John Dominic Crossan

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John Dominic Crossan
11 08 6972 John Dominic Crossan.jpg
Born (1934-02-17) February 17, 1934 (age 82)
Nenagh, Co. Tipperary, Ireland
Nationality Irish, American
Occupation Theologian, scholar, former priest
Religion Christian (Nondenominational)
Spouse(s) Margaret Dagenais (1969–1983, her death)
Sarah Sexton (1986–present)

John Dominic Crossan (born February 17, 1934[1]) is an Irish-American New Testament scholar, historian of early Christianity, and former Catholic priest who has produced both scholarly and popular works. His research has focused on the historical Jesus, on the anthropology of the Ancient Mediterranean and New Testament worlds and on the application of postmodern hermeneutical approaches to the Bible. His work is controversial, portraying the Second Coming as a late corruption of Jesus' message and saying that Jesus' divinity is metaphorical.[2] In place of the eschatological message of the Gospels, Crossan emphasizes the historical context of Jesus and of his followers immediately after his death.[2] He describes Jesus' ministry as founded on free healing and communal meals, negating the social hierarchies of Jewish culture and the Roman Empire.[3]

Crossan is a major scholar in contemporary historical Jesus research.[2][4] In particular, he and Burton Mack are notable advocates for a non-eschatological view of Jesus, a view that contradicts the more common view that Jesus was an apocalyptic preacher.[4] While contemporary scholars see more value in noncanonical gospels than past scholars did, Crossan goes further and identifies a few noncanonical gospels as earlier than and superior to the canonical ones.[4] He co-founded the Jesus Seminar, an organization of revisionist biblical scholars.[2]


Crossan was born in Nenagh, Co. Tipperary, Ireland. Though his father was a banker, Crossan was steeped in the rural Irish life, which he experienced through frequent visits to the home of his paternal grandparents. Upon graduation from Saint Eunan's College, a boarding high school, in 1950, Crossan joined the Servites, a Catholic religious order, and moved to the United States. He was trained at Stonebridge Seminary, Lake Bluff, Illinois, then ordained a priest in 1957. Crossan returned to Ireland, where he earned his Doctor of Divinity in 1959 at St Patrick's College, Maynooth, the Irish national seminary. He then completed two more years of study in biblical languages at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome. In 1965 Crossan began two additional years of study (in archaeology) at the Ecole Biblique in Jordanian East Jerusalem. During this time, he travelled through several countries in the region, escaping just days before the outbreak of the Six Day War of 1967.[5]

After a year at St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein, Illinois, and a year at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, Crossan chose to resign his priesthood. In the fall of 1969 he joined the faculty of DePaul University, where he taught undergraduates Comparative Religion for twenty-six years until retiring in 1995. In 1985, Crossan and Robert Funk founded the Jesus Seminar, a group of academics studying the historical Jesus, and Crossan served as co-chair for its first decade. Crossan also served as president of the Chicago Society of Biblical Research in 1978–1979, and as president of the Society of Biblical Literature in 2012.

Crossan married Margaret Dagenais, a professor at Loyola University Chicago in the summer of 1969. She died in 1983 due to a heart attack. In 1986, Crossan married Sarah Sexton, a social worker with two grown children. Since his retirement from academia, Crossan has continued to write and lecture.[2]

Views and methodology[edit]

Crossan claims that Jesus was a healer and man of great wisdom and courage who taught a message of inclusiveness, tolerance, and liberation. "His strategy . . . was the combination of free healing and common eating . . . that negated the hierarchical and patronal normalcies of Jewish religion and Roman power . . . He was neither broker nor mediator but . . . the announcer that neither should exist between humanity and divinity or humanity and itself."[3]

Central to Crossan's methodology is the dating of texts.[6] This is laid out more or less fully in The Historical Jesus in one of the appendices. He dates part of the Coptic Gospel of Thomas to the 50s CE, as well as the first layer of the hypothetical Q Document (in this he is heavily dependent on the work of John Kloppenborg). He also assigns a portion of the Gospel of Peter, which he calls the "Cross Gospel", to a date preceding the synoptic gospels, the reasoning of which is laid out more fully in The Cross that Spoke: The Origin of the Passion Narratives. He believes the "Cross Gospel" was the forerunner to the passion narratives in the canonical gospels. He does not date the synoptics until the mid to late 70s CE, starting with the Gospel of Mark and ending with Luke in the 90s. As for the Gospel of John, he believes part was constructed at the beginning, and another part closer to the middle, of the 2nd century CE. Following Rudolf Bultmann, he believes there is an earlier "Signs Source" for John as well. His dating methods and conclusions are quite controversial, particularly regarding the dating of Thomas and the "Cross Gospel".[citation needed] The very early dating of these non-canonical sources has not been accepted by many biblical scholars.[7]

In God and Empire: Jesus Against Rome, Then and Now (2007), Crossan starts with the presumption of reader familiarity with key points from his earlier work on the nonviolent revolutionary Jesus, his Kingdom movement, and the surrounding matrix of the Roman imperial theological system of religion, war, victory, peace, but discusses them in the broader context of the escalating violence in world politics and popular culture of today. Within that matrix, he points out, early in the book, that "(t)here was a human being in the first century who was called 'Divine,' 'Son of God,' 'God,' and 'God from God,' whose titles were 'Lord,' 'Redeemer,' 'Liberator,' and 'Saviour of the World.'" "(M)ost Christians probably think that those titles were originally created and uniquely applied to Christ. But before Jesus ever existed, all those terms belonged to Caesar Augustus."[8] Crossan cites the adoption of them by the early Christians to apply to Jesus as denying them of Caesar the Augustus. "They were taking the identity of the Roman emperor and giving it to a Jewish peasant. Either that was a peculiar joke and a very low lampoon, or it was what the Romans called majestas and we call high treason." [8]

Religious beliefs[edit]

Crossan still identifies as a Christian but no longer belongs to an organized Christian denomination.[9] [10]



  1. ^ Official website, Diary showing 14th birthday, Retrieved April 2, 2013.
  2. ^ a b c d e "John Dominic Crossan". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2016. Web. 13 Jan. 2016
  3. ^ a b The Historical Jesus, p 421-22
  4. ^ a b c Theissen, Gerd and Annette Merz. The historical Jesus: a comprehensive guide. Fortress Press. 1998. translated from German (1996 edition). Chapter 1. The quest of the historical Jesus. p. 1–15.
  5. ^ A Long Way from Tipperary: A Memoir (2000)
  6. ^ Wright, N.T. Jesus and the Victory of God, pp. 44–62. Fortress Press: Minneapolis, 1996.
  7. ^ Theissen, Gerd; Merz, Annette (1998). The historical Jesus: a comprehensive guide. Minneapolis: Fortress Press. ISBN 978-0-8006-3122-2.  footnote
  8. ^ a b Crossan, John Dominic, God and Empire, 2007, p. 28
  9. ^ John Dominic Crossan's "blasphemous" portrait of Jesus, CNN International Edition, 27 February 2011
  10. ^ John Dominic Crossan's "blasphemous" portrait of Jesus, CNN International Edition, 27 February 2011

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