Friday, July 26, 2013
(I have a new email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
There are many ways to define what constitutes good science or scholarship. All serve a purpose. One of my favorites is this: A good scientist is one who allows him- or herself to be shook up by the evidence.
I put it this way because it is inevitable that when studying any material, we will approach it with some preconception, theory, or hypothesis in our heads. Nobody looks at the world with a blank slate of a mind. There’s nothing wrong with starting out with a point of view. What separates the good scholar from the bad scholar is that the bad one will use that point of view (theory/hypothesis/ideology) as a rut to be stuck in, whereas the good scholar actually hopes, I think, that something will disturb him and jolt him out of that rut. He wants to be shook up. Why? Because that’s his job.
He may, probably does, have a theory, but he holds himself open to whatever the evidence is or seems to be saying. He will try to see it another way and break his own attachment to whatever held his fascination at the beginning. Another way to put it: Some pieces of evidence make you tingle with excitement. If that never happens for you, you’re a quack, not a scholar or scientist.
Strong words? Yes, indeed. But the whole point is to get out of that rut, to be thoroughly shook up, and nothing less than strong, honest words will do it.
In New Testament scholarship, the rut is this: Jesus was surrounded by Jewish enemies and it was these enemies who either instigated capital punishment proceedings against him, or at the very least, cooperated with the Romans. For most scholars, it is not even a working hypothesis anymore. It is absolute truth, their fundamental construct, as Wolfgang Stegemann has called it. They proudly call themselves skeptics and will question almost every other point in the tradition, but this is the one element that is never, ever doubted by these self-proclaimed skeptics.
Doubt everything else, doubt that the sun rises, doubt that Romeo loves Juliet, but do not doubt that Jewish leaders committed this evil.
Well, why not—given that so many clues in the New Testament are at odds with this anti-Jewish worldview. Each one should cause a tingle. But NT scholars have made themselves tingle-proof: Nothing shall shake us up; on the contrary, we will shake off anything that upsets our preset convictions.
Nothing gets a rise out of scholars. Not Luke reporting at Acts 13:28 that Paul said Jewish leaders “could charge him with nothing deserving death” (and quite appropriately, there is no Jewish death penalty in Luke’s Gospel, nor in John for that matter); not the high priest at Acts 5:28 complaining to Jesus’ followers, “You intend to bring this man’s [Jesus’] blood upon us,” which sounds very much like a heartfelt cry against being falsely blamed for his death; and not all the Gospels using an ambiguous word, paradidomi, for Judas’ action instead of the Greek word, prodidomi, that clearly means betray. Imagine coming across all these clues as you read the New Testament and you shrug off everyone, you don’t even notice them, because they just don’t fit the ideas you already have in your head.
Not to mention that these scholars all read Josephus, the ancient Jewish-Roman historian, and he does not give one example of Jewish leaders turning a Jew over to Rome, but does give one example of Jewish leaders refusing to turn some Jews over to the procurator. Then there is the well-known passage on Jesus in Josephus which does blame Jewish leaders—except that there is another version of this passage preserved in Arabic by a Christian cleric and this version does not mention Jewish leaders at all. It should get some interesting commentary from scholars, right? What it gets is almost total silence from the scholarly world. Very few like talking about it.
That’s pretty much what all these pieces of evidence get: No acknowledgment. And the few scholars who do admit this evidence exists engage in verbal gymnastics to convince themselves that they can be ignored. Scholars have made themselves shock-proof. Nothing startles them and nothing makes them stop and rethink. This is lousy science, the worst kind, to be so indifferent to the evidence, to actually silence the evidence.
Any one of these pieces of information (and there is more) should have startled scholars into waking up from a deep coma. But they have rejected every one. Secular people have no interest in the historical Jesus. Religious people have no interest in the evidence. Every historical Jesus scholar is a theologian fighting to maintain a preconceived worldview. Absolutely no one believes in fair play.
And every fictional detective I’ve ever seen on TV—from Adrian Monk to Brenda Leigh Johnson to Patrick Jane to the new Sherlock Holmes and all the CSI detectives (you can tell I watch a lot of TV, at least there is some sanity there)—would all be ashamed at the way scholars in this field reason, or rather fail to reason.
More can be said about all the evidence I mentioned above and I do that in my book True Jew (as well as in the previous book Ghost). What makes it so unlikely that anything will happen to change this academic study is that there is a solid wall against any fresh look at the evidence. It is a perfect system of anti-rational thinking and that kind of perfection is almost impossible to breach.
© 2013 Leon Zitzer