Saturday, June 28, 2003


It is not as natural to Christianity as people think.

To recover the historical Jesus means understanding him as a Jew in his original Jewish culture. That's what historical study means. Jesus was a Jew of the 1st century. I have no doubt this feels threatening to a lot of Christians. But feeling threatened by Jesus' Jewishness is not the only way to be Christian. It is possible to be Christian and not be seized with fear at the thought that Jesus was a Jew and a thorough-going Jew at that, a Jew to the max.

If Elaine Pagels' attempt to demonstrate the varieties of Christianity in the early centuries is valid (and I think it is), then surely experiencing Jesus as a Jew must be a possibility. It would be extremely odd if what Jesus was originally should be the one thing you cannot relate to him as -- odd if Jesus the humble rabbi from Galilee should be the one way you cannot approach him. He can still be the Messiah for Christians, but why not a rabbi too? (I have already explored how much current scholars seek to deny "rabbi" as a valid category for understanding Jesus in RABBI JOSHUA on my Web site -- click on Links, above.)

In those first few centuries which Pagels is so concerned with, there were many gentile Christians who were very aware of Jesus as a Jew and were friendly with Jews. Hence, they were branded as Judaizers by the Church. But these so-called "Judaizing" Christians (who were gentiles and not Jewish Christians) were another possibility for Christianity. They demonstrated that it was possible to be Christian and not feel threatened by Judaism. It will be interesting to see whether Pagels considers the "Judaizers'" potential in "Beyond Belief" when I get to it.

When I talk about Jesus' Jewishness, it is not my intention to make anyone feel afraid. Just the opposite. My point is that there is nothing for Christians to fear here and a lot to be inspired by. You don't have to be trapped in the idea that Christian faith can only be harmed by history. You don't have to be trapped in an ideology of violence where Jesus is always surrounded by Jewish enemies. Christianity doesn't need Jewish enemies in his story and doesn't need them now. It will be quite liberating to get beyond all that.

But emotions being what they are, it is inevitable that some people are going to feel threatened no matter how easy you try to make this. No matter how nice, how friendly, how peaceful, how kind your intentions and facts are, some people are going to scream if anything they believe in is upset even one iota.

I remember meeting a young Christian woman on a subway train. I think she wanted to convert me. I tried to tell her the simplest, non-threatening things I could think of about Jesus' Jewishness, but no matter what I brought up, it was as if I had hit her with a sledgehammer. And I thought I was being so nice.

I told her that Jesus didn't speak English. He spoke Aramaic and Hebrew. I tried to make a joke out of it, but she didn't want to hear it. It really bothered her to hear that English wasn't his language. Okay, I understand. Jesus speaks to her in English. But why can't he speak English and Hebrew?

I tried to take another little step. I said that because of a misunderstanding of translation from Hebrew to Greek to English at Matthew 28:1 -- the women come to the empty tomb at the shining of day (as it says in Greek) -- it was misunderstood that they came on Sunday at dawn, when the original Jewish setting tells us that they came Saturday night (when the stars, not the sun, come out to shine, the start of a new day in Jewish culture). You can still believe, I told her, that Jesus rose on the third day (crucified Friday, lies in his tomb all day Saturday, and rises Saturday night at the Jewish start of the third day), but she did not want to lose the image of Sunday morning. Again, I understand, but this shutting out of all history will not work in the long run.

Maybe it's not so important to regain every detail of Jesus' Jewish life and death. It can be too much for some people. But so much has been swept under the rug. And this terror of every Jewish element in his story is not healthy. It doesn't benefit people to live in such fear. Flexibility is a much wiser course. If you are rigid about everything, you can only crack. Breaking is the only choice you left yourself. It is so unnecessary. If you bend just a little bit, it is much easier to breathe and move around.

So much of Jesus' Jewishness changed when it got translated into Greek for gentiles. Some of it happened quite naturally and unintentionally, I think. And some of it was a deliberate plan to get away from Judaism. The early Church had a tremendous fear of Judaism as competition. The Church had given up on converting Jews, but it did want to take over the gentile/pagan world and many gentiles/pagans were still attracted to Judaism.

Judaism had never ceased being a vital religion and an open religion to gentiles. The Church feared this vitality and openness. It had to make gentiles/pagans forget that Judaism was a valid alternative, just as it was making heresies out of all the other brands of Christianity it did not like.

But some of it did happen naturally. Jesus' name in Hebrew was Joshua, a common name. Iesous was as close as they could come to that in Greek and Iesous became Jesus in English. At the Christian-Jewish disputation in Paris in 1240, the Christian side was quite shocked to hear that there are many Jesuses in the Talmud. They could not believe that anyone else had this name. When Rabbi Yehiel said, by way of analogy, that not every Louis in France is king of France, I am not sure this helped. For Christians, Jesus could not possibly be as common a name as Louis -- but that is exactly what Jesus/Joshua was.

Yet the change to the unique Jesus was natural and not part of a deliberate plan. On the other hand, calling his brother by the name of James in English is a little ridiculous. In the original Greek New Testament, the name of Jesus' brother is Iacobus and, in Latin, it is Jacobo. Jacob in English. The only reason for calling him James is exactly for the purpose of making everyone forget he was Jewish. There is no good excuse for rendering Iacobus as James. Krister Stendahl, a Swedish Bishop and theologian at Harvard Divinity School, seems to be of the same opinion ("Paul Among Jews and Gentiles", p. 101).

In the Jewish culture of Jesus' time, to be a son of God was to be a very righteous person who is especially beloved by God. Other Jews, particularly miracle workers, were also called a son of God. But in Greek culture, it was taken quite literally. So much of Jesus' story is like that. Aspects of him meant one thing in Judaism, another thing in Greek, gentile culture. Many of these changes were unplanned, I believe. They happened naturally, spontaneously, honestly. Christians were pursuing their love of Jesus.

But some of the changes were very much planned and had nothing to do with love of Jesus. They were motivated by an anti-Jewish attitude. Many of his sayings were taken out of their Jewish context and given an anti-Jewish spin that Jesus never meant. (E.g., Jews or Judaism as old wineskins, or the last, or old, worn-out teachings. I will raise this again tomorrow or in a couple of days.)

I personally think it will be a very healthy thing for Christianity to remember this and remember that anti-Jewishness was categorically never Jesus' intention. It is possible to recover Jesus' Jewishness -- to give definitive explanations of his words -- and not harm Christianity in the slightest (unless you choose to incorporate hostility to things Jewish as essential to Christianity).

When the early Church separated Easter and Passover, and made Sunday not Saturday the day of worship, and passed many laws forbidding contact between Christians and Jews, it did so because it did not want Christian and Jew to fraternize anymore. This was planned policy. The walls between Christian and Jew are not natural. They were created by men. To undo the harm the early Church created will take a different kind of planned policy. Rediscovering genuine history is part of it, I think. The fear of Jesus' Jewishness was also created and put in place by men seeking power. Fear is such a useful tool for powermongers. But it does not have to remain this way. What was intentionally put in place can be displaced.

It's a funny thing about fear and harm. They can be and often are self-fulfilling prophecies. Does Jesus' Jewishness threaten Christianity? No, if you do not fear it. Yes, if you do. It really is a case of fear being the only thing to fear. A genuine, accurate historical understanding of Jesus -- the Jew, Rabbi Joshua -- will never undermine Christian faith. But the fear of this Jew can harm Christianity. The only danger is in this fear, not in historical truth.

And fear never helps in historical studies. You can never get accurate results if your investigation is controlled by fear. Of course, it is easy to point this out, harder to do anything about it. Just seeing how fear interferes in this study is one of the primary tasks of a good historian. (What else but fear explains why so many scholars simply refuse to even look at Jesus as a rabbi? Why isn't it even allowed to be one category of historical study?) If we deny that this fear exists, it will be so much harder to get at the historical truths that are just waiting to be discovered.

Friday, June 27, 2003


The world of rabbinic literature is Jesus' world. Spend any time studying it and it becomes indelibly clear that the Gospels are part of the same space as rabbinic lit. Unless you get to know it, the historical Jesus will remain quite distant. I will give three brief examples which, despite their relative triviality, have the capacity to light up the Gospels.

(The Mishnah and Talmud, two of the oldest parts of rabbinic lit., are probably the most popular for study. For beginners, I recommend "Pirke Avoth", a Mishnah tractate, sometimes called "Sayings [or Ethics] of the Fathers", and "Avoth de Rabbi Nathan" ["The Fathers According to Rabbi Nathan"], the commentary to "Pirke Avoth". Both should be available in paperback, with lots of explanatory notes. For anthologies, try A. Cohen's "Everyman's Talmud" and C.G. Montefiore's and H. Loewe's "A Rabbinic Anthology".)

One day, I was flipping through a volume of the Talmud and came upon the rabbis discussing what to do when seized by a ravenous hunger. It was a vivid reminder of how different their time was. They could not just run to the fridge for sustenance. Obtaining food was always a problem for some. In a bad year, starvation was a danger. In any case, the rabbinic solutions were variations on a theme: Eat something sweet.

One rabbi recommends honey. Another, honey mixed with flour. Lots of suggestions involving honey. And one rabbi would run round to the eastern side
of a fig tree for some sweet figs. The Talmud doesn't explain everything, but apparently the belief was (and this may be true, for all I know) that the side of the tree that got sun from early morning bore the sweeter figs.

This may remind you of the Gospel incident with the fig tree (Mark 11:12-14, 20-26). Mark points out that Jesus was hungry. (And how did anyone know this? Did he complain? Did his stomach gurgle? Were they all hungry?) When you read the Talmudic passage, you can reexperience the hunger pangs that Jesus and his band must have often felt. You can imagine them running to the tree and their disappointment when they found it barren. It must have been the season for figs (despite what Mark 12:13 says) or else Jesus would not have expected to find any. I don't believe he cursed a healthy fig tree. Nowhere else does he pronounce curses like that. A more likely explanation is that the tree was already withered and Jesus, hungry and upset, uttered a curse like "May you remain withered." (It's like getting angry at a malfunctioning vending machine.) Later, this was turned into a prediction he made. I cannot prove this. I'm speculating, of course, but it does hold up better. Cursing a healthy tree seems way out of character for Jesus. In any case, in both Talmud and Gospels, we are in the same world of hunger pangs and folk wisdom about sweet solutions.

Then there is Jesus' use of spit in healings (Mark 7:33, 8:23; John 9:6). The curative powers of spit is mentioned often enough in rabbinic lit. In one charming story, a man suspects that his wife is having an affair with the rabbi for whom she works as housekeeper. He wants her to renounce the rabbi by spitting in his face. Spit had more than one type of use. The wife won't do it. But the rabbi hears about it and decides to help. He tells the woman that his eye is troubling him and she should spit there to help it heal. He makes her do it repeatedly. Then he sends her home, saying, "Now tell your husband you spat not once but seven times in the rabbi's face." Just to make peace between them.

And there is one more little piece of possibly helpful information about spitting. Too many scholars speculate their heads off, based on nothing except their theological preferences. They never care a fig for the historical context to be found in rabbinic lit. Thus, in "Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography", John Crossan speculates that maybe Jesus was not the first born of his parents, maybe he was the youngest (p. 22). He admits he is speculating. His purpose is to put his own spin on the meaning of the virgin birth story by coming up with the idea that maybe Jesus was not the oldest child.

I do not care one way or the other about the virgin birth. I am just looking for historical accuracy. It turns out that while anyone's spit could be restorative, the spit of a first-born son could be of special value. Now this doesn't prove that Jesus was the first child, since that was not a requirement for having efficacious saliva. But it is possible that Jesus and other Jews believed his spit was especially valuable precisely because he was the first son. At least, this is speculation based on something, whereas Crossan is speculating based on nothing except his own propensity to theologize the Gospels according to his design.

Crossan does this quite a bit. Hence, in Chapter 6 of the same book, he famously fantasized that Jesus' dead body may have been eaten by wild dogs -- only because Crossan wants to get rid of Jesus' body so that he can de-emphasize the resurrection and put more emphasis on Jesus' life. I admire Crossan's ultimate goal, but his methods have absolutely nothing to do with historical analysis. Crossan is not a historian. He has almost no evidence for his wild dogs theory (except the general fact that this was often the fate of crucified victims).

The resurrection itself belongs to pure mythology, or faith, if you like. But as to whether Jesus' body was buried, there is a lot of evidence in favor of this. It is far more probable that he was buried and not devoured -- as I explain in detail in an essay in my unpublished book "The Ghost in the Gospels".

I make these points because Christians are constantly taught that historical investigation can only threaten their beliefs. That is not so. That is bad historical scholarship. Many Christians might be astonished that history has more delightful surprises for them than not. Unfortunately, Christians have been educated by their religious and academic leaders to be afraid of any historical examination, particularly anything that reveals Jesus' Jewishness. The more Jewish he is seen to be, so these leaders teach, the more Christian faith is threatened. It just isn't so. Jesus' specific Jewishness will enrich him for most Christians and inspire some. It is only leaders and so-called scholars in their endless quest for power who want you to feel and think differently.

I will be very brief with my last example. Consider Jesus' saying: "No one puts new wine into old wineskins; if he does, the wine will burst the skins ... " (Mark 2:22). In an excellent discussion in Chapter 9 of his book "A Word Fitly Spoken", Philip Culbertson tells us about all the wines you can find in the Talmud and elsewhere. He makes a good case that the wine Jesus probably had in mind was tilia (or tila). It was what we would call a cheap, potent liquor. Apparently, it had quite a kick. Culbertson calls it "strong, dry, bitter, and explosive" (p. 269) and cites the Talmud (Avodah Zarah 30a) for a comment by R. Joshua b. Levi that tilia can make wineskins burst (ibid.).

In my opinion, Culbertson does not in the end satisfactorily explain the meaning of Jesus' words. He still thinks it is about new and old teachings. I can demonstrate that this is wrong (again, in an unpublished work on Jesus' rabbinic teachings, in a book I hope will follow "The Ghost in the Gospels"). But I have to say that Culbertson has provided a lot of valuable information that helps confirm my own explanation.

You will never see Crossan or Marcus Borg or E.P. Sanders, one of the most pro-Jewish of Christian scholars, or any other mainstream scholar do what Culbertson does. What a pity. What a pity, as I say in the essay ZEFFIRELLI on my Web site (click on Links, above), that they never envision Jesus sitting in a circle with other rabbis, engaged in a lively dance of Torah (oral and written).

As you see Jesus more and more in his cultural context, it becomes increasingly difficult and downright impossible to believe that any fellow Jews persecuted him. I think it is clinging to this very false idea of Jewish persecution of Jesus that prevents everyone from fully understanding how Jewish he was. "The Ghost in the Gospels" is dedicated to demolishing this myth once and for all.

I have no idea what I will talk about tomorrow, but maybe I will continue with the theme of the usefulness of rabbinic lit.

Thursday, June 26, 2003


Early in June (I believe it was), I heard Elaine Pagels speak at a small bookstore on the East side of Manhattan to promote her new book "Beyond Belief". (Prior to this, I saw her on Bill Moyers' "NOW" [PBS] and heard part of an interview on WNYC radio.) The bookstore owner made it pretty clear that this was about selling books, not an invitation to a free lecture. Pagels spoke for about 5 minutes, if that, and took questions (four). After the fourth, the owner took the microphone and announced that it was time for Prof. Pagels to sign books.

I was lucky enough to ask one of the four questions (almost like a Passover seder). I asked for her reaction to this problem: It seems that most Christian scholars strenuously avoid the use of rabbinic literature to understand the sayings and parables of Jesus, whether from the Synoptics or the Gospel of Thomas. The objection, made frequently, that rabbinic lit. is an anachronism for Jesus' time does not hold up. Rabbinic lit. is so helpful because virtually everything Jesus teaches is there, sometimes in the exact same form and sometimes a close parallel. It is particularly important for Thomas, I explained, because Thomas is a collection of sayings out of context. Without a context, they are meaningless. Each one could mean anything and everything, or nothing. But with rabbinic lit., you can pinpoint their meaning to a high degree of probability. So why are Christian scholars so intent on not using it?

(If you think that's a long question, it took less than 2 minutes to ask. The next person went on so long, perhaps 10 minutes, that the store owner had to yank the microphone out of his hand and it was a bit of a struggle because he wouldn't let go. For those not familiar with rabbinic lit., it is a huge corpus of books recording the oral traditions of Judaism. The oldest parts are Mishnah, Tosefta, Talmud and some of the Midrashim.)

Pagels did not exactly answer my question. She avoided saying anything about the majority of scholars. She insisted that we don't teach this way at Princeton anymore and that, in Thomas, she sees a deep connection to Jewish mysticism which surprised her. I'm not sure what she meant by "Jewish mysticism" (it's not a term I would use) and there was no chance for a follow-up discussion. The connection to Judaism is obvious in the Synoptics. Thomas offers nothing new on this. I doubt what she said about not teaching this way at Princeton because I don't see the results of it in books and articles where Jesus' Jewishness is still avoided.

Even in Pagels' work, there is never any recourse to Jewish culture to understand Jesus. I haven't read "Beyond Belief" yet (when I get to it, I'll probably make some comments here), but I have read "The Origin of Satan" and "The Gnostic Gospels". She never consults rabbinic lit.

Here's the problem: When scholars try to explain Jesus' words, they will run to the ends of the earth to find their meaning -- anywhere except Jesus' home culture. He might be the only historical figure who is treated this way. If Geronimo said "No one puts new wine into old wineskins", you'd go to Apache culture to understand it. If Tolstoy said it, you'd go to Russian culture. Robert Burns, Scottish and British culture. Etc., etc. For Jesus, scholars use anything but rabbinic lit.

In "The Gnostic Gospels" (p. xv), Pagels is intrigued by this saying from Thomas: "If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you" (she cites 45.29-33; in my edition, this is Thomas 70). She makes it out to be very cryptic. When I read it, it reminded me of the rabbinic teaching that more is expected of those who know more. Or how about this from Yoma 39a (Bab. Talmud): "If man sanctifies himself a little, they (in heaven) sanctify him much; if man sanctifies himself below (on earth), they bestow upon him (more) holiness from above." Or this from Berachoth 40a: A full vessel is filled more by God, an empty vessel is not filled. With a little more searching, I could do an even better job. That's just a quick look. The first time I read the Synoptics, I thought I was reading a lost tractate of the Talmud. All the Gospels, including Thomas, are very Jewish documents. With a little help from rabbinic lit., they do not have to be that cryptic.

Pagels seems to be looking for a deracinated, generic, universal Jesus in all her work. Her intention in "Beyond Belief" (she explained at one of the interviews), which is a good one, is to explode the idea of a monolithic Christianity. Before dogma set in, there were many different ways of being Christian and she wants to remind everyone of that. I applaud her goal. In a better world, I would highly approve. In a world where the historical, Jewish Jesus is fully known, the kind of variety and universality Pagels seeks would be an excellent thing. But right now, universality is still being used to run from and even suppress the historical, Jewish Jesus, and to denigrate ancient Judaism in the process.

Pagels said (in the Bill Moyers interview, I think) that she is more interested in the development of Christianity than in the historical Jesus. Fair enough. But all forms of Christianity depend on some interpretation of Jesus. In Pagels' interpretation, he is always a deracinated Jesus -- as if a fully Jewish, ethnic Jesus would be uninspiring and too mundane. The fear seems to be that a too Jewish Jesus is not good for Christianity.

There is no reason why you cannot have both. If Faulkner and every great writer can achieve universal meaning by writing about people in a very specific place and time, I think a very Jewish Jesus could do at least as much. I would never use his specific Jewish nature to preclude his universal meaning. Finding a universal spirituality in him is worthwhile. But far too many people who pursue his universality seem determined to keep his Jewishness forever hidden -- and to keep ancient Judaism hidden from the world.

One rare exception among Christian scholars is Philip Culbertson (Episcopalian). Not surprisingly, all the mainstream scholars I have come across never even mention his work. In "A Word Fitly Spoken", Culbertson is very clear that rabbinic lit. is the first place he will go in order to understand Jesus. I will speak a little about his work tomorrow when I discuss figs, spit and strong wine -- in the Gospels and in rabbinic lit.

Jewish scholars naturally do a little better job at using Jewish lit. to explain Jesus' teachings, but they tend to underdo it. No one ever pursues it all the way. It is as if Jewish scholars were afraid that if they completely explored Jesus' Jewishness, Christian scholars would be offended and become vituperative (which, in fact, has often been the case in the history of Gospel studies). Because of fear -- here, there, and everywhere -- we have put such a clamp on this search for the historical Jesus. Tomorrow, I will take one small step towards loosening that clamp.

Wednesday, June 25, 2003


You should read the entry for 6/24 first, but to sum up: William Klassen's "Judas" firmly established that "betray" is a mistranslation of what the Gospels say about Judas' act; certainly in Mark, the story could not possibly be interpreted as about treachery (or failure, for that matter). Kim Paffenroth admits Klassen's points, but still insists on characterizing Judas in a negative light as the disciple who failed.

When I questioned Paffenroth about this in an email, his response was that this is his literary interpretation of Mark's Judas. He regards Judas as a failure compared to the woman who anointed Jesus with oil (and thus loved him) and to Peter who denied Jesus but truly repented for his denial. My point is that Mark does not say this. Mark never even hints at any comparison of Judas to Peter or to the woman. Mark never describes Judas as less than anyone else. Paffenroth is assuming that Judas did not truly love Jesus and that he did something that he needed to repent for. Neither of these is true. Paffenroth is not engaged in literary interpretation. He is reading his theology (of failure) into the text, as everyone does. Not one feature of Mark's story justifies this.

Paffenroth just reiterated that this is his literary interpretation. In a brief phone conversation, I pointed out again that Mark has no literary features to support this. Paffenroth merely said "Okay". He clearly did not want to discuss it. It was not a spectacularly dramatic encounter. It just petered out as most of these things do. But it does illustrate how difficult it is to have a rational conversation about the Gospel texts based on the evidence of what they actually say and not what you want them to say or imagine them to say -- a point that concerns Klassen as well.

People are free to reinterpret the text -- to be inventive or creative as much as they like -- as long as they are honest about what they are doing. But no one is free to say their reinterpretation is based on the text when it takes off in directions not found in the text. The trouble is nobody wants to be honest and call their inventions what they are. They want to call them historical or literary analyses in order to endow them with greater legitimacy.

Genuine historical or scientific analysis asks one primary question: What is the simplest theory that can account for the facts? What is the simplest explanation for why Mark tells such a dull, colorless story with literally no features of a story of betrayal or failure? I give an answer to that in my unpublished book "The Ghost in the Gospels". I am not going to give it away here. My concern for the moment is to take note of this: It is shocking that absolutely no one in this field ever bothers to ask this question or to look for the simplest theories. The question of how we can tie together all the pieces of information we have into one simple, coherent whole is never ever raised.

It is as if everybody were frightened of the answer. It is one sign of how irrational this field is. No one is interested in the rational pursuit of simple theories -- which is the ultimate goal of any science. I would suggest that the reason is that simple, harmonius theories would lead everyone to see that Jesus was very much in harmony with his fellow Jews, including Jewish leaders. But scholars and our entire western tradition are so busy creating enemies for Jesus -- Jewish enemies above all -- that it never occurs to anyone there is another way to read his story. It never occurs to us that our tradition has given Jesus enemies he never had and that scholars just continue this tradition. It is such a shame that we have been trapped in this wrong-headed worldview for so many centuries.

Tomorrow my encounter with Elaine Pagels several weeks ago.

Tuesday, June 24, 2003


First, as background to this: In a book that is rare in any field, William Klassen has made an immense contribution with "Judas: Betrayer or Friend of Jesus?" (1996). He has finally established beyond all reasonable doubt that "betray" is a mistranslation of what the Greek Gospels say about Judas (the heart of the argument is on pp. 51-57). The Greek "paradidomi" is a strictly neutral word having no connotation of treachery. Klassen translates it as "hand over" or "deliver". I would translate it as "convey" or "transfer" to better capture the sheer neutrality. In a later essay in the book "Authenticating the Activities of Jesus" (1999), edited by Bruce Chilton and Craig Evans, Klassen is adamant that the story in Mark could not possibly be about betrayal (he's right), but he admits he is baffled as to what the original story could have been about.

The reason why Mark is so signifcant (besides its being the first Gospel written) is that Mark's story is famous for not giving Judas any motive and not describing any conflict between Jesus and Judas that would make the supposed betrayal explicable. Not only that, but afterwards, no other disciple confronts Judas with the terrible thing he has done. No accusations are made against him. Couple these facts with the fact that Mark uses a very neutral word and it is ultra-clear that this was not originally a story about a traitor. No 1st century Greek speaking person could figure out from Mark's Gospel that Judas had betrayed Jesus.

Now for my encounter with Kim Paffenroth, professor at Iona College and the author of the book "Judas: Images of the Lost Disciple" (2001) (which is mostly about the developing legend of Judas in later works right up to the present, but he does have some discussion of the Gospels). I first read his review of Klassen's book back in 1998 ("Journal of Religion", 1998, pp. 104-05). He, like every other reviewer, admitted that Klassen is right and said that all future translations of the New Testament should reflect this. But in his own book, whenever Paffenroth quotes from relevant parts of the Gospels, he still uses "betray". How can you fairly discuss the Gospel text when you prejudice the reader in advance that this was about betrayal? It makes no sense.

Still, Paffenroth gets Klassen's point and correctly sums up Mark's story in his own book: "Judas is an enigmatic figure in Mark whose only role is to hand Jesus over to the authorities. He has no character beyond this ..." (p. 10). But then Paffenroth adds lots of unwarranted character to Mark's Judas by calling him a failure (apparently to lessen the sting of "traitor") and using other words like "tragic", "ironic", "deeper pain". This is Paffenroth reading his own theology into the text. Mark does not have even one literary feature that would justify calling Judas a traitor or failure in his story. Nothing in Mark's text supports Paffenroth's view or any view of Judas as one who did wrong to Jesus.

I emailed Paffenroth about a week ago to ask him about this and also had one very brief phone conversation with him. More on this tomorrow and the siginificance of it.

Monday, June 23, 2003

06-23-03, Monday
This is my first entry. I do not know how this experiment will turn out or what it will turn into. For now, it is a complement to my Web site: www.historicaljesusghost.com. Some things will get repeated. As I begin, I think the focus will be on how difficult it is to fight for sanity in a field that is still not rid of the insane prejudices of the past -- how frightened everyone is of the pursuit of the simplest, rational ideas. To study Jesus as a Jew of the 1st century still scares the hell out of people. At least, I assume it is fear. I will offer a definition here of insanity or irrational or nonsensical or ridiculous, or whatever word you choose. A theory is nonsense if a) there is no (or little) evidence to support it and b) there is plenty of evidence to contradict it. Unfortunately, there is a lot of nonsense in the field known as Gospel scholarship or historical criticism of the Gospels. I will continue tomorrow or the next day with my recent encounter with a professor over the issue of Judas.

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