May 22nd, 2012


Rendering unto Caesar: The Politics of Crucifixion‏

The weekend following Easter weekend, I made the acquaintance of a man who appeared to know very little about the Jesus legend. He professed to a lack of knowledge about the Crucifixion prompting me to explain it to him. Naturally I provided a very superficial explanation without going into detail about the role of the story in the Western experience. The one hint I provided was that Jesus was "supposedly" resurrected from death on the following Sunday.

In a completely different conversation with a self-professed Christian, the issue of the Crucifixion came up. The man asserted that he could not believe the story that Jesus was not really crucified. When I asked him why, he replied that it would mean that Jesus was not the son of the material Creator. Upon further probing, he said that it would mean that Jesus was a fraud.

All of this became food for discussion with students. One student pointed out that Jesus could not possibly be a child of the material Creator because the Creator was not fashioned until the fourth century. Another student wondered how anyone can espouse the idea that an idol could parent a child. Perhaps the Christian is unaware that the material Creator is a human invention. Yet another student said that rather than demonstrating that Jesus was a fraud, avoiding crucifixion would demonstrate extraordinary ability verging on the supernatural.

Judging by the writings associated with Paul of Tarsus, there were people at the time who did not believe that Jesus had been crucified. Some of these people may have been in his entourage whereas others may have been detractors of Jesus. The people who wanted to kill Jesus would have been pretty upset by news that he slipped the net. The only people who stood to gain from the Crucifixion story were those who could profit from the cult of the prophet.

Centuries later, the Crucifixion story served as a method for separating the wheat from the chaff. People with neither a moral nor a material interest in the orthodox legend could more readily subscribe to the alternative perspective. What mattered to them was living life to its fullest rather than obsessing over tales of brutality. They may have been amused by the immature way that the orthodox approached the matter. It fit so well into the paradigm of the Cave portrayed by Plato.

Once orthodoxy became the official religion of Rome, the Crucifixion story became a political hot button. People who professed to be followers of Jesus could be executed for the thought crime of doubting the Crucifixion. The alternative story was banned and burned. People who knew about it had to keep it secret lest they face persecution. Jews experienced the Crucifixion as a rationale for vicious pogroms. Islam distanced itself from Christian orthodoxy by incorporating denial of the Crucifixion in the Koran.

What are your perspectives on the intersection of politics and religion when it comes to matters concerning orthodoxy and free thought?

Related links: Mark Pierson on the controversy with Islam ( Gerald Sigal on the Crucifixion and anti-Semitism.