Saturday, January 31, 2009


These days, everyone, at least among historical Jesus scholars, wants to demonstrate their anti-antisemitism credentials. The most popular way for scholars to do this is to blame somebody else for any ongoing problems. That someone else is usually the Gospel authors. New Testament scholars establish themselves as being free of prejudice by being quick to condemn any anti-Jewish passages in the Gospels. They seem to be saying, "We can identify severely anti-Jewish statements in the Gospels and we totally reject them. This proves we are good people."

Not quite. To really prove that you are opposed to any anti-Jewish interpretations of the history in the Gospels, you have to do a lot more than just renounce some of the more blatant anti-Jewishness. You have to be able to see all the pro-Jewish evidence in the Gospels and discuss its significance. Failing to do this creates an inordinately slanted picture that makes the Gospels appear to be more anti-Jewish than they actually are. It is a rather odd spectacle to see so many historical Jesus scholars vigorously denounce anti-Jewishness in the Gospels, while they ignore all the pro-Jewish evidence. In fact, most scholars exaggerate how much anti-Jewishness there is in the New Testament in order to make themselves look better when they renounce it.

But they do more than just exaggerate. They take evidence that is neutral and spin it in a negative direction. They are really inventing the negativity. If you take evidence which is ambiguous and interpret it in a way that is hostile to Jews, then where is the anti-Jewishness? In you or in the Gospels?

If anyone is serious about promoting objective study of the evidence, you have to be prepared to correctly note four important things: 1) The unequivocally negative statements about Jewish figures in the Gospels are few and far between; 2) there is much positive information and this must be brought to everyone's attention; 3) a lot more of the evidence is highly ambiguous which does not definitely lean in any direction; and 4) this ambiguous evidence has been misrepresented by a majority of scholars as being solely negative; scholars have automatically assumed something bad regarding Jews even where the evidence says nothing of the kind.

But you won't find such clarity in the writing of any New Testament scholars. Instead, they create confusion, explaining things in a way that is always slanted against Jews. Then they condemn the anti-Jewishness which they themselves invented and use this to "prove" their own good intentions. What is this!? I mean really! If you erase or ignore or rewrite so much evidence that could put Jesus' Jewish contemporaries in a better light, your intentions cannot be all that good. By omitting all the positive information and misrepresenting the ambiguous stuff, scholars are in fact fostering a very biased picture of ancient Judaism. If this proves anything, it is that scholars are afflicted with deep prejudice, no matter how much they protest to the contrary.

At this point, I would normally give examples of what I mean by this variety of evidence. And I do in my book The Ghost in the Gospels. But it has been my experience that no one cares about the evidence. New Testament scholarship is about ideas, preconceived ideas, not the evidence. For example. everyone starts with the idea of Jesus being surrounded by lethal Jewish enemies. The evidence is irrelevant. Such ideas make scholars see negative evidence about Jesus' enemies even where the text says no such thing. And these same scholars claim they are free of prejudice. They blame the Gospels for stimulating antisemitism.

The truth is: The fault is in scholars. You cannot blame the Gospels for the mess that scholars continue to create. Forget any idea that New Testament or historical Jesus studies will gradually improve. It has never happened in any field that prejudice was removed without a hard struggle to accomplish it and the bitter controversy that goes along with such a fight. It won't happen in this field either, until scholars begin to see and debate the depth of prejudice we are dealing with.

Leon Zitzer

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