The Existential Jesus

ExistentialJesus_new_ed_LRAwesome, awe-inspiring … The Existential Jesus is a work of genius. Like works of genius, it will haunt without being accepted, its impossibility of being absorbed being its power.


Jesus is the man who made the West. What kind of man was he? Is he relevant to a modern world shaken by crises of meaning? The churches have mainly projected him as Jesus the carer and comforter, Jesus meek and mild, friend of the weak. This is Jesus the Good Shepherd, who preaches on sin and forgiveness. He is Lord and Saviour.

But this church Jesus is not remotely like the existential hero portrayed in the first and most potent telling of his life-story — that of Mark. Mark’s Jesus is a lonely and restless, mysterious stranger. His mission is dark and obscure. Everything he tries fails. By the end there is no God, no loyal followers — just torture by crucifixion, climaxing in a colossal deathscream. The story closes without a resurrection from the dead. There is just an empty tomb, and three women fleeing in terror.

The existential Jesus speaks today. He does not spout doctrine; he has no interest in sin; his focus is not on some after-life. He gestures enigmatically from within his own gruelling experience, inviting the reader to walk in his shoes.

He singles out everybody’s central question: ‘Who am I?’ The truth lies within individual identity, resounding in the depths of the inner self. The existential Jesus is the West’s great teacher on the nature of being.

Published by Scribe in December 2011

2007 Religion Report – John Carroll in conversation with Stephen Crittenden

The Existential Jesus broadens the debate about Jesus beyond the restrictive framework of traditional church teachings.’

MATTHEW LAMB, Weekend Australian

‘[Carroll] does not bring the biases and learned habits of churchly biblical interpretation. This leaves him free to encounter freshly the power of Mark’s story of Jesus … I was struck by the freshness of this encounter, the willingness to pursue what was found using the tools of textual analysis to unlock the themes, the courage to let the text speak and then, having unpacked it, to just let it be.’


The Existential Jesus has the merit of being a beautiful piece of writing as well as a remarkable piece of thinking. The words dance with each other as well as with the reader, resulting in an experience not unlike listening to a beautiful piece of orchestral music. The different movements are designed to enchant, challenge, shake, delight, confound, and uplift (sometimes one feels all of these things at once, such is the striking depth of language and craftsmanship in expression) until we are ultimately led into silence, which is, of course, the right response to the enigma of Being and of finding oneself before the mystery of I AM.’


‘This is the Gospel of Mark as you’ve never read it before, but Carroll’s interpretation of Mark’s Jesus suddenly makes sense. It’s a scholarly but not forbiddingly academic study, for Carroll writes like a novelist, his passionate almost frantic style lending conviction to the story.’


 ‘ … the book is well written, and it is clear that the writer is fascinated with Mark’s text.’


‘Though the word deconstruction is likely to get the police around these days, that is exactly what Carroll’s account is: as exciting, difficult and contradictory as the best of Jacques Derrida.’

GUY RUNDLE, Australian

‘… The Existential Jesus is remarkable for the intensity of the writer’s admiration for his subject.’

JILL ROWBOTHAM, Weekend Australian

The Existential Jesus is textual scholarship of the most objective kind … Carroll’s analysis of the Gospel of Mark is compelling reading.’

ALISON COTES, Courier Mail

‘Anyone with doubts about John Carroll being one of Australia’s most creative and original thinkers will see them dissipate after a close reading of this book.’

PETER FAMILARI, Daily Telegraph

The Existential Jesus testifies to the need for our culture to grapple once again with the Jesus of the New Testament. John Carroll is right. This task is inescapable if we wish to understand our history and the significance of our civilisation.’