Accursed By God When Jesus Was Crucified?
Crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth is the fact that serves as proof for Judaism that he is not the Messiah. Jewish belief holds that a person who is hanged is accursed by God; therefore, Jesus was accursed by God disqualifying him as the Messiah:
“The very form of his punishment would disprove those claims in Jewish eyes. No Messiah that Jews could recognize could suffer such a death; for “He that is hanged is accursed of God” (Deut. xxi. 23), ‘an insult to God’ (Targum, Rashi).” – JewishEnclopedia.com
Scriptural basis for this belief is found in the Law of Moses, Book of Deuteronomy. Very plainly it says that anyone who is hanged on a tree is accursed of God:
- DT. 21:23 “his body shall not remain overnight on the tree, but you shall surely bury him that day, so that you do not defile the land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance; for he who is hanged is accursed of God.(NKJV)
Connecting “tree” and “cross” is made through translations of the Deuteronomy Hebrew text word `ets meaning “a tree or wood timber.” Some 300 years before Jesus was crucified, Jewish Hebrew translators of the Septuagint LXX used the Greek word xulon meaning “tree” or “wood.” Jewish and Christian Bibles alike nearly all translate `ets as “tree” or “pole.” 
Crucifixion involved a victim being hanged from its wood cross-timber beam on an upright wood pole. Therein lies the synonymous connection of the Deuteronomy Law to a cross being a “tree” or “pole.”
Thousands of Jews were crucified by the Romans. Some were executed as judicial punishment for committing commonly recognized serious crimes such as murder, robbery and insurrection.
Many Jews including priests, however, were crucified for non-criminal, if not nefarious, reasons such as simple hatred, spitefulness, terrorism, deterrent effect, or merely for entertainment. Jews of the Roman era could not conceivably have viewed these hapless victims of crucifixion as being accursed by God. In fact, Jewish practice was to take great care in burying the crucified Jews before sunset:
“Nay, they proceeded to that degree of impiety, as to cast away their dead bodies without burial, although the Jews used to take so much care of the burial of men, that they took down those that were condemned and crucified, and buried them before the going down of the sun.” – Josephus, Wars
Hanging of a victim was not intended to be the Jewish form of execution; rather, death was to be accomplished first by stoning, then the corpse was to be briefly publicly hanged. Contrary to the Roman humiliation component of crucifixion, the Jewish-style hanging was not intended to humiliate obviously because the victim was already dead. The Babylonian Talmud defines the process of capital punishment by stoning: 
“All who are stoned are [afterwards] hanged. (Soncino)
“The rabbis taught: It reads [Deut. xxi. 22]: “And he be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree.”” (Rodkinson)
“The rabbis taught: If the verse read, “If a man committed a sin, he shall be hanged,” we would say that he should be hanged until death occurs, as the government does; but it reads, “He shall be put to death and hanged,” which means he shall be put to death and thereafter hanged.” (Rodkinson)
Jesus of Nazareth was crucified like any other Jew by the Romans. Following customary Jewish practice after a crucifixion death, his body was taken down from the cross and buried with care by none other than two prominent Jewish Council members.
What is then different with the crucifixion circumstances of Jesus from the other crucified Jews – something that would cause Judaism to view only Jesus as being accursed by God? The answer lies in the fuller context of the Deuteronomy 21:23 Law.
The difference – a person to be hanged on a tree was to have committed an offense deserving of death by stoning for a crime so reprehensible, the individual was accursed by God. Execution was not enough – the corpse was to be hanged publicly whereby all would know the person was accursed by God. Talmud Mishnah and Gemara defined such grievous capital offenses as being two:
“… the sages say: only the blasphemer and the idolater are hanged. (Soncino)
“…but thou shalt surely bury him the same day for he is hanged [because of] a curse against God, – as if to say why was he hanged? – Because he cursed the name [of God]; and so the name of the name of Heaven [God] is profaned.(Soncino)
“The sages, however, say: that as with a blasphemer who has denied the cardinal principle of our faith (i.e., he does not believe in God), the same is the case with an idolater who denies the might of God…” (Rodkinson)
Caiaphas and other Jewish Council members found Jesus guilty of blasphemy for claiming to be I AM. According to Jewish Law, execution should have been death by stoning followed by hanging. Problem was, Rome had prohibited executions by the Jewish theocracy.
An exception to Jewish Law was required to distinguish the crucifixion of Jesus. Without the exception, there was no justifiable difference. Sanhedrin 43a in the uncensored Babylonian Talmud Soncino edition references an exception in the case of Jesus of Nazareth, “Yeshu, the Nasarean”:
“…On the eve of the Passover Yeshu [#34 the Nasarean] was hanged…But since nothing was brought forward in his favour he was hanged on the eve of the Passover!.…With Yeshu however it was different, for he was connected with the government [or royalty, i.e., influential].’” – Soncino Babylonian Talmud translation
“Rather, Jesus was different, as he had close ties with the government, and the gentile authorities were interested in his acquittal.” – William Davidson Talmud translation
An exception was made for Jesus because he was connected to the government, presumably the royal lineage of David. After Jesus was judged by the Sanhedrin to be guilty of blasphemy and as such accursed by God, the exception justified the Sanhedrin to hand over Jesus to the Romans to be executed and hanged on a tree.
Another hurdle was that Rome did not recognize the capital Jewish crime of blasphemy nor the Sanhedrin’s verdict. Instead, they handed Jesus over to the Roman government under the accusation of failure to pay taxes and insurrection. Either crime would result in the same outcome – crucifixion on a cross, a wooden tree.
Jesus was indeed judged by the Roman government for insurrection. However, the plan seemed to backfire when neither Tetrarch Herod nor Procurator Pilate found any guilt in Jesus despite admitting to Pilate that he is a King.
Not guilty of any Roman crimes, Pilate still condemned Jesus to crucifixion at the behest of the Jews. Pilate was compelled to wash his hands of the aberrant circumstances saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood.”
Does the crucifixion of Jesus actually mean he was accursed by God only because he was hanged on a wooden cross or was it because of blasphemy when Jesus said he is I AM?
Updated October 14, 2021.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
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