PART 5 of my Historical Jesus series

To quote Paula Fredriksen on how the gospels in their cognitive dissonance of why Jesus was crucified, the gospels simply tried to cover up the facts yet left in their narratives, clues as to the real reasons:

“The legal or practical grounds for Jesus’ arrest (e.g., disturbing the peace, sedition, etc.) are nowhere stated, which enhances the evangelical theme that Jesus died for religious reasons. Certain hints, however, point another way. At the moment of his arrest, Mark’s Jesus exclaims, “Have you come out as against a robber (lestes, a political outlaw), with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I was with you in the Temple teaching, and you did not seize me” (14:48-49). Perhaps Jesus was arrested as a lestes: he was certainly executed as one, crucified between two others (duo lestai, 15:27); and he was charged with making a seditious claim, that is, that he was “The King of the Jews” (15:26)” [1]

It was S. F. G. Brandon, who stated the most damning piece of evidence for the rebel paradigm, that Jesus got “crucified by the Romans as a rebel against the government in Judea.” He showed the gospels tried to cover up this fact and this fact was also mentioned by Tacitus. [2] I showed in the last part that the Romans only crucified for sedition, the same as a farmer would string up a crow as a deterrent. Dr R M Price has always said that Brandon had done a fine job of higher criticism showing that Jesus had been sanitized in the gospels. He comments that even though he was whitewashed and changed beyond recognition there were some fossils, stories about the historical Jesus that just made it into the gospels simply because they were too good to leave out. These incidents escaped the censorship editors such as the disciples armed with weapons starting to defend him against the arresting mob in Gethsemane. Jesus asked at the last supper have you got any swords. The kingdom of god advances with violence, Jesus saying “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matt. 10:34) and many other such incidents discussed below.

Even in the transmission of the gospels Jesus was still being sanitized as Bart Ehrman shows when discussing Mark 1:41 which has two different readings, Jesus feeling compassion, splangnistheis and Jesus becoming angry, orgistheis. (codex Bezae). Usually the harder reading is the preferable but Matthew and Luke clinch the deal as they both drop the word angry when copying this verse. Elsewhere they also drop Jesus being angry from other verses of Mark (example copying Mark 3:5, 10:14, Luke or Matthew have no anger), and Mark has no problem with showing Jesus as angry in his gospel.[3] This all shows the image of Jesus was still being whitewashed after the gospels were written, still being changed in transmission.

        In one interesting review, Dr Price shows one of these sanitising incidents in practice:

“In Matthew 17:24­-27, we find the famous legend of the coin in the fish’s mouth. Simon Peter has just assured the collectors of the Jewish Temple Tax that Jesus intends to pay the tax. Jesus then asks him: “From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes- -from their own sons or from others?” “From others,” comes Peter’s answer. “Then the sons are exempt,” replies Jesus. The whole point is that Jesus, being God’s son, has no intention of paying. So far so good. But the story continues: “But so that we may not offend them, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.” The saying is thus defused, and the point is completely reversed. Someone, afraid of the original radical threat of the passage, has tacked on a pious legend which makes the text “safe.” May we not wonder if exactly the same thing has not transpired with respect to Jesus’ teaching on another tax, that paid to Caesar? [4]

        Reza Aslan has a good follow up on Caesar’s tax:

“Give back (apodidomi) to Caesar the property that belongs to Caesar …” The verb apodidomi, often translated as “render unto,” is actually a compound word: apo is a preposition that in this case means “back again”; didomi is a verb meaning “to give.” (Ἀπόδοτε Mark 12:17 and pars). Apodidomi is used specifically when paying someone back property to which he is entitled; the word implies that the person receiving payment is the rightful owner of the thing being paid. In other words, according to Jesus, Caesar is entitled to be “given back” the denarius coin, “not because he deserves tribute, but because it is his coin: his name and picture are stamped on it. God has nothing to do with it. By extension, God is entitled to be “given back” the land the Romans have seized for themselves because it is God’s land: “The Land is mine,” says the Lord (Leviticus 25:23). Caesar has nothing to do with it.

So then, give back to Caesar what is his, and give back to God what belongs to God. That is the zealot argument in its simplest, most concise form. And it seems to be enough for the authorities in Jerusalem to immediately label Jesus as lestes. A bandit. A zealot” [5]

       The denarius Jesus demanded to see was roughly equal to a day’s pay. Roman taxation was onerous and burdensome. There is another point about this incident made by Crossan and Borgs book, The last week:

“In the Jewish homeland in the first century, there were two types of coins. One type, because of the Jewish prohibition of graven images, had no human or animal images. [Thus the need for the money changers at the Temple]. The second type (including Roman coinage) had images. Many Jews would not carry or use coins of the second type. But Jesus’s interrogators in the story did. The coin they produced had Caesar’s image along with the standard and idolatrous inscription heralding Caesar as divine and Son of God. They are exposed as part of the politics of collaboration.”[6]

        Jesus calling the Syro-Phoenician woman and her child “dogs” in a healing episode in Mark 7:24-30, is more than likely historical. This is one of the sayings that escaped the sanitizing editors. A reluctant Jesus tells the woman, “First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” This of course is contrary to the image the gospel has of Jesus and more reflects the xenophobic messianism of the Dead Sea Scrolls. They looked forward to the destruction of all those they hated at the end of days. The Jesus of this episode is a glimmer of the historical Jesus.

Greame Lang had noticed that “Jesus himself is recorded as expressing some rather strong opinions about the wealthy. After meeting the rich young man who sadly declines to sell all he has and give the money to the poor, Jesus tells his disciples that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of god” (Mark 10:23-25). Many attacks in the Jewish war were carried out by the poor against the upper classes. Ananias’ palace and Herodian palaces were burnt down; all of the debt records were destroyed (War 2.17.6). The Dead Sea Scrolls offer a window into the minds of these Jews and in the scroll 4Q171 describes “the time of testing” doing a pesher on psalm 37. It uses the typology of testing on Exodus and Wilderness. All this together with the reversal of fortunes expected at a realized eschatology meant….. “some of [Jesus’] rhetoric certainly would have been received without much argument by some of the revolutionaries described by Josephus.” [7]

W. Domeris sees in the third beatitude in Matthew 5:5, a call by Jesus to restore the land to the oppressed peasants. He says Jesus quotes Psalm 37:11, a psalm that gives hope to the peasants against the evil landowners. He goes on to say that Jesus in Matthew 11:29 aligns himself with the poor and oppressed of the Beatitudes, through the anticipation of his own humiliation and oppression. As usual with many episodes in the gospels this takes on eschatological proportions when the fortunes of these peasants are promised to be inverted in the kingdom of God. They were destined to replace the existing political hierarchy. [8]

Horsley comments on the dire conditions of the Jewish peasants due to conquest, bad administration, civil wars and famine and asks “why so many hundreds, even thousands of Jewish peasants, were prepared to abandon their homes to pursue some prophet into the wilderness, or to rise in rebellion against their Jewish and Roman overlords when the signal was given by some charismatic “King” or to flee to the hills to join some brigand band. Peasants generally do not take such drastic action unless conditions have become such that they can no longer pursue traditional ways of life.” [9].

Much of religion and politics were inseparable. The Lord’s Prayer is concerned with the strife of the peasants hoping they get enough to eat and to cancel their debts. (“Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses”). John Dominic Crossan tells us that the “Our Father” contains retributive justice like that contained all over the Prophets and Psalms, in his book “The greatest Prayer”. It tells of the kingdom of god that is to come,(“thy Kingdom come… on earth as it is in heaven”), a kingdom that was to be established right here on earth. (Daniel 2:44). “The Lord’s Prayer is … both a revolutionary manifesto and a hymn of hope.” [10]

When Jesus says “Come, follow me …..and I will make you fishers of men. ‘ At once they left their nets and followed him.” (Matthew 4:18-20). This all sounds very like a military oath of allegiance. As Harnack said, “the word of Jesus that one should leave all for his sake and the confession of faith in him at baptism could be conceived to be similar to a military oath of allegiance. To the extent that the sayings of Jesus were later torn from their historical context” [11]

The kiss of Judas is only the dramatic story telling of the gospels. The only dealings the Roman administration would have with a movement like the Jesus movement is through the payment of informers, whether Judas is a literary invention or not – that is what he represents. Paul’s epistles only say on the night Jesus was handed over without naming Judas. (1 Cor. 11:23-25). Tom Dykstra sees Judas used by Mark (Mark being a Paulinist downplays Jesus’ family and the twelve) to emphasize the 12 before Paul were inferior. “The most straightforward interpretation is that the evangelist wanted to place extra heavy emphasis on the fact that Judas was one of the twelve; or, in other words, he wanted to leave no possibility that his hearers would miss the point that one of the twelve betrayed Jesus. The reader must naturally infer that mere membership in the ranks of “the twelve” – or, in the context of a Pauline epistle, mere status as one of “the apostles before me” -should not automatically confer authority on anyone.”[12]

Many scholars today think that Iscariot means man of Kerioth as the “Is” in Hebrew means “ish” in English, implying Judas was Keriothish, (transliteration of Is-Qeriyot). Given there was no village Kerioth at the time of Jesus it is more likely that this is a Greek rendering of the Sicarii, (an assassin group who had small daggers under their clothing on the pretense of a sacrifice), this implying the name meaning “man of the daggers.” Judah Sicarii became Jude Iscariot, then Judas Iscariot – sicarii after their knife (sicae-Latin/ sikkah-Aramaic). [13] As discussed later, many more disciples had descriptive names associated with the zealots.

            The gospels are the opposite of the background they were set in, they were describing a kingdom of god that Jesus was ushering in. A land of milk and honey where everybody gets healed and fed. At the eschaton a messiah will rule a transformed earth, one of non violence and peace, such as the Pax Romana as a result of conquering Empire. (Cf Isaiah 25:6-8 where the Lord will “wipe away the tears from all faces.”) 

John Dominic Crossan in his book God and Empire cannot forgive John of Patmos for describing a warlike Christ in his Great Apocalypse, but Revelation could be describing the earliest realistic layer of Christianity. Crossan commented on Revelation in contrast to the gospels: “The First Coming has Jesus on a donkey making a nonviolent demonstration.The Second Coming has Jesus on a war horse leading a violent attack.” [14] But the gospels are not only trying to do a bios of Jesus but describe the “kingdom of god” he was ushering in. This meant the sick got healed, the hungry fed and a peaceful background that was all inaugurated by Jesus. In Jewish literature the eschaton involved a transformation of the earth where violence would be transformed into an era of peace. Crossan in the same book uses “the Jewish Sibylline Oracles that date from around 150 years before the time of Jesus”, to demonstrate this point. Firstly he shows the new age will have an abundance:

For the all-bearing earth will give the most excellent unlimited fruit to mortals, of grain, wine, and oil and a delightful drink of sweet honey from heaven, trees, fruit of the top branches, and rich flocks and herds and lambs of sheep and kids of goats. (Sibylline Oracles 3.744–48)

And next it shows there will “no longer be any violence in all the world:

Wolves and lambs will eat grass together in the mountains. Leopards will feed together with kids. Roving bears will spend the night with calves. The flesh-eating lion will eat husks at the manger like an ox, and mere infant children will lead them with ropes. For he will make the beasts on earth harmless. Serpents and asps will sleep with babies and will not harm them, for the hand of God will be upon them. (Sibylline Oracles 3.788–95 cf Isaiah 11:6–9) [15]

This is the reason for the peaceful background to the gospels as opposed to the real background as seen in Josephus’ Works. It is the gospels that add the peaceful layer.

The gospels are aware of the rebellion that Jesus was a part of, they presumed the readers already knew of the rebellion, but downplay it in the shame of crucifixion. Here is the original Greek of Mark 15:7:  ἦν δὲ ὁ λεγόμενος Βαραββᾶς μετὰ τῶν συστασιαστῶν δεδεμένος, οἵτινες ἐν τῇ στάσει φόνον πεποιήκεισαν. 

This translates to: “There was (in prison) the one named Barabbas, tied together with the co-insurrectionists, that at the rebellion, they committed murder.”

       This verse says ‘the’ rebellion. “στάσει” means rebellion, mutiny, insurgency or insurrection. It also says “the one” named Barabbas. The Greek text has insurrectionists [plural] that committed murder, not just Barabbas alone. In historical context as seen in Josephus, the number of rebels the gospels allude to would have been substantial. 

Some manuscripts of Matthew 27:16 have ‘Jesus Barabbas’ prompting some people to see Barabbas (literally means in Aramaic ‘son of the father’) as an alter ego for Jesus. Another Markan literary construct. [16] Tischendorf thought that this was a Greek corruption, but that was before the discovery of the Sinatic palimpsest of the of the Old Syriac Version where the name Jesus is before Barrabban. (This is ‘son of a teacher’). [17] Later scribes found it detestable that Barabbas bore the same name as the son of god and would have discarded it. As Matthew copied his trial narrative from Mark he must have found ‘Jesus Barabbas’ in his copy of Mark. [18] Therefore the earliest copies of Mark originally had Jesus Barabbas. As the Paschal Pardon is not historical, this incident too is an obvious literary construct. Robert Merritt discusses similar Greaco festivals such as Dionysus Eleuthereus that may have been used to recreate this literary construct. [19]

       In the gospel of Luke Jesus advises his disciples to buy swords: 

He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfilment.” The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.” “That’s enough!” he replied.(Luke 22:36-38, NIV). 

At the arrest those around him, seeing what was going to happen, said:

“Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” (Luke 22:49). 

The word used here is μαχαίρῃ machairē. The machairē was a single edged sword, larger than a Xiphos and could refer to a gladius. “Let us remember that Luke mentioned both swords. Here the singular word sword clearly appears as distributive, [having the same meaning as], ‘Do we take our swords?’. The author of Luke wishes to say that Jesus’ companions were willing to offer armed resistance.” [20] Even if machairē refers to the sacrificial knives as suggested by many scholars such as Paula Fredriksen and Dale Martin, this does not discount them being used in any resistance operations. These sacrificial knives would be carried by many at the Passover. It was these types of weapon, easily concealed, that the Sicarii used when they assassinated the high priest Jonathan.

There are many hints in the gospels that some of Jesus’ followers were zealot resistance types. As Carmichael said, “The echo of the Zealots, for instance is arresting. One Simon the “Kananean” (in the list of the twelve appointed by Jesus) is mentioned (Mark 3;18). The two sons of Zavdai (John and Jacob) are called “sons of rage,” echoing the violence associated with the Kingdom of God activist. Also, Simon the Rock is called “Baryon,” as though it meant “Bar Yonah,” or son of Yonah, but “Baryon” meant “rebel, outlaw,” a political or social outcast living “on the outside,” away from the settled areas controlled by the state.” [21]

I’ll unpack all those points raised above.


Mark 3:18 (Cf Matthew 10:4) has Simon Kananean as one of the disciples. The Hebrew word ‘cana’ means zealot and thus modern translations now translate it as Simon the Zealot. 

Luke 6:15 and Acts 1:13 had him as Simon the zealot all along.


James and John, the sons of Zebedee were known as ‘Boanerges’, Boanerges is a transliteration of Aramaic benai regesh which means “sons of anger”, not “sons of thunder” as Mark misrepresents it.This name was a reflection of their violence seen in Luke 9:53-56.

“James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us what- ever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink,”(Mark 10:35-38).

Just as Mark severely treats the twelve as disciples that just don’t get it, he also reprimands the Heirs of Jesus. He has James and John skip over Jesus’ death for their own glory. “We have already mentioned how central the theme of failed discipleship is to Mark’s gospel and to Thursday in particular. Judas betrays Jesus, Peter denies him, and the rest flee.” [22] All this is actually a polemic of the Jerusalem church. It was Weeden that wrote, “Mark is assiduously involved in a vendetta against the disciples. He is intent on totally discrediting them. He paints them as obtuse, obdurate, recalcitrant men who are at first unperceptive of Jesus’ messiahship, then opposes its style and character, and finally rejects it. As the coup de grace, Mark closes his Gospel without rehabilitating the disciples.” [23]

Kelber has provided the reason for Mark’s actions, namely he wants to show that the disciples provide instances of a defective Jesus tradition. This is a polemic against those that derive their authority directly from the family of Jesus. [24]


Markus Bockmuehl asks in his paper was Simon Peter a ‘Son of Yonah’ or a ‘Terrorist’? [25]

The Greek for Simons name is clumsy in Matthew 16:17

ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν αὐτῷ Μακάριος εἶ, Σίμων Βαριωνᾶ, ὅτι σὰρξ καὶ αἷμα οὐκ ἀπεκάλυψέν σοι ἀλλ’ ὁ πατήρ μου ὁ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς·

-“Σίμων Βαριωνᾶ”(Simon Bariona):

Shimon (Simon) is Hebrew, bar is Aramaic for son, and Jonas or Jona is a Greek form of the Hebrew name Yonah. However in the Greek text, the name reads as bariona (Βαριωνᾶ). We know this word had a connotation for outlaws from the Talmud, b. Gittin 56a, Bariona – this word has no resonance in Greek, it has a precise meaning in Aramaic – fugitive or outlaw. In the Talmud bariona and it’s plural – biryonim – are used to describe the zealots who fought against Rome. Even if we take the clumsy Greek rendering, there is a known comparable reference to zealot types that has a parallel in one of the Dead sea scrolls (4Q541) where a messianic figure is called “hayonah”, “the dove”.  S(h)imon barjonah could be read as S(h)imon son of the dove.

As Javior Alonso writes, “The image of an absolutely pacifist Jesus does not correspond to the reality of the historical character, but to a later theological creation that modifies, although it fails to hide, certain politically incorrect behaviors of the Nazarene.” [26]

“the kingdom of the heavens is taken by violence, and the violent claim it” (Matt. 11:12).


[1] Fredriksen, Paula, From Jesus to Christ, The Origins of the New Testament Images of Jesus

2nd Ed. (Yale, 2000), p.116

[2] Brandon, S. F. G., Jesus and the Zealots, A study of the political factor in primitive Christianity, (Manchester Press 1967), p.1.

[3] Ehrman, Bart, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, (Harper, 2005), p.133-139.

[4] Price, R. M., NUMBERED AMONG THE TRANSGRESSORS, in the following link:

[5] Aslan, Reza, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, (Random House, 2013), p.97.

[6] Borg, Marcus J. and Crossan, John Dominic, The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach about Jesus’s Final Days in Jerusalem (SPCK Publishing; 1st Edition,2008), p.64

[7] Lang, Greame, Oppression and Revolt in Ancient Palestine: The Evidence in Jewish Literature from the Prophets to Josephus, Sociological Analysis, Vol. 49, No. 4 (Winter, Oxford, 1989), pp. 325-342, first quote at 327, second quote at 329.

[8] Domeris, W., Meek or oppressed? Reading Matthew 5:5 in context, Acta theol. vol.36 suppl.23 Bloemfontein 2016

[9] Horsley, Richard A. and Hanson, John S., Bandits, Prophets and Messiahs, Popular Movements in the time of Jesus, (Winston Press, 1985), p.50

[10] Crossan, John Dominic, The Greatest Prayer, Rediscovering the Revolutionary Message of the Lord’s Prayer, (Harper, 2010), p.4.

[11] Harnack, Adolf, Militia Christi, (English Translation, Fortress Press 1981), p.28-29.

[12] Dykstra, Tom, Mark Canonizer of Paul, (Ocabs Press 2012), p.117.

[13] Crossan, John Dominic, The Historical Jesus: the Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant. (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1992), pp. 118 ff

[14] Crossan, John Dominic, God and Empire: Jesus Against Rome, Then and Now. (HarperCollins, 2008), p.218

[15] ibid, p.79ff.

[16] MSS support for this variant reading are v16 ιησουν βαραββαν Θ f1 700* l844, Sinaitic Syriac v17 ιησουν τον βαραββαν f1, Sinaitic Syriac ιησουν βαραββαν Θ 700* l844

[17] Winter, Paul, On the Trial of Jesus, (Walter De Gruyter 1974), p.138, fn16.

[18] ibid, p.137.

[19] Merritt, Robert, Jesus Barabbas and the Paschal Pardon, JBL 104 (1985), 57-68.

[20] Torrents, José Montserrat, Jesús, El Galileo Armado, (edaf 2011), ch 7.

[21] Carmichael, Joel, The Birth of Christianity: Reality and Myth, (Hippocrene Books, 1989), p.189.

[22] Borg, Marcus J. and Crossan, John Dominic, The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach about Jesus’s Final Days in Jerusalem (SPCK Publishing; 1st Edition,2008), p.126

[23] Weeden, T.J., Mark: Traditions in conflict. (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1971), p.50-1.

[24] Kelber, W.H., The kingdom in Mark: A new place and a new time, (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1974), p.64.

[25] Bockmuehl, Markus, Simon Peter’s Names in Jewish Sources, journal of jewish studies, vol. lV, no. 1, spring 2004, p.65.

[26] Alsonso, Javier, El contexto judío de la pasión, essay in La Verdadera Historia De La Pasión, Según la investigación y el estudio histórico, Piñero, Antonio, and Segura, Eugenio Gómez, Ed. (Edaf, 2011), p.89.


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