Thursday, May 11, 2017

John Dominic Crossan Synopsis, Part I - Biography and Major Works

Who Is John Dominic Crossan?

In my Ph.D. studies, I had the privilege of studying the worldview and scholarship of John Dominic Crossan as the focal point of my doctoral dissertation ("The Myth of the Metaphorical Resurrection").  Much more recently, I completed a short synopsis and interaction with Crossan for Watchman Fellowship.  I'd like to take this opportunity to share the brief article I completed, in three separate posts.  First, today, sharing a short biography of Crossan, along with a list of his major published works.  Next, I'll outline some of Crossan's scholarly conclusions and assertions, focusing particularly on heterodox claims he makes.  Finally, I will analyze and interact with those scholarly claims.  Perhaps this short series will whet your appetite to find my dissertation (available online free full-text here) and digest it!  Either way, I hope it's helpful.

John Dominic Crossan

Date of Birth:
February 17, 1934, in Nenagh County, Tipperary, Ireland.

Selected Publications:
In Parables: The Challenge of the Historical Jesus (1973); The Dark Interval: Toward a Theology of Story (1975); Four Other Gospels: Shadows on the Contours of Canon (1985); The Cross That Spoke: The Origins of the Passion Narrative (1988); The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant (1991); Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography (1994); Who Killed Jesus? Exposing the Roots of Anti-Semitism in the Gospel Story of the Death of Jesus (1995); Who Is Jesus? Answers to Your Questions about the Historical Jesus (1996); The Birth of Christianity: Discovering What Happened in the Years Immediately After the Execution of Jesus (1998); A Long Way from Tipperary: A Memoir (2000); Excavating Jesus: Beneath the Stones, Beneath the Texts (2001).

Emeritus Professor of Religious Studies, DePaul University (Chicago); Co-Founder of the Jesus Seminar.

John Dominic Crossan is one of the most prominent, prolific, and popular Historical Jesus scholars of the late-20th and early-21st centuries.
Born “John Michael Edmund Crossan” to a banking family in Tipperary, Ireland, Crossan excelled in school, graduating at 16.  Growing up in the south of Ireland, Catholicism was an unquestioned aspect of personal and family identity.  After high school, Crossan entered the Servite Order, a monastic Catholic community, not due to personal piety, but rather due to the monastic promise of adventure and excitement.  In the Servite Order, Crossan was given the new name “Dominic.”
After seven years of monastic preparation, and having been recognized as a promising priest-scholar, Crossan was sponsored for further education, and completed a Doctor of Divinity in his native Ireland and post-doctoral studies in Italy and Jordan.  He then returned to the Chicago area to teach in the Catholic Theological Union.  There, he fell in love with Margaret Dagenais, with whom he became sexually involved (in clear violation of his vow of celibacy).  Crossan was already drawing scholarly conclusions that departed from Catholic orthodoxy, and in 1969 received a ‘dispensation’ from the Servite Order.  He promptly married Margaret, and was hired to teach Religious Studies at DePaul University in Chicago, where he remained until (and past) his 1995 retirement.
In addition to his teaching duties at DePaul, Crossan has been a remarkably prolific researcher, writer, and speaker.  He began publishing articles focusing on Jesus’ parables and historical-critical study of the Gospels, culminating in his first (post-Servite) book, In Parables, published in 1973.[1]  Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, Crossan continued to publish extensively, with a particular focus upon literary criticism and parable interpretation.   
Margaret died tragically in 1983; Crossan re-married (Sarah Sexton) in 1986.  In the later 1980s, Crossan’s focus shifted toward historical Jesus research. 
The best-selling Historical Jesus serves as the fulcrum of John Dominic Crossan’s career.[2]  First, it marked the culmination of the previous twenty years of Crossan’s scholarship.  Crossan had always been fascinated by and focused upon the person and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth; in The Historical Jesus, he brought his previous two decades of literary and historical criticism to bear in constructing his vision of Jesus as a peasant Jewish cynic.  Second, it brought Crossan into the limelight both academically and publicly. 
The New York Times review of The Historical Jesus launched the book to the top of the religious best-seller chart, where it remained for six months.  His publisher, Harper San Francisco, sponsored a lengthy tour to promote the book, and Crossan appeared in numerous bookstores and newspapers, and on many television and radio programs, presenting his fundamental conclusions regarding Jesus.  It also served as the source for the next twenty-five years of Crossan’s academic publishing. 
Over the course of Crossan’s forty-five-year (post-Servite) academic career, he has authored twenty-two books, co-authored another six (three with Marcus Borg, two with Jonathan Reed, and one with Richard Watts), contributed forty-eight chapters to compilations, and published another sixty-three articles in academic and popular journals.  He has lectured at fifty-six scholarly conferences, been invited to deliver nearly one hundred and fifty academic lectures, and presented over two hundred and fifty popular lectures and addresses.[3]  His scholarly conclusions are widely disseminated through his books, popular lectures, and public appearances.
Simply put, John Dominic Crossan has been arguably the most prominent, popular, persuasive, and prolific historical Jesus scholar of the past fifty years.   

[1]John Dominic Crossan, In Parables: The Challenge of the Historical Jesus.
[2]Crossan, The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant.
[3]Information derived from John Dominic Crossan, “Professional Resume,” [on-line], accessed 20 February 2017,; Internet.

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