Friday, July 26, 2019


Keeping up a blog is a lot like being stuck on a deserted island, writing notes, sticking them in a bottle, and tossing them out to sea. God knows if they will land somewhere where conscious, intelligent forms of life dwell. This is especially true if you are devoted to solving longstanding historical problems in a rational way. In human affairs, reason is still the most feared quality.

The point I made in last month’s blogpost is very simple. Good scientific reasoning, which is often applied in legal cases, requires that we carefully distinguish between facts, or bits of data, and the conclusions (or accusations or theories) that we draw from those facts. A conclusion should never be confused with a fact or offered as a fact.

Thus, as in the example I gave from a Judge Judy case in my last post, when a witness in court testifies that some people were approaching in a hostile manner, that is not a valid piece of evidence. That is the witness’s conclusion. Hostility is not observable. What can be observed are the details that make up the so-called hostile action, but you cannot actually observe hostility. You can observe someone shaking their fists or empty beer bottles at you, you can observe (hear) certain words being shouted at you, and more besides. These are the things that may or may not add up to hostility, but a judge or a jury will have to determine that. It is not for the witness to say.

The same sort of reasoning applies to history. We have to separate the facts or data, what is potentially observable (had we been on the scene) from the conclusions or accusations that we find in historical documents. The Gospels call Judas a traitor only once, at Luke 6:16. It is a fact that this is recorded in Luke. But betrayal itself is not a fact. It is a conclusion that someone drew once upon a time. The question that has to be asked, for the sake of pure, clear thinking, is: What gave rise to this conclusion? Or, were any facts recorded to support this? It is a question that has always been avoided because most scholars have falsely assumed that betrayal is an observable piece of data.

The truth is rather like the Judge Judy case where the witness testified about hostility. You cannot observe hostility. The same is true of betrayal. You cannot see someone betraying. You can only see the facts that make up a betrayal (sneaking around, whispering in someone’s ear, making deals, promising to do something for a favor or money, etc.). If these facts are not clearly presented, that raises the possibility that Judas was an innocent person falsely accused of being a traitor.

In a court of law, someone claiming “he is a traitor” or “he betrayed this person” would not be admissible evidence. The judge would strike it, dismissing it as a conclusion and ordering the witness to confine him- or herself to what they saw and heard.

So what did anyone see or hear to justify the conclusion that Judas was a traitor? Luke never says. He just reports the bold conclusion without any supporting evidence. That means we have to think about the facts that may or may not lie behind the conclusion of betrayal. There are roughly three broad possibilities here: 1) there were a series of facts, actions by Judas and perhaps others, that add up to a betrayal, or 2) there were a series of actions that were misperceived as betrayal, or 3) there were no actions to justify the label of betrayal, and so it was offered as a false accusation. And, of course, what happened in history could be a combination of (2) and (3).

There are facts concerning Judas reported in the Gospels, but almost all of it is ambiguous—which means, by the way, that misperceiving facts that contributed to a wrong conclusion of betrayal is a distinct possibility. Judas leaving the table is a potentially observable fact, if we traveled back in time. Returning with soldiers in tow is another one. But these are highly ambiguous. By a fact, I am not saying they are true (though I believe they are). I only mean they are observable phenomena, if they did happen. Traitor is a conclusion later tradition stamped on this data. Other conclusions are logically possible, when you have ambiguous data. If Jesus was surrendering to the Romans and sent Judas as his agent to them so they could arrest him, that would also explain these facts. Or, if Judas went out to get more food for the seder and he was followed by spies, that is another possibility. The ultimate question is whether the Gospels recorded enough facts, not conclusions, that could help us decide among all the logical possibilities.

Clarity of thinking, which includes separating facts and conclusions, will reveal just how much ambiguous evidence is in the Gospels (concerning Jewish leaders as well). And why is all that ambiguity there? The full story is in my books, with True Jew being the more recent and shorter one.

© 2019 Leon Zitzer

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