One of the most potent sources of the Jewish-Christian divide is the historic charge that “the Jews killed Jesus.” That’s why in writing my new book, Jesus Uncensored: Restoring the Authentic Jew, I wanted to know more about this puzzling accusation. How could the Jews have killed Jesus when all of his followers were Jewish? It was clear to me that there would be no Christianity if not for Jews who embraced Jesus and his teachings. Yet, as I discovered, belief in the guilt of all Jews for the death of Jesus still lingers–often beneath the surface, now that it is no longer politically correct.
I was reminded of that by a friend who described her first encounter with her college roommate, a young woman from rural upstate New York where she had little contact with Jews. When she learned that my friend was Jewish, she half jokingly blurted out: “Oh, you killed our lord.”
That accusation was no joke for the untold numbers of Jews throughout history who were slaughtered based on that indictment. How did the bizarre conclusion blaming all Jews come about, I wondered? Even if one Jewish disciple, Judas Iscariot, was a turncoat (although the recently deciphered Gospel of Judas says otherwise), why did that make all Jews responsible for Jesus’ death? Would anyone claim that the Americans killed Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, or John F. Kennedy? Yes, those murders were committed by Americans. But Americans in general were never accused–or worse, punished. Yet only Jews have been indicted and persecuted for the death of Jesus–with the charge making its way to upstate New York two thousand years later. More puzzling and disturbing, I discovered that in modern times opinion has been divided among biblical experts and pundits about who was primarily responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus. But even these mixed opinions have had little impact on general perceptions. The Jews are always the perpetrators.
The lineup is composed of the usual cast of suspects: Judas Iscariot, the Sanhedrin (the ruling body of Judaism), Caiaphas (the head of the Sanhedrin), Pontius Pilate (the Roman Prefect)–and by extension all Jews and all Romans. The preponderance of biblical experts blame the Romans (the only ones who could order and carry out the execution)–but there is, to my knowledge, no historical evidence of even a single incidence of marauders storming a village crying, “Execute those Roman killers of our Lord.” Only Jews have suffered the brutal consequences of that charge.
In my search for answers, I pored over the New Testament. Maybe there’s something I missed in my previous readings, I thought. And indeed, I discovered revelations that were even more puzzling and shocking.
Let’s begin with Judas Iscariot receiving 30 pieces of silver. I asked myself, Why did the Jewish authorities have to pay someone to locate and identify Jesus? Remember, the Sanhedrin was out to get this famous rabbi because he was a thorn in their side — a relentless outspoken critic of the Jewish leaders for not representing the spiritual core of Judaism and the Torah. More bothersome to them was that Jesus was gaining in popularity. “Multitudes” were coming to him for his teachings and healings. They arrived from all over the Jewish world — Syria, and beyond Jordan (Matthew 4:24-25). Jesus was so famous and loved by his Jewish followers that the authorities were hesitant to arrest him at one of his open-field gatherings for fear of a riot (Mark 14:1-2). (Jews protecting Jesus? And the Jews Killed Jesus?).
That’s why they sought Jesus at a private meeting with his disciples in Gethsemane Garden. And it was so urgent for the authorities to capture this famous rabbi that they were willing to pursue him at one of the holiest times for Jews — during the Passover celebration. Is it likely then that not one of the Jewish Temple guards, Temple priests, and other Jewish officials who came to arrest Jesus could identify the celebrated rabbi who headed their most wanted list (Luke 22:52; Matthew 26:47; Mark 14:43)? Is it plausible that they needed Judas Iscariot to point him out with the famous “kiss” (Luke 22:47-48; Matthew 26:48-49; Mark 14:44-45)? That this makes no sense whatsoever is punctuated by the Gospel of John, in which Jesus identifies himself and there is no kiss: “… then as he had said unto them, I am he…” And “Jesus answered, I have told you that I am he” (John 18:1, 4, 5, 7, 8). Yet this brief illogical narrative launched centuries of persecution of Jews.
There’s more. As I read further, I was stunned to realize that the Gospels tell exactly who killed Jesus, that they in fact leave no room for argument. How is it possible that the debates about who killed Jesus have left out the actual perpetrator?
The Gospels — and several other passages of the New Testament — state explicitly that God killed Jesus. God sacrificed his only son for the redemption of man according to Scripture:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)
…but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)
Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father: (Galatians 1:4)
He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us… (Romans 8:32)
And with his earthly work finished, didn’t Jesus know that he had to leave and return to God?
I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. (John 17:4)
Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father… Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God(John 13:1, 3).
And didn’t Jesus willingly give his life for the redemption of mankind, according to Christian doctrine? Surely God, or Jesus, could have stopped the unfolding sadistic torture. Jesus confirms that:
Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be? (Matthew 26: 53-54)
Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father. (John 10:17-18)
The firm Christian belief that the crucifixion and resurrection are fulfillments of biblical prophesies, particularly Isaiah 53, reinforces that it had to happen as it did. Accordingly, the actors–Judas Iscariot, Pontius Pilate, Caiaphas, the Sanhedrin, and others–were merely props in a divinely orchestrated play. It thus demeans Christian theology to usurp God and reduce a divine plan to base human motives and emotions that demand retribution.
Trumping any accusatory finger are the compelling words of Jesus on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
This compassionate statement in the context of Jesus accepting his fate, can be interpreted as: “Forgive them Father for they know not that this has to be; they may think they are responsible but my death is inevitable as part of your [God’s] plan.”
Moreover, Jesus’ death established the foundation for Christianity. In other words, no crucifixion, no resurrection means no Christianity. What would remain is pure Judaism. Taking this scenario a step further, it occurred to me that from the Christian perspective, the accusation of anyone but God for the death of Jesus should have been met with condemnation, and even excommunication of the accuser for denying God’s plan. Christians have been excommunicated for lesser blasphemies.
As I concluded in my book: “If Jesus returned today to speak to those who have accused Jews for his sacrifice and crucifixion, he might cry out, “Please, read the Gospels!”
I wondered if this understanding will finally put to rest the indictment of Jews for the death of Jesus. More important, will it foster healing of the Christian-Jewish divide?
Bernard Starr is a psychologist, journalist, and college professor. He is author of Jesus Uncensored: Restoring the Authentic Jew, which is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other major outlets.