Who knows more about the history of Jesus Christ than John Dominic Crossan?
So begins an article entitled Biblical authority reveals little-known facts about Jesus which is available through the online edition of the Wilmington Star. Personally, I think that the quick answer to her question would be that anyone who understands that the miracles described in the Bible are the result of God's miraculous intervention into our human world and not the result of the early Christians making up stories about Jesus knows more about Jesus than John Dominic Crossan. Crossan, who is one of the founding members and best known stars of the Jesus Seminar (a group who I personally find to be bent upon the destruction of Biblical Christianity while pretending to be Christian), is one of my least favorite expositors of the Bible because of his faulty assumptions (many of which are spelled out in articles that are linked to the CADRE Jesus Seminar page).
Despite the fact that the interview was with Crossan, I wanted to find out what the nine things were that Crossan supposedly knew about Jesus that I didn't know. Surprisingly, I found a couple of them interesting and facially correct even if Crossan's explanations for why they were facts didn't match my own. Here are the nine "facts" found in the article. In the original article, there are comments from Crossan on each of them, and if you are interested in reading Crossan's comments I encourage you to read the Wilmington Star article. I will only speak of his comments to the extent necessary to illuminate my disagreement with Crossan's viewpoint.
Fact 1: When Jesus was a boy, Mary would have told him about a great massacre in his homeland. Hmmmmm. Let's see, if Jesus was a boy, his mother would have told him about an important massacre that arose because Herod the Great wanted to see Jesus dead. Makes sense to me, but I have no idea why he would call this a fact. It seems to me that this is more of a speculation -- a reasonable speculation, but a speculation nonetheless. Moreover, it isn't clear why Crossan would think that Mary would have told him and not Joseph. Be that as it may, I think that this is a reasonable conclusion based on the circumstances, but hardly something to call a little known fact.
Fact 2: The accounts of Jesus' infancy in Matthew and Luke are different because the writers had different intentions. I agree wholeheartedly. But this isn't little known to anyone who has taken the time to learn anything about ancient biographies. Those biographies always had a purpose to them and, without necessarily compromising the facts, told the story in a way to achieve their purpose. Matthew's audience and Luke's audience were different and so they stressed different aspects of the story of Jesus while sticking, in main, to the teachings that the Apostles were handing down.
Having said that, I find the details behind Crossan's second fact to be sheer fantasy. For example, the article quotes Crossan as saying "Matthew, for example, wanted Jesus to be like a Moses figure, so he made up a parable that Jesus was in danger of being killed by Herod. And in Luke, the angels came down and announced that there was born a lord and savior of the world who would bring peace." These are conclusions that Crossan reaches based upon his faulty presuppositions such as his presupposition that the miracles of the Bible could not be true and so he needs to explain them. On what basis does he say that Jesus really wasn't in danger of being killed by Herod? The only evidence that he could possibly point to is the relative silence in the non-Biblical record for such action by Herod. But, of course, in addition to the old adage that "lack of evidence is not evidence of lack" and the caution against making arguments from silence, there is some ancient suggestion that Herod may have tried to kill Jesus through the Slaughter of the Innocents. My friends and blogging partners, J.L. Hinman and Layman, have pointed out the following information that supports the idea of Herod approving the Slaughter of the Innocents as described in Matthew:
A. Bethlehem was a small town with a population, including surrounding areas, of about 1,000. "[T]he number of infants under two in a population of 1,000, given the birth and infant mortality rates of the time, has been reckoned at less than twenty." Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 1-13, World Biblical Commentary, page 37. Obviously the murder of less than 20 children is a heinous crime, "[i]n an era of many, highly placed political murders, the execution of perhaps twenty children in a small town would warrant little attention." Craig S. Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, page 111.
B. Herod was cruel --
"Josephus records that Herod, “never stopped avenging and punishing everyday those who had chosen to be of the party of his enemies.” Antiquities 15.2. Herod executed 45 of the wealthiest aristocrats and confiscated their property. He was suspected, with good reason, of having the young High Priest (and son-in-law) Aristobulus drowned. In connection with that event, Herod ordered his wife to be murdered (an order he gave again under similar circumstances). Thereafter, he had his mother-in-law executed, as well as his brother-in-law and his sons."
Why doesn’t Josephus record this? Josephus didn’t record everything Herod did. For example, that Herod engaged in "the repression of the wilderness Essenes" which is otherwise unknown to us from Josephus. Keener, op. cit., pages 110-11.
C. Macrobius. -- Ambrosius Theodosius Macrobius was a pagan author of the late fourth century who did refer to Herod's slaughter of the innocents without being directly dependent on the Gospel of Matthew. The reference to the slaughter of the innocents is found in Saturnalia. Macrobius did not write about Christianity and shows no other awareness of the Gospel of Matthew. Yet in Satunalia, he writes the following:
When [Augustus] heard that Herod king of the Jews had ordered all the boys in Syria under the age of two years to be put to death and that the king's son was among those killed, he said, "I'd rather be Herod's pig than Herod’s son."
We simply do not know what Macrobius’ source of information was for this reference. It is clear that he is not dependent on the Gospel of Matthew. As Paul Barnett notes,
It appears that he has fused two separate episodes into one—the killing of the baby boys and Herod’s murder of a son of his own, who was then an adult and removed in circumstances different from those of the children. It does not seem that Macrobius merely quotes Matthew’s story, since he was a convinced pagan and the reference to Syria is at odds with Matthew’s version. It is more likely that the killing of the boys was recorded in a pagan source, now lost to us, but preserved in Macrobius.Paul Barnett, Is the New Testament Reliable?, page 103.
Thus, it appears that there are sufficient reasons to conclude that Herod did try to kill the baby boys just as the Gospel of Matthew records. At least, there is sufficient reason to conclude that Crossan's desire to simply dismiss it as a fable is more likely a fiction than the account of the Slaughter of the Innocents found in Matthew.
Fact 3: There is no such thing as the lost or hidden years in Jesus' life. I would agree with this in principle to the extent that it discounts all of those stories that talk about Jesus going to India or Japan or any other number of places between his appearance in the Temple at the age of 12 in Luke 2 and Jesus' baptism. But given Crossan's propensity to use silence to infer facts, I would prefer to clarify this point.
First, there is no question that Jesus has years of his life that are not described in detail in any written source. Thus, to the extent that there are books that suggest that Jesus traveled outside of Israel (at least, farther than Egypt), such accounts are simply not supportable by sufficient evidence to give them credibility.
Second, we can learn something about the years between Jesus' appearance in the Temple and his baptism by studying what life was like in ancient Israel at that time. Jesus was undoubtedly raised Jewish with all of the ceremonies and cultural trappings that accompanied those times. Thus, to the extent we study and learn about turn-of-the-millennium Israel, the more we learn about the "lost" years of Jesus.
Third, I believe it was Robert Bowman of the Center for Biblical Apologetics who pointed out to me that the Bible does say in a general way what Jesus did during those intervening years. It is found in only two verses in Luke 2:51-52. "Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men." So, from this we can conclude that (speaking broadly) Jesus lived in Nazareth with his parents where he obeyed the commandment to "honor thy mother and father" and became respected in that community.
To the extent that anyone claims to have further evidence about what happened to Jesus between the appearance in the Temple and his baptism, such claims should be viewed skeptically since (as far as I am aware) there is no known source that is accepted as truthful by either scholars or theologians that give any details of that time period.
Next time, we will look at the next few "little known facts" about the life of Jesus as seen from Dr. Crossan's unusual perspective.