The Christ Killers? by Judith Hayes (March 1996)

Anyone who has read a lot of books about the history of the Roman Catholic Church will necessarily have read a lot of books about anti-Semitism. The Catholic Church’s centuries-long persecution of the Jews has always been accompanied by cries of the epithet, “Christ-killers!” Those words are still spit out, even today, by hateful bigots. The Jews, accused of killing Jesus, and therefore killing God, were guilty of the most horrible crime imaginable–deicide. Just think. They killed God.

This charge demands some scrutiny. The first thought that should spring to mind is: How can you kill a God?! Isn’t that by definition an impossibility? But setting aside this major assault on logic, anyone even slightly familiar with ancient Hebrew law knows that if the Jews had wanted to kill Jesus, they would have stoned him to death. The Jews did not crucify people. The Romans did. That undeniable fact is skirted by claiming that the Jews arranged for Jesus’ death and were therefore responsible for it, but they turned him over to the Roman authorities to do the actual killing. But how likely is this?

According to the synoptic Gospels, Jesus was first brought to trial before the Sanhedrin, a Jewish council of law that passed judgment on legal matters only. He was to be tried for “blasphemy,” a religious but noncapital offense. Already this story is in trouble. The trial was supposedly held during the feast of the Passover, an impossibility, since no Jewish trials were ever held during the Passover. Then, Jesus was shuffled around, enduring four trials in one day, ending up, for the second time that day, in front of Pontius Pilate, the Roman Procurator of Judea. The charge? Undoubtedly sedition, although the Gospels are very unclear about this. The result? Pilate found Jesus to be totally free of any guilt. Then he promptly sentenced him to death. “Pilate saith unto them, Take ye him, and crucify him: for I find no fault in him.” (John 19:6). Does this make any sense at all? Has any theologian ever really thought this one through? Roman courts were known far and wide for their fairness. It is incomprehensible.

Even if the Jews were screaming for Jesus’ blood, why would Pilate automatically do their bidding? Who ruled Judea–Pilate or the Jews? History leaves no doubt about that, so what was Pilate’s motivation? Well, they say that Pilate was afraid that this Jesus might somehow start an insurrection, so he’d best be got rid of. But if that’s true, then we’re going to have to rewrite history.

The following Jewish and pagan writers, living at the time of Jesus’ life or during the first century, handed down to us enough of their writings to fill a small library. Yet not one of them mentioned Jesus. These writers are: Josephus, Seneca, Philo-Judaeus, Pliny the Elder, Seutonius, Juvenal, Martial, Arrian, Petronius, Dion Pruseus, Paterculus, Appian, Phlegon, Theon of Smyrna, Persius, Plutarch, Tacitus, Statius, Justus of Tiberius, Apollonius, Pliny the Younger, Lucanus, Quintilian, Epictetus, Silius Italicus, Ptolemy, Hermogones, Valerius Maximus, Pompon Mela, Quintius Curtius, Lucian, Pausanias, Favorinus, Valerius Flaccus, Florus Lucius, Phaedrus, Damis, Aulus Gellius, Columella, Dio Chrysostom, Lysias and Appion of Alexandria.

Not one of these writers mentioned Jesus, or his supposed miracles, or his possible insurrection-leading; or the fact that when he died the sun stopped shining at midday, there were earthquakes, and graves opened up allowing corpses to emerge from them alive. You’d think someone would have noticed. These writers were writing about the time and place where Jesus supposedly worked his miracles and died so dramatically. And except for a few obvious Christian interpolations inserted clumsily a couple of centuries later, and universally acknowledged by scholars to be interpolations, these writers are silent about Jesus. How can this be?

Nevertheless, assuming that the Jews wanted Jesus dead and somehow forced a Roman Procurator to kill him, and assuming further that no one writing at the time had heard anything about it, the most important question about this whole issue is this: Why was Jesus supposedly sent to Earth in the first place? Any Christian can answer that one. Jesus was sent to Earth to suffer and die for the sins of humankind. It was as a sacrificial lamb that he was sent.

Now think about this for a minute. Assume for the moment that the Jews were responsible for the suffering and death of Jesus. Shouldn’t they be applauded? What do Christians want here? Would they rather have it that Jesus had been allowed to live to a ripe old age, preaching about the Kingdom of God, eating his Passover meals, observing the Sabbaths, and then dying peacefully in his sleep from, say, a stroke? How would that have fulfilled Old Testament prophesies about a Messiah? Even if the Jews had accepted Jesus as their true leader, like King David, what about his “dying for the sins of humankind” mission? How would he have carried that out?

Even if he had managed to carry out out his mission by being killed by the Romans while being the truly recognized King of the Jews, wouldn’t the only “Jesus-worshipers” today be Jews? After all, there are many stories in Jewish history about deposed kings, murdered kings, revolts and so on. But the rest of the world went blithely on its way, paying not the slightest attention to the upheavals within the Jewish community. So why would the death of this particular Jew (Jesus) have affected anyone other than Jews? Most probably it would not have had any affect at all on nonJews.

It seems Christians want it both ways. They want to believe that Jesus was sent to suffer and die for their sins, but they are furious that Jesus had to suffer and die for their sins. They bitterly resent the fact that Jesus was crucified. But why? Someone had to do it. Otherwise Christians would be in the bizarre position of having nothing to be Christian about. Jesus would have come and gone, like hundreds of other preacher-teachers of his time, not even a ripple in history. And we would all still be stuck here with no possible “remission” of our sins.

So the very idea of hurling “Christ-killer!” as an epithet is in itself a contradiction. It could almost be said that a proper greeting might be, “Did your ancestors crucify Christ for our sins? Bless them!”

But century after century, Pope after Pope has promoted unconscionable antiSemitism. St. John Chrysostom, in the fourth century, said, “I hate the Jews. God hates the Jews and always did.” In 1555, Pope Paul IV published a Bull that stressed that the “Christ-killers,” the Jews, were by nature slaves and should be so treated. In 1581, Pope Gregory XIII claimed that the Jews’ guilt regarding Jesus’ death grew deeper with time, mandating perpetual slavery.

For four centuries the medieval Roman Catholic Inquisition rained terror on Europe. Whole communities of Jews were forced either to convert or leave the country the next day. Most “converted.” Then, if any of them were suspected of still observing Jewish rites, they were hauled before the Catholic Inquisition for their “heresy,” gruesomely tortured, then burned to death at the stake. A single accuser could bring this about. So if you liked to put on clean underwear on Saturday, or didn’t like the taste of pork, you would be tortured and murdered by the Holy Roman Catholic Church. The absurdity of all this is exceeded only by its cruelty. And it led straight to the gas chambers of Auschwitz.

Pope Pius XII kept silent while those gas chambers were working full time; and that silence equated to aiding and abetting genocide. The whole world knew what was going on, but the Pope spoke not one word against Hitler. And as recently as 1965, Pope Paul VI denounced the Jews for failing to receive the Messiah. There does, however, seem to be hope on the horizon. Pope John XXIII seemed to come to the realization that such bigotry belongs nowhere on the planet Earth, let alone in the bosom of The Church. Let’s hope a new day is beginning.

The Catholic Church’s history of strident antiSemitism and antiintellectualism has been bloody and inexcusable. The victims of the Church’s relentless, ruthless bigotry would fill a thousand cemeteries. And the terrible irony of it all is that the Jesus of their Bible–was a Jew.

Judith Hayes is a freelance writer who lives in California with her husband. She has completed her first book, based on previous columns, which will be published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. Any mail sent to her c/o Freethought Today will be forwarded.

Freedom From Religion Foundation