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April 19, 1963 - Image 13

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1963-04-19

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

Setting out to prove that
there is no consistent reason in
the Gospels for the death of
Jesus as given in the New Test-
ament, claiming that there are
many inconsistencies in Gospel
literatures, suggesting "a theory
to explain the discrepancies in
the Gospel narrative that still
perplex scholars and laymen
alike," Joel Carmichael stirs up
a hornet's nest with his new
book, "The Death of Jesus,"
published by Macmillan.
Scholars and reviewers al-
ready are seriously divided in
their views of the book. Library
Journal said it is "a highly
controversial book." Dwight
MacDonald wrote.
"Mr. Carmichael argues bril-
liantly and he may even be
right; in any case the Gospels
will never be the same for me
. • . It is a very stimulating
Dr. Sidney B. Hoenig of Ye-
shiva University's faculty said:
"The author's analysis of the
New Testament as an historic
source for the comprehension
of the death of Jesus is well
done . . . this work will be rec-
ognized as a most intriguing
volume on the origins of
Christianity because it veers ex-
ceedingly from the common-
place works on the subject but
nevertheless is founded on a
well-balanced, careful historic
probing and research."
Pierre van Paassen, noted
author who has turned Unitar-
ian preacher, said of the book:
"I can hardly praise the book
enough. I admire the calm way
in which Mr. Carmichael has
gone to work and still produced
not only a fascinating work, but
one of breathtaking interest for
our time . . . I think that this
work is in the greatest exegeti-
cal tradition, fearless yet cau-
tious, penetrating and still re-
spectful of the man of Nazareth.
He has come up with a very
credible and logical explanation
of events in connection with
the Passion, the question
namely, whether or.in what way
Jesus was involved in the cause
of Jewish freedom against the
oppression of pagan Rome."
Harold Rosenberg wrote
about it:
"It is remarkable when a
writer like Joel Carmichael,
editor and translatorof Suk-
hanov's celebrated diaries of
the Russian Revolution, decides
without any doctrinal intention
or bias to get as close as he
can to an understanding of
what happened in Jerusalem
two thousand years ago. One
thing Carmichael was bound to
find: political struggle of an
intensity and violence that
would bring execution on the
Cross . . . "
But W. Norman Pittinger of
the General Theological Sem-
inary berated it as follows:
"I am sorry to say that in
respect to this book I can only
report that to my mind it is
not a piece of sound scholar-
ship . . . the difficulty with
the writer is that he had little
sympathy with his subject
matter . . . "
And the eminent authority
on Biblican lore, Prof. W. F.
Albright, was angered by the
book and wrote about it:
"Ordinarily I do not reply
to unsolicited letters asking my
opinion of bad books . . . But
Joel Carmichael's book is such
a combination of bad scholar-
ship with clever presentation
that I want to say just this:
The book is a disgrace to schol-
* * *
Stephen Zoll, senior editor of
the Macmillan Co., expressed this
view in an announcement of the
publication of Carmichael's book:
"The Death of Jesus" by Joel
Carmichael is a work of historical
detection; it is not a religious
book in any sense. It attempts to

restore the political content of
the events surrounding the execu-
tion of Jesus by a carefully
reasoned examination of the Gos-
pels as a source of history, not
as religious inspiration. It is an
attempt in continuation of a long
series of such attempts to "recog-
nize," as Albert Schweitzer wrote
in "The Quest for the Historical
Jesus," "the rights of history."
"From advance comments, it
is apparent that the book is con-
troversial. It has been contracted
for publication in England by
Victor Gollancz, Ltd., and in
France by Gallimard. Macmillan
personnel differ just as violently
in the views expressed. We agree,
however, that they warrant a
hearing and that the volume will
probably be of particular interest
to historians, political scientists
and literary humanists."
* *
Carmichael's contention is
that "there is a more or less
conscious desire to blame the
Jews and exculpate the Ro-
mans; it is this anti-Jewish
rancor of the Gospel writers
that, while partially explaining
their friendliness to the Ro-
mans, makes it all the more
significant that in the last anal-
ysis the actual execution of
Jesus is nevertheless laid at
their door."
He proceeds to state: "If the
Gospel writers were so hostile
to the Jews, and took such pains
to blame them for the cruci-
fixion of Jesus, why is it that
in spite of the absence of detail
in the narrative, which would
obviously make all sorts of in-
ventive fancies possible, all
four Gospels report that it was
the Romans who in fact sen-
tenced Jesus to crucifixion and
carried out the sentence them-
selves? The crucifixion is in
itself decisive: it was a char-
acteristic Roman execution and
was never used as a capital
punishment by Jews. The cap-
ital sentence that the Jewish
authorities would have been
authorized to carry out was
strangulation, stoning, burning
at the stake, or decapitulation.
The mere fact of Jesus' cruci-
fixion thus involves the direct
authority of the Romans."
* * *
Maintaining that Jesus "was
executed as King of the Jews,
that is, as a contender for
power," Carmichael proceeds to
state that "even if claiming to
be the Messiah was blasphemy
in the eyes of the Jews (which
it definitely was not), the ac-
tual sentence was handed down
and carried out by the Romans,
on a Roman charge (Kingship)
and by a Roman execution.
Thus, while there is no doubt
that a systematic effort has
been made in the Gospels to
create an entire framewOrk of
Jewish judicial procedure
around the capture, trial and
execution of Jesus, and at first
this framework gives an im-
pression of coherence, this im-
pression lasts only a moment.
A closer look will indicate that
the entire structure of Jesus'
trial is highly insubstantial,
contradictory, and above all
He thereupon analyzes the
Gospels, makes comparisons,
offers proof that "the Jews had
no reason to kill Jesus, and
they did not." He challenges
the evidence in Mark that
Jesus' trial took place on Pass-
over by asserting that "it was
against Jewish custom to begin
a trial on Passover day."

* * *

Referring to the claim that
Jeusus' birth was "in accord-
ance with pr ophecy," Car-
michael admonishes against the
interpretation of the reference
to a young woman in Isaiah
7:14 (almah) as virgin. He
"Because of an accident in
the Septuagint, the ancient

Greek version of the Old Testa-
ment, this passage gives a work
as 'virgin' that in the Hebrew
original simply means 'young
woman.' This was seized on as
a prediction of Jesus Messianic
birth and mentioned in Mat-
thew 1:23, even though the sen-
tence as a whole is plainly a
rhetorical way of indicating a
certain passage of time with no
thought of anything Messianic
at all. At a time when the
early Christians were still pre-
o c c u p i e d with establishing
Jesus' claim in order to impress
potential Jewish converts, the
passage was seized on as one
more validation of his Messianic
Numerous contradictions in
the Gospels are charged by Car-
michael, who also dispels some
of the misconceptions about the
Sadducees and the Pharisees.
He states:
"One of the most vivid illus-
trations of the profound, an-
achronistic bias of the Gospel
writers is just this harping on
the Pharisees' hostility to Jesus.
The moment the alienation be-
tween the Jewish parent com-
munity and its proto-Christian
offshoot progressed to the point
of blaiming the Jews for Jesus'
death everything in his life, too,
was looked at from this stand-
point. It was the cross itself,
in fact, that constituted the
dominant perspective for all
events. Not only were the early
Christians bent on making con-
verts among the pagan masses
of the Roman Empire, but it
became increasingly difficult to
make converts among the Jews.
The interaction of these two fac-
tors removed any inhibitions
that might have been felt with
respect either to the sensibil-
ities of the Jews or to historical

* * *

The roles of the apostles are
reviewed, and Carmichael offers
the suggestion that Jesus was a
member of a revolutionary
group and that the betrayal by
Judas was rather in his having
made known the hiding place of
that group of rebels, and there-
fore of Jesus. He delves at
length in a description of a
military-religious movement in
which Jesus and John were
An interesting comment is
made on the events that fol-
lowed the destruction of Judea
in the year 70, in the "fanatical
tenacity" displayed by the Jews
whose losses in lives, according
to Josephus, numbered 1,356,-
"The disaster that wiped out
the Jewish priesthood also de-
stroyed the Sadducees as a
party," Carmichael writes, "and
the Pharisees found themselves
the de facto exponents of the
religious and intellectual ener-
gies of the now defeated and
dispersed nation. Thus for the
first two centuries of the rise
of the Christian faith, the Phari-
sees were identified with the
Jewish people as a whole.
"Before A.D. 70 Judaism had
been indulgent to those who be-
lieved in Jesus but clung to the
Jewish ceremonial; it reserved
its hostility to Jesus' Hellenist
followers, who wished to over-
throw this ceremonial. After the
national catastrophe, however,
Judaism shrank back into itself;
it became increasingly hostile
to all forms of Christianity,
especially since during this time
Christianity itself was evolving
along lines increasingly intoler-
able to Jewish monotheism. In
order to bind together the Jew-
ish people in the Diaspora that
was now the sole framework of
its existence, the Pharisees, ac-
cordingly, became increasingly
exclusive as a matter of policy.
"The rupture between the
two faiths became unbridgeable:
after A.D. 70 it was impossible
to be both a Jew and a Chris-

success among the pagans was
remarkable." Nevertheless,
Paulinism retained three Jewish
traits—the montheistic heritage,
Judaism's socioethical content,
purposefulness of life.
Carmichael's conclusion is
that Judaism's evolution of
montheism "made it mythical
by personalizing its symbolical
significance in the Biblical nar-
rative. Christianity did the op-
posite: it seized on a myth and
maintained that it had really
taken place. For in being forced
to digest the indigestible execu-
tion of Jesus, in being forced to
assimilate this fact of life,
Christianity did not of course
allow it to remain a mere his-
torical fact, inert and meaning-
less: it transcendentalized it."
His analyses and conclusions
are drawing darts from Chris-
tian sources. "The Death of
Jesus" becomes one of the most
controversial writings and its
author, Joel Carmichael, is the
Thereupon "Pauline" Christi- target in a debate that may
anity is examined, and it is eval- draw a lot of bad blood.
—P. S.
uated as "the framework of a
Mystery." Paul's preaching, of
Christ crucified , Carmichael
If one should say to you, "Re-
states, "remained a stumbling move the mote from your eye,"
block for Jews—in fact they tell him "Remove the beam from
never surmounted it — but its your eye."—Baba Bathra 15 .

tian. This alone was enough to
seal the doom of so - called
Judeo-Christianity. Without the
ability to cast off all Jewish
montheistic restraints and mag-
nify Jesus into a genuine and
independent object of worship,
as the Hellenistic branch of
Christianity was managing to
do with such eclat, it could only
stifle in its own blind alley—too
Jewish for Christianity, too
Jewish to create a vigorous, in-
dependent sect in the teeth of
Jewish tradition, and not Jewish
enough, on the other hand, to
melt back indiscernibly into the
main body of Judaism.
"These two factors—the sup-
pression after A.D. 70 of `Judeo-
Christianity,' or the Jewish be-
lief. in Jesus as the Jewish Mes-
siah, and the growing vigor of
the Jewish attitude itself —
forced Christianity proper to
develop under exclusively Hel-
lenistic influence."




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1 3 - THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS — Fri day, April 19, 1963

Joel Carmichael's 'Death of Jesus' Becomes
'Highly Controversial' Book, Attacked by
Christian Scholors, Defended by Some Jews

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