Baker Academic

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Crossley on the Criteria and Vermes—Chris Keith

On Dec. 3, three of my PhD students and I made the journey into the city to hear Prof James Crossley, coblogger here on the Jesus Blog, present at King's College, London.  The lecture was titled, "Does Jesus Plus Paul Equal Marx Plus Lenin?"  Prof Crossley basically argued against an affirmative answer to that question but the paper was wide-ranging, as it was designed as something of a sampler of his new book, Jesus and the Chaos of History: Redirecting the Life of the Historical Jesus.  The presentation included much that we have come to expect from Crossley:  close attention to larger scholarly trends and their socio-political significance; the power structures at work in those trends; and some witty statements on the messiness of history ("Human beings just don't work that way") and modern politics ("The Tea Party and ISIS might not light everybody's candle. . . .").  There was also a (to me) surprise statement on his behalf that he's "coming around" to agreeing with positions of an early high Christology. 

His lecture emphasized two other things for me as well.  First, the work of really appreciating and articulating the influence of Vermes's 1973 Jesus the Jew is perhaps still only starting.  Obviously, most people in historical Jesus studies know that Vermes's study was important, even a watershed.  But I have heard several lectures here lately where scholars are emphasizing just how revolutionary it was.  This position is not just because of Vermes's emphasis on seeing Jesus against a Jewish background, which deservedly gets attention, but also for his noted dislike of structured "methodology."  Post-criteria Jesus research, which is specifically what Crossley is terming his work, is coming to recognize all the more what Vermes was already onto, which is that there really is a lot less strict methodology in proper historical work than historical-positivist historiography would lead one to believe . . . and that this isn't a bad thing because history itself is messy and does not submit nicely to our desires for tidy explanations.  This is, of course, not to suggest that there are no rules for the road, only to observe that approaching the past is not the same as following a set of instructions.  [In light of some discussion on Facebook, let me emphasize that this is not a wholesale endorsement of Vermes.]

Second, and strongly related, the post-criteria era of Jesus work is off and running.  I know there are those who will disagree with this position and, of course, I have something of a dog in this fight.  But Crossley, like myself and many others (Stan Porter gave a paper along these lines at SBL this year in a session in which I also presented), is done with trying to make the criteria of authenticity work.  I note this, however, because I want to pass along my favorite quotation from Crossley's lecture:  "The failure of the criteria is a blessing."  I love this quotation because it places what is (to me) exactly the right accent mark on this trend.

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