Posts Tagged ‘Gospels’

Geoffrey Alderman Accuses Tom Watson of Anti-Semitism for Talking about Christ’s Arrest

July 29, 2019

Geoffrey Alderman, a professor of Jewish history and columnist for the Times and the Jewish Telegraph, has made an official complaint to Jennie Formby accusing the deputy leader of the Labour Party of anti-Semitism. Why? In his Easter message, Watson referred to Christ’s arrest by a squad of Roman soldiers under the direction of the servant of the High Priest. Alderman states that

‘the allegation that Jews were Christ-killers, implicated in if not actually responsible for the death of Jesus, is widely regarded as an anti-Semitic trope’.

He then correctly states that it was condemned by the Pope at Vatican II in the 1970s.

While it’s amusingly ironic to find Watson, who has given so much aid and support to those fabricating false claims of anti-Semitism against decent, anti-racist people, both Jewish and non-Jewish, of anti-Semitism himself, the accusation is wrong and should be denied and rebutted.

Firstly, Alderman is absolutely correct that the accusation that Jews are Christ-killers has been responsible for much prejudice and often horrific persecution of Jews down the centuries. However, this does not mean that the description of Christ’s arrest and trial by the Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judaea at the time, are fictional and anti-Semitic themselves. Alderman’s accusation is therefore wrong and should be strenuously denied and refuted.

As Mike has said in his piece about the accusation, all the Gospels state that Christ was arrested by the Romans under the direction of the High Priest, tried before the Sanhedrin, before being passed in turn to Pontius Pilate for judgment. I realise that many people do regard the Bible as completely fictitious, and that there have been books written against the inclusion of the Jewish authorities in Christ’s arrest and execution in order to counter what many believe to be a source of anti-Semitism. These attempts are based on descriptions of the power of the Sanhedrin in the Talmud, which claim that the Temple authorities could not hold such trials and had no power to issue the death penalty for blasphemy unless the name of God was explicitly pronounced. However, while some of the Oral Law is ancient, dating back to the time Ezra according to scholars of Judaism, the Talmud itself was compiled over a period of centuries from the Second Century AD onwards. Jewish scholars have said that there is difficulty in assessing the truth of the passages about the Sanhedrin, as it is not clear which are historically accurate, and which an idealised picture of how the Jewish sages at the time of Talmud’s composition felt it should have operated.

Christ’s execution is mentioned by the Syrian Stoic philosopher, Mara bar Serapion, in a letter that may date from 73 AD. The letter discusses the disasters that befell the Athenians after they executed Socrates, and the Samian after they killed Pythagoras. He asks rhetorically

or what did it avail the Jews to kill their wise king, since their kingdom was taken away from them from this time on?

The ‘wise king’ is believed to be a reference to Christ. See Kevin O’Donnell, Introduction to the New Testament (Hodder and Stoughton 1999) 78.

There is also a garbled reference to Christ’s crucifixion on a charge of sorcery and leading Israel astray in the Talmud, see O’Donnell, above, 78.

Similar events are also recorded by Roman historians. There’s a passage in the Jewish historian, Josephus, I believe, which records how the Sanhedrin brought before the Roman governor a man, who had been prophesying the destruction of the Temple. They demanded the man be executed. Instead, the governor simply had the man flogged and then sent away.

This was an extremely dangerous and politically volatile time. The Temple hierarchy was bitterly resented by many Jews both for the corruption of some of its priests and officials, and their collaboration with Israel’s Greek and then Roman overlords. The books of Maccabees in the Apocrypha records the heroic resistance to Greek rule by Judas Maccabaeus. He and the Jewish people were provoked into rebellion by the attempts of Antiochus Epiphanes, the Greek general, who ruled the province under Alexander the Great, to stamp out their faith. Mothers were forbidden to circumcise their sons, the teaching of the Law was forbidden and copies burnt and the Temple was turned into a temple to Zeus. Although the Temple was restored and the Jews allowed to practise their faith freely once again, the situation remained tense. There were tensions between the Pharisees, the Jewish sect that stressed absolute obedience to the Law, and which believed in spirits and the resurrection of the dead, and the Sadducees, who did not, and who seem to have been largely aristocratic. Josephus records another Jewish uprising just before the time of Christ, which was crushed with the execution of 19,000 Pharisees.

The Talmud also contains passages, which are believed to date from this time, which rail against the corruption of the Temple clergy and High Priest. One is a heartfelt account by the author of how he was beaten by Boethus, a member of the Temple hierarchy, while other priests and leading officials used their office to extort money from ordinary Jews.

Moreover, it needs to be remembered that Christ and His disciples were almost all Jews. St. Matthew’s is the most Jewish of all the Gospels, and its writer frequently assimilates Christ’s teaching with those of the great Jewish sages. He was therefore part of a Jewish Christian community, which continued to observe the Mosaic Law.

It therefore seems very clear to me that the accounts of Christ’s arrest and trial are historically accurate and reflect the very bloody tensions within 1st century Judaism. And while they have been used to foment anti-Semitism, they are not themselves anti-Semitic. It’s clear reading them that the Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate were responsible for Christ’s death, not the Jewish people as a whole.

I went to the same Anglican church school as Mike, and as he says, we were very definitely not taught to hate anyone because they were of a different religion. Indeed, the clergy and Christian laypeople, who taught at the school had a horror of religious violence and bigotry. Mike and his year were taken on visits to a synagogue and mosque. This didn’t happen to my year, but we were taught about Judaism in RE lessons. I also remember going down the stairs just as one of the RE teachers was going up them with a bearded gentleman carrying a menorah and other Jewish sacred objects, presumably to show them to one of the other classes. And some of the older pupils I know were taught about the Holocaust and its horrors.

I also believe that the myth that the Jews were responsible for the death of Christ has largely been laid to rest. Many of the Christians I know have very positive attitudes towards Jews and Judaism because of their religion. Where anti-Semitism does exist, I believe it largely comes from other reasons, like all the stupid, murderous conspiracy theories that try to tell you the Jews hate Whites and are importing Blacks to destroy the White race and enslave gentiles. And so, like Mike, I’m left wondering why Professor Alderman has chosen to accuse Tom Watson of anti-Semitism because of this. And so I agree completely with Mike’s conclusion:

Tom Watson is a wrong ‘un, no doubt. But to demonise him by trying to stir up animosity between Jews and Christians is completely unacceptable and I hope everyone of both religions condemns his words.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/07/29/this-anti-semitism-complaint-against-tom-watson-should-not-stand-up/

 

Russell Brand Takes Down Jacob Rees-Mogg

September 25, 2017

I realise that Russell Brand probably isn’t everyone’s favourite comedian ever since that stunt he and Jonathan Ross pulled leaving sneering prank messages about Andrew Sachs’ granddaughter on the old fellow’s answerphone a few years ago. I also don’t agree with his anarchistic stance encouraging people not to vote. However, in his Trew News videos on YouTube he has produces some very incisive critiques and demolitions of contemporary capitalism, right-wing politics and bigotry.

In this video he takes on Jacob Rees-Mogg, now the darling of the Tory party, many of whom would just love him to take over the reins from Theresa May, whose own failings are increasingly obvious. And they definitely prefer him to Boris after BoJo showed his complete lack of scruple and personal loyalty by stabbing Cameron and then Gove in the back over Brexit.

They like Mogg, because he’s soft-spoken and courteous. But as Brand points out here, his opinions are absolutely toxic. Brand shows the clip of Mogg wrong-footing John Snow when Suchet was interviewing him about May’s Brexit speech. Suchet stated that many people thought here speech was a shambles. So Mogg says ‘It seems a bit harsh to compare her speech to a butcher’s slaughterhouse.’ This throws Snow for a moment, who clear wasn’t aware that that was what the word originally meant, and throws it back to Mogg, saying that it seems a harsh thing for him to say. Only for Mogg to tell him that this is what Suchet himself has said, as that’s what the word means. Brand rightly mocks Mogg for this piece of rhetoric.

In fact, the word shambles actually means the stalls butchers occupied in medieval market places. Bridgwater in Somerset had its shambles, and a fish shambles as well, in the Cockenrow, the name of which means ‘Cook’s Row’, and refers to the shops in that part of town selling cooked meat. The medieval shambles at Shepton Mallet has survived, and you can visit it with the benches on which the medieval tradesmen used to display their wares, above which is mounted a small tiled roof.

In discussing the etymology of the word, Mogg is clearly being pedantic, simultaneously using his knowledge to play down just how awful and uninspiring May’s speech was, while also showing off his superior knowledge in the hopes that this will impress everyone with the depth of his aristocratic education. In fact, the word’s etymology is immaterial here. The word is simply used commonly to mean a mess. Of course, if you wanted to make the point in a more elevated and highfalutin manner, Snow could have said ‘I was using the term synchronically’, which is modern philologist’s parlance for what a term means now. I doubt Mogg’s own knowledge of the theory of linguistics goes that far, and it would have thrown his own rhetorical strategy back at him. But unfortunately, thinking about such responses is usually the kind of thing you do on the way home after it’s all over.

Brand then goes on to talk about Mogg’s appearance on Breakfast TV, where he showed himself against gay marriage and abortion, even after rape. Brand is like many others – impressed by Mogg’s honesty, while at the same time horrified by the views he holds.

And then he attacks Mogg’s performance on LBC Radio, where he declared that the growth in food banks was ‘uplifting’, and goes on to talk about how the state couldn’t provide everything. Brand states that what brings this argument down is the fact that most of the people forced to use food banks are actually working. They’re just not paid enough to live on.

He also rebuts Mogg’s claims that his views are based in Christianity. They aren’t. Most of Christ’s message in the Gospels is about being nice and kind. Mogg, however, prefers to see Christ as being harder towards the poor and sick. To support his point about Mogg’s highly selective interpretation of Christian morality, he cites and shows a letter published by one of the papers, that makes this point.

In fact, Mogg’s views on food banks are more or less standard Tory rhetoric. Many Tories will say something about preserving a welfare state to give some provision for the poor, but will then do exactly what Mogg did, and then say that the state can’t provide everything. When challenged about cuts to the welfare state, they’ll probably make some comment about needing to target the support to those who really need it, rather than scroungers.

This is all highly mendacious. The cuts don’t just attack scroungers – they create real poverty amongst those in genuine need. And nobody expects the state to do everything. They just expect them to provide real support for the poor and the disabled. This support is not being provided, and the Tories are intent on destroying the welfare state piecemeal, so that no-one notices. Rees-Mogg’s comments about retaining some kind of welfare state are a sham, whether he believes it or not, are designed to gull people into believing that the Tories really do want to look after ordinary people. They don’t.

As for Mogg being delighted with the charity and generosity shown by people giving to the food banks, this was actually one of the reasons Thatcher wanted to abolish the welfare state. She thought that, with the state unable to provide for the poor there would be a resurgence in private generosity as people rose to the task of giving themselves, rather than relying on state aid. But as Lobster noted in a piece in its editorial, The View from the Bridge, a little while ago, this didn’t happen, And Thatcher realized it. As for the state being unable to provide adequately for the poor, the opposite is true. Conservative, religious Americans do give generously to charity. They’re often more generous than secular liberals, according to polling done a few years ago and cited in the book, The Truth about Evangelical Christians. But this personal generosity is completely inadequate for tackling the deep, widespread and grinding poverty that’s now spreading across America thanks to nearly forty years of Reaganite neoliberalism.

Brand gives Rees-Mogg his professional appreciation as a comedian. He states that Mogg is a comedic character. He makes the point that he seems mostly compounded from Maggie Thatcher. That’s certainly where Mogg got his mistaken and disgusting views about the efficacy of private charity over state aid. Just as Thatcher got it from her mentor, Keith Joseph. And if Mogg was the creation of a comedian sending up the Tories, he would be highly funny. He comes across somewhat as a mix of the Slenderman, the sinister internet meme, and Lord Snooty from the Beano. Or was it the Dandy? Looking at the photo Mike put up, showing Mogg trying to lift his leg over a style reminding me of nothing less than the Monty Python sketch, the ‘Ministry of Silly Walks’. Brand goes on to the compare Mogg to Trump. Mogg’s a comedic figure in exactly the same way Trump is. But only from a distance. Brand says that if he lived in America, which has to deal with the problems Trump is creating, he wouldn’t find Trump funny at all. The same with Mogg. Like Trump, he can appreciate Mogg as a comic character, but in reality, as a politician, Trump and Mogg are anything but funny.

Swedish Church Threatened for Supporting Muslims

February 13, 2015

Religious Freedom Card

French Revolutionary Card celebrating religious freedom.

There’s been a lot of alarm recently about the massive growth of the German anti-Islamic organisation, Pegida. The group’s name is an acronym for ‘Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West’, in German, Patriotische Europeaer Gegen der Islamisierung des Abendlandes. In Germany the groups boasts tens of thousands of members, and has staged mass demonstrations and marches across the country. These have provoked in their turn large counterdemonstrations from liberal Germans fearing a return of the xenophobia that plunged their country in the Third Reich and culminated in the genocide of the Jews and the projected extermination of other groups judged genetically or racially inferior, like the Slavonic peoples of eastern Europe, Gypsies and the disabled. Angela Merkel herself has denounced Pegida and its bigotry. Pegida is not content to confine itself to Germany, however. It is expanding across Europe and plans to stage a rally in Newcastle on this side of the North Sea.

This story comes from Christian Today, a Christian news website, from the 10th a few days ago. The pastor at St. Petri’s church in Malmo was so alarmed at a Pegida demonstration in his city, that he staged a service the previous night (the 9th) supporting the city’s diverse population and its Muslim citizens in particular. Andres Ekhem, the Pastor, stated that he wanted to express solidarity with them and also “express joy for our city and our Muslim friends”.

“There is strong support for diverse cultures in Malmö and it is important that the church is there to support that,” he said.

“You can choose to stay silent and let them give a voice to something you don’t accept. Or, we can choose to show what we believe in, which is a multi-religious society where everyone is given the freedom to preach their own religions.” Pastor Ekhem received some criticism for his service, including ‘more or less clear threats’, according to an interview he gave with Sydsvenkan.

Pegida’s Cant about Kant

One of Pegida’s slogans is Kant Statt Koran: ‘Kant instead of Qu’ran’, referring to the great 18th century German Enlightenment philosopher, Immanuel Kant. Kant is one of the most brilliant European philosophers, and his ideas are still very influential today. He was one of the first to suggest that the Earth and the solar system were formed by condensing out of a primordial gas, an idea that has been confirmed by contemporary science and the study of the evolution of stars. He also believed that the human conscience pointed to the existence of God. The pangs of conscience one felt, he argued, were like someone knocking at your door. The implication is that in the case of the human soul, that someone is the Almighty.

You wonder what Kant, a man of the Enlightenment, would think of Pegida. Many of Enlightenment philosophers were religious sceptics, either Deists, like Voltaire, or outright atheists, like Mably and Diderot. The philosophes were revolted by the horrors committed by the Wars of the Religion in the 16th and 17th centuries, which pitched Protestant against Roman Catholic, and the adherents of Protestant sects and denominations against each other. They strongly argued for religious freedom and toleration.

The philosophes’ hostility to revealed religion eventually led in turn to the abolition of Christianity and its vicious persecution in the name of the Goddess of Pure Reason during the French Revolution. When the Revolution broke out, however, its supporters believed it would usher in a new age of complete freedom of conscience. The new rights, liberties and virtues inaugurated by the Revolution was celebrated in a series of playing cards. These included the card right at the head of this article. It says ‘Liberty of Cults’, and includes some of the holy books of the great Abrahamic faiths. Along with the Christian Gospels, there is the Talmud for Judaism, and the Qu’ran for Islam.

This pack of cards was also way ahead of its time in celebrating racial equality. Both rationalist philosophes and evangelical and reforming Christians, like the Quakers, Methodists, and the evangelical wing of the Anglican Church, were revolted by the cruelty inflicted on Africans by the slave trade. The French Revolutionaries initially freed the slaves in their colonies, only for it to be put back by Napoleon. This card is entitled ‘Egalite des Couleurs’ – Equality of the Colours, and shows a Black man with a gun. Alongside is the word ‘Courage’. The message is clear. Far from being degraded savages, who deserved their enslavement, Black people were every bit as courageous and deserving of freedom as Whites.

Race Equality Card

These cards together show the new ideas of racial and religious liberty and equality, which were part of the intellectual ferment of Kant’s age. Looking at them, I doubt whether Kant would have had much time for the bigotry and xenophobia of groups like Pegida.

The Historical Accuracy of the New Testament: A Reply to Atomic Mutant

July 10, 2013

I had this comment from an atheist blogger, Atomic Mutant:

‘It’s pretty hard to someone in Israel getting the layout of Jerusalem wrong, but that doesn’t mean, that the events described have really happened. The four gospels are NOT independent accounts, please do some research about how they are based on Mark and the Q source. And of course, the people then did NOT often live to become 50, 60 or older, so no, most eye witnesses were long dead when even the first gospel was written. And it’s stil just a text by a religious fanatic, nothing more. The fact that noone else seems to have noticed these important events (and details like the murdering of thousands of children) sheds more than a little doubt on this story…’

Let’s deal with criticisms, point by point.

Point 1:
The four gospels are NOT independent accounts, please do some research about how they are based on Mark and the Q source.

Actually, I’m well aware of the issues surrounding ‘Q’ and the supposed primacy of Mark’s Gospel. In fact, the issue of ‘Q’ has been debated since it was first suggested way back in the 18th century. Despite this and the loud noises made by the Jesus Seminar, the Q document has never been found. Some of the people I’ve spoken to have suggested that it may never have physically existed, but been a piece of oral tradition. As for Mark, it’s believed to be based on the preaching of St. Peter. In the Patristic period, however, it was regarded as a condensed version of Matthew, and there are still some scholars, who defend Matthew as the first Gospel. N.T. Wright, the former Anglican Bishop of Durham and New Testament scholar, deals with these issues and that of form criticism in general in his book, The New Testament and the People of God. So yes, I have done my research.

As for the Evangelists drawing on ‘Q’ or ‘Mark’ invalidating the statement that they are independent Gospel accounts, each Gospel writer deals with the material in a slightly different way to produce four slightly different, but complementary, views of the Lord’s life and ministry. There was an article I believe in one of the Biblical studies journals that took the line that the form of Gospels suggests that they are indeed memorates, people’s memories committed to writing.

Now let’s deal with point 2:

And of course, the people then did NOT often live to become 50, 60 or older, so no, most eye witnesses were long dead when even the first gospel was written.

This is simply wrong. The average life expectancy was low – perhaps about 30. It certainly does not mean that nobody lived well-beyond that age. People certainly could life to 70 or more. If you want an example from the Middle Ages, there’s William the Marshal. Most people in the Middle Ages also had short lives. The average was possibly 30, though in the later Middle Ages it could rise to about 40 or so. Nevertheless, William the Marshal fought off a French attack on Lincoln in the early thirteenth century when he was in his 70s. It also does not mean that the Gospel writers did not take their accounts directly from the eyewitnesses. John’s Gospel opens with the statement that it was taken from the disciple, who stood at the foot of the Cross. So that falls as well.

Point 3:

And it’s stil just a text by a religious fanatic, nothing more.

This is a bit of temporal chauvinism, nothing more. It assumes that because he describes religious event, he must automatically be wrong. Most people in the Graeco-Roman world lived in a conceptual world filled with the supernatural. You can find omens and other supernatural events in pagan Graeco-Roman histories, such as Josephus. The idea that the Greeks were all highly rational, sceptics has long ago been attacked. See for example the book, The Greeks and the Irrational. You’ve just taken the assumptions of our own time, and decided that because the Gospels don’t fit contemporary received opinion about how the Cosmos works, they must be wrong.

Point 4:

The fact that noone else seems to have noticed these important events (and details like the murdering of thousands of children) sheds more than a little doubt on this story…’

There’s little historical material surviving from ancient Palestine, full stop. Just about the only source we had for a very long time, outside of the Bible and Talmud, is Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews. And many Romans or Greeks simply wouldn’t have been interested in what a wandering Jewish rabbi taught or was believed about Him. As for Herod killing thousands, nowhere in the Bible does it state how many he killed in Bathlehem. It needn’t have been very large. Most villages in the ancient world had populations of about 200. In such a number, how many would actually have been small boys? Probably very few. Now Josephus states that Herod was autocratic, murderous and cruel. He had three of his sons executed. He also states that the old tyrant committed many more atrocities, which he does not describe. Then you have to take into account the class biases of ancient historiography. Ancient and medieval histories concentrated on the actions of great princes, statesmen and members of the ruling classes. By and large they were not interested in what happened to the lower orders. Josephus may well have not written about the Massacre of the innocents, simply because that, as they were members of the peasant and artisan classes, they simply didn’t matter as much as what he did to his family.

So, I really don’t see these criticism as being valid.

The Historical Accuracy of the New Testament

July 10, 2013

You regularly hear attacks on the historical accuracy of the Bible, and particularly the New Testament. These consist of statements like ‘You can’t believe all that. It’s all made up’. The opponents and critics of Christianity have been arguing like this since ancient Rome. There is, however, a lot of evidence supporting the Gospel’s historical accuracy. These are a few of the arguments. Whole books have been written defending the Gospels. I’ve tried to make this as short as possible, so that they can be printed and distributed on a single sheet of paper as part of church activities or private study.

Trusting the New Testament

The Gospels are bioi, Graeco-Roman biographies. St. Luke begins his Gospel in the way Greek and Roman authors began serious historical or scientific texts – stating that they have examined the previous sources and then compiled their own account.

The Gospels were written between AD. 64 and the 90s, when many of the witnesses to Christ’s life and ministry were still alive.

The Gospels provide four independent accounts of Christ’s life and ministry. They were composed earlier, and there are far more copies of them, then contemporary secular Roman biographies of the Roman Emperors. Indeed, some of these are known from only a single coin. A fragment of John’s Gospel has been dated from the late 1st century to c. 125 AD. It has been suggested that it may even have come from the scriptorium of the Evangelist himself. This contrasts with the earliest extant copy of one of the biographies of the Caesars, which dates from the 9th century.

The New Testament frequently refers to named individuals, who were still alive at the time they were written. Graeco-Roman culture distrusted purely written accounts of events and facts, and preferred eye-witness testimony where possible.

Ancient Jewish culture stressed the importance of memorising texts. Rabbis’ disciples were expected to memorise their masters’ teachings.

Anthropological evidence states that the dates when the Gospels were written is too soon after the events for mythological or legendary material to have entered the Gospel stories.

The Gospels also reflect 1st century Jewish life. Many of the questions put before Christ are about issues discussed and debated in contemporary Jewish society, such as the question of divorce. Christ’s commandment ‘Hear, O Israel, you shall love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy mind and with all thy soul, and thy neighbour as yourself’ is a kelal, a rabbinical short summary of the Law. One of the questions asked during 1st century rabbinical debates was ‘Can you summarise the Law while standing on one leg?’ Christ’s commandment above is an example of the answer to just such a question.

The description of Jerusalem in St. John’s Gospel corresponds to the layout of the town, especially the Pool of Bethesda and the Temple forecourt as revealed by archaeology. Furthermore, types of the tomb in which Jesus was buried, which were closed by a stone have also been discovered. Christ is also described as deidaskalos – teacher – which is also known from archaeology to have been used of 1st century rabbis.