As Easter approaches, the scientist in me asks, bearing in mind the number of strange events told in the bible, what really happened? What the scientist does at this point is to examine the evidence and ask questions, so let us do that now. First, when were the accounts written? The answer is, apparently decades later, which means that details may not be correct, even with the best of intentions. Then, the text was revised under Constantine’s orders over 250 years later. The priests at Nicaea had a choice: do what Constantine wanted, in which case Christianity would be a permitted religion in the Roman empire, or reject Constantine, and get thrown over some cliffs. If they wanted to bring the message of Christ to the world, then surely a little softening of the Roman position was a small price to pay? Who would Constantine want to blame? Surely not the Romans, so that left “blame” to be more liberally apportioned to the Jews. This strongly suggests which way variations would go.
Thus in the bible, contrary to what Hollywood states, Jesus was not arrested by Roman soldiers but rather by representatives of the temple, who came bearing swords. Temple representatives bearing swords? They then needed Judas to “betray” Jesus. Exactly how this was a betrayal beats me; Jesus had clearly stated that he would be crucified because it was prophesied, so in principle, it was needed. But stranger still, a man has come into the temple, overturned all the money-lenders tables and had started preaching, so why not use one of them, who would most likely do it to get revenge? Why not find someone who had seen Jesus preach? If they were worried about his following, someone must have known what he looked like. Why did these Jews of the temple not care about saving the temple 30 pieces of silver? In my view, Judas was given a bad write-up.
Then consider the arrest. For some reason, one of the disciples has a sword, and he proceeds to cut off the ear of a priest. My first question: what were all the others with swords doing while all this was going on? Just standing around? Actually, only cutting off an ear would be extremely difficult; just how would you do it, without doing more serious damage elsewhere? Then why was a disciple of the prince of peace bringing a sword to there? Did they always carry swords? If not, why then? If so, why is this never mentioned elsewhere? Then, according to Luke, but not the others, Jesus put the ear back on and healed the man. Now, put yourself in the place of some of the priests. Here is a man who claims divine powers, and he just picks up a fallen ear and puts it back on a priest, and the man is healed. Would you not just pause and ask yourself, could he really be divine?
Now, consider Pilate. Pilate had faced mobs before. On one occasion he had a cohort of soldiers dressed up as Jews, and when the Jews got out of hand, he had the soldiers lay into the mob with clubs, and the floor was littered with Jews with broken bones. Pilate was not the man to give in to a Jewish mob, and had he, his future would be bleak. Tiberius had little sympathy for governors who gave in to mobs. Then why did Pilate say he could find no fault? No Roman governor would say that and order a crucifixion, again because word could get back to Tiberius, who could very well say, “No fault on you, so come to Capri and be thrown over the cliff.” No, if Pilate ordered a crucifixion, he would say something like, “He is guilty of leading a revolt,” even if he knew he was not. Then there was the crucifixion itself. Jesus was declared dead and brought down a few hours into it, without having his legs broken. He was then wrapped in cloth, and given away for burial. That never happened in any other Roman crucifixion. Criminals were literally left “hanging around” for days while the crows fed on the bodies, and eventually the remains would be discarded.
What could have happened? In my novel “Athene’s Prophecy” I offered the possibility that since there had been over 200 claimants to be the Jewish Messiah, and all had died but failed the resurrection test, Pilate offered the Jews exactly what they did not want: a Messiah that preached peace. (The Jews believed their Messiah would get rid of Rome, so Pilate had an incentive to stop the appearance of more Messiahs.) That would explain the label put on the cross. Accordingly, he permitted the body to be cut down at a time when in principle the crucifixion might be survivable. Pilate would not care one way or the other, as senior Roman soldiers were not full of our feelings of political correctness. That, of course, is mere speculation, but I believe the Muslims believe he did not actually die.
Is that what happened? We have no way of knowing what actually happened. What we do know from Tacitus is that according to the accounts he had, Cristus was crucified, and his disciples had started a serious religion that promoted peace. (The fact that throughout history Christianity has been responsible for uncountable murders is beside the point; the message given is that of peace.) In my opinion, the story told in the bible cannot be literally true, and what probably happened at Nicaea is that the priests, in massaging the story to be accepted by Constantine, effectively wrote it as a parable, showing up various character flaws while discarding that which would not be acceptable to Constantine. In this context, recall there is apparently a Gospel of Judas, and that was most certainly discarded.
In my opinion, we should forget the details because they are probably wrong, and instead concentrate more on the fundamental message of Christianity.