The Question is the Answer
By Bernard Starr Ph.D.
April 2, 2004
Jesus taught with parables. So it’s fitting to begin with one.
THE PARABLE OF THE GAMBLER
A guy goes to Las Vegas and loses all his money in an incredible streak of bad luck. He can’t win at any game and he tries them all. Wisely though, he bought a return bus ticket. Now waiting at the station he wants to use the toilet but he doesn’t have a dime for the pay toilet. Another traveler sympathetic to his plight hands him a coin. Just as he’s about to drop the dime in the slot he notices that the stall door is open. So he keeps the dime and does his business. Back in the waiting room he spots a ten-cent slot machine. He inserts his last borrowed dime and lo-and-behold he hits the jackpot for $200. He goes back to the casino with his new stake and has an incredible streak of good luck winning at poker, black jack roulette and craps. Whatever he touches literally turns to gold. He leaves for home that night with $200,000. The next day he invests his winnings in the stock market. It’s the beginning of the dot com boom and in a short while he’s ahead millions. He wisely cashes out and starts his own telecommunications company. He promptly raises more than a billion dollars in an initial public offering. His company’s stock soars and again he cashes out, but now with billions. He then makes some sound investments outside of technology and today he’s one of America’s richest men. After telling this story to Jay Leno on the Tonight Show, with the hope of locating the person who helped him in that bus station, Jay says: “Yes, I guess it would be a thrill to find the man who gave you that dime.” “No” said the billionaire, “I’m looking for the guy who left the door open.” Go know!
Who should he search for? The choices extend beyond the two given. Maybe his savior was the dealer who took his last dollar that got him out of the casino and to the station at the right moment? What about all the others who contributed to his loosing streak? Or maybe, maybe maybe—lots of possibilities to choose from.. Could it even have been layed down back at the big bang? — destiny or inevitable cosmic causality? If you can come up with a definitively unarguable answer you might find some validity to the question: “Who killed Jesus?”
To the question of who killed Jesus, if you hate Jews and want them to be Christ killers you can make out a case. There may be other villains you could point a finger at, if you hate them more than the Jews. Problem is, only the Jews are hated and therefore stand collectively accused through all of time—and deserving punishing payback.
Most bizarre in the tragic history of hate, Christian doctrine teaches clearly and simply that God KILLED JESUS! God sacrificed his only son for the sins and redemption of man: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16); “[God] did not spare His own Son, but delivered him up for us all (Romans 8.32); “In order to set us free from this present evil age, Christ gave himself for our sins, in obedience to the will of our God and Father” (Galatians 1:3-4); and “ He loved us and sent his son as the payment for our sins” (1 John 4:10). Ironically, Christians have been thanking God for the sacrifice and crucifixion from the beginnings of the church, even as they slashed Jews with their swords for the same act. Christians have good reason to be grateful for what they believe is God’s gift. For where would Christianity be if not for the crucifixion? No messiah and crucifixion equals no Christianity, as we now know it. If Jesus hadn’t been sacrificed, the orthodox Jews who founded Christianity would have continued their search and wait for the Messiah– as Jews still do. Unfortunately, few have listened carefully or taken the Christian message and fundamental prayer of thanks to heart. Least of all Mel Gibson who has powerfully resurrected the tradition of finger pointing with his memory lapse about fundamental Christian teachings.
And then, didn’t Jesus willingly give his life for the redemption of mankind? Surely God, or Jesus, could have stopped the unfolding events and the relentless sadistic torture so graphically depicted in Mel Gibson’s film. Jesus confirms that explicitly in Matthew 50-54: “Don’t you know that I could call on my Father for help, and at once he would send me more than twelve armies of angels? But in that case, how could the Scriptures come true which say that this is what must happen?” Jesus adds in John 11:17-18: “The father loves me because I am willing to give up my life, in order that I may receive it back again. No one takes my life away from me. I give it up of my own free will. I have the right to take it back. This is what my father has commanded me to do.”
Add to all that the firm Christian belief that the crucifixion and resurrection were fulfillments of biblical prophesies, particularly Isaiah 53, reinforcing that it had to happen as it did. The players who participated, according to Christian scripture, were merely props in a divinely orchestrated play to establish Christianity. Isn’t it demeaning of Christian theology to usurp God and reduce a divine act to base human motives and emotions that demand retribution?
Finally, trumping any accusatory finger is the compelling compassionate words of Jesus on the Cross: “Forgive them Father for they know not what they do.” So where in this Christian scenario is there room for blame, or even raising the question? That’s what logic would ask and find puzzling. But logic is not history—and in this case, to the tragic detriment of millions of Jews throughout the millennia slaughtered by Christians incited by the hate cry: “kill the Christ killers.”
How can we make sense of the bloody history of Christian violence against Jews when we fully grasp that Christians always knew that God killed Jesus? There’s no getting away from that fact–it’s right there in the Gospels, and is the very foundation of Christianity. Jews have always understood this selective blindness. That’s why Jews have been phobic of the Cross, Christianity– and terrorized by the question,” who killed Jesus?” Jews know that THE QUESTION IS NOT A QUESTION BUT RATHER AN ANSWER! Raising the question and removing God from the suspects leaves just two other possibilities: Jews and Romans. Romans as Romans are gone. So who is left? You see why THE QUESTION IS THE ANSWER? Forget also that many Jews loved Rabbi Jesus ––his disciples and other followers who were thoroughly Jewish and had no intention of starting a new religion. Thousands of them flocked to Jesus’ teachings, the Gospels tell us: “As Jesus and his disciples were leaving Jericho a large crowd [all Jews] was following” (Mathew 20:29); then in Jerusalem, “A large crowd [all Jews] of people spread their cloaks on the road while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road; the crowds [all Jews] began to shout, Praise to David’s Son! God bless him who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Mathew 21:8); “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee, the crowds [all Jews] answered” (Mathew 21:11); “People kept coming to Jesus from one town after another; and when a great crowd gathered [all Jews] Jesus told this parable.” (Luke 8:4); “As thousands of people [all Jews] crowded together, so that they were stepping on each other, Jesus said…..” (Luke 12:1); “The time for the Passover Festival was near. Jesus looked around and saw that a large crowd [all Jews] was coming to him….(John 6:4-5); and “So all the people sat down [all Jews], there were five thousand men” (John 6:10).
If you were looking for Jesus in Galilee, Judea and environs your best bet would have been be to begin your search in the local Synagogue—that’s where Jesus and the disciples were likely to be studying Torah, praying and teaching with other Jewish followers: “Then Jesus went to Nazareth where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath he went as usual to the Synagogue” (Luke 4:16); “Then Jesus went to Capernaum, a town in Galilee where he taught the people [in the Synagogue] on the Sabbath” (Luke 4:31); “Jesus left the Synagogue and went to Simon’s home” (Luke 4:38); “So he preached in the Synagogues throughout the country (Luke 4:44);”On another Sabbath Jesus went into a Synagogue and taught” (Luke 6:6).
“Jesus spent those days teaching in the Temple, and when evening came, he would go out and spend the night on the Mount of Olives. Early each morning all the people went to the Temple to listen to him” (Luke 21:37).
How mind boggling that the Synagogue –-the very spiritual heart of Jesus’ ministry—has so commonly been burned, bombed, looted and desecrated by anti-Semites in the name of Jesus?
Let’s not forget that before and after the crucifixion the disciples continued to be practicing Jews, reading and studying Torah, praying in Synagogues, practicing circumcision, participating in Jewish festivals and ceremonies, observing the kosher laws, and associating virtually exclusively with Jews. The disciples were so thoroughly Jewish that many were shocked that Paul, the orthodox Jew who studied Torah all of his life in the Temple until age thirty two, was converting gentiles to the House of Israel by abandoning the circumcision covenant that God made with Abraham. Seventeen years after the Crucifixion an Assembly was called in Jerusalem to settle the issues of conversion of the Gentiles. Clearly, Peter and the disciples at that time were still immersed in Torah and strictly Jewish practices. Even when Paul’s arguments eventually won Peter over to accepting conversions of gentiles to Jewish Christianity, there was the clear implication that the disciples themselves continued to observe Jewish rituals and practices considering them “meritorious and more perfect,” as reported in the Catholic Encyclopedia which adds: ” Furthermore the Judeo-Christians not having been included in the verdict, were still free to consider themselves bound to the observance of the law [Torah Law]. This was the origin of the dispute which shortly afterwards arose at Antioch between Peter and Paul. The latter taught openly that the law was abolished for the Jews themselves. Peter did not think otherwise, but he considered it wise to avoid giving offence to the Judaizers and to refrain from eating with the Gentiles who did not observe all the prescriptions of the law.” Others were shocked at Peter’s acceptance of gentiles into the House of Israel:
“The apostles and other believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. When Peter went to Jerusalem those who were in favor of circumcising Gentiles criticized him, saying, You were a guest in the home of uncircumcised Gentiles, and even ate with them!” (Acts 11:2-3).
Later, when Paul is arrested he tells the Roman Commander, “I am a Jew born in Tarsus….” (Acts 21:39). In addressing Jews he pleads, “My fellow Jews….” (Acts 22:1).
Peter undoubtedly continued to eat strictly kosher. Paul did as well at least until his new vision: “Lord! No ritually unclean or defiled food has ever entered my mouth” (Acts 11:8). Then we are reminded that the ministries of Jesus and the disciples were primarily, if not exclusively, for Jews initially: “Jesus said to them (the disciples), you can be sure that when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne in the New Age, then you twelve followers of mine will also sit on thrones to rule the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28)“ It wasn’t until four years after the crucifixion that Paul, the persecutor of Christians, had his conversion on the Damascus Road and began extending the teachings of Jesus beyond Jewish communities. Up until that time Paul was aligned with the most conservative orthodox leadership in the Temple:
“I (Paul) was ahead of most other Jews of my age in my practice of the Jewish religion, and was much more devoted to the traditions of our [Jewish] ancestors” (Galatians 1:14).
This story of Jewish Christianity juxtaposed with anti-Semitism would be quite hilarious if weren’t for the atrocities committed against Jews and the oceans of Jewish blood that has been sacrificed in the name of Rabbi Jesus throughout history for those very Jewish practices that Jesus and the disciples embraced and loved. The core of Jesus’ early ministry to his Jewish brethren was to infuse Judaism with the practices and spiritual values that were deteriorating as the bureaucratic temple became more of a marketplace than a spiritual center for Torah teachings:
“Then Jesus went to the Temple and began to drive out the merchants saying to them, it is written in the Scriptures that God said, ‘My Temple will be a house of prayer. But you have turned it into a hideout for thieves” (Luke 19:45-46).
Jesus sought to restore the Temple as a pure Jewish holy place. The fact that Jesus and the disciples were so thoroughly Jewish no doubt fueled the determination of the early church to demonize Jews and Judaism in a desperate effort to sever the embarrassing bond that Jesus and the disciples forged between traditional Judaism and the spiritual teachings of Jesus.
Even if the crucifixion had not been God’s plan but just a mortal event, blaming one group would still be hatefully selective and senseless. Jerusalem was a Jewish town. Whatever happened there was likely to involve Jews. But indicting Jews collectively is like saying “the Americans killed Abe Lincoln and JFK.” Yes, its true that many Americans hated Lincoln and JFK. A recent scholarly book chronicles that John Wilkes Booth did not act alone—that there was a “wide conspiracy of high level figures in government and trade involved in the murder plot”– all Americans. Similarly in the assassination of JFK there were many individuals and groups of American Kennedy haters that have been implicated in conspiracy theories. Why haven’t we ever heard the allegation, “the Americans killed Lincoln and Kennedy”—when surely they did? Because it’s stupid. Also, there were more Americans that loved them. Similarly, in the political and religious factional hotbed of Jerusalem, some Jews opposed Jesus– mostly the temple hierarchy for political reasons– and undoubtedly there were other individuals and competing factions that opposed him (what else is new in politics and religion?). But then there were those Jews who loved their fellow Jew, Rabbi Jesus—all the disciples and the rest of his followers and devotees that the Gospels tell us about, as I just noted. The Jewish town was getting behind Jesus. Eventually that would be his downfall at the hands of the Romans, even if the Temple priests didn’t charge him.
Going public with the announcement that you were the Messiah (King of the Jews) and parading thousands of believers in the streets of Jerusalem would predictably frighten the Temple leadership that was in concert with the Romans —the High Priest Caiaphas was appointed by the Roman Procurator Valerius Gratus. Messiah demonstrations often led to violence and a Roman military response with further suppression of the Jews. The Romans were King of the Jews and would kill anyone who challenged their supremacy—and did many times. The proclamation of Messiah was a self-imposed death sentence—a well-known suicidal act under Roman rule and law. Jesus and the disciples knew that well, explaining the heightened tension and apprehension about proclaiming Jesus the Messiah. The vicious Pontius Pilate routinely killed Thousands of Jews. In one incident reported by the historian Josephus, Pilate slaughtered multitudes of Samaritan Jews on a spiritual pilgrimage to the holy Mt. Gerizim led by a religious fanatic who promised to reveal sacred vessels buried by Moses. After this incident Pilate was recalled to Rome by the emperor Tiberius and charged with (according to the philosopher/historian Philo) “corruptibility, violence, robberies, ill-treatment of the people, grievances, continuous executions without even the form of a trial, and endless and intolerable cruelties.” How mean do you have to be for the Romans to call you cruel? An historical portrait of the real Pontius Pilate gives lie to Gibson’s timid, wimpy version.
Curiously, you don’t hear rumblings about who killed St. Paul, even though he “created the religion that we now know as Christianity,” as Karen Armstrong, author of “The History of God,” and other scholars acknowledge. Remember, it was the orthodox Jew Paul who eased the conversion of Gentiles into Jewish Christianity by dispensing with circumcision and the dietary laws. Like Jesus, the Romans charged Paul with insurrection, and some Jewish Temple leaders indicted him for blasphemy against the laws of Moses and Abraham. Unlike Jesus, he wasn’t crucified. As a Roman citizen Paul demanded to be tried in Rome. The imprisonment of Paul in Rome is a bit hazy like the history of the early Church and disciples in general. But tradition and most historians agree that Paul was eventually convicted and beheaded by the Romans between 62 and 67AD.
Isn’t it remarkable that the most important Christian of his time for the establishment of the Church—perhaps of all time– was executed by the Romans despite the absence of intimidating crowds of angry Jews demanding death, without a Caiaphas present to spew venom and threaten insurrection, and no timid, reticent Mr. nice guy Pontius Pilate backing off with compassion and reservation about possibly killing a Saint. Mel Gibson might paint a different picture of this scene. After all, Gibson could give you Hannibal Lechter sensitively wincing at violence on the 11 o’clock news. But the execution of St. Paul by the Romans was just another day, another Jew, another execution—as insignificant as blinking an eye.
But wait a minute. Aren’t the Italians the descendents of the Romans in Rome? Strange, I can’t find a single historic instance of Cossacks, or other marauding hoards, rampaging murderously through Italian villages anywhere in the world screaming, “get those killers of our founder of Christianity.” Why? Because it’s stupid—as stupid as “the Jews killed Jesus.” The difference is: that hatred for Jews precedes the question: THE QUESTION IS THE ANSWER.
Have you heard about the Jewish telegram: “Start worrying, facts to follow?” Sadly, the Christian message throughout history has too often been: Start hating, “facts” to follow. Traditionalist Mel Gibson is keeping that beat going. Then, if the “facts” don’t hold up, new ones can easily be hallucinated to re-ignite hate. Hatred has no logical boundary. It enables you to self-righteously pick whomever you want.
Back to the parable of the gambler billionaire, have you decided on a reward recipient? What if instead of seeking to honor his benefactor the billionaire was consumed with hatred and committed his energy, power and resources to blaming and punishing people from his past who fired or criticized him, others who rejected his ideas, people who bullied and ridiculed him, and even the Las Vegas dealers who took his money away forcing him to quit the casino broke? Pretty stupid you would say. As stupid as blaming the Jews, the Americans and the Italians for the deaths of Jesus, Lincoln, JFK and Saint Paul. Wouldn’t it be far better to drop blame and just celebrate the miracle of resurrection—for all its riches? Yeah, but try telling that to hate mongers. So if everyone agreed that the Jews didn’t kill Jesus don’t count on that eradicating anti- Semitism: THE QUESTION IS THE ANSWER AND NEW “FACTS” WILL FOLLOW! —Unless we stop raw hate! Are you listening Mr. Gibson?
Bernard Starr holds a Ph. D. in psychology from Yeshiva University. He is Professor Emeritus at the City University of New York. Currently, Dr. Starr teaches psychology at Marymount Manhattan College where he is also Co- Executive Director of The Center For Learning and Living, Director of The Gerontology Certificate Program and leader of The Spiritual Forum. He is also the main United Nations Representative for The Institute of Global Education (IGE) that founded and operates the Mucherla Global School in Mucherla India. Dr. Starr can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.