Sunday, January 28, 2018


Anyone who is honest about recovering the historical, Jewish Jesus has to be torn between two tasks. One is to be accurate and fair about the evidence. That is the relatively easy part, provided you can face your own prejudices that will distort the evidence. If you can take that first step of owning up to the things that interfere with a clear look at the evidence, you are on your way to seeing what really happened.

But clarity about the facts will get you nowhere if you do not confront the much harder second task. That is to address the lack of self-awareness on the part of scholars who prefer ideology over the evidence, who prefer power over truth (which I spoke about in my last post for December). Scholars hate it when they are accused of bias in the way they present the evidence and conceal evidence. But if you don’t do it, you can be clear as daylight about the evidence and no one will see it, if their prejudices and lack of self-awareness about this cloud everything up.

How is it possible to even get straight the context of Jesus’s Jewish culture if scholars continue to misrepresent it and have no self-awareness of what they are doing? Pick up almost any book on the historical Jesus and what you get over and over again is that 1st century Judaism had three main components: Temple, rituals, and purity concerns. The frank thing to say about this is that it is a lie. Scholars tell it because they want to believe it. They want to create a picture (a false picture) of the smallness of Jewish culture in contrast to Jesus’s largesse of spirit.  This creates a conflict between Jesus and his home culture that never happened. 

The three above-named items were some of the accoutrements of ancient Judaism, but they were not the main course. The single most important thing about ancient Jewish culture is that it was a struggle for constitutional government, a struggle in which Jesus very much took part. There is no historical Jesus scholar that I know of who will tell you this. (I go into this in detail in True Jew.)

Their power tells scholars that they can tell lies about Jewish culture and get away with it because there is an atmosphere that is eager to believe in certain ideologies about ancient Jews and in the ideology that Jesus was superior to them. Is it possible to be racist against an ancient people? Many people would probably say no because the point of racism is to deny civil rights and material well-being to specific groups, and in the case of an ancient people, this is obviously not an issue. But the dead are the most vulnerable group of all. They cannot rise up to protest the lies that are told about them. Telling lies about the dead is, in a sense, good practice for carrying out racism against contemporary groups. Racism is very much about attacking people who are perceived to be vulnerable. Racism against the ancients is a practice run. For that reason alone, we should be very interested in exposing it.

It also has to be said that racists do not really believe in the inferiority of others. They know claims of inferiority are hogwash. But they also know a profounder truth: You can create inferiority. You can make people believe they are inferior. Yes, such psychological torture is possible and is the chief skill of racists. They can undermine the self-confidence of any human beings, individually or on a group level, by bombarding them and the general public with lies about their inferiority. People are not inferior but can be made to feel inferior if racists are relentless about spreading false charges against them.

This might seem to contradict what I said above about racism against ancient peoples. After all, since they are dead and gone, the ancients cannot be made to feel inferior. But I think that those who practice racism against ancient Jews—no matter how innocently they do it, no matter how unintended their racism is, which just contributes to their lack of self-awareness—they like to imagine that ancient Jewish leaders can be made to feel the sting of inferiority, and they further like to imagine that Jesus was their proxy, making his fellow Jews feel distinctly inferior.

To practice racism against ancient Jews maligns Jesus as much as it maligns his people. And unless we confront how prevalent this is in historical Jesus scholarship, we will never get anywhere. But then that’s the point of power and lack of self-awareness, isn’t it? To put a halt to any progress in historical research,

© 2018 Leon Zitzer

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