Monday, May 29, 2006


There have been a number of articles about the recent publication of the Gospel of Judas. Here is a copy of a letter I sent to the New Yorker a few weeks back:

Dear Editor:

Adam Gopnik made some good points in "Jesus Laughed" (Apr 17) on the Gospel of Judas. But there is still this pervasive delusion that the historical Jesus and Judas might be found in a lost document. The truth is they are hidden in plain sight in the canonical Gospels -- buried beneath the prejudices of scholars.

The ugly secret of Gospel scholarship is that it cannot let go of an anti-Jewish worldview -- Jesus must be surrounded by Jewish enemies -- even though this leads to one contradiction after another. I am shocked that no one has reported that it is well-established now (thanks largely to William Klassen) that the Gospels do not use the Greek word for betray but a neutral word to describe Judas' action. Mark in particular does not have one detail of a story of betrayal -- no motive for Judas, no conflict with Jesus, no accusations from fellow disciples. It is absurd to maintain that Mark is telling the story of a traitor. The Gospel of Judas now lends additional support for this.

But if scholars cannot read the canonical Gospels in a rational manner (because they are too busy reading Jewish enemies into the texts), what hope is there that they can do it with this "new" Gospel?

Sunday, May 14, 2006


You cannot help but feel an immense warmth for someone who writes about Jesus that any priests who molest a child molest Jesus, any televangelist who cheats old women out of their savings cheats Jesus, any who kill members of other religions because of their religion kill Jesus, any who persecute gays persecute Jesus, any who neglect the homeless neglect Jesus, and on and on (p. 58).

I only wish Wills had been capable of writing this too: Anyone who demeans or disparages Judaism, past or present, demeans and disparages Jesus. Anyone who tells lies about Judaism tells lies about Jesus. Not only are those who kill members of other religions killing Jesus, but anyone who lies about another religion is creating violence against Jesus. Whatever you do to others you do to Jesus.

But you won't find this in Wills' book. You won't find anything close to it. What you will find in his book is a lot of misrepresentation about Jesus' Jewish culture. I am always amazed by people who oppose (sincerely, it seems) all persecution and violence, but will not renounce the roots of persecution and violence. Historical lies and lies about other cultures are an important contributor to violence in the world.

So many people feel they have a right to boast of the superiority of their culture and beliefs, and in doing so, they do not see their denigration of other cultures. Why? Because they refuse to draw any violent conclusions from their attitude, but they do not see that others will. They think that if they bury their heads in the sand and refuse to look at the harm that results, then the harm does not exist. I'd love to say: If you bury your head in the sand, you blind Jesus as well. Is that a nice thing to do?

There is a lot of potential harm in the way Wills and many Christian authors write about 1st century Judaism, however much they insist on not seeing this harm. Even the accumulation of mere omissions is dangerous. Wills has absolutely no idea of the Jewish context of anything Jesus says and he doesn't care. He is erasing an entire culture, wiping it off the map as if it had never been there.

Who will tell me that disappearing a culture, banishing it to non-existence, is not supremely dangerous? You think there is no connection between this erasure and the desire to kill millions of Jews? Will and others may be way too civilized to make such a connection, but somebody else will. Treating a culture as non-existent is preparation for violence. It is easier to kill what has already been deprived of life.

And even if I were wrong about this, it is still just plain wrong to erase, destroy, misrepresent, malign any culture just because you want to make Jesus look superior to everything around him. He who debases Judaism debases Jesus. You are not making him superior this way. You're just tossing him in the mud and trampling on him. Is that how you want to treat Jesus? Apparently a lot of people, like Wills, do not mind at all. If we do not look at what we're doing, then it isn't happening. And that's where they leave it.

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