John Dominic Crossan is one of the most brilliant, engaging, learned and quick-witted New Testament scholars alive today. He has been described by one recent friendly critic as a “rather sceptical new Testament professor with the soul of a leprechaun” [fn. van Beck 1994, 97]. He seems incapable, in his recent work at least, of thinking a boring thought or writing a dull paragraph. His major work The Historical Jesus: the Life of the Mediterranean Jewish Peasant is a book to treasure for its learning, its thoroughness, its brilliant handling of multiple and complex issues, its amazing inventiveness, and above all its sheer readability. The book is based on many years of careful and painstaking research, and stands on the shoulders of previous books that won acclaim in their own right. Crossan represents, far more than Burton Mack, the high point of achievement in the new wave of the New Quest.
It is all the more frustrating, therefore, to have to conclude that the book is almost entirely wrong.
It is for passages like this that I find reading Wright such a delight! I have a system of scribbling in my books: asterisks, underlining, double underlining, wiggly lines for ideas I don’t quite agree with, question marks for ones that I need to check up on, crosses for those opinions that are just plain wrong. I also have a system, devised just for Wright’s books, of putting little smiley faces in the colums next to erudite jokes and witty asides. This one scored (for the first time ever in any book I have read) two smiley faces.
He goes on to say that the “whole direction” of Crossan’s work “is entirely different from the present one”. It is perhaps Crossan’s readability that makes his very learned (but wrong) ideas so readily absorbed by the ignorant masses who legitimately and praiseworthily seek to educate themselves by reading the works of such an accomplished scholar. I know that the number of articles entitled “Is Wright Right?” (or some such variation) are legion, but in comparison with Crossan, two things can be said:
1) He is at least if not more readable, and just as incapable of “thinking a boring thought or writing a dull paragraph”.
2) His scholarship is, as he himself intimates, entirely directed toward undoing the damage such scholarship as Crossan’s has done to the orthodox Christian faith.