The King of Stories -- The End Begins

Introductory note from Jason Pratt: see here for the previous entry; and see here for the first entry of the series. (It explains what I'm doing, and how, and contains the Johannine prologue.)

The plotnotes really kick into gear for this entry--in fact, there are more plotnotes than actual text! That will be true for the next entries, too, which deal with the trials. To help distinguish plotnotes from textual data, therefore, I will begin formatting the plotnotes as if they were blockquotes.

The End Begins

(All the storytellers join in harmony...)

Jesus arrived on the Mount of Olives, as He usually did, and went into the groves with His disciples.

And they are coming to a place called Geth Semanei.

('where the oil goes through': i.e., the olive press--now deserted on a night in spring when olives aren't in season.)

Now He says to His disciples, "Sit here, while I go over there and pray."

[Plotnote: placing them to watch for anyone coming up the three main paths leading over the shoulder of Olivet to Bethany from Jerusalem. Two paths border the olive grove; the other--which was the more primary road to the hamlets on the other side of the hill--skirts it at a distance. This is not a tangled thicket, but an orderly grove of trees; any party moving at night by torchlight would be easily seen, practically from the moment they left the city gate.]

But He is taking Peter with Him, also James and John, the sons of Zebedee... and began to be intensely grieved and troubled.

And He said to them...

"...My soul is deeply sorrowing... almost to the death... stay here and keep watch."

[Plotnote: probably near the mouth of the cave which held the olive press equipment out of season.]

Now He went beyond a little--about a stone's throw distance (probably into the cave itself)--and was falling to the ground (as He went)...

...and began to pray, falling on His face--that if it might be possible, the hour might pass by Him.

And He was saying...

"Abba! O Beloved Father!! For You all things are possible! Remove this cup from Me!!--

"...yet, do not do what I will, but what You will..."

Now He is coming (out) and finding them asleep; and He says to Peter,

"Simon... are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for even one hour?

"Keep watching... and praying... that you may not be brought into the trial... the spirit is willing... but the body is weak..."

Now again He went away and prayed, saying the same declaration:

"Father--if You may be willing, remove this cup from Me!!... yet not My will, but Yours be done..."

And again He came and found them sleeping... for their eyes were very heavy.

And they did not know what to answer Him.

Now He leaves them again, and goes away, and is praying a third time, saying the same word once more:

"My Father--if this cannot pass by unless I drink it... Thy will be done!"

(some but not all ancient copies of the Scholar's text also say:

'Being in agony He was praying very fervently, and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground.

'But an angel from the heaven came to Him, strengthening Him.')

He is coming now the third time, and is saying to them:

"Keep on sleeping and taking your rest...

" is enough.

"...the hour has come. Behold--the Son of Man is being given up into the hands of sinners.

"Get up. We must be going. Observe--the one who is betraying Me is near."

So Jesus, knowing all the things that were coming upon Him, went forth.

Now Judas (explains the Evangelist), who was betraying Him, knew the place; for Jesus often met there with His followers.


Time for an extended backplotting break!

Caiaphas and his coterie among the chief priests of the Sanhedrin (including many Pharisees, though not strictly all of either the Pharisees in general or the Sanhedrin in particular, as GosJohn quite charitably points out on several occasions, with some support from the other writers) have been wanting Jesus dead now for a while: partly to protect the population from a man they think might be a false messiah, but also--as the story goes--because Jesus has been convicting them of their own sins and hypocrisy.

On the one hand, the story has told us that Jesus has been going out of His way to confront religious leaders since near the beginning of His ministry, even taking advantage of their offers of hospitality to attack them--trying to call them to repentance.

And as GosJohn says, with again occasional support from other writers, the call was working... even after the Pharisees who were supporting Him in Jerusalem refused to sanction what He said about His unity with the Father, there still were many on the Council and among the Pharisees generally who wanted to believe in Him--at least to some degree.

On the other hand, we also know from extra-biblical sources that Caiaphas and his father-in-law Annas (still the religiously sanctioned 'official' high priest, but not the one approved by Rome this year--a source of major contention for both 'common' people and religious leaders who resented Rome meddling in religious affairs) were highly unpopular among the people for using the Temple as their personal money racket, lining their pockets along with the other close family members who had been maneuvered into high positions by Annas. They essentially were, on a larger scale, exactly like the 'traitorous' tax-collectors whom the Pharisees routinely condemned for collaborating with the Roman occupiers. (Which is probably one reason why the Pharisees came down so hard on the tax-collectors: it was a symbolic way of dissenting from the opposing Sadducean party led by Annas via his sons and his son-in-law Caiaphas.)

This is why the 'common' people very much enjoy Jesus denouncing the corruption of the religious authorities; and why the rulers among the Sanhedrin are worried about seizing Jesus and finding a way to execute Him during the Feast. There really might be a vicious mob revolt: the Passover celebrates Moses leading the Israelites out from under the bondage of their oppression, and the common people tend to see the Court as being practically as oppressive as the Roman occupation forces; maybe moreso.

On yet the other hand: the conspirators know that if they can somehow manage to arrest their Enemy, convict Him in even a semi-legal fashion, and carry out the execution, then they will have broken the back of the 'Jesus movement' on all sides: anyone still considering the chiefs to be legitimate religious authorities will see this Messiah-claimant publicly condemned by God's own regents; and even if people are prepared to see a Messiah suffering unjustly at the hands of corrupted religious leaders (thanks to prophecies such as Isaiah's--notably, the Sadducees didn't consider the Prophets to be canon), they are not prepared for a Messianic claimant to be successfully slain by any regime--especially that one! (He's supposed to deliver them from the oppressors, not be slain by them! The rabbinic notion of two Messiahs, a suffering son of Joseph/Ephraim and a conquering son of David who arrives to avenge the first Messiah, doesn't seem to have developed until later; though it has all the earmarks of concessions to Judeo-Christian arguments about Jesus.)

Granted, this plan has its difficulties: it would have been better if they had been able to find some way for Jesus to convict Himself in front of the people as being a blasphemer or (at least) a traitor to Rome (then Rome could take care of the problem directly). But it didn't happen, so their plan--up to this point--is to ride out the Passover, hope for the best, and find some other time to kill Jesus. They even have a willing spy within the camp now, as of yesterday evening, who will help them find a time and place they can arrest Him.

Judas of course knows where Jesus and the disciples have been spending the nights this Passover week--near the oil-pressworks in the groves of Olivet. He probably told this to Caiaphas and the others the night before. But the Sanhedrin didn't employ assassination squads (no Jewish ninjas...!), so even if they knew basically where to expect Him, there was no point in doing anything about it yet--better to wait until after Passover. They can see that Jesus probably isn't trying to set up a military revolution; He has been very careful up to now about not doing anything that might call down the wrath of Pontius Pilate on His head (a point which probably tells against Him being God's Anointed King, in many doubters' minds--wouldn't the Messiah be gearing up to fight the Romans instead!?) They can probably trust Him not to do much more this Passover than He has done already; and behold, after storming out of the Temple on Wednesday, He spends Thursday keeping a much lower profile (maybe with Judas giving updates to the chiefs: 'not much happening'.)

This is how things stand, early on Thursday night.

Until Jesus, during a hasty Passover seder secretly set up one night early--traditionally done the night before a battle if one must be fought on the Passover--announces that He knows there is a traitor scheming to kill Him, and (obliquely) tells Judas that He knows exactly who the traitor is.


Judas runs to Caiaphas, and lets him in on the bad news: Jesus knows the plot. If they don't catch Him tonight, He will likely slip away back to Galilee and never get near Jerusalem again--and that's assuming He isn't trying to set up a military coup after all, which the one-night-early seder service kind of points toward. (As mentioned above, the olive-press in the groves is an excellent place to hide while watching for trouble, with plenty of exit points to slip away into the surrounding countryside.)

So, some things must be done.

First, convene as many of the conspirators as possible, and decide what must be done. This takes a while, especially since there are still public rituals being done at the Temple for the holiday season, until around midnight.

Second, and vastly more important: if they decide to push the trial tonight (illegally for a capital charge, but by this time Jesus has so confused and antagonized everyone on the Council that the impropriety might be successfully overlooked, besides which they can do it informally tonight and then formally ratify it first thing tomorrow), they need to gather the best witnesses against Him they can find on short notice. This takes a while--especially since very few people are likely to want to testify for the prosecution at a Jewish capital trial: if there is a mistrial or the defendant is acquitted, they could be executed themselves as bearing false witness endangering the life of a man!

But if the conspirators do this, they must push the trial tonight and get it over and done before the people know what is happening. Otherwise, there could be a general uprising, and although the people might temporarily succeed against Pilate's local troops (and the Levite Temple soldiers), they wouldn't possibly succeed against the vast ultra-efficient Roman armies that would be dispatched to crush them (as indeed happens, forty years later). More importantly, the Sanhedrin probably wouldn't be around to see the results, having been stoned by the furious population.

Third, and most important of all: they have to get Pilate's permission. No executions under Roman rule, without approval by the governor.

More precisely, they have to be absolutely certain that if they bring Jesus to Pilate, he will quickly ratify their capital sentence. Their own lives hang in the balance: if the people find out that Jesus was tried and condemned by the Sanhedrin but even the Roman governor thought the case was trash...--good-bye Sanhedrin, hosanna to Jesus Messiah!

This means sending a deputation to Pilate's quarters (in the palace of the Herods), when the man is probably awake and unable to sleep with the loud Temple celebrations happening next door, thus not likely to be in a good mood.

This, to put it mildly, takes a while. Especially since Caiaphas himself is probably the only person with enough political clout to do so--and he has lots of other things to be arranging (not even counting rituals to actually be doing) tonight.

Unfortunately, Pilate is a prickly ill-humored fellow, who despises the Jews, and loathes the Sanhedrin.

Fortunately, Pilate has gotten in trouble three times already with the Emperor for running roughshod over the Jews. One more strike, and he's at least formally deposed (which is exactly what happens a few years later) and maybe even on trial for his own life back in Rome.

Fortunately, and unfortunately, the Sanhedrin were the ones who tattled on him before. They could do it again. He is extremely likely to resent this; but also likely to respect the potential threat involved to himself.

Unfortunately, they know they cannot simply promote Jesus as a rebel-rouser (so to speak), without hard evidence of a military coup in progress. Pilate keeps a very close eye on such things, so is bound to know that Jesus is not the usual sort of revolutionary. In fact, on the balance, Jesus has probably smoothed the Roman occupation over the past two years of ministry!

Fortunately--Pilate is a prickly ill-humored fellow, who despises the Jews (as we know extremely well from other historical sources)!

He might be extra-annoyed at being bothered in the middle of the night and pumped for a pre-emptive promise to ratify a death sentence, but neither is he going to be all warm and fuzzy for this Jewish prophet. Odds are good he made the promise to hear the case and pass it first thing in the morning, simply so he could go back to bed with his wife.

This is an inference, of course--but I think it has all the data (historical and psychological, biblical and extra-biblical) backing it up, and pointing in this direction. They had to get Pilate's permission that night, before even sending out troops to pick up Jesus; because they couldn't afford to waste any time the next morning.

And this is where the matter stands, around midnight early Friday morning: with a number of troops on the way to the olive groves, guided by Judas and under command of a steward of Caiaphas.

...and with one completely unexpected factor primed to blow the trial wide open later in the morning...

(more on this later)


So (continues the Evangelist, in conjunction with the other storytellers): Judas, having received a squad and deputies from the chief priests and Pharisees, is coming there with lanterns and torches and weapons.

[Plotnote: the Greek word is 'speira', which simply means 'band', but was also used as a technical term for a squad of soldiers within a cohort. Members of the Roman cohort garrisoned in Jerusalem might have been there, just to be sure that peace was kept--and nothing done without the Roman sanction--but most likely this was primarily Temple Levite soldiers. Normally in this time and place, an arrest is made by the plaintiff with support from anyone he can find to help him--no police, per se. Since the arresting party has Sanhedrin backing, this was still most probably Levite soldiers. Pilate would have wanted his troops back in the city watching for Passover riots to erupt, as had violently happened twice in previous years; not all out in an olive grove where they might be conveniently out of the way of an uprising!

In any case, a band could be as much as sixty men, but probably no more: a reasonable number, outnumbering the expected possible resistance by five-to-one, and ensuring minimum casualties by the arresting party. And if it turns out Jesus is calling together partisan troops in the grove? Then the squad is large enough to attempt a good fighting retreat while sending for help.]

Now while He was still speaking (to the disciples, warning them the traitor is approaching)--look! Judas came up, one of the Twelve--and with him, a large crowd (armed) with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders of the people! (This, along with the clubs, being another bit of evidence toward these being primarily Levite troops.)

And when those who were around Him saw what was going to happen, they said, "Master--shall we strike with the sword?!"

Now he who was betraying Him had given them a sign, saying, "Whomever I kiss, he is the one; seize him and lead him safely away."

And immediately he went to Jesus and said, "Hail, Rabbi!"--and kissed Him.

But Jesus said to him: "Judas... friend... are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss...?

" what you have come for." (or perhaps 'for what have you come to do?' 'Why are you here?' 'Why are you doing this?')

Jesus therefore is saying to them: "Whom do you seek?"

They answered Him, "Jesus the Nazarene!" And Judas, who was betraying Him, was also standing with them (now).

He is saying to them:

"I AM!"

When He thus said to them, "I am", they drew back and (even) fell to the ground. (hearing perhaps the name of God in the declaration...)

So He asked them again: "Whom do you seek?"

And they said, "...Jesus, the Nazarene."

Jesus answered, "I told you that I am; if therefore you are seeking Me, let these go their way."

Then they came and laid hands on Jesus, and arrested Him.

Now look! One of those with Jesus--Simon Peter (clarifies the Evangelist)--put his hand and drew out his sword, and struck the slave of the high priest... and took off his right ear!

But Jesus answered (this action) and said, "Stop! No more... until this--!"

And He touched his ear and healed him. Now the name of the slave of the high priest, was Malchus (tells the Evangelist).

[Note: rabbis in tradition have a reputation for causing body parts of their enemies to drop off! Jesus, however, heals the severed ear of His enemy...]

Then Jesus said to Peter, "Put your sword back in its sheath where it belongs ('in its place')!--for all these (or possibly 'those') who take up the sword shall perish by the sword!

"Or do you not think that I cannot ask of My Father, and He will at once put at My command more than seventy-two thousand angels!? How would the Scriptures then be fulfilled, that it must happen this way?! The cup which the Father has given Me--shall I not drink it!?"

It was at this time that Jesus said to the groups: "Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest Me, as if against a rebel brigand?? I used to sit teaching in the Temple every day, and you did not arrest Me!

"But all this has taken place, that the Scriptures of the prophets may be completed."

And Jesus said to the chief priests and elders who had come against Him with the officers of the Temple: "This hour is yours--and the power of darkness."

Then all the disciples left Him and fled.

Now a certain young man was following Him (adds the Follower alone), wearing a linen sheet over his nakedness; and they seized him.

But he left the linen sheet behind, and escaped unclothed.


[Note on 'multitudes': This scene is a good example of the caution with which we should approach the use of this word in the texts. 'Multitudes' can refer to ten thousand people--or to as few as sixty. The power or 'weight' of a crowd, so to speak, is what makes it a multitude or multitudes: a band of sixty men with clubs and swords outweighs a band of twelve mostly unarmed men rather handily, and the effect they had on them was great.

Another way of looking at the word, is 'groups'--as I've presented it. Once hostilities started, or even before then, the squad would be well-advised to break up into smaller groups, surrounding the prisoner and followers, in order to prevent escape of the prisoner and subdue the followers--whom they had no warrant to arrest, or attack in other than self-defense. Thus after a certain point in time, Jesus would be addressing 'groups' rather than a single 'group'.

Also, if (as GosLuke indicates, alone of the storytellers) some of the chief priests and elders themselves had come to witness the arrest, there would again most naturally be 'groups' of people.

This is also yet another good example of the special historical quality of GosJohn: in the text which is often accused of unjustly and inaccurately ramping up descriptions, we find instead another careful qualification. It was a band of men; a word with certain known limits as to size when used of a military group ('speira' == a division of a cohort, perhaps a tenth of six hundred men.)]

Matthew 26:36-56
Mark 14:32-52
Luke 22:39-53
John 18:2-12

[Next time: Into the Trials]


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