Friday, November 29, 2013
I have some very simple beliefs, which I think are pretty obvious, though I have a hard time convincing anyone else. One is this: It would be a whole lot happier world for Jews if no more lies were told about ancient Jewish culture. I don’t think this is such a difficult thing to grasp, but apparently it is for many people. Although this should be of interest to both Jews and Christians, for fairly obvious reasons, it is more in the self-interest of Jews to take a careful look at this.
What follows are some of the lies I am talking about. Bear in mind that these lies are told by historical Jesus scholars, not just by theologians (I have some reason for thinking that many Christian theologians do a better job by ancient Judaism than historical scholars). I am going to state these lies in the negative (that is, in denial of the lies) as I do not like repeating them, not even for hypothetical purposes. The best way to put lies on the run is to deny them from the get-go. These are just a few of the lies that still have wide currency:
1) Ancient Jewish culture was not primarily about Temple, rituals, and purity concerns, as the overwhelming majority of historical Jesus scholars present it. It was not an inferior religion concerned with superficialities. It was not a foil for scholars' imaginary provocative Jesus. The central feature of Jewish culture was an extraordinary dedication to government by Constitution (the Torah), including the principle of due process. I hate to be immodest about this, but my books, especially the more recent True Jew, might be the only source from which you will learn this.
2) Ancient Jews did not promote a handful of dogmatic concepts that everyone had to mindlessly obey. What they did instead was promote an atmosphere of open and free debate. The point was to understand the constitutional principles embodied in the Torah. This could only be achieved through active debate. They believed God enjoyed this debate. Jesus was a part of that world of healthy disputes and did not oppose it.
3) Josephus does not anywhere describe Jewish leaders as being in cahoots with Romans in the arrest and prosecution of Jewish troublemakers. Shocking as this is, in order to justify the traditional story of Jesus’s death, it is again the position of most historical Jesus scholars that Josephus tells us Jews helped Rome take action against Jewish rebels. Scholars have no evidence for this. Either they boldly allege this without evidence or they deliberately misstate the evidence in Josephus. Jewish leaders never arrested Jews and turned them over to Rome and never even threatened to do such a thing. Not only that, they never went after rebels on their own. It was in no way part of the duties of the priests to suppress Jewish rebels. Any Jews who were a pain in the Roman ass were left to Rome. Jewish leaders wanted nothing to do with it.
4) Here is a lie by omission. Scholars never tell their readers that Josephus provides us with information that Jewish authorities would never step over the line of keeping their distance from Rome. They would refuse such cooperation with Romans even if a Roman governor demanded it. Scholars just carefully omit any such evidence from their worldview, which is frankly an anti-Jewish worldview as it always portrays ancient Jewish culture in the most negative light.
5) Summing up the last few points, there is absolutely no information in the historical context that would justify the allegation that Jewish leaders worked with Rome to get rid of Jesus. Everything we know—that is, everything we should know, if we were paying accurate attention to the evidence—tells us that Jewish leaders could not possibly have persecuted or prosecuted Jesus.
6) Is then the story in the Gospels a total myth? Not exactly. Here then is one more extraordinary lie scholars tell by omission: The Gospels do not support the traditional allegations made against Jewish leaders; they actually contain a lot of details which contradict the traditional story of Jesus’s death. That story came out of early Christian theology and was imposed on the Gospels. The Gospel details, if you pay close attention, do not justify the charges made against Jewish authorities. No one ever tells you this. Both my books go over this with devastating accuracy.
7) And by the way, Jesus never threatened the Temple or Temple authorities. The total information in the Gospels about this, with a little help from the Jewish context, tells us that he completely supported the Temple and loved it as every other Jew of his time did. The case of Jesus versus the Temple or even the Temple authorities as scholars present it is a manufactured one by selecting a few pieces out of context from the rest.
Below this post is my review of Bill O’Reilly’s book, which I also put up on Amazon. If that review impresses any Jews at all, then take action. My message is simple: When lies (or misrepresentations or misinformation, or whatever else you might wish to call them) are told, do not take it lying down. Stand up. Protest. Loud and clear. Take a lesson from the black civil rights movement. Stand tall, be proud, and don’t take any guff from anyone. Don’t let people like O’Reilly or his supporters intimidate you into silence. Respond to the kind of crap history he purveys and don’t be intimidated by the fact that many reputable scholars repeat the same lies.
The problem with many Jews is that they get a little worked up when a controversial book like O’Reilly’s appears, but after a few months, they forget all about it. Jewish history and culture belong to Jews in the first place. Too many Jews have grown comfortable with the inaccurate information about 1st century Judaism. These statements about how ancient Jews operated are provably false, yet Jews have turned their backs on this for too long. Stop doing that. Insist that scholars get it right or get out of the field altogether. Ancient Jewish culture accomplished a lot of great things. Keep the accurate memories alive or you will lose them.
© 2013 Leon Zitzer
Friday, October 18, 2013
The authors claim their book is about history, not religion. Many reviews here echo that. I dispute this. The book is not attentive to the Jewish context or the Gospels. It is rather theology disguised as history. It is the traditional theology where Jesus runs afoul of Jewish authorities who then not merely help Rome get rid of him but pressure a reluctant Pilate to execute him. A lot of history is erased to make this theology appear historical.
The authors present Jesus’s overturning of the moneychangers’ tables near the Temple as an economic threat to the priests. What they don’t tell you is that other Pharisees and rabbis made far more serious criticisms of the way the priests ran the Temple and yet they were not persecuted for it. (They do briefly hint at some of this, at 230n, but understate it.) In the 1st century CE, R. Simeon ben Gamaliel was upset at the high prices poor women had to pay for sacrificial doves when they suffered a miscarriage. He issued a new ruling on sacrifices which had the intended effect of lowering prices.
Jesus’s action might have upset business for a couple of hours at best. Simeon’s ruling had a deeper, more lasting impact and he was not arrested or hounded. Why don’t O’Reilly and Dugard include such examples? Because 1) they want Jesus to appear unique in his culture, and 2) they won’t be able to explain why Jesus would have been singled out while no other Jews were mistreated for their intense criticism of the priestly aristocracy. Indeed, it is inexplicable. The idea that Jesus had done or said something offensive to Jewish leaders, so offensive as to require a lethal response, is nonsense. I have made the full case elsewhere.
The authors do not tell us that whatever abuses of power the priests were accused of, the one thing they were never accused of was cooperating with Rome in the arrest and prosecution of Jews or asking Rome to execute someone for them. They cite the work of Josephus from time to time, but they fail to mention that he provides evidence that indicates Jewish leaders would never step over this line. It was an absolute no-no. There is even one example of a procurator demanding that they hand over some Jewish men and the Jewish authorities refused.
O’Reilly and Dugard get the Pharisees wrong. They were not obsessively legalistic as the authors claim (127) and were not “arrogant, self-righteous men who love their exalted status far more than any religious belief system” (157). The Pharisees believed in Torah as Constitution and fought for constitutional government rather than arbitrary rule by kings and priests. All of Matthew 5 is pure Pharisaism. Whatever disputes Jesus had with some Pharisees were normal for the time. It was a healthy debating atmosphere. All of Jesus’s teachings are unsurprisingly Jewish.
The authors devote much space to Julius Caesar, who has nothing to do with the story of Jesus, yet there is not one word on Hillel, Shemaiah, Honi and other Jewish teachers who preceded Jesus and whom Jesus approvingly references on occasion. The authors have made themselves experts on suppressing a lot of Jewish culture. It is clear that they have read very little about this culture by Jewish authors. Why should they? They believe they have a right to fantasize a harsh, legalistic Judaism that never existed.
They allude to the Jewish trial rules a few times (207, 224, 229), but it’s incomplete. They take their absence in the Gospels to mean there was an illegal trial of Jesus (229-33). They never say outright that certain Jews lynched Jesus, but strongly hint at it with their illegal trial and by describing Pharisees surrounding Jesus as “a noose of sorts” (158). This is despicable nonsense.
How about more simply: There was no Jewish trial of Jesus at all, legal or otherwise. Instead of describing how garments were made or any other number of other trivial details that have nothing to do with anything (in an attempt to make their book appear historical), they might have made an effort to discuss the humanitarian rules for Jewish trials in the Mishnah (e.g., defendants in capital cases had to have at least one judge who would act as defense attorney). All of them might not have been in play in the 1st century CE but some of them must have been.
There is no mention of all the information in the Gospels which contradict that there was an antagonistic Jewish trial of Jesus. Luke and John do not have a Jewish death penalty pronounced against Jesus or a parade of witnesses. Paul in Acts says Jewish leaders could charge Jesus with nothing deserving death. The authors also leave out that John has Roman soldiers at Jesus’s arrest, which would mean that this was a Roman affair all the way, not a Jewish one where they later pull Romans into it. A friendly informal meeting with Jesus makes more sense of all the evidence. Religion had nothing to do with Jesus’s execution. It was strictly a political act on Rome’s part.
The general rule O’Reilly and Dugard follow is the same followed by many scholars: Evidence favorable to Jewish leaders is inadmissible, while anything that makes them look bad can be exaggerated. They are not even above inventing facts. They refer to “yet another illegal trial” (230). Where is there evidence that the Sanhedrin was in the habit of doing this? They say Caiaphas bonded with Pilate (101) and was “a dear friend of Rome” (169) and the high priest was “constantly on the lookout for rebels” (190). All pure invention.
Does all the evidence fairly considered tell us what actually did happen? Yes, and I have provided the full explanation in my work.
In 1916, Richard Husband argued that Jewish leaders would never have violated their own legal rules to convict Jesus and that any idea that they had done so was based on prejudice, not historical analysis. Almost 100 years later, these two writers and a host of scholars still don’t get it. A historical book? Not by a long shot.
End of Review.
I just want to add one thing here. I saw O’Reilly on “60 Minutes” and Letterman in the last two weeks. I only saw a couple of minutes on each show. It was too sickening for me to watch the whole thing. It is one thing to read lies in a book. One can calmly consider them and respond thoughtfully, as I do above. But hearing the lies spoken out loud on a TV show is another matter altogether. To see lips moving, to hear the voice and see the gestures made is quite disgusting. When O’Reilly said that Jews and Romans hated each other but worked together to get rid of Jesus, and mashes his fists together to make the point, it is revolting. Nothing in history supports that such a thing could have happened.
And think of all the attention such an awful book is getting! Why don’t more Jews and Christians protest this kind of thing? Why do O’Reilly’s claims go unanswered? If any scholars have critically responded to O’Reilly, I apologize to them. But O’Reilly has such a lousy evidentiary case, and it seems to me that no one is pointing this out. They let him get away with it. Lies get such advertisement and the truth goes limping along with very few to stand up for it.
© 2013 Leon Zitzer
Friday, September 27, 2013
Hungarian novelist Imre Kertész’s memoir, Dossier K, in the form of an interview he conducts with himself, was recently published here. He spent part of his early years in a concentration camp and his adult life under successive Hungarian dictatorships. He is a writer in a totalitarian society, trying to portray the human condition under totalitarianism, and poses this question at one point: “If power is totalitarian, and the accommodation to it is total, then for whom is one to portray man dominated by totalitarianism? … Who would be left and be in a position to judge outside of the totality?” (his emphasis).
One can ask the same question about New Testament scholarship. How do you explain the total dogmatism of a field to all the people in that field and all the readers who have an interest in this, but are totally committed to shutting out any other point of view? To whom are you explaining that something is wrong? How do you get anyone to stand outside the dogmatism and see what is going on? It’s a puzzlement.
An example is in order. Virtually every scholar in this field declares that Josephus, the ancient Jewish-Roman historian, gives us a Jewish context for Jesus in which Jewish authorities cooperated with Rome in putting down Jewish troublemakers. Josephus says no such thing. He provides no evidence to justify this ridiculous idea. In fact, Josephus provides evidence that Jewish leaders would never turn Jews over to Rome and would never even threaten to do that. It was anathema to them to work with Romans in the arrest and prosecution of Jews (I am deducing this from a small but solid array of evidence).
How do you get scholars, students, and all interested readers to see how badly mistaken they have been about this? It is only prejudice that upholds the scholarly view of Jewish leaders.
I could go on and on and explain very carefully how similar errors appear in academic work on Judas, Barabbas, the Temple, and so much else. Most importantly, I could explain how scholars incorrectly minimize Jesus’ Jewishness, as if they were afraid of what the full truth might be. Hardly anyone is willing to see the true colors of Pharisaic Judaism and that Jesus was a perfect fit within it. I could do all this, but what would be the point of setting the record straight? I’ve already done it in True Jew and in my previous book, Ghost. One can lay out the evidence so precisely and do it until you are blue in the face. Nothing makes any difference if people will not face the biases and preconceived ideas that have made a mess of this history and the clues in the Gospels, which are more pro-Jewish than people realize.
After all, the idea that Josephus in any way justifies the notion that Jewish leaders were in cahoots with Rome in keeping order is so absurd it staggers the imagination. And that is another thing that New Testament or historical Jesus scholarship has in common with totalitarianism: Both depend heavily on promoting absurdity.
So how does a totalitarian state ever fall? When cracks appear. The first ones are ruthlessly suppressed. When enough accumulate, maybe something will begin to change. I cannot see that it would be any different with New Testament studies. Certainly a number of cracks have appeared over the years. To say that the majority of Christian scholars have been ruthlessly hostile towards each one would be an understatement.
In the mid-19th century, Abraham Geiger wrote about Jesus’ Jewishness. A crack had appeared. The reaction from Christian scholars was extreme hostility. A hundred years later, in the 1960s, Paul Winter stated that Jesus was essentially a Pharisee and once again the wrath of many Christian scholars was provoked (not that Jews felt any easier about this sort of investigation). More recently, Hyam Maccoby has been ridiculed or dismissed for his efforts in this direction. Hostility, overt or covert, remains the most effective tool to suppress good work.
Shortly after Winter’s book, Haim Cohn proved that the theory of Jewish leaders putting Jesus on trial and working with Rome does not hold up. Jewish leaders holding an informal meeting to try to save Jesus from a Roman execution makes much better sense. This was huge crack in the edifice of New Testament scholarship. Cohn’s work was never paid sufficient attention and the little that it got was decidedly negative. No one carefully discussed the evidence he presented. They just blithely dismissed him.
My own work confirms Cohn’s conclusion from an independent route and I bring more evidence to bear. As for Judas, any attempt to free him from the prison he has been put in meets with hostility and a recommitment on almost everyone’s part to continue the false allegation that he betrayed Jesus.
How many cracks does it take to topple the totalitarian state of New Testament scholarship? To put it another way: How many cracks are needed to overwhelm the inevitable antagonism towards a completely fresh look at the evidence? I really have no idea. But I wouldn’t be surprised if it was close to a million.
© 2013 Leon Zitzer
Friday, August 30, 2013
Consider the famous passage on Jesus that appears in the writings of Josephus. Most scholars acknowledge that Josephus could not possibly have written it in the way we have it in the Greek that has come down to us. But that is where their sensible analysis ends.
In the Greek, Josephus says that Jesus was the Messiah and that he rose from the dead on the third day. He even adds “if indeed one ought to call him a man,” after identifying Jesus as a wise man. Everyone knows Josephus would never have said these things. Josephus was not a Christian and would not have been making statements of Christian faith.
But most scholars go too far when they surmise that these were complete insertions by a later Christian editor. This claim is maximal reconstruction of the text, which should never be done unless you have excellent evidence to back it up. In the absence of such evidence, it is more likely that Josephus said something about Messiahship and rising from the dead which was later slightly altered than that he said nothing at all about these things.
For example, it is quite conceivable that he said Jesus’ followers said or claimed or believed that Jesus was the Messiah and rose from the dead. It would have been easy for a later cleric to just remove the qualifying part about Jesus’ followers believing these things and turning these statements into absolute claims by Josephus. But originally, Josephus reporting what others were saying makes a lot more sense.
Is there any evidence that this is what Josephus wrote? Yes, there is. There is a version of this passage from Josephus preserved by a Christian cleric, Agapius, writing in Arabic. In the Arabic testimony, Josephus indeed says that his followers reported that Jesus rose from the dead and that perhaps he was the Messiah. Shlomo Pines who provided us with a translation and commentary explains how the Arabic for ‘perhaps’ may have been a mistranslation from a Syriac version which was likely ‘He was thought to be the Messiah.’ In fact, that last phrase is exactly what is found in another version from Michael the Syrian, a Christian cleric writing in Syriac.
These versions accord with minimal reconstruction of the Greek text which is better than leaping to the maximal reconstruction engaged in by most scholars. But this is not the prejudice I am getting to, although this could be taken as one example of biased scholarship. The prejudice I want to address here is much more serious and may help explain why scholars have chosen the path of the big leap.
The most startling difference between the Greek text of Josephus and these other versions is one I have not mentioned. No one likes talking about it. In the Greek, Josephus supposedly relates that Jesus was “accused by men of the highest standing amongst us,” that is, Jewish leaders, before Pilate. What does it say in the Agapius Arabic text and in Michael the Syrian’s? Agapius has absolutely nothing about Jewish leaders. Pilate condemns Jesus and has him crucified. Jewish leaders do not appear at all. Michael the Syrian mentions Jewish leaders but not as accusing Jesus of anything. They testify to something. What is not clear, as the text seems to have been altered. Michael makes it seem that they testified that they did not believe Jesus was the Messiah and as a result, Pilate condemned him to the cross. This makes no sense. Jewish leaders testifying that he was not the Messiah would be a reason not to crucify Jesus. If they had said they too thought he was the Messiah , that would be more of a reason to execute Jesus because it would make him more dangerous. Not believing him to be the Messiah would have made him less dangerous. So there has been some tampering.
The important point is that both Agapius and Michael the Syrian give us more believable versions of Josephus as they are more consistent with the rest of Josephus than the Greek. The Greek version tells us something that Josephus could not possibly have written. Nowhere else in his writings does he give an example of Jewish leaders indicting a fellow Jew before a Roman governor. If Josephus had talked about Jewish leaders accusing Jesus before Pilate, it is so unlike anything else he reports that he would have taken a moment to explain what accounts for this exceptionally odd behavior. This is precisely what no one wants to admit.
Scholars have correctly doubted several items in the Greek text of Josephus on Jesus, but no scholar has ever expressed doubt about that sentence referring to Jewish leaders. We know, they all know, that this passage is not what Josephus originally wrote. Therefore, the whole thing can legitimately be subjected to more analysis. Yet every single scholar has excluded the sentence on Jewish leaders from any doubt. Why? Because blaming Jewish leaders is their holy first principle that no evidence must be allowed to disturb. And that itself is disturbing.
That is the reason scholars ignore Agapius and Michael the Syrian. These other versions would help give us a version closer to what Josephus actually wrote. They provide a sensible minimal reconstruction of the Greek. But scholars avoid it because to pay attention to their versions would cast doubt on the idea that Josephus ever blamed Jewish leaders for the death of Jesus. That cannot be allowed to happen. So better to bury Agapius and Michael the Syrian out of sight. If that is not a clear sign of prejudice, I don’t know what is.
The thing I keep wondering about is what is the one big thing anyone could do to confront scholars with their prejudice. How can you make someone see that they are giving an utterly biased recitation and interpretation of the facts? I have no idea what that is. I thought I might devote my next post to pondering what the one big thing might be, but I suspect I am not going to find an answer. Maybe I’ll never find it. It is so completely depressing.
© 2013 Leon Zitzer
Friday, July 26, 2013
There are many ways to define what constitutes good science or scholarship. All serve a purpose. One of my favorites is this: A good scientist is one who allows him- or herself to be shook up by the evidence.
I put it this way because it is inevitable that when studying any material, we will approach it with some preconception, theory, or hypothesis in our heads. Nobody looks at the world with a blank slate of a mind. There’s nothing wrong with starting out with a point of view. What separates the good scholar from the bad scholar is that the bad one will use that point of view (theory/hypothesis/ideology) as a rut to be stuck in, whereas the good scholar actually hopes, I think, that something will disturb him and jolt him out of that rut. He wants to be shook up. Why? Because that’s his job.
He may, probably does, have a theory, but he holds himself open to whatever the evidence is or seems to be saying. He will try to see it another way and break his own attachment to whatever held his fascination at the beginning. Another way to put it: Some pieces of evidence make you tingle with excitement. If that never happens for you, you’re a quack, not a scholar or scientist.
Strong words? Yes, indeed. But the whole point is to get out of that rut, to be thoroughly shook up, and nothing less than strong, honest words will do it.
In New Testament scholarship, the rut is this: Jesus was surrounded by Jewish enemies and it was these enemies who either instigated capital punishment proceedings against him, or at the very least, cooperated with the Romans. For most scholars, it is not even a working hypothesis anymore. It is absolute truth, their fundamental construct, as Wolfgang Stegemann has called it. They proudly call themselves skeptics and will question almost every other point in the tradition, but this is the one element that is never, ever doubted by these self-proclaimed skeptics.
Doubt everything else, doubt that the sun rises, doubt that Romeo loves Juliet, but do not doubt that Jewish leaders committed this evil.
Well, why not—given that so many clues in the New Testament are at odds with this anti-Jewish worldview. Each one should cause a tingle. But NT scholars have made themselves tingle-proof: Nothing shall shake us up; on the contrary, we will shake off anything that upsets our preset convictions.
Nothing gets a rise out of scholars. Not Luke reporting at Acts 13:28 that Paul said Jewish leaders “could charge him with nothing deserving death” (and quite appropriately, there is no Jewish death penalty in Luke’s Gospel, nor in John for that matter); not the high priest at Acts 5:28 complaining to Jesus’ followers, “You intend to bring this man’s [Jesus’] blood upon us,” which sounds very much like a heartfelt cry against being falsely blamed for his death; and not all the Gospels using an ambiguous word, paradidomi, for Judas’ action instead of the Greek word, prodidomi, that clearly means betray. Imagine coming across all these clues as you read the New Testament and you shrug off everyone, you don’t even notice them, because they just don’t fit the ideas you already have in your head.
Not to mention that these scholars all read Josephus, the ancient Jewish-Roman historian, and he does not give one example of Jewish leaders turning a Jew over to Rome, but does give one example of Jewish leaders refusing to turn some Jews over to the procurator. Then there is the well-known passage on Jesus in Josephus which does blame Jewish leaders—except that there is another version of this passage preserved in Arabic by a Christian cleric and this version does not mention Jewish leaders at all. It should get some interesting commentary from scholars, right? What it gets is almost total silence from the scholarly world. Very few like talking about it.
That’s pretty much what all these pieces of evidence get: No acknowledgment. And the few scholars who do admit this evidence exists engage in verbal gymnastics to convince themselves that they can be ignored. Scholars have made themselves shock-proof. Nothing startles them and nothing makes them stop and rethink. This is lousy science, the worst kind, to be so indifferent to the evidence, to actually silence the evidence.
Any one of these pieces of information (and there is more) should have startled scholars into waking up from a deep coma. But they have rejected every one. Secular people have no interest in the historical Jesus. Religious people have no interest in the evidence. Every historical Jesus scholar is a theologian fighting to maintain a preconceived worldview. Absolutely no one believes in fair play.
And every fictional detective I’ve ever seen on TV—from Adrian Monk to Brenda Leigh Johnson to Patrick Jane to the new Sherlock Holmes and all the CSI detectives (you can tell I watch a lot of TV, at least there is some sanity there)—would all be ashamed at the way scholars in this field reason, or rather fail to reason.
More can be said about all the evidence I mentioned above and I do that in my book True Jew (as well as in the previous book Ghost). What makes it so unlikely that anything will happen to change this academic study is that there is a solid wall against any fresh look at the evidence. It is a perfect system of anti-rational thinking and that kind of perfection is almost impossible to breach.
© 2013 Leon Zitzer
Sunday, June 30, 2013
Such has been the fate of Richard Husband, a professor of the Latin and Greek classics, who wrote a book in 1916, The Prosecution of Jesus: Its Date, History and Legality. As an outsider to the study of the historical Jesus, he had a refreshing approach to the evidence which has been forgotten today. When he is remembered at all, it is for his suggestion that Jesus was not put on trial by Jewish leaders, but instead subjected to a preliminary hearing. I believe some Jewish scholars before Husband advanced this idea, but he was the one who put it on the map.
At the time, no one was really interested. Christian scholars did not take up his approach until after the Holocaust. The idea served them very well at that point. They wanted to continue to blame Jewish authorities for the death of Jesus, but in a kinder way. Before World War II and even for a time afterwards, scholars were fond of using terms like judicial murder and lynching to describe what Jewish leaders had done. The idea of a hearing gave them a softer way to say the same thing. They could use it to reinforce the myth of how Jesus died either at Jewish instigation or with Jews lending a significant helping hand.
But here is the irony. While modern scholars have used the concept of a hearing to promote the same old prejudices against ancient Jewish leaders, Husband had come up with, or responded to, this idea for exactly the opposite reason: He used the idea of a hearing to combat prejudice against Jewish culture and leaders. He clearly saw that the Gospel evidence did not support a trial (or, what he did not see so clearly, that it did not support any judicial procedure), and besides that, the idea of Jewish leaders contravening their own procedures and rules of evidence just to get Jesus seemed to him incomprehensible and quite unfair to these leaders.
He actually had the temerity to say (and this was in 1916!!): “It is hard to avoid the belief that the majority of modern investigators are just as much prejudiced against the Sanhedrin as they themselves claim the Sanhedrin was prejudiced against Jesus.” He also said that these academic investigators were afflicted with zeal and bias. Husband did not follow this up with any detailed discussion of particular scholars and the ways they employed prejudice to misrepresent the evidence, but he was shockingly honest in at least stating the problem. His remark is just as true today. No one was paying attention then and they are certainly not paying attention now.
He also reviewed the way Jewish trial rules of the time “seemed to favor the defendant to a remarkable degree” and refused to believe without solid evidence that a Jewish court “could conduct such a travesty of its own legal system … provided it is held that the court was actually conducting a criminal prosecution of Jesus.” Husband extended the same courtesy to Jewish culture that he would extend to any culture. The evidence, as he clearly explained, did not support that there was a criminal prosecution of Jesus.
Husband got a lot right, but he was not perfect. He did not pay attention to the fact that nowhere is there evidence that ancient Jews had a concept of a preliminary hearing much less that they would conduct one for Rome. A much more rational solution of the evidence is that this was an informal meeting intended to save Jesus from a Roman prosecution and execution. That is fully explored in my book True Jew.
But Husband was on the right track. He saw the humanitarianism in ancient Jewish culture and knew that this was relevant to the study of what happened to Jesus. He was not just trying to tell the same old prejudiced story in a new way as current scholars are. He was genuinely trying to find a new path. You cannot say that of anyone today, especially those who are misusing his basic premise of a hearing to reinforce rather than combat prejudice. They have misappropriated one of his points in order to bury his other insights which were grand—and they were grand indeed.
© 2013 Leon Zitzer
Tuesday, May 28, 2013
When it comes to the so-called Jewish trial of Jesus, their approach is somewhat schizophrenic. The editors mostly do a good job at Matt 26:57-68 and Mark 14:53-65. In both places, they comment that the historicity of the trial is highly questionable. I wish they had remained more true to that. Another way to say it is that it is highly improbable. But they will undermine this insight when they get to John, as I will explain in just a bit.
They do make two mistakes with respect to Matt (likewise with Mark; the accounts in the first two Gospels are very close to each other). Because they follow the NRSV translation, they have the high priest asking his fellow priests at Matt 26:66, “What is your verdict?” They offer no clarification in their notes and, indeed, use the term ‘verdict’ again. That is not a correct translation of the Greek. Raymond Brown, who was a very conservative commentator, translates this as “What does it seem to you?” William Tyndale, the first and probably the greatest of New Testament translators, had it, “What think ye?”
The point is that it is not specifically a judicial verdict the high priest is asking for. The phraseology is consistent with asking for some sort of general decision, but not a judicial one. Something other than a matter of Jewish law could have been at stake here. To hide that is to be untruthful about the evidence. You cannot mistranslate just to erase possibilities.
The second thing the editors miss is that they quote the decision “He deserves death” (Matt 26:66) without pointing out that neither Matthew nor Mark say according to whom. It is possible that the Gospel authors wanted their readers to assume it was according to Jewish law, but the significant thing is that they did not say that. The evidence as they present it is consistent with “according to Roman law.” Jewish leaders may have been trying to save Jesus from a Roman execution and came to the realization that they could not do that. He deserves death according to Rome, not Jews. (I fully prove all this in both my books True Jew and The Ghost in the Gospels, links to them on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, at right.)
The really peculiar thing the editors do is in their comment at John 18:24, when Jesus is taken to Annas, a retired high priest: “In contrast to Matthew, John depicts no trial before Caiaphas [neither does Mark who never names the high priest], which, if any of the Gospel trial accounts is historical, is not possible to determine.” That last remark is a very odd thing to say. First, they have already admitted with respect to Matthew and Mark that a Jewish trial is highly questionable. That makes an informal meeting more probable.
Second, they sound like they are trying to appear neutral, but in fact, their defeatist statement “not possible to determine” can have only one result. If you fail to investigate other possibilities, you are letting the traditional account win by default. It would be disingenuous of them to deny it. They are actually reinforcing the traditional image of Jesus being prosecuted and persecuted by Jewish authorities. They have taken their stand in favor of the well-known accusation even as they acknowledge its improbability. Third, they never discuss the evidence in Josephus which indicates that Jewish leaders would never have put any Jew on trial like this and then, bizarre beyond belief, turn him over to Rome.
There is another reason why this is so odd. Imagine a homicide detective assigned to a case. They have plenty of evidence (DNA, skin under the fingernails of the victim, blood, fingerprints, email and phone records, etc.). Just as we have a lot of evidence from the Gospels (the fact that we have 4 Gospel accounts with varying details is a plus!). The detective reports to his superiors that it is not possible to solve this case. What!? With all this evidence!? You would seriously suspect that someone has bribed or pressured him to bury the investigation.
The same is true here. When scholars fail to discuss all the evidence accurately and then cavalierly state that it is not possible to determine what happened, we can seriously suspect that they have been "bribed" or pressured. In this case, “bribed” by theology to support the traditional theory of how Jesus died at the instigation of Jewish leaders. Why this theology should be in a book that is supposed to be a Jewish annotated version is beyond my comprehension. There is nothing Jewish about it.
© 2013 L. Zitzer