Questions about Jesus (i)

It’s more or less certain that in Jerusalem, in 30 CE, at the time of the Jewish Passover Festival, a man called Jesus of Nazareth, by order of the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, was executed by the excruciatingly painful and deliberately humiliating technique of crucifixion. Evidence supporting this is found in the writings of the Jewish historian Josephus, the Roman historian Tacitus, and the Roman governor Pliny the Younger. 

Two questions, however, come to mind. The first is : why was Jesus put to death in this particular way? The second is : if, as seems also a historical fact, he was a leader with followers, why weren’t his followers crucified? There’s plenty of gruesome evidence that this was ‘routine’ for the Romans. One of their generals, called Publius Quinctilius Varus no less, ‘processed’ 2,000 crucifixions in the course of one efficiently ‘productive’ visit to a riotously rebellious Jerusalem.

In 30 CE, Pontius Pilate was in charge of Judea. His ‘base camp’ was the city of Caesarea Maritima, enticingly situated on the warm and scenic Mediterranean coast. Built by the no-expenses-spared King Herod, it was replete with all ‘mod cons’, including an aqueduct, public baths, paved streets and a 20,000 seat amphitheatre. As well as a Temple dedicated to Rome and its Emperor, there was a royal palace built on a promontory jutting out into the sea, which would almost certainly have been requisitioned by the governor and his troops. 

Pilate would have ‘governed’ Judea in the usual Roman fashion. He’d have identified people who had wealth, status and influence, and who were willing, in their own interests, to collaborate with an occupying power. To them would be delegated the task of keeping the peace and, having been hired they could also, of course, be fired (or worse) if they failed to produce the goods. Peace keeping, and providing for a governor and his troops, requires money, and so these ‘leaders’ were responsible for levying the necessary taxes to meet these costs, as well as for the sending the required annual ‘contribution’ to the ravenous coffers in Rome.

Only a comparatively few troops would be quartered in very much less attractive Jerusalem, with orders to keep eyes and ears open for pre-warning of any possibly impending ‘difficulties’. Only at festival times such as Passover, when the city’s capacity would be hugely over-spilling with mobs of pilgrims from around the Empire, would the governor put in a personal appearance with a contingent of extra troops. Passover was a reminder to the Jewish people of their story of deliverance from enslavement by the Egyptians, and that might well give rise in trouble-making minds to undesirable thoughts about deliverance from enslavement by the Romans.

Crucifixion was the punishment reserved for insurrectionists, not as in ‘freedom fighters’, but as in ‘terrorists’, who conspired to overthrow Roman rule, and ‘take back control’ for the Jewish people. Since Jesus was crucified, this would appear to suggest that he must have been regarded as an insurrectionist, and therefore as an active and outright enemy of Imperial Rome. The report in the Gospels that the title “King of the Jews” was pinned to his cross seems to support that supposition. Only the Roman Emperor had the right to appoint Kings, and even then only in a ‘client’ capacity. Any self-appointed ‘kings’ were (in this current context) “personae non gratae”, and they could expect to receive no mercy. 

This being so, why then weren’t Jesus’ followers also rounded up and crucified? Why, on the contrary, were they apparently allowed (according to the New Testament Book of Acts) to quite openly remain in Jerusalem, worshipping in its Temple, and publicly preaching to its people about this very same Jesus whom Rome had just gone to the trouble of crucifying? That seems very odd to say the least, and invites some looking into …..

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