Hyam Maccoby

Hyam Maccoby whose books include Judaism on Trial and The Sacred Executioner, teaches at Leo Baeck College, London.

Scribing the Pharisees

Hyam Maccoby, 9 May 1991

One of the preoccupations of New Testament studies since the 19th century has been to reconsider the bitter attacks on the Pharisees found in the Gospels, in the light the Jewish rabbinic writings. The portrayal of the Pharisees as hypocrites and persecutors, and of their religion as obsessionally ritualistic and legalistic, has played a great part in Christian anti-semitism throughout the ages. Shakespeare, for example, never having met a practising Jew in his life, gave Shylock the characteristics of the Gospel Pharisees, from the remark ‘How like a fawning publican he looks!’ (Luke 18.10) to the elaboration of the allegedly Pharisaic insistence on the letter of the law.

Who killed Jesus?

Hyam Maccoby, 19 July 1984

According to the Gospels, Jesus was the victim of a frame-up. His aims were purely religious, and in pursuing them, he had fallen foul of the Jewish religious establishment, who, in order to get rid of him, concocted a political charge, and managed to hoodwink the Roman governor, Pilate, into believing it. When Pilate still showed reluctance to execute Jesus, they pressed the political charge until he was left with no option: ‘The Jews kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend to Caesar; any man who claims to be king is defying Caesar” ’ (John 19.7).


Gospel Truth

2 January 1997

William Klassen (Letters, 20 February) complains justly of Professor Kermode’s incomprehension of the important point that the term usually translated as ‘betrayed’ actually means ‘handed over’. I myself pointed out in Judas Iscariot and the Myth of Jewish Evil (1992) that the Greek term paradidomi means not ‘betray’ but ‘hand over’. I also pointed out that the first occurrence of...

For Azazel

10 March 1994

Michael Haslam says correctly that a scapegoat is expelled, not sacrificed (Letters, 24 March). He also points out that frequently in myth there is both a victim and a scapegoat, and that the two figures may be closely related as brothers or even twins. Examples are Cain and Abel, Romulus and Remus, Set and Osiris, Mot and Baal, Loki and Balder.Mr Haslam fails to notice that the scapegoat is sent away...

The Game of Death

11 June 1992

A.D. Nuttall (LRB, 11 June) argues that Greek tragedy was non-religious, by which he appears to mean that the myths that provided its plots had lost all religious efficacy. Here he opposes the view of Gilbert Murray and Jane Harrison and others that the tragedies still functioned as enactments of the sacrificial death of Dionysus. Nuttall says that Pentheus in the Bacchae cannot be intended as a Dionysus...

The day the golem went berserk

David Katz, 10 January 1983

A hoary Jewish joke tells of the Jew who is asked to write an essay on the elephant, and returns with a paper entitled ‘The Elephant and the Jewish Question’. The Jewish tendency to...

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Jesus and Cain

Edmund Leach, 2 December 1982

I must declare an interest. Since Hyam Maccoby makes no attempt to disguise his prejudices, I will start by declaring my own. The first is respectable. I dislike phoney scholarship....

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