Monday, June 29, 2009

Again: The Titulus Crucis

Regarding the historicity of the titulus crucis[*], Raymond E. Brown states that “there is ... nothing implausible about it as a charge that a Roman governor, deciding a case according to extraordinary proceedings typical of provincial administration in a minor area like Judea, could relate to the general policy of the Lex Iulia de maiestate in the ordinary jurisprudence of Rome.”[1] To strengthen this statement of Brown, a reference should be made to the formal Roman administrative judicial procedure which was enforced early in the first-century. With this procedure being employed, only the Roman prefect or other subordinate Roman authorities on behalf of the prefect could officially condemn Jesus to death on account of a political charge that had been brought forth by the Jewish leaders.

In the provinces, only the governors, and in Egypt the prefect, had imperium and hence iurisdictio; and normally petitions,
that is, a petition or application for the case of accusing the defendant (accusatio) and confronting him/her with a trial (cognitio), would be directed to the governor or Prefectus Aegyptie. But no governor could hear all the cases directed to him, and as the result he would assign or delegate (exanapompēs) some cases to subordinate magistrates, iudices pedanei (or dati), a term rendered simply as kritai in the Greek of the eastern provinces.[2] That this official administrative judicial procedure was enforced early in the first-century, is attested by P. Oxy. 37-38 (dated to 49 CE)[3] and P. Oxy. 3464 (dated to ca. 54-60 CE).[4] We even can push its enforcement back to the reign of Augus­tus (31 BCE-14 CE), if we take into consideration the judicial process of “status examination” (epikrisis or eiskrisis) for Roman or non-Roman citizens in Roman Egypt. These examinations, sometimes conducted by the prefect or his deputies, were initiated during Augustus’ reign and were part of an administrative reorganization by the Roman government. The following comparative information concerning the Roman judicial procedure of status examination should be kept in mind.

About a hundred papyrus documents dated to the first three centuries CE record the process of status examination (epikrisis or eiskrisis) which was enforced on Roman or non-Roman citizens in Roman Egypt. Procedurally, an individual’s application for clai­ming the right to a particular status would be examined, verified and determined. If the applicant was properly qualified and his formal application was granted, the new status was then conferred and a certificate declaring the new status was issued. The official declaration of the new status of the applicant was important for, among other matters, claiming an inheritance or receiving other rights of citizenship, for example, enrollment in the military service or being wholly exempt from the poll-tax or having the right to reside in a province.

Carroll A. Nelson in his Status Declarations in Roman Egypt[5] has studied a number of such papyrus documents and analysed the form and function of such status declarations in Roman Egypt. Of the papyrus documents Nelson has analysed, some, dated from the begin­ning (103 CE) to the end of the second century (188 CE), contain records of examinations conducted directly by the prefect of Egypt or by his representatives upon Roman citizens and their dependants (slaves and freedmen) in matters such as establishing status or guaranteeing rights (pp. 40-46). Nelson, on p. 44, states, “that the prefect or his deputies conduc­ted the examinations ... means that the highest administrative office in the province handled the epikrisis of these citizens either because they were Romans or because their epikrisis involved something which was not or could not be handled on the nome [a province of ancient Egypt] or metropolis level of government.” Some of the papyri Nelson analysed (for exam­ple, P. Oxy II 257; P. Oxy X 1266; P. Oxy XII 1452; P. Oxy. XVIII 2186; PSI V 457; PSI VII 731) contain a reference to, or a citation from, a list or a documentary account dated to 4 or 5 CE (“in the thirty-fourth year of Augustus” [31 BCE-14 CE]) (pp. 28-35). Con­clusively, Nelson stresses that “In the first place, all available evidence points to these declarations and the examinations for status as exclusively Roman procedures which probably were initiated during the reign of Augustus and were part of an administrative reorganization by the Roman government” (p. 66) and “through status declarations and the records which they provided for nome and provincial officials, the Roman government was able to administer and control more efficiently her citizens and subjects in Egypt.” (p. 67).


[*] The image of the titulus crucis attached on this post is unusual. You should read the second and the third lines of the text from right to left, an unusual manner of writing in Greek and Latin. But I love it as an expression of art. In this blog, I have provided another image of the titulus crucis which is written in a normal way; to see this, click here.

[1] Brown, Death of Messiah, 2.967-68; cf. 1.717-19.

[2] Gary A. Bisbee, Pre-Decian Acts of Martyrs and Commentarii (HDR 22; Philadelp­hia: Fortress Press, 1988) 22; Peter Garnsey, “The Criminal Jurisdiction of Governors” in Journal of Roman Studies 58 (1968) 51-59; A. H. M. Jones, The Crimi­nal Courts of the Roman Republic and Principate (Oxford: Blackwell, 1972) 104; Naphta­li Lewis, “The Prefect’s Conventus: Proceedings and Procedures” in Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists 18 (1981) 125 [119-128].

[3] Bernard P. Grenfell and Arthur S. Hunt (eds.), The Oxyrhynchus Papyri Part I (London: Egypt Exploration Fund, Graeco-Roman Branch, 1898) 79-82; Revel A. Coles, Reports of Proceedings in Papyri (Papyrologica Bruxellensia 4; Brussels: Fondation Egyptologique Reine Elisabeth, 1966); Gary A. Bisbee, Pre-Decian Acts, 91.

[4] A. Bülow-Jacobsen and J.E.G. Whitehorne, eds., The Oxyrhynchus Papyri vol. xlix (London: Egyptian Exploration Society, 1982) 117-119; idem, The Oxyrhynchus Papyri nos. 3431-3521 (London: Egyptian Exploration Society, 1980); Gary A. Bisbee, Pre-Decian Acts, 24, 29.

[5] (American Studies in Papyrology vol. XIX; Amsterdam: Adolf M. Hakkert, 1979).

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

John D. Crossan’s Thought about Jesus’ Burial and Resurrection

Empty but full....

What did happen historically to the dead body of the crucified Jesus? Was his body buried as firmly testified by NT gospel stories? At first, John Dominic Crossan simply judged that “nobody knew what had happened to Jesus’ body.”[1] 

He also wrote: “[A]n indifferent burial by Roman soldiers becomes”, in the early Christian reflection, “eventually a regal entombment by his faithful followers.”[2] 

Crossan’s hardest judgment, however, came out later on: if Jesus’ body had been left on the cross, it would have been eaten up by wild beasts, carrion crows and birds of prey; or, if it had been buried by Roman soldiers as part of their job in a shallow grave barely covered with dirt and stones, the scavenger dogs that had been waiting for their food would have the body as their meal to help finish the Roman brutal job. 

For Crossan, the stories about Jesus’ burial by his friends are totally fictional and unhistorical accounts in which the Jewish legal injunction about burying the executed man on the same day as recorded in Deuteronomy 21:22-23 functioned as the formative force. 

Crossan baldly states that “Mark created that burial by Joseph of Arimathea in 15:42-47. It contains no pre-Markan tradition”, and “the empty-tomb story is neither an early historical event nor a late legendary narrative but a deliberate Markan creation.”[3] 

Crossan recently (1999), however, has modified his position. As to the burial, he states “that Jesus was buried is certainly possible and, if Paul intends ‘that he was buried’ (1 Cor 15:4) as received tradition, it may even be probable.[4] 

But the horror is this: the major alternative to the body abandoned on the cross is the body dumped in a limed pit.[5] 

For Crossan, in his earlier thought, the stories of Jesus’ resurrection and apparition (= resurrectional, revelatory appearances in and through the disciples’ vision[6]) are not stories about factual, historical happening, but fictional stories created literarily and ideologically in connection with the political power struggle within the authoritative leadership of the early Christian communities. 

They are therefore not stories about Jesus’ power over death but about the apostles’ political power over the community.[7] 

Helmut Koester also has noted that “the written passion narratives that were circulated, as well as the writings that became Gospels, reveal a political interest.”[8] 

The genre of the resurrection appearance story itself, as Kelber has pointed out, would have been suited to the practices of simultaneously instituting and enhancing esoteric knowledge concerning Jesus and apostolic authority.[9] 

However, with regard to the resurrectional apparition, on the basis of writings such as Virgil’s Aeneid Book 2, the assertion of the pro-Christian defender Justin Martyr, in 1 Apology 21, as well as the passage from the anti-Christian attacker Celsus, On the True Doctrine, Crossan recently concludes that in the general Mediterranean culture in antiquity, at the time of Christianity’s beginnings, post-death apparition and ascension into heaven were accepted as possibilities rather than as completely unique and abnormal events.[10] 

Furthermore, using the insights of studies in the psychosocial and cross-cultural anthropology of comparative religion, and the insights drawn from modern psychiatric studies in grief and bereavement, Crossan draws the conclusion that a vision of a deceased person alive again is a possibility common to our humanity, a possibility hard-wired into our brains, factually and historically happened both in the first century and in the modern times.[11] 

Crossan even can speak about the “bodily” or “fleshly” resurrection of Jesus; but, for him, it “has nothing to do with a resuscitated body coming out of its tomb. And neither is it just another word for Christian faith itself.” It “does not mean, simply, that the spirit of Jesus lives on in the world. And neither does it mean, simply, that the companions or followers of Jesus live on in the world.” 

Rather, it means that “the embodied life and death of the historical Jesus continues to be experienced, by believers, as powerfully efficacious and salvific in this world. That life continues, as it always has, to form communities of like lives.”[12] 

With this perspective, Crossan finally clearly interconnects the presence of the resurrected Jesus with that of the historical Jesus. Hence, the transcendence and the immanence intersect.

by Ioanes Rakhmat

☆ Paragraphs edited May 20, 2022


[1] John D. Crossan, Historical Jesus, 394; in harmony with, a.o., Gerd Lüedemann, The Ressurrection of Jesus: History, Experience, Theology (SCM Press, 1994) 180. 

[2] Crossan, “Empty Tomb and Absent Lord” in Werner H. Kelber, ed., Passion in Mark (1976) 152 (135-152). 

[3] Birth of Christianity, 555, 558 (emphasis original); Jesus, 123-127, 152-158, 160; Four Other Gospels, 153f., 164. 

[4] Cf. Gerd Lüdemann, De Opstanding van Jezus: Een Historische Benadering (Baarn: Ten Have, 1996) 38: “... omdat de tradities eenstemming verhalen van een kruisafname (ook I Kor. 15:4 gaat daarvan uit). Daarom zou de begrafenis van Jezus kunnen behoren tot de uitzonderingsgevallen, waarbij de Romeinse autoriteiten het lijk vrijgaven.” 

[5] Crossan, “Historical Jesus as Risen Lord” in The Jesus Controversy. gen. ed. Gerald P. McKenny (RLS; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Trinity Press, 1999) 17 [1-47]; Birth of Christianity, 528, 555. In this regard, Crossan refers to Marianne Sawicki, Seeing the Lord: Resurrection and Early Christian Practices (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1994) 180, 257. 

[6] Crossan uses the terms vision and apparition interchangeably (“Historical Jesus as Risen Lord”, 6). 

[7] That is, they give witness to the trajectory of Jesus’ revelatory apparition, moving the emphasis of the revelation slowly but steadily and hierarchically from general community to leadership group to specific leaders with apostolic authority—a trajectory originating, in a sense, from Paul which was, later in the canonical gospels’ context, colored by questions, debates, and even controversies and deliberate political dramatizations over direction, leadership, and authority within the early Christian communities. See Historical Jesus, 395-416; Jesus, 165ff.; Who Killed Jesus?, 202ff. 

[8] Koester, “Writings and the Spirit: Authority and Politics in Ancient Christianity” in Harvard Theological Review 84:4 (1991) 369 [253-372]. On p. 359: “the so-called theology of Paul’s letters must... be understood as secondary when compared to the political intent of the letter”; on p. 368: “the development of the gospel literature was a process that is analogous to the establishment of the authority of Christian epistolary literature.” 

[9] Kelber, “Narrative and Disclosure: Mechanisms of Concealing, Revealing, and Reveiling” in Semeia 43 (1988) 6 [1-20]. 

[10] “Historical Jesus as Risen Lord”, 6f., 26-31. For surveys of the literary history of the genre of the resurrection stories, see , e.g., Johannes Leipoldt, “The Resurrection Stories” in Journal of Higher Criticism 4:1 (1997) 138-149; Gregory J. Riley, Resurrection Reconsidered: Thomas and John in Controversy (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1995) 7-68.

[11] “Historical Jesus as Risen Lord”, 6-7; Jesus, 87-88; “Why Is Historical Jesus Research Necessary?” in James H. Charlesworth and Walter P. Weaver (eds.), Jesus Two Thousand Years Later (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 2000) 17-18 [7-37]. Cf. Lüdemann, De Opstanding van Jezus, 176-178 [114-178]. 

[12] “Historical Jesus as Risen Lord”, 45-46.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Non-Apocalyptic Jesus and the Kingdom of Nobodies

by Ioanes Rakhmat

In his recen
t essay “A Future for the Christian Faith?” (1999), published in 2000, John Dominic Crossan, referring to his work In Parables (1973), reminds his readers, “You know that almost thirty years I have argued in print that Jesus’ Kingdom of God was eschatological but not apocalyptic.”[1] By eschatological, Crossan means “any vision or program for which this world is so radically unjust that only transcendent remedy is possible.” It is a world-negating vision. It indicates “a radical criticism of culture and civilization and thus a fundamental rejection of this world’s values and expectations.”[2] By apocalyptic, he means “that type of echatology that awaits an imminent divine intervention to eradicate injustice and violence here below and to establish a utopian world of justice and peace on earth.”[3]

Crossan terms the eschatology of Jesus “ethical eschatology” or “ethicism.” The ethical eschatology of Jesus stands in contrast to the apocalyptic eschatology of John the Baptist, Jesus’ mentor, which awaits imminent intervention of God in the world.[4] Jesus broke with John’s apocalyptic vision[5] and developed quite a different message for his own program which emphasized the permanent presence of God for human beings here and now, of a God who challenges the world and shatters its complacency repeatedly.[6] When one adopts apocalyptic eschatology, he or she is waiting for the imminent advent and interventional act of the avenging and violent God here in the world. Apocalypticism “negates the world by announcing that in the future, and usually the imminent future, God will act to restore justice in an unjust world.” In ethical eschatology, God is understood as waiting for us to act here and now. When people adhere to ethical eschatology, they “negate the world by actively protesting and nonviolently resisting a system judged to be evil, unjust, and violent.” In ethicism, as distinct from apocalypticism, God is depicted as a nonviolent God of a nonviolent kingdom, a God of nonviolent resistance to structural as well as individual evil.[7]

The kingdom of God in the teachings and deeds of the non-apocalyptic Jesus is the kingdom that knows no hierarchy and domination of one upon the other. No distinction of rank and status will exist in this kingdom. Jesus heals, and his companions are told to go do the same. Jesus’ companions can do exactly what Jesus himself was doing. The kingdom is not his monopoly; it is for anyone with courage enough to accept it. Jesus announces its presence, its abiding, permanent possibility. He does not initiate its existence. He does not control its access.[8] The unmediated Kingdom was Jesus’ alternative symbolic universe which “negated alike and at once the hierarchical and patronal normalcies of Jewish religion and Roman power” and espoused the “unmediated physical and spiritual contact with God and unmediated physical and spiritual contact with one another.”[9] Lest he be interpreted and hoped for as simply a new broker of a new God, Jesus “moved on constantly, settling down neither in Nazar­eth nor Capernaum. He was neither broker nor mediator, but, somewhat paradoxi­cally, the announcer that neither should exist between humanity and divinity or between humanity and itself.”[10] In short, God’s kingdom in Jesus’ vision and program is a “companionship of empowerment”, not a realm of domination, nor a kingdom of control and mastery.[11]

Jesus’ companions were increasingly dispossessed peasants forced off their lost farms into survival on the roads of the countryside or in the streets of the cities.[12] Jesus himself was a tektōn, namely, a dispossessed Jewish peasant,[13] a landless laborer, a marginalized peasant.[14] Thus, the kingdom of God is the kingdom for the religiously and economically poor,[15] for the persecuted,[16] for the hungry.[17] God is for the poor, that is, for the destitute, the beggars, the vagrants, the powerless, the hungry and the persecuted, the undesirables, the unholy, because their situation is structurally unjust. The beatitude of Jesus declared blessed not the poor, but the destitute, not poverty but beggary. Jesus spoke of a Kingdom of the unclean, degraded, and expendable classes.[18] The ethical Kingdom of God is the Kingdom for “children,”[19] that is, for “nobodies,” since, Crossan asserts, “to be a child” in the ancient societies of the Mediterranean world, “was to be a nobody.”[20] Jesus and his companions were “nobodies”; his Kingdom movement was therefore a movement of nobodies and nuisances.[21]

Due to his view of Jesus’ social status as a nobody, a nonentity, a nuisance, and his kingdom movement as a movement of nobodies, Crossan has strongly determined his judgment that there is no Jesus’ trial in history. Crossan’s judgment is very clear that “there would be no need to go very high up the chain of command for a peasant nuisance nobody like Jesus, no need for even a formal interrogation before Caiaphas, let alone a detailed trial before Pilate. In the case of Jesus, there may well have been arrest and execution but no trial whatsoever in between.”[22] However, there is another point in Crossan’s assessment of the Jesus’ movement that seems to be contradictory to his judgment that Jesus was a nobody.

Crossan asserts that Jesus was the Temple’s functional opponent, alternative and substitute;[23] and the Kingdom movement he initiated was “clearly a deliberate challenge to the Kingdom of Caesar”[24] as well as to the Jewish Temple state. When Jesus went to Jerusalem, according to Crossan, the egalitarianism in spiritual and economic realm he preached in Galilee exploded in indignation at the Temple as the seat and symbol of all that was nonegalitarian, patronal, and even oppressive on both the religious and the political level. His demonstration in the Temple actualized what he had already said in his teachings, effected in his healings, and realized in his mission of open commensality.[25] Furthermore, Crossan asserts that “Jesus was not a victim but a martyr. Pilate got it right: he was subversive, he was dangerous―but he was far more subversive and far more dangerous than Pilate imagined.”[26] He then concludes that martyrdom is the final act of ethical eschatology, the ultimate and public act of nonviolent resistance to violent authority.[27] With this, Crossan seems to have boxed himself into a corner, for, if Jesus was so subversive and dangerous, and his movement was a serious, deliberate challenge to both the Kingdom of Caesar and the Jewish Temple state, one wonders, why Crossan does not proceed to the logical consequence of this argument that it was no surprise that Jesus was finally arrested and then tried by the Jewish authorities and the Roman prefect on the charge of sedition, that is, of arousing people to rebel against the Jewish Temple state and Roman Empire. Found guilty of this charge, he was executed by crucifixion.


[1] Crossan, “A Future for the Christian Faith?” in The Once and Future Jesus (the collection of keynote addresses delivered in the Jesus Seminar’s celebration at Santa Rosa, CA, October 1999; Polebridge Press: Santa Rosa, CA, 2000) 118 [109-129]; Crossan in Robert J. Miller, ed., The Apocalyptic Jesus. A Debate (Santa Rosa, California: Polebridge Press, 2001) 119; Birth of Christianity, 257-58.

The non-apocalyptic view of Jesus is characteristic of the Jesus Seminar’s point of view. At least three other scholars in the Jesus Seminar guild can be mentioned as entertaining the non-apocalyptic view about Jesus: Marcus Borg (Jesus in Contemporary Scholarship [Valley Forge: Trinity Press International, 1994] 74-84; see also in Robert J. Miller, ed., The Apocalyptic Jesus. A Debate, 31-48, 114-119, 131-137, 152-157); Stephen J. Patterson (“The End of Apocalypse: Rethinking the Eschatological Jesus” in Theology Today 52/1 [1995] 29-48; idem, The God of Jesus: The Historical Jesus and the Search for Meaning [Pennsylvania: Trinity Press International, 1998] 163-84; see also in Robert J. Miller, ed., The Apocalyptic Jesus. A Debate, 69-82, 123-127, 142-146, 160-163) and Robert J. Miller, “Is the Apocalyptic Jesus History?” in the Jesus Seminar’s publication, The Once and Future Faith (Santa Rosa, California: Polebridge Press, 2001) 101-134.

In response to, a.o., Dale C. Allison’s work Jesus of Nazareth (see also Allison’s position in Robert J. Miller, ed., The Apocalyptic Jesus. A Debate, 17-29, 83-105, 109-114, 147-152) the Fellows of the Jesus Seminar (in the Spring meeting of March 3, 2000, in Santa Rosa, California), voting on the “red”, reaffirmed and “agreed strongly” that the “imminent eschatological expectation misrepresents what Jesus was all about.” See The Fourth R 13/3 (2000) 3-5; cf. W. Barnes Tatum’s book review in The Fourth R 14/1 (2001) 8-10; cf. also The Five Gospels, 4. Allison himself maintains that the elimination of apocalyptic eschatology from the earliest tradition is utterly implausible (Dale C. Allison, Jesus of Nazareth, 65). In keeping with Allison’s view, see Bart D. Ehrman, Jesus. Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium (New York: Oxford, 1999); idem, The New Testament. A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings (New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 20043 [2000]) 250-274. Another recent book on the apocalyptic Jesus is that of Paula Fredriksen, Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews (New York: Vintage Books, 2000 [1999]) (p. 97: “Moving backward along a trajectory from later text to earlier text to, finally, Jesus himself, we might hypothesize a gradient of increasing apocalyptic intensity.” P. 197: “Jesus shared with John the same urgent message to prepare for God’s fast-approaching Kingdom.”).

[2] Jesus, 52.

[3] “A Future for the Christian Faith?”, 118 (emphasis removed). In Historical Jesus (p. 285), Crossan understands “apocalyptic” “not in the sense of a destroyed earth and evacuation heavenward for the elect, but rather of something like a heaven on earth.”

[4] In a debate concerning the apocalyptic or non-apocalyptic Jesus, Crossan suggested six distinctions within apocalyptic eschatology (that is, destructive or transformative apocalypse, material or social apocalypse, primary or secondary apocalypse, negative or positive apocalypse, passive or active apocalypse, instantive or durative apocalypse), and claimed that “[A]n ‘apocalyptic’ Jesus... where the emphasis is on transformative, social, secondary, positive, active, and durative apocalyptic rather than on destructive, material, primary, negative, passive, and instantive apocalyptic, is so close to what I termed ethical eschatology or the radicality of divine ethics.” See Robert J. Miller, ed., The Apocalyptic Jesus. A Debate, 69 [48-69]; see also Crossan’s articles: “A Future for the Christian Faith,” 109-129; “Eschatology, Apocalypticism, and the Historical Jesus” in Marvin Meyer and Charles Hughes, eds., Jesus Then and Now: Images of Jesus in History and Christology (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 2001) 91-112.

[5] The texts that indicate the break between Jesus and John the Baptist which occurred after the death of the latter, are Gospel of Thomas 78:1-3, Q Gospel in Luke 7:24b-27 (= Matthew 11:7b-10); Gospel of Thomas 46:1-2, Q Gospel in Luke 7:28 (=Matthew 11:11); Gospel of Thomas 113:1-4 = 3:1-3 = 51:1-2 = 18:1-3; Q Gospel in Luke 17:23-24 (= Matthew 24:26-27); Mark 13:21-13 (= Matthew 24:23-25); Luke 17:20-21; Mark 2:18-20, Q Gospel in Luke 7:33-34 (= Matthew 11:18-19). See Historical Jesus, 236-238, 259, 260; Jesus, 46-48; Birth of Christianity, 305-316.

[6] In Parables, 26.

[7] Birth of Christianity, 279, 283-284, 287, 317-344.

[8] Birth of Christianity, 333, 336.

[9] Historical Jesus, 422.

[10] Historical Jesus, 422, cf. 346.

[11] Birth of Christianity, 336-337.

[12] Birth of Christianity, 336.

[13] Here I deliberately do not mention Crossan’s Jesus as a peasant Jewish Cynic, but rather only as a Jewish peasant (minus the word “Cynic”). In response to his critics, Crossan recently has conceded that “If cynicism had never existed, nothing would change in my reconstruction of Jesus as a Mediterranean Jewish peasant. I use the doctrine of Cynicism comparatively but do not need it constitutively. I have never considered a Cynic Jesus as some sort of replacement for a Jewish Jesus; indeed, I find that idea little short of absurd. My reply to the Cynic hypothesis was and is: if you want to imagine a Cynic Jesus, go ahead, but you better imagine a Jewish peasant Cynic” (Birth of Christianity, 334).

It must be noted however that, in comparison to his earlier treatment in Historical Jesus (1991) of the historical Jesus in which Jesus’ cynicism was put on the overriding center (see pp. 72-90; 303-353, esp. pp. 338-44; 421f.), here in Birth of Christianity (1998; see especially pp. 280-81, 333-35, 412-13), as well as in Jesus (1994; see pp. 102-22, 197f.), the very Jewishness of Jesus comes to a prominent place and the fundamental differences between Jesus’ movement and the Cynic preachers are significantly stressed. I note several changes in Crossan’s Christology. For instance, first, in Historical Jesus we find the following assertions: “The historical Jesus was, then, a peasant Jewish Cynic. His peasant village was close enough to a Greco-Roman city like Sepphoris that sight and knowledge of Cynicism are neither inexplicable nor unlikely” (p. 421); “Jesus ... is establishing... a Jewish and rural Cynicism rather than Greco-Roman and urban Cynicism” (p. 340). Second, in Jesus, Crossan admits that “We have, in the final analysis, no way of knowing for sure what Jesus knew about Cynicism, or whether he knew about it at all. That, however, is not really the point. Maybe he had never even heard of the Cynics and was just reinventing the Cynic wheel all by himself.... Maybe Jesus is what peasant Jewish Cynicism looked like.” (p. 122; emphasis added). And finally, in Birth of Christianity (cf. Historical Jesus, p.338f.): “It is especially in the symbolic catecheses of their [that is, Jesus’ and the Cynic’s] dress codes that comparison is most instructive. I find this very illuminating, even if Jesus knew nothing whatsoever about Cynicism.” (p. 334f.; emphasis added).

[14] Birth of Christianity, 350, 352. Employing Gerhard Lenski’s typology of human societies which divides agrarian societies into upper and lower strata (see Lenski’s work, Power and Privilege: A Theory of Social Stratification [New York: McGraw-Hill. 1966]), Crossan places Jesus in the social stratum of Peasant Artisan class. Peasants are exploited and oppressed farmers, and, by definition, illiterate; they live at subsistence level in the ecology and sociology of urban-rural interchange where the cities exploit the countrysides of the peasants (Birth of Christianity, 155, 158, 216-18, 223, 234-35). Peasant artisans were lower, not higher, than peasant farmers in social class, but higher than the “Uncleaned and Degraded Class” (e.g., porters, miners, and prostitutes, namely those who “had only their bodies and animal energies to sell and who were forced to accept occupations which quickly destroyed them­”) and the lowest “Expendable Class” (which comprised “a variety of types, ranging from petty criminals and outlaws to beggars and underemployed itinerant workers, and numbered all those forced to live solely by their wits or by charity.”) (Ibid., pp. 155). See also Crossan, Historical Jesus, 125-28; idem, Jesus, 25.

[15] Gospel of Thomas 54; Q Gospel in Luke 6:20 = Matthew 5:3.

[16] Gospel of Thomas 68 = 69:1; Q Gospel in Luke 6:22-23 = Matthew 5:11-12.

[17] Gospel of Thomas 69:2; Q Gospel in Luke 6:21a = Matthew 5:6.

[18] Birth of Christianity, 318-322; Historical Jesus, 270-282.

[19] Gospel of Thomas, 22:1-2; Mark 10:13-16 = Matthew 19:13-15 = Luke 18:15-17; Matthew 18:3; John 3:1-5, 9-10.

[20] Historical Jesus, 269.

[21] Jesus, 54ff.

[22]Who Killed Jesus?, 117; Jesus, 152.

[23] Historical Jesus, 303-53, esp. 332ff., 355, 360.

[24] “A Future for the Christian Faith”, 127.

[25] Historical Jesus, 360; Jesus, 133-36; Who Killed Jesus?, 65. Open commensality, that is, eating together without using table (because table was considered as a miniature map of society’s vertical discriminations and lateral separation) was the heart of Jesus’ original Kingdom movement; it was his strategy for building or rebuilding peasant community on principles radically opposed to those of honor and shame, patronage and clientage (Historical Jesus, 341, 344; Jesus, 66-70).

[26] Birth of Christianity, 285.

[27] Birth of Christianity, 289.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Iliad and Odyssey: A Brief Glimpse

by Ioanes Rakhmat

The works I
liad and Odyssey were composed by Homer sometime between 800 and 680 BCE, with Iliad preceding Odyssey in time of composition.[1] Iliad is a tragedy and Odyssey is a novel;[2] both were designed to be heard and recited in public performance, before a live audience, and not to be read in private.[3] Both had their origins in oral performances.[4] The central theme of both works is the suffering of pious and innocent people during the Trojan War (Iliad) and its aftermath (Odyssey). The mythological hero Heracles plays a non-active role in both works (Iliad, books XVIII and XIX; Odyssey, book XI). According to Aune, Heracles was “the single most popular” mythological hero in ancient Greek and Roman folklore, being honored as a god or a son of the god Zeus. Heracles was never understood to have been “an actual historical individual”; but, from antiquity to the present, his figure has appeared in diverse folktales, myths, local cults and literary adaptations, as well as in artistic representations which were made as early as the eighth century BCE.[5]

A cumulative oral tradition and a mass of legendary and mythical material of very ancient date were worked up by Homer into seemingly historical tales;[6] the result was a new genre called epic poetry[7] and marked by fictitious character.[8] Historical interest sometimes motivates one to treat Iliad and Odyssey as historical sources to be employed in excavating and reconstructing ancient Greek life and culture which are seen as interwoven or embedded in the layers of the mythical texts. This effort is based on the unwarranted assumption that mythical literary works always contain some historical material.[9] This assumption becomes questionable when scholars advance conclusions such as the following: “[S]trictly speaking there is no such thing as ‘Homeric society’; there is the society of the Iliad and that of the Odyssey.”[10] This does not mean that there is nothing historical at all in Iliad and Odyssey; the city of Troy, e.g., was once a fact in the history of this world. Nevertheless, as a whole, the central concern of both these works is not history.

In Thomas Finan’s view, Iliad has a mythic, universalising, paradigmatic or representative character; it represents a human revolt against the human condition “at its most ultimately tragic, faced not just with innocent suffering but with the final unredeemed futility of death.”[11] Homer opens Iliad by telling that all events therein related are “in fulfillment of the will of Zeus.”[12] Thus, all the events connected with the war between the Achaeans (or Grecians) and the Trojans, including occurrences such as the grisly death of Hector, the Trojan leader, together with the mal-treatment of his corpse by Achilles, the Grecian leader, are presented as having been divinely foreordained. Indeed, Homer paints Zeus, the supreme Olympian deity, as neutral; but he is said to have ordered all the other gods to join either the Achaeans or the Trojans and to assist, as their sympathies dictate, the side chosen (Iliad, Book XX).[13]

In Odyssey, the protagonist is the innocent sufferer Odysseus, the King of Ithaca, who, with others of the Greek chieftains, is returning home after the war. Odysseus is depicted as being very eager to be reunited with his virtuous and single-hearted wife, Queen Penelope. Odysseus stands out as a heroic, suffering figure who is, in the words of G. S. Kirk, “long-suffering, patient, wise, humane, resigned, philosophical, hard-headed, practical, brutal when circumstances demand it, boastful at times.”[14] Sometimes, however, Odysseus can feel disquieted and doubtful of his own strength. In preparing for the struggle to remove the suitors who had been disturbing his wife while he was away in Troy, Odysseus was very anxious. At that moment, his patroness, the goddess of the gleaming eyes, Athene, the daughter of Zeus, descended from heaven and drew near to him, encouraging him by saying to him: “Unbelieving one, most men are ready to trust a comrade, a mortal man without my strength and without my cunning; yet I am a goddess, one who through all your trials has guarded you continually....”[15] The divine vindication of the suffering innocent Odysseus is announced when Zeus, replying to Athene, utters these words, “…Was it not you who framed this plan, so that Odysseus at his homecoming should be revenged upon the suitors? You may work in any way you please, but I will tell you what way is best. Now that the king has taken his vengeance on the suitors, let both sides make a solemn covenant; let Odysseus reign there all his days, while we ourselves bring about forgetfulness of the slaughtering of sons and brothers. Let them all be friends as they were of old, and let there be wealth and peace in plenty” (Odyssey Book XXIV 442-525).[16]


[1] Walter Shewring (trans.), Homer, The Odyssey. Introduction by G. S. Kirk (Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 1982 [1980 (first ed.)]) xvi; Rieu, Homer, The Odyssey, 11 n.†; M.M. Austin and P. Vidal-Naquet, Economic and Social History of Ancient Greece: An Introduction. ET by M.M. Austin (Berkeley, Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1973 [1972]) 37-38.

[2] Rieu, Homer, The Odyssey, 10; Homer, The Iliad (Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1960 [19501]) vii.

[3] Elizabeth Minchin, “The Performance of Lists and Catalogues in the Homeric Epics” in Ian Worthington, ed., Voice into Text: Orality and Literacy in Ancient Greece (Mnemosyne: Supp. 157; Leiden, etc.: Brill, 1996) 4 [3-20]; Walter Shewring, Homer, The Odyssey, viii.

[4] In modern scholarship, the theory that Homeric epic poems Iliad and Odyssey originated in oral public performances is first contended by Milman Parry and Albert Lord. For a historical and methodological study of this theory, see John Miles Foley, The Theory of Oral Composition: History and Methodology (Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1988). In his work, Against Apion 1.11-12, Flavius Josephus (born 37/38 CE) writes: “....Throughout the whole range of Greek literature no undisputed work is found more ancient than the poetry of Homer. His date, however, is clearly later than the Trojan war; and even he, they say, did not leave his poems in writing....”

[5] The mythological figure Heracles himself goes back at least to the Mycenaean period (1400-1000 BCE), if not earlier. See David E. Aune, “Heracles and Christ. Heracles Imagery in the Christology of Early Christianity” in David L. Balch, Everett Ferguson, Wayne A. Meeks (eds.), Greeks, Roman, and Christians (Essays in honor of Abraham J. Malherbe) (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990) 4f. [3-19]; see also Roman Garrison, Why Are You Silent, Lord? (The Biblical Seminar 68. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000) 37-44.

[6] Walter Shewring, Homer, The Odyssey, xiii-xvi; Rieu, Homer, The Odyssey, 11.

[7] W. Merrit Sale, “Homer and Avdo: Investigating Orality Through External Consistency” in Ian Worthington, ed., Voice into Text, 21-42. “Epic poetry” is a genre, either oral or imitative of oral in origins, which is composed throughout by a technique indistinguishable from the oral; in this regard, “an oral technique amount[s] to oral composition” (p. 24). On the “oral-formulaic theory” of Homer’s works, see also Mary Sale, “The Oral-formulaic Theory Today” in Janet Watson, ed., Speaking Volumes: Orality and Literacy in the Greek and Roman World (Mnemosyne: Supp. 218; Leiden, etc.: Brill, 2001) 53-80.

[8] See, e.g., W.B. Stanford, “Homer” in T. James Luce, ed. in chief, Ancient Writers Greece and Rome, vol. 1: Homer to Caesar (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1982) 2, 25 [1-41]; D.C. Feeney, “Toward an Account of the Ancient World’s Concepts of Fictive Belief” in Christopher Gill and T.P. Wiseman, eds., Lies and Fiction in the Ancient World (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 1993) 232-233 [230-244].

[9] However, according to Feeney (“Fictive Belief”, pp. 242, 233), we should also pay serious attention to “the various margins between fictive and other narratives, especially the margin between the belief accorded to fictions and the belief accorded to other modes of speech or representation” (for instance history and science), and to the “difference between history and epic” which has nothing to do with what we might label “historicity” (whether something had happened or not), but was rather a question of the mode of treatment, the degree of “fictiveness” which is applied in the narrating. See also Feeney, The Gods in Epic: Poets and Critics of the Classical Tradition (Oxford, 1991) 44-45, 253-56, 261-264.

[10] Austin and Vidal-Naquet, Economic and Social History, 39.

[11] Thomas Finan, “The Myth of the Innocent Sufferer: Some Greek Paradigms” in Proceedings of the Irish Biblical Association 9:121-135 (Dublin: Irish Biblical Association Publications, 1985) 125f.

[12] Rieu, trans., Homer, The Iliad, 23; Frans van Oldenburg Ermke, trans., Homeros, Ilias en Odyssea (Retie: Kempische Boekhandel, 1959) 7.

[13] Rieu, The Iliad, 366.

[14] “Introduction” to Walter Shewring, Homer, The Odyssey, xix.

[15] Walter Shewring, Homer, the Odyssey, 243ff. (Book XX).

[16] Walter Shewring, Homer, the Odyssey, 296-297.