Friday, January 30, 2004


Only three posts for this month.

1/26 -- A question posed: Could the Holocaust have been prevented, if 19th century Christian scholars had embraced and celebrated Jesus the Jew? And does the continuing fear of Jesus' Jewishness bode ill for our future?

1/16 -- Getting ahead of ourselves: How fear of the implications of a theory prevents us from honestly examining the evidence for the theory.

1/4 -- Multiple identities and Jesus' identity; Judaism, like any culture, can only be understood from an internal point of view; Jesus lived his Jewishness internally, but scholars still judge it from an external point of view, i.e., from a Christian point of view; we all have multiple cultural influences flowing through us, but Pharisaic/rabbinic Judaism, which is the Judaism that Jesus was deeply imbued with, is still shut out by Christians.

Monday, January 26, 2004



How frightened 19th century Christian scholars were of Jesus' Jewishness. They were so sure it would mean the end of Christianity. Their fear fit right in with the antisemitic idea, so popular in their Europe, that Jews were undermining society and threatening Christian values. To discover a Jewish Jesus would be the most detrimental thing of all, or so they imagined.

Paranoia about a Jewish conspiracy to end Christian civilization ran amok. Here is just one typical quote, this one from a French Catholic newspaper (to be found in David Kertzer's "The Popes Against the Jews" [2001], p. 178; all the books referred to here can be found in the Bibliography on my Web site; click the link at right): "We French Christians are all, in effect, vanquished, conquered, expropriated from our own country and our own faith, by a race of cosmopolites, of cunning intelligence, of greedy soul ... The Jew is master of all." (You can find many more such expressions as that in Kertzer's book, pp. 138, 143, 145, 151, 160-61, 233-34, 267, 273, 278, 284.)

The so-called New Testament historical critics of that century were a part of this fear. They invented their quest for the historical Jesus precisely for the purpose of keeping him forever suppressed. Everything in their methods and in their writings reflects that. Nobody wanted a Jewish Jesus.

In 1863, Ernest Renan assured his readers that Jesus' purpose in life was to end up "no longer a Jew" ("The Life of Jesus", 225). Crucifixion was preferable to living as a Jew. Renan called Jewish religious life in Jerusalem a "Calvary, where certainly Jesus suffered more than at Golgotha" (307).

When Abraham Geiger, a Jewish scholar and contemporary of Renan, tried to bring Jesus' Jewishness to the attention of the public, Franz Delitzsch, a theologian of Lutheran background, reacted to his comments by saying that "they sound to me ten times more horrific than the crucifixion" (quoted in Susannah Heschel, "Geiger", 196). Heschel points out that so many of these 19th century scholars adopted as their premise that Jesus lived outside of and untouched by history (129, 140).

Albert Schweitzer, thoroughly imbued with this sort of scholarship, opened up the 20th century with his "The Quest of the Historical Jesus" (Germany, 1906). He reiterated Jesus' ahistorical personality often enough (351, 353, 358, 370-71, 392, 393, 395). Thus, "Literal history does not exist for Him" (393). Jesus' self-consciousness cannot be explained by any contemporary factors of Judaism (367). And his parables can never be compared to rabbinic parables because the latter are "like stunted undergrowth beside a great tree" (287).

So removing Jesus from all Jewish context, Schweitzer ended up with a Jesus who is "a stranger and an enigma" (399). Of course. That was the goal all along. If Jesus was fully a Jew, we don't want to know it. If Jesus was not in lethal conflict with fellow Jews, including Jewish leaders, we don't want to know. I must say that it has not changed at all in contemporary mainstream scholarship.

But suppose these 19th century scholars had had the courage to do the exact opposite. Suppose they had educated the Christian public about the great things that Pharisaic/rabbinic culture had accomplished and about the beauty of Jesus' very Jewish, very Pharisaic, very rabbinic soul. What a different world we might have had. The Nazis might well have encountered a world which gave them no soil for their hatred and violence.

Would things have turned out very differently if Jesus' Jewishness had been embraced instead of kicking up a storm of fear? Could it still be effective in preventing future disasters? And does the difficulty that Christian scholars still have with Jesus the Jew -- their fear that a fully Jewish Jesus is a diminished Jesus -- tell us anything about our future? It is something to think about.

Friday, January 16, 2004



I have proven beyond all reasonable doubt that neither Jewish leaders nor Judas in particular betrayed Jesus. They did not cooperate with Roman authorities to have him executed. They did not regard Jesus as a troublemaker or subversive or religiously offensive. Jesus and Jewish leaders were not at lethal odds with each other.

In fact, the Jewish authorities of the time tried to save Jesus. There was no Jewish trial. There was an informal meeting at which they hoped to get information to exonerate Jesus in Rome's eyes. This rescue attempt failed, but they did try. And Judas played an important role in this.

The evidence for this is overwhelming. In the Gospels alone, there is an abundance of evidence to establish this. But frankly, I think most people do not care what the evidence is. They are shocked that the historical truth could be the opposite of what we have been told for 2,000 years and that it could be as obvious as I say it is.

Before anybody is even willing to listen to the evidence, the following questions go through everyone's minds:

Is it possible that our civilization could have been so wrong about this for so long? Yes.

Is it possible that scholars, so-called historical critics, could have botched the study of the evidence for the last 200 years? Yes.

Is it possible that this reveals something new about how deep the prejudice against Jews and Judaism has been and continues to be, even in modern academia? Yes.

Is this an enormous injustice that is going to take centuries to comprehend and digest? Yes.

(Is this bad news for Christianity? No. I'll explain below.)

Don't blame me, folks. I'm just the messenger.

Would it be better to forget about the truth at this point and instead bury it in the interests of maintaining our comfort with a long-standing lie? No.

Isn't it dangerous to expose the faults of scholarship? No. It is more dangerous not to expose them.

Does the discovery of what really happened 2,000 years ago threaten Christian faith? No. Absolutely not. Not unless you consider a Jesus surrounded by Jewish enemies essential to Christian faith. I don't think Christianity needs this. Most Christians will come to realize just how harmful to Christianity this falsehood has been.

But doesn't the mere fact that such a gross injustice against Jews has existed for so long impugn the integrity of Christianity? No.

Doesn't it imply that the original founders of Christianity did something wickedly wrong? No.

How the original events were distorted can be explained by emotional conflicts and some innocent blunders. Humans make mistakes. The more serious problem is that, in the centuries that followed, religious and scholarly leaders could have figured out the truth but didn't. They were more intent on building and maintaining a systematic misrepresentation of Judaism and Jewish history. With these lies in force, it became impossible to see the truth. It became impossible to just simply see what the Gospels say.

Scholars have recently been making piecemeal corrections to some of these lies. But their efforts fall far short of what could be done. And nobody has tried to rethink the whole thing from top to bottom. Only limited repairs are tolerated.

Here is some of the misinformation, or even outright lies, that still circulates:

1) Jews were hostile to gentiles and resented their inclusion in the Jewish vision of the kingdom of God. Not so. Pharisaic/rabbinic Judaism was a religion very open to gentiles. Judaism's openness made Christianity possible. Without the welcome Jews extended to gentiles, Christianity would not even have gotten out of the starting gate. The New Testament has a lot of valuable information on this point.

2) The Jewish Temple functioned like the Vatican today and dictated religious beliefs to Jews. Not so. The priests of the Temple had very little say about religious beliefs. They merely administered at the Temple sacrifices. The Pharisees and rabbis did the teaching and interpreting of Torah.

3) Pharisees and rabbis were hostile to charismatic healers and prophetic figures. Not so. They honored them very much and honored Jesus as such a Jew. Once again, the New Testament tells us more about this than people realize.

4) The high priest Caiaphas conducted a hostile interrogation of Jesus. No. It was more likely Annas, a retired high priest, and more like a friendly, diplomatic mission to help Jesus.

5) Judas betrayed Jesus. That is not what the Gospels say. More and more scholars are admitting there has been a mistranslation, but most have been slow to see any significance in it. Only William Klassen and Hans-Josef Klauck have tried to incorporate this into their thinking.

First and foremost, this has been an intellectual failure on the part of our religious and scholarly leaders. Most Christians have been the victims of this, not the perpetrators. For all those Christians who have listened to Jesus and tried to live as he taught, historical truth is no threat, but a liberation.

The above does not even represent a significant part of my case. There is much more. This is just a very small taste. Why? Because no matter what I say, no matter how much evidence I have, people are already ahead of me, thinking about the possible implications. Before I lay out a stitch of evidence, people are troubled by the emotional consequences of my thesis -- and those emotions get in the way of giving the evidence a fair hearing.

That's why I posed those questions above. It is the emotions that need clarification, not the facts.

The search for truth is not about facts and logic, not primarily. It is an emotional battle. Emotions are the key, not facts.

After all, the facts about Judaism have been known, or should have been, for centuries. For example, Jewish scholars have long known about the gentile God-fearers who were attracted to Judaism, welcomed by Jews, and frequently attended synagogues and Torah readings which were open affairs. Why is it still taking Christians such a long time to see this? God-fearers are mentioned all over the place in the New Testament, in The Acts of the Apostles. Paul went to synagogues to preach to the "Men of Israel and you that fear God" (Acts 13:16, 26). Without the gentile God-fearers' love of Judaism, there would have been no Christianity. Yet a majority of Christians still live in denial of what their own scripture tells them.

The facts are easy. The emotions of learning to see are hard. Judas did not betray Jesus; Jewish leaders tried to save him; Jesus was honored and revered, not reviled, by his fellow Jews. It is all so easy to prove and yet not at all easy.

I think this is true of all science. It was certainly true of Darwin's theory of evolution. It still provokes fierce emotions. It was also true of the difficulties that first faced Einstein's theory of relativity. Einstein had gotten rid of the ether (the medium that physicists had postulated for light to travel through). Many scientists could not accept his accomplishment. Not because of facts. Not a single fact supported the existence of the ether. Scientists were emotionally attached to it.

People like to say that science is about facts. But that is not true. It is about the struggle to accept the facts -- to simply see the facts. That is what great scientists do. They learn to see. And they undergo an emotional struggle before that happens or as it happens.

The same is true of scientific study of the Bible. In fact, it is an understatement to say that emotions are even more of a problem in Bible studies.

There is something hypocritical about using emotions (especially fear) to block the search for truth and then claim that the truth cannot be discovered. This happens repeatedly with the Gospels and the historical truth they contain. We create a climate of fear about certain ideas and then demand proof for them. As if anything can ever be demonstrated in an atmosphere of fear. When the fears diminish, that is when you will hear truth whispering in your ear.

Sunday, January 04, 2004


Most of us will die in a different country than the one we were born in, metaphorically speaking anyway. Culturally speaking, it is probably literally true. And that's a good thing. It's all God's planet.

Unless you live in a very closed-off, totalitarian society, you will do some travelling in your life. Influences will come and go, enter and leave. You will end up in a different place than the one you started in.

So thinks Bernard Harrison, philosophy professor and Catholic, or rather, as he says, strenuous attempts were made by his father to raise him that way. Growing up in England with a Catholic father and Anglican mother, his father would not allow any non-Catholics to visit their house. Harrison grew up alone and isolated, ignored even by the bullies at school after a brief interest in him.

But then he met a Jewish boy, Orthodox as it turned out, when he entered the sixth form in 1948 (around 14 years of age?). They became very close. Harrison spent a lot of time at his house and absorbed much of their Jewish life. So much so that he often came to be taken as Jewish in his adult life, even by an Israeli tourist guide. You can read about all this and more in Harrison's article, "Talking Like a Jew", in the Winter 1996 issue of the journal "Judaism", pp. 3-28.

I mention Harrison because he learned about Judaism from an internal point of view. He writes more beautifully about Judaism than any Christian I have ever encountered. Even though he makes the mistake of using the term "the Law" instead of "Torah" which should never be translated, in his case it is not a mistake. He does not have a legalistic conception of the Law or Torah. He contrasts the Law to the Ideal or the Objective (such as the Nation or the Race). The Ideal "rides roughshod over the concrete, the material, the subjective or the merely human" (p. 27). It tramples on human lives. But here is how Harrison describes Torah (quoting at length from pp. 26-28):

"The exploration of the Law is, in effect, the exploration of the mind of God: hence the joy and pleasure the pious Jew finds in the Law and in making new discoveries concerning the riches which lie hidden in it. That joy is the love of God, and it can only be had through the Law ... The notion of divine intervention as operating through a Law ... preserves a tension between the divine and the world which both keeps the relationship alive and opens it to change and development ... The Law, in other words, is the light of the human world, not something which tramples through that world demanding the betrayal of every one of its constituting relationships, as the Ideal has so often done in our time."

Contrast this to the views of Ben Witherington III who writes a lot about the historical Jesus. Witherington takes the trouble to frequently use the correct term "Torah" (e.g., "The Christology of Jesus", pp. 56-81), but he clings to the old Christian idea of legalism. For him, it is a static, limiting legal code rather than the never-ending, blossoming revelation that it was for Pharisees and rabbis, including Jesus. In fact, whenever Witherington wants to portray Jesus as above or abrogating Torah, he resorts to "law", often preceded by "Mosaic" or "old" (e.g., pp. 69, 71, 80, 139-40, 272).

Harrison knows Judaism from the inside. Witherington and most Christian writers on the historical Jesus know Judaism only from the outside, caricaturing it from an external, Christian point of view. But Jesus did not live his Judaism that way. He lived it from the inside out. Most scholars imagine him standing outside Judaism and judging it their way. These scholars will never have access to the historical Jesus because they will make no attempt to understand Judaism the way Jesus lived it.

For Jesus as for most Pharisees and rabbis -- they shared the same culture of oral Torah -- Torah was alive and always speaking anew. That is the whole point of oral Torah which Jesus practiced as much as anyone. Oral Torah treated the written Torah as a gushing spring (or a rock that sent off sparks when you struck it with a hammer). Christian scholars live outside this perspective and therefore outside Jesus as he experienced his own life and Judaism.

How many times does Jesus tell his students in Matthew that they as Jews are called to a different life than gentiles or pagans? This many: Matt 5:47, 6:32, 18:17, 20:25-26. Jesus, like any rabbi or Pharisee, was very conscious that Judaism had something unique to offer. When he says that God sends his rain and sun on the just and unjust (Matt 5:45), that is a very Jewish thought. It is found frequently in rabbinic literature. One rabbi said that the sun does not shine just for Jews but for gentiles too. I think Jesus gave it a little extra emphasis as a quality of God that people should strive to imitate, but he was very self-consciously a Jew when he spoke like that. It was his identity, which explains why he brings up gentiles in contrast so often.

It is not a bad idea to acquire, or attempt to acquire, other identities when writing about historical figures. As another British writer, L.P. Hartley said in his novel "The Go-Between", "The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there." Judaism as Jesus lived it is about as foreign to scholars as it could possibly be.

For members of minority groups, it is relatively easy to acquire some multiplicity in your identity. Indeed, it comes so naturally that it is often seen to be a curse rather than a blessing. Minorities don't like to admit this but they absorb quite a bit of the majority culture. Every black person is a little bit white, every Jew is a little bit Christian. Is that a threat to your own cultural identity? It is only if you are unconscious of it and do not admit it. Denying it doesn't resolve the threat, it only increases it. If you can admit the other identities in you, it is much easier to cherish the cultural identity you were born into.

One day, while I was studying something in the Gospels, I realized that, even though I had never read it before, I knew the Lord's Prayer by heart, not perfectly but pretty close. Of course, it is a very Jewish prayer, but that's not why I knew it. The words rolled off my tongue so easily and rapidly because I had heard them uttered hundreds of times in films and on TV. Usually, it was a young child reciting it, but sometimes an adult (a soldier in a war movie) or a group of adults praying. This bit of Christianity had become a part of me. Like the Christmas tree and Catholics going to confession and so much else.

That's not a bad thing but it does make some Jews feel uncomfortable if they do not feel secure in their own Judaism. If you are comfortable and safe in your own culture, another culture will never threaten you (which explains why an Orthodox Jew can play Santa Claus for kids at Christmas time).

Members of the majority have a different set of problems when it comes to identifying with other cultures. If they are not exposed to a minority culture, then they have no feel for it. Nor do they have a feel for the confusing flow of identities in a minority people. But none of us are completely isolated anymore. Minorities have their impact on the establishment culture. Generally though, it takes more effort on the part of the majority members to appreciate other cultures. For anyone who claims to be a historian, it is an absolute necessity. You cannot be a historian without making that effort to acquire another identity.

By the way, one day it will be ridiculous to point out that the Lord's Prayer is a Jewish prayer. What else would Jesus come up with but a Jewish prayer? He was Jewish after all, thoroughly Jewish, nothing else but Judaism comes from his lips. In one of my unpublished books, you will see even more of the Jewishness of that prayer when you see its connection to chutzpah. But I cannot reveal everything here.

Today, we constantly have to remind everyone that this or that item in the Gospels is Jewish, but the day will come when Christians and Jews will take all this as too obvious. The Jewishness of the Gospels and Jesus will become part of the identity of Christians -- and no one will feel threatened by this. Because their identity as Christians will continue unabated. And because Jesus himself -- Rabbi Joshua of Galilee -- is not a threat to anyone unless you make him into one by living outside of, and thus judging, him and his culture instead of feeling both from within. Christianity still has some travelling to do. Don't we all.

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