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Why Was Jesus Crucified?

All the questions I get from members of the blog are good and interesting and deserve lengthy posts.  Every now and then I get one that is absolutely fundamental to understanding Jesus, the New Testament, and the history of early Christianity.  Here is one of them, from many years ago, with an issue that everyone interested in these topics really needs to have a reasoned view about.  Here’s the question, and my view

 

*******************************************************

 

QUESTION:

I don’t see the rationale for the Romans to crucify Jesus. It doesn’t appear that he verbalized any anti-Roman propaganda nor was anything anti-Roman alluded to in Josephus’s couple of lines on Jesus. Pilate probably didn’t even know who Jesus was (possibly the bouncing back and forth between Herod was legend).

RESPONSE:

Yes, it’s a great question and completely central to the story of Jesus: why was he crucified? First off, I agree the Herod story is almost certainly not historical. It’s found only in Luke and is part of Luke’s attempt to show that Pilate was innocent and wanted nothing to do with Jesus’ execution (he tried to fob him off on the ruler of Galilee). Herod too finds him innocent. So if the ruling authorities aren’t to blame, who is? It’s those blasted Jews!

It would take an entire book to answer your question adequately, but I do want to say a couple of things about it.   The crucifixion of Jesus by the Romans is one of the most secure facts we have about his life.   Whenever anyone writes a book about the historical Jesus, it is really (really, really) important to see if what they say about his public ministry can make sense of his death.  If not, then you have a problem.  For example, if Jesus is best understood principally as a great rabbi who taught his followers they should love one another, and even love their enemies – why would the Romans execute him?  (Oh no!  We can’t have you *loving* us!  To the cross with you!)   Or if Jesus were a Jewish cynic philosopher who taught his followers not to be invested in the material things of this world but to share what they have and be concerned only with spiritual things – what would make that a capital offense?  (How many cynics were crucified?)  Or if Jesus were principally interested in equality for women, or in having his followers adopt proto-Marxist principles or .. whatever – why was he killed?   If a scholar tries to explain Jesus life in a way that really doesn’t make much sense of his death, then that should be the first clue that something is amiss.

What is clear is that Jesus …

This is a foundational issue: if Jesus hadn’t been crucified, the entire history of Western Civilization would have been unalterably different.  But why did it happen?  Members of the blog can keep reading.  Non-members can’t.  So become a member!  Joining is quick and inexpensive, and you get so much for your money you’ll think you’ve died and gone to heaven.

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    Hngerhman  October 18, 2019

    Dr Ehrman –

    Curious as to your view around why the arrest and punishment was limited to Jesus himself, and not extended to the The Twelve future heads of tribes (esp. Peter and perhaps the ones with fiery nicknames)? Was it typical for Rome to take out just the head figure of a seditious movement? Thanks!

    • Bart
      Bart  October 20, 2019

      It certainly happened. Same thing with John the Baptist, for example.

      • Avatar
        ShonaG  November 2, 2019

        You believe the historical Jesus told people they didn’t have to keep the sabbath, don’t know what you believe about whether its historical when he tells them not to both fasting but aren’t they reasons? religious unrest and political unrest tend to go hand in hand.

        • Bart
          Bart  November 3, 2019

          No, I do not think Jesus told his hearers not to keep the sabbath. He himself kept the sabbath. Just not in always in the ways *Pharisees* claimed it was to be kept. There were big debates about how to observe sabbath in Judaism at the time, but everyone in these debates definitely thought it should be observed.

  2. Avatar
    RedMex_Reason  October 18, 2019

    Appreciate your Work!

  3. Avatar
    RICHWEN90  October 18, 2019

    If Jesus really did, then, believe such things, one can make a good case that he was delusional. C.S. Lewis presented some stark alternatives, one of which was insanity. But it IS possible to be charismatic, intelligent, articulate, and delusional. Of course, if his Kingdom had come, and everything had worked out the way Jesus seemed to imagine it, he would not have been misguided. But it did not work out that way, and Christians have to find some way to reconcile their hero’s delusional system with reality. Hence, the idea of a “second coming” and a resurrected Jesus, the coming of the Kingdom sometime in the future– always in the future. And that strikes me as yet another delusional system. As delusional systems go, this one is insidious because it can renew itself from generation to generation. Since the Kingdom is always in the future, the refutation is impossible. Every preacher sees the end time in the near future. A generation passes away, and a new generation of believers sees the end time in the near future. This could go on indefinitely. Sic transit gloria mundi. I guess the last believing man or woman standing will still be thinking :”Gee, it’s gotta happen soon!” To me, it looks like a brain disease– a kind of cognitive trap. And it might be fatal.

  4. Avatar
    Annu Sai  October 18, 2019

    Thanks for sharing!

  5. Avatar
    mkgraham60  October 18, 2019

    “It’s in Q” I don’t understand. Isn’t Q something that does not exist except in scholarly theory, or have I misread something somewhere?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 20, 2019

      When a scholars refers to Q, s/he is referring to a document that is assumed to have existed, not to the idea of document, if you see what I mean. In a way it is simply a short hand of saying that it is a passage found in Matthew and Luke but not in mark.

  6. Avatar
    jhague  October 18, 2019

    Do you think Judas was actually betraying Jesus or saying something more like “you guys just wait and see what happens when Jesus is king?”

    • Bart
      Bart  October 20, 2019

      Nope. I think he turned on him. I discuss this in my book on Judas Iscariot — and probably you can see a good bit of it by searching for judas here on the blog.

  7. Avatar
    jhague  October 18, 2019

    Is it a good comparison to say that Jesus was a delusional leader that just had a few followers such as a Jim Jones type leader?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 20, 2019

      Very different, I’d say. Jesus didn’t want anyone to drink the Kool-Aid.

      • Avatar
        jhague  October 20, 2019

        But he did tell people the only way they could make it after the kingdom comes was to follow him and do what he says, right?

        • Bart
          Bart  October 20, 2019

          Well, kind of. He didn’t expect them to run off with him to a remote part of the world and live in a community together. He did think people needed to love God above all else and their neighbors as themselves and do their best to follow the Torah — which is what he taught. But hte parable of the sheep and the goats shows that this could be just *anyone* — not just one of his followrs.

          • Avatar
            jhague  October 21, 2019

            I guess I was thinking more from the standpoint that you have mentioned that Jesus did not have a large following. Perhaps because not many people were where he was to hear him but maybe also because some (most) of the people who heard him did not agree with him. Maybe John the Baptist experienced the same reactions from listeners? People heard Jesus and John but did not see a need to follow them.

    • Avatar
      andybruner  October 21, 2019

      Maybe more like Bagwhan Rajneeshi (Osha). Watch Wild, Wild Country on netflix. Fascinating.

  8. Avatar
    saavoss  October 18, 2019

    “Jesus did see himself as the future king of the Jews, who would rule God’s people when the Son of Man arrived in judgment…” Who is the Son of Man? I always thought it was Jesus himself, but your comment seems to indicate a different person? If Jesus is Messiah, who is the Son of Man?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 20, 2019

      In my view the Son of Man is the cosmic judge Jesus expected to arrive from heaven to destroy the forces of evil in the world and establish him, Jesus, as king over the new kingdom.

      • Avatar
        mkshehab  October 21, 2019

        I thought Jesus referred to himself as the “son of man” in Mark 8:31 “He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.” Am I reading this wrong?

        • Bart
          Bart  October 22, 2019

          Yes he does. I’m differentiating between what Jesus really said and what the Gospels sometimes say he said. That’s the fundamental distinction critical scholars make when determining what Jesus really taught (otherwise there’d be no need for scholarship. We’d simply read the Gospels and say “That’s what he taught”)

  9. Avatar
    Stewiegriffin  October 18, 2019

    Would it be accurate to say that the reason why the blame was deflected from pilate onto the jews in the gospels is because they would have had a hard time converting romans to christianity otherwise?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 20, 2019

      That’s one reason. Another is straight-up antagonism toward Jews for not accepting Jesus as their messiah.

      • Avatar
        dankoh  October 22, 2019

        It’s more than just antagonism. The Jews were Jesus’s own people, and if his own people didn’t accept him, why should the gentiles? (Celsus makes this very point.) So the Christians had to absolutely discredit the Jews in order to get around that problem.

  10. Avatar
    godspell  October 18, 2019

    While there is a logic to this, it’s a bit forced and fragile, and a lot of assumptions must be made, not least that the Romans well well-informed as to who Jesus was and what he was teaching, which I find dubious in the extreme. They had no blinkin’ idea. Even Jesus’ fellow Jews found him confusing.

    I think he alarmed and irritated the temple authorities, which wasn’t hard during Passover. They passed sentence, Pilate saw no problem with carrying it out (When did he ever? Only good Jew…..). Pilate crucified many who clearly had no idea of becoming king. If somebody seems to be a problem, get rid of him.

    The mere implication that Jesus might consider himself future King of the Jews was enough for everybody. I don’t, as I have said before (and will again) believe Jesus saw himself as an earthly king, then or ever. But it would have been easy for him to have been misunderstood as claiming this, even by his own followers, who we are told again and again had problems understanding him as well, and who wanted him to be the promised Messiah, even though he clearly didn’t hold to any conventional understanding of that idea, and angered them by predicting his own death (which didn’t require any supernatural powers of prophecy, given the temper of the time and the recent execution of John the Baptist, who never claimed to be an earthly king either).

    Now you say no Cynic was ever crucified–I have no idea if this is true or not, and am reminded of Ambrose Bierce’s joking reference to a custom among the Scythians of plucking out a Cynic’s eyes to improve his vision–but who did most Cynics regard as a forerunner? Socrates. And what happened to him? Arguably an even more painful form of execution (only one way to find out). For what? Teaching in the marketplace–and inspiring some young men who briefly overthrew Democracy in Athens. He also said there was a new order coming. He also had ideas that threatened the existing order. But he was hardly setting himself up as a king. And Athens, for all its flaws, was far more tolerant of its citizens than Rome was of irksome colonial subjects, wouldn’t you say?

    • Avatar
      godspell  October 18, 2019

      My work computer still stubbornly refuses to post here, even though I’m logged in and can read everything on the site. So I have to find some other PC to log into during some spare moment, and thus am always pressed for time when composing these responses during the day, and forgot a point I’d wanted to make–guilt by association.

      Socrates was probably not guilty of any overt conspiracy against Athenian Democracy, much as he despised it. Unlikely he broke any law, was involved in any cabals. He just disseminated ideas in the marketplace, as we do in different sorts of marketplaces today. How others made use of these ideas was hardly his fault. (Yes, it’s debatable, but we won’t debate it now). People came to him seeking tutelage, enlightenment, and he provided it. Where was the harm?

      Jesus was likewise said to be somewhat careless in his associations. He ate and drank with all kinds of disreputable people (even tax collectors!) Because like Socrates, he had ideas he wished to share, and how could he know where he might find fertile soil for the seeds he wanted to plant?

      Okay, but guilt by association is a thing–then, now, always. One of his disciples is said to have been known as Simon the Zealot. Now that word didn’t always refer to an active insurrectionist, but it certainly did refer to someone who wanted Roman rule overthrown. We can assume the zealots were as divided against themselves as all such revolutionaries have been. So some would have despised Jesus, others would have found him interesting, some might even have found him a kindred spirit, if perhaps deluded in his aversion to violence.

      Would Jesus’ enemies in Jerusalem have needed to do much more than point out such associations to Pilate for Jesus’ death to be assured? And would Jesus have been the type–any more than Socrates is said to have been by Plato and Xenophon–to have protested his innocence and denied any connection to them? Named names, shall we say. No, I don’t believe that would have been a tune he’d be willing to play. He would have spoken as obliquely to Pilate or whoever interrogated him (if there was any interrogation), and in this context, silence definitely gives consent. In this case, consent to be crucified.

      • Bart
        Bart  October 20, 2019

        Most of antiquity didn’t have “laws” the way we think of, and court cases were not based on interpretatoins of the constitution in light of legislation that was passed. People judged to be a threat to the public good were dealt with accordingly, both Socrates and Jesus. Often it took very little to convince an Athenian jury (Socrates) or Roman administrator (Pilate) to act decisively.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 20, 2019

      No, I don’t think the Romans were well-informed about Jesus at *all*.

  11. Avatar
    Todd  October 18, 2019

    Whenever I read a discussion where *details* about what Jesus said or did are presented the question always comes to my mind: who was there to write all of this down to someday be a part of a gospel book? Either Jesus had a scribe at his side, or the details were meticulously remembered by the listeners or the writers just made up these stories from vague memories by his followers. I have asked this question often but never received any answers. I know you wrote a fine book about oral tradition but just passing down stories by word of mouth raises the question in my mind as to how can there be such fine detail in intimate conversations such as between Jesus and Pilate at his trial when no one was close enough even to hear what was said.
    I can only think that there was a very generalized tradition of the events passed on and the gospel writers invented the detailed dialog when the books were written.
    Do you have any thoughts on this? I would be very interested in reading what you think about this. This is a puzzle to me whenever I read scripture. Thank you.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 20, 2019

      Ah, as you probably know, there is a huge amount of scholarship devoted to the question (and of course not just for Jesus, but for any one who is quoted in antiquity). Several of my books are devoted to the question — my earliest, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet, and a more recent one “Jesus Before the Gospels” It ain’t just guess work!

  12. Avatar
    flshrP  October 18, 2019

    Judas did a lot more than merely telling the Temple police where Jesus was hiding. He wasn’t hiding and the police knew exactly where he was. They had been watching him for nearly a week–since his entrance into Jerusalem and his part in starting the ruckus in the Temple.

    Judas gave Pilate all the cover he needed to crucify Jesus by revealing the private teachings of Jesus to his disciples–namely that he was the Chosen One, the Messiah, the king of the Jews. The charge was sedition–advocating the overthrow of the government. And that was the clear meaning of the written charge that was nailed to the cross above Jesus’ head.

    According to Roman law he had committed a capital offense. If he were a Roman citizen of sufficiently high status, he would have been given the option of suicide. But Jesus was a Jew, a nobody, and as such his sentence was crucifixion. The Romans used this method of execution as a deterrent to other would be seditionists.

    The story of Joseph of Arimathea, the tomb, and the Resurrection is a coverup to hide what actually happened. Jesus died on the cross, hung there several days while his body was desecrated, and then his remains were interred in a common grave.

  13. Avatar
    fishician  October 18, 2019

    Judas is portrayed as a bad egg in the Gospels. Some have suggested he was actually doing what Jesus wanted, to make things happen. Do you think Judas “betrayed” Jesus, and if so, why? Is it possible that Judas simply ran his mouth too much and the authorities caught wind of it? I suppose anything in ancient history is “possible” but do you think it’s likely that Judas accidentally spilled the beans, versus intentional, and if so, why betray his leader?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 20, 2019

      I better re-post on all this — since I have a very definite view about all this. But it’s probalby been a long while….

  14. Avatar
    Epikouros  October 18, 2019

    I’m not clear on why the “King of the Jews” claim would pass the criterion of dissimilarity. Mark seems to be trying to pin the whole thing on the chief priests, who “accused [Jesus] of many things” according to Mark 15. Couldn’t Mark just be saying that the chief priests made up this claim (among many others)? Even after Jesus responds “You have said so” to Pilate’s question about whether he’s King of the Jews (and then refuses to make further reply), Pilate still seemed willing to release him (“Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews”?) and even asked “What crime has he committed?” According to Mark, Pilate doesn’t even seem to believe that Jesus is dangerous, stating that Pilate knew “it was out of self-interest that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him.” So maybe the “King of the Jews” claim is just more Markan literary drama?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 20, 2019

      One reason — a very big one indeed — for it passing the criterion of dissimilarity will strike you as odd. We have no record of Christians in the first century ever calling Jesus “the King of the Jews.” If it wasn’t a title they ever gave him (as opposed to Lord, Son of God, Son of Man, Messiah, Rabbi, etc. etc. etc.), then it’s hard to see why they’d invent it only for this one occasoin.

      • Avatar
        RAhmed  October 21, 2019

        Isn’t calling him the messiah the same thing as calling him the King of the Jews though?

        • Bart
          Bart  October 22, 2019

          I’m nt talking about what the titles *mean* — I’m talking about the *words used”. But in any event, I guess the answer is no. The messiah is the king of the nation of Israel, not of Jews living, say, in Ephesus. It’s a political term.

          • Avatar
            dankoh  October 22, 2019

            I would agree that at the time we’re talking about, those Jews in Judaea who were hoping for a messiah (and it’snot clear how widespread that was) saw him as a political/military leader who would kick the Romans out of the Holy Land. It’s instructive to read in Psalms of Solomon how the author expected the messiah to do this basically on his own power, while the Jews kind of stood on the sidelines (as in Daniel, when Michael would fix things up for them).

            Later on, in Talmudic times, messiah does come to mean a savior for all Jews everywhere. That might be where some of the confusion over messiah = “king of the Jews” comes from.

      • Avatar
        Nathan  October 23, 2019

        Perhaps early Christians didn’t think he was King of the Jews. Perhaps they didn’t want their lord to be King of their type.

        When Jesus is falsely accused in front of the priests he stays silent in Mark, but when asked if he is the son of god he agrees and speaks freely. In front of Pilate he is silent because the charges are false. The story needs the Jews to be false witnesses. They need to kill him unjustly by breaking the commandments on testimony. Otherwise the Jews are innocent.

        How could you convert Roman Gentiles if he was executed completely legitimately by Roman authorities? How could the Romans tolerate a religion if the claim King of the Jews were true?

  15. Liam Foley
    Liam Foley  October 18, 2019

    Thank you! This answered a long time question I had…if the Romans executed Jesus for proclaiming himself “King of the Jews” why didn’t the Gospels portray Jesus as calling himself “King of the Jews?” The answer you gave made sense.

    My follow up question is this…is it historically accurate and reliable that Jesus was brought before the Sanhedrin? I could see that Gospels being distributed in the Roman Empire blaming them for the crucifixion of Jesus could themselves be seen as treasonous putting the writers and holders of such documents at risk. Therefore blaming the Jewish religious authorities was a safe way out of this dilemma.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 20, 2019

      I debate teh question a lot. I do think that Jewish authorities had Jesus turned over to Pilate. But it seems a stretch to think that the actual Sanhedrin met to decide his case. I don’t think he was that important at the time. On the other hand it’s suggested in all the accounts. So .. so I debate the issue a lot.

      • Avatar
        dankoh  October 22, 2019

        A point that’s often raised (or should be) in response to the “meeting of the priests at midnight” is that they had just spent the whole day slaughtering sacrifices for the passover and would have been exhausted. I would think that if they did arrest Jesus, they could certainly have waited until morning when they would be awake an have clearer heads. Also, legal matters are not decided at night in Jewish law (unclear whether that was the case in that time, though) so a sanhedrin of 23, which is what you need for a capital case, would probably not have met at night.

        There’s another problem to my mind. The priests were apparently afraid to arrest Jesus during the day because the crowd would have stopped them, but not 12 hours later the crowd (how many crowds could there be?) was unanimously calling for his blood. Do you suppose the priests went around in the middle of the night waking people up and convincing them to help them denounce Jesus?

  16. Avatar
    Koryneaustin  October 18, 2019

    I read somewhere that the Jewish custom for capital punishment was stoning to death. Is this the case? If so it seems this further points out his crime was political, not religious.

    • Avatar
      Koryneaustin  October 20, 2019

      Also sorry, unrelated question – could you comment on Acts 16:31 and it’s meaning, or intended meaning. And it’s clear opposition to Paul’s theology, if I understand the Acts verse correctly.

      • Bart
        Bart  October 20, 2019

        I’m not sure what you’re seeing as the issue. Lay it out for me?

        • Avatar
          Koryneaustin  October 20, 2019

          Sorry I meant Jesus. Never mind about that! But did Paul teach you could be sanctified through your family?

          • Bart
            Bart  October 21, 2019

            Depends what you mean by that. He did say that a spouse could be “saved” by the other. But it’s not clear what that means. But pretty much ones own sanctity comes from oneself.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 20, 2019

      That was certainly one of the ways — as described in the Hebrew Bible. But there were other unpleasant modes as well. But the point is that it was Romans, not Jews, who killed Jesus. (They too had different ways of doing it.)

  17. Avatar
    Brand3000  October 18, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman,

    Do you think that Jesus’ execution happened around Passover? One critical scholar said he was starting to question if it was around the time of the holiday or not.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 20, 2019

      I absolutely think so; the evidence strikes me as overwhelming.

      • Avatar
        Brand3000  October 21, 2019

        Dr. Ehrman,

        What should I cite as the best example? The multiple attestation?

        • Bart
          Bart  October 21, 2019

          Are we talking about the crucifixion? All the evidence; multiple independent attestation, dissimilarity, contextual credibility — all of it.

  18. Barfo
    Barfo  October 18, 2019

    Interesting information. I take it as most of the Jewish leaders of that time disliked Jesus and wanted him at least removed from their midst for misleading people. I suppose they would have felt differently if any of the miracles Jesus was purported to have performed had actually happened. I hate to say it but today this type of person would be deemed mentally ill.

    • Avatar
      jrbaugh  October 20, 2019

      I am often puzzled about how a mental health professional distinguishes between religious and political beliefs that defy all evidence and logic and clinical delusions. Are all “flat earthers” delusional? What should we conclude about the prominent Christian leaders who believe that Trump is chosen by God (if they really do believe this), or all of the people who join cults, from Moonies to Scientologists. I think that mental illness requires more than irrational adherence to ludicrous beliefs.

  19. Avatar
    Apocryphile  October 18, 2019

    Presumably, the sedition sentence also needed a more proximate cause that would have put Jesus on the authorities’ radar and in their ‘cross-hairs’. In other words, just traveling to Jerusalem for Passover with his disciples wouldn’t be enough (unless he had quite a *large* posse coming with him). Even if word got out that he was calling himself King of the Jews, I don’t think the authorities would have bothered with him – again, unless he were seen to be leading a large contingent (or what could in the authorities’ eyes easily become one) who were proclaiming him as Messiah.

    I still think the “entry into Jerusalem” as it is described in the gospels may be broadly historical – it needn’t have been hundreds of people welcoming and proclaiming him as Messiah – perhaps a much smaller group of people that would still have put Jesus “on the radar”. True, the Romans usually quashed any disturbance right away, but perhaps Pilate didn’t see it as such (yet), or perhaps wasn’t even aware of it (yet), or just may not have wanted to initiate another blood-bath within the confines of the city at the height of this potentially explosive festival(?) If no “Entry” into Jerusalem as described in the gospels occurred, then the proximate cause was probably the temple disturbance, along with Judas’ betrayal at some point. I think it’s pretty certain (correct me if I’m wrong!) that Jesus was indeed arrested at night. This should tell us that the (probably Temple?) authorities who arrested him wished to avoid a potentially explosive incident – that would get the Romans involved and probably lead to the slaughter of many Jews – during broad daylight.

    In other words, what I’m saying is that Jesus’ arrest needed a triggering event, and probably something more than just Judas strolling up to the temple authorities out of the blue and ‘spilling his beans’. All speculative, of course – all of this is in the end speculation except for the ‘King of the Jews’ charge and sentence under Pilate – but I still think it needed a more proximate spark.

    Any clarifying or corrective comments would be most welcome!

    • Bart
      Bart  October 20, 2019

      I talk about the Triumphal Entry in my book Jesus Before the Gospels. I don’t think it could be historical. He would have been arrested on the spot? But some kind of incident in the Temple? I suspect that was the triggering event.

      • Avatar
        mkshehab  October 21, 2019

        Also, along with the temple incident, either Jesus himself or people were saying that he is the Messiah, King of the Jews. What do you think? In the end that was the charge.
        Another issue I keep trying to figure out. Was it enough for Jesus to believe that he is the Messiah just on Peter’s declaration? Wouldn’t it be more plausible if Jesus, for instance, had a vision or epilepsy like Paul and then Peter confirms to him that he is in fact the Messiah?

        • Bart
          Bart  October 22, 2019

          Yes, that was definitely the charge. And no, the evidence is not related to Peter’s confession. I talk about it on the blog, if you search for somethign like “Did Jesus Call Himself the Messiah”

    • Avatar
      dankoh  October 22, 2019

      Pilate was in Jerusalem to put down any possible demonstration that could stir up the populace at Passover time – the celebration of a previous Jewish escape from oppressors. If Jesus had stirred up anything at all like the gospels describe, Pilate would have pounced. And remember he had already locked up Barabbas for insurrection (according to some versions; lestes can mean robber or insurrectionist); having nipped one potential insurrection, he wasn’t about to let another one start.

  20. Spencer Black
    Spencer Black  October 18, 2019

    Great post. For any readers; I’m currently half-way through “Zealot” by Reza Aslan. It goes into detail (as no doubt is the case with Dr. Ehrman’s literature) regarding first century BCE and CE Jewish sentiment towards governance and the Roman empire’s history of castigation and execution of Jews. It seems any Messianic behavior during that time was dealt with swiftly and harshly by the Romans. It also lists the other failed and executed Messiah figures that had come before and after Jesus of Nazareth. Great book so far.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 20, 2019

      It reads extremely well and is very interesting. I have a sustained set of critiques of it from years ago on the blog, some of them rather severe. Just search for his name and you’ll see.

      • Spencer Black
        Spencer Black  October 20, 2019

        Ya know what, Dr. Ehrman, I felt like an idiot because soon after I posted this I stumbled upon and read everything you had to say about Zealot and probably would now rescind my statements haha. However, I would like to ask you if what he had to say about the list of messiah figures is accurate. “Countless prophets, preachers, and messiahs tramped through the holy land delivering messages of god’s imminent judgement. Many of these so called “false messiahs” we know by name. A few are even mentioned in the new testament…” Then he talks about the following people:

        Theudas
        “The Egyptian”
        Athronges
        The Samaritan
        Hezekiah the Bandit Chief
        Simon of Peraea
        Judas the Galilean
        Menahem, grandson of Judas the Galilean
        Simon bar Giora
        Simon bar Kokhba

        Is this an accurate portrayal of the scene and were these people messiah figures?

        • Bart
          Bart  October 21, 2019

          Well, I wouldn’t say they are “countless” :-). I would say that there were lots of people with apocaylptic views who thought the end was coming soon; some of them believeed it was important to take up the sword in support of the cause. Many of them did not. Jesus was definitely one who did not. (One way I look at it is that if you want to prove that a particular public figure is, say, a defense hawk who believes in regime change by violent means through military intervention, you can’t prove it — i.e. that this person is — by listing all the other people who are like that; see what I mean?)

          • Spencer Black
            Spencer Black  October 21, 2019

            Right, ya that makes sense.

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