The King of Stories -- The King of 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'll continue blockquoting them to help distinguish them from textual data.

The King of Trials

Now when morning had come, all the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled the Sanhedrin and led Jesus away to their council, saying:

"If you are the Anointed King, tell us."

[Trialnote: this incident is reported only by the Scholar, who does not report any earlier trials at the house of Caiaphas and/or Annas. (The Scholar also, incidentally, is the one who shows us Jesus looking at Peter during the third denial--as He is being led out the gateway of the high priest's house.) Still, it fits with other data: the verdict must be reached again in official session, at the very least so that Pilate will have something formal to ratify. Besides, there are hints of this in the Follower's and Disciple's accounts.

Also, it is possible, despite the phrasings of other writers, that not all the Council had been assembled at the high-priest housing complex, but only the ones most concerned with the 'Jesus problem'.

Whether the full Seventy-Two were present or not between midnight and sunrise, now they must have a capital trial with some degree of actual legality. This probably takes place right at daybreak, the very earliest possible moment--when a lookout standing on the highest wing of the Temple overlooking the Valley of Hinnom below Jerusalem, i.e. Gehenna, can see the sunlight touching the peak of distant Mount Hermon, far off in the region where the Transfiguration occurred: an hour or more before 6 am Roman time.]

Yet He said to them:

"If I tell you, you will not believe.

"And if I ask a question, you will not be answering.

"But from now on, 'the Son of Man will be enthroned, at the right hand of God's power'." (quoting the Psalm again)

Now they all said: "So you are the Son of God!"

And He said to them: "You yourselves say that I am." (or possibly "As you say. I AM.")

[Trialnote: having already spoken of this less than an hour before, under the Oath of Testimony, there is no reason for Jesus to keep silent on this anymore.]

And they said, "What further need do we have of testimony? For we have heard it ourselves, from his own mouth!"

[Trialnote: possibly a rationalization; I do know that a defendant in a Jewish capital trial cannot be required to testify against himself--this is where we get the same legal principle in our courts--but I don't know whether a straight admission of guilt could be accepted. Possibly so, but probably not as a result of direct questioning like this (they didn't ask if He wanted to make a preliminary statement of confession).

It's a moot point by now, anyway--they're determined to use what they have.]

Then the whole body of them arose, and brought Him to Pilate.


So (the other storytellers return to the harmony), they led Jesus from Caiaphas into the Praetorium; and it was early. Yet they themselves did not enter into the Praetorium, in order to keep from defiling themselves (by entering the residence of a pagan), but might eat the Passover (later).

[Trialnote: the Praitorion, or Praetorium, is the residence of the governor; in Jerusalem, where Pilate did not normally stay, this residence would be either in the palace of the Herods, or else in a Roman fort specially built to keep watch on Temple activities--very close to the Temple in either case.

Caiaphas and whomever among the Sanhedrin have come along, have taken Jesus to Pilate's quarters, and now are waiting around outside--expecting Pilate to simply ratify the writ they will have sent in with the soldiers.

At this point, however, something completely unexpected happens--something reported, though I think somewhat out of order, only by the Disciple...]

But while Pilate was sitting on the judgment seat (inside the Praetorium), his wife sent (a message) to him, saying:

"Have nothing to do with that righteous man!--for this morning ('today') I suffered greatly in a dream because of him!"


[Trialnote: and this changes the whole shape and character of the proceeding.

Claudia Procula: the wife, as we know from other historical records, of Pontius Pilate; daughter (by illegitimate union) of the third wife of Tiberius Caesar (the Emperor of the Roman Empire at that time), granddaughter of Augustus Caesar (the Emperor at the time of Jesus' birth). Her mother was also of the Claudians, whose relative would soon be Claudius Caesar after Tiberius.

We know from other sources that Pilate was a ill-tempered ruthless man, who had nothing but contempt for the Jews, and whose normal mode was to act with no negotiation, even to the instant use of deadly force. Not the most political person to be chosen to run a sensitive backwater powderkeg of a province--at best, he could be relied on to quell uprisings, but he also tended to provoke them.

It is almost certain that Claudia petitioned this position for him: the only governorship he was remotely suited for. It is absolutely certain, from other records, that Pilate was devoted enough to her to ask and receive the unusual privilege of bringing a wife to such a post.

Pilate despises the Jews--especially the Sanhedrin.

Pilate is devoted to his wife--who carries immense political clout in the Imperial court.

And his wife, grand-daughter of an Emperor, daughter of the current Emperor's wife, without whom he would not even have this post, and who would probably be his only shred of defense in front of the Emperor if he botches his governorship a fourth and final time...

...has just told him to have nothing whatever to do with this good man.

Pilate certainly won't mind inconveniencing his most hated enemies; but neither can he simply stop the proceedings cold: because the Sanhedrin Court has proven in the recent past, to also have the ear of the Emperor, over against Pilate.]


So Pilate went out to them (where the Sanhedrin were waiting, oblivious to what has just transpired), and is saying:

"What accusation do you bring against this man?"

[Trialnote: this is the formal 'Accusatio' phase of a Roman trial. Which the Sanhedrin were _not_ expecting.]

They answered and said to him, "...if this man was doing no evil, we would not have brought him to you!"

[Trialnote: unprepared to give an actual accusation... they didn't think they would need it. They had thought they had made arrangements already...]

Pilate therefore said to them, "Take him and judge him yourselves according to your law."

The Jews said to him, "We are not permitted to put anyone to death!"--that the word of Jesus which He had spoken (explains the Evangelist) might be fulfilled, signifying by what kind of death He was about to die.

Now they began to accuse Him, saying, "We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, and saying that he himself is 'Kristos'--which is a king!"

[Trialnote: from a Roman perspective they don't have much of anything better to accuse Jesus with. They didn't even find evidence of a military uprising the night before in Geth Semane!]

So Pilate went back into the Praetorium, and summoned Jesus, and said to Him, "Are you the king of the Jews?"

Jesus answered, "Are you asking this of yourself? Or did others tell you this about Me?"

Pilate answered, "I am not any Jew! Your own nation and the chief priests delivered you up to me! What have you done?!"

[Trialnote: though somewhat informal, Pilate is giving the Interrogatio of the judge and receiving the Excusatio of the prisoner in a Roman trial.]

Jesus answered:

"My kingdom does not come from this world. If My kingdom was of this world, then My servants would be fighting, that I may not be delivered up to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not from here."

[Trialnote: this would also obliquely remind Pilate that in fact Jesus had been taken without any evidence of military rebellion the night before--despite the warning of such a possibility probably given by the Sanhedrin, based not least on Jesus holding an early Passover seder: 'evidence' that Pilate would only find laughable without something stronger to back it up.]

So Pilate said to Him: "You are not a king, then?"

Jesus answered, "You yourself are saying that I am King. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world: to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth, is hearing My voice."

Pilate is saying to Him: "What is 'truth'...?"

And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews (probably bringing Jesus with him), and is saying to them: "I find no guilt in this man!"

Now the chief priests began to accuse Him of many things. But while He was being accused, by the chief priests and elders, He made no answer.

Then Pilate said to Him, "See how many charges they bring against you! Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?! Do you make no answer??"

But He did not answer him with regard to even a single word, so that the governor was quite amazed.

[Trialnote: and probably quite aware that Jesus has not in fact been doing things like this, at least where his own people could see and report back to him...]

Yet they kept on insisting, saying, "He stirs up the people, teaching all over Judea, starting from Galilee even as far as this place!"

But when Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean.

And when he learned that He was from Herod's jurisdiction, he sent Him up to Herod, who was in Jerusalem during this time himself. (And very near at hand, one way or another, in the palace of the Herods...)


Now Herod (tells the Scholar) was very glad when he saw Jesus; for he had been wanting to see Him for a long time, because he had been hearing about Him and was hoping to see some attesting miracle being performed by Him.

[Trialnote: among other things, Herod had been worried whether Jesus was perhaps John the Baptist, whom he had executed, risen from the grave! He seems to have gotten past that notion, though.]

And he questioned Him in many words; but He answered him nothing. And the chief priests and the scribes were standing there, viciously accusing Him.

So, after treating Him with contempt and mocking Him, Herod with his soldiers dressed Him in a gorgeous robe and sent Him back to Pilate.

And Herod and Pilate became friends with one another that very day (the Scholar says); for before they had been enemies with each other.


Now Pilate summoned the chiefs of the priests and the rulers and the groups of people (whose arrival in the meanwhile will be explained presently), and said to them:

"You brought this man to me as one who incites the people to rebellion, but look!--having examined him before you, I have found no guilt in this man regarding the charges you make against him!

"No!--nor has Herod, for he sent him back to us. Now look!--nothing deserving death has been done by him!

"So, I will punish him, and release him."

[Trialnote: he can see the Sanhedrin are quite furious about Jesus, and does not want word to get back to the Emperor again that he was not working along with the 'locals'; so he will assign a punishment, probably less to placate them than to eventually demonstrate to the Emperor he was acting toward them in good faith. Ratifying the death sentence would, of course, be acting in good faith; but that would annoy Claudia. Pilate is walking a fine political line here.]

Now--at that time, they (the Romans) were holding a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas (says the Disciple).

And Barabbas was a brigand (says the Evangelist).

He was one who had been thrown into prison, along with other rebels, for a certain rebellion made in the city, and for murder committed in the rebellion (say the Scholar and the Follower).

Now the crowd came up and began asking him (Pilate) to do as he had been accustomed to do for them. For at festival, he used to release for them any one prisoner whom they requested.

(Pilate, having done all he really intends to do to Jesus, is moving along to the 'next business', with the formal recognition announcement:) "Now you have a custom, that I should release someone to you at the Passover. Which of the two do you want me to release to you? Do you wish then that I release to you the King of the Jews?" For he was aware that the chief priests had delivered Him up because of envy.

[Trialnote: taunting the Sanhedrin, and probably also taunting the crowd, which he knows is there for Barabbas or one of the other arrested rebels--Pilate, feeling secure, is reverting back to form...]

Now the chief priests stirred up the crowd. And they cried out all together, saying, "Away with this man! But release for us Barabbas!"

And answering again, Pilate was saying to them, "Then what shall I do with him whom you call the King of the Jews?!"

And they shouted again:

"Crucify him!"

[Trialnote: oops. The severest form of Roman execution, given to rebels against the state. Claudia wouldn't be happy with this result...]

Now Pilate was saying to them, "Why?! What evil has he done!?"

But the chief priests and the elders encouraged the groups to ask for Barabbas, and to put Jesus to death. So they shouted all the more: "Crucify!"

[Trialnote: from this, reported by the Disciple--a little out of order--and from something similar hinted at by the Scholar in a moment, I think we now have different factions in the crowd; some of them might actually want to know who Pilate is talking about, since he hasn't even mentioned Jesus' name in this scene--besides which, even if he had, 'Joshua' was a rather common name, even attributed in later tradition to Barabbas (whose patronymic means 'son of the father', by the way!)--and Jesus Himself may not be readily visible for recognition at this time. The chiefs need something like a unified response from the crowd, though. Keep in mind that a 'multitude' or even 'multitudes' might be as few as sixty people; all of whom were here to get Barabbas released, or just to participate in a meaningful Passover ritual, freeing a prisoner from the hated overseers (quite in line with the religious weight of the Feast...)]

Now Pilate, wanting to release Jesus (for Claudia), addressed them again--but they kept on calling out, saying, "Crucify! Crucify him!"

And he said to them the third time: "Why!!? What evil has this man done!? I have found in him no death-guilt! I will therefore punish him, and release him!!"

But they were insistent, asking with loud voices that He be crucified. And their voices began to prevail (says the Scholar--over the other ones in the crowd, by implication...?)

And when Pilate saw that he was accomplishing nothing, but rather that a riot was starting (among the factions in the crowd?), he took water and washed his hands, saying:

"I am innocent of the blood of this man! See it yourselves!!" (note: not see to it themselves!)

And all the people answered:

"His blood is on us, and on our children!!!"

Then Pilate pronounced sentence that their demand should be granted, and he released Barabbas, the man they were asking for, who had been thrown into prison for rebellion and murder.


So Pilate then took Jesus and had him scourged.

[Trialnote: The Synoptic authors basically end their account of the trial before Pilate here, with the scourging. The Evangelist goes further--and never once mentions a crowd again. I think during this time--say roughly 5:30 to 6 am--the crowd went away, having gotten what they really wanted: their hero, Barabbas. It is extremely important to notice that Pilate hasn't actually promised the crowd he would execute Jesus--he could pronounce sentence to grant their demand for Barabbas without also granting their demand to crucify Jesus--but if they took it that way, great, it means that he has further defused the situation; removing them as tools for the chiefs in the process. Now he only has to satisfy the chiefs--if he can.]

And the soldiers took Him away into the palace--that is, the Praetorium (explains the Follower for his audience)--and they are calling together the whole squad (or perhaps even 'cohort') around Him (mustering for their hardest day of the season, after a night that must have been almost as difficult: keeping the peace during the turbulent Passover holiday.)

And they wove a crown of thorns and put it on His head, and stripped Him and dressed Him in a purple (or scarlet) robe (maybe the one given by Herod during his meeting with Jesus); and they started coming up to Him, saying: "Rejoice, King of the Jews!" and put a reed in His right hand.

And they took the reed and were hitting Him on the head, and giving Him blows in the face, and spitting at Him, and kneeling and bowing before Him.

Now (after the tumult has had time to die down), Pilate came out again, and is saying to them: "See here!--I am bringing him out to you, that you may know I find no guilt in him!"

So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe.

And he (Pilate) is saying to them:

"Behold! The man!"

[Trialnote: in other words, look I've punished him, and this is what I think of your charge against him! Pilate would have been better off not insulting them again; but, Pilate is Pilate...]

So when the chief priests and the officers saw Him, they cried out, saying:

"Crucify! Crucify!"

Pilate is saying to them (probably in much exasperation): "Take him and crucify him yourselves; for I find no guilt in him."

[Trialnote: this is probably intended as sarcasm; as indeed if Pilate had been seriously saying this the scene would be over! But Pilate would never seriously let them do what should be Roman punishment, especially in defiance of his own ruling. It's a completely safe thing to say, maybe even clever: if they're stupid enough to actually try it, he can then have legal grounds for destroying the Sanhedrin! Besides, he would know they would never crucify anyone themselves anyway, especially on Passover; that sort of execution being defiling to them. They wouldn't even come into his quarters, after all!]

The Jews (evidently stung by his dismissal) answered him (in retort):

"We have a law: and by that law, he ought to die!--because he made himself out to be the Son of God!"

So when Pilate heard this statement, he was rather afraid!

[Trialnote: Which hardly helps their case any. Pilate, a pagan, might actually believe in such things as sons of gods! Plus they don't know about the letter Pilate had received from Claudia...]

Now he went into the Praetorium again, and is saying to Jesus:

"...where are you from...?" (referring to the last thing Jesus had said to him, less than an hour ago)

But Jesus gave him no answer.

So Pilate is saying to Him, "You do not speak to me?! Do you not know that I have authority to release you? And I have authority to crucify you!!"

Jesus answered:

"You would have no authority against Me, unless it had been given to you from above. For this reason, the one who delivered Me up to you has the greater sin."


As a result of this, Pilate was seeking (again!) to release Him.

But the Jews cried out:

"If you release this man... you are no friend of Caesar! Everyone who makes himself out a king, speaks against Caesar!"

[Trialnote: and finally, the implied threat to go tell Caesar, just as they had done before. Except this case, they would be telling Caesar that Pilate had spared a man, against their wishes, who claimed kingship, thus rebellion against the Imperial Throne. Guess who would be up on a cross, then...? Also, see some discussion in the comments below about how serious this threat of being denounced to Caesar was, in the final years of Tiberius. The phrase "you are no friend of Caesar" is quite appropriately correct as a threat, during the time this story is taking place.]

So when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out, and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called 'Lithostratos' (the high stone), but in Hebrew 'Gabbatha' (lofty or the high place).

Now it was the day of preparation for the Passover; it was about 6 am.

[Trialnote: or possibly 9 am; there is some confusion over how to reckon the hours here, by Jewish or by Roman timing, and the timing is certainly elastic enough to allow either option depending on the amount of delay from place to place. The whole thing has gone on longer than the Sanhedrin wanted it to, in any case.]

And he is saying to the Jews: "Behold your King!"

They therefore cried out: "Away! Away! Crucify him!"

Pilate is saying to them, "Shall I crucify your king!?"

The chief priests answered: "We have no king but Caesar!"


So he then delivered Him up to them, into their will, to be crucified.

But Pilate also wrote an inscription, to be put on the cross (giving the reason for condemnation).

And it was written, in Hebrew, Latin and Greek:

"Jesus the Nazarene, the king of the Jews."

And so the chief priests of the Jews were saying to Pilate: "Do not write 'the king of the Jews'; but rather 'He said "I am king of the Jews"'!"

Pilate answered:

"What I have written, I have written."

Matthew 27:1-2
Matthew 27:11-30
Mark 15:1-19
Luke 22:66-71
Luke 23:1-25
John 18:28-40
John 19:1-16
John 19:19-22

[Next time: The Passing]


Anonymous said…
Some scholars (Cohn) argue that Jesus' claim to be king was sedition was an injury to the majesty of the emperor and therefore, treason under (1)the "Lex Julia maiestatis" passed by Julius Caesar 46 BC and (2) the "crimen laesae maiestatis" passed by Augustus Caesar 8 BC.

Are there extant versions of those two laws (in English translation) or merely citations by ancient authorities of those two laws?
Jason Pratt said…
John Paul Adams of relates the Lex Julia maiestatis as "the treason law: established a crime `committed against the Roman People and its security'. This now included high treason, sedition, criminal attack against a magistrate, desertion from the army, etc. The Princeps and his family were now specifically included in the law by name, along with the People." But he calls the date to be uncertain.

The most popular source of reference to the Lex Julia on the internet may be to Allison and Cloud's 1962 article "The Lex Julia Maiestatis", to be found in the journal Latomus, volume 21, pages 711-31. There are others to be found, but (like Latomus) they require a subscription fee to be paid, or registration as a scholar at a university (for JSTOR access, etc.)

FOFWEB presents a nice summary of the maiestas, borrowed from Matthew Bunson's entry on the maiestas, found in _The Encyclopedia of the Roman Empire_ (New York: Facts On File, Inc., 1994.) It can be freely accessed from the internet here. Bunson specially emphasizes, following Tacitus, that the maiestas were increasingly abused in the reign of Tiberius, and not reformed until Tiberius' death in 37CE, when Gaius Caligula allowed the maiestas to be abolished. Pilate is facing the late hey-day of this reign of terror, where Delators or special secret agents commissioned by a family are waiting and watching for any hint of breach of the maiestas--so that the family might by breaching the 'traitor' receive large portions of the traitor's holdings as a reward for their 'fidelity'.

It is notable that the Lex Julia didn't just prevent a private citizen from claiming kingship without Imperial approval, but even from claiming magistrate status--an emminently reasonable stance for a government to take, even the potential penalty might seem extreme to us. Consequently, when Jesus was refusing to be an arbiter or judge between two brothers in a property dispute (GosLuke 12:13-14), He was refusing to do something that would get Him indicted by the Lex Julia. Incidentally, I place this anecdote on the final road to Jerusalem, near Jericho, back in my harmonization entry "Lawyers and Second Comings"; where, not quite incidentally {g}, I also placed the Lucan version of the parable of the three stewards--which features a subplot about a king receiving his kingship from an Emperor! (Much as Herod Antipas had himself done, in appeal to the Emperor to decide who would be the heir--over against a deputation sent to the Imperial Court to plead against his appointment.) By including that as a factor, in a situation which could have been a trap set up for Him (along much the same lines as the taxation dilemma a few days later), Jesus would throw off any Imperial agents in the area watching for sedition on His part: sure it's obvious that Jesus is supposed to be the king in the story, but he's going to appeal to the Emperor for proper validation, right? No harm, no foul.

It needs to be emphasized, anyway, that the procedure was irregular throughout most of its proceeding; an irregularity explicable by the complex socio-political factors I mentioned. Would even Pilate have normally crucified a wandering preacher who claimed to be king of Israel? Possibly not; he was prepared to let Jesus go (to please his wife at least), and even kind of made fun of the whole attempt to bring Jesus up on this charge--especially in light of what he himself probably knew about the popular man's public record already. (Indeed, putting the story elements together, it becomes obvious that if he had just kept his mouth shut and not succumbed to taunting the Sanhedrin, he might have gotten out of the situation with Jesus being more-or-less intact.)

Barabbas and cronies had done far worse, by killing during a rebellion. A lestes is crucified, not for claiming to be a king per se, but as a traitor against Rome and the Pax Romana.

Granted, had Jesus been caught trying to foment an actual military rebellion, Pilate would likely have crucified Him anyway, Procula's warning notwithstanding. But that hadn't happened, which gave him a little leeway at first. At the end of the day, though, fear of the maiestas against _himself_, in the hotbed of opportunistic accusations with which the Roman court was rife under Tiberius, appears to have overcome Pilate's desire to mollify his wife--the only person he could count on to effectively plead for his case should he screw up again in dealing with the Sanhedrin.


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