Reading the book “The Golden Bough” by James George Frazer I came across a theory about the crucifixion of Christ that I would like to share with you. In Ancient Roman times, there was a very important festivity that occurred every year and had great importance. The festivity was called Saturnalia and was related to the god Saturn. During this festivity, slaves were treated as masters for a period of time. In Roman times, the amount of slaves that worked and lived with their lords was of a great number. The working and living conditions that those slaves suffered were very poor as you can imagine. However, during the Saturnalia festival, slaves were treated as lords. During that time they had access to women, feasts, wine… They enjoyed luxury and sumptuous lives.
During these festivities, lords would become slaves and would serve their “masters”. This was a quiet important festivity that happened every year and at the time, it was believed that the festival was connected to the fertility of the land and the regeneration of life on earth. The importance of this festival is proved as it was celebrated not just in Rome and its surroundings but also in other regions of the Empire such as the Gaul region or the Far East.
The book refers to many other cultures that had similar celebrations, not just in Europe, but in other regions far from Europe, like in Asia for example. Many of these festivities were connected with the resurrection of nature, the fertility of the land, the revival of the king or the divine power. The book goes back to the origins of such festivities and other similar celebrations that were happening in civilisations before the Romans.
Looking back at other festivities, we find that the Babylonians, a civilisation that inhabited Mesopotamia hundreds of years before the Romans, celebrated a big festivity, in which the death and resurrection of nature was commemorated. This festivity was called Sacaea. At the time, it was believed that Gods and Kings were losing their powers and energies through the course of their lives and it was required to regenerate their powers. Just as nature grew in spring and died in winter, to revive for next year’s spring, the king and the gods had to go through a process of death and regeneration to be able to maintain stability in the world.
Kings though did not intend to commit suicide and regenerate again. Instead, the community would choose a person or persons that would go through that process. This was to recreate nature’s process of death and resurrection. In Babylonia, this process would involve the participation of one or two people. In many cases, the people chosen for the festivity would be war enemies that had been captured, or slaves working for the Babylonians. These slaves or war enemies would be converted into kings or gods by ceremonies of initiation. In these ceremonies, the slaves would be dressed as kings or gods and treated as such. They even would be allowed to sit on the throne. They would enjoy a sumptuous life for the time that the ceremony lasted. The author gives examples of some civilisations that allowed those temporary kings to act as leaders, giving orders and reigning for the time the festival lasted.
But as I explained before, these ceremonies were aimed at the regeneration and resurrection of the powers of divine power and nature. To recreate the life cycle, these “temporary kings” were converted to Kings or Gods. Then, after they went through a ceremony of initiation and enjoyed the life of a Kings, they had to be sacrificed. These deaths were essential for the continuity of life of the whole community.
The author gives examples of many different ways in which death occurred. Some were burned. Others were hanged, beheaded or even crucified.
But as nature dies and revives, a second character had to perform as the resurrection of nature. A second slave was then needed to perform the reviving King / God, who brings new and regenerated life on earth.
Similar festivals occurred in subsequent civilisations such as in Persia or Israel. In fact, Hebrews were celebrating the festival of Purim, a festival that was very much a continuity or a direct influence of the Sacaea festival of Babylonia. This festival needed a mock king who would become the King of the Jews and would perform as king. This mock king was treated as such by all the community.
Here comes the theory that “The Golden Bough” introduces. First to say that the author established that this theory was based on the assumption that Jesus Christ existed. Based on this assumption, the theory states that Jesus may have been the mock king that performed as King of the Jews. Hence why he was treated as King by all the community. In this mock ceremony, all the population venerated him as king and crucified him as it was needed for the regeneration of nature and divine power. The regenerated king would have been Barabbas, who was mentioned by St Matthew. It may have been that this festivity evolved from a slave treated as king and able to enjoy the luxury of a king, to a mock performance in which Jesus was the main actor and was humiliated until his death.
Pilate, whom was the Roman governor of the region, at some point seemed to be against the killing of Jesus. He may have thought that it was inappropriate to kill him or use him for such a cruel superstition. However, as I explained before these festivities had great importance, especially amongst its communities. People believed that it was necessary for their survival that these ceremonies took place. Besides this, Jesus may have been a moral teacher, whose thoughts and revelations were not accepted by a lot of people. He may have made lots of enemies through the course of his life. People might have chosen him for this reason. Pilate might have seen that he could not go against the decision to use Jesus as “mock King”. This may have been the reason why Pilate could not avoid his assassination.
The story ended with Jesus of Nazareth being crucified and proclaimed “King of the Jews”.
Based on the book the “Golden Bough” by James George Frazer.
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