The consensus of present-day historians that Jesus was crucified around the year 30 ce has been challenged by a minority of scholars who argue that the execution of John the Baptist could not take place earlier than 35 ce, and for that reason Jesus must have been crucified at the Passover of 36 ce. This paper argues that both parties have strong and convincing arguments, and for that reason we must conclude that John was probably executed after Jesus’ death. The collective memory of the early Christians did not succeed in retaining the chronological order of these events, and this circumstance allowed the synoptics to turn the Baptist into a forerunner of Christ.
Some of the ancient manuscripts and versions of Mark 15.15 add the phrase ‘to them’ after the verb ‘[Pilate] delivered [Jesus]’, suggesting that Pilate delivered Jesus to the Jewish crowd who subsequently crucified him. This textual variant was well-established in the Syriac and Ethiopic traditions while it remained marginal in the Greek, Latin, and Coptic traditions. This pattern suggests that those translators and readers of the gospels who lived on the Eastern fringes or outside of the territory of the Roman empire were more inclined to accept the idea that Jesus had been executed by the Jewish mob (and not by the Roman soldiers) than those translators and readers who lived in the core territories of the empire. The Diatessaron most likely played an important role in disseminating this anti-Jewish narrative. The obliteration of historical memories about crucifixion as a Roman method of execution in late antiquity contributed to the formation of one of the most devastating anti-Jewish narratives of the ensuing centuries.