The Political Imperatives for the Inaccuracies of the Gospels
By the time the Gospels were completed it was almost the end of the first century of the Common Era. Nearly seventy years after Jesus’ death. Fierce rivalries existed between the Jews and the members of what was now know as Pauline Christians. The young churches of Paul also tried to distance themselves politically from the Jews because of the continuing distrust of the latter by the Roman Empire who still had fresh memories of the Jewish revolt some thirty years before. The battle was on for who represented the “true Israel”.
This segregation necessitated the political motive behind the hostility towards the Jews exhibited in the Gospels. Their stories paint the Jews, not the gentiles or even the Romans, as the real enemies of Jesus. The Gospel According to Mark, the first written shortly after the Jewish-Roman War, actually credits a Roman centurion, not even Jesus’ disciples, as the first who recognized his worth. (Mark 15:39) Mark also portrayed Pontius Pilate, the bloodthirsty Roman procurator who put Jesus to death, as someone who did his best to be nice to Jesus. Mark would have us believe that Pilate was prevented from releasing Jesus by a bloodthirsty Jewish mob when all historical accounts of the time demonstrate that the Jewish people cheered Jesus entry into Jerusalem several days earlier.
The impartial historian Marcel Simon has put it very succinctly, “The authors of the Gospels, anxious to humour Rome, visibly took pains to present the Passion in such a way that the Roman government, represented by Pilate, comes out of the affair practically spotless.”
The amount of historical inaccuracies and inconsistencies may also be traced to political imperatives. The most startling of these is that the name of the High Priest, the supposed arch-enemy of Jesus, the primordial focus of Evangelical hatred, is unknown by some of the Evangelists, and incorrectly known by the others. This man to whom the Evangelists assigned the leading role and gravest responsibilities has no name.
Their uncertainty is especially strange since the High Priest then in office, according to Josephus, was Caiphas, who held this position from 18-36 C.E. (Jesus was killed in 33 C.E.) , a length of tenure so extraordinary that it clearly implies great submissiveness toward the Roman Procurator who was Pontius Pilate from 26-36 C.E. Strangely, of Pilate’s name, the Evangelists have no doubt.
Mark gives no name to the High Priest. Luke and John inaccurately give the name of Annas. In Matthew, the name of Caiphas was added as an emendation an put into the text. In later emendations to John, Caiphas was interpolated as the son-in-law of Annas but in John 18: 19-33 he has Annas officiating as High Priest. Everything relating to Caiphas was ineptly added post-facto. Sentence first, trial after. The noted historian Paul Winter writing in “The Trial of Jesus” deduced that “…the High Priest’s part in the proceedings against Jesus was far from being as prominent as the Evangelists suggest.”
As for Pilate, the distinguished philosopher Philo of Alexandria, Jesus’ contemporary, writes as witness of “…the crimes of Pilate, his rages, his greed, his injustices, his abuses, the citizens he had put to death without trial, his intolerable cruelty.” Flavius Josephus, by then a Roman General, writes in his “Wars of the Jews” of three communal massacres committed by Pilate. Even Luke (13:1) mentions the massacre of Galileans by Pilate. A leading modern Catholic exegete, Father Léon-Dufour, admits that “…the behaviour of Pilate in the Gospel accounts seems to be out of keeping with the data of history.”
This is not to say that the High Priest at the time of Jesus is worth defending anymore than Pierre Cauchon, the Catholic Bishop of Beauvais at the time of Joan of Arc. There is enough evidence, too long for this paper, that we have alluded to of a submissive relationship between Caiphas and Pilate. But it is incontestably clear that Jesus died the victim of Roman authority, sentenced by Pilate, crucified by Roman soldiers. Nothing, not even the co-operation of the Jewish authorities in bringing Jesus before an assembly for questioning, can extenuate the significance of this historical fact whose certainty is beyond question.
The Pauline Christian Evangelists transformed a bloodthirsty tyrant into a gentle man. The successful metamorphosis of the stake of Mephistopheles turned from crucifier to crucified. All this may be have been in the interest of catechism, but clearly not in the interest of truth.
Infamous Acts: A Reflection and A Warning
Crucifixion was a Roman, not a Jewish, penalty. The most ignominious and painful penalty, and how many Jews had suffered its fate since the Roman occupation. Are we now to witness, in this modern age of instant communication, and instant destruction, crowns of thorns pressed down on the brows of Jews for the resurrected lie of deicide?
What is the reason for the gory description of the scourging of Jesus? This takes up no more than a few sentences in Luke (22: 63-65 and 23:22) and half a sentence in John 19:1. Matthew and Mark speak only of mocking not flogging. What was the reason for the film’s more than half-hour of horrific scenes?
And why the demonization of the Jewish children? First as the instruments that drive Judas to suicide, and secondly as the child that derides the nearly unconscious Jesus. The account found in the Book of Acts I speaks of Judas’ death as an accident. Only Matthew reports it as a suicide but, contrary to the movie, this happened only after Judas repented (Matt. 27:3). Where did Gibson get his information and conclusions?
Why Mr. Gibson and his associates chose to make this movie at a time in history when the liberal free-thinking West is in global war against a barbaric terrorism directed by theocratic tyrants seeking to enforce an allegiance to their own catechisms of hate, can be known only to them.
But what is known to us, is that enlightened and engaged men of goodwill shall never acknowledge, will not abide, and will never acquiesce in the restoration and resurrection of infamous calumnies reminiscent of the dark ages.
All should take heed of the warning implicit in Bucer’s words in
De Regno Christi:
“Neither the Church of Christ, nor a Christian Commonwealth, ought to tolerate such men as prefer private gain to the public weal, or seek it to the hurt of their neighbors. For such men merely perpetuate the perversity of habit.”
Beryl P. Wajsman
Institute for Public Affairs of Montreal