Cui Bono? Who benefits?
This is a question crime investigators invariably ask. We know that the crucifixion of Jesus was a crime. Who was responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus? Evidently the one who benefitted the most.
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(Fig 1) Judas Iscariot
Was it Judas Iscariot who was responsible for the death of Jesus?
Judas Iscariot was one of the twelve disciples of Jesus. He is notorious for having betrayed Jesus for a bribe of “thirty pieces of silver” with a kiss – the Kiss of Judas – to the soldiers of the High Priest Caiaphas.
Was thirty pieces of silver a great deal of money?
Probably not. According to Matthew 27:3-10, Judas returned the money to the priests who used it to buy a potter’s field. Judas himself is said to have committed suicide.
According to the Acts of the Apostles Judas used the money to buy a field but is said to have fallen head first and died. This field is known as Akeldama or Field of Blood.
The betrayal by Judas, the most controversial person in the New Testament is said to be the fulfillment of a prophecy. Tradition has it that Judas committed suicide by hanging himself.
Was it Pontius Pilate who was responsible for the death of Jesus?
Pontius Pilate who was the Roman prefect (governor) of Judea, a sub-province of Syria, was the one who presided over the trial of Jesus.
(Fig 2) Pontius Pilate
As prefect, Pilate had several responsibilities. He was the head of the Roman military legions. He was the one who sanctioned construction works and controlled the collection of imperial taxes. He also passed judgment in civil and criminal cases.
During his ten-year tenure as prefect, Pilate had several disagreements with his Jewish subjects. According to Jewish historian Josephus is said to have annoyed the Jews on several occasions. It was thought that he would do the same during the trial of Jesus. The Jews protested against Pilate several times.
Not only did Pilate not have adequate concern for Jewish sentiments he was also said to be cruel and corrupt.
Pilate spent most of his time in the coastal town of Caesarea, however he came to Jerusalem for significant Jewish festivals.
According to the followers of Jesus, Pilate did not play a crucial role in the trial of Jesus. He was not the one that decided that Jesus should be given the death penalty by crucifixion.
Although Pilate eventually decided that Jesus should be crucified, that decision was reluctant and under duress. Some scholars say that early Christians down-played the role of Pilate in the trial and execution of Jesus in order not to alienate Roman audiences.
It must be noted that Jesus was given the most horrible punishment possible even though the Roman prefect had a choice of options such as flogging, handing the matter back to the Sanhedrin, or to refer the case to Herod Antipas, ruler of Galilee.
Although Pilate was responsible for the final act of his conviction Jesus blames him to a lesser extent, putting the blame squarely on the shoulders of the high priest. John 19:11 records Jesus as saying “You would have no authority over me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason he who delivered me to you has the greater sin.”
Some have interpreted this to mean that Jesus was blaming the Jews as a whole. However, it is clear that Jesus blamed the chief priest as he referred “to a singular person as “he” or “the one” who was responsible”.
Tradition has it that Pilate who was known to be corrupt took a hefty bribe from Joseph of Arimathea and conspired to ensure that Jesus did not die on the cross.
Pilate was also reluctant to condemn Jesus to death because his wife Claudia Procula interceded on behalf of Jesus.
Pilate eventually relented and condemned Jesus to death because he feared a Jewish backlash.
Was it Caiaphas who was responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus?
Joseph Caiaphas was the Jewish high priest who is said to have organized the plot to kill Jesus. Caiaphas is also said to have headed the Sanhedrin trial of Jesus as the then high priest. According to the most accounts, Caiaphas was the major antagonist of Jesus.
(Fig 3) Joseph Caiaphas
Caiaphas had many important responsibilities, including control of the Temple treasury, managing the Temple police and other personnel and performing religious rituals.
Probably the most important role of Caiaphas was to be the liaison between the Roman rulers and the Jewish people. The Romans expected him to keep the Jewish populace under control.
Caiaphas and his family enjoyed power and many luxuries as long as he was in the good books of the Romans. He feared that all these perquisites would be lost if there was a Jewish uprising.
Caiaphas reasoned that it is better for one man to die –Jesus Christ – rather than many lives be lost as a consequence of Jewish unrest and the Roman reaction to the unrest.
It is Caiaphas and a few other Jewish leaders who were responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus. The Jewish people as a whole were not responsible for the death of Jesus
The Second Vatican Council (1962–1965) of the Roman Catholic Church under Pope Paul VI “repudiated belief in collective Jewish guilt for the crucifixion of Jesus.” It declared that “the charge can be made neither “against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today”.
To answer the question “Cui Bono”, it was without doubt Joseph Caiaphas and a few other Jewish leaders who stood to gain the most from the crucifixion of Jesus.
1) Judas Iscariot
2) Pontius Pilate
3) Joseph Caiaphas