Thursday, May 22, 2008

Is new jargon necessary?

Thanks to all who responded so openly to my post yesterday. I am happy that you feel comfortable expressing your views on this blog which was meant to talk about those things that are normally "forbidden."

I take the point that polydoxy (which seems to have won our poll) is new jargon. But without it, how can we talk about things as they were? How can I as a historian writing articles and books, as a professor teaching in class, describe early Christianity if I don't have words to do so? The old words leave the wrong impression. They are cumbersome to use because I find myself having to reexplain things all the time and put "orthodox" in quotations and also "heresy." Wouldn't it be better to wipe the slate clean and start using words that describe history more faithfully? Are polydoxy and polypraxy and polymorphic that difficult to self-intuit? Are they that much more difficult than orthodoxy, heterodoxy, heresy, and heresiology?

I think it is time for us to create and implement language sympathetic to our historical period rather than anachronistic to it.

So while we are on the subject, what other language needs to go?


Jared Calaway said...

Recently, Paula Fredericksen has made an argument in Sciences Religeuses (reprinted in the recent festschrift for Alan Segal and Larry Hurtado) for the "mandatory retirement" of the following terms for the study of antiquity, but primarily concerning Judaism and Christianity: conversion, religio licita, monotheism, and nationalism. I think she does so with varying degrees of success, but it does open the conversation to the possibility of other terms.

J. K. Gayle said...

So while we are on the subject, what other language needs to go?

Now, that's trying to close Pandora's box, Dr. DeConick. I say, boldly invent (if with apt care). Can't we take care of the weeds later, in due time?

So, a couple of examples (of how the new might evolve, if the old doesn't die off soon enough):
"google" is a "new" word for, well, for "googling." And the OED shows that "google" really has been around a lot longer if you need a word for a certain type of bowling in cricket or a particular way to drop the shuttlecock in badminton.

"etics" and "emics" were invented by one of my favorite teachers, Kenneth L. Pike. As Tom Headland, another of his favorite students (and a remarkable scholar himself) shows, these terms have been appropriated by scholars in twenty-five different disciplines, including the study and writing of history. Of course, Pike famously thought that another famous scholar (Marvin Harris) actually misappropriated the terms.

Your questions have inspired another post at my blog.

José Solano said...

I am of the view that of course people may coin new words and use them as they wish or find helpful. If they define them carefully there is not much risk of confusion even if others do not wish to adopt them.

You say Dr. DeConick that “the old words leave the wrong impression.” Well, the point I’ve been making is that these new words leave the wrong impression. I understand that you wish to remove the impression that an historian may be siding with one school or another and so you wish to lump them all together under a single term: Christianities or polydoxy. You think that this is important to maintain objectivity in the discussions.

But for those that have come to what they believe is an objective understanding of right and wrong in the diverse schools claiming to be Christian this is not a position we wish to take or endorse. We wish to detail the differences among those claiming to be Christians and identify the commonalities by which we may distinguish a particular set of concepts and beliefs that form the essence of Christianity and that are lacking or opposed in the other teachings. We are unabashed apologists. We do not wish to obfuscate the matter of who is and who is not Christian and we do not see this as in any way reducing our objectivity in the examination of history. On the contrary, it is a mark of our objectivity to make these distinctions and to inform people that they exist.

Again, thank you for graciously offering us the opportunity to make our point.


Leon said...

There are quite a few words that I would like to see removed from historical study of the New Testament. These are all theological words that are still used in historical Jesus studies. Theological terms have absolutely no place in the study of history. Some of these words are: the antitheses (of Matt 5), the Passion, the Cleansing of the Temple, the currently popular symbolic act of destruction of the Temple, and more. All these words prejudice us into seeing a negative, even hostile relationship between Jesus and Judaism or his fellow Jews. Before the evidence is even examined, these terms set you up to see Jesus relating in a very negative way to his fellow Jews.

(By the way, the antitheses, e.g., would be more accurately called the elucidations because that is exactly what Jesus is doing and it fits the same elucidations you will find in rabbinic lit.)

I would add — and here I know this will kick up controversy — that the betrayal (by Judas) and the (Jewish) trial of Jesus are also theological terms. Trial and betrayal are interpretations of the text; they stem from the most ancient theological approach to the NT which decided there is only one thing you can see in the NT. They are not literally stated anywhere. Are there better interpretations of the evidence in the Gospels? It has become forbidden to even think about this question because the very words betrayal and trial already convince you there is no other way to see this. What does the evidence say? That is the primary historical question. Terminology only interferes with studying this question honestly.

Leon Zitzer

Talon said...

Jose, maybe what you are saying works on those who have not read up on church history, but you can't fool people who know something, even anything about this stuff.

It is pretty obvious that it took several centuries after Jesus died for a fixed set of fixed orthodox beliefs to be put in place. Jesus didn't teach Christian theology to his disciples, or if he did, it certainly didn't survive long. Jesus taught that God forgives those that forgive others. Few Christians believe that today, and I use the label loosely because most orthodox believers would call that proposition heresy.

Beliefs, such as the divinity of Jesus, developed over time. Theologians from the second and third centuries are today considered as "orthodox" because one or another of their beliefs became a teaching of the church. But all of those "orthodox" teachers also had beliefs that would be considered heretical -- if not downright crazy -- today. For example, Justin Martyr taught that it was the heretics who believed that when you die you immediately go to heaven.

What makes a heretic? Do you have to get everything right to avoid that tag? If so, who would not be one? Is it being right on a certain perentage of issues? Or are issues graded by scale in terms of importance? You can get all the little things wrong if you get the main stuff right? Or is it vice versa?

Anyway, all this to say I like Aptil's idea to create a new word. It especially makes sense in light of the fact that more is known today about the diversity of beliefs than ever before.

José Solano said...

Hi Talon,

You ask a few good questions but your accusative tone—“you can’t fool people”—leaves the impression you might be more interested in clawing than having a discussion. I have no interest in fooling anyone. I merely share my understanding.

I do know a little something about history and have actually taught the subject for many years. I’m particularly interested in early Christian and gnostic history and it’s why I visit this and other blogs that focus on these areas. I consumed all of the Nag Hammadi writings as soon as they were published in English and some even before the full library was published. I was immersed in Jungian studies and in the history of religions through Mircea Eliade even before that.

I certainly do not presume to be as knowledgeable as you Talon. I have no idea what you know except through your claims in your brief comments.

Belief in the divinity of Jesus stems from Jesus’ own statements and from belief in His resurrection as accounted in the canonical records and proclaimed through the Church.

Heresy stems from within the church and not from the outside. It does not originate from the unregenerate. To be a heretic you must first claim to be a Christian.

Enough for now. Peace.

Phil Snider said...


What I'm interested is how far do we go in purging 'theological' vocabulary? That is, do we merely purge theological vocabulary that we don't like or do we recognize that we are making theological/ideological statements with both the purging or with any substitutes we propose. What role does the language of the text play? Granted most of your examples don't have a textual equivilent, it seems to me that, by dismissing out of hand the 'theological' vocabulary, you are just as much in danger of causing distortion as you accuse traditional vocabulary does.

All this opens us a can of worms, doesn't it?


Leon said...


Just about all terminology should be eliminated from historical study. I do not propose any substitute terminology. I gave the example above that the elucidations would be more accurate than the antitheses for what Jesus is doing in Matt 5:21f. What I did not mention (because I was trying to be as brief as possible) is that in my own book, after pointing out that elucidations is better, I reject using all terminology, including this one. My point is that terminology should be eschewed as much as possible because it only serves to prejudice us towards a preconceived solution. Theology has absolutely no place in scientific, historical study because it imposes solutions.

Science is at its best when it is examining the evidence independent of any and all preconceived ideas. Scholars use terminology because they are seeking some kind of control over the evidence and history. Terminology is pernicious. Really good science, the best kind of science, is about giving up control and letting the evidence itself guide you to a conclusion.

The classic error in science is to assume your conclusion and then manipulate the evidence to "prove" your assumption (this manipulation includes erasing evidence from the historical record, i.e., from our consciousness of what is in the record). What I find so distressing about historical Jesus scholarship is that scholars commit this error over and over again. Using theological terminology is just one method they have for doing this. Thus, no one ever gives a rational argument that Judas betrayed Jesus. The evidence just is not there. They all assume betrayal is stated in the text and it is not. Betrayal is pure theological interpretation. And in this way, scholars suppress all discussion of what the evidence actually says. I find it terribly shocking that no one protests this system.

If your goal is to study the evidence and become excited about a genuinely honest study of what that evidence might reveal, then getting rid of all assumptions, including terminology, is the best way to go. And theology is one of the worst things you can do to historical study, yet historical Jesus scholars do it constantly and no one cares.

Leon Zitzer

Phil Snider said...


I think we need some definitions or we're going to mis-commnicate. Foremost is what are you defining as terminology? Is this more or less jargon? I ask because I can seem how it is possible to escape using terminology--that is, calling something by name is creating a term, hence terminology.

Second, I really must challenge the identification of history as science. It is, in the sense of it being a field of study, so, in the more European usage, you're right. If we are talking about a science analagous to the physical sciences (biology, physics, chemistry), then I really think there are serious problems with this concept, not the least of which is that I'd love to watch you define such a positivist historiographical position and maintain that you are remaining unbiased. Really, it can't be done.

As for your challenge that there is no evidence that Judas betrayed Jesus, I must inquire about what you mean by betrayal. That is, if we mean that Jesus was handed over to the Jewish, then Roman authorities by Judas, then, we do have evidence. This is, incidently, irrespective of whether you think it good evidence, the Gospel account constitute evidence. If you mean that Judas was part of the plan, then, I would grant that there is evidence (although I don't find it very credible), but other evidence contradicts it.

I hope this is helpful.


Leon said...


Good questions and I will answer them all. One of the main jobs of science is to describe the evidence as accurately as possible. Terminology is rarely necessary for that. Most of the time (not all the time), when scholars use terminology, it only serves to prejudice the reader to see a preformed conclusion. Terminology too often serves to get in the way of seeing the evidence accurately.

E.g., it is possible to describe what Jesus is doing in Matt 5:21f without any terminology. The verb "to hear" is used to introduce the superficial meaning of Torah, and "I say" is used to introduce the deeper meaning. This is rabbinic practice. "Antitheses" completely misdescribes what is going on and is based on prejudice. "Elucidations" is far more accurate but not really necessary. Jesus is behaving like a constitutional lawyer, and while that is helpful in learning to see the evidence, that too is jargon which can be dispensed with.

The study of history is a science in two important senses. One, like all sciences, it aims to give an accurate description of the evidence we have. Two, it offers theories to account for the evidence. Theories that do not explain most of the evidence and/or leave us with contradictions are bad theories. As in all sciences, when you have a bad theory, you look for a better theory. The only time historical study may not be a science is when you have a paucity of evidence, in which case you honestly say so. The Gospels give us an abundance of (good) evidence on two important aspects: The meeting Jewish leaders had with Jesus and what Judas was doing.

There are two types in the study of history: Those who honestly want to discover what happened based on rational analysis of the evidence and those who suppress historical discovery by covering up the evidence. I will make no bones about this: The latter position is despicable. All too often in historical Jesus studies, scholars have suppressed discussion of the evidence.

As for Judas, there is virtually no evidence in the Gospels that he betrayed Jesus. Elaine Pagels has recently written that Mark gives us "the bare fact of the betrayal". That is false. Mark gives us the bare fact of Judas leaving the table and returning with the authorities. Betrayal is pure interpretation, pure theory. To mis-state an interpretation or theory as fact is a violation of one of the cardinal rules of science.

Mark is missing every single element of a story of betrayal (no motive, no conflict, does not use the Greek word for betray but a neutral word instead, no recriminations from other disciples after the deed is done). It is irrational to argue "Mark is missing every piece of a story of betrayal, therefore Mark is telling the story of a traitor." Moreover, Mark does not even give us any bit of information about Judas which is unequivocally bad. It is all ambiguous. You can read the story of betrayal into the text but that is not proof of anything. You can also read something very positive into the same details. The rational question to ask about Mark, which no one ever asks, is why did he relate such a perfectly ambiguous story, and I do mean perfectly. There is a rational answer to that question.

My point is that it is ultimately possible to arrive at good, unprejudiced answers to why we have the pattern of evidence we have. But theology or worldview (of Jesus surrounded and done in by Jewish enemies) has prevented a really honest examination of the evidence. Scholars assume their preconceived conclusion about Jesus and Jewish enemies and then use that to mess up the evidence. This has to stop.

Leon Zitzer

José Solano said...

“Behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand." Mt. 26:45-46

“It is enough; the hour has come; the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand."
The Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Mk. 14:41-42

“Jesus said to him, "Judas, would you betray the Son of man with a kiss?"
Luke 22:48

“Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them.” Jn. 18:5

And there is much more. You have to do a lot of terminological gymnastics not to understand what is being said.

Indeed, “the Gospels give us an abundance of (good) evidence.”

Leon said...


Betray is a mistranslation in all the examples you gave. They all use a form of the Greek word "paradidomi", which the majority of scholars now agree does not mean betray. This is due largely to William Klassen. Even conservative scholars, such as Raymond Brown and John Meier, agree. Brown insists (his word) that betray is wrong. The Greek word for betray is "prodidomi" and none of the Gospels use it to describe Judas' action.

Some of these scholars would translate "paradidomi" as hand over or give over or deliver, but they (especially Klassen) note that "paradidomi" does not have any connotation of betrayal. Because of this, I think the best way to capture this is to use the very neutral convey. Jesus is conveyed into the hands of the authorities, not betrayed. There is a very good and innocent explanation for that.

Some scholars would argue that betray is a secondary meaning of "paradidomi". Klassen says that is wrong. But even if you assume that it could sometimes mean betray, you have to ask what would justify translating it as betray — because every single element of a story of betrayal, as I noted above, is missing from Mark's story. Nothing justifies translating it as betray. (In fact, it is translated as betray only for Judas. Everyone else, it is translated in a neutral way.)

Betrayal is pure theology. Prejudice convicts Judas. Nothing rational or evidentiary convicts him. As history, it is extremely dishonest to relate the evidence as a betrayal. Nothing supports it. That's why history is a science: It's about love of the evidence and not rewriting the evidence.

Leon Zitzer

José Solano said...

Though paradidomi may at times have a positive connotation because one can of course “deliver” or “turn over” something or someone in a beneficial sense, the context is what clearly provides the meaning of the word. (To betray is no more “theology” than to deliver.) If you are my friend and I “deliver” you into the hands of the Nazis who wish to kill you that in no way can have a positive connotation. And if I do this for “30 pieces of silver” it heightens the dastardliness of the deed. (The issue of fulfilling prophesy may be addressed separately.)

“When Judas, his betrayer, saw that he was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, ‘I have sinned in betraying innocent blood.’" Mt. 27:3-4

One certainly does not repent of anything good that one does.

Leon said...


There is no context that would allow anyone to translate "paradidomi" as betray. The follwoing is major evidence that needs to be accounted for: Mark, as I explained above, is missing every single element of a story of betrayal. That is rather odd. Also, he could easily have used the word for betray but does not (and the other Gospels follow suit). All this is extremely odd if you assume Judas was a traitor.
Betrayal completely fails to explain all of this.

One of the reasons historical Jesus studies is not a science is that in a genuine science, if an assumption or hypothesis is not working, you try to find an alternative hypothesis that might do a better job at explaining the actual evidence we have. But historical Jesus scholars will not allow this. It has been effectively forbidden.

Mark never says Judas betrayed or even says anything negative about him. Everyone reads it into the text. You say that only a negative reason could explain why Judas would convey Jesus into the hand of the authorities. Not so. A negative reason is your assumption and the assumption of most scholars. The text gives absolutely nothing to justify this. The text does not say this — that is the single most important thing to realize. Converting an assumption into fact is bad scholarship. It is theology, not science. There could be (and is, as I demonstrate in my book) a very positive reason why Judas would have done this. No one ever looks for it because challenging assumptions is simply forbidden in this field.

Mark never says Judas asked for money beforehand. Matthew added that. In Mark, Judas is given money afterwards. There could be a very innocent reason for it. It could have been payment for services as a guide (which Judas was doing in consultation with Jesus). It could have been a contribution for the poor. Mark never explains it or gives a reason. Tradition has always read something negative into it. The text says nothing of the sort.
The key question is always what does the evidence say, not what do your assumptions say.

You quoted Matt. Again, a mistranslation. The correct translation would be "I have sinned in conveying innocent blood." If Judas was doing something very positive and innocent (again, in consultation with Jesus), he may have been shocked at the wrong turn things had taken. He may have seen himself as an unwitting point in a chain of events that neither he nor Jesus expected. In any event, everyone assumes he was guilty of something, but that is not the only assumption that would explain that line.

Betray is pure theology because 1) it is based on a theology and interpretation that began with the ancient Church Fathers, and 2) it does not explain the textual evidence but assumes evil where no evil may have happened.

This assumeption does not explain the major evidence we have. It is bizarre in the extreme to call Mark's story a story of betrayal. But in my book, I present a different theory that explains all the evidence in a very simple way. Not some of it. All of it. But coming up with the rigtht theory is not nearly as important as understanding how bad it is to make assupmtions and then claim your assumptions are in the text. What continues to shock me is that no one of conscience will stand up to scholars and object to their tactics of making assumptions and not allowing anyone to try a different approach.

Leon Zitzer

paulf said...

Jose, you certainly are not impolite or unintelligent, but you are tiresome. I can predict your posts before they happen.

You know full well that I do not presume to be an expert on the subjects discussed here (I would make that claim about other subjects, like the NHL or the securitization of certain mortgage products). In fact, I often state otherwise, so I can only assume your response to me (Talon) was meant to be sarcastic.

You seem to take the position that if you drill down deep enough, that -- lo and behold -- every orthodox position of the last 1500 years will be proven right. As little as I know, I do know that to be extraordinarily silly.

You say belief in the Trinity is justified by Jesus' own statements. What, is he on youtube now? You really KNOW what Jesus said? Amazing. That's the sort of thing that gets accepted uncritically in a fourth-grade Baptist Sunday School class, but don't bring it here.

Jesus did not claim to be god in the synoptics. The book of John has inflated claims about his position, although whether it amounted to divinity is very much in doubt. In that book, for example, he also denies in chapter 10 that he is divine and later prays to his father "who alone is the true God."

As we can see with several stories, such as the healing of the blind man whose parents were afraid to be thrown out of the temple if they supported Jesus -- something that would not have happened for decades after Jesus died, otherwise his brother would not have been leader of the Jesus movement and a respected Temple figure -- the book of John is not history. It likely reflects the experience of the late first century believers as much as any history. It is a completely different Jesus than the books written earlier.

And someone can correct me if I am wrong, but the people we today call heretics did claim to be Christians, that's why others labeled them s heretics. If they claimed to be another religion, the so-called orthodox would not have cared about them.

But that is so obvious, do I really need to point that out on a forum such as this one?

José Solano said...

Sorry Leon but if you’re going to say on the one hand that “the Gospels give us an abundance of (good) evidence” and then go into “picking and choosing” the gospel passages you like and discarding the ones that don’t fit your invention you are just tampering with the evidence for your cause.

There is no need for me to cite the numerous other passages that reveal the character and treacherous actions of Judas because if they do not fit your invention you’ll throw them out. You simply reject the meaning that has been accepted for the word paradidomi by scholars and translators in all of the translations that I know of. The meaning of the word in the Judas contexts is self-evident and your “conveying innocent blood” terminology makes no sense at all even if Judas worked for some ancient blood bank.

Excuse me Paulf but I had forgotten that you are Talon. Had I remembered I probably would not have responded as I know you don’t like to address an issue without becoming personally insulting. I’ve observed your denigrating tone even on the Ben Witherington blog.


Phil Snider said...


You do seem rather sure of yourself, but I do have a couple of points to consider.

First, while I agree we need to constantly re-examine our terms and our understanding of passages, I think you are implying things about the motives of scholars who disagree with which I'm not sure is true. You and I likely disagree on our interpretation of the Gospels and early Christianity, yet I don't assume you are falsifying evidence, even if I think that you are mistaken and that your epistimology is every bit as ideologically tainted as you would claim my own explicitly Christian interpretation is. Why do you need to assume that someone reading the same sources is inherently dishonest?

Second, on the subject of paradidomi. The Liddel, Scott and Jones Greek dictionary (which is accepted by both classicists and biblical scholars as the major Greek-English dictionary)lists betrayal in the sense of treachery in classical Greek (such works as Xenophon, Cyropaedia and Pausanias are two classical authors listed) as being an acceptable definition. This would argue against your contention that paradidomi can't bear that meaning. I haven't had time to track those references yet, but I do know that I've run into this meaning in my reading of classical texts. It seems a possible meaning here.

Now, that said, you are correct in saying that 'betrayal' isn't paradidomi's basic meaning. I also must agree that not the term 'betrayal' is emotive and, to some degree, subjective in the sense that one must establish treachery is intended. Not all uses of the term paradidomi in Mark are intended to be 'betrayal'. I suspect that Mark, 14,11 need not be translated that way. Yet, I really must ask you what you think is happening in this passage. Jesus is identified by Judas to a mob with soldiers from the high priests, scribes and elders (Mark 14, 43) and he is taken away to a meeting with a meeting with the high priests, elders and scribes and eventually handed over the Roman governor. Unless you are arguing that Jesus is in on this, I can't see how you can rule out the translation 'betrayal' here.

Now, let me be clear. This passage and others like it in the other Gospels have been used for ugly purposes, but I suggest to you that we have to confront that past and admit what is in the text, not try to post-facto edit it. Frankly, for someone who is claiming that they are trying to strip away theological pre-suppositions, you seem to have making assumptions all your own which are driving you to mis-translation in your laudable, but mis-guided attempt to argue against anti-Semitic readings of the death of Jesus. I think there are ways to read it without those readings, but this isn't a sound one.


Leon said...

Phil and José,

You are making my points for me. You are looking for the odd bit of information that might justify betrayal and avoiding the major information. I can point to a word in Luke that would indicate betrayal, but none of the other Gospels use it and all 4 Gospel are unanimous in using "paradidomi" for the events on Jesus' last night.

The major evidence: Mark does not have even one element of a story of betrayal, not even using the Greek word that unequivocally means betrayal. Why is that? Betrayal is a preposterous explanation for this. Mark also does not relate one unambiguous piece of negative information about Judas. Why is that? One of the most shocking things about Mark is how ambiguous his story is. The rational thing to do is acknowledge this and seek an answer.

The dishonesty in scholars is that they claim their interpretation is a fact in the Gospels and it is not. They do this not only with Judas but with almost everything else connected to the death of Jesus, such as the so-called Jewish trial of Jesus. Their trial is an interpretation, not a fact. They assume and assume and assume, and in this way they prevent anyone from pointing out that another interpretation might work better. In my book, I present a different theory to explain the data. But I never claim my theory is a fact. I never impose my theory on the text. I merely say that this theory explains things better, but I never confuse it with the facts themselves, which is what scholars do. It is scientifically important to keep theories or interpretations and the data separate from each other. I dedicate myself to doing that. NT scholars do not. I know this makes me a whistleblower and nobody likes a whistleblower, but somebody has to do it.

Phil, you mention the Liddel-Scott dictionary. This helps to explain what is so wrong with scholars. As I recall, Liddel-Scott offered betray as a secondary meaning of "paradidomi". William Klassen and Raymond Brown would disagree. Brown was highly conservative and really hated to challenge anything in traditional scholarship unless the facts held a gun to his head and forced him to. "Paradidomi" was one of those very rare cases where he insisted that betray is completely wrong. He did not love doing this, but he felt he had to.

But let's suppose Liddel-Scott was right. So at the very least, it has to be considered that betray could possibly (only possibly) be a mistranslation. Show me any scholar before Klassen's 1996 book who acknowledged that. Go to any university library and pull down any book. They all (well, 95 to 99% of them) say the Gospels portray Judas as a traitor and they all use betray in their translations. Not even a footnote to mention that there is a possbility this could be wrong. They all kept hidden the information in Liddel-Scott.

But wait! It gets worse! Probably a majority of scholars since 1996 still do this. Elaine Pagels never mentions "paradidomi" or even breathes the possibility this could be a problem. Why does Mark never use "prodidomi" which certainly means betray? Bart Ehrman also fails to relate what the Gospels are saying. Interestingly, in his case, he does mention Paul's use of "paradidomi" and offers this as a major reason why Paul is probably not speaking of a betrayal, but he is silent that the Gospels use the same word. Why?

It is dishonest to present an interpretation (a questionable interpretation about Judas, as Hans-Josef Klauck pointed out) as a fact. It's just plain wrong and anti-scientific. That I dispute the interpretations of scholars is a different matter. My big complaint is that they misrepresent their interpretation as a piece of data when it is not.

If you keep assuming "Jesus was surrounded and done in by Jewish enemies", you read the Gospels one way. But that is an assumption and there are a plenty of contradictions. Pursue this another way and the contradictions disappear. I am not going to present and argue for my theory in soundbite fashion on a blog. But if you drop the pernicious assumption, then you can see something else unfold in the Gospels. Jewish leaders were not trying to get Jesus. They would rather have saved him from a Roman executuion. Thus, at Mark 14:10-11, they are glad at Judas' arrival because they now have an opportunity to try to save Jesus. We read maliciousness into the text. But Mark says nothing about that. He tells such a strictly neutral account. There is a good reason why he does this, which I explain in my book. But when you understand the more likely events that happened, you can see this in Mark's account too because his neutrality will allow for it.

Science well done is one of the great joys in the world. I won't compare it to other joys. It is a joy in its own right. To learn to see exactly what the facts are without imposing anything on them, but to see the data itself is such a great thrill. It opens a window onto the past. I wish I could convey how exciting that is. You may not like the direction of my interpretations, but it is scientifcally wrong to suppress alternative and viable theories. It is outrageous that scholars do suppress this and no one protests. The irony is that a highly rational approach to Jesus' death is no threat to Christian faith. He is as sublime as ever. The only thing lost are all those imagined Jewish enemies and I do not believe they are necessary for Christian faith.

Leon Zitzer

José Solano said...

Hi Leon,

I admire your persistence and tenacity and that may get a few more people to buy your book. And I think you are correct that good guy or bad guy Judas, anymore than married or unmarried Jesus, doesn’t make much difference to the central proclamation of the gospel. (I could be wrong.) We are all interested in the objective facts as best as we can ascertain them from the available sources and what you say simply makes no sense at all in reading the main sources which are for me the canonical writings.

You just thoroughly ignored my statement about your “pick and choose” approach and somehow insist on your unfounded assumption that the text shows no Judas betrayal. Regardless of the word that may be used, Judas’ actions speak for themselves and it requires some intense preoccupation with a pet invention to misunderstand what’s happening.

Presuming we are still on the thread—albeit on a bit of a tangent—regarding the invention, use or misuse of terminology, and because I sense your sincerity, I’ll share some passages from Mark that outright refute your wild assumption that “you can see something else unfold in the Gospels. Jewish leaders were not trying to get Jesus. They would rather have saved him from a Roman executuion.”

Mark 14:1 tells us, “And the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might take Him by trickery and put Him to death.”

They are glad to see Judas in Mk. 14:10-11 precisely because Judas will now sell Him out and reveal his place of prayer away from the multitude. They “promised to give him money.” This has absolutely nothing to do with protecting Him from the Romans. You are doing exactly what you are projecting on others, fabricating interpretations without a shred of foundation from the source.

Mark goes on detailing how they came from the chief priests, scribes and elders with swords and clubs led by Judas and Jesus remarks “Have you come out, as against a robber, with clubs and swords to take me?” (Mk. 14:48) Mark further informs us that “Now the chief priests and all the council sought testimony against Jesus to put Him to death . . . .” And Mark’s testimony goes on and on about what took place and it has absolutely nothing to do with your preposterous interpretation.

One last comment; the anti-Semitism that some derive from reading the gospels has absolutely nothing to do with what the gospels say. Jesus is a Jew and so are just about all of His followers. Jesus is the Prince of Peace and His teaching is abundantly clear from the Sermon on the Mount even if very few wish to follow it.


Phil Snider said...


Are you really expecting me to believe that scholars before Klassen and Brown have willfully misread paradidomi? If you wanted to argue that the LSJ dictionary has it wrong, then I'd be prepared to consider it. Certainly, it has been wrong in the past (notably in some technical and scientific vocabulary). I would say that, in my experience, it has tended to be reliable 99% of the time, largely because the definitions featured in it are based on the whole of Classical Greek which is rather a wider range of ancient writers and works than most Biblical scholars are aware of. Yet, it can be wrong.

That said, it is incumbent on someone who is swimming upstream in scholarship to give reasons why they think they're right. Now, I'm sure that Klassen and Brown do, but you haven't really seen fit to explain how they have arrived at that position or even what particular books the arguments have come from (both of which would be quite helpful for someone who might have time and/or leisure to look it up). Instead, you seem to expect us to take their and your word that paradidomi can never mean betrayal. By your own professed standards, can you understand that I'm unwilling to take your word for it? Give me reason to believe it, rather than muddy the waters by insisting that I accept it as a fact (or so it seems) without giving me a reason. So, I challenge you: give me good linguistic reason to accept your contention that paradidomi can't mean betrayal (with reference to both biblical and Classical Greek), then, we'll talk.

As for your reading of Mark and your contention that the Jewish authorities were trying to protect Jesus. I must admit to skepticm here. I hope you approve of the fact that I'm not willing to take your word for your theory. So, could you answer a few questions about Mark's account that don't make a lot of sense to me in the reading that you are suggesting?

I'm puzzled about how you understand:

Mark 14, 48 when Jesus asks why the crowd which includes the high preists, scribes and elders has come 'as against a brigand/revoltionary' (hos epi lesten) with soldiers, when he has been teaching in the temple for days before?

Why does the young man and others flee this crowd, if Jesus was being taken into a kind of protective custody? (Mark 14,50-51)?

Why do the high priests tear their clothes, declare that they have heard Jesus' blasphemy (Mark 14, 63-64)?

Why do they judge Jesus as liable for death (oi de pantes katekrinan auton enoxon einai thanatou?) in Mark, 14, 64)

Why do they cover Jesus' face and strike him with their fists (kolaphizein) and ask him to prophesy in Mark, 14,65?

And, lastly, why they bind Jesus, lead him away and hand him over (see I'm using a neutral translation of paradiomi, as it is more sound) to Pilate (desantes ton iesoun apevegkan ka paredokan Pilato) in Mark, 15,1?

This seems odd behavior for people trying to save Jesus and for such a 'neutral' account. Perhaps you can explain these oddities in the spirit of inquiry and science.



Leon said...

Phil and José,

My argument does not depend on "paradidomi" never meaning betray. I happen to think Klassen and Brown are right, but it's not necessary. As I said above, I am happy to assume that betray is one possible meaning and so is convey in a neutral sense. As you noted, Phil, betray is not the primary meaning.

My major point here is this: It is false to say that it is a fact that "paradidomi" means betray and can only mean betray. If you choose to argue that it means betray in Judas' case, that is your right to argue for this theory or interpretation. But it is an interpretation, not a fact. And that means that convey or deliver or some other neutral word is also a possible interpretation. It is wrong and absolutely reprehensible for scholars to suppress alternate interpetations that are quite plausible and to do this by misrepresenting that the word means only one thing. NT scholars have always done this. I said above that I am quite willing to accept the LSJ on this, but you missed my point that the great majority of scholars have never allowed LSJ into the discussion. They have all misrepresented the Gospels as literally saying that Judas betrayed Jesus. They have misled their readers into thinking that the Greek word means betray and could not possibly mean anything else. That is so wrong.

What makes it especially bad is that scholars have always known that Judas' story is a strange one because there is no clear story here of betrayal. Many scholars will admit this. As one 19th century scholar said, Judas' act is a mystery. There is no evidence there in Mark to make it explicable. So what do you do in science? You start thinking about whether another approach might make more sense of the evidence. NT scholars do not do that. They keep insisting that betray is the only possible interpretation. They keep failing to mention that the word used is "paradidomi" which could mean something else. They fail to point out Mark lacks every single element of a betrayal (no motive, no conflict with Jesus, no denunciations from the other disciples afterwards). This makes for a lot of reasons to look for another interpretation. Science means exploration and not suppressing it.

I do not think and never said that scholars are dishonest for arguing that Judas betrayed Jesus. Even if the theory is wrong (as I know I have proven in my work), it is not a sin or necessarily bad to argue for a wrong theory. It is the way scholars argue for it that is so wrong. It is wrong to represent the betrayal as a fact. That is just plainly misguided. It is a theory, good or bad, right or wrong, it is just a theory. My own theory fully proves that Judas was no traitor and I never claim that this is now fact. My theory, however good it is, will always be a theory, never fact. That's the right way to do science. NT scholars are still so far from that.

By the way, José, in my own work, I do not pick and choose among the evidence. I go through every piece. I point out where betrayal could possibly be an explanation and note that my theory explains it just as well. And I explore several pieces where my theory does a better job.

I'm glad, Phil, that you brought up the LSJ because it confirms my point that scholars will not honestly discuss this. They will not say "Well, let's see, according to the LSJ, convey is the primary meaning and betray is also a meaning. So let us discuss why we think betray is right here." You won't find scholars doing that. I quoted two above who just assume betray is the only possibility. I could quote hundreds more.

Having said all this, it would take us off topic to discuss the priests and Jesus. And I certainly do not want to give a brief soundbite version of my theory and then nitpick over various pieces and re-argue my whole theory. But I will say a couple of things here. The business about the high priest ripping his robes. Everyone interprets this as an act of condemnation. That is not the meaning of this action in ancient Jewish culture. Tearing his garments and pouring ashes over his head were acts of mourning. They were used as pleading or begging in an argument. They were not used to condemn. They meant: "We are begging you to change your course of action. If you do not, the Romans will kill more Jews for whom we will all have to mourn. So please, we beg you, stop doing this thing which will incite the Romans to more murder."

So if the high priest ripped his robes before Jesus, it was to beg and plead, not to condemn. Josephus gives some examples of this. I have found only two scholars who have admitted what the tearing of priestly garments means. But my response here is getting very long again and it is getting very late here. Maybe more another time. My goal has never been to sell more books, but to encourage honest debate by taking careful note of what the evidence is. To learn to read the Gospels with pure acccuracy is a great thing to accomplish. That is the goal in science. To report accurately. You can believe all you want that Judas betrayed Jesus, but to read it into the Gospels where they say no such thing is not good. To read motives and maliciousness where the Gospels do not say so is not the right way to practice science. Mark does not say even one tenth of the things about Judas that people attribute to him. It's all interpretation, not fact. And it is not a sin to promote the excitement of exploring something that will be more faithful to the pure data in the Gospels.

Leon Zitzer

Phil Snider said...

Two comments and I think I've contributed all I can to this discussion.

First, there are likely two reasons why the LSJ hasn't been brought into the debate. One, many biblical scholars, despite quoting a lot of Greek, aren't really comfortable with Greek or, particularly, with Classical Greek usage. They are usually aware of the LSJ, but don't feel comfortable checking behind it in the same way that a classicist would. Second, they accept that they have been taught paradidomi correctly (as I think they have, if we accept it as a secondary meaning); that is, they trust their reference works for information that they neither have time nor training to unpack, so they don't cite it because it is 'common knowledge'. I recognize that you don't like that people may accept another's interpretation this way, but no one can re-invent the wheel all the time as you seem to think.

Second, I don't think anyone here has denied that we're talking about interpretation and that it is incumbent on someone advancing an interpretation to prove that it is the best solution to the information at hand. I have to say that I'm not convinced that your contention about Mark being so neutral works as a solution to what Mark is saying. I've noted the passages that I'd have you consider in formulating your ideas, realizing that you probably won't want to do it in this venue. Fair enough, so I'll leave it with saying that I'm not convinced. If you do ever write this up, let me know; then, we can, perhaps, start getting somewhere.


José Solano said...

Mark 14:1 tells us, “And the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might take Him by trickery and put Him to death.”

I would urge that you reread what has been written. Your “theory” is simply far-fetched.


Leon said...

Phil and José,

I have not been arguing for the correctnes of my theory here. I do that in my published book and don't need to do it again. I have been arguing here for correct scientific method. There is only one stream in science and that is the evidence, especially the major evidence. If scholars continue to repeat tradition and swim against the evidence, that is not good scholarship.

I have pointed out at least twice that a theory of betrayal does not account for the major evidence in Mark. Yet both of you ignore this. It's understandable. A theory of betrayal cannot account for it. Betrayal does not explain why Mark relates no motive for Judas. Betrayal does not explain why Mark reports no conflict between Jesus and Judas, and no conflict between Judas and any other disciple, or why nobody says anything negative about Judas. Mark does not even contain the little bit of information that anyone cursed Judas out after the deed is done. It's all missing. If Klassen and Brown are right that "paradidomi" does not mean betray (as a lot of scholars now agree), then it is all utterly devastating for a betrayal theory. And if the word could sometimes betray, then this entire package of evidence is still devastating but perhaps not utterly.

That is why the great majority of scholars misrepresent betrayal as a fact and not as a theory or intrerpetation. They know that once they admit it is an interpretation, they will have to give an evidentiary argument to support it and they know this cannot be done. There are just too many major contradictions. Reading betrayal into some of the minor clues (which can be done) is not proving anything and scholars know this.

You have both made it clear that this major evidence is irrelevant to you. You even brush off the evidence concerning scholars. Before Klassen's book, virtually every scholar lied and presented betrayal as the only possible translation. That is outrageously bad. Even today, far too many cannot bring themselves to mention that betray is at best only one possible translation.

Power convicts Judas and Jewish leaders. Prejudice convicts them. But not a rational analysis of all the evidence. This is a terrible injustice to the Gospel writers, to make them say things they never said. I could recite evidence until I am blue in the face and it would mean nothing to you. Luke never mentions a Jewish death penalty against Jesus. Neither does John. In Acts, Paul says there was no Jewish death penalty against Jesus. But it's all irrelevant to you, isn't it?

I disagree with Raymond Brown about a lot of things. But I admire him for his honesty. He once stated a rule which all scholars follow but only he had the courage to say out loud: Any evidence favorable to Jewish leaders should be ruled out of the discussion. How's that for honesty and a fair trial?

My work will eventually triumph. I have no doubts about it. Future generations of Christians will marvel that there was such resistance to a rational approach to the Gospels when it was never any threat to faith. What can one do? That's our world and I suppose I have to find a way to stomach it. Let love (of the evidence and so much else) and reason lead you on, and the truth is not that far away.

Leon Zitzer

Phil Snider said...


I think we've reached the end of our discussion because I can't see that we are having a constructive discussion either about the 'betrayal' in Mark or about correct historical methodology. I'm puzzled by your dismissive tone and your dogmatic (sic!) insistence that you and you alone have the 'scientific' methodology to solve this problem. I understand you believe that you have the solution to a vexed problem, but I've been trying to, in a scholarly manner, both to see how you got to your theory and how you deal with the obvious textual problems to your interpretation. If you don't want to post here, I understand, but I don't think the condescending tone is needed here.

Ironically, I agree with you. I don't think we can manage rational discussion on this topic, so I wish you peace and good fortune in your endeavors.