Wednesday, May 30, 2018


Scholars have several avenues by which they maintain the traditional story of how Jesus met his hand. That story may say a Roman governor executed him, but the emphasis is always put on the Jewish priests manipulating and pressuring him to do it. A Jesus surrounded by Jewish enemies is the scholarly framework; they have to do a lot of rewriting of history to make this stick. Crucial to their scheme is a misrepresentation of ancient Jewish culture—that means they have to give a false account of the historical behavior of Jewish leaders. Almost nothing they say comports with what Josephus has to say about them.

Anyone who has read Josephus carefully will know that he portrays these leaders as weak and not taking enough, or even any, action to put down trouble. He blames the Jewish rebels first and foremost for the debacle of going to war against Rome, but in the second place, he blames the Jewish priests and other leaders for failing to take action against these rebels. Scholars love to tell us that Jewish authorities cooperated with Rome in suppressing Jewish upstarts, but that’s not what Josephus says.

The picture that emerges from his writings is that Jewish leaders avoided taking any action against Jewish troublemakers. In one instance, they refuse to turn over some protesters to the Roman procurator who demanded their arrest; they make an excuse that they are unable to identify them. In another case, a high priest is deposed because he did nothing. What he was probably expected to do was to beg and plead with a mob to desist from their riots; there is no record of their taking any action stronger than that. But doing nothing to suppress Jewish mischief is their usual mode of operation; one could say it is their only mode.

Josephus hated the rebels for bringing disaster on the Jewish nation. If there had been even one case of Jewish leaders taking strong action to quell disturbances, Josephus would love to have reported it. That is exactly what Josephus hoped they would do. He probably would have commented that it was too bad they did not do this kind of thing more often. But the truth is he never reported anything like this. The golden rule of the priests was to stay out of it. Jewish priests conniving with a Roman governor to get rid of Jesus is unlike anything Josephus ever said about them.

I have called the story of Jewish leaders working to do Jesus in, with a little help from Rome, the traditional story. I did not call it the Gospel story, and that is for good reason. The Gospels do not support this story as much as people think they do, and as much as scholars strive to make it appear they do. The Gospels may seem to slant the story in this direction, but they also give a lot of information to contradict it. The traditional story grew as the years went by from a very few details, while ignoring plenty more, but the Gospel authors cannot be held responsible for this. They preserved many good details of what actually happened. It is not their fault if scholars have done their best to undermine them.

Scholars maintain a story that goes against much of the evidence in the New Testament (not only in the Gospels, but portions of Acts and Paul’s letters have to be taken into account). In their view, evidence is irrelevant, while the ideology of Jesus persecuted by Jewish leaders must be maintained at all costs.

Some of the evidence I am talking about is well-known. In Mark and Matthew, the meeting of Jewish leaders with Jesus does not match what a Jewish trial would have been like. This could not have been a trial or any sort of Jewish judicial procedure. Scholars treat it as if it were a lynching, though they are careful not to call it that. They will not consider the other logical possibility: it was an informal meeting intended to help Jesus and save him from a Roman execution.

The later Gospel authors, Luke and John, make it even less like a Jewish trial. They report no Jewish death penalty against Jesus. If any Gospel author should have reported what is in effect a lynching of Jesus, John would have been the one to present it this way. But John’s version is the least like a lynching of any of the four Gospels. And there is more.

In Acts, Paul says there was no Jewish death penalty. Even Mark and Matthew do not say there was a death penalty according to Jewish law. They don’t say according to whose law. It could have been according to Rome. They are silent on this.

What we constantly ignore is that we are so used to reading the traditional story into the Gospels that we forget that this story is not in the Gospels, it is rather an interpretation of  the Gospels. We are so used to seeing things in the Gospels, like declaring Jesus deserving of death under Jewish law, that we have become incapable of seeing that these things are not actually in the Gospels. We have substituted a very anti-Jewish story for the real Gospel details. Scholars lost interest a long time ago in what the Gospels literally say.

Also in Acts, the priests make what appears to be a complaint that they have been wrongly accused of complicity in the death of Jesus. If you maintain an ideological view of Jesus being done in by his own leaders, these details (from all four Gospels and Acts) are impossible to explain. But if you understand the real Jewish, historical context, as reported by Josephus—namely, that Jewish leaders would never help Rome arrest and execute a fellow Jew—then these details make a lot of sense.

There is much more (both from the New Testament and Josephus) to substantiate that what really happened was that Jewish leaders were holding an informal meeting in an attempt to save Jesus from Rome’s clutches. That’s what my books are for. But the search for truth has to begin with the truth about the Jewish history of that time, and frankly, that search also has to include why scholars are so biased about this and refuse to look at any evidence, or any interpretation of the evidence, that would exonerate Jewish leaders. How can such scholarship be called a fair hearing?

© 2018 Leon Zitzer

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