Manchester University
Oak Leaves

April 29, 2016

John Dominic Crossan

Crossan Sheds Light on Jesus, God and Imperial Violence

Karen Kanyike

In honor of Peace Week, Manchester University hosted a VIA event led by John Dominic Crossan on Tuesday, April 19, at 3:30 p.m. It took place in Cordier Auditorium, where Crossan delivered an enlightening lecture about Jesus, God and imperial violence.

Justin Lasser, assistant professor of religious studies, started by giving a thorough introduction to the speaker, after which Crossan supplied a few more details about his background. He proceeded to give a brief summary of his presentation, along with an engaging visual aid that featured powerful Greco-Roman images depicting important biblical and historical themes and ideas.

Crossan was born in Nenagh, Co. Tipperary, Ireland in 1934. He was educated in Ireland and the United States, received a Doctorate of Divinity from Maynooth College, Ireland in 1959, and did post-doctoral research at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome from 1959 to 1961 and at L’École Biblique in Jerusalem from 1965 to 1967. He joined DePaul University, Chicago, in 1969 and remained there until 1995. He is now a professor emeritus in its department of religious studies and has written 27 books to date.

The presentation covered a variety of issues ranging from non-violent resistance to violence, the life, ministry and death of Jesus and the nature of the political administration and imperial power in the Roman Empire. “Imperial power has been described as a rope with four strands: military power, political power, economic power and ideological/theological power,” Crossan said.

He continued to say that military power constitutes the legions of the Roman Empire and infrastructure such as roads and bridges, which are also part of economic power. Political power includes the Roman senate, the Roman emperors, and the aristocracy of the Roman Empire while ideological/theological power involves the relationship between the divine and human beings. Crossan’s lecture was punctuated by witty jokes and lighthearted humor that helped retain the audience’s attention.

Lasser shared some powerful insights about peace and imperial violence. “Jesus’ program can only be understood in reference to Rome’s program,” he said. “The kingdom of God can only be understood as an inversion of the Roman Empire’s vision. Crossan argues that early Christianity sees peace through justice whereas Rome sees peace through victory. He challenges us today with the question, “Is it possible to be a Christian in the American Empire?”

With military bases around the world, America has peace because it has victory. “This VIA challenges the problematic notion of ‘freedom isn’t free,’” Lasser added. “This means you can break freedom in order to preserve freedom. [With regard] to Crossan’s understanding of Jesus, one only has peace when we challenge inequalities and the spiral of violence.”

Lasser also shared some of the reasons he invited Crossan to Manchester. “He’s been an inspiration in my life,” Lasser said. “He is arguably the most significant and most influential scholar of the historical Jesus. He shifted historical Jesus research away from the apocalyptic Jesus who announces the end of the world toward the sapiential or wisdom Jesus,” he added.

Some students were quite pleased with Crossan’s lecture. Sean Rizvic, a sophomore math, philosophy, and peace studies major from Fort Wayne, Ind., shared some of his thoughts and reactions. “The VIA’s overall point about people needing to read religious texts critically and through the right historic lens seemed pretty clear,” he said. “The comparison between Caesar and Jesus was very new for me, so that’s probably what I’ll remember best. Other than making good points, Crossan was a great speaker and had an awesome sense of humor,” he said.