The World Would Never Be the Same
"The execution of Jesus was a crime born of the streets, the barracks, the enclaves of the privileged, and the smoke-filled back rooms of religious and political power brokers. Its meaning lives in these places still."
It is the most fiercely debated murder of all time. Its symbol is worn by billions of people worldwide. Its spiritual meaning is invoked daily in time-honored rituals. In Killing Jesus, New York Times best-selling author Stephen Mansfield masterfully recounts the corrupt trial and grisly execution of Jesus more than two thousand years ago.
Approaching the story at its most human level, Mansfield uses both secular sources and biblical accounts to bring fresh perspective to the human drama, political intrigue, and criminal network behind the killing of the world's most famous man
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About the Author
He has written celebrated biographies of Booker T. Washington, George Whitefield, Winston Churchill, and Abraham Lincoln, among others. Stephen speaks around the world on topics of faith, leadership, and culture. He is also the founder of two firms: The Mansfield Group (MansfieldGroup.com) and Chartwell Literary Group (ChartwellLiterary.com). He lives in Nashville and in Washington, DC,with his wife, Beverly, who is an award-winning songwriter and producer.
Read an Excerpt
The Unknown Conspiracy Behind the World's Most Famous Execution
By Stephen Mansfield
WORTHY PUBLISHINGCopyright © 2013 Stephen Mansfield
All rights reserved.
Inceptum: THE BEGINNING
The Winter Palace
March, 750 Years Since the Founding of Rome (A.U.C.)
The dying, seventy-year-old man ponders the apple and knife he holds in his hands. Though armies of servants tend his every wish, it is his custom to pare, cut, and eat his apples himself. He had intended to observe this custom now. Instead, the short, dull blade of his knife holds his attention. It whispers of possibilities he has never considered before, certainly not as gratefully as he considers them now.
He is dying and he is dying in inexpressible agony. It makes onlookers retch to see him. Doctors report that something like embers burn inside of him, a slow fire that actually emits a glow. This tortures him and at the same time it makes him ravenous, first for one type of food and then for another. Eating only adds to his torment. His inner organs are diseased and dissolving. A vile liquid oozes from his orifices and pools disgustingly at his feet. It secretes readily from an opening just beneath his belly. His penis is decaying and gangrenous. Worms fill his scrotum and push through the open sores that cover his genitalia. His body convulses constantly. There is no relief. When he sits up, he finds breathing difficult. When he lies down, he is nearly smothered by his maladies. His breath reeks of his decay. Doctors fear he is going mad.
These sufferings are what make him ponder the knife. To his diseased mind, it seems an escape. He looks eagerly about and, seeing no one near, he raises the tiny blade and plunges it swiftly toward his chest. Before it pierces flesh, a firm hand catches his arm in midair. It is the hand of his first cousin Archiabus, who holds fast and screams for help.
Others quickly appear, and the frail, dying man cannot resist them. He is held against his will. It is a rare moment for him, though, for he is the basileus, the king. In fact, by decree of the Roman Senate, he is the "King of the Jews." It is a grand title for one born "Hordos the Idumean." It seems even grander now that he is little more than a worm-ridden wretch. Still, until he breathes his last, he is the king—the one history will call Herod the Great. And he does not intend that any should forget.
He has dedicated his life to a bloody ascent to power. In doing so, he has ground underfoot much that was once dear to him. The Roman Senate declared him king and then gave him an army with which to capture Jerusalem. That was four decades ago. The Jews he was meant to rule despised him. Attempting to win their favor, he wed Mariamne, a member of the former Jewish royal family. When he later suspected her of complicity in a coup, he had her strangled and he murdered her sons. In all, he married ten times. It has proven dangerous to be Herod's wife.
During his four-decade reign, he has killed and killed often, murdering not only wives and sons but also his uncle, brother-in-law, mother-in-law, and even those he called friends. Hundreds more have died by his hand. He has ordered people killed by strangulation, assassination, burning, drowning, and cleaving in half.
There is more killing to come. Even in these last hours, while he putrefies and drains his life into the humiliating puddle at his feet, he orchestrates death. He already knows he will not be mourned when he dies. The thought haunts him. He has lived to be remembered. It is why he spent fortunes remaking Jerusalem into a city of the world. The temple, his palace, a variety of grand fortresses—he extravagantly constructed each so that he and his city would never be forgotten.
But he has shed too much blood, has lived too treacherously. He will not be grieved. Instead, his people will rejoice when he dies. He has simply visited too much suffering upon the land. Yet he, of all who live, knows how to make sure history does not forget.
Once again, he is planning murder. He has issued an order commanding the ruling men of the nation to assemble in the hippodrome. After they gather, he will have them executed. He will do this not because they have done anything deserving of death. Rather, he wants someone to mourn for something, anything, on the day he dies. He knows there will be no weeping for him. But he can at least make sure there are tears! He can—once again—cause sorrow and pain.
While this slaughter nears, he also plans vengeance upon his own flesh and blood. His time is short. He is settling accounts. He believes his son Antipater has betrayed him. He sent a message to Rome asking Caesar Augustus for permission to execute the traitor. Herod wants to kill his own eldest child. Disgusted, Augustus refused to get involved. The King of the Jews needed nothing more. His soldiers murder Antipater and bury him in an unmarked Persian field. Augustus comments that it is safer to be Herod's pig than to be his son.
These, then, are the last days of Herod the Great. Poisons of mind and body contort him. Suicide seems an escape. For relief, he plans bloodshed. He is determined to be remembered—even for evil, even for a legacy of anguish and sorrow.
Just before he breathes his last, ending the agony of his presence in this world, the foreigners come.
They are religious men, they claim, yet they seem more sorcerers or magicians than priests. They come from far to the East and practice some form of superstition that has them divining knowledge from the heavens. This is how they first saw the star. They claim it signals the birth of a king and so they have followed it. It stopped here. They hope for Herod's counsel. They yearn to worship the one so great that the heavens announce him.
They tell this first to Jerusalem's gatekeepers and then to the priests, who investigate, and finally to Herod, who had already heard the rumors crackling through the teeming city streets. He has already consulted the chief priests and teachers. He is already panicked.
That foreign magicians chase an errant star does not disturb him. What terrifies him is the phrase "born king of the Jews." This is what the easterners said. Their star leads to one born to be king. It is everything Herod fears, everything he has worked to prevent. He has murdered and schemed to stave off just such a possibility: that a legitimate ruler might arise and take the nation from his family's hands, leaving him lost to history—unremembered and unmourned.
Bedridden and hemorrhaging, Herod summons the venom to plot death once more. Between the Jewish prophecy that the chosen one will be born in Bethlehem and the magicians' assurance that their star first appeared two years before, Herod knows who and what his enemy is. He need not be in a hurry. He can let these foreign priests do the hard work. He charms them. He feigns interest in their charts and their incantations. Find this anointed one, he urges. We must all worship this new king. The magicians leave with a commission to return soon and report what they see.
Herod waits. It is less than a morning's ride to Bethlehem. He expects the magician-priests to return the next evening, surely no later than the second day. Yet that second day comes, as do the third and the fourth, without any word. Weeks more go by and the king stops expecting. He knows he is betrayed.
The sadistic rage that has defined his life now concentrates upon a single human being. There is a "destined one" now living who would steal all he has built. The thought stings Herod's diseased mind. "Born king of the Jews." He feverishly turns the phrase over and over while he convulses on pus-soaked sheets.
Then, a certainty possesses him. It must not happen. This Starred One must not live. No matter what is required, this man must die. Now. While this pretender is still an infant.
Herod gives the order. End the threat. Go to Bethlehem. Destroy all boys under two years old.
His commanders make it so. Immediately. In the town with the name that means "House of Bread," where King David received his crown, soldiers snatch infants from their play and cut them in two. Some they stab while still in their mothers' arms. Others they behead. There are no more than three hundred people in Bethlehem, so there cannot be but a dozen boys under two years of age. The work is quick then, yet so ghastly that grieving mothers scream like wounded animals and do not stop for days. Some imagine the matriarch Rachel, whose tomb is in Bethlehem, weeping for her dismembered sons.
Herod dies believing he has killed his rival. At his last breath he is confident there is no other king of the Jews. The throne is secure for his descendants, his memory preserved for generations to come.
But it is not true. He failed to kill his rival. Whatever souls he snuffed out in Bethlehem, he did not slaughter the one who will one day claim to be Israel's true king. Nor did Herod secure his legacy. He married ten wives who together gave him fourteen children, yet a hundred years after his death not one of his descendants will be alive to perpetuate his name.
What he does leave is an unfinished mandate. There is an essential task he has left undone. How simple it is: there can be no chosen one. There can be no aspiring king who claims he comes from God. Rome will not put up with it. Nor will those who rule the temple. They have too much at stake. The fate of the whole nation depends upon completing this single task. If there is anyone, anywhere, saying God has destined him to rule, that he is the true king over Israel, then that man must be killed. There is no other choice.
This mandate embeds itself into the unspoken law of Jerusalem. The next time the opportunity presents itself, there can be no failure. This chosen one must die.CHAPTER 2
Piaculum: THE SACRIFICE
The village of Bethany
Southeastern slope of the Mount of Olives
Two miles east of Jerusalem
Thirty years after the death of Herod the Great
The man the authorities plan to kill has just arrived. It has taken him six hours to walk the thirteen miles from Jericho, the city where Herod the Great died, where Herod's son Archelaus built an opulent palace, and where the Israelites first won victory upon entering the land of promise.
He might have been here sooner. He had intended to pass quickly through Jericho and to arrive in Bethany yesterday. Then crowds had formed and the road had filled up with people eager to watch as he passed by. This slowed him down, but it was that pitiful tax man who caused the big delay. When he saw the blustering little official sitting on the high branch of a tree, trying to see over the heads of his taller neighbors, something about the scene had moved him and he decided to spend the night in the man's house.
This disgusted the gossips and the narrow of heart, who thought it wrong for a man of God to associate with publicans—despicable men who collected inflated taxes to profit for themselves. They would sell their own people to Rome. Few are as hated. Yet that night changed everything in Zakkai's life. He stopped being a traitor to Israel and became a righteous man in the course of one evening.
The next morning, the hunted one pressed on. He was just putting Jericho behind him when a blind man called to him from the side of the road. There were appointments to keep, but something he heard in the voice calling out from its darkness captured him. He spoke with the man and with a second blind man who was there too. Then, without ceremony, he restored their sight. They wept and clung to him, the pain of the blackened years seeping away. He, knowing what the future held for Bar Timaeus and his companion, asked them to join him on the road to Jerusalem.
Finally, he has arrived in Bethany with his men. It is a strategic move. The authorities suspected he might sneak into the city during Passover to lead some kind of revolt. They put out the word that if anyone knew where Jesus was, he had a duty to inform. He has outwitted them. He has come six days before the Passover and has decided to stay just an hour's walk from the City, though on the opposite side of the Mount of Olives from Jerusalem. He is within reach but out of view, then, and the authorities cannot find him.
He has come here for yet another reason, something other than trying to stay alive. Bethany is where Lazarus lives, the man he raised from the dead a few days ago. When the temple officials heard about it, they decided once again they had to kill Jesus. They decided to kill Lazarus too. The authorities wish this story of resurrection to go away. Jesus has come to Bethany to make sure it does not happen.
It is Friday, the 8th of Nisan. This evening Shabbat, the Sabbath, begins. Friends are holding a feast in his honor, for Bethany is hailing him as a hero. It is being held in the home of the man called Simon the Leper—though he is a leper no more. Mary and Martha, grateful for their brother's return from the dead, excitedly serve the guests.
This is what he needs now: to relax among friends, to lean back against the cushions around the table and slowly, deliberately taste the food. He needs a cup or two of wine and a well-told story and some meaningful conversation with his men.
But then it happens. He is savoring the sumptuous meal. A small crowd of onlookers watches from the edge of the light. Suddenly, Mary steps behind him. She has a marble-looking bottle in her hands, and when she abruptly breaks it open, everyone recognizes the smell of nard. The discerning know by the scent that it is actually pure nard—and shockingly expensive. Without waiting for permission, she pours the silky perfume upon his feet. The guests stare in wonder. Why hasn't she left this for the servants?
Mary stops. Some are relieved, but then, she does the thing that ought not be done. Slowly, naturally, she reaches up and unbinds her hair. There are protests. She doesn't care. Her hair falls loosely about her shoulders, something a respectable woman would only let happen in private. Then, with utter calm, she takes a portion of her hair in her hand and uses it to rub the nard into his feet.
He does not move. He receives. A woman with her hair unbound is kneeling at his feet and rubbing appallingly expensive perfume upon him with her hair. It is understandable that some in the room should squirm. The nard is worth a year of a workman's wages, and yet it is being poured out on one man's feet? The news will spread. It will be a scandal. Then there is the matter of this woman and her familiar ways. Surely he knows what they will say about this. He should know, since he allowed this to happen once before, slightly more than two years ago when he first started out. A woman was involved then, too. His men remember the waste and the shame and the questions. For some it is far too much. They rage. How dare she! The expense! The presumption! They start pushing Mary away.
He raises his hand. This stops them. He seems moved and says he is grateful to her. She has prepared him for burial. Take care of the poor whenever you want. He says this to the ones incensed by the price of the perfume. Take care of them well, for they will always be with you. But I'm not here much longer. Let her do what she was meant to do.
After this, nothing is the same. His men look at him differently.
One of them, the one who tends the money and keeps the books, is so disgusted with this wasteful, sensual display that he slips out the back door. He knows what to do. The others are from the mountains up north but he's a Judean. He's local, has connections and understands the way things work. He leaves to make the necessary arrangements, certain the man he has been following is no longer a man of God.
Excerpted from Killing Jesus by Stephen Mansfield. Copyright © 2013 Stephen Mansfield. Excerpted by permission of WORTHY PUBLISHING.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ON SCHOLARS AND SOURCES,
CHRONOLOGY OF A CONSPIRACY,
Chapter I: Inceptum: THE BEGINNING,
Chapter II: Piaculum: THE SACRIFICE,
Chapter III: Illegitimus: THE ILLEGITIMATE,
Chapter IV: Urbs: THE CITY,
Chapter V: Imperium: THE EMPIRE,
Chapter VI: Regnum: THE KINGDOM,
Chapter VII: Pontifex: THE PRIEST,
Chapter VIII: Advenae: THE FOREIGNERS,
Chapter IX: Coniuratus: THE CONSPIRACY,
Chapter X: Occursus: THE MEETING,
Chapter XI: Oraculum: THE TEACHINGS,
Chapter XII: Proditio: THE BETRAYAL,
Chapter XIII: Vindicta: THE VENGEANCE,
Chapter XIV: Judicium: THE JUDGMENT,
Chapter XV: Excoriare: THE TORTURE,
Chapter XVI: Crucio: THE CRUCIFIXION,
Chapter XVII: Lamenta: THE WEEPING,
Chapter XVIII: Iniuria: THE INJUSTICE,
Chapter XIX: Damnatus: THE CONDEMNED,
Chapter XX: Centurio: THE CENTURION,
Chapter XXI: Excessum: THE DEPARTURE,
ANCIENT AUTHORS ON THE DEATH OF JESUS,