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The Fetish for a Subversive Jesus

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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.

Affiliations: 1: University of Auckland,


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