Friday, August 08, 2008


I am surprised at how many people, the scholars of historical Jesus studies very much included, think that if numerous sources repeat the accusation that Jewish leaders played a role in the death of Jesus, then this is good evidence for the truth of the allegation. What incredible nonsense. It is a violation of basic science. The whole point of scientific method is to make sure that mere allegation will not be passed off as a substitute for proof.

We know that ancient Jewish leaders were accused of being involved in Jesus' death. That's not the issue. The constant repetition of the accusation only proves that they were so accused. It does not necessarily mean it was true. It could have been part of a campaign to cast aspersions on the leadership. Someone tells a lie and everyone else repeats it. It's not hard to do. The accusation of guilt in Jesus' death is not enough and proves nothing.

To prove the truth of the allegation, you need to assemble an evidentiary case demonstrating what Jewish leaders had against Jesus, what did they specifically charge him with, how they went about it, how they got involved with Rome, does it fit the historical context, etc. The evidence for all this is extraordinarily weak. What is strong is the way the accusation was made over and over again. And what is irrational is the way this repetition has been taken as proof of something against Jewish authorities.

It would make just as much sense to argue that the incessant reiteration of blame shows an obsession with promoting a lie. Repetition alone is actually meaningless. No one seems to get that in historical Jesus studies. From blogs to scholarly tomes, you'll find everyone assuming more than they are proving. There is no other field where merely alleging something is true is taken as evidence that it must be true. You would be kicked out of the university for arguing like this in any other academic field.

If someone wanted to make a film about how historical Jesus scholars botched it and how unbotching it can give is the truth about how Jesus died, that would make a great movie.

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