Deicide: The execution of Jesus
Why were Jews once accused of deicide?
What were the impacts of this belief?
Why is the topic worth studying today?
Deicide is a touchy topic.
- This essay is written from the Christian perspective that Yeshua of Nazareth
(Jesus Christ) was crucified circa 30 CE in Jerusalem in Judea.
This conflicts with:
Islamic teaching. Approximately 1.6 billion Muslims believe that the gospels
are in error. Yeshua was neither crucified nor resurrected. Another person was
executed in his place. Jesus ascended
to heaven without dying.
The beliefs of a very small percentage of Christians and imaginative fiction
writers who believe that Jesus survived the attempt to crucify him, was secretly
moved from Palestine, was nursed back to health, married Mary Magdalene, and
spent the rest of his natural life in what is now France.
- We usually avoid criticizing theological beliefs on any matter; we simply report them
straight up in all their diversity. However, we are
are making an exception in this one case. We are critical of the Christian religious belief,
now abandoned by almost all denominations, that all Jews were, and continue to be, responsible for
the killing of Jesus.
Why were Jews accused of deicide?
Prior to the mid-20th century, many Christian groups taught that all
Jews -- past, present and future -- were responsible for the execution of
Yeshua of Nazareth (Jesus Christ) in the 1st century CE.
Since most Christians have regarded Yeshua as one person within the Trinity, Jews were blamed
of committing a unique crime: deicide
-- the murder of God.
Fortunately, the belief that all Jews are responsible for Jesus' death was abandoned by essentially all,
Christian groups by the late 20th century. Still, old beliefs die hard. One
occasionally hears the term "Christ killers" used to accuse Jews living today of
being responsible for Jesus' death.
What were the impacts of this belief?
The belief that all Jews were responsible for Jesus execution has had many
It was used to justify the incredibly severe persecution, oppression and mass murder of Jews for over a thousand
Many regard this belief as having made it possible for the Nazis to
commit the Holocaust.
It held an entire group responsible for the actions of a few
individuals. Thus, all of the perhaps one million Jews who lived somewhere
in the Roman Empire during the 1st century CE were
considered responsible for the alleged actions of a single mob in Jerusalem
and their leaders. This type of unethical thinking continues today, where
whole groups of people -- e.g. pro-life advocates, homosexuals, Muslims,
religious conservatives, religious liberals, Sikhs, tele-ministers, Wiccans,
etc. are held responsible for the evil actions of one or a few individuals.
It held the descendents of the alleged perpetrators -- even those born
19 centuries later who lived thousands of miles away -- equally responsible
for Jesus' execution. This type of unethical thinking continues today when
present-day Christians are blamed for the Crusades, the present German
government is blamed for the Nazi Holocaust, the present Turkish government
is blamed for the genocide of Armenian Christians -- all events that
happened generations or centuries ago.
In the essays linked to a menu on this topic -- some already written and others to be
completed in the future -- we will explain that:
There is a general belief among many Christians that the
Bible is inerrant -- free of error. Thus they
accept the account of Jesus' trial and execution as fact.
They believe that the 1st century CE Romans and Jewish leaders in Judea -- and the mob that they
inflamed -- convinced the Roman leadership to order Jesus' execution.
The key phrase that has been used to justify holding "the Jews"
responsible for Jesus' execution is Matthew 27:25. It states: "Then
answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our
children." That is, all the Jews who formed the mob in front of
Pilate when Jesus' fate was being decided, accepted responsibility for
the death of Jesus. They also accepted responsibility on behalf of their
Many in the early Christian movement interpreted this passage literally:
i.e. accountability rested specifically on the mob and their children -- but not
their grandchildren, great grandchildren, great great grandchildren, or later generations. Those
Christians viewed the destruction of Jerusalem
as proof that God was punishing adults among "the Jews" and their
children for Jesus' execution.
believe in one of the many theories of the
atonement: that Jesus' execution made it possible for every human, from Adam and Eve to present-day individuals,
to be forgiven of their sins and saved. They regard everyone
who has ever sinned as sharing some responsibility for Jesus' crucifixion. Since
all have sinned, this means that every human being who has ever lived
shares in the guilt of causing Jesus' death.
The Roman Catholic Church and almost all Protestant
denominations now teach that some 1st century Jews shared
partial responsibility for causing Jesus' execution. However, they teach
1st century Jews were innocent of any direct involvement. In a 1965 declaration, the
Catholic Church stressed
that present-day Jews cannot be blamed for the death of Jesus. This is a belief
now held almost universally among Christians.
Many religious liberals tend to assess full blame to the Roman army. They view
the Gospels' passages which describe Jesus' trials by the Sanhedrin and
Pilate as anti-Judaic propaganda which are largely unrelated to an actual
historical event. Some suspect that after Yeshua committed aggravated
assault in the Temple, he was arrested by Roman soldiers, received a review of his case by a junior officer, and was sentenced to death under
the Roman Army's standing orders to
crucify any person who committed an act of insurrection.
With the exception of a few fringe radical Christians groups, no
denomination still teaches that all
present-day Jews are uniquely responsible for Christ's death.
However, old traditions die hard. Denominations can issue declarations
repudiating earlier beliefs, but some believers still follow the
historical teachings. The curse "Christ
killers" and the charge of deicide are still occasionally heard today. Mel
Gibson's film The Passion incorporates the Gospels and
in its graphical portrayal of Jesus' execution. In 2003-SEP, five months before the movies first public showing, Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the Simon
Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles CA said that his organization has
already received considerable hate mail from people who have seen or heard about the
movie, and are accusing modern-day Jews of blame in Jesus' death. Rabbi Hier told Reuters: “Are
there any manifestations of hate so far? The answer is an unequivocal yes.
We have had hate mail in the past. But never in spurts like this.” 1
Why is it important to assess blame about Jesus' execution?
If Jesus had been just another victim of the harsh Roman rule - one of the many tens of
thousands of slaves and rebels that the Romans crucified -- then his life and death might
not even have been recorded. But he is one of the founders of the largest religion in the
world: Christianity. He is regarded by many Christians as having led a life
without sin. He is worshiped by most Christians as the second person of the
Trinity. So, his execution was very special indeed.
From a legal point of view, if we accept the Gospel writers' accounts as accurate, then:
The prime responsibility for Jesus' death would be assigned to the
Roman army personnel who ordered and carried out the execution.
Lower levels of blame would be assigned to the local Jewish
authorities and the mob that they stirred up to demand Jesus' death. The Gospels are
silent on the size of the crowd which demanded Jesus' death. An ad hoc
group of scholars who studied the Mel Gibson film, The Passion, speculated that it might have consisted of a few dozen people. Or, as
Hollywood director Cecil B. DeMille portrayed, a cast of thousands. 1
Those ordinary Jewish citizens in Jerusalem who did not form part of
the mob would not in share blame.
Jews who were in foreign lands at the time are similarly blameless.
And, of course, their children, grandchildren, and descendents not yet
born of those few who shared some responsibility would be totally innocent
of any crime.
Edward Alexander, while reviewing a book "Christian
Antisemitism" by William Nichols, commented on the importance of the
"Christ killers" doctrine:
"...since the ideology of Jew-hatred and its catastrophic modern
result originated in Christendom, it is Christians more than Jews who should
be searching out their roots and trying to extirpate them...Nicholls believes
that neither modern antisemitism nor the Holocaust can be understood without taking into account the way the
people of Europe had been taught about the Jews from their childhood up by their own
religious tradition...The popular view that the Nazis chose Jews as their primary
[Holocaust] target because 2,000 years of Christian teaching had accustomed the world to
do so is, in Nicholls's view, essentially correct. In fact, he traces all modern forms of
antisemitism, from liberal and Marxist to conservative and Nazi, to the Christian myth of
Jews as the killers of Christ." 2,3
- Mary Boys, et al., "Dramatizing the Death of Jesus. Issues that Have
Surfaced in Media Reports about the Upcoming Film, 'The Passion',"
2003-JUN-17, at: http://www.bc.edu/
- Edward Alexander, book review of "Christian Antisemitism," listed
below. Reprinted from the Congress Monthly, Vol. 61, #1, (1994), American
Jewish Congress. See "The Nizkor Project," at: http://www1.ca.nizkor.org/
- W. Nicholls, "Christian Antisemitism: A History of Hate,"
Jason Aronson, (1995). You can order
this book from Amazon.com
Copyright 1998 to 2010 by Ontario
Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 1998-JUN-23
Last update: 2010-JUN-14
Author: B.A. Robinson