Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Trial of Jesus Christ and The Last Supper

The Blame Game

What is difficult to understand is the two thousand-year-old charge that the Jews are responsible for the death of Jesus.   Only John uses the blanket term Jews to describe the multitude that called for Jesus crucifixion, and only a narrow-minded reader would conclude that an entire race was being indicted.  Of course, the Jews are responsible, but so are the Romans. While the Jews (in Matthew) are perfectly willing to be held responsible, it is important to remember that Matthew was writing for a non-Jewish audience.  Did the Jews really curse themselves for Jesus' death, or was Matthew attempting to solidify Christianity as a gentile religion by depicting the Jews as villains?   And what of the Romans?  As reluctant as Pilate appears to be, he had the power not to crucify Jesus.  Caving in to the multitude in order to maintain the peace is not a defense.  Besides, Jesus would only be one more Jewish threat of so many that would have to be silenced by the cruel Roman mechanism of crucifixion.

Last Supper close-up
Crucifixion, painting
Perhaps most importantly, Jesus is the principal cause of his own death, and, if one reads closely, the Gospels tell us that fact. After all, the inevitability of the story is controlled by Jesus goal of fulfilling Old Testament prophecies, as well as his own predictions about his fate.   He did nothing to stop the accelerating events that would lead him to his death.  This raises the interesting question:  Was Jesus fulfilling the prophecies about the Messiah, or did Jesus behave in such a way so that his actions would match the prophecies?  For the purpose of understanding his trial, the distinction is unimportant.  It only matters as a question of theology, in that Jesus was directed by God, or fulfilling Gods word.

The blame-game involving the Jews begins with Matthew (His blood be on us, and on our children), but was put into motion some thirty or forty years earlier with the letters of Paul.   Pauls characterization of Christianity as an essentially gentile religion began the separation of Jews and non-Jews.  This is in contrast to the Apostle Peter --- and indeed Jesus himself --- who thought of the teachings of Jesus as a positive elaboration of Jewish teachings.

Last Temptation of Christ
Last Temptation of Christ
Sooner or later, one has to face the issue of whether or not Jesus was guilty.  Many, many books and articles have been written to exonerate Jesus, seeking to prove the illegitimacy of the trial and its verdict.  For these writers, it is important that Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God, remain innocent.  Some point to the issue that Jesus was interrogated at night, and during Passover, both being against Jewish law.  Others point out that messiahs before Jesus had not been executed, so that the cruel and ultimate punishment was unwarranted.  Many of these accounts are very meticulous in their arguments, and exhaustive in their approaches.  An example of this is a two-volume work by Chandler, one volume being a review of Jewish law, the other of Roman law.

The details of jurisprudence are, in terms of guilt or innocence, irrelevant, since building a case for an appeal of the verdict and sentence is a pointless activity.  It was a political trial, and Jesus had to be silenced in order for the High Priests to retain their political power, and for the Romans to maintain the peace.  The charges of heresy (destroying the Temple, reinterpreting strict Jewish religious law) and sedition (claiming to be King of the Jews) are pretenses to carry out what the Jews felt must be done, and what the Romans, represented by Pilate, had to do to quiet the enraged multitude.

The Crucifixion of Jesus Christ