[ A longer version of this review is available on the author’s blog ]
The Lord’s Prayer is one of the best known and most beloved prayers in the World. Christians may disagree about a lot of things, but they all seem to find deep and abiding meaning, strength and spiritual sustenance in this prayer. But, even though we may recite this prayer weekly or even daily, often from memory, do we truly understand what it is we’re saying as we offer this prayer? That is, is there more to this prayer than meets the eye and could this prayer be in its original form a revolutionary manifesto? That is the contention made by John Dominic Crossan, one of the leading and best known Jesus scholars of our day, as he takes up this prayer. In the course of eight chapters, together with a prologue and an epilogue, Crossan invites us to join him in wrestling with the theological, political, social and cultural implications of this prayer, and the result is an extremely helpful book, even if at points it appears as if the prayer itself fades into the background of a broader discussion of the biblical story.
As I offer my review of Crossan’s book, I need to acknowledge that I have just published my own book on the Lord’s Prayer, a book that carries a title that might suggest that I read the prayer in ways similar to Crossan [Ultimate Allegiance: The Subversive Nature of the Lord’s Prayer
(Energion Publications, 2010)]. I will leave that possibility to the discernment of those who choose to read both books.
The prologue and the Epilogue offer clues to the trajectory that this book follows. The prologue carries the title, “The Strangest Prayer,” and in this prologue Crossan makes the point that while this prayer is offered up by Christians of every imaginable perspective, the prayer itself doesn’t address many of the issues that different Christian groups hold dear – whether inerrancy of Scripture, substitutionary atonement or even the resurrection, and yet it is prayed people who tend to ignore what it does say. This is not a Christian prayer per se, but is, the author contends “a prayer from the heart of Judaism on the lips of Christianity for the conscience of the world.” It is, in Crossan’s view “a radical manifesto and a hymn of hope for all humanity in language addressed to all the earth” (2). This insistence that the prayer is deeply rooted in Judaism, leads the author to explore in some depth the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible underpinnings of each phrase in the prayer.