Many years ago I came across the following essay by Dr. David Donnini. His work answered questions I’d silently asked in my childhood, and helped me understand the Jesus story told in the Bible.
A chapter of Laughing at the Devil is loosely based upon his writing. Donnini’s original text was pretty hard to read due to translation issues and the very small font size used. I asked him for permission to clean it up and make a home on my site for it, and he kindly said yes.
Portions of the wording and formatting of this document have been significantly revised, while keeping the original meaning intact, in an effort to make it read better in American English. If you wish to see the original, you may do a web search for “David Donnini gesing”, and you should be able to find it somewhere among the results. The last I checked, it was at iahushua.com. - David O’Neil
HISTORY AND MYTH
First of all I must thank Professor Daniel E. Gershenson (Department of Classical Studies at Tel-Aviv University) for turning my bad English text into a decent version, and (as a person who has a deep knowledge of Hebrew language and religion) for his precious advice and suggestions concerning Hebrew words and historical aspects of some Biblical passages. - D.D.
A scientific analysis of the literature of the New Testament reveals many signs of a heavy ecclesiastical censorship of the historical aspects of the early Christian origins. In this document we shall examine some of the contradictions found in the New Testament, and scientifically analyze those contradictions in order to reach a new understanding of the events that actually transpired around the time of the death of Jesus.
- Jesus’ trial: Why is it a historical fake?
- The death sentence: A Jewish or Roman responsibility?
- “What accusation bring ye against this man?”
- “Jesus Barabbas” = “Son of God.”
- The historical fake: Jews sentence Jesus but the Romans execute him.
- The Christians’ responsibility in anti-semitism.
- The Awaited Messiah?
- “Here is the anointed of Yahweh, the king of the Jews...”
- St. Paul, the inventor of the new Christian religion.
We will first consider the episode of Jesus’ arrest, and the legal action which was brought against him by the Jewish authorities. The analysis of texts will emphasize the differences between the synoptic group (Gospels according to Matthew, Mark and Lucas) and the fourth Gospel (according to John). What do these differences consist of?
First of all we notice that the three synoptic Gospels agree on the existence of a Jewish trial, and also on the charges, witnesses, and the final sentence: a death sentence for the crime of blasphemy, since Jesus declared himself “Son of God”, in public. Concerning this matter we may already raise some objections; in fact a German author, Dr. Weddig Fricke, has written a whole book, full of critical remarks, showing the impossibility, according to ancient Jewish law, of bringing a legal action under the conditions described by the synoptic Gospels. Let us look at some of his most significant assertions:
- Legal actions could not be brought in a private house, but only in the proper place: in the temple area called the “Beth Din”, the seat of the Great Sanhedrin, for capital offenses.
- Legal actions can not be brought at night-time,
- Legal actions could not be brought on the eve of a holiday,
- A sentence could not be pronounced on the basis of an extorted confession,
- Death sentences could only be pronounced at least 24 hours after the interrogation...
In addition to all of these important objections, we must consider that having declared oneself “Son of God” probably was not a crime of blasphemy nor was it at all a capital offense. The fact simply is that the expression “Son of God” was very common and could be used to represent all human beings: all the Jews, according to the Torah, were sons of God. In another case the title might be used to characterize a devoted man or somebody who had been initiated into a condition of holiness and had taken particular vows (like those called “Nazarites”). There are many Hebrew expressions like “son of the truth”, meaning a particularly honest man, “son of the light”, meaning someone who is spiritually enlightened, “son of the darkness”, meaning a hardened sinner, etc...
These and many other considerations seriously cast doubt on the hypothesis that the synoptic authors, presenting their version of the trial, testified to a historical truth and did not rather proffer their personal interpretations with the specific goal of supporting particular doctrinaire, ideological and political affiliations.
A definitive blow to the historical credibility of the synoptic presentation is dealt by the version we encounter in the Fourth Gospel; let us look at the differences:
- The synoptics say Christ was arrested by a not well-identified crowd of people who had been sent there by the High Priest, and they do not reveal the identity of Jesus’ disciple who offered physical resistance. On the other hand, the fourth Gospel tells of a cohort of soldiers and of a tribune, thus giving us precise information about a Roman military force of 600 men having been present (...!!!...), and it clearly says that resistance was offered by Peter who, on that occasion, had his sword drawn, and cut off the ear of one of the High Priest’s guards. From these circumstances we can easily understand that military action had been explicitly initiated by Pilate. Otherwise 600 Roman soldiers would never have moved in the depth of the night, just to arrest an unusual preacher, whose only crime was having declared himself “Son of God”.
- The synoptics say that as soon as Jesus was arrested, he was immediately brought to the High Priest Caiaphas’ private house. The fourth Gospel, on the other hand, says he was brought to the house of Annas, the High Priest’s father-in-law.
- The synoptics relate that a legal action was brought against Jesus in Caiaphas’ house in regard to which he maintained an obstinate silence, and did not agree to answer any questions, but only gave a short affirmation when asked whether or not he was the “Son of God”. At this juncture the trial came to a rapid end and the death sentence was pronounced. The Fourth Gospel, on the contrary, does not mention any Jewish legal action; instead of being silent Jesus is said to have answered the questions the people asked him and even to have participated in a discussion, but, since there was no regular legal action brought against him, no death sentence was pronounced against him. The whole thing looks like a scene from a waiting room, before Jesus was consigned to Pilate’s care; and we can deduce from this that the entire action was not conceived and initiated by the Jews, but rather by the Romans, possibly with the connivance of the Jewish authorities.
What have we emphasized so far? Two things. First, the synoptics seem to have resolved to represent all the actions taken against Jesus (his arrest, trial, and sentencing) as definitely the will of the Jews. Nevertheless, having described a clearly impossible trial and an irregular sentence, and having exerted strong censorship on important issues (which the fourth Gospel speaks about with no reluctance), they arouse the reasonable suspicion that their version is a forgery created for the despicable purpose of making the Jews appear to be guilty of all the hostility against Jesus, and making the Romans appear to be innocent bystanders.
The second thing we have emphasized is the indication that all the actions against Jesus were conceived and instigated primarily by the Romans.
We can consider the way blasphemers were usually treated by the Jews in our considerations of these points. Were they arrested by Roman soldiers? Were they consigned to Pilate, so that he might try them according to Roman Law? Were they whipped by the Romans and then crucified? No they were not! Blasphemers, recognized as such after a regular Jewish trial, were stoned to death by the Jews, and the Romans didn’t care at all about those stonings.
If we compare the descriptions of the trials as presented in the four Gospels, we can find another significant indication. Pay attention to what the computer analysis emphasized when the description of the Jewish trial according to Matthew (the irregular legal action brought in the house of the High Priest) was compared with the description of the Roman trial according to Mark (the legal action that was brought in front of Pilate):
J = JEWISH TRIAL, MATTHEW (Mt 26:62-64)
R = ROMAN TRIAL, MARK (Mk 14:4-5, 2)
J1 - And the high priest arose, and said unto him,
R1 - And Pilate asked him again, saying,
J2 - Answerest thou nothing?
R2 - Answerest thou nothing?
J3 - What is it which these witness against thee?
R3 - Behold how many things they witness against thee.
J4 - But Jesus held his peace,
R4 - But Jesus yet answered nothing,
J5 - And the high priest answered and said unto him
R5 - And Pilate asked him
J6 - ...tell us whether thou be the Christ...
R6 - Art thou the King of the Jews?
J7 - Jesus saith unto him, Thou hast said...
R7 - And he answering said unto them, Thou sayest it...
There can be no doubt about it: the Jewish trial appears to be a copy of the Roman one, with almost exactly the same words pronounced; although the Fourth Gospel mentions no legal action in the house of the High Priest, as we have already noted. In short, the synoptic authors reveal their need to depict the Jews as those who wanted Jesus’ death, not the Romans. This is why they invented the existence of a previous legal action in the house of the High Priest before the later one in the presence of Pilate.
All these observations give us a decisive element of interpretation: the starting point of the synoptic tradition is the explicit need to make the Jews, rather than the Romans, responsible for the death of Jesus, perhaps because admitting the Romans’ responsibility would have had unacceptable political implications for the synoptic authors.
Given the above information, the suspicion is raised that portions of the story told in the synoptic gospels are but a mere pretext contrived in order to turn the Romans’ responsibility for the sentence into a Jewish one. Let us consider once again the reason the synoptic authors give for the death sentence meted out to Jesus: having committed blasphemy. Considering this will give us more reason to pause, and further strengthen the above suspicion.
There is a glaring omission on the part of the synoptic authors at this point. That omission is that the authors did not explicitly state how Jesus blasphemed. Was the blasphemy declaring himself to be the “Son of God”, or was it for having used the unspeakable name of Yahweh out loud?
It is worth quoting the three synoptic authors themselves on this point.
...But Jesus held his peace, And the high priest answered and said unto him, I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God.
Jesus saith unto him, Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.
Then the high priest rent his clothes, saying, He hath spoken blasphemy; what further need have we of witnesses? behold, now ye have heard his blasphemy. ...
...But he held his peace, and answered nothing. Again the high priest asked him, and said unto him, Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?
And Jesus said, I am: and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.
Then the high priest rent his clothes, and saith, What need we any further witnesses? ...
...Then said they all, Art thou then the Son of God? And he said unto them, Ye say that I am.
And they said, What need we any further witness? for we ourselves have heard of his own mouth.
And the whole multitude of them arose, and led him unto Pilate.
And they began to accuse him, saying, We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, saying that he himself is Christ a King.
And Pilate asked him, saying, Art thou the King of the Jews? And he answered him and said, Thou sayest it. ...
A cursory reading of these passages indicates that the blasphemy was in declaring himself to be the “Son of God”. But as was pointed out in the first section, Jews used the term “Son of God” for other people at that time and before, and those people were not killed by either the Jews or the Romans. That indicates the synoptic authors were implying that Jesus somehow used the term “Yahweh” out loud, and blasphemed in this manner. But if that was the case, there are two other omissions on the part of the synoptic authors: failing to state something to the effect that: “He used the Lord’s name in vain”, and failing to state exactly how the High Priest tricked him into using the term “Yahweh” out loud without using the same term out loud himself.
If that was not enough, Luke further disguises the issue by stating that the Jews declared to Pilate that Jesus’ crime was saying he was “Christ[,] a King”. [And note the use of “a” rather than “the” in that quote. This implies that Jesus was not stating he was Christ, the King of ALL mankind, but rather Christ, a King of the Jews!] We now have three possible reasons for the Jews to wish Jesus killed, but none of them are explicitly clearly stated as being the reason the Jews had Jesus killed.
Taken in context with the prior points that have been raised, the silence of the authors as to what Jesus was really charged with becomes quite significant; indeed, almost conspiratorial.
Everybody knows that the name of God could absolutely not be pronounced by the Jews, as to do so was, and still is, a substantial sacrilege. Nobody but the High Priest on the Day of Atonement could pronounce the name Yahweh; therefore, every time there was the necessity of addressing God or referring to Him, the Jews substituted terms like Adonai, Eloah, Supreme, Lord, Father, etc... The last one, “Father”, which in Aramaic is “Abba”, was the most commonly spoken by Jesus, and it is commonly used in the Gospel texts. We can inspect these sentences: “...And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee...” (Mk 14:36), “...when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels...” (Mk 8:38), “...that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses...” (Mk 11:25), “...I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth...” (Mt 11:25). Such examples are very numerous in the Gospels.
Hence, both Jesus and the High Priest, instead of saying “Son of God”, would have certainly used the expression “son of the Father”, that has been kept in Latin as the regular “filius Patris”, which in the Aramaic idiom is rendered by the words “bar”, meaning “son”, and “Abba”, that means “father”. Thus, the entire expression is “bar Abba”, which can even be pronounced with no pause and so sounds like the word “Barabbas” (there are numerous similar cases: Barnabas means “son of the master”, Bartholomew means “son of Ptolemy”. etc...). Therefore the whole expression we know as “Jesus, the Son of God” appears in Aramaic as “Jeshu bar-Abba”.
I am sure that at this point any reader with a moderate biblical knowledge, learning of such an odd coincidence, will be somewhat surprised. Of course I am referring to the similarity (we might even say equality) between the expression “Son of God”, as it sounds in Aramaic, and the name of the prisoner who was liberated in the place of Jesus: Barabbas. All the more so as that lucky fellow’s name wasn’t really Barabbas! The Gospels affirm he was merely nicknamed Barabbas. What does this mean? Should we believe he was also the “Son of God”? What was his real name?
In order to be able to answer this question we must know that some old manuscripts of the Gospel according to Matthew, dating back to the fourth century, call this fellow not only by his nickname, but even give his real name as “Jesous Barabbas” (the manuscript having been written in ancient Greek). In actuality, the authors did nothing but transcribe in Greek characters the Hebrew expression “Jeshu bar Abba”, whose meaning we already know: “Jesus the Son of God” [let all those who are reluctant to believe this see the “Novum Testamentum Graece et Latine”, by Augustinus Merk, edited in 1933 by the Istituto Biblico Pontificio, page 101, where the sentence that is commonly rendered “...And they had then a notable prisoner, called Barabbas...” (Mt 27:16) is written “...And they had then a notable prisoner, Jesus called Barabbas...”].
What are we to say to this?
Why have translators made Barabbas anonymous from the fourth century on?
Indeed, why have they let us believe that Barabbas is his real name?
What the deuce is hidden behind the curious circumstance that during the action brought by the Romans, two persons were brought into the presence of Pilate: Jesus the Son of God (that is Jeshu bar-Abba), who was sentenced to death, and Jesus Barabbas (that is exactly the same) who was liberated?
Why have the Christians always been kept in the dark about the fact that the Aramaic “Barabbas” is not a name but the equivalent of the modern expression “Son of God”?
As we can see, the subject begins to raise some curious enigmas. Even so, among the many questions we cannot answer, there is one that it appears we can answer: we can be sure the Gospel narration of Christ’s Passion has been censored and is full of literary tricks contrived on purpose so as to thoroughly distort some important aspects of the historical truth about the way Jesus was arrested, tried, sentenced, and executed; and about the reasons why all of these things happened.
Please do not think we have played with words in order to lead you to the above conclusions. If such word plays really do exist, it is not we who are to blame, but those who wrote the Gospels (or those who later retouched them). We have merely pointed out what is already there.
Some defenders of the traditional story of Jesus’ demise claim that it was necessary for the Jews to consign Jesus into Pilate’s hands because, according to them, the Jews had no right to execute any death sentence. How has it been possible to believe such an invalid assertion? For we know that:
- Herod executed hundreds of Jews.
- The famous adulteress who was about to be stoned by the Jews survived thanks to Jesus who said: “...He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her...”;
- Saint Paul was present at the stoning of the first Christian martyr, Stephen.
- John the Baptist was executed by the Jews.
- After Jesus’ death the Sanhedrin threatened the apostles with the death sentence.
- James the apostle was stoned by the Jews in Jerusalem.
- The same Jesus, according to what the Gospels affirm in many different circumstances, ran the risk of being stoned by the Jews...
Need we go on? There is more than enough evidence for executions of Jews, by Jews, in the Gospels. Nevertheless, in Jesus’ case, it is surprisingly said that the Jews had no right to execute a death sentence, and had to put Jesus the blasphemer into Pilate’s hands.
All these things testify to one simple truth: the synoptic authors were focused upon showing it was the Jews who were responsible for the death of Jesus, even though Jesus was executed in a manner totally typical of Roman justice: crucifixion. That focus is why the authors went to such great lengths to show that the Jews hated Jesus, and that is the reason why the historical absurdity of a Roman procurator imploring the Jewish people to liberate the preacher was invented.
According to the Christian “history”, Pontius Pilate, the Prefect of Judea, was compelled to liberate an outlaw, perhaps a revolutionary, as the Gospels depict him, instead of the preacher, because the people preferred Barabbas to Jesus. Pilate even tried to implore the Jews, but they insisted, crying: “Crucify him! Crucify him!,” and were resolute in their decision to liberate the outlaw (the Fourth Gospel says “robber”), and to let Romans execute the man who is said to have cured blind people and lepers. It is, of course, a topsy-turvy absurdity: reasonable persons would find it much more logical for the robber to be executed, and a stay of execution granted to the preacher, instead of the other way around. It would also be more logical to expect an authoritarian stance to have been taken by the procurator instead of by the supplicants. In addition to that, you would expect that the people would have desired to set the healer and the preacher free, rather than the thief... Something fraudulent is hidden behind this presentation!
How many Christians have undertaken to study that historical period closely? How many have asked themselves whether the presumed custom of liberating a prisoner on the occasion of the Jewish holiday of Passover really existed or not? How many have read the works of the Jewish authors Philo and Josephus Flavius, Jesus’ near contemporaries, or even know they exist? These two authors, who describe in detail the customs and events in ancient Palestine, never mention such a custom, and always depict Pilate as a cynical and hard procurator who never asked permission of anybody. In addition, Pilate was never shown submitting himself to the popular will of the Jews. On the contrary, he always ruled with a strong hand and atrocious cruelty. The Pilate of the Gospels, in front of the shouting crowd, declares himself defeated and announces blamelessly: “I’ll wash my hands, you are responsible for this innocent blood, not I!” and then sets free a man many theologians want to identify as a revolutionary, one who fought the might of the Roman invaders.
At this point, into the mouth of the Jews there has been put a sentence that is a real ideological manifesto: “...Then answered all the people, and said: - His blood be on us and on our children...” (Matt. 27:25). This is the starting point of two-thousand years of anti-Semitism. According to this scripture, the Jews of Jesus’ days seem aware of their fate and, what is more curious, ready to accept it all: the terrible war against the Romans, the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, the massacre of hundreds of thousands of them, the Diaspora, the persecutions perpetrated by the Christians, the Inquisition, the infamous name “perfidious Jews”, two thousand years of oppression and extermination...
Well then, here is a dramatic confirmation: the authors who composed the four Gospel texts called canonical by the Church (meaning they are the only ones that evidence the truth) had without a doubt a fixed idea: they had to discredit the Hebrew race and cover it with shame for having wanted the death of the “Son of God”; so sanctifying and excusing Christianity’s historically hostile attitude towards Judaism.
Terrible racism was generated and nourished for twenty centuries by this inexpedient affirmation of the Gospel according to Matthew.
Nevertheless, if the infamy of having killed the Lord belongs to anyone, it is not the Jews but the Romans, of that we can be sure. In fact, Romans invaded Palestine, incorporated it into their empire, and made its inhabitants subjects of the emperor. They also painstakingly repressed every national-religious rising in a country very difficult to subdue; a country where, for many centuries, prophecies had spoken of a Messiah-king, son of David, who would repeat the deeds of the ancient sovereign who had created the united kingdom of the twelve tribes of Israel. During this time the messianic movements (Essenes and Zealots) were stronger than they had ever before been.
What on earth were the Gospel authors interested in hiding with their adulteration of the historical truth? That is exactly what we are looking for. The answer to this is that the man Pilate’s soldiers had arrested never wanted to found a new non-Judaic religion. Jesus never thought of considering the ancient agreement between Yahweh and his people cancelled, nor did he ever preach to the non-circumcised. There are different explicit occasions in the New Testament in which Jesus speaks of his unequivocal resolve not to preach to non-Jews, but rather only “... to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Mt 10:6) [see also: Mt 15:21-28]. He was born and grew up a Hebrew, and as a Hebrew he lived and died, absolutely determined to remain such.
Before we continue further, we must consider that the term “Messiah” comes from the ceremony of regal investiture: unction or anointing. (Mashiha = “Anointed” in Aramaic, which translates to “Cristos” in Greek.) The King of Israel not only had political dignity, he was also to be the favorite of God, as he had particular faith and devotion to the Lord of Israel. He received an ointment of myrrh, sweet cinnamon, spikenard, cassia, and olive oil from the hands of the High Priest (Exodus 30:23-24) and with it he was declared “anointed of the Lord”. That means that he became the earthly representative of God over the Jewish nation.
Rome made a point to execute “Christ” simply because they were aware that the Jews believed that “Christ” (the Christened / Anointed one, the “King of the Jews”) was the fated one of whom the messianic prophecies spoke: the chosen of God, the son of David, the anointed of Yahweh, who was to return the house of Israel to its sons, taking it away from the pagan usurpers (Rome), away from the hated family of the Herodian monarchs, and away from the corrupt priestly caste of the Sadducees.
Such a man could not end his days but on the Roman gallows in some manner, and Jesus ended up on a cross with a tri-lingual inscription on it stating: “Melek hay-Yehudim - Basileus ton Ioudaion - Rex Iudaeorum (= King of the Jews)”, whose meaning is more than evident: sentenced to death because he was recognized guilty of rebellion against the imperial authority, since he attempted to re-establish David’s crown on the throne of Israel.
(Remember that David was the first “Messiah” over the united twelve tribes of Israel, and he did so about one thousand years before Jesus. Jerusalem was the site David chose for his capital.)
Let us consider a famous episode in the Gospel story, from which the typical Christian feast called Palm Sunday is derived: on the Sunday before Easter the whole Christian world celebrates Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, when he, riding on an ass, was welcomed by an applauding crowd and by a chorus of hosanna. The episode is called the Messianic Entry, and this name could not be more appropriate: “...Blessed be the KINGDOM OF OUR FATHER DAVID, that cometh in the name of the Lord...” (Mk 11:10). “...Blessed be THE KING THAT COMETH IN THE NAME OF THE LORD...” (Lk 19:38). “...On the next day much people that were come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took branches of palm trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried, Hosanna: BLESSED IS THE KING OF ISRAEL THAT COMETH IN THE NAME OF THE LORD. And Jesus, when he had found a young ass, sat thereon; as it is written, fear not, daughter of Sion (=Jerusalem): behold, THY KING COMETH, sitting on an ass’s colt...” (John 12:12-15).
(David O’Neil’s note: I was somewhat surprised when I found out that “hosanna” roughly translates into “Save us, we pray thee!” Throughout my life I had always assumed that it meant something like “The Greatness of God,” as it is always used in the context of “Hosanna in the Highest.” When I found that it meant “please save us,” further emphasis was placed upon Dr. Donnini’s interpretation.)
The evangelist John makes an explicit reference to a Biblical prophecy in which a messianic liberator is spoken of; the prophet Zechariah says that conquered Jerusalem can exult because its King, riding an ass, is coming to turn out all the foreign oppressors: “...Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass....” (Zechariah 9:9).
As we see, Jesus was welcomed by everybody as the awaited liberator, as the son of David, as the King of Israel. Reading the episodes we can easily deduce not only Jesus’ religious worth, but his political worth as well. Both Jesus and the evangelists could have denied the interpretation offered by the people, had only they wanted to (I mean they could have, had Jesus or the evangelists had the specific intention of specifying that his mission was not political but only spiritual). Why then should they have told us that Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was the very fulfillment of the messianic prophecy, if they had truly meant to distinguish between the spiritual mission of Jesus and the political mission of the awaited Messiah? Why should they have insisted on calling him “son of David” so many times (twelve times in the Gospels), thus attesting his full right to the crown of Israel, as a descendant of the dynasty of the ancient founder of the kingdom?
The synoptic Gospels tell of another famous episode: Jesus’ anointing in the village of Bethany. What is very curious is that the synoptic authors seem determined to disguise the true meaning of the episode. Let us consider the following elements:
- The protagonists are all anonymous, but for the host, who is identified as a Pharisee named Simon, and the star of the scene is just simply “a woman”: “...there came a woman having an alabaster box of ointment of spikenard very precious; and she brake the box, and poured it on his head...” (Mk 14:3)
- The time is after the Messianic Entry, for Mark and Matthew, or long before it, for Luke.
- Luke doesn’t name the village: “...a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster box of ointment...began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment” (Lk 7:37).
Many theologians even try to minimize the differences by proposing the lame excuse that the episode in Luke is not the same. As in many other cases, the synoptic authors submit the events to heavy censorship. In fact, if we read John’s version of the episode, something surprising happens: all the protagonists have names and the time is just before the messianic entry: “...Martha served: but Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him. Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair...” (John 12:2-3).
We even note that this poor woman, whom Luke calls “a sinner”, had in her hands an alabaster box full of a whole pound of very precious spikenard. It may be that today many readers have not the slightest idea what that means: do poor women usually have large amounts of the most expensive perfumes at hand? The evangelist John avers it cost three hundred pence. That is thousands of dollars in today’s money!
Then she broke the alabaster box and poured the spikenard on Jesus’ head, or on his feet. And here is the clue to the circumstance: “...And there were some that had indignation within themselves, and said, why was this waste of the ointment made? For it might have been sold for more than three hundred pence, and have been given to the poor. And they murmured against her...And Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, went unto the chief priests, to betray him unto them. And when they heard it, they were glad, and promised to give him money. And he sought how he might conveniently betray him” (Mk 14:4-11).
What on earth did she do to stir up everybody’s wrath? How could she have induced that reaction in Judas? Are we to believe that the waste of perfume was truly the reason Judas convinced himself that it was better to betray his Lord Jesus? Or should we rather believe that somebody has been trying to tease us, and to take from us any understanding of the real meaning of the episode?
I am sure many readers at this point have noticed the succession of events:
- Jesus Christ is anointed with spikenard, like a new Messiah.
- Somebody is disappointed at that public anointment.
- Judas the betrayer runs to the chief priests.
- The next day Jesus Christ makes a messianic entry into Jerusalem, during which the people welcome him as the King of Israel.
- On the eve of the holiday, in the night-time, Jesus gathers his disciples, fitted out with swords, on the Mount of Olives. They hope their action will be followed by the many thousands of people come to Jerusalem for the great Passover of the Jews.
- Six hundred Roman soldiers, informed by Judas of the place and time of the revolutionary assembly, come and arrest Jesus after a short fight.
- The man is tried by Romans and sentenced to death.
- He is crucified as a rebel.
So, what about Mary’s deed?
Now the answer is very simple: it was a mock Messianic anointing, a public declaration of the arrival of the Messiah of Israel, the King of the Jews. That is the reason for the reactions of those who did not agree with the views and opinions of Messianic movements, like Essenes and Zealots. Many people, in the Palestine of Jesus’ days, thought the ideas of the Messianic movements too dangerous:
“...If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation...” says one of the chief priests, and the High Priest goes on: “...consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not...” (John 11:48-50).
And what about Judas?
What is more logical than to think that Judas became very troubled when he realized that not everybody in Jerusalem agreed with the revolutionary plans of the partisans of Yahweh? On the occasion of the banquet in the house of Simon, when Jesus was anointed in the presence of priests and Pharisees, Judas saw how much political resistance there was to the idea of a Messianic revolution.
That is why he seriously began to believe the exploit to have no hope of success, and he saw that the danger of being arrested and crucified by the Romans was very real. He did not succeed in saving his life, though. The other partisans who escaped the arrest set him a trap; and a few hours later he was killed and his bowels spread on the ground as a warning to all betrayers.
Shortly after the execution of the aspirant-Messiah, a certain Shaul, a Hebrew who was born and grew up in Anatolia, and was accustomed to living together with heathens, and who would rather compromise with the non-circumcised than clash with them, perceived the insane dangerousness of the traditional and radical interpretation that Essenes and Zealots put upon the Messianic prophecies. According to them, direct conflict between Isreal and Rome would lead to Isreal’s victory because of the support of Yahweh himself.
Shaul, whom we call St. Paul, was fully aware of the possibility that the Romans might soon have enough of this small but indomitable province of their empire, and might decide to have done with it.
Even the Sadducees shared that opinion, since they were protected by the Romans, and therefore worked more closely with the Romans, and were in a position to know Rome’s power better than the uneducated and ignorant populace.
We have already quoted the words of the High Priest who spoke of his fear of the possible reaction of the Romans against Jewish fundamentalism. He was right: what the Sadducees and Paul and the Pharisees were afraid of came literally true when, in the year 70, the Romans really decided to have done with Judea. They massacred thousands and thousands of Jews, destroyed Jerusalem, and sacked the temple and put it to the torch.
At first sharing the views of the Hebrew conservatives, Shaul the Pharisee was an obstinate persecutor of the dangerous adherents of the Messianic sects (alias the Christians, “Christian” meaning “Messianic followers”). Then, as time passed, he realized that the national-religious fanaticism of the Essene and Zealotic sects would not dampen as a result of his persecutions. Unfortunately, even nowadays we see that there is no physical weapon that can get the better of ethnic-religious fundamentalism. (It seems that two spring up for every one killed.)
Therefore Shaul convinced himself that killing ethnic-religious fundamentalists is of no use; you only risk getting the opposite effect. Rather, Shaul realized, ideas must be fought with ideas.
Shaul somehow further realized that ethnic-religious fanaticism satisfies a psychological need that is closely connected with unconscious feelings of identity and popular pride. The only thing which can compete with that is another psychological image; another idea tailored to satisfy people’s unconscious needs, to give them an identity and a self-respect that is more than the tribal feeling of being part of a given group.
Well then, the only way to fight the dangerous messianic hope of Israel’s national-religious salvation was to create a new messianic hope of salvation, still greater, still more responsive to the psychological needs of the people: the idea of a universal spiritual salvation, of a Messiah who was not to rescue the small house of Israel but all of mankind, especially the poor, the humble, the oppressed, the weak, the sick, the suffering, from their subjection to evil.
Thus Shaul invented the new image of the Messiah: Jesus Christ, the Risen from the Dead. He composed this image by grafting the character of the oriental spiritual Saviours, like the Greek Soter, the Persian Saoshyant, and the Indian Buddha, onto the remains of the old, politically unsuccessful Messiah (who continued to stir up the ardour and the hope of his irreducible followers).
It was the most genial theological composition ever put into practice from the time that history began. It was the syncretistic meeting of a number of religious components: Hebrew, Egyptian, Hellenic, Persian, and Indian, and it was destined to become the spiritual guide to the subsequent development of all the western civilizations. It was really able to knock down the pagan Roman Empire (unlike its historical counterpart).
This new Christian idea revealed a new dimension, not just right for the future of Israel, but for the future of all of mankind, in Shaul’s mind. (And it was the only thing that had a chance of defusing the powder keg of religious fundamentalism that existed at the time.)
This theological and ideological revision elicited much more popular response than the original faith in the aspiring Messiah of Israel and his followers. The Hebrew traditionalists (devoted to their national-religious idea) were then seen as an obstacle to the development of the new supra-national idea. Not only this, but the image of the historical aspiring Messiah of the Jews became an obstacle to the image of the universal Messiah, the apolitical one, solely spiritual, who promised salvation in the kingdom of Heaven, not on Earth.
The new Christians were also persecuted by the Romans because Rome could not forget that the original Messiah was a dangerous martyr of the liberation movement, who could even infect other subject nations of their Empire with his ideas. (In addition, the new Christians also preached that their God was greater than the gods of Rome, and also greater than the Emperor himself. That teaching was very dangerous from Rome’s point of view, as it undermined their political authority.)
That is why the Evangelists were absolutely compelled to distance themselves from the Jews and to turn the Romans’ responsibility into the responsibility of the Jews.
That is why the Gospel stories are filled with tricks, with the purpose of readjusting the image of the Messiah to the new theology.
That is how the Gospels were conceived and written.
The above essay is a short summary of Dr. David Donnini’s books:
- David Donnini, NUOVE IPOTESI SU GESU’, Macro Edizioni, Sarsina (Fo), Italy, 1993.
- David Donnini, CRISTO, UNA VICENDA STORICA DA RISCOPRIRE, Erre Emme Edizioni, Roma, Italy, 1994.
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The following links are for David’s book, Laughing at the Devil: