Friday, April 28, 2017


Many people these days are saying that we now live in a culture of lies, particularly in politics. What people have not paid attention to is that there has been a culture of lies in academia for generations.  I don’t know if the academic habit of lying, especially about history, has helped to give birth to our political climate. I suspect there is a relationship—rarely is anything born on its own out of spontaneous combustion—but whether there is or not, it’s worth looking at what has long been a practice in the academic world.

The primary goal for too many scholars is to promote an ideology or worldview, regardless of what the facts tell us. Preconceived ideas are deemed to matter more than evidence. There are lies of omission and lies of commission. The key point is to distort the historical record so that only one untruthful point of view is allowed.

The reason I am so sure about this and have become so frightened by it is that I recently looked back over what I have discovered over the past 20 years, since I started to explore historical subjects, and it has shocked me that even in my relatively briefly time at this, I have found five major historical figures about whom academics are less than truthful. I could put the word ‘historical’ in front of each of the following names, but I will use it only for the first two: the historical, Jewish Jesus, the historical Charles Darwin, John Locke, Thomas Malthus, and William Tyndale.

What is significant is that it is impossible to confine the lies to just these people.  In order to maintain the misconceptions scholars promote about these individuals, the lies have to spread beyond them to other parts of their culture. Lies need more lies to back them up. We fail to remember so much and we need that failure, in order to substantiate even one lousy little lie. I will give a very short explanation for each of the ones I have named.

The fundamental construct, as one scholar has called it, of historical Jesus scholars is that Jesus was surrounded by Jewish enemies who were ultimately responsible for his demise.  But the real Jesus was more in harmony with his fellow Jews, including Jewish leaders, than in opposition. What disputes did exist between them was not lethal. It was just normal Jewish disagreement for the time. Jesus was part of the Pharisaic world of the fight for constitutional government.  The Torah was their Constitution.

That was their world and Romans had nothing to do with it.  For most Jews, the Romans were irrelevant. Certainly, no Jewish leader would have cooperated with Rome to get rid of a Jewish troublemaker. They would have been far more likely to try to save his life from a Roman execution. But in order for scholars to maintain their myths about the complete uniqueness of Jesus (this Rabbi Joshua to his fellow Jews), scholars have to tell lies about ancient Jewish culture and falsely make it appear that Jewish leaders would cooperate with Rome. Lies about Jesus spread into lies about the entire culture (e.g., exaggerating the importance of the Temple in Jewish life and downplaying the role of constitutional government).

Charles Darwin, we are often told by a majority of writers, was a great humanitarian and infused his love of humanity into his science of evolution. But the historical Charles Darwin was a very limited humanitarian. He opposed legal slavery primarily because of its cruelties, but he never championed political and economic equality. He believed in a hierarchy of life, a system of groups subordinate to groups, as he often put it. The result for him was that evolution created superior and inferior groups. The same evils practiced towards slaves (like the breakup of slave families), he could tolerate when done to Native peoples, whom he regarded as inferior.

As far as I know, Darwin did not oppose de facto slavery, as other humanitarians did, and he expressed his full support for colonialism even in its genocidal tendencies, which he presented as natural. Others opposed the genocide and often equated colonialism with slavery, but not Darwin. To maintain their fictional Darwin, scholars have to erase the genuine humanitarians of his time. They also have to erase the holistic evolutionists who preceded Darwin and were far more humane in their pursuit of science than he was. Lies are never self-limiting. They multiply.

John Locke is frequently made out to be one of the founders of British imperialism. Supposedly, he was an advocate of the idea that British superiority in agriculture and other forms of productivity gave them license to appropriate all Indigenous land because the British could put it to better use. No one pays attention to what the real John Locke actually wrote. His concern was to put limits on property ownership.  Even a just war, Locke said, could never validate a country taking all the land from the defeated enemy, leaving the women and children to starve. For Locke, everyone in the world, not just the British, had a fundamental right to inherit their father’s goods, including land. Nothing, not even a war, could take that right away.

And if land was unjustly taken, future descendants had a right to demand their land back and keep demanding it until they got the land back. But no one pays attention to these most important points in Locke’s thinking. Scholars need an intellectual foundation to justify imperialism’s greed to take everything from Native peoples and so they have invented such a foundation in Locke.

I will be very brief about the last two figures, Thomas Malthus and William Tyndale. Malthus is said to have been an enemy of the poor and, as one writer recently put it, an apologist for greed. He may have been harsh about the poor, but to call him an apologist for greed is beyond the pale. Even his harshness towards the poor is overblown. The real Malthus was concerned that both extreme wealth and extreme poverty were bad for society. He criticized Adam Smith for paying too much attention to the wealthy and not enough to the poor. What Malthus thought was particularly bad was that we were creating a society in which the wealthy were getting wealthier and were leaving the working poor behind. The poor got very little benefit from so-called economic advances. Malthus was very critical of this and we have failed to pay attention.

William Tyndale usually gets some credit for making an English translation of the Bible, but his accomplishment is most often underrated. He did not just make a translation, he made the translation, the one that every good translation since has relied on. Scholars will praise the King James translation to the skies and they will offer quotations from it. What they don’t tell you is that in 4 out of 5 cases (or possibly slightly higher), those quotations from the King James are pure Tyndale, verbatim Tyndale. Tyndale has not been entirely suppressed in historical studies, but he is definitely minimized by so many writers. The original translators’ introduction to the King James Bible acknowledged that theirs was not a completely new translation, but followed previous translations. If I recall, they claimed to have made a good translation better, but they had hardly done that for most of it, as they had merely followed Tyndale almost 90% of the time.

It is hard to get scholars to set the record straight for any of these histories. They have a preconceived agenda to promote and they don’t need any evidence to justify it. This culture of lying has been around for a very long time and appears not to be self-correcting. It seems even impervious to other-correcting.

© 2017 Leon Zitzer

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