It’s not possible to know

In this post I try to guess who and why

I guess my guess is as good as any other

Why did they kill Jesus?

I’ve often wondered about the answer to that question – for many decades in fact.  I bought an inexpensive New Testament to mark up and started going through it looking for clues that might give me an answer.  Jesus was such a nice guy, serving people with his healing work, preaching about a loving deity, talking about the end of the world.  What’s not to like?  Why would anyone want to kill him?

Lets’ take a closer look at the money changers.  Why were there money changers at the Temple in first-century Jerusalem?  (Matthew 21:12-13, Mark 11:15-17, John 2:13-17 (TNIV))

Couldn’t money offerings and purchases of cooked meat at the Temple be made in any kind of currency then in use in the local markets?  Surely the priests could have made their purchases using the local currencies whenever they bought locally.

So did the priests require a certain kind of currency?  The answer might be that maybe the priests were required to pay Roman taxes, and maybe the Romans required that taxes be paid in Roman currency.  Here in the US, one would not expect the Internal Revenue Service to accept euros or pesos.  Only US dollars.  Neither the priests nor the Romans were going to take on the expense of currency exchange, thus they passed that cost on to the locals who came to make money offerings and buy cooked meat at the Temple??

Recall that when Jesus asks, “Show me the coin used for paying the tax” to Caesar, he was given a denarius, a Roman coin.  The tax in that instance was the “poll tax” levied on subject peoples, not Roman citizens.  (Matthew 22:17-19 and footnote (TNIV)).

Is it possible that the priestly establishment at the Temple would accept none but Roman currency?

The money changers were a very visibly sign that the sanctity of the Temple had been compromised – they wouldn’t be there except to facilitate taxation.  Let’s assume that for now.

Could the ritual money offerings and meat sales at the Jerusalem Temple have been a major source of tax revenue for the Romans?  I’ll guess yes.  The wealth of the Temple would have been irresistible to the Romans.  There were no employee W2 forms or bank interest reports to government.  Much income and wealth could be hidden from the tax collector.  But not the Temple wealth.  At the Temple, the money offerings were deposited by members of the public at some collection point in the public courtyard.

The New Testament points to this phenomenon in Mark 12:41-42 (KJV):  “And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much.  And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites.”  Thus, anyone watching, like a Roman tax collector, could gauge the amounts of the donations.  Had Rome insisted that donations be gathered at a single collection point?  (See also John 8:20 (NIV))

Why not assume the Romans had a serious interest in what was happening at the Temple if the ritual offerings of money and the meat sales were a major source of tax revenue for them.  If Jesus was seen as a threat to Temple finances or the collection of taxes, this could be an explanation for the Romans’ involvement in his execution

The Jewish people had for many centuries endured the dominating society of Levite priests (who inherited their positions) as their leaders.  Now these in turn were dominated – by the leach-like Romans.  Were the Jewish people distressed by the situation at their Temple?  Presumably, yes, if the value of their holy offerings was being sucked up by Romans.

So did Jesus attack the money changers because they were part of the machinery of oppression?

“You have made the Temple a den of robbers,” Jesus thundered at the buyers and sellers in the Temple courtyard as he drove them out.  Who were the robbers?  The money changers making exorbitant profits?  The entrenched priests collecting donations?  The taxing Romans siphoning off the peoples’ offerings?  But then, John has the conflicting “Make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise.” (John 2:16 (KJV))  Huh?

With the attack on the Temple, was Jesus trying to shut it down?  (See also Luke 19:45-46 (TNIV))  The Gospel writers make it seem that the focus of the attack was only the money changers and animal sellers.  Were the money changers and animal sellers the main targets or were they the only ones who could not run away quickly, burdened as they were with heavy sacks of coins and slow-moving animals, etc., and so entered the story as the only targets in this incident? The attack seems like more of a protest event, rather than an attempt to shut down the Temple.

If Jesus’ focus was the Roman occupation, his reaction to it was definitely low-key – elsewhere he says, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:21, see also Mark 12:17 (KJV)).  Hardly a rallying cry for rebellion.  But then again, Luke lets us know that these words were said discretely in the presence of “spies” (Luke 20:20-25 (KJV)).  Presumably, Jesus would like to “send back to Caesar all those things Roman” (the TNIV has “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s”).  “Give to God what is God’s” (and don’t let the Romans have any part of your holy offerings)??

An interesting passage that refers to the Temple and taxation is the passage about the temple tax (Matthew 17:24-27 (TNIV)).  Jesus pays the tax, presumably levied by the Jerusalem Temple, but remarks that the kings of the earth do not tax their own children, only others.  Is this a comment on the dominating Levite priesthood – is it that they did not tax their own, but only all the other Jews??  Certainly that would be cause for resentment.  That’s what I thought at first, but if the Romans were taxing the Temple, then some part of the temple tax would end up in Roman coffers.  That could explain the reference to “kings.”  The coin Jesus used to pay his tax and Peter’s is a Greek coin (four-drachma), maybe acceptable out in the countryside where money exchange was not available?  Or maybe the Romans accepted Greek coins?  Or maybe he pays in the wrong currency to protest?  But the TNIV calls it the “two-drachma temple tax.”  A copyist clarification?  Jesus pays because he does not want to “offend” those collecting.  It would seem that taxation, or unjust taxation, was somewhere on Jesus’ agenda.

Did Jesus expect that if he protested, the priests would simply stop paying taxes?  That would not be very realistic and I’ll guess that was not his strategy when he attacked the Temple.

Jesus’ spiritual message included a deity who was intimately personal – no need for priestly intermediaries; a deity who was providential – no need for priestly petitions; a deity who was forgiving – no need for animal sacrifices.  No need for a central Temple.

Jesus presented a spiritual alternative to the Temple’s main business which was the sacrifice of animals.  Jesus either opposed these sacrifices or had no use for them (see my post, “The Perfect Sacrifice”).  There is no record of him ever participating in an animal sacrifice even though he was often at the Temple.

As Jesus’ new spiritual teachings gained popularity, patronage at the Temple would have declined.  Many people would lose interest in supporting the Temple once they found out God was personal, providential, and forgiving, and did not need expensive sacrifices or any sacrifices whatsoever.  The priests saw their income dropping?  As a consequence, the Romans saw their tax revenues dropping?

In the days long before “separation of church and state,” the centralized Jewish worship at the Jerusalem Temple would certainly have made it very easy for the Romans to tax its income and wealth should that have been their objective.  A tax on the Temple would in effect have also been a tax on the entire Jewish Jerusalem government structure.  Bear in mind that the Temple leaders collected tribute from their own people, even out in the countryside, making it oh so easy for the Romans to help themselves to a share.

The more Jesus’ new idea of God took hold, the greater was the threat to the finances of the Jerusalem Temple establishment.  He was a threat to their main business, the ritual sacrifice of animals.  Sacrificial animals were brought to the Temple, donated by worshippers.  These animals were slaughtered and roasted as offerings to Yahweh, who presumably relished the smoky odor (but who declined to partake of the flesh).  I’ll guess the meat was then sold throughout the city with huge profits coming to the priestly authorities.  I don’t recall the Bible saying they sold the meat, but think about it – after the priests had their fill (1 Corinthians 9:13 (TNIV)), what did they do, throw out the rest?  Did they give it away for free?  The fact that Jesus’ new Abba-deity was providential and forgiving and did not need sacrifices was bad enough, but Jesus was a popular leader, very charismatic, teaching in the synagogues, with crowds of thousands following him as he traveled around (Matthew 4:23-25, Matthew 9:35-36 (TNIV)).  They were fascinated by his healings and other miraculous doings, like raising people from the dead.  Jesus was a man who could be the next king, by virtue of his pedigree (Matthew 1: 1-17, Luke 3:23-38 (TNIV)).  Once king, he could remodel the Temple at will, emptying it of priests and sacrificial altars.  It would be a wonder if they didn’t fear him.

Let’s assume the Temple was big business, and the Temple’s meat industry brought huge profits to the Temple elite, including Caiaphas and the chief priests; supported small businesses (shops, stalls for sales of cooked meat); and provided jobs throughout the city for butchers, packers, and transporters, etc.  Other businesses did sales of live animals for sacrifice.  The Temple could lose business, maybe was losing business, maybe was going-out-of-business, because the people were listening to this Jesus-king-to-be person who could talk directly to a deity who was not interested in sacrifices.

Why would the Roman governor Pilate care if the Temple lost business?  Because all that business generated wealth and income that could be taxed.  Hefty tax revenues of gold and silver shipped to Rome kept Pilate in his job.  So Pilate was vitally interested in what was happening at the Temple.

But let me hypothesize further here:  What if Jesus was not just ranting about taxation, but actually had a plan?  What if his plan was to decentralize Jewish worship in order to thwart Roman taxation?

Intriguing that the new spiritual emphasis that Jesus preached was completely compatible with a move toward decentralization.  Could that have been his strategy?  Preach a new way that would eventually close down the Temple?  A strategy that could have worked perfectly – and it was nonviolent, too.

Jesus is shown doing a reading at a synagogue (Luke 4:16-20 (TNIV)) and preaching at/visiting many of these synagogues (Matthew 4:23 and 9:35 (TNIV)).  The synagogue form of organization was in place.  Maybe Jesus is shown using this form of organization because he endorsed it as a replacement for centralized worship?

Jesus’ concerns may have been a mix of both spiritual and political.  Too bad the Gospel writers don’t tell us more about historical context.  Are all of Jesus’ politics muted by the Gospel authors so they can cast him more convincingly as an otherworldly Redeemer-Sacrifice and Messiah of Prophesy?  Of course, maybe Jesus actually had no political agenda whatsoever.  We can’t know.

The Romans held the land of Old Palestine so they could tax it.  This was a long-term investment – not like other invaders who simply raped, pillaged, and burned and then were gone.  The Romans stayed and taxed and taxed and taxed.  Nowadays in the New Rome the “sovereign” governments are not taxed; they are simply given the opportunity to write laws and constitutions favorable to the empire builders so that trade will be profitable for the latter.  Foreign aid and sales of armaments are inducements.  Bombing is always an option.

That Jesus’ quarrel with the authorities was substantial is indicated by his statements that “You shall be hated by all men for my name’s sake” (Matthew 10:22 (DRA), see also Mark 13:13, Luke 21:17 (TNIV)), and “Do not think that I came to send peace upon earth: I came not to send peace, but the sword. . . . . a man’s enemies shall be they of his own household.” (Matthew 10:34-36 (DRA), see also Luke 12:51-53 (TNIV)).  It would seem that Jesus was actually fighting for or against something he thought it was worth risking his life over – we’re not talking about Pharisaical hand-washing here (Matthew 15:2, Mark 7:1-4, Luke 11:38 (TNIV) or where to put the money-changer tables.  Was he after the heart of the centralized religious practice there – the sacrifices and money offerings that fed Rome?  Maybe Jesus wanted to put Rome on a diet.

Maybe Jesus didn’t know he was risking his life.  Maybe he was young and impetuous and thought he was invincible, drunk with his learning, his ideas, his power over the crowds, the excitement of it all?  It can happen.  The many instances in the Gospels where he is berating the Pharisees tend to indicate that he didn’t know much about how to work the system or negotiate with his opponents.  A more mature or more experienced man might have survived.

Then again, the fact that no security forces arrived to quell Jesus’ attack on the Temple might indicate that it was done with prior arrangements made with sympathetic insiders – a well-planned and sophisticated feat.  Very oddly, author Mark has Jesus return to the scene of his attack, apparently, the next day, once again to stroll in the Temple courts.  So how does he get away with his act of civil disruption and return the next day to the same place with no consequences, at least, none then.  Is it because of his stature as king-to-be?  (Mark 11:27 (TNIV))  John has a passage on how the Temple guards refuse to arrest Jesus because they are swayed by his preaching (John 7:32 and 7:45-49 (TNIV)), and later it is not the Temple guards who arrest Jesus in John, but rather “soldiers” and their “commander,” evidently Roman soldiers (John 18:3 and 12 (TNIV)).  So the Temple elites had lost control of their own security forces?

The livelihood of the Temple elites depended on the continuation of ritual animal sacrifices and specified offerings of food and money by devotees.  The jobs of the Roman overlords would be no more if they failed in their duty to send tax revenue to Rome.  It’s not hard to imagine a motive for the murder of Jesus, if he had opposed the idea of sacrifice or if his teachings (of a providential, forgiving deity who did not need sacrifice, who was closer than close) had the effect of diminishing offerings and diminishing tax revenues.  Notice that after Jesus’ “ascension,” his followers “were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God.” (Luke 24:53 (KJV), also Acts 2:46 (TNIV)).  No mention of paying the priests or making sacrifices (except as a ruse).

No, Jesus was not an “insurrectionist.”  Not in the usual sense.  His group had only “two swords” among them (Luke 22:38 (KJV)).  Jesus was reportedly royal, but was a king with a kingdom “not of this world.”  However, if Jesus had found a way to prevent the wealth of his country from flowing to Rome, then yes, Jesus was a very dangerous man – dangerous to the Romans.

If Jesus had been trying to become “king of the Jews” that is, ruler of Jerusalem or Judea or if he had been a rebel trying to overthrow the Romans, he was doomed to failure because he never took even the first step to do that – gathering recruits to build an army and arming them with swords.  Rather, his “kingdom was not of this world.”  Jesus was “gentle,” “humble in heart,” and “did not come to be served, but to serve.” (Matthew 11:29, Matthew 20:28, Matthew 21:5, Mark 10:45 (TNIV)).  Pilate knew Jesus was not a military threat and the governor’s office had had years to observe Jesus in action.  Pilate knew Jesus as a story-teller and a healer who was followed by crowds of everyday folks toting picnic baskets.  Pilate wasn’t worried about that.  A phalanx of Pilate’s armored, sword-wielding soldiers could control such a crowd in mere moments.

It’s interesting that at Jesus’ hearing before Pilate, there is nothing that would constitute a meaningful investigation into rebellion or evidence of it; rather, the chief priests come to give testimony about Jesus. (Matthew 27:12, Mark 15:3-4 (TNIV)).  The Roman sign, “Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews” (traditionally “INRI”), posted at the top of the cross over the Crucified would seem to be a legal fiction – a man could not be legally killed for jeopardizing tax revenues?  At Pilate’s hearing, Jesus doesn’t answer whether he is a “king.”  He says, “You say I am a king.” in the TNIV (John 18:37).  However, the Catholic Confraternity Edition has a different translation, “Thou sayest it; I am a king.”  Why can’t the translators agree on this?  Regardless, as heir to David’s throne, Jesus was at least eligible to be king.  Yet he was not an insurgent (freedom fighter), and apparently was innocent of any military action against Rome.  Jesus’ statement at his arrest seems to indicate he is not a rebel, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me?” (Matthew 26:55, Mark 14:48 (TNIV)).  Early translations have “as against a robber” (YLT).

Then again, the TNIV shows Jesus crucified between two other men condemned as “rebels” (formerly translated as “thieves”), which might seem to give weight to the idea that Jesus was a rebel, but my impression is that the place where he was killed was a place of execution for all types of crimes.  I read somewhere it was also the city dump.  The combination of holiday (Passover) and location (dump) meant that lots of people would be passing by.  Rome might have intentionally scheduled executions to coincide with holidays to give witness to Roman power.  The other executions might have been delayed until then for that purpose.  There are passages that indicate that the plotters against Jesus did not want to move against him while the Passover crowds were in town (Mark 14:1-2 (TNIV)), but maybe that was their only window of opportunity, if the Romans scheduled executions only then.  Given Jesus’ popularity, they couldn’t have kept him imprisoned for very long, but had to move quickly (apparently they accomplished arrest, conviction, and crucifixion in approximately 12 hours).

What if Jesus had tailored his spiritual teachings to effect an elimination of Temple functions or to effect their gradual reassignment to villages throughout Judea and Galilee?  It was the Romans who had the most to lose if that happened.  It would have been far more difficult for them to collect taxes from worship sites scattered throughout many dozens or hundreds of locations where donations could be given secretly and wealth hidden.

The fact that John has “soldiers” and their “commander” show up at Gethsemane to arrest Jesus (John 18:3, 12 (TNIV)) shows that Pilate had already made up his mind to kill Jesus, and had authorized the deployment of soldiers, even before the Sanhedrin tried Jesus on a bogus charge of “blasphemy,” took him to Pilate, and stirred up a “crowd” of like-minded people (perhaps those who might lose income if Jesus’ reforms were made; for example, meat processors and distributors?)

The persecution of early Christians could be explained if they not only disrupted the lifestyles of temple elites, but also if they disrupted the meat distribution systems of entire cities, by refusing to consume “meats offered to idols” (Acts 15:29 (KJV)).  Here I am thinking of the meat business based on animal sacrifices that would have been a feature of every Pagan temple, the workers associated with that, and thinking of the poorest citizens who would have depended on that system for the cheapest, least-choice cuts (or free process waste products) that allowed them to survive.  Those workers and the poor would have been very much in favor of stamping out Christianity if it threatened their livelihoods or their immediate survival.

The Jerusalem citizens who screamed “crucify him” to the Roman governor Pilate were perhaps the same types, experiencing the same angst.  Perhaps these blood-thirsty ones were some of those whose jobs might be affected if the sacrifices decreased or stopped, everyone from meat-delivery cart pusher to money changer to priestly record-keeper.  We want our jobs they shouted; we are tax payers.  If you let tax revenues fall, “you are no friend of Caesar” (you will get recalled by Rome).  Several hours had passed since Jesus’ arrest.  Plenty of time for a select anti-Jesus group to be contacted and to be assembled in front of the governor’s mansion.

However, a large number of people in Jerusalem were wildly enthusiastic about Jesus’ political and spiritual goals, and they gave him a frenzied welcome, tearing branches off palm trees to wave at him, when he arrived on “Palm Sunday.”  In John 12:12 (TNIV), it is the great crowd that had come for Passover that welcomes Jesus.  Some leaders wanted to kill him but, “All the people were very attentive to hear him.” (Luke 19:48 (KJV))  So those who say “the Jews killed Jesus” read the New Testament very selectively and with no understanding.  While Jewish elites fumed and plotted, it was likely the actions of only a few injudicious Jewish leaders that led to or had some bearing on the murder of Jesus.

When we read of the high priest Caiaphas rallying the Sanhedrin to oppose Jesus, let’s assume that if Caiaphas was not in fact a collaborator with the Romans, he was highly skilled at maintaining his position despite the Roman occupation.  He knew how to work with them to his own advantage.  Hans Küng says the high priest was a Roman appointee (On Being A Christian, May 1978, page 178).  Certainly he ruled only with their approval.  When Caiaphas takes the position that Jesus should be killed, “Ye know nothing at all, Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not,” is that a Jewish or a Roman position? (John 11:49-50 (KJV))  At what point does cooperation become collaboration?

When the high priest Caiaphas says, to let “one man die for the people,” does he mean the Jewish people, or does he mean those in the meat business and their associates and dependents; the priestly tribe making sacrifices, and not just those members in Jerusalem, but wherever Jews retained priests.  I’ll guess that would have been his priority, but in fact, there may have been a delicate balance between what Rome took and what Israel retained for its own economic prosperity.  That delicate balance might have been jeopardized if the taxation process was disrupted and a new order was even harsher.   When some Sanhedrin members say, “If we let him alone so, all will believe in him; and the Romans will come, and take away our place and nation,” they are clearly pointing to Rome as the threat.  (John 11:48 (DRA))

Notice that Jesus is not tried by the Sanhedrin for working on the Sabbath, an executable offense, at least in former times (Exodus 35:2 (KJV)).  Notice also that in Acts 7:11 and 7:54-60 (TNIV), the Sanhedrin does not have to call on Rome to execute Stephen for alleged blasphemy.  Thus, the reason Sanhedrin members condemned Jesus and handed him over so that Rome could kill him may have been because Rome wanted him.  “It is not lawful for us to put any man to death” may refer to the special problem of Jesus (John 18:31 (KJV)).  They had “no law to kill a man” for thwarting Roman taxation?  Sanhedrin members had no such reservation about killing Stephen themselves.

Mark, Luke, and Acts show that the conspiracy against Jesus included Herod (a puppet king of the Romans).  (Mark 3:6, Luke 23, Acts 4:27 (TNIV))

Who had the most to lose ultimately if Jesus was allowed to live?

Some Jewish leaders?  Temple priests could be relocated.  Worship rituals reinvented.  Temple meat business re-established.  New taxes evaded.

Or some Romans?  Losing the ability to collect taxes easily at a central location would have been devastating.

So Romans had the most to lose.

Some Romans killed Jesus.

A Roman governor made the decision.

Four Roman soldiers crucified him.

Roman interests prevailed.

We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar.” (Luke 23:2 (KJV))

Let’s take a look at the report Pilate sent to the Emperor in Rome right after Jesus was crucified.  Totally imaginary, of course:

All Hail Emperor most majestic!!! 


I am writing to you immediately, to give you an accurate account of events in recent days.  My letter will go with a trusted courier at the next favorable wind. 


Jesus of the Nazarenes (a local cult with dietary restrictions), supposed king of the Jews, has been crucified by my order.  Charges were officially, “king of the Jews,” an actionable offense involving insurgency.  Presumably, much of the populace will believe this, and it will serve as a lesson to them to not challenge the authority of Rome, but as you may recall from my previous reports, Jesus was not militaristically inclined and trouble was minimal. 


Our appointee, Caiaphas, watching the Temple budget like a hawk (and I am watching him like a hawk), brought to my attention that there had been a significant reduction in Temple income in the past year, and during the past week, their Holy Passover Week, a huge drop in sacrificial offerings.  All this because Jesus had been preaching: (1) sacrifices are not necessary to please his deity, and (2) priestly intervention is not necessary to commune with his deity.  Jesus made a public announcement the week before that he and his royal clan would not be making any sacrifices at the Temple at Passover; instead, he would be having his signature breaking of the bread ceremony with a close group of disciples, family, and friends. The public took their cue from this and offerings plummeted.  


As the Temple is the top income producer in this area, after tolls on the trade caravans, I thought it best to nip this problem in the bud.  Mission accomplished. 


Let me assure you that all is secure here.  This is only a temporary downturn in revenues and soon the Emperor’s Treasury will be receiving the full complement of taxes from Judea


The locals will soon forget this episode even though Jesus was hugely popular.  Their main leaders realize the opportunities afforded by our rule, and are more than willing to cooperate.


Your faithful servant, (signed) Pilate, governor of Judea

Some top Jewish leaders (those aligned with Rome) opted for the status quo, or at least offered no resistance to the Roman governor when he murdered Jesus.  Does this killing mean I have to hate all citizens of Rome and all citizens of Jerusalem?  I would have to be moronic to think so.

I’ll guess that by the time the Romans finally destroyed the Temple decades later, the reforms advocated by Jesus or similar reforms were in place and the Temple had ceased to be a major source of revenue for the Romans.  Otherwise they wouldn’t have destroyed it??

Who killed Jesus and why?  I suppose the original biblical authors intentionally left the answer somewhat fuzzy – just another puzzle for us to solve.  The Gospel sort of reminds me of Zen Buddhist koans, little sayings and stories, written down for posterity, designed to send the receptive student into greater Awareness, even through the portal of Nirvana.  The New Testament is not supposed to be a history book.  It can’t be read like a detective novel.

Let’s not forget that the New Testament tells us that Christianity quickly became anti-Jewish (Pauline schism over circumcision), and this bias may be reflected in the passion accounts.

That the “whole Sanhedrin” (Matthew 26:59, Mark 15:1, Luke 23:1 (TNIV)) judged and convicted Jesus in the pre-dawn hours really strains credibility.  Maybe the translation should read, “all those Sanhedrin members who were present” instead of the “whole Sanhedrin”?  My Webster says that the Sanhedrin had 71 members.  Now how were all these people going to be roused out of bed in the middle of the night (“before the cock crows”), without alerting butlers and chambermaids all around town, and having the entire city rallying and rioting in support of “Jesus the Messiah,” the one the city had just welcomed on Palm Sunday with people tossing their cloaks on the road for his donkey to trod upon.  No way was the high priest Caiaphas going to invite the entire Sanhedrin – he would invite only those members he knew would support him, those he knew he could count on to be discrete, and those he knew would not waste precious time prattling, posturing, and pontificating as people generally do in meetings.  So Caiaphas invited however many members he needed for a quorum or whatever.  It would seem that the trial was held immediately and when most members would be asleep, or as Luke has it (TNIV), first thing in the morning, just so most could be excluded.  Because Caiaphas had no way of knowing in advance whether the soldiers (or the “crowd sent” in Matthew and Mark (TNIV)) would find Jesus and succeed in arresting him, it doesn’t seem likely that the trial would have been scheduled in advance.

The Gospel makes it seem as if Pilate is not convinced Jesus is a criminal, “what evil hath he done?”  As if Pilate condemned Jesus simply out of fear of the crowd in front of him – “a tumult was made.” And Pilate was willing to “satisfy the people” (Matthew 27:23-24 (KJV), Mark 15:14-15 (DRA)).

It is clear that the Gospel writers want the readers to think that it was basically the Temple leadership that arranged Jesus’ murder, and that the Romans simply did it under pressure.  Is that a fact or just slander arising out of animosity?  Were the Gospels written to preserve the story of Jesus or to re-write it?  Maybe Pilate was a ninny who made a spur-of-the-moment decision to execute a man in order to satisfy an about-to-riot-group of Temple loyalists.  Maybe Pilate decided to kill a man who was the darling of the vast majority?? of the people in that territory and risk their fury, just because some members of his own puppet government asked him to do it?  Or maybe not.  Maybe Pilate was a competent, cautious governor who killed Jesus because this Jesus actually had already been amazingly successful in his attempt to free his country from the burden of Roman taxation.

It may be true that the Roman governor Pilate had not been interested in killing Jesus, at least not at first.  Maybe because the taxes Rome took out of the Temple treasury were set at a fixed amount, not a percentage??  But when confronted with the facts of the situation – dwindling income at the Temple, the Romans realized they had a management problem?  They had to act or else they might have to renegotiate their take downward with their hosts, who might or might not continue to be cooperative.

It is shocking that the author of Acts has Peter addressing a crowd of “Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven,” holiday visitors to Jerusalem, and accusing them of killing Jesus (Acts 2:5, 23, 36 (KJV)).  Not fair and not credible.  Possibly not one of them had anything to do with it!  Maybe none were even in Jerusalem when it happened!

This ugly accusation against visiting Jews in Acts 2 is perhaps wrongfully attributed to Peter.  He was a capable church leader in Jerusalem.  Would he make the mistake of insulting his fellow-citizens and visitors to his own city as his Pauline antagonist would have it?

Peter’s supposed accusation against “Israel” technically would include himself (a Jew), all his Jewish disciples, St. Mary (a Jew), the other Jewish apostles, etc.  So this is a rather broad accusation to put in Peter’s mouth.

Another ugly passage is 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 (TNIV).  Some of the New Testament writers (or editing copyists) embarrass themselves with their bigotry.  Their bigotry is anti-Jesus.

The Pauline Christians were hard pressed to explain away the fact that their Messiah of Prophesy was not adopted by the very people who were the recognized experts at interpreting that body of prophesy.  And this may in part account for the verbal attacks on Jewish people in the New Testament – the attacks were a smokescreen?  My feeling is that the Pauline Jesus was being sold to the Pagan world, perhaps as a reform of Paganism.  The new and godly “Jesus-sacrifice” drew his legitimacy from an ancient Hebrew past of a thousand years and more.  The Pagan audiences needed to be distracted from the glaring inconsistency that the Jewish people, for the most part, had no interest in this story which for them had little or nothing to do with Judaism.  (Nearly two thousand years of history would seem to confirm a lack of interest.)  The New Testament writers, being knowledgeable about Judaism, must have known that their story had little to offer much of Israel.

In contrast, the message of the real historical Jesus was apparently of great interest to large numbers of his Jewish contemporaries.

That none of Jesus supposed friends and followers are recorded taking the blame for letting him get killed, does not surprise me.  Perhaps each said to himself, “Oh, what could I have done?  He brought it on himself.  He went too far.  There was nothing I could do.  This tragedy must have been the will of God.”

Possibly, the early Christians didn’t have any clue why Jesus was killed.  Not likely they would have been privy to the Temple’s internal budget reports.  Unless he was deliberately trying to shut down the sacrifices at the Temple, Jesus himself might not have guessed why he was condemned.  It might be that Jesus was in the wrong place (in Jerusalem and in the Temple), at the wrong time (Passover, when the Temple expected the most income), was too popular (as charismatic healer), had a problematic lineage (as King David’s heir), and had irritated, insulted, and most importantly, threatened the finances of the wrong people (those chief priests in power in the Sanhedrin and the Roman rulers).  Jesus wasn’t killed because of civil disturbances (these were minimal), or because unruly crowds welcomed him as king (these crowds could not overthrow Roman domination).  Besides Jesus didn’t seek to be king.  He wasn’t killed because of doctrinal disputes, but rather because of the effects of his teaching.  He was killed because the people followed him and his way of worshipping “in spirit” instead of patronizing the Temple and making offerings.

Matthew and Mark place the chief priests near the foot of the cross, mocking Jesus – “let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him” (Matthew 27:42 (KJV), see also Mark 15:32 (TNIV)).  It could be a simple difference of opinion over the finer points of theology for them.  But somehow the emotional depth of the scene signals something more.

The formal charges against Jesus (“Son of God” or “King of the Jews”) are not very instructive and more important clues are found elsewhere.  Pilate says that he knew Jesus was delivered to him out of “envy.”  The Greek can also be translated as “spite.”  (Matthew 27:18, Mark 15:10 (KJV)).  So the chief priests were “envious” of Jesus – he was taking away their customers.  “Spite” – basically they were not going to get over it.  Even more telling is the passage where the chief priests and Pharisees ask Pilate to place a guard at the tomb of Jesus so no one can steal his body and deceive the people, and they call Jesus “that deceiver.” (Matthew 27: 62-64 (KJV)).  Who was deceived?  Not the chief priests.  Not the Romans.  Just the flocks of everyday people who presumably, in the view of the priests, were misled by Jesus, led to follow him rather than the sacrificing priests, who were appalled by their shrinking income.

Some essential clues about the historical Jesus may be contained in what is presented as “false witness” against Stephen (Acts 6:13-14 (KJV)):  “This man ceaseth not to speak blasphemous words against this holy place [the Temple meeting hall of the Sanhedrin?] and the law: For we have heard him say, that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered us.”  Can Jesus’ opposition to the Temple be seen through this?  And Mark 14:58 (KJV) has the “false testimony” against Jesus, “We heard him say, I will destroy this temple that is made with hands . . . . ”  Interesting.  I have to ask myself why the author wastes space specifying falsehoods he or she could have left out.  Perhaps the author is compelled to address some essential truth about the politics of Jesus which many people at that time would have been familiar with.  The author writes about it in a garbled way so that it can be labeled false, obscuring the political Jesus so that the mythological Jesus (destined from beyond all time to die for sins) can become larger-than-life for the reader?

And yes, I do know that these two parallel passages in Mark and Acts on “false witness” are traditionally attributed to at least two different authors.  I do not know how many authors were involved in writing the New Testament so sometimes I write “author” and sometimes “authors.”

Matthew chapter 5 (KJV) has Jesus say, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.”  Then immediately has him preaching on six areas of spirituality, significantly expanding understanding and requirements for these.  So not the “smallest letter of the law” has changed but the way we look at it has been radically altered?  Or maybe Jesus does not come to abolish the basic law which has to do with love of God and neighbor, but only the practices and traditions which are devised by Pharisees and teachers of the law (Matthew 5:17-20, Matthew 7:12, Matthew 15:3-9, Matthew 22:37-40, Mark 7:7-9, Mark 12:29-31 (TNIV)).

Can we catch a glimpse of what might have been the historical Jesus who clearly stood for reform or revolution of some sort, “You do not pour new wine into old wineskins.” (paraphrase Matthew 9:17, see also Mark 2:22).  “One greater than the Temple is here.” (Matthew 12:6 (TNIV)) signals Jesus’ ascendancy.  The passage, “the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom. [when Jesus expired]” (Matthew 27:51 (KJV), see also Mark 15:38 and Luke 23:45 (TNIV)), dramatically indicates the end of the old order – it is not merely fulfilled, it is vanquished.  This “veil” was the curtain shielding the holy-of-holies-chamber in the Jerusalem Temple within which was housed the presence of Yahweh.  With no more curtain, then what?  The chamber was no longer intact?  The presence leaked out?  Who knows!  Anyway, the imagery of a shredded curtain leads one to conjecture that maybe not only the biblical authors were in conflict with the Temple (or what survived it), but that the historical Jesus was likewise in conflict?

Jesus as enemy-of-Roman-taxation and Jewish reformer does play better I think than Jesus as alleged blasphemer.  Interesting that calling someone, or oneself, a “son of God” cannot be blasphemy.  The term is used in the Hebrew Bible to describe some of the first men.  Also, in the New Testament, Luke calls Adam a “son of God.” (Luke 3:38 (KJV))  Did Jesus call himself the “Son of God” or was that something the authors of the New Testament needed to call him?  While Jesus may have gone around saying things like, “We are all children of the Divine One,” “We are branches on the same divine vine,” etc.; having him make an assertion that he was some sort of exclusive “Son” doesn’t seem to fit.  After all, “The Lord our God is one Lord.”  In Mark 12:29-31 (KJV), Jesus states this as part of what he considers to be the most important commandments.  This quote seems like something a knowledgeable and respectful Jew like Jesus might have said.  I’ll guess Jesus would have known that Yahweh did not have god-offspring like the Pagan gods, and he would not have asserted such a thing.  I prefer to think of Jesus as the Great Example, rather than the Great Exception.  You may have your own opinion.  That the priests could have misunderstood what he said, maybe even intentionally distorted it, maybe even mischaracterized it as blasphemy – yes, possibly.  Even today, you will not find two people who can agree on what “Son of God” means.

Have I been reading too much into the New Testament?  Maybe Pilate killed Jesus simply because Jesus was so well-loved by the Jews that it seemed to Pilate like Jesus could really be the next king, and yet Jesus had made no overtures to “cooperate” with Pilate.

No one knows what the first Christians (before Paul) believed about Jesus.  Jesus himself is lost to history – except for what can be gleaned from the New Testament.

Maybe by the time the Gospel was written, a generation or two after the fact, no one really remembered who killed Jesus or why.  Only that Jesus had been innocent.



  1. truleeyours says:

    Did the Romans arrest Jesus?
    If you will look again at John 18:3, you will find that various translations say the soldiers were Roman and the officials were from the temple. Here is the link for Biblegateway’s 40+ translations of that verse. (https://www.biblegateway.com/verse/en/John%2018:3) The Land of Israel was occupied. How could the Jews have “a detachment of soldiers” (MOUNCE). Only the Romans had soldiers. It is clear the Romans executed Jesus. Romans soldiers put Jesus on a cross, so how could it be hard to accept that they arrested him also? I assume there were Jewish police in those days, but some translators of John 18:3 see a Greek word that means “detachment” or “cohort.” It is “σπεῖραν” which Thayer’s dictionary tells me means “a military cohort, . . . the tenth part of a legion, i.e., about 600 men, i.e. legionaries, or if auxilliaries either 500 or 1000.” Legionaries were Roman soldiers. I believe the dictionary is also telling me there are a few instances where it can mean any “band of soldiers” such as John 18:3. (An actual meaning or just a traditional meaning adopted to harmonize with the other books of the Gospel?) Notice that a few verses later in John 18:12, it tells me the soldiers have a commander who is distinct from the Jewish officials present (TNIV). Whether it is a band or a full cohort of 600 legionaries, the biblical author used a Greek word that can mean ROMAN. By the way, the high priest Caiaphas was a Roman appointee.

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