Sunday, October 21, 2007


I could say a genuine scholar, a real historian or scientist, is one who is in love with truth. Or I could say he or she is in love — madly, crazy in love — with the search for truth wherever it may lead. Blocking the search for truth is an even worse sin than suppressing the truth itself.

But I can also put it this way: The real scholars are ecstatic over any sentence that begins with "There is a lot of evidence to prove that ...". It does not matter what follows "that ...". It can be anything. If there is plenty of evidence for it, your skin should tingle with excitement, the hair on the back of your neck should stand up, your scalp should be on fire.

It can be anything following "that ...". It could be "Judas did not betray Jesus", or "Jewish leaders did not put Jesus on trial, but tried to save him from a Roman execution", or even "Gospel scholars have been committing fraud and suppressing an honest search for truth about the historical, Jewish Jesus by suppressing the investigation of possibilities other than Jesus in conflict with other Jews". If there is good evidence and plenty of it for any of these propositions, the real scholars should be intensely interested to see the evidence, if not throbbing with incredible excitement.

But instead, most of the scholarly world gets very hostile about this. These propositions upset them so much that they do not even want to hear the evidence. But a real scholar/scientist should be absolutely in love with evidence, all evidence. They should be intrigued by the possibility that there is evidence to prove any of these things. Emotions that block listening to or looking at the evidence are of no help in genuine scholarship. But most scholars believe the opposite. They deeply believe these emotions are the standard of scholarship. This is so wrong.

I know people do not like hearing that the study of history is often an emotional battle. But it is. In historical Jesus studies, this means that scholars have an emotional investment in making Jesus' life follow certain contours, particularly Jesus in conflict with other Jews, which leads to his death. I am saying there is a huge conflict between this emotional investment and love of the evidence.

The upshot of all this is that the field of genuine historical Jesus studies does not yet exist. It was stillborn and is still waiting to be born. At present, and since its inception, it's all about emotions and theology. Scholars have a theological/spiritual/emotional vision of who Jesus was and what happened to him. Some of it may be good, inspiring theology, a lot of it is not, but whatever it is, it is based on mere assertion. "I believe in this vision of Jesus," they say, "and assert this is history." The evidence is irrelevant.

Theology has its place in the world (it's a kind of poetic interpretation), but it is not historical study and never will be. An independent field of historical study of Jesus based purely on evidence has not yet come into existence and probably won't for a long time because scholars allow and encourage theology to confuse all the issues. I suspect there is no way to make love of evidence paramount unless it is already in you. Here at the beginning of the 21st century, we still have to wait for historical Jesus studies to begin.

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