Who crucified Jesus? The Romans or the Jews? In the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) it is clearly Pilate who ordered Jesus to be crucified, for instance Mark 15.16-20, though in all three cases blame is made to rest with the Jews. But in John 19.16 we are told outright that, “Then he [Pilate] handed him [Jesus] to them [the Jews] to be crucified.” In John, the Jews literally killed Christ.
Kevin Sorbo, in talking about his new film “God’s Not Dead” talked to Jerry Newcombe on “Vocal Point” about Mel Gibson’s film “The Passion of the Christ” and the accusations that it was anti-Semitic. Sorbo said he didn’t get Jewish anger over the film. “He [Gibson] got attacked when he was shooting ‘The Passion’ from the Jewish community, saying ‘look at the way you’re portraying us.’ News bulletin: you did kill Jesus!”
Yes, he did go there. And thus we will go there. Did the Jews kill Jesus?
Sadly, the Gospels are not a lot of help. As in so many things, the accounts are contradictory and confused. Mark says that “he [Pilate] delivered him to be crucified” (15.15) which S.G.F. Brandon feels could be “due to Mark’s reluctance to admit that Pilate actually ordered the execution of Jesus” but the episode which follows at 16.20 and the mention of the centurion commanding the detail in both Mark and Matthew (Matthew 27.54; Mark 15.39) demonstrate that it was indeed Pilate who ordered it and the Romans who carried it out.
In fact the greatest contradiction is within John itself, where Pilate tells Jesus that he has the power to free him or crucify him and Jesus acknowledges this (John 19.10) yet John portrays Pilate as having no power at all, making such power lie with the Jewish people who decide his fate, which is downright silly. A final contradiction in John is that it is Pilate who places the titulus on the cross (John 19.19), indicating the sentence, which is odd indeed if the Jews crucified him as John asserts. And it is this titulus, marking Jesus as King of the Jews, which tells us who is true executioners were.
There are problems with the idea that the Jews killed Jesus. Pontius Pilate makes sense. For example, we cannot ignore the picture we have of Jesus’ trial before Pontius Pilate, the praefectus iudaeae , or Prefect of the province of Judaea, where the Galilean preacher is accused of sedition. The charge of sedition means that Jesus had disturbed the ‘quies provinciae,’ or “peace of the province.” If a Roman governor had one thing expected of him by the emperor, it was maintaining the peace of the province. But one of the specific charges against Jesus in the Gospels is that he advocated not paying taxes (Luke 23.2). Neither of these is a crime Jewish authorities would concern themselves with.
In fact, the Jewish authorities did not have the right to execute anyone. The death penalty to reserved for use by the Roman authorities in the person of the provincial prefect. The only instance known of in which the Jews were allowed to exercise the ultimate sanction was in the case of a Gentile, even a Roman citizen, crossing the barrier delimiting the Court of the Gentiles on the Temple Mount.
Not convinced? For what did the Jews supposedly order Jesus’ execution? Calling himself the messiah? It has been pointed out by Gunther Bornkamm (1971) and Johannes Weiss (1989) is that there was no law in Judaism against belief in a messiah. After all, there had been Messianic claimants before without executions and persecutions ensuing.
Some scholars, such as Arlan J. Hultgren attempts to make sense of the conflicting accounts by supposing the fact of Jesus’ death on the cross as meriting some special response from Judaism. But even this does not overcome the objections raised with regard to the Sanhedrin’s powers. Even if they had wished, as Hultgren maintains, to mete out some special punishment in Jesus’ case, they would have been unable to due to the limitations placed upon them by the Roman authorities. Nor is the argument itself altogether convincing.
One problem with Hultgren’s solution is that it depends upon the fact of Judaism’s persecution of the early church and as we will see below, this is problematic; we simply have no good evidence that such a persecution took place.
The idea the Jewish authorities persecuted the early church after Jesus’ execution is just as silly as the idea of the Jews killing Jesus. Even the Romans had not taken Jesus seriously enough – alive or dead – to hunt down or persecute his followers. Why would the Sanhedrin, given that calling oneself the messiah wasn’t illegal in Jewish law, even if it had it the authority? This is the stuff of persecution myth. The Jews did not persecute Jesus, and they did not persecute his followers any more than Americans are persecuting them today.
The weaknesses inherent in our conflicting accounts become evident almost at once, with Act’s claim that before his conversion Paul was working for the Sanhedrin – at Acts 26:10 he even votes for the death penalty for Christians. But is there not something odd about Paul being some sort of priestly special agent assigned to persecute the early church? He talks about his role as a prosecutor in only three places (1 Cor. 15:9; Gal. 1:13, 23; Phil. 3:6). Here Paul himself speaks only of “persecuting” the Christians but gives no details beyond this.
These activities are also chronicled in Acts (8:13; 9:1-2; 22:4-5, 26:9-11) which add the assertion that he was working for the High Priest Caiaphas himself. But Acts was not written until nearly thirty years after Paul’s death and as I have pointed out before is not very reliable where its assertions can be compared against Paul’s own claims. What is passing strange about all this is that there is no evidence that the other Jewish sects or factions, however much they disagreed, were persecuted by the powers that be – that is, the High Priest and the Sanhedrin. Why then the followers of Jesus?
We know from the New Testament accounts that they remained Jews and continued to worship in the Temple (Acts 3:1; 4:22; 5:12,14; 5:42; 21-23-26) and this is more than can be said for the Essenes, for whom one would think the priestly class would bear special hostility. But the Essenes were also not persecuted and remained free to practice their beliefs on the fringes of Jewish society until the Romans destroyed them during the Jewish Revolt of 66 CE.
An added complication is that Paul was a Jew of the Dispersion (Diaspora) and if the high priest had no real authority in Jerusalem, how much less likely is it that he had any sort of control or influence over Jewish communities outside of Judaea? This discrepancy might be explained away by the supposed fact of Paul’s Jerusalem upbringing, but the claims that the High Priest exerted control even over Judaea betrays a post-Jewish War origin.
Before the destruction of the Temple the Sanhedrin simply did not have this sort of power and afterwards it had ceased to exist. Indeed, during Roman rule it served as an advisory or Privy Council for the High Priest. It is true that the Talmud speaks of the sort of Sanhedrin Acts posits – a sort of Jewish parliament – but this sort of body was true only of the Rabbinic Era following 70 CE, after Paul’s death.
Steven Katz argues against a long-standing Jewish persecution such as that proposed by Wright and Frend: “The only evidence of any sort supporting this claim is the suspect testimony of Acts 9:1 ff (repeated in Acts 22:5 and 26:12). Whatever its historical accuracy, it speaks of Damascus only and gives no grounds for the suggestion of a pre-70 worldwide Jewish activity against emerging Christianity. Indeed, there is no evidence that the Jewish leadership of Jerusalem ever engaged in such behavior before the destruction of the Temple.”
As E.P. Sanders points out, “there is a long-standing custom of attributing too much of a governing role to the council, in Hebrew called the Sanhedrin…and its supposed legislating and judicial authority.” Bart Ehrman finds the assertion in Acts that Paul received authorization from the High Priest in Jerusalem to drag Christians off to prison “historically implausible” as the High Priest “had no jurisdiction over Jews living in other parts of the empire and Paul himself says nothing about it.”
The period from 73-135 CE did not see the end of Jewish influence upon Christianity but the failure of the Second Jewish Revolt in 135 marks a swing in Christianity against Judaism in Christian thought. Ehrman calls the second century “the period in which Christian anti-Judaism began to assert itself with particular vigor. One by-product of this increased animosity is that Christians began to exonerate Pilate for Jesus’ death and to blame Jews – all Jews – more and more.” We can already see this development beginning at the end of the first century when Matthew (written sometime between 75-90 CE) places the blame upon the Jews (Matt.27.25) whereas Mark, written c. 65-70 indicts Pilate (Mark 15.1-15).
 S.G.F. Brandon, The Trial of Jesus of Nazareth (Dorset Press, 1988), 191, n. 124.
 Gunther Bornkamm, Paul (NY: Harper & Row, 1971); Johannes Weiss, Earliest Christianity (NY: Harper & Row, 1959).
 Arland J. Hultgren, “Paul’s Pre-Christian Persecutions of the Church: Their Purpose, Locale, and Nature” JBL 95 (1976), 103.
 cf. 9:1; 22:4-6; 2 Cor. 11:24)
 W.H.C. Frend, Martyrdom and Persecution in the Early Church (Oxford: Blackwell, 1965), 146.
 Steven T. Katz, “Issues in the Separation of Judaism and Christianity after 70 C.E.: A Reconsideration” JBL 103 (1984), 45.
 E.P. Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus (London: Penguin Books, 1993), 25.
 Bart D. Ehrman, Peter, Paul and Mary Magdalene (New York, Oxford University Press, 2006), 109.
 Bart D. Ehrman, Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew (NY: Oxford University Press, 2003), 20.
Hrafnkell Haraldsson, a social liberal with leanings toward centrist politics has degrees in history and philosophy. His interests include, besides history and philosophy, human rights issues, freedom of choice, religion, and the precarious dichotomy of freedom of speech and intolerance. He brings a slightly different perspective to his writing, being that he is neither a follower of an Abrahamic faith nor an atheist but a polytheist, a modern-day Heathen who follows the customs and traditions of his Norse ancestors. He maintains his own blog, A Heathen’s Day, which deals with Heathen and Pagan matters, and Mos Maiorum Foundation www.mosmaiorum.org, dedicated to ethnic religion. He has also contributed to NewsJunkiePost, GodsOwnParty and Pagan+Politics.
39 Replies to “‘God’s Not Dead’ Star Kevin Sorbo Calls Jews Christ Killers”
Sometimes the themes of web articles, and the juxtaposition of ads, is rather funny, and jarring at the same time.
I’m sure Hrafnkell spent hours researching and composing his Sorbo post, using biblical references and scholarly texts, and one feels more informed for having read them. But then one scrolls down to comment, and the effect is spoiled by web ads, like “Who has the biggest jugs?”
In the final analysis, it doesn’t matter. For two pretty important reasons, all Jews do not bear a kind of blame for anything.
1) People in power want to remain in power. If the Sanhedrin’s power was threatened by Jesus, they would take measures to eliminate this threat. This tactic was never limited to the Sanhedrin before or after Jesus. It is practiced by most who are afraid of losing a thing they enjoy. We’re human; it’s in our nature.
2) In Christian belief, Jesus had to be sacrificed, or we would suffer the consequences for sins, ourselves. We humans break the original covenant (Old Testament) with God regularly. He chose to be the sacrifice for our sins, instead of making us pay our own wages of sin. A New Testament with God was created by Him, so that through seeking forgiveness for our sins and following Jesus’ two Greatest Commandments, we will not face final damnation. In short, the executing authorities had a role to play, and no blame is due.
I always wondered how come there were no written records of this Jesus fellow?
That’s the point: the Sanhedrin had no power to lose. Rome controlled Judaea with an iron fist.
In my final analysis, it doesn’t matter who killed Jesus because according to the Bible, he was born, only to die in order to wipe away the sins of the world. (thanks Dad)
And it’s pointless to blame the Jews for killing the son of the Christian God, because Jews don’t believe Jesus was the Son of God.
I’ve been seeing this Sorbo clown on my news feed quite a bit lately so I decided to check out his Facebook page. To my extreme horror, this self proclaimed “Good Christian” is a raging Racist. Even worse, I saw that amongst his followers was my own Sister.
Everybody, take a break:
Mmmm, would we call Kevin Sorbo a “star”? I’m not even sure we can call him an actor. Ergo, what makes him worthy of all this attention? He’s not a very nice person. Stop giving him the press. He’ll go away.
As I would ask the gospeleers: Was you there, Charlie?
The answer: Hell, no!
God may or may not be dead but Kevin’s career is.
Lets play the if game.
IF there is a god, and IF there was a jesus who was the son of this god(obviously sex was involved), and IF this jesus came here and was murdered ala Mike Brown, it was all part of the plan. This jesus came to die for someones sins.
Therefore, it doesnt matter who killed this jesus. Not for a second. His death was not only foretold but he supposedly knew it from the time he was a child.
Todays arguing about who killed him is just pissing in the wind. You cant go to church, say jesus died for your sins and then argue about who killed him.
If you are a believer, Your god killed him. At the moment of conception in Lilith’s womb. Destiny is a bitch
Kevin has been in many movies, but they’ve all been clean. That’s why you haven’t seen many of them. They haven’t all been Christian or religious. He’s been around a long time and he’s still getting roles, so somebody likes him. There are plenty of so called “stars” out there who aren’t very good. They’re not going away either.
No…Not him! Give us Barabbas!
Jews killed Christ.
Why does anyone care what Sorbo thinks? I certainly do not.
If it’s the Jews who killed Jesus then why, in the gospels, are those same Jews weeping for him in the streets of Jerusalem? If one were to follow the plain meaning of the text it would seem that there were a few bad apples among the Sadduccean priests who were in bed with Caesar and stood to lose out if there was a new Jewish king. According to the gospels the Jews were sleeping off the merriment of their Passover Seders as Jesus was being tried in a kangaroo court. They then awoke early to the commotion of a Roman procession leading Jesus to a Roman execution by Roman crucifixion. This last point is important since Jews never in their history have ever employed crucifixion as a means of execution. Ironically 40 years later Rome crucified thousands of Saduccees on those same Judean hills.
Kevin – We all understand that you want to promote your movie, so you’re coming up with a bunch of horseshit to make folks all up in arms about your B.S.
Just another lame excuse in order to keep your washed up name in the headlines.
Mathew 27:24 -25 clearly indicates the Jews taking responsibility for Christ’s death, who Pilate is addressing.
If you are a believer that the New Testament is the inspired word of God, that is the way God planned it.
On the other hand, if you look at this event in the context of the entire Bible, it was not the Jews that killed Jesus.
It was mankind’s sin that nailed Christ to the cross.
Christ voluntarily died on the cross to save the world from our sins.(John 3:16).
Not Caesar, Pontius Pilate
Its all irrelevant. The bible is not an accurate historical document. The testimonials in the new testament were written over a hundred years after the fact. And such death and destruction has been justified by this book, I would hardly call it holy. Most of the followers of this book are hateful and disrespectful, I can’t say its a book of knowledge.
There is a lot of wasted breath here – or, I should say, wasted words. Christians have always believed Jews killed Jesus. It is the foundation of their abiding prejudice against Jews. Just because some politically correct person, like a pope, came along to be nice about it all, doesn’t mean the fundamental, run of the mill Christians out there bought into it. They don’t care for ‘politically correct’ any more than they care for any ‘scholarly interpretations of the bible’. They believe Jews killed Jesus. End of discussion for them.
Actually there are several historians of that time period that did include Jesus in their commentaries, you can find them if you look.
Well since I asked shouldn’t you be the one to educate me?
So, If you believe the Jews are responsible for the death of Jesus (which was over 2000 years ago)are we supposed to blame and hate Jews of today for this death? If so, then Jesus died for nothing, because he was all about Forgiving. If Christians and others still hate after 2000 years. You have no forgivness in the future for yourself.
Imagine what he has done with relations with the people of Judaism.
I agree. Ultimately, God killed Jesus, just like God does with every other living thing on the planet.
I agree, God killed Jesus. This God guy does that with every other living thing on the planet too. Some father.
The REAL “Christ killers” are the Fundamentalist so-called “Christians” who keep executing him and nailing him to the cross with their every lie!!!
Actually, Joseph, there has never been a shred of historical eyewitness evidence of anyone named Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified by Pontius Pilate and the name “Jesus” was at the time more of a term of endearment. Considering the preponderance of documentation, census records and general writings from that time, there is not one mention of this person as either a subversive or enemy of the state, so to speak, either before or after this alleged “execution”.
The REAL “Christ killers” are the Fundamentalist so-called “Christians” who keep executing him and nailing him to the cross with their every lie!!!
One thing is for sure, these do not know the history of why the gospel writers wrote what they did. As usual, these ignorant “scholars” mis-interpret the written words to give credence to the literal translation without giving importance to why they wrote what they wrote during those difficult times of the early days of “The Way” – thus minimizing the true meaning of the documents. The Bible is myth, allegory, parable, symbolic, NOT DICTATED BY GOD but written by MEN as interpreted by MALES!
None of the gospel writers knew Jesus personally, only OF HIM. They decided to write to their communities in a different genre of literature – “gospel” = good news so he would be remembered.
Hitler went to seminary. He justified his persecution of the Jews with what the Roman Church did prior — Inquisition, etc. (Source, Paul Johnson’s “A History of the Jews.”)
Jews did NOT kill Jesus…consider the time when the gospels were written – the fledgling group could have been eliminated so they blamed the Jews NOT the Romans who executed Jesus for being a radical — trying to change society (such as Martin Luther King, Gandhi – anyone who is considered a threat to the status quo!)
Thanks for your post!
Somebody gave this Ass a job?????
God sacrificed Jesus like you’d kill a lamb.
Even if Jews did kill Jesus 2,000 years ago, no Jews today are guilty. You are not even guilty of your father’s crimes. Ezekiel 18:
19 Yet say ye, Why? doth not the son bear the iniquity of the father? When the son hath done that which is lawful and right, and hath kept all my statutes, and hath done them, he shall surely live.
20 The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.
Unfortunately, this little detail was forgotten by St. John Chrosostom. The foulest Jew baiter on the planet is Archbishop Tutu, who reinserted Christ Killer prayers into the South African Prayerbook. The result of this can be seen in New Zealand, which uses it. A Christian, PM Key, has been victimized by Jew baiting graffiti because his mother was Jewish.
Fine analysis of the evidence against the idea that the Jews killed Jesus. Of course, I would argue that there was no Jesus to kill. Perhaps — and this is as far as I am willing to go — some live homo sapien going about the Levant as “Reb Yeshua” (Rabbi Joshua) may have been crucified by Romans. Of course, Mel Gibson is simply wrong, but he can’t help it: like Sen. Ted Cruz, he was introduced to this perverse form of Christianity at an early age. The culprit is inter-generational religion, indoctrinating a child during its formative years so that it takes religion for granted — in the form parents have given through brainwashing.
….always look at the bright side of life, (Whistling)….
God may or may not be dead.
Sorbo’s career appears to have died around 1999.
He had a career?
Saying that Jews are Jesus-killers because a few Jews 2000+ years ago called for the death of Jesus is like saying Norwegians are traitors because of Vidkun Quisling during WWII. Take that, Kevin Sorbo!
Why is that this is so hard a question? Not only do the Gospels clearly indicate that the Jews WANTED to kill Jesus, and tried to get Pilate to kill Him, but let us look at what the Jewish follower of Christ, Peter, said:
But you denied the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you. 15 You killed the source of life, whom God raised from the dead; we are witnesses of this – Acts 3:14
Comments are closed.