Saturday, April 29, 2006


Perhaps next blog I will post some additional comments about this book. There are a few things I did like about it. But one major thing I did not like. Below is copy of a letter I sent to the NY Times Book Review. Of course it was not printed. Here it is:

Dear Editor:

It has been several weeks since Jon Meacham's review of Garry Wills' "What Jesus Meant" appeared (Mar. 12) and I am shocked that no one has written to complain of a major omission (a silence) in the review: how much Wills misrepresents and disparages ancient Judaism. While Wills has to acknowledge that Rome executed Jesus, he harps on Jews wanting Jesus dead. Wills blames Judaism. "Religion killed him" (p. 59) sums up his view, and it is not the Roman religion he's talking about.

It is almost beyond belief that Wills would use the phrase "the killing zone" (p. 92) to describe a (historically non-existent) situation from John's Gospel of Jews out to stone Jesus. Jews formed the killing zone and not Roman troops!? Such bad scholarship will not do. What a shame no one has protested it. Wills presumes to understand 1st century Jewish culture (including priests, Pharisees, the status of women) better than Jews do. In fact, he gets most of it wrong. He invents an imaginary Judaism to act as a foil for Jesus' greatness. Jesus would be insulted. Just as Wills rightly says that Jesus is molested, cheated, killed whenever innocents are molested,cheated, killed (p. 58), so too Jesus is maligned and insulted whenever Judaism, past or present, is.

The tragic irony is that Wills would probably like the Pharisaic/rabbinic culture that Jesus was a part of, not apart from. He would relish the ongoing debates about the meaning of Torah and how to apply it to a living society. He would be pleased that Jesus was an advocate of this healthy, reasoning culture and not a victim of it. Instead, Wills propagates the myth that Jesus was an outsider to his home culture and done in by it. Why this silence about the continued arrogance of some Christians who misrepresent another people's culture? Is no one afraid that such lies might produce another Holocaust? Is no one ashamed not to raise their voice when a major writer repeats myths that helped lead to a Holocaust once before? Or did anyone write and the Times failed to print it? Must all attempts, including this one, to speak of these issues be greeted with silence and censorship?

Leon Zitzer

Saturday, April 08, 2006


I have not read his book, but I did hear him speak this past Wednesday, April 5, at St. Bart's in Manhattan. My basic impression was this: The historical Jesus may be the only subject about which you can hear a lecture and hear about everything but the historical Jesus. Baigent seems like a very nice guy and sincere, but the historical, Jewish Jesus is largely out of his consciousness -- at least based on this talk.

He spoke about ancient Egyptian and Greek cultures. He quoted a saying of Jesus (from John, I think) about the light within and said it reminded him of the Tao. Not a word about the Talmud or Tosefta or any other part of rabbinic literature. He never once wondered whether any sayings or parables in Pharisaic/rabbinic culture could be of help in clarifying Jesus' words. Baigent is looking for a non-Jewish Jesus as much as every other scholar. (I submitted a question about this avoidance of rabbinic lit in historical Jesus studies, but it wasn't asked; you could present questions on index cards.)

For Baigent, the historical Jesus (and he did use this expression) taught that everyone has a little bit of the divine in them. This is very appealing to him and he stated his belief that this historical Jesus will bring together the three faiths originating in the Middle East. Why this will bring the different religions together was not clear to me. Perhaps he addresses this at greater length in the book.

It is highly doubtful that Rabbi Joshua of Nazareth taught anything about each person being divine. But I do think the Gospel evidence strongly suggests that Rabbi Jesus/Joshua told people that each one can have an intimate relationship with God, like child to parent.

The other aspect of Baigent's talk is that he fosters the belief that the historical Jesus will be found in a lost document. But, as I often say, the historical Jesus is hidden in plain sight in the canonical Gospels. His Jewishness is evident in extraordinary abundance in the well-known Gospels. Only the deepest prejudices against Jewish culture have prevented us from seeing it.

The other disturbing aspect of my evening at St. Bart's was reading a recent Sunday sermon (March 19, 2006, "A Righteous Rant: A Renewal of Religion") by the Rev. Kevin D. Bean (who was also one of the introducers of Michael Baigent). He repeated all the stale and prejudiced ideas of Jesus being opposed to the excessive legalisms of the Jewish religion of his time. He referred to "those ancient Pharisees and their legal system". He has no awareness that the oral Torah of the Pharisees was not primarily a legal system. It was rather about responding to the living voice of God. So it is no surprise that Jesus too is a strong advocate of oral Torah.

It seems that very little has changed in Christianity in regard to Judaism and Jesus' Jewishness. Most Christians still seem to believe the worst myths about ancient Judaism and have no understanding of the real Judaism and Jesus being very much at home in it.

The funniest part of the evening was that they were selling Baigent's previous book (with two co-authors) "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" right alongside "The DaVinci Code". This was a couple of days before the lawsuit was decided. In the area of commerce, there are no losers. We are all friends promoting each other's work -- unless your work is about the historical, Jewish Jesus.

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