Jesus of Nazareth was a Galilean Jewish carpenter and spiritual leader who was executed in Roman-occupied Palestine about 2,000 years ago. There is widespread disagreement among historians and New Testament scholars about the veracity of various details included in the trial and crucifixion stories reported in the synoptic gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke. Biblical accounts conclude that Jesus was arrested by Jewish Sanhedrin leaders but executed under Roman, not Jewish, law.

Charged with Blasphemy

The Bible claims that Jesus was first arrested by Jewish leaders after protesting the excess he observed on display in the Jewish temple during Jerusalem's Passover. Matthew, Mark and Luke report that he was first tried before a Jewish Sanhedrin court in Judea. They agree he was charged with blasphemy, convicted and turned over to local Roman prefect Pontius Pilate for a subsequent Roman trial. Though the charge was related to Jesus's behavior in the temple, scholars cannot verify how his actions constituted blasphemy under Jewish law -- or even that the Sanhedrin trial really happened.

Roman Trial

After the Sanhedrin trial, Jesus was tried before prefect Pontius Pilate. It is unclear what the charges against him may have been under Roman law. Still, scholars know that Jesus was executed for crimes against Rome, not God, because of the manner of his crucifixion on a cross. Crimes against Judaism would have been punished by stoning. Whatever the charges, it is established that they were serious since Rome reserved crucifixion for what it regarded as the worst criminals.

Possible Charge of Sedition

One possibility is that Jesus was a Jewish nationalist who was linked to violent political uprising against the Roman occupation led by the nationalist Zealot movement. The sign placed on his cross, which read "King of the Jews," may support this interpretation. If Jesus were linked to violent insurrection, this would have resulted in charges of sedition and punishment by crucifixion. This perspective was advanced by Jesus' brother James after his death.

Messianic Teachings

Another perspective holds that Jesus' nonviolent sayings place him at odds with the Zealot movement. This perspective, advanced by Jesus' apostle Paul, held that he was a Messianic figure who mainly called for transformation from within. In this case, Romans may have been nervous about protests during Passover. Noting Jesus' growing popularity, they may have feared that his temple protest could foment rioting.