The Life of Jesus

by Ernest Renan

The Life of Jesus > Chapter XXVII

Fate of the enemies of Jesus
ACCORDING to the calculation we adopt, the death of Jesus happened in the year 33 of our era. it could not, at all events, be either before the year 29, the preaching of John and Jesus having commenced in the year 28, or after the year 35, since in the year 36, and probably before the passover, Pilate and Kaiapha both lost their offices. The death of Jesus appears, moreover, to have had no connection whatever with these two removals. In his retirement Pilate probably never dreamt for a moment of the forgotten episode, which was to transmit his pitiful renown to the most distant posterity. As to Kaiapha, he was succeeded by Jonathan, his brother-in-law, son of the same Hanan who had played the principal part in the trial of Jesus. The Sadducean family of Hanan retained the pontificate a long time, and, more powerful than ever, continued to wage against the disciples and the family of Jesus the implacable war which they had commenced against the Founder. Christianity, which owed to him the definitive act of its foundation, owed to him also its first martyrs. Hanan passed for one of the happiest men of his age. He who was truly guilty of the death of Jesus ended his life full of honors and respect, never having doubted for an instant that he had rendered a great service to the nation. His sons continued to reign around the temple, kept down with difficulty by the procurators, oft-times dispensing with the consent of the latter in order to gratify their haughty and violent instincts.

Antipas Herodias soon disappeared also from the political scene. Herod Agrippa, having been raised to the dignity of king by Caligula, the jealous Herodias swore that she also would be queen. Pressed incessantly by this ambitious woman, who treated him as a coward, because he suffered a superior in his family, Antipas overcame his natural indolence, and went to Rome to solicit the title which his nephew had just obtained (the year 39 of our era). But the affair turned out in the worst possible manner. Injured in the eyes of the emperor by Herod Agrippa, Antipas was removed, and dragged out the rest of his life in exile at Lyons and in Spain. Herodias followed him in his misfortunes. A hundred years at least were to elapse before the name of their obscure subject, now become deified should appear in these remote countries to brand upon their tombs the murder of John the Baptist.

As to the wretched Judas of Kerioth, terrible legends were current about his death. It was maintained that he had bought a field in the neighborhood of Jerusalem with the price of his perfidy. There was, indeed, on the south of Mount Zion, a place named Hakeldama (the field of blood). It was supposed that this was the property acquired by the traitor. According to one tradition, he killed himself. According to another, he had a fall in his field, in consequence of which his bowels gushed out. According to others, he died of a kind of dropsy, accompanied by repulsive circumstances, which were regarded as a punishment from heaven. The desire of showing in Judas the accomplishment of the menaces which the Psalmist pronounces against the perfidious friend may have given rise to these legends. Perhaps, in the retirement of his field of Hakeldama, Judas led a quiet and obscure life; while his former friends conquered the world, and spread his infamy abroad. Perhaps, also, the terrible hatred which was concentrated on his head drove him to violent acts, in which was seen the finger of heaven.

The time of the great Christian revenge was, moreover far distant. The new sect had no part whatever in the catastrophe which Judaism was soon to undergo. The Synagogue did not understand till much later to what it exposed itself in practicing laws of intolerance. The empire was certainly still further from suspecting that its future destroyer was born. Daring nearly three hundred years it pursued its path without suspecting that at its side principles were growing destined to subject the world to a complete transformation. At once theocratic and democratic, the idea thrown by Jesus into the world was, together with the invasion of the Germans, the most active cause of the dissolution of the empire of the Caesar. On the one hand, the right of all men to participate in the kingdom of God was proclaimed. On the other, religion was henceforth separated in principle from the State. The right of conscience, withdrawn from political law, resulted in the constitution of a new power -- the "spiritual power." This power has more than once belied its origin. For ages the bishops have been princes, and the Pope has been a king. The pretended empire of souls has shown itself at various times as a frightful tyranny, employing the rack and the stake in order to maintain itself. But the day will come when the separation will bear its fruits, when the domain of things spiritual will cease to be called a "power," that it may be called a "liberty." Sprung from the conscience of a man of the people, formed in the presence of the people, beloved and admired first by the people, Christianity was impressed with an original character which will never be effaced. It was the first triumph of revolution, the victory of the popular idea, the advent of the simple in heart, the inauguration of the beautiful as understood by the people. Jesus thus, in the aristocratic societies of antiquity, opened the breach through which all will pass.

The civil power, in fact, although innocent of the death of Jesus (it only countersigned the sentence, and even in spite of itself), ought to bear a great share of the responsibility. In presiding at the scene of Calvary the State gave itself a serious blow. A legend full of all kinds of disrespect prevailed, and became universally known -- a legend in which the constituted authorities played a hateful part, in which it was the accused that was right, and in which the judges and the guards were leagued against the truth. Seditious in the highest degree, the history of the Passion, spread by a thousand popular images, displayed the Roman eagles as sanctioning the most iniquitous of executions, soldiers executing it, and a prefect commanding it. What a blow for all established powers! They have never entirely recovered from it. How can they assume infallibility in respect to poor men when they have on their conscience the great mistake of Gethsemane?

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