Friday, November 29, 2013
This is perhaps the only post I have ever put up which is an explicit call to action.
I have some very simple beliefs, which I think are pretty obvious, though I have a hard time convincing anyone else. One is this: It would be a whole lot happier world for Jews if no more lies were told about ancient Jewish culture. I don’t think this is such a difficult thing to grasp, but apparently it is for many people. Although this should be of interest to both Jews and Christians, for fairly obvious reasons, it is more in the self-interest of Jews to take a careful look at this.
What follows are some of the lies I am talking about. Bear in mind that these lies are told by historical Jesus scholars, not just by theologians (I have some reason for thinking that many Christian theologians do a better job by ancient Judaism than historical scholars). I am going to state these lies in the negative (that is, in denial of the lies) as I do not like repeating them, not even for hypothetical purposes. The best way to put lies on the run is to deny them from the get-go. These are just a few of the lies that still have wide currency:
1) Ancient Jewish culture was not primarily about Temple, rituals, and purity concerns, as the overwhelming majority of historical Jesus scholars present it. It was not an inferior religion concerned with superficialities. It was not a foil for scholars' imaginary provocative Jesus. The central feature of Jewish culture was an extraordinary dedication to government by Constitution (the Torah), including the principle of due process. I hate to be immodest about this, but my books, especially the more recent True Jew, might be the only source from which you will learn this.
2) Ancient Jews did not promote a handful of dogmatic concepts that everyone had to mindlessly obey. What they did instead was promote an atmosphere of open and free debate. The point was to understand the constitutional principles embodied in the Torah. This could only be achieved through active debate. They believed God enjoyed this debate. Jesus was a part of that world of healthy disputes and did not oppose it.
3) Josephus does not anywhere describe Jewish leaders as being in cahoots with Romans in the arrest and prosecution of Jewish troublemakers. Shocking as this is, in order to justify the traditional story of Jesus’s death, it is again the position of most historical Jesus scholars that Josephus tells us Jews helped Rome take action against Jewish rebels. Scholars have no evidence for this. Either they boldly allege this without evidence or they deliberately misstate the evidence in Josephus. Jewish leaders never arrested Jews and turned them over to Rome and never even threatened to do such a thing. Not only that, they never went after rebels on their own. It was in no way part of the duties of the priests to suppress Jewish rebels. Any Jews who were a pain in the Roman ass were left to Rome. Jewish leaders wanted nothing to do with it.
4) Here is a lie by omission. Scholars never tell their readers that Josephus provides us with information that Jewish authorities would never step over the line of keeping their distance from Rome. They would refuse such cooperation with Romans even if a Roman governor demanded it. Scholars just carefully omit any such evidence from their worldview, which is frankly an anti-Jewish worldview as it always portrays ancient Jewish culture in the most negative light.
5) Summing up the last few points, there is absolutely no information in the historical context that would justify the allegation that Jewish leaders worked with Rome to get rid of Jesus. Everything we know—that is, everything we should know, if we were paying accurate attention to the evidence—tells us that Jewish leaders could not possibly have persecuted or prosecuted Jesus.
6) Is then the story in the Gospels a total myth? Not exactly. Here then is one more extraordinary lie scholars tell by omission: The Gospels do not support the traditional allegations made against Jewish leaders; they actually contain a lot of details which contradict the traditional story of Jesus’s death. That story came out of early Christian theology and was imposed on the Gospels. The Gospel details, if you pay close attention, do not justify the charges made against Jewish authorities. No one ever tells you this. Both my books go over this with devastating accuracy.
7) And by the way, Jesus never threatened the Temple or Temple authorities. The total information in the Gospels about this, with a little help from the Jewish context, tells us that he completely supported the Temple and loved it as every other Jew of his time did. The case of Jesus versus the Temple or even the Temple authorities as scholars present it is a manufactured one by selecting a few pieces out of context from the rest.
Below this post is my review of Bill O’Reilly’s book, which I also put up on Amazon. If that review impresses any Jews at all, then take action. My message is simple: When lies (or misrepresentations or misinformation, or whatever else you might wish to call them) are told, do not take it lying down. Stand up. Protest. Loud and clear. Take a lesson from the black civil rights movement. Stand tall, be proud, and don’t take any guff from anyone. Don’t let people like O’Reilly or his supporters intimidate you into silence. Respond to the kind of crap history he purveys and don’t be intimidated by the fact that many reputable scholars repeat the same lies.
The problem with many Jews is that they get a little worked up when a controversial book like O’Reilly’s appears, but after a few months, they forget all about it. Jewish history and culture belong to Jews in the first place. Too many Jews have grown comfortable with the inaccurate information about 1st century Judaism. These statements about how ancient Jews operated are provably false, yet Jews have turned their backs on this for too long. Stop doing that. Insist that scholars get it right or get out of the field altogether. Ancient Jewish culture accomplished a lot of great things. Keep the accurate memories alive or you will lose them.
© 2013 Leon Zitzer