prophecies until safely after their fulfillment; but with the Old Testament, this is impossible, that road is blocked. And so they holler, 'It never happened!' The fulfillment must be fictional, tailored to fit the prophecy: "Of course the narrative passion agreed in detail with the prophetic passion; it had been quarried from its contents." (John Dominic Crossan, Who Killed Jesus? p. 221). They then wax indignant over the anti-semitism of those people who think it ever could have happened as recorded: "It is impossible, in my mind, to overestimate the creativity of Mark, but those twin trials must be emphasized for what they are, namely, consummate theological fictions. It is also impossible, to my mind, to overestimate the terrible consequences of relocating such abuse as spitting, striking, and goading from an original situation involving Jesus as the Day of Atonement's scapegoat. . .It is magnificent theological fiction, to be sure, but entailing a dreadful price for Judaism." (John Dominic Crossan, The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant, p. 390). See how logically and consistently this approach works out, in the case of Jesus' crucifixion.

Crossan concedes that Jesus was crucified, mostly because writers outside of the gospel tradition, like the pagan historian Tacitus, say so. He concedes that Roman crucifixion was often accompanied by incidental violence and mistreatment:

  • “Flogging or scourging was usually part of the crucifixion process itself. It is mentioned as brutal prelude to execution by both the Jewish philosopher Philo and the Jewish historian Josephus. . .In summary, therefore, it may be taken for granted that torture and especially scourging were the ordinary concomitants of Roman crucifixion and that this derived not only from its inherent sadism but from its role as public deterrent. If you knew, therefore, that Jesus was crucified, you could presume that Jesus was scourged beforehand.”
  • (John Dominic Crossan, Who Killed Jesus? pp. 118-119).

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 Classics) (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.


Open Commensality

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 people.

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, 23.36).

"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 (2016-01-30). Delphi Complete Works of Ammianus Marcellinus (Illustrated) (Delphi Ancient Classics Book 60) (Kindle Locations 837-844). Delphi Classics.)

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).

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).

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.

Were the pagan gods such snobs as to despise the humble cottager's table? Of course not!

"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). Of course. 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, Delphi).

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 just stories:

"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.


Middle Class

According to Crossan, by definition and a priori, no middle class can exist in a 'peasant society.'

  • “There was no middle class in antiquity.”
  • (John Dominic Crossan, The Birth of Christianity, p. 179).

It would be true to suggest that the middle class in antiquity was endangered. The reality is that the slave economy threatened to swamp the middle class, which did exist, and which enlightened policy-makers understood required to be conserved, "The preservation and increase of the middle class, and in particular of the farmers, formed therefore for every patriotic statesman of Rome a problem not merely important, but the most important of all." (Theodor Mommsen, The History of Rome, Book 2, Chapter III, Kindle location 5619). This author, whom he admires, concludes that the tragedy of antiquity was the inability of the middle class to protect itself from undermining from beneath: "It was no accidental catastrophe which patriotism and genius might have warded off; it was ancient social evils — at the bottom of all, the ruin of the middle class by the slave proletariat — that brought destruction on the Roman commonwealth." (Theodor Mommsen, The History of Rome, Book IV, Chapter XI, Kindle location 23584).

Whatever. Does it matter that the Greeks and Romans used to talk about the "middle class?:"

"For you are at war not only with the Pompeians, but with the entire republic. Every one, gods and men, the highest rank, the middle class [medii], the lowest dregs of the people, citizens and foreigners, men and women, free men and slaves, all hate you." (Cicero, Marcus Tullius (2014-01-09). Thirteenth Philippic, 45, Delphi Complete Works of Cicero (Illustrated) (Delphi Ancient Classics) (Kindle Locations 30689-30691).)

May we simply stipulate that, when we talk about the 'middle class' in antiquity, we mean what Cicero meant when he talked about the 'medius ordo?:'

"For, as in the music of lyre and flute and as even in singing and spoken discourse there is a certain melody which must be preserved in the different sounds — and if this is altered or discordant it becomes intolerable to the ears of a connoisseur — and as this melody is made concordant and harmonious in spite of the dissimilar sounds of which it is composed, so the state achieves harmony by the agreement of unlike individuals, when there is a wise blending of the highest, the lowest, and the intervening middle classes [sic ex summis et infimis et mediis interiectis ordinibus] in the manner of tones." (Cicero, On The Commonwealth, Book 2, Chapter XLII).

The reader of ancient comedy becomes familiar with a mind-set which looks on appalled as the young master, his doting father absent on business, indulges in riotous living, partying with courtesans and drunks. So would we Christians. But the reason why they see this as a shame is not quite ours. The underlying problem, the really unforgiveable thing in their eyes, is that he's wasting his father's money. This penny-pinching mind-set is as far as the east is from the west, from the attitude of the rural grandees of Crossan's imagination, who burn money just to prove they have it. By whom did the middle class values, of economy, thrift, education and patient accumulation of capital, ever come to be valued, if the top one percent didn't need them and the bottom 99% could not benefit from them? I would challenge the reader to read Roman comedy, and then say there was no middle class in antiquity.

To judge by historian Cassius Dio, perhaps in antiquity the middle class were a moderating force in politics,

"The people in the city heard of this about evening and were thrown into a terrible uproar: for to factional disturbances there was being added a starting-point for war and evils, and the middle class [οι δια μεσου], even though they hated Clodius, yet on account of humanity and because on this excuse they hoped to get rid of Milo, showed displeasure." (Cassius Dio, Roman History, Book 40, Chapter 48).

How they were pleased or displeased when they never even existed is unclear. Don't bother asking the fantasists.

The Christian author Origen warns those between the two extremes, of wealth and poverty, both conditions which carry unique temptations to misconduct, not to become complacent in their middling estate: "Nor are those between these two extremes of wealth and poverty freed entirely from sinning because of their moderate possessions." (Origen, On Prayer, Chapter XXIX, Section 6, p. 154). Does it really require explanation to understand what it would mean to fall between these two extremes? If Origen is describing an empty set, why does he not realize this?

How does John Dominic Crossan know his oft-repeated claim, "There was no middle class in antiquity." (John Dominic Crossan, The Birth of Christianity, p. 179)? He makes it up. He can see it shimmering before his eyes: the land of make-believe, where unskilled workers earn more than skilled craftsmen. It's real to him, though objective history cannot discover it and economists cannot imagine it. Scholarship cannot confirm it, not even sources he commends: "The dimensions of the rooms in these medium-sized houses are quite comparable as well. Their owners clearly belonged to a well-to-do 'middle class,' which seems to have been keen on adopting the kind of taste oriented toward villa imitation." (Paul Zanker, Pompeii: Public and Private Life, p. 193).

Crossan meanwhile is stuck with an arbitrary construct according to which the lower orders are in a permanent situation of bare subsistence: a permanent situation of bare subsistence which is ever and anon growing worse! Meanwhile back in reality, for the middle class, the situation could and did grow worse: "It is a terrible picture, but not one peculiar to Italy; wherever the government of capitalists in a slave-state has fully developed itself, it has desolated God's fair world in the same way as rivers glisten in different colors, but a common sewer everywhere looks like itself, so the Italy of the Ciceronian epoch resembles substantially the Hellas of Polybius and still more decidedly the Carthage of Hannibal's time, where in exactly similar fashion the all-powerful rule of capital ruined the middle class, raised trade and estate-farming to the highest prosperity, and ultimately led to a — hypocritically whitewashed — moral and political corruption of the nation." (Theodor Mommsen, History of Rome, Book V, Chapter XI, Kindle location 34177).

But it could also grow better, because these endangered societies could and did diagnose the disease and seek to protect and restore itself. Whether their diagnosis was correct and the remedies applied effective is another story; but certainly safety and rescue can come from a sabbatical or a jubilee. But to the 'cross-cultural' approach, all such remedies are phantasmal and vain; it's the iron plow, the iron plow, the iron plow. Politically, the 'cross-cultural' approach is a counsel of despair. Crossan's approach negates history, because there can be no history of his 'peasant society,' which is by definition utterly static, inert and immovable. He congratulates his readers on their ignorance; they, and he, do not bother to study ancient history, because they know there can be no such thing. But, of course, even he does not believe politics is useless and human endeavor is in vain, as we discover open commensality would have changed everything! If he does not believe his own theory, why should anyone else?

In 'teaching' his students that there was no middle class in antiquity, because, a priori and by definition, 'agrarian' societies do not have a middle class, he is walling them off from reality. One need not share Mommsen's sycophantic adulation of Caesar to see a dynamic situation. Mommsen credits Solon as the great liberator of Athens, without mentioning that Moses did the same for Israel as Solon did for Athens: secured the personal freedom of the insolvent debtor; Caesar was very late to this party. Crossan's purportedly progressive style of social analysis sentences prior generations of mankind to serfdom, simply because they employed the iron plow, glossing over all actual progressive political achievements of the past. This 'peasant' drivel, which performs no function but only to put Jesus in His place, leads to total misunderstanding of ancient society. The best corrective for the 'Jesus Seminar' is a return to classical literacy, — not for them, for us; leave to Crossan and his school to explain how to worsen the lot of people in a permanent and perpetual state of knife-edge subsistence. It's always the same, you see, but simultaneously it's getting worse all the time!

We are justified in arguing as follows: no 'agrarian society,' by modern definition, has a middle class. Yet the world of classical antiquity, by its own self-definition, did have a middle class. Therefore, the world of classical antiquity was not an 'agrarian society' by modern definition.


A World of One's Own

It is so easy to get caught up by the brio and panache of Crossan's virtuoso performance that one neglects to notice he is making it up as he goes along. Where does the 'first century' world he describes exist, or when has it ever existed? In his own mind, nowhere else. One often gets the impression that, if a light bulb had flickered out during the deliberations of the Jesus Seminar, they would have had to call someone in to deal with the problem, because these are not men with an abundance of practical experience or intelligence. As an example, let us pose the query, when innocent people were interrogated by the investigatory tool of torture in the ancient world, was the torture continued to the point of death if they refused to confess?

The Romans did use torture, in their own minds to get at the truth. First of all, they tortured when dealing with slaves who may have been witnesses or accessories to a crime committed by their master. They rationalized this practice by pointing out that the slave has a very powerful incentive to lend his evidentiary voice to his master's cover story: the master holds the power in his hand to make the slave's life a living hell, or to confer the greatest blessing, manumission. Therefore the slave can be counted upon to confirm his master's alibi. . .unless a more powerful incentive is offered in the form of physical pain. In theory citizens were exempt: ". . .that a free man could not be tortured was a primitive maxim of Roman law, to obtain which other peoples have had to struggle for thousands of years." (Theodor Mommsen, The History of Rome, Book 1, Chapter XI, Kindle location 2996). With reference to suspected treason, though, which at times under the emperors might include mere verbal disagreement, all ranks were at risk: ". . .when any treasonable enterprise is discovered, the Cornelian laws have provided that no rank shall be exempted even from torture if necessary for the investigation." (Ammianus Marcellinus, History of Rome, Book XIX, Chapter XII, Section 17).

John Dominic Crossan assures us, in his breezy way, that when confronted by an innocent party who would not submit, they invariably pressed on to murder. What else can be made of his discovery that Pliny's two tortured deaconesses were, in fact, tortured to death:

"I take two points from that description [Pliny's Letter to Trajan]. First, those two unnamed deaconesses were tortured presumably to death, for, since they had nothing evil to admit, how, short of death, would the torturers know when to stop?" (John Dominic Crossan, The Birth of Christianity, p. 7).

Really? Have the others who practiced torture, the Gestapo. the KGB, the administration of George W. Bush, the Inquisition, made it their routine practice to murder everyone who fails to confess? We know of Third World dictators of the present day who beat their victims with rubber hoses, in order not to leave tell-tale scars. Come to think of it, we know of ancient governors who studied how to torture without killing: "They contend, therefore, that they may conquer and inflict exquisite pains on their bodies, and avoid nothing else but that the victims may not die under the torture. . ." (Lactantius, The Divine Institutes, Book 5, Chapter 11).

Let us interrogate actual witnesses from that world, although unfortunately from several centuries after our period of focus. There's no doubt that this did happen. Fourth century pagan historian Ammianus Marcellinus knows of interrogated witnesses who perished under torture: "And as the judge, I should rather call him the infamous robber, intent only on the service he had promised to perform, carried everything to excess. . .he tortured the slaves who were already exhausted by their long confinement, till they died, in order to extract from them matter affecting the life of their master; a proceeding which in a trial for adultery our merciful laws expressly forbid." (Ammianus Marcellinus, History of Rome, Book 28, Chapter 1, Section 55). Discussing another matter, he says that "some" of those tortured expired under these investigators' attacks: "Nevertheless after so many persons had been put to the question, some of whom had even expired under the severity of their tortures, still no traces of the alleged crimes could be discovered." (Marcellinus, Ammianus (2016-01-30). History of Rome, Book XXIX, Chapter 3, Section 8. Delphi Complete Works of Ammianus Marcellinus (Illustrated) (Delphi Ancient Classics Book 60) (Kindle Locations 9479-9480).)

So we certainly know that some of the time victims subjected to investigative torture died under their trials. However, did it happen 100% of the time as Crossan whimsically claims? Exactly how often did the innocent perish under torture? Augustine says, "often:"

"Melancholy and lamentable judgments they are, since the judges are men who cannot discern the consciences of those at their bar, and are therefore frequently compelled to put innocent witnesses to the torture to ascertain the truth regarding the crimes of other men. What shall I say of torture applied to the accused himself? He is tortured to discover whether he is guilty, so that, though innocent, he suffers most undoubted punishment for crime that is still doubtful, not because it is proved that he committed it, but because it is not ascertained that he did not commit it. Thus the ignorance of the judge frequently involves an innocent person in suffering. And what is still more unendurable — a thing, indeed, to be bewailed, and, if that were possible, watered with fountains of tears — is this, that when the judge puts the accused to the question, that he may not unwittingly put an innocent man to death, the result of this lamentable ignorance is that this very person, whom he tortured that he might not condemn him if innocent, is condemned to death both tortured and innocent.. . .And he thinks it no wickedness that innocent witnesses are tortured regarding the crimes of which other men are accused; or that the accused are put to the torture, so that they are often overcome with anguish, and, though innocent, make false confessions regarding themselves, and are punished; or that, though they be not condemned to die, they often die during, or in consequence of, the torture; or that sometimes the accusers, who perhaps have been prompted by a desire to benefit society by bringing criminals to justice, are themselves condemned through the ignorance of the judge, because they are unable to prove the truth of their accusations though they are true, and because the witnesses lie, and the accused endures the torture without being moved to confession." (Augustine, City of God, Book 19, Chapter 6, p. 857, ECF_1_02).

Augustine expects his readers, both pagan and Christian, to join him in seeing this outcome, an innocent murdered by investigative torture, as a tragedy, an unwelcome accident. The people who invented the slogan, 'Let justice be done though the heavens fall [fiat justitia ruat caelum]]' were not in fact indifferent to guilt or innocence. He says it happens "often:" not 'always,' not '100% of the time,' but "often." So antiquity testifies. But Crossan wants us to take his imaginary statistic and draw further conclusions from it:

"That torture in pursuit of information was carried out by as humane a Roman governor as we have on record. Remember Pliny and those deaconesses, therefore, whenever you think about Pilate and the peasant Jesus. Jesus was not much above these women's status in official eyes, and, in any case, Pilate was no Pliny." (John Dominic Crossan, The Birth of Christianity, p. 7).

In John Dominic Crossan's reconstruction of ancient society, a skilled craftsman was no higher, perhaps even lower, than a slave; perhaps really, really low, like a criminal. . .or even a day laborer! That these two slave women were, allegedly, murdered for no good reason is taken as proof that there was no trial of Jesus: one imaginary fact buttresses another. He invents a world, out of whole cloth, out of his fertile imagination, and then crops away all the features of the gospel record which do not conform to his imagined world.

To revert to our concern about practical know-how, is a justice system that invariably murders the innocent really going to be able to sustain itself? As Augustine realized, this investigate technique produces a high number of false positives: of confessions or admissions to what the investigators already believe and expect to hear. Investigators often develop tunnel vision. Confirmation bias convinces them this is a valuable technique when it is not. Torture really comes into its own under police states, such as the empire became; it is the only tool that can convert the dictator's paranoid suspicions into reality. They all confessed, didn't they?

People need to learn how to ask: 'How do you know this?' How do you know honest innocents are invariably murdered under torture, because there is otherwise no natural stopping point: not unconsciousness of the victim, not exhaustion of the interrogators, not the perception of futility? He makes it up as he goes along, that's how he knows it. Young people need to stop being so naive: you can't erase facts with fantasies about 'peasants.'