James Crossley on Mike Bird’s Jewish Jesus

James Crossley on Mike Bird’s Jewish Jesus May 28, 2012

Over at Sheffield Biblical Studies, James Crossley has a post on What percentage of ‘Jewishness’ did Jesus possess and was it like the alcoholic content of wine, which engages my (sadly neglected) article The Peril of Modernizing Jesus and the Crisis of Not Contemporizing the Christ’EQ 78 (2006), pp. 291–312. Oh well, at least Crossley has taken to reading it!

Crossley’s research interests these days pertain to mapping the ideological currents and presuppositions embedded in biblical scholarship. For a case in point, he analyzes my take on the significance of the Jewishness of Jesus and how it relates to intra-scholarly rhetoric and conceptions of identity.

Crossley takes issue with my presumed definition of Jewish identity which he takes to be ‘essentialist’. Perhaps, but labeling is not disproving. Ancient Judaism was not a modern religion, but intricately connected to belief, ethnicity, territorial belonging, and shared custom (see further John M. G. Barclay, Jews in the Mediterranean Diaspora: from Alexander to Trajan (323 BCE – 117 CE) [Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1996], 404-5). If Paul tells the Galatians that he was advancing in Judaism/Judeanism, then he obviously saw some properties by which one could improve their lot, and for him, it meant zeal for pharisaic halakhah.

Crossley comes to the defense of Burton Mack and company on my comparison of them with the Jesus of Nazi-German scholarship for de-Judaizing Jesus (ironic since Crossley is no fan of them either). But, as I clearly state, I referred to an analogy between the two, I never claimed a paternal link between the two, and never called Mack and Crossan a Nazi. What is more, I think the analogy remains, since Jesus’ Jewishness, or at least pockets of it like scriptural heritage, prophetic eschatology, and many Jewish customs – are treated with ideological disdain by both groups . A good discussion of the “Nazi” allegation against the Jesus Seminar is done by Peter Head in an article in JSHJ several years ago, which I thoroughly recommend. I would also point out that the Jesus Seminar’s Jesus is now a bit of a laughing stock. Gerd Theissen and Richard Burridge both call him the “California Jesus,” and John P. Meier does not judge them much better.  See also Paul Fredriksen’s famous article on Compassion is to purity as Fish is to Bicycle. Bill Arnal has kicked back on this issue, though I don’t think his apologia has repaired the soiled reputation of the Jesus Seminar.

Any way, Crossley as always provides a provocative read interspersed with British sarcasm, the highlight was his claim that N.T. Wright’s Jesus is (with my alchoholic analogy for measuring Jewishness in the Jesus of the Jesus Seminar) a ‘white-wine spritzer Jesus’.

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