The question we are talking about deals with whether or not the two men crucified on the same day and at the same time as Jesus were actually two of his disciples. If they were, then the argument could be made that Jesus was an insurrectionist. I shared in the first part of this series information surrounding a journal article written by Fernando Bermejo. You should definitely check it out to get the best presentation of his evidence. If you read Part 1 of this series, you'll see a brief summary of some of the major points.
First and foremost, we have to ask whether or not the New Testament texts are trustworthy. I, of course, think they are, and that trustworthiness is an attribute of the texts because of their divine inspiration. Efforts to question the veracity and historical value of the New Testament are not new. One of the most puzzling aspects of historical Jesus studies for me is the criteria utilized to determine whether or not something is "historical" and really happened). I often find myself wondering how a person says that one thing is probable or very likely and then shoots down the same author when he says something else happened. Beyond that, though, what else can I say about this issue of Jesus' crucifixion, those crucified with him, and ultimately whether or not Jesus was an insurrectionist?
Warren Carter gives us a pretty standard explanation for why and when people were crucified during the years of the Roman Empire: "Rome used crucifixion as a form of torture that removed threats to the imperial system and intimidated others into submissive compliance" (The Roman Empire and the New Testament, 88). If we start with that information, one could argue that Jesus must have been viewed as a threat to the empire's presence in the land of the Jews. To argue that they would not have crucified Jesus if he was not a threat to the empire is another step. The New Testament doesn't present him as a perceived threat to the empire. The Gospels, in fact, present him as quite the opposite. Pilate did not want to crucify him, could find no just cause for doing so, and looked for an opportunity to set him free. Whether Rome only crucified insurrectionists throughout the reach of the empire, I'm not sure. It seems reasonable to say that capital crimes were by and large those that were acts of rebellion and attempts to overthrow Roman control. Non-political threats in Israel during Roman occupation, we can believe, were handled primarily through indigenous rule, or the laws of a respective people. This would be the Sanhedrin. Jacob Neusner writes:
"The national tribunal, called variously the Sanhedrin or High Court, acted with a measure of freedom to determine internal policy in religion, ritual, cult, and local law. The Sanhedrin lost authority to inflict capital punishment, it is generally assumed, shortly after Judea became a part of the Syrian provincial administration. Whether, in fact, it had administered the death penalty in Herod's reign is not entirely clear. The court certainly maintained the right to direct Temple affair. It decided matters of civil and commercial law and torts and defined personal and family status and marriage procedure. The court also collected the biblical levies and determined the sacred calendar." (First-Century Judaism in Crisis, 40).That's what we see in the New Testament. But being crucified doesn't mean that Jesus must have been an insurrectionist. The narrative we find in the Gospels presents quite another story, one which we can trust and one which makes the most sense to me.
We'll pick up here in the next post.