If Jesus is not a mythical figure—and it has never been suggested that he appeared physically after the first half of the first century A.D.—it follows that we must seek his historical identity in an earlier century. In this quest it is possible to follow two paths, one a documentary trail that includes the Bible, the teaching of the early Christian Church and Jewish literature; the other the mass of evidence available today about Egyptian history as a result of the work in recent times of explorers and, in particular, archaeologists and scientists.
A convenient starting point on the documentary trail is the Dead Sea Scrolls, the remains of the library of the Essenes, a secret Jewish sect that separated itself from the Jewish community at large and from the Jerusalem priesthood, whose beliefs and teachings they regarded as false. Some of the manuscripts, found in a series of caves at Qumran early in 1947, were in Hebrew and Aramaic, the vernacular language of Judaea at the time the Christian era began, and some in Greek, have been dated between 200 B.C. and a.d. 50 and include biblical and sectarian texts. They include also Jewish literature and other documents.
As the scrolls came from the Holy Land and covered the period before and after the years when Jesus is generally accepted to have lived, it was widely hoped that they would provide firsthand evidence to support the gospel stories and shed new light on Jewish and Christian history. Far from confirming accepted ideas about the origins of orthodox Christianity, however, the texts contradict them. They provide positive witness to a Savior and a Christian Church that predates the accepted start of the Christian era by at least two centuries.
The Messianic leader of the Essenes was named simply "The Teacher of Righteousness," who, like Jesus, had met a violent end at an unspecified time in the past, in his case at the hands of someone referred to as "The Wicked Priest." As texts of the scrolls began to be published, scholars became divided about their significance. One school disclaimed any serious link between the Essene community and the early Christian Church, the other saw the Essenes as the earliest Christians. For instance, W. F. Albright, one of the most highly qualified American Orientalists, who had himself carried out a great deal of archaeological work in the Holy Land, has been quoted as saying: "The new evidence . . . bids fair to revolutionize our approach to the beginnings of Christianity."* Dr. J. L. Teicher, himself a Jew and a distinguished Cambridge scholar, went so far as to argue that the Dead Sea manuscripts "are quite simply Christian documents." Although the manuscripts come from as early as 200 B.C. he also maintained that the leader of the Essenes, the Teacher of Righteousness, was none other than Jesus Christ himself.
The French scholar Andre Dupont-Sommer, after reading one of the scrolls, the Commentary on Habakkuk, came to the conclusion that Jesus now seemed an "astonishing reincarnation of the Teacher of Righteousness." Like Jesus, he said, the Teacher was believed by his disciples to be God's Elect, the Messiah, the Redeemer of the world. Both were opposed by the priesthood; both were condemned and put to death; both proclaimed judgment on Jerusalem; both established communities whose members expected them to return to judge the world.
The significance of the scrolls received fresh impetus when the biblical scholar Hershel Shanks published a fragment in his Washington-based magazines Biblical Archaeological Review and Bible Review in 1990. This fragment reads: "He shall be great upon the earth ... he shall be called the Son of God and they shall call him the Son of the Most High." The intriguing aspect of this fragment is the uncanny resemblance to the account of the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary that we find in the first chapter of St. Luke's gospel: "He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest . . . that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God" (1:32, 35).
The very name "Essenes" indicates that they were followers of Jesus. Philo Judaeus, who wrote the earliest account of the sect around A.D. 30,
*The Jewish Sect of Qumran and the Essenes, Andre Dupont-Sommer, London, 1954, p. 150.
called them Essaeans from the Greek Essaios but made it clear that this was not originally a Greek word. Josephus, who, half a century later, included them among the Jews of his time, called them Essenes, the same term that is used in English. However, it was recognized that the word "Essene" must have had a Semitic origin. Surprisingly, amid many unsatisfactory suggestions about its source, the obvious one was overlooked—Essa, the Arabic name for Jesus and the name for him used in the Koran. Essaiois would therefore mean "a follower of Essa." This meaning may in itself have been the main reason for its having been ignored: if the Essenes existed before the dates given in the gospels for the life of Jesus, they could not be looked upon by the early Church as his followers.
The Reverend Joseph Bingham, a seventeenth-century Presbyter of the Church of England, confirms that this name was one of the names of the early Christians: "When Christianity was first planted in the world, they who embraced it were commonly known among themselves by the names of disciples, believers, elect, saints, and brethren, before they assumed the titles and appellation of Christians. Epiphanius says they were also called Iessaioi, Jesseans, . . . from the name of the Lord Jesus. (Origines Ecclesiasticae; or, The Antiquities of the Christian Church, The Works of Rev. Joseph Bingham, v. 1, Oxford, 1855, p. 1).
The Essenes (Judaeo-Christians) were not, however, the only followers of Jesus who were flourishing at the start of the Christian era. Another group of sects, sharing many of their beliefs, were the Gnostics (Gentile-Christians), later to be persecuted and wiped out because of their opposition to the Church of Rome's organized form of orthodox Christianity that developed in the first four centuries A.D. Until the end of the Second World War we had to rely almost entirely on their enemies for knowledge of the Gnostics. This situation changed with the discovery in 1945, two years before the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, of the remains of the Gnostic library that had been hidden in a cave at Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt. In all there were 52 manuscripts in Coptic, the liturgical language of Egyptian Christians that was written using the Greek alphabet. Among several previously unknown gospels was the Gospel of Thomas, which contained 114 sayings attributed to Jesus and which has since been established as probably predating the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
The Gnostic writings make it clear that they believed Jesus had lived a long time in the past and that many of them were awaiting his Second Coming. It is also clear that they looked upon themselves as the true interpreters of Christianity. In the Nag Hammadi gospels, no date or place is given for the birth of Jesus. Although he is described as a Nazarene, no mention is made in these gospels of such locations as Nazareth, Galilee, Bethlehem or even Jerusalem. None of the appearances of Jesus reported in these writings represents a historical physical appearance; he always appears to his disciples as a spiritual being, although in different forms. Characters of the New Testament gospels, such as Joseph husband of Mary, Joseph of Arimathea, John the Baptist, Caiaphas the high priest of Jerusalem, King Herod and Pontius Pilate the Roman governor of Palestine, are not found in the gospels of Nag Hammadi. And although no specific time is given for his earlier historical life, the indication is that it was not in the immediate past.
The Christian Gnostic sects, in their turn, developed from an earlier group of sects, the ascetic Therapeutae. Our sole authority for the history of the Therapeutae is the philosopher Philo Judaeus, who lived at the time of the events narrated in the gospels and died in the middle of the first century A.D. We know from his work that the Therapeutae shared many characteristics with both the Gnostics and the Essenes although they differed—particularly from the latter—on a number of important points. In his account of The Contemplative Life, the most important of all his works, Philo records that, like the Gnostics, the Therapeutae sect "is to be found in many parts of the civilized world (the Roman Empire) . . . But it is numerous in Egypt throughout each of the districts called nomes, and particularly around Alexandria." Eusebius, the outstanding theologian of the third century A.D. and the "father of Church history," regarded the Therapeutae as the first Christian Church in Egypt.*
The writings of the prophet Isaiah (Esais)** take us back several more centuries. Isaiah lived during the second half of the eighth century B.C., but biblical scholars have come to the conclusion that the Book of Isaiah had at least two authors, Isaiah (I) (Chapters 1-39) and Isaiah (II), and possibly a third, who penned the last eleven chapters, which have been dated to the second half of the sixth century B.C.
The dominant role given to Jesus in the gospels is that of someone sent by God as a light to the nations and a Redeemer, who is to suffer and be sacrificed like a lamb to wipe out the sins of his transgressing people. Such a figure is found in the Suffering Servant, described in the Songs of Isaiah
*These sects and their significance are examined in greater detail in the third section of this book, which deals with events that followed the dawn of the Christian era.
that form part of Isaiah (II): "All we like sheep have gone astray . . . and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all . . . he was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb ... he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. And he made his grave with the wicked (the sense is that he had his grave made for him by the wicked), and with the rich (among kings and nobles) in his death . . ." (53:6-9).
Isaiah was the first Israelite prophet to present the Suffering Servant (Christ) as the divinely appointed Savior. Hitherto the Hebrew Savior was expected to be the victorious son of David, a living king who would defeat the nation's enemies, and the Israelites believed that life came to an end when a person went to Sheol, the underworld or grave. The account of the Servant in the Songs of Isaiah, however, presents us for the first time in the Old Testament with the idea of a second life although it is presented only for the Servant, not for those who believe in him. The rising of the Servant from the dead is very clear in the words that follow the above passage: "he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his righteousness shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities ... he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death ... he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors" (53:10-12).
Fluctuations of tenses are common in Isaiah. This arises because Hebrew does not have tenses (old forms of Semitic languages used only one form of a verb and indicated time separately), and whether Isaiah is writing about the past, present or future depends upon what interpretation the translator put into his words. The death of the Servant, the divinely appointed Savior, is clearly in this passage an event that has already taken place and, although we must assume from the manner of his report that Isaiah accepted the truth of what he was saying, the belief in life after death can only have originated with the Servant himself. Isaiah could not have invented it.
The Songs of Isaiah were written at a disastrous time for the Israelites. The Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem in 587 B.C. and brought the Jewish kingdom to an end. Most of its population became exiled in Babylon, a situation that continued until 538 B.C. when the Persian king, Cyrus, defeated Babylonia, freed the Jews and allowed them to rebuild the Jerusalem temple. Isaiah (II) represented the Israelite defeat and humiliation as a punishment by God for a crime committed a long time previously.
Isaiah's Suffering Servant is to be found in the New Testament as well as in the work of the prophet himself. In Acts, for example, when an Ethiopian eunuch, after a visit to Jerusalem, asks one of the apostles, Philip, who was meant by the Servant, "Philip . . . preached unto him Jesus" (8:35). Again, Peter, in his first epistle, does not give any hint about his personal relation with Christ or about his life, teaching or death, but simply repeats the part of the Songs of Isaiah that relates to the Servant: "Christ . . . Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: Who his own self bare our own sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. For ye were as sheep going astray ..." (2:21-25).
Luke, in his account of Jesus reading in the synagogue, has Jesus himself quoting Isaiah: "And when he had opened the book [of the prophet Isaiah] he found the place where it was written. The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord" (Luke 4:17-19). Insertion of the word "anointed" in this use of the original Isaiah quotation is significant because there is no other reference in the gospels to Jesus having been anointed, a completely different rite, with different implications, from baptism. Its use here, together with Jesus having been identified in the opening verse of Matthew as "Jesus Christ, the son of David" and being addressed frequently as "son of David" by ordinary people, provides a strong indication that the historical Christ was of royal descent.
Yet again, John, after using a reference to Isaiah to report some of the activities of Jesus, goes on to say in his gospel: "These things said Esaias (Isaiah), when he saw his glory, and spake of him" (John 12:41). Here the evangelist is saying that the prophet Isaiah, who lived several centuries before the start of the Christian era, saw the glory of Christ and spoke of him. This indicates that Isaiah, like St. Paul on the road to Damascus later, had an encounter with the spiritual Christ.
To reconcile such texts with the gospel story of the life of Jesus in the first century A.D. the early Church Fathers put forward the explanation that Jesus must have been a spiritual, preexistent Christ, not to be confused with the Jesus of the New Testament. This explanation has been accepted by many modern scholars. However, the evidence we have examined so far—with more to follow—suggests that we are not dealing here with a spiritual, "pre-existent" Christ, but that Jesus himself lived many centuries earlier and believers were wont to experience some kind of spiritual encounter with him. This is clear from Paul's account of his own experience in the first century A.D.: "I conferred not with flesh and blood" (Galatians 1:16). In the same way, John is quoted above as saying that Isaiah saw the "glory" of Jesus. The "glory" of Christ indicates an eternal spiritual character, for Jesus is said to have achieved "glory" only after his death and resurrection: "God, that raised him up from the dead and gave him glory ..." (I Peter 1:21), and again: "the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow" (I Peter 1:11).
There are also strong indications in the New Testament that the historical Jesus was present with the Israelites in the wilderness of Sinai. Paul makes this clear in another of his letters, his first epistle to the Corinthians: "Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; And did all eat the same spiritual meat; And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ" (I Corinthians 10:1-4). This left no doubt in the minds of biblical scholars about what Paul was trying to say: "It is much more likely that Paul here means that the Rock really was Christ . . . That is to say, he believed that the Messiah was in some form present with the people during this critical period in the wilderness . . . " (Jesus in the Old Testament, Anthony T. Hanson, the former Professor of Theology at Hull University).
The idea of the presence of Jesus with the Israelites in the Sinai wilderness is reinforced by Paul in his epistle to the Hebrews where, after referring to the disobedient Israelites "who left Egypt under Moses," he says: "For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it" (Hebrews 4:2). The point Paul is making here is that the Christian gospel preached in the first century A.D. had been preached before. John also confirms that Jesus was a contemporary of Moses when he quotes Jesus as telling the Jews of Jerusalem: "For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me" (John 5:46). Therefore, Moses, according to John, did not prophesy concerning Jesus but wrote about him in the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament.
The Book of Joshua, which describes his conquest of the Promised Land through a swift military campaign in the thirteenth century B.C., takes us back another five centuries from the time of Isaiah. Although archaeological evidence has made it clear that this account is a work of fiction (as will be explained in detail later), the name Joshua is important.
Greek translators of the Old Testament did not—and their Greek Bible, the Septuagint,* still does not—use the name Joshua, but Jesus. Thus their account of the conquest of the Promised Land appears in The Book of Jesus. Many early Church Fathers of the second and third centuries A.D., too, identified Joshua as Jesus, including Justin Martyr, Irenaeus (Bishop of Lyon), Tertullian, Eusebius (Bishop of Caesarea and "the father of Church history") and Origen, the most brilliant theologian of his time.
For example, Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea, who wrote the history of the early Church, says that Christ and Christianity were older than the appearance of the Church: "both the antiquity and the divine character of Christian origins will be demonstrated to those who imagine them to be recent and outlandish, appearing yesterday for the first time . . . The Holy Spirit Himself says in prophecy: 'His generation who shall declare?' (Isaiah 53:8)" (HE 2). He then goes on to say: "The extreme sanctity and glory of the name Christ was first proclaimed by Moses himself . . . Never yet heard by human ears till it was made known to Moses, the title Jesus was bestowed by him for the first and only time on the man who—again as a pattern and symbol—he knew would after his own death succeeded to the supreme authority. His successor had not hitherto used the designation Jesus . . . but Moses calls him Jesus, conferring the name on him as a priceless honour ... for Joshua the son of Nun himself bore the image of our Saviour, who alone, after Moses and the completion of the symbolic worship given to men by him, succeeded to the authority over the true and most pure religion" (HE 3).
The identification is particularly striking in the case of Origen. Commenting on the passage (Exodus 17:9) where Moses is first mentioned with Joshua, he wrote: "let us observe what instructions Moses gave when war was imminent. It says: 'He said to Jesus'—the King James Bible here gives Joshua with Jesus as a marginal note—'choose for yourself men and go and fight with Amalek** tomorrow.' Up to this point nowhere has there occurred a mention of the blessed man Jesus. Here first the brilliance of this name shone forth." Jesus and Joshua are also linked by various references
*The earliest extant Greek translation of the Old Testament from Hebrew. It was made in Alexandria by 70 Jewish scribes in the third century B.C., during the reign of Ptolemy II. **Amalek was an ancient tribe, enemies of the Israelites, which dwelled in the area south of Judaea extending into northern Arabia.
to the latter in the Pentateuch as the "son of Nun." These are the only references in the Bible to "Nun," a word that means "fish," the traditional symbol of Christ. In fact, Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea, makes it very clear that both the name of Jesus and his looks appear for the first time in the son of Nun, successor to Moses.
The Old Testament does not merely identify Joshua (Jesus) as a contemporary of Moses but as his successor as the leader of the Israelites: "And Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom; for Moses had laid his hands upon him: and the children of Israel hearkened unto him ..." (Deuteronomy 34:9).
In the early centuries of the Christian era, Jesus was the only name to be found in secular works as well as Greek translations of the Old and New Testaments. For example, we find in the 20-volume Antiquities of the Jews by the first century A.D. historian Flavius Josephus, a number of references to Jesus and his relationship with Moses. He writes of "Jesus, the son of Nun" becoming the successor to Moses (Book 3). When Moses was grown old, he says later, he "appointed Jesus for his successor, both to receive directions from God as a prophet, and for a commander of the army" (Book 4). He then goes on to confirm that "Jesus also prophesied while Moses was present" (Book 4).
It was not until the sixteenth century A.D., when a new translation was made of the Masoratic* Hebrew text of the Old Testament, that the English translator—in an attempt, not entirely successful, to resolve problems of biblical chronology— substituted the name Joshua for Jesus whenever he encountered the epithet "son of Nun." The similarity of the names Joshua (Ye-ho-shua in Hebrew) and Jesus (Ye-shua in its short form), both of which have the same meaning, "Yahweh (the Lord) is salvation," must have influenced his choice.
What of the Jews, as they were known after their return from exile in Babylonia? The gospel account describes how Caiaphas, the Jewish high priest, and other chief priests and elders of the time were deeply involved in the accusations against Jesus and his subsequent arrest, trial and condemnation. They are even said to have gone so far as to refuse Pilate's offer to release him for the occasion of the Passover feast, commemorating the liberation of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage, demanding instead the release of another prisoner, Barabbas. In the circumstances, we should expect to find that Jewish literature has kept some memory of him.
*The Masoratic Text Old Testament is the Hebrew text supplied with diacritical marks in the tenth century A.D. to enable correct pronunciation.
Rabbinical Scriptures, which date from the first five centuries A.D., make it clear that the Jews did know Jesus, but did not wish to reveal all that they knew about him. His name, Yeshu, the Hebrew form of the Greek Jesus, is found at least twenty times in the Talmud, the Jewish commentaries and interpretative writings that were written during this time and are looked upon as only second in authority to the Old Testament, although there is a tendency to refer to him as "a certain person" rather than use his name. In some passages he is also named as Balaam or Ben Pandira, "the son of Pandira" (see below). As the Jews disputed the claim that Jesus was the Son of God, they put forward the view that Pandira was a lover, not the husband, of Mary, but they confirm her name: "Miriam (Hebrew for Mary, and identified in an earlier chapter as the same person as Queen Nefertiti) . . . the mother of 'a certain person'" (b. Hag., 4b).
This is only one of many points of agreement between the four gospels and the Talmud and the Midrash, the ancient Jewish commentary on part of the Hebrew Scriptures. At the same time, there are important areas of contradiction, particularly those that may help to establish when Jesus actually lived. To deal first with some of the important areas of agreement:
The Royal Descent of Jesus. Jesus's mother "was the descendant of princes and rulers" (b. Sanh., 106a).
The naming of Jesus as "the son of Pandira" also points to his having been an Egyptian king. As Pandira is not a Hebrew word, various explanations of its origin have been put forward. In fact, the word Pandira is simply a Hebrew form of an ancient Egyptian royal epithet. That the rabbis kept the word without knowing what it means supports its authenticity. The word in Hebrew is Pa-ndi-ra. In Egyptian, its original form, this becomes Pa-ntr-ra—that is, Pa-neter-ra, the god Ra. Son of Ra was an essential title for all Egyptian kings from the time of the builders of the pyramids during the Fourth Dynasty, 27 centuries before the Christian era.
Jesus in Egypt. The Talmud says that Jesus, in his early manhood, was in Egypt where he "practised magic and led astray and deceived Israel" (b. Sanh., 107b).
Condemned to Death by the Priesthood. Although no mention of a trial of Jesus is found in the Talmud, Jewish rabbis accepted that the Nazarene had been executed: "they hanged Jesus (the Nazarene) . . . because he hath practised magic and deceived and led astray Israel" (b. Sanh., 43a).
Jesus Died Young. "Men of blood and deceit shall not live out half their days" (b. Sanh., 106b, quoting Psalm 55:23).
Jesus the King. When Jesus was executed "everyone who passed to and fro said: 'It seems that the king is crucified"' (T. Sanh., 9.7).
Here at last we find Jewish confirmation of many of the essential points in the life of Jesus that are related in the four gospels. Yet the Talmudic rabbis, who compiled the interpretation of Jewish laws as well as legends and commentaries in the early centuries after the supposed date of the life and death of Jesus, would not have relied simply on the Christian traditions of the time, but referred to their previous Jewish authority, both for the details they do not dispute and those they disagree with. One or two points need clarification, however.
In terms of establishing when Jesus actually lived, it is a significant aspect of the Rabbinical writings that at no point do they refer to his execution as having taken place during the reign of Herod or when Caiaphas was high priest, despite the fact that they must have been aware of the account given in the four gospels. Nor do we find any reference within the pages of the Talmud to personalities who lived in the era of Herod, such as John the Baptist.
The Talmud also contradicts the gospels in some essential points concerning Jesus. For instance, if never mentions that he was a Galilean or came from the city of Nazareth. Although it refers to him as being a Nazarene, this is a word (Greek, Nazoraios) used to indicate a religious sect, not a geographical location. This meaning is clear from Acts 24:5 where the Jews address Felix, the Roman procurator, accusing Paul of stirring up trouble among Jews throughout the world and describing him as "a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes." In fact, Paul himself always referred to Jesus as "the Nazarene" and never mentions that he came from Nazareth. Yet, elsewhere in Acts, Nazarene is always translated in the English version of the New Testament as "of Nazareth," which is incorrect and has become a cause of misunderstanding among English readers. The Nazarenes were one of a number of secret Judaeo-Christian sects like the Essenes, and the term "Nazarene" is still the designation given to Christians both by Hebrew Jews and by Muslims to this day. The Semitic word is derived from the root nsr, which means to "guard" or "protect" and indicates "devotee." The existence of the Nazarene sect is confirmed by both classical and Christian historians.
The name Nazareth is not found in the Book of Acts, the letters of the Apostles, any books of the Old Testament, the Talmud or the works of
Josephus, who was himself given command in Galilee at the time of the Jewish revolt against the Romans in a.d. 66. The first time we hear of this location is in the writings of Mark, regarded by scholars as the earliest of the gospel authors. After the section dealing with John the Baptist, we find this verse: "And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan" (1:9). Mark's example was followed by Matthew and Luke.
We have no definite knowledge of when the Gospel of Mark was written, but it is believed by biblical critics to have been about a.d. 75 (because it contains a reference to the destruction of Jerusalem, which happened in A.D. 70). At this time no geographical record of Nazareth exists anywhere. The fact that the gospel of Mark chose to relate the word "Nazarene" to a geographical location rather than a sect was a consequence of his attempt to place the account of the life and death of Jesus in a Roman framework. It was later to have the effect that the location was identified as a place, which was then turned into a place of pilgrimage, but not until the sixth century A.D.
The Cross is identified as the symbol of Christ. The four gospels are consistent in saying that Jesus was crucified: "And they crucified him ..." (Matthew 27:35); "And when they had crucified him . . ." (Mark 15:24); "And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him . . ." (Luke 23:33); "Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus . . . (John 19:23). Paul, too, describes this as the means by which Jesus met his death: "Jesus, whom ye have crucified . . ." (Acts 2:36). This is what one would expect if Jesus had been tried and condemned to death in Roman times. Crucifixion—nailing someone to a cross—was a Roman, not an Israelite, form of execution. The Israelites hanged the condemned person from a tree: "And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death . . . thou hang him on a tree" (Deuteronomy 21:22). This will be elaborated later.
The Talmud, as we saw, refers to Jesus as having been both crucified and hanged. This would appear to be a serious contradiction but for the fact that we find also in the New Testament references to Jesus having been hanged rather than crucified. The account of Jesus's death given by Peter, for instance, reads: "whom they slew and hanged on a tree" (Acts 10:39), and Paul, having in an earlier reference used the term "crucified," is now found declaring: "they took him down from the tree, and laid him in a sepulchre" (Acts 13:29).
Thus, in terms of the words used, it is possible to suggest that there is not necessarily a contradiction between the Talmudic and gospel versions of how Jesus met his death, and that "crucifixion" and "hanging" can be looked upon as synonymous. Later, however, a more positive attempt was made in the gospels to adapt the story of Jesus to the Roman era. John, the most theological and the least historical of the evangelists, added more details that favored the Roman practice of nailing to a cross rather than the Israelite punishment of hanging. These details are to be found in the story of doubting Thomas, who sought physical proof of Christ's resurrection: "he (Thomas) said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe" (John 20:25).
Adapting the story of Jesus to fit into the Roman period has resulted in conflicting accounts not only of how he met his death, but of who was responsible for condemning him—Israelite priests or the Roman authority. However, the rabbis are quite specific about the identity of the man responsible for the death of Jesus: "Pinhas . . . killed him" (b. Sanh., 106b)—and Pinhas has been identified as having the same rare Egyptian name as Panehesy,* chancellor and Chief Servitor of the Aten at Amarna, one of the group of followers who fled with Akhenaten (Moses) when he sought exile in the safety of the Sinai wilderness.
The contradictions between the writings of the rabbis, who denied that Jesus was the Messiah, and the gospel accounts of his life, suffering and death should not be looked upon as anti-Christian propaganda. The authority on which the rabbis relied in compiling the Talmud was the Law of Moses and the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament, which the Jews call the Torah. Their laws did not allow them to make any changes, even of the smallest kind, in the account, although they were free to explain the significance of the older traditions, which had originally been passed orally from generation to generation, and to offer interpretations of obscurities and inconsistencies. They could not have invented the name Ben Pandira or that of Pinhas. Despite confusion resulting from a long oral tradition, the rabbis must have had knowledge of Jesus and his execution through old traditions dating from the time of Moses and Joshua.
*Such differences in names are explained by the fact that we are dealing with three languages— Hebrew, Aramaic and Egyptian.
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