The Jesus controversy

August 25, 1994|By Howard Kleinberg

London -- A THEOLOGICAL storm has affected Great Britain's historic and religious scholars while the source of it, a rewrite of the Gospel of St. Matthew by Greek scholar and controversial British politician Enoch Powell, has yet to reach the bookstores.

the heart of the discordance are two central themes: that the generally held view that the Gospel of St. Mark was written before St. Matthew's is erroneous and that Jesus was not crucified, but stoned to death by Jews for what they believed was blasphemy.

"The Evolution of the Gospel" is to be published on Sept. 27 by Yale University Press.

Almost to a person, Catholic, Protestant and Jewish theologians here are contesting Mr. Powell's thesis. At stake is how %o Christians accept the word of the Gospels in the future and how the non-Jewish world sees the role played by Jews in the death of Jesus.

Mr. Powell is no stranger to controversy. The 82-year-old former member of Parliament is remembered for his racist statements in 1968 when he attempted to halt any immigration of non-whites into Great Britain for fear it would cause "rivers of blood." He has been an outspoken and eccentric presence on the British scene for decades.

Many who disagree with the man on practically every issue he ever broached, speak highly of his scholarship. A Greek scholar since the mid-1930s, his translation of Herodotus remains highly acclaimed.

There is genuine alarm in the reaction of theologians and journalists to "The Evolution of the Gospel."

What Mr. Powell is claiming could shake the very foundations of Christianity. If, as Mr. Powell claims, the Gospel version of the death of Jesus is a fiction, then what else is not to be believed, ask scholars. Some point out that if Jesus did not die on the cross, then that symbol of Christianity has lost its meaning.

Debunkers of the Powell thesis point out other factors that would make his contention groundless. They cite that Jews would not hold court and carry out a sentence on Passover, which is when Jesus died. They add that Jews did not have the authority to pass judgment over life and death in those times; the occupying Romans did.

To date, the debate has been played out on a relatively high ground. It is when the issue falls into the hands of those of lesser intellectual capacity that the challenge to the roots of Christianity and the exposure of Jews to renewed claims of being Christ-killers becomes dangerous.

If Mr. Powell's disputatious claim receives any additional visibility, let us recognize that it cannot best be argued on the Geraldo show.

Howard Kleinberg wrote this for Cox News Service.

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