Sunday, April 04, 2010

The Trial of Jesus

Jesus on Trial before Pilate

On this Easter weekend it is perhaps germane to discuss probably the most significant trial in human history, the “trial” of Jesus.

I put trial in quotation marks because I am suspicious that anything that could reasonably be called a trial took place at all. Why I think so will become clear as I get further into this posting. First however we have to mention the four main accounts of the alleged trial or perhaps I should say trials of Jesus.

I am of course referring to the four Gospel accounts of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John.


Ch. 14.
53And they led Jesus away to the high priest: and with him were assembled all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes.
54And Peter followed him afar off, even into the palace of the high priest: and he sat with the servants, and warmed himself at the fire.
55And the chief priests and all the council sought for witness against Jesus to put him to death; and found none.
56For many bare false witness against him, but their witness agreed not together.
57And there arose certain, and bare false witness against him, saying,
58We heard him say, I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and within three days I will build another made without hands.
59But neither so did their witness agree together.
60And the high priest stood up in the midst, and asked Jesus, saying, Answerest thou nothing? what [is it which] these witness against thee?
61But he held his peace, and answered nothing. Again the high priest asked him, and said unto him, Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?
62And Jesus said, I am: and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.
63Then the high priest rent his clothes, and saith, What need we any further witnesses?
64Ye have heard the blasphemy: what think ye? And they all condemned him to be guilty of death.
65And some began to spit on him, and to cover his face, and to buffet him, and to say unto him, Prophesy: and the servants did strike him with the palms of their hands.1
Ch. 15.

1And straightway in the morning the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council, and bound Jesus, and carried [him] away, and delivered [him] to Pilate.
2And Pilate asked him, Art thou the King of the Jews? And he answering said unto him, Thou sayest [it].
3And the chief priests accused him of many things: but he answered nothing.
4And Pilate asked him again, saying, Answerest thou nothing? behold how many things they witness against thee.
5But Jesus yet answered nothing; so that Pilate marvelled.
6Now at [that] feast he released unto them one prisoner, whomsoever they desired.
7And there was [one] named Barabbas, [which lay] bound with them that had made insurrection with him, who had committed murder in the insurrection.
8And the multitude crying aloud began to desire [him to do] as he had ever done unto them.
9But Pilate answered them, saying, Will ye that I release unto you the King of the Jews?
10For he knew that the chief priests had delivered him for envy.
11But the chief priests moved the people, that he should rather release Barabbas unto them.
12And Pilate answered and said again unto them, What will ye then that I shall do [unto him] whom ye call the King of the Jews?
13And they cried out again, Crucify him.
14Then Pilate said unto them, Why, what evil hath he done? And they cried out the more exceedingly, Crucify him.
15And [so] Pilate, willing to content the people, released Barabbas unto them, and delivered Jesus, when he had scourged [him], to be crucified.
16And the soldiers led him away into the hall, called Praetorium; and they call together the whole band.
17And they clothed him with purple, and platted a crown of thorns, and put it about
his [head],
18And began to salute him, Hail, King of the Jews!
19And they smote him on the head with a reed, and did spit upon him, and bowing [their] knees worshipped him.
20And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple from him, and put his own clothes on him, and led him out to crucify him.2

Ch. 26.
57And they that had laid hold on Jesus led [him] away to Caiaphas the high Priest, where the scribes and the elders were assembled.
58But Peter followed him afar off unto the high priest's palace, and went in, and sat with the servants, to see the end.
59Now the chief priests, and elders, and all the council, sought false witness against Jesus, to put him to death;
60But found none: yea, though many false witnesses came, [yet] found they none. At the last came two false witnesses,
61And said, This [fellow] said, I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days.
62And the high priest arose, and said unto him, Answerest thou nothing? what [is it which] these witness against thee?
63But Jesus held his peace. And the high priest answered and said unto him, I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God.
64Jesus saith unto him, Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.
65Then the high priest rent his clothes, saying, He hath spoken blasphemy; what further need have we of witnesses? behold, now ye have heard his blasphemy.
66What think ye? They answered and said, He is guilty of death.
67Then did they spit in his face, and buffeted him; and others smote [him] with the
palms of their hands,
68Saying, Prophesy unto us, thou Christ, Who is he
that smote thee?3
Ch. 27.

1When the morning was come, all the chief priests and elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death:
2And when they had bound him, they led [him] away, and delivered him to Pontius Pilate the governor.4

11And Jesus stood before the governor: and the governor asked him, saying, Art thou the King of the Jews? And Jesus said unto him, Thou sayest.
12And when he was accused of the chief priests and elders, he answered nothing.
13Then said Pilate unto him, Hearest thou not how many things they witness against thee?
14And he answered him to never a word; insomuch that the governor marvelled greatly.
15Now at [that] feast the governor was wont to release unto the people a prisoner, whom they would.
16And they had then a notable prisoner, called Barabbas.
17Therefore when they were gathered together, Pilate said unto them, Whom will ye that I release unto you? Barabbas, or Jesus which is called Christ?
18For he knew that for envy they had delivered him.
19When he was set down on the judgment seat, his wife sent unto him, saying, Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this
day in a dream because of him.
20But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitude that they should ask Barabbas, and destroy Jesus.
21The governor answered and said unto them, Whether of the twain will ye that I release unto you? They said, Barabbas.
22Pilate saith unto them, What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ? [They] all say unto him, Let him be crucified.
23And the governor said, Why, what evil hath he done? But they cried out the more, saying, Let him be crucified.
24When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but [that] rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed [his] hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye [to it].
25Then answered all the people, and said, His blood [be] on us, and on our children.
26Then released he Barabbas unto them: and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered [him] to be crucified.5

Ch. 22.

54Then took they him, and led [him], and brought him into the high priest's house. And Peter followed afar off.6

63And the men that held Jesus mocked him, and smote [him].
64And when they had blindfolded him, they struck him on the face, and asked him, saying, Prophesy, who is it that smote thee?
65And many other things blasphemously spake they against him.
66And as soon as it was day, the elders of the people and the chief priests and the scribes came together, and led him into their council, saying,
67Art thou the Christ? tell us. And he said unto them, If I tell you, ye will not believe:
68And if I also ask [you], ye will not answer me, nor let [me] go.
69Hereafter shall the Son of man sit on the right hand of the power of God.
70Then said they all, Art thou then the Son of God? And he said unto them, Ye say that I am.
71And they said, What need we any further witness? for we ourselves have heard of his own mouth.7
Ch. 23.

1And the whole multitude of them arose, and led him unto Pilate.
2And they began to accuse him, saying, We found this [fellow] perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, saying that he himself is Christ a King.
3And Pilate asked him, saying, Art thou the King of the Jews? And he answered him and said, Thou sayest [it].
4Then said Pilate to the chief priests and [to] the people, I find no fault in this man.
5And they were the more fierce, saying, He stirreth up the people, teaching throughout all Jewry, beginning from Galilee to this place.
6When Pilate heard of Galilee, he asked whether the man were a Galilaean.
7And as soon as he knew that he belonged unto Herod's jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who himself also was at Jerusalem at that time.
8And when Herod saw Jesus, he was exceeding glad: for he was desirous to see him of a long [season], because he had heard many things of him; and he hoped to have seen some miracle done by him.
9Then he questioned with him in many words; but he answered him nothing.
10And the chief priests and scribes stood and vehemently accused him.
11And Herod with his men of war set him at nought, and mocked [him], and arrayed him in a gorgeous robe, and sent him again to Pilate.
12And the same day Pilate and Herod were made friends together: for before they were at enmity between themselves.
13And Pilate, when he had called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people,
14Said unto them, Ye have brought this man unto me, as one that perverteth the people: and, behold, I, having examined [him] before you, have found no fault in this man touching those things whereof ye accuse him:
15No, nor yet Herod: for I sent you to him; and, lo, nothing worthy of death is done unto him.
16I will therefore chastise him, and release [him].
17(For of necessity he must release one unto them at the feast.)
18And they cried out all at once, saying, Away with this [man], and release unto us Barabbas:
19(Who for a certain sedition made in the city, and for murder, was cast into prison.)
20Pilate therefore, willing to release Jesus, spake again to them.
21But they cried, saying, Crucify [him], crucify him.
22And he said unto them the third time, Why, what evil hath he done? I have found no cause of death in him: I will therefore chastise him, and let [him] go.
23And they were instant with loud voices, requiring that he might be crucified. And the voices of them and of the chief priests prevailed.
24And Pilate gave sentence that it should be as they required.
25And he released unto them him that for sedition and murder was cast into prison, whom they had desired; but he delivered Jesus to their will.8

Ch. 18.
13And led him away to Annas first; for he was father in law to Caiaphas, which was the high priest that same year.
14Now Caiaphas was he, which gave counsel to the Jews, that it was expedient that one man should die for the people.9

19The high priest then asked Jesus of his disciples, and of his doctrine.
20Jesus answered him, I spake openly to the world; I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort; and in secret have I said nothing.
21Why askest thou me? ask them which heard me, what I have said unto them: behold, they know what I said.
22And when he had thus spoken, one of the officers which stood by struck Jesus with the palm of his hand, saying, Answerest thou the high priest so?
23Jesus answered him, If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil: but if well, why smitest thou me?
24Now Annas had sent him bound unto Caiaphas the high priest.10

28Then led they Jesus from Caiaphas unto the hall of judgment: and it was early; and they themselves went not into the judgment hall, lest they should be defiled; but that they might eat the passover.
29Pilate then went out unto them, and said, What accusation bring ye against this man?
30They answered and said unto him, If he were not a malefactor, we would not have delivered him up unto thee.
31Then said Pilate unto them, Take ye him, and judge him according to your law. The Jews therefore said unto him, It is not lawful for us to put any man to death:
32That the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled, which he spake, signifying what death he should die.
33Then Pilate entered into the judgment hall again, and called Jesus, and said unto him, Art thou the King of the Jews?
34Jesus answered him, Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me?
35Pilate answered, Am I a Jew? Thine own nation and the chief priests haved delivered thee unto me: what hast thou done?
36Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.
37Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.
38Pilate saith unto him, What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out again
unto the Jews, and saith unto them, I find in him no fault [at all].
39But ye have a custom, that I should release unto you one at the passover: will ye therefore that I release unto you the King of the Jews?
40Then cried they all again, saying, Not this man, but Barabbas. Now Barabbas was a
Ch. 19.

1Then Pilate therefore took Jesus, and scourged [him].
2And the soldiers planted a crown of thorns, and put [it] on his head, and they put on him a purple robe,
3And said, Hail, King of the Jews! and they smote him with their hands.
4Pilate therefore went forth again, and saith unto them, Behold, I bring him forth to you, that ye may know that I find no fault in him.
5Then came Jesus forth, wearing the crown of thorns, and the purple robe. And Pilate] saith unto them, Behold the man!
6When the chief priests therefore and officers saw him, they cried out, saying, Crucify [him], crucify [him]. Pilate saith unto them, Take ye him, and crucify [him]: for I find no fault in him.
7The Jews answered him, We have a law, and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God.
8When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he was the more afraid;
9And went again into the judgment hall, and saith unto Jesus, Whence art thou? But Jesus gave him no answer.
10Then saith Pilate unto him, Speakest thou not unto me? knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee?
11Jesus answered, Thou couldest have no power [at all] against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin.
12And from thenceforth Pilate sought to release him: but the Jews cried out, saying, If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar's friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar.
13When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he brought Jesus forth, and sat down in the judgment seat in a place that is called the Pavement, but in the Hebrew, Gabbatha.
14And it was the preparation of the passover, and about the sixth hour: and he saith unto the Jews, Behold your King!
15But they cried out, Away with [him], away with [him], crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Shall I crucify your King? The chief priests answered, We have no king but Caesar.
16Then delivered he him therefore unto them to be crucified. And they took Jesus, and led [him] away.12
A reading of all four accounts one after the other reveals one glaring problem with the gospel accounts. They contradict each other to a fair extent.

Now it is important to remember that the gospels are generally considered to have been written in this order; Mark, (Early to mid 70s C.E.), Matthew, (80s C.E.), Luke, (late 80s-90s C.E.), John, (100-120 C.E.).13 The reason being that this affects how we evaluate each one of the Gospels, given that Jesus died some time between 20 C.E. and 30 C.E. So that the earliest account, Mark, would be c. 40-45 years after the death of Jesus. Not just that but it indicates that there was time for lore and legend to accumulate around the figure of Jesus and this would of course lead to contradictions.

For example Mark, Matthew and Luke have trials involving the Jewish Priestly authorities with Caiaphas and then a trial before Pilate. Luke however adds a “trial” before Herod Antipas, which is not mentioned by the other three Gospels. Further although Mark and Matthew have a “trial’ before the Jewish priestly authorities involving Caiaphas, John as instead Annas questioning him an reports nothing about Caiaphas’ questioning of Jesus.

Those are not minor problems and there are others. In Mark, Matthew and John the “trial” before the Priestly authorities occurs at night, in Luke it occurs during the day. In Mark we hear about “many” witnesses against Jesus who say contradictory things, but in Matthew there are references to two false witnesses. Luke and John do not mention witnesses at all.

Both Mark and Matthew mention accusations that Jesus had threatened the Temple. In both cases Jesus allegedly stated that he would destroy the Temple and in three days build it back up again. This statement also exists in John although it is not part of the trial narrative.14

Luke does not mention this threat at all in either the trial narrative or elsewhere in his Gospel, but he does mention it in Acts, which is supposedly by Luke.15

Now a threat to the Temple was considered a very serious thing indeed because it could be considered a literal threat to damage the Temple, a deliberate incitement to violence. The threat could also be considered a prediction of the end of the world and therefore another incitement to violence. Finally all of the above would all too easily have been taken as part of a Messianic claim, which would be considered an incitement to revolt. Such a Messianic claim would also be considered by the Romans as a threat to their rule in Judea, and / or an incitement to disorder.16

It should remembered that first century C.E., Palestine was a hotbed of religious expectation with Messianic pretenders unpleasantly common. Passover was a time when Jerusalem was packed with pilgrims from all over the Europe and the Middle East and an especially ripe time period for religious hysteria and violence. Not surprisingly the authorities would be on their guard.17

Finally it must be noted that the trial violated several norms of conventional Jewish trials of the time. It was example in some accounts (Mark, Matthew, John) held at night and on the Sabbath, just to name two defects. Other problems include such things as the “council” or Sanhedrin was only allowed to meet in one place and the High Priest's house was not that place, and the Sanhedrin could not initiate arrests, and in fact arrests could not be done at night.18

If Jesus was in fact questioned by the Jewish authorities of the time it appears pretty clear that the so-called trial is dubious. If there was a trial it was illegal. What we have at most is Jesus being questioned and no trial at all.

Supposedly Jesus was convicted of blasphemy. However what Jesus was asked varies from account to account. Mark is quite clear. Caiaphas asks Jesus if he is the Messiah and Jesus says “I am”. Caiaphas in this account then decides no further witnesses are needed and turns Jesus over to Pilate. Behind the claim that Jesus was convicted of uttering blasphemy is the obvious statement that Jesus was claiming to be Messiah during the very tense period of Passover in Jerusalem and this was after the alleged threat to the temple and after the clearing money changers from the Temple incident. Not surprisingly if this was the case Caiaphas would turn Jesus over to Pilate for sentencing.

Matthew fudges Jesus’ answer by having Jesus say to Caiaphas question “Thou hast said”, which can be interpreted as yes or no, although it would usually be considered a no contest to the charge. But it is interesting that Jesus’ “I am” in Mark is fudged by Matthew.

Luke has a whole song and dance with Jesus being asked twice more or less the same question, answering the first time “If I tell you, ye will not believe: And if I also ask [you], ye will not answer me, nor let [me] go” . When the question is asked a second time Jesus’ response is “Ye say that I am”. An response that can be interpreted like Matthew but is if anything even more ambiguous and less of an admission of Messianic claims. Here the fudging gets even more extreme.

In John the fudging reaches its climax here Jesus is not asked the question at all but merely asked about his doctrine and Disciples. To that question Jesus’ response is “Why askest thou me? ask them which heard me, what I have said unto them: behold, they know what I said.” Jesus’ answer is to simply not answer the question at all in John, and further the answer is not to the question asked in the first three Gospels.

So we get a progression from Jesus being forthright in answering a question about whether he is the Messiah to greater and greater degrees of ambiguity to an answer that is most definitely not answer at all and the question asked of Jesus about whether or not he is the Messiah vanishes entirely.

The trial in front of Pilate is also apparently a non-event. Not only does it occur on the Sabbath which is dubious in itself. The “trial” in front of Pilate as the following problems. Although it should be noted that it does seem to be the case that the Roman authorities did in fact abrogate to themselves the right to sentence people to death, at least officially so that turning Jesus over to Pilate makes sense.19

In Mark Pilate questions Jesus about his alleged Messiah ship and Jesus answers “Thou sayest it”, which as I indicated above although ambiguous could be considered, quite easily, a yes. When Pilate further questions Jesus; Jesus does not answer. In Matthew Pilate asks the same question and gets the same response. The follow up detailing Jesus’ non response to further questions is more detailed but little different from Mark. In Luke we have the same response to the same question but the stuff about Pilate’s further questions and Jesus’ non-responses disappears. In John we have again Pilate asking the same question and Jesus giving the same response however this time Jesus and Pilate engage in a conversation in which Pilate asks questions and Jesus responds. In fact Pilate asks three questions, after that first one, to which Jesus replies. This directly contradicts Mark and Matthew.

In Mark it is the Chief Priests, who after consulting with the Elders and Scribes accuse Jesus in front of Pilate. In Matthew it is the Chief Priests and Elders who accuse Jesus in front to of Pilate. In Luke it is the multitude after the Chief Priests, Scribes and Elders got together to condemn Jesus and send him to Pilate. In John it is “they” and “the Jews” who accuse Jesus in front of Pilate. The tendency is for their to be a steady expansion of the number of Jesus’ accusers until they encompass a whole ethnic / religious group. Each Gospel makes the groups of accusers a progressively larger going from the earliest Gospel, Mark, to the latest John.

It is at this point that Luke introduces the “trial” in front of Herod Antipas, which none of the other three Gospels even allude too. All of them go straight to the Barabbas story. In Luke’s “trial” in front of Herod Antipas, Jesus is questioned but refuses to answer and is then mocked and sent back to Pilate. This whole event reads like a duplication of the questions and silence in front of Pilate.

Barabbas is in Mark a man accused of insurrection and murder, in Matthew he is called a “notable prisoner”. In Luke he is accused of sedition and murder and in John he is a robber. All four Gospels make reference to a custom of releasing a prisoner on Passover, and that Pilate offered to release Jesus or Barabbas. The differences in describing Barabbas are not very important given that in many respects in the context of the time the descriptions are similar. What is more important is whether or not this custom of releasing a prisoner at Passover is in fact for real. The fact is we do not know. It is highly questionable if Barabbas had in fact been an insurrectionist against Rome that Pilate would have considered releasing him at all. This is assuming that this incident has any basis to begin with. Of course the purpose of the Barabbas story is to show how the Jewish authorities and gradually then the Jewish people preferred a murderer/ robber to Jesus.

Pilate in all four accounts considers Jesus innocent in Mark he says: “What evil has he done?” In Matthew Pilate says the same thing, although more than once, and washes his hands to signify he is not guilty of Jesus’ death, which is omitted by the other three Gospels. In Luke Pilate says to the Chief Priests and the people: “Ye have brought this man unto me, as one that perverteth the people: and, behold, I, having examined [him] before you, have found no fault in this man touching those things whereof ye accuse him:” Pilate to appease the crowd has Jesus whipped, but finding the crowd impossible to appease, after saying the same thing as in Mark and Matthew he gives Jesus to the crowd and Jesus is crucified. In John Pilate says twice “I find no fault in him”. Again like in Luke, although this time with far more graphic descriptions, the crowd is positively baying for Jesus’ blood. In fact Pilate interacts with the crowd like there is a dialogue going on between him and the crowd. Pilate is eventually forced to give in and turns Jesus over to be crucified.

As a side issue only Matthew refers to the story of Pilate’s wife’s dream warning Pilate to have nothing to do with Jesus because Jesus is a just man and therefore innocent. The other three Gospels are silent about this.

Pilate further seems to take the Messianic claim regarding Jesus seriously in two of the Gospels, for example in Mark Pilate refers to Jesus as “King of the Jews”, twice. In Matthew, although Pilate asks Jesus asks if he is “King of the Jews” he does not refer to Jesus as such. In Luke Pilate asks the question as in Matthew, but like Matthew does not refer to Jesus as “King of the Jews”. In John Pilate does refer to Jesus directly as “King of the Jews”, and also says “Behold your King” in reference to Jesus. This is rather suspicious in that if Pilate believed that Jesus was in fact claiming to be the Messiah than executing Jesus as a political criminal / rebel against Rome was what would have been called for in the situation. Pilate thinking Jesus was claiming Messiah ship and releasing Jesus, does not make any sense.

Of course the nonsense in John about the crowd chanting “We have no King but Caesar” is also rather unbelievable unless it was a paid rent a mob. What we know about 1st century Palestine does not indicate that love of Rome was a very popular or common sentiment. Of course this chant is absent from the other three Gospels. But then it goes with the fact that over the four Gospels as we get further from the actual events of Jesus’ death the role of the crowd gets more and more prominent and crowd more blood thirsty. The screams of “Crucify Him!” swell in decibel level. In Matthew we have the crowd shrieking out “Then answered all the people, and said, "His blood [be] on us, and on our children.” This phrase does not exist in the other three Gospels. The torrents of blood that have been shed because of this verse and other phrases in the four Gospels are nothing short of prodigious. John’s continual use of the phrase “the Jews”, which cast the entire Jewish people as enemies of Jesus didn’t help. What also disappears by John is references to the High Priests, Scribes etc., manipulating the crowds, i.e., people.

As the accounts get more recent Pilate becomes more and more unwilling to execute Jesus and further less and less is Jesus execution carried out by Pilate or the Roman authorities. Instead Pilate turns Jesus over to the Jewish authorities or to the “crowd”, “they” “them”. This progresses as the time of writing the Gospel account recedes from the actual death of Jesus. By the time of John’s Gospel Pilate is a complete innocent bearing no responsibility at all and the crowd is murderous mob baying for the blood of Jesus the Messiah. In the Gospel accounts the treatment of Jesus by the High Priests, crowd etc., gets increasingly ferocious and brutal, this at the same time Pilate and by extension the Romans become more blameless.

Of course there are a few problems with the account that render it dubious. For one thing crucifixion is a Roman punishment that was inflicted on slaves and those who offended against Roman rule by acts of rebellion or subversion. Secondly the sign tacked on to the cross Jesus was nailed too refers to Jesus as “King of the Jews”, if this is for real it could only have been in mockery of messianic claims for Jesus. In such a case Pilate would have had no qualms about executing a messianic pretender by crucifixion.20

As for the portrayal of Pilate in the Gospels as some weak willed man pressured, and bullied by others and well meaning; it is rather unlikely. We have for example the historian Josephus who writes:
After this he [Pilate] stirred up further trouble by expending the sacred treasure known as Corban on an aqueduct 50 miles long. This roused the populace to fury, and when Pilate visited Jerusalem they surrounded the tribunal and shouted him down. But he had foreseen this disturbance, and had made his soldiers mix with the mob, wearing civilian clothing over their amour, and with orders not to draw swords but to use clubs on the obstreperous. He now gave the signal from the tribunal and the Jews were cudgeled, so that many died from the blows, and many as they fled were trampled to death by their friends. The fate of those who perished horrified the crowd into silence.21
That is just one of Pilate’s atrocities and it does not give the picture of vacillating man who would give in to pressure. In fact it gives the picture of rather ruthless and unpleasant man. The idea that Pilate could be pressured into doing something he didn’t want to do or that conscience would sway him from doing something dreadful against a innocent man can be quietly dismissed as unlikely.

So if the various Gospel accounts contradict each other to a certain extent what can we say about what happened that fateful night and day?

I think one thing can be dismissed the idea that there was a trial or trials. AS mentioned before proper Jewish trials were NOT at night or during the Sabbath. That and the contradictions in the account that indicate that the Gospel writers had no clear knowledge of what happened would indicate that the following scenario is likely.

Jesus was accused of making a statement that was perceived as a threat to the Temple, which was taken seriously because of the incident with the money changers in the Temple and Messianic claims by or on behalf of Jesus. The fact it was Passover week made things doubly dangerous. So it appears that Jesus was arrested as a trouble maker. Whether by the Temple, (Priestly) authorities on their own or with Pilate’s permission did so is debatable. One thing is sure all the stuff in the Gospels about the Scribes, High Priests etc., acting out of envy can be dismissed as so much speculative mind reading.

Jesus is then questioned by one of the Priestly authorities, whether there are one or many or who it is speculation along with if there were witnesses or how many. Whether Jesus overtly or ambiguously claimed to be the Messiah is again unknown. One thing is probable there was no trial; Jesus was simply questioned.

In fact there is the question of whether Jesus claimed to the Messiah. The fact that Mark continually has Jesus say things that he then tells his disciples to keep secret more especially the claim that Jesus is the Messiah is suspicious. Perhaps Jesus never made such a claim but that others made it for him. Certainly the different answers Jesus gives when questioned are no help in clarifying the matter. The secrecy that Mark claims Jesus told his disciples to keep about his alleged Messianic claim disappears from the other three Gospels. I may explore this issue at another time.22

The thought attributed to Caiaphas in the Gospels, about one man dying for the people makes more sense than the Chief Priests etc., being animated by jealousy and envy, given as it indicates a desire to avoid mass violence. Of course the stuff about Jesus being abused by the Chief Priests etc, can be dismissed as little more than attempts to vilify the Jewish establishment and then all Jews and excuse the Romans. It would appear that only a few people were involved at this stage of events and they probably thought they were acting to prevent disorder and thus justified.

Jesus would then be turned over to Pilate who after a bit of questioning simply ordered Jesus to be put to death probably on the grounds of preventing unrest and quelling disturbances by executing a known trouble maker. The fact that Jesus’ disciples were not arrested would appear to indicate that this was not felt to be a serious affair that would be ended by Jesus being executed.

The Trial before Herod Antipas can be dismissed as an almost certain invention.

Of course once again as in the case of the “trial” before the Jewish authorities, there is no “trial” before Pilate only a few questions and an order that Jesus be executed Roman fashion as a threat to the peace. Certainly the Governor had the authority to do so and given Pilate’s record Pilate was certainly capable of engaging in what amounts to an execution without trial. I doubt it caused Pilate any anxiety or a crisis of conscience.

I doubt that a crowd or mob was involved at all, all that was required was a few private meetings behind closed doors a bit of questioning inside and the whole affair was handled and Jesus sent to his death.

Later, most anxious to curry favour with the Romans and to distance themselves from Jews and Judaism the Gospels progressively has time elapsed from Jesus’ death put more and more responsibility on the Jewish authorities, then “the Jews” and less and less on the Romans including Pilate. All designed to show that the Christians unlike the Jews, who had recently revolted, were no threat to Rome and separate from the Jews.
Also it must be noted that the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ death is intended to show how prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus and therefore it is designed not to be a description of a historical event but as prophecy fulfilled in the Gospel accounts. Therefore the Gospel accounts are littered with numerous allusions to prophecies real or alleged in the Old Testament designed to show how even in the manner of his death Jesus fulfilled prophecy. The result being was that the account of Jesus’ death was tailored to make it fulfill these prophecies. As history much of the account of Jesus’ death is dubious precisely because it is designed to show how Jesus is prophecy fulfilled.23

The consequences of this shifting of blame was to stoke massively if not cause centuries of Christian anti-semitism, characterized by rivers of blood and hatred.

The canonical “trial” we have today is a mishmash of four different Gospel narratives, which ignores that at a certain level the narratives are incompatible and contradictory. Putting them altogether does not eliminate the problem of contradiction but merely aggravates and heightens it by piling up the problems rather than cutting away them.

There was no “trial” of Jesus just a dark, shadowy procedure and of dubious legality done by men used to welding power capriciously. The effect was totally unforeseen effect. After all a few days later occurred, what ever it really was, the Resurrection event which changed the world.

1. Gospel of Mark, King James Bible Online Here.

2. IBID, Here.

3. Gospel of Matthew, King James Bible Online Here.

4. IBID, Here.

5. IBID.

6. Gospel of Luke, King James Bible Online Here.

7. IBID.

8. IBID, Here.

9. Gospel of John, King James Bible Online Here.

10. IBID.

11. IBID.

12. IBID, Here.

13. Boulton, David, Who on Earth was Jesus?, O Books, Winchester UK, 2008, pp. 49, 64, 67, 72.

14. See Gospel of John, King James Bible Online Here
ch. 2, v. 18-22.
18Then answered the Jews and said unto him, What sign shewest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things?
19Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.
20Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days?
21But he spake of the temple of his body.
22When therefore he was risen from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this unto them; and they believed the scripture, and the word which Jesus had said.
15. The quote is from Acts, ch. 6, v. 12-14:
12And they stirred up the people, and the elders, and the scribes, and came upon him] {St. Stephen}, and caught him, and brought [him] to the council,
13And set up false witnesses, which said, This man ceaseth not to speak blasphemous words against this holy place, and the law:
14For we have heard him say, that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered us.
(Acts, King James Bible Online Here)
16. Sanders, E. P., Jesus and Judaism, SCM Press Ltd., London, 1985, pp. 61-76.

17. Crossan, John Dominic, The Historical Jesus, HarperCollins, San Francisco, 1991, pp. 208-224, Who Killed Jesus?, HarperCollins, San Francisco, 1995, pp. 82-118. For Messianic pretenders in 1st century C.E., Palestine see Josephus, The Jewish War, Penguin Books, London, 1959, Book 2.

18. Dimot, Max I, Jews, God and History, Signet Books, New York, 1962, p. 62.

19. Finley, M. I., Aspects of Antiquity, Second Edition, Penguin Books, London, 1977, p. 183.

20. Crossan, 1995, pp. 147-159.

21. Josephus, Book 2, p. 131.

22. Boulton, pp. 338-339.
23. Crossan, 1991, pp. 368-394, 1995, pp. 1-12.

Pierre Cloutier

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