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Outline ReviewJohn Dominic Crossan's collection provides readers with a fresh look at the central lessons of Christianity's great teacher in his depictions of the "historical Jesus ... in both his vision and program." His excellent introduction puts forth the radical thesis that Jesus is best understood as a social reformer, a poor Jew in an occupied country who stressed social equality as much as or more than individual salvation. Attempting to see Christ not through 20th-century eyes but in the social, political, and economic context in which he lived and taught, Crossan points out that for the first 300 years after his crucifixion what was emphasized was not Jesus' divinity but his concern for communal empowerment. The picture that emerges is of a political and social rebel, a fearless champion to the poor and dispossessed.
Crossan's translations of Christ's sayings gathered from the four canonical gospels and the Gospel of Thomas are paradoxically both new and familiar, and their newness helps readers break outside their preconceived ideas of what they may consider to be "essential" about the revolutionary Galilean's message. Renderings such as "the somebodies will be nobodies and the nobodies will be somebodies" give well-known biblical verses renewed impact. Each saying stands alone and is meant to be read like poetry or dialectical argument, to be savored and enjoyed for its simultaneous simplicity and power. Scattered throughout the text are images of Jesus in Pre-Constantinian Christian reliefs and frescoes. Crossan explains that their emphasis on Jesus' concern with open healing and shared eating are further evidence of his radical social commitment. Those who are not afraid to challenge their assumptions about Jesus' teachings will find much of value in this volume. --Uma Kukathas
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