To the Editor:
It is a pity that your reviewer, Mordecai S. Chertoff, is so conscious of my being a Gentile that, skimming the later chapters of my King Jesus, he assumes that I necessarily take the classic Christian approach to the Gospel story and blame the Jews for Jesus’s death. I do nothing of the kind. The cause of his death was, in my account, that in spite of the four main rabbinical texts against “forcing the hour” of the Messiah’s coming, he tried to fulfil the prophecies associated with it, on the assumption that he was the Messiah ben Joseph, the one fated to die by the sword, as opposed to the Messiah ben David, the destined founder of the Kingdom. The occasion of his death was that Pilate, whom I show in his true colours (Tacitus and Philon agree that he was a real scoundrel), was aware of Jesus’s title to the Jewish crown, then in demise, and used it as a pawn in a blackmail plot against Herod Anti-pas, the tetrarch of Galilee, while putting the responsibility for his death on the Jewish high-priestly families. The amount of Pilate’s winnings mentioned in the Armenian Josephus is thirty gold talents, nearly $1,000,000, though with their usual anti-Jewish bias the editors of Josephus have represented the money as a bribe by the High Priests, not as blackmail paid by Antipas.
Mr. Chertoff underrates my intelligence as well as my scholarship by supposing that, in my view, Jesus thought women were evil, but I do accept the account in the early Gospel to the Egyptians that he mystically declared war against “The Female,” alias the Alukah, whose two daughters are the womb and the grave: as I do accept the canonical gospel account of his insisting on spiritual eunuch-hood for his disciples. The “Christian notion of Original Sin” is, after all, derived from the story of the Fall in Genesis.
Yes, the Samaritans were accused by the post-Captivity Jews of secretly worshiping the Dove Goddess; probably with justice. Some of them came from Cyprus where the Goddess had been imported many hundreds of years before from Minoan Crete. Her local name was Ashima and she seems to have been one of Jehovah’s two divine partners at Jerusalem in Solomon’s time: if “the House of Pharaoh’s daughter” was, as I believe, really a temple of Ashima. There is inscriptional evidence for her partnership with Jehovah in the Jewish Temple at distant Elephantine in 5th century B.C., a time when the Jewish religion had long been reformed at Jerusalem and her rites suppressed; and she still lingered spiritually, though officially banned, even in pious Jerusalem—as the Flesh which warred against the Spirit, the Alukah in fact.
As for the two Sanhedrins—the Pharisaic religious Supreme Court and the Quisling political Sanhedrin responsible to the Romans—Mr. Chertoff can do no better than consult the recent files of the Jewish Quarterly where he will find out all about them from the greatest living authority on the period.
The Pesach as a hobbling war-dance in honour of the Canaanite Tammuz is confirmed by the Hebrew use of the PSCH root in the story of the dancing priests of Carmel whom Elijah confuted; its origin is probably a totem-dance of a partridge clan. It was still performed at Beth-Hoglah in Classical times. The Jews superseded this primitive festival with their Passover commemoration, as the Christians superseded the hare and snake’s egg Easter festivities in honour of pagan deities with their commemoration of Jesus’s “Resurrection,” but relics of the original rites appear in rabbinical rubrics for its performance. Rimmon Adonis was a pomegranate god and the Passover victim still had to be spitted on a pomegranate skewer.
I have no access to Hebrew books of reference at the moment, but any competent Talmudist will be able to reassure Mr. Chertoff that substantial citizens of Jesus’s day did not wastefully rip and rend their clothes in savage fury, when anything went wrong. They opened a seam as a token tearing, like sensible men.
As for Antipater’s being a scoundrel, no reasonable person could read Josephus’ account of the trial without recognizing that he was “framed” by his father Herod and that the Romans were aware of this. Josephus records that only Herod’s death prevented the massacre of the entire Jewish priesthood, some 20,000 men, in the amphitheatre at Jericho: Herod’s cult of the variously named pagan Sun-god is well attested, and that he intended to replace Jehovah with this deity after the massacre is not a very wild guess. He had already fixed a golden eagle over the East gate of the Temple, not in flattery of the Romans, but in honor of the Sun-god who had been worshipped there as recently as in the reign of King Manasseh; the pious disciples of ben Margoliouth tore it down and he put them to death. The sacrifice of the elder son to the Sun-god as an act of propitiation is also well attested. Mr. Chertoff will doubtless recall the King of Moah who made this sacrifice in II Kings, 3, 27.
Yes, of course, the Toldot Yeshu contains a lot of nonsense, but it has a substratum of fact, like all the best fairy stories.
No, the Essenes were not allowed to hold temporal office, but there was nothing to prevent Simon, son of Boethus, from joining them after his deposition as High Priest, any more than there was to prevent the 6th Century Pope whom Belisarius deposed from subsequently becoming a friar.
I do not fly in the face of Scripture in portraying Jesus as a scholar. He appears in the New Testament as an infant prodigy disputing points of the Law with the Doctors: and later as commenting on the Prophets in the synagogues of Capernaum and Nazareth. In the Talmud one very scholarly legal opinion of his, based on the Prophets, has been preserved as worthy of commendation; the one which concerns the propriety of building a privy for the High Priest’s use during his preparation for the Day of Atonement, with money given to Temple funds by a prostitute. As for his knowledge of Greek—Galilee was bilingual and some of his disciples had Greek names; also Mr. Chertoff may recall Jesus’s pleasure when some of “the Greeks,” meaning the Alexandrian Greeks, came to interview him shortly before the Crucifixion. How he can write that “the pious shunned Greek,” when a knowledge of Greek was exacted of every member of the Supreme Court and when more Jews must have been reading the Scriptures in the Greek Septuagint translation than in Hebrew, I cannot imagine.
Excuse me: I don’t know what “depth psychology” means and I am innocent of any such study; but at least I do know what the Fifth Commandment meant for mystics like Jesus, namely that a Jew must honor, not his human father and mother, but God as his father and the Shekinah, the glory of God, as his mother. If I had space and time I would write a rabbinical gloss for COMMENTARY on Numbers VI, 23-27, a text which bears on the problem.
The traditional Jewish verdict on Jesus is “first a true prophet, afterwards a deceiver.” This is fair comment, but incomplete. It should be added that Jesus’s deceptions were confined to the last forty-eight hours of his life when he was trying to “force the hour” by an impersonation of the “worthless shepherd” of Zechariah, the man who, though “God’s fellow,” “ prophesied lies in the name of Jehovah” as a paradoxical means of forcing the people to repentance. This is not a mere guess of mine; Jesus quoted the relevant texts at the Last Supper. The Pauline Christians have completely misunderstood his motives, and therefore represented him as a rebel against the Law; the Jews have long forgotten his motives because the Christians behaved with such monstrous ingratitude and dishonesty, that they can only suppose him to have been as wrong-minded as his followers pretend. Perhaps a careful reading of my book will help them to a better understanding of Jesus as a loyal and orthodox Jew and incline them to forgive him for his single fault, that of “putting his sickle to the corn before it was ripe”; and those with a better knowledge and understanding of their national literature than Mr. Chertoff will recognize that my history is not so phoney as he makes out.