The Birth of Christianity: Discovering What Happened in the Years Immediately After the Execution of Jesus

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9780060616724: The Birth of Christianity: Discovering What Happened in the Years Immediately After the Execution of Jesus
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John Dominic Crossan explores the lost years of earliest Christianity, the years immediately following Jesus' execution.

He establishes the contextual setting through a combination of literary, anthropological, historical and archaeological approaches. He challenges the assumptions about the role of Paul and the meaning of resurrection, and forges a new understanding of the birth of the Christian church.


Here is a vivid account of early Christianity's interaction with the world around it, and of the new traditions and communities established as Jesus' companions continued their movement after his death.

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John Dominic Crossan is the leading contemporary scholar on the historical Jesus, which means that his vocation is to look behind, around, and through Christ's resurrection, toward the goal of establishing what can be known about the life of Jesus of Nazareth.

His search for the historical Jesus, however, takes place in the larger context of the life of the church. Among the goals of The Birth of Christianity is to teach readers how our habits of worship have created false gods. To that end, Crossan attempts to unearth the religion's earliest forms. What did Christianity look like, Crossan asks, between the crucifixion and the conversion of Paul? And what might Christianity look like today had Saul never set off toward Damascus?

Crossan's conclusions don't come from newly discovered documents; they come from freshly-minted academic methodologies. He uses anthropology, history, and archaeology to construct his arguments about the essential nature of both Jesus' religion and Paul's. The 25-cent summary of his conclusion is that Jesus did not recognize the dualism between spirit and flesh that formed the basis of Paul's apocalyptic Christianity. In other words, Jesus was more Jewish than Paul.

The ramifications of this argument are huge. Crossan says much of Christian worship--and many of the world's injustices--are based on the dualistic Christ that Paul preached. Though Crossan doesn't bully readers into accepting his conclusions, he does press hard for them to situate their own beliefs in relation to his interpretations of Jesus and Paul. At every point in the evolution of his argument, he asks readers questions such as "How do you understand a human being?" and "What is the character of your God?" Then he proceeds to answer these questions himself. Finally, he tells readers what he thinks these answers mean.

It's an incredibly civilized style of argument--both spiritually and intellectually respectful and always rhetorically engaging. Though The Birth of Christianity weighs in at almost 600 pages of text, you'll probably want to read every word. And after that, you'll probably be hungry for more.

From the Inside Flap:

"This book is about the lost years of earliest Christianity, about the 30s and 40s of the first century, about those dark decades immediately after the execution of Jesus.... The obscurity of the 30s and 40s can be emphasized by the comparative brilliancy of the 50s. From that later decade we have the letters of Paul.... From them, above all else, we receive the temptation to gloss speedily over the 30s or 40s and move swiftly to those better-documented 50s.... Before there was Paul the apostle in the early 50s, there was Paul the persecutor in the early 30s. What was there for him to persecute?" (from The Birth of Christianity

In this long-awaited companion to his landmark The Historical Jesus, John Dominic Crossan, the world's foremost expert on the historical Jesus, explores the lost years of earliest Christianity, those immediately following the execution of Jesus. He establishes the contextual setting by an interdisciplinary combination of anthropological, historical, and archaeological approaches. He identifies the textual sources by a literary analysis of the earliest discernible layers within our present gospels, both inside and outside the New Testament. Context and text come together to challenge long-standing assumptions about the role of Paul and the meaning of resurrection, and to forge an eloquent and powerful new understanding of the birth of the Christian church.

John Dominic Crossan, one of the most influential figures in biblical scholarship, combines innovative scholarship with compelling insight in illuminating the mysteries of the origins of Christianity. Crossan's meticulous research into the anthropological milieu within which Christianity arose, and his study of the emergence of early Christian communities, form the basis for his stunning and original theory. Separating history from theology and redaction, he presents a vivid account of early Christianity's interaction with the world around it, and of the new traditions and communities established as Jesus' companions continued their movement after his death.

With ancient traditional Judaism under increasing pressure from both Roman commercial exploitation and Greek cultural domination, the Kingdom-of-God movement of Jesus and his followers establish radical but non-violent resistance in the Lower Galilee of the late 20s. As early Jewish and Greek-influenced schools of thought present competing visions of the nature of the spirit and the flesh, it is the message brought by Jesus during his life that creates the spiritual center of the early church.

The Resurrection, while essential to the story of Christ as told through the centuries, is understood in a different light when presented in the setting of a Mediterranean culture in which events such as apparitions by the dead and ecstatic visions were far from unusual. While the eschatological teachings of Paul play a large role in the growth and development of the church, they are seen to follow, rather than define, the moment of its birth.

Ground-breaking and brilliantly crafted, The Birth of Christianity is an indispensable addition to our understanding of the origins of the Christian faith.

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