Editor's Note: This article is written in response to the essay by Yale University professor Carlos M. N. Eire in the book "More What If? Eminent Historians Imagine What Might Have Been." I'll discuss about the way Christianity would have look like with a crucifixion-less Jesus. I'll treat Jesus as a historical figure instead of the Jesus in the bible since I'm writing an alternate history -- "the history of what might have been." This is a counterfactual assessment and not blasphemy.
Without the crucifixion and you have erased the central moment of the Christian religion. When you say Christianity, you always tie it to the cross where Jesus died, right? It would have been blasphemous to think that Jesus did not die on the cross if Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator of Jerusalem, spared Jesus' agonizing route to Calvary. What sort of life Jesus might have? Obviously, he may probably reach old age and die a natural death. Another important question that one may ask, how would the "Christian" faith developed if Jesus had not died on the cross? Will Jesus' teaching changed because of the absence of such persecution? Will the Roman Empire survive until this day if they used this new faith as their state religion? These possibilities are difficult to contemplate since thinking about the "what ifs" is already controversial enough to be openly discussed about.
As we all know in Lenten dramatizations of Jesus' passion and the movies that made it ingrained into our minds, Pilate was forced to crucify Jesus in an effort to appease the angry mob who want Jesus dead. But in this case, lets base our point of divergence wherein Pilate changed his mind and decided to release Jesus alive.
After the bloody flogging and brutal manhandling of Jesus, Pilate presented "the man from Nazareth" infront of the Sanhedrin and the angry mob, who wanted to witness a crucifixion.
Pilate said, "You brought me this man as one who was perverting the people; and after examining him before you, behold, I didn't find this man guilty of any of your charges against him." But the crowd grew restless about the pronouncement and then the jeering and cursing erupted into chants of death. "Crucify him! crucify him!" reverberated everywhere.
"Why? What evil has he done? I have found in him no crime deserving death. I will therefore chastise him and release him," Pilate yelled to the hostile crowd. Jesus was released under armed escort. Riots soon erupted but were brutally suppressed by the Roman soldiers.
Jesus continued to preach, cure the sick, performing miracles and sometimes raising the dead. He goes to Jerusalem during Passover. After the Jewish revolt in Massada failed and the temple destroyed, Jesus has stopped going to Jerusalem partly because of his failing health. Jesus died as a 101-year-old hermit.
If the crucifixion didn't happened then Jesus' teaching may have been different. So that means there will be no redemption from sin and death, and all of us are headed to hell! Rewriting history without a crucified Jesus is difficult because you don't know what you might end with if you alter the central figure of the Christian religion.
Mr. Eire believes that religion is such an unpredictable factor in history because it is not entirely "rational." Religion was made by man to answer the "unanswered" and to reason the "unreasonable." Religion involves beliefs, which are the "fuzziest of facts." Finally, religion is all about interpretation.
Lets rewind to the life of Jesus after Pilate released him. Jesus is still attracting large crowds with his twelve disciples, including a replacement of Judas. He continued to heal the sick and performed miracles of all kinds. Jesus keeps on preaching about the Kingdom of God though he continues to await directions from the Father he always mentions. Though his mother Mary is always on his side, many of his relatives have given up on rescuing him from his "delusions."
Hopes for the Messiah had died down after a Jewish revolt was suppressed and many are now saying that Jesus was a great prophet like Elijah and John the Baptist. His life of traveling and preaching reached to distant lands. Jesus' tenet of loving one's enemies reached to the ears of the people of Rome. They have twisted it to: "Render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar..."
As the followers of Jesus grew, he couldn't handle it by himself and his teachings and works are being interpreted in different ways from his twelve apostles down to the new converts.
During a Passover dinner, Jesus distributed matzoh and wine and said: "Take this and eat; this is my body. Take this and drink; this is my blood. Do this in remembrance of me." There are so many ways to interpret the Kingdom of God and the Covenant too.
In this case, there are many interpretations of who Jesus is. Some people believe he is a messenger from the spiritual realm who has come to reveal secret knowledge. Some of the intellectuals approached him as a sage and a founder of a new philosophical school. Some believe that he is a great prophet. Many people constantly changed their minds as to his identity and what he wants to do next but they only care about the healing he imparts to bodies, minds and souls.
Jesus' disciples have scattered across the far extremities of the empire -- to the dry valleys of Spain to the highlands of Scotland, from the sweltering deserts of Arabia to the forests of Germany. Many have also reached Scythia, Colchis and the Indus Valley. Rumors have also spread that many followers reached the gates of the Heavenly Kingdom. Jesus has announced a new covenant wherein all Jews and Gentiles are part of the Chosen People -- making all nations children of Abraham.
Despite the persecution of the Jews after the revolt, the Romans spared Jesus because of his teachings of submission and non-violence.
In his last few years, Jesus has stopped traveling because of his declining health and failing eyesight. He was affected by the persecution of the Jews. At age 101, Jesus suffered a fatal stroke and on his final gasp for life he said, "My God, my God, Why have you forsaken me?"
He received a simple and discreet burial, as he had requested many times. Only the disciples knew where he was buried but his remains disappeared. Many blame it on grave robbers and to a certain extent on the the disciples themselves. Three days later, many believed to have seen Jesus alive in the flesh and because of this rumors of Jesus' resurrection spread like wildfire throughout the empire -- in Rome, in Colonia Agrippina, in Toletum, in Athens, in Carthage, in Edessa, in Seleucia, in Nubia. Even as far away as Varanasi, in the Ganges and in China itself.
Many people have converted and became Chosen Ones, the spritual children of Abraham. And 230 years later, Emperor Constantine have made it as the official religion with he himself converting to the religion. Constantine built a shrine in Rome honoring the Apostle John. Imagine a new shrine where pilgrims frequently visit thus enhancing the status of Constantine as emperor. Because of this, Constantine never left Rome and ultimately never made Byzantium as his new capital.
In an effort to unify the religion, Constantine called upon a council in Milan wherein they can discuss about the New Covenant. The New Covenant promises to make anyone who is baptized one of the Chosen People. The agreed that the Messiah has yet to come and Jesus has paved the way for the Messiah to redeem the people and transform the world for good. The followers of the New Covenant think of themselves as God's Chosen Ones, since they worship Yahweh, but they despise those Jews who rejected Jesus and still follow the Law of Moses. In this case, this new religion looks like a "reformed" Judaism.
The central rituals of the Chosen Ones are baptism, the celebration of the New Passover meal, the veneration of the holy relics of Jesus and those who followed a holy life. Every synagogue is to have at least one relic enshrined under the pulpit from which the Scriptures are read.
Heretics were persecuted everywhere in the empire -- synagogues of those who don't follow the Truth agreed upon in Milan were also destroyed. Misguided souls who believed that Jesus was the Messiah suffered the same fate. So-called retrogrades, followers of the Law of Moses, were not even spared.
Centuries after Constantine, Roman civilization dominates all of the European continent far outside of the Constantinian borders of the empire. The Roman Empire has later evolved into a loose federation of nation-states by the 17th century. An evolved form of Latin becomes the lingua franca of the entire continent, thanks to its use in all rituals of the state religion. The Romans discovered the New World in the 10th century. And by the 14th century, the entire region from Newfoundland to Tierra del Fuego was converted to the Roman religion. The Chinese eventually discovered Australia and New Zealand by 1250.
Due to some unresolved questions to the long-standing beliefs and the issue of the coming of the Messiah, a priest named Martinus Lutheranus posted his thesis in the walls of the synagogue in Nova Roma (New York in our real world). Lutheranus objected the practice of venerating the relics of Jesus and other holy men. In 50 years time, the whole region was engulfed in a new heresy and so the bishops of Rome decided to act quickly. They tried to persecute all who opposes the established religion. The people of America has severed their ties with Rome. The protestant and heretic Americans were excluded from the Roman world order and so they were forced to aligned with the Chinese empire.
The Roman Empire established some sort of theocracy in its federation of satellite states. The religion by now has become despotic that it has governed all aspects of life. This is what I can think of how the world has changed if Pilate spared Jesus.
History would really rear an ugly head if it really happened.