César Cevera: One character in the New Testament that catches lots of attention is Barabbas, the one the crowds asked Pilate to set free in place of Jesus. Who was this person that had the sympathy of the people?
AP: His name means "son of the father" in Aramaic. He could be anything from one who belonged to a precursor group of zealots some thirty years later or some assassins who were secretly killing Romans. It has also been proposed that Barabbas was one of the disciples of Jesus. It is very difficult to prove his historical existence.
César Cevera: You mention zealots and assassins. They themselves were in favor of a military solution against Rome for decades after Jesus' death.
AP: The zealots were fanatical in the first century like the Islamic State is today. When someone is sure about his relationship with God and think their theological opinions are fact, murder becomes an accepted way of life. Jesus had nothing to do with the zealots. It is true that there is no phrase in the Gospels where Jesus condemned violence. Quite the opposite is true. He is a person who says "sell your cloak and buy a sword." From a simple reading of the Gospels, no one could come to the conclusion that Jesus was a strict pacifist, nor the first feminist.
César Cevera: What of those who doubt that Jesus died on the cross and lived many years before dying in Kashmir?
AP: Those theories are totally absurd. The Romans knew very well how to put someone to death and would not let him escape. The cross was the first serious theological problem Jesus' followers had. They needed to explain why the Messiah died on the cross. No one ties his right shoe to his left shoe and then tries to run a marathon. The answer of the apostles is that it was the plan of God. Man was a sinner and there was no choice. He allowed the death of his son. In the ancient world, no problem was fixed without blood and sacrifice. And Paul shows us that he has a very Greek way of thinking when he proclaims this solution to the problem.
César Cevera: Jesus was crucified along with two thieves. You have raised some question about their identity.
AP: The ones who are called thieves were probably members of Jesus' group. Luke changes the word "bandits," the contemptuous way in which the Romans referred to the followers of the anti-Roman movements of the time, and replaced it with the word "criminals," which has a meaning linked to common criminals. Just think about the immediate persecution suffered by Jesus' group after his arrest. The apostles around the cross is a symbolic vision of John, just a myth. Mark has all of them far away, only the women were close to the cross. In a Semitic society, women were not a threat and had nothing to fear.
César Cevera: From a historical point of view, is Jesus the founder of Christianity?
AP: If an individual claims–in either a direct or indirect way by his life and by the set of information that is preserved–that he never wanted to found a religion, as in the case of Jesus who sought to deepen and reform Judaism, or that of Paul of Tarsus, who wanted to live as a Jew who believed in the Messiah, then that person cannot be considered a founder of Christianity . . . unless you say that he is so unknowingly. Christianity takes at least four hundred years after the death of Jesus to develop and has many founders. Paul of Tarsus is the one who first reinterprets Jesus and lays the strongest foundation. But the founders really start after his death through the work of Paul's disciples. One of them was probably Mark, who is very Pauline in his thinking.
César Cevera: What makes Christianity its own religion, not just a reformed practice of Judaism?
AP: When Christianity has a number of sacred writings themselves that are not accepted by the Jews, as early as in the late second century, we can say that it is a religion. That's about 170 years after Jesus' death. However, not until the fifth century can we speak of Christianity as a phenomenon fully formed in its own doctrine.
César Cevera: You recently completed a study related to Paul of Tarsus, which you describe as one who reinterprets Jesus. What would Jesus have thought about what Paul was saying?
AP: Jesus' would not have signed on for all that Paul was saying. It is very ideological and, although Jewish, Paul represents a branch of the apocalyptic that Jesus with which Jesus was not in full agreement. Paul, like Peter, believed that Jesus was a man that God adopted and that after the resurrection sat down in heaven. He believes in the apotheosis of a human being. A human being who passes into the sphere of the divine, as with Julius Caesar and Caesar Augustus in the case of the Romans, but still they are human. Jesus would not have accepted that apotheosis by Paul.
César Cevera: Peter is one of the key figures of Christianity, a man closely linked to Jesus. How was his relationship with Paul of Tarsus?
AP: Of Peter we know very little. The Petrine Gospels have disappeared and the image we have of him by the authors of the Gospels is quite negative. Of Peter we know only anecdotes. But that's not the same as his theology. We can be sure it was very Jewish and different than Paul's. They had a serious confrontation in the city of Antioch, and even stopped talking. Peter was also in disagreement with James and had fled Jerusalem. He was closer to Paul's theology than that of the rest of the apostles. Still we are really missing the data we need in order to write a book on this subject of Peter's theology. Just isn't enough out there, and what we do have is through the lens of Pauline theology.