Saturday, December 28, 2019


Is it wrong to belabor a point? Some things are worth obsessing over, some not so much. I am stupefied that so many scholars consider that a piece of evidence which shows someone was once accused of doing something is also evidence that he actually did it. With the swiftness of a bullet, they leap from one to the other. Such a mindboggling leap makes it hard not to write about it over and over again.

Of course, I am talking about Judas once more. The reason why scholars treat the accusation of traitor at Luke 6:16 as a piece of evidence against Judas is because they know there is so little evidence against him (indeed, none) that if this verse were excluded, there is either nothing else or so little against him that the case falls apart, and not just falls apart, but entirely so. All the logicians in the land could not put this case back together again.

If all the good rules of logic and law and science, and yes, morality, undermine your case, what else is there to fall back on but immoral rules? And what is more immoral than to use an accusation to prove the truth of an accusation?

Putting a man in handcuffs is not evidence he is guilty. Reading the charges against him is not evidence of guilt. Nor is pelting him with eggs or pelting him with epithets. You can no more prove a man is guilty of betrayal by calling him a traitor than you can prove guilt of murder by calling him a murderer. If it is a good rule of evidence to follow in a court of law, it is a good rule in historical study. Name calling is not evidence let alone proof.

An accusation standing alone is more likely to be the result of malice or honest misperception. Accusations need facts to back them up, details to put meat on the bare bones. Without backup evidence, accusations are worthless for proving anything other than that the accusation was made.

Some will argue that it is different for historical problems. All the records of history are evidence. But history is not an exceptional subject demanding exceptional rules. The same logic and morality apply as are applied in other fields. An accusation recorded in a historical document tells us that once upon a time, such accusation was made. That is all it proves. It does not prove the accusation was correct. The accusation all by itself does not prove whether someone based this on observable details or whether he misperceived certain events or whether someone just maliciously lied. Clear thinking requires that all these possibilities be evaluated.

Rather than fight for this clarity of thought, New Testament scholars fight for the principle that an accusation once made and maintained for thousands of years shall not be overthrown.  Is that how we want to live as human beings? Is this any way to learn about the past?

© 2019 Leon Zitzer

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