Thursday, July 27, 2017


How do you write rationally about the irrational? How do you clearly explain and describe the irrational thinking that we prefer not to know about it? And what do you do when the irrational becomes normalized? How do you make people see what is going on? When crazy ideas are taken as normal and acceptable, the deck is stacked against anyone who tries to expose that. If you criticize the normalized crazy, you are accused of being crazy yourself because you are objecting to the normal.

We will acknowledge crazy people and crazy things happening beyond the borders of our world and our thinking, but when some of that craziness seeps into our world and intertwines itself with the rational, we are less likely to pay attention. In order to write rationally about the irrational, to expose it and defeat it, you first have to identify and describe it. You have to explain how it uses bits of reason as a cover to make the crazy appear sensible. That’s a hard pill for many to swallow.

A case in point is the way historical Jesus scholars have treated Josephus’s passage on Jesus.  Most scholars realize that the Greek version which has come down to us could not have been written by Josephus, not in the way it currently appears. Josephus would never have categorically proclaimed that Jesus was the Messiah and that he rose from the dead, which is what the Greek text says. That much is a rational assessment. Thus, it follows that someone altered what Josephus wrote.

But were these sentences slightly altered from whatever Josephus originally wrote, or are they entirely later insertions? Many scholars opt for the second. Here is where a little bit of irrationality starts to creep in. They never consider that Josephus might have said something about the Messiah and the resurrection which was then slightly altered. For example, he could have said that Jesus’s followers believed he was the Messiah and that they reported that he rose from the dead. That kind of thing is plausible as coming from Josephus.

Is there any evidence that this is what Josephus originally wrote? Actually, yes. There is some support from Jerome who has Josephus saying Jesus “was believed to be the Messiah.” It makes plenty of sense that Josephus could have written that. But there is an even more important source from Agapius, an Arab Christian in the 10th century. He preserved in Arabic what Josephus wrote about Jesus. (My discussion of Agapius is based on the work of scholar Shlomo Pines.) The Church was keeping a close eye on anything written in Greek or Latin, but it was probably not paying much attention to Arabic writings. It is very believable that something displeasing to the Church could have slipped through in Arabic.

The Agapius version says that Jesus was perhaps the Messiah, but since his Arabic text was based on a prior Syriac text, he may have slightly mistranslated the Syriac “He was thought to be the Messiah” or “it seemed he was the Messiah.” Whatever it was exactly, whether “perhaps” or “thought to be” or “seemed”, in this version Josephus clearly does not categorically affirm Jesus as the Messiah. That makes sense. On the resurrection, the Agapius text has Jesus’s followers reporting this. This too makes sense.

Here is where the irrational creeps into scholarly analysis big time. Most scholars never discuss the Agapius text, despite the fact that it is clearly something Josephus could have written and does not have the problems we all see in the Greek text. Why do they ignore it? It is because of another major difference between the Greek and the Arabic versions. In the Greek, the text says that Pilate crucified Jesus at the instigation of, or upon an accusation of, Jewish leaders. Josephus could not possibly have written that, but scholars refuse to admit this. Josephus gives no other examples of Jewish leaders cooperating with Rome to prosecute a Jewish troublemaker.  If Josephus had written such a sentence, he would have commented on how unusual this was and made some attempt to explain it. The Greek version offers nothing but silence on this.

And what does the Arabic text say? Nothing at all about Jewish leaders. It merely states that Pilate condemned Jesus to be crucified. Jewish leaders are never even mentioned.  That makes much more sense and is consistent with everything else Josephus tells us about Jewish-Roman relations. This is unbearable to most scholars. They have made “Jesus surrounded by Jewish enemies” their first principle.  Their second principle is that any evidence which appears to give Jesus Jewish enemies is admissible, while any evidence that tends to exonerate Jewish leaders is inadmissible. “Jesus surrounded by Jewish enemies” is an insane first principle to work with—because so much evidence contradicts it and that includes evidence in the Gospels (my books go into this in great detail). The point is that scholars use their irrational point of view to erase Agapius from history. Most scholars will not even acknowledge the existence of this evidence. They have made Jewish enemies doing in Jesus appear to be a normal idea, so they don’t feel how they are distorting the historical record to make it appear true.

The Agapius text is an excellent piece of evidence. At the very least it should be debated. But if you pick up 20 books on the historical Jesus, you would be lucky if you found one that mentions Agapius let alone discusses his text at any length. Scholars have made Jewish culpability in Jesus’s death such a normal idea that any evidence to the contrary becomes offensive and must be eliminated. Isn’t this a kind of insanity? Whenever ideology rules over the evidence, we are dwelling in the land of the irrational.

Here is what is genuinely crazy about historical Jesus scholarship: Scholars pride themselves on being skeptics, yet they have forbidden everyone from being skeptical about the complicity of Jewish leaders in Jesus’s death. That is one idea that can never be challenged. When it comes to everything else in historical texts, scholars will express skepticism about it all. Almost every line in any ancient text about Jesus has been subjected to doubt and scrutiny by scholars, except for one thing. Every line in the Gospels is scrutinized. Every line in the Greek Josephus on Jesus has been doubted. Except anything that imputes guilt to Jewish leaders. That is never doubted. Doubt all, but never doubt this, that Jesus was done in by Jewish leaders.

How is it possible to be skeptical about every single thing about Jesus but nary a doubt about Jewish guilt? What kind of crazy world have scholars created here? No debate is allowed on this one point. The details of the meeting between Jewish leaders and Jesus in the Gospels are not consistent with a hostile Jewish procedure against him, but they are consistent with a friendly, informal meeting intended to help Jesus. Yet scholars will wax furious if you dare to suggest such a thing. Why is Jewish culpability so sacred to scholars? How did this irrational commitment become the standard norm? It is exceptionally difficult to fight this kind of crazy.

© 2017 Leon Zitzer

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