Friday, October 18, 2013
I recently posted the following review of Bill O’Reilly’s and Martin Dugard’s book on Amazon. If you are curious to read it there, just click on the one star reviews of their book and arrange it by Most Helpful First (mine is usually the second one down). I reproduce it here:
The authors claim their book is about history, not religion. Many reviews here echo that. I dispute this. The book is not attentive to the Jewish context or the Gospels. It is rather theology disguised as history. It is the traditional theology where Jesus runs afoul of Jewish authorities who then not merely help Rome get rid of him but pressure a reluctant Pilate to execute him. A lot of history is erased to make this theology appear historical.
The authors present Jesus’s overturning of the moneychangers’ tables near the Temple as an economic threat to the priests. What they don’t tell you is that other Pharisees and rabbis made far more serious criticisms of the way the priests ran the Temple and yet they were not persecuted for it. (They do briefly hint at some of this, at 230n, but understate it.) In the 1st century CE, R. Simeon ben Gamaliel was upset at the high prices poor women had to pay for sacrificial doves when they suffered a miscarriage. He issued a new ruling on sacrifices which had the intended effect of lowering prices.
Jesus’s action might have upset business for a couple of hours at best. Simeon’s ruling had a deeper, more lasting impact and he was not arrested or hounded. Why don’t O’Reilly and Dugard include such examples? Because 1) they want Jesus to appear unique in his culture, and 2) they won’t be able to explain why Jesus would have been singled out while no other Jews were mistreated for their intense criticism of the priestly aristocracy. Indeed, it is inexplicable. The idea that Jesus had done or said something offensive to Jewish leaders, so offensive as to require a lethal response, is nonsense. I have made the full case elsewhere.
The authors do not tell us that whatever abuses of power the priests were accused of, the one thing they were never accused of was cooperating with Rome in the arrest and prosecution of Jews or asking Rome to execute someone for them. They cite the work of Josephus from time to time, but they fail to mention that he provides evidence that indicates Jewish leaders would never step over this line. It was an absolute no-no. There is even one example of a procurator demanding that they hand over some Jewish men and the Jewish authorities refused.
O’Reilly and Dugard get the Pharisees wrong. They were not obsessively legalistic as the authors claim (127) and were not “arrogant, self-righteous men who love their exalted status far more than any religious belief system” (157). The Pharisees believed in Torah as Constitution and fought for constitutional government rather than arbitrary rule by kings and priests. All of Matthew 5 is pure Pharisaism. Whatever disputes Jesus had with some Pharisees were normal for the time. It was a healthy debating atmosphere. All of Jesus’s teachings are unsurprisingly Jewish.
The authors devote much space to Julius Caesar, who has nothing to do with the story of Jesus, yet there is not one word on Hillel, Shemaiah, Honi and other Jewish teachers who preceded Jesus and whom Jesus approvingly references on occasion. The authors have made themselves experts on suppressing a lot of Jewish culture. It is clear that they have read very little about this culture by Jewish authors. Why should they? They believe they have a right to fantasize a harsh, legalistic Judaism that never existed.
They allude to the Jewish trial rules a few times (207, 224, 229), but it’s incomplete. They take their absence in the Gospels to mean there was an illegal trial of Jesus (229-33). They never say outright that certain Jews lynched Jesus, but strongly hint at it with their illegal trial and by describing Pharisees surrounding Jesus as “a noose of sorts” (158). This is despicable nonsense.
How about more simply: There was no Jewish trial of Jesus at all, legal or otherwise. Instead of describing how garments were made or any other number of other trivial details that have nothing to do with anything (in an attempt to make their book appear historical), they might have made an effort to discuss the humanitarian rules for Jewish trials in the Mishnah (e.g., defendants in capital cases had to have at least one judge who would act as defense attorney). All of them might not have been in play in the 1st century CE but some of them must have been.
There is no mention of all the information in the Gospels which contradict that there was an antagonistic Jewish trial of Jesus. Luke and John do not have a Jewish death penalty pronounced against Jesus or a parade of witnesses. Paul in Acts says Jewish leaders could charge Jesus with nothing deserving death. The authors also leave out that John has Roman soldiers at Jesus’s arrest, which would mean that this was a Roman affair all the way, not a Jewish one where they later pull Romans into it. A friendly informal meeting with Jesus makes more sense of all the evidence. Religion had nothing to do with Jesus’s execution. It was strictly a political act on Rome’s part.
The general rule O’Reilly and Dugard follow is the same followed by many scholars: Evidence favorable to Jewish leaders is inadmissible, while anything that makes them look bad can be exaggerated. They are not even above inventing facts. They refer to “yet another illegal trial” (230). Where is there evidence that the Sanhedrin was in the habit of doing this? They say Caiaphas bonded with Pilate (101) and was “a dear friend of Rome” (169) and the high priest was “constantly on the lookout for rebels” (190). All pure invention.
Does all the evidence fairly considered tell us what actually did happen? Yes, and I have provided the full explanation in my work.
In 1916, Richard Husband argued that Jewish leaders would never have violated their own legal rules to convict Jesus and that any idea that they had done so was based on prejudice, not historical analysis. Almost 100 years later, these two writers and a host of scholars still don’t get it. A historical book? Not by a long shot.
End of Review.
I just want to add one thing here. I saw O’Reilly on “60 Minutes” and Letterman in the last two weeks. I only saw a couple of minutes on each show. It was too sickening for me to watch the whole thing. It is one thing to read lies in a book. One can calmly consider them and respond thoughtfully, as I do above. But hearing the lies spoken out loud on a TV show is another matter altogether. To see lips moving, to hear the voice and see the gestures made is quite disgusting. When O’Reilly said that Jews and Romans hated each other but worked together to get rid of Jesus, and mashes his fists together to make the point, it is revolting. Nothing in history supports that such a thing could have happened.
And think of all the attention such an awful book is getting! Why don’t more Jews and Christians protest this kind of thing? Why do O’Reilly’s claims go unanswered? If any scholars have critically responded to O’Reilly, I apologize to them. But O’Reilly has such a lousy evidentiary case, and it seems to me that no one is pointing this out. They let him get away with it. Lies get such advertisement and the truth goes limping along with very few to stand up for it.
© 2013 Leon Zitzer