Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The Fabricated Jesus of Shmuley Boteach

Shmuley Boteach has an article about Jesus in today's Jerusalem Post. Some of you may remember that I wrote about Shmuley Boteach on this blog earlier this year, regarding a debate he had with Michael Brown. I quoted a report of the debate that mentioned, among other things, that:

"Boteach was angry for most of the debate — even to the point of screaming fiercely at an audience member who interrupted him."

The article also quotes Boteach suggesting that evangelistic Christians are racists, and he commented that "The Holocaust was due to evenings like tonight".

Well, the Shmuley Boteach who writes in the Jerusalem Post today has a significantly different tone. He closes his article with a profession of his desire for Jews and Christians to unite around Jesus.

The problem is that most of Boteach's article is taken up with an attempt to convince people to believe in a false Jesus for whom we have little evidence of existence outside of Shmuley Boteach's imagination. Basically, Boteach argues that the historical Jesus was largely anti-Rome and pro-Israel, whereas the Jesus of traditional Christianity is more pro-Rome and anti-Israel. Here are two paragraphs late in the article that don't address every relevant issue, but do summarize much of what he's arguing:

Later, after millions of Jews were killed in the revolt of the years 66-70, the Gospels were edited to purge Jesus of any trace of anti-Roman vitriol. The story was changed to a conflict between Jesus and the hated Jews rather than Jesus and the powerful Romans. But the editing was incomplete, and a great deal of the original story remains, especially since there were so many different Gospel texts.

The transformation of Jesus from lover of Israel to a sworn enemy of the Jewish people, with John 8 quoting Jesus as berating the Jews as children of Satan who are condemned to damnation in hell, is a contemptible act of character manipulation that led to 2,000 tragic years of Christian anti-Judaism.

There are far too many problems with Boteach's theory to address them in much detail here. For more information, see the material on Shmuley Boteach at Steve Hays' web site, J.P. Holding's web site, in Michael Brown's material, etc.

Boteach proposes a solution to a problem that doesn't exist. There's no contradiction between an earlier pro-Israel Jesus and a later anti-Israel Jesus. Not every Jew is being addressed in passages like John 8. Why should we think that it's inherently unacceptable to say such things about one portion of the population of Israel? Similar condemnations of Gentile unbelievers are found elsewhere in the New Testament, and similar condemnations of unrighteous Jews are found in the Old Testament. We don't need Boteach's solution to this problem, because it isn't a problem.

But the solution he proposes causes even more problems for his theory. If the texts of the gospels were changed, where's the manuscript evidence? Boteach doesn't cite any, because there isn't any.

Why did all of the contemporaries and eyewitnesses of Jesus and the apostles, including their enemies, leave no trace in the historical record of their objecting to such a major change of the Christian view of Jesus and multiple authoritative texts?

Boteach repeatedly makes major assertions without offering much or any supporting evidence. And he repeatedly sets up false choices for the reader. Why should we think that Jesus' agreement with the Pharisees on some issues disproves the gospel accounts of Jesus' opposition to the Pharisees? And how does citing Old Testament passages that influenced both the Pharisees and Jesus prove some sort of allegiance between the Pharisees and Jesus that would be different from what the New Testament portrays? Couldn't they agree on some issues, including deriving some of their beliefs from common Old Testament texts, yet disagree on other matters?

Boteach proposes a false problem, then offers a false solution that makes his theory even more implausible. He doesn't address issues such as Jesus' fulfillment of prophecy and His resurrection, but his references to Jesus as a political revolutionary suggest that he has a non-supernatural Jesus in view. If so, then his attempts to dismiss the miracles of Jesus will create even more problems for his theory. Apparently, all of these speculations will be strung together and published in a book he's writing.

Why is it that Shmuley Boteach and so many other opponents of Christianity want to claim some sort of allegiance to Jesus? Maybe it tells us something about the quality of Jesus' character and what's going on inside the conscience of some of these people.