Sunday, August 28, 2016


The tide I am referring to is the tide of unconscious forces. Any swimmer who has been caught in a riptide can tell you how exhausting it is to fight it. The tide always wins. That is even more true of the unconscious forces that run under every argument, under every attempt to take a fresh look at the evidence. I am not sure how much longer I can last. My strength is giving out.

I once heard a writer being interviewed, who addressed this in the most pessimistic way, though I am sure he saw it as being realistic. He apparently had not been very successful at anything until he started writing a book to teach others how to be successful. That’s America. I will never forget the first rule he laid down. If you want to reach a huge number of people, do not challenge the worldview of your audience. In fact, in general, just don’t challenge worldviews. Leave them alone. It will get you anything but success.

But if your search for truth leads down that path, what are you supposed to do? The most dedicated truth seekers are the fictional detectives you see on television. They are always getting into trouble with their supervisors, and since this is fantasy, they always survive and live to solve another case. In real life, their ass would be fired so fast. They would not last a week on the job.

There is an early episode of The Closer where Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson (Kyra Sedgwick) apologizes to her crew of detectives. She thinks she is about to be fired and worries about the effect this will have on her division. She explains that in this job, you have to make a choice between two paths. You can be political or you can conduct a pure investigation to find the truth. You cannot do both. She made her choice long ago and she is sorry if her choice ends up damaging their department. Since this is fiction, she does not lose her job and her investigations will go on.

I wish it worked that way for the historical Jesus. But this is real life, and a pure search for the truth about him inevitably leads to being fired, or remaining unpublished, or getting shot down in some way or other. Bang, bang. That’s how it goes. People have pre-formed ideas not only about the historical Jesus but about the nature of religion and whether it is even possible to find history in so-called religious texts.

Of course it’s possible. But that frightens people. It’s a challenge to the worldview of those who shove anything “religious” into the realm of myth. If you tell anyone that even “religious” documents are human documents and can be studied for historical context and content, they get upset. No, no, it can’t be, they say. Tell them that in any scientific investigation, the rational thing to do is to pay very careful attention to the evidence, don’t read your own assumptions into the evidence, and then ask what is the most rational explanation for this pattern of evidence.

Tell people anything like that and you are swimming against the tide. They will wear you out and knock you down. They will win. Just tell people that 99% of the evidence concerning Judas is ambiguous—it is not a string of negative characterizations of him—and they are flabbergasted when you say that the next question is what best explains all these ambiguities. Their worldview is that Judas is a traitor, or that the whole thing is myth-making. When I point out that this is an irrational solution of the evidence, their worldview comes back to drown me out.

A Judas betraying Jesus is a lousy theory to explain all the ambiguous evidence concerning him and Jesus. There is a much better, more rational theory. But that’s swimming against the tide, I know, and I am about to go under for the last time.

© 2016 Leon Zitzer

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