People have been asking me for some time if my personal history isinfluencing my historical reconstruction of Jesus. This is a valid questionon two levels. First, to what extent does a personal life or socialsituation influence one's reconstruction of history? How does who you areinfluence what you do? For example, I've been accused that because I've leftthe priesthood I am trying to destroy Christianity (although I don't findthat hatred inside of me anywhere). Second, how has what you've doneinfluenced who you are? After thirty years of scholarship, what, ifanything, do I believe in? These two questions form a sort of prologue andepilogue, an interactive loop that was worth exploring.
Did you write this book more for yourself or for others?
In many ways, I wrote it more for myself, but in response to the questionsof others. I wanted to know for myself what, if anything, in my life hasinfluenced my work. I would say that I wrote the book for myself as aprofessional, as a responsible scholar responding to the questions andconcerns of others.
If you had to choose one thing from your book you'd want readers to go awaywith, what would it be?
I would want readers to be more interested in the historical Jesus than inthe historical Crossan. I would prefer that they learn something aboutGod and Jesus, about the gospels and earliest Christianity, about church andworld, rather than about me. I would want readers to be interested in meonly as a way of introducing them to all of those much more important facetsof life.
You mention that your monastic education and training taught you that howyou think is more important than what you think. Do you see this asinfluencing your work today?
Yes. I don't think my superiors intended to teach me that, but it was theresult, and it eventually forced me to clash with them. They wanted me tothink what they thought. And I wanted to think independently of that. If themonastery were a corporation divided into different departments, they wouldwant everyone to fall under marketing and public relations. I wanted to bedoing research and development. The only integrity of a scholar is to reportwhat you find. If you don't you're an apologist.
I began to have trouble with my vow of obedience when it moved past whatto do and where to go (no problem there) into what to think and what to say(big problem there). I need to use my mind to think and to say openly whatI see. That is a scholar's only integrity. To be right or wrong is forothers to decide. To be honest or dishonest is for oneself to decide. I setout originally to become a monk because of the adventure of monastic life,and I later found that same adventure in scholarly work. However, therewas no adventure in being told what you are to say.
You mention several times in "A Long Way from Tipperary" that you didn't planout your life. You've ended up where you are, and the places you've been,because it just happened that way. Do you consider your path to be God'swill for you? How much weight do you give to your individual decisions?
I'm not sure where the line is there. I don't know how much God tells us andhow much we tell God. In my scholarly work, I know that I am changed becauseof the questions people raise. I see the changes in print. But with God it'sdifferent. How do you judge the interaction between human and divine will inany situation?
The major steps in my life, including falling in love, were not my ownplan. Once they happened, I said yes to them and recognized theirimportance. I did not make them happen, but I accepted them when they did,Most, however, were not my original plan.
For example, I did not write "The Historical Jesus" for a popularaudience. I did not expect anyone outside my academic colleagues to readit. However, in 1991, when Peter Steinfels, religion reporter for The NewYork Times, found that book interesting, he put it on the front page of thepaper for Christmas. That changed everything and I accepted the challenge ofbecoming a public intellectual.
Do you feel as though part of your mission as a scholar is to be such apublic intellectual?
Yes. I believe that my job as a scholar is to be public and to educate (notindoctrinate) as best I can. (Education is knowing all your options,indoctrination is only knowing another's command.) And I feel that ourofficial scholarly biblical institutions should support the outside publicforum equally with the insider academic study. Speaking to the modernpublic should be respected as much as translating ancient documents. But therespect is not evenly distributed.
Where do you most obviously see your past and present converge?
The sense of adventure . . . that life or study or research--especiallyresearch about God or religion--should be a magnificent adventure. If it everstopped being that, I would reevaluate what I'm doing.