If you haven't already I recommend to readers to read the Who Was Jesus web page before reading this page.
The books of the New Testament about Jesus's life were written anywhere between 60 and 200 years after Jesus's death. A close examination of these books shows up many direct contradictions as well as pagan myths. In addition some manuscripts of the same Gospel omit accusations against the Jews that other manuscripts have suggesting that the manuscript was modified from the original (Who Crucified Jesus by Solomon Zeitlin, p176) . There are even contradictions within the same manuscript. For example according to one passage of Acts Peter says to the Jewish rulers:
be it known to you all and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth whom ye crucified.
but in another passage of Acts Peter accuses the Jews only of delivering Jesus "to the court and denied him in the presence of Pilate". Solomon Zeitlin writes:
All the Four Gospels agree that Jesus was crucified by the order of Pilate and the Roman soldiers nailed him on the cross. Therefore, it is quite evident that the expression, "ye crucified Jesus" could not be applied to the Jews.
Hearsay may have crept into what was written during that time. When there were gaps in knowledge as to what happened people may have filled in what they thought happened instead of what they knew happened. According to Solomon Zeitlin in his book The Rise and Fall of the Judean State, Josephus the historian of the time was guilty of filling in what he surmised happened when he didn't know what happened. How do we know what is true and what isn't? William Nichols a former Anglican minister, and founder of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of British Columbia, wrote a book Christian Antisemitism, A History of Hate, in which he discusses what historical evidence tells us about Jesus. Nicholls argues that not only may the oral tradition upon which the authors of the New Testament based their written works have been unreliable but in addition the authors may have editorialized based on their own theological outlook. Dr. Nicholls points out that if there was no editorializing and embellishment one would expect that the earlier accounts of the life of Jesus would have more detail than the later accounts. The opposite is true.
One sign of confabulation of history is when authors mix up chronology. Both Mark and Matthew record a controversy between Jesus and the Pharisees regarding the washing of hands before meals. Solomon Zeitlin writes, (The Rise and Fall of the Judean State, Vol 2).
The institution of the washing of hands before meals took place only after the year 65 C.E. to ease the burden of the laws of purity and impurity upon the people. The Pharisees could not, therefore, have complained to Jesus, at a much earlier date, that his disciples did not wash their hands before meals.
If we believe the Gospels then Pontius Pilate was a good man who did not want to kill Jesus. To understand the unlikelihood of this it is worthwhile considering Roman behavior toward the Jews in general and what is known about Pontius Pilate in particular. Three examples of Roman cruelty given by Josephus are given below, first under the Syrian monarch Antiochus IV Epiphanes in 167 B.C.E, next under the Roman procurator Gessius Florus between 64 and 66 C.E. and next under Titus, during the siege and fall of Jerusalem in 70 C.E.. A fourth example was described by Philo who wrote about the attacks on Jews tolerated or even instigated by the Roman governor Flaccus:
What about Pontius Pilate in particular? Historical records tell us that King Agrippa I wrote a letter to Carigula, about Pilate's
corruption, his acts of insolence, and his rapine and his habit of insulting people, and his continual murder of persons untried and uncondemned, and his never ending, and gratuitous and most grievous inhumanity. (See Maccoby, Revolution in Judea: p57-58)
Likewise Philo wrote that Pilate was cruel by nature and utterly lacking in humane compassion and that he was unbending and a "recklessly hard character". Philo wrote that he resorted to robbery and oppression and that he often sent men to death, untried in a court of law, and physically broken by all manner of cruelties. (M.S. Enslin,k Christian Beginnings p. 116).
Solomon Zeitlin in his book Who Crucified Jesus? wrote that Pilate used the money of the temple and when Jews came in large numbers to him in protest he massacred them.
The event that led to Pilate's downfall was the appearance of a Samaritan prophet. The prophet gained a large following. Pilate's method of dispelling the crowd around the prophet was typical of his character: he slaughtered them on their holy mountain. About four thousand Samaritans died in that massacre. When this brutal act was reported to the emperor, Pilate was recalled to Rome in 37 CE. (See Martin, New Testament Foundations I: p67)
It's hard to believe a man this brutal would be worried about killing Jesus.
According to Matthew, during the trial of Jesus, Pontius:
washed his hands in front of the crowd. "I am innocent of this man's blood," he said. "It is your responsibility." All the people answered, "Let his blood be on us and on our children!"
First washing hands to demonstrate innocence was a Jewish tradition, not a Roman one (Solomon Zeitlin, Who Crucified Jesus). If we believe that the Jews answered "Let his blood be on us and on our children" we have to believe that the Jews at Jesus's trial were willing to risk bringing persecution on themselves and their children because they hated Jesus so much. It is highly unlikely that the Jews would voluntarily ask the Romans to persecute their children. If anything they would want their children to have better lives than they themselves had lived. The above account also implies that Pontius would allow a mob to coerce him against his will when it is much more likely that he would have had the entire mob killed for trying to coerce him. It is highly improbable that Jews would ask Pontius Pilate to kill anyone and in so doing risk him deciding to kill them instead for trying to give him orders. The much more likely explanation of this account is that Matthew fabricated this story because he hated the Jews and wanted to incite perpetual antisemitism against them. John Dominic Crossan points out that Matthew's is the only Gospel that alleges that the Jews said this. He writes:
Matthew, and Matthew alone, has the "people as a whole" accept full and explicit responsibility for Jesus' death on behalf of both themselves and their descendants... Peter 8:28 has "all the people repent upon seeing the miracles attendant upon Jesus' death while Matthew 27:25 has "the people as a whole" demand his crucifixion and assume responsibility for his condemnation. The development of the blood theme is much more advanced and virulent in Matthew than in Peter. It bespeaks the concerns of Matthew as a learned scribe, skilled and knowledgeable in biblical law. It bespeaks the bitterness of Matthew as a learned scribe whose vision was slowly, steadily, but surely being refused by his people.
Any religious leader that gathered a following was a threat to Roman power. In addition such a leader was a threat to the Jewish people because Rome was likely to react by massacring him and his followers and the Jews in general. Solomon Zeitlin in his book The Rise and Fall of the Judean State Part 2, wrote that:
Any disturbance was a peril to the Judean authorities, who could maintain their status only if complete tranquility prevailed. The high priest in particular - then Caiaphas - was really a servant, or lackey of Rome, appointed by the legate or procurator to ensure local control of malcontents. His sensitivity to the Galilean preacher is not difficult to imagine. Nor is Pilate's... Pilate was vicious to the people and hostile to their religion. He was cunning and treacherous. Due to his provocations, Judaea was on the brink of rebellion. The leaders of the people and High Priest Caiaphas, knowing his cunning and treachery, were fearful that if anything should happen Pilate would hold them responsible and wreak vengeance on the entire people. Thus John tells how even before the Passion week began a synedrion was called and it was argued that if Jesus continued his preaching, the Romans would come and "take away both our place and nation." High Priest Caiaphas elaborated on this and said, "It is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and that the whole not perish." (John 11:47-50)
It is much more likely that fear of Pilate that led Caiaphas to turn over Jesus to Pilate and not as the Matthew writes, fear of the Jews that led Pilate to crucify him.
Nicholls points out that the entire trial was improbable. He writes:
Following the Jewish scholar Paul Winter in his influential book, The trial of Jesus, Vermes concluded that if indeed such a trial as the Gospels describe took place, the Sanhedrin achieved the considerable feat of breaking just about every rule in the book on a single occasion. (Vermes, Jesus the Jew p36)
One of the most relevant of these rules prohibits holding a capital trial by night or on a festival. We are asked by the synoptic writers to believe that Jesus was arraigned before the full Sanhedrin on the evening of the Passover celebration. Given the especial sacredness for Jews of the first night of Passover, such a claim alone will strain the credulity of anyone who has ever thought about its implications...
The historicity of the affair is more than suspect. Paul knows nothing of it and the accounts in the first two Gospels are both conflicting and highly tendentious...From anything we know from other sources about the character and conduct of Pilate, the accounts in all four Gospels of his inadequate attempts to defend Jesus against a Jewish mob howling for blood are so improbable as to border on the ludicrous. Pilate was eventually relieved of his post for brutality in his administration excessive even in Roman eyes. (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 17:85-89) It is not easily conceivable that this administrator, who did not shrink from massacres, would have gone through scruples of conscience on whether it was legitimate, in view of the nobility of Jesus' character, to yield to Jewish demands for the crucifixion of one individual.
Matthew adds an even more devastating but no less improbable touch when he has the crowd shout, "His blood be on us and our children", words that have been used down through the centuries to justify many a progrom and persecution...
The upshot of the Gospel accounts is to divert attention from a solid historical fact, nevertheless unmistakably present even in their own accounts, that Jesus was condemned in a Roman court on a Roman charge, and put to death by a method of execution only used by the Romans. So successful is this diversion of attention that to this day countless Christians believe that the Jews killed Christ.
No one today blames the Italian people, the putative descendants of the Romans for what their ancestors did in crucifying Jesus. The supposed guilt of the Jews has echoed down history, justifying innumerable massacres...
An observation that I would add to this is that if there were Jews who had such a lack of respect for Jewish law as to conduct a trial on the first night of Passover they are unlikely to have been concerned about any transgressions of Jewish law by Jesus. It may be that a political Sanhedrin tried Jesus. Solomon Zeitlin in his book Who Crucified Jesus pointed out that there was more than one Sanhedrin. There was the religious Sanhedrin appointed by the Jews and there were political Sanhedrin's appointed and controlled by the Romans. It is possible that the political Sanhedrin would have been willing to violating Jewish law and to hold a trial on Passover, if Pontius Pilate had commanded them to do so. There is no mention of such a command in history or in Biblical texts however so this is unlikely.
There were Jewish supporters of Jesus. According to Josephus (Jewish Antiquities 18.63)
He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks... When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing amongst us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who had in the first place come to love him did not give up their affection for him.
If we believe Matthew we also have to believe that Jews gave Jesus an enthusiastic welcome to Jerusalem 5 days before the supposed trial (Maccoby, Revolution in Judea: p213). According to the Gospels the Jews enthusiastically welcomed him to Jerusalem. According to Luke (13:31) some of the Pharisees warned Jesus that Herod was out to kill him. When Jesus was led to be crucified, Luke tells us, "There followed him a great company of people and of women which also bewailed and lamented him. Many Jews were sorely distressed on seeing Jesus led to death. According to Acts 3, Gamaliel, a leader of the Pharisees, did not condemn Jesus and his followers. Instead he said:
If this idea of theirs or its execution is of human origin, it will collapse, but if it is from God, you will never be able to put them down, and you risk finding yourself at war with God.
According to the New Testament Jesus had large multitudes of followers. According to the Gospel of Saint Mark Jesus entered the Temple and throughout the money changers and accused the Chief Priests of having turned it into a den of robbers. According to Mark the Chief Priests wanted to arrest him but were afraid of him because the multitude supported him. Mark wrote regarding the Priests:
12:12 And they sought to lay hold on him; and they feared the multitude
If we believe the New Testament in this regard than it is reasonable to conclude that the multitude who supported Jesus were Jews since Jews were the main inhabitants of Israel at the time.
Lev Navrozov in an article "Jews vs Antisemites" (newsmax.com 6/20/03) wrote that:
The pretense that it was not the Roman Empire that invaded and destroyed Israel, killed and deported Jews, crucified Christ, and persecuted Christians for centuries, but the Jews who crucified Christ, is one of the most comical deceptions of anti-Semitism.
Lev wrote in a followup article (The Jews Crucified Christ? An Avalanche of Emails newsmax.com 7/11/03) that:
The assertion "The Jews crucified Christ" would have been absurd even if
Judea had not been a Roman colony.
Thus the assertion "The Italians burned Giordano Bruno at the stake" in 1600
as a heretic is absurd, though the Italy of 1600 was not a colony of any
country, and it is Italians and no one else who killed Bruno.
The assertion is absurd because responsible for the death of Bruno were some
Italians and some power structures in Italy, and not THE Italians as a
nation, especially since Bruno and his forerunners and followers were also
The Romans had a policy of ruling by proxy in order to reduce rebellion. They would appoint leaders from the people they wanted to control and control those leaders. In Judea the procurator appointed the high priests to carry out his bidding. According to Solomon Zeitlin in his book, Who Crucified Jesus
The high priests were appointed by the procurator. They were men whom the authorities knew would execute their policies. To them the procurator entrusted the task of enforcing political and social order in Judea. The high priests were responsible to the Romans for the tranquility of their country. It was their duty to hunt out the malcontents, the rebels against the state, and to report them ot the Roman officials...
The high priests were reduced to agents of the procurator. They arrested those considered a menace to the state, summoned a Sanhedrin before which they presented the evidence in the case for the procurator; then the procurator passed judgment on the convicted and carried out the punishment.
The Jewish populace saw these high priests as agents of the Romans and were understandably hostile to them. If Pontius used these high priests against Jesus that in no way implies that the Jewish populace supported their actions. Solomon Zeitlin writes:
True, the high priest delivered Jesus to Pilate for trial but that was not done by the will of the Jewish people. Political conditions which prevailed at that time in Judea forced some of the leaders to fight against their own bretheren, and to help the Romans to destroy the real Jewish patriots.
The Jewish people did not crucify Jesus.
This charge was conceived in a later period, and was introduced into the records of the past. Hence, this accusation against the Jews, so fraught with misery, suffering and death, is a tragic libel evilly wrought on an innocent people...
No fairminded student of contemporaneous affairs would hold the Norwegian people responsible for the murder of patriots by Quisling who rules under the protection of his German overlord. No impartially minded judge today would blame the Czech nation for the killing of their own patriots by the Gemans with the help of the puppet government of Hacha, so called president of the Czech Protectorate. So, the facts and realities of history exculpate the Jewish people from the burden of guilt of the crucifixion of Jesus, for they were bowed beneath the yoke of Rome, ruled by evil procurators who held power of life and death over them, and gave protection to Jewish Quislings - the high priests - who served their and Rome's purposes.
If we assume that as the Gospels state, the Romans killed Jesus, and that if Caiaphus, an Jew appointed by Rome, played a part in turning Jesus over to Rome it was because of fear of what Rome would do to the Jewish people otherwise, we need to ask ourselves why the Gospels shifted the guilt from the Romans to the Jews? Nicholls suggests that the Christians did not want to anger the Romans who at the time were very powerful (and ruthless). Another theory is that the Christians were trying to convert Romans to Christianity. The Christianity Today web page about who killed Jesus (http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2000/134/42.0.html) illustrates that theory as follows:
Imagine, for example, a Christian door-to-door canvass in the imperial city with a dialogue like this after the pagan opens his door:
Christian: "Hello. I'd like to invite you to our new Christian church in the catacombs at the edge of town .
Roman pagan: "What does Christian mean?"
Christian: "Oh, well, it's a religion named for someone who was crucified as a common criminal by one of your Roman governors."
Obviously, the door slams in the Christian's face. To avoid such treatment, ... believers may have subsequently shifted blame for the crucifixion from Pilatewho, in the revisionist view, actually wanted Jesus deadto "the Jews," since they were hardly popular in Rome and made convenient scapegoats.
The desire of the Christian to be accepted by the Romans is borne out by the fact that under the Roman Emperor Constantine they modified their dogma to fit his cult of Sol Invictus (Sun Emperorship) Michael Baigent et. al, in their book the Messianic Legacy give the following example of this revision of dogma:
the early Church had no compunction about modifying its own tenets and dogma in order to capitalise on the opportunity afforded it By an edict promulgated in 321, for example, Constantine ordered the law courts closed on 'the venerable day of the sun', decreeing that this be a day of rest. Christianity had hitherto held Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, as sacred. Now, in accordance with Constantine's edict, it adopted Sunday as its sacred day... Until the fourth century, moreover, Jesus's birthday had been celebrated on 6 January. For the cult of Sol Invictus, however, the most symbolically important day of the year was 25 December - the festival of Natalis Invictus, the birth (or rebirth) of the sun, when the days began to grow perceptibly longer. In this respect, too, Christianity aligned itself with the regime and the established state religion... the aureole of light crowning the head of the sun god became the Christian halo.
Why did the Christian's desire to be accepted by Rome and why did they adopt their customs to Roman ones? Perhaps because the Romans were in charge and it was important to be accepted by them.
One of the most important figures in Christianity Paul, recognized that to win people over to your faith, you had to act like you were one of them. According to Corinthians (9:20-22) Paul said:
To Jews I became like a Jew, to win Jews; as they are subject to the Law of Moses, I put myself under that Law to win them, although I am not myself subject to it.
Paul urged his disciples to obey Rome, whose power was 'ordained of God', and he also urged slaves to be contented with their lot and not to strive for freedom (Hyam Maccoby, The Mythmaker p163). It may be that Paul really believed that Rome's power was ordained by God. It must have seemed reasonable that since Rome was in control of a vast empire, and God was determining events, that God must have wanted Rome to be in control. Another reason Paul may have urged his disciples to obey Rome may have been to win Romans over to Christianity.
It is understandable why the early Christians whitewashed Rome's role in the killing of Jesus, but why did they blame the Jews? Solomon Zeitlin answered this question in his book Who Crucified Jesus as follows:
The early Christians sought to ingratiate themselves with the Roman authorities so that they should not look upon a Roman convert to Christianity as one who would side with the Jews, the rebels... Since the policy of the early Christians was not to antagonize the Romans, they tried to put the blame for the crucifixion upon the Jews...
And hence, the entire story was inserted to put into the mouth of the Jews, "his blood be on us, and on our children." ... It is noteworthy that no other Gospel mentioned this incident.
The description of Judas betraying Jesus with a kiss may have been an attempt by the Christians to portray him and through him all Jews in as treacherous a way as possible.
The Jews had been defeated by Rome and were weak and vulnerable. In addition the Jews rejected the Christian message as well as the Roman Sol Invictus cult. There are many examples of the hostility such rejection created among the Christians and it probably created hostility among the Romans as well. What better way to gain Roman approval than to show the Romans that Christians also hated Jews. The deliberate effort on the part of New Testament editors to slander the Jews by accusing them of the murderous intentions of others is further evidenced by Paul's story of how the Syrian King Aretus, an ally of Rome, tried to kill him for proselytizing in Damascus and how he was saved by being lowered in a basket (II Corinthians 11:32-33). Amazingly, when the exact same story is retold in the book of Acts (9:22-25), it is now the Jews who are trying to kill Paul. A passage in Acts also demonstrates that early Christian leaders were shifting blame toward the Jews. According to Acts the high priest questioned Peter as to why he wished to bring upon the Jews "the blood of this man Jesus."
From the Christian point of view Jews by not believing that Jesus was the Messiah, were rejecting Jesus's message. Paul, for example, wrote to the Corinthians about a veil that covers the eyes of the Jewish people whenever they read their scriptures (Second Corinthians 3:14ff).
Ironically according to Nicholl and others, Jesus never claimed himself to be the Messiah. Nicholls writes:
But he (Jesus) also gained a reputation among his followers and the crowds for being something he did not claim to be, the Messiah who was to deliver his people. He saw it for an illusion and did what he could to dispel it, but in vain...
Why did Jesus' followers believe him to be the Messiah if he didn't say he was? Following Jesus' death, Paul started to preach a heresy -- that Jesus was a god to be worshipped, a thing Jesus NEVER asked for. In fact, Jesus would have been absolutely horrified at the thought of it. Paul also preached doing away with the Law -- quite the opposite of what Jesus preached. According to Matthew (5:17-20) Jesus preached Jewish law and abided by it.
Jesus's followers may have believed that Jesus was the Messiah for the same reason that many believed that the Lubavitch Rebbe, Menachem Shneerson was the Messiah. The Lubavitch Rebbe, Menachem Shneerson, never said he was the Messiah yet after his death many of his followers came to believe that he is. Jacob Neusner in his review of David Berger's book, The Rebbe, The Messiah and the Scandal of Orthodox Indifference wrote:
In the name of Halacha (Jewish law), which it claims to carry out authentically, Chabad proclaims its deceased rabbi to be the royal Messiah and the embodiment of God, who will rise from the dead to do what he did not do in his initial life on earth.
The Rebbe's followers thought that he was such a great man that they practically worshipped him and thought that such a great man must be the Messiah. A similar situation may have existed with Jesus.
The Gospels allege that a major motive of the Jews for coercing Pontius Pilate into killing Jesus was their anger at Jesus for healing on the sabbath (Mark 3: 6; Matthew 12:14). Hyam Maccoby in his book The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity, writes that:
It is an amazing fact that, when we consult the Pharisee law books to find out what the Pharisees actually taught about healing on the sabbath, we find that they did not forbid it, and they even used the very same arguments that Jesus used to show that it was permitted. Moreover Jesus' celebrated saying, "The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath", which has been hailed so many times as an epoch-making new insight proclaimed by Jesus, is found almost word for word in a Pharisee source, where it is used to support the Pharisee doctrine that the saving of life has precedence over the law of the sabbath.
Likewise Solomon Zeitlin in his book Who Crucified Jesus wrote that:
To the Pharisees the Sabbath had been instituted for men and not men for the Sabbath. (Melkitha, Tractate Sabbath 1)
The Pharisees taught that, to save a human life, it is permitted to violate the Sabbath, because they held it is better to profane one Sabbath in order to make it possible for the person saved to observe all the Sabbaths that lay in the future. (Talmud Yoma 85: Makiltha. Tractate Shabboth 1.)
Some other motives for hating Jesus were purportedly cited at the trial of Jesus a trial that probably never happened. These motives were that Jesus threatened to destroy the temple, that he claimed to be the Messiah and that he aspired to reform the law of Moses. The claim to be the Messiah was made by others as well during the period of Jesus and not one of these claimants was accused of blasphemy by the Jews, in fact many gathered a Jewish following. If Jesus threatened to destroy the temple and rebuild it, that would have antagonized the High Priest and his entourage but would not have been as likely to antagonize the Pharisees who at the time of the Jewish War in 66 AD dismissed the High Priest and appointed a new one uncontaminated by corruption and collaboration with Rome. Jesus's opposition to the law of Moses as exemplified by his opposition to the concept of an 'eye for an eye' was shared by the Pharisees and would not have antagonized them to him. They regarded the expression 'an eye for an eye' as meaning that in principle any injury perpetrated against one's fellow man should be compensated for in accordance with the seriousness of the injury and not that the perpetrator should be blinded. According to John the Jews told Pilate
"We have a law and by our law he ought to die because he made himself the Son of God."
Solomon Zeitlin points out in his book that:
There is no Jewish law, either in the Bible or in the Talmud to the effect that a person who claims to be the "Son of God" is liable to capital punishment. The use of the expression "Son of God" was common among the Apocalyptists ( A jewish sect sharing many of Jesus's beliefs).
Finally there was the charge made by the Romans which according to Luke (23:2) was:
We found this fellow perverting the nation and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, saying that he himself is Christ a King.
It is likely that this is the real reason that Jesus was killed. On Jesus's cross were inscribed the words "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews." As a King of the Jews Jesus was a threat to Rome. On both sides of Jesus were crucified two lestai. The King James version translates this as thieves. According to Solomon Zeitlin the men who were crucified with Jesus were probably members of the Fourth Philosophy (a Jewish sect that rebelled against Rome) who were usually called lestai. The members of the Fourth Philosophy were crucified because they were rebels against Rome. The idea that there was friction between Rome and Jesus is given support in Luke 22.36 where we find Jesus instructing his followers each to buy a sword if they did not already have one, in preparation for a military action he anticipated -- the confrontation with the Roman cohort (600+ armed legionnaires) in the Garden of Gethsemene.
Although the Romans killed Jesus it is ultimately Paul and the Christians who have killed Jesus. Paul killed Jesus by killing his message. Christians have killed him by believing Paul's message instead of Jesus's message and by throughout history killing his brothers and sisters, the Jewish people from which he came.
Other web sites that question the Gospels include:
Welcome to Enlightenment! - Religion - The Tragedy of Mankind
Books on the subject include
Who Killed Jesus Exposing the Roots of Anti-Semitism in the Gospel Story of the Death of Jesus
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