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Jesus and Caiaphas: the indelible libel against the Jews.

Nineteen centuries ago, when the Christian gospels were selected and edited, blame had to be assigned for the crucifixion, which to Christians was deicide. Although it was palpably evident that the Romans were the executioners, the authors--trembling under Rome's cruel might--managed to switch responsibility for the crime onto a few Jews. They did it so successfully that the wholly unjustified libel persists and poisons to this day.

Recent headlines made this chilling, clear. Bones that turned up in a Jerusalem tomb last fall were identified as those of Caiaphas, who, screamed the headlines, was the "Priest Who Judged Jesus."

In fact, as we shall see, there never was a trial before the Sanhedrin; nor was there a Jewish mob that demanded Jesus' crucifixion and swayed Pontius Pilate. The gospel accounts, inconsistent with each other and implausible to the critical eye, were written down long after the event and depict it in a way that couldn't have happened.

Even supposing it had, however, does the behavior of a few individual Jews in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago morally exculpate Christians who ever since have blamed all Jews, everywhere and for all time, for deicide? Does it justify Christians who for two millennia have read the gospel stories and, inflamed by them, have loathed, humiliated, vilified, persecuted, tortured, and slaughtered Jews? Does it exonerate Christians for the vicious, relentless religious hatred of Jews which ultimately, inevitably, exploded into the Holocaust?

For that is, irrefutably, the sequence. Hitler, born and raised a Christian in a predominantly Christian nation, complacently remarked to the Bishop of Osnabruch (one of many German Christians who welcomed his rise to power) that he was "only doing what the church has done for 15 centuries but doing it more efficiently."

The one difference is that Hitler vowed to exterminate Jews altogether. The church generally favored keeping a remnant alive, miserable, and degraded, their wretched condition being, as Pascal reverently put it, "a great proof of the religion . . . [their suffering) being necessary for the proof of Jesus Christ, both that they subsist as proof and that they be wretched, because they crucified him."

The truth, even as written in the gospels, is that the Jews did not crucify Jesus; the Romans did. The vital truth, which a handful of Christians now acknowledge and hundreds of millions do not, is that there never was a trial before the Sanhedrin. The gospel tales describe an event which never happened at all and yet spawned 19 centuries of Jewish agony and destruction and the Christian anti-Semitism that is alive and well today.

Scholars began to figure out 200 years ago that the gospels, though moving propaganda, are unreliable history. The wholly supposititious trial of Jesus before the Sanhedrin is, points out Pierre van Paassen in Why Jesus Died, "pure fabrication, causing its utter rejection as unhistorical and untrue by a long and impressive line of savants from Reimarus and Strauss to Loisy, Guignebert and Eysinga."

Add to these pioneers a few post, Holocaust Christian theologians who have owned up to the terrible fact of the their religion's direct responsibility for it. But, as the newspaper piece all too plainly attests, the gospels are generally accepted to this day.

How did this monstrous injustice come about? How could it?

We know that the authors of Matthew, Mark, and Luke--the Synoptic gospels which drew on a common source--were not written down until well after Paul had reshaped an obscure Jewish sect and transformed its hero into the kind of dying and resurrected savior-redeemer god which was popular at that time and place. As more pagans converted, they brought with them such additional pagan elements as divine impregnation and virgin birth, which had not occurred to Paul, and the mother goddess who had been worshipped in those parts for millennia. The human Jesus tried and convicted by the Romans for "stirring up the people" had been transmogrified into a codivinity by then.

When the first gospels were cobbled together, Rome's iron rule gripped the land. Christians dared not offend it. Therefore, they had to transfer the guilt for what to them was deicide somewhere else. Meanwhile, Jews and Christians had split widely and often rancorously apart, and at the same time myths had sprung up around Jesus' life and death (just as today the credulous are told that Elvis is alive and Princess Grace's ghost haunts Monaco). Jews were a handy scapegoat. So the gospels made them the deicides, the Christ killers, all of them and all of their descendants forever accursed. In the words of the Reverend James Parkes:

In our own day, and within our

own civilization, more than six

million deliberate murders are the

consequence of the teachings

about Jews for which the Christian

church is ultimately responsible,

and of an attitude to Judaism

which is not only maintained

by all the Christian Churches, but

has its ultimate resting place in

the teaching of the New Testament

itself. It is responsible as well for at least as many murders (probably more) perpetrated century after century before the Holocaust.

Christian anti-Semitism arises in St. Paul, the earliest Christian writer. (He claimed to be a Jew and even a pharisee but, as Hyam Maccoby has persuasively argued, was more probably a non-Jew who converted and became disaffected.) It infects the first three gospels, especially the passage in Matthew in which Jews accept blood guilt in perpetuity, and permeates the fourth gospel, attributed to John, whose author (whoever he was) was obviously not a Jew.

Neither Paul nor the gospel writers, no matter now anti-Semitic, could have conceivably foreseen the devastating consequences of their writings. As van Paassen observes:

The New Testament story is not

pure invention. The gospel writers

are not frauds. But they are

not historians either. The accounts

they give are not historic

facts. The gospels we know are

half-myth, half-fact, creedal affirmations,

allegories, liturgical

citations and material for edification

of the faithful in which elements

and fragments of objective,

historic truth are mixed with embellishments,

miracles, fantasy,

and mythology.

A few Christian scholars have belatedly conceded what Jews have always known: the narratives of the trial and condemnation before Caiaphas are entirely false. Whatever happened to Jesus 1,960 years ago, it wasn't what the gospels describe.

For instance, the caricature of pharisees, which is part and parcel of Christian myth--and Christian anti-Semitism --is unjust. Their mercy, their flexibility in stretching the law to protect the accused, were well known. They so abhorred capital punishment that the Sanhedrin which sat for 70 years and condemned only two people to death is known as "the bloody Sanhedrin"

The Sanhedrin met on Tuesdays and Thursdays after attending services at the temple. It would not have met before then, as occurs in the gospels, nor would it have met on the day after Pesach, even at a later hour.

Sentence was never passed on the same day that guilt was found.

Jesus, a Jew himself and perhaps a pharisee, could not have believed he was divine, co-equal with God, nor that his mother had been miraculously impregnated. This would indeed have been blasphemous. If he did come to see him, self as a messiah, it would have been in the Jewish sense of a great human leader come to rectify life on earth. There were a number of such men; they were well within Jewish tradition.

Jesus is said to have been arrested early in the morning and led to his death three hours later. We are asked to believe that, in that short time, Jesus was tried before Caiaphas, then before Pilate, then before Herod, and finally before Pilate again. Four trials in three hours?

Pontius Pilate was a brutal, despotic official even by Roman standards. He loathed Jews. Why would he have cared about a religious offense by one Jew against other Jews? Weddig Fricke, a German Christian lawyer who has analyzed the court martial from his legal perspective, concludes:

It is absurd to believe that a man

known for his stubbornness, who,

furthermore, looked down on the

Jews with utter contempt . . .

would have let himself be influenced

by of all things a mob in

front of his residence or would

have felt compelled to pronounce

a death sentence against his will. Furthermore, there is no record that it was customary to release a prisoner on Pesach.

Nor would Jews have clamored for crucifixion. They regarded it as a barbarous Roman procedure, altogether repellent to Jews.

A few courageous Christians, with rare integrity, have mournfully confessed to Christian culpability and Jewish innocence. Hundreds of millions, though, still rehearse the trial scene and blood curse annually during Holy Week and believe every word. The pope himself, a product of virulently anti-Semitic Polish Catholicism, has tepidly allowed that anti-Semitism isn't terribly nice. But he hasn't denounced it with anything like the fervor he has directed against loving marital sex. He has not recognized Israel. Nor, unlike the great and unique Pope John XXIII, has he so much as mentioned Christian guilt for nearly 2,000 years of unjustified abominations against the Jews.

Most Christian clerics are complacent or worse. John Cardinal O'Connor observed (in Israel, of all unseemly places) that the Holocaust "may be an enormous gift that Judaism has given the world." Far too many Protestants would still agree with the fundamentalist who wrote: "I am convinced God used Hitler to satisfy his judgment upon disobedient Jews, just as he used pagan governments hundreds of years ago [sic) to punish Israel."

In sum: if Jesus had been hauled before the Sanhedrin, which he wasn't; and if Caiaphas had condemned him for blasphemy, which he didn't, since (a) Jesus wasn't there and (b) he hadn't blasphemed; then Caiaphas still would not have delivered Jesus over for crucifixion, since this was something no Jew would abet. But even if these impossible things had occurred, would the infamous Pontius Pilate have bothered himself about a transgression against Jewish belief? And even if a Jewish mob had been there outside Pilate's house (which is unlikely) and clamored for Jesus' crucifixion (which is unthinkable), it is truly beyond belief that Pilate would have given in to them.

The whole story is a pious, concocted fiction.

Right now, America's militant Christian right--a peculiar miscegenation between fundamentalist Protestants and ultraconservative Catholics--claim moral ground so high that they think it entitles them to trash the First Amendment. They trumpet "traditional values," which for them and the politicians who kowtow to them means their own sectarian convictions.

The Caiaphas myth's survival shows that the most ancient, deep-rooted, ineradicable, and persistent traditional value of all is Christian anti-Semitism.

Caiaphas did not condemn Jesus for blasphemy or anything else. Pilate condemned him for sedition.

God did not visit fury and destruction upon Jews throughout Christian history. Individual Christians did.

Until Christianity purges itself of this toxic moral deformity--if it can--it can never have moral or ethical credibility.

Christians have continuous blots on their gory escutcheon. It is now up to them to set the record straight. Better late--19 centuries and millions of murders late--than never.

Betty McCollister is a freelance writer residing in Iowa City, Iowa. A former member of the board of directors of the American Humanist Association, she has six children and 15 grandchildren and is particularly interested in evolution, church-state separation, and women's issues.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Jews historically scapegoated
Author:McCollister, Betty
Publication:The Humanist
Article Type:Column
Date:Jul 1, 1993
Previous Article:Cults and cops.
Next Article:Church-state separation still endangered.

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