This article draws on critical crowd theory to explore how historical Jesus research can benefit from a more robust understanding of the crowds that engulf Jesus as subjects of historical change. Conventional approaches to the crowds within New Testament scholarship are complicit in heightening Jesus’ individual exceptionalism. Rather than envisaging the crowds as part of the anonymous background to Jesus’ ministry, or as a literary invention by the Gospel authors, we should instead regard the crowds as a collective expression of underlying social, political, and economic antagonisms.
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.
John 18:15–16 mentions an unknown disciple of Jesus who “was known to the high priest” giving him access to the events in Caiaphas’s courtyard. A minority of scholars maintain the identity of this disciple is consistent with John, the son of Zebedee, whom they also maintain was the author of the Fourth Gospel. To support this position, the commonplace fiction of Galilean fishermen belonging to an aspiring “middle-class” is asserted. This article reviews the arguments and suggests that a more robust representation of class stratification in the ancient world demonstrates the implausibility of such a scenario.