Fortress Press

Crucified: The Christian Invention of the Jewish Executioners of Jesus


The Christian Invention of the Jewish Executioners of Jesus

J. Christopher Edwards (Author)


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Historians of early Christianity unanimously agree that Jesus was executed by Roman soldiers. This consensus extends to members of the general population who have seen a Jesus movie or an Easter play and remember Roman soldiers hammering the nails. However, for early Christians, the detail that Jesus was crucified by Roman soldiers under the direction of a Roman governor threatened their desire for a stable existence in the Roman world. Beginning with the writings found in the New Testament, early Christians sought to rewrite their history and shift the blame for Jesus's crucifixion away from Pilate and his soldiers and onto Jews. During the second century, a narrative of the crucifixion with Jewish executioners predominated. During the fourth century, this narrative functioned to encourage anti-Judaism within the newly established Christian empire. Yet, in the modern world, there exists a significant degree of ignorance regarding the pervasiveness--or sometimes even the existence!--of the claim among ancient Christians that Jesus was executed by Jews. This ignorance is deeply problematic, because it leaves a gaping hole in our understanding of what for so long was the direct underpinning of Christian persecution of Jews. Moreover, it excuses from blame the venerated ancient Christian authors who constructed and perpetuated the claim that the Jews executed Jesus. And on an unconscious level, it may still influence Christians' understanding of Jews and Judaism.

  • Publisher Fortress Press
  • Format Hardcover
  • ISBN 9781506490953
  • eBook ISBN 9781506490960
  • Dimensions 5.75 x 8.75
  • Pages 237
  • Publication Date October 3, 2023


Rome killed Jesus, but the Jews were blamed. Why did this happen, and when, and how? Step by step, text by text, J. Christopher Edwards traces the development of this terrible tradition, while summoning his readers to reflect on its consequences, moral and theological, for Christianity. This is a haunting story, compellingly told.

Paula Fredriksen, Boston University / The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Who killed Jesus? The historical reality--that the Romans crucified Jesus--was abandoned shortly after his death. In this very readable, engaging book, Christopher Edwards carefully walks us through the evidence. He shows us the rise of the myth blaming the Jews and how it functioned among the early Jesus followers to justify Christianity's split with Judaism and falsely accuse Jews of the very worst crime: deicide. His book is a crucial effort to correct this "sacred error."

Susannah Heschel, author of The Aryan Jesus: Christian Theologians and the Bible in Nazi Germany

Edwards addresses a stubborn problem in both theological speech and historical understanding: attributing the death of Jesus to murder by Jewish hands. The first step in removing this linchpin of anti-Semitism is through careful scholarly reflection on how its logic formed in early Christian literature and thought. This is exactly what Edwards has given us. This small book renders an enormous service.

Willie James Jennings, Yale Divinity School

A thoughtful history of the first four centuries of perhaps the most destructive slur in the history of Christian anti-Semitism, Edwards's magisterial study--profoundly researched, precisely conceived, judicious, and written with exemplary clarity--a must-read for students of the history of anti-Semitism, early Christianity, and the reception of the Bible in antiquity. Highly recommended.

Kevin Madigan, Harvard Divinity School

In this scholarly but accessible book, J. Christopher Edwards investigates the erroneous claim that the Jews crucified Jesus. He traces its development from the earliest Christian documents, including the Gospels, through to the fourth century. He elucidates the different circumstances in which this accusation arose and the different ways in which it was used, as well as its role in the creation of a Christian anti-Judaism. Edwards writes with a commendable sobriety and balance but in so doing never shirks the morally complex and disturbing questions which attend study of such a subject.

James Carleton Paget, University of Cambridge