I’ve seen spin in my time and I’ve seen spin but I have seldom seen such dramatic evidence of “the helping hand” that David Klinghoffer’s generally uncritical rendering of Jeremy Cohen’s interview in Publishers Weekly (Nov. 20, 2006) offers to Cohen’s new book, Christ Killers. What torturous justification can there be for allowing this bald and obscurantist statement by Cohen to go unchallenged: “Given the limited evidence at our disposal today, we simply cannot know definitively who killed Jesus.” This is not only posing a problem that doesn’t exist for most westerners but is cleverly disguised as a kind of even-handedness, analogous tactically to damning with faint praise, but in this case simply obscures the issue of guilt by dressing it up with doubts that don’t have to rationally hang together but rather just need to be announced to work their poison. We know with reasonable certainty (if one can believe the Gospels at all) that the Romans killed Jesus but what irks Christians is the suspicion that the Jewish leadership put them up to it and they had good reason. Christ was popular and represented a challenge to the rule of the Sanhedrin. This is just not so difficult to wrap one’s head about. People have killed for less down the centuries. What bothers the Jews is that this little piece of trickery, if true, plays into stereotype of Jewish conniving. Stereotypes have the unfortunate side effect of painting members of racial groups with strokes (that however true they may be culturally and in a general sense) are far too broad and unfair to be applied to individuals across the board. This doesn’t make stereotypes true or untrue; it just means they represent cultural and social data that must be taken with a grain of salt.
The gospels may indeed contain material that is difficult to understand according to our present understanding of history and biblical exegesis but if the Gospel’s recounting of Pilate’s obvious hesitancy to convict Jesus is true then we must ask ourselves who had anything to gain by killing Jesus? The answer (if one wields Occam’s Razor) lies more in the direction of the Jews than the Romans. We might as well try to disguise white complicity in the slave trade by saying no one really knows who was responsible for slavery. Oh yes, we know and know all too well; it was greedy people who stood to gain from the use of other human beings. Jews, historically speaking, earned unfair enmity for killing an innocent man. It is over, just take the blame and move on. It really isn’t that complicated. Jews cannot be held collectively guilty for the shallow actions of a few of their forefathers, any more than the present generation can be held accountable for slavery or the theft of Indian land. Of course though if one admits to an historical error of this magnitude, one might have to question one’s faith, one’s culture and that just isn’t done by the spiritually devolved.