How much can we be sure about the crucifixion of Jesus and whether he was indeed crucified?
I know in Islam the teaching is that he was not actually crucified. I think on a historical basis, Jesus was absolutely crucified. I I think that as a historian there’s almost no doubt about that. In case your audience doesn’t know, I don’t identify as a Christian. I was raised a Christian but I’m an atheist now. I don’t have a particular stake in any of this information personally but I think the crucifixion of Jesus is probably one of the best attested events of his life. It’s found all over the place, in our early sources, it’s even mentioned by non-Christian sources. It’s not the kind of thing that Christians would have made up about him if they wanted to make up legends. If they wanted to make up something about Jesus, it wouldn’t be that he got killed by the enemy, tortured to death. What they would have made up is that he became the king and he’s sitting on the throne in Jerusalem. But they couldn’t make that up because everybody knew it wasn’t true. And so they had to say “He got crucified” but then they ended up saying that because he was crucified that was significant, that it was the plan of God. They’re explaining it because they gotta explain it because he was crucified.
The Islamic account is very strange. People think that Jesus was crucified, somebody was crucified but it wasn’t Jesus. It was just somebody else who people thought was Jesus and it’s a very strange thing.
It didn’t start with Islam. There’s a Christian teacher in the second century named Basilides who was an agnostic and he wrote an agnostic gospel. We don’t have the gospel anymore but we have a church father who talks about it and in his account what he says is that there’s a fellow in the gospels, Jesus, who is carrying his cross and they impel somebody else to carry the cross for him to the place of crucifixion. According to Basilides, what happened is this other person whose name was Simon from Cyrene, which is in North Africa. Simon of Cyrene carries the cross and when he gets there, Jesus pulls an identity switch (he’s the son of God, he can do miracles). He makes Simon of Cyrene look just like him and he looks just like Simon of Cyrene. The Romans think they’re crucifying Jesus but they’re crucifying Simon and Jesus is standing by the cross laughing. Presumably, Simon didn’t think it was so funny. “Help me out of here!”