Where Crossan’s historical meets Beckett’s hysterical Jesus

Crossan finds Jesus living on the wrong side of the tracks – among the politically oppressed and the socially shamed, low class cynics roaming homeless camps.

Beckett’s Waiting for Godot begins with a gospel attestation analysis by Vladimir:

Vladimir: One out of four. Of the other three two don’t mention any thieves at all and the third says that both of them abused him….But one of the four says that one of the two was saved….But all four were there. And only one speaks of a thief being saved. Why believe him rather than the others? (p. 9).

As Crossan shows, they were not all there. Very few, if any, were there. The problem then, for Crossan, is one of attestation, correlation, cross referencing the varied and disparate stories for credibility and reliability, explaining the running editions, the omissions, the additions, the different emphases – the “theological damage control” of later traditions (p. 232). Crossan’s book begins with a remarkable story, taken from ancient Egyptian papyrus, about a common family, illustrating basic household transactions, including everyday hopes and disappointments. His research reveals the social, political, and religious landscape of the Mediterranean world, and discusses the survival skills practiced by ordinary households – the concessions, the breaking points, the sacrifices, the everyday hopes and fears.

Out of this anthropological view emerges a Jesus walking a landscape consistent with Beckett’s typical stage directions – for Godot: Act I, “A country road. A tree. Evening”; Act II, “Next day. Same time. Same place.”

“He was neither broker nor mediator but, somewhat paradoxically, the announcer that neither should exist between humanity and divinity or between humanity and itself. Miracle and parable, healing and eating were calculated to force individuals into unmediated physical and spiritual contact with God and unmediated physical and spiritual contact with one another. He announced, in other words, the brokerless kingdom of God” (Crossan, p. 422).

Jesus was an existentialist; there is no Godot.


Beckett, S. (1954). Waiting for Godot. New York: Grove Press.

Crossan, J. (1992). The historical Jesus: The life of a Mediterranean Jewish peasant. New York: HarperCollins.

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