Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same.
Had Paul believed that Jesus suffered under [Pontius] Pilate, he would hardly have said that the governing authorities punish only wrongdoers (Rom. 13:1-7). The author of 1 Peter, who regarded Jesus as without blemish, likewise declared that imperial governors “punish those who do wrong and praise those who do right” (2:13-14). Christian writers of later date, who did believe that Jesus had been brought before Pilate, are noticeably less positive in their assessments of governors. Thus the author of the Pastoral epistles, who declares at 1 Tim. 6:13 that Jesus “witnessed the good confession before Pontius Pilate,” urges that supplications be made to kings and all other authorities “that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life” (2:1-2).
Now as Alexander fled to the mountains, six thousand of the Jews hereupon came together [from Demetrius] to him, out of pity at the change of his fortunes. Upon which Demetrius was afraid, and retired out of the countrey. After which the Jews fought against Alexander: and, being beaten, were slain in great numbers, in the several battels which they had. And when he had shut up the most powerful of them in the city Bethome, he besieged them therein. And when he had taken the city, and gotten the men into his power, he brought them to Jerusalem: and did one of the most barbarous actions in the world to them. For as he was feasting with his concubines, in the sight of all the city, he ordered about eight hundred of them to be crucified: and while they were living he ordered the throats of their children and wives to be cut before their eyes. This was indeed by way of revenge for the injuries they had done him: which punishment yet was of an inhuman nature…
periods of persecution [he also cites atrocities of Antiochus Epiphanes, king of Syria in the 2nd century BCE] are alluded to in the Jewish religious literature (for instance in the Dead Sea Scrolls); and Jannaeus’s crucifixion of 800 Pharisees left a strong impression on the Jewish world. [The apostle] Paul’s environment, then, would have known that pious Jews had been crucified long ago, although dates and circumstances would probably have been known only vaguely.
Varus sent a part of his army into the countrey, to seek out those that had been the authors of the revolt: and when they were discovered, he punished some of them that were most guilty; and some he dismissed. Now the number of those that were crucified on this account were two thousand.
1. The accounts in Matthew, Luke and John are essentially re-writes of the account found in Mark, and
2. The account in Mark is essentially a re-write mostly of Psalm 22, which Mark quotes verbatim at points but does not cite.
Then they compelled a certain man, Simon a Cyrenian, the father of Alexander and Rufus, as he was coming out of the country and passing by, to bear His cross. And they brought Him to the place Golgotha, which is translated, Place of a Skull. Then they gave Him wine mingled with myrrh to drink, but He did not take it. And when they crucified Him, they divided His garments, casting lots for them to determine what every man should take.
Now as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. Him they compelled to bear His cross. And when they had come to a place called Golgotha, that is to say, Place of a Skull, they gave Him sour wine mingled with gall to drink. But when He had tasted it, He would not drink. Then they crucified Him, and divided His garments, casting lots
Now as they led Him away, they laid hold of a certain man, Simon a Cyrenian, who was coming from the country, and on him they laid the cross that he might bear it after Jesus. And a great multitude of the people followed Him, and women who also mourned and lamented Him. But Jesus, turning to them, said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For indeed the days are coming in which they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, wombs that never bore, and breasts which never nursed!’ Then they will begin ‘to say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” and to the hills, “Cover us!”’ For if they do these things in the green wood, what will be done in the dry?”
And He, bearing His cross, went out to a place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha, where they crucified Him, and two others with Him, one on either side, and Jesus in the center.
John found the notion that Jesus did not or could not carry his own cross untoward, even offensive, perhaps thinking it made nonsense of any appeal for would-be disciples to take up their own crosses and follow Jesus. So he changed it.
Mark 8:34: “When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.”
Matthew 10:38: “And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.”
Luke 14:27: “And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.”
Apologists seek to harmonize the two accounts [i.e., the Synoptic version in which Simon of Cyrene carries Jesus’ cross vs. the Johannine version in which Jesus carries his own cross] by simply splitting the difference, as if Jesus started out with the cross on his shoulder, then dropped it, whereupon the Romans yanked Simon out of the crowd and ordered him to take over. But this will not do. This is the one alternative excluded by both the Johannine and the Synoptic versions, each of which is quite clear.
Mark 15:25: “and they crucified him…”
Matthew 27:35: “Then they crucified him, and divided his garments…”
Luke 23:33: “And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him…”
John 19:18: “where they crucified him…”
“And when he put his hat back on…”
“And after he put it in his pocket...”
“Then he took his seat…”
“where he set his book down…”
Again, what we likely have here is the transmission of a tradition that had been handed down to whoever in the end decided to take up the pen and flesh out a Jesus story, beginning with Mark, who had no information about the actual moment of crucifixion other than the sequence of scenes attending the crucifixion – which we’ll get to below.
What we don’t have in the gospel accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion are statements like the following, which would lend credence to the view that the they have the backing of someone who actually witnessed the drama:
“Our Lord was clearly in pain, but he did his best not to show it. He knew we were all still very loyal to him, so he didn’t want to let us down by letting the pain overwhelm him. In fact, I don’t think he let out one shriek or scream, enduring every moment almost as if he were pleased with what was happening. There were a few moments when I thought he would falter, but he was very strong. Then they raised up the cross above us. The sun was scorching that day, so I know he was in maximum torment. It was an awful sight to behold. I hope I never see anything like it again!”
“I remember his face was very severe given the pain inflicted by the hammer blows…”
“His speech was vindictive and biting, snarling at those who came to watch him die, seething with venomous stings and biting words.”
“I saw a defeated man, pitiful in every way imaginable, dutifully accepting his sentence, but still offering words of hope to his followers, inspiring many, me included!”
“What the authorities did to Jesus was unconscionable! He was completely innocent of the crimes he was charged of committing, and he was put to death unjustly. But even as they nailed him to the cross, which I watched with mine own eyes, he neither did rebuke his handlers nor cursed them for their deed. I’ll never forget this as long as I live, and I’ll tell everyone I meet that Jesus was a good man and we should all [blah blah blah]…”
I saw many captives crucified, and remembered three of them as my former acquaintance. I was very sorry at this in my mind, and went with tears in my eyes to Titus, and told him of them; so he immediately commanded them to be taken down, and to have the greatest care taken of them, in order to their recovery; yet two of them died under the physician's hands, while the third recovered.
So already what we have on its face value in the gospels does not bear the hallmarks of actual witness accounts. But compounding this even further is that, when we start to scratch that surface, we find that the similarities noted above do in fact have a common source. And that common source is not an actual event that the authors witnessed, but rather ancient poetry. I’m speaking of course of the Psalms, especially the 22nd Psalm as well as other ancient verse, sources far, far removed from the Jerusalem of the first century C.E.
Here I’ll quote Robert Price at length (The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man, pp. 321-22):
Let us outline the crucifixion step by step. First, Jesus is attached to the cross, presumably with nail, based on Ps. 22:16, “They have pierced my hands and feet.” Second, the soldiers divide his garments (Mark 15:24), a detail derived directly from Ps. 22:18, “They divide my garments among them, and for my raiment they cast lots.” Third, the gloating mockers “wag their heads,” an odd phrase, and one derived from Ps. 22:7, “All who see me mock at me, they make mouths at me, they wag their heads.Fourth, the very taunts of the priests (“Let the Christ, the king of Israel, come down from the cross, that we may see and believe!” Mark 15:32) echo those that stung the Psalmist: “’He committed his cause to Yahve; let him deliver him, let him rescue him, for he delights in him!’” (Ps. 22:8). Matt. 27:43 supplements the mockery here: “He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him; for he said, ‘I am the son of God.’” Where did Matthew get this? His own or others’ memories of the event? No, from Wis. Of Sol. 2:12-20 (which perforce he condensed): “But let us lie in wait for the righteous man, because he makes it hard for us, and opposes our works, and upbraids us for sins against the law, and accuses us of sins against our training. He professes to have knowledge of God, and calls himself the servant of the Lord. He became to us a living reproof of our thoughts. He is grievous for us even to behold because his life is unlike that of other men, and his ways are alien to us. He disdains us as base metal, and he avoids our ways as unclean. The final end of the righteous man is he calls happy, and he claims that God is his father. Let us see if his words are true, and let us see what will happen at the end of his life! For if the righteous man is God’s son, he will uphold him, and he will rescue him from the grasp of his adversaries. With outrage and torture let us put him to the test, that we may see for ourselves his gentleness and prove his patience under injustice. Let us condemn him to a shameful death; for surely God shall intervene as this fellow said he would!”
Fifth, there is Jesus’ cry of dereliction, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” which is of course the opening line of Psalm 22, only Mark does not say so. Luke deems these words unbecoming, so he changes them – to something Luke knew Jesus had actually said on that occasion? No, he took it (“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit,” Luke 23:46) from Ps. 31:5. John explicitly cites Ps. 22:18 about the garments and tacitly uses Ps. 22:14 (“I am poured out like water, and all my bones are dislocated; my heart is like wax, it is melted within my breast”) as the basis for his unique detail of the soldier stabbing Jesus’ side, “and at once there came out blood and water” (John 19:34). John also makes Jesus’ thirst and its rough satisfaction with vinegar (John 19:28-29) a prophetic fulfillment, unwittingly pointed to Ps. 69:21 (“They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink” as the probable origin of the whole motif, which also appears in the Synoptics (Mark 15:36, Matt. 27:34, Luke 23:36).
Instead of actual history, the gospel crucifixion scenes are essentially an artistic literary creation, whose roots probably go back long before Christians today could tolerate given their urgent desire to believe that Jesus was actually crucified in the time of Pilate ca. 30 C.E. The “evidence” we have in the gospel accounts is actually evidence that the story is a yarn woven from writings passed down from generations in the past and cherished as though they had some divine message hidden in them for the current times, when in fact that could not have been the case. Psalm 22, for example, as Price point out (Ibid., p. 321)
is quite clearly what is called an Individual Lament psalm, a song sung by or on behalf of someone in extremity who feels himself forsaken by God, he knows not why, but still has faith and appeals to the Almighty to rescue him now, in the eleventh hour, promising to appear in the temple afterward with “a new song” (a Thanksgiving Psalm) and an offering to present, which he means to share with the poor invited for the occasion. He promises he will testify to all of them on that happy day how God finally rescued him from his undefined plight – undefined, as in all such psalms, so as to be applicable to anyone in trouble.
The conclusion, then, is unavoidable, namely that the crucifixion scenes in the gospels in fact cannot be historical accounts, but rather variations on a tradition (or set of traditions) inspired by scripture exegesis. The texts to which we have access today in the New Testament, actually serve as evidence for the conclusion that the gospels do not have the benefit of eyewitness support, but in fact are assemblages pieced together from strands taken from ancient text and re-interpreted to fit current traditions. The earliest epistolary layers of the New Testament fail to place Jesus’ crucifixion in any specific historical setting, indicating neither time nor place for this central element of Christian doctrine, while the gospel accounts themselves are simply variations of ancient wisdom texts re-imagined for theological and apologetic purposes of the day. Unfortunately, this has grave implications for the Christian worldview: If there were no crucifixion of Jesus, then there was no resurrection of Jesus. And if there were no resurrection of Jesus, then sadly, the fundamental beliefs of today’s Christians are all in vain.
by Dawson Bethrick