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Why Romans Crucified People and Who Was Crucifixion Reserved For?

Why Romans crucified people.....and who was crucifixion reserved for? Most people acquire their knowledge about ancient Roman crucifixions from the accounts of Jesus' crucifixion in the Gospels. They learn the stories about the cross, the nails, the "King of the Jews" sign nailed above Jesus' head, and the agony he endured. But there's another side to the story. By studying the facts of Roman crucifixions, including their methods and process, you'll find that crucifixion was about a lot more than pain and punishment.  Their goal was absolute humiliation. This is part 5 in a thread of my responses to Craig Evans, who has argued against the positions I take in How Jesus Became God.  Here's the beginning of the thread. Why Romans Crucified People  - Why it's  Important Because you must understand the REASON the Romans crucified people in order to understand an important position I take in my book, How Jesus Became God, which Craig Evans attacked.  In the book, I argue that it is likely that Jesus was not given a decent burial, [...]

2022-06-19T23:55:45-04:00May 1st, 2022|Bart's Critics, Historical Jesus|

Pilate, Who Never “Learned His Lesson”

This is the second of my two posts  from over three years ago that try to show that Pilate almost certainly would not have removed Jesus' body from the cross on the afternoon of his death simply because not to do so would have been in violation of Jewish sensitivities.   (NOTE: Pilate is not said to have done so for the other two who were crucified with Jesus. Are we to think he made an exception in Jesus' case, since, after all, he was far more important?) To make the best sense of this post it is important to keep in mind what I said in the previous one. In his response to my views of in How Jesus Became God – that Jesus most likely was not given a decent burial on the day of his crucifixion by Joseph of Arimathea – Craig Evans has maintained, among other things, that Pilate was not the kind of governor who would ignore Jewish sensitivities.   For Craig, Pilate started his rule by making a big mistake of [...]

2020-04-03T01:37:15-04:00January 22nd, 2018|Early Judaism, Historical Jesus|

Pontius Pilate: A Sensitive Guy….

QUESTION: Could Pilate have conceded over burial rights also? Granted this may not extend to those accused of treason, but as Pilate did permit some local customs, does this not open up sufficient space for Josephus’ claim over burial rights to be taken seriously?   RESPONSE: This question arose a couple of weeks ago after I had returned briefly to an older conversation about whether Jesus would have been buried on the afternoon he was crucified.  I tried to show that if so, this would have been in clear violation of policy and precedent.  Part of the entire punishment for capital offenses -- especially crimes against the state (e.g., claiming to be a ruler of a people ruled instead by Rome) -- was to be left *on* the cross for days, as a public display, and a humiliation and denigration: bodies were left subject to the elements, the scavengers, and natural decay.  The Romans wanted everyone to know that THIS is what happens to those who cross the power of Rome. A number of readers [...]

2018-01-21T15:33:57-05:00January 21st, 2018|Early Judaism, Historical Jesus, Reader’s Questions|

The Skeletal Remains of Yehohanan: Readers Mailbag October 8, 2017

Yehohanan: a reader's question. QUESTION: One thing came to mind during the discussion of whether crucified persons were buried.  There is a case where an ossuary was found with a nail through the ankle bone.  [I think it was an ankle, might have been a wrist.]  Obviously, this was an exceptional case; as I recall, there are some 900 bone boxes in Israeli museums and this is the only such case, where according to Josephus hundreds (thousands?) were crucified in 1st Century Palestine.  But at any rate, what do you make of this exceptional case? RESPONSE: I dealt with this issue on the blog several years ago, while I was responding to the claims of my scholarly colleague Craig Evans, who maintained that Jesus must have been buried right away, not left to hang on the cross for days, as I had argued in my book How Jesus Became God.  Craig was asserting the traditional Christian view (as found in the Gospels), and he mounted a number of arguments based on various pieces of evidence.  [...]

2022-06-20T11:56:14-04:00October 8th, 2017|Bart's Critics, Early Judaism, Historical Jesus, Public Forum|

Guest Post by Brice Jones on the Reliability of the Early Manuscripts

Here is a second guest-written post dealing with manuscripts.   We are unusually lucky over the past two days!  This one is by Brice Jones, another ancient manuscript person who happens to be on the blog.   Brice runs his own blog devoted to issues related to papyrology (roughly: the study of ancient papyri manuscripts).   His very useful blogsite is:  http://www.bricecjones.com/blog Brice here is responding to some rather extravagant claims made by Craig Evans (my friend and erstwhile debate opponent) about whether we know what the original manuscripts of the NT said, based on a book recently published by George Houston (who is also – though neither Craig nor Brice knew this – also a friend and erstwhile colleague: he was a longtime member of the Classics department at UNC and is a very bright fellow, even if his work sometimes gets misused by others).   In any event, Brice summarizes Craig’s just-published article and shows some of the reasons it is problematic. - Brice Jones is the author of New Testament Texts on Greek Amulets from Late [...]

Another (Final!) Insight into that Mummy Mask and Papyrus

OK, I am at the tail end of this thread on mummy masks and the alleged discovery of a first-century fragment of Mark’s Gospel.  But I did want to provide access to an interesting article and penetrating set of questions on the issue published a week ago on CNN by my friend Candida Moss and her partner-in-all-things-editorial Joel Baden (they crank out a lot of articles on issues in biblical studies, especially as items appear in the news).  Candida is a Professor of New Testament at Notre Dame and Joel is a Professor of Hebrew Bible at Yale.  I’ve re-posted this article with permission.  It comes from: http://www.cnn.com/2015/01/21/living/gospel-mummy-mask/ ********************************************************* (CNN)Media outlets have been abuzz this week with the news that the oldest fragment of a New Testament gospel -- and thus the earliest witness of Jesus' life and ministry -- had been discovered hidden inside an Egyptian mummy mask and was going to be published. The announcement of the papyrus' discovery and impending publication was made by Craig Evans, professor of New Testament at Acadia [...]

2020-04-03T14:07:56-04:00January 30th, 2015|New Testament Manuscripts, Religion in the News|

Why I’d Be Thrilled If A First-Century Manuscript Appeared

In several posts I have been emphasizing – possibly over-emphasizing – that if a first-century fragment of the Gospel of Mark does ever get published, and if it is in *fact*from the first century (which, I should stress, will be almost *impossible* to demonstrate conclusively), that it is very hard indeed to imagine that it will be any kind of game-changer, that it will tell us something different from what we already think.   The reason I have been emphasizing this is because the evangelical Christian scholars who are making the headlines with their declarations about the discovery will almost certainly, once it is published, if it ever gets published, claim that it is evidence for their view that we can know what the original text says.  See!  We have a FIRST-CENTURY MANUSCRIPT!!! So, consider these posts of mine as a kind of prophylaxis against future claims.   I don’t want to hear later that I’m just offering sour grapes when I say the same thing (that it is telling us nothing new) later, after the manuscript [...]

2020-04-03T14:08:03-04:00January 29th, 2015|New Testament Manuscripts, Religion in the News|

Would a First-Century Fragment of Mark Matter?

As you know, there is a good deal of discussion going on about the destruction of mummy masks in order to uncover New Testament papyri.   One point that I am not seeing discussed strikes me as the most important of all, and I want to address that here. But before doing so, I want to ask two questions, that maybe someone on the Blog can answer for me.   The first is actuallyseveral questions:  exactly how many masks are we talking about here?   How many have been destroyed?   And how many have been singled out for destruction?   Don’t we as a reading public have the right to know? And second: am I right that the only way to know if a New Testament papyrus was used as part of the “paper mache” in the mask, that first the mask has to be destroyed?  That is to say, this one mask – or these many masks? – is/are being destroyed not because it / they are known to house NT papyri, but in the hopes that they [...]

2020-04-03T14:08:31-04:00January 24th, 2015|New Testament Manuscripts, Religion in the News|

An Expert Talks About Mummy Masks and Papyri

One of the things that I find disconcerting about all the discussion about whether it is legitimate to destroy mummy masks in order to get NT papyri is that the only people who seem to know anything about what has been found (this alleged first century copy of the Gospel of Mark) are not experts in the specific fields in which expertise is required, both to dismantle masks and to date papyri.   As it turns out, they're all friends of mine.  Craig Evans is a New Testament scholar, but he is not a textual critic, let alone a papyrologist (expert in papyri) or palaeographer (expert in dating manuscripts).   Dan Wallace, who first announced the discovery in a debate against me over two years ago, is in the same boat; he's done lots of good for the academy by going around the world to photograph/digitize manuscripts, but he is not trained in either papyrology or palaeography and is expert in neither.  My oldest friend in the field, a good friend for some thirty years now, Michael [...]

2020-05-08T14:57:12-04:00January 23rd, 2015|New Testament Manuscripts, Religion in the News|

Defending the Destruction of Mummy Masks

In yesterday’s post on New Manuscripts and the Destruction of Antiquities, I cited an article by Mary-Ann Russo that explained the situation about the mummy masks that were being destroyed in order to acquire papyrus fragments of the New Testament.  The scholar mainly cited in that article as being involved in that process was Craig Evans, a friend of mine with whom I have had several public debates.   Craig feels that he has been somewhat misrepresented in this article, and sent me a clarification.   I have asked and received his permission, and this is what he says:  (NOTE: after this paragraph is a lengthier explanation and justification of what they are doing when destroying mummy masks): THE REST OF THIS POST IS FOR MEMBERS ONLY. If you don't belong yet, YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU'RE MISSING!! Last summer I gave a presentation on the number, age, and reliability of New Testament manuscripts. In this lecture I described the effort under way in recent  years to recover manuscript fragments, including biblical manuscripts, from ancient cartonnage, including [...]

2020-04-03T14:08:51-04:00January 21st, 2015|New Testament Manuscripts, Religion in the News|

New Manuscripts and the Destruction of Antiquities

As many of you know, in 2012 I had a public debate in Chapel Hill with Dan Wallace, professor of New Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary, on the question of whether we have the original New Testament or not.  During the debate he dropped a bombshell, on me and all of us.  He mysteriously claimed that now we have a first-century copy of the Gospel of Mark.   This would be a copy well over a century older than any other that exists, and would give us a copy that is very close in date to the original.  He dropped the bombshell purely as a debating strategy, not in order to provide real information  – when pressed he wouldn’t say anything about the copy, except that it is not anything like a complete copy, but a fragment with probably a few verses, at best, on it.   But he refused to answer, and continues to refuse to answer, all the relevant questions:  How extensive is the fragment?   How does he know it is from the first century?  [...]

2017-12-09T11:09:17-05:00January 20th, 2015|New Testament Manuscripts, Religion in the News|

Pilate the Intransigent

To make the best sense of this post it is important to keep in mind what I said in the previous one. In his response to my views of in How Jesus Became God – that Jesus most likely was not given a decent burial on the day of his crucifixion by Joseph of Arimathea – Craig Evans has maintained, among other things, that Pilate was not the kind of governor who would ignore Jewish sensitivities.   For Craig, Pilate started his rule by making a big mistake of bringing into Jerusalem the Roman standards that bore on them the image of the emperor.  But once he realized that the Jewish populace was offended, he backed down and from then on he showed that he had learned his lesson.  For that reason, Craig finds it “hard to believe” that at a later time Pilate would do something so opposed to Jewish custom as allow a body unburied on the day of a person’s death. This view strikes me as extremely problematic, for several reasons.   To start [...]

Did Pilate “Learn His Lesson”?

I think there is almost no historical figure that Craig and I disagree on more than the Roman governor of Judea at the time of Jesus’ death, Pontius Pilate.   I see him as a cruel, vicious, hard-headed, insensitive, and brutal ruler; Craig portrays him as an efficient but wise and rather sensitive aristocrat who could learn from his lessons and who would go out of his way not to offend Jewish sensibilities.  A lot hangs on which view (if either) is right, since it was Pilate – we agree on this! – who ordered Jesus’ crucifixion.  Moreover, if Jesus was given a decent burial (Craig’s view) or was left to hang on the cross for some time in accordance with standard Roman practice (my view), it was, in either case, Pilate’s decision. Craig’s view is that Pilate’s sensitive decision not to allow crucified victims to hang on their crosses after their deaths is what allowed him to keep “the nation at peace” (the phrase comes from the Jewish historian Josephus, whom I will be dealing [...]

2020-04-03T16:43:55-04:00July 18th, 2014|Bart's Critics, Early Judaism, Historical Jesus|

Did Pontius Pilate Respect Jewish Sensitivities?

When I was in high school I was active on the debate team, and really loved it.  We were pretty good, although I was nowhere near being the best on the team.  My colleague and another fellow on the team ended up debating together in college and won the national championship as sophomores.  These guys were terrific. One of the decisions we constantly had to make when arguing the negative side of a resolution was how to go about attacking the claims of the affirmative side.  There were two general approaches: one was what we called the “shotgun” approach.  This involved leveling lots and lots of arguments (like buckshot) and hoping that the other side could not respond to them all, thereby making the judge of the debate think that some of the arguments stuck, even if not all of them were that good.  The problem with the shotgun approach was that if a bunch of the arguments weren’t very good, the affirmative side could knock them down fairly easily, and by the end, it [...]

2020-04-03T16:44:04-04:00July 17th, 2014|Bart's Critics, Early Judaism, Historical Jesus|

Did Roman Laws Require Decent Burials?

In my previous post I tried to show why Craig’s argument that Roman governors on (widely!) isolated occasions showed clemency to prisoners (those not sentenced to death) has no relevance to the question of whether Jesus, condemned to crucifixion for treason against the Roman state, would have been allowed a decent burial, contrary to Roman practice.   The “clemency” argument – even in the sources that Craig himself cites, only seems to show that in cases that were completely unlike that of Jesus himself, Roman governors could on rare occasions be merciful and/or bribed. Craig goes on to say that this clemency was extended to the burial of executed criminals.  Now in theory, this should be relevant to the question of whether Pilate showed mercy on Jesus by allowing his body to be buried on the day of his execution.  But when you actually look at the evidence, once again it is not relevant – or rather, as in the other cases, it actually supports the view that is opposite to the one Craig wants to [...]

2020-04-03T16:45:21-04:00July 11th, 2014|Bart's Critics, Historical Jesus|

Did Roman Authorities Show Clemency?

In my previous post I began to discuss Craig Evan’s essay “Getting the Burial Traditions and Evidences Right,” which was his attempt to show that the views I set forth in How Jesus Became God were flawed.   In his view, the New Testament portrayal of Jesus’ burial is almost certainly historical: Jesus really was buried, in a known tomb, on the afternoon of his death, immediately after he expired, by Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin who had, the night before, called for his execution.   My view is that this is entirely unlikely, that Jesus was probably left on his cross to suffer the ravages of time and, possibly, scavenging animals, as was the practice of Romans for crucified victims.  In no instance was this practice more constant than in the case of “enemies of the state,” anyone, for example, who was involved in an insurrection or who threatened a violent opposition to Roman rule (or was thought to have threatened).   Jesus himself, of course, was executed on just this charge, of [...]

2020-04-03T16:45:29-04:00July 10th, 2014|Bart's Critics, Historical Jesus|

Did Romans Allow Decent Burials?

Now that I have restated my views about the burial of Jesus by citing two passages from How Jesus Became God, and emphasized one particular general point – that it is of utmost importance to remember why Romans crucified people, and in particular why they crucified those who were guilty of insurrection, the threat of insurrection, or high treason (a point that I cannot stress enough: Jesus was executed for calling himself the King of the Jews – a political charge of treason against the state) – I can now begin to summarize the counter-arguments that Craig Evans has made in his relatively long response, “Getting the Burial Traditions and Evidences Right.”   Despite this title, and despite the respect I have for Craig as a scholar, I have to say that in my judgment he gets virtually all the evidence(s !) precisely wrong. He focuses his counter-argument on two of my main points: the Roman practices of crucifixion and the character of Pontius Pilate in particular.  I will respond to all of his major claims [...]

2020-04-03T16:45:41-04:00July 8th, 2014|Bart's Critics, Historical Jesus|

Jesus Burial: My Personal Stake in the Question

Now that I have devoted two posts to presenting (part of) my argument for why I think Jesus was probably not given a decent burial – the posts were portions of a chapter lifted from How Jesus Became God – I am in a position to begin to respond to the counter-arguments of Craig Evans, my evangelical friend and naysayer, whose essay “Getting the Burial Traditions and Evidences Right” is widely seen – at least by people who have said anything to me about the matter – as the best contribution in the response book How God Became Jesus.   In my replies to his arguments, I will call him “Craig,” hoping that this does not smack too much of over-familiarity.  But, well, we’ve known each other for thirty years, have worked together on various film projects (documentaries that we have both in), and have had a number of cordial public debates.   Referring to him as “Evans” might seem a bit contemptuous. And truth be told, I’m not at all contemptuous of his scholarship or of [...]

2020-04-03T16:46:03-04:00July 6th, 2014|Bart's Critics|

Argument Against Jesus’ Burial in HJBG, Part 2

This is the second of two posts in which I lay out (part of) my case for why I think Jesus was not given a decent burial by Joseph of Arimathea.  I am not devoting a post to the second of my three specific arguments – where I talk about typical Roman burial practices for criminals – simply because Craig Evan’s does not do much with it in his counter-argument.  But my section on Pontius Pilate is especially important, as you’ll see when I begin to summarize and respond to Craig’s essay. ***********************************************************   The Policies of Pontius Pilate in Particular My third specific reason for doubting the burial tradition has to do with the Roman rule of Judea at the time.  One of the chief regrets of any historian of early Christianity is that we do not have more – lots more – information about Pontius Pilate, the governor of Judea from 26-36 CE, who, among many other things, condemned Jesus to be crucified.   What we do know about him, however, all points in [...]

2020-04-03T16:46:11-04:00July 3rd, 2014|Bart's Critics, Historical Jesus|

Argument Against Jesus’ Burial in HJBG, Part 1

The most important thing about this post is – that you need to read yesterday’s post!   Here I am including a section from my book How Jesus Became God that deals with the question of whether Jesus was actually given a decent burial by Joseph of Arimathea.  In my book I begin by doing a detailed analysis of the biblical accounts in order to show that Paul did not know of any such tradition and that it was probably not in circulation prior to the Gospels, and that even within the NT there are conflicting accounts of Jesus’ burial.  Then I get into more detailed historical argumentation.  Here is the first of two bits from this argumentation, straight from my book: ******************************************************************   In addition to the rather general considerations I have just given for calling into question the idea that Jesus received a decent burial by Joseph of Arimathea, there are three more specific reasons for doubting the tradition that Jesus received a decent burial at all, in a tomb that could later be [...]

2020-05-27T15:37:06-04:00July 2nd, 2014|Bart's Critics, Historical Jesus|
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