||The historical and Hebraic context of the Canonical Gospels has been severely diluted over time, causing a schism between Judaism and Christianity. This social disconnect has resulted in Jewish persecution by the Gentile readers of the Gospels, as well as Jewish misconceptions about Jesus and his followers.
This essay is not a theological argument or a defense for any religious dogma. My ultimate goal is to demonstrate how certain documents, specifically, the New Testament Canonical Gospels, have been distorted by Church leaders and misperceived by rabbinic scholars. My personal opinion is that if you do not understand the Second Temple period (including the customs and cultures), then you probably do not understand Jesus or his teachings. The common image we see of Jesus is long brown hair with blue eyes and wearing red robes; he is not seen as a first century Galilean preacher, dressed according to part. We are so disconnected from this time period that we see it through 20th century eyes, with little understanding of the way things were and they way we conduct ourselves today – 2,000 years and 7,000 thousand miles away. I hope by the end of my argument, the reader will see Jesus in a different light.
Christian and Jewish scholars, overtime, have read the Gospels out of their historical context, mischaracterizing Jesus of Nazareth and his teachings. One of the longest running presumptions from the Jewish faith is that Jesus was a blasphemer, a fraud, and a liar. It has also been said that Jesus encouraged fellow Jews to break the strict dietary laws, break the weekly Sabbath (Hebrew = Shabbat), and to abstain from obtaining a divorce—under any and all circumstances.
Judaism, Then and Now
Let me start by saying that the Gospels writers were all Jewish (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, respectively). There has been ongoing debate whether or not Luke was a Jew or gentile Greek. I believe the former to be the truth for several reasons: Luke was allowed access into the inner halls of the Temple (where no gentile was allowed), he had more detailed knowledge in his Gospel about the inner-workings and customs inside the Temple than the other Gospels, and he was able to use Jesus’ mother, Mary, as a primary source for the intimate knowledge he articulates in the first chapter of his Gospel (something a Gentile would have been very unlikely to be able to do in 1st Century Judea/Galilee).
There was no uniformity or orthodoxy established at this juncture in history. There was not a “Judaism” but many “Judaisms,” Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Epicureans, Zealots, and Nazarenes (later known as “Christians”), to name a few. Local religious leaders determined the application of Oral Torah (oral verbal teaching or tradition) from the written Torah (written teaching on parchment scroll). Each community understood the directives and prohibitions differently from each other. This is similar today to how etiquette differs regionally, nationally, and internationally. There was not a single orthodoxy with regards to the Oral Torah until approximately the year 200 CE, at which time the oral traditions were collated, redacted, and written down in the collection known as the Mishnah (Hebrew for “repetition”).
There would not be a single Orthodox Judaism (as we know it today) until after the 1st century. Modern Judaism evolved, as did Orthodox Christianity, during the first centuries of the Common Era. That being said, the actions of Jesus were not against Judaism’s orthodoxy, but they were actions that were completely acceptable to Galilean customs and not to others. Additionally, The Gospels are the product of a Hebraic oral-culture, transmitted orally in Hebrew, until they were written down in the Hellenistic-Diaspora, in Greek. Many Hebrew words that did not have exact Greek equivalents, fell victim to a “guessing game,” and the original Hebraisms were lost in translation.
Abandoned Jewish Root, Adopted Christian Tree?
Not only words got lost, but accepted theologies as well. The forerunning theology of what is today Christology and Trinitarianism began as a Jewish belief, specifically Logos or Memra Theology (Greek and Aramaic, respectively, for “word” or “wisdom”), also known as the “Two Powers in Heaven” theory. The Church fathers (namely, Justin Martyr) “borrowed” this accepted belief when they began composing their doctrines, culminating in a complete break from Judaism around the year 130 CE. While the Church was already in the process of divorcing itself from its Judaic roots, the rabbis began rewriting Jewish history, dissolving any notion of a sectarian Judaism and in its place; absorbing basic Pharisaic teaching while deeming the diverse beliefs as heresy, included the Nazarene sect. . Interestingly enough, the word for Christian in Modern Hebrew is Nohtzree, which means Nazarene in English.
What was accepted practice and belief within the sectarian diversity of the era, fell victim to the victors, in this case Rabbinical Judaism. Partially in reaction to Christianity’s assimilation of a Hebraic belief, the rabbis ultimately eliminated diversity, replacing it with a uniform belief system. A major additional contributing factor was the destruction of the 2nd Temple in 70 CE. The surviving Jewish sages (mostly Pharisees) migrated west to the Mediterranean community Yavneh, while Rome eventually wiped out the sectarian remnants. This accounts for how Pharisaism evolved into rabbinical Judaism. The rest, as they say is history.
Legalism or Spiritualism?
One of the most commonly held misconceptions by Christian pastors and lay people today is that the Jews have been and still are a highly legalistic people. This view of being strict legalists has led many to view Jesus as a stand out among his people, better than the rest and favoring love and compassion over absolute obedience to “laws.” The first problem with this misconception is that the Hebrew word Torah is always mistranslated in English bibles as “law.” Torah refers to the instruction or teaching given to Moses by God on Mount Sinai. The Torah is very comprehensive, and one of its many components contains the law, the “thou shall not(s)” and so on. To be more accurate, the Torah serves more as a guideline for how to live one’s life to the fullest, how to treat others, and how to please and honor God. In simpler terms, how to be holy as God is holy. The treatment of others is one of the main points emphasized by Jesus on his Sermon on the Mount. In no way was Jesus negating the binding nature of the Torah; he was making written norms comprehensible and practical for every day living for the common man, a common practice of the rabbis then and today.
What most Jews and Christians do not know today is that Jesus was very orthodox for his time, place and Galilean culture. Contrary to popular beliefs, he did not violate any Sabbath laws. One incident in question was whether picking up grains of wheat and rubbing them between one’s fingers constituted work. Apparently, Jesus’ activity with his disciples was a matter of debate among the different groups of ideologues. His conduct
The next source of contention is Jesus’ alleged prohibition against divorce. According to the bible, Jesus stated, “Whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery.” (Matthew 5:31-32, Mark 10:11). This scriptural statement has led the to the Roman Catholic Church also prohibiting divorce, replacing it with annulment. The Pharisees and other religious authorities that opposed Jesus’ teaching on this did so not against Jesus solely, but against anyone with views on this matter different then their own.
During the first century alone, there was a wide controversy amongst the sages regarding divorce, and what constituted legal grounds to obtain one. The problem with the misunderstanding of Jesus’ teaching is twofold; there is one issue with the translation, and another with regards to ideology. There were also varying views of the legitimate reasons for divorce, and they tended to stem from two diametrically opposed schools of thought. One of the schools was led by a sage named Hillel (considered liberal in his philosophy), the other by a sage known as Shammai. Both of these sages were contemporaries of Jesus, and Jesus’ teaching on divorce was within the same conservative realm as Shammai. Additionally, verbal sparring between the sages was common during this time, especially between Galileans and Judeans.
The alleged abolishment of the Torah by Jesus has caused many rabbis to deem him a heretic, whereas Church leaders have taken these same accusations and spun to show Jesus as ushering in an era of grace and compassion, replacing the harsh legalistic Jewish way. The best example comes from the Gospel of John, specifically, the story of the adulteress (John 8:3-11). The Torah called for anyone guilty of this act to be put to death (as per Deuteronomy 22:22). In this case, a mob demands that an adulteress be stoned to death as prescribed by the Torah. Jesus addresses the crowd as follows:
“The one of you who is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” On hearing this, they [the crowd] began to leave one by one, the older ones first, until he was left alone, with the woman still there. Jesus said to her, “Where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, sir.” Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Now go, and don’t sin anymore.”
Both sides are guilty of decontextualizing this incident. The Christian side proclaiming this event to be another example of Jesus’ mercy and forgiveness, the Jewish partisans to shows he disregarded the Torah, and thus, he was not a good Jew. The Torah, specifically the book of Deuteronomy 17:6-7, demands at least two eyewitnesses to invoke the death penalty. With the absence of any witnesses, the woman should have rightfully been released.
Jesus said What?
The next issue is one that both Christians and Jews of today do not understand collectively. Just as there are different writing styles, there are varying speaking styles as well. Jesus, as many of his contemporary sages, spoke in parables. A parable is a fictitious story that illustrates a moral lesson. Unfortunately, too many have read these parables and either taken them literally or totally miscomprehended the “moral of the story.”
The parable regarding purity in the Gospel of Matthew (15:11, 17-20) has led many Jewish and Christian lay people to conclude that Jesus was encouraging his peers to forgo the strict cultural dietary norms. I have personally been told by Evangelical Christians that “Jesus said you don’t have to ‘keep Kosher’ anymore.” They were referring to the following verses spoken by Jesus:
“It’s not what goes into your mouth that defiles you; you are defiled by the words that come out of your mouth. Anything you eat passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer. But the words you speak come from the heart – that’s what defiles you. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. These are what defile you.”
The teaching of Jesus here was reflecting what Rabbi Hillel, had previously preached, many years before Jesus began his public ministry and the same principles are even contained in the Mishnah.
Those who support the evangelical view, fail to understand the parabolic style of teaching here. Jesus was responding to the concerns of some Pharisees over defiling oneself by eating non-Kosher foods. Jesus was emphasizing the priority to focus on the thoughts and impulses from within and in no way, advocating the forsaking of the dietary laws. Their misguided interpretation is the by-product of supersessionist pasturing. This is an unfortunate, but very common practice in the various Christian denominations. The clergy and other Church leaders focus on Old and New Testament readings and bible supplemental materials. They lack training in Semitic languages, rabbinic literature, or any other Judaic disciplines. All this prevents them from developing any historical analytical skills and contextual critical thinking.
Was John Blaming “the Jews?”
John’s Gospel is one of the most difficult to critique given his unique narrative in comparison with the Synoptic Gospels. The constant usage of the “the Jews” or its original Greek equivalent Oi Ioudaioi, has had some of the most drastic historical repercussions. Many Jewish Persecutors have exploited this indicative language for justifying their genocidal conduct. This Gospel is one of the best examples of the negative impact of the Gospels out of their context. The usage of “the Jews” needs close scrutiny. There are two prevailing academic theories as to the proper meaning of “the Jews.”
The first theory regards this as a mistranslation from the original oral Hebrew to the written Greek, and then later translated to English. In keeping with this theory, the proper translation should read “the Judeans.” There was no unified Israel as there are today, only regional provinces (Judea, Galilee, and Samaria, to name a few). This was similar to the Greek city-states of antiquity. “The Jews” refers to the Judeans, a regional, not religious identification.
The other theory is that “the Jews” is correctly translated, and it is reflective of the Jewish sectarian theological infighting. John and his companions were Jewish and therefore, would not be engaging in a group-character assassination of his own people. Instead, his narrative is meant to distinguish between the Jews that accepted Jesus and his teachings and “the Jews” who did not, a separatist viewpoint similar in practice to that of the Essenes.
Additionally, there is a view that bridges these two prevalent theories. What if John himself is guilty of losing vitally descriptive words/terms when the oral Hebrew was translated to written Greek? According to the Jewish New Testament Commentary, at the time the Gospels were composed, the Greek word Ioudaioi could have possibly had three meanings: a member of the Israelite tribe of Judah, Jews as a religion, or people from/originating in Judea. John had no idea who his future audience may be, and if he had known, might have composed his Gospel with more literary discretion. He may have assumed that his contemporary readers would be able to distinguish which one of “the Jews” John was referring to, based on the context alone (i.e., the Jewish priests, the Jewish bystanders, the Jewish followers). This would be similar in modern writing if Gordon S. Wood, one of the preeminent American Revolution historians, referred to every group of Americans as “the Americans,” whether they were Loyalists, Patriots, or Neutralists.
The Pharisees: Good Guys or Bad Guys?
History has not been kind to the Pharisees. If you look up the word “Pharisee” in any dictionary, you will observe that one of the definitions listed is “hypocrite.” The polemics of Matthew’s Gospel has led the Church to teach that the Pharisees were Jesus’ enemies, that they were simply “hypocrites,” that Jesus opposed their teachings, and the Pharisees wanted Jesus killed. Furthermore, since rabbinic Judaism is viewed as the spiritual heirs of Pharisaism, Christianity still perceives Judaism’s doctrine as not consistent with Jesus’ teachings, and therefore, against Jesus. Despite the declaration issued in 1985 by the Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, stating that Pharisaic teaching was similar to Jesus’ teaching, prejudices still flourish. So what are the parishioners and pastors reading that causes this?
For generations, readers of Matthew’s Gospel read only the criticisms in the narrative, not the constructive nature Jesus articulates his criticisms in. Jesus is attacking their methodology, but then praising their ideology in the same lessons:
“The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.” (Matthew 23:2-3)
The “seat of Moses” refers to a spiritual metaphor for the power of making decisions on the written Torah (Deuteronomy 17:10). This is something the Church did not understand initially because it was not their tradition, so they ignored what they did not comprehend. Jesus was overtly recognizing the authority of the Pharisees to interpret written scripture for practical application. Jesus was addressing the piety standard set by the Pharisees, but not personally upheld by the Pharisees. In no way was he condemning them as a group for their philosophy, but the hypocrisy of not “practicing what they preached.” The other verses misread by the Church have laid the foundations for the misguided assumption that the Pharisees (and by extension, all of modern Judaism) were and are a legalistic religion, devoid of love and mercy:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the teaching, justice and mercy and faith. It is this you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” (Matthew 23:23)
The Church overlooks the first part of this verse, bypassing the tithing reference and focusing only on “justice, mercy, and faith.” Ignorance of the agricultural tithing system and of Oral Torah, contributes to another misunderstanding between the religions. Mint, dill, and cummin were not crops listed in the written Torah that were to be tithed. These additions were the product of Pharisaic tradition, meant to substitute these crops for ones not available. Jesus, by implication, is affirming this Pharisaic practice. Additionally, Jesus is also trying to teach the Pharisees about prioritizing the more important components of the Torah (justice, mercy and faith) without disregarding the less important components (tithing, in this case). Unfortunately, the Church would read this far removed from this society.
Christians, generations later, would identify with Matthew, retroactively Christianizing him, and view the Pharisees’ way of life as anachronistic and savage. The Church, following a supersessionist path, would read these same verses and conclude a valid case for abolishment of the “lesser,” if not all of the ritual commandments Judaism keeps to this day.
Who Killed Jesus and Why?
Up until the Vatican II, the Church held “the Jews” collectively culpable for Jesus’ death. It was only after the Holocaust that the Church revised their doctrine absolving the Jews as a whole and abandoning the traditional doctrine of supersessionism. Between the doctrines of the Church Fathers were composed and Vatican II in 1965, the Church dogmatists failed to view the accounts of Jesus’ death in their historical, political, and social contexts.
The two most infamous people involved in Jesus’ trial and condemnation were Caiaphas and Pontius Pilate, the Jewish High Priest and Roman prefect of Judea, respectively. Caiaphas, the priests, and the whole Jewish community have had the conventional role of the chief villains in Passion plays throughout history. The reenactments of the last hours of Jesus’ life have led to outbreaks of violence in Europe against the Jewish communities. Passion plays were also one of Adolph Hitler’s favorite instruments of propaganda during the reign of the Third Reich, as they assisted with exterminating the Jews living in the Third Reich’s reach.
As stated previously, there were many sects in the Second Temple Period. The high court/legislature that represented all of these sects was known as the Sanhedrin, which was made up of 71 members and met in the Temple. The most knowledgeable sages of written and oral Torah appointed to the Sanhedrin. The feuding sects during the time of Jesus were the Pharisees and Sadducees, due mainly to the fact that their ideologies were diametrically opposed. Caiaphas was a member of the Sadducees, and prior to Jesus’ trial, expelled the Sanhedrin from the Temple, which allowed him dictatorial powers over the Temple. Freed from democracy-style consultation with the Pharisees on all ritual and civil matters, Caiaphas economically exploited the situation when he moved vendors into the Temple itself, where the common people would purchase animals and offer them up for ritual sacrifice by the High Priest. Since money had to be exchanged in the Temple itself, private spiritual matters were now turned into a commercial monopoly for Caiaphas and the Sadducees, as they obviously profited from this unholy venture. Jesus, being outraged at this practice and defilement of the Temple, entered the Temple and overturned the marketplace tables, as well as chasing out the vendors (Luke 19:45-46). This action, no doubt, led Caiaphas to believe Jesus was an economic threat at this time, at the very least. The political threat was coming.
Furthermore, Caiaphas was appointed by Rome as the High Priest, and not as Jewish tradition dictated, as a descendant of Aaron (the first High Priest), the only one who could ascend to that position Therefore, he had a vested interest in retaining his position and being concerned with Rome’s interest. As Jesus gained more notoriety among the people, Caiaphas became extremely concerned what Jesus’ actions may lead to, and made a most blatant political statement:
…it is better for you [Judea] that one man die [Jesus] for the people than that the whole nation perish.” (John 11:50)
Jewish messianic figures, regardless of their social and economic status, posed a threat not so much to Rome, but more so to Judea, in Caiapihas’ eyes. Any potential threat of rebellion against Rome would be dealt with swiftly and severely, most likely leading to the destruction of the Temple and massacres of the people. I doubt that Caiaphas “concerns” for the people at large, as well as the Temple, were truly altruistic; it is evident he gained financially from his appointed position and did not want to lose the riches and prestigious status. Unfortunately, future Jewish rebellions would bring the wrath of Rome, both in 70 CE and 132-33 CE, the former of which did end up causing the Temple’s destruction.
Caiaphas planned Jesus’ arrest tactically, as he feared the potential of riots as a result of the arrest. Jesus had such a popular following among the people, that Caipahas took into account the timing of his arrest as not to arouse Jesus’ supporters:
Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and they plotted to arrest Jesus in some sly way and kill him. “But not during the Feast [of Passover],” they said, “or there may be a riot among the people.” (Matthew 26:3-5)
Furthermore, the people would be outraged upon hearing that one of their own was handed over to the pagan Romans. Ingeniously, Caiaphas engineers a nighttime trial for Jesus in the Temple on the charges of blasphemy (Matthew 26:57-68, Mark 14:53-65, Luke 22:66-71, John 17:19-24). Most bibles state that this “trial” was a meeting of the Great Sanhedrin. There are two problems with this scenario. The first goes back to words getting lost in translation. The Greek word for “council” is Sunedrion, and even though this trial is a meeting of people (and in the very likelihood, all fellow Sadducees of Caiaphas), is has been confused with the great council, or the Great Sanhedrin, which never met at nightime. As I stated earlier, the Sanhedrin were expelled from the Temple. So this meeting was definitely a council of one sect, whose interests obviously conflicted with the teachings of Jesus. Additionally, two of the more visible Pharisees that were members of the Sanhedrin, Nicodemus and Joseph of Artimathea, are visibly absent from the “trial,” as they would have most definitely interceded on Jesus’ behalf. They were probably celebrating Passover according the their ritual calendar, as it is believed by some modern historians that the Sadducees and Pharisees observed different calendars.
Now we turn our attention to Pontius Pilate, the Roman Prefect (or governor) of Judea. The traditional Jewish view on the portrayal of Pilate in the Gospels is that the authors vilified the Jews, and exonerated Pilate of any blame insisting the crowds coerced him. Similarly, traditional Church teaching has been that Pilate knew Jesus was innocent of the charges, but was forced to condemn him anyway, having little or no power against the Jewish priests and mob. First and foremost, the Jewish reading of the texts enters the discussion with prejudice; having suffered years of persecution “in the name of Jesus,” many Jewish observers look at the Gospels with skepticism and a preconceived notion to negate the accounts documented in these works. This view is highly reactionary, and not an objective dissection of the stories in their proper context.
Church theologians, on the other hand, are preaching what they have read at prima facia; they never looked beyond the simple words as they lacked an interdisciplinary approach to studying a place, time, and culture far removed from their pulpits. A deeper view of Pilate’s actions yields a cunning, ruthless, and devious politician…. one with political aspirations beyond his current position of authority.
Pilate was a close political ally and student of Sejanus, an anti-Semitic prefect of the Praetorian Guards. Rome had granted Judaism the status of religio licita- the Latin for legal recognition of and freedom to practice their religion openly and publicly, a freedom no other religion in the Empire enjoyed. This freedom exempted the Jews from worshipping the Emperor as a god, or paying him any direct tribute. Pilate was not happy with this arrangement and sought ways to both provoke the Jews and make them submissive. Pilate would carry out several attacks against the Judeans and Galileans prior to his meeting with Jesus.
In a vain attempt to gain favor with the Emperor Tiberius, Pilate decided to have his soldiers carry shields into Jerusalem, which displayed the Emperor’s image on them. This was pagan symbol and clearly prohibited act according to the Jew’s beliefs against idolatry. In response, thousands of Jews surround Pilate’s headquarters in Caesarea in protest. Pilate announced to the crowd if that they do not disperse, he will have the soldiers kill them all. The crowd refuses, willing to die then to accede tolerance of idolatry in Jerusalem. Pilate ultimately relents and removes the offensive shields from Jerusalem. Pilate’s next act would be one of indiscretion.
Pilate financed a much-needed aqueduct into Jerusalem by confiscating the Temple’s treasury funds. Needless to say, this caused a public outrage, one that caused a mob scene worse than Caesarea. Predicting this mass demonstration, Pilate had his soldiers disguise themselves as native civilians, concealing clubs beneath their garments. As the demonstrators started voicing their grievances to Pilate, the soldiers began clubbing countless to death. Both of these events occurred sometime between the year 26 and 30 CE. These acts (as well as others), had the blessing of Sejanus, and actually led the Jewish leaders to file a formal complaint with the Emperor Tiberius. Tiberius reasserted Rome’s dedication to respecting Jewish beliefs and, recognizing their sensitivity to idols, ordered Pilate to remove the shields. Tiberius was not holding Pilate in high favor after this. After previously stated, the Sadducees were political allies of Rome, and Caiaphas more than likely, made the complaint.
Shortly after Tiberius’ intercession in Jerusalem, Sejanus was arrested, tried, and executed for treason, as well as family members, friends, and associates of his. Given Sejanus’ position of power, now that he was dead, Pilate lost his chief ally, supporter, and direct link to the Emperor. Knowing that anyone close to Sejanus was executed (whether they committed any crime or not), and given the sharp rebuke Pilate just received directly from the Emperor, Pilate was cautious, if not paranoid. Now would come the most history-defining decision Pilate would ever make as prefect of Judea: the execution of some obscure Galilean Rabbi named Jesus of Nazareth.
Caiaphas and his co-conspirator Sadducees had to rid themselves of this menacing Jesus. Once they found him “guilty” of blasphemy, they handed him over to Pilate. As prefect, he had the only authority to sentence criminals to death (John 18:31). Pilate did not really see any threat from Jesus. He was not an affluent man and did not preach violence against anyone, especially Roman citizens. If anything, Pilate probably viewed Jesus as insane, poor, and harmless. Nonetheless, Pilate offers a customary amnesty, which was traditionally offered at Passover, to release one prisoner. A crowd of people gathered, and demanded Jesus be crucified (at the instigating of Caiaphas and the priests), and an insurrectionist named Barabbas be freed. Pilate even identifies him as “the Christ” (Greek for messiah) and as “the King of the Jews,” with no change of heart from the crowd (Matthew 27:15-26, Mark 15:6-15, Luke 23:13-25, and John 18:39-19:16). The site of this decision is still debated by archaeologists today, but most concur on either one of two possible places: Herod’s Palace or Antonia Fortress.
Both Pilate and Caiaphas saw opportunities here. The Sadducean Priests wanted Jesus dead; Pilate preferred to execute Barabbas, who was a Zealot and guerilla fighter against Rome. In any case, Pilate ultimately wins and Pilate knows this. By giving the crowd its wish, he successfully demonstrates that he respects popular sovereignty, to both the people and the Emperor. Pilate’s reference to Jesus as the “King of the Jews,” was done so to mock both the people and priests, as Pilate goes further and has a sign attached to Jesus’ cross stating “Here is Jesus, King of the Jews.” In spite of the priests’ wishes, Pilate kept the sign up. Now Pilate was sending a message. Here was man, who claimed to be a king and a messiah. He despised the Jews, and this was done to mock their religion, at the expense of one man’s physical suffering. Pilate had already upset the Emperor by the incident with the Temple’s treasury, and was trying to avoid bringing his actions to the Emperor’s attention again after the death of Sejanus. If anything, Caiaphas was not in Pilate’s debt, and Rome would be pleased with how he worked with the local religious leaders.
Pilate knew that when Jesus’ followers became angered over his execution, the only ones they could turn their anger on were their fellow Jews (Pharisees versus Sadducees). There would be no uproar towards Rome, since the crowd decided Jesus’ fate in a public referendum. But Pilate also got something else while dealing with Jesus that eluded him for a long time: acknowledgement of the Emperor as their king and, in Pilate’s mind, a denial of their “god”:
“Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked. “We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered.” Finally Pilate handed him over to be crucified. (John 19:15-16)
Sadly enough, the Church would only see the crowd of Jews to blame for Jesus’ death, and not the cunning, ruthless politician Pilate behind it all. Pilate had the power to spare Jesus, but opted to make him a political pawn for his current and future aspirations.
With a positive revisionism approach in mind, many scholars (Jewish and Christian) have started rethinking what was said, what was done, and why people acted the way they did in the Gospel accounts. Many of the Christian denominations, including Catholicism, now have more appreciation for their Jewish roots and have participated in Jewish outreach programs to heal the wounds that resulted from the schism. Judaism, in turn, has made efforts to revise its teachings regarding the character and religious adherence of Jesus and some of his immediate followers. Traditional rabbis have written introductions to books in which the Christian authors place Jesus back in his Second Temple time and Jewish lands. The same rabbis offer praise for pastors, priests, and other church leaders who have made every effort to remove the vilification of “the Jews” from their liturgy and teachings. Unfortunately, much work is still needed. The lay people still hold the traditional views as discussed above, and little appears to be done to re-teach the masses in either religion. Interfaith dialogues should be held, the ultimate goal being that each side has a more comprehensive understanding of the other’s roots, their dogmas, and their similarities. As with any other historical subject, the less we know about it, the less we can appreciate it, respect it, and properly impart it to the next generation.
David Bivin and Roy Blizzard, Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus: New Insights From a Hebraic Perspective (Shippensburg: Destiny Image Publishers, 1994), 5.
Thomas S. McCall, “Was Luke a Gentile,” Zola Levitt , Zola Levitt Ministries Inc., http://www.levitt.com/essays/luke.html
Bruce Chilton, Judaism in the New Testament: Practices and Beliefs (New York: Routledge, 1995), 8.
Daniel Boyarin, Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004), 41.
Bivin, Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus, 15.
Boyarin, Border Lines, 92-93.
Brad H.Young, Meet the Rabbis: Rabbinic Thought and the Teachings of Jesus (Peabody: Hendrick Publishing, 2007), 39.
David Flusser, The Sage from Galilee (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007), 35.
Matthew 5:31-32, Mark 10:11 (New International Version).
Brad H.Young, Jesus the Jewish Theologian (Peabody: Hendrick Publishing, 1995), 114-116.
Young, Meet the Rabbis, 40-41.
David Friedman, They Loved the Torah, (Clarksville: Lederer, 2001), 11.
John 8:3-11 (Complete Jewish Bible).
Flusser, The Sage From Galilee, XV.
Matthew 15:11, 17-20 (Life Application Study Bible).
Bruce Chilton, Rabbi Jesus (New York: Doubleday, 2000), 87.
Amy-Jill Levine, The Misunderstood Jew: the Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus (New York: Harper One, 2006), 119-120.
Thomas F. Madden, The New Concise History of the Crusades (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2005), 18-19.
Dennis Hamm, “Are the Gospel Passion Accounts Anti-Jewish?” Journal of Religion & Society 9, no. 1(2004): par. 21, http://moses.creighton.edu/JRS/2004/2004-9.html
Chilton, Judaism in the New Testament, 121.
Stern, New Testament Commentary, 158-59.
Young, Jesus the Jewish Theologian, 228.
Chilton, Rabbi Jesus, 188.
Mark Kinzer, Post Missionary Messianic Judaism: Redefining Chrsitian Engagement with the Jewish People (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2005), 257.
Matthew 23:2-3 (New International Version).
Deuteronomy 17:10 (Jewish Publication Society).
Kinzer, Post Missionary Messianic Judaism, 250-51.
Matthew 23:23 (New International Version).
Kinzer, Post Missionary Messianic Judaism, 250-51.
Dr. John Fischer and Dr. Patrice Fischer, The Distortion (Baltimore: Lederer Books, 2004), 65.
Flusser, The Sage From Galilee, 43-44.
Chilton, Rabbi Jesus, 219-220.
Luke 19:45-46 (New International Version).
David Flusser, “To Bury Caiaphas, Not to Praise Him,” Jerusalem Perspective, January 1, 2004. http://www.jerusalemperspective.com/ Default.aspx?tabid=27&ArticleID=1462
John 11:50 (New International Version).
Young, Jesus the Jewish Theologian, 227.
Matthew 26:3-5 (New International Version).
Matthew 26:57-68, Mark 14:53-65, Luke 22:66-71, John 17:19-24 (New International Version).
Young, Meet the Rabbis, 50-53.
Young, Jesus the Jewish Theologian, 231.
Young, Meet the Rabbis, 52-53.
New Jewish Encyclopedia, s.v. “Jesus of Nazareth.”
Young, Jewish the Jewish Theologian, 226.
Chilton, Rabbi Jesus, 205.
Flusser, The Sage from Galilee, 150 & Chilton, Rabbi Jesus, 210-211.
Chilton, Rabbi Jesus, 211 & Flusser, The Sage from Galilee, 150.
Flusser, The Sage from Galilee, 151.
Chilton, Rabbi Jesus, 239-241.
John 18:31 (New International Version).
Matthew 27:15-26, Mark 15:6-15, Luke 23:13-25, and John 18:39-19:16 (New International Version).
Ehud Netzer, “A New Construction of Paul’s Prison,” Biblical Archaeology Review, January/February 2009, 35.
Young, Jesus the Jewish Theologian, 236-237.
Chilton, Rabbi Jesus 262.
Kinzer, Post Missionary Messianic Judaism, 146.
John 19:15-16 (New International Version).