Who Killed Christ? Ontology of God Series
Copyright © 2004 Dorian Scott Cole
Who killed Christ? There has always been a question in the minds of people about what actually happened to Christ 2000 years ago. Was his crucifixion the result of a failure to achieve kingship over the Jews and displace the Roman rulers, with the goal of reinstituting a religious state? Or was there something revolutionary going on in a spiritual sense? Are these questions that we can know the answers to? Mel Gibson's current movie, The Passion Of The Christ provokes strong reactions from the faithful, but it seems to some to be silly romanticism that probably never even happened.
There are a tremendous number of details that we don't know about what actually happened. The same applies to most of the details of Christ's life. The Bible is not a biography. It is a message about a path to a better life. Some early Christian writers, like Mark, apparently made notes from talking to people in the 60 years or so following Christ's death. Most stories were probably true, as oral traditions typically are accurate, especially when the source is close to the facts.
Some stories, especially ones by those removed from the facts but who accepted the message, were probably mythical. Not all of these notes, which became letters and books, made it into the Biblical canon. The canon is the list of books considered by some to be authoritative and beneficial. For centuries, people have debated what is fact, what is not, and what was left out because it seemed to support "heresies" and not the message considered to be traditional.
Christians, myself included, readily admit that there are a lot of things that we simply can't know. As further examples, there is evidence that Christ had brothers and sisters, and that his brothers became active in his ministry. Some in the Church like the idea, some apparently think it threatens the divinity of Christ and purity of his mother Mary, as well as threatening authority. There is even speculation, based on context, that Christ would likely have been married to have held the respect of his countrymen, and point to as evidence, some kind of relationship with Mary Magdalene.
There is evidence that some of these facts may have been simply deleted from manuscripts because at the time they didn't support one aspect or another of the picture some wanted to present. So far as faith is concerned, most of these things aren't even relevant. Interesting, but incidental. The effectiveness of the message is validation enough. Christians tend mostly to look at the message, not at a book or history. To some historians, and perhaps to some fundamentalists, these controversies become the subjects of passionate debate and "proofs" of the validity of religion. Bunk!
When I read the bestseller, Holy Blood, Holy Grail, some time ago, the level of critical thinking left a bad taste in my mouth. The book questions the validity of the crucifixion and the Church's claim of Christ's divinity. (In the Bible, Christ makes several inferences that suggest divinity, but makes no overt claims - others claimed divinity for him.) The authors claim not to have set out to dispel Christian history, but they do wonder in this and subsequent books why they have failed to have much impact on Christians' understanding of history regarding Christ and the Church.
To the authors' credit, their book is a fascinating tome that had all of the hallmarks of investigative reporting. It did uncover some very interesting facts. It did weave some disparate facts together into a plausible picture of history. I didn't even object when it crossed the line into theory that they seemed to feel was conclusive. What I did object to was two things:
1. The authors failed to "critically" consider the context of the times. In doing this, they seemed to deliberately misunderstand what was happening. As a result, they promoted ideas that were unsupportable.
2. In looking at disparate facts both within the Scriptures and from outside, they failed to take into account the unity of theme present in the Bible. It is one thing to look at passages that "seem" to contradict each other (many of their examples aren't contradictory, but require explanation), and to pull out isolated facts and say that the Bible hides the real story and there was a coverup.
It is quite another thing to realize that there are plausible explanations for many contradictions, and that the unity of theme in the Bible presents a message strongly in conflict with the book's authors' conclusions.
I recently started reading their sequel, The Messianic Legacy. Immediately I got that sour taste again from the lack of critical thinking, but just interpreting things to make a case. I may not even finish the book. To cite one example:
The Messianic Legacy, p34: "Why, for example, should the same people who throng to welcome Jesus on his entry into Jerusalem clamour only days after for his death?"
As the authors had explained before, there were many strong movements within the population at that time. I'll explain by way of a metaphor, today in any US city there are Democrats, Republicans, and many with no affiliation who support whichever cause they think serves them best. Typically most Republicans don't go to Democratic rallies. As Christ entered Jerusalem in the days before his death, he did so in what would obviously have been recognized by watchers at that time as a ceremony of something important. The ceremony was intended to attract the attention of supporters, not be a revolt, as Christ knew that the Romans would immediately have trounced a military entourage.
Anyway, the ceremonial procession would have attracted supporters and probably a few opponents and uncommitted onlookers. However, when Christ was put before the public to be set free, those parties who dominated the times and wanted a military style king (messiah) chanted to release Barabas instead. Barabas (if he was a real person), was a militant with some potential for revolting against the Romans.
The books seem to be full of statements that appear contradictory, but are not thought through. I don't put up with this from Christian writers, and certainly not from those who supposedly unlock historical secrets. The lack of critical thinking damages their credibility.
The authors drive the idea relentlessly forward that Christ was a revolutionary from the bloodline of David, and is therefore entitled to kingship (he was), who failed in a revolt against the Romans. The biggest stumbling block in their case is their lack of critical thinking about context and unity of theme.
Christian history is not pure. We know that some leaders in the early church cooked the books to delete information that supported what they considered heresies or challenges to power. We know that some even resorted to lying if it served their purpose of defending their version of the faith. But those people could not have made so many changes in the gospels to eradicate the idea of a military style messiah that it would have changed the complexion of the stories.
The unity of theme in the gospels (especially Mark and John, which are definitely from different sources), supports the idea of a spiritual kingdom. An esoteric and Gnostic Essene influence would have been much more compatible as a driving force behind the gospels than the authors' ideas of a militaristic motive - not that the driving force was necessarily Essene. Militancy most likely penetrated all groups. There are many aspects of religious thought, and even proponents within a single group may have radically different approaches.
Christ sent 12 apostles into the world, who went in different directions, to carry "good news," a message of love, forgiveness, and hope. It was a spiritual message. It was a message of faith, not military power. That message was appended to Judaism. It was appended to or mixed with the belief systems of many religions in many parts of the world, just as it is today. People throughout the world practice Christianity in different ways. For some in parts of Israel the message found a Gnostic influence, and a disregard for the physical. In Persia it found a dualistic influence and a disregard for the physical. In Egypt and Rome, it found many influences. In the first three hundred years of Christianity, uniformity of belief was typically not a consideration except among certain bishops.
In the Greco/Roman world, in Rome, Constantine looked at the hodgepodge of religions in his kingdom, and the resulting chaos, and forced the early Christian leaders, and those of other major religions, to bring some order to it. Holy days across the empire and religious beliefs, were made uniform. The Scriptures (holy writings) were brought into a canon, and texts that differed were out. Even texts that probably originated with some apostles were out. Other texts, though popular, didn't emphasize what these bishops wanted to emphasize, but fit better with Paul's view.
The united military and religious power in Rome then used the sword to force people to all worship one of the approved religions, or die. Eventually Christianity displaced the other religions. Over the following centuries, religious men who wanted power, gold, and even kingship, forced religion and their will on others. Any opposing religions and "heresies" were destroyed by the sword and their literature also destroyed. Thousands in many lands were slaughtered through the centuries.
From ~300 to ~1700s, major carnage was inflicted against variations of the religion in France and Germany, the Crusades against the Muslims, the Inquisition against heresies (such as witchcraft), and the destruction of native populations on the American continent. The Thirty Year War in Europe immediately killed 300,000, and the aftereffects reduced the population by a third (7 million gone). In a treaty, both Catholic and Protestant rulers were given the power to establish the religion of their individual lands. These were acts of men, supported by leaders (men) of the Church. Destroying religions and differing Christian beliefs was not the message that Christ brought, nor was it a path that he ever even suggested.
Within the Gospels (the good news in the Bible), for those willing to take the message on faith and actually experience it (not stand outside and criticize, or misuse it to their own advantage), there is a consistent message of a path of love, forgiveness, and hope that saves people from the awful burden of guilt of their misdeeds. It is a message that "turned the world upside down" in the years following the crucifixion, and has been seen to have tremendous power to transform the lives of believers throughout history.
Christ's message stands in stark contrast to the message of uniformity and militarism that inhabits the minds of humans who want to achieve power and control - the path typically witnessed in human history and the path commonly searched for by many historians and investigators. For the authors of such books as Holy Blood, Holy Grail, and The Messianic Legacy, while their forays into history provide welcome insights, they just don't "get it," when it comes to understanding Christianity. It remains a big secret.
Mel Gibson, on the other hand, nailed it.*1 Who killed Christ? The prevalent belief among Christians is that we all did - all of humanity, both past and future. Christ voluntarily died for the wrongdoings of the world, becoming the traditional (of the time) sacrifice, or scapegoat, that frees us forever from the destructive snare of the guilt of our wrongdoings, and helps us become better people. Only bigots would want to turn the story against the Jews, which was the setting, who were no different than anyone else, and many of them supported Christ.
1. I haven't seen the movie. I have seen several movies on the subject, and know the story well. Besides, it has subtitles, and I avoid movies with subtitles since I miss the visual performance to read the dialogue. Feedback in the press and from others has been plentiful.
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