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Corpus Christi • The 12 Episodes
 

1 • Crucifixion

LThe image of Christ on a cross is universally known, but are we certain we know how the events of the Crucifixion unfolded: Were the condemned nailed, or were they tied to the cross; what was the form of the cross; where was the place of execution? Does the testimony of classics historians confirm that of the authors of the Gospels? What do we learn from the bones of the one and only crucified person ever found, who was found in Jerusalem and dates back to A.D. 1st century? Do the discoveries at Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls allow us to formulate other hypotheses regarding the context surrounding and the historic dimensions of the Crucifixion? And, who crucified Jesus, the Romans, the Jews, or the evangelists writing several decades later most likely from outside Palestine?

2 • John, the Baptist

Where did Jesus come from? How do we situate him within the Judaism of his time, the reform movements from around the 1st century? In the eyes of many Jews, the Roman presence in Palestine, that is, the pagan domination of the Holy Land, is first and foremost the manifest sign of the impurity of the chosen people in the face of God. Just as members of the Qumran sect are going to withdraw to the desert to wash away this impurity, John the Baptist, who is far from Jerusalem, proposes a rite of immersion designed to replace the Temple sacrifices and the rites practiced by the high priests. The beginning of each Gospel underlines the capital role of the Baptist. Was Jesus one of his disciples? In what way did his actions prolong, or compete with, the Baptist movement? Did Christians decide not to claim John the Baptist so as to mold him a posteriori into the precursor role?

3 • Temple

For Jesus, as for every Jew of his time, the Temple of Jerusalem was the most sacred place in the land of Israel because that was where God manifested his presence. But the occupation of Palestine by the Romans forced the high priests to accept a deal: The Temple would remain an enclave where they were free to practice their religion, but the rest of the country would fall under Imperial authority. Was this acceptable to Judeans and Galileans? Who were the high priests? Religious Jews? Collaborators? Extensions of the police and the governor? Why were the Pharisees opposed to the Sadducees? How did Jesus situate himself in the face of these two religious groups? When the merchants were chased from the Temple, was Jesus really attacking the power of the high priests? Was there an “event” or literary work based on the biblical prophecies? Did Jesus want to overturn the Temple of Jerusalem?

4 • The Trial

How and by whom was Jesus judged? Were there one or two trials for Jesus? Was it a Jewish trial or a Roman trial? Are there two stories of Jesus one told from the Jewish point of view, the other from the Roman point of view? Does the narrative of the trial of Jesus allow the reconstitution of the balance of power between the Romans and the high priests and the dynasty of Herod that characterized Palestine in the 1st century? In the Gospel According to John, Pontius Pilate, the Roman prefect, seems to want to save Jesus from crucifixion. Is this attitude reconcilable with the ferocious portrait of Pilate depicted by Jewish historians of the age? Why do evangelists seek to exonerate Pilate and accuse the Jews? Does this allow us to clearly date the writing of these texts? Does this allow us to determine their theological and ideological stake?

5 • Barabbas

According to the Gospels, other Jews were arrested at the same time as Jesus. Two of them were crucified, a third was freed, Barabbas. Why did the crowd prefer him when Pilate, the Roman prefect, proposed a pardon for one of the prisoners? To do so, Pilate supposedly invoked a custom, but it is one that’s not attested to anywhere other than in the Gospels. What do we know about Barabbas, the rioter? Is he a zealot, an actor of Jewish revolts against Empire? Or, is he a literary character forged from all the pieces of the Gospels to serve a cause? Why would Barabbas also be named Jesus in certain manuscripts?

6 • King of the Jews

The titulus, the inscribed accusation placed upon the cross carried the words “Jesus, the Nazarene, King of Jews.” Is this inscription the oldest archival element of the history of Jesus? Does Nazarene mean born in Nazareth? How then do we explain the fact that there is no archeological trace of Nazareth prior to the 11th century? How do we explaint that neither the immense biblical literature nor Jewish historians ever mention this place? In spite of the differences between the four Gospels, they all agree that the scripture on the cross bore the mention “King of Jews” to qualify Jesus. Could he have been executed primarily for political reasons? Could this claim to royalty, which would have been a defiance of Imperial Roman power, have been made by Jesus? Was the kingdom to which Jesus aspired of this world, or was it not? Was the kingdom of God the kingdom of srael and therefore necessarily Rome’s enemy?

7 • Judas

The Gospel According to John mentions “the Jews” 70 or 71 times. But who are the Jews in this text? The entire Jewish people? The people’s leaders? Or, more narrowly, the Judeans, that is, the inhabitants of Judea? Both are designated by the Greek term ioudaioï. How do we explain that among Jesus’s disciples, Judas was the one who betrayed him and delivered him to his death? Does this betrayal have a historic foundation? Who is Judas—a renegade, extremist, or ally? Perhaps, an accomplice? Is he called Iscariot ecause he is originally from a village in Judea close to Jerusalem? Is he the only Judean? Could it be that it was the whole of Judea that betrayed Jesus under the name Judas? But, is he not the quintessential Jew, the embodiment of Judaism after the Christians’ break with the Synagogue?

8 • Passover

Do we know the exact day Jesus died? The year? Was it 30...33...later? In the Gospel According to John, Jesus died the day of the Jewish Easter. In the synoptic Gospels (Mark, Matthew and Luke) the Crucifixion occurred the day before the Jewish Easter. Moreover, the accounts of the Passion are considered to be the earliest of New Testament texts. Does this mean that they are the most historic? How do we explain their glaring differences? Why are these stories so solidly interwoven with allusions to the Hebraic Bible, if they are not literal citations? What was their function? To write history or to instate a liturgy concurrent to the traditional Jewish liturgy? Or, was it to record history, or to establish a liturgy in competition with traditional Jewish liturgy? Would the answer not place the current “Christian” within the synagogue? Was the date of Jesus’s death chosen primarily for theological reasons? To invest the Jewish Easter and make Jesus the new Moses? Is that why Jesus bears the same name as Joshua, Moses’s successor who brought his people to the Promised Land?

9 • Resurrection

What happened after Jesus’s death on the cross? Why were the disciples not persecuted by the Romans? Why did they remain in Jerusalem? Were they awaiting his imminent return, that is, the end of time, which would also mark the end of Roman domination, or their master’s Resurrection? Did Jesus himself expect to rise from the dead? How does the Christian concept of resurrection fit within the Jewish tradition? What degree of credit should be given to the account of the discovery of the empty tomb? Why does Paul, the first Christian author, not write about the dead returning to life, but only of the apparition of the resurrected Jesus? Why is it that these appearances by Jesus are so different from one text to another? Why do the women and the disciples who see the resurrected Jesus not recognize him at first? Does the Resurrection conceal a historic event, or is it merely an act of faith?

10 • Christos

For Christianity, Jesus is Jesus-Christ. In the text of the New Testament, Jesus is called Christ as per the Greek translation of the Hebrew messiah, or “anointed by God.” Is the Biblical concept of the Messiah political or religious? Can one be a prophet without being king? During his lifetime, was Jesus able to claim himself the Messiah of Israel? Did the royal dimension of such a claim bring about his condemnation? If so, by whom and why? By the Jews who considered him as blasphemous and dangerous for the people? By the Romans who feared the coming of a king liberator of Israel? Did Jesus not become “Christos,” “Jesus-Christ,” only after his death? How many years or centuries separate Jesus the Nazarene from Jesus-Christ?

11 • The Beloved Disciple

How far back can the most ancient papyruses of the Gospel According to John be dated? Why were they all found in Egypt and none in Palestine? Why did this text give rise to hundreds of variants? When was it set as we know it today? What is the relationship between the Gospel of John and those of Mark, Matthew, and Luke? Does it depend on them, or is it an independent source? How do the scholars explain the differences and similarities between the four gospels? Who is the author of the fourth gospel that is simply known as the Gospel According to John? Is it one of Jesus’s apostles called John, son of Zebedee? Is it the beloved disciple who appears in the text as the signatory of the Gospel? Is “the disciple Jesus loved” another figure? But why were the fourth gospel and other New Testament texts attributed to John?

12 • According to John

How can we explain that the Gospel According to John is at once a great piece of literature and a text scattered with anomalies, or even contradictions? What are the various phases of writing that can be determined by these anomalies and oddities? Why is the fourth gospel sometimes perceived as “the father of anti-Semitism?” Is it Jesus addressing the men of his time, or the Evangelist, one, two or three generations later, speaking to his own contemporaries at the very moment when Christianity is about to be borne from Judaism? In the Gospel According to John, whose body is it that is taken down from the cross after the death of Jesus? A suffering body, that of a martyred man emptied of its blood like a lamb sacrificed at Easter? Or, a mystic’s body, the body of God in human flesh who redeemed the sins of man through death and resurrection? Or, is the body of a text?