John Dominic Crossan is professor emeritus of religious studies at DePaul University in Chicago and author of more than 20 books about the historical Jesus. In a May 19, 2007, post on the “On Faith” section of the Washington Post Web site, the Irish-born scholar shared his surprise and satisfaction about how society’s view of Jesus has developed during his lifetime.
My own study of the historical Jesus in the matrix of Christianity within Judaism within the Roman Empire steadily pushed me towards the left wing of the contemporary Christian tradition. Life was simpler then. There was only a left and a right wing with regard to Jesus.
In other words, and at least in popular culture, we ended the last century with two visions of Jesus. One vision was of the literal Jesus—the figure obtained from a careful harmony of the four New Testament Gospels. The other vision was the historical Jesus—the figure reconstructed through those and other gospels, behind those and other gospels, before those and other gospels.
Then came my surprise as we moved deeper into the first decade of the new century. A third vision of Jesus started to appear to the left of people like myself and other members of the Jesus Seminar. The vision was of the fictional Jesus—the figure married in a novel, crucified in a film, and buried in a documentary. There is even a growing far-left wing proposing that Jesus never existed and that it was all an early Christian conspiratorial fabrication. So there