Saturday, November 26, 2005

(a premature advertising campaign)

Everyone knows that Judas betrayed Jesus. Everyone knows that Jewish leaders considered Jesus a troublemaker and turned him over to Rome to be executed. Everyone knows the Gospels are terribly anti-Jewish and have nothing more to tell us.

Who else but an idiot would challenge all this "knowledge"? Who would demand a closer look at the evidence? Who would dare to suggest that reason be given a voice? Who would ask questions in a field where asking questions is forbidden?

Why do the Gospels use a neutral word to describe Judas' action and not the word for betray? Why does Mark lack every single element of a story of betrayal? Why does John describe only an informal meeting between Jesus and Jewish leaders with no condemnation of him, no witnesses, no final verdict? Why does Luke similarly omit the main features of a trial against Jesus? Why do Mark and Matthew appear to relate a trial but contain many details contradicting it?

Only an idiot would ask these questions and suggest there is a very simple answer -- one simple theory -- that explains it all. A story of Jewish leaders and Judas helping Jesus to the very end. But the scholarly world insists that we must not listen to the evidence whispering to us for 2,000 years. The scholarly world floats high above what the Gospel texts actually say.

A book that asks and asks and answers, then asks again. An idiot's delight.

Saturday, November 05, 2005


It fascinates me that there is so little interest in the historical Jesus. Both among scholars and the general public. I say "fascinates" only because I need this intellectual distance to keep from giving in to full despair.

And, of course, I mean genuine interest in genuine history. Most of what passes for historical interest is merely an attempt to assert some theological vision of Jesus. The field is a theological battleground. But the real Jewish Jesus in his real time and place, in the culture that was his home and that he loved, occupies almost no one's attention.

This disinterest is obvious in just about every scholar who writes anything that touches upon what people call the historical Jesus (which, for them, is just a subterfuge to keep him and history hidden). I include in this a wide range of the best known and lesser known scholars: Raymond Brown, John Crossan, John Meier, E.P. Sanders, Marcus Borg, Elaine Pagels, Kim Paffenroth, Ben Witherington III, and so many more.

Paffenroth and Pagels write about the Gospels with more compassion and understanding than most, but they too never give up that anti-Jewish worldview which reads the Gospels as if they had nothing more to say but Jesus being in conflict with other Jews who are part of a chain of responsibility that hastens him towards his demise.

In his book "Judas: Images of the Lost Disciple", Paffenroth fully acknowledges the validity of William Klassen's point that the Greek does not say Judas betrayed Jesus. It's a mistranslation. He further admits that, at least in Mark, there is nothing that colors Judas in a bad way, and Paffenroth also objects to scholars who embellish the text and make it say things it does not say.

But Paffenroth too embellishes the Gospel texts by making them say that Judas was a failure (he puts it this way because he does not want to use "traitor" anymore). Paffenroth still puts Judas in the chain of responsibility. The absurdity of doing this never strikes him. Mark does not say one thing to justify this.

In her last book, "Beyond Belief", Pagels refers to Judas' betrayal about six times and always uses this word. She never once points out that scholars are almost unanimous in agreeing that this is a mistranslation. She never notes that Mark omits every single detail you would expect to find in a story of betrayal. On the basis of no evidence, Judas is still assumed to be a traitor.

All these scholars, even the best of them, repeat the traditional idea that Jewish figures played a huge role in the death of Jesus. They all share this theology. That's all it is: theology and endless repetition unsupported by any rational or evidentiary analysis.

This Jesus surrounded by Jewish enemies is as unreal and antihistorical as his imagined Jewish opponents. They are all figments of the scholarly lack of imagination -- and imagination in science always means learning to see the evidence.

On the other end of this, you get the popular idea that the historical Jesus is unknowable. A few days ago, Anne Rice was on Charlie Rose to talk about her new book about Christ. Both agreed that very little can be known about the historical Jesus. That is based more on fear than anything else.

It is so easy to discover Jesus' Jewishness and the truth about his death (in which Jewish enemies played no role). What is not easy to do is to confront the fears that keep everyone from seeing Jesus in his full Jewishness or even to get anyone to admit that such fears exist. But then that is the point of fear: To make sure it is still in control by suppressing all talk about it.

So there it is. More reason to despair than to hope, I'm afraid. The search for the historical Jesus is going absolutely nowhere -- as long as the anti-Jewish approach (Jesus done in by Jews) is still in place and no one is willing to discuss it. I realize this is not an accident. This situation is probably to most people's satisfaction and I have no idea how to convince anyone that the historical, Jewish Jesus is not someone to be afraid of, nor is the true story of his death something to be afraid of. Jewish leaders and Judas were helping him at the end, but no one wants to see that.

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