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Dorothy Sayers |
Who is to blame? The Jews or the Romans?

Dorothy Sayers is drawn from Chapter One, beginning on page 26, of Volume One, The Veil is Torn of the twelve-volume historical series The Christians: Their First Two Thousand Years. If you would like to order this book please visit

It was neither, said Dorothy Sayers, but just ordinary people behaving as we ordinarily do, and Plato foresaw it all

Dorothy Sayers - Who’s to blame? The Jews or the Romans?

Dorothy Sayers

Who was to blame for killing Jesus Christ? Down through the centuries that question was destined to arise, often with persecution and bloodshed. Was it the Jews? Was it the Romans? Was it both of them?

Christian theology has never, in fact, attributed the Crucifixion to either one. Rather it places the blame on what it calls in Latin peccata mundi, “the sin of the world.” And, oddly, the first man to explain the Christian answer to the question did so about four hundred years before Christ.

It was the Greek philosopher Plato who, in his foundational work on human government, The Republic, posed a hypothetical question. Suppose, he said, that a perfectly just man came into the world. He must not merely seem just, but be just.

However, it’s important that he not be viewed as just. If he were, he would be honored and rewarded, “and then we shall not know whether he is just for the sake of justice, or for the sake of honors and rewards.

“Therefore let him be clothed in justice only, and have no other covering. . .. Let him be the best of men, and let him be thought the worst. Then he will have been put to the proof, and we shall see whether he will be affected by the fear of infamy. And let him continue thus to the hour of his death, being just and seeming unjust.”

Plato asked what the fate of such a man would be, and he answered his own question: “He will be scourged, racked, bound. He will have his eyes burned out. And at last, after suffering every kind of evil, he will be impaled.”

In short, Plato already saw the inevitable fate of perfection in our imperfect world. Whether a perfectly just man met that fate in Athens in the fifth century b.c., or in Jerusalem in the first century a.d., or in New York City in the twenty-first century a.d., the outcome was foreordained: torture and death. That is, Plato placed the blame on human nature.

A twentieth-century Christian dramatist, the English classicist and detective story writer Dorothy L. Sayers, makes the same point. In the introduction to The Man Born to Be King, her series of radio plays on the life of Christ, she writes:

“The Christian affirmation is that a number of quite common-place human beings, in an obscure province of the Roman Empire, killed and murdered God Almighty–quite casually, almost as a matter of routine, and certainly with no notion that they were doing anything out of the way.

“Their motives, on the whole, were defensible, and in some respects praiseworthy. There was some malice, some weakness, and no doubt some wresting of the law–but no more than we are accustomed to find in human affairs.

“By no jugglings of fate, by no unforeseeable coincidence, by no supernatural machinations, but by that destiny which is character, and by the unimaginative following of their ordinary standards of behavior, they were led, with a ghastly inevitability, to the commission of the crime of crimes.

“We, looking back, know what they were doing; the whole point and poignancy of the tragedy is lost unless we realize that they did not.... We are so much accustomed to seeing the whole story from a post-Resurrection, and indeed from a post-Nicene point of view, that we are apt, without realizing it, to attribute to all the New Testament characters the same theological awareness that we have ourselves.

“We judge their behavior as if all of them–disciples, Pharisees, Romans, and men in the street–had known with whom they were dealing, and what the meaning of all the events actually was. But they did not know it. The disciples had only the foggiest inkling of it, and nobody else came anywhere near grasping what it was all about.

“If the chief priests and the Roman governor had been aware they were engaged in crucifying God–if Herod the Great had ordered his famous massacre of the children at Bethlehem with the express purpose of doing away with God–then they would have been quite exceptionally wicked people.

“And indeed, we like to think that they were. It gives us a reassuring sensation that it can’t happen here....

“Unhappily, if we think about it at all, we must think otherwise. God was executed by people painfully like us, in a society very similar to our own–in the over-ripeness of the most splendid and sophisticated empire the world has ever seen. In a nation famous for its religious genius, and under a government renowned for its efficiency, he was executed by a corrupt church, a timid politician, and a fickle proletariat led by professional agitators. His executioners made vulgar jokes about him, called him filthy names, taunted him, smacked him in the face, flogged him with the lash, and hanged Him on the common gallows–a bloody, dusty, sweaty and sordid business.

“Show people that and they are shocked. So they should be. If that does not shock them, nothing can.”

This is the end of the Dorothy Sayers category article drawn from Chapter One, beginning on page 26, of Volume One, The Veil is Torn. To continue reading more about Dorothy Sayers from The Christians, Their First Two Thousand Years we suggest experiencing the rest of the book, complete with hundreds of magnificent illustrations, by ordering it at