Shadow Pasts

William D Rubinstein. Shadow Pasts: History’s Mysteries. Pearson-Longman, 2008.

Rubinstein, a history professor at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, looks at areas of history which are generally overlooked by academic historians, but are or have been the subject of intense interest among amateur historians of various kinds. The subjects covered here are the Kennedy Assassination, Jack the Ripper, the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays, the Holy Blood affair, the flight of Rudolf Hess and neo-Pyramidology.

You might think that a discussion by a real historian of these issues would be of value, yet reading this book led to a different opinion. He certainly disapproves of the Kennedy Assassination theories, mainly it seems because their proponents are left wing, something which doesn’t go down well with Dr Rubinstein who is a member of the right wing think tank the Social Affairs Unit. But he may well be right.

But then he defends the Maybrick Diaries, which claim to be the confessions of James Maybrick, a wealthy Liverpool merchant whose chief claim to fame was to be the victim of an sensational murder. This is about as probable as the claim that Jack was actually the Duke of Clarence. Most police specialists who have investigated the case conclude that Jack was probably a single white working class male aged 25-40, living in lodgings in Whitechapel, did not posses any obvious signs of mental illness, and was known by and trusted by his victims. A Scouse toff would have stood out like a sore thumb and attracted immediate suspicion.

He goes on to argue that Shakespeare couldn’t have written his plays, because he wasn’t enough of a toff, not like Sir Henry Neville. Dr Rubinstein likes toffs and rich folks, he writes about them for a living.

As someone who has written professionally on Jewish history, you might think that the author is well placed to review the strange theologies of Henry Lincoln et al. Indeed he correctly dismisses much of this stuff as the arrant nonsense it surely is, only to go off on a strange tangent. It would appear that in the pre-Gospel years Jesus was not a carpenter and part time rabbi in Galilee - well that wouldn’t be quite toff enough would it - no Jesus spent his time gallivanting around the Mediterranean setting up proto-Christian churches and converting the King of Edessa. For this there is no evidence whatsoever - no rogue Gospe(l)s, no furious denunciations of heresies. As the central beliefs of both the Jewish and Pauline Christian groups centred around interpretations of his death and Resurrection, whatever religion Jesus could have set up before his Gospel years it wouldn’t have been Christianity. Wouldn’t these groups have challenged the claims of any later ‘Christianity'.  -- Peter Rogerson

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