A Rabbi's Impressions of the Oberammergau Passion Play, by Joseph Krauskopf, , at sacred-texts.com
"Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest it, because I am a king. To this end have I been born, and to this end am I come into the world."St. John xviii, 37.
"He shall bring forth justice unto truth. He shall not become fatigued and not be faint, till he have established justice on the earth."Isaiah xlii 2, 3.
THE sun is fast coursing toward the west. The day is waning. The Passion Play is nearing its end. TheThe Passion Play nearing its end. story of the most pathetic martyrdom in the history of human kind, so realistically rendered on the boards of Oberammergau, the story which in the early hours of the morning had presented to us the martyr-prophet of Nazareth at the head of an exultant procession, proclaimed and hailed as "King of the Jews," and which had then taken us, step by step, through all the devious ways of vengeful plottings, till it had harrowed our soul by the most unjust death-sentence ever pronounced, that story is now becoming an agonizing tragedy. Not a trace of humanity is left in the hearts of his persecutors. The
priests of the people have turned into bloodthirsty hyenas, the judges of the nation into howling fiends.
Even the guard, into whose safe-keeping the innocent victim of a nation's wrath is entrustedA night of mockery, and insult. till the break of day, shortens the tedious hours of waiting by indulging in cruel sport with the prisoner. He is placed in a chair, which is to represent his throne. He is mockingly addressed as king. He is blindfolded and beaten and asked, being a prophet, to name the smiter. He is thrown from the chair amid exclamations: "The king has fallen from his throne!" "Israel is again without a king!"
How genuinely Roman this scene is, seeing that it had been the acclamation of Jesus as A typical Roman pastime.king over a province tributary to Rome that e had led to his seizure! How akin this scene to the insult offered, by the Roman mob at Alexandria, Egypt, about the same time, under the Roman Procurator Flaccus, to Agrippa, the grandson of Herod, the newly appointed sovereign over a portion of Palestine, when, as Philo, the contemporaneous writer, informs us, they placed a madman named Carabbas upon a pedestal, "flattened out a leaf of papyrus and put it on his head instead of a diadem, and clothed the rest of his body with a common door-mat instead of a cloak, and instead of a sceptre they put in his hand a
small stick . . . and when, like actors in theatrical spectacles, he had received all the insignia of royal authority, and had been dressed and adorned like a king, the young men bearing sticks on their shoulders, stood on each side of him instead of spear-bearers, in imitation of the body-guards of the king, and then others came up, some as if to salute him, and others making as though they wished to plead their causes before him, and others pretending to wish to consult with him about the affairs of the state.
"Then, from the multitude of those who were standing around, there arose a wonderful shout of men calling out Maris; and thisHistorical Roman mockery of a Jewish king. is the name by which it is said they called the kings among the Syrians; for they knew that Agrippa was by birth a Syrian, and also that he was possessed of a great district of Syria of which he was the sovereign; when Flaccus heard, or rather when he saw this, he would have done right if he had . . . chastised those who dressed him up for having dared both openly and disguisedly, both with words and actions, to insult a king . . . but he not only did not punish them, but he did not think even to check them, but gave complete license and impunity to all those who designed ill, and who were disposed to show their enmity and spite to the king,"how akin that Roman
mockery of a Jewish king at Alexandria to this Roman treatment of Jesus at Jerusalem! How natural for a Roman guard to mock and abuse a fettered would-be king of the hated and seditious Jews, who, like the mocked Alexandrian, had also been regarded by some at Jerusalem as a madman! And yet not a single Roman is represented among the persecutors. They are all Jews, cruel, fanatical Jews, wreaking vengeance on a helpless and innocent brother, whose only crime had been his having wished to free his people from the hand of cruel Rome.
The morning hour breaks at lastbut brings no relief to him condemned to death. Christ before Pilate.That lamentable night, in which he had been basely betrayed and falsely tried and unjustly condemned and brutally abused, is to be crowned with a morning more execrable still. Oh, the fickleness of the mob, that today hails and to-morrow damns, that to-day sings hosannahs to its hero, and to-morrow shouts "Crucify him!" Haggard and worn, he is dragged along by that very rabble that but the day before had vociferously proclaimed him their king and Saviour, dragged through the streets of Jerusalem by the rabble headed by the two High Priests and a throng of other priests, and by the members of the Supreme Court of the nation, to the palace of Pontius Pilate, the Roman
[paragraph continues] Procurator. Oh, the hypocrisy of the priests, who all night long stain their souls with blackest crime, and in the morning display a mortal fear lest even but a spot of soot soil their sacerdotal garb! It is the morning of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and that most unscrupulous of hierarchies will not enter the heathen's palace lest they be polluted by contact with leaven. Pilate, the proud Roman, the governor, in Cæsar's stead, over the province of Judea, is obliged to come out doors to learn the rabble's wishso, at least, it is enacted at Oberammergau.
It is little they want, only his order for the execution of a miscreant, whom their chief tribunal had found guilty of death. TheyPilate refuses to execute prisoner. are amazed at his impertinent question as to the nature of the crime committed by the condemned whose death-warrant he is to issue. They are dumbfounded at hearing the Roman declare that he sees no justification for ordering the prisoner's execution. They insist, and their bloodthirstiness increases with their insistence. They appeal to the governor's patriotism and passion. They, the Jews, accuse the prisoner of having attempted a revolution against Rome, of having set himself up as King of the Jews. But of all this Pilate has seen and heard nothing, and, therefore, will not order his execution. The clamor for the death of their brother grows louder
and louder, and more and more violent. Pilate examines the prisoner himself sees no wrong in him, and will not issue the death-warrant. His wife, too, is troubled and begs him not to slay the innocent. His friends and counsellors applaud his decision, and brand the whole proceeding as a persecution of bigotry. There is pity in the heart of the Roman and the heathen, there is none in the heart of the Jew. So, at least, it is enacted at Oberammergau, and so it is taught in the gospels.
To rid himself of the mob, Pilate suggests that they lead the prisoner to Herod Antipas, Sends him to Herod for judgment.who had come to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival, and who, as tetrarch of Galilee, had jurisdiction over the prisoner of his province. The suggestion is eagerly caught up, and again we see the Man of Sorrows dragged through the streets of Jerusalem, to the palace of the Galilean tetrarch. This Herod, as you will remember, is the very tetrarch who but a year before had executed John the Baptist, for no other offense than stirring up the people by his preaching, and for creating a fear of a possible uprising. So is he shown in history, but not so is he represented at Oberammergau. There even this cruel son of a cruel father, whose hands were red with the blood of innocence, even he sees no wrong in Jesus. He regards
him a deluded fool, and sees reason for sport, but not for punishment. There is pity in the heart of this murderous semi-heathenthere is none in the heart of the Jew. To the dismay of the mob, Herod sends him back to Pilate, whence he had come.
Once more we see Christ before Pilate, with a mob around him twice or thrice as large as before, and more desperate thanChrist a second time before Pilate. ever for the blood of their victim. The stage rings with their cry: "Crucify him!" "Crucify him!" The very mountains echo back their shout "Crucify him!" "Crucify him!"
Poor Pilate, the Roman Procurator, with Cæsar's power behind him, with the Roman legion near at hand, ready to obey hisPilate forced to issue order for execution. merest beck, is utterly powerless in the face of this fury. So at least it is enacted at Oberammergau, and taught in the gospels. He suggests as a compromise the scourging of Christ, and then letting him go. It is of no avail; even so cruel a punishment as the Roman scourge, under the tortures of which victims often succumbed, even this will not satisfy the blood-thirsty Jews. They will have his life, and nothing but his life. Pilate next tells of his custom of liberating a condemned on the annual Festival of Liberty, and offers them the choice between the murderer Barabbas
A Rabbi's Impressions of the
and the preacher Jesus. It was a capital stroke on the part of Pilate. What doubt could there be as to the outcome of that choice! But, one glance at both the condemned sufficed for a decision. On the one side, the villainous, dirty-looking, Shylock-gaberdined Barabbas, on the other side, the white-robed, majestic, awe-inspiring presence of Christ. And speedily the decision is made, and loudly it is proclaimed. Pilate is horror-stricken. Is it possible? Yea, it is. In vengeful hatred and fanatical bigotryas taught at Oberammergau and in the gospelsall things are possible for Jews. "Give us Barabbas," shout the people of Jerusalem. "Let Barabbas free!" shout the hierarchy, the Sanhedrin, the teachers and preachers of Israel. "Crucify Jesus! Death to the Impostor of Israel, to the King of the Jews!" "His blood be upon us, and upon our children after us!"The order for the crucifixion is reluctantly given by the Roman. The Jews have triumphed over the Jew.
Their fondest wish is soon gratified. They see the victim of their hatred drag himself The way of the cross.along under the burden of the cross. They see him stumble and fall under its weight. They see him driven on mercilessly by the executioners. They witness the tearful parting-scene between mother and son, but there is no tear of sorrow in their eyes, no sigh of
sympathy in their bosoms. Are they not Jews? And can Jews have feeling? Can Jews be human? Such at least must the questions be at Oberammergau.
They hear the cruel blows of the executioner, and know that the nails are being driven through the hands of their victim intoThe Crucifixion. the wood of the cross. They strain their ears, but no welcome sound of a moan or groan can they catch. They are compensated, however, by at last catching sight of Jesus nailed upon the cross, bleeding sorely from his wounds, evidencing in his face and limbs the agonies of torture,yet not a word of curse, censure, or complaint, passes his lips. He listens patiently to the sneers and taunts of the High Priests, and his only answer is his prayer: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." His agonies increase; his strength grows weaker; his spirit becomes faint. One last and tearful exclamation: "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit," and his soul wings its flight to Heaven.
The earth quakes; the thunders roar; the sun withdraws its light; God is in wrath at the wrongs done His Son. In the TempleGod's wrath made manifest. the Holy Veil is rent in twain. In the streets of Jerusalem walk the dead of long ago, risen from the graves. Horror seizes upon the Romans; they flee in contrition and dismay.
[paragraph continues] But the Jew is blind and relentless still. "These signs and portents are the work of Satan," says he, "the magic of Belzebub, the accursed ally of the impostor crucified."
Even though dead, the High Priests' hatred of their victim is not yet appeased. They begrudge his body decent burial. Since they cannot have it torn limb by limb, they would have it thrown into the burial-pit set aside for evil-doers. It is only through the aid of the Roman that honorable sepulture is secured for it.
But its early rest is of short duration. On the morning of the third day, there is an The Resurrection.earthquake; the well-sealed tomb bursts open, and out of it steps the Christ crucified, dead and yet alive, human and yet divine, in the flesh and blood, and yet glorious in His transfiguration. Slowly He ascends heavenward, amid the wonderment of the awestruck witnesses below, and gradually fades out of sight. Heaven has its God back again. God, the Father, and God, the Son, are reunited. Earth is robbed of its Saviour, but in His stead He has left behind,so at least are we told at Oberammergaupeace and good-will among men, wherever His precepts are known, wherever His deeds are told, wherever His followers worship in His name. Glory, therefore, to the Jew, whose
hand, as teaches the Christian doctrine, performed, by Divine decree, the deed that has made it possible for man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, that has made it possible for man to be saved from eternal doom to eternal bliss, through the blood and death of Him who died on the cross of Calvary.But this is not taught at Oberammergau.
And there are other things that are not taught at Oberammergau, nor in the gospel stories whence the Passion Play derives itsNo truth in trial scene before Pilate. text and theme. There is as little truth in the scene of Christ before Pilate, as there is truth in the trial scene of Jesus before the Sanhedrin, of which we have told in our last discourse, and there is as little truth in the fiendish hatred with which the Jews persecute their victim to the last, to the death, and even after it, as there is in the love which Pilate and the other Romans display toward him who, according to Roman Law, had rendered himself guilty of a traitor's death upon the cross, because of his treasonable public entry as king in the capital of the province under Roman rule, and at that time in a state of sedition.
We have had of fancy and falsehood enough, let reason now have its way, and history its say. Of all the Roman procuratorsThe Pilate of history cruel. whose presence cursed the Jewish nation before and during and after the time of Christ,
there was none whose cruelty was greater than that of Pilate. So cruel was he that even cruel Rome felt itself obliged to recall him from his Judean procuratorship, after fourteen years of tyranny and bloodshed. He outraged even the few rights that were left to the tributary people. He insulted their religion. He robbed the Temple of its treasure, and mercilessly slaughtered the people for objecting. Even the New Testament itself tells, in an unwary moment, of how the sword of Pilate had mingled the blood of the pilgrims with the blood of their sacrifices. Philo, the trustworthy contemporaneous writer, brands his administration as full of "continuous executions without even the form of a trial," an administration of "endless and intolerable cruelties." He appointed and deposed High Priests as suited his greed or fancy, and to have them completely in his power, he kept locked within the fortress of Antonia the pontifical robe, without which the High Priest could not officiate, and which he could not secure without special application to the Procurator. Tacitus, the chief of Roman historians, who wrote some fifty years after Christ, tells of Jesus suffering death under Pontius Pilate, without any mention of Jews sharing in the crime. We know that at the beginning of the Christian Church, and for more than a
century after, the Roman had as little love for the Christian as for the Jew, that, in fact he classed and despised and hated and persecuted both as one and the same.
Such was the character of Pilate and the Roman, and such their persecutions of Christian and Jew, as recorded in history.The Pilate of gospels well-nigh a saint. But such is not the portrayal of Pilate and the Roman in the Passion Play, nor in the gospels. There Pilate is well-nigh a saint. There the Roman fairly falls over himself in his eagerness to save from the fiendish hatred of the Jews that very Jesus, who had made himself guilty of the greatest crime in the eyes of Rome, who had made a revolutionary entry into the capital of the one province of all Palestine that was under the direst rule of Rome, and that, owing to its seditious spirit, had been rigorously entrusted to his special vigilance. There, there is absolute ignorance of the fact that one of the early Fathers of the Church, in his hatred of Pilate, writes of his having committed suicide, in remorse for his bloody deed, and of even the elements having refused to accept his body; and another writes of Pilate having been condemned, by Cæsar, to a cruel death, because of his atrocious crime against Jesus, which stories, though not true, at least indicate that the responsibility for Christ's death was at that time charged to Pilate.
As long as Peter, John, and James, these devotedThe character perverted because of policy and of hatred of Jew. followers of Jesus and equally devoted lovers of their people and countryas long as these lived, and for some time after, there could never have been even the slightest thought that the Jews had any share in the crucifixion of Jesus. Not until missionary zeal felt the necessity of converting the Gentile world, as was pointed out in our last discourse; not until a brilliant future was recognized for the Church within the Roman Empire; not until the policy suggested itself, in the interests of the coveted ends to be attained, to Romanize as much as possible the monotheistic faith of the Jew, and to clear the Roman of the guilt of having crucified, as a traitor against Rome, the very God he was asked to worship; not until the hatred between Christians and Jews had grown intense, because of the latter's refusal to recognize the Messiahship of Jesus, and the former's paganization of the Jewish faith; not until those bitter disputations between the heads of both factions had sprung up, of which some have found their way into the gospel stories, where they are credited to Jesus and the Pharisees; not until a motive had to be found for the Jews having persecuted Christ, and caused his death; not until then, a century or two after the crucifixion, was the story of the real offense of Jesusthat of treason
against Rome in the interest of Jewish freedomcrowded into the background, and a new and Roman-pleasing story brought to the front: the story of the wicked Jews profanation of even their Temple; Christ's lashing from the Temple the sacrilegious money-changers, and his public branding of the priests and scribes as vipers and hypocrites; the venomous accusations and vengeful plottings of the hierarchy against the Messiah, till with the aid of the treachery of Judas, and despite Pilate's most strenuous effort to save, they succeeded in bringing upon the cross the Son of God, the Saviour of mankind, and upon themselves God's and mankind's everlasting curse.
Thus was invented that cruel story, that has caused more misery, more innocent suffering, than any other work of fiction in theCrucifixion a Roman cure for Messianic delusion. range of the whole world's literature. Thus was perverted, with venom in the heart and poison in the pen, the sad and simple, and at that time, alas, very common story of a Roman execution of a Jewish patriot, seized in the dead of night by a Roman guard, mocked and insulted and scourged till the early morning, condemned to a traitor's death by the Roman Procurator, nailed to the cross, with an inscription over his head of the letters I. N. R. I., the initials of the Roman words JESUS NAZARENUS REX IUDAEORUM,
[paragraph continues] "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews," as a lesson to Jerusalem, thronged with Passover pilgrims, of the Roman mode of curing deluded patriots of the madness of trying to deliver Israel from the power of Rome.
That the intensely patriotic Jesus was unfortunately possessed by that delusion we saw Jesus possessed by that delusion to the end.clearly enough by his fatal processional entry into the city of Jerusalem as proclaimed King of the Jews. That a spark of it had glimmered to the last, we recognize in his expecting Divine intervention, even though upon the cross, and in his breathing forth as his last words on earth: אלי אלי למה שבקתני "My God! my God! Why hast thou forsaken me?"
That these words, so natural for a doomed, unsuccessful patriot, were his last words, and Proven by his last words.not those put into his mouth by a later hand, probably a century after his death, and for very obvious reasonsthe words, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!" prayed in behalf of the cruel Jews, needs scarcely any emphasis, considering the fact that the gospel stories neither of Matthew, nor of Mark, nor of John, know anything of them, which words, had they been the last uttered, could never have been forgotten, could never have escaped being recorded, especially when so sublimely magnanimous, seeing how the last words of even
far less significance, and of far less important personages are cherished among the most sacred treasures of memory.
But even if this were not sufficiently convincing, what better proof that these words quoted in the gospel of St. Lukethe gospelThe words cited in Luke an interpolation, and a thrust at Jews. written by a Roman, in Rome,as one of the last utterances of Jesus, what better proof could we want that these words were not spoken in behalf of persecuting Jews, than that the early manuscripts in our possession of even this gospel do not contain thema fact which the latest Revised Version of the New Testament has been obliged to recognize and to publish as a note along the margin of them. To have eliminated these words altogether, seeing that they have no scriptural warrant at all, would have been an act of heroic truthfulness for which the editors of the Revised Edition had not yet sufficient moral courage. But we have in this another proof of the freedom with which interpolations have been made in the gospel stories, of the liberties that have been taken to add to Scriptures, or take from, as best suited policy or doctrine, or as best served to instil and to incite hatred against the Jew.
I shall not touch upon the miracles recorded as having accompanied or followed the death of Jesus. Much as might be said on that subject, it has no direct bearing on the purpose
for which this series of discourses on Gospel-miracles additional proof against veracity of much of gospel teaching.the Passion Play has been given. My only purpose has been the defense of the Jew against the infamous charges that are enacted against him at Oberammergau, and taught against him in the gospel stories. Indirectly, these miracles, that are proven scientifically impossible, historically unfounded, philosophically irrational, scripturally not only contradictory, but also, when not obvious invention, manifestly the hallucinations of emotional men and hysterical women, indirectly these miracles, that are but faithful copies of the kind credited to the saints and martyrs of the second century, the century during which the gospels grew, and during which the blending of Jewish credulity and Pagan superstition rendered the mind especially susceptible to belief in the supernatural, indirectly, I repeat, these miracles throw considerable side-light on the general reliability of the gospel stories, in which the Jew is so heinously villified.
The story, whether of the New Testament or of the Old Testament, or any other More likely that miracles are untrue than that science is false.Testament, that needs a miracle to confirm it remains a story unconfirmed. When the science of to-day says that a suspension of the eternal laws of nature is impossible, and a self-interested literature of an unscientific and credulous age tells of laws of nature having been suspended, I will range myself
on the side of science, and take the consequences of my unbelief. When visions of a few hysterical men and women are cited in proof of happenings that are contrary to experience or at variance with immutable laws of nature, the most considerate statement that I can make is that it is more likely that the visions were untrue than that these teachings of science are false. When we are told of the dead arising from their graves, walking about, and talking in the flesh and blood; when we are told of the earth quaking, the sun eclipsed, the Temple-veil rended, as signs of God's wrath at the slaughter of His Son, yet the doctrine teaching that for this very slaughter had the Son been sent on earth by the Father; when we are told of an angel descending to open Christ's tomb, and of the latter's ascending into "Heaven," wherever that may be, to take His place at God's "right hand," whatever that may be; when of these wondrous miracles we read in the gospels, and search in vain for even but a trace of them in the contemporaneous Pagan and Jewish literature, although these marvelous events are said to have taken place in the light of day, in the sight of all; when we are referred for proofs of these miracles to a few interested men and women, and find doubts and contradictions even among these,then the most charitable conclusion we can arrive
at is, that the death of the Master, and the idealization of his noble life and deeds, so affected the emotions and imaginations of some of his mourning and brooding friends, that they fancied seeing and hearing what eye never saw, what ear never heard.
We have reached the end of the Passion Play. We have analyzed text and theme, Eradication of gospel-falsehood s demanded.plot and scheme, and we have found precious truths and infamous falsehoods,blessed truths, the gift of the Jew, and falsehoods, the contribution of the anti-Jew, partly due to imagination and hallucination, partly to irrational dogma, partly to malice, mostly to policy and selfishness,the accursed parents of most of the crime and misery on earth. We have dissected with the most approved instruments of history, logic, science, and we have found in the gospel stories much that is sound but more that is diseased, that is congested with a poison which has not only cursed the life of the Jew, eighteen hundred years long, but now also threatens the very life of the Christian. In the light of such pronouncement of such authorities as history, logic, science, it will not do, since the rack and stake and gallows can no longer be resorted to as in the good old days, to fling their decision aside with a contemptuous sneer, or with some such remark: "it is all bosh." There is a vast difference between
saying a decision is wrong and proving it wrong. When Lord Mountjoy of Cambridge asked Erasmus to prove Luther wrong, Erasmus replied: "My Lord, nothing is easier than to say Luther is wrong, and nothing more difficult than to prove him so." This life- and love-vitiating poison festers on the very surface of the gospel stories. The future of Christianity demands its eradication; justice to the Jew compels it.
There is a cure, and of this cure I shall speak to you a week from to-day. Next Sunday is the Passover, and the Easter Sunday,Christianity must be Christian enough to do justice to Jew. the Sunday dedicated in the Christian Church with gladsome hymns and beauteous flowers to the glorification of a Jewish teacher and preacher, patriot and martyr, who toiled and suffered and died for the emancipation of man from the bondage of political, mental, moral, and spiritual slavery. It will be a fitting time for a summary of the wrongs done to the Jew, and for an appeal for his vindication to that Church that has causelessly and mercilessly wronged him. On that day of glorification of the Jew of Nazareth by four hundred millions of Christians, it will be a fitting time for the Jew to ask the follower of Christ to be a Christian, Christian enough to be just, just enough to do justice to the Jew.