Who Arrested Jesus?

Caravaggio_-_Taking_of_Christ_-_Dublin_-_2In the next few weeks, I hope to continue my series on anti-Judaism in the New Testament, focusing on the difficult and challenging topic of anti-Judaism in the Gospels. This topic is difficult for many reasons, and one big difficulty is the necessity of addressing how Jesus died. This difficulty does not give us an excuse to skip over this topic, at least not if we want to understand Christian anti-Judaism. If “the Jews” actually killed Jesus, as Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians, then Paul simply described “what happened,” and it would be hard to accuse Paul of being anti-Jewish for merely reporting the truth. But much scholarship today indicates that the Romans (or Pontius Pilate) killed Jesus (albeit with some cooperation of some Jewish leaders in Jerusalem), and if we take that scholarship seriously, then Paul’s accusation is wrong and we have cause to examine his possible motives.

I think the question of who killed Jesus deserves a careful exploration. Here, I’ll start with a seemingly simple question: who arrested Jesus? The Gospels give us four accounts.

Mark says:

Just as he was speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, appeared. With him was a crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders. Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.” Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him. The men seized Jesus and arrested him. Then one of those standing near drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. “Am I leading a rebellion,” said Jesus, “that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.” Then everyone deserted him and fled.

Mark identifies one person among the “crowd” who arrested Jesus: the “servant of the high priest.” Otherwise, Mark identifies the group arresting Jesus only as “a crowd armed with swords and clubs.” (More on those swords and clubs in a bit.) But Mark is more specific in identifying who sent the arresting force: “the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders,” i.e., Jewish leaders. We might conclude from this that the people who arrested Jesus were also Jews.

Next, let’s consult Matthew:

While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.” Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him. Jesus replied, “Do what you came for, friend. Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him. With that, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” In that hour Jesus said to the crowd, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I sat in the temple courts teaching, and you did not arrest me. But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.

Most scholars assume that Matthew’s account of Jesus’ arrest is based on the (presumably) earlier account in Mark. From this assumption, we can see the changes Matthew made to Mark’s account of this arrest. Like Mark, Matthew describes the arresting force as a “crowd armed with swords and clubs,” a force that includes the servant of the high priest. Like Mark, Matthew has Judas betray Jesus. Like Mark, Matthew has an unknown companion of Jesus lop off the ear of the high priest’s servant with a sword. Matthew adds to this story; for example, Matthew has Jesus rebuke the ear-slicer with the famous pronouncement about living and dying by the sword. But in all respects important to us here, Matthew ‘s account of Jesus’ arrest is nearly the same as Mark’s.

Next, let’s see what Luke has to say:

While he was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus asked him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear. But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him. Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders, who had come for him, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs? Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour—when darkness reigns.”

Most scholars assume that Luke’s account was written around the same time as (but independently from) Matthew’s account, and (like Matthew) is also based on Mark. But Luke’s story of Jesus’ arrest differs from Mark’s and Matthew’s in interesting ways – for example, Luke never has Judas plant that kiss on Jesus, and in place of Jesus’ rebuke to the companion who slices off the ear of the high priest’s servant, Luke has Jesus heal the servant. But for our purposes, Luke makes three important changes to the story – he eliminates the reference to the Jewish leaders who sent the crowd to arrest Jesus, and instead identifies at least a portion of the arresting crowd: they are “the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders” – all Jews. And Luke fails to tell us what weapons the arresting crowd was carrying.

Not surprisingly, the Gospel of John gives us a different story:

Judas came to the garden, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and the Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons. Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?” “Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “I am he,” Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.) When Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. Again he asked them, “Who is it you want?” “Jesus of Nazareth,” they said. Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. If you are looking for me, then let these men go.” This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: “I have not lost one of those you gave me.” Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” Then the detachment of soldiers with its commander and the Jewish officials arrested Jesus.

John agrees with the other three Gospels on significant points. Judas is shown as Jesus’ betrayer. Jesus’ companion (identified here as Peter!) separates the high priest’s servant from his ear. There is Jewish involvement – the arresting forces include Jewish officials from the chief priests and Pharisees. And as in the prior three Gospels, Jesus surrenders peacefully, acknowledging that the arrest is somehow supposed to happen (in Mark, the arrest is to fulfill Scripture, in Matthew to fulfill the writings of the prophets, in Luke because “darkness reigns” and in John because Jesus must drink the cup his Father gave him). But the differences between John and the preceding Gospels are remarkable. For example, there is no reference to Judas’ kiss in John.  John’s dialogue between Jesus and the arresting forces is new. In John, it is Jesus who arranges for the escape of his disciples (in Mark and Matthew, the disciples flee, seemingly abandoning Jesus).

John differs from the other three Gospels in ways directly significant to our inquiry. John describes the arresting forces as a mixed group of Romans and Jews – both “soldiers” and “officials from the chief priests and Pharisees.” (Like Luke, John does not separately identify who sent these forces to arrest Jesus.) And John describes these forces as carrying “torches, lanterns and weapons,” without identifying the weapons they are carrying (the reference to “swords and clubs” from Mark and Matthew is missing).

So … who arrested Jesus?

Before addressing the big question, let’s look at some smaller points. There are odd aspects of this story that we need to recognize. First is the identification of the arresting force in Mark, Matthew and Luke as a “crowd” – an ochlos (ὄχλος) in Greek. I’m no Greek scholar (can’t read it or write it), but from a concordance it’s obvious that ochlos is not generally used to describe a military or police force. English New Testament translations sometimes translate ochlos as “crowd,” sometimes as “multitude,” and occasionally as “people” or “the people.” Ochlos is never used in terms of an organized group, let alone in the sense of a group performing a military or police function. In Mark 4:1, it is an ochlos that gathers around Jesus at a lake, forcing him to leave dry land and teach the crowd while sitting in a boat. In Luke 13:17, it is an ochlos that celebrates when Jesus defends his healing of a woman on the Sabbath. In Revelation 7:9, it is an ochlos “from every nation, tribe, people and language” that stands before the Lamb. So, how can it be that an ochlos arrested Jesus in Mark, Matthew and Luke? It is as if these three Gospels are describing Jesus being arrested by a mob! Only John describes the scene as it is generally imagined: Jesus and his disciples are confronted by Judas, a cohort of Roman soldiers, and a handful of others.

The use of the word ochlos contradicts another element in the story: Jesus’ asking the arresting forces why they didn’t arrest him in the Temple while he was teaching. Jesus’ question is not answered directly in the Gospels, but the traditionally assumed answer is that the Jewish leadership did not dare arrest Jesus in the light of day, in front of the adoring Jewish crowd (ochlos?). Instead, the Jewish leadership plotted to arrest Jesus at night (“when darkness reigns,” as Luke wrote), by stealth. But in what way is it “stealthy” to assemble an ochlos to arrest Jesus? Isn’t it the ochlos that the Jewish authorities were trying to avoid by arresting Jesus at night?

Jesus’ question to the arresting forces raises a second question: if Jesus was regularly in view during the day, teaching at the Temple and otherwise engaging in his public ministry, exactly what role did Judas play in Jesus’ arrest? In all four Gospels, Judas is identified as a “traitor” or “betrayer,” and in Mark and Matthew, Judas is there to identify Jesus to the arresting forces. But why? Didn’t they know who Jesus was? In Luke and John, Judas is said to lead or guide the arresting forces, which might mean that Jesus’ nighttime locations were unknown to Jesus’ enemies. But if Jesus was to make his normal public appearances the next morning, why couldn’t the arresting forces simply wait a few hours to arrest Jesus?

So long as we’re noticing odd details in the arrest story, how about the business of Peter (or some other unnamed associate of Jesus) slicing off the ear of the servant of the high priest? How did he manage to get away with that, without being arrested or killed on the spot?

I think it’s fair to say that the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ arrest were not written with the modern historian in mind! These are not so much “just the facts, ma’am” kinds of accounts, but instead contain legendary details that must have served the interests of the early church. Why have a “crowd” arrest Jesus? Perhaps because Jesus’ trial would also end at a scene with a Jewish “crowd” (again, an ochlos) demanding Jesus’ death. Perhaps Mark and the other Gospel writers wanted to “bracket” Jesus’ trial with mass Jewish participation at start and finish. Perhaps this was a literary invention of the Gospel writers (or earlier redactors of Jesus’ story), intended to make a figurative or theological point about Jesus (and the Jews).

But let’s go back to my original question. Who arrested Jesus? Mark and Matthew do not say directly. Luke says that there were chief priests, officers of the temple guard and Jewish elders present, but does not say if the ochlos consisted solely of these Jews. John says that Jesus was arrested by a smaller cohort of Jews and Roman soldiers. I think John’s is the most believable account, as it is most specific and the only account that has Jesus arrested by a conventionally-sized organized force. John’s account is also the one consistent with the reportedly stealthy nature of the arrest (i.e., if Jesus was arrested by a mob, there really was no stealth involved). Finally, John’s account is most consistent with one other element of the story: the mention in Mark and Matthew that the arresting force carried “swords and clubs.”

If Jesus was arrested by a purely Jewish force, then the Gospel mention of “swords and clubs” becomes problematic, because it is not clear that Jews were allowed to carry swords in Roman-occupied Palestine. (I say this knowing that Jesus ordered his followers to carry swords, and that at least one of Jesus’ followers – Peter? – was reportedly armed with a sword when Jesus was arrested. Then as today, not everyone obeys the laws governing deadly weapons.) But we know for certain that Roman soldiers carried swords. The historian Paul Winter suggests that the Gospel reference to “a crowd carrying swords and clubs” should be understood as a veiled reference to the identity of two distinct groups that joined forces to arrest Jesus: there were sword-carriers (Roman soldiers) and club-carriers (Jewish temple police). The Gospel writers might have been reluctant to draw explicit attention to Jesus being arrested by Roman soldiers, as they were interested in portraying the early Christian movement as being no threat to Rome. So they lay this detail between the lines, so to speak. But for whatever reason, John felt no reluctance to identify these two groups explicitly.

Is this explanation consistent with all of the Gospel evidence? No. But I think it accounts for this evidence in a better way than any other explanation.

But why would Jews and Romans have joined together to arrest Jesus, when either group was capable of doing so on its own? Again, Paul Winter has the best explanation: the arrest was primarily a Roman affair. Winter, like many scholars, thinks that Jesus was arrested for sedition, for being the self-proclaimed “King of the Jews” in actual or perceived challenge to Caesar’s rule. Sedition was a Roman crime; whatever trial there might be would be a Roman trial, and the punishment (crucifixion) a Roman punishment. In Winter’s words, Jews were involved because “a preliminary investigation was required for which the Romans used local officials, Jews, who by reason of their knowledge of the local conditions and language, were better equipped to carry out any necessary inquiries.” This Jewish collaboration raises all of the uncomfortable questions of motive and intent that collaboration always raises. But it’s probably fair to say that the Romans were interested in arresting Jesus for crimes against Rome (sedition), and that the Jews who cooperated with Rome in this matter were motivated primarily by a desire to cooperate with Rome.

Yes … my conclusion here goes against traditional Christian thought (and not a little bit of scholarship) that imagines “the Jews” (or Jewish leadership) as leading the effort to kill Jesus. In truth, we’re too early into our investigation of Jesus’ death to best describe the nature and extent of Jewish involvement in Jesus’ death. So, let’s confine our focus to the question at hand. Who arrested Jesus? Our best answer, based on the available sources: Jesus was arrested by a combined force of Jews (probably Jewish temple police) and Roman soldiers. But as Jesus was accused of a Roman crime, and the better armed of these two groups were the Romans (the guys with the swords), I think the best view is that Jesus’ arrest was by Rome, with Jewish collaborationist assistance.

Which raises the question: is the Gospel portrayal of Jesus’ arrest by a Jewish ochlos an example of Gospel anti-Judaism? What do you think?

  • I wonder if you have seen this review by Amy-Jill Levine of Torah Praxis after 70 CE: Reading Matthew and Luke-Acts as Jewish Texts by Isaac W. Oliver.

    • No, I hadn’t seen this review. Conclusions: (1) I have to keep a closer eye on that Enoch Seminar site. (2) A.-J. is a rock star. (3) This is timely for me — I need to address the question whether the Gospels CAN be anti-Jewish, given the argument that they ARE Jewish. This is going to be tricky, as the (arguably) two most Jewish Gospels, Matthew and John, are also (arguably) the two most anti-Jewish Gospels.

      • Chaim

        Larry,

        I am not sure that it needs to be tricky. I have certainly read plenty of Jewish polemical writing which could be construed as anti-Jewish out of its context. Some of the worst vitriol that I have read against Jews has been from other Jews!

        • Well, Chaim, I think this is precisely the reason why the question IS tricky! There is a long tradition of Jewish self-critical writing … such as the books of the Jewish prophets, or the sectarian writing found in portions of the Dead Sea Scrolls. There is also a tradition of outsiders using some of these writings in anti-Jewish ways. When it comes to the prophets, we don’t normally think of their writings as anti-Jewish — instead, we distinguish the works from the ways they were used against Jews and Judaism by outsiders. Is this also the right way to understand the New Testament, as Jewish insider self-critical literature that is not itself anti-Jewish, but only became anti-Jewish in (1) its adoption as scripture by the early Christians, and (2) upon the “parting of the ways,” once Christianity had become a separate religion?

          To some extent, the distinction I’m drawing is artificial. But to an extent, this is a central question of Jewish-Christian relations. We Jews have a right to ask our Christian friends to define and understand their Christianity as a Jewish-friendly religion, or at least as not being anti-Jewish. Yet we know that Christians have historically proclaimed anti-Judaism from scripture (see, for example, Matthew 27:25 and John 8:44), and many Jews (myself included) regard these passages as anti-Jewish. What do we do with these passages? Need we do anything? If we’re offended by these passages, should we also be offended by Old Testament passages such as Isaiah 1:4, which refers to Israel as “sinful nation, people laden with iniquity, offspring who do evil, children who deal corruptly, who have forsaken the Lord, who have despised the Holy One of Israel, who are utterly estranged!”

          • Yes – self-criticism is different from vitriol – to consider the way language uses words. But insiders and outsiders are all capable of both. We call the vitriol unprofessional language, name-calling, or ad hominem attacks. We reduce the humanity of another to an adjective.

            OTOH, Self-judgment should lead to self-correction. It’s maybe OK for me to recognize my own stupidity, but if someone else calls me stupid, it may or may not be something I can hear. My self-defense kicks in. On the other hand, I may have no capacity for repentance, no understanding of the lies I have told myself all my life. In these cases, the law decides my guilt based on what I have done and based on evidence (or so we hope, technical process aside for a moment – see Psalm 109:12 where the protagonist prays for no delay in justice). The evidence of Christendom, of white European based colonialism, of oligarchic privilege or crony capitalism, or a self-serving apology may be evident to those who are outside but hidden by the assumptions of responsibility to those who benefit. And judgment does seem to have been delayed…

            With respect to the Scriptural message to Israel – was Israel chosen to illustrate error only? or sin only? And if so – why? Is it because all – everyone – every nation, clan, family, tribe, etc have fallen under the same condemnation whether Jew or gentile? That lesson is quickly lost when one turns to the Holy One like a spinning top – so that one turns away as quickly. There is a severe cost in violence to everyone. Theologically, this is called ‘sin’. It is more convenient to ignore it in one’s personal life, or sear the conscience with a dose of ignorance.

            So – do I regard Matthew 27:25 as anti-Jewish? Not at all. It is high irony. Since, again theologically, that blood is the blood that cleanses from all sin. I as a Christian also must be washed in the blood of the Lamb. There is just no way that the sentence should be interpreted as blood libel. And the prayer of the psalm 51 – verse 16 Hebrew – deliver me from the guilt of shed blood O God, the God of my salvation. This is a prayer that all of us need to have answered. Psalm 58 – washing our footfall in the blood of the wicked – is so awful that the Anglican prayer book of 1959 refused to print it. – yet verse 12 refuses our judgment – surely there is a God judging in the earth.

            The gospel by the way – is fully expressed in the psalms. Christians frequently get it wrong – they are too busy justifying themselves and missing the point of both testaments.

            If the gospels are Jewish documents, then the irony is not lost. The criticism is self-criticism and must not be removed from its context by anyone. No one has the authority to remove it.

            • Bob, if the Gospels ARE Jewish documents, then it’s practically impossible NOT to take the Gospels out of their original context. Whatever the original context, the Gospels are now Christian documents, and I think we cannot expect Christians to regard the Gospels as if they were written for someone else.

              This is a great comment, but it’s going to take a few posts to unpack all of these ideas.

      • I keep Jim Davila (paleojudaica) on my reading list – he catches almost everything.

      • richardrichard2013

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        richardrichard2013 • a few seconds ago
        Why do scholars say that jesus did not predict his arrest and murder?
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  • Stephanie Barbé Hammer

    Thanks. What a scary question. And who could have predicted that John would come up with the more historically “realistic” account? Very interesting.

    • Yes, it IS odd for me to end up relying on John’s Gospel!

  • paul

    So what are your thoughts on why Judas was needed to betray Jesus, since they knew who he was and was out in the public during the day?

    • I will try to address this in a later post. The briefest possible answer is that I regard it as an unresolved question. Bart Ehrman has speculated that Judas provided the authorities with evidence of Jesus’ private teachings needed to convict Jesus. Others have speculated that Jesus may truly have been in hiding, trying to avoid arrest (perhaps as a result of the Temple-cleansing incident), and Judas betrayed Jesus’ hideout. Neither of these ideas fits all that well with the Gospel account that Jesus was well-known to the authorities and was not in hiding, and that Judas did not testify against Jesus at either of Jesus’ public trials. It may well be that the Gospel account, as unlikely as it may seem on the surface, is at least as probable as any alternative explanation we can come up with.

      While I think this question is very interesting, I don’t know how important it was to early Christians or the New Testament writers. More important than the HOW question seems to be THAT Jesus was betrayed by someone close to him, and WHY Judas betrayed Jesus. These two questions go to symbolic and theological questions that seem to be of greater interest to Christians, then and now.

  • Robert

    I think this question is something of a false dichotomy. The sunhedrion was a Roman system of aristocratic government imposed on Jerusalem and it functioned as the local Roman authority. Pilate was seldom in Jerusalem. I would expect any arrest and crucifixion that took place when he was present to have been supported by the local Roman authority of Jewish aristocratic collaborators.

    • I’m not sure what are the two parts of the dichotomy you refer to — Jerusalem and Rome? Clearly, Rome was in charge, and clearly, Rome allowed Jerusalem some amount of limited local autonomy, so long as this autonomy was exercised in a way that pleased Rome. Just as clearly, the line separating local autonomy from Roman overall control was not clearly drawn. Jesus does appear to have been arrested by a mixed force of Roman soldiers and Jewish temple police, which indicates to me that both Rome and Jerusalem were interested in this arrest. As the Romans were the guys with the swords, and as they were led (as we’ll see) by a Roman officer, I think it’s reasonable to assume that they were in charge of the operation.

      • Robert

        The sunedrion *was* the local Roman authority in Jerusalem; it was composed of (Jewish) aristocrats loyal to Rome. Do we know enough details to clearly differentiate between local Roman soldiers and temple police? I think we sometimes assume that the Sanhedrin was originally a purely Jewish body, as it is later understood in the Talmud, and read back into the Jewish scriptures, but it was originally a Roman form of local aristocratic government imposed on Jerusalem by the Romans in place of the previous Jewish monarchy. Josephus describes the five sunedria as originally established by Gabinius at Jerusalem, Gadara, Amathus, Jericho and Sepphoris (Antiquities 14,91). Any messianic or royal claimant was first a threat to the aristocratic sunedria, every bit as much as, if not much more so than, a threat to the immensely powerful and far distant Rome. Rome certainly would not like such a threat, and rebellion would be crushed, of course, but this was a local matter, barely involving Pilate of Caesarea who just happened to be in Jerusalem at the time.

        • Much of what you are raising here needs to be carefully addressed in upcoming posts. But for certain, the Sanhedrin was not the only authority in Judea. As is clear from the Gospel accounts, the high priest had power, and even an ex-high priest like Annas may have exercised power. Luke refers to Herod Antipas, the Roman-appointed King of Galilee, also exercising authority in Jesus’ case. There was Pilate, of course, who ruled from the Judean capital city of Caesarea — only a two day journey from Jerusalem — but who was present in Jerusalem for the Passover, precisely to exercise additional control during this sensitive time of year. Pilate had to answer to the legate of Syria, who in turn answered (I think) to the Emperor. Moreover, there was the Roman army, including the presence in Jerusalem of Roman Centurions, who could be powerful and prestigious in their own right. So to say that the Sanhedrin WAS Roman authority in Jerusalem cannot be true in an exclusive sense.

          I don’t think it’s right to equate the Sanhedrin with Rome in any sense. The Roman occupation of Judea, like its occupation of other parts of the Empire, was based on an uneasy cooperation with local authorities. Those authorities were given a degree of autonomy, so long as they maintained the “peace” and raised taxes for Rome. But the lines of authority were never clearly drawn, and Rome reserved the right to impose its will on Judea as it saw fit. There were frequent incidents where Rome saw fit to take control of the Temple during Passover, and this sometimes resulted in considerable loss of Jewish life. Hence the Jewish authorities must have taken pains to assure their Roman overlords that the Jews had things well under control — particularly during Passover. This is the terrible nature of collaboration.

          You argue that Jesus was executed more as a threat to Jewish than to Roman power. This is certainly the position taken in the Gospels. It is one of my goals here to see if this position is correct. This isn’t going to be an easy thing to do, given that (1) the Jewish authorities were acting in collaboration with Rome, making it as difficult to determine their responsibility as it is to determine the responsibility of any authority collaborating with a more powerful authority, (2) better minds than mine have tried to tackle this problem, yet it is still with us, (3) the accounts we have in the Gospels are far from clear on this point, (4) whatever conclusion I reach, most people will be unhappy with it, and some will be very unhappy with it, (5) the authority of the Gospels is potentially at stake, and (6) this question goes to the very heart of historic Christian anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism, a history that has been unspeakably tragic and that no one should want to see continue.

          You ask if we know enough details to distinguish between Roman soldiers and Temple police. Here, I have consulted Raymond Brown’s work “The Death of the Messiah.” Brown states that John clearly distinguishes between Roman troops “for whom he used technical Roman terminology,” from the people sent by the chief priests and Pharisees (p. 248). Brown reads this distinction to mean that the troops are not Jewish or under Jewish command. I agree.

          • Robert

            I did not say the sunedria were the only Roman authorities in Judea or the Galilee, nor did I equate them to Rome in any sense, exclusive or otherwise, but they were the *local* Roman authorities because Rome had replaced the Jewish/Idumean monarchy with this form of local aristocratic government. Paul Winter, whom you rely on, believed they still had the power of capital punishment at this time and Geza Vermes has discussed crucifixion as also being imposed as a Jewish penalty. Of course, Pilate had greater authority when he was around, but he was not around all that much from what we can tell from our sources, which is primarily Josephus. We do not know how many Roman troops were ordinarily stationed there, but it does not seem to be many as we hear of troops coming from Caesarea and Syria when there are problems. You are mistating my position when you say that I ‘argue that Jesus was executed more as a threat to Jewish than to Roman power’. My whole point is that it is something of a false dichotomy to make much of a distiniction between Jewish and Roman power in Jerusalem at this time. As far as we can see, the Jewish power or authority in Jerusalem at this time was part of and completely loyal to the larger Roman governmental structures. Any roayal claim should not merely be seen as sedition against Rome but also directly opposed to the sunedrian form of government imposed by Rome.

            I am certainly not arguing for the authority of the gospels or, God forbid, any form of Jewish guilt or anti-semitism. If Jesus was arrested and executed unjustly, only those who did so were responsible and presumably they were exercising their authority in a manner that they considered just and responsible. In broad strokes, all of the gospels have some form of Pilate and the local governmental leaders in Jerusalem acting in concert, as does Josephus, if we accept an origianal core behind the current interpolation. Our earliest source, Saul of Tarsus, does not contradict this, though he does explicitly mention local Judean/Jewish authorities in 1 Thessalonians and merely contemporary rulers (plural) in 1 Corinthians. Mark, our earliest gospel source has already started to excuse Pilate, and exaggerated this line of thought, but that does not mean that Saul, writing 20-35 years earlier, invented the role of the local Judean/Jewish authorities. Some scholars, eg, John Knox and Gerd Lüdemann, date 1 Thessalonians to the very early 40s, which removes the primary grounds for speculating about this being an interpolation. I would not rely too heavily on the gospel of John or its vocabulary as a source for historical details. In contrast, you might also look at the author of Matthew’s gospel use of the Latin loan word for the Roman guard that is (put at) at the disposal of the local Roman authorities (‘chief priests and Pharisees’). Based on the highly interpretive and theological character of our gospel sources, I seriously doubt we can or should try to apportion out degrees of blame to specific individuals.

            • Robert, I apologize if I misunderstood your comments. This is work in progress. I don’t know myself exactly where this is heading. My thinking is that anti-Judaism in the Gospels is tied closely to Jewish responsibility for Jesus’ death. I don’t see a way to understand the former without investigating the latter as carefully as possible. At the end of the day, will it turn out that I cannot untangle Roman responsibility from Jewish responsibility? That’s quite likely. Does that mean that there wasn’t “much of a distinction between Jewish and Roman power in Jerusalem at this time”? That’s not how I see it, but let’s hold that question open for further discussion.

              In fact, your last comment makes reference to many issues that require further discussion. Based on what you’ve written here and further reading I’ve done in Raymond Brown, I may want to write a second post on Jesus’ arrest. We will get to Jewish power to execute criminals in a later post or posts, but for the moment please note that Winter’s opinion here appears to be in the minority. As for 1 Thessalonians, I addressed this letter in a series of earlier posts. I acknowledge that the majority of scholars treat 2:14-16 as authentic Paul, and that’s the way I treated this passage in my analysis, as the earliest evidence of New Testament anti-Judaism.

              I very much appreciate the care and intelligence evident in your comments. Please keep them coming! But I need to post a few more pieces before I can give you a more complete response to the matters you’ve raised here.

              • Robert

                Thanks, Larry. I wanted to read your earlier posts about 1 Thessalonians and the Jewish/Judean issue, but rarely have time. I will try to go back to them.
                Anti-Judaism in the gospels is certainly tied to Jesus’ death, but I would not limit it to this. I suspect Saul was as frustrated by the opposition he personally encountered from Jewish/Judean authorities to his preaching as he was reacting to their role in opposition to Jesus or the prophets before him. At least by 1 Corinthians, he has completely calmed down on this point and even exonerates the contemporary rules who crucified Jesus (2,8). I do see Paul, especially Paul, as completely Jewish, though forging a messianic form of Judaism based on his and others’ interpretation of recent events. He is no more critical of the Jews in authority in Jerusalem than God and the prophets were in the Jewish scriptures. Even Josephus will be terribly critical of the those who fought for authority in Jerusalem during the rebellion, abandoning votive offerings from Gentiles and sacrifices for the Emperor, and he also understood the destruction on the temple to God punishing these Jewish leaders. The anti-Judaism in the gospels also has some of this flavor, not just related to the treatment Jesus received, but also the need to explain current catastrophic events in Jerusalem. And then there is also the general Hellenistic anti-Judaism that is found in other contemporary authors that is completely unrelated to Christian polemics.
                That said, I agree fully with the growing consensus about the Jewish character of the gospels and Acts, but with a growing involvement in Hellenistic anti-Judaism focusing upon the treatment of Jesus as a kind of root cause. All of that is, of course, terribly unfortunate and proved catastrophic in later history. Personally, I think both Christianity and Judaism lost out with the growing separation of the two religions in the first couple of centuries, especially Christians which quickly lost a connection with their profound spiritual roots in the Jewish scriptures and intellectual culture. The ‘Old Testament’ was rather quickly misunderstood by Christians and its profundity is only beginning to be recovered by academics of the last century.
                Personally, I bend over backwards to attribute some appropriate value to consensus positions, but I am also not disturbed by minority positions such as Paul Winter’s if they are well argued and plausible on multiple levels. There are good reasons for both Christian and Jewish scholars to accept John’s interpretation of the sunhedrion’s lack of authority for capital punishment. Conservative or non-critical Christians, will want to accept or defend the authority of a gospel author, even a late one such as the gospel of John. And Jewish scholars, from the time of the Talmud on, are rightfully opposed to ‘Christian’ anti-Jewish polemics and may uncritically accept a flaw in the ‘Christian’ argumentation. I will look forward to your refutation of Winter’s postion if you decide to go down that road.

                • Robert

                  Sorry for the typos! No idea what happened to my paragraph divisions either!

  • richardrichard2013

    Why do scholars say that jesus did not predict his arrest and murder?

    • Richard x 2, I did not intend to address that question here. If you want to see a good blog post and subsequent discussion on this question, see here.