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Segment 4: Jesus Is Crucified
Once again, O'Connor starts off a segment with a baseless bit of speculation. In an excerpt repeated from "The Search for Jesus," O'Connor suggests that when Jesus and his disciples were walking through the Kidron Valley "it suddenly hit him" that he might die that night. No counterpoint to this theory is presented. Jennings then has scholars offering different views on whether Judas's betrayal of Jesus was historical fact. Both Robert Funk (the founder of the Jesus Seminar) and John Shelby Spong express the opinion that this part of the story was probably an anti-Semitic fiction: the name "Judas" is just the Greek form of the name "Judah" or "Jew," and on this view Judas is thus a symbol for the Jews as a whole betraying Christ. In short, Judas probably never existed. Surprisingly, it is the ultra-liberal John Dominic Crossan who is called on to rebut this theory: he points out that the name "Judas" (Judah) was such a common Jewish name that the supposed symbolism would be too weak to be noticed. Crossan states cautiously that there is good evidence that someone very close to Jesus did in fact betray him to the authorities. Jennings then discusses what role the Jewish and Roman authorities had in the execution of Jesus (see also segment 3 above). Marcus Borg states that he and most biblical scholars agree that while the Romans were directly responsible for Jesus' death, since crucifixion was a Roman form of execution, a small group of Jewish establishment elites, especially priests, collaborated with the Romans in getting rid of Jesus. Beyond this consensus, though, deep disagreements emerge. The Gospels seem to portray Pilate as innocent almost to the point of sainthood, contrary to what we know about him from extrabiblical sources, according to which he could order people to their deaths with no remorse. For that reason, some scholars think that the Gospels shift the blame for the crucifixion from Pilate to the Jewish leadership in order to ingratiate the Christian movement with the Roman authorities in their own day. But as Jennings admits, some scholars disagree. As we have noted, Pilate did on occasion back down under pressure from Jewish leaders when it seemed expedient to do so. As for the notion that the Gospels blame the Jews indiscriminately for Jesus' death, Paul Maier cites Luke 23:27 as evidence that many of the Jews were greatly saddened by Jesus' execution.
Most of the errors in this segment have already been pointed out. To Crossan's observations about the historicity of Judas we may add this point: If the Gospel writers, or even their sources, had used the name Judas as a symbol of the Jews as evil, it is peculiar that they also use the name for one of Jesus' brothers (Matt. 13:55; Mark 6:3) and for one of Jesus' other disciples (Luke 6:16; John 14:22). Regarding Pilate, we have already pointed out that the Gospels give a more nuanced view of his dealings with the Jewish leadership than is often recognized. The Gospels do not portray Pilate as a saint or even as innocent, though Matthew does report Pilate's own claim to be innocent (Matt. 27:24). Rather, the Gospels represent Pilate as a calculating sort concerned only to protect his own power by avoiding a popular uprising at any cost. It is also a mistake to assume that a man will always behave in the same way; and on any account the situation Pilate faced with Jesus was unusual.
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