Dialogue with a Modern Trypho – Updated
… on Jewish Historiography, Ultimate Reality, and the Holocaust
“There will be no other God, o Trypho, nor was there from eternity any other existing, but He who made and disposed all this universe. Nor do we think that there is one God for us, another for you, but that He alone is God who led your fathers out from Egypt with a strong hand and a high arm.
Nor have we trusted in any other (for there is no other), but in Him in whom you also have trusted, the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob….For the true spiritual Israel, and descendants of Judah, Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham (who in uncircumcision was approved of and blessed by God on account of his faith, and called the father of many nations), are we who have been led to God through this crucified Christ.” … Justin Martyr (AD 100-165), Dialogue with Trypho
During the fall of last year, I contacted David Turner of the Jerusalem Post about specifically addressing his habit of making sweeping assertions with little or no evidence.
Despite my strong disagreement with Turner, he certainly is to be applauded for granting me permission to put his ideas out there so that they could be examined in light of reason, logic, and historical inquiry.
I wish I was also granted permission to publish other interactions with some of the key figures in the Holocaust establishment. Critiques are invaluable for challenging you to reexamine the issues, and “iron sharpens iron.”
The interactions actually began when I first asked Turner to provide the evidence for some of the claims he made in the post, including the extraordinary claim that “there was no historical record beyond Paul’s epistles that refer to its central figure, Jesus,” leading readers to believe that the historical Jesus is a myth.
Our email correspondence began when Turner made the statement that “I check my ‘facts’ with a prominent first century scholar when in doubt as backup when presenting my own ‘interpretations’ of events.” I asked him to give me the name of the scholar so that I could examine his work.
Bridging the Religious Universe – Michelango grasped the challenge
Turner: As I understand your focus I cannot reveal my sources. You do seem somewhat more open than most engaged in what I see as your antisemitic/antizionist agenda. And since you have already chosen to include me in your writings… But obviously I cannot expose my own sources to your agenda. I hope you understand?”
Alexis: In a scholarly and academic research and in the search for truth, sources are not only vital but ought to be demanded. The whole fabric of Western civilization is built upon this premise. If I make an extraordinary claim, you ought to be able to say, “Provide the evidence.” This is all I am asking. And this is why I would have liked you to give me the name of the “prominent scholar” you mentioned earlier so that I can examine the intellectual honesty and academic integrity of his claims.
I could care less about his name—I’m only interested in the evidence. Is that an “antisemitic/antizionist agenda”? If not, what prompted you to say that I have an “antisemitic/antizionist agenda”?
Turner: I read the drafts you sent. We all have our biases, and I find yours as described below. While I find your approach to your subject offensive as a Jew and Zionist and it should be self-evident that I would not support what you describe, and may well feel, “a scholarly and academic research and in the search for truth,” I see it very differently. I do not deny you opportunity to express your view, but I don’t expect you to take offense at what I find a highly distorted interpretation of your “facts.”Like statistics, “facts” take the form of their organizer.
Alexis: You find the conversations (or drafts) we’re having anti-Semitic? How is “a scholarly and academic research and in the search for truth” anti-Semitic or bias? You don’t believe this is vital? Moreover, if “facts” are just interpretations and “take the form of their organizer,” why should we believe in them? Why should I believe in yours? Why should you believe in mine and be offended by any historical assertion? My friend, far be it from me to offend you. As previously suggested, I am interested in history, honesty, and ultimately truth. I am sure we both have the same goal.
In that sense, we need to apply a method that is agreeable to us both: the historical method. You would certainly find it offensive if a person proposes something that is not accurate with respect to Jewish history.
As a Christian who despises hate, bigotry and animosity and who prays for the salvation of men everywhere, I too would find it interesting if a person says that “Jesus never existed.” I would only ask for scholarly and historical evidence. Can we at least agree here, friend?
Seeing what others cannot – a gift, or a curse
Turner: I did not say the facts are, “just interpretations.” The interpretation is reflected in our selection and organization of the “facts,” the meaning that organization provides. I charge you with nothing I don’t accept myself.
All history comes down to how the facts are first selected, then ordered. The same “facts” can provide the basis for diametrically opposite ends. Whether we select our facts intending to produce a polemic or an “unbiased” historical narrative still they reflect our biases and purpose.
I, being a Jew, will view the Crusades differently from a Christian. The generally accepted legend is that the purpose was the heroic battle to expel the heathens from Jerusalem, from the Holy Land, missing or glossing over the tens of thousands of European Jews murdered on the road to Jerusalem.
Same facts, different emphasis. I don’t deny you the right to your opinions but neither would I support that which you feel objective and I know to be prejudiced. Two takes on the same facts. No hard feeling intended.
Alexis: The response seems to beg the question. I do not deny that some facts can lead to different conclusions. However, our conclusions must not only be rational but logically consistent, historically adequate and accurate, empirically verified, and existentially livable. For example, we know that the universe exists and, from a scientific point of view, had a beginning. Everything that began to exist by definition has a cause.
The universe began to exist, therefore it has a cause. This ultimately leads to two frightening conclusions: either the universe created itself, or someone created the universe. If the universe created itself, it ultimately means that the universe was in existence before it created itself—a logically worthless conclusion. Someone must have created it.
So, one can go from facts to rationally plausible and defensible conclusions. The response you provided also assumes that history can never be drawn from an objective point of view. I do not deny that prejudice and bias play a role in this discussion, but if no objective truth exists (and I don’t know your stand on this), it is meaningless to search for historical documentations, for one interpretation would just be as valid as another.
Moreover, a serious historian must be very careful in “selecting” facts. All the historical strata must be put on the table before one can draw a conclusion. If a person is selecting some truth here and there without looking at the whole spectrum, that would be an infallible sign that you are in the presence of pseudo-scholarship. This has been my whole point from the beginning. In the grand scheme of things, there is no reputable historian who would deny the existence of Jesus.
In addition, we have more evidence for Jesus than for anyone in ancient history. This is not selecting facts at all, and if you want to see the evidence for this, it is all available. I am sure you and I will view certain things differently. But from a historical point of view, the existence of Jesus is non-negotiable. Can we again agree on this point? Blessings!
Turner: I could debate this with you forever since our starting points are radically different. Causality, authorship of the universe: this is a path which philosophically results in a reduction ad absurdum. The only point we apparently agree upon is that, “prejudice and bias play a role in this discussion.” It appears that your understanding of “truth” lies in the realm of Plato’s theory of forms, a perfection to guide, but not achievable.
I doubt you really mean that, “all historical strata must be put on the table,” since only God would have such an ability. As regards “objectivity,” here too you have already denied what you assert since you have already admitted to “prejudice and bias” in interpretation and selection of “facts.” I find your reasoning inconsistent but again allow that it is yours and not mine.
As to your certainty regarding the existence of Jesus, “from a historical point of view, the existence of Jesus is non-negotiable… we have more evidence for Jesus than for anyone in ancient history.” This is a classic illustration of where we differ in understanding “history” and the “facts” supporting its study.
There are degrees of facticity, the most important being directly observable and recorded “objectively” by that observer. Then would come the “observer” relating it somehow to a second person who records the “facts” as objectively as possible. In the case for Jesus-the-man whose mission comes down to us today the closest evidentiary source according to historical standards is Paul, whose only “contact” with Jesus was in a vision.
Otherwise his “facts” depended on hearsay, not material evidence. The only other source of “evidence” for Paul’s Christ Jesus is the gospels, all of which were recorded decades after Paul, who himself was writing and missionizing decades after the date attributed to the events he describes.
Now I am concluding from this that Jesus did not exist, only that your understanding of “facts” and “evidence” do not conform to traditional historical evidence. And the fact that beginning 1800 years after the events described in Christian scripture Christian thinkers turned their attention to the effort to “prove” the existence of a “historical” Jesus should suggest something, should it not?
And the fact that two hundred years later the “quest” for historicity regarding Jesus continues… Again, I do not invent the rules of history, but I try to remain loyal to an objective reading of the facts. I can do no more.
The Dueling Davids
Alexis: The response once again seems to be a circular argument to posit that my assessment about the universe “is a path which philosophically results in a reduction ad absurdum” without any evidence. Please tell me how and why so we can have a better discussion on this.
The reason you believe that truth is “not achievable” largely because you don’t believe ultimate truth exists—a position which indirectly and inevitably weakens nearly all the points you have raised both in theJerusalem Post and in our discussion here.
What reason do I have to believe what you are saying right now? Why are you spending so much time in the Jerusalem Post refuting what you see as anti-Semitism in the past and present? Why am I being labeled “antismetic/anti-zionist” without sober thought?
For example, with respect to the Leo Frank trial, you wrote that it “illustrates the depth of anti-Semitism present in the United States for decades preceding the First World War, a level that only intensified after that war, and continued to do so through the Second World War and beyond.” (What a pity that many of the lawyers involved in the trial were Jewish—yet even they did not find Frank’s case convincing.)
You even wrote some of the most offensive things about the United States and its sacred documents, such as the following: “The Constitution and Bill of Rights have served as a legal firewall to institutional anti-Semitism.” Why should the vast majority of Americans take this assertion seriously if its author is not interested in ultimate truth? Why should they not dismiss it?
You seem to misrepresent the point I made about history. History, in principle, requires that historians not only ask important questions about the past, but search existing documents to try to give accurate accounts and descriptions about what happened in the past. If the documents are weighed against others and found false, then they must be discarded; if they are corroborated, then they must be preserved.
True historians are always on a quest for the truth, asking probing questions and discerning between evidence in order to give an accurate explanation of the past. Once all rival alternatives are weighed, then inference to the best explanations should be drawn.
Furthermore, historians, like scientists or academic professionals, are to be skeptical about their documents, and examine them in light of various sources to corroborate and even challenge accepted views. If the documents show contradictions, or if they challenge our preconceived vision, then we need to slow down and reconsider our worldviews to see whether they were based on evidence or popular opinion.
The first principle in examining any historical account is that truth exists—even if historians do not know what it is at the moment of investigation. If truth doesn’t exist, then ultimately the historian is wasting his time looking for clues, which lead to hypotheses, theories, and ultimately historical documentation You wrote, “Again, I do not invent the rules of history, but I try to remain loyal to an objective reading of the facts. I can do no more.”
What you have described about Jesus is simply not true at all, and the history which you claim to follow is not what is scholarly established by the historical establishment. Not even John Dominic Crossan and Richard Carrier, of all people, would put their credibility on the line by taking such a radical and indefensible approach (Carrier once held to that position and quickly fled from it).
I simply cannot take time to talk about the historical Jesus here. Since you fail to cite some sources and even mention the “prominent scholar,” I’ll cite just a few. I’ve already mentioned Bart Ehrman—hardly a Christian source.
Markus Bockmuelh, The Cambridge Companion to Jesus (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001); Gary R. Habemas, The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ(Michigan: College Press Publishing, 1996); Craig S. Keener, The Historical Jesus of the Gospels(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 2009); James K. Beilby, ed., The Historical Jesus: Five Views (Downers Grove: InterVarsity press, 2009); Robert E. Van Voorst, Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 2000); Gerd Theissen, Historical Jesus: A Comprehensive Guide (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996). Blessings!
“Diametrically Opposed” – Francesco Hayez
Turner: Your starting point and mine are diametrically opposite, which is the reason that which you understand as “obvious” is unacceptable to me, and vice versa. You assert that, “Once all rival alternatives are weighed, then inference to the best explanations should be drawn,” and then hold that there is such a thing as Ultimate Truth.
How can you not see the conflict between such a thing and the distortion that individual perception introduces into the search for something approaching “truth;” that “truth” is conditional on the individual?
You “believe” in a Universe created by God, that from “a historical point of view, the existence of Jesus is non-negotiable.” These, for you represent “facts,” and I do not deny this for you. But they are only “facts” for yourself and others who believe them so. Neither is provable by “fact” since both fail the basis of the definition: neither can be verified, except through “faith”.
Nor do I set myself up as a judge to Jesus as a person in the first century. I merely point out that there is no material evidence, nothing to verify his presence in that century. He left no written documents; no single person who encountered him referred to him in a form that we can point at.
But all this is still beside the point since whether or not a “historical Jesus” is ever proved by the rules governing historical fact, those who wrote about him created a danger for the Jewish people that has continued for 2000 years and resulted in tens of millions of Jews murdered in his name.
And that is “fact.” It is readily available to even a casual reader, hard evidence, written by actual participants in the murder from crusaders to inquisitors down to Himmler at Posnan (‘The Jewish people are being exterminated’, says every party member, ‘this is very obvious, it’s in our program, elimination of the Jews, extermination, we’re doing it, hah, a small matter.’)
I have, in fact, read many of the books you recommend. And I return the favor by recommending to you the following Christian theologians and historians: first, Rosemary Reuther’s: Faith and Fratricide. Then Nicholls’,Christian Antisemitism, Carroll’s, Constantine’s Sword. If you find these not to your taste you might turn to Luther’s The Jews and their Lies, and fourth century Church Father, Chrysostom (almost anything, just Google his name).
What do you see?
Alexis: I honestly don’t know how you can’t see a vital and internal contradiction in your assertions. You keep implying that there is no such thing as “ultimate truth,” yet you are writing dozens of articles in the Jerusalem Post positing “truth” claims which you hope will convince your readers. You even accused me of “anti-Semitism” because we see things differently—or, to put it bluntly, because I do not embrace your “truth.”
It is presumptuous of you to try to persuade readers to give up their cherished “truth” and embrace yours. Philosophically you believe that there is no “ultimate truth,” but practically and existentially you believe that ultimate truth exists after all. I see similar contradictions in atheist books. In The God Delusion for example Richard Dawkins declares that the God of the Old Testament is “the most unpleasant character in all fiction…petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser.”
Yet the same Dawkins declares in River out of Eden: “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference… DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we just dance to its music.” Which one is it? Either there is such a thing as evil or there isn’t. Dawkins needs to take his pick, and he cannot have it both ways.
Moreover, you once again misrepresented me in confusing ontology with epistemology. Epistemology deals with the search for knowledge, while ontology deals with the metaphysical foundations or grounds on which knowledge is based. For example, just because I may not know how to operate a machine does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that there is no ultimate way to operate it. With respect to history, just because I ask that all the data (if we do have them) be put on the table does not negate the proposition that there is an ultimate truth. I may not or never know what it is. Someone else may come along and find it.
It is again presumptuous to say that ultimate truth does not exist. The very fact that you are arguing with me on this issue proves that you believe this. I stand by the position that from a historical point of view, the existence of Jesus is nonnegotiable. In other words, if any serious person wants to be objective and if history actually matters, then by definition Jesus’ existence will leap up as the historical explanation.
I am a little confused by the following statement: “[Jesus] left no written documents; no single person who encountered him referred to him in a form that we can point at.” What does that mean? Socrates left no written documents, therefore Socrates did not exist?
By the way, we only have two sources for Socrates, and yet not a single person in the history of the Western world will doubt his existence, unless he wants to lose his credibility. With all due respect, this is a primitive way of looking at ancient history. I hope you are not saying that James Carroll’s Constantine’s Sword and William Nicholls’ Christian Antisemitism propounded the idea that Jesus never existed, for I have read both books carefully and meticulously and have responded to them.
I have not read Reuther’s Faith and Fratricide and will put it in my reading list. I will respond to Luther’s On The Jews and their Lies in a later publication. I also have responded to Chrysostom’s statement in an up-coming work. I would highly recommend the following works in order to examine the context in which Chrysostom was speaking: Robert L. Wilken, Chrysostom and the Jews: Rhetoric and Reality in the 4th Century (Berkley: University of California Press, 1983); Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996). Thanks again, friend.
Turner: Does not our discussion of “ultimate” anything not strike you of the blind talking to the deaf? Our starting point are diametrically opposite, our languages even foreign to the other.
Scaling the walls to understanding – as difficult now, as it was then
Alexis: I don’t know what to say anymore, since nearly most of the points I have raised so far are left unanswered. What strikes me as odd is that you have raised several controversial points in all your articles in the Jerusalem Post and believed them to be true. You also try to persuade others with your “truth.”
Here are some of your “truth” claims: anti-Semitism, you argue, had its foundations in “the canon of universal Christianity”; that “Hitler’s intention was to achieve a final solution to a Jewish Problem born two millennia before, with the first century Pauline and gospel texts”; that “the historical foundations for the West’s Jewish Problem” have their sources in the “religious anti-Judaism in Christian scripture,” which found its culmination in the Holocaust in Nazi Germany; that there is a deep “Jew hatred” in the New Testament texts which found its culmination through the centuries and which gave rise to “secular anti-Semitism”; that “Most Christian scholars writing today recognize that the ‘messiah’ described by Paul and the gospels was a figure far closer to the pagan ‘mystery religions’ than to Jewish tradition.”
What is even more interesting is that you proclaim the “truth” that I am an anti-Semite. Yet all of a sudden you back off and say that ultimate truth does not exist. How can you maintain both contradictory positions simultaneously as a rational person?
What good reason do I have to believe your “truth”? Why should I take them seriously? You have your “truth” and readers of your articles have theirs. Why are you trying to convince them otherwise? If you are not, why are you writing all these articles in the Jerusalem Post?
With all due respect, I would not trust the ideological worldview which you have presented thus far to be the guarantor of my rights because it will inevitably and inexorably abuse its power and coerce me into believing its political agenda. Believe it or not, this has happened before during the Bolshevik Revolution.
Despite what you have said so far, I have not yet accused you of anti-Americanism or anti-Christian. But it came out pretty early in our discussion that I was an anti-Semite, despite the fact that some of my best friends are Jews and that my Savior was an ethnic Jew. Blessings!
Turner: “But it came out pretty early in our discussion that I was an anti-Semite…” I regret I offended you. I have no right to define you. But the use you make of Jewish authors including myself clearly points at an unsympathetic viewpoint. There, you complain I don’t respond to each point you previously raised, and I went out of my way to do so now. As I constantly remind, you cannot understand how I, “can’t see a vital and internal contradiction from within your assertions,” so do I fail to see the connection between your insistence on Ultimate Reality as playing an “absolutist” part in the historical process.
In studying, certainly in its writing, historical narrative does not begin with belief in absolutes. Not that I, as you, do not start with an understanding of the world, “prejudices,” if you prefer. But we must be aware of them, own them in our research.
By my understanding, you seem not to fully appreciate the boundary between “fact” and “belief.” And whether it is you or I who is misunderstanding “objectivity” in historical research, as I said earlier, we do not share a common ground for dialogue.
Jerusalem – the Temple Mount
Alexis: “the use you make of Jewish authors including myself clearly points at an unsympathetic viewpoint.” Can you be a little specific? Here again you have misrepresented what I have said. I never said that history must begin “with belief in absolutes.” I have said clearly that history has to begin with the premise that truth—or ultimate reality—exists. Nothing more, nothing less. I may never know what it is, but that does not exclude the fact that the truth is out there. And it is my job and yours to use the best scholarship available to us to come to a rational conclusion.
When I look at a historical description, I look for logical consistency, historically rational arguments, empirical adequacy, and unembellished sources and evidence. Frankly, my friend, you may disagree with these points philosophically or ideologically—most particularly with the premise that truth exists—but practically you live by them. You can never intellectually and historically defend the points you raised in any of your articles if you don’t believe that truth is out there. Once again, if you don’t believe this, why do you start doing any historical research?
You already know truth doesn’t exist, so would it not be a waste of time to look for something which you know is not actually there? Why do you recommend James Carroll’s book? Is it because you think it may lead me to a different conclusion, which would eventually lead me to the true reality?
You are not the only one to wrestle with this contradiction. Jean Paul Sartre struggled with the same thing in his book Nausea, and in the end he had to admit that he was trying to have his cake and eat it too. That’s why some have pinned Nausea as a “depressing” book.
To take a step further, there are some cranks out there who believe that the Holocaust never happened, and that there was no such thing as people being gassed in gas chambers. Are you an “absolutist” if you believe that they did happen? Do you believe in “ultimate reality” if you try to convince people otherwise?
Do you disagree with the law in Europe that if people believe those events did not occur, then they should never go to jail or be prosecuted? If you are not, on what historical grounds you would build your case?
You are denying “ultimate” while making “ultimate” statements—an obvious contradiction that can hardly be reconciled. If you agree with me that Jews suffered under Nazi Germany, then you should certainly agree with me that truth actually exists.
I really appreciate the difference between “facts” and “beliefs,” and I made it clear that the serious historian would do well to examine all the historical explanations and descriptions available in order to avoid making extraordinarily outrageous claims with no evidence. Blessings!
Turner: I mean no offense, but as I read your understanding of the quotes that appear in your chapter, including my own, they certainly appear “unflattering.” Now this may represent your view of the authors quoted, but as I read them your view appears offensive regarding Jews (your subject) and missing the mark on how I, for example (as one of the authors whose writing you critique) would understand them.
How, in fact, can you cut and paste elements of my writings and come to a meaning above that which I, its author, achieve? You may not say, “that history must begin “with belief in absolutes.” But that sounds strangely similar to, “that history has to begin with the premise that truth—or ultimate reality—exists.”
But granted that from your belief in an “ultimate reality,” I can appreciate, that your understanding of the writing of history must begin, “with belief in absolutes.” What puzzles me is that there is no room in your system of reality as a seeker after truth, no flexibility to allow an alternative to your own absolutist understanding.
It seems beyond your ken that I can pursue an alternative “truth,” one that recognizes that my own may be different from others; that each individual perceives differently, uniquely by degrees (personality/environment) from all other persons. Truth exists, but as agreement between individuals.
Plato and Aristotle
Ultimate Truth resides in the heavens beside Platonic Ideals, which even Plato understood was just that, an ideal, a model of, and guide towards a perfection not materially achievable.
You describe your pursuit as, “When I look at a historical description, I look for logical consistency, historically rational arguments, empirical adequacy, and reliable sources and evidence,” but fail to appreciate that logic can be used to prove anything; reason is as individual as the individual reasoning; empirical adequacy already indicates empirical inadequacy; and who judges what is or no unblemished as source and evidence?
Again, individual perception or, to provide greater degree of acceptance, agreement with one or more others with similar outlook or belief system.
I find it strange that you would dismiss my perspective as philosophic or ideological (both of which determined by time, place and individual) as representing my failure to agree with your perspective (which likely enjoys universal acceptance by those with whom you identify), where my rejection of your premises is so easily and unreflectively dismissed, or is your now backing away from the “Ultimate Truth” precondition to just plain, “premise that truth exists”?
Because I have already stated my acceptance that there is such a thing as truth, dependent on the individual or by agreement among individuals. It is the assertion that there such a thing as “ultimate,” or “absolute” truth that I reject.
And if you are now maintaining that we all aspire to a less grandiose truth as the goal of historical research then I think we are now able to meet at a middle ground! It encourages me that you describe Christian Holocaust Deniers as, “some cranks out there who believe that the Holocaust never happened.”
Apparently we both agree that there is ample evidence that the Holocaust did happen. But if we maintain for sake of argument that those “cranks” actually disbelieve that the Holocaust occurred then clearly that it did, despite all the evidence pointing to it, is not a Universal, but conditional truth. In this case it clearly comes down to belief, to faith.
My own research is inspired by many years of reading in many areas I associate with anti-Semitism and the threat to Jewish survival, the meaning of Germany’s Final Solution.
More recently I have broken the research field into related parts and began more research, now focused on those individual areas. The evolution of my thinking, my personal understanding of my topics, my truth is reflected for all to see on-line, as you are aware.
At some point, when I am satisfied that my conditional understanding approximates as objective a narrative as possible I will seek a publisher. Should you still be interested in my writings at that time, at least one year away I suspect (forty years in process) then you may judge its veracity by your own standards. Likely I will still see the finished product lacking still, almost immediately needing revision: a clear sign that Plato was correct, that we can only approximate the deal.
Early Plato manuscript – Egypt
Alexis: Honestly, no apology is necessary here, so long that we are consistent and responsible. This is a serious discussion, so every assertion must be weighed on a historical and rational balance.
I simply cannot understand how I missed the mark when I quote you contextually and concisely. I cut and paste elements of your writing? Do you believe your own writing or not? Do words mean anything at all? I’ve read your articles, and I know what they say. I cite your exact words and I want you to show me where I missed the mark.
For example, in your most recent article entitled“Christian Insecurity and the Jewish Problem: Quest for Identity,” dated October 6, 2012, you cite Nicholls to support your view, and then wrote, “Googling for a better link to the introductory quote I came upon this explanation of Augustine’s position regarding Jewish survival: During Augustine’s time, the existence of the Jews and Judaism posed an apologetic problem for the church. If the church was the new Israel, for what purpose did national Israel exist?”
May I honestly say that google is a good resource but is not sound and sober scholarship most particularly with respect to primary sources if they are available? Let me give you a classic example, in The Changing Face of Anti-Semitism Walter Laqueur quotes Augustine as saying “how I wish that you would slay them (the Jews) with your twoedged sword, so that there should be none to oppose your word…Gladly would I have them die to themselves.”
Here is the actual quote in Augustine’s Confessions, which negates Laqueur’s point: “The enemies thereof I hate vehemently; oh that Thou wouldest slay them with Thy two-edged sword, that they might no longer be enemies unto it: for so do I love to have them slain unto themselves, that they may live unto Thee.”
That Laqueur eliminated the rest of the quotation—“that they may live unto Thee”—is suspect. Laqueur was careful not to let his readers know about this. Moreover, Augustine was addressing his prayers not to men but to God! It could easily be argued that Augustine was simply saying that God should pierce the Jews with His two-edged sword—an argument that can be drawn from Hebrews 12:4—so that they would be able to live with God in full. Laqueur, as far as I know, does not lack the theological sophistication. But because he had previously set the premise in the book that the early Christians were universally anti-Semites, he has to propound that thesis all the way through.
This became apparent when Laqueur continues to say that “there had been physical persecution of the Jews under the Roman emperors; reading the Torah, practicing circumcision, etc. were banned in the year 135 CE, and Judaism ceased to be a legal religion.”
Bar-Khochba Coins as found
What Laqueur failed to mention was that this was the year the Bar Kochba rebellion ended. From 66 to 70 A.D. the Jewish War led to a bloody confrontation which culminated in the destruction of the Temple.
Likewise, in 115 A.D. Jewish revolutionaries slaughtered 240,000 Greeks on the island of Cyprus; the Greeks in return slaughtered virtually every Jew on the island.
Lest you accuse me of being an anti-Semite again, this was written by one of the fathers of modern Jewish historiography, Heinrich Graetz (History of the Jews, Vol. 2, pp. 396-397).
Furthermore, you keep begging the question in your response, which to me is very interesting. Building on the logic which you have propounded earlier, let me grant you for a second what you said about truth. What appears “unflattering” to you may not be “unflattering” to me, and it is pretty interesting that you don’t like what I wrote and would want to change it.
You would be much happier if I join you or that I change my view. Why can’t you say something like, “It is all right. There is no ultimate truth and therefore your ideas are just as valid as mine. We all love each other”?
If you believe as I do that anti-Semitism is wrong, then you should agree with me in taking the next logical step that objectivity and ultimate reality as well should be our goal.
I can easily argue, though it will take time, that the views which you have propounded lead to relativism, which can be easily deconstructed and dismissed by simple logical deduction.
The reason you are writing so many articles in theJerusalem Post is that you indirectly believe in abstract principles which are, at bottom, non-negotiable.
If they were negotiable, you never would have written things such as “unflattering,” or “anti-Semite.” You said that “there is no room in your system of reality as a seeker after truth, no flexibility to allow an alternative to your own absolutist understanding.”
Why would I want all the data to be brought on the table if I believe that there is no room of reality as a seeker after truth? Why would I want to discuss these issues with you and ask for evidence for extraordinary claims? I am frankly puzzled by some of your careless words.
From what you have written so far, you believe that anti-Semites exist—and I am one of them. Why don’t you allow some room in your system of reality as a seeker after truth? Friend, you are denying absolutes while implicitly making absolute claims.
Let us take this a little step further. In your system, do you have some room for me that perhaps I might be right? If yes, then why complaining? If no, are you not positing yourself as an absolutist? Please answer those questions for me so that I can understand your position a little better.
You wrote: “It seems beyond your ken that I can pursue an alternative ‘truth,’ one that recognizes that my own may be different from others.” Nothing could be further from the truth. What drew you to that conclusion? Haven’t I already said that evidence, logical consistency, empirical adequacy, historically verified claims, are important and that they are some of the keys to understanding history? Why would I keep asking for evidence all along? It is because I want to believe your claims and change my views.
What is even more striking is that you said I do not appreciate your views, while at the same time you appreciate mine with accolades such as I am an “anti-Semite.” You declare that “each individual perceives differently, uniquely by degrees,” but that does not apply to me and other people who may disagree with your articles. Isn’t there a logical breakdown here, friend?
Yes, Jews, as well as Christians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, political dissents, suffered tremendously under Nazi Germany. People would be insane to dismiss this historical point. But we have to keep in mind that Holocaust means a lot of things, and I cannot take time to discuss them here. Blessings!
Alexis: I do not want to repeat some of the points raised earlier, so I will only deal with some of the important issues here. You wrote that whether Laqueur gave the entire context “changes not the facts. Because you choose to draw the line on what to include does not agree with him does not necessarily represent intentional obfuscation on his part.”
I am really confused here. Giving the entire context in which events happen does not matter? I have repeatedly said that all the available data—if they are available—must be presented before anyone can draw a conclusion. Laqueur chose to give one part of the story to fit his premise, when in fact if the story is taken as a whole, it gives a different picture. Laqueur is a reputable historian, so to quickly imply that he did not know about this is hardly reasonable. Throughout the book, he argues that there is an unbinding and universal hatred toward Jews—and this has absolutely nothing to do with behaviors. I have the impression that you agree with his thesis here.
Of course you don’t deny me expressing my views. But you know very well that quickly labeling someone an anti-Semite shuts down any discussion, although you are now backing away from saying that you did not call me an anti-Semite. I am not offended at all; I’m just observing your standard here.
You wrote, “Objectivity, of course. Any ‘ultimate,’ be it truth, reality or whatever, I reject, ‘absolutely,’ well, maybe not ‘absolutely’ since nothing is ‘absolute’!” Are you absolutely sure about this particular sentence? If not, why should I pay attention to it? If yes, can you just see the premise that in order to deny “absolute” you have to make an “absolute” claim?
I would challenge you to read Aristotle on this very issue because people of all stripes have wrestled with this issue long before you and I were ever born. You also wrote that “‘absolute truth’ exists for you and I as individuals.” Do you think it is fair to try to convince others with this “absolute truth”? (You must assume that they too have their own “absolute truth.”) If yes, on what grounds and what methods should we use? If no, what is the purpose of all your articles in the Jerusalem Post? Then you move on to say that there are some instances in which “absolute truth” can be applied. I honestly don’t know what you believe anymore. There is no “absolute truth,” but some things are absolute. Which one is it?
You also declare, “If you and I, or you and others describe a set of postulates as Absolute Truth, then for you and they it exists.” Why should other people take us seriously? I mean, Hitler and Stalin postulated a whole set of theories which conventionally persuaded a lot of smart people—and for them those theories were the “truth.” On what grounds should we say that our “Absolute Truth” is right and theirs is wrong?
This is the problem that Rousseau, Bertrand Russell, among many others, had. Russell in particular did not like the idea of a God who provides the basis and ground for ultimate reality. Then Nietzsche came along and basically said, “Look guys. Let’s be honest. If there is no God, then man has to be his own morality, which inexorably ends in ‘the will to power.’”
Your solution also reminds me of what G. K. Chesterton wrote in his book Orthodoxy:
G. K. Chesterton
“The new rebel is a Skeptic, and will not entirely trust anything. He has no loyalty…and the fact that he doubts everything really gets in his way when he wants to denounce anything.
For all denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind; and the modern revolutionist doubts not only the institution he denounces, but the doctrine by which he denounces it…As a politician, he will cry out that war is a waste of life, and then, as a philosopher, that all life is a waste of time.
A Russian pessimist will denounce a policeman for killing a peasant, and then prove by the highest philosophical principles that the peasant ought to have killed himself. A man denounces marriage as a lie, and then denounces aristocratic profligates for treating it as a lie. He calls a flag a bauble, and then blames the oppressors of Poland or Ireland because they take away that bauble.
The man of this school goes first to a political meeting, where he complains that savages are treated as if they were beasts; then he takes his hat and umbrella and goes to a scientific meeting, where he proves that they practically are beasts. In short, the modern revolutionist, being an infinite skeptic, is always engaged in undermining his own mines.
In his book on politics he attacks men for trampling on morality; in his book on ethics he attacks morality for trampling on men. Therefore the modern man in revolt has become practically useless for all purposes of revolt. By rebelling against everything, he has lost his right to rebel against anything.”
In a nutshell, God provides the basis for ultimate reality, and ultimate reality deductively leads to objective morality, and then to objective history (though that is a very hard task), and that leads to making rational and logical conclusions. Then I ask the simple question whether you had room for my presupposition. Your response was quite stunning, “Your use of logic, and personal predisposition lead you to your conclusions. To your ‘reality’ they are true. I simply do not share your perspective, so cannot provide affirmation.”
My friend, you cannot provide affirmation precisely because, at bottom, you do believe in ultimate reality. You may not want to admit this explicitly but language betrays you. On the other hand, you philosophically make the case for relativism, which is another way of saying, “you have your truth, and I have mine. So we’re all right.”
Whether you like it or not, this position completely weakens all your articles, in which you largely and universally condemn the church, the New Testament, the early church fathers, as anti-Semitic or anti-Judaic. At the same time you quickly backed away a little, saying that there is no such a thing as “ultimate reality” or “ultimate truth.”
You want your readers to believe that the early church fathers were anti-Judaic, but there is not “ultimate truth.” And if some readers disagree, they would be “conventionally” be labeled “anti-Semites.” Once again, as a rational person, I honestly do not know how you can maintain both contradictory positions simultaneously.
I understand perfectly that we both see things in a different light, and I kept saying that the only way we can make progress is to have all the available data on the table. That is why I do not appreciate those who present only one side of the issue and fail to provide the whole context. That is why I brought up Laqueur and others because Laqueur in particular cannot find anything that the Jews have done that could have precipitated anti-Jewish reactions.
When I read Graetz, Albert S. Lindemann (Esau’s Tears: Modern Anti-Semitism and the Rise of the Jews, Cambridge University Press), Eric Haberer (Jews and Revolution in Nineteenth Century Russia, Cambridge University Press), Sarah Gordon (Hitler, Germans, and the “Jewish Questions,” Princeton University Press) Arnold Wiznitzer (Jews in Colonial Brazil, Columbia University Press), Bryan Mark Rigg (Hitler’s Jewish Soldiers, University Press of Kansas andRescued from the Reich: How One of Hitler’s Soldiers Saved the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Yale University Press), Daniel J. Lasker (Jewish Philosophical Polemics Against Christianity in the Middle Ages, Littman Library of Jewish Civilization) Douglas H. A. Hare (The Theme of Jewish Persecution of Christians in the Gospel According to St. Matthew, Cambridge University Press) and even noted Israeli scholar Israel Jacob Yuval (Two Nations in Your Wombs: Perceptions of Jews and Christians in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, University of California Press) and others, I see another side of the historical picture that has largely been ignored (and sometimes deliberately) by popular people like Carroll and others.
You wrote, “The word holocaust can, and does take on different meanings. But since the Eichmann trial the term, ‘the holocaust,’ came to be associated with, and to apply solely to the Third Reich-led effort to solve the West’s Jewish Problem once and for all. The term the Holocaust refers exclusively to the Final Solution alone.”
Let us wrestle with this proposition for a moment. Why would you exclude others who have equally suffered under the Third Reich? Were they people as well? Let us draw this a little closer. According to The Black Book of Communism, published by Harvard University Press, Stalin was roughly responsible for the extermination of 100 million people. Within less than four years alone, he deliberately and systematically wiped out about 10 million peasants.
Historian Robert Conquest details the same thing in nearly most of his books, most particularly in The Harvest of Sorrow and The Great Terror, both published by Oxford University Press. Norman M. Nairmark of Princeton University declared in his book Stalin’s Genocide that Stalin did this deliberately and systematically, calling the peasants “enemies of the people,” “swine,” “dogs,” “cockroaches,” “scum,” “vermin,” “filth,” and even “garbage.”
Moreover, how many Chinese died in World War II? The figure is estimated to be between 10 million to 20 million. [see for example John W. Dower, War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War (New York: Pantheon Books, 1986); Werner Gruhl, Imperial Japan’s World War Two: 1931-1945 (NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2010); Ping-ti Ho, Studies on the Population of China, 1368-1953 (MA: Harvard University Press, 1959)]. I think we should memorialize all the dead, don’t you? Yet there is not a single museum in the United States and even the world for the peasants. Not a single museum for the Chinese.
Alexis: I will try to keep this short, since I feel like repeating some of the points which you have not been able to address fully. For example, I asked you to explain to me why you are making absolute statements while denying absolutes. Your response was just, “We return to more reduction…I am the ‘cogito’ the perceiver.” Then when I asked you to tell me how you and I should be able to convince others on some of the things we both considers as “absolute,” you declare, “We can only use the imprecise instruments available: language to some degree unique to each individual.” You also declared that you want to “make the ‘facts’ gleaned from history, according to my unique understanding, available for others to read and agree or disagree with.”
I would partially agree with this. Yes, if you are going to glean the “facts” from history, then history somehow will have to be drawn from an objective point of view—premises and historical descriptions that readers have to agree upon. Otherwise you cannot refer them to anything. Moreover, you have to be able to explain why they should take you seriously and not, for example, a Joseph Stalin or Adolf Hitler. “Stalin was of peasant stock, and a seminarian. Interesting, no?” Friend, this has been my complaint from the beginning, and I am really astounded that you would even bring something like that to make a point. Yes, Stalin was a seminarian for a period. Yet he rejected the idea of God and Christianity as soon as he began to embrace revolutionary and subversive activity.
You should know very well that as soon as he got into power, he also persecuted and exterminated Christians by the thousands. His own daughter was even shocked to see the length to which Stalin would pursue his Bolshevik ideas. This is common knowledge. Moreover, Stalin’s cohorts were largely of Jewish extractions. This is again common knowledge. For an introductory course on this, see for example Yuri Slezkine (The Jewish Century, Princeton University Press), and Jerry Z. Muller (Capitalism and the Jews, Princeton University Press).
“I fear that you have made one of your ‘leaps’ again, believing that your perception of my words and meaning are my own! What I said, Jonas, as you accurately quoted above: “The word holocaust can, and does take on different meanings. But since the Eichmann trial the term, ‘the Holocaust,’ came to be associated [by most historians of the period] with, and to apply solely to, the Third Reich-led effort to solve the West’s Jewish Problem once and for all. The term ‘the Holocaust’ refers exclusively to the Final Solution alone.”
I did not know why you even brought this up, and I was assuming you too believe this historically untenable position. In other to maintain that position, popular historians have to be able to explain other historical crimes in recent history which morally seems to be far worse than what happened in Nazi Germany.
When Stanford historian Norman Davies brought this argument during his tenure evaluation, he was quickly ostracized by none other than Lucy Dawidowicz precisely because Davis saw that some ideologically inclined historians such as Dawidowicz were playing fast and loose with the facts by focusing on what happened in the Third Reich and saying very little to what happened in Soviet Russia.
Of course, Davies was the new anti-Semite in town for raising such issues, and anti-Semites do not get tenured at prestigious schools such as Stanford. Dawidowicz was one of the key figures as to why Davies did not get tenured.
Thought police in the academia. If you do not conform to the Holocaust establishment, then you are out of the equation as a historian.
Davies is far from alone, and many others could be named here. Davies eventually moved to England, where he was a professor at the University of London, a fellow at Oxford, and a well known historical figure and writer.
Moreover, I was not just examining your words. The Holocaust, as you know, is a huge topic and to examine the words of one man is not going to do justice to the entire subject. I was making a generalization with respect to the Holocaust. You know too well that there are no museums dedicated to the Chinese, the Poles, the Germans who were brutally and sexually raped after World War II, the peasants who lost their lives, etc. If we are going to remain morally rational, we simply cannot ignore the other dead and focus on one particular people. That’s not fair.
You say that my “writing reflects” the bias of anti-Semite, and then you prefaced the remark, “I don’t have the quote before me.” Well, before you make your accusation, make sure you have the quote before you, my friend. When responding to the assertion “I honestly don’t know what you believe anymore,” you wrote, “I am using your terms, ‘absolute,’ ‘ultimate’ as explanation through your own private language. For my part I would limit the discussion to the more limited term, ‘truth’ or, to stick with metaphysics, ‘cogito.’”
I honestly think that you do not want to face the logical contradiction that is inherent in your own system because of the implications. You believe that there are anti-Judaic people out there, that there are anti-Semites out there, and that there is a fight for “Jewish Survival.” That is not just a suggestion—to you it is absolute. Yet at the same time there are no absolutes. I don’t get it.
I just don’t want to write about objective morality without God [in our correspondence] because it will take too long. You can read Friedrich Nietzsche, Aldous Huxley, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Jean Paul Sartre, D. H. Lawrence, Guy de Maupassant, among others, and they all wrestled with this idea for years. I respect Nietzsche to a large degree because he was more honest than most people in that he did not sugar-code metaphysics.
Editing: Jim W. Dean
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