Monday, January 09, 2006

Who Killed Jesus?

For the last two thousand years, historians have discussed the death of Jesus. All agree that it is historically an important event, shaping culture for millenia aftward; but who is responsible for this murder? This question is somewhat controversial, and has even been considered by some people to lead to anti-Semitism.

We'll present four interpretive options:

First, we can see the Roman occupational forces as responsible for the death of Jesus. He was, after all, crucified by Roman soldiers, under the supervision of a Roman governor; the records of the event say that Pontius Pilate "turned him over to be crucified." Pilate and his soldiers can be seen as the killers.

Second, we can see Jesus as a victim of class warfare. The majority of ordinary Jews were tyrranized by the upper-class Jewish elite. Jesus represented a threat to the power of this aristocracy, teaching that an ordinary Jew could worship, study, and pray in his hometown synagogue, and did not need to make piligrimages to Jerusalem's Temple. This directly threatened both the economic and spiritual hegemony of the Jersualem power class. The hotel and restaurant industry in Jerusalem, a huge source of income with the thousands of pilgrims coming to the city, would evaporate overnight if a religious leader told them that they could stay home and worship in the neighborhood synagogue; the religious leaders in the Temple would likewise lose their status as the top-most layer of the spiritual hierarchy. It was these leaders who demanded that Jesus be crucified, in order to ensure their continued dominance over the majority of ordinary Jews.

Third, Jesus can be seen as a victim of human nature. The literary critic Rene Girard points out the societal pattern of finding scapegoats; Jesus made a convenient sacrifice for the political tensions of the moment.

Finally, Jesus may bear some responsibility - given a chance to offer a defense, Jesus declines to speak, virtually guaranteeing a death sentence. Under this interpretation, it might seem that Jesus manipulated events toward an outcome that one would normally strive to avoid.