Monday, June 29, 2009


Most scholars could not answer this question correctly. That's because most scholars never even think about it. I'll take it further: Most scholars could not even describe what it meant to be Jewish in the 1st century — that is, the sheer variety of this culture's aspects. The typical historical Jesus scholar reduces Jewish culture to Temple, rituals, and purity concerns. That is a trivialization of ancient Judaism.

There is no debate about the richness of Jewish culture in Jesus' time and there is no debate about how deeply immersed the historical Jesus was in all this. You cannot debate what has been erased from everyone's consciousness.

If all this sounds very negative, that is because it is negative, the state of affairs is negative. Historical Jesus scholarship is in a very backward state. Facts are irrelevant. The facts of Jewish history hardly exist. Only preconceptions about Jesus matter in this field.

I am not going to answer the question posed above in the title of this blog. The question alone — or rather, the complete lack of interest in this question — suffices to indict the disaster that is called historical Jesus studies. Just think about your own culture. What goes into it? What do you get out of it? Think about food, music, entertainment, humor, politics, education, stories, celebrities, values, work opportunities, customs, laws, family life, and more. These are the things that make up a culture — yours, that of Jesus, anyone's.

How much of any of these things comes up when scholars write about Jesus and his context? Very little. And often, even that little bit is wrong. What were some of Jesus' favorite things? No one ever thinks about this. No one debates it. We may not be able to answer it adequately (because so much of the historical record is incomplete on these details), but that does not mean we should not think about this question. It is very important to consider how a man embraced his own culture and what about it gave him deep pleasure.

Leon Zitzer

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?