Sunday, November 25, 2007


(The picture at right is a link to my book, "The Ghost in the Gospels", on iUniverse. It's also available at amazon.com and bn.com.)

The field of historical Jesus studies does not exist yet. It's not allowed to exist. You can thank a perfect storm of forces for this. Everyone conspires to make sure it never happens, and that probably includes almost anyone who is reading this. All are thankful that the historical Jesus will never be recovered, though it is considered very sinful to point this out. Of course, I think I'm being devastatingly critical, but everyone else is celebrating.

To never know anything definite about the historical Jesus means Jesus can continue to be whatever anyone wants to make of him. It also means the traditional story of his death at the hands of some Jews will never be shaken. It has taken quite a conspiracy of forces to make sure it stays this way — forever!

Broadly speaking, the three main storm fronts in this perfect storm are religion, academia, and popular imagination. It's understandable that religious authorities would oppose historical Jesus studies. They don't want anything to upset their beliefs, their teachings, or their authority. At one time, a century ago and more, their opposition was total and complete. Today, they are much happier to talk about the historical Jesus as long as nothing is established. Their favorite theme is that the Gospels are not history or biography but were written to encourage faith. The Jesus of faith is all anyone can know.

Academic scholars are essentially locked into the same mindset. They have changed nothing. They have inherited the mantle of authority from religion only to pursue the same agenda: We have our preformed beliefs about Jesus and we will not allow anyone to change them. Scholars perpetuate theology disguised as historical study. Real historical study is disallowed so that the beliefs will never be threatened.

Two thousand years of endless repetition of theology has had its intended effect. Certain ideas about Jesus have been so deeply inculcated that they are taken as facts, albeit false facts. Every person who knows anything about Jesus — from clerics to scholars to laypeople — knows for certain the following four "facts" about him: 1) Jesus was a rebel; 2) he was a rebel against Judaism; 3) Judaism was clearly inferior to Jesus and his teachings; and 4) because Jesus was superior, other Jews hated him and this Jewish hostility led inevitably to his death.

Scholars who are suppopsed to be capable of objective historical study bought and still buy the whole thing hook, line, and sinker. A Jewish Jesus can only be an inferior Jesus. His Jewishness must be erased or, if accepted at all, reduced to a minimum. Nineteenth century scholars had no trouble expressing this in the most blatantly prejudiced way possible, and even well into the 20th century. Current scholars have found nicer ways to say the same exact thing.

Jewish hostility towards Jesus has always been taken for granted and equally taken for granted is the idea that this was the cause of his death. Questioning any of this has become unthinkable — literally unthinkable. If you suggest this is all wrong and the Gospel evidence does not support it, that perfect storm will destroy you.

Now here is an irony for you: That the Gospels might contain a story of Jewish leaders trying to save Jesus from a Roman execution seems insane to most people, whereas the real insanity lies in the way scholars still erase all the clues that back up this Jewish rescue attempt as the sanest explanation of the evidence in the Gospels.

This is a perfect storm of emotions. Religious prejudice predominates. There is the fear that religion will be shaken to its foundations if any of the traditional story is demonstrated to be untrue. There is the fear that academic scholars will be shown to be under the thumb of theology and have not been promoting objective study of the Gospels. There is the fear that a very Jewish Jesus in harmony with his fellow Jews will not be Jesus anymore. Hostility is part of what people mean by Jesus' unique identity and no one wants to acknowledge this. A Jewish Jesus — a Jew to the max, a full-throated and full-hearted Jew — is still unthinkable for almost everyone.

Religious and scholarly authorities have demoralized everyone to the point that most people do not even believe the historical, Jewish Jesus can be recovered. And well relieved everyone is because we have all been taught that this historical Jesus can only bring harm. The 19th century scholars declared that Jesus was outside of history, an alien to his culture and time (translation: Have no fear, there is no Jewish Jesus!). The scholars of our time accomplish the same thing in different language (the subversive Jesus, the offensive Jesus, the shocking Jesus, and so on). Jesus abrogated the Jewish customs of his time, we are falsely told, so nothing in Judaism can help us know Jesus.

Scholars offer multiple Jesuses as long as none of them are too Jewish. The public has embraced this. They expect nothing from historical Jesus scholars. They turn instead to the most fanciful stuff because it is just as plausible/implausible as anything else. Scholars invite scepticism about almost everything in the Gospels and thus encourage fantasizing about everything. The one thing that is never allowed to be doubted is that some Jews killed Jesus. That is their rock of faith.

So here is another irony: The one thing that is certainly not true (some Jews killed Jesus) is the one thing that scholars will not allow to be doubted. Ironic enough for you?

Atheists add to the perfect storm and the shenanigans by reinforcing every bit of this nonsense. Their favorite thing is to assert that it is all or mostly myth. The result once again is no historical Jesus. They do not threaten religious faith, they reinforce it. If nothing can be proven, nothing can be disproven either. Atheists claim it's all fiction but they cannot prove it is fiction. All they do is assert. That leaves the traditional readings of the Gospels intact because atheists merely tack on the word "fiction" but never challenge the story everyone claims to see in the Gospels. Everyone is free to believe what they want, including a complete bungling of the evidence. Genuine historical study turns the world of atheism upside down as much as it does traditional religious and scholarly studies.

Most Jews avoid the whole mess. They are sure that the historical Jesus will not bode well for Jews. He will be used to try to convert Jews or he will uspet Christians so much that Christians will lash out with more antisemitism. Jews may discover that they have internalized a Christian worldview more than they ever suspected. The historical, very Jewish Jesus may light up a lot of things we would rather not know.

End result: Everyone sends historical study of Jesus packing. This may be the only field where you can discover something significant and no one cares. There isn't even a ripple of interest. The storm squelches everything.

I blame the scholarly front most of all. Scholars are supposed to represent objective study. Instead, they maintain only the appearance of it and suppress all discussion of the violence they've done to the historical texts. On a previous blog, I said they have committed the perfect crime. The field of historical Jesus studies is dead and no one knows it. Now that's perfection.

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