To  the Romans,  Jews were  a  known  quantity;  Christians  were not, and their emergence on the scene in Palestine was  a complication the Romans didn’t need. Here was a strange  and possibly seditious sect that refused to participate in Roman life, held secret meetings, inflamed the Jewish leadership,  and refused to serve in the army. The death of the Christians’  leader had done nothing to quell  their spirit, and the subsequent execution of key disciples, beginning with Stephen,  merely made matters worse. The obstinate Christians turned  the other cheek and continued their preaching and proselytizing, confident they would inherit the kingdom of God. The  first  full-fledged  assault  on Christians  occurred under  the  emperor Nero in 67 CE. It was during this persecution that  astute Romans began  to appreciate  the magnetic power of  martyrdom, but the lesson did not take. The story of the Passion, the suffering and death of Jesus 

of Nazareth, was crucial to the evolving idea of martyrdom.  Could its authors have anticipated that thousands of Christians-rich and poor, masters and servants, male and female,  young and old-would embrace martyrdom in imitation of the 

Passion?  The  four  evangelists-Matthew, Mark,  Luke,  and  John-described the event sparsely and wrote their gospels  sometime between 55 and 110 CE. They relied on a mixture of  eyewitness accounts, oral tradition, and Judaism. They were  Jews themselves, of course, as was Jesus. Today, believers in the God of Abraham-Jews, Christians, 

and Muslims-have different ideas about who, or what, Jesus  really was, although they agree that he lived in the service  of God. Jews say Jesus was a prophet, not God; they also do  not believe that Jesus was resurrected three days after death.  Muslims also believe that Jesus was a prophet, but they say  God would have raised him to heaven before he could be crucified if he was the biblical Messiah; they also believe that the  revelations recited by the Prophet Muhammad in the seventh  century supersede those of earlier prophets, including Jesus.  Christians revere Jesus as the Messiah, the anointed one, the  son of God, and God himself, whose coming, suffering, and  resurrection fulfilled Old Testament prediction. These different beliefs about Jesus have haunted the three religions for  centuries and have strained relations among the “Peoples of  the Book” to the point of war, massacre, and genocide. Whether a prophet or the Messiah, Jesus made decisions 

that virtually ensured his execution. Arguably the most critical among these was his decision to leave Galilee, where his  teachings had mostly fallen on deaf ears, to preach in Jerusalem,  the  center  of  Jewish  life.  Though  this decision was  hardly suicidal in itself, other actions by Jesus helped make  it so. He arrived in Jerusalem with a crowd of enthusiastic  followers proclaiming him the Messiah; he openly challenged  the council that governed Jewish affairs-the Sanhedrin, supported by Rome-by  forcefully  running  the merchants and  moneylenders out of the Temple and threatening their livelihoods; he claimed the power to forgive sin, which according  to the Jews only Yahweh could do, and thus he blasphemed;  worse, he refused to deny that he was the son of God. Less  than a week after entering Jerusalem, Jesus was arrested,  flogged, and crucified. Crucifixion was a cruel and humiliating death. Victims were 

nailed to the cross through their palms or wrists and usually  died of slow suffocation, a result of their inability to breathe  properly. They were often left on the cross after death to be 

eaten by wild beasts or birds of prey. Crucifixion was used  mainly as punishment for runaway slaves and common criminals. It was a cheap public execution that nevertheless could  be spectacular, as when six thousand followers of Spartacus  were crucified along the Appian Way as part of a Roman victory  celebration in 71 BCE. By the time it was banned by Roman  emperor Constantine  in  the  fourth century CE, crucifixion  had probably  claimed more  than a million  lives during  its  eight-hundred-year Greco-Roman history. Jesus did nothing to save himself from this painful and pub-

lic humiliation. When arrested and interrogated he did not flee,  as he certainly could have with help from his followers. Nor  did he make any attempt to appease his Jewish interrogators,  their high priest Caiaphas, or the Roman governor Pontius  Pilate, whose initial reluctance to order Jesus’s execution was  quickly put aside in favor of stability and the status quo. Jesus  broke the law, and Jesus would be punished. But Jesus had  long before told his followers how to interpret these events:  “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep,” Jesus  says in John 10:11. And to make sure they understood that  his death would be voluntary, he said, “No one takes it [life]  from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:18). In  John 12:27, Jesus predicts his death and says that he would  not ask to be saved because “it was for this very reason I came  to this hour.” In the recently released translation of the long-lost “Gospel 

of Judas,”1 Jesus in effect asks his friend and apostle Judas to  betray him and promises that he will be rewarded in heaven for  doing so. This anonymous text, written in the third or fourth  century CE in the language of the Egyptian Coptic Christians,  is believed to be a copy of an earlier Greek text in the tradition of  the Gnostics. The Gnostics were an early Christian  sect whose members believed that the path to salvation lay  in  secret knowledge  that Jesus  relayed  to his  inner  circle.  Their texts were often at odds with the gospels of Matthew,  Mark, Luke, and John and were later declared heretical by  orthodox Christian leaders. Controversial in its portrait of the  relationship between Jesus and Judas, the Gospel of Judas  nevertheless shows again that Jesus actively participated in  his martyrdom. This is consistent with the active submission  typical of martyrdom in antiquity.