Excavating Jesus: Beneath the Stones, Behind the Texts Hardcover – 1 Oct 2001
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"This is a fascinating and exhilarating study, which breathes new life into the quest for the historical Jesus."--Karen Armstrong, author of A History of God
"An original, nuanced synthesis of archaeological finds and textual exegesis, one that is rich in insights and in provocative interpretations."--Michael Coogan, Professor of Religious Studies, Stonehill College, editor, The New Oxford History of the Biblical World
"Comprehensive, expertly integrated, and powerfully illuminating...in keeping with the best of current archaeological theory and method."--William G. Deever, Professor of Near Eastern Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Arizona
"A fascinating, beautifully illustrated and elegantly written account of the life and times of Jesus."--Publishers Weekly
"First-century Palestine comes alive here...another winner for Crossan."--Booklist
"Lucid arguments, elegant prose, beautiful illustrations and skillful weaving of academic disciplines...will edify everyone who reads it."--Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
First-century Palestine comes alive here...another winner for Crossan. --Booklist"
An original, nuanced synthesis of archaeological finds and textual exegesis, one that is rich in insights and in provocative interpretations. --Michael Coogan, Professor of Religious Studies, Stonehill College, editor, The New Oxford History of the Biblical World"
A fascinating, beautifully illustrated and elegantly written account of the life and times of Jesus. --Publishers Weekly"
Lucid arguments, elegant prose, beautiful illustrations and skillful weaving of academic disciplines...will edify everyone who reads it. --Arkansas Democrat-Gazette" --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
About the Author
John Dominic Crossan, professor emeritus at DePaul University, is widely regarded as the foremost historical Jesus scholar of our time. He is the author of several bestselling books, including The Historical Jesus, God and Empire, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, The Greatest Prayer, and The Power of Parable. He lives in Minneola, Florida.
Jonathan L Reed is a leading authority on the archaeology of early Christianity and has excavated in Galilee since 1987. He has conducted research at the Albright Institute for Archaeological Research in Jerusalem, the American Academy in Rome, and the American School of Classical Studies in Athens. He is author of Archaeology and the Galilean Jesus and has co-authored with John Dominic Crossan two bestselling books, Excavating Jesus and In Search of Paul. He is professor of New Testament at the University of La Verne and is on the research council of Claremont Graduate University's world-renowned Institute for Antiquity and Christianity, where he is directing their Galilean Archaeology and the Historical Jesus project. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
The most important thing I am learning from Crossan and Reed is that there is much more left to be uncovered about the historical Jesus. What I see in Crossman and Reed's studies are the possibilities for further explorations. However, I am sure they will be the first to admit that their approach may be refined in the future as more progress is made in archaeological finds and textual exegesis.
Crossan and Reed emphasize the itinerancy and commensality of the earliest Christians. Their theories are based on the existence of the Q Gospel and the independence of the Gospel of Thomas. In the future both of these assumptions may be altered due to additional discoveries. Meanwhile their greatest contribution may be simply in showing us the possibilities that lie in relentlessly digging for the truth.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
It is not, however, free of flaws, and those have caused me to give it only three stars instead of four. One is that the jumping back and forth between archaeology and exegesis is sometimes confusing. Another is that whole paragraphs, whole physical descriptions, entire lines of argument, are sometimes repeated almost word for word. These are problems that superior editing could have and should have dealt with.
Another issue involves not so much a flaw as a caveat, but it does matter. I freely admit to not being a believer; my interest is in the historical Jesus, the real, actual flesh-and-blood person who sought to bring a prophetic message to the ignored and exploited, who died likely thinking himself a failure and convinced, if the Gospels are to be believed at all, that even God had forsaken him - but whose life and death became the basis for one of the world's great religions (and political forces).
In pursuing that interest, I've read several books on the Gospels and the life of Jesus by various authors (including Crossan) and I've noticed they all share one characteristic: Every author has his or her own Jesus, their own particular view of him and of how he himself saw his work and his intent, and they invariably interpret Biblical passages in ways that fit their notions. This is as true of devout believers as it is of dedicated debunkers. The current volume is no exception, and the caveat is thus that the book should be read with open eyes as well as open minds.
Crossan, the best-selling author of several authoritative books on the Historical Jesus including *The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant* and *The Birth of Christianity*, marries his exhilarating and provocative portrait of Jesus as a counter-cultural itinerant Jewish preacher of a radically just and egalitarian Kingdom of God with the phenomenal advances in biblical archeology and cultural anthropology that have revolutionized those disciplines over the last one hundred years. Reed, author of the highly-praised study *Archaeology and the Galilean Jesus: A Re-examination of the Evidence* and lead archaeologist at the current Sepphoris excavations in the Galilee, provides compelling descriptions of first century material culture that persuasively paint a clear picture of the clash of two kingdoms--the earthly imperial Kingdom of Rome as practiced by the Herods and Caesar with tacit cooperation of leading Jewish elites, and the divine but also earthly Kingdom of God as preached by Jesus and his peasant followers.
Reed highlights the stark contrast between the lavish palaces and marble basilicas of the Roman client-king Herod the Great and his tetrarch son Herod Antipas with the grinding poverty and agricultural exploitation of Jesus'peasant neighbors in Nazareth who lived only an hour's walk from the Romanized city of Sepphoris, Herod's glorious capital in the Galilee. The authors demonstrate how the ubiquitous ritual baths, ritually pure stone vessels, absence of imperial icons and specialized burial chambers found throughout Palestine indicate the steadfast determination of first century Jews to resist non-violently and hold onto their distinct religious practices and covenental way of life under the divine rule of the Jewish God of Justice, even as those practices set them on a direct collision course with the distributive injustice of Roman-Herodian commercialization in the name of empire-building.
Crossan and Reed lead us on a pilgrim's view tour of Jerusalem's magnificent Second Temple that fills our senses with the sights, smells and sounds of the priestly sacrificial rites occurring there on a daily basis as Jewish and Gentile pilgrims from all over the Roman Empire crowded there to admire Herod the Great's architectual handiwork, all overseen by ever-vigilant Roman soldiers from the nearby Antonia fortress. But the beauty and majesty of Herod's Temple and its highly politicized elite cult of wealthy land-owning priests clashed ambiguously with the sacred Torah's insistence that land, the material basis of life itself, belonged to God, not Caesar.
Through its highly readable exploration of stones and texts, material remains and textual remains, ground and gospel, *Excavating Jesus* helps us thoroughly understand what Jesus of Nazareth's radical life, ignoble death and vindicating Resurrection were really about--enacting a vision of a Eutopian world of justice and equality under a covenental God who wants us to fairly share the bounty of the earth and the material basis of life among all God's children in both the first century and the twenty-first. After reading this book, you will never again see Jesus or the message of the Gospels in the same light.
Jesus was of rural, small-town origins.
Jesus was born into one of the most desolate areas of his homeland. Galilee of that era was the sticks and Nazareth was not a community so much as a commune. It was around twenty buildings housing circa a dozen families, their livestock, their possessions. There was no road leading to it, merely a footpath many miles through the wilderness. There was a communal well, but no public buildings such as a house of worship, law court or marketplace. The people of Galilee spoke in a "rural" accent so thick it was all-but incomprehensible to the more urbane Jews of Jerusalem. Jesus was from such an off-the-beaten-path place it is unlikely many living more than a few miles from it had even heard of Nazareth. In other words, we're talking remote.
Jesus was possibly an illiterate.
Before this sounds impossible, remember, even in a Jewish population that prized education among males, most people at that time and place were probably illiterates. This is not to say Jesus was unintelligent. The quotes and parables attributed to him suggest he was anything but mentally deficient. Jesus would have had a strong background in the oral traditions of his people and like most illiterates, the parts of his brain that dealt with memorization would have been highly stimulated, giving him a keen memory and immediate grasp of verbally-presented facts.
Jesus may have been conceived without sex and born to a virgin. The realm of religion makes amazing claims that cannot be proven or disproven. That being the case, I will say little on this claim except it bears much more resemblance to the Hellenistic purity cults' tales of virgin birth, a thing all-but unknown among the Jewish religious history. Sociologically speaking, I was surprised to learn in this book that it was a tradition among Jews of that era for an engaged couple to conduct sexual relations without dishonor, and a marriage took place only when the man was able to provide lodging for his wife. However, some Jews at this time had begun to rebel against this unscriptural conduct. These eschewed sex until the actual marriage, as pious Jews are supposed to today. The more rural Jews were especially known for this throwback to earlier piety, and since Jesus was of rural heritage, it seems likely the story in the Gospels of Joseph wanting to "quietly" break his engagement to Mary when she was found to be pregnant shows how Joseph was more concerned with making it clear he had not slept with her before marriage than with the fact his fiancée was pregnant with another man's child. In other words, he was a conservative person who would have been likely to give Jesus and his brothers a conservative upbringing.
Jesus was depressed during much of the record we have of his life.
Jesus would have sudden, violent swings of mood and he would alter his philosophical positions at the drop of a hat. He seemed to want to be friends with everyone from the Romans (healing the Centurion's servant; his remark render unto Caesar what is Caesar's) to the Temple priests (forestalling violence against the Temple) to the impoverished (the poor shall inherit Heaven), to the elite (there will be poor always).
Jesus never wanted to found a new religion.
It seems Jesus wanted a movement within Judaism (which was boiling with sectarianism and change at that time) not a separate faith. Jesus from circa 30 AD was not the Christ of modern Sunday schools, he was a flesh and blood man who was courageous enough to try to fit together the mysteries of life and God and act on what he thought of as right. To me this is more admirable, approachable and embraceable than the miracle-working deity myth has made of him. Jesus of Nazareth may not have always felt he was the Messiah. The written record shows him vacillating on whether he even was the Promised One. At no point does Jesus ever in the Bible call himself a Christian, tell anyone to stop being Jewish or conduct himself as other than a Jew, albeit a Jew with radical notions.
But Jesus almost made it. Yep, he seemed to go looking for death that Passover and he found it almost in spite of himself. Had he stayed out of Jerusalem altogether or even out of it at that tumultuous time he would have been no threat to anyone with the authority to put him to death. The Romans cared little what their subject people believed as long as they kept the taxes coming in and made no trouble for them. Since Jesus seemed to focus scant energies on opposing Roman rule, it is unlikely without instigation from the high priests whom he threatened directly, the Romans would ever have flicked a muscle to dispatch this backwoods charismatic. In fact, I have always thought Jesus would have been hosted as a philosophical radical and deep thinker and given respect had he settled among Rome's thriving, quiet Jewish community instead of in what was Rome's most annoyingly problem-ridden province. Jesus was most likely arrested by the Romans as a favor to the Jewish leadership, who were collaborators to Roman authority. The Romans frankly didn't want Jesus. They did not speak his language, they did not recognize his God. His claims to prophecy and miracles meant nothing to them. They regarded him as so insignificant that though his disciples were all in place and well-known, they were not arrested in Jerusalem alongside their master. The Romans tried to turn Jesus over to the Jewish "king" Herod to deal with, but Herod knew the possible consequences of punishing the leader of a volatile rabble, so this pleasure-loving man (rather like a fourth generation trust fund kid who lives off ancestral money in Palm Beach) turned the country preacher back over to the Romans, who made every attempt to avoid responsibility in this matter until the passionate fervor of Passover died down, but the Temple priests and religious aristocrats would not allow this, so Jesus was executed as a common criminal, in a very painful manner: a death he may have partly wanted but which he obviously did not deserve.
Jesus in the grave.
Jesus was buried in the manner usual to his time, place, and economic standing. His body was anointed with oils and herbs and placed in a woven shroud. He was set into a hillside niche and a stone was rolled before the opening. In a year or thereabouts, once the flesh had gone from the bones, family or friends (or professional undertakers) would have come and collected the remains for burial under the earth. The story of Jesus returning to life after three days in the tomb is, like his conception, an article of faith, unproven, unprovable. Did Jesus reappear from the grave? Premature entombments are not a thing of fiction but of fact. A cave sealed by a stone would have been infinitely more accessible to egress than a modern earthen grave. In fact, the Gospels tell us that Jesus seemed to die suddenly (or did he lose consciousness?) and that weather conditions were not the best. So is it possible Jesus was taken from the cross by Roman grunts who didn't want to be out in a storm and not given the most comprehensive autopsy in history? There was even a case cited in "Excavating Jesus" of a Jew who survived a death sentence on the cross, recovered and lived many years thereafter. In this claim we irreversibly leave behind the man Jesus and come to the deity Christ. We depart from facts and history and enter myth, faith, dogma and past this, no one can with certainty say what is valid and what is the brilliant construct of a band of radical Jews suddenly deprived of a beloved leader, who, out of nothing but the richness of a desert faith, invented a religion that has dominated western history for nearly 100 generations.
That is my take on the Jesus represented in the thought-provoking book "Excavating Jesus" a work that showed how separated from the weight of myth, Jesus the figure was extremely interesting in the context of historic reality.
This book tries to carry both sides of the discussion forward but it does so unevenly. Still, the idea was quite original and the discussions within are food for thought. Both men are convinced that one cannot interpret Jesus without knowing his times and this involves physical as well as religious study. How did Jesus's past influence his life? What was the effect of Roman architecture on Jewish thought and more important, how did the material and social compositions shape their views? How were Jews affected by the various social movements that were rampant in those days?
There are, of course, many conjectures but almost much detailed reasoning and findings. I found the flow a little uneven and sometimes the details ran to boredome but overall, a fine read.
So it's a little dry. However, there is some really good stuff if you "excavate." The book takes its thesis from the premis that in order to really understand who Jesus was, you have to uncover his life and world one layer at a time. They peel back the layers of archeology and ancient writing to try to reveal who Jesus might have been, and many of their conclusions are useful, though probably not earth-shaking. When you understand the context of his life, you understand better what the "Kingdom of God" movement was really about, i.e. a direct asault on the authority of the Kingdom of Rome, and very likely the reason he was executed.
I especially enjoyed the archeology, as I felt it was the more clearly elucidated portion of the book. They reconstruct Nazareth, many of the principle cities of Galilee, and Jerusalem, most notably the temple mount, and explain their significance to understanding the movements of Jesus and John the Babtist in that context. There are photos and reconstructions throughout the book which are very useful tools for the reader in seeing what the authors are talking about.
Add this to the growing library of books that suggest that Jesus is not the man we have grown up to believe in, but he was clearly of significance, and well worth the effort to get to know.