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Why Was Jesus Killed?

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.

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    ReasonableDoubt  August 3, 2016

    If I may Dr. Ehrman, I noticed you said up above, in reference to Jesus’s teachings to his disciplies ‘its in Q’.

    Isn’t the Q document simply a highly probable hypothetical that has yet to actually be discovered? If we have no copy of it, how can we be confident about it’s contents?

    Or is this a conclusion based on shared text of the first three gospels?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 4, 2016

      For anyone who is convinced of Q (as most experts are — it’s a large majority, for over a century now), it is much easier to say what was in Q (material found verbatim in Matthew and Luke not found in Mark) than to say what was *not*. That is where speculation really kicks in (as in the claim that Q did not have a passion narrative)

      • TWood
        TWood  October 10, 2016

        Does Q contain Jesus’ prediction of his own death and resurrection?

        • Bart
          Bart  October 10, 2016

          Nope!

          • TWood
            TWood  October 10, 2016

            I hope this isn’t too many questions… but I worded them to be yes or no answers to respect your time…

            1. I assume not, but does Q have Jesus’ prediction of his own death (without the accompanying prediction of his resurrection)?

            2. Is the scholarly idea that the gospel authors added this prediction to make the theological point that the Passion was all part of God’s plan?

            3. Am I right to assume this strengthens the idea that the disciples did not expect Jesus to appear to them after he was crucified?

          • Bart
            Bart  October 12, 2016

            I believe that’s five today! I’d prefer maybe … one! But: 1. No 2. Yes 3. Yes.

  2. Avatar
    Benevolent  September 25, 2017

    Weren’t the people angry that Jesus called himself the son of God? Wasn’t this part of the reason fi

  3. Avatar
    luke.drzymala@outlook.com  February 27, 2018

    Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet because the people he associated with before (John the Baptist) and after (James, Paul and others) his ministry were also apocalyptic prophets. John the Baptist was not killed by the the Romans. James and the first followers of Jesus were not killed by the Romans; they were killed by pious Jews like Saul. So why is it wrong to think that Jesus was not killed at the bidding of the members of the Sanhedrin?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 27, 2018

      It’s possible, of course. But my sense is that Jesus did not have that level of importance at the time, to require a special meeting of the Jewish council during a high festival.

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