Protestants were officially called "heretics" by RC up until Vatican II, 1965.

Is Time magazine correct

to attribute the following evil deeds to generic "Christians" ?

From ............. TIME

APRIL 4, 1994

pages 72-73


OF ALL THE TRIALS IN HUMAN HISTORY, none has had greater consequences. In Jerusalem, in April of either the year 30 or 33, Jesus of Nazareth was arrested, hauled before a religious court, tried by a Roman governor, sentenced to death and crucified. And what did that come to mean? That, explained the Apostle Paul, "God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us... We are now justified by his blood." And thus it began.

The resulting visions of redemption would be tainted by the search for blame in the death of the Redeemer. According to Matthew, a Jewish mob cried, "His blood be on us and on our children" while demanding the death of Jesus.

And centuries of Christians would oblige them with massacres and persecutions, pogroms and expulsions of "Christ killers" and the depredations of the Inquisition, laying groundwork for the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust.

Anti-Jewish passions came not only from misinterpreters of faith but from the spiritual authorities themselves, from John Chrysostom, from Thomas Aquinas- both saints of Christendom- indeed, from Martin Luther, who turned against the Jews after they spurned his reformed Christianity.

In the past century, the politically correct way to attach blame was to pin it on a vanished empire-the Rome of the Caesars and its representative in Judea, Pontius Pilate. But a new, two-volume study by one of the Roman Catholic Church's most prominent experts on the Gospels dismisses that approach. "You can't just say there was no Jewish involvement in the death of Jesus," says Father Raymond E. Brown, author of The Death of the Messiah (Doubleday; l,6O8 pages; $75), which reexamines this and dozens of other issues on the crucifixion.

"Jesus was a Jew and he dealt with Jewish leaders. So the easy solution that it was an entirely Roman affair doesn't work." He argues, however, that careful examination of the Gospels can provide understanding, even enlightenment: "Christians have misused the crucifixion to blame Jews and to persecute Jews. Therefore, to many Jews the crucifixion is a horrible thing because they've been beaten over the head with it. If we are to live together in the world, I think it's helpful for both sides to see the extent to which the intervening history has shaped the way the crucifixion is seen."

Brown begins by carefully defining the Jewish role in the death of Jesus. "In a con- text of hostile inter Jewish feelings," he says, "how can one dismiss as unthinkable a desire on the part of some fellow Jews for severe action against Jesus, a troubling religious figure?" He stresses that many ordinary Jews sympathized with Jesus, and that only the leaders were responsible for the death sentence. "I'm not talking about guilt," he says, merely "responsibility." Explains Brown: "Those who contribute to the execution of an accused are responsible for that death. They are guilty only if they know that the accused is undeserving." And while the leaders condemned Jesus, Brown says, there were religious and political reasons behind this decision.

A number of historians, however, have proposed detailed theories that minimize Jewish involvement-including that of the Jewish religious leadership. Ellis Rivkin of Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio, contends that real religious courts were separate from the Sanhedrin, the council of Jewish functionaries that deal with Jesus after his arrest. He depicts the Sanhedrin as a political body that collaborated with the Roman occupation forces and lacked any religious legitimacy. "Neither [Jesus'] religious teachings nor his beliefs could have been on trial-only their political consequences," says Rivkin. In his book, though, Brown sifts the ancient documents, Jewish and pagan as well as Christian, to argue that the Sanhedrin was the single recognized Jewish panel that treated both religious and political matters, albeit under the Roman thumb and therefore seen as corrupt by Jews in later years.

Other Jewish writers doubt the Sanhedrin trial occurred at all. For example, the nighttime hearing and the rushed verdict described in the New Testament violate religious law But Brown says there is no reason to suppose that Jews of A.D. 30 would have strictly observed procedures not codified until two centuries later in the Mishnah, the rabbinical collation of oral law interpreting the Bible. As for those who think the Romans would not have contemplated an execution on the basis of Jewish religious disputes, Brown notes that 30 years later Jewish leaders sentenced Jesus, the son of Ananias, to death for prophesying that God would destroy the Temple. The Romans, however, found the defendant insane and never executed him.

Other modern revisions of Christ's death portray the Nazarene as a martyred revolutionary a' la Che Guevara, but Brown says the details do not fit that scenario, and besides, Jewish insurrections only arose a generation later.

Who, then, decided that Jesus must die, and what were the reasons? In Brown's reading, Jesus' judges were a loosely defined group of Jewish aristocrats led by Caiaphas, the high priest who survived 18 years in the post. The Sanhedrin members were reacting to perceived threats to their faith-and trying to avoid trouble with their constituents and the Romans. "There was surely an admixture of insincerity, self-protective cunning, honest religious devotion, conscientious self-searching, and fanaticism," Brown concludes. Among the less-than-nobIe motives: Jesus had uttered prophecies against the Temple, which by one estimate provided the livelihood of 20% of Jerusalem's population.

Brown joins those who believe Jesus' anti-Temple pronouncements were a factor in the death sentence. Brown deems blasphemy the crucial charge, not mocking God but involving Jesus' claim of a status that belongs to the Creator alone. Brown does not think Jesus or his followers used the title "Son of God" in Jesus' lifetime. But he considers it plausible that Jesus claimed the power to forgive sins, spoke of bringing about the kingdom of God and implied that God would judge people on how they responded to Jesus himself. All that would have provided ample reason for condemnation.

So too, apparently, would have the title Messiah, or Christ, as the word has come down through time by way of Greek. Brown says Jesus was the first individual ever to be named as the Messiah by Jews. (The next so proclaimed was Bar Kokhba, during a Jewish revolt against Rome a century later.) Though Jesus responded with ambivalence when questioned about this at the trials, the charge presumably justified Pilate's sentence and the placard calling him King of the Jews.

THE DEATH OF THE MESSIAH deals with many matters central to the Christian faith, as well as iconic motifs such as the Judas kiss and Pilate's washing his hands. The book's scholarship will upset Christian traditionalists, although it fits well with new warnings against "fundamentalism" from the Pontifical Biblical Commission. Brown treats numerous familiar details as imaginary rather than literal (the dream of Pilate's wife, the darkness at noon as Christ died). And he disdains uninformed literal readings of Scripture.

The Gospel texts, contends Brown, must be interpreted carefully because they were completed decades after Jesus' life and were shaped, for example, by tensions in that later period when synagogue and church were splitting permanently. In Brown's meticulous exegesis, the troublesome verse "His blood be on us and on our children" is not a self-inflicted curse at all but an acknowledgment in terms of scriptural law that this specific group of Jews was willing to be responsible before God for an execution that it believed to be justified. In Leviticus, the phrase "their blood is upon them" is used repeatedly when the death penalty is prescribed.

Brown's work is emblazoned with a church imprimatur. And it will receive no quarrel from many Jewish religious scholars. From the beginning, says Judaic studies professor Shaye J.D. Cohen of Brown University, the Jewish tradition "had no trouble accepting the simple story that Jews executed Jesus as a sinner and a criminal, even to the extent of ignoring the role of the Romans."' In modern times, Jews have adopted more favorable opinions about Jesus, just as Christians have worked to eradicate lingering anti-Semitism. But Cohen considers revisionism about the trial "pointless" because Jews cannot reasonably expect Christians to rewrite their Scriptures. Cohen himself thinks the Jewish leaders of the time did in fact decide to have Jesus killed.