Book Reviews

Where do I begin?  Meet Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan

For all of us, surely Jesus himself is an important, and perhaps an urgent, topic. What do we know about how recent Biblical scholars now understand his career and his message? Which of their discoveries might be most important for us?

Two writers stand out here—rather different in their approach and style, but also long-time friends and colleagues: Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan. For most people, Marcus Borg will be the more readily approachable, and perhaps more relevant. The best place to begin would be his wonderful book Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time. It recapitulates Borg’s own rediscovery of Jesus as a prophet in the Jewish tradition who has important things to tell us that may get lost in the conventional church approaches to his life. Marcus Borg is himself both a pastor and a teacher—a down-to-earth guy who listens closely to a student who says “Professor Borg, I don’t believe in God” and answers, “Please tell me about this God you don’t believe in.” And when the student tells him, Borg says, “Well, I don’t believe in that God either. Let’s talk.”

John Dominic Crossan is somewhat more the scholar than the teacher, but he is also a brilliant re-teller of the Gospel story in terms of a modern understanding of history. For most people, the Crossan book to read—or to read around in—will be Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography. Crossan is brilliant on the social and political context in which Jesus spoke and acted. He understands Jesus as a Jew in the tradition of peasant philosophers who brings a message to all whom a partly affluent society has exploited or left out. That means he knows what’s behind Jesus’ sharp words about the Pharisees and his willingness to hob-nob with prostitutes and tax-collectors. And he has very important words about “table fellowship” as the nucleus of a religious community.

After acquainting yourself with these two books you’ll want to read—perhaps next spring!—their joint effort: The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach about Jesus’ Final Days in Jerusalem. There, writing alternate chapters, they will take you on a fresh and astonishing journey through Passion Week.” —Tom Whitaker