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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Who Crucified Jesus of Nazareth?




Pope John Paul II has apologized to the world's Jews for the Catholic Church's centuries-long history of blaming the Jews for the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. That the Pope has done so is both long overdue and greatly welcome.


But Catholics are not the only Christians who have laid blame for the crucifixion at the door of the Jewish people throughout the centuries. And on Good Friday, observed this week by Orthodox Christians around the world, those who follow the tenetsof Jesus would do well to ask themselves just who did crucify the Nazarene who claimed to be the Messiah nearly 2,000 years ago.


The coming of the Messiah - one who would bridge the gap between God the Father and a spiritually lost humankind - was something plainly laid out in the books of the Old Testament. The God of the Old Testament was in many passages portrayed as a God of justice, who required sacrifices and atonements for the myriad sins of humankind. But in His mercy, it was prophesied, He would send one into the world who would act as a final atonement for all who believed, the ultimate sacrificial lamb who would pay, once and for all, the penalty for all sins, for all time.


Jesus of Nazareth claimed to be that man. And in his teachings, as presented in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, he emphasized not so much the wrath of God, but His grace. His ministry, as described in the four books, was primarily one of compassion: healing of the blind and paralytics; feeding of the multitudes; ministering to the pariahs of society - the poor, the prostitutes, the tax collectors.


In his many pronouncements, Jesus of Nazareth stressed compassion, not blame. "Love thy neighbor as thyself" was one key tenet of his teachings; "judge not, lest ye be judged" was another.


The writers of the gospels noted one incident in which Jesus of Nazareth dealt with the issue of blame, culpability: A crowd had gathered around a woman accused of adultery. How did Jesus react to the mob's desire for blood, which, according to Old Testament traditions, was required? He suggested that he who was without sin cast the first stone. The stones were dropped, and the woman walked away with her life.


Surely Jesus of Nazareth himself would not have countenanced the centuries-long finger-pointing at the Jews for a grisly fate on the cross. Because the simple and - to many - horrifying fact of Christianity is that Jesus was crucified as part of the plan. The gospels point out that He himself was terrified at the prospect of being publicly hanged and nailed on a piece of wood: "Father, if Thou art willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Thine be done." But, as the gospels further indicate, God willed otherwise and let events proceed toward what would appear to many to be a very grim conclusion indeed.


Who crucified Jesus of Nazareth? Pontius Pilate - the Judaean prefect of Emperor Tiberius who finally handed the roving prophet over to the Jewish elders? The Sanhedrin as a whole? Caiaphas as its head? What about the crowd at the sentencing? Given the tradition of releasing a prisoner at the time of Passover, Pilate could have freed Jesus; but the gospels write that the mob wanted Pilate to free Barabbas instead. Who crucified Jesus? None of the above.


Those who confess to be followers of the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth may want to look a little further into their Bibles, to read the entire text, not just a passage in John that might be construed as ascribing blame to the Jews for the crucifixion. They might look at the Old and New Testaments as a whole, which point to the reason for the crucifixion - its purposes and ultimate perpetrators. Who crucified Jesus? For the true Christian, for one who realizes how far short of spiritual perfection he is, the answer is contained simply and profoundly in the refrain of a hymn written hundreds of years ago by Johann Heermann: "I crucified Thee."


Suzanne Thompson is the opinion page editor of The Moscow Times.