Who Killed Jesus?

The question of who killed Jesus has been the subject of countless academic books and articles over the past 100 years. Scholars are largely agreed that despite several passages in the New Testament that appear to collectively blame “the Jews,” the historical fact is that Jesus died by Roman crucifixion, punished for sedition along with two others, by the Pontius Pilate, prefect or governor of the Roman province of Judea. See, for example, the summary article at the Society of Biblical Literature web site, Bible Odyssey “The Crucifixion of Jesus and the Jews” and a similar, more in depth treatment, at the My Jewish Learning site, “Who Killed Jesus?”

Those passages that emphasize Jewish “bloodguilt,” especially Matthew’s chilling cry from “all the people” that “His blood be on us and on our children!” are directly responsible for the deaths of countless Jews over the centuries, murdered by Christians, with the cry of “Christ-killers” on their lips (Matt 27:25; John 5:18, John 7:1, John 8:37; 1 Thess 2:14-15; Phil 3:5-6). This passage from Matthew I included as one of my “Top Seven Fateful Verses of the New Testament” in a previous blog post.  Christian art, Nazi propaganda, and even contemporary Muslim anti-Semitic images and rhetoric have drawn upon these images of the Jews as Satanic agents and enemies of God.

Although everyone has heard of Pontius Pilate, the critical role of Herod Antipas, ruler of Galilee, has often been muted or overlooked. He is often confused with his father, Herod the Great, who certainly did his share of murdering his enemies, or with Herod’s grandson, Herod Agrippa I, who had James the apostle murdered and arrested Peter, “to please the Jews” (Acts 12:1-5). However, it was Herod Antipas, who had murdered John the Baptist, and sought to kill Jesus much earlier, who was most likely behind the decision to get rid of Jesus even more than Pilate (Mark 6:14-29; Luke 13:31).

I want to highly recommend a new blog post “Suffered under Herod Antipas: Jesus in the Hands of an Angry King,” that convincingly makes this point. I have recommended the blog site “Scribes of the Kingdom” before. Alex Finkelson, its insightful and always thoughtful author, lays out the evidence for the pivotal role Herod Antipas played in killing Jesus, and why such a potential rival “King of the Jews” was considered by him to be such a threat. You don’t want to miss this one, and I encourage my readers to bookmark Alex’s site, keep up with future posts, and delve back into his rich archive. He continues to publish some of the best analysis of New Testament topics out there.

I also want to recommend Abram Epstein’s fascinating little book, The Case Against the Gospel’s False Accusation of the Jews (Responsio Iudaeorum Nostrae Aetatis (iUniverse, 2020) available from Amazon and most booksellers. Epstein includes a fascinating treatment of the overlooked role of Herod Antipas cast in the form of a legal brief. It is really well done and available in both paperback and Kindle.

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