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ADF takes issue with Sunday’s Doonesbury

A letter to Doonesbury creator Gary Trudeau from the Anti-Defamation League regarding last Sunday’s strip regarding the correct usage of moneylenders vs. “money changers”.

We agree with the numerous people who are contacting us that Sunday’s Doonesbury misquotes the Bible, maligns Judaism, and promotes a Christian heresy, all within eight panels. It reinforces age-old stereotypes about Judaism that have been the cause of much suffering and pain over the centuries, and which have been rejected by a variety of Christian denominations over the last decades.

Community Comments

#1 Noah Rodenbeek
@ 12:35 pm

The ADFL’s giving Doonesbury a loooooot of credit.

#2 Cedric Atizado
@ 1:23 pm

Yeah. Reading over the comic, I wouldn’t have connected it at all to Judaism…until I saw this article.

#3 Karyl Miller
@ 1:52 pm

I’m a Jew and a Trudeau fan. When I read Sunday’s comic (which I sort-of didn’t GET) I wondered – Could this be anti-semitic?

#4 Noah Rodenbeek
@ 2:20 pm

@Karyl, I didn’t get it either, I just didn’t want to be the first to say it. And why is the priest eating breakfast with them? Is he sleeping with the mom?

#5 Wiley Miller
@ 4:15 pm

Oh, give me a break…

#6 RS Davis
@ 4:26 pm

Why does the Reverend look like a stoned hippie? Religious debate aside, I’ve never understood why the guy is drawn like some leftover toker from the 60’s that got into the clergy for the free meals.
He’s just a creepy looking dude.

As far as the strip, I thought it was just a lame, extremely thin stretch to connect a story of Jesus in a Sunday strip with contemporary anger at Wall Street. That joke, like so much of Trudeau’s work, was tortured and unfunny. It just seems like an attempt that was too forced and hollow.

But I didn’t find it offensive.

#7 Lawrence Rozner
@ 9:35 pm

The Rev. Sloan is modeled after the late Yale U. reverend William Sloan Coffin (hence the name “Rev. Sloan”) who was influential in leading student protests against the Vietnam War back in the late 1960s-early 1970s based on his religious views that killing is wrong on any level, even at military level. That would explain why he’s more unkempt than most reverends.

I’m also Jewish (I don’t know if it matters that I’m a secular Jew), and the way I read it, it just seemed like a provocation towards conservative Christians and Catholics rather than Jews. Basically, using the name of Jesus Christ in any defamatory instance (a la “Family Guy”) is supposed to get you into hot water.

#8 Mike Peterson
@ 4:23 am

Sloan is a model of the intelligent but out-of-contact-with-reality liberal. Sometimes, he drops a bit of wisdom into a stupid conversation. Other times, he adds a bit of foolish idealism where a little pragmatism might be more helpful. A good example of the liberal-bashing conservatives refuse to see in Doonesbury.

In this case, I think GBT could have made his point without swapping “moneychangers” for “moneylenders” but didn’t see the potential for misunderstanding. As I understand it, the temple had set up a system so that out-of-towners didn’t have to bring their own sacrifices all the way from the countryside to Jerusalem and the temple but could purchase them once they arrived. The moneychangers were there to swap whatever foreign coins the pilgrims had for local (not Roman, for instance) coinage, but were charging for the service. I have no idea if this was historic or not, but the concept was theoretically based on the concept that Jesus was outraged by the commercialism of the system.

The mainstream reading should be of a clash between the more pious Jews of the countryside and the city Jews who are portrayed as sticking to the letter of the law but ignoring the spirit. The problem through history has been that its impossible not to read the entire Holy Week sequence without envisioning Jesus and his crew as the Christians and the Pharisees and their crew as the Jews. A few hundred years of Anti-Semiticism overlaying the yearly readings doesn’t help, no matter how many papal apologies are offered.

The joke, however, would have worked without changing them from moneychangers to moneylenders. This isn’t a purposeful search for offense, but there’s no question that it was unintentional on GBT’s part — insensitivity to the implications, not an attempt to blame the Jews for the economic collapse.

#9 Joe Vissichelli
@ 7:41 am

This is what happens when people form groups solely to search for slights everywhere. When things are slow, imagination prevails.

#10 RS Davis
@ 4:15 pm

“Basically, using the name of Jesus Christ in any defamatory instance (a la â??Family Guyâ?) is supposed to get you into hot water.”

OK, I’ll take your word for it, that’s as good of an explanation as any. But it seems that many of Trudeau’s work is like this strip – strained attempts at smug cleverness intended to show how much smarter he thinks his characters are (and presumably himself) compared to anyone who disagrees with his extreme leftist world view.

I wouldn’t mind his venomous truth warping, liberal or not, if were only actually funny. When right/left politics are ignored and the humor is left to stand alone, ‘Doonesbury’ frankly isn’t any better than ‘Mallard Fillmore’, IMHO.

#11 Mike Peterson
@ 4:23 pm

You’re reading it through your own filter, RS.

Doonesbury and Mallard are not equivalent.

Mallard and Ted Rall are equivalent.

Doonesbury is closer to Prickly City, but PC has some catching up to do, and that may be more an issue of age than insight. GBT has been doing this for a long time and has learned how to puncture his own. PC has the ability but needs to work on execution.

Meanwhile, the notion that Doonesbury is unabashedly leftist simply doesn’t hold water. It’s like claiming that Shakespeare was written in Middle English — it may not be modern but a reasonable commentator would realize that Middle English has an actual meaning and that refusal to use that meaning isn’t “fair commentary” — it’s just ignorance.

#12 Lucas Turnbloom
@ 4:41 pm

Wiley: “…give me a breakâ?¦”

That show sucked when they brought Joey Lawrence on.

I’m just sayin’.

#13 RS Davis
@ 5:14 pm

Perceptions are reality, I think someone once said. When it comes to comics, I don’t think you can catagorize a person’s opinions as ‘ignorant’ simply because they don’t fit the filter you are using.

I don’t deny I see it through a filter…who doesn’t see any political comic that way? If you read my post, you’ll note I ended it with “IMHO” meaning I was not trying catagorize to my opinion of Doonesbury as ‘THAT’S THE WAY IT IS!’

I realized Trudeau once in awhile pokes at a Clinton or Obama, if for no other reason to give a morsel of balance. But seriously, it is probably a 95%-5% ratio of conservative bashing to liberal bashing. To say that his strip is not predominantly leftist is simply not credible (again only in my opinion). Often, Doonesbury reads like a manuscript from a Michael Moore movie. Every single day? No, but his world view is about as opaque as Saran Wrap and about as subtle as Sam Kinison.

I’m not trying to spit ball with you or anything, I just think that when it comes to a comic strip which, political or not, has as it’s main objective that of making people laugh, then whether I laugh or not becomes the evidence.

I don’t laugh at Doonesbury any more than I do at Mallard Fillmore. They are both political and are both unfunny. That to me means Doonesbury is no better than Mallard Fillmore. I never said, to use your word, that they were ‘equivalent’ – I just said one was no better than the other. Again, I am a right wing troll, and I don’t mind lefty strips as long as they are funny. Niether of the above mentioned strips are to me.

As far as Prickly City goes, it seems a bit unfocused. Maybe you’re right about age being the missing element of seasoning, but it seems kind of forced and manufactured. It just doesn’t have the organic humor that flows from a really good strip. Then again, I confess my filter for political strips is Bloom County. I know many thought it was overated, but I always thought it set the standard for the funny/political balance perfectly.

“I wol nat letten eek noon of this route,
Lat every felawe telle his tale aboute,
And lat se now who shal the soper wynne;-
And ther I lefte, I wol ayeyn bigynne.”

Or end.
Sorry my post was so long.
Over to you.

#14 Mike Peterson
@ 4:12 am

The two strips have little in common except for the fact that much of what they do is political commentary. That out of the equation, there are few points of tangency.

When Tinsley does social commentary, it’s “oh those silly liberals!” featuring stereotypes about college professors, environmentalists and celebrities tuned to the sensibilities of a talk-radio audience — somewhat a socially conservative mirror-image of Dan Piraro’s socially groovy take on the middle class as fat, indolent, meat-eating slobs. It’s humor that relies on a polarized, condescending and hostile view of the target.

Trudeau’s social commentary is considerably more nuanced and extremely self-referential in terms of poking fun at the foibles of his own target audience — somewhat like the New Yorker but less smug and with the advantage of established characters to provide a little more heft. No, it’s not fall-on-the-floor humor, but neither was Jack Benny’s.

Your mileage may indeed vary, but the two cartoonists aren’t working from the same palette.

#15 RS Davis
@ 4:16 pm

“Your mileage may indeed vary, but the two cartoonists arenâ??t working from the same palette.”

Granted, but as I said, palette not withstanding, in the end they simply cause the same reaction in me – which is “meh…”

I also think you might be selling DB’s own ‘humor that relies on a polarized, condescending and hostile view of the target’ short.

I remember plenty of strips that were mean spirited, over the top, throat slitting attacks on Republicans, conservatives, gun owners and Christians – anyone who dares think different than Trudeau.

I can’t help but disagree with your characterization of his humor as nuanced – sure, it can be and has been, but it also has been and still occasionally is one of the meanest and most extreme strips out there.

And to me, just ain’t funny.

But to end this on a positive note, I do agree with you on one thing…there is nothing more smug and flat in ComicsLand than New Yorker cartoons.

And their animated cartoons on YouTube are just painful to watch.

Just my humble, humble opinion.

#16 Ted Mallory
@ 5:57 pm

Good flippin’ grief people!

Jesus, a Jew, wasn’t driving stereotyped Jews from the temple, He was driving money changers from the temple. His Father’s house, as He called it, was to be a house of prayer, not a den of thieves. As a card carrying liberal, I want the ADF to understand that Doonesbury’s Rev. Scott Sloan was commenting on those who take advantage of the downtrodden, those who profit by charging unjust usury- predatory lenders and the like, not Jews. Call Gary Trudeau a “socialist” if you must, but not an anti-Semite. If anything, he was criticizing the religious-right which claims to have a monopoly on Jesus’ teachings yet constantly aligns itself politically with corporatism and cancer-stage capitalism. It had nothing to do with Judaism or stereotypes of Jews. The common enemy is the hypocrite and the extremists (fundaMENTALISTS) who don’t know their own Bible and fail to genuinely emulate their so-called savior.

#17 RS Davis
@ 1:09 am

“The common enemy is the hypocrite and the extremists (fundaMENTALISTS) who donâ??t know their own Bible and fail to genuinely emulate their so-called savior.”

Wow…I recommend deep breathing exercises and maybe some Glenlivet before bedtime.

That’s some pretty harsh indiscrimanent carpet bombing you recklessly dropped, there pal. I don’t think I ever heard someone refer to flawed humans (as we all are) who can’t perfectly immulate Jesus Christ as “the common enemy.” Of who? You?

The last time I saw anything that broad, incendiary and intolerant, it was on screenprinted posters in 1939 Germany claiming “the eternal Jew” was the common enemy.

Look, when I disagree with someone, I try to do so with as much respect as possible. I realize others have opinions as strong as mine, so I do try to make as much room for that as is reasonable and dignified.

But that claptrap you just spewed was the biggest load of horses**t I’ve ever read on this site. You seriously need help if you actually believe that venomous bilge.

#18 Mark McComas
@ 4:45 pm

Doonsbury and Trudeau speak for the “Haaavaaard” snooty intelectual limousine socalist sector of society. They are all for the redistribution of health as long as it is YOUR wealth. They never met an issue they couldn’t talk to death. If he hadn’t struck gold with his comic strip, he’d be some tweedy professor in an Ivy League school who delights in destroying the religious beliefs intellectually helpless 18-year-olds bring from home. Fully implementing the programs lefties like him are so fond of would destroy the individual desire to achieve, implement shared povety and bancrupt the government. He’s incurable.

#19 Mike Peterson
@ 6:39 pm


Not Haaavaaard.

#20 Terry LaBan
@ 8:15 am

I’ve got to say that I also thought Sunday’s strip was an odd one and rereading it, I still don’t get the point. As a Jew, though, I had a bigger problem with what is a persistent characterization of the “Old Testament” God as being all about vengeance and wrath, to which the New Testament offers the antidote of pacifism and love. Even a cursory reading of the texts will show that neither of these things is really true. I don’t think the strip was anti-Semitic, though–just sloppy and incoherent.
By the way, when one speaks of Jesus’ driving the money lenders from the Temple, one must understand that, among other things, it was a political protest against the ruling establishment, whom Jesus and many other Jews of the time felt where cooperating too closely with with the Romans. For the sacrificial system to work, people had to be able to buy offerings onsite, and since they were coming from all over, they had to be able to change money.
RS Davis may not like Trudeau’s politics, but he should at least recognize superior cartooning. They ran “Mallard Fillmore” in our local paper for a week once and Tinsley did 3 strips cheering on his favorite sports team and 2 more about how the Chinese eat dogs. All consisted of a badly drawn, single panel. Trudeau may be a smug liberal, but at least he still cares.

#21 Mark McComas
@ 7:15 pm

Sorry about my ignorance of Trudeau’s schooling. Hey, at least I knew it was Ivy League. Kudos to LaBan! Rare is the man who knows both his Testaments! I agree–God is not always the God of fire and brimstone in the Torah. He has very tender words for Israel in many places–like Jeremiah 2. Likewise, Jesus isn’t all sweetness and flowers–He railed at the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and forgave a woman caught in adultery (John 8). He the same as told them they would never be saved because they would not come to Him! He cleared the temple of thieves who were charging too far above the exchange rate for temple money TWICE–in the beginning and the end of His ministry. He came to the Jews first with the Gospel and THEN to the Gentle!

#22 Mark McComas
@ 7:26 pm

By the way, I have seen Trudeau’s early stuff. He hasn’t drawn his own strip in decades. Neither has Jim Davis with Garfield. Al Capp didn’t draw Li’l Abner, Either. They are and were all industries within themselves.

#23 Charles Brubaker
@ 9:53 pm

Mark, re: Doonesbury

Yep, talk about ignorance. Trudeau STILL draws his strip, in that he does a very tight pencil work. He only has one assistant, an inker that traces over it.

Just because someone else inks the strip doesn’t mean that they do the drawing.

#24 RS Davis
@ 1:02 am

“RS Davis may not like Trudeauâ??s politics, but he should at least recognize superior cartooning.”

Terry, read what I said again.
All I said was that despite the differences in style or skill, the ultimate end of both Mallard Fillmore and Doonesbury is they both leave me flat. They just ain’t funny.

I think sometimes the fact gets lost in the shuffle that ultimately comic strips are a business. They are there to help sell papers and the more readers a strip has, the better business it helps create. Artists sometimes seem to forget that is their main responsibility – they are NOT hired to change the world or remold or reshape society to fit their world view.

And TInsley, as much as you may hate his particular point of view, is only doing what Trudeau had been doing for decades before – preaching to his like minded, vicious little minions the same political scat over and over, belaboring the same tired extreme partisian claptrap Ad infinitum. He may draw a bit better than Tinsley, but as political hack go he’s as average and boring as the next doofus.

In the end, all that counts is how many eyes are willing to spend 30 – 60 seconds on a strip. And for me, Doonesbury and Mallard Fillmore simply aren’t worth the time.

And before you so high handedly inform me what it is that I must recognize, I’d like to respecfully ask you to recognize a truty, and that is that Dilbert, Pearls Before Swine, Get Fuzzy, Pooch Cafe, Lio and several others get a lot of eyes reading them every day simply because they make people laugh.

And in the end, that is all that really counts for a *comic* strip, isn’t it? I’d argue that no matter how technically skillful a strip may be, the definition of a ‘superior’ strip is one that consistantly attracts readers with effective humor. USing that standard, I can think of about 20 strips that leave Trudeau in the dust.

I, like most readers, vote with my eyes when I read comic strips and just I don’t read Doonesbury or Mallard Filllmore anymore because they can’t regularly do what those other strips do, and that is make me laugh.

So I will admit that yes, there is ‘superior’ cartooing out there in the form of strips that are actually funny; and they do what they do very well and I look forward to reading those ‘superior’ strips every day.

And Doonesbury certainly isn’t one of them.

Oh, and Jesus didn’t engage in any political protest of any kind during his ministry – I think it is clear His goals were set a heck of alot higher than engaging in the protest of local politics. Jesus knowingly and willingly came to Earth to be gruesomely murdered on behalf of all of us in order to be the ‘stand in’ punishment for our sins before a just God, paying for our disobedience.

His purpose was of the highest motivation – unconditional, self sacrificing love. I think He cared as little about politics then as He would care now about health care reform – this world and life is temporary, as are the politics and issues of the day.

What Jesus was preaching and delivering was an eternal message – I don’t think the issue of Jewish leadership fraternizing with a Roman govermental entity rises to that same level of priority, IMO.

#25 Mark McComas
@ 9:05 pm

Well, he’s got one heck of an inker–and his lettering is computer generated. And like Davis says, HE AIN’T FUNNY! Let me say it–Shultz, God rest his soul, wasn’t funny near the end, either. His strip jumped the shark at least ten years before he died.

#26 RS Davis
@ 9:16 pm

I hate to have to agree, but I do. I loved Peanuts for a long time, but the best strips do get stale sometimes. As much as I rant about how great Bloom County was, Outland and Opus were just shells of the former strip.

I don’t expect every strip to be fantastically hilarious every time, but the truth is many are just on cruise control and floating by on past momentum. I think people cling to strips sometimes because they WANT them to be good or they are just familiar.

Doonesbury isn’t on my ‘ignore list’ because he’s a commie. He just ain’t funny.

#27 Wiley Miller
@ 7:03 am

“Doonesbury isnâ??t on my â??ignore listâ?? because heâ??s a commie. ”

I wonder if you can produce even one example of Trudeau’s work that would lead one to the conclusion that he’s a communist.

As for humor, it’s subjective.

#28 RS Davis
@ 10:08 am

Wiley, that was just hyperbole.

I was also actually going to write “..and I don’t put Mallard Fillmore on my preferred reading list just because he IS a fascist, either.” But I wasn’t sure if anyone really knew to what degree I am a right wing troll.

And you are correct about subjectiveness. I can’t for the life of me understand why ‘Zits’ is so popular; the main character Jeremey just annoys the living heck out me. But I recognize it is popular, so fair enough.

But I also have friends who tell me ‘Monty’ by Jim Meddick is a horrible strip, but I find it one of the funniest ones around…go figure.

#29 Wiley Miller
@ 10:42 am

“But I also have friends who tell me â??Montyâ?? by Jim Meddick is a horrible strip, ”

I suggest you get new friends!

#30 RS Davis
@ 12:00 pm

@ Wiley,
My wife has been saying that since they showed me how to make a ‘whiskey watermelon’.

#31 Mark McComas
@ 4:12 pm

Wiley, I just want to say that I enjoy your strip even when I don’t agree with it. I can’t always sat that about Doonsbury. You don’t come off smug, and he does. He never really skewers the left like he does the right, and you do. You really just take on absurdity as you see it where you see it. God Bless American free speech! I’d be in jail or creatively gagged and bound without it! I read your stuff in the Charleston (WV) Gazette and can often say I not only get the joke, but I also IDENTIFY with it. That’s where ZITS comes in. I have a son that is not that far out of teenage-hood and he still does some of the stuff Jeremy does. I find ZITS one of the most consistently funny strips around. There’s a lot of my family in it. By the way guys, though I am not published daily or even every week, I am a political cartoonist for my local paper when I have time to turn stuff out. Gotta make a living in spite of dreams, so I have run a sign shop for 25 years and graduated from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh in 1976. Maybe to you fellows I am only a dilletant, a dabbler. But if fate had been different . . .

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