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Why the Romans Crucified Jesus

Jesus was probably crucified by the Roman authorities, who were governing Israel-Palestine at the time, because he was perceived as a political threat.  Someone who causes a ruckus in the Temple, the major focal point of Jewish life and a symbol of Jewish national independence, someone who causes a ruckus there was going to get the attention of the authorities. 

I think that Pilate, from all that we know about him from other sources, such as Josephus, a Jewish historian writing about the period, probably was a fairly ruthless and efficient administrator and would not tolerate the outbreak of resistance to Rome and his territory. 

I think the high priestly leadership of the Jerusalem community probably was pragmatic about matters of this sort, the sentiment attributed to Caiaphas in the fourth Gospel, probably, actually reflects some of their attitudes, that is, it’s expedient for one person to die rather than the whole nation perish.  So I think they did collaborate with the Roman authorities, but it was Pilate’s decision to crucify Jesus.  Crucifixion is, of course, a Roman form of execution. 

There is a tendency in the Gospel accounts, particularly in Luke, and to whitewash the Roman involvement, and to suggest that Christianity was not a politically dangerous movement, and that anytime that Roman authorities encountered it, they judged it to be so, that it’s not dangerous.  I think the facts of the matter were the Roman authorities in first century Jerusalem were very sensitive to political threats, and saw Jesus as a threat and so executed him.

  • Harold W. Attridge

    Harold W. Attridge is the Sterling Professor of Divinity at Yale Divinity School. A graduate of Boston College, Cambridge University, and Harvard University, he served on the faculties of Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, the University of Notre Dame, and Yale Divinity School, where he was dean from 2002 to 2012. Among his publications are Essays on John and Hebrews (Mohr-Siebeck, 2010; repr., Baker, 2012).