Official Blog of the Bishop of Durham

April DeConick’s ‘More Scientific’ Biblical Studies – Proposing a Middle Range Theory

Posted by NT Wrong on December 9, 2008

In a recent series of posts, April DeConick has been talking about social memory, again. In particular, she’s airing some of the issues raised in the Memory and Textuality session, at which she was the respondent. April has an excitement about the area of memory which is contagious:

“I think that the study of human memory is the future of biblical studies. The people that are giving papers in the memory sessions are really on the cutting edge of future methodology. They are setting us on a new course.”
– April DeConick, SBL sessions: Memory and Textuality

In her latest post, she proclaims that biblical studies should become more scientific in its study of the processes behind the writing of biblical texts:

“In order to know how this process [of memorizing] worked [in the ancient world] and how it might have affected the composition of our texts, it is essential in my experience to experiment and to read in cognitive psychology which tells us how human memory operates and affects the transmission process. When we compare the results of this knowledge with what we see in our texts, it is really quite amazing what we can learn about the ancient people processes.”
– April DeConick, ‘Become more scientific’

I am in fundamental agreement with her on this point. Although it pushes us outside our comfort zones, and if done badly can result in worse results than not being done at all, the potential for new and better ways of understanding the texts is huge.

I’ll suggest a way to do it, too. I think we could apply the basic archaeological theory called “middle range theory” as a model, an approach originally put forward by Lewis Binford and the ‘New Archaeology’ of the 1960s — although adapted for the subject-matter of biblical studies. At its simplest, “middle range theory” involves the systematic study of the complex interrelationships between modern material artifacts and their related modern human cultures, for the purpose of applying this interrelationship to the ancient material artifacts that archaeologists dig up. Although we can study how material artifacts are used by living peoples today, we can only study the material artifacts of ancient peoples. We have no direct access to their minds, to their cultures. So middle range theory serves to fill this gap, a bit like this:


The basis for Binford’s method is simple yet compelling:

“if a distinctive combination of material traits could be demonstrated to correlate with a specific pattern of behavior in living societies, the discovery of the same combination of material traits in the archaeological record would permit similar behavior to be associated with a [material] archaeological culture.”
– Bruce Trigger, A History of Archaeological Thought (2006): 508.

Some might object that people aren’t as predictable as pottery, so any scientific study is doomed to be uncertain. This is undoubtedly true. But I have a couple of rejoinders. First, in the humanities nobody is aiming for certainty. Lack of certainty is a given, whether our methods are more or less robust. So, why not aim for more robust methods? Second, what is the alternative? In the absence of tested assumptions, people tend to fall back on a version of Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Just-So Stories’. That is, they tend to ask, ‘what would I do in their situation if I were a first-century illiterate peasant?’ And although this is something of a caricature of the alternative, under the “Just-So Story” approach there is a much higher risk of our interpretation of ancient cultures being determined by our untested current prejudices. At the very least it opens up new possibilities for interpretation. There are many aspects of biblical studies which a more scientific approach would benefit from — not every aspect, but certainly a great number.

So, I agree with Dr DeConick — biblical studies should become more scientific. Whether this should be carried out by specialist biblical scholars (knowledgeable of both biblical studies and, say, cognitive psychology) or ‘outsourced’ to other disciplines is an interesting question. But, either way, in order to be successful, a “middle range theory” for biblical studies should certainly be carried out by trained experts. That’s my one proviso. Otherwise – bring it on!

14 Responses to “April DeConick’s ‘More Scientific’ Biblical Studies – Proposing a Middle Range Theory”

  1. paulf said

    I have no quarrel with studying or testing anything, but I don’t see how this could be fruitful in the end. We don’t know exactly who wrote the bible books or when or where or how many people edited them.

    Whatever the results, there is no way of knowing whether they could be replicated on people in ancient times in general or on the new testament authors/editors in particular.

    What it will open up is a lot of arguing about whether the results are valid, and whether the conclusions of the testers was biased based on their preconceived view of the bible books.

    So test away, but I wouldn’t expect it to resolve anything.

  2. ntwrong said

    Resolve anything???? In Biblical Studies??? Surely you miss the point, Paul.

    But, more seriously, there are a host of minor assumptions that go to make up any interpretation. Testing them scientifically would at least open up some possibilities maybe not previously considered, and at best will alter our assumptions. Lack of evidence is a ‘sunk cost’ of proceeding by mere “just-so story” assumptions or scientific assumptions — so shouldn’t we prefer the more rigorously tested assumptions? It may be that many questions cannot be given a decisive test, given our lack of knowledge about the sitz im lebens. But this is also the case if we simply make assumptions out of personal prejudice and anecdotal presuppositions. At least this way the personal prejudices and anecdotal presuppositions get unveiled.

  3. paulf said

    I guess opening up new fields for debate could help with the unemployment problem.

  4. I think that in general there is a poor understanding of scientific method in biblical studies. The majority of scholars think it means mastering some special terminology and appearing to be analyzing data. But biblical scholarship is still primarily a theological field. Scholars engage in theological wars, but there is little to no insight into ancient culture and particularly into Jewish culture of Jesus’ time. There is rather a lot of theological assumptions and a pretense at following sound historical or scientific procedure.

    Science is basically a simple affair. It means looking for the simplest solutions to the data we have. NT scholarship is about rewriting the evidence to fit the theology. Here is a very simple rule of science that is violated all the time in NT studies: Never confuse a theory (or interpretation or hypothesis) with a fact, never misrepresent a theory as a fact or bit of data. But NT scholars violate this all the time. E.g., they all talk as if Judas’ betrayal is a datum in the texts (regardless of whether you think it is fiction or historically real) and as if the so-called Jewish trial of Jesus were also a bit of data. In fact, the Gospels never say Judas betrayed Jesus and Jewish leaders put him on trial. These are interpretations or theories, not hard data.

    Scholars suppress this basic insight. They do this because they do not want anyone to ask whether there are better interpretations. Biblical scholars suppress debate and other ways of looking at this. They create a faux science so they will appear to be scientific. But real science is forbidden by virtually every scholar as far as I can see. If that seems like a strong statement, I should tell you that it is an eminently provable statement. I personally find all this talk of science in NT studies very disturbing in a field that prevents real scientific inquiry (and I have not even touched on the matter of misrepresenting Jewish culture in order to promote scholarly theology). I seem to be all alone in this. That’s how it goes with science.

    Leon Zitzer

  5. ntwrong said

    Leon – Yes – NT scholarship is riddled with theological apologists.

    There are also a lot of theories posing as facts, and probably a fair amount of these are also presumed to be data in the text. I’m not sure about your examples though. One of the main descriptions of Judas in the canonical Gospels is him “betraying” Jesus to the chief priests and company. Now, the proceedings before the chief priests which follows (and before Herod in Luke!) are unrealistic and theatrical, but the text includes the’data’ that the chief priests issued a “judgment” against Jesus, doesn’t it? I suspect there is a fair amount of fiction to the Judas stories and the Jewish proceedings stories, but there do seem to be an explicit “betrayal” and an explicit “judgment”. Perhaps you could explain why this is only a theory.

    Am I a secret theologian after all?

  6. steph said

    “Science is basically a simple affair. It means looking for the simplest solutions to the data we have.” But simplicity doesn’t reflect historical reality. Compare the hypothetical synoptic solutions. Not all the data fits the existing simplistic solutions. “NT scholarship is about rewriting the evidence to fit the theology”. Well obviously, alot is and the good stuff isn’t.

    ‘I seem to be alone on this’ Ahhh – the true egotistical maverick.

  7. There is not any statement in the Gospels that Judas betrayed Jesus. All the Gospels use the Greek word “paradidomi” which the great majority of scholars agree does not mean betray. It is a neutral word which I would translate as convey, and some would use give over or hand over or deliver, while they emphasize that the word has no connotation of betrayal. Even as conservative a scholar as Raymond Brown, who hated to change anything in the traditional story unless he really had to, insisted (his word) that betray is an incorrect translation of “paradidomi”. John Meier and so many others agree, but it is William Klassen who really put this point on the map. “Prodidomi” is the word for betray and all the Gospels fail to use it to describe Judas’ action.

    What I have to emphasize is that “paradidomi’ is only one clue. If you look at Mark, every other detail of a story of betrayal is also missing — no motive, no conflict with Jesus or other disciples, and not even any recriminations from other disciples after the supposedly bad deed is done. It is extremely irrational to go from “Mark is missing every element of a story of betrayal” to “therefore Mark is telling the story of a traitor”. (Even if betray were a secondary meaning of “paradidomi”, it cannot be justified by anything in the Gospel text.) In fact, it is possible to prove that Mark tells a perfectly ambiguous story about Judas with not even one unequivocally negative piece of information about him. Each detail could easily have a positive interpretation.

    Elaine Pagels has written that Mark gives us “the bare fact of the betrayal”. That is completely false. Mark gives us only the bare fact of Judas leaving the table and returning with authorities in tow. Betrayal is pure interpretation, pure theory, not fact or datum at all. It is not just Pagels. Virtually every scholar misrepresents this. Some people would ask, “But why else would Judas return with authorities, if not to betray?” Well, there is actually a much better explanation, one that explains the actual details much better. The most rational question to ask about Mark is “Why does he tell such a perfectly ambiguous story about Judas which does not lean in a positive or negative direction but stays absolutely neutral?” It is a vital question, yet scholars for 200 years have prevented anyone from asking it by fasely talking about the betrayal as if it were one of the bits of data we have to deal with. And that is what I mean when I say that NT scholarship suppresses rational or scientific inquiry which above all, in any other discipline, not only allows but encourages alternative hypotheses. NT scholarship has always stifled any look at alternatives.

    Since I have gone on at length about this, I will only say about the so-called Jewish trial that the texts do not say there was a trial and judgment. That is, again, pure interpretation of the actual data. Be it noted: John has no final verdict against Jesus, neither does Luke, and at Acts 13:28, Paul explicitly states there was no Jewish death penalty — all evidence that most scholars do not like to consider. But isn’t there a cry of “He deserves death” in the Marcan/ Matthean narrative? Yes, but it does not say why they cried this. Trial and judgment is an interpretation, not a fact or datum. The scientific question is: Is there a better interpretation that accounts for all the evidence? Yes, there is, but NT scholars discourage and disparage anyone who would pursue it.

    I could easily list several other basic scientific principles that scholars regularly abuse or ignore. One other would be: The bigger your claim or theory, the more evidence you need. The charge that Jewish leaders conspired to kill Jesus is a mighty big claim and no one has ever mustered the evidence to prove it or even make it appear reasonable.

    As for Steph’s ad hominem attack, what can I say? Shall I say something about the egotism of those in power who misuse their power to suppress scientific thinking? I prefer to point out that everything I say is based on plenty of evidence and on rational comparison of how alernative hypotheses explain or fail to explain the evidence. If my complaint about the injustice of suppressing such inquiry strikes Steph as egotistical, I can only say it is not an evidentiary answer to my arguments. I prefer the poet John Berger’s remark: “The boon of language is not tenderness. All that it holds, it holds with exactitude and without pity.” I prefer accuracy in evidence, and not mildly clever insults.

    Leon Zitzer

  8. ntwrong said

    All the Gospels use the Greek word “paradidomi” which the great majority of scholars agree does not mean betray

    N. T. W.
    I think you’re being too woodenly restrictive concerning the semantic range of paradidomi. While paradidomi basically does mean “hand over”, in the current context “betray” may even be the better translation of the word. When paradidomi is used with an indirect object of “enemies”, the meaning “hand over to [my enemies]” is the same as “betray”. That is, to hand a person over to one’s enemies is to betray that person. For example, 1 Chron 12.17. In all the Gospels, the high priest faction is presented as Jesus’ enemy. As Judas is handing Jesus over to Jesus’ enemies, “betray” conveys the specific sense in which paradidomi is being used in the Gospels.

    I think you’ve overrelied on the diachronic meaning of paradidomi here. It’s an incorrect method of interpretation wich James Barr identified as ‘illegitimate totality transfer’.

    “The error that arises when the meaning of a word (understood as the total series of relations in which it is used in the literature) is read into a particular case as its sense and implication there, may be called ‘illegitimate totality transfer’ ” (The Semantics of Biblical Language (Glasgow: OUP, 1961), p. 218).

    I like to think of it as the concordance-abuser’s interpretative method. Instead of appreciating the context of the Greek original, those guilty of an illigitimate totality transfer make a fairly wooden application of their concordance and dictionary meanings. Now, you may have further reasons for this interpretation of paradidomi, so I’m not yet concluding this is something you’re guilty of. Although, I admit I’m a little suspicious.

    “Prodidomi” is the word for betray and all the Gospels fail to use it to describe Judas’ action.

    N. T. W.
    In fact, Luke 6.16 does use the nominal prodotes, clearly meaning “betrayer”:

    Ἰούδαν Ἰσκαριώθ, ὃς ἐγένετο προδότης
    “Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.

    Note the use of ginomai, which makes the nominal prodotes something that will occur in the future. That is, Luke 6.16 clearly states that Judas will become a “traitor”.

    the so-called Jewish trial that the texts do not say there was a trial and judgment

    N. T. W.
    I would agree with you that the Gospels do a poor job of portraying anything like a Jewish trial. But can we really say that there is absolutely nothing in the Gospels that indicates it is a trial and judgment of some sort? Witnesses? Looking for grounds for incrimination? A charge of blasphemy?

    While there’s no mention of ‘trial’ I know of, Mark 14.46 does indeed describe the condemnation of Jesus to death as katakrino. A condemnation to death by a public body is a judgment, no matter how little it followed any Jewish trial regulations. The existence of a judgment is something that is explicit in the text, not ‘filled in’ by scholarly interpreters.

    I note that I am suspicious as to whether there was any such ‘trial’ or proceedings in fact before the high priests that involved condemnation to death — or even whether the high priests were historically involved in Jesus’ death at all. But it is in the story.

    If you care to share, Leon, please also tell me what your better interpretations of Judas’ handing over and the high priest proceedings involved. Also, I note that you do say you’re the only one to have noticed this, but I wonder if you are influenced by any particular scholar (eg. Eisenman)?

  9. steph said

    Leon, My remark was in reaction to your “I seem to be alone in this”. I thought I was quite clear about that. My inference was that you are not alone Leon, in your scientific approach to biblical studies. While the discipline is unfortunately swarming with those who try to suppress such an approach, there are plenty of rational thinkers who examine the evidence and analyse the hypotheses. Maybe my inference wasn’t so clear to you.

    Now why on earth would I think a complaint about the injustice of suppressing such scientific inquiry was egotistical? That seems quite an irrational assumption in view of the fact that I quoted the passage to which my remark was directed.

  10. Luke does use prodotes once. However, that does not explain why Matthew and Mark consistently use some form of prodidomi when describing Judas or having Jesus describe the handover to come, or why John, whose portrayal of Judas is even more malevolent than the Judas described in Luke/Acts, doesn’t use prodotes either. So if we’re going to get ‘scientific’ here, Luke’s use of prodotes is a reinterpretation of Mark’s Judas (and , I’d argue, Matthew’s as well).

    As I recall, Klassen points out that Josephus, among others, uses prodidomi many times, but not in the sense of betrayal, rather in the context of prisoner transfer. I think ‘handover’ is a perfectly reasonable translation that avoids preferring the later, more negative portrayals of Judas and preserves the ambiguity in Mark’s narrative as to motive.

  11. NT Wrong? said

    Mike – I’m not overlooking the changes between the Gospels. But Leon was arguing that “all the Gospels” fail to describe Judas as a traitor. This is incorrect, for at least Luke does.

    As for the other Gospels, I’m not sure if Mark is being deliberately ambiguous here, or whether we have uncertainty in interpreting him. Not all uncertainty is evidence of ambiguity (or ‘polysemy’) in the text itself. And in the current context, where Judas is ‘handing over’ Jesus for a monetary reward, I can’t think of a better meaning than “betray”. But I’m waiting for Leon to tell me his interpretation.

  12. I do have a much better interpretation of the evidence, but that is not my point here (however, I will give part of it below). I am arguing for correct scientific procedure and pointing out that NT scholarship does not just occasionally violate it, but violates it on a regular basis. Not only by misrepresenting theories as facts, but also by assuming conclusions, by treating big claims as if they needed little evidence, by taking accusations as proof of same, and in so many other ways.

    What you are doing above is arguing for your interpretations, which is your right, but you are failing to note that these are interpretations. You are treating the betrayal and the trial as if they are well-known data or as if they are so natural and obvious that there could not possibly be any other way to see this.

    When you say Judas turned over Jesus to his enemies, the Jewish leaders, that is your interpretation. You are reading it into the texts and, a very big sicentific sin, you are eliminating any evidence that contradicts your interpretation. It is an assumption that the Jewish leaders were Jesus’ enemies and you are reading this into the texts to obstruct any other way to see the evidence.

    Yes, the word for traitor is used once in all the Gospels at Luke 6:16. How does one use trump 32 uses of paradidomi? Luke is just listing the names of the dsiciples here and so at some point Judas acquired the reputation of being a traitor. But when? In the storytelling parts of the Gospels, at the last supper, the Gospels are unanimous in using paradidomi. Why would they fail to use the definite word, prodidomi, for betray if it was so certain that this is what Judas did? Why do scholars consider it so threatenting to ask this question? Nothing in the context of Mark’s version justifies translating paradidomi as betray. You assume its correctness. And even if you had a slight point, it is anti-scientific to prevent trying out “What would happen if we kept to the neutral meaning of paradidomi just to see if this explains all the evidence much better?”

    Even the 19th century scholars, as prejudiced as they were, recognized that Judas’ story was a strange one. A mystery. It was a mystery because all the major clues for a story of betrayal are missing. As I said above, no motive, no conflict, and not even the little hint that anyone condemned him afterwards for his act. This is all certainly the case, especially in Mark. When you have a theory (Judas betrayed) and all the major evidence for it is missing, you have quite a problem. But scholars brush it all away by pretending they can just read in evidence where it does not exist.

    There is no solid story of Judas as a traitor. That is a plain fact that scholars continually cover up. There is a reason why the theory of relativity and the theory of evolution are known as theories, no matter how well established they are. It is because science is essentially humble and aims to keep minds open. It would be a sin to call them the fact of relativity and the fact of evolution. If NT scholarship were an honest discipline, they would be known as the theory of Judas’ betrayal, the theory of a Jewish trial, and the theory of a Jewish conspiracy against Jesus (or the theory of Jewish enemies). But NT scholars refuse to talk this way because scientific procedure is threatening to them. In their hubris, they talk about all these things as if they were more or less facts, data, and they do this for the specific reason of suppressing any other way to look at this.

    In Judas’ case, a highly rational question would be: Is there a theory that would account for why the Gospels, and Mark in particular, use paradidomi rather than prodidomi, why Judas is given no motive, why a conflict between Judas and Jesus is lacking, why none of the disciples say something like “You bastard! Why did you do such a terrible thing?” Is there a better theory to account for these features? But NT scholars have created an atmoshere that prevents honest debate about this.

    It is so wrong in scientific terms to pretend the betayal is an absolute fact. I quoted Pagels above who called the betrayal in Mark a given fact. But you avoid this major problem in scholarship by arguing that you think betrayal is a good interpretation. The problem is that virtually no scholar will acknowledge it is only an interpretation.

    You say that a condemnation of death can only be a judgment. Absolutely wrong. You are assuming your conclusion. It is very easy to prove that Jewish leaders put Jesus on trial and condemned him and that Judas betrayed him. All you have to do is assume it and voilà, case closed. This is not scientific procedure. This is just theology.

    If you do assume that Jewish leaders condemned Jesus (and it is an assumption), how do you explain that the condemnation is missing in Luke and John? How do you explain that Paul specifically denies there was any such judgment at Acts 13:28? Scholars regularly erase such evidence, which is a theological thing to do but hardly good science. Everyone knows that there are major problems with the Jewish trial and with Judas’ betrayal. What would you do in a legitimate science? You would encourage trying out alternative hypotheses to see if something else works better. That is real science. Not only does NT scholarship not do this, it actively works to make sure such a thing is never done.

    In a rational world, Haim Cohn’s book on Jesus’ “trial” would have engendered debate. So would William Klassen’s book. Show me where such a debate has occurred. Even if Klassen and Cohn and myself were wrong in our theories, they should still bring about debate in a scientific field. But the scholarly world suppresses all debate.

    Suppose for a moment (which is not a sin in science) that Jewish leaders were trying to save Jesus and prevent that Roman execution. Suppose they are trying to figure out a way to prove the Romans have no case against him. It is not a trial but an informal meeting to gather evidence and lack of evidence to present to Rome to save Jesus. In science, it is perfectly legitimate to try out an alternative hypothesis.

    Would this hypothesis explain why they are holding an informal meeting at night in the high priest’s home (not in the otticial chambers), why John and Luke mention no final verdict, why Paul says there was no death penalty? Is it possible that “He deserves death” (from Mark and Matthew) was a cry that he deserves death in Rome’s eyes, that they would be unable to save him from a Roman execution? A judgment of death from Jewish leaders is merely an assumption. There are other ways it would make better sense and better sense of all the evidence. It may contradict your theology but it is the right thing to do in science to experiment with other approaches.

    I am not going to argue for my full theory on a blog. I have done that in my book and proven it beyond reasonable doubt. I am only pointing out that scholars on a regular basis abuse the rules of science. The evidence is irrelevant. They just make assumption after assumption and use these assumptions to “prove” their case — no matter how many problems the assumptions leave in the evidentiary record. And they disguise the fact that they are making assumptions so that no one will dare ask “Can we make different assumptions and do a better job?” It is my experience that virtually the entire scholarly world will go to the ends of the earth to make sure that no one ever exposes the way they assume their conclusions and prevent any debate that one could try out different approaches.

    Leon Ziizer

  13. NT Wrong? said

    Thanks for your explanation, Leon. I can’t speak for every scholar, but when it comes to my own attempts to read what ancient texts such as the Gospels say, I don’t deny that these are interpretations. In fact, my position is quite the opposite. Every attempt at reading the meaning or meanings within a passage is a guess based on certain reasons, the identification and listing of which is one of the key functions of criticism. What shows that I do not treat my conclusions as “natural”, as you incorrectly conclude, is the very fact that I have spelt out my reasons for reaching conclusions, rather than making assumptons. So, in the case where I interpret Judas’ actions as a betrayal of Jesus, I would want to list the ‘data’ in whichever Gospel I was interpreting, such as the word paradidomi, the agreement between Judas and the chief priests, etc. I would then look for various ways to explain the data, various hypotheses, and then discern which did the better job of explaining the data. It is only at this stage I would declare Judas’ betrayal to be the probable meaning of the text, based on my estimation of it as the better interpretation. The context of each of the Gospels makes betrayal the better interpretation.

    It follows that absolutely everything I interpret about an ancient text is ‘theory’ – from the meaning of words (theorized from diachronic and synchronic data) to the meaning of whole passages. This is inevitable for any attempt to read ancient texts, whether in biblical studies, talmudic studies, classical studies, or ancient history. So you are wrong to say that I don’t treat my interpretations as “interpretations” or that I treat them as “data”. I wouldn’t normally even use the terms “data” and “fact” for ancient Jewish stories such as the Gospels, because such terms are proper only for observable realia. Instead, I would describe my “interpretation” of the text, and the text’s “meaning” reached by probable interpretation.

    This is a ‘scientific’, critical method. It does not proceed from assumptions, but tests assumptions. It’s not science in the hard science sense, because I am proceeding from general hypothesis to specific interpretation (whereas hard science proceeds in the reverse direction, from specific observation via general laws to general theories). This is essentially an abductive procedure – ‘fact gathering’, hypothesis generating, followed by critical selection of the better hypothesis.

    When you say Judas turned over Jesus to his enemies, the Jewish leaders, that is your interpretation. You are reading it into the texts…

    You are right that I “interpret” the texts of each Gospel as describing Judas turning Jesus over to his enemies. That is what I consider to be the better interpretation of the text. If you have a different hypothesis, then I would argue with you not by dismissing your hypothesis, but by working through the key reasons for and against each hypothesis, and only then concluding which hypothesis better accounts for the facts. You may disagree with my reasons, but it would be quite incorrect for you to conclude that I am reading anything into the texts. Instead, I am involved in making the ‘best guess’ of the meaning of the text, based on critical methodology.

    Yes, the word for traitor is used once in all the Gospels at Luke 6:16. How does one use trump 32 uses of paradidomi?

    I never claimed that the one occurrence of a word for traitor “trumped” other usages. You had earlier made the argument that “all the Gospels fail to use” a similar term which means “traitor”. I pointed out that Luke does use such a term. My point addressed your specific claim. The inclusion of this word in Luke is a strong indication that at least Luke considered Judas to become a traitor when he handed Jesus over to the chief priests. It is a weighty factor in favour of considering Judas a traitor in Luke’s Gospel. I would also conclude that the better interpretation of Judas’ actions in Matt 27 makes it highly probable that Judas is a traitor there, too. The context of Mark, where Judas is handed over to an enemy party, one that conspired against him from the very beginning of the Gospel, makes your hypothesis far less likely than mine. Now, I’m sure we could argue the substantial issues in far more detail. But my point is that I am assessing the better interpretation of each Gospel, in each case. I am not proceeding from assumption, as far as I am aware, but by a willingness to test assumptions.

    Just because I consider your explanation an unconvincing hypothesis and disagree with you does not mean that I am not involved in a critical assessment myself.

    It may contradict your theology but it is the right thing to do in science to experiment with other approaches.

    I have no “theology”. I agree that formulation of attempts at the “best explanation” is the manner in which biblical studies should be carried out.

    it is anti-scientific to prevent trying out “What would happen if we kept to the neutral meaning of paradidomi just to see if this explains all the evidence much better?”

    I am in complete agreement with you here. Let’s discuss every hypothesis that people put forward. I am open to any hypothesis. But openness should be the openness of a food-pipe – with the capacity both for intake and excretion.

  14. I will try to be succint this time. You say that Luke 6:16 is a weighty factor. I think it is actually irrelevant and I will explain why.

    Most, if not all scholars, would say that Luke 6:16 is a piece of evidence against Judas. They would also say that Mark 14:1 is a piece of evidence against Jewish leaders because Mark says that the leaders were seeking by stealth how to kill Jesus. This would not pass in any other field. Both Mark 14:1 and Luke 6:16 are only evidence that once upon a time such accusations were made. They are not evidence as to the truth of the accusations. We don’t know from these details whether this was true or the result of malicious slander. NT scholarship is the only field where an accusation or allegation (or hypothesis) is taken as part of the proof that the allegation is true.

    We know ancient Jewish leaders and Judas were accused of wrong-doing in Jesus’ death. That is a given. We don’t know when the accusation began and, more importantly, we don’t know whether this was just libel. To answer that, the accusations themselves have to be put aside and we have to ask whether there is a wide pattern of evidence beyond the allegation that supports it.

    If a judge read the charges against a defendant and then told the jury that these charges were part of the evidence against the defendant and indeed weighty evidence, he would be dismissed from the judiciary and quite likely disbarred and never allowed to practice law again. Or if a witness merely said the defendant is guilty of conspiracy to murder and the judge said the jury must consider this statement as evidence (as weighty or otherwise), the judge would be reprimanded if not dismissed. The defence would rightly object that the defendant is testifying to a conclusion and the jury should be instructed to disregard it.

    But in NT scholarship the mere allegation is considered as a vaild piece of evidence. It is the only field where no one is ashamed to argue like this. What scholars are doing is constructing a case against Judas and Jewish leaders by insinuation and innuendo rather than solid evidence. The impression of their guilt is all that is necessary. It is tantamount to a witch trial.

    I said above that the allegation itself is irrelevant. It only tells us that people thought such a thing. Was it slander or true? We need to look for a pattern of evidence outside the allegation. In the case of Judas, that evidence is completely missing. There is nothing to solidly prove a betrayal. It is all missing. At best there is some innuendo. That makes for a very weak case. In the case of Jewish leaders, there is a little evidence, but it is very little and that small amount tells us no one had a good case against them either.

    Do you realize that in all 4 Gospels there is only one unequivocally negative piece of information about Judas? That is John’s allegation that he stole from the poor. That’s it. For someone who was supposed to have been so evil, that is a pretty weak case. Everything else about Judas — and I do mean everything — is highly ambiguous. As an alleged story of betrayal, it is the strangest story of betrayal ever penned. But it is strange only if you assume it was a betrayal. Make another assumption and all the pieces make sense.

    I will stand by my statement that the scholarly world in general is dishonest about all this. You are debating with me about paradidomi because I raised it. Most scholars ignore it. Almost no one has the decency to admit that paradidomi could be a problematic word. They all write as if betray is the only possibility and that is so wrong. Elaine Pagels never tells her readers that the Gospels use paradidomi and that betray might be the wrong translation. Bart Ehrman does the same. Ehrman in fact does a very odd thing. He mentions paradidomi once when he discusses Paul’s use of it at 1 Cor 11:23. He actually mentions that betray is probably the wrong translation of paradidomi and gives this as his major reason why he believes Paul was not speaking of a betrayal. But when he turns to the Gospels, he never tells the reader that the Gospels use the same word! Everyone seeks to bias the case against Judas. No one (except Klassen and myself and perhaps the German scholar Hans-Josef Klauck) gives a full-fledged discussion of all the details.

    I could remind you that Mark is missing every single detail of a story of betrayal and the other Gospels do not fill this in but rather offer only slight innuendos. That is hardly a good, solid case. For 2,000 years, we have convicted Judas on the basis of essentially nothing and no one is embarrassed about this. The problem is not in the Gospels. It is in scholars who will not admit that they have discouraged any alternative hypotheses, despite the fact that everyone knows the cases against Judas and Jewish leaders are skimpy to say the least.

    It is both irrational and immoral to say a verse which makes a general accusation is a part of the evidence against the accused. No other academic field would do such a thing. There is a hubris in NT scholars who believe they can get away with such “reasoning” and never be called to account for it. And they are right in their hubris. They do have the power to get away with it. I pursue this not because I have any hope of success but because I believe in fighting for justice even when you don’t have a chance. I believe it is the right thing to do. I am foolish, I will admit. I have no choice. I fell into this and I cannot turn back now.

    Leon Zitzer

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