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Jesus: A Revolutionary Biographyby John Domini Crossan
Synopses & Reviews
A Tale of Two Gods
Whereas Providence . . . has . . . adorned our lives with the highest good: " Augustus ." . . and has in her beneficence granted us and those who will come after us a Savior who has made war to cease and who shall put everything in peaceful order . . . with the result that the birthday of our God signalled the beginning of Good News for the world because of him . . . therefore . . . the Greeks in Asia "Decreed "that the New Year begin for all the cities on September 23 . . . and the first month shall . . . be observed as the Month of Caesar, beginning with 23 September, the birthday of Caesar.Decree of calendrical change on marble stelae
And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end .... The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.." . .
And the angel said to them, "Be not afraid; for behold I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord."Message of the angels to the Virgin Mary
The Trojan CaesarComes
Twice within a hundred years, on different shores of that cruel and beautiful Mediterranean Sea, a man was acclaimed "son of god "when alive and, more simply, "god "when dead. Octavius, however, stood at the height of the Roman aristocracy, Jesus near the bottom of the Jewish peasantry. No surprise, then, that for the former's life story we have exact dates and precise places, and for the latter's, neither.
Gains Octavius was born on 23 September 63 B.C.E. and became the adopted son and legal heir of Julius Caesar, who was assassinated on 15 March 44 B.C.E. After Caesar's deification by the Roman Senate on 1 January 42 B. C. E., Octavius became immediately "divi filius," son of a divine one. But even where those secure dates were easily available, it took mythology over history, faith over fact, and poetry over chronicle to tell the tale of Octavius becoming Augustus.
As early as 40 B.C.E. after a decade of civil war, the poet Virgil wrote rhapsodically in his "Fourth Eclogue "of an imagined child newly born into a world newly peaceful as Octavius and Anthony were sealing future friendship at Brundisium, on the heel of Italy. This was to be that child's future in a world of ecstatic peace:
"But when maturing years make you a man,
But apart completely from such an ideal vision, even ordinary, everyday, normal peace would not arrive for another decade, when, off Actium, on Greece's western coast, Cleopatra's battle flotilla would pick up the defeated Anthony and head home to Alexandria and the asp.
Virgil, combining magnificently musical poetry with consummately political propaganda, moved immediately to give Octavius and his Julian heritage a mythological genealogy worthy of the new Roman order. He went back for inspiration to the only possible source, to Homer--the "bible," if ever there was one, of Greco-Roman paganism. He fused together Homer's two Greek epics--the "Iliad," about waging war abroad, and the "Odyssey," about coming home again--into his own Latin "Aeneid." Julius Caesar and Gaius Octavius were celebrated as heirs to an ancient and even divine ancestry. For Aeneas--son of a human father, Anchises, and a divine mother, Aphrodite--had saved both his father and his own son from the embers of Troy's destruction and brought that son, Julus, to Italy as sire of the Julian family. In the words of the Aeneid's first book:
"The Trojan Caesar comes, to circumscribe
Even where all the dates and places were exactly known, mythology alone was adequate for a radically new vision of Roman society. But whether weterm it mythology, ideology, theology, or propaganda, at its root was the historical fact that Octavius had ended twenty years of civil strife by emerging as the one and only victor. He was now Augustus, a title poised with marvelous ambiguity between humanity and divinity. He was also Princeps, a title poised with equal ambiguity between kingship and citizenship. Call him first among equals, with all the equals dead. And, lest we sneer too readily at this mixture of history and mythology, remember that we are always better at separating such mixtures in other lives, in different societies, and in alien cultures. Our own mixture we too seldom see at all. In any case, the Roman Senate deified Augustus on 17 September 14 C.E., a scant month after his death on 19 August. He was now divine not only by ancestry or adoption but in his own right as well because of all he had done to unify Roman power internally and to consolidate Roman power externally. Which returns the discussion to Jesus.
“Crossan paints his Jesus with great warmth and power.”
John Dominic Crossan is widely regarded as the leading authority on the words and life of Jesus Christ. His classic national bestseller, Jesus, is a powerful and controversial portrait of a courageous revolutionary, philosopher, and political agitator who challenged the prevailing rules of the social order. Bold, moving, and provocative, a book that will affect every Christian reader deeply and profoundly, Jesus is a remarkable work that presents a very different view of a savior and king of peace who proclaimed—in thought and action—that all may participate in the rule of God.
John Dominic Crossan‘s bestselling and critically acclaimed biography of the historical Jesus. "This is an outstanding book––both popular and intelligent. Accessible language and direct, dramatic narration . . . a compelling portrait of Jesus."
About the Author
John Dominic Crossan, professor emeritus at De Paul 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 and Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography. He lives in Minneola, Florida.
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