Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

Christmas Story Thoughts from John Crossan

Posted by kirkcaudle on December 7, 2010

Because I have been busy in life I have not posted a blog on here for a while. Therefore, I thought it was about time I did. Recently I have been reading John Crossan’s book, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography. I will share some thoughts on a sort section of this book that is related to the Christmas season.

The birth narratives of Luke and Matthew both fascinate me. I think this is because both share so many differences and similarities. However, what is surprising is that most people are not aware of these similarities and simply mash the two narratives together when they retell the story on Christmas. Crossan points out that for Luke, John is connected with the past (through prophetic line), while Jesus is shown to be the future (6). Crossan then presents five ways to compare the birth narratives of John and Jesus in the Book of Luke (7-11).

1.      Angelic announcements

2.      Publicized birth

3.      Circumcision and naming

4.      Public Presentation and prophecy of destiny

5.      Description of the child’s growth

These five sub-divisions are great. Each section is clearly written and laid out. Each section stays on task while trying to show how Luke is presenting Jesus as the future. A quote that stayed with me from this section was “John is hidden in the wilderness, but Jesus is already astounding the teachers in the Temple at twelve years of age” (11). I think that nicely sums up the different missions of John and Jesus.

Crossan then moves on to show three ways to parallel Matthews birth narrative with Exodus 1-2 and other literature within that tradition (12-17).

1.      The ruler’s plot

2.      The Father’s decision

3.      The child’s escape

The first of these, “The ruler’s plot,” provides an intensively intriguing reworking of the Moses birth story via the Jewish historian Josephus. This account sets forth the idea that the slaughtering of Israelite children came from a paranoid Pharaoh who had a dream he would be dethroned by one of these children. This Josephus story is what Crossan claims uses as the “model for [the] account of Jesus’ birth” (13). I am not entirely sure what to make of these writings of Josephus, but if they are true then it makes me look at the birth stories of Moses and Jesus much differently than before.

The problem I had with Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography is the same problem I have with most books on the historical Jesus, they reduce Jesus to nothing more than just another moral teacher that taught things which flew into the face of the status quo. Now don’t get me wrong, books such as these always provide sound scholarship and well researched ideas. I follow much of the thinking, but have a hard time taking the study of Jesus seriously when godliness is taken away from him. Crossan spends much of his time explaining away the miracles of Jesus. I believe a better use of his time would be to explain why the miracles were done, and not if the miracles were done. The question of if can always be left up to faith, but the question of why is always open to interpretation.

But with that said, I did find some of the insights helpful, and that is why I posted these thoughts. I am trying to find Book of Mormon ties to a few of these thoughts for a later project.

Crossan, John D. Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography. New York, N.Y: HarperOne, 2009. Print.

3 Responses to “Christmas Story Thoughts from John Crossan”

  1. john willis said

    Have you looked at Raymond E. Brown’s work , The Birth of the Messiah ?? I found it very insightful and an excellent combination of faith and scholarship. The book was referenced in Eric Huntsman’s artricle the infancy narratives in this month’s Ensign.

  2. kirkcaudle said

    I haven’t read Brown’s book, but I might check it out. And I always enjoy reading Huntsman’s work.

  3. Robert C. said

    Thanks for this post, Kirk. In particular, I hadn’t really thought about this contrast between the prophetic tradition of “outsiders” versus the condescension of Christ being born more with-in the world, but I think it’s a very rich idea….

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