Thursday, March 22, 2018


If I were writing a new book on the historical, Jewish Jesus—I am not, but if I were—the first sentence would be this: The main objective of my work is to overturn the confirmation bias that is prevalent in historical Jesus studies—not to prove how Jesus really died, but simply to expose the bias that stands in the way of seeing it. I would then go on to explain that I know how painful it is for people, especially scholars, to hear this. No one wants to learn that their field is deeply infected with prejudice. No one wants to see the evidence that demonstrates they have been employing bias to rewrite history and make ideology more important than the evidence.

The ideology I am talking about is that Jesus was surrounded by Jewish enemies who were responsible for his death at Roman hands. German scholar Wolfgang Stegemann has called it the fundamental construct of scholars. The evidence in the Gospels and the evidence in the historical Jewish context do not support it, but scholars still insist there can be no other point of view. Bias convicts ancient Jews, not the evidence.

Without confronting this bias, how do you make any progress at all? Ancient Jewish leaders and Judas have been prosecuted and convicted, in the death of Jesus, by the most unfair means. Who will have a favorable reaction on hearing that or even have some mild curiosity to hear more about it? No one. And if no one wants to hear it, where do you go from there?

Just look at what happens in our time when a defendant has been wrongly convicted of some heinous crime. Look at what happens when it is demonstrated beyond all reasonable doubt that an injustice has been committed. How many prosecutors welcome learning this? How many make the effort to begin a process leading to release? And if a court forces the release, how many prosecutors apologize afterwards? How many resist with all their might the demonstration that there was a wrongful conviction? How many allow an exoneration of the prisoner to take place? There are a few cases where prosecutors have expressed a conscience about this, and perhaps such self-examination is slowly growing, but it is still exceptionally rare.

It is even worse when we are dealing with the wrongful conviction of historical figures. People are horrified by the suggestion that hundreds of years of scholarship could have made a mistake. The tendency to dig in is even stronger than it is with current cases of wrongful conviction. It does not matter what evidence you bring to bear. A complete shut-down takes place.

It is easy to produce a smattering of evidence that tends to exonerate ancient Jewish leaders and Judas, but who wants to rethink any of this? There is actually a wide pattern of evidence, but even mentioning a small amount does not arouse anyone’s interest. I could recite evidence until I’m blue in the face, but up against bias, it means nothing. Just try convincing a modern-day prosecutor he or she has made a mistake and you will see what I mean.

The Gospels do not use the Greek word, prodidomi, that means betray to describe what Judas did; they use a neutral word, paradidomi, meaning to convey, with no connotation of betrayal. Mark’s Gospel tells Judas’s story with entirely ambiguous details, yet everyone sees only betrayal in the ambiguity. Nowhere do the Gospels say Jewish leaders put Jesus on trial. That word does not appear in any of their accounts. They don’t even say Jesus was condemned to death according to Jewish law, but that is what everyone imagines they say. “Death according to Roman law” is another possible interpretation, for Mark and Matthew, but no one ever considers it. In fact, Luke and John do not mention a death penalty at all, and in Acts, Paul says that Jewish leaders found in Jesus nothing worthy of death. Scholars just shrug their shoulders. They wait for a magic word to convince them.

The above clues are just the tip of the tip of the iceberg, but what does all this matter, when bias is telling you to ignore all these details? I am not saying there are contradictions in the Gospel texts to make us doubt the traditional story of Jesus’s death. I am saying the contradictions are not really contradictions at all and they tell us what really happened 2,000 years ago, if only we paid attention. I am saying that 1) the contradictions are only an appearance, 2) the contradictions are the result of the wrong lens through which scholars have looked at this, and 3) these contradictions would all disappear in the most sensible way, once we adopt a different lens of Jewish leaders trying to save Jesus from a Roman execution.

Figuring out how Jesus ended up on a Roman cross is the easy part. The hard thing is to face the human tendency to impose bias on the evidence. How the hell do you do that? Everyone wants some magical utterance to cure them of what bias has done. Give us a magic trick to prove to us you are right. But I have no magic.

© 2018 Leon Zitzer

Thursday, February 22, 2018


[This month I am putting up the same post on both my blogs; one is on the historical Jesus and the other is on Darwin’s racism. The link to my Darwin blog is at right.]

Last month on both my blogs, I posted two different brief essays about racism. I realize it is possible to endlessly refine one’s points, with the goal being to get to the essence of racism. There are different angles one can take, so I’d like to do some summing up here. Consider the following a case of thinking in progress.

First, racism is an action system, not a belief system. Racists do not believe in inferiority, but they do believe people can be made to feel inferior. The point for racists is to take actions that will not only deprive a people of well-being but make them believe they deserve this. Statements like “They are inferior” are part of this action system. It is an action intended to make Others believe and feel they are inferior. Racists know very well that inferiority is a lie, but they still think they can make it come true.

Second, racism is filled with many lies, but the idea that racists believe Others are inferior is the primary lie. They don’t believe this at all. The truth that racists always wish to conceal is that their primary goal is to demoralize Others and then convince them they were born demoralized. The demoralization is actually the result of all the actions, including verbal pronouncements, that racists take.

Third, the essence of the demoralization is to make these people believe they are less than human, or to put it another way, to believe they are separate and disconnected from other human beings. Feeling all alone in the world will certainly induce depression. Racists play the game of divide and conquer better than anyone. They will frantically combat those who teach that we are all connected.

Fourth, racists may be good at spotting vulnerabilities in people and exploiting them, but their main job is to create vulnerability. It is just like child abuse: To take someone who was not born vulnerable and make them feel vulnerable. Racists like child abusers hate it when their intended victims discover God or anything (like elements of their own culture) that gives them strength.

Fifth, there is a goal behind the primary goal of demoralization. Racists are not in this to play some kind of macabre game or conduct a vast social experiment as to how effective they can be in demoralizing Others and getting them to believe they are inferior and alone. The demoralization has a point to it. The ultimate goal is take everything from the Other. Once you demoralize a people, you can rob them blind. You can steal their land, their resources, their labor, and their memories and stories. Racists are thieves. In a sense, their only goal is larceny and they will do almost anything to conceal this.

Sixth, greed is behind all racism. Nobody is a racist just for the hell of it. They want something. They want everything. They want all the wealth and all the memories, but mainly all the wealth.

Seventh, since racism is an action system, not a belief system, this means that all true investigation into racism is also an action system. Gaining insights into racism is about undoing racism. If an insight does not contribute to defeating racism, then it is not a genuine insight. For example, exposing the larceny that is behind all racism is important because racists need to keep this a secret so that they can look more moral. They don’t mind being called ideological racists. That is a moral position as far as they are concerned. They are happy to be labeled racists. They love debates about inferiority and superiority because this just furthers their distorted view of the world. But to demonstrate that they are just stealing is what really scares them. They don’t want anyone to see how small they are.

Eighth, not all racists benefit equally from racism. Some get a lot more out of it than others. Somehow the big thieves make the smaller ones believe they have gotten more out of it than they really have. There is no honor among thieves.

Ninth, to combat racism it is absolutely vital not to do anything that favors their cause. Thus, racists, as I said, are very good at playing the game of divide and conquer. So it should be obvious that we must not do anything that plays into their hands. Promote connections, not disconnections. It is a big mistake for any victimized people to promote the idea that the racism practiced against them is totally unique. That just helps racists separate peoples. Each people does experience some unique injustices, but overall, they have more in common and that is what we should seek to understand. Don’t lose sight of the unique features but don’t exaggerate them either.

That is not quite a dozen points, but it will do for now. If anything, I would like to go in the other direction and reduce this number. I could refine our understanding of racism down to three important elements. Racism is 1) an action system, which is 2) intended to demoralize people (chiefly by getting them to believe they are inferior), so that 3) racists can rob them of everything. That is the entire scheme in a nutshell. And racists believe that their materialistic motives and ultimate goals must remain hidden. It is easier to steal if people don’t see what you are doing.

About Darwin, I will just add this. Darwin and many other scientists present themselves as out to discover what the world is like, through theory and experiments. They are out to gain knowledge. I think there might be a little bit of truth to this, but not as much as everyone thinks. Darwin and others were creating an action system. For example, “survival of the fittest” is not so much a description of the world as it is an action which is intended to fulfill itself. It is not an objective truth, it is rather an anthropomorphism framed to project European humans into nature. It is a point of view imposed on nature so that Europeans can declare themselves, through circular reasoning, the fittest and the winners—winners being a euphemism for “the biggest thieves.”

They were creating a system of “knowledge,” the aim of which was to reinforce imperialism. In a succinct way, in Chapter 8 of A Short but Full Book on Darwin’s Racism (available at all online vendors), I give a thorough discussion of how much implicit racism and blatant imperialism can be found in the pages of The Origin of Species. It’s true. Whether scholars want to see it or not is another story.

As for historical Jesus studies, my last post on the historical Jesus blog for January 2018 is about racism. By way of summary here, I will just say that there is not one book by a historical Jesus scholar which will leave you with an overwhelmingly positive impression of ancient Judaism. They all deprecate ancient Jewish culture in one way or another to make these Jews look inferior compared to Jesus. The best aspects of this culture are left out so that ancient Jews will look deficient and small-minded. Gone from scholarly books are Judaism’s dedication to constitutional government, fair treatment under the law, due process, and openness to gentiles. It is all gone and replaced by scholars with a trivialization of Judaism into excessive concern with rituals, purity, Temple sacrifice, and ethnic exclusivity. You will never read a book on the historical Jesus and feel good about ancient Judaism, unless it’s my book True Jew. And if you are Jewish, it is particularly disheartening to read the usual stuff about the historical Jesus, which is why most Jews avoid this subject altogether.

© 2018 Leon Zitzer

Sunday, January 28, 2018


Anyone who is honest about recovering the historical, Jewish Jesus has to be torn between two tasks. One is to be accurate and fair about the evidence. That is the relatively easy part, provided you can face your own prejudices that will distort the evidence. If you can take that first step of owning up to the things that interfere with a clear look at the evidence, you are on your way to seeing what really happened.

But clarity about the facts will get you nowhere if you do not confront the much harder second task. That is to address the lack of self-awareness on the part of scholars who prefer ideology over the evidence, who prefer power over truth (which I spoke about in my last post for December). Scholars hate it when they are accused of bias in the way they present the evidence and conceal evidence. But if you don’t do it, you can be clear as daylight about the evidence and no one will see it, if their prejudices and lack of self-awareness about this cloud everything up.

How is it possible to even get straight the context of Jesus’s Jewish culture if scholars continue to misrepresent it and have no self-awareness of what they are doing? Pick up almost any book on the historical Jesus and what you get over and over again is that 1st century Judaism had three main components: Temple, rituals, and purity concerns. The frank thing to say about this is that it is a lie. Scholars tell it because they want to believe it. They want to create a picture (a false picture) of the smallness of Jewish culture in contrast to Jesus’s largesse of spirit.  This creates a conflict between Jesus and his home culture that never happened. 

The three above-named items were some of the accoutrements of ancient Judaism, but they were not the main course. The single most important thing about ancient Jewish culture is that it was a struggle for constitutional government, a struggle in which Jesus very much took part. There is no historical Jesus scholar that I know of who will tell you this. (I go into this in detail in True Jew.)

Their power tells scholars that they can tell lies about Jewish culture and get away with it because there is an atmosphere that is eager to believe in certain ideologies about ancient Jews and in the ideology that Jesus was superior to them. Is it possible to be racist against an ancient people? Many people would probably say no because the point of racism is to deny civil rights and material well-being to specific groups, and in the case of an ancient people, this is obviously not an issue. But the dead are the most vulnerable group of all. They cannot rise up to protest the lies that are told about them. Telling lies about the dead is, in a sense, good practice for carrying out racism against contemporary groups. Racism is very much about attacking people who are perceived to be vulnerable. Racism against the ancients is a practice run. For that reason alone, we should be very interested in exposing it.

It also has to be said that racists do not really believe in the inferiority of others. They know claims of inferiority are hogwash. But they also know a profounder truth: You can create inferiority. You can make people believe they are inferior. Yes, such psychological torture is possible and is the chief skill of racists. They can undermine the self-confidence of any human beings, individually or on a group level, by bombarding them and the general public with lies about their inferiority. People are not inferior but can be made to feel inferior if racists are relentless about spreading false charges against them.

This might seem to contradict what I said above about racism against ancient peoples. After all, since they are dead and gone, the ancients cannot be made to feel inferior. But I think that those who practice racism against ancient Jews—no matter how innocently they do it, no matter how unintended their racism is, which just contributes to their lack of self-awareness—they like to imagine that ancient Jewish leaders can be made to feel the sting of inferiority, and they further like to imagine that Jesus was their proxy, making his fellow Jews feel distinctly inferior.

To practice racism against ancient Jews maligns Jesus as much as it maligns his people. And unless we confront how prevalent this is in historical Jesus scholarship, we will never get anywhere. But then that’s the point of power and lack of self-awareness, isn’t it? To put a halt to any progress in historical research,

© 2018 Leon Zitzer

Thursday, December 28, 2017


With all the scandals that have been happening recently, there is one comment that stands out in my mind. It was made a few weeks ago by a woman being interviewed on WNYC radio. She said that men in power (or one could say anyone in power, male or female) are usually lacking in self-awareness and the more power they have, the less self-aware they are. That is very true. It is perhaps the chief way that power corrupts. Power is bent on achieving a result, often an unjust result, and it cannot allow anything or anyone to get in its way—which very much includes self-awareness as the main obstacle to getting what they want.

This is certainly true in academia as well. Academics do not like to admit this, but they are people in power. Their words inform public opinion. Yes, even the ivory tower is not as aloof from the general public as we think. When I have engaged people in conversation about the historical Jesus (which does not happen often), one of the first things they tell me is that there is too much confusion in the evidence and too much disagreement among scholars, so that we will probably never know what happened 2,000 years ago. But that is a scholarly idea and it is precisely what most scholars want the public to believe: The historical Jesus is forever unknowable. Scholars have been pushing this idea for almost 200 years now and it has had the desired effect.

In their comment on John 18:24, the editors of The Jewish Annotated New Testament (2011) declare, “which, if any of the Gospel trial accounts is historical, is not possible to determine” (their punctuation). That is a self-serving statement. Most scholars would probably agree with their comment, but they all know very well that this does not promote general skepticism, nor do they intend it to promote such skepticism. In fact, it rather promotes or reinforces the traditional theological interpretation of Jesus’s death which puts Jewish leaders at the forefront of a conspiracy to kill him. They know that by denying any possibility of discovering the truth, they are leaving the traditional explanation in full force. Their supposed skeptical approach is meant to uphold tradition by default.

The scholars of power have no self-awareness of their biased reading of the Gospels. That’s what power does. That is what it is intended to do. Even without knowing the full historical truth, it is possible to demonstrate beyond any reasonable historical doubt that a Jewish hostile procedure against Jesus did not occur. The bulk of the evidence, which I go over in excruciating detail in both my books, contradicts that. There is no rational case to be made for the allegation that Jewish leaders persecuted Jesus. Way too much evidence goes against that idea.

But to see that evidence—to really see it and take a good hard look at it—requires some self-awareness on the part of scholars to see their own biases. That is the hard part. Analyzing the evidence is relatively easy. Getting scholars to face their biased approach is the impossible task.

© 2017 Leon Zitzer

Tuesday, November 28, 2017


This month just a short note to report that my historical Jesus website is back. I cancelled it several years ago, but now, thanks to the efforts of an admirer, it is back. He was able to retrieve it from whatever elephants’ graveyard websites go to when they are deleted. I put in a link to the revived website at right.

I left all the essays exactly as they were when the site originally went up in 2003. I only added an update on the home page to explain that nothing ever changes in historical Jesus scholarship, so all the essays still make valid points. I expect that a hundred years from now, these essays will still be relevant because there has been no movement. Bear in mind that there has never been a quest for the historical Jesus, if by “quest for” you mean “to reveal”.  The quest has always been to conceal the historical, Jewish Jesus. And it’s been a very successful quest. Concealment is what we have. Revealing is still in the distant future, even if much of that revealing has been accomplished in my two books, links also at right.

© 2017 Leon Zitzer

Tuesday, October 24, 2017


Whenever anyone in history is falsely accused of something, or misrepresented in some serious way, it is useful to compare their plight to that of innocent people convicted of a crime they did not commit. The same mentality that leads to wrongful convictions in the criminal justice system also creates bad history, with the same stick-to-itiveness from which historians and prosecutors alike will not budge, no matter the amount of contrary evidence that piles up.

A lot has been written about wrongful convictions. The most recent book on the subject is Blind Injustice: A Former Prosecutor Exposes the Psychology and Politics of Wrongful Convictions by Mark Godsey, who used to a federal prosecutor in New York and now is a professor of law and cofounder of the Ohio Innocence Project. He had reluctantly taken over supervision of the Innocence Project at another law school (this was when he first retired from his federal job), because the original supervisor had taken a sabbatical. He thought that the law students involved in Innocence Projects were all bleeding hearts. The first case these students presented to him did not impress otherwise until the DNA evidence came back which established the man’s innocence. Thus began his new career.

Early in the book, Godsey lists the many factors which can lead to false convictions: “confirmation bias, memory malleability, eyewitness misperception, tunnel vision, credibility-determining errors, administrative evil, bureaucratic denial, dehumanization, and the system’s internal political pressures.” Not only leading to false convictions, but equally to the stubborn denial, years later, by prosecutors who will not admit that their office made a mistake. The rest of the book goes into detail for each of these factors. Godsey does an excellent job, but be forewarned that the book can read like a long string of horror stories of innocent people (usually but not always men) spending decades in jail, with prosecutors resisting giving them their freedom despite the mounting evidence of their innocence. The book will give you chills.

With the exception of two or three of the above factors, they basically all apply to the study of history. Once historians create villains and heroes in the past, they are reluctant to admit they have made any mistakes. Even if it is a case of inheriting mistakes made by previous historians, current historians are unwilling to admit that anything went wrong. Mounting exonerating evidence means nothing to them. Once a villain, always a villain. This certainly applies to the way scholars have studied Judas and Jewish leaders and blamed them for the execution of Jesus.

Confirmation bias and tunnel vision are probably the two most popular problems leading to false charges against Jesus’s so-called Jewish enemies. Just as prosecutors do, exonerating evidence is either suppressed or twisted to appear incriminating, so that the original bias (Jesus was persecuted and prosecuted by his Jewish enemies) is always confirmed. There is not a single example in Josephus’s writings that Jewish leaders ever cooperated with the Romans to prosecute a Jewish troublemaker. In fact, there is evidence that they would resist such cooperation, if pushed in that direction. That does not seem to bother anyone who is already convinced of their guilt. Such scholars either use their tunnel vision to eliminate this evidence or they manipulate the evidence in Josephus to make it falsely appear that Jewish leaders would cooperate with Rome.

Here is a perfect example of what I mean. Mark and Matthew provide the information that the high priest tore his robe when questioning Jesus. We know from several examples in Josephus that this was an act of mourning (sometimes accompanied by pouring ashes over their heads) which was used by the priests to persuade, not condemn, someone of something, usually to try to convince them to desist from some action that might provoke the Romans. In effect, they were arguing that if you do not stop doing whatever it is that was being done, the Romans will respond by killing more Jews for whom we will have to mourn. Thus, in Josephus, the chief priests will tear their robes before a rioting mob to convince them to go home instead of continuing to antagonize the Romans.

If the high priest tore his mantle before Jesus, this goes against the interpretation that this was a hostile judicial procedure bent on condemning Jesus. He was rather trying to persuade Jesus to do or stop doing something. That is just one piece of evidence exonerating Jewish leaders of complicity in the death of Jesus.

What do scholars do with this information? Almost all of them simply ignore what we learn from Josephus. It does not help to prove the hypothesis that the high priest wanted to condemn Jesus. One scholar has acknowledged that this was an act of mourning used to persuade, but then goes on to assert that the high priest was trying to persuade his fellow councilors to condemn Jesus. But there are no examples in Josephus, not one, that this act of mourning was ever used this way! This scholar has spun the evidence so that he can appear to be faithful to what Josephus says about persuasion, and yet not violate the biased theory that Jewish leaders were trying to prosecute Jesus.

Godsey’s description of what went on in his office when he was a federal prosecutor is a good summary of historical Jesus scholarship:

“Building a case and making each piece of new evidence fit our preexisting theory was often a group activity. We had fun picking each other’s brains and brainstorming on how to spin evidence to fit our original hypothesis. It was a game. There was no sense of objectivity about the process whatsoever. There was never an attempt to disprove our original hypothesis. Rather, the point of the game was to see how clever you could be in making all new evidence fit your original hypothesis, thus making the case stronger.”

The same sort of thing applies to the way scholars manipulate the evidence to make Judas look guilty of betraying Jesus. Everyone knows how ambiguously Judas’s action is described in the Gospels. There is no clear-cut story of betrayal. The best pieces of evidence to prove such a story are missing. There is no clearly stated motive or any definite conflict between Jesus and Judas. Even after the supposed deed of betrayal is done, there is no condemnation of Judas by his fellow disciples. Every piece of evidence is mired in ambiguity—that is, each piece is equally consistent with a hypothesis and an opposed, or nearly opposed, hypothesis. Judas betraying Jesus could explain the evidence, but so could the hypothesis that Judas was an innocent man falsely accused of betraying Jesus.

The most the evidence proves is that, as time passed, Judas came to acquire a bad reputation, but none of it establishes that he really and originally was a traitor. What a peculiar way to tell the story of someone whom everyone knew to be a traitor. I used to think that there were a few pieces of evidence against Judas, but now I see how wrong I was. I too was affected by tunnel vision.

Most scholars will take the statement (found only in Luke and John) that the devil entered Judas as a damning piece of evidence, as I once did. (Not that they believe there was an actual devil in Judas, but that they take this accusation as evidence that some people  at the time believed Judas did something bad.) Now I realize that such a demonizing accusation is like pelting a man with eggs. It could not possibly serve as evidence of guilt. A man falsely accused is just as likely to be pelted that way. In fact, if anything, the devil charge is a sign of Judas’s innocence, not his guilt. It is practically a confession that they had no definite evidence to pin on Judas (like some conflict he had with Jesus), so they pinned the devil on him because that’s all they had.

And if anyone wants to understand just how much any hard “DNA-type” evidence is lacking to prove Judas betrayed Jesus, consider this: The Gospel authors could not even bring themselves to use the Greek verb for betray, prodidomi, to apply to Judas. Instead, they used a neutral word, paradidomi, which means convey without any sense of betrayal. Even if betray were a secondary meaning of paradidomi, as a few scholars claim, you would need good evidence, not ambiguous evidence, to justify why we should choose that meaning and not its ordinary meaning—and that evidence just isn’t there.

Only a handful of scholars are bothered by this total lack of a solid evidentiary argument for the proposition that the Gospel authors were describing Judas as a traitor. The overwhelming majority of scholars insist that they know this was an act of betrayal. They are stuck in their tunnel vision and will not allow any evidence to open up their view.

In my book True Jew (the title refers to Jesus, not Judas), I demonstrate that it is possible not only to prove Judas’s innocence beyond reasonable doubt, but even more, to show what actually did happen 2,000 years ago. Yet try telling this to scholars who are stuck in the bias and tunnel vision that Judas must have been a traitor and that Jewish leaders were no better. Evidence to establish their guilt is not necessary.

In the last chapter of his book, Godsey has a number of concrete suggestions to defeat or at least reduce the biases that operate among prosecutors and police. His first one is an attitudinal change: We need more humility, we need to understand how our common human frailties lead us to adopt biases and ignore evidence that contradicts our bias. Historical Jesus scholarship needs that advice more than any other field I can think of. But the most heartfelt sentence to me in Godsey’s  book is this one: “… constantly fighting a system that refuses to admit mistakes, dehumanizes our clients, and fights to keep innocents in prison is exceptionally draining and demoralizing.” Every word of that applies to what scholars have done and still do to Judas and ancient Jewish leaders.

© 2017 Leon Zitzer

Thursday, September 28, 2017


It is refreshing to take a look at ancient Jewish history through any lens that is not that of a historical Jesus scholar. We all too often forget that Jews have a history that is independent of Christian theology. Take a look from time to time at Jewish history as it stands on its own and you will be surprised at what can be seen.

It is a commonplace among historical Jesus scholars that Jewish leaders cooperated with Rome in the arrest and trial of Jesus. They base this on their preconceived, fixed idea about the Jewish priests and other authorities that one of their duties was to help Rome deal with Jewish rebels and troublemakers. In both my books, I have gone over much of the evidence that contradicts this. Jewish leaders helping Rome is a false picture of Jewish history. But I had completely forgotten that if you read a scholar on Josephus who has nothing to do with historical Jesus scholarship and has no Christian interest in Josephus, we also find information that confirms my point and gives us a picture of Josephus’s concerns which is very different from what so many historical Jesus scholars claim.

Take, for example, Tessa Rajak’s Josephus: The Historian and His Society (second edition). She reminds us how much Josephus hated the Jewish rebels. He blames them for getting the Jewish state into a war with Rome. More important, he also blamed Jewish leaders for not doing enough to restrain them and keep them in line. In short, he accuses Jewish authorities either of weakness or recalcitrance in dealing with Jewish troublemakers. If Jewish leaders had taken any actions to work with Rome to get rid of these upstarts, Josephus would have reported this, and gladly reported it. He was a man of the upper classes. He had no axe to grind against his own leadership. He would have been happy to see them finally, or at least on occasion, doing their job, if it really was their job (the whole point of course is that it was not their job to aid Rome in its police or military work). More of this kind of strong action, Josephus would have argued, could have saved the Jewish nation from destruction.

But that’s not what Josephus gives us. What Josephus does report is that Jewish leaders did nothing to quell rebellious activity until it was too late. Nipping a problem in the bud (like a small-time rabble rouser) was decidedly not in their make-up. They never did anything like that. One could say they avoided it with every bone in their bodies.

According to Rajak, Josephus thought of Jewish leaders as weak in relation to Jewish rebels. I have described them as being unconcerned with Rome’s problems with Jewish rebels because taking action against the rebels would have made them unpopular. For the priests, Jewish unrest was Rome’s deal and not something Jewish authorities wanted to get involved with. Either way (weak or indifferent), the end result was that they would not help Rome constrain these troublesome young men. There was nothing about the historical Jesus that would have changed the leaders’ usual response of doing nothing to assist Rome. That is the real history.

© 2017 Leon Zitzer

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