Although, according to the Christian Gospels, three men were crucified ca. 30 CE outside Jerusalem under the prefect Pontius Pilate, both popular wisdom and mainstream scholarship focus solely on the fate of a single man. The story is indeed told, once and again, as if only Jesus of Nazareth had been the target of Roman repression, as if only his suffering were worthy of attention, and as if the other men crucified at Golgotha had nothing to do with him.
The present book forcefully argues that, from an epistemological and even an ethical perspective, this is an odd and worrying state of affairs: the prevailing approach entails one-sided oversight of significant information, betrays a strong bias, and prevents us from grasping the meaning of the episode, thus making no sense from the standpoint of ancient historians. The event which requires being elucidated is not Jesus’ crucifixion, but the whole episode of the execution by the Roman authorities of at least three men.
Who were the other men crucified at Golgotha? Were they actually unconnected to the self-styled “king of the Jews”, as the evangelists want us to believe? Why did the Roman prefect crucify all of them together, in the same place at the same time? And why are we told that Jesus’ cross was placed in the middle of the others? Taking seriously into account the extent of the implausible elements in the Passion accounts, the collective nature of the crucifixion, and the politics of Roman Palestine, They Suffered under Pontius Pilate: Jewish Anti-Roman Resistance and the Crosses at Golgotha provides fresh and consistent answers to these and many other pressing questions, offering a genuinely historical reconstruction. The conclusions obtained challenge many well-rooted assumptions, unveil Jesus’ story as a collective enterprise, have far-reaching implications for the history of Judaism under the Principate, and compel us to critically rethink the beginnings of Christianity.
Fernando Bermejo-Rubio is associate professor in the Department of Ancient History at the Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia (Madrid).
Introduction: Looking At Golgotha Otherwise
Part I: The Gospel Story as a Historical Problem
Chapter 1: Why A Historian Cannot Trust the Gospel Story: Deconstructing the Common Wisdom
Chapter 2: Ways of Responding to the Textual Problems
Part II: Looking to the Real World: The Historical Context
Chapter 3: Palestine Under Roman and Herodian Rule
Chapter 4: Jewish Resistance Under Roman and Herodian Rule
Part III: Etiology of a Collective Execution
Chapter 5: Unraveling the Gospel Story: Individual Versus Community
Chapter 6: Jesus’ Royal-Messianic Claim
Chapter 7: What Jesus and His Group Proclaimed and Did
Part IV: From Gethsemane to Golgotha: Thinking Outside the Box
Chapter 8: Glimpsing the Meaning of the Arrest
Chapter 9: The Golgotha Scene: A Tale Of (At Least) Three Men
Chapter 10: Again On Gethsemane And Golgotha: Towards The Most Likely Historical Reconstruction
Epilogue: How (Not) To Change a Paradigm
Appendix 1. Is Jesus Research Nothing but Hermeneutical Ventriloquism?
Appendix 2. Was Jesus Misunderstood? An Ancient and Modern Fiction
Appendix 3. The Intertwining of “Politics” and “Religion” in the Gospel Story
Appendix 4. Were the Disciples Left Unmolested? The case of James, the Son of Zebedee
They were three indeed. Three who suffered on three crosses under Pontius Pilate. Bermejo-Rubio seeks to understand the event of Golgotha from a historical perspective as the collective execution of three individuals who endangered the order imposed by Roman domination. If Jesus loses in singularity, he gains in historical plausibility. By anchoring him firmly in the history of his time, this reading does not shake the foundations of Christianity, since Christian faith is based on the announcement of the resurrection, which completely escapes historical criticism. This book is essential reading for anyone interested in the historical Jesus.
They Suffered under Pontius Pilate is a fresh, challenging, and convincing re-assessment of the issue of the historical circumstances leading to the execution of Jesus of Nazareth. Although Bermejo Rubio follows in the footsteps of Reimarus and Brandon, he comes to the topic with sophistication and acuity lacking in his predecessors, avoiding both naïve historicism and apologetics. His case is forceful: historians must come to terms with Jesus's execution along with insurrectionists, and with the fact that the gospel writers and later Christian visual representations worked very hard to neutralize that fact. This is an important book that deserves a very serious engagement.