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Deicide: The execution of Jesus

Special notes.
Why were Jews once accused of deicide?
What were the impacts of this belief?
Why is the topic worth studying today?

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Special Notes:

Deicide is a touchy topic.

  1. 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:
    bullet 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.
    bullet 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.


  2. 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.

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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.

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What were the impacts of this belief?

The belief that all Jews were responsible for Jesus execution has had many devastating effects:

bullet It was used to justify the incredibly severe persecution, oppression and mass murder of Jews for over a thousand years.
bullet Many regard this belief as having made it possible for the Nazis to commit the Holocaust.
bullet 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.
bullet 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.

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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:

bullet 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.
bullet 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 children.
bullet 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.
bullet Most Christians 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.
bullet 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 that most 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.
bullet 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.
bullet 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 extra-biblical material  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: €œAre 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

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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:

bullet The prime responsibility for Jesus' death would be assigned to the Roman army personnel who ordered and carried out the execution.
bullet 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
bullet Those ordinary Jewish citizens in Jerusalem who did not form part of the mob would not in share blame.
bullet Jews who were in foreign lands at the time are similarly blameless.
bullet 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

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  1. 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:
  2. 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:
  3. W. Nicholls, "Christian Antisemitism: A History of Hate," Jason Aronson, (1995). You can order this book from

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Copyright 1998 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 1998-JUN-23
Last update: 2010-JUN-14
Author: B.A. Robinson
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