Tuesday, October 28, 2014


[Links to my books The Ghost in the Gospels and True Jew, on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, are at the right.]
Some of the TV stations here rerun old programs, comedies and dramas, from the 1950s and 60s, and later, but it’s usually the oldest ones that interest me. A couple of years ago, I had an opportunity to catch up with It Takes A Thief, starring Robert Wagner as Alexander Mundy, master thief and spy. I never saw it in its original run. It seems to me that the goal of the producers was to put up the equivalent of a James Bond film in a one hour TV show each week. They largely succeeded. The plots are terrifically entertaining and suspenseful.
In what I think was the last episode (in 1970?), Mundy is on board a chartered plane, with about a dozen scientists on their way to an international conference (on the environment?). His job is to protect one scientist in particular, played by Wally Cox (of Mr. Peepers fame). It turns out to be a dangerous job because someone is bumping off the scientists one by one. It won’t be long before all are dead, so they don’t have much time to solve this. Mundy sits down with Wally Cox to see if they can figure this out. Cox says, “I don’t think we have enough information.” Mundy responds, “Oh, I think we have enough information. We’re just not looking at it in the right way.” A big smile spreads across Cox’s face as if it were lit up by a beacon and he exclaims, “Now you’re talking like a scientist!” (I am quoting all this from memory, but I will swear these lines are very close to the original.)
I get a big kick out of this scene. Not only because it demonstrates once again what a good grasp TV writers have of scientific method, but because several years earlier, a historical Jesus scholar answered my email to haughtily tell me that I had no more information about this history than anyone else. I never claimed that of course. But if I had known about this episode of It Takes A Thief, I would have related this scene and told her that it is how you look at the information that matters.
Case in point: I won’t go over the details here, but it is well-known that so many of the clues in all four Gospels contradict the view that Jesus was put on trial by Jewish leaders. Many scholars try to save the essence of the traditional story by suggesting that maybe it was a hearing. They accomplish nothing with this claim. Never mind whether you use the word ‘trial’ or ‘hearing’, it boils down to whether there was a hostile Jewish procedure against Jesus, and the details say there was not.
We all have the same information, but the ability to understand it depends on how you look at it. To try another way of looking is “talking like a scientist”, as Wally Cox said on that show almost 45 years ago. Historical Jesus scholars refuse to try any other way of looking at the Gospels, except the one involving Jewish leaders treating Jesus with antagonism. That does not explain the evidence, but failing to explain evidence has never bothered scholars obsessed with ideology. Haim Cohn and myself are the only two people I know of who have taken another look, a different look that explains the evidence much better.
So once again I appeal to writers of all the current TV cop and detective dramas to take a gander at my books (especially True Jew which presents the more compact argument). Tell me whether a purer approach to scientific method has not indeed solved the problem of how Jesus ended up on a Roman cross.
Next month, I will relate an episode of Father Knows Best, about a decade before this Thief program, which also illustrated scientific thinking at its best.
© 2014 Leon Zitzer

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