The Trial of Jesus

The Trial of Jesus January 27, 2021

Here is a little excerpt from my forthcoming Resurrection book that I am working on, this time concerning the trial of Jesus (and an added quote for those who have already proofed it through):

The Synoptics claim that a “great multitude” of people were present for the capture of Jesus: chief priests, scribes, elders, and captains of the Temple. As Michael Alter contends:[1]

Initially, the priests had just completed their busiest day in the year, the fourteenth day of Nisan, presiding over and organising the slaughter of thousands of lambs in the Temple, to say nothing of the obligation to attend their own paschal meal. That very evening, the evening of the Passover meal, they were to leave their families in the dead of night to assist in the arrest of Jesus.

Second, the synoptic Gospels report that the Sanhedrin held two trials immediately after the arrest of Jesus. It is not plausible that the Sanhedrin would have convened twice, once in the night and once in the morning on the fifteenth of Nisan. Now that the evening had started…and the Passover Seder had commenced, the chief priests and the elders were supposedly going to leave their families in the dead of night to participate in not one, but two trials. Further, those present at the trial were not just the chief priests and elders, the scribes and members of the Temple guard were also present. Mark 14:55 went so far as to state that this trial occurred in the presence of “all the council,” the entire Sanhedrin: “And the chief priests and all the council sought for witness against Jesus to put him to death; and found none.” It is totally implausible to believe that between sixty and up to one hundred people would have left their Passover meal, leaving their families and guests in order to participate in two separate trials.

Indeed, it is argued that the whole trial was in itself illegal. (1) Trials could not take place in the evening, (2) on the Sabbath or other Jewish feast days, (3) nor could they be brought in a private home, (4) one could not convict a man without witnesses, (5) without any charge (as per Luke), (6) one could not execute a man without a death sentence (since the Sanhedrin did not condemn him to death) and (7) death sentences could not be pronounced until at least a day after the interrogation, to name but a few of the issues.

If the arrest was after the Passover meal, the fifteenth day of Nisan, then the people arresting would not be carrying weapons on a feast day, and Peter was also illegally carrying a weapon; it would be a serious problem that Simon the Cyrene was coming out of the country or fields (from whence he was taken to help Jesus carry the cross), implying he was working (and on this day, one could not enter or leave Jerusalem); and the high priest tore his clothes during the questioning, again problematic. The high priest acting as prosecutor in the trial is problematic – because there are no Prosecutors in Jewish trials… In fact, virtually every facet of the trial account violates Jewish laws and customs.[2] David Fitzgerald says, in his book Nailed: Ten Christian Myths That Show Jesus Never Existed At All, referring to the work of Jewish legal authority Haim Cohn (Attorney-General of Israel and later Justice of the Israeli Supreme Court) who scrutinized in fine detail the different Biblical accounts of Jesus’ trial:[3]

The trial is incompatible with multiple well-established provisions of ancient Jewish law; in fact the violations of Jewish law in Jesus’ trial dog-pile on each other so fast it’s hard to keep up. All of them are virtually inconceivable, and of course highly improper: neglecting Passover, meeting by night, holding trial in a private home, conducting a trial in secret, the High Priest acting as interrogator himself and even striking the defendant with his hand, the failure of the witnesses to agree, mocking and beating the prisoner, and many more, any of which should have resulted in a mistrial. Even worse, they appear to have deliberately misrepresented certain aspects or the trial to paint the Jewish religious leaders as stereotypical villains. There are other less obvious implausibilities as well. Luke has the beloved rabbi Gamaliel make a cameo appearance to save Peter at his trial in Acts, so he should have been present and prominent at Jesus’ trial, too. But there is no mention of this in any account, Biblical or Jewish.[4] Of course, if he had been there, it would have been utterly out of character for him to take part in such a gross miscarriage of justice (which the Gospels say was unanimous). And if such an outrageous trial really had broken all these rules in a rush to condemn a man the whole city had joyfully acclaimed just days before (John 12:13, Matt. 21:8-10), then how is it none of the historians and writers of the day ever mentioned it, especially when they give detailed accounts about so many much less interesting would-be messiahs and scandals in Jerusalem from the same period?

The Gospels are also completely wrong about first century Jewish religious politics. The Pharisees and the High Priest were never in cahoots with one another. Nothing could be further from the truth – they were bitter political enemies. In reality, most everyone in Judea hated the High Priest, who was both a Sadducee (the Pharisee’s political opponents), and a puppet appointee working for the hated Romans. The Pharisees regarded the Temple priesthood as mere ceremonial functionaries doing the nation’s spiritual grunt work, keeping the sacrifices going and maintaining the Temple.[5] Even in the best of times the Pharisees seemed to regard most high priests as little more than trained monkeys, saying “a learned bastard takes precedence over an ignorant High Priest.”[6]

These issues might individually seem to some people minor issues, but together, they form a raft of problems for this narrative.

John’s chronology is somewhat different, but no less challenging. For John, the trial would be held on the fourteenth of Nisan, and the high priests and all the other members of the religious organisations would have been carrying out the arrest and attending the trial on the same day that they should have been “presiding over the preparation of thousands of Passover lambs”.[7]

[1] Alter (2015) p. 89-90.

[2] Fitzgerald (2010), p. 92-100.

[3] Ibid., p. 92-3.

[4] Cohn (2000), p. 132.

[5] Maccoby (1987), p. 26-7.

[6] Maccoby (1987), p. 23.

[7] Alter (2015), p. 91.

In the meantime, please grab a similar book of mine: The Nativity: A Critical Examination [UK].


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