It was just after 3pm on the 3rd April 33AD. The Roman Army Execution Detail noted that the first of the three prisoners being executed that day had just died. It was a bit of a surprise because normally a prisoner took much longer to die, but as the Detail had to remain until all the prisoners were dead it was probably more of “One down, two to go” feeling than anything else. In the meanwhile it was back to gambling to while away the hours until they could return to barracks; after all they were just Roman soldiers carrying out their orders.
The background to this? At the time the Roman Empire was busy being the Roman Empire. The Emperor Tiberius ruled in Rome and Pontius Pilate (a junior Roman Civil Servant) was the Roman charged with keeping order in the province of Judea. To keep things rosy he had cosied up to the Jewish Religious Powers and they to him, but being Pilate he had still managed to alienate others. Also in the frame was Herod Antipas (a son of Herod the Great) who was the Roman appointed Tetrarch of Galilee and Perea. So far so good.
Then along came trouble, a 30odd year preacher who had gone about preaching that the Kingdom of God was close at hand had come to town. The new preacher was accompanied by a band of rustics (including ex fishers, an ex tax collector and an ex zealot), he did not rail against the Roman Authorities but preached that one should love God and love one’s neighbour as one’s self. He had upset the Religious Authorities by declaring that the Temple was a place for prayer and worship and not a place for commerce. For the Religious authorities the question of the day was how to neutralise this threat without upsetting the status quo?
Herod Antipas had incarcerated a previous troublesome preacher (and cousin to the new one), then without trial the preacher had been beheaded, his head put on a platter and presented to a young dancer who had pleased the said Herod Antipas. This option was no longer available.
The preacher was detained by the Temple Authorities and after a confrontation was handed over to the Roman Authorities. The death penalty was demanded by the Temple Authorities and to avoid trouble this was granted by Pilate, which takes us back to the start of the article.
Epilogue: Pilate was removed from office 36AD, Tiberius died 37AD, Herod was removed from office 39AD, the Temple was destroyed 70AD and that rag tag army of fishers and others (excluding the zealot) spread the teachings of the executed man until in 313AD Christianity was recognised as an acceptable religion within the Roman Empire. Now THAT is a story!
PS. The date quoted above is believed to be the most probable, by many scholars.