'300 Messiahs' Executed That Year?

(I thought about this question for a while. And I decided to put it in GD. Because someone will argue, at one point it’ll turn into a debate :slight_smile: .)

My head is still reeling from what I just heard on the Science Channel last night. I was watching a show on life in Judea around the time of Christ.

I’ll cut to the chase. They said the year Jesus was crucified there were 300 Jewish men crucified for the exact same offense. That couldn’t be correct.

You realize the Bible makes the story of the Crucifixion seem so dramatic, like this was the first time anyone was ever crucified for that reason. Was it in fact commonplace? What do the records of the time show? And does anyone really know now? (I am weary of the accuracy of historical events that happened so long ago.)

And second question, why then (if the above is true [just for the sake of argument]), did one man’s story become one of the dominant religions of the world?

Also, I might as well inject, I did once hear (I forget exactly where—possibly the Science Channel too), that Roman’s were actually impressed by Christians killed in the Colosseum. Their tolerance for pain was unusual, which apparently was a big thing then. Is that it? Or is it?


Varus crucified 2000 Jewish rebels when he took over Jerusalem. When Arminius defeated Varus, Arminius crucified the followers of Varus.

First of all, no one knows what year, exactly, Jesus was crucified, so there’s no way to assess that statement.

Second, it is not a crime in Judaism to claim to be messiah. It is also not a Jewish method of execution to crucify someone.

Whatever Jesus was crucified for (assuming for the sake of argument that he existed, and the story in the gospels is mostly true), it was not for claiming to be messiah. It was probably something like “sedition,” or it may have been for vandalizing the Temple, which the Romans considered theirs, and taxed heavily all activity there.

Yes, the gospels make the crucifixion seems very dramatic, but one part of it is that it is supposed to be the crucifixion of someone innocent of the charges, which is why they are deliberately vague-- also probably helps that blame is shifted from the Romans to the Jews.

It also helps that we have gotten to know the main character, who is about to be crucified. Have you ever read the book Dead Man Walking? or seen the movie?

It’s shocking and dismaying when the main character is executed at the end, and he is guilty of a disgusting crime.

I think this explains why it’s so dramatic that Jesus is crucified-- it’s written that way. I don’t think it ever states, or even is implied that crucifixion is unusual, or that no one has ever been sentenced to Jesus’ crime before.

The gospels do keep it a secret that anyone else has either put forth a claim to messiah-hood, or had other people assert his claim, when there actually were a few before Jesus, and a couple more between Jesus and the time the gospels were written down.

But none of those wrong claimants committed a crime in being wrong, at least a Jewish crime. I think at least one other was, in fact, crucified, and his crime was clearly sedition. He did actually try to lead an armed rebellion against the Roman “protectorate,” or whatever it was called. I think he started out as a member of one of the Zealot communities, but left it, to return to lead armed civilians more or less right into the hands of the Romans, because he wasn’t good at rebellion, but he talked a good story, and got plenty of people whipped into a frenzy.

I can’t find the book I read this in (it was red-- can’t remember the title, but I looked up the references, at the time I read it, and it was pretty accurate) at the moment, so working from memory, but I’m thinking this happened about 20 years before Jesus’ active time, so he probably would have been aware of the story, but maybe fuzzy on the details.

Jesus’ story became a dominant religion because of Paul. Paul spent many years seeking converts among gentiles and establishing churches. He apparently was good at it. His letters are older than the gospels. None of the other claimants to messiah-ship had a propaganda master in their corner, let alone one as good as Paul, nor one who thought of giving up on Jews entirely, because they knew what to expect from messiah, and rather preach to gentiles.

In a word, it’s crap. They are conflating secular rebels and members of violent religious factions with messiahs.

Have you ever read a history of the time? The level of religious fanaticism among Jews in the early first century makes present-day Islamic fundamentalism look tame.

Plenty of things have changed in the Jewish religion. Rabbinic Judaism (Judaism since the destruction of the Temple) is not the same as the Priestly Judaism of that time, and even the Talmud defines many different types of heresy, and says that heretics deserve death.

Obviously not, but the Romans, while giving a certain amount of authority to the Jewish Priests and Royals, and accepting that Jewish law should be used in Judea in all cases not involving Roman citizens, had banned the Jews from inflicting the death penalty (which would have been by stoning).

Since they were not allowed to execute Jesus, they asked the Romans to execute him.

Sure, but they still had to cite a Roman crime for them to do that. It would seem to me that sedition would be the go-to crime to use for any religious claimant they wanted taken out.

Still, throw in Jesus’s Cleaning of the Temple, and I bet that claim was more convincing for him than many. Some wandering preacher probably wouldn’t be a big deal.

Sure they did, according the Gospels, but Pilate was very reluctant to accept that. He said that Jesus had committed no crime according to Roman law.

Luke says that that when Pilate heard he was a Galilean, he sent him to Antipas, the Jewish king (or tetrarch) of Galilee, who was in Jerusalem for Pesach. Antipas could have either executed him or released him, but knew a hot potato when he saw one, and sent him back to Pilate.

The accusers then made the argument that Jesus said he was a king, and ‘We have no king but Caesar’, and if you release him ‘you are being disloyal to Caesar’.

Pilate got his governorship revoked for crucifying too many Jews. He did it wholesale for anything looking like sedition. The jews did not get the Romans to do anything for them, if they wanted to kill someone for heresy, they were quite capable of doing so themselves (cf. Thomas).

If I check some sources (and I can’t be bothered rights now) I think I can name at least ten guys claiming to be Messiah, Those are on record from the time, mostly Josephus. Being crucified for claiming messiah-hood was very common and terribly banal in the grand scheme of things of Jews opposing the Roman occupation. 300 in a year seems farfetched*, but not as farfetched as Jeshua Bar-Mariam being the single instance.

*Not 300 crucifixions, only 300 for the specific charge of claiming to be Messiah. In fact, 300 in a year seems to be on the low end for Pilate.

They did not have the authority to execute anyone in Judea, and would have been guilty of a crime themselves if they had done so. I’m not sure which Thomas you’re talking about.

No, that not at all what happened.

Pilate was recalled due to executing some leading Samaritans (not Jews) after a pitched battle.

The Samaritan nation too was not exempt from disturbance. For a man who made light of mendacity and in all his designs catered to the mob, rallied them, bidding them go in a body with him to Mount Gerizim, which in their belief is the most sacred of mountains. He assured them that on their arrival he would show them the sacred vessels which were buried there, where Moses had deposited them.

His hearers, viewing this tale as plausible, appeared in arms. They posted themselves in a certain village named Tirathana, and, as they planned to climb the mountain in a great multitude, they welcomed to their ranks the new arrivals who kept coming.

But before they could ascend, Pilate blocked their projected route up the mountain with a detachment of cavalry and heavily armed infantry, who in an encounter with the first comers in the village slew some in a pitched battle and put the others to flight. Many prisoners were taken, of whom Pilate put to death the principal leaders and those who were most influential among the fugitives.

When the uprising had been quelled, the council of the Samaritans went to Vitellius, a man of consular rank who was governor of Syria, and charged Pilate with the slaughter of the victims. For, they said, it was not as rebels against the Romans but as refugees from the persecution of Pilate that they had met in Tirathana.

Vitellius thereupon dispatched Marcellus, one of his friends, to take charge of the administration of Judaea, and ordered Pilate to return to Rome to give the emperor his account of the matters with which he was charged by the Samaritans. And so Pilate, after having spent ten years in Judaea, hurried to Rome in obedience to the orders of Vitellius, since he could not refuse. But before he reached Rome, Tiberius had already passed away.

           – Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 18.85-89

You make an implausible claim, but ‘can’t be bothered’ to cite a source? :rofl:

Sorry, I misremembered: Saint Stephen. Acts. You will argue that it is a mob and not a court of law that condemns Stephen to stoning for blasphemy. Roman law, which did forbid the Jews to perform capital punishment, would not have stopped the Jews from stoning Jesus for blasphemy. Instead, we’re treated to a fictitious court hearing before the Sanhedrin* and they in turn ship him to Pilate for sentencing. And the crime for which he was crucified was sedition.

Yes, the Mt Gezrim thing tipped the scale. That doesn’t negate the fact that he Pilate sent thousands to the cross during his tenure.

As for Messiahs:
Hezekiah the Bandit Chief
Simon of Peraea
Judas the Galilean, his grandson Menahem
Simon son of Giora
Simon son of Kochba
“The Egyptian”
“The Samaritan”

Source: Zealot by Reza Aslan.

*Meeting at night? On the sabbath? At passover? That didn’t happen.

Crucifixion was common. That’s how the Roman overlords executed criminals. They executed lots of criminals. This isn’t controversial. Even the New Testament mentions that two other guys were crucified at the same time Jesus was.

There were lots of other people claiming to be the Messiah at the time of Jesus. And yes, that was a form of sedition, and so punishable under Roman law.

Why was it sedition? “Messiah” just means anointed. It’s a reference to how the kings of ancient Israel were anointed, the kings of independent Israel. David was the first Messiah, an anointed king of Israel. Solomon was the next one.

While Jesus may have been advocating a kingdom on heaven, rather than on earth, most of the Messiahs were explicitly rallying the people to overthrow the Roman overlords. They had seen it work before, when the Maccabees overthrew the Alexandrian Greek overlords in then-recent history. They had prophesies that it would happen again. Heck, a big chunk of the Hebrew Bible is about how God gave that land to the Jewish people and would help them win it and keep it militarily.

So anyone claiming to be “king of the Jews” was guilty of insurrection. And yes, quite a lot of them were crucified. 300 executed for claims of being the Messiah that year sounds high to me, but it certainly wasn’t uncommon.

Not too long after the time of Jesus, the Jews actually did band behind a Messiah, Simon bar Kokhba, and had some success before being violently taken down, leading to the dispersion of the Jews out of Israel. Both the Jews and the Christians had a bad rap in the Roman empire, and the Christians made some effort to blame the Jews (and not the Romans) for the execution of Jesus. This is, frankly, a silly claim historically. But it was hugely important to Christians in their attempt to suck up to Rome, and not get swept in with the rebellious Jews.

It’s also historically very unfortunate, as it has led to a lot of murder of Jews by Christians over the subsequent centuries. :cry:

I took a class in college about the history of the early Christians, and read a lot of primary sources at the time. The thing that really struck me was that most of the slander that medieval Christians spread against the Jews were originally claims the Romans made against the early Christians. In particular, the Eucharist was misunderstood, and Christians were (entirely seriously) accused of stealing Roman babies, wrapping them in a ball of dough, then cooking and eating it as a religious rite. They were also accused of drinking blood. (Released from having pulverized the baby prior to cooking, in some stories.)

So … 300 false Messiahs in a year still sounds high, but Messiahs were a dime a dozen, and were routinely executed by Rome under Roman law because they were considered to be terrorists and seditious.

It did, as both Josephus and the Gospels clearly attest.

Those Zealot leaders may or may not have been claimed as messiahs by their followers, but as far as I know, none of them did so themselves.

Um… it all happened on the day before that, as every single account of what happened will tell you. :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes:

After crucifixion, Jesus had to taken down from the cross before sunset, the beginning of the Sabbath.

I read that book. It’s a good read, and the parts that overlapped with my college course were in complete agreement, fwiw.

Relevant Wiki page:

You are tired of accuracy?

Or did you mean to say “wary”?

Messiah wasn’t just a religious connotation; it was the expected leader who would reestablish Jehovah’s holy kingdom. And since the Levant was occupied by the Romans, that would necessarily mean a rebellion against the Roman empire.

Taking this into account, the story of Judas Iscariot makes a lot more sense. Judas evidently looked to Jesus to eventually become the leader of the Great Uprising. When Jesus declined to, Judas apparently hatched a plan of getting Jesus to be “the Messiah” whether he wanted to or not. Judas conspired to get Jesus arrested and sentenced to death, so that Jesus’s followers would rise up to save him. But it all went down the toilet when the crowd chose to spare Barabbas rather than Jesus. Which is why Judas, seeing it had all been for nothing, hanged himself in remorse.

Fun tidbit: Barabbas can literally mean son of god. (It could also mean son of the father or son of some guy named Abba.)

And his given name may have been Jesus (in modern usage).


Seleucid Greek, actually. Good post otherwise.

Different dynasty, but wasn’t it Alexander who conquered the area, and didn’t the Seleucids hold it as successors to Alexander?

Oh. I thought that you were referring to the city of Alexandria in Egypt, capital of the Ptolemaic kingdom. My mistake.