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Who is responsible for Jesus' death?

This question is at the very center of the Judeo-Christian controversy. It is at the origin of the accusation of "deicide" (Jesus being of divine nature, by killing him, the Jews killed God, which is the most abominable crime).

We see the importance of clarifying this issue in the context of Jewish-Christian dialogue. It was with Calvin in the sixteenth century that, in Christianity, the accusation of "deicide" began to be questioned. Calvin writes that talking about deicide is an absurdity since God is immortal, he cannot be killed. Moreover, he adds, it was all men who, by their sins, led Jesus to the cross; they are therefore just as guilty as the Jews in this regard.

This theological approach that the cross was part of God's plan and therefore every human being has a share of responsibility for Jesus' death has gradually spread to the whole of Protestantism, and since Vatican 2, a large part of the Roman Church. Nevertheless, it is not on this level that we will place ourselves in this study, but in a historical and exegetical perspective, and we will ask ourselves : what really happened?

Jesus' success with the people

During the last Passover, Jesus' popularity reached its zenith, especially after the resurrection of Lazarus.

According to Jewish tradition, in fact, one of the signs that the true Messiah must give to prove his true messianity is to raise the dead, which Jesus had done. In addition, the expulsion of the merchants of the Temple had rallied him the small people exasperated by the "pious racket" exercised by the high priests who owned the monopoly of the trade that took place around the Temple (sale of animals for sacrifices, exchange of currencies ...) and who took on these operations huge commissions.

Thus, the sources of the time tell us that Caiaphas had increased tenfold the price of a pair of pigeons that were the offering of the poor, thus preventing them from offering sacrifices.

This popularity of Jesus appears through different texts, for example in the parable of the bad winegrowers that Jesus assimilates to the high priests, whom he thus designates prophetically responsible for his death and who, therefore, seek to make him die. But, the text says, "They feared the crowd, for they held Jesus to be a prophet."

It is especially in the two versions of the session of a part of the Sanhedrin that this popularity of Jesus appears the most. At the beginning of the two accounts of the Passion according to Matthew and Mark, this convocation of the Sanhedrin is evoked:

"They resolved to seize Jesus by cunning and make him die. However, they said , "Not in the middle of the party, so that there would be no riot among the people". (Matthew 26 v.4-5, Mark 14 v.2 and Luke 22 v.2)

In other words, the high priests aware of Jesus' popularity feared that if they arrested Jesus openly, the crowd would start a riot to deliver Jesus.

This is also what appears in the text of John 11 v.47 to 51, where Caiaphas declares about Jesus: "If we let him do it, all the people will believe in Him". All the people of Israel may be saying a lot, but most of them certainly.

Jesus and the Death of the Prophets

On his last trip to Jerusalem, Jesus came there as a "prophet of destruction." Like the prophets who had preceded him, especially Jeremiah, he had come to announce the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, which led him to clash head-on with the leaders of the Temple: the priests.

Scripture often evokes the conflict between prophets and priests, especially through the tragic figure of Jeremiah.

Also, in Jesus' day, the fate of the prophets was considered a tragic fate and the theme of the death of the prophets was omnipresent in the literature of the time (see the texts of Qumran).

By coming to Jerusalem, invested with this prophetic mission, Jesus knows that he will know this tragic fate, like his predecessors. He will prophesy against the corrupt "establishment" of the Temple, as the prophet of the destruction and return of the people to the end time.

Since the Messiah is a prophet, his tragic death would not have seemed strange to the people. The idea of the suffering Messiah is already found in the prophets and until today, in Orthodox Judaism, the Messiah son of Joseph must die tragically.

The Plot of the High Priests

If Jesus had been put to death in a riot or even, like Stephen, by stoning, his opponents would not have put an end to this messianic claim: the people could have continued to believe that he was the Messiah. To ruin Jesus' messianic claims, his opponents devised a truly evil means: to put Jesus to death by crucifixion.

Now, the cross is likened to a hanging and in Deuteronomy 21 v.22 it is written "Cursed whoever is hanged in the wood". From then on, it was enough to present to the people his crucified Messiah so that they would realize that they had made a mistake, since the "Messiah" had been rejected and cursed by God. It is in this sense that to the Corinthians Paul speaks of the fact that the cross is a scandal for the Jews. The total success of the plan of the high priests appears, especially in the reflection of the two disciples of Emmaus who declare to Jesus (whom they have not yet recognized): "Our chief priests and our leaders delivered him to be condemned to death and crucified him. WE WOULD HOPE THAT IT WOULD BE HE WHO WOULD DELIVER ISRAEL... "

In other words, since we saw him crucified, we know that we were wrong, that our hope was unfounded, that he is not the liberator of Israel, therefore the Messiah (Luke 24 v.20-21).

What will change everything for these two disciples and for the others and even Saul of Tarsus is the vision of the risen one. The primary meaning of Jesus' resurrection is that God justifies it and declares, by this means, null and void the curse of the cross under which it was tried to be placed. Moreover, the resurrection is proof that the crucified of Golgotha is indeed the Messiah! (Romans 1 v.4; Acts 2 v.36). This is why the resurrection is the very center of the gospel as Paul recalls in 1 Corinthians 15.

But to put Jesus on the cross, his opponents needed the collaboration of the Romans: the cross was never a Jewish torture but a Roman torture. Stricto sensu, it is therefore wrong to say that the Jews crucified Jesus; it was the Romans who did it, even if, as the disciples of Emmaus recall, Jewish leaders delivered it to them.

La Passion

To make Jesus disappear without the knowledge of the crowd who, let us remember, was favorable to him, a traitor was needed. The latter was Judas Iscariot.

In John 18 v.3, we read "Judas took the cohort and the guards sent by the high priests. "The mention of a cohort is interesting; a cohort was a unit of the Roman army. Verse 12 states that it was commanded by a tribune, a senior officer in the Roman army. That a senior officer travels in person for a simple defendant, it shows the enormity of the Roman involvement in the death of Jesus.

Calling oneself the Messiah was never a crime for the Jews. Jewish history has hundreds of false messiahs; none of them were ever crucified for this, not even put to death. But, if calling oneself Messiah was not a crime for the Jews, it was for the Romans! For them, a messiah pretender was a rebel against the Roman authority he sought to overthrow. The high priests managed to persuade Pilate that Jesus was a dangerous agitator, rebel against Roman authority and therefore a danger to them.

It is as "King of the Jews", as specified in the "titulum" placed above the cross, that Jesus will be put to death by the Romans: to call himself "King of the Jews" was a crime for them...

L'os du talon d'un crucifié du 1er siècle, découvert à Jérusalem en 1968

Was there a session of the Sanhedrin to judge Jesus?

Yes, after a prior night instruction before the high priests, according to Jewish law, the Sanhedrin could not gather to pronounce a death sentence until the morning had come.

This session of the Sanhedrin was reduced to the accomplices of the high priests. Other texts tell us that neither Gamaliel nor Joseph of Arimathea, nor Nicodemus participated.

After a religious trial, it is finally before Pilate that everything will play out. The latter is actually taken aback by this prisoner who is brought to him. After questioning him, he realizes that this is not the dangerous agitator he has been presented with and that Jesus is not a danger to Rome.

According to rabbinical sources, from time to time the Romans released a prisoner. Pilate, portrayed by the historian Flavius Josephus as a cruel, weak and superstitious being, had already, according to the latter, abandoned several of his projects because of the opposition of the Jews. Faced with Jesus, he has a problem: he must free a prisoner.

In prison is another messiah candidate, because according to Flavius Josephus, all the riots that broke out during the Passover were messianic riots.

This man was called Barabas, which means in Aramaic "son of the father". It was probably a nickname that testified to his messianic pretensions. Pilate will seek to free the least dangerous of these two prisoners. For him, there is no doubt, the least dangerous is Jesus. But the crowd of high priests and their servants who form the three or four hundred people that could contain the courtroom, according to the excavations of the Ladies of Zion, oppose this liberation.

It should be clarified that this crowd is by no means the same one that shouted "Hosanna" on Palm Day, as a certain Christian apologetics wants. This crowd had been carefully kept away from this famous courtroom because, as the high priests had clearly seen, in Matthew 26 v.5, this crowd would have opposed, if necessary by violence, the killing of Jesus.

According to Luke 23 v.27 and 35, a part of this crowd that had come to be aware of what was going on, had accompanied Jesus to his torment and contemplated his agony in the deepest disarray.

As for the other crowd, that of the valets and the high priests, Matthew in chapter 27 v.25 puts in his mouth this sentence "Let his blood be upon us and our children".

According to Christian anti-Semitism, this cry would have been the cause of all the misfortunes of the Jewish people to this day. But this is not the case, it is a question here in all and for all of two generations: the generation of Jesus' contemporaries and that of their children, that is to say those who will see 40 years later the ruin of Jerusalem and all the misfortunes that will accompany it.

This is the same thought we find in Luke 23:28 where Jesus declares to the "daughters of Jerusalem" who had accompanied him to the torment and who lamented about Him:

"Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep over me, but weep over you and your children... for if we do this to green wood, what will happen to dry wood? "

The green wood, in the mentality of the time, designated the Messiah. In other words, Jesus declares, "If we do this to the Messiah, what will we not do to the people of the Messiah (the dry wood)?

It is therefore a final prophecy of Jesus about the ruin of Jerusalem: the tragic fate of Jesus today is a sign of what the people of Jerusalem will suffer a generation later (the children of the daughters of Jerusalem, when the city will be destroyed by the Romans).

There is therefore solidarity between the Messiah and his people. Jesus states this terrible prophecy not as a judgment on the so-called unbelief of the Jewish people who would have rejected it and therefore suffer the consequences, but as a statement of the cruelty of the Romans who, in the end, will spare no one.

This is how Jesus, to the great consternation and disapproval of the majority of the people of Jerusalem, will be put to death by the Romans, finally not unhappy to get rid of someone who, in the long run, could have become embarrassing for them, with the complicity of the high priests, jealous of the popularity of Jesus.

The royal parody of which Jesus is the object of his executioners is nothing but a manifestation of Roman anti-Semitism. The inscription on the cross "The King of the Jews" is one such manifestation: it makes a mockery of Jewish messianic hopes. The leaders of the people are not mistaken and demand that Pilate modify it. The latter refuses with contempt and disdain, manifesting his true feelings towards the people he governs.

A few decades later, in Alexandria, a false messiah is apprehended, dressed in a royal costume and presented to the people by the prefect in the same terms as Pilate had done for Jesus: "Behold the man".

The Romans were afraid of the true messiah and mocked the false messiahs to exorcise this fear. This is how Jesus dies, before being resurrected on the third day, proving that he is the true Messiah.

The Testimony of the Apostles

Sometimes, especially in epistles and Acts, there are accusations that suggest that the apostles incriminate the people of Israel for jesus' death (for example, in Acts 3:17 etc.).

To be faithful to their master, his disciples had to denounce the iniquitous aspect of his death, while specifying "You acted out of ignorance, as well as your leaders". elsewhere, they also say that Jesus was delivered according to God's foreknowledge.

This is an internal protest of the people of Israel, which unfortunately the non-Jews have taken up to blame Israel, forgetting Paul's warning in Romans 11, recommending that non-Jews remain silent and fearful spectators of the dispute between God and part of his people (Romans 11:20-21).

It should be noted that this type of accusation is found within the Jewish literature of the time. Thus, the fifth book of Ezra is very the Jews, as are the texts of Qumran. In the controversy of the time, we did not give each other a gift!


Who, then, is responsible for Jesus' death?

Surely not the Jewish people, not even the Jewish people of the time, who in their great majority were committed to the cause of Jesus. To get rid of Him, in the jealousy that was theirs, the leaders of the people, essentially the Sadducean high priests, "patrons" of the Temple had to appeal to the intervention of the Romans and Pilate who, after hesitating, finally recognized that the movement of Jesus could eventually be a danger for Rome.

A plot to put an end to the messianic claims of Jesus and his disciples was concocted by mutual agreement between the high priests and the Romans fully complicit in this affair, consisting in crucifying Jesus to place him under the curse, according to Deuteronomy 21 v.22.

This, in fact, discredited in the eyes of the people the messianic claims of Jesus, but until the last moment, the people "hoped that it would be He who would deliver Israel."

The Jewish people cannot therefore in any way be responsible for what happened in Golgotha. It is a drama that took place to his defending body and of which he is entirely innocent, apart from a handful of corrupt high priests and collaborators sold to the Romans.

This is the historical truth, even if it challenges preconceived ideas!

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