Faking Crucifixion

The King of Jews
During his interview with Pilate, Jesus is repeatedly called "King of the Jews". In accordance with Pilate's instructions, an inscription of this title is also affixed to the cross. As Professor S. G. F. Brandon of Manchester University argues, the inscription affixed to the cross must be regarded as genuine as much so as anything in the New Testament. In the first place it figures, with virtually no variation, in all four Gospels. In the second place it is too compromising, too embarrassing an episode for subsequent editors to have invented it. In the Gospel of Mark, Pilate, after interrogating Jesus, asks the assembled dignitaries, "What will ye then that I shall do unto him whom ye call the King of the Jews?" (Mark 15:12) This would seem to indicate that at least some Jews do actually refer to Jesus as their king. At the same time, however, in all four Gospels Pilate also accords Jesus that title. There is no reason to suppose that he does so ironically or derisively. In the Fourth Gospel he insists on it quite adamantly and seriously, despite a chorus of protests. In the three Synoptic Gospels, moreover, Jesus himself acknowledged his claim to the title: "And Pilate asked him. Art thou the King of the Jews? And he answering said unto him, Thou sayest it." (Mark 15:2) In the English translation this reply may sound ambivalent perhaps deliberately so. In the original Greek, however, its import is quite unequivocal. It can only be interpreted as "Thou hast spoken correctly". And thus the phrase is interpreted whenever it appears elsewhere in the Bible.

The Gospels were composed during and after the revolt of A.D. 68-74, when Judaism had effectively ceased to exist as an organised social, political and military force. What is more, the Gospels were composed for a Greco-Roman audience for whom they had, of necessity, to be made acceptable. Rome had just fought a bitter and costly war against the Jews. In consequence it was perfectly natural to cast the Jews in the role of villains. In the wake of the Judaean revolt, moreover, Jesus could not possibly be portrayed as a political figure a figure in any way linked to the agitation which culminated in the war. Finally the role of the Romans in Jesus's trial and execution had to be whitewashed and presented as sympathetically as possible. Thus Pilate is depicted in the Gospels as a decent, responsible and tolerant man, who consents only reluctantly to the Crucifixion." But despise these liberties taken with history, Rome's true position in the affair can be discerned.

According to the Gospels, Jesus is initially condemned by the Sanhedrin the Council of Jewish Elders who then bring him to Pilate and beseech the Procurator to pronounce against him. Historically this makes no sense at all. In the three Synoptic Gospels Jesus is arrested and condemned by the Sanhedrin on the night of the Passover. But by Judaic law the Sanhedrin was forbidden to meet over the Passover. In the Gospels Jesus's arrest and trial occur at night, before the Sanhedrin. By Judaic law the Sanhedrin was forbidden to meet at night, in private houses, or anywhere outside the precincts of the Temple. In the Gospels the Sanhedrin is apparently un authorised to pass a death sentence and this would ostensibly be the reason for bringing Jesus to Pilate. However, the Sanhedrin was authorised to pass death sentences by stoning, if not by crucifixion. If the Sanhedrin had wished to dispose of Jesus, therefore, it could have sentenced him to death by stoning on its own authority. There would have been no need to bother Pilate at all.

There are numerous other attempts by the authors of the Gospels to transfer guilt and responsibility from Rome. One such is Pilate's apparent offer of a dispensation his readiness to free a prisoner of the crowd's choosing. According to the Gospels of Mark and Matthew, this was a "custom of the Passover festival'. In fact it was no such thing. Modern authorities agree that no such policy ever existed on the part of the Romans, and that the offer to liberate either Jesus or Barabbas is sheer fiction. Pilate's reluctance to condemn Jesus, and his grudging submission to the bullying pressure of the mob, would seem to be equally fictitious. In reality it would have been unthinkable for a Roman Procurator and especially a Procurator as ruthless as Pilate to bow to the pressure of a mob. Again, the purpose of such fictionalisation is clear enough to exonerate the Romans, to transfer blame to the Jews and thereby to make Jesus acceptable to a Roman audience.

It is possible, of course, that not all Jews were entirely innocent. Even if the Roman administration feared a priest-king with a claim to the throne, it could not embark overtly on acts of provocation acts that might precipitate a full-scale rebellion. Certainly it would have been more expedient for Rome if the priest-king were ostensibly betrayed by his own people. It is thus conceivable that the Romans employed certain Sadducees as, say, agents provocateurs. But even if this were the case, the inescapable fact remains that Jesus was the victim of a Roman administration, a Roman court, a Roman sentence, Roman soldiery and a Roman execution an execution which, in form, was reserved exclusively for enemies of Rome. It was not for crimes against Judaism that Jesus was crucified, but for crimes against the empire.

Who Was Barabbas?
Is there any evidence in the Gospels that Jesus actually did have children? There is nothing explicit. But rabbis were expected, as a matter of course, to have children; and if Jesus was a rabbi, it would have been most unusual for him to remain childless. Indeed, it would have been unusual for him to remain childless whether he was a rabbi or not. Granted, these arguments, in themselves, do not constitute any positive evidence. But there is evidence of a more concrete, more specific kind.

It consists of the elusive individual who figures in the Gospels as Barabbas, or, to be more precise, as Jesus Barabbas for it is by this name that he is identified in the Gospel of Matthew. If nothing else, the coincidence is striking. Modern scholars are uncertain about the derivation and meaning of "Barabbas'. "Jesus Barabbas' may be a corruption of "Jesus Berabbi'. "Berabbi' was a title reserved for the highest and most esteemed rabbis and was placed after the rabbi's given name. "Jesus Berabbi' might therefore refer to Jesus himself. Alternatively, "Jesus Barabbas' might originally have been "Jesus bar Rabbi' - "Jesus, son of the Rabbi'. There is no record anywhere of Jesus's own father having been a rabbi. But if Jesus had a son named after himself, that son would indeed have been "Jesus bar Rabbi'. There is one other possibility as well. "Jesus Barabbas' may derive from "Jesus bar Abba'; and since "Abba' is "father' in Hebrew, "Barabbas' would then mean "son of the father' - a fairly pointless designation unless the "father' is in some way special. If the "father' were actually the "Heavenly Father', then "Barabbas' might again refer to Jesus himself. On the other hand, if Jesus himself is the "father', "Barabbas' would again refer to his son.

Whatever the meaning and derivation of the name, the figure of Barabbas is extremely curious. And the more one considers the incident concerning him, the more apparent it becomes that something irregular is going on and someone is attempting to conceal something. In the first place Barabbas's name, like the Magdalene's, seems to have been subjected to a deliberate and systematic blackening. Just as popular tradition depicts the Magdalene as a harlot, so it depicts Barabbas as a "thief'. But if Barabbas was any of the things his name suggests, he is hardly likely to have been a common thief. Why then blacken his name? Unless he was something else in reality something which the editors of the New Testament did not want posterity to know. Strictly speaking the Gospels themselves do not describe Barabbas as a thief. According to Mark and Luke he is a political prisoner, a rebel charged with murder and insurrection. In the Gospel of Matthew, however, Barabbas is described as a "notable prisoner'. And in the Fourth Gospel Barabbas is said to be (in the Greek) a les-tai (John 18:40) This can be translated as either "robber' or "bandit'. In its historical context, however, it meant something quite different. Lestes was in
fact the term habitually applied by the Romans to the Zealots, the militant nationalistic revolutionaries who for some time had been fomenting social upheaval. Since Mark and Luke agree that Barabbas is guilty of insurrection, and since Matthew does not contradict this assertion, it is safe to conclude that Barabbas was a Zealot.

But this is not the only information available on Barabbas. According to Luke, he had been involved in a recent "disturbance', "sedition' or "riot' in the city. History makes no mention of any such turmoil in Jerusalem at the time. The Gospels, however, do. According to the Gospels, there had been a civic disturbance in Jerusalem, only a few days before when Jesus and his followers overturned the tables of the money-lenders at the Temple. Was this the disturbance in which Barabbas was involved, and for which he was imprisoned? It certainly seems likely. And in that case there is one obvious conclusion that Barabbas was one of Jesus's entourage. According to modern scholars, the "custom' of releasing a prisoner on the Passover did not exist. But even if it did, the choice of Barabbas over Jesus would make no sense. If Barabbas were indeed a common criminal, guilty of murder, why would the people choose to have his life spared? And if he were indeed a Zealot or a revolutionary, it is hardly likely that Pilate would have released so potentially dangerous a character, rather than a harmless visionary who was quite prepared, ostensibly, to "render unto Caesar'. Of all the discrepancies, inconsistencies and improbabilities in the Gospels, the choice of Barabbas is among the most striking and most inexplicable. Something would clearly seem to lie behind so clumsy and confusing a fabrication.

One modern writer has proposed an intriguing and plausible explanation. He suggests that Barabbas was the son of Jesus and Jesus a legitimate king. If this were the case, the choice of Barabbas would suddenly make sense. One must imagine an oppressed populace confronted with the imminent extermination of their spiritual and political ruler the Messiah, whose advent had formerly promised so much. In such circumstances, would not the dynasty be more important than the individual? Would not the preservation of the bloodline be paramount, taking precedence over everything else? Would not a people, faced with the dreadful choice, prefer to see their king sacrificed in order that his offspring and his line might survive? If the line survived, there would at least be hope for the future. It is certainly not impossible that Barabbas was Jesus's son. Jesus is generally believed to have been born around 6 sc. The Crucifixion occurred no later than A.D. 36, which would make Jesus, at most, forty-two years of age. But even if he was only thirty-three when he died, he might still have fathered a son. In accordance with the customs of the time, he might have married as early as sixteen or seventeen. Yet even if he did not marry until aged twenty, he might still have had a son aged thirteen who, by Judaic custom, would have been considered a man. And, of course, there may well have been other children too. Such children could have been conceived at any point up to within a day or so of the Crucifixion.

The Crucifixion in Detail
Jesus could well have sired a number of children prior to the Crucifjxion. If he survived the Crucifixion, however, the likelihood of offspring would be still further increased. Is there any evidence that Jesus did indeed survive the Crucifixion or that the Crucifixion was in some way a fraud?

Given the portrait of him in the Gospels, it is inexplicable that Jesus was crucified at all. According to the Gospels, his enemies were the established Jewish interests in Jerusalem. But such enemies, if they in fact existed, could have stoned him to death of their own accord and on their own authority, without involving Rome in the matter. According to the Gospels, Jesus had no particular quarrel with Rome and did not violate Roman law. And yet he was punished by the Romans, in accordance with Roman law and Roman procedures. And he was punished by crucifixion a penalty exclusively reserved for those guilty of crimes against the empire. If Jesus was indeed crucified, he cannot have been as apolitical as the Gospels depict him. On the contrary, he must, of necessity, have done something to provoke Roman as opposed to Jewish wrath.

Whatever the trespasses for which Jesus was crucified, his apparent death on the cross is fraught with inconsistencies. There is, quite simply, no reason why his Crucifixion, as the Gospels depict it, should have been. fatal. The contention that it was warrants closer scrutiny.

The Roman practice of crucifixion adhered to very precise procedures. After sentence a victim would be flogged and consequently weakened by loss of blood. His outstretched arms would then be fastened usually by thongs but sometimes by nails to a heavy wooden beam placed horizontally across his neck and shoulders. Bearing this beam, he would then be led to the place of execution. Here, with the victim hanging from it, the beam would be raised and attached to a vertical post or stake. Hanging thus from his hands, it would be impossible for the victim to breathe unless his feet were also fixed to the cross, thus enabling him to press down on them and relieve the pressure on his chest. But, despite the agony, a man suspended with his feet fixed and especially a fit and healthy man would usually survive for at least a day or two. Indeed, the victim would often take as much as a week to die from exhaustion, from thirst, or, if nails were used, from blood poisoning. The attenuated agony could be terminated more quickly by breaking the victim's legs or knees which, in the Gospels, Jesus's executioners are about to do before they are forestalled. Breaking of the legs or knees was not an additional sadistic torment. On the contrary, it was an act of mercy a coup de grace which caused a very rapid death. With nothing to support him, the pressure on the victim's chest would become intolerable, and he would quickly asphyxiate.

There is consensus among modern scholars that only the Fourth Gospel rests on an eyewitness account of the Crucifixion. According to the Fourth Gospel, Jesus's feet were affixed to the cross thus relieving the pressure on his chest muscles and his legs were not broken. He should therefore, in theory at least, have survived for a good two or three days. And yet he is on the cross for no more than a few hours before being pronounced dead. In the Gospel of Mark, even Pilate is astonished by the rapidity with which death occurs (Mark 15:44). What can have constituted the cause of death? Not the spear in his side, for the Fourth Gospel maintains that Jesus was already dead when this wound was inflicted on him. (John There is only one explanation a combination of exhaustion, fatigue, general debilitation and the trauma of the scourging. But not even these factors should have proved fatal so soon. It is possible, of course, that they did despite the laws of physiology, a man will sometimes die from a single relatively innocuous blow. But there would still seem to be something suspicious about the affair. According to the Fourth Gospel, Jesus's executioners are on the verge of breaking his legs, thus accelerating his death. Why bother, if he was already moribund? There would, in short, be no point in breaking Jesus's legs unless death were not in fact imminent.

In the Gospels Jesus's death occurs at a moment that is almost too convenient, too felicitously opportune. It occurs just in time to prevent his executioners breaking his legs. And by doing so, it permits him to fulfill an Old Testament prophecy. Modern authorities agree that Jesus, quite unabashedly, modelled and perhaps contrived his life in accordance with such prophecies, which heralded the coming of a Messiah. It was for this reason that an ass had to be procured from Bethany on which he could make his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. And the details of the Crucifixion seem likewise engineered to enact the prophecies of the Old Testament. In short Jesus's apparent and opportune demise which in the nick of time, saves him from certain death and enables him to fulfill a prophecy is, to say the least, suspect. It is too perfect, too precise to be coincidence. It must either be a later interpolation after the fact, or part of a carefully contrived plan. There is much additional evidence to suggest the latter.

In the Fourth Gospel Jesus, hanging on the cross, declares that he thirsts. In reply to this complaint he is proffered a sponge allegedly soaked in vinegar an incident that also occurs in the other Gospels. This sponge is generally interpreted as another act of sadistic derision. But was it really? Vinegar or soured wine is a temporary stimulant, with effects not unlike smelling salts. It was often used at the time to resuscitate flagging slaves on galleys. For a wounded and exhausted man, a sniff or taste of vinegar would induce a restorative effect, a momentary surge of energy. And yet in Jesus's case the effect is just the contrary. No sooner does he inhale or taste the sponge then he pronounces his final words and "gives up the ghost'. Such a reaction to vinegar is physiologically inexplicable. On the other hand such a reaction would be perfectly compatible with a sponge soaked not in vinegar, but in some type of soporific drug a compound of opium and/or belladonna, for instance, commonly employed in the Middle East at the time. But why proffer a soporific drug? Unless the act of doing so, along with all the other components of the Crucifixion, were elements of a complex and ingenious stratagem a stratagem designed to produce a semblance of death when the victim, in fact, was still alive. Such a stratagem would not only have saved Jesus's life, but also have realised the Old Testament prophecies of a Messiah. There are other anomalous aspects of the Crucifixion which point to precisely such a stratagem.

According to the Gospels Jesus is crucified at a place called Golgotha, "the place of the skull'. Later tradition attempts to identify Golgotha as a barren, more or less skull-shaped hill to the north-west of Jerusalem. And yet the Gospels themselves make it clear that the site of the Crucifixion is very different from a barren skull-shaped hill. The Fourth Gospel is most explicit on the matter: "Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid." (John 19:41) Jesus, then, was crucified not on a barren skull-shaped hill, nor, for that matter, in any "public place of execution'. He was crucified in or immediately adjacent to a garden containing a private tomb. According to Matthew (27:60) this tomb and garden were the personal property of Joseph of Arimathea who, according to all four Gospels, was both a man of wealth and a secret disciple of Jesus. Popular tradition depicts the Crucifixion as a large scale public affair, accessible to the multitude and attended by a cast of thousands. And yet the Gospels themselves suggest very different circumstances. According to Matthew, Mark and Luke, the Crucifixion is witnessed by most people, including the women, from "afar off' (Luke 23:49). It would thus seem clear that Jesus's death was not a public event, but a private one a private crucifixion performed on private property. A number of modern scholars argue that the actual site was probably the Garden of Gethsemane. If Gethsemane were indeed the private land of one of Jesus's secret disciples, this would explain why Jesus, prior to the Crucifixion, could make such free use of the place." Needless to say a private crucifixion on private property leaves considerable room for a hoax a mock crucifixion, a skilfully stage-managed ritual. There would have been only a few eye-witnesses immediately present. To the general populace the drama would only have been visible, as the Synoptic Gospels confirm, from some distance. And from such a distance, it would not have been apparent who in fact was being crucified. Or if he was actually dead.

Such a charade would, of course, have necessitated some connivance and collusion on the part of Pontius Pilate or of someone influential in the Roman administration. And indeed such connivance and collusion is highly probable. Granted, Pilate was a cruel and tyrannical man. But he was also corrupt and susceptible to bribes. The historical Pilate, as opposed to the one depicted in the Gospels, would not have been above sparing Jesus's life in exchange for a sizeable sum of money and perhaps a guarantee of no further political agitation. Whatever his motivation, there is, in any case, no question that Pilate is somehow intimately involved in the affair. He acknowledges Jesus's claim as "King of the Jews'. He also expresses, or feigns to express, surprise that Jesus's death occurs as quickly as it apparently does. And, perhaps most important of all, he grants Jesus's body to Joseph of Arimatheea.

According to Roman law at the time, a crucified man was denied all burial. Indeed guards were customarily posted to prevent relatives or friends removing the bodies of the dead. The victim would simply be left on the cross, at the mercy of the elements and carrion birds. Yet Pilate, in a flagrant breach of procedure, readily grants Jesus's body to Joseph of Arimathea. This clearly attests to some complicity on Pilate's part. And it may attest to other things as well.

In English translations of Mark's Gospel Joseph asks Pilate for Jesus's body. Pilate expresses surprise that Jesus is dead, checks with a centurion, then, satisfied, consents to Joseph's request. This would appear straightforward enough at first glance; but in the original Greek version of Mark's Gospel, the matter becomes rather more complicated. In the Greek version when Joseph asks for Jesus's body, he uses the word "soma" - a word applied only to a living body. Pilate, assenting to the request, employs the word "ptoma" - which means "corpse". According to the Greek, then, Joseph explicitly asks for a living body and Pilate grants him what he thinks, or pretends to think, is a dead one. Given the prohibition against burying crucified men, it is also extraordinary that Joseph receives any body at all. On what grounds does he receive it? What claim does he have to Jesus's body? If he was a secret disciple, he could hardly plead any claim without disclosing his secret discipleship unless Pilate was already aware of it, or unless there was some other factor involved which militated in Joseph's favour.

There is little information about Joseph of Arimathea. The Gospels report only that he was a secret disciple of Jesus, possessed great wealth and belonged to the Sanhedrin the Council of Elders which ruled the Judaic community of Jerusalem under Roman auspices. It would thus seem apparent that Joseph was an influential man. And this conclusion receives confirmation from his dealings with Pilate, and from the fact that he possesses a tract of land with a private tomb. Medieval tradition portrays Joseph of Arimathea as a custodian of the Holy Grail; and Perceval is said to be of his lineage. According to other later traditions, he is in some way related by blood to Jesus and Jesus's family. If this was indeed the case, it would, at very least, have furnished him with some plausible claim to Jesus's body -for while Pilate would hardly grant the corpse of an executed criminal to a random stranger, he might well do so, with the incentive of a bribe, to the dead man's kin. If Joseph - a wealthy and influential member of the Sanhedrin was indeed Jesus's kin, he bears further testimony to Jesus's aristocratic pedigree. And if he was Jesus's kin, his association with the Holy Grail the "blood royal' would be all the more explicable.

[...]One such work is the Gospel of Peter, a copy of which was first located in a valley of the upper Nile in 1886, although it is mentioned by the bishop of Antioch in A.D. 180. According to this "apocryphal' Gospel, Joseph of Arimathea was a close friend of Pontius Pilate which, if true, would increase the likelihood of a fraudulent Crucifixion. The Gospel of Peter also reports that the tomb in which Jesus was buried lay in a place called "the garden of Joseph'. And Jesus's last words on the cross are particularly striking: "My power, my power, why hast thou forsaken Me?

[...] The third major heresiarch of the period and in many ways the most intriguing was Basilides, an Alexandrian scholar writing between nD.120 and 130. Basilides was conversant with both Hebrew scriptures and Christian Gospels. He was also steeped in Egyptian and Hellenistic thought. He is supposed to have written no less than twenty-four commentaries on the Gospels. According to Irenaeus, he promulgated a most heinous heresy indeed. Basilides claimed that the Crucifixion was a fraud, that Jesus did not die on the cross, and that a substitute Simon of Cyrene took his place instead. Such an assertion would seem to be bizarre. And yet it has proved to be extraordinarily persistent and tenacious. As late as the seventh century-the Koran maintained precisely the same argument that a substitute, traditionally Simon of Cyrene, took Jesus's place on the cross.

[...]In one [Nag Hammadi] undated codex, for example, the Second Treatise of the Great Seth, [Jesus talks of] escaping his death on the cross by dint of an ingenious substitution. In the following extract, Jesus speaks in the first person: I did not succumb to them as they had planned ... And I did not die in reality but in appearance, lest I be put to shame by them ... For my death which they think happened [happened] to them in their error and blindness, since they nailed their man unto their death ... It was another, their father, who drank the gall and the vinegar; it was not I. They struck me with the reed; it was another, Simon, who bore the cross on his shoulder. It was another upon whom they placed the crown of thorns ... And I was laughing at their ignorance".

[Source: Baigent, Leigh, Lincoln - Holy Blood, Holy Grail]