The King of Stories -- Into The Trials

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 continue factoring heavily for this entry; so I am continuing to blockquote them for ease of distinction between them and actual text.

Into the Trials

(The storytellers continue together in harmony, complementing and overlapping each other...)

So the squad and the captain and the deputies of the Jews arrested Jesus, and bound Him, and led Him away--first to Annas, for he was father-in-law of Caiaphas who was high priest that year.

Now Caiaphas (the Evangelist reminds his audience) was the one who had advised the Jews that it was better for one man to die on behalf of the people.

But Simon Peter was following Jesus at a distance... and so was another disciple (says the Evangelist).

Now that (other) disciple was known to the high priest, and entered with Jesus into the court of the high priest--but Peter was standing at the door outside.

So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the doorkeeper, and brought Peter in as far as the high priest's courtyard; and after they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter came over, and sat down with the servants to see the outcome, warming himself in the firelight.


So the high priest (meaning Annas, the real high priest), questioned Jesus about His disciples and about His teaching.

Jesus answered him:

"I have spoken openly to the world. I always was teaching in the synagogue and in the Temple, where all Jews come together. Why do you question Me? Question those who have heard what I spoke to them; behold!--they know what I said!"

[Trialnote: Jesus knows He is hardly obligated to answer questions put to Him by Annas here: this isn't even a trial yet! More to the point, He knows that Annas probably knows--and others who certainly know will soon be available if they are not here already!--what Jesus did say on the occasion of some private meetings with Pharisees and with Sanhedrin members. While those meetings may not have been in front of the general population, they were hardly 'hidden' from His accusers.]

But when He had said this, one of the officers standing by gave Jesus a blow, saying, "Is that the way you answer the high priest?!"

Jesus answered: "...If I have spoken wrongly, bear witness of the wrong. But if rightly--

"--then why do you strike Me?"

Annas therefore sent Him bound to Caiaphas (across the courtyard to the next house over)--where all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes are gathering together.


Now as Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard, one of the high priest's servant-girls came along--the one who kept the door (clarifies the Evangelist)--and seeing Peter warming himself she came to him and stared intently at him, and said, "You were also with the Galilean, Jesus!"

But he denied before them all, saying, "Woman, I have no idea what you are talking about!"

And he went out onto the gateway porch.

...and a rooster crowed.

[Note: this verse concerning the rooster appears in late copies of the Follower's text; but although it is most likely a late addition, it could be technically correct--this happens roughly around midnight.]


Now the chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin kept trying to obtain false testimony against Jesus, in order that they might put Him to death; but even though many false witnesses came forward, they found nothing--for their testimony was not consistent.

[Trialnote: and here we see the result of Jesus' evasive and colorful speeches--people can remember their gist, but not the precise wording, which for testimony in a Jewish capital trial is an absolute necessity. (Even the Gospel authors rarely report the wording exactly enough to be considered valid evidence at a capital trial...!)

Add to this, two other important facts. First, even though Jesus went ballistic on the religious authorities recently in the Temple, He hasn't really said anything during the past week that would be clearly capital blasphemy. The last time He said anything of that sort was several months ago; and He reminded them at the time that they would be hard put to hold what He said validly against Him!

Second, this 'trial' was thrown together at the last minute, after Judas warned the conspirators on the Council that Jesus knew of the planned betrayal. Among other things, this means they haven't even had time to coach collaborative testimony.

More precisely, the obvious lack of even conspiratorial collaborative testimony (after several hours of this, as Jesus' ministry is gone over in detail) shows some degrees of honesty even on the part of Caiaphas and his coterie, and/or that the convicting testimony had to pass strong elements of dissension among the Council who were keeping this illegal/informal trial as fair as possible.]


Now the slaves and officers were standing there (probably in the gateway porch, where it is somewhat darker than by the light of the big fire in the middle of the courtyard), having made a charcoal fire (probably in a standing brazier), for it was cold and they were warming themselves; and Peter was also with them, standing and warming himself. (The charcoal fire gives some heat, but little light...)

Now when Peter had gone out to the gateway porch, another maid saw him, declaring to the others standing there, "This man was with Jesus the Nazarene!"

And the first girl came up again, saying (in agreement), "He is one of them!"

But again he denied, with an oath, "I do not know the man!"

Yet another (man) saw him and said, "You are too of them!"

But Peter said, "Man, I am not!"


Now later on (several hours after Jesus' arrival for the informal trial in the house of Caiaphas, but within an hour after Peter's second renouncement), two came forth, standing up to bear false witness.

And one said, "This man stated, 'I am able to destroy God's Temple and to then rebuild it three days later'!"

(and another said) "We heard Him say, 'I will destroy this Temple made with hands, and in three days I will build another Temple made without hands'!"

But not even in this respect was their testimony valid!

[Trialnote: ironically, I picked up these two variants from two different authors reporting one testimony in the same scene... The Disciple does mention that there were two testimonies here, though he only reports one.

Interestingly, the claim being variously reported here is similar to, but crucially different from, a similar claim made by Jesus two years earlier during His previous Passover visit to Jerusalem, after the first cleansing of the Temple--a visit reported in GosJohn, although this charge is not...]

Now the high priest (having basically lost his patience in an increasingly dangerous situation for him and his party...) stood up and forward, saying to Him, "Do you make no answer?? What is it that these men testify against you!?"

But Jesus answered not a word.

[Trialnote: Caiaphas is desperately trying to get Jesus to convict Himself by His own testimony in front of witnesses. He cannot legally ask for it; nor can he technically prompt for it in this leading fashion. Jesus is still under no obligation to incriminate Himself; although even if He did answer, His testimony probably would not be considered legally damning.

There is one adjuration, though, that even in the later rabbinic period (2nd century onward) is agreed to be absolutely binding on any Jew to answer: even to stand silent under it, is considered to be an admission of damning guilt. Jesus' silent stance under question may be what suggests the final tactic to Caiaphas: let Him stand silent under this, then!

Even answering to this oath would not technically be admissible in court--probably--but Caiaphas is probably betting on it carrying enough of a religious weight with Councilors on all sides of the 'Jesus question', that it might effectively trump 'mere' legal process.]

Now the high priest said to Him:

"I charge you under oath by the living God: you be telling us if you, being the Anointed King, are the Son of God the Blessed!"

Jesus said to him:

"As you say. (the polite agreement of grave or sad importance...)

"More than this I tell you: hereafter, you shall see 'the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power' and 'arriving on the clouds of heaven'!" (quoting a Psalm and Daniel the prophet)

Then the high priest tore his outer garments, saying: "He has blasphemed! What more need do we have for witnesses!? Behold!--now you have heard the blasphemy!

"What do you think!? How does it seem to you!?"

They answered and said: "He is deserving of death!" And they all condemned Him.

Then some began to spit in His face, and to cover His face, and beat Him with their fists; and officers slapped Him (or possibly 'struck Him with rods', i.e. their clubs); and said, "Prophecy to us, you 'Christ'--who is the one who hit you?!"


[Trialnote: the adjuration Jesus must not stand silent under was 'I charge you under oath by the living God': the Oath of the Testimony. Caiaphas was taking a huge gamble--misuse of this adjuration would probably be a capital crime in itself!

Technically, it is disputable whether even the Oath might count as a mistrial procedure in a capital case--and 'disputable' usually means 'mistrial' under Jewish capital law. But the Oath carries its own traditional weight, and Caiaphas is counting on the blasphemous answer itself to overweigh matters in his favor even with dissidents in the Court.

What is the blasphemy?

From the evidence, I gather one or both of two things.

First, Caiaphas knows that most of the Council knows what kind of claims Jesus has been making to them, concerning His own meaning of the title Son of God. They may not be able to pin Him on it exactly via witnesses, as to wording, but Jesus made quite sure there was no ambiguity about what He meant by the phrase.

Consequently, even if it was granted that the Messiah might in some legitimate fashion be 'the Son of God' by allegory, they were not expecting Him to be literally the Son of God, much less (as Jesus claimed previously) essentially equal to God Himself. But they know this is what Jesus means, even if they have not exactly prompted it from Him even by the Oath. Ironically, they are condemning Him by the spirit of His word, not by the letter--right in contravention to what He Himself has previously denounced them for typically doing.

(I will point out that this interpretation does not stand entirely on evidence from GosJohn: any close reading of certain claims made publicly in the presence of witnesses from the Sanhedrin, as reported in the Synoptics, will show the exact same claim being implied. The implications of what Jesus meant by them are inescapable, once the contexts of the claims are accounted for. They cannot be used against Him in court, for their parabolic delivery makes any valid testimony impossible--this is what the authors mean by 'false testimony', not that the witnesses were necessarily being malicious--but even if we discount GosJohn as being reliable history, we are left with plenty of other things that would count just as well in the minds of the Court. Ironically, their parabolic character, as well as a lack of appreciation of story-contexts, hinders readers today from understanding what is being claimed in them...)

The second possible blasphemy would also be implied by the situation, but does not rely on the Court being previously familiar with claims of divinity by Jesus (directly or indirectly). It is the same essential principle that would count heavily in the minds of the general population, once a certain point is reached:

if Jesus was really the Messiah (much moreso the Son of God, however anyone interprets that)... would He be letting Himself be condemned like this? Especially in a trial which He clearly shows He knows is illegal procedure??

Would the Messiah, of all people, let such an injustice and defeat happen to Him?

("Prophecy, you 'Christ'!" cry the Temple guards as they strike Him blindfolded--applying their own less subtle test on the same principle...

"If you are a Son of God... if you are the Son of God..." whispered Satan, during the temptation in the desert...

show it... show it... show it...)


Yet a little later, after about an hour had passed, the bystanders came up and another man began to insist, saying to Peter: "Surely you are also one of them--for your Galilean accent makes you evident! And he is a Galilean, too!"

One of the slaves of the priest, being a relative of the one whose ear Peter cut off, said, "Did I not see you in the garden with him...?"

Then Peter started cursing and swore with an oath against himself:

"I do not know the man you are talking about!!"

...and immediately, a rooster crowed the second time (sunrise being near).

...and the Lord turned and looked at Peter (as He was being taken to the Temple from the house of Caiaphas--through the gateway porch).

...and Peter remembered the word that Jesus had said:

"Before a rooster crows the second time, you will deny Me thrice."

And he ran out... and wept, bitterly...


Then when Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that He had been condemned, he felt remorse and returned the thirty silver shekels to the elders and chief priests, saying: "I have sinned by betraying an innocent man!"

Yet they said, "What is that to us? See to that yourself!"

But he threw the pieces of silver into the Temple and departed.

And he went away... and hanged himself.

Now the chief priests took the pieces of silver and said, "It is not permitted to put them (back) into the Temple treasury, since it is the price of blood."

But they counseled together and with the pieces they bought the Potter's Field as a burial place for strangers.

So (says the Disciple) that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet (actually he is quoting Zechariah) was fulfilled, saying, 'And I took the thirty silver pieces, the price of one whose price was set' by the sons of Israel, 'and I gave them for the potter's field, as the Lord directed me.'

Matthew 26:57-75
Matthew 26:3-10
Mark 14:53-72
Luke 22:54-65
John 18:15-27

[Next time: The King of Trials]


Anonymous said…
"I charge you under oath by the living God: you be telling us if you, being the Anointed King, are the Son of God the Blessed!"

Is there a basis in Old Testament law or rabbinic caselaw for this oath or the asking of this type of oath?
Jason Pratt said…

Good question. I ran across this myself _after_ originally doing my harmonization study several years ago. The whole episode is deeply curious and synchs with details that no one would ever have guessed at simply from reading the Gospel accounts.

As mentioned, I think, in my trialnotes, the application of the Oath of the Testimony in a trial would be highly irregular, seeing as it would invite the prisoner to condemn himself; our Western democratic legal precedent follows Jewish caselaw on this, that an accused person cannot be required to testify against himself. If what you are asking, then, is whether there is precedent for use of the Oath in a capital trial (or any other), my answer is, “I don’t know, but I would greatly surprised if there was.”

The procedure being described in the Gospel accounts is one of great complexity due to the many factors of the situation. Obviously the hearing can only be regarded as being an informal one: begun after sundown, not in one of the two meeting places for the Sanhedrin. But due to the pressing requirements of trying to avoid what looked to be a threat of general uprising on the following day, _something_ had to be done before daybreak. What specifically had to be done, was that the members of the Sanhedrin _on Jesus’ side_, or at least not specifically against Him, had to be convinced to remove Jesus as quickly as possible. Then the proceeding could be ratified (in a quick and loose fashion, again highly dependent on emergency circumstances being presented as threatening to the entire Jewish state) the next morning at the earliest possible moment in a formal meeting in the Temple. The other psychological impellment, from the perspective of Annas, Caiaphas and their coterie, is that they are risking their own lives in several ways by pushing for this _now_. This is literally a do or die situation for the Sadduccean leaders, and it doesn’t end with getting a solid majority agreement from the Sanhedrin; again as noted above, if Pilate doesn’t also ratify the sentence quickly the (perceived) threat of a general uprising remains--and the Authors have pointed out before that this threat is far from unreal, as last year at this time a contingent of Jesus’ followers had tried hard to proclaim Jesus King _by force_ (i.e. tried to get and promote Jesus to lead an armed rebellion against Rome). Worse, if Pilate throws out the case, this will quickly become public knowledge and the Sanhedrin themselves might be stoned for trying to hand over a man regarded at least as a great prophet of God, to the tyrannical pagan overlords!

I take it that these several levels of perceived risk account for why Caiaphas would dare one more risk, and try to apply the OotT in a capital trial (even an informal one).

The general information page of the Jewish Virtual Library, for the Talmud and Mishna, gives an interesting idea of how serious testimony was regarded for witnesses (for the prosecution) in a capital trial, quoting Rabbi Judah (the redactor of the Mishna, the subsequent collection of rabbinic law) at length on the subject (and incidentally supplying the ancient source for the declaration of the Sanhedrin Friday morning at the Praetorium.)

This paragraph, though it doesn’t mention the OotT itself, contains a beautiful passage of rabbinic teaching that mirrors some of the things Christ said concerning judgment: “Therefore was the first man, Adam, created alone, to teach us that whoever destroys a single life, the Bible considers it as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a single life, the Bible considers it as if he saved an entire world!” Thus, notes a commentor subsequent to R.Judah, “How grave the responsibility, therefore, of corrupting myself by giving false evidence, and thus bringing upon myself the moral guilt of [murdering] a whole world.”

The rationale behind the Oath of the Testimony is based on a rabbinic interpretation of Leviticus 5:1. Maimonides summarizes the Talmudic reports of rabbinic teaching and commentary on this in Hilchot Shebuot chapter 9, section (or paragraph) 6.

The relevant portion of Leviticus 5:1 is that a man incurs guilt when he has heard a public imprecation against one who is witholding testimony and, knowing something about this himself as one who has seen or heard about the matter, does not give information; the implication is that he is thus guilty of the same offense as the one witholding testimony under public adjuration. By logical corollary, then, to stand silent under adjuration is itself a punishable crime.

The rabbis were rightly concerned to detail when this would and would not be considered an admission of guilt. So, for instance, if the oath (or by corollary the adjuration) was given in a language he did not understand (and the Mishna makes clear that the Oath of the Testimony can be given in any language, not being restricted to Biblical Hebrew), then it is not an admission of guilt to stand silent under it. (Military court martial in the United States uses similar deferrments, or so I've heard--to willingly refuse to stand silent is to incur guilt, but to unwillingly refuse to stand silent is forgiveable.)

The summary of Maimonides indicates that in the Mishna of the Talmud, the rabbis considered it the same as acknowledgement of the offense if the one adjured does not declare what he has seen or known if the adjuration is made in his presence backed by the name or titles of God. (There are other time when to stand silent under adjuration is judged to be equivalent to guilt, too; during certain kinds of property dispute, for instance.) The rationale is that the person is willingly standing silent in order to avoid either telling the truth (in favor of the accusation) or else denying the truth (against the accusation) but taking the Lord's name in vain by doing so.

Unfortunately, I have not yet been able to find an online English translation of the Torah Mishneh (Maimonides’ summary of Talmudic disputation; named after a Hebrew term for the Book of Deuteronomy, btw.) And the printed English translations are somewhat outside my price-range. {g} I am aware of a couple of translations of this particular portion by non-Jewish scholars, but the clearest one dates back to the very early 20th century, and this source gives no reference for _his_ source. Edersheim, writing a few decades earlier, passes over the matter as being common knowledge among students of Judaic law. I would be curious to know what Sanders and/or Neusner have thought or written of it in recent decades. Also I would be interested to know which Mishna references Maimonides is drawing from (as these _are_ readily available online in various places.)

The Maimonides summary on the matter is of special dating interest, in that he was writing during the Islamic occupation of his country, citing (and summarizing) rabbinic teaching in the Babylonian Talmud centuries earlier, itself taken from the Jerusalem Talmud (plus subsequent discussion meanwhile) about a century beforehand, itself taken from oral (and possibly written) Mishna and tannaitic materials.

In all of this, it is striking that GosMatt is the earliest extant document testifying to a use of the Oath of the Testimony (that I am aware of anyway)--and an irregular use at that! Yet when all the centuries of subsequent debate are tallied up, the verdict is the same centuries later: to stand silent when adjured (implicitly meaning by one in authority) to speak, when the adjuration is by one of the names of YHWH, is grounds for being judged guilty of the charge.

Anonymous said…
Did Hebrew or Aramaic have a separate word for "divine"?

If not, then did they express "divine" through the phrase "son of god"? ("son of" creating an adjectival form of god)

If so, then does the expression "Messiah Son of God" mean "divine Messiah", ie) God himself?
Jason Pratt said…
In answer to the first question: nothing jumps immediately to mind. But considering that most such nouns are built from descriptives in the first place (including our own English noun for God, btw), it would be fairly easy to create adjectival forms of nouns already associated with The Divine. (Itself a nounified adjective, notice. {g}) 'Theios' would be an example of this re-adjectifying a noun in Greek; and I strongly suspect from exegetical analysis that 'aeonian' is supposed to serve much the same purpose: life or crisising or whatever coming from The Everlasting, That Which Transcends The Age. (Which is why I routinely translate 'zoe eonian' as “God's own life”; ‘pura eonian’ as “God’s own fire”, etc. Fun exegetical link: notice the connection between the koine Greek word for ‘fire’ and our latterly developed word ‘pure’!)

Furthermore, there is textual evidence from the intertestamental period (and even from the period post-NT, which is frankly more than a little surprising to me!) that at least some religious authorities in Judaism considered the Messiah to be in effect a second Person of God, based on OT references.

Whether anyone on the Sanhedrin was willing to accept this _in principle_, though, is kind of beside the point: Jesus had already made it clear (and had been making it clear now for three years) that He was not only rejecting the Sadduceean leaders but also the other majority party, the Pharisees (whom He most resembled otherwise, and who kept expecting Him to be a Pharisee because, duh, he’s against the Sadducees isn’t he?? {wry g}) The notion that God might be rejecting them and their practices, whether directly in an Incarnation or by mediation of a prophet (JohnBapt or Jesus either one), wasn't something they were ready to countenance, for the most part (I think we can agree that this is at least psychologically realistic {g}); and the notion that the Messiah Himself (whether God Incarnate or not) might submit to the indignity of an informal trial for His life, would run very strongly against the grain of expectations.

Even _that_, though, is more beside the point. It isn’t like this trial is the first time anyone there has even heard of Jesus, and it’s extremely far from the first time He has ever said anything to them in the story. For _TWO YEARS_, across three Passover holidays now, Jesus has been making authoritative claims in their presence; including claims of divine authority--that is, claiming to have direct authority that rightly should only belong to God. (If Jesus says He has the authority to remit sins that some person did against some other person, or says that He has the authority over the Sabbath, it makes exactly zero difference whether He was using an Aramaic adjective meaning 'divine'. {g}) And that’s not even counting any statements made to them more directly than _that_, about His self-understanding.

As I noted in the trialnotes (you did read those, right? {g}), the last time Jesus has said anything to them really direct on the subject was several months ago, before the beginning of the (Roman) calendar year. (Back during the Feast of Dedications, and before that.) And _at that time_ He warned them that if it came to a trial, they were going to have a hard time pinning Him down with witnesses on what He did actually say! (This is obscured somewhat by traditional translations of GosJohn, though, leaving readers routinely wondering what in the heck Jesus is talking about. {g})

These people didn’t just wake up early Friday morning around midnight into a whole new world and wonder whassup with Jesus--though sometimes modern critics seem to do so. {g} The chiefs have a long-running story (I would say history {s}) with Him already. If He makes a statement about being the Messiah, they already know what He means by it.

The crucial problem (pun intended!) is that He is absolutely _not_ fitting in, to what _they_ want and expect to be true concerning Christ and/or God--and that’s a problem with His _character_, not primarily about ontology.

(A problem Jesus also warned His own disciples about in the strongest terms, during His final visit to Capernaum before the Passion. The disciples didn’t need to be corrected about the ontological power-status of God, and Jesus doesn’t really correct them about the ontological status of the Messiah. He corrects them, and sternly so, about the _character_ of God and the Messiah. This can be found reported in my entry “As They Gather In Capernaum”, btw.)

The upshot, is that in considering the scene if we ask “does Son of God mean something _necessarily_ divine in itself as a reference to these people”, we’re missing the actual thrust of the story. The characters are already _way_ past _that_ point, by the time we get to this scene.

(Being a metaphysician, and also a novelist and an editor, I’m a big ‘story context’ guy. {g} And story context, put shortly, is the main point to my presenting this harmonization study.)

Jason Pratt said…
Btw, while I can easily respect not wanting to fiddle around with Bloogle's nasty and kind of buggy password account system, it would be easy to sign a name after your comment. Especially if an Anon has already commented in the thread. You may be the same person, but there's no way to tell; and the time might come when (being a story context kind of guy {g}) I may want to refer back to one or another post. Anon1 and Anon2 seem kind of impersonal, and might even be incorrect if Anon2 is actually Anon1.


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