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Under Whose Law Did Jesus' Crimes Require Crucifixion?

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“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

CS Lewis Mere Christianity 

In Kosher Jesus, Rabbi Boteach agrees with Lewis. At least in part: Anyone claiming to be God, would have been considered a lunatic. However, by claiming to be the Messiah, Boteach explains, Jesus was making a political statement more than a religious one.

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The Jewish answer to Messianic claims, were simply, let’s wait and see. The litmus test would be military success. Boteach argues that claiming the messianic crown, would not have made him heretical, hated or opposed by other rabbis.

On the contrary.

The author explains that the Torah proclaims that if a king rises from the House of David,”who meditates on the Torah and occupies himself with the commandments like his ancestor David, in accordance with the written and oral Torah and he will prevail upon all of Israel to walk in [the ways of the Torah] and strengthen its breaches, and he will fight the battles of God it may be assumed that he is Mashiach.”

If word spread among the Jews that Jesus, a rabbi from the House of David, was gathering a following– in Christian terms we would say a revival broke out — it’s easy to see where the alliances would quickly fall into two opposing camps.

The appointees (Sadducees) of the Roman government, with loyalties only to themselves and their Roman captors, would immediately understand the Torah’s prophecy and assume Jesus as the Messiah. However, if indeed he was, that would also mean the next step would be to fight God’s battles and win. A new, and victorious king was about to emerge and overthrow Rome.

The devout, on the other hand, would be excitedly spreading the word by whispers. I can only imagine the sense of hope and elation that would bring. To have another Moses or David in their midst to deliver them out from under their wicked pagan rulers and establish their sovereignty once again.

This sets the stage for a clash of epic proportions. One that could, and indeed did, change the world.

Not only would the Roman government be overthrown, but also Sadducees placed in authority by Rome, would suffer the same fate. The whispers in the ears of the Romans that Jesus claimed he was the King of Jews, had to mean something totally different than what Christian tradition has taught us.

Boteach’s position is that there was nothing in Jewish law or tradition that would merit a death penalty, let alone, a crucifixion. Rather, met with anticipation and gratitude at best or a wait and see attitude at worst.

Only rebellion against Rome or a real or perceived military threat would be met with the swift and brutal punishment that Jesus suffered: crucifixion, a cruelty perfected by Rome, and the crowning of thorns under the banner “King of the Jews.”

Here Christians and Jews can agree: Anyone claiming to be God would have been labeled a lunatic — not a heretic. Anyone claiming to be Messiah, on the other hand, would have unleashed the fury of hell — and Rome.

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Photo Credit Shutterstock, Stepan Kapl