I recently finished reading “The Birth of Christianity” by John Dominic Crossan. I am kind of proud of myself for reading all the way through this book, because it is very academic and detailed in its approach. But it was worth the effort.
Crossan is one of today’s leading scholars regarding the historical Jesus. His interdisciplinary approach includes anthropology, history and archaeology to develop an understanding of earliest Christianity in the decades following the death of Jesus but before the first gospel writings. His findings are often at odds with major teachings of the Church today, but there is much to be learned in this book whether or not one agrees with all of Crossan’s conclusions.
I won’t go into details here. But one of the assertions that I found most interesting is that the earliest followers of Christ (about 30 AD to 60 AD) were focused primarily on the sayings of Jesus (the oral “Sayings Tradition”) and the shared meal tradition (love feast/ communion/ eucharist). Their creed was to live as Jesus had instructed his followers. The Christian focus on Jesus’ death and resurrection did not seem to come until later, especially as emphasized in the writings of Paul.
This book isn’t for everyone. It will challenge your thinking, and even your beliefs. It will drive you to your dictionary to look up some of those words used only in academia. It is 600 pages long. But it is worth the effort.