Thoughts of a Catholic convert

My Photo
Location: United States

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Benedict XVI, JD Crossan, and Anne Catherine Emmerich

- begin watching at 2:30

There are some interesting posts at Women in Theology about the Benedict/Joseph Ratzinger's second volume on Jesus.

One thing I found interesting was Benedict's description of Pontius Pilate - he dismisses what little literary evidence there exists on Pilate and instead seems to use only the gospel of John as a historical reference. You can read an excerpt from Benedict's book here at Ignatius Press' blog, but below I'll quote just a relevant bit ....

[T]he judge: the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate. While Flavius Josephus and especially Philo of Alexandria paint a rather negative picture of him, other sources portray him as decisive, pragmatic, and realistic. It is often said that the Gospels presented him in an increasingly positive light out of a politically motivated pro-Roman tendency and that they shifted the blame for Jesus’ death more and more onto the Jews. Yet there were no grounds for any such tendency in the historical circumstances of the evangelists: by the time the Gospels were written, Nero’s persecution had already revealed the cruel side of the Roman State and the great arbitrariness of imperial power. If we may date the Book of Revelation to approximately the same period as John’s Gospel, then it is clear that the Fourth Gospel did not come to be written in a context that could have given rise to a pro-Roman stance.

The image of Pilate in the Gospels presents the Roman Prefect quite realistically as a man who could be brutal when he judged this to be in the interests of public order. Yet he also knew that Rome owed its world dominance not least to its tolerance of foreign divinities and to the capacity of Roman law to build peace. This is how he comes across to us during Jesus’ trial ..... In the dialogue between Jesus and Pilate, the subject matter is Jesus’ kingship and, hence, the kingship, the “kingdom”, of God .... After the interrogation, Pilate knew for certain what in principle he had already known beforehand: this Jesus was no political rebel; his message and his activity posed no threat for the Roman rulers [but Benedict ignores Luke 23:1-2 which has the Sanhedrin tell Pilate that Jesus was incitinh tax evasion (a capitol offense)]. Whether Jesus had offended against the Torah was of no concern to him as a Roman ....

Pilate presents him [the flogged Jesus] to the crowd-to all mankind: “Ecce homo”, “Here is the man!” (Jn 19:5). The Roman judge is no doubt distressed at the sight of the wounded and derided figure of this mysterious defendant. He is counting on the compassion of those who see him .... Pilate — let us repeat — knew the truth of this case, and hence he knew what justice demanded of him.

Yet ultimately it was the pragmatic concept of law that won the day with him: more important than the truth of this case, he probably reasoned, is the peace-building role of law, and in this way he doubtless justified his action to himself. Releasing this innocent man could not only cause him personal damage — and such fear was certainly a decisive factor behind his action — it could also give rise to further disturbances and unrest, which had to be avoided at all costs, especially at the time of the Passover.

I think John Dominic Crossan would be opposed to Benedict's view of Pilate. In his book Who Is Jesus?: Answers to Your Questions About the Historical Jesus, Crossan answers a question on this subject (p. 103-109)....

In the New Testament accounts ... Pilate is portrayed as being completely just and fair, desiring to acquit Jesus but forced reluctantly and against his will to crucify him because of the insistence of Jewish authorities and the Jerusalem crowd. But what we have learned about Pontius Pilate from other records is totally at variance with that benign picture. We know quite a bit about the historical Pilate. We have archaeological as well as literary evidence for Pilate ...

[snip - here he mentions an inscription in limestone with Pilate's name which was found in 1961 and now lives here at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, and he also mentions the bad stuff that ancient Jewish writers Philo and Josephus wrote of Pilate, plus he opines that the idea that Pilate asked the crowd to choose between Jesus and Barabbas was fiction]

[A]fter the disaster of the first Roman-Jewish War, Christians were becoming more and more marginalized as a force within Judaism and were becoming less and less likely to attain the leadership of their own people. The future would lie with Rabbinic Judaism and not Christian Judaism. As described by Mark in the 70s, Jesus' enemies at the crucifixion are "the crowd" from Jerusalem. By Matthew in the 80s, that crowd has grown to "all the people." And by John in the 90s, it has become, quite simply, "the Jews" ....

None of that process, even in its nastiest name-calling, made much difference in the second or the third centuries when Christianity, though by then a religion distinct from Judaism, had no power of reprisal. But in the fourth century, when the Roman empire became officially Christian, those very same crucifixion stories took on the meaning of Christians accusing Jews, and began the long and lethal process that prepared Europe for the Holocaust in the terrible fullness of time.

Worth a read is an article by Crossan, Who Killed Jesus?, which begins with this creepy quote on Pilate by Hitler ....

It is vital that the Passion Play be continued at Oberammergau; for never has the menace of Jewry been so convincingly portrayed as in this presentation of what happened in the times of the Romans. There one sees in Pontius Pilate a Roman racially and intellectually so superior, that he stands out like a firm, clean rock in the middle of the whole muck and mire of Jewry."
Adolf Hitler (July 5, 1942)

All this reminded me of someone else who painted a positive image of Pilate in her The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ ... German nun Anne Catherine Emmerich. The work, a vision, includes the bit about Pilate and his wife which is said to have influenced Mel Gibson's movie portrayal of Pilate.

Strange that a man said to have put Jesus to death, whatever his motives, would rate such defenses.


Blogger Jeff said...

After the interrogation, Pilate knew for certain what in principle he had already known beforehand: this Jesus was no political rebel; his message and his activity posed no threat for the Roman rulers

Oh, not so fast, Joseph.... A sign reading "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews," in three languages, was fastened to the cross above his head.

Strange defense, indeed, for someone whose arbitrary cruelties were written of by his contemporary historians.

7:22 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Jeff,

Good point. I'm not NT scholar, but I have to wonder about the standing of Benedict in that area of study.

4:12 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home