IT'S TIME TO RETIRE THE 'CHRIST-KILLER' CHARGE
That charge has been leveled against Jews for two- thousand
years. It has led to horrible, brutal persecutions, culminating
in the Nazi Holocaust and the death of Six Million Jews.
The Holocaust brought about deep theological soul- searching
within Christianity. It led to a revised view of the
circumstances involving the Trial and Crucifixion of Jesus, a
more appreciative understanding of the Jewish faith, and a more
respectful approach to Jewish-Christian relations.
Now comes Mel Gibson's highly controversial film, "The Passion
of the Christ," (premiere date: Ash Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2004).
According to concerned Jewish and Christian leaders, the film
resurrects the Christ-killer charge with a passion.
It is time to retire the Christ-killer charge, once and for all.
The Jews did not kill Jesus. The Romans killed Jesus.
The most obvious evidence is the form of execution - crucifixion
- ordered by Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator of Judea.
Crucifixion was not a Jewish form of capital punishment.
The New Testament suggests that Pontius Pilate was willing to
release Jesus, but that the Jews wanted him dead. It was the
other way around. Pilate saw Jesus as a dangerous messianic
revolutionary, who had to be destroyed.
Pilate was a schemer and manipulator. He had full control over
the Jewish High Priest, who held office at Pontius Pilate's
discretion. He, Pilate, had final control - since he kept the
High Priest's officiating robes under lock and key in the Tower
of Antonia. The High Priest needed these robes to officiate at
major holidays, like Passover. If he did not do Pilate's
bidding, the robes were not released to him, and he was replaced
by a more malleable High Priest (Source: "Man's Religions," by
John B. Ross [p. 574].)
Pilate was not the confused, conflicted, considerate, stymied
person pictured in the New Testament. He was a harsh, brutal and
cruel ruler. There was great unrest at the time in the Holy
Land. People were being oppressed by Rome and craved liberation
from Roman rule. They yearned for the promised, triumphant
The biblical accounts suggest that Jesus was put on trial by
the Sanhedrin, the Jewish religious court, yet the religious
Sanhedrin did not meet and would not have met at night.
Caiaphas, the Jewish High Priest, however, could and apparently
did meet that night with an advisory body - a political
sanhedrin, which had no legal or religious status. (Source:
"Studies in the History of the Sanhedrin," by Hugo Mantel, and
"Who Crucified Jesus?" by Solomon Zeitlin.)
What, then, caused the distortion of these details, leading to
such monumental, tragic consequences?
There was good reason for such caution in the telling and
writing of the story. With the death of Jesus, his followers had
to convince Rome that they had no issues with Rome, and that
they did not hold Rome or Pontius Pilate responsible for Jesus'
death. Above all, they had to convince Rome that their "kingdom"
was not of this world.
Even so, the Jesus followers were persecuted for years.
Christians faced horrible deaths by crucifixion or in Roman
arenas where they were fed to the lions for the entertainment of
emperors and the public.
Some years after Jesus, Jews did revolt, but the uprising was
crushed and the Second Temple was destroyed in 70 C.E. Another
revolt followed in 132 C.E., led by Bar Kokhba, who was declared
the Messiah by Rabbi Akiba, a leading rabbi. Three years later,
Bar Kokhba and 580,000 Jews were killed in battle, while tens of
thousands of Jewish men and women were sold into slavery. It was
not a good time to be a Jew or a follower of Jesus, or to say or
write anything that would have placed Pontius Pilate or Rome in
a bad light. Those living around that time understood and knew
how to read between the lines. In time, however, the full story
was forgotten, lost or suppressed for ideological reasons,
leading to the formalization and institutionalization of the
perverse Christ-killer charge leveled against the Jewish people.
We cannot change the past. But we can avoid the mistakes of the
past, now that we know better. It is time that we retire the
pernicious Christ-killer charge and bury it forever. It has no
legitimate place any more in decent, knowledgeable, responsible
Jewish-Christian relations, teachings, or story-telling.