The Bible presents us with both a peaceful God and a violent God, declares Crossan (In Search of Paul, 2004, etc.). The task of believers is to decide which one to follow.
Exploring history with a special emphasis on Rome’s quintessential empire, the author concludes that “civilization” consists largely of competing empires. Violence is the norm, but it is not inevitable, he avers. History also presents a nonviolent choice, epitomized by the historical Jesus. Crossan employs textual criticism to support his contention that many descriptions of Jesus—as a judge condemning sinners to hell or as the leader of armies attacking Satan at Armageddon, for example—bear little relation to the historical person and his actual teachings, but instead reflect the agenda of various writers. Similarly, Crossan contrasts the belief in nonviolence and equality expressed in works by “the radical-historical Paul” with the punitive pronouncements of “the later, conservative-reactionary pseudo-Paul.” The faithful must choose between these two portrayals, he states, just as they must choose between worshipping a God of peace, love and distributive justice or a deity of war, violence and retribution; both versions can be found in the Bible. Crossan’s method has the surface trappings of logical argument, and he discounts the portions of scripture that don’t fit his vision of the historical Jesus.
“America as the New Roman Empire” is pretty tired stuff, and the author’s jeremiad against “Bible-fed Christian violence” won’t sway anyone who doesn’t already share his decidedly PC faith.