Modern Believing


Modern Believing (2016), 57, (2), 175–219.


BOOK REVIEWS J. D. Crossan, Jesus and the Violence of Scripture: How to Read the Bible and Still Be a Christian. London: SPCK, 2015. Pp. viii, 263. Pb. £12.99. ISBN 978-0-281-07420-4. This book is the British edition of the HarperCollins original, How to Read the Bible and Still Be a Christian. The American title is demoted to a subtitle in the UK, perhaps because it stated too honestly the conundrum that the Bible has bequeathed to contemporary Christians. Christians believe in a just God, and the problem immediately arises whether God’s justice is distributive or retributive. That crucial philosophical distinction becomes the spine of the whole book (for example, pp. 17, 56, 99, 117, 138, 185, 244). The biblical God is just in both senses, and such a dichotomous God is morally and spiritually repugnant. The ‘fundamental question’ of the book is ‘How do we Christians know which is our true God – our Bible’s violent God, or our Bible’s nonviolent God?’ (p. 34) Crossan places the person of Christ above the Bible, but then knowingly walks into a further difficulty. The ‘same dichotomy’ which is evident in the ‘bipolar or even schizophrenic portrayal of the biblical God as both nonviolent and violent’ ‘envelops the biblical figure of Christ – on peace donkey and on war-horse’ (p. 36, emphasis added). In particular, the Christ of the Apocalypse is mired in, and by, retribution. Crossan’s proposal, reduced to a single sentence, is that ‘The norm and criterion of the Christian Bible is the biblical Christ but the norm and criterion of the biblical Christ is the historical Jesus’ (p. 36, author’s emphasis): ‘the peace donkey of the historical Jesus in the Gospels trumps the warhorse of the apocalyptic Jesus in Revelation’ (p. 37). The remaining twelve chapters of the book examine the Bible through ‘Christ-glasses’ and provide a fascinating series of re-readings of the scriptures. Early Genesis, divested of its Christian gloss of fall and heavy divine retribution, is able to tell a different story – that of humanity choosing to live by ‘the tree of conscience’ (p. 57). Genesis 4 is about ‘escalatory violence almost as a seductive inevitability’ Modern Believing 57.2 2016 doi:10.3828/mb.2016.15

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