The Fetish for a Subversive Jesus

In: Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus
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  • 1 University of Auckland

What does it mean to say Jesus was subversive? This article engages in meta-critical analysis of the use of ‘subversion’ in historical Jesus research. It argues that the neoliberal lives of Jesus in particular have increasingly fetishized a cultural mainstreaming of subversion in which certain forms of containable subversion are tolerated within late capitalist society, as part of a broader strategy of economic and ideological compliance. On the one hand, J.D. Crossan’s Jesus spun subversive aphorisms which constituted the radical subversion of the present world order. On the other hand, N.T. Wright has frequently intensified the rhetoric of subversion, claiming a ‘profoundly’, ‘doubly’, ‘thoroughly’, ‘deeply’, and ‘multiply’ subversive Jesus, while simultaneously distancing him from traditional subversive fixtures like militant revolutionary action. Through its discursive mimicking of wider cultural trends, this rhetorical trope has enabled Jesus scholarship to enjoy both popular and academic success in Western, neoliberal society.

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  • ———. Paul and the Faithfulness of God. Christian Origins and the Question of God 4. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2013.

  • 5

    N.T. Wright, ‘Paul’s Gospel and Caesar’s Empire,’ in Paul and Politics: Ekklesia, Israel, Imperium, Interpretation, ed. Richard A. Horsley (Harrisburg: Trinity Press International, 2000), p. 161.

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  • 6

    R. Alan Streett, Subversive Meals: An Analysis of the Lord’s Supper under Roman Domination in the First Century (Eugene: Pickwick, 2013).

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  • 8

    Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, On Religion (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1957), p. 22.

  • 9

    John Dominic Crossan, The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant (San Francisco: Harper, 1991).

  • 14

    Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? (London: Zero, 2009), pp. 16–19.

  • 18

    Grindon, ‘Subversion,’ p. 867.

  • 19

    Hugh Grady, ‘Containment, Subversion - and Postmodernism,’ Textual Practice 7, no. 1 (1993): pp. 31–49.

  • 20

    Stuart Hall, ed., Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices (London: Sage, 1997).

  • 21

    Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture (London: Routledge, 1994).

  • 22

    Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York: Routledge, 1990).

  • 23

    Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebooks (New York: Columbia University Press, 1992).

  • 24

    Terry Eagleton, The Illusions of Postmodernism (Malden: Blackwell, 1996), p. vii.

  • 25

    Eagleton, The Illusions of Postmodernism, p. vii.

  • 27

    John Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography (San Francisco: Harper, 1994), p. 93.

  • 28

    John Dominic Crossan, In Parables: The Challenge of the Historical Jesus (Sonoma: ­Polebridge, 1973); John Dominic Crossan, In Fragments: The Aphorisms of Jesus (San ­Francisco: Harper & Row, 1983).

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  • 29

    Crossan, The Historical Jesus, p. 235.

  • 30

    Crossan, The Historical Jesus, p. 324.

  • 31

    Crossan, The Historical Jesus, pp. 305, 355.

  • 32

    Rebekka King, ‘The Author, the Atheist, and the Academic Study of Religion: Bourdieu and the Reception of Biblical Criticism by Progressive Christians,’ Bulletin for the Study of Religion 41, no. 1 (2012): pp. 14–20.

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    • Export Citation
  • 33

    King, ‘The Author, the Atheist, and the Academic Study of Religion,’ p. 15.

  • 36

    Meier, A Marginal Jew, p. 8.

  • 37

    Crossan, The Historical Jesus, xi.

  • 38

    Crossan, The Historical Jesus, xii.

  • 39

    Myles, Homeless Jesus, p. 9.

  • 40

    Richard A. Horsley, ‘Why Bother with Biblical Studies?’ in Reading the Bible in an Age of Crisis, ed. Bruce Worthington (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2015), p. 335.

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  • 41

    Crossan, The Historical Jesus, p. 421.

  • 42

    Jake Kinzey, The Sacred and the Profane: An Investigation of Hipsters (London: Zero, 2012), p. 3.

  • 43

    Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, p. 564.

  • 44

    Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, p. 44.

  • 45

    Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, p. 235.

  • 46

    Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, pp. 466, 594.

  • 47

    Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, p. 441.

  • 48

    Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, pp. 278, 369, 565.

  • 49

    Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, p. 471.

  • 50

    Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, p. 596.

  • 52

    Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, p. 316.

  • 53

    Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, p. 429.

  • 54

    Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, p. 201.

  • 56

    Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, p. 229.

  • 58

    Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, p. 594.

  • 61

    Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, p. 459.

  • 63

    Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God, p. 1590.

  • 64

    Clive Marsh, ‘Quests of the Historical Jesus in New Historicist Perspective,’ Biblical ­Interpretation 5, no. 4 (1997): p. 413.

  • 65

    Grindon, ‘Subversion,’ p. 868.

  • 66

    Eagleton, The Illusions of Postmodernism, p. 132.

  • 67

    Grindon, ‘Subversion,’ p. 869.

  • 68

    Crossley, Jesus in an Age of Neoliberalism, pp. 85–98. See also: Marsh, ‘Quests of the ­Historical Jesus in New Historicist Perspective,’ pp. 422–426.

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