Who Were the People Calling for the Crucifixion of Christ?
Were They All Israelites?
by Stuart DiNenno
Almost everyone reading the biblical account of the trial of Jesus Christ under the Roman governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate, assumes that the crowd urging Pilate to “Crucify! Crucify!” consisted entirely of apostate ethnic Israelites, or, more specifically, that they were all ethnic Judahites, from whence the word Jew is derived. However, this is not necessarily the case because some important events occurred shortly before the beginning of the Christian age, in the period between the close of the Old Testament revelation and the start of the New Testament, that changed the ethnic makeup of the nation of Judah.
The first event in this process was the incursion of the Edomites into the territory of Judah. As the Classic Bible Dictionary (Sovereign Grace Trust Fund 1988) entry on Edomites puts it, “The Nabatean Arabs (c. 312 B.C.) came and drove the children of Esau out of Edom, out of Petra’s fortress, and into the southern portion of Judah, which was west of Edom. As the Edomites settled in southern Judah, some began to refer to this land as part of Idumea [the Greek name for Edom].”
Free Church of Scotland minister Patrick Fairbairn (1805-1874), in his Imperial Bible Dictionary, comments on the migration of the Edomites into Judea, even within twenty miles of Jerusalem, and the consequent melding of the Edomite and Judahite people, “We see therefore that the Edomites of Selah or Petra are also called Nabateans; and in yet later times we shall find the names of Arabia Nabatea and Arabia Petra both given to the desert country of Edom. At the same time we find an alteration in the limits of Edom, which were now removed as far as the hill country of Judea. Historians rarely speak of any but the governing class in a nation; so much so, that if from any cause these are removed and a lower class rises into notice, the country seems peopled by a new race of men; thus it was in this southern portion of Judea. When the priests and nobles [of Judah] were carried into captivity by the Babylonians, the peasants left behind readily formed one nation with the Edomites, with whom they were more closely allied in blood and feeling than with their Jewish masters, and henceforth we shall find two meanings belonging to the word Edomite or Idumean; sometimes the name will belong to the Arabs of the desert about Petra, but the Greek name of Idumean more usually belongs to the less wandering race of southern Judea, within twenty miles of Jerusalem; the wilder Edomites or Nabateans being driven back to the south of the Dead Sea.” (Patrick Fairbairn, The Imperial Bible Dictionary, Volume I, Idumea, pages 777-778)
Approximately two hundred years later, in the second century B.C., or one hundred fifty years before the crucifixion of Christ, John Hyrcanus, the king of Judah who was of the Hasmonean dynasty — the last line of true Judahite rulers — conquered Edom (or Idumea in Greek) and he did something that was unprecedented for a king of Judah. He forced the conquered Edomites (Idumeans), who had been the traditional enemies of Israel, to adopt the Israelite religion.
Why would he do such a thing? Most likely, because he was thinking like a Greek. Judea had been conquered by the Greeks under Alexander the Great more than two hundred years before and had been under Greek control ever since then. One of the policies of the Greek emperors was to impose Greek culture upon the nations they conquered and even to promote intermarriage between Greek soldiers and the local women, presumably to create a bond of loyalty between the conquered people and the Greek empire. Although some of the Judahites had revolted and resisted this pollution of their culture under the leadership of the Maccabees (the progenitors of the Hasmonean line) earlier in the same century, much damage had already been done and by the time of John Hyrcanus, many of the people in Judea had taken on Greek ways, at least in part, and it is likely that Hyrcanus himself had adopted some of the policies of the Greek rulers who had controlled Judea for several generations prior to him and who were still in control of Judea at the beginning of his reign. Just as the Greeks had done in Judea by imposing Greek culture on the Judahites, it seems that the Judahites under John Hyrcanus were imposing Israelite religion on the Edomites.
According to 1st century historian Flavius Josephus, John Hyrcanus “…subdued all the Idumeans; and permitted them to stay in that country, if they would circumcise their genitals, and make use of the laws of the Jews; and they were so desirous of living in the country of their forefathers, that they submitted to the use of circumcision, and of the rest of the Jewish ways of living; at which time therefore this befell them, that they were hereafter no other than Jews.”
So let us briefly review what we have seen so far. We have seen that the Edomites migrated into the southern territory of Judah, even as close as twenty miles from Jerusalem. We have seen that the Edomites took on the Israelite religion. We have seen that they came to be considered Jews. We have seen that the Judahite king John Hyrcanus was likely following the example of the Greek rulers when he forced the Israelite religion on the Edomites, and although we do not know for sure, he may have further followed Greek example by promoting intermarriage between the Judahites and the conquered Edomites. If you add up all of this, you can see that the lines between true Judahites and the Edomites had likely been blurred to a certain extent by the time of Christ’s crucifixion approximately 150 years after the time of Hyrcanus.
Edomite infiltration into Judahite society also was manifested at the political level. The Judahite rulers began to be supplanted by Edomite rulers only several decades after the conquest of Edom by John Hyrcanus. As I mentioned before, the Hasmonean line, which began with the Maccabees and to which Hyrcanus belonged, was the last dynasty of true Judahite rulers over Judah. The dynasty that came to power after them was the Herodian dynasty which consisted not of Judahites but of Edomites. This change happened under Roman occupation. The Romans had occupied Palestine in 63 B.C. and after that time all the kings of Judah had to operate under the greater authority of Rome, just as they had been forced to do under the Greeks in the 4th, 3rd and 2nd centuries B. C.
The Herodian dynasty began to take shape not long after the Roman occupation with an Edomite named Antiper who had been a governor of Idumea (Edom) under two of the Hasmonean rulers (some of the last of the actual Judahite kings) and Antiper later became an adviser to the incapable Hasmonean ruler John Hyrcanus II. Through shrewd political maneuvering he also found favor with the Roman general Pompey and later Julius Caesar. According to Josephus, Antipater sought to control Judea by putting the weak Hyrcanus II onto the throne in place of his brother, which he actually did accomplish with the support of the Romans. Thus Antiper the Edomite became the actual ruler of Judea, dominating the weak Judahite Hyrcanus II who was nominally the ruler. In addition, Antiper was eventually appointed procurator of Judea by the Romans and he appointed his sons to political office: Phasael he made governor of Jerusalem, and Herod he made governor of Galilee.
Shortly after the death of Antipater in 43 B.C., his son Herod (who became known as “the Great”) was appointed king of Judea by the Roman Senate while in Rome. Presumably, in an attempt to legitimize his rule over the Judahites, Herod also married a Judahite woman named Mariamne who was of the Hasmonean line (though he later had her executed). Herod the Great was the first king of the Herodian dynasty and this is the same Herod who much later ordered the killing of the infants in Judea as an attempt to destroy Jesus Christ in his infancy. The Herodian dynasty consisted of Herod the Great followed by the co-rule of his three sons Antipas, Philip, and Archelaus, and after them Agrippa I and Agrippa II — all of whom are mentioned in the Bible, and all of whom were either full-blooded Edomite, or Edomite mixed with Samaritan and/or Judahite blood.
The point of all this explanation of the Judean political affairs is to show that the Edomites had so infiltrated Judean society that they rose to positions of influence and eventually gained control of the society. The irony is that the subjugation of the Edomites by the Judahite ruler John Hyrcanus I resulted in the Edomites becoming rulers over the Judahites just a few generations later. It seems that what Josephus said about the Edomites’ forced conversion “that they were hereafter no other than Jews” is true.
Now having all of this information in mind, let us return to the scene of Jesus standing trial with Pontius Pilate presiding, and ask ourselves who these people screaming “Crucify! Crucify!” might be. Certainly they all would have identified themselves as Jews but in light of what has been presented above, we can see that while it is possible they were all Israelites, it is not necessarily so and maybe even unlikely to be so. Perhaps they were a mixture of Israelites and Edomites with some mongrelization between the two. Also, because the Edomites appear to have gained positions of power in the society of the time, maybe they were the ones leading the persecution. If so, this is similar to what we see with the Jews today leading the rebellion against Christ in formerly Christian nations. If you are not seeing a connection, maybe it is because you are unaware that some Jewish scholars have insisted that their people — the people we call Jews today — are of Edomite and not of Israelite blood. Could it be that the leaders of today’s anti-Christian forces are of the same ethnic stock as the leaders of those calling for the crucifixion of Christ?
It may even be the case that one of Christ’s apostles, Judas Iscariot, was of Edomite lineage. Judas was from the southern part of Judea into which the Edomites had been driven a few centuries before. He is believed to have been from a town called Kerioth, which was at the southeastern extremity of the territory of the tribe of Judah, bordering even the original Edom so closely that in some maps it appears to be inside if it. It is believed that Judas was from this town because it is believed that Iscariot means “man of Kerioth.” Thus, Judas Iscariot may have fit, both physically and spiritually, the definition of someone who is “of the synagogue of Satan which say they are Jews but are not” (Revelation 2:9). It seems to me that there must be some significance to the fact that Judas the traitor was from southern Judea, an area that is known to have been infiltrated by Edomites, but all of the other eleven apostles were from Galilee, which was not only north of Judea but also north of Samaria — so far north that it was called “Galilee of the Gentiles.”
I do not know of any way to prove that the Edomites were involved in calling for Christ’s execution, but I also do not see any reason to assume that only those of true Israelite blood were involved, especially when we know that the Edomites had also come to be known as Jews by this point in time and that they were influential in the Judean society at the time. Both the behavior of the people at the trial and the behavior of Judas Iscariot would certainly fit the pattern of Edomite behavior against God’s people, which in biblical times was manifested by continuous warfare against Israel and by their complicity in the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, and which, assuming that the so-called Jews of the post-biblical era are actually of Edomite ancestry (as some of their own have said), has been manifested since the time of Christ by nearly two thousand years of warfare against Christians and the ongoing attempted destruction of their civilizations. It is also interesting to note that Judas Iscariot was the keeper of the money bag among the apostles and was a thief. How similar this is to the behavior of today’s Jews whose proclivity for the control of money is infamous, as is the robbery they commit thereby!