Nnaemeka Ali, O.M.I
Jesus, the Jews, Pilate and the Passion Narratives
Every Holy Friday, we gather to religiously hear a very long touching narrative of Christ being sacrificed by his own people at the altar of the Roman Empire. No other reading sends both believers and non-believers to tears like these passion narratives. No wonder the Passion of Christ of Mel Gibson appeals to our religious sentiment. But how do we endure such long recounting of hateful utterances: “away with him”, “crucify him, crucify him”, away with him, “We have no king but Caesar”? The length of the passion narrative is already enough to awaken our curiosity. Then when it goes on to present those purported cries of the crowd against Christ, one may ask, what on earth did Christ do to his people.
Even Pontius Pilate was negotiating to let him loose only to be reminded of the enmity that such outrageous act could engender between him and Caesar, “Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jewish leaders kept shouting, ‘If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.’ (John 7:12 pm).
But what on earth did Jesus do to his people that they preferred the friendship of their colonial masters to his life? Were they all hypnotized to forget all his great teachings and wonderful actions? Where were the 500 people he fed? What about those he healed? Have they no families, friends or well-wishers? What about the multitude that sang, ‘Hosanna Son of David’? I prefer the passion narrative presented by Mark Dornford-May in the Son of God. Dornford-May knows that the public more often loves a revolutionary leader. No wonder Jesus was judged and killed secretly in Son of Man.
As we know, revolutionary leaders are not always hated like this Jesus the passion narratives presented to us. And if no pacific nor tyrannical leader has ever been flatly rejected by his entire people, why was Christ’s own an exception? You might tell me that Jesus is the Son of God, or that it was thus written that he will be rejected and denied. What a wonderful Heavenly Father who loves us so much that he had to hate his only begotten son beyond comprehension to save us. Such a price paid on our behalf is quasi-surrealist.
But let’s look at it differently. How did the evangelists get the incident with such details that even all the insults Christ received were recorded? Who chronicled the private conversation he had with Pilate even the time he kept quiet? Those who reported that incident must have had omniscient points of view.
Let’s push it a little bit further. If the evangelists were absent, and this, many solid sources agree on, how did they get the detailed facts they put on their respective narratives? How did they know that the Romans have the custom of setting free a convict every year? It seems no other historical record can attest to that. Let us consider one of the most beautiful coincidences in those dramatic narratives. Why in that particular year when Jesus the Son of God was being judged, Barabbas – Bar-Abbas (the son of the father [or God – Abba father]) was also in prison?
‘So, when the people gathered together, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you? Barabbas (the son of the Father), or Jesus who is called Christ?” (Matthew 27:7)
Is it a simple coincidence that Jesus of Nazareth was being judged while (Jesus) Barabbas (son of the father) was being detained too? Was it a coincidence that Jesus was being judged for planning to cause insurrection while (Jesus) Barabbas was being released even though he was incarcerated for murdering a Roman soldier during another insurrection? Who believes that Pilate would propose to release someone that the Jews could consider a national hero? It is either he didn’t do it, or he wanted them to choose him over Jesus. But all your guesses are as good as mine too!
And above that, how could the evangelists who were all absent during this event have noted with an assurance that Pilate wanted at all costs to let go, Jesus? How could they exonerate him totally like he had nothing to do with the crucifixion of Jesus? You might tell me that Jesus was bound to die, and I agree with you, but why then did the evangelists make us believe that it was the fault of his people? Is that a kind of self-hatred from their part or self-justification of the evangelists’ communities?
Does this sound any bell of similarity with the disparities we observe in the Meccan and Medinan Suras? Those who know the context of these two revelations will not ignore the reason behind the change of tone in the revelations. Should we also imagine that the communities of the evangelists were faced with difficulties that made them see the death of Christ from different points of view?
Maybe yes, maybe no, but the truth is that there is no way the evangelists could have got that detailed information. There is also no way Pilate would have been so bent on releasing Jesus, and the Jews so loathing of him that they all ganged up against him.
However, the fact is not whether they were right or wrong. They had in mind the communities that needed to position themselves as they wrote, and what we make of it today, is either for our good or our utmost downfall.