The interpretation of Jesus’ death as a betrayal: Judas. Josephus calls the Christians sons of Judas the Galilean,

Masada, tourists
Masada, tourists

because he brackets all Christians together as supporters of the insurrection. The opposite is true in the Christian sources: the relationship between Christians and Judas is not denied, but Jesus is the patron and the rebels are only pupils, and unworthy ones at that, since they gave Jesus’ enemies and excuse to kill him.

Nor do the Gospels hide the rebels’ opinion: in the scene of Peter’s denial (Mark 14:66ff par.) Peter is identified as a participant in Judas the Galilean’s rebellion due to his Galilean dialect: he is accused of betraying Jesus’ cause, which is identified with the rebels’ cause.

The crucifixions of James and Peter show that the Palestinian Jesus movements were by no means always non-violent and that they did not refuse all collaboration with the rebels. That only changed after the end of the Jewish Revolt in 70 AD.


The hero’s self-sacrifice and the Age of the Pisces: the Gnostics around Simon Magus interpreted

Masada, Roman ramp
Masada, Roman ramp

Jesus’ death on the cross as a parallel to the god Mithras’ self-sacrifice in the Mithras cult.

This was the origin of the cultic celebration of the Eucharist. Later, this took a form based on the Jewish Passover meal, but the basic idea, the self-sacrifice of the cult hero, originated in the Mithras cult.

The Gnostics also believed that they could perceive the divine answer to Jesus’ proclamation of God’s kingdom in the astrological Age of Pisces that was just beginning. They gave the name fishermen to those who proclaimed Jesus’ message. Jesus sacrificed himself as the ram (lamb) at the end of the former age, the Age of Aries.

According to astrological teaching about the ages of the world, Jesus’ death as the sacrificial lamb (ram) symbolises the end of the Age of Aries, The disciples taking the role of fisherman symbolises the beginning of the new astrological Age of Pisces.


The suffering of the righteous man: the oldest interpretation of Jesus’ death. The Samaritans, who were well-disposed towards Jesus,

Jerusalem, Mount of Olives, ancient olive tree
Jerusalem, Mount of Olives, ancient olive tree

found the following explanation for his death: Jesus’ suffering is the suffering of a righteous man. Jesus died for us, for our sins.

This explanation was set down in the Servant songs in Deutero-Isaiah (Isaiah 40ff) in the Old Testament and in Stephen’s speech in Acts 7; cf. also Acts 8:32f.


Christianity did not start as an inner-Jewish renewal movement; it began when initially autonomous

Jerusalem, Al-Aqsa Mosque
Jerusalem, Al-Aqsa Mosque

Israelite, baptismal and gnostic movements, represented in the Gospels by the great disciples James, John and Simon Peter, joined forces.

The interpretation of Jesus’ death

Because Jesus was famous long before his time as Messiah, his death was discussed everywhere, but particularly in Sebaste, as Samaria was called in Roman times, and interpreted in the light of his life and work. This interpretation did not take place among his followers, because there weren’t any.

Rather, this interpretation took place in the various social and religious movements and networks that defined spiritual life. Samaritan Judaism, the baptismal sect around John the Baptist and the Gnostics around Simon Magus deserve particular mention.

There was certainly a wide range of opinions about Jesus within these movements. We are particularly interested in the opinions that interpret Jesus’ fate in a positive light.