This is admittedly some old news, but it just came to our attention recently. As it happens, a Kenyan lawyer – Dola Indidis – is suing Israel (among other entities, including the state of Italy, King Herod and Emperor Tiberius – as well as the very vague ones ‘Jewish teachers of law’ and ‘Jewish elders’) for the death of Jesus Christ. His aim is to bring those responsible to justice. An admirable aim, no doubt. That a case is closed for 2.000 years is no reason not to take it seriously. More so, if we consider that this particular case has such a significance to a large amount of people across the globe; and that Jesus’ views have had and still have such an impact on the way we act, the laws we have, etc. etc. etc.
But here is the interesting part – and what makes this supposed ‘case’ particularly problematic.
There was no state of Israel at the time, nor one of Italy. King Herod had little to do with Jesus directly – he died in 4 BCE, before Jesus was even born; and though there is mention of him being afraid of a new usurper, there’s at least 30 years difference between Jesus’ crucifixion and King Herod’s death. Which leaves us with Emperor Tiberius – who did announce some seemingly cruel measures, but again had no direct relation to Jesus. He is mentioned in the Bible only once – one would think more mention of him would follow if he was responsible of Jesus’ death.
It is no surprise then that the International Court of Justice (ICJ) is most likely to ignore this case altogether. According to Legal Cheek: “The ICJ has no jurisdiction for such a case. The ICJ settles disputes between states. It is not even theoretically possible for us to consider this case.”
What leaves a particularly nasty smell with this case is the inherent paradoxical nature of it. Say, Indidis manages ICJ to consider the case, and by some miracle he also wins it. Then what? Usually in such situations some sort of retribution is required, in form of compensation (financial or otherwise), a penal sentence, or worse. And if Indidis in some miraculous way does manage to win the case, who is this compensation going to? Joseph and Mary are long dead, their next of kin is unknown (Jesus did supposedly have four brothers and two sisters). We could speculate that God himself would receive the compensation, but within religious dogma he has already exercised his vengeance by sending the responsible to hell (I presume, God works in mysterious ways after all).
Even if we forget the legal matters, there is another problem. After all, recently numerous attempts have been made to retry Socrates. He has been found both guiltyand not-guilty, depending on the judges, and the process seems to have absolutely no effect on one simple matter: Socrates remains dead and nobody really understands why we should care about this.
Now, you may retort that Socrates is no Jesus, and that is true. But consider this: say Indidis wins the case, and we find that Jesus was wrongfully put to death, then what? Will it change our beliefs? Will it make us feel better for more than a few minutes? Will we celebrate and make more effort into making the world a better place? [sidenote: if you answered yes to any of these, you are hypocrite!]
The point is exactly that regardless of the wrongs or determinism regarding Jesus’ death, there is practically no effect on our conduct. We may have the religious belief that Jesus’ death was predetermined by God (and Jesus knew about it also); we may equally believe that whether that is so or not, a human being (at the time) has been put to death unjustly – all these beliefs have certain justification. But here I ask: so what?
If you are interested, here is the submission to ICJ from Kenyan High Court (which I hope just didn’t want to deal with this nonsense themselves and deferred the case to someone else).
An interesting point to be made here is that news agencies in general speak of Israel (and occasionally Italy) primarily. This is somewhat puzzling, as it brings out a double implication of anti-Semitism. On the one hand, it makes it seem as if this Kenyan lawyer is concerned with Jews in particular – his suing of Israel is meant to punish the Jews in general for the killing of Jesus (incidentally also a Jew). Yet, on the other hand, it reinforces the idea that Jews are indeed to be blamed by only mentioning Israel – whereas the lawyer is concerned with ‘all’ parties included. Put differently, a paradoxical relation is established: we mock the lawyer for his alleged anti-Semitism by bringing Israel as the focal point of his allegations; yet we implicitly also state that Israel is the sole defendant in the case (which it is clearly not), thereby being anti-Semites ourselves.
Sure, we could argue that this makes for good news, but is this not also what recreates a false belief in responsibilities of the past generations? The problem, it seems, is the use of history where the consequences for life are nil (in that Nietzschean argument that I have written about earlier).
Update 2016: rudimentary journalism
This article of mine is one of the most popular ones, even though it does not deal with any paradoxes or philosophical dilemmas directly. So I thought to investigate a little further onto what has been going on. I didn’t get far, mostly because I am not a journalist and I lack the means (and knowledge) to do anything more than simple research. But even in that simple enough research (sidenote: some may call it stalking), I did uncover a few important facts:
The original case was filed back in 2007, while mainstream media has picked this up in 2013.
- The suing party is not Dola Indidis, the Kenyan lawyer, but a groups of religious people calling themselves ‘Friends of Jesus’.
- In 2011, Dola Indidis made a Facebook profile appealing for donations to continue with the case. The appeal is wittily titled ‘1$ appeal for Jesus’.
- The case never reached ICJ, unsurprisingly. Here is a list of all the cases before ICJ. You would expect journalists in 2013 (myself included) to have a look before reproducing this silly case.
- My suspicion that media plays a dirty game are somewhat founded, though not clearly set out previously. Looking through the actual case shows that Israel and Italy were mentioned because they took over the previous laws of their lands (Roman law and Torah). They otherwise play a very minimal role in the case. The main concern seems to be with, and in this order: Emperor Tiberius, Pontius Pilate, Annas, Caiaphas (Jewish Chief Priest), Jewish Elders, Jewish Teachers of Law, and King Herod. While of Israel and Italy only these sentences are added:
13. THAT the ITALIAN GOVERNMENT upon attaining Independence has incorporated all the preceding laws that existed in the ROMAN EMPIRE at the time of the Trial in question.
14. THAT the GOVERNMENT of ISRAEL also upon attaining Independence has incorporated all the preceding laws that existed at the time of the Trial in question.
So what does this all this tell us, almost 10 years after the case was prepared? Nothing new really. Sensationalist news, people blinded by religion, use and abuse of anti-Semitism, poor journalism, lazy blogging, and so on.