a call for care and accuracy in criticism of the gospel accounts

By By [email protected]

By [email protected]

Dear Editor:

I was a bit irritated by Jared Johnson’s comments on the historicity and supposed anti-semitism of the gospel accounts which he expressed in his letter to the editor on 3/9.

I was not so irritated that he would challenge the historicity of the gospels, but by the fact that he stated his position in such a way as to completely ignore the fact that there are many scholars and other intelligent people who disagree with him, and by the fact of his own poor scholarship in this area. Many of Mr. Johnson’s claims about the gospels have been vehemently and carefully disputed by many, and Johnson’s own extreme positions on many specifics–even to questioning the existence of Jesus–are very much minority positions among the scholarly community. Much scholarship of late has confirmed the overall Jewish character of the gospel accounts as opposed to suggestions of their origins in Greco-Roman mystery religions, etc. It would be nice if accusations against the historicity of the gospels would reveal awareness of current research and at least acknowledge the existence of alternative viewpoints.

As for the alleged anti-semitism of the gospel accounts, I will offer just a few brief thoughts. First of all, although the gospels certainly portray the Jewish leaders as having significant responsibility in the death of Jesus, they are not portrayed nearly as simplistically as Mr. Johnson seems to suggest. The gospels are full of statements showing the differing opinions about Jesus that existed in the Jewish community and among the Jewish leaders themselves–some positive, some negative (for a couple of examples, see John 9:16, 7:12, etc.). The decision to put Jesus to death, although attributed to envy and other evil character traits (not itself an indication of anti-semitism any more than attributing bad character traits to certain individuals in the black community automatically makes one racist), is also attributed to concerns for the safety of the Jewish state (see John 11:47-50). Secondly, a careful reading of the gospel accounts reveals their Jewish character. This means that the enmity between Jesus and his followers and some of the Jewish community portrayed in the gospels is not so much the Jews aginst the Gentiles (or Aryans), but an inter-Jewish debate, reminiscent of vehement language agaisnt the Jewish nation from the prophets of the Old Testament. Finally, the New Testament does not blame the Jewish leaders solely for the death of Jesus. The Gentiles are blamed as well: “For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, for to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done” (Acts 4:27-28).

I would simply ask that those who bring criticism to such an important subject as this one be careful to do their homework and acknowledge the existence of serious alternative viewpoints. Then a much more reasoned discussion can take place.

Mark Hausam, graduate student in theology with the University of Wales, [email protected]