Posts Tagged ‘New Testament’

The Rabbinical Condemnation of Gossip and Slander

June 4, 2018

I found this passage on the condemnation of gossip by the rabbinical sages of late antiquity in the book, Knowledge Goes Pop, by Claire Birchall (Oxford: Berg 2006). Birchall is, or was, a senior lecturer at Middlesex University, and the book, subtitled ‘From Conspiracy Theory to Gossip’, is about popular knowledge, such as conspiracy theories and gossip and how it is formed and shapes the way people see the world. The book also examines how valid it is compared with official knowledge, and the question of ‘why does such (mis)information cause so much institutional anxiety?’.

The chapter on gossip contains a discussion of its condemnation in the Bible in both the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament and the New Testament, before going on to describe how it was also attacked by the great Jewish sages of the Talmud. The passage reads

Editors of The Encyclopedia of the Jewish Religion explain that the rabbis of classical Judaism in late antiquity warned against gossip in the most heightened terms. For example, the rabbis claimed that slander, talebearing, and evil talk were worse than the three cardinal sins of murder, immorality, and idolatry. Indulging in lashon ha-ra is seen to be akin to denying the existence of God (see the entry for ‘Lashon Ha-ra’ in Zwi Werblowsky and Wigoder 1986). Of note for our discussion later concerning the unstable verity of content transmitted through gossip is that while Judaism distinguishes between slander (lashon ha-ra) which refers specifically to true talebearing, and motsi’shem ra (causing a bad name) which applies to untrue stories, ‘both are totally forbidden by Jewish Law’ (Zwi Werblowsky and Wigoder 1997:648). Here, then, the verity of the gossip is not at issue, but rather the very act of passing potentially damaging information on whether true or false. (Pp. 98-99).

In Mike’s case, and those of the countless other decent people like him, who have been libelled by the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism and the Jewish Labour Movement, the truth of the accusations made against them is very much the issue. In the case of these decent, anti-racist people, the stories and claims made by Gideon Falter’s outfit and the JLM are very much a case of motsi’shem ra – causing a bad name – as they’re intended to be. They’re intended to smear and provide grounds for the expulsion from the Labour party of critics of Israel and left-wing opponents of the Blairites.

This passage also shows how the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism and the Jewish Labour Movement conveniently forgot these moral injunctions when they decided to vilify and malign those of opposing viewpoints. And this includes self-respecting Jews, who have lost relatives in the Holocaust, and/or have been subject to real anti-Semitic abuse and violence themselves.

But this doesn’t alter anything: their tactics of smear and libel are nevertheless condemned in the Talmud, no matter what specious stories they may make, claiming to be defending Jews, or rather, Israel, from anti-Semitism.

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.