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The Messiah Confrontation

Pharisees versus Sadducees and the Death of Jesus
Jewish Publication Society
Publication Year

The Messiah Confrontation casts new and fascinating light on why Jesus was killed.

Grounded in meticulous research on the messianism debates in the Bible and during the Second Temple period, biblical scholar Israel Knohl argues that Jesus’s trial was in reality a dramatic clash between two Jewish groups holding opposing ideologies of messianism and anti-messianism, with both ideologies running through the Bible. The Pharisees (forefathers of the rabbinic sages) and most of the Jewish people had a conception of a Messiah similar to Jesus: like the prophets and most psalmists, they expected the arrival of a godlike Messiah. However, the judges who sentenced Jesus to death were Sadducees, who were fighting with the Pharisees largely because they repudiated the Messiah idea. Thus, the trial of Jesus was not a clash between Jewish and what would become Christian doctrines but a confrontation between two internal Jewish positions—expecting a Messiah or rejecting the Messiah idea—in which Jesus and the Pharisees were actually on the same side.

Knohl contends that had the assigned judges been Pharisees rather than Sadducees, Jesus would not have been convicted and crucified. The Pharisees’ disagreement with Jesus was solely over whether Jesus was the Messiah—but historically, for Jews, arguing about who was or wasn’t the Messiah was not uncommon.

The Messiah Confrontation has far-reaching consequences for the relationship between Christians and Jews.

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