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Did They Crucify the Wrong Guy? Jesus’ Identity Switch.

Yesterday I posted about the Coptic Apocalypse of Peter, which clearly differentiated between the man Jesus and the spiritual being, the Christ, who inhabited him temporarily – leaving him at his suffering and death since the divine cannot suffer and die.  That understanding of Jesus Christ is not, strictly speaking, “docetic.”  The term docetic comes from the Greek word DOKEO which means “to seem” or “to appear.”  It refers to Christologies in which Jesus was not a real flesh-and-blood human but only “seemed” to be. In reality, what they saw, heard, and touched was a phantasm.

That is not what is going on in the Coptic Apocalypse of Peter.  Here there really is a man Jesus – flesh and blood like the rest of us.  But he is indwelt by a divine being who leaves him at his death, abandoneding him to die alone on the cross.  That is similar to a docetic view, but also strikingly different.  I call it a “separationist” Christology because it separates Jesus from the Christ (who himself separates from Jesus at his death).

A separationist Christology is what you find in various ways among different groups of Gnostics.  Many of them thought that Jesus was born as a human, but at his baptism the Christ entered into him (remember in the Gospels, the “Spirit” comes upon him: that’s when he came to be filled with the divine being).  That enabled Jesus to begin to do miracles and to deliver such amazing teachings.  Then at the end, when he began to suffer, the Christ left him.  And that is why on the cross he cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me [i.e., left me behind]?”  He died alone.

Both the docetic and separationist Christologies wanted to ensure that no one think that the divine Christ could actually suffer.

There was a third, and far less popular view of what happened at Jesus crucifixion that confused people into thinking that the Christ suffered when in fact he did not.  It was the view, only occasionally, attested, that at his crucifixion Jesus pulled …

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The Virgin Birth and the Gospel of John: A Blast from the Past
Did Jesus’ Death Matter? The Intriguing View of the Coptic Apocalypse of Peter



  1. Avatar
    Server Koray  December 30, 2017

    tompicard following paragraph is on Islamic view about life (According to Said Nursi). According to Nursi, there are five level of lives. May be if you read the aforementioned verse in Qur`an. It makes more sense.

    Do not say that those who are killed in God’s cause are dead; they are alive, though you do not realize it. (2:154)

    According to Nursi, there are five level of lives:

    The First Level of Life is that of our life, which is very restricted.

    The Second Level of Life is that of Khidr and Ilyas (elijah) which is free to an extent. That is to say, they can be present in numerous places at the same time. They are not permanently restricted by the requirements of humanity like we are. They can eat and drink like us when they want to, but are not compelled to like we are.

    The Third Level of Life is that of Idris (Muslims believe was the third prophet after Adam and Seth) and Jesus , which is removed from the requirements of humanity, and is an angelic level of life and acquires a luminous fineness. Quite simply, Idris and Jesus are present in the heavens with their earthly bodies, which have the subtlety of bodies from the World of Similitudes and the luminosity of astral bodies.

    The Fourth Level of Life is that of the martyrs. According to the Qur’an, the martyrs are at a level of life higher than that of the other dead in their graves. Since they sacrificed their worldly lives in the way of truth, in His perfect munificence Almighty God bestows on them in the Intermediate Realm a life resembling earthly life, but without its sorrows and hardships. They do not know themselves to be dead and suppose only that they have gone to a better world. Enjoying themselves in perfect happiness, they do not suffer the pains of separation that accompany death

    The Fifth Level of Life is that of the spirits of the dead in their graves. Yes, death is a change of residence, the liberation of the spirit, a discharge from duties; it is not annihilation, non-existence, and a going to nothingness. Many evidences illuminate and prove this level of life, such as the innumerable occasions the spirits of saints have assumed forms and appeared to those who unveil the realities, and the other dead have communicated with us while awake or sleeping and have told us of things that are conformable with reality.

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    HawksJ  December 30, 2017

    Off-topic question, Bart:
    I was watching something on TV and a character, who happened to be Jewish, made a comment that a certain building was actually a ‘synagogue’ and not a ‘church’. I had always thought of ‘church’ as a rather generic term for a house of worship or a congregation of believers, but a little research shows it is (apparently) strictly a Christian term.

    That got me thinking about Matthew 16:18. If ‘church’ is strictly a Christian term, what did Jesus mean when he supposedly used the word/s before Christianity was even a thing? Did he make up a new term or phrase, or is the whole thing a later addition (perhaps to support apostolic succession)?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 31, 2017

      Yes, the English word “church” refers to a Christian place of worship. The Greek word in the NT, ecclesia, simply means a “gathering place” and could be used for a lot of different kinds of gatherings. But in Xn circles it did come to mean “place of Christian worship.” That is one reason for thining that Matthew 16 can’t go back to the historical Jesus: it presupposes a later understanding of the church (so too Matthew 18 about what to do about conflicts within the church)

      • Avatar
        HawksJ  January 1, 2018


        Plus, it doesn’t make any sense in that context. What could Jesus possibly have meant by “upon this rock [a person], I will build my ‘gathering place’”?

        Like I said above, I had never really thought much about this verse, but now that I have, it seems to be one of the clearest examples of a verse that almost certainly can’t be historically authentic.

        I don’t recall you ever discussing it as such. If I missed it, can you point me there for further reading? If not, is there a reason? It seems like an interesting topic.

        Thanks and also thank you for all the good work you do, on this blog and everywhere else! Happy New Year!

  3. Avatar
    Kirktrumb59  January 2, 2018

    “For I kept changing my forms above, transforming from appearance to appearance.” This is a self-referential Fregoli syndrome, a delusional misidentification syndrome related to drugs, brain trauma, schizophrenia, etc. Seems about right.

  4. Avatar
    Malik  January 5, 2018

    I don’t think the theory that Simon of Cyrene dying on the cross is that far-fetched.

    According to Luke, Simon was ready to die:

    Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turn back, strengthen your brothers. “But he replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you even to prison and to death.” (Gospel according to Luke 22:31-33)

    And If you examine all the gospels (except for John) , they show Simon carrying the cross:

    A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross….. (Gospel according to Mark 15:21-27)

    As the soldiers led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus…..” (Gospel according to Luke 23: 26-34)

    As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross. …. (Gospel according to Matthew 27: 32-37)

    • Bart
      Bart  January 7, 2018

      That’s the wrong Simon. In Luke 22 it is Simon Peter; the person carrying the cross is Simon of Cyrene.

      • Avatar
        Malik  January 7, 2018

        Necessity of the Roman Church for the creation of Simon-Peter:
        Robert Price suggests: “Perhaps distinguishing “James, son of Zebedee” from “James the Just” was an attempt to create two characters out of one, so as to make all the traditions sound right. John had been split into two characters (“John the Elder” and “John, son of Zebedee”) in order to preserve “John” as author of both the Revelation on the one hand and the “Johannine” gospel and epistles on the other. So maybe Mark thought of the James who belonged to the inner circle of Jesus as being one of the three Pillars. Roman Catholic scholars have usually identified the two. One can add that this same doubling process also appears with Simon who gets split into Simon Peter and Simon the Zealot (Mark 3:18, Matthew 10:4, and Luke 6:15). Luke also splits Judas into Judas, son of James, and Judas Iscariot (Luke 6:16). An editor of John’s Gospel splits Judas into Judas Not Iscariot, and Judas Iscariot (John 14:22).51 Even the character Jesus Christ gets split into a freed prisoner named Barabbas (Son of the father). Simon also gets split into Simon of Cyrene who carries Jesus’ cross, while Simon Peter flees. John the Baptist becomes John, son of Zebedee. One notices that the way the name Jesus absorbs references (Messiah, Savior, Lord, Son of God, Son of Man, etc.) is matched by the way other names get broken up into multiple references (e.g. Mary, James, Simon).” (Deconstructing Jesus, p.53.51) 
        Robert Eisenman discovers all these doublings and many more in James the Brother of Jesus. We have basically the same names of the apostles also being used as family names for Jesus’ brothers in Mark 6:3 (James, Joses, Judas, Simon) and Matthew 13:55 (James, Joseph, Simon and Judas), one can suggest that the separation of family and apostles is also an artificial device. One can easily suppose that the leadership of the Galilean based JudaicChristian movement revolved around one family. In reconstructing their history, the gospel writers of the second century placed their own apostolic structure into the narrative.
        (Robert Eisenman: James the brother of Jesus)

      • Avatar
        Malik  January 7, 2018

        Apologizes Dr. Ehrman,

        One more Reference, not sure who this fellow is though:


        Helms also observes that 8:34 follows on 8:33, in which Jesus famously calls Simon Peter “Satan.” Donald Senior (1987,p116) points out that the phrase “take up the cross” is the same in both passages. Is Simon of Cyrene a double for Simon Peter? Jesus says that whoever would follow him must first deny himself; Peter instead denies Jesus. Has the writer of Mark piled up irony here, showing a Simon denying himself to take up his cross, even as another Simon denies Jesus? Has he injected a historical figure into the passage? Or did these events occur as written? There’s no way to know. One connection between 8:34 and 15:21 is that the mention of “cross” in 15:21 is the first time in the Gospel since 8:34. Jesus has managed to make 3 Passion predictions without mentioning the term even once.

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    jamal12  February 6, 2018

    hi professor Ehrman,
    Thanks for this great blog and for the works you wrote. I wrote a book about 8 years back which had not been published but is on the net on this subject called Crucify crucify whom? My research brought me to the conclusion that Jesus Barabbas was the one who was crucified instead although some also claim it was simon of cyrene. My conclusions seem to point more to Jesus Bar abbas ( son of the father). look how the Gospel translators deliberately conceal the name Jesus when it comes to Barabbas.John 18:40 Now Barabbas was a robber
    He was going to fight the roman army and that was why he was imprisoned. other gospel writer claim he was just a criminal. Matthew27:16 This year there was a notorious criminal in prison, a man named Barabbas. [Some manuscripts read Jesus Barabbas; also in 27:17.](New Living Translation)
    Footnotes of The New King James Version says: {Matthew 27:16 NU-Text reads Jesus Barabbas.}
    Mark 27:16 And they had then a notable prisoner, called Barabbas. We see in the Bible that Jesus did not want to Die. He begged to God to save him from death. So we know that he would do what it takes to save him. In my book i explain, was it a coincidence that Jesus son of the Father Barabbas, was in the same prison , if not the same same at the same time as Jesus son of the father( son of god). we see that Barabbas was an insurgent and he was considered by some of the Jews as the Messiah because he was holding insurgency while Jesus was soft. The Jews until now do not accept the Jesus portrayed in the Bible as the messiah who came to free them. Barabbas was the more rebellious figure. So he was not just a robber as . we also see how the bible writers at the time of the trial again conceal the name Jesus when bar abbas is reffered to Mat 27:
    17 Therefore when they were gathered together, Pilate said unto them, Whom will ye that I release unto you? Barabbas, or Jesus which is called Christ?
    Pilate would have referred to him as Jesus known as Barabbas and jesus who is called the christ. To cut a long story short proof that jesus son of mary was not the one being Crucified is found in the apocrypha
    we have from the Nag Hammadi in the Testimony of Truth we can read:
    The foolish – thinking in their heart that if they confess, “We are Christians,” in word only (but) not with power, while giving themselves over to ignorance, to a human death, not knowing where they are going nor who Christ is, thinking that they will live, when they are (really) in error – hasten towards the principalities and authorities. They fall into their clutches because of the ignorance that is in them. For (if) only words which bear testimony were effecting salvation, the whole world would endure this thing and would be saved. But it is in this way that they drew error to themselves. …
    … (3lines unrecoverable)
    … they do not know that they will destroy themselves. If the Father were to desire a human sacrifice, he would become vainglorious.
    and also the bible says Jesus was so disfigured he could not be recognised Isaiah 52:
    14 “Just as there were many who were appalled at him – his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness. this tallies with the below verse from the same Nag Hammadi library
    “For as I came downward, no one saw me. For I was altering my shapes, changing from form to form. And therefore, when I was at their gates, I assumed their likeness. For I passed them by quietly, and I was viewing the places, and I was not afraid nor ashamed, for I was undefiled. And I was speaking with them, mingling with them through those who are mine, and trampling on those who are harsh to them with zeal, and quenching the flame. And I was doing all these things because of my desire to accomplish what I desired by the will of the Father above. (Nag Hammadi Library “second treatise of Seth”)
    again from the Nag hammadi library From the same source, in the Apocalypse of Peter we can read: “Come therefore, let us go on with the completion of the will of the incorruptible Father. For behold, those who will bring them judgment are coming, and they will put them to shame. But me they cannot touch. And you, O Peter, shall stand in their midst. Do not be afraid because of your cowardice. Their minds shall be closed, for the invisible one has opposed them.”
    When he had said those things, I saw him seemingly being seized by them. And I said “What do I see, O Lord? That it is you yourself whom they take, and that you are grasping me? Or who is this one, glad and laughing on the tree? And is it another one whose feet and hands they are striking?”
    The Savior said to me, “He whom you saw on the tree, glad and laughing, this is the living Jesus. But this one into whose hands and feet they drive the nails is his fleshly part, which is the substitute being put to shame, the one who came into being in his likeness. But look at him and me.”
    so as we see Jesus was saved and another person bit the dust for him. My take is that Jesus promised Barabass forgiveness of all his sins and paradise if he died in the place of Jesus. and we have evidence from the apocrypha that backs that Jesus was not the one on that cross.
    There is more to come……….

  6. Avatar
    Questione1982  February 8, 2018

    Hi Bart and others

    The word “subsitution” is not used in Quran 4:157. 4:157 says “they killed him not nor crucified him but he appeared so to them”

    So no subsitution in Quran 4:157 but he looked like dead.

    This is according to the arabic text of Quran 4:157

  7. Avatar
    ftbond  May 19, 2018

    wait… I’ve got an idea… As long as we’re reviewing such stuff as the Coptic Apocalypse of Peter, can we also get a review on The DaVinci Code? Yeh, I know, it’s not so terribly ancient, but, it’s as relevant, isn’t it?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 19, 2018

      I”m afraid DaVinci Code fever has died off. When it was still hot I wrote my book Truth and Fiction in the DaVinci Code!

  8. Avatar
    Sjal  November 27, 2019

    I’ve been studying Christianity, the Bible, Islam & the Qur’an for about 10 months now. I’m a born & raised Christian. I however find myself now basically a Muslim. Doctrine wise I feel everything I never accepted or understood or fought in Christianity has been answered in Islam. But…the crucifixion is the thing that has me all caught up. It’s basically my only reason for not converting. As you know, Islam doesn’t believe Jesus died. The English translation of Qur’an says “he did not die not was he crucified” …so if that’s a correct translation it is very specific. He did not die and he never went up on the cross. This kills the swoon theory. So now I’m left exploring the idea of it being another person. Perhaps just a random person God chose to suffer…perhaps Judas? I read something MONTHS ago online about a gospel…I’m not sure by who. Saying that Judas and Jesus looked a lot alike. And that after being beaten and covered in blood even his own mother didn’t know it wasn’t Jesus. Is there any relevance to this? If not…. Is there ANY doubt in your mind that it was Jesus on the cross? Is there any doubt that he died? I’ve looked and looked and can’t find anything myself.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 29, 2019

      No, zero doubt. As you know, I’m not a Christian, but no, it’s completely bogus: Jesus was definitely crucified.

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