Updated Book Review: James Crossley

Read the update here and stay tuned for more.

Book Review – Jesus in an Age of Neoliberalism: Quests, Scholarship and Ideology, by James G Crossley « The Musings of Thomas Verenna.

Book Review – Jesus in an Age of Neoliberalism: Quests, Scholarship and Ideology, by James G Crossley

Just received word that James Crossley’s new book will be shipping soon!  This is quite exciting.  I have been looking forward to this book since I heard about it months ago.

I will be writing up a book review here, so check back or subscribe to my feed so you can be sure to keep up with it.

Here is the ToC:

Preface
Chapter 1: Introduction: Jesus Quests and Contexts

PART I: From Mont Pelerin to Eternity? Contextualising an Age of Neoliberalism
Chapter 2: Neoliberalism and Postmodernity
Chapter 3: Biblioblogging: Connected Scholarship
Chapter 4: ‘Not Made by Great Men’? The Quest for the Individual Christ
Chapter 5: ‘Never Trust a Hippy’: Finding a Liberal Jesus Where You Might Not
Think

PART II: Jesus in an Age of Neoliberalism
Chapter 6: A ‘fundamentally unreliable adoration’: ‘Jewishness’ and the Multicultural Jesus
Chapter 7: The Jesus Who Wasn’t There? Conservative Christianity, Atheism and
Other Religious Influences

PART III: Contradictions
Chapter 8: ‘Forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing!’ Other
Problems, Extremes and the Social World of Jesus
Chapter 9: Red Tory Christ

Chapter 10: Conclusion

You can also pick up a copy on Amazon, if you so wish:

Amazon.com: Jesus in an Age of Neoliberalism: Quests, Scholarship and Ideology (BibleWorld) (9781908049704): James G Crossley: Books.

Update 6/26/12:

My review copy of Jesus in an Age of Neoliberalism arrived yesterday and I had some extra time that I could skim through it and make some initial impressions.  What struck me first was the weight of the book; for the subject matter, at over 250 pages, it covers quite a bit.  James Crossley and I had talked about the publication and he mentioned that I would be in the volume so, the narcissist that I am, I eagerly looked myself up in the book (this being the second volume that I know of to discuss my forthcoming collection of essays, in which James Crossley has a chapter, it was rather exciting).  I was pleased to see that Crossley references both my blog and ‘Is This Not the Carpenter’ on several occasions, all in good order. Interestingly, Crossley cites me within the context of the Jesus Project, and he spends a great deal of time on the Project as a whole, in a manner which is both responsible and apt–and he would know since, like myself, he was a part of it.  I’ll cover more on this issue when I get to reviewing that chapter at some point in the next month or so.

One minor correction (which is not Crossley’s fault) which should be highlighted is that he lists me as a mythicist.  At the time of the Jesus Project in 2008-2009 I did consider myself a mythicist, and by the time Crossley had submitted his manuscript to Equinox for publication, I had not clearly denounced that affiliation.  Crossley is aware of the change but, alas, it is too late to rectify the volume!

I browsed through the rest of the volume with interest and found the range of topics compelling.  Crossley’s book, while he admits is not comprehensive, is perhaps the most solid examination thus far of the subject of the political-social-religious reception of the figure of Jesus across the spectrum.  From atheists and secularists, to fundamentalists, to republicans and liberals, to diverse social groups, concerning confessional theology and presuppositional apologetics, Crossley does an exceptional job of laying out the subject.  And he isn’t doing it to make friends.  From the brief exposition into the volume, no one comes away from the volume feeling clean and unscathed.  And that is a good thing.  It keeps the world of New Testamentlers honest.

UPDATE 6/29/12: Chapter 1

Because the book is divided into sections, with Chapter 1 sort of standing alone, I’m going to review the first chapter and then move on to reviewing the sections instead of each subsequent chapter.  My skim of the book was positive and, so far, James Crossley’s book does not disappoint.  Chapter 1 is primarily an introduction to what he wants to do with the rest of it.  At times introductions can be boring and appear almost as if they were an afterthought to the reader, but not so with Crossley’s book.  Crossley delivers his purpose with lucidity and humor, making it a joy to read.  He spends the appropriate time necessary laying out definitions for his terms and, while normally that may be dull, the way he organizes it–with bits of funny tongue-in-cheek thoughts in parentheses–kept my attention.

To the meat of it, Crossley discusses doing away with the function of named quests (i.e., first quest, second quest, third quest, etc…); and I find those thoughts echo my own, since I don’t believe that is a practical way of describing the cultural phenomena of politicizing or socializing the figure of Jesus.  And I certainly appreciated Crossley’s discussion of ‘the well’; that is to say, scholarship on the figure of Jesus which has predominantly been about the scholar staring into the well, seeing his own reflection, and calling that reflection ‘Jesus’.   But Crossley does argue that he feels that this cannot always be the case; of course he is correct.  My concern though is that I am not so sure that we might not clearly be able to recognize those instances when the Jesus presented to us is a reflection of something other than ourselves (i.e., Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs seems to suggest that we are forever wrapped up in the self concept and the figure of Jesus provides, for many at least–though not all–some of those basic needs).

I am looking forward to getting into the sections now; it is hard to put the book down!  More anon.

Alert the Press! Real Academics Don’t use Facebook or Blog!

According to Elkington (bold and italicized), who we all know is the erudite, scholarly fellow (/sarcasm):

Regarding the omission of academic postings on this site, it was set up to release news into the public sphere (due to significant demand) and not as an academic forum (real academics tend not to use Facebook and are not bloggers! – They respectably keep their counsel, which is why they haven’t participated directly on this site, although they support it).

Someone better alert Bob Cargill, James Crossley, Jim West, Dan McClellan, David Meadows, James McGrath, James Tabor, Mark Goodacre, and many, many others (too many to list)!  Apparently, Elkington feels that Real Academics™ are defined as those people who make sweeping claims and broad accusations behind a pseudonym on a Facebook page (which is exactly what he’s been doing).  This is just as classic as the time he said that Thonemann wasn’t a real Biblical scholar!  He continues on with his ignorant comment:

It takes numerous top level academics to arrive at a reasonable conclusion: not only to translate the text, but to put it into contextual meaning, taking into consideration the cultural, theological and political situation of the time. Some of the direct translation that has already been done would be very open to literalists to have a field day; however, when put into proper context, is exciting, as it largely supports the gospels (what has been translated and contextualized thus far, which isn’t a huge amount – this will take years of study). As you have probably seen from the widespread criticism out there – based on VERY LITTLE information, you can imagine the furore if we let any Tom, Dick or Harry offer their opinion. Of course everyone has a right to their views and opinions; however, we believe that it is the responsible thing to do to let the appropriately skilled individuals put their research out there first – we owe it to the public. Most of what has been published out there by the bloggers has been way off the mark and based on so little given out.

Spoken like a truly naive person.  Of course those who are criticizing the validity and authenticity of these codices are those who have backgrounds in the subject are also top notch scholars (I am not sure what ‘top level academics’ are–does Elkington think this is a game of WoW?  What an absolutely ludicrous thing to say).  Even those who used to initially accept them as ancient have since turned their backs on the idea, or at least expressed a large amount of skepticism towards their antiquity, like Philip Davies.  Like a child pouting in the corner when given a time-out, Elkington is showing everyone his last-ditch effort to establish credibility by stomping is foot, whining, and making faces at his critics rather than engaging them intellectually.

H/T to Dan McClellan for alerting me to this.

The Religion Beat: Interview with James Crossley

Chris Zeichmann recently interviewed James Crossley about his book and his thoughts about the state of NT scholarship, among other things.  It’s a very good interview, which is why I’m reblogging it here.  Here is a snippet:

Chris Zeichmann: What is Jesus in an Age of Terror about?

James G. Crossley: The book is about the ways in which dominant cultural, political or ideological (or whatever term you prefer) positions influence contemporary scholarship. In particular, it involves the ways in which influential Anglo-American attitudes towards and policies involving the Middle East, including Israel, over the past 40 or so years have affected scholarship on the historical Jesus and New Testament/Christian origins. And so there were chapters on the ways in which the Mediterranean and “the Arab world” are viewed in New Testament scholarship in terms of Orientalism “hideously emboldened” (to use Derek Gregory’s phrase) or on how the repeated, often duplicitous and regularly patronising emphasis on the Jewishness of Jesus is part of a broader discourse on the role of Jews and Judaism in relation to post-1967 Israel. The approach is based on an understanding of the ways in which the mainstream media and intellectuals, consciously or unconsciously, frame debates in favour of elite political opinion, hence I also included a chapter on biblioblogging as a way of making greater connections between the mainstream media and biblical scholarship.

CZ: You imply throughout your writings that the study of the New Testament often lacks ethical grounding. What would “proper” New Testament scholarship look like to you?

JGC: I think there does need to be more ethical awareness of the things we do beyond repeating “we all have presuppositions” (or the like) before just going ahead and behaving as we would have done anyway. I don’t have too many suggestions how to do this beyond challenging the morally dubious (no bad thing perhaps) but I think mainstream scholarship, e.g. historical Jesus scholarship, debates on Pauline theology, as well anything else, from reception history to literary criticism, need to take seriously ideological criticisms. It is unfortunate that the patronising rhetoric of Jewishness and relationship to the Other remains strong in (say) historical Jesus scholarship, despite the critiques made over the past ten years which are too often bypassed. But if what I write could help in any way towards the establishment of justice and peace in historical Jesus studies, or indeed anywhere else in New Testament scholarship, I would be deeply grateful.

via The Religion Beat: Interview with James Crossley.

Do read on, it’s excellent.  James is a great scholar and a good person with many interesting things to say.  We might not always agree, but we often agree more than we disagree, which is saying something.  Also a chapter of James’ on the Gos. John can be found in the book ‘Is This Not the Carpenter‘, currently in press, and it is a great contribution.  With thanks to Chris for posting this on Facebook.

The Jesus Project: Offering Another Perspective on the Chilton-Hoffmann-Crossley Exchange

By Thomas Verenna

James Crossley recently commented on the exchange between Bruce Chilton and R. Joseph Hoffmann. I would like to weigh in with my own opinions on this recent exchange. I can only hope that my suggestions will prove useful to the Project and continue to generate the sort of dialog we have seen so far in the community. Although I respect James and Bruce a great deal, I feel some of their advice may be misplaced when one considers the goals of the Jesus Project as a whole. Overall I agree with where they feel the Jesus Project’s focus needs to be. This is a gem from James’ article which I feel was overlooked by the Jesus Seminar and should not be underestimated in the Jesus Project’s investigations:

There is enough work on social history and social anthropology and enough empirical data collected and analyzed to exploit these issues. Areas ripe for exploitation might include: social networks, ethnic interaction, and the origins of gentile inclusion; class-conflicts and the emergence of a new religion; universal monotheism, developments in communication, and the origins of the deification of Jesus; and so on. In each case, the influence of Jesus the individual could be tested.

It is unfortunate that he employed these suggestions in such a limited and narrowed manner (applying these issues specifically to “the influence of Jesus the individual”). They can and should be expanded upon (instead of the “individual Jesus” which implies historicity, for example, these articles should be tested against the character or figure of Jesus, the authors intent, matters of intertextuality, literary composition, and the development of textual-tradition in the Jewish communities and later Christian communities throughout the ANE). I agree with James that these “ripe issues” are often overlooked or misrepresented by historical Jesus scholars. With the exception of a few scholars off the top of my head (Crossan and Mack most prevalent in my mind, but there are perhaps others as well), the Jesus Seminar et al seems to ignore the lack of orthodoxy in Judaism in the Hellenistic and Roman periods, instead opting for the dated perspective that Jews had some sort of unified interpretation of who and what the Messiah would be (and ignore the conclusions of the Princeton Symposium on Judaism and Christian Origins in 1987 onward). The focus of too many studies rest entirely on Jesus’ sayings and deeds, as James rightly points out (but ironically, he is guilty of in his own study when he compares sayings and deeds to Talmudic sayings and deeds). But while this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it is done in an often backwards manner (the method of voting comes to mind, used by the Jesus Seminar; thankfully voting will not be used by the JP) or where authorial intent is often ignored or taken for granted–sometimes to ridiculous proportions (like N.T. Wright’s perspective that the author of Matthew 27:52 documented honestly that the saints really did rise from the dead and walked around Jerusalem).

I would like to see some of the project dedicated to textual structure, narrative creation, model use, eponymic character creation (often indicated by how their names correspond with their actions in the narrative), and to some extent, liturgy (in the sense that we must challenge long-held presuppositions about Paul’s letters being read aloud to congregations of Christians; likewise the Gospels) and the development of “Christian” as a designation (and what came before); these should be explored without the shackles of commonly-held presumptions. In other words, I feel some portion of the project should ask why the Gospel/Acts/epistle/pastoral authors wrote and who they wrote to. These questions cannot be answered as they have been previously (as Philip Davies would put it, “because it happened” is not an adequate reason).

Other questions should also be considered. Could those who read them be considered “full-knowing readers”? Did the authors intend to have their works read as history or something else? Can it be decided what genres we’re dealing with? It cannot be supposed that the Gospels are Graeco-Roman biographies, as Charles Talbert had suggested, as this has been challenged more recently by several scholars like Mary Ann Tolbert, Michael E. Vines, Thomas L. Thompson and Dennis R. MacDonald (the latter two being a part of the JP). Answering the question of genre (as well as the other questions proposed above) will not only provide for the project a new direction by which to judge the New Testament literature, but will answer some of those “big, big questions” that James talked about. If it is determined that the genre of the Gospel of Mark is Jewish Novel (and not Jewish/Graeco-Roman biography or history) that changes the direction of several perspectives, does it not? As Kurt Noll has discussed in a recent SBL article (Why Does the New Testament Exist?, SBL 2008), textual interpretation can change as rapidly as cultural memes, especially in antiquity. Where a letter may have been written with one purpose in mind, that would not change others from using the letter for another purpose entirely. So it may be that Mark’s intention was lost on the second wave of readers or used in a manner he never intended, much like how Paul’s letters were thrown about and used by different sects of Christianity in the second-third centuries CE. The answer cannot be known without first asking, then investigating the questions.

I also fear that Bruce and James are a bit biased in their desires to incorporate Aramaic scholars into the Project. After all, if you start with the assumption that “Jesus spoke Aramaic” (as both Bruce and James do), there would have to be some urgency to incorporate scholars into the project who can authoritatively speak about it, right? While Aramaic scholars should be included for other reasons, and while I feel they are useful for socio-cultural investigations, what should be apparent to everyone is that the statement “Jesus spoke Aramaic” is precisely what has yet been investigated and is not something we should start off assuming. If it can be shown that Jesus existed historically, in some form, using the specific methodologies this Project is working towards perfecting now, the question of “which language Jesus spoke” will have to be asked. But, it will have to be asked while investigating the socio-cultural world of that particular figure of Jesus. It can not even be suggested that Jesus was a Galilean (another oft-to assumed “fact”) and therefore spoke Aramaic, as this subject has also not been investigated thoroughly (it has only been assumed based on readings from the Gospels alone)–nor can it be investigated until the question of historicity has been established in any detail. Until then, all scholars on the project should be open to the possibility that the answer to the question “did Jesus exist” might make their questions obsolete (including those of mythicists–that statement was not just directed towards historicists). Remembering that fact (i.e. every perspective we now have might be turned on its head) will hopefully generate more interesting, thought-provoking questions that will likewise bring about more thought-provoking studies and one-on-one interactions between participants.

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