Wednesday, January 28, 2015
[Links to my books on Amazon and Barnes & Noble are at the right. True Jew is the more recent one and shorter.]
You’re the chief detective on a case and you’re on the hunt for clues. You’ve got to find the culprit who committed the crime. One of your detectives thinks Mr. X did it and another holds out for Mr. Y. You have competing theories. What do you do?
One simple technique is to assume by turns that each theory is true and ask, If true, what sort of evidence would we expect to find? The one that nails it with the most evidence is the right theory. It’s not that hard to do. Assuming that you the chief do not have prejudices or an emotional involvement in the case or are not being bribed, it should not be that hard to get rid of the theory that explains nothing and is supported by even less.
Was Jesus a Zealot? Is that a good theory? If it were, you would expect that the Romans executed a number of his followers because that is how the Romans handled all rebels. You would also expect that all or most of Jesus’ disciples carried weapons. Do we have such evidence? No, we do not. The evidence says rather the opposite. Jesus was the only one whom the Romans disposed of. As for his followers, two swords are mentioned. What are two swords in a group that is supposed to be about rebellion?
When you are missing the best evidence you need to establish a theory, that is a pretty good sign that it is not true. You can go on insisting that Zealot is the culprit you have fixed on to solve a problem in the life of Jesus, but it does not work. Insistence without evidence is all you have.
Did Judas betray Jesus? Not a very difficult problem to solve. If that theory were true, you would expect to find some evidence for a motive or conflict he had with Jesus—something substantial, that is, something believable, and not a trivial item like a small amount of money. You would also expect that there would be a record of someone at the time accusing Judas of having betrayed Jesus. We don’t have that either.
Once again, the best evidence you would need to prove this theory is not there. So give it up. But of course, people won’t drop it. There is an emotional attachment here that would not be tolerated in a chief of detectives.
What about another theory? And I will only give the bare bones of it here (the full explanation is in my book True Jew). Suppose that Jesus sent Judas to the authorities to come and arrest him. You would expect that he had some secret or mysterious conversation with Judas beforehand. Indeed, there is a piece of evidence for that at John 13:27-29. Someone remembered that Jesus appeared to be sending Judas to do something. You might also expect that Jesus would thank him afterwards or say something positive. We have evidence for that too at Matt 26:50, although it has not been translated correctly into English. The Greek of what Jesus says to Judas is literally, “Friend, that for which you are here.” The same words appear on a Greek drinking cup which bears the inscription, “Drink, that for which you are here,” which seems to mean, “Drink, that’s what you’re here for.” Without artificially giving the words in Matthew a negative spin by reading sarcasm into it, these words on their face seem to be a record of Jesus commending Judas.
The point is that another theory does yield a couple of pieces of evidence that the theory would lead us to expect. That is just the kind of thing a detective would be looking for. And this is only the tip of the iceberg. It should be enough to arouse our curiosity. A good chief of detectives would have no trouble following this up to see what else there might be.
But then, to be a good detective is not the goal of most New Testament scholars. They have been bribed, in a sense, by theology to stick it on a different culprit. The future of scholarship in any area belongs to those who have the courage to reject the “bribes” offered by the prevailing intellectual atmosphere.
© 2015 Leon Zitzer