Lest people think I’m stacking the deck in favor of Ms. Fredriksen, here are three emails from readers (and the very last I will be posting on this subject for a while at least. I’m on a deadline for an NRODT article. Other Cornerites are free to do what they wish):
I know you’ve probably received a million emails on this, but please bear with me.
Just a few comments on the supposed contradictions (I simply read your post and haven’t done any real looking up), but the differences can be attributed to differences of perspective for the various gospel authors. Two witnesses don’t have to give the exact same testimony to be telling the same story.
As far as I can tell from reading, John doesn’t even mention the seder, so I don’t know how it can be said that Jesus was dead before it.
Regarding the number & times of the trials, the answer is simple. There were two trials. One farcical trial by the high priest late at night immediately followed by a Roman trial before Pilate early in the morning the next day. From a witnesses perspective, they could be stated as one trial that took all night (they went right from one to the next), two separate trials (since their were two different courts). To a person observing, it would seem to have been one long night. But to the educated Luke (who being a doctor would be used to exquisite attention to detail) he new the second trial took place early in the morning (he may not have even been present at the first trial – or simply not referred to it).
Lastly regarding the method of Jesus death, He was crucified, because that is how it was prophesied that the Christ would die. Repeatedly throughout the gospels, the Jewish leaders sought to kill him secretly but were restrained (by God) since (according to Jesus Himself) His time had not yet come.
The story makes perfect sense if you accept it as written by the same God of the old testament and read it as the fulfillment of OT prophecy.
You surely have better Bible scholars than I in your readership, but here’s an unoffended, reasonably well-informed, middle-of-the-road Christian take on the excerpts from Fredriksen’s article.
1. She’s right that Greek would have been much more widely used than Latin, though for all we know Pilate was a monoglot Latin chauvinist.
2. There are differences in the Gospel accounts. Some people have devoted immense amounts of efforts to reconciling them. Most have more or less shrugged them off as not central.
3. Anne Catherine Emmerich didn’t become a saint because of her deep sense of ecumenism, and apparently Gibson relied on her writing at some stage in the composition of the script. Fredriksen’s group tried to weed this influence out, and it’s not clear whether it persists in the final version.
4. Fredriksen’s dating of the Gospels is in the mainstream, though some think that Mark was written earlier and many think a now-lost source for Matthew and Luke was written earlier.
5. Fredriksen’s apparently central claim that Rome must have wanted Jesus dead is really speculative. Sure, it’s possible, but it’s no more likely and probably less than the other hypotheses she rejects on very, very slight grounds.
6. It is occasionally claimed — it’s not clear from your excerpts if Fredriksen makes this claim — that, for political reasons, the authors of the Gospels deliberatatly shifted the blame from Romans to Jews. People who say this don’t seem to have the faintest suspicion that they are vulnerable to the same charge in reverse. At any rate, (1) no one now feels any ecumenical pressure to minimize the responsibility of the Romans, and (2) it takes some chutzpah to say, twenty centuries after the fact, that we can now figure out the politics better and more honestly than the writers of the time, some of whom may have been eye-witnesses.
7. Ultimately, to any orthodox Christian, it’s neither the Jews nor the Romans nor Caiaphas nor Judas nor any other person or group that’s responsible for the Crucifixion — it’s all of us, it’s the sinfulness of man. At the Catholic Passion liturgy every year, there’s a dramatic reading of one of Gospel accounts, and the congregation plays the part of the mob, crying “Crucify him!” It’s supposed to sting.
In other words, there’s no need to deny or twist the Gospels to exculpate the Jews and promote inter-faith harmony. What’s needed is for Christians to understand their religion a little better.
The Gospels as history: having read a lot about this, I must warn you that
everybody brings their biases to the table on this one. Frederiksen seems more
open about her disbelief than many. Some of the key ways to tell which side
someone is on:
First; dating: her dates are the ones traditional liberal scholars use; 70-100
C.E. (I suppose “C.E.” as opposed to the traditional “A.D.” is actually the
first clue). Beyond that, the 70-100 dates may have been the early twentieth
century academic consensus view. Since then, however, more traditionally
minded theologians and even some liberal theologians (T.A. Robinson, for one)
have put forward strong arguments for dating the synoptics (Matthew, Mark and
Luke) before Paul’s probable execution in Rome, about 56 “C.E.” (Otherwise,
“Acts,” a continuation of Luke, would have finished with a description of the results of Paul’s trial in Rome, instead of ending with his house arrest.) There are lots of other arguments, but suffice it to say, while this dating ultimately doesn’t prove anything, it seems to be a hot button to any reliability debate.
Second, “inconsistencies.” Either they are there or they aren’t, depending on
what you want to prove. Briefly, may I note that none of the inconsistencies cut to decisive issues of faith. In addition most of the inconsistencies arise out of an omission rather than a commission–one account mentions two women, for example, while another mentions only one–but who’s to say whether someone else was not also present, etc. Frederiksen reads John to say that Christ was arrested before the Seder meal, not after. Actually, she infers that from John but I don’t think he is explicit about this. Such inconsistencies are replete in other historical records, but we seem to bring a different standard to the Gospels. Wonder why? Interpretation of the Gospels is riddled with these sorts of academic games. It can be very frustrating if you insist on a definitive
answer. What bugs me are the people like Frederiksen who purport to have
reliable answers when the record is JUST TOO THIN for sound conclusions.
One area where Frederiksen clearly steps over the line is on crucifixion. The
consensus view is that the Jewish ruling council met with Christ after he was
arrested (you might or might not call it a trial) and they sent him to Pilate because they wanted him executed. Again, there is a consensus that while the Jewish council had some punitive authority, only the Romans had the power to execute a person. If you read Josephus (and you must, if you want an objective account of these times in Palestine) Pilate had a tiger by the tail in trying to govern this territory. It is very plausible that he decided on a public execution as a message to the local, very rebellious population. Her notions about “Rome” are ridiculous and should only be offered up, at best, as speculation. There is nothing to support her idea that I am aware of, and it makes her bias abundantly clear. She is your typical academic, and the irony is that she has devoted her life to debunking the work she studies. Sounds like
many academic scholars, actually.