Addressing a stunned audience at the Regional SBL meeting in March, John Dominic Crossan announced his intention to form a new group of biblical scholars called The Context Seminar. Retracting his theory of Jesus the egalitarian cynic, the former co-chair of the Jesus Seminar repented of academic envy and plagiarism: “I made a career of ripping off the work of the Context Group and then making nonsense of it. But I’ve seen the light, and hope to redeem myself in the eyes of Malina and Co. I really want to put Jesus in better context.”
Crossan, along with the the late Robert Funk, spearheaded the Jesus Seminar in efforts to make the results of liberal scholarship more sensational and in-your-face. With the Context Seminar he’s starting over from scratch, but with the same eye on publicity: “It’s going to be my own ‘Context Group’, but with all the notoriety of the Jesus Seminar. I want to sensationalize the honor-shame prophet just as Funk and I did the wisdom sage.”
Crossan plans on redoing The Five Gospels and The Acts of Jesus — “just as the Context Group scholars might have done”, he ventures. He’s more confident than ever about the reliability of the gospel data that can be traced back to Jesus.
When pressed for the reasons for his dramatic turn, Crossan admitted that the Hellenized sage was a product of his own cynicism. “Not that this is bad altogether,” he insisted, “and I’ve never been concerned with unattainable objectivity anyway, only attainable honesty. So to be perfectly honest: the cynic had its place in the 90s, but he can’t accomplish much for us in a post-9/11 world. Western people need more honor and less wisdom; more loyalty, less cynicism — just like those who have been oppressed in the Muslim world. I’m convinced that the Context Group’s Jesus is needed more than ever right now for the sake of multiculturalist understanding.”
After their initial shock, many conservative scholars seemed supportive of Crossan’s decision. But Context-Group members pounced, deriding it as a cheap political stunt. Bruce Malina barked: “Crossan is riding our backs as he always has — he’s just more upfront about it now.” Richard Rohrbaugh emphasized that the Context Group has never wanted to be in the spotlight, and is not especially interested in assessing the authenticity of Jesus’ sayings and deeds: “Our aims have been more modest and general than that, which is one reason we divorced ourselves from the Jesus Seminar back in the late 80s.” Jack Elliott roared: “If Dom has given up the egalitarian Jesus, then I’m an evangelical. Mark my words, this ‘Context Seminar’ will only amount to heavy camouflage for a western democratic Jesus.”