Robert J. Myles and James G. Crossley, “Biblical Scholarship, Jews and Israel: On Bruce Malina, Conspiracy Theories and Ideological Contradictions”, The Bible and Interpretation (December 2012)
The article explores a caesura in the ideological views and practices of Bruce Malina, New Testament scholar and founder of The Context Group. On the one hand, Malina takes a firm stance against the modern state of Israel and for Palestinians, going so far as to deny any Semitic ancestry for most modern Israelis – a stance based on the discredited Khazar hypothesis propagated by far right conspiracy theory groups. On the other hand, in his academic work on the meaning of the term ‘Jew’ or ‘Judean’, Malina “actually ends up buying into a Zionist discourse he so dislikes” in defining first-century Jews/Judeans in relation to an orientalising ‘Middle Eastern’ or ‘Mediterranean’ stereotype.
The examples provided in Myles and Crossley’s article elucidate the complex workings of ideology, in which proponents “know not what they do”. This complexity is important in assessing Malina’s work on the meaning of Ioudaios, which has been very influential in recent mainstream New Testament scholarship, which is largely (if superficially) pro-Jewish. For while Malina may unconsciously practise a pro-Zionist discourse, he personally holds to some highly suspect views. This was no more evident than when he sent an email to a list of 88 biblical scholars in 2006 which contained a pro-holocaust-denial “joke” written by a far-right holocaust denier with the pen-name of Michael James. The “joke” circulated by Malina, entitled “Big Pharma Pushes ‘Miracle Cure’ For Holocaust Denial Syndrome”, is a spoof news story about a drug called Holozac which the establishment attempts to employ against holocaust deniers. The gist of the “joke” is that the establishment is trying to suppress free thought (i.e. holocaust denial conspiracy theories): “the drug works by closing down the brain’s center of intellectual inquiry. It also blocks the re-uptake of politically incorrect neurotransmitters involved in critical thought processes, making it more difficult to distinguish between truth and lies”. The “joke” defends David Irving and other prominent holocaust deniers, as “People Who Read Books” and as people who “ask lots of questions and … have an unnatural and very unhealthy obsession with finding out the truth”. The drug causes holocaust deniers to put aside holocaust denial literature such as Juergen Graf’s The Giant with Feet of Clay and to read only “government-controlled newspapers”. One of the drug’s main side-effects, however, is that it causes “a pathological hatred of Palestinians and Muslims in general”.
By exposing the inconsistency which subsists between Malina’s beliefs and practice, Myles and Crossley unveil the illusion of the illusion: “the illusory status of the illusion itself”. Despite Malina’s joking claim to unveil a vast holocaust “conspiracy”, what is unveiled – through suspicion of suspicion itself – is the inconsistency between Malina’s conscious views and unconscious practice.