March 3rd, 2011
06:00 AM ET
By John Blake, CNN
I first heard of the biblical scholar John Dominic Crossan through a head-turning quote. He said the body of Jesus wasn’t physically raised on Easter morning but was probably taken down from the cross and eaten by stray dogs.
You don’t forget comments like that. And indeed over the years, that’s how I came to know Crossan. He was that bespectacled historic Jesus scholar with the Irish accent who was always lobbing verbal hand grenades at traditional Christian beliefs in media interviews and in religious documentaries.
But recently I decided to write a profile of Crossan, and I learned that my perception of him was simplistic. Plenty of people who read the profile shared their impressions of him - the article netted over 12,000 comments and Facebook shares.
Now I’d like to share my own comments. I spent about two months talking to Crossan and his wife and reading his books. Three discoveries stood out.
1. He’s not anti-religion
It seems like a simple thing to say, but not in the case of Crossan. So much of the media focuses on what Crossan questions - the bodily resurrection of Jesus, miracles attributed to Jesus - that people assume he’s not a Christian.
Not so. I could hear the passion in Crossan’s voice as he marveled over Jesus’ stance on nonviolence and declared his faith. Even critics who strongly disagree with Crossan said he has a deep Christian spirituality and a passion for the Bible.
Some of it may be due to his background. He grew up in a theological boot-camp: years of monastery training and intensive study of the Bible. He told me Roman Catholicism was the “wallpaper” of his early life.
As someone who has written about religion for years, I’ve noticed a pattern. Conservative Christians are often describe as passionate; progressive Christians as more intellectual. But Crossan seems to show you can be both: passionate and intellectual.
2. Maybe monasteries aren’t so bad
The Roman Catholic Church gets a lot of bad press today. Crossan, though, revealed another side of the church to me: its passion for learning and social justice.
Crossan told me had a “magnificent" education growing up in Ireland and entering the monastery as a teenager. He grew up in an era before Twitter, smartphones and shouting matches on cable TV. I was struck by how much time he had in his early life for reading, contemplation and bonding with his family.
Today, Crossan is a fierce critic of the Roman Catholic Church. But I suspect he’d be the first to admit that he personally benefited from the foundation it gave him during his early life.
3. Jesus was his media coach
Crossan is what some journalists like to call a “quote machine.” Translation: He likes to talk to the media, and he provides great quotes.
A sample: When Crossan was once trying to describe how Jesus and his disciples stood out during the rule of the Roman emperor Augustus, he said they were “hippies in an Augustan age of yuppies.”
I thought Crossan’s talent for quotes came because he was adept at dealing with the media. He told me, though, that he learned how to talk to the media from studying the parables of Jesus. Jesus, he says, was a master of distilling complex thoughts into accessible forms.
It turns out that Crossan was known as a groundbreaking scholar on the parables of Jesus in academic circles before he became a public figure. He backed into his study of the historic Jesus, and his later fame.
Crossan is a prolific author. I suspect this won’t be the last time I hear from him. But given what I know of him now, I’ll look at him as more than the Jesus scholar who gets people angry.
About this blog
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.