Killing Jesus

The Hidden Drama Behind the World's Most Famous Execution


By Stephen Mansfield

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The World Would Never Be the Same

“The execution of Jesus was a crime born of the streets, the barracks, the enclaves of the privileged, and the smoke-filled back rooms of religious and political power brokers. Its meaning lives in these places still.”

It is the most fiercely debated murder of all time. Its symbol is worn by billions of people worldwide. Its spiritual meaning is invoked daily in time-honored rituals. In Killing Jesus, New York Times best-selling author Stephen Mansfield masterfully recounts the corrupt trial and grisly execution of Jesus more than two thousand years ago.

Approaching the story at its most human level, Mansfield uses both secular sources and biblical accounts to bring fresh perspective to the human drama, political intrigue, and criminal network behind the killing of the world’s most famous man


Copyright © 2013 by Stephen Mansfield

Published by Worthy Publishing, a division of Worthy Media, Inc., 134 Franklin Road, Suite 200, Brentwood, Tennessee 37027.

Audio distributed through Brilliance Audio; visit

Library of Congress Control Number: 2013931705

All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, scanning, or other—except for brief quotations in critical reviews or articles, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 byBiblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.

Scripture quotations marked NRSV are taken from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked Kjv are from the King James Version.

For foreign and subsidiary rights, contact Riggins International Rights Services, Inc.,

ISBN: 978-1-61795-187-9 (hardcover with jacket)
ISBN: 978-1-61795-233-3 (international edition)

Cover Design:
Cover Image: Getty Images
Interior Typesetting: Susan Browne Design

Printed in the United States of America

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The story of Jesus’ death is simple enough to capture the heart of a child and yet vast enough to consume a scholar’s life. It is like an epic poem that is movingly written and yet emerges from a genuine history. The art, of course, is to tell the tale in all its simplicity and force, while satisfying the demands of the facts.

This brings us to scholarship. The crucifixion of Jesus is so familiar as a tale of faith that it is easy to ignore the confirmation of it that comes from outside the Bible. We need this confirmation, if for no other reason, to move the story from the realm of faith alone to the certainties of time and place. It means we also need the work of dedicated scholars to help us know what we cannot know from the biblical accounts alone and to separate fact from persistent fiction. This seems particularly important in our current cynical age, when to merely suggest that Jesus actually existed can spark controversy. Neither the faithful nor the disbelieving should want this story floating mystically above us, unreachable. We want it woven into the fabric of first-century Jerusalem, genuine and textured, the smell of manure and sweat in the air. Scholars help us in this and we need their imprint upon these pages.

Still, we need to be careful. We do not want a narrative larded with academic tedium any more than we want a lightweight tale that ignores the counsel of experts.

A compromise, then. In the main body of this book, we let the story run its course, let it weave its meaning unrestrained. No debates. No intellectual turf to defend. We let the story work. When the tale is told, though, there follows a section filled with sources, justifications, explanations, and a bit of academic fire. Rejoice! Josephus will have his say. Tacitus and Pliny shall sound forth.

There shall, however, be no footnotes of the usual kind. This is a necessary act of academic rebellion, a vital stage in the author’s recovery from sourcing abuse. Let us be done with little numbers stinging the eye and desecrating the text. It is time for such criminal intrusions to end. Instead, sources and commentary will be listed by page in the back of the book where other scholarly input also comes to rest.


c. 6 BC    John, later known as “the Baptist,” is born to an elderly couple somewhere near Jerusalem in the land of Israel.

Six months later, Mary, wife of the carpenter Joseph, gives birth to a boy in Bethlehem. Rumors circulate that the child is illegitimate. He is given the Hebrew name “Yeshua,”which the Greek-speaking world later pronounces as “Iesus.”The name “Jesus” evolves thereafter.

4 BC Hoping to kill Jesus, Herod the Great sends soldiers to Bethlehem to execute all male children under the age of two.

Mary and Joseph hide their son in Egypt until they are sure Herod the Great is dead.

King Herod the Great dies an agonizing death in the city of Jericho.

Upon returning to Israel, Joseph and Mary learn that Herod Archelaus, son of Herod the Great, reigns in Judea. Fearing the hunt for their son continues, Joseph and Mary settle in Nazareth, a city in the northern region of Galilee.

6 AD King Herod Archelaus dies. Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee, takes his place.
25 AD In the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar, John begins announcing the coming of the Messiah.
26 AD Jesus is baptized by his cousin John, experiences forty days of temptation in the wilderness of Judea, and begins calling men to follow him.

Jesus performs his first miracle at a wedding in Cana.

27 AD Jesus begins his public ministry. Among his first acts is driving merchants from the Court of the Gentiles at the temple in Jerusalem.

Jesus speaks at the synagogue in Nazareth, his hometown.The audience becomes so enraged over his statements about Gentiles that they try to murder him by throwing him from a cliff.

Pharisees and teachers of the law discuss charging Jesus with blasphemy. In Israel, it is a capital offense.

28 AD After Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath in a Galilean synagogue, Pharisees and Herodians conspire to kill Jesus.

Teachers of the law from Jerusalem publicly accuse Jesus of being demon possessed.

Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee and Perea, has John the Baptist beheaded.

On several occasions, Jesus declares publicly that there is a conspiracy to murder him.

29 AD Religious leaders in Jerusalem strategize to kill Jesus. He ministers mainly in Galilee to avoid capture.

Pharisees warn Jesus that Herod Antipas plans to assassinate him.

In winter, while Jesus is speaking in the temple, a crowd attempts to stone him. He escapes and leaves Jerusalem for a season.

30 AD In Bethany, Jesus raises his friend Lazarus from the dead.Religious leaders in nearby Jerusalem hunt for both men to slay them.

In a meeting at the house of Caiaphas, the reigning high priest, members of the Sanhedrin renew their commitment to assassinate Jesus.

9th of Nisan: Jesus enters Jerusalem from the east on the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. He uses symbols—like choosing to ride a colt that had not been ridden before—to identify himself as a king. On this same day,Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judea, enters Jerusalem from the west at the head of hundreds of Roman soldiers.

10th of Nisan: Jesus drives moneychangers and their customers out of the Court of the Gentiles in the temple.

11th of Nisan: While standing on the Mount of Olives, Jesus once again predicts the destruction of Jerusalem.

12th of Nisan: Two days before Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, chief priests and scribes search for opportunity to arrest Jesus and put him to death.

Judas Iscariot approaches the chief priests of Israel and offers to betray Jesus.

13th of Nisan: Jesus instructs his followers to prepare a Passover meal to be eaten later that evening.

14th of Nisan: After a Passover meal with his followers, Jesus is arrested by hundreds of Roman soldiers and temple guards in a garden surrounding an olive press on the Mount of Olives.

Late that night, he is interrogated first by Annas (the former high priest), then by Caiaphas (Annas’ son-in-law, the reigning high priest), and finally by most of the Sanhedrin. He is beaten, charged with blasphemy, and put in jail until early the next morning.

30 AD

Early the following morning, the Sanhedrin meets again to rule that Jesus is guilty of blasphemy and that he should be condemned to death. They take him to Pontius Pilate.

Within an hour of the Sanhedrin’s ruling, Jesus appears before Pilate at the Praetorium. Pilate questions him,sends him to Herod for interrogation, and—though Pilate believes Jesus is innocent—has him scourged.The crowd that has gathered at the Praetorium demands crucifixion. Pilate eventually acquiesces.

9:00 a.m.: Jesus is taken to the place of execution called Golgotha, a small hill of rock just west of the city.Roman soldiers impale him upon two crossed beams.

3:00 p.m.: Jesus dies. He is removed from the crossed beams and buried in a tomb owned by a member of the Jewish ruling council.

16th of Nisan: Friends of Jesus begin reporting that he has come back from the dead.




The Winter Palace
March, 750 Years Since the Founding of Rome (A.U.C.)

The dying, seventy-year-old man ponders the apple and knife he holds in his hands. Though armies of servants tend his every wish, it is his custom to pare, cut, and eat his apples himself. He had intended to observe this custom now. Instead, the short, dull blade of his knife holds his attention. It whispers of possibilities he has never considered before, certainly not as gratefully as he considers them now.

He is dying and he is dying in inexpressible agony. It makes onlookers retch to see him. Doctors report that something like embers burn inside of him, a slow fire that actually emits a glow. This tortures him and at the same time it makes him ravenous, first for one type of food and then for another. Eating only adds to his torment. His inner organs are diseased and dissolving. A vile liquid oozes from his orifices and pools disgustingly at his feet. It secretes readily from an opening just beneath his belly. His penis is decaying and gangrenous. Worms fill his scrotum and push through the open sores that cover his genitalia. His body convulses constantly. There is no relief. When he sits up, he finds breathing difficult. When he lies down, he is nearly smothered by his maladies. His breath reeks of his decay. Doctors fear he is going mad.

These sufferings are what make him ponder the knife. To his diseased mind, it seems an escape. He looks eagerly about and, seeing no one near, he raises the tiny blade and plunges it swiftly toward his chest. Before it pierces flesh, a firm hand catches his arm in midair. It is the hand of his first cousin Archiabus, who holds fast and screams for help.

Others quickly appear, and the frail, dying man cannot resist them. He is held against his will. It is a rare moment for him, though, for he is the basileus, the king. In fact, by decree of the Roman Senate, he is the “King of the Jews.” It is a grand title for one born “Hordos the Idumean.” It seems even grander now that he is little more than a worm-ridden wretch. Still, until he breathes his last, he is the king—the one history will call Herod the Great. And he does not intend that any should forget.

He has dedicated his life to a bloody ascent to power. In doing so, he has ground underfoot much that was once dear to him. The Roman Senate declared him king and then gave him an army with which to capture Jerusalem. That was four decades ago. The Jews he was meant to rule despised him. Attempting to win their favor, he wed Mariamne, a member of the former Jewish royal family. When he later suspected her of complicity in a coup, he had her strangled and he murdered her sons. In all, he married ten times. It has proven dangerous to be Herod’s wife.

During his four-decade reign, he has killed and killed often, murdering not only wives and sons but also his uncle, brother-inlaw, mother-in-law, and even those he called friends. Hundreds more have died by his hand. He has ordered people killed by strangulation, assassination, burning, drowning, and cleaving in half.

There is more killing to come. Even in these last hours, while he putrefies and drains his life into the humiliating puddle at his feet, he orchestrates death. He already knows he will not be mourned when he dies. The thought haunts him. He has lived to be remembered. It is why he spent fortunes remaking Jerusalem into a city of the world. The temple, his palace, a variety of grand fortresses—he extravagantly constructed each so that he and his city would never be forgotten.

But he has shed too much blood, has lived too treacherously. He will not be grieved. Instead, his people will rejoice when he dies. He has simply visited too much suffering upon the land. Yet he, of all who live, knows how to make sure history does not forget.

Once again, he is planning murder. He has issued an order commanding the ruling men of the nation to assemble in the hippodrome. After they gather, he will have them executed. He will do this not because they have done anything deserving of death. Rather, he wants someone to mourn for something, anything, on the day he dies. He knows there will be no weeping for him. But he can at least make sure there are tears! He can—once again—cause sorrow and pain.

While this slaughter nears, he also plans vengeance upon his own flesh and blood. His time is short. He is settling accounts. He believes his son Antipater has betrayed him. He sent a message to Rome asking Caesar Augustus for permission to execute the traitor. Herod wants to kill his own eldest child. Disgusted, Augustus refused to get involved. The King of the Jews needed nothing more. His soldiers murder Antipater and bury him in an unmarked Persian field. Augustus comments that it is safer to be Herod’s pig than to be his son.

These, then, are the last days of Herod the Great. Poisons of mind and body contort him. Suicide seems an escape. For relief, he plans bloodshed. He is determined to be remembered—even for evil, even for a legacy of anguish and sorrow.

Just before he breathes his last, ending the agony of his presence in this world, the foreigners come.

They are religious men, they claim, yet they seem more sorcerers or magicians than priests. They come from far to the East and practice some form of superstition that has them divining knowledge from the heavens. This is how they first saw the star. They claim it signals the birth of a king and so they have followed it. It stopped here. They hope for Herod’s counsel. They yearn to worship the one so great that the heavens announce him.

They tell this first to Jerusalem’s gatekeepers and then to the priests, who investigate, and finally to Herod, who had already heard the rumors crackling through the teeming city streets. He has already consulted the chief priests and teachers. He is already panicked.

That foreign magicians chase an errant star does not disturb him. What terrifies him is the phrase “born king of the Jews.” This is what the easterners said. Their star leads to one born to be king. It is everything Herod fears, everything he has worked to prevent. He has murdered and schemed to stave off just such a possibility: that a legitimate ruler might arise and take the nation from his family’s hands, leaving him lost to history—unremembered and unmourned.

Bedridden and hemorrhaging, Herod summons the venom to plot death once more. Between the Jewish prophecy that the chosen one will be born in Bethlehem and the magicians’ assurance that their star first appeared two years before, Herod knows who and what his enemy is. He need not be in a hurry. He can let these foreign priests do the hard work. He charms them. He feigns interest in their charts and their incantations. Find this anointed one, he urges. We must all worship this new king. The magicians leave with a commission to return soon and report what they see.


On Sale
May 7, 2013
Page Count
272 pages
Worthy Books

Stephen Mansfield

About the Author

Stephen Mansfield is a writer and speaker best known for his groundbreaking books on the role of religion in history, leadership, and modern culture. He first came to international attention with The Faith of George W. Bush, the New York Times bestseller that influenced Oliver Stone’s film, W. His book The Faith of Barack Obama was another international bestseller.

He has written celebrated biographies of Booker T. Washington, George Whitefield, Winston Churchill, and Abraham Lincoln, among others. Stephen speaks around the world on topics of faith, leadership, and culture. He is also the founder of two firms: The Mansfield Group ( and Chartwell Literary Group ( He lives in Nashville and in Washington, DC,with his wife, Beverly, who is an award-winning songwriter and producer.

Learn more about this author