Monday, July 27, 2015

Three Men Were Crucified At Golgotha: Were Two Of Them Jesus' Disciples? (Part 1)

TWH: One of the highlights of the EABS conference in Córdoba for me was meeting Fernando Bermejo (Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia). I've enjoyed reading his posts over at Antonio's blog in Spanish for a few years now, and it's impossible to miss his publications dealing with the "historical Jesus" if you read the Journal for the Study of the New Testament (JSNT) or the Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus (JSHJ). Before getting into some of his positions and a little bit of reaction, let me just say this: Fernando has a way of captivating an audience. He is fun to listen to because he engages his audience. There's nothing worse than going to a conference and listening to papers that are read in a way bordering on monastic silence–monotone and dispassionate. Fernando's presentation had me awake and engaged. (The one person that I can compare this to in evangelical circles is none other than Walt Kaiser. Anyone who has ever been to an ETS conference, for example, and sat in on one of his presentations knows exactly what I'm talking about.) Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed grabbing coffee and having lunch with Fernando in Córdoba, and I look forward to seeing him again soon.

Turning now to the question at hand–"Three Men Were Crucified At Golgotha: Were Two Of Them Jesus' Disciples? "–I have to tell you up front something that you probably can guess for yourselves. Fernando and I do not exactly end up with the same conclusions to this question. I, for one, start with a position that the texts of the New Testament are inspired, and as a result they are inerrant and infallible. That's a major point for both of us. And, as you can imagine, our exegesis parts ways very early on because of what each of thinks about the nature of the texts of the New Testament. Even though our roads might part, it doesn't mean that we don't have much to talk about beyond the nature of the biblical texts. There's plenty to talk about. In this post, I want to turn our audience's attention to a journal article Fernando wrote in JSNT in 2013 titled "(Why) Was Jesus the Galilean Crucified Alone? Solving a False Conundrum." Why does the question posed in this post's title and the one posed by Fernando in the title of his journal article really matter? Well, there is another question that Fernando is trying to answer: Was Jesus an insurrectionist? To do so, though, he has to deal with these questions.

Here is the abstract to the article:
"One of the objections raised against the hypothesis that Jesus was involved in anti-Roman seditious activity runs as follows: if Jesus was put to death as an insurrectionist, why was he arrested and crucified alone, whilst his followers were left unharmed? Although this is regarded as a real conundrum by the guild, the present article proposes that the question has been incorrectly formulated, because it uncritically assumes that Jesus was indeed crucified alone. The article argues that both sound reasoning and significant evidence point to the fact that some followers of Jesus—or at least people related to him through a shared ideology and/or activities—were sought after and crucified along with him. In turn, this allows us to understand in a novel way the reasons for the collective crucifixion at Golgotha."
Let me give you some major points from Fernando's article. If you can get a copy of it (e.g., by joining, using your library's journal database, etc.), definitely take a look at it in its entirety. Alright, here are those major points:
1. Asking the question as to why Jesus was crucified alone gets the buggy before the horse. The important question is whether Jesus even was crucified alone.
2. Only those who participated in seditious acts against Rome, or those who were friendly to such attempts (e.g., aiding and abetting such attempts), were crucified. The Greek word λῃσταί (which appears in Matthew and Mark) should be understood more as political insurgents "not least because, as far as is known, when the Romans controlled Judaea from 63 BCE until the Jewish War, they only crucified seditionists or those thought to be sympathetic to them" (130).
3. It is probable that Jesus was crucified along with two other individuals. That much can be trusted. What Fernando calls into question is whether or not the other two men were in no way, shape, or form connected to Jesus and what he was doing in Israel leading up to the events of Golgotha.
4. When Luke and John do not use the Greek word λῃσταί in reference to the two other men, they do so intentionally with the purpose of "de-politicizing" the account and furthering the distinction between Jesus and these two individuals. 
5. Jesus' disciples were afraid of suffering the same fate as their Lord, which must mean they affirm their participation in seditious activity. 
6. There is a shift from singular to plural in the pericope involving Peter and his denials. In Mark 14:67, we find, "You also were with Jesus the Nazarene." While in Mark 14:69 and 70 we see "This one is one of them (ἐξ αὐτῶν)" and "Surely you are one of them (ἐξ αὐτῶν)." The shift to the plural in the association is indicative of the fact that those who were arrested were from the same group. 
7. That Jesus was positioned in the middle, between the two other men, and crucified with one on his left and one on his right is indicative of Jesus being considered the seditious leader of the group.
8. More could have been arrested and crucified on that day, but there were at least three individuals who breathed their last breaths at Golgotha. They were all part of one group, and Jesus was the leader. 

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