Sunday, May 31, 2009


Most of us would say we have a deep faith in the truth. We believe that the truth is good to know and that lies are harmful. We believe this in practically all areas of life from the personal to the political. We will fight for the truth — for our right to know it — and we harshly criticize anyone who tries to hide it from us and offer us a lie instead.

Occasionally, we make an exception to this general rule, but rarely. We want the truth even when it seems it won't do anyone any good. Think of when a soldier is killed by friendly fire. Even here we want to know what happened. The family members want to know. And why? What good does it do exactly? If we let ourselves live with the lie that he died under enemey fire, we can keep the illusion that he died a hero in combat against the enemy. But we don't want that illusion, do we? We want the truth. There may be more than one reason for this, but I think it is mainly because we want to honor the dead. It would be dishonorable to bury them with a lie. What a disgrace that would be, most of us feel. It's also a question of justice.

But we have the exact opposite attitude for the Bible. With the Bible, we feel that lies are better than the truth. We built parts of our society on these stories. To overturn any of them now would cause too much of an earthquake. Lies are better than truth. Truth and reconciliation in almost every aspect of our society. But not with the Bible. Here, the truth is trouble, we believe.

When I speak of the Bible, what I mainly have in mind is the New Testament and not even all of the New Testament, but particularly the story of how Jesus died. We would like to honor people who died yesterday or last year, even a soldier who was killed by friendly fire. But we have a different rule if they died thousands of years ago. We owe the long dead no honor. Lies are a better deal for them, but we mean for us.

I think we owe ancient Jewish leaders, Judas, and Jesus too quite a bit of honor. We owe them a thoughtful and deep investigation into the truth. That does not serve powerful interests. But who said the truth ever did? We don't want to offend long-entrenched power and that is our biggest reason for fearing the truth. But if we want to deal with the ancients in anything but a disgraceful way, then we will have to take a hard look at our fears, swallow even harder, and not get so upset when we realize that the evidence tells us something different from what we have always been told.

Leon Zitzer

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