Sunday, July 29, 2012


It goes like this:  A kid walks into a luncheonette, takes a seat at the counter, and says to the
waitress behind the counter, “Make me a malted.” And the waitress says, “Poof! You’re a malted.”
I could not come up with a more succinct description of historical Jesus studies, if I tried. Make Judas a traitor. Poof! He’s a traitor. Make Jewish leaders responsible for Jesus’ death. Poof! They’re responsible. It’s wonderful when you have magical thinking on your side. You don’t need evidence, you don’t have to do any work. Poof! does it all.
Even when it comes to evidence, historical Jesus scholars are equally and literally inventive. There is no evidence in Josephus that Jewish leaders ever cooperated with Rome in the arrest and prosecution of Jewish troublemakers. In fact, he gives some evidence that Jewish leaders would never do such a thing. But that’s not what historical Jesus scholars will tell you.
In What Crucified Jesus? (1984), Ellis Rivkin repeatedly calls the high priest “the eyes and ears” of the Roman governor (31, 81, 84, 123). Josephus never gives any information to support this. So how does Rivkin know it? Poof! It is so. Similarly, in The Historical Figure of Jesus (1993), E.P. Sanders claims that in Josephus we can find stories to substantiate that a high priest would cooperate in this manner with Rome (269). Does he give any examples of a high priest doing this? No! Why would any evidence be necessary, when magic gets you there?
I wish I had the power of magical thinking. Make historical Jesus scholarship disappear. Poof! It is gone. Make a new field of rational study of Jewish history appear. Poof! It is here.
Unfortunately, I’m just a poor mortal (very poor and very mortal). All I can do is plod on through the actual evidence. It’s the opposite of magic, but it will take you to some very true places.

Copyright 2012 Leon Zitzer

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