John Dominic Crossan

John Dominic Crossan leads visits an archeological site in Turkey, as he traces The Apostle Paul’s footsteps.

John Dominic Crossan, professor emeritus of religious studies at DePaul University, has been called bold and brilliant. He’s also been called a heretic and a fool.

The New Testament scholar’s views of the Gospels once seemed radical, and to many still do. He’s said there was no virgin birth, that most of Jesus’ miracles were actually parables, and that there was no resurrection. However, Crossan says invitations to speak at churches and universities have increased in recent years.

Next week he’ll be visiting Gonzaga University and St. Pius X Catholic Church in Coeur d’Alene to speak to students and the community about the Apostle Paul and the Early Church.

“When I started in the early ’90s I think it was fair to say I was way out on the left wing,” he said. “I think now I’m closer to the mainstream. Things have shifted, and are shifting.”

Crossan was a Catholic priest from 1957 to 1969, when he joined DePaul University. His work began causing a stir in 1991 when he wrote, “The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant” and began speaking about his views as part of The Jesus Seminar.

“What I was saying wasn’t anything new. Scholars always knew it, they just didn’t tell it to anyone. They wrote it in a language no one could understand,” Crossan said.

He’s written 27 books on Jesus, Paul and early Christianity and said he doesn’t intend to be provocative, he just wants to urge people to ask questions.

“The presumption that you can pick up a 2,000-year-old text that happens to be in English and know what it’s talking about is silly,” he said. “You have to do your homework. You have to prod it with questions.”

He said understanding Scripture means understanding both Judaism and the Roman Empire, which is partly what he’ll be speaking about during his visit.

People also need to know they have choices, he said. If people only learn one thing, they’re indoctrinated, not educated, he explained.

He’ll be speaking at Gonzaga at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 3. His lecture, “‘Paul’ An Appealing or Appalling Apostle?” will be in Cataldo Hall.

Linda Schearing, chair of the religious studies department at Gonzaga, said his presentation will be appealing to anyone interested in the Bible or ancient history of archeology, adding that his visit is an exciting opportunity for students.

“Being exposed to a scholar of Crossan’s stature is, for me, what a university is all about,” she said. “Students get the chance to listen to a variety of speakers on a range of issues that contribute to their education.  If they take a course in New Testament, for example, there is a good chance they will hear about Crossan and his ideas (even if only in a footnote). Being able to listen to a prominent scholar in person is a valuable experience for a student and can provide a stimulus for further research and discussion on the presenter’s topic.”

She noted that although the School of Business and the Religious Studies department are hosting Crossan, it doesn’t mean the institution endorses him.

“As a biblical scholar I can say that I rarely hear any colleague with whom I agree on all things. That doesn’t mean that listening is pointless — especially when that person has been a foundational influence in an academic discipline,” she said.

On Oct. 4 Crossan will be speaking the entire day at St. Pius, 625 E. Haycraft Ave. At 10 a.m he’ll present “Jewish/Covenantal Roots of Christianity.” At 1:30 p.m. will be a “Presentation of the Parables” and at 7 p.m. he’ll discuss “Influence of Paul on the Early Church and Today.”

“Dominic Crossan is very controversial, but I think people are very thankful we asked him to come,” said the Rev. Roger LaChance of St. Pius. “People are just very virulent against him, but you need to read him. What he does is ask questions, which is a challenge to most of us.”

LaChance had been studying Crossan’s books for years with his friend Art Collins. Together the pair asked Gonzaga to join them in extending an invitation to Crossan to come speak.

“We’re not trying to endorse him, we’re saying that he raises real issues that aren’t being raised, that aren’t part of faith discussions,” Collins said.

On Sept. 30 at 7 p.m. St. Pius will host an informational event about Crossan, so those unfamiliar with his work can learn about his writings before his lectures begin.

4 Comments

  1. Harry M. Bright, Spokane, WA.

    Dear Tracy. Today (Monday) I called the Spokesman Review desk to point out the last paragraph they ran in your article about the Crossan events this week.
    I had marked up the article to get the times and places straight including the Pius X meet and was looking through Spokane maps for the address location till it popped up —–as not in Spokane, but in CD’A Idaho!.

    I contacted the editorial folks at the S-R to point the lack of info in the last sentence without a clear Idaho address. They were unfamiliar with your contributions up to that point and not a little chagrined that no one there caught the deficit as to this Monday (tonight) meeting being out of state.

    For myself, the drive over from Spokane where the featured speaker is not designated to attend, is a bit much, since he will hold forth in Spokane this week and I can easily attend here.

    Kinda crazy all around as those I just spoke to on the phone at S-R could not
    say they knew of you—- until I read them your dot-com address. .
    So much for the marvels of this information age — eh?
    Do the principals in such conflict still look to kill the messenger? Cheers! HB

  2. Tracy Simmons

    Hi Harry,
    Thanks for your comment. I’m sorry you had so much trouble tracking me down. Spokane Faith & Values works in partnership with the Spokesman, but we are separate publications. I’m afraid if someone called my office looking for a Spokesman reporter, I too would have trouble tracking that person down (other than the select bunch of folks I work with there). And I’m sorry for the lack of information in the article. I mentioned, when I first referenced St. Pius, that it was in CDA, but then did not mention it again. I can definitely see how that would be confusing to folks.
    - Tracy

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