Seccombe-identity politics and the crucifixion

Seccombe, in The King of God’s Kingdom, deals a with what I would call the identity politics of the crucifixion. He has entitled sections about the sentencing of Jesus:

The Judgment of the Jews

The Judgment of the Romans

The Judgment of the World

The problem is that the driving force behind the crucifixion, even though Pilate and his Roman Cohort carried it out, was the Jewish religious and political officials in Jerusalem. Or, as John’s gospel often puts it, the Jews.

Seccombe points out that even the Talmud had apparently forgotten that the Romans were even involved. So both Christians and Jews tended to assume that this really was something the Jews had done.

In our time, after the genocide against Jewish people carried out during WWII, we need to be more careful in what we say. The New Testament over all is very much aware of Gentile involvement in both the crucifixion of Jesus and the persecution of Christians. But for obvious reasons, the New Testament writers and preachers who lived under Roman authority did not usually go around calling the Romans Christ-killers.

The guilt involved in the crucifixion falls upon individuals more than ethnic identities. The New Testament’s detailing of conversations between Jesus and priests, Jesus and Pilate, and Jesus and Herod points to the fact that individuals rather than collectives acted in Jesus’ condemnation Also the stories about Peter and Judas show that guilt struck close to home for the early church.

But the reality which stares at us from Jesus’ death is that each person involved at the point that their own self-interest conflicted with the mission of Jesus, acted to secure those interests and left Jesus to die. It was just this fear and self-interested unwillingness to take a stand against evil which made the holocaust possible. Whether we look at Judas or Peter, at Caiaphas or Herod or Pilate, at the Pharisees or the crowds, all were out to secure their own interests and their actions in the end conspired to destroy the only man who seemed to have everybody’s interest but his own at heart (p. 551).

But Seccombe does not shy away from the notion that Israel made a fateful decision. It was the Sadducian aristocracy and the Pharisees who spearheaded the conspiracy against Jesus. It was not Jews as an ethnic group or a religion. But when, in Matthew’s gospel, after Pilate has washed his hands the crowds say, “His blood be upon us and our children”, this does portend the national destruction of Israel that happened about 40 years after the crucifixion.

This same judgment does not fall upon the Gentiles, according to Seccombe. Although–for me– one of the forgotten values of the Book of Revelation is that there judgment does fall upon Rome and the Gentiles as well.

At least Seccombe dealt with this problem without conveniently forgetting about certain passages.

However, I fear that his approach leaves open the door to a replacement theology, a notion that the Jewish court in the early first century spoke for the nation and caused them to lose their place as the people of God to be replaced by the church.

The New Testament seems to speak paradoxically about this. You have the idea that the death of Jesus has undone the need for the sacrificial system that was at the heart of Temple-based Judaism (the Book of Hebrews). Of course, modern Judaism does not practice animal sacrifice anymore than Christianity does. On the other hand you have the insistence that God has not rejected his people and that God does not revoke his call or covenant (Romans 11:29).

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About theoutwardquest

I have many interests, but will blog mostly about what I read in the fields of Bible and religion.
This entry was posted in historical Jesus, Seasonal, Theology and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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