Tuesday, August 10, 2010


I have been stuck for a while on the topic of self-censorship in historical Jesus studies (leading to suppression of evidence and debate). That's what the last two posts were about. This one too. It's too juicy a topic to let go of. This one is also inspired by something I read in Frederic Spotts' The Shameful Peace, which is about cultural life under the Nazi occupation of France. He makes many references to self-censorhip by artists and intellectuals. If there was one institution that the Nazis had the biggest influence on, it may have been the Paris Opera. "[I]t became the greatest showcase of collaboration" (205). He then quotes (ibid.) from Jean Guéhenno, a professor of literature who kept a diary of the times:

"Every evening at the Opera, they tell me, very great numbers of German officers are present. During the intermissions, following the custom in their country, they march in ranks of two or three around the foyer, all in the same direction. The French, in spite of themselves, unconsciously, join the procession and fall in step. The boots impose their rhythm."

That is just too delicious to pass up. That's how it is with self-censorship. It works unconsciously and gets everyone to march in lockstep. It sets up a rhythm so no one can think differently. In historical Jesus scholarship, we have everyone — and I do mean everyone — describing 1st century Judaism as being about Temple, rituals, purity concerns. It's the rhythm of Christian theological boots misrepresenting ancient Judaism. It falls outside this rhythm to talk of the most important things about 1st century Judaism, which are the fight for constitutional government, justice, peace. Those three things make for a much more accurate depiction of Jesus' contemporary Judaism, but the self-censorship of New Testament scholarship won't allow for it.

The fictional Judaism espoused by NT scholars serves the purpose of maintaining the myth of Jesus surrounded by Jewish enemies. One fiction needs another fiction to support it. Every scholar in this field marches to this drumbeat. The beat is so incessant, you can practically see the smoke rising from their bootheels as they stomp the real ancient Judaism into the ground.

This has become connected for me to the recent San Francisco District Court case, Perry v. Schwarzenegger, where Judge Vaughn Walker overturned Proposition 8 in California. That was the Proposition California voters had passed, making same sex marriage illegal. Judge Walker rightly decided this was unconstitutional. As everyone knows by now, two philosophically opposed lawyers, David Boies and Theodore Olson, joined forces to convince the judge to come to this decision. Olson is the conservative one. He has had a long career arguing for many conservative causes, including successfully defending Bush in Bush v. Gore, which gave the 2000 election to George Bush. (I believe that Judge Walker was a Bush appointee and was opposed by gay rights groups when he was first nominated. How is that for irony!)

I have heard that in interviews about why he argued for gay rights to get married, Olson can get quite emotional. He will quote from Martin Luther King's Letter from a Birmingham Jail and tell people that no group should have to wait ten years or any amount of time to have their constitutional rights confirmed. The time for fulfillment of rights is always now.

I feel the same way about justice for ancient Judaism, for Judas, and for Jewish leaders. They are all still wrongly blamed for complicity in Jesus' death. Why should we have to wait any number of years for this myth to be overturned? Why should we have to wait for rational discussion and accurate reporting about the evidence? Why can't we have it NOW and end all censorhip on this? Why must the rhythm of theological boots keep imposing a witch trial on historical study? I want liberation now. Not tomorrow. Not gradually in time. Today.

Leon Zitzer

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