Sunday, April 06, 2008


More than anything, my book, The Ghost in the Gospels (link at right), is about evidence. If you love the pursuit of hard evidence and rational solutions to how we got this pattern of evidence, then I think you'll like my book. If beliefs are more important to you than actual historical data, then you might have a problem with my work.

Scholars favor a priori conclusions over evidence. They start with beliefs like Jewish leaders put Jesus on trial or Judas betrayed Jesus, and then manipulate the evidence to make it fit the preconceived conclusions. Manipulating the evidence often means disappearing anything in the record — and there is quite a lot — that exonerates Jewish leaders and Judas of complicity in Jesus' death. My book gives so many examples of scholars doing this.

Two quick examples of evidence scholars erase: Josephus relates one example of Jewish leaders refusing to cooperate with a Roman procurator who demanded that some Jewish troublemakers be turned over to him. Scholars make this vanish in their own work because it does not help them convict Jewish leaders of participating in the execution of Jesus. And a second piece that is equally unhelpful is Paul at Acts 13:28 saying there was no Jewish death penalty against Jesus. Most scholars disappear this one too.

Of course, no one piece of data proves anything. What is so interesting about these two pieces is that they are part of a much larger pattern of evidence that supports them. Scholars erase it all. That is their arrogance.

What does all this have to do with the Holocaust? When I started writing my book over 10 years ago, I swore to myself that I would never mention racism, antisemitism, or the Holocaust. I know how much it upsets Christians to hear about these things and Christianity's connection to them. Besides, what do they have to do with 1st century history? Nothing. So why bring it up?

That they have nothing to do with ancient history is precisely the point. The problem is that they have a lot to do with the way the Gospels have been rewritten and misinterpreted. The same forces that led to racism and the Holocaust also created anti-historical readings of the Gospels. One of the major points I make in Ghost is that there is extremely little anti-Jewishness in the Gospels or Acts or Paul's letters. Tradition — and current scholarship continues this — reads more anti-Jewishness into the Gospels than is really there. But overinterpreting the Gospels to make them incorporate a lot of Jewish hostility is how scholars justify Jewish responsibility for Jesus' death.

If you put to one side the very few bits of hostile and suspect information (such as a crowd of Jews cheering for Jesus' crucifixion), what is left is either neutral or positive concerning Jewish involvement in the death of Jesus. There is a very large pattern of evidence that tells us a story different from what we are used to. Scholars in their arrogance still subject the Gospels to an anti-Jewish lens, reading conflict between Jesus and other Jews into the texts where it does not belong.

I mention the Holocaust only a couple of times in the book. One time is to point out that 19th century Christian scholars were busy teaching Christians to be very afraid of a Jewish Jesus because, they threatened, it will be the end of Christianity. Had they taught Christians instead to celebrate Jesus' Jewishness, the Holocaust might have been prevented altogether or at the very least significantly reduced.

Scholars are still missing an opportunity to get history right and benefit mankind.

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