No, I’m not asking the old (but good) question of whether the New Testament gives Jews a bum rap. I want to make the argument that the process of unfairly condemning Jews, or Israelites, already begins in the Old Testament. We still read in Jewish as well as Christian writers, even ecumenically sensitive ones, about “the Israelites’ tragic tendency to welsh on their covenantal duties to God.” But what evidence is there for this sorry record? It is useful as a foil, a bad example to wield in order to shame Jews and Christians and guilt them into greater piety. But I believe it is also slander–not of modern Jews but of ancient ones.
My basic point is that Jewish “orthodoxy” keeps getting revised throughout the Bible. Invariably, people of the past get blamed for not keeping up with the present. They are casualties of theological revisionism and ritual evolution. Their imagined crimes are committed against laws and doctrines they could never have known about. Why and how? Because, as Julius Wellhausen showed so long ago, as the priests and scribes “reformed” Israel’s religion, they sought to avoid the charge of novelty and modernism by rewriting history: pretending, a la the Ministry of Truth in George Orwell’s 1984, that these new stipulations and doctrines had been in force from the very beginning. The goal was to secure (or rather, fabricate) an ancient and authoritative pedigree.