Why was Jesus killed by the Romans? Was he a dangerous subversive, executed because he declared himself to be the Son of God? Or was he silenced for another - far more disturbing - reason that has so far been overlooked? Most scholars believe that Jesus died on a cross because he was viewed as a messianic pretender who challenged Roman rule and had to be eliminated, whatever the cost. But Justin Meggitt suggests otherwise: that the rulers of Judaea did not perceive Jesus as being any threat at all. So why else would this 'King of the Jews' have been executed while his disciples were allowed to go free? Usual practice in the empire was to hunt down perceived 'rebels' in order to squash all sources of opposition. Yet Peter and the other apostles remained entirely at large to spread their gospel. All the evidence points to the fact that Jesus' executioners thought him to be an inconsequential and deluded lunatic, to be mocked as they taunted other madmen of the day, and then put out of his misery. Rather than wanting to liquidate a threatening political agitator, the motives of the Romans were rather those of pragmatic - or gratuitously sadistic - policing. Drawing on fresh sources and rare medical texts about mental illness in antiquity, this provocative and daringly original book - written by a leading scholar of Christian history - explores the full implications of Jesus as 'mad' for our understanding of his mission and message.
Justin J Meggitt is Senior Lecturer in the Study of Religion and the Origins of Christianity in the University of Cambridge and Fellow and Director of Studies in Theology at Hughes Hall, Cambridge. He is the author of two previous books: Paul, Poverty and Survival (1998) and The First Christians (2008).