Jimmy Bitton

Confronting the Falsehood of “You Killed God”

“You killed God.” I have been the target of this ancient libel on several occasions in my life. My earliest memory dates back to my brief enrolment in public elementary school where attention was drawn to my Jewishness in the least flattering of ways. At the time, a common feature of public school morning announcements was the collective recitation by classroom children of the Lord’s Prayer (Later, in 1988, the Ontario government issued a directive to public schools to stop the mandatory recitation of the Lord’s Prayer).

After heated negotiations between my parents and the school administration, a compromise was reached permitting me – the only Jew in the school – to stand in the hallway until the Lord’s Prayer was complete. To some of my peers, standing up to the school made me daring and brave. To others, I was a symbol of evil, for as a Jew, I  learned that I supposedly killed God, known as “deicide”. That school year, I faced numerous antisemitic slurs in the schoolyard and even endured a few related beatings.

How the centuries-old canard of Christ-killer permeated the collective consciousness of my grade five classmates in that Toronto school is not certain. What is certain is that this falsehood has had a profound and detrimental impact on the Jewish people throughout history, and is arguably one of the central pillars of antisemitism. Whether on the schoolyard or within the vast reaches of social media, this ancient libel endures, sometimes perpetuated by children and at other times amplified by celebrities with millions of followers. 

Enraged by the relentlessness of this blood libel, the enduring memories I have in the schoolyard, and mostly by the Jewish suffering it has caused, I want to defend the historical record and hopefully defang as many antisemites as possible.

The accusation that Jews collectively were and remain eternally responsible for the death of Jesus has a long and complex history that dates back to the early days of Christianity. It finds theological grounding in Matthew 27:25, where the Jewish crowd at his trial before the Roman governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate, allegedly responds, “His blood be on us and on our children.”

According to the consensus among contemporary scholars of antiquity, the biblical narrative concerning the death of Jesus, as depicted in the Gospels, is predominantly shaped by rhetoric rather than a precise historical account. The Gospels prioritize the advancement of theological goal over an objective recording of historical events. Consequently, the portrayal of Jewish culpability for Jesus’ death is largely a product of these polemical tendencies rather than a reflection of historical reality. Moreover, the Gospels themselves were recorded decades after the events they describe, approximately 70 CE to 100 CE, and likewise their authors lived after the time of Jesus. My focus here is on the trial of Jesus as depicted in the Gospels, with the aim to highlight theological oddities that I believe underscore the rhetorical goals of the writings. 

According to Mark’s account of the trial, the high priest asks Jesus if he is “Christ the son of the Blessed.” But for a Judean high priest to construct this question in the way purported by Mark would be theologically peculiar. Indeed, it suggests a recognition that the Messiah would be the son of God, an idea that is completely foreign to early readings of the Torah. 

It seems plausible that the author of Mark fabricated this story to lay the blame of Jesus’s death at the door of the Jewish Sanhedrin. His condemnation of the Sanhedrin is a clear rhetorical ploy aimed at demonstrating that even the Judean legal and religious leaders believed Jesus was the Messiah, but that wickedness overcame them, resulting in their handing over of Jesus to the Roman prefect, Pontius Pilate.

The inconsistencies in the Gospels are impossible to reconcile. Matthew writes that the high priest and the council “sought false testimony” against Jesus, whereas Mark only writes that they “sought testimony.” The addition of the word “false” in the book of Matthew is intended to further attribute Jesus’s death to the wickedness of the Judean legal institution. 

Interestingly, Matthew is silent on the timing of the trial and the sentencing to death of Jesus by the Sanhedrin, both of which are found in Mark’s narrative. While Mark says the trial took place at night, Luke situates the proceedings in the morning, perhaps to give the trial legal validity. According to historians, the statement found in Luke that “they led him (Jesus) away to their council” indicates that Luke moved the scene of the trail from the high priest’s house to the Sanhedrin’s council chamber.

Confusion between narrative and historical truth exists as a common hazard in the telling of the past. A new era in Jewish-Christian relations has begun with the shifting of accountability from the Jews to the Romans. A pivotal moment in this transformative journey occurred during the Second Vatican Council in 1965 when the Catholic Church, in an unprecedented decision, enshrined the exoneration of the Jewish people for the death of Jesus as Church dogma. This stood in the most dramatic contrast to a theological tradition that had dominated Catholic views about Jews for close to 2000 years. 

Dispelling the perilous influence of historical falsehoods, be it against Jews or any other peoples, is a call to action that will help us collectively inch closer towards a world founded on genuine understanding and compassion.

About the Author
Jimmy Bitton, B.A., B.Ed., M.A., is a seasoned education professional with over a decade of experience in management, training, and leadership. Renowned for his commitment to mentoring and professional development, Jimmy integrates cutting-edge technology and innovative practices, particularly in Generative AI, to drive excellence and continuous improvement. Jimmy is also a prolific writer contributing to respected publications and delivering lectures on Jewish matters.
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