Jesus in Jerusalem: Unarmed but Dangerous? (Part One)

UntitledShana Tova! A happy Jewish New Year to all readers. Here’s hoping your 5775 is a great year.

In my last post, I mentioned that Dale Martin, the Woolsey Professor of Religious Studies at Yale and all-around big deal, has written a recent article for the Journal of the Study of the New Testament titled “Jesus in Jerusalem: Armed And Not Dangerous.” In this article, Martin claims that in Jerusalem during Jesus’ final days on Earth, Jesus’ disciples (most of them, or all of them) were armed with swords. Why would Jesus have brought an armed band to Jerusalem? Martin believes that Jesus “led his followers, armed, to Jerusalem to participate in a heavenly-earthly battle to overthrow the Romans and their high-priestly client rulers of Judea.” Here’s how Martin describes the “battle” he thinks Jesus thought was coming:

Jesus was expecting the inbreaking of apocalyptic events. If he had come to believe that he himself was the Messiah (something I think is possible but not certain), he was expecting an angelic army to break through the sky, engage the Romans and their Jewish clients in battle, overthrow the Jewish leaders and Roman overlords, and establish the kingdom of G-d on earth, all under his own leadership as G-d’s Anointed. If Jesus thought of himself as a prophet and precursor of the Messiah, he would have expected that army to be led by the Messiah. In either case, he would expect that he and his followers would participate in the battle, along with the much more numerous angels, just as some documents from the Dead Sea Scrolls indicate that those Jews thought they would participate in an apocalyptic battle. Jesus expected the event to take place during Passover and to be centered on Jerusalem. He therefore led his band of Galileans to Jerusalem at Passover and had them arm themselves so they could participate in the overthrow of the Jewish ruling class and the Romans.

WHEW! That’s a grand thesis. The thesis speaks to some of the biggest questions we consider here, such as who the historical Jesus really was, and what was Jesus’ stance on violence and nonviolence. But Martin also talks in this article about the issues we’ve been most recently considering here: why was Jesus arrested, and what were the charges against him. Consider what I wrote above: Martin thinks that most or all of Jesus’ disciples were armed with swords in Jerusalem. And for Martin, this fact alone may have decided Jesus’ fate:

If Jesus’ little band of young Galilean men were armed in Jerusalem during Passover, that in itself would have merited, in the eyes of Roman rulers, arrest and execution. A Roman prefect [like Pontius Pilate] needed no more reason for crucifying a Galilean [like Jesus] than discovering him surrounded by a band of armed men in Jerusalem at Passover.

WOW! Another radical claim, which I find all the more surprising, since I’d previously regarded Dr. Martin as a relatively staid and conservative fellow. Martin’s thesis has attracted a bit of attention so far, most of it negative. Prominent Jesus scholar Paula Fredriksen told Newsweek that Martin’s paper has several holes “that you could drive trucks through.” Friend of this blog Simon Joseph says that the problems with Martin’s thesis “are legion.” (Pretty good pun, Simon!) Michael Bird describes Martin’s thesis as “Jesus the Zealot (Again),” comparing Martin’s portrait of Jesus to the widely criticized portrait drawn by Reza Aslan in his book Zealot. (There’s some irony here, as Martin was one of Aslan’s most prominent critics.)

But if you’re tempted to think that Martin has given us yet another crazy portrait of “Jesus the Violent Revolutionary,” I’d advise you to think again. This is Dale Freakin’ Martin, people! If you were to make a list of the ten most important Jesus scholars in American Academia today, Martin would probably be on it. If your list was 20 people long, he’d certainly be on it.  I have to take seriously anything Dr. Martin has to say. This is particularly the case, given that Martin’s thesis flatly contradicts much of what I’ve written here recently.

Since Martin disagrees with me (not by name!) on a number of points, and echoes points made here by a number of my commenters, let’s revisit these points, see what Martin has to say, and then see if I can manage a response against the esteemed holder of the endowed chair at Yale.

POINT 1: The Disciples Moved Through Jerusalem During Jesus’ Last Passover Armed With Swords

Martin thinks that Jesus’ followers – most of them, or all of them, and very possibly Jesus himself – were carrying swords in Jerusalem when Jesus was arrested there. Why does Martin think this? He thinking begins with the Gospel incident we’ve discussed at great length here, where someone (described as a member of Jesus’ party in three of four Gospels, and identified as Peter in John’s Gospel) sliced off the ear of the slave of the Jewish high priest. (Evidently, Martin hasn’t read my argument that this incident never happened!) Taking this incident as “Gospel,” Martin concludes that “[a]t least one of Jesus’ disciples was armed when Jesus was arrested.” Martin then points to the discussion of swords in Luke, where Jesus tells his disciples to arm themselves and assures them that two swords would be sufficient. So far, by my count, we’ve accounted for only two swords. But Martin sees more than two swords in these accounts. He thinks that Luke’s story of the two swords is in all likelihood an invention, intended by Luke to hide the fact that there were more than two disciples carrying swords. Martin thinks that Luke mentioned just two swords in order “to play down the incident [of the ear slicing] and protect Jesus from any suspicion of rebellion.” Martin thinks that if we didn’t have Luke’s Gospel, we’d naturally assume from Mark’s Gospel (14:47) that most or all of Jesus’ disciples were armed.

But Mark doesn’t give us a sword count. Mark’s Gospel only says that as soon as Jesus is arrested, “one of those standing there drew a sword and struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his ear.” Martin reads “one of those” in Mark to mean (or imply) that there were many sword carriers, and that it was “one of those” carrying swords who pulled out his sword and used it to attack the slave of the high priest. But that’s not much of an argument. Absent some nuance in the Greek of Mark 14:47 that I haven’t picked up (and that Martin never mentions), Mark is only talking here about one person, a person who had a sword and used it. There’s no reason to conclude from this that everyone else with Jesus had a sword. Think about it: if I described a crowd in a garden, and told you that “one of them pulled out a liverwurst sandwich,” you wouldn’t necessarily think that everyone else in the garden had a sandwich!

Martin’s next argues that Jesus’ followers must have possessed more than two swords, because the Gospel authors after Mark were “embarrassed” by Mark’s account of the ear-slicing event, and sought to downplay the fact that Jesus’s followers were carrying swords. It’s true that the authors of Matthew, Mark and John all present ear-slicing stories that are somewhat different from that found in Mark. For example, Matthew’s and John’s Gospels each have Jesus rebuke the ear-slicer, while Luke’s Gospel contains the story of Jesus healing the slave’s ear. (There is no rebuke from Jesus or ear-healing in Mark’s Gospel.) But if Matthew, Luke and John were ‘embarrassed” by the ear-slicing, then why do they each add to this embarrassment by identifying the ear-slicer as a follower of Jesus? Mark had told us only that the ear-slicer was “one of those standing there.” But Matthew tells us that the ear-slicer was “one of those with Jesus,” and Luke tells us that the ear-slicer was one of Jesus’ “followers.” John goes further, telling us that the ear-slicer was Peter, one of Jesus’ closest disciples.

Even assuming that Matthew, Luke and John were embarrassed by the account of the ear-slicing in Mark, this is no argument that all of Jesus’ disciples were armed. The Gospel authors might have been embarrassed by the idea that that there was even one sword carried by one of Jesus’ followers. Remember: these authors had described a Jesus who preached the turning of cheeks, the walking of extra miles, the blessing of cursers, and so forth. It’s hard to understand how such a Jesus would have had any disciples carrying any weapons. I don’t see how Martin can argue from embarrassment that Jesus had many disciples carrying many swords.

Let’s be clear. I don’t mean to dismiss Martin’s POINT 1 out of hand. While I don’t think there’s enough evidence to conclude that most or all of Jesus’ disciples were carrying swords, it’s entirely possible that some, most or all of Jesus’ disciples were armed. On The Jesus Blog, Brian Pounds argues that it was common for travelers in the Roman Empire to carry swords to protect themselves against bandits. Even Simon Joseph, of Nonviolent Jesus fame, admits as much. So … Martin may be right here after all. But the next of Martin’s arguments strikes me as more problematic. Namely …

POINT 2: It Was Against Roman Law for Jews to Carry Swords in Jerusalem

Martin argues that merely carrying a sword through Jerusalem, “especially during an important public festival” like Passover, would have been regarded by Roman authorities “as an illegal and potentially revolutionary action.” For support, Martin notes that it was illegal to carry a sword in the Roman pomerium (the area of Rome within its ancient walls) – a ban that was later extended to the entire city of Rome. Martin goes on to argue that carrying swords was also illegal “or strictly contrary to custom” in other cities in the Roman Empire. But the support Martin provides for this argument is odd indeed. For example, he cites the Greek historian Thucydides, who evidently wrote that only “foreigners” carried swords. But Thucydides wrote nearly 500 years before Jesus’ time, before there even was a Roman Empire. Martin also cites Satyrica, a work of fiction written by the Roman author Petronius at a time much closer to Jesus’ own. In Satyrica, a Roman soldier discovers one of the play’s characters carrying a sword, confiscates the sword, and according to Martin, sends the character “packing.” But this is hardly proof that carrying a sword in a Roman-occupied city could warrant arrest and execution.

Martin’s argument on the supposed illegality of carrying a sword in Jerusalem has already attracted considerable criticism. Brian Pounds says that “there is no source stating that it was illegal – much less crucifiable – for an individual or group of individuals to carry weapons in Jerusalem.” Paula Fredriksen doesn’t think that the laws against arms in Rome were in force in Jerusalem, and she also thinks that the “swords” described in the Gospel were really more like “knives.” But for the moment, let’s focus on a more basic question, that of the nature of Roman criminal law. Rome did have a system of criminal law, and we know something about that law functioned in Rome, and how it was applied outside of Rome to Roman citizens. We know less about the treatment of Roman subjects who were not citizens, but from what we do know, it seems unlikely that there was anything like a Roman criminal code or Roman criminal due process applicable to those in Jerusalem who were not Roman citizens. A non-citizen like Jesus probably had no rights whatsoever under Roman criminal law – Jesus may not have even had the right to be judged under whatever passed for Roman criminal law in Jerusalem. Or putting this another way … the applicable Roman criminal law in Jerusalem would have been pretty much whatever Pontius Pilate wanted it to be.

As chief Roman administrator in Judea, Pilate held the imperium, the supreme power of life and death over his subjects. Roman citizens living in Judea had the power to appeal Pilate’s decisions to Rome, but Jesus and his disciples were not Roman citizens. For people like Jesus, Pilate’s word was final. Pilate was not even required to maintain a façade of justice – it was perfectly appropriate for Pilate to crucify an innocent person, so long as Pilate figured the execution would help maintain public order (and so long as the victim was not a Roman citizen). The Jewish philosopher Philo accused Pilate of “repeated executions without trial.” Historian Bart Ehrman argues that if Pilate perceived one of his subjects as a troublemaker, he could crucify that troublemaker with “no need to follow anything that would strike us as due process, at least for the non-Roman citizens” under his rule. Perhaps the best description of Roman criminal law under Pilate comes from beloved author John Dominic Crossan. In his book Who Killed Jesus, Crossan writes:

There would be no need to go very high up the chain of command for a peasant nuisance nobody like Jesus, no need for even a formal interrogation before Caiaphas, let alone a detailed trial before Pilate. In the case of Jesus, there may well have been Arrest and Execution but no Trial whatsoever in between.

On this very point, Martin agrees: “I doubt Pilate would have bothered to conduct a trial of Jesus,” he writes in his new article. “None was necessary.”

So, I don’t think it much mattered whether it was against Roman law to carry swords in Jerusalem. What mattered was what Pilate thought and what Pilate wanted. Pilate could arrest and crucify a sword-carrying Jesus, or for that matter a knife-carrying Jesus, a Jesus who merely talked about swords, or a Jesus who had nothing to do with swords. Of course, Pilate had a strong interest in identifying and crucifying Jewish troublemakers, and perhaps Jesus would have appeared to Pilate to be looking for trouble if he had surrounded himself with sword-carriers. Therefore, while Martin’s reasoning may be off, the conclusion he reaches is on target: “A Roman prefect needed no more reason for crucifying a Galilean than discovering him surrounded by a band of armed men in Jerusalem at Passover.”

Where Martin’s argument gets dicey for me is when we move from what could have gotten Jesus arrested, and ask our $64 question, what did get Jesus arrested?

And for the answer to that question, tune in later this week! But in the meantime, please post what you think so far about Martin’s thesis, and my pushback against his thesis.

  • As always, it’s good to read your clearly articulated reports. I don’t read a lot on NT things these days. I am inclined to consider that Jesus is at least as caring as the character of G-d described in the Psalms. Winning a stand-up battle with angels breaking through from heaven is absurd.

    Who are the angels anyway that they would fight in such a way on some human battleground? Today is the feast of St Michael and all angels. Our services were full of martial hymns many of which could miss the point of such powers and principalities. The fallen angels of Revelation 12:9 are more likely to be troublesome and warlike. “And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.”

    So what are these powers? They are thrones, dominations, principalities, and such – designed to trip, confuse, and disorient – name them oligarchy, and kleptocracy, wealth, self-interest, etc. And Michael, Raphael, and so on ‘up there’ still in heaven (good grief, those heavy clouds), they are the spirits of healing of the hospitals, of teaching in our schools, and of liberation of the oppressed. Neither heaven nor hell is far away as Milton noted… The mind is its own place and can of itself make a hell of heaven, a heaven of hell.

    And you know how considerate and long-suffering the G-d of the Psalms is. This ‘One who teaches us knowledge’ (Kimhi, commentary on the psalms) does not make use of weapons of the flesh except to correct his elect. (Psalm 17:13-15: “Secure me from the wicked, your sword, from men, your hand, [O Lord], from men, from transience, their share in their lives”). Trust in [the Lord, yod, heh, vav, heh] in the Psalms is never merely a matter of winning some skirmish or other. One might counter with the love song of Psalm 45 – “Wear your sword on a thigh O valiant one, your splendour and your honour”. One might think that “the arrows in the heart of the enemies of the king” are literal. But it is a gentleness that is spoken of in the verse that these two enclose. And the NT writers apply this psalm to the son in the letter to the Hebrews 1:8-9. I don’t say this is easy to interpret – but if there is a mind of G-d to follow, it is still not followed through human violence.

    I am reminded of the question from the sons of thunder – shall we call down fire from heaven on our enemies? (Luke 9:54) but the beloved turned and rebuked them: y’all don’t know the character of the spirit that you are of.

    There are others who would counter the violent G-d through the violence of Revelation. But they too have not read and understood the words there in their patterns. The war in heaven is over the worship of the human by the angels. The angels who do not die do not want to bow down and worship the one who is mortal. (See the opening of the argument in Hebrews again). These powers like to propagate their own power – not too hard to prove in the world today. Military might seeks an outlet, wealth seeks more wealth. Oppressive power seeks to protect its interests. Few would trust their power to a woman with child (Rev 12:2) or to the blood of a lamb (12:11). The symbolism of this book is all contained in the events of that first century – the weakness of the human child, the trust in spilt blood, the powers of the force of empire. These first two are how G-d works, the last are of limited use as tools of governance. One might even think that the creators of the lectionary got it right when they paired Psalm 103 with Rev 12 (also Jacob’s ladder and John 1’s allusion). Psalm 103 – the last section vv 19-22 on the powers doing the bidding of G-d – is framed by governance משל.

    This governance in the character of G-d is what we require. Our battle is not with flesh and blood.

    יְֽהוָ֗ה בַּ֭שָּׁמַיִם הֵכִ֣ין כִּסְא֑וֹ וּ֝מַלְכוּת֗וֹ בַּכֹּ֥ל מָשָֽׁלָה׃
    בָּרֲכ֥וּ יְהוָ֗ה מַלְאָ֫כָ֥יו גִּבֹּ֣רֵי כֹ֭חַ עֹשֵׂ֣י דְבָר֑וֹ לִ֝שְׁמֹ֗עַ בְּק֣וֹל דְּבָרֽוֹ׃
    בָּרֲכ֣וּ יְ֭הוָה כָּל־צְבָאָ֑יו מְ֝שָׁרְתָ֗יו עֹשֵׂ֥י רְצוֹנֽוֹ׃
    בָּרֲכ֤וּ יְהוָ֨ה ׀ כָּֽל־מַעֲשָׂ֗יו בְּכָל־מְקֹמ֥וֹת מֶמְשַׁלְתּ֑וֹ בָּרֲכִ֥י נַ֝פְשִׁ֗י אֶת־יְהוָֽה׃

    • Bob, thanks for the nice words about my piece!

      I’ve already written here, I think Jesus (probably like most Jews of his day with an apocalyptic mindset) expected the Kingdom of G-d to arrive violently. It’s just not clear to me like it is for Dr. Martin that Jesus expected to participate in the violence. In fact, I think Jesus’ advice to his followers was to head for the hills (so to speak) until the fighting was over.

      As for where Martin came up with the idea of angels fighting on a human battleground? I’m not sure. He doesn’t exactly tell us, though he does reference the Book of Revelation and the Qumran War Scroll. He also cites two books in his footnotes for accounts “of the range of what might constitute” the “inbreaking of apocalyptic events”: John J. Collins’ “Apocalyptic Imagination: An Introduction to the Jewish Matrix of Christianity” and Christopher Rowland’s “Open Heaven: A Study of Apocaluyptic in Judaism and Early Christianity.” He also mentions Richard Horsley’s “Jesus and the Spiral of Violence: Popular Jewish Resistance in Roman Palestine,” though he also criticizes Horsley. In any event, I haven’t read these books, and I’ll leave it to others to analyze whether Martin’s imagined “inbreaking” of apocalyptic violence is a good one.

      I’m with you in how you imagine G-d, and sympathetic to your understanding of Jesus, but I do believe that the historical Jesus is best understood through an apocalyptic lens. I think there’s something to the old idea, one that goes back at least to Schweitzer, that Jesus lay hold “of the wheel of the world to set it moving on that last revolution which is to bring all ordinary history to a close.” I think that Jesus imagined that he’d play a special role in the Kingdom of G-d once it came into power, AND that he had a role to play in bringing the Kingdom into reality. As the texts portray the coming of the Kingdom as a violent affair, it’s not impossible to believe that Jesus was ready to participate in this violence. So, I read people like Martin with great sympathy. But MY current read of scripture does not indicate that Jesus intended to participate in apocalyptic violence, or that he wanted his disciples to have any part in the violence.

  • Robert

    There are multiple complementary and contradictory presumptions upon which scholars and nonscholars can assert plausible historical reconstructions of Jesus’ life and mission. Nonscholars can be excused for not knowing this. The violence that forms the likely backdrop of the book of Revelation does not seem to have been instigated by members of Jewish messianic movement, ‘though they looked to God to make it right in the end, to wipe away every tear. Christianity does not seem to have become violent until it took over the very same powers of the Roman empire, but that would not come for a couple of centuries.

    • Robert, you’re right, we’re probably never going to establish a portrait of the historical Jesus that everyone is going to accept. Moreover, all we can hope for in an historical account is plausibility, perhaps something more plausible than not, perhaps something more plausible than competing accounts.

      As for violence in the apocalyptic vision … I think you’re right that Jesus and his early followers did not invent the idea that the Kingdom of G-d would come violently, but they DID seem to accept that idea. They did not oppose that idea with a counter-narrative that the Kingdom could instead come miraculously and peacefully. As I’ve argued, I see evidence that Jesus did not welcome this violence and that he wanted his followers to be non-combatants. This in itself may represent the most peace-able possible counter-narrative available to Jesus in his historical context.

      • Robert

        I have already agreed that Jesus used violent imagery regarding the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God, the reversal of injustice of this world, and that is typical of contemporary Jewish apocalyptic, and I agree that there is little evidence that Jesus expected his followers to become military combatants in these events. But going even further away from some of his contemporaries’ violent apocalyptic visions, Jesus also uses some completely nonviolent, agrarian metaphors for the growth of the Kingdom of God, for example, growing from a tiny mustard seed, growing of its own, one knows not how, a shepherd seeking out one lost sheep, etc, images which certainly evoke a nonviolent dimension of how God’s Kingdom becomes manifest in the world, among and within us. And quite contrary to the apocalyptic genre of his time, Jesus does not seem to present any elaborate scheme or timeline whereby one can accurately predict when and how this will occur. The timing will be unexpected. One can only prepare by being always prepared. Some will not know when the battle will occur until after it is already over and the vultures have gathered. His followers pray that the Father’s Kingdom come, but also that they be spared the time of trial. Also, if you read Schweitzer, you will see that his view of Jesus laying hold of the wheel of the world to set it moving on that last revolution to bring all ordinary history to a close is based on a psychologizing reading of Matthew’s ordering of a couple of Markan and Q pericopes that was based on a now abandoned source critical hypothesis that posited a common source older than both Mark and Matthew that Schweitzer considered reliable. The idea has been maintained by a few historians but the scholarly basis for the origin of the idea is no longer tenable.

      • Robert

        “Robert, you’re right, we’re probably never going to establish a portrait of the historical Jesus that everyone is going to accept. Moreover, all we can hope for in an historical account is plausibility, perhaps something more plausible than not, perhaps something more plausible than competing accounts.”
        While true, this is not really what I was driving at. Of course, we will never agree, but one of the primary reasons for why we will never agree is that the various portraits of the historical Jesus(es) are all based on sometimes complementary but often contradictory presuppositions. Among scholars, these presuppositions will (one hopes) be spelled out in methodological principles and working hypotheses. Those who see the gospel of John as independent of the synoptic tradition or gospels will tend to attribute more historicity (older traditions) to common material that appears in the synoptic gospels and John’s gospel. They will necessarily have a relatively minimalist view of the creativity of all of the gospel authors. In my opinion, this is a fundamental mistake of a vast amount of New Testament scholarship. Likewise, those who build upon a different source-critical hypothesis will invariably think that those in my camp invariably minimize the authenticity of a great deal of the gospel materials. To say that one group represents a majority or minority view is sometimes hardly relevant. Very few scholars have engaged some of these source-critical questions in any detail. Those who do rarely change anyone’s minds, but typically ‘scholars’ fall into camps as a matter of historical accident, ie, where they studied, who their doctoral promoter was, how conservative their upbringing was. Rarely will you find an exegete or historical Jesus ‘scholar’ entertaining multiple source-critical options. Most ‘scholars’ think source-critical questions were settled over a century ago, when everyone moved on to form criticism, which once settled, evolved into redaction criticism, literary criticism, rhetorical criticism, etc, yada yada, yada, and now we are ready to authoritatiely takcle Leben Jesu Forschung (historical Jesus studies).
        Even on the rare occasions that ‘scholars’ do engage these questions, frequently it is a transparent attempt to ‘prove’ one view as correct. In Europe this is typically a doctoral student proving their promoter’s view as the only correct one. In the States, there is a slightly higher incidence of doctoral students attempting to prove their promoters wrong.
        While we may hope to demonstrate that our own view is more plausible than not, or, God forbid, more plausible than another person’s view, in reality, those who judge plausibility are completely dependent upon their own methodological presuppositions. The Yankees may beat the Red Sox this year, and even most years, but that will only convince Red Sox fans to hate the Yankees more than ever before, if that is even possible. To put this in a legal context that you may be more familiar with, has Antonin Scalia ever succeeded in convincing Ruth Bader Ginsberg that she is an idiot, or vice versa?
        People may think that studies of the historical Jesus should be of foundational importance, but such are merely the foam upon the waves of much deeper oceans, only the limits of which touch upon opposite shores that never fathom the unknown depths. When reading the work of an exegete or historical Jesus ‘scholar’, ask yourself not what really happened 2,000 years ago, but rather, what are the unquestioned presuppositions, and how would I try to answer the unasked questions.

        • Robert, I don’t know if the above statement of yours is very accurate or very cynical, but skipping past details I don’t know anything about (like the difference between doctoral students in the U.S. and elsewhere), I pretty much agree with this. One area of frustration for me when I started studying this material (and unfortunately, I’m largely self-taught) is that I couldn’t see through the presuppositions to get to the information I wanted. I’m better at this than I used to be, but I’m still not particularly good at this. I’ve also struggled to figure out my own presuppositions, to examine them and re-examine them, to decide which ones I’m willing to admit to and which ones I need to try and overcome.

          Something like this went on internally the other day when I tried to step outside of the dialogue you and I were having to say to myself, what is going on here? The purpose of this site is to get people talking to each other, though for the most part everyone talks to me only, which is a start, but only that. I have a stake in promoting a “Jewish” understanding of a Jewish Jesus and an historical context for Jesus that might reduce the potential for Christian anti-Judaism. I have a lesser stake in promoting the idea that a contemporary Jewish perspective on all this is valuable, though to be blunt, I think that this is already well proven. But in an effort of honest self-criticism, I could see that what I’m doing is not aligned as well as it should be with the goal of this site. Why do I care if Jesus’ followers carried swords? What does that mean to me? Is it “good for the Jews” if the disciples were pacifists? Is it merely a matter of wanting to be right?

          I admit, I find this confusing. If we’re going to do interfaith dialogue, we need things to talk about, and it seems natural to me to talk about the things we have in common and the things that divide us, and Jesus fits both of these bills. Focusing on a scholarly, historical-critical picture of Jesus provides a context (we might hope) to discuss Jesus on an equal footing, regardless of our personal faith/religious background and present-day commitment (or lack thereof). But it may be that all we can really talk about is the baggage we bring to these questions.

          In college, and this was a long time ago, I read Thomas Kuhn about paradigms. It may be that our choice of paradigm determines what we know and what we can know. I think maybe this is what you’re saying, in different words. OK. But paradigms shift, and while there’s something arbitrary in this – we’re just trading one suitcase full of presuppositions for another – it seems that these suitcases have real-world consequences. Moreover, there may be some value not only in trying to figure out the other person’s presuppositions, but in understanding our own, and being able to discuss the choice we’ve made, and even in appreciating the value of presuppositions we have not adopted.

          In her pan of Dale Martin’s article as quoted in Newsweek, Paula Fredriksen said that she appreciated Martin for “working his argument,” as that’s what people who study the history of the Bible do. The inevitable controversy and argument is “fun,” she said. “It’s a contact sport.” I think that’s my goal. For this to be fun, for you, me and others. For this to be contact sport, and for all of us to be enriched by the contact. I think you’re right, that a big part of this is asking the unasked questions … and in good Jewish fashion (!!) perhaps the good questions are more significant than the good answers.

          • Robert

            Thanks, Larry. (I’m beginning to think I sound like Sy Ableman) I am not a cynical person in real life, ‘though I realize my positions may come across that way. Skeptical, yes. But, from the first day that my wife and I met, she has successfully challenged my cynicism. I am intending to point to the positive, fundamental value of focusing on the study of these presuppositional issues. Some scholars (not that many, but some) have done this at a very intense level and, I think, successfully. If more scholars would focus on these issues, I do believe (naively) they would come to greater consensus about some of these methodological presuppositions. But they don’t. It’s hard work. It seems to be destructive of faith, apologetics, ministerial formation. It seems boring, but in reality it is not. It is liberating of the mind and spirit. And, while it may be theoretically possible to come to greater consensus about foundational issues, it will not promote more detailed or specific ‘knowledge’ or consensus about some of the historical issues. It will require us to be more honest about how much we do not and, unfortunately, cannot know. That is not a bad thing. It is a wonderful thing. There is much that we can know to help us frame the questions about that which we do not know.

            • What you said about being honest about what we don’t know: yes. yes.

  • R Vogel

    I think his thesis is interesting but a bit far reaching from my completely irrelevant point of view. I think their possession and potential use of swords could have certainly been part of the narrative, but he seems to be making it central which then seriously gets into the problem of contradicting Jesus’ message. I will be looking forward to reading his broader argument.

    • R, part of what I’m trying to do here is give Martin his due. He is a big deal scholar, and I’m trying to get what he’s trying to say. And what I think he’s saying is that we have to take those swords seriously. I’m probably guilty of an anachronism (and other crimes of thought) by saying this, but the first century sword was the assault rifle of its day. It’s potentially a big deal if Jesus’ disciples were carrying swords, though it’s also something that might be explained away (i.e., they were carrying the swords for self-defense, as perhaps did many others). It’s potentially a much bigger deal if someone in Jesus’ party drew a sword to resist the efforts of law enforcement to arrest Jesus — this would certainly have been a criminal act. And if that follower of Jesus actually USED a sword to separate a member of the arresting party from his ear — well, that’s a big deal for certain. It HAS to be explained.

      The Gospel explanation doesn’t work for me — or really, none of the Gospel explanations are working for me. Not Mark’s “no big deal,” or Matthew’s “it’s OK because Jesus advised against it after the fact,” or John’s “let’s stay focused on what matters, which is Jesus’ arrest.” Luke’s explanation works best — there needed to be some swordplay to fulfill prophecy (even though there isn’t any prophecy that specifically required the use of swords), and Jesus made it all right at the end by healing the wounded slave (though as a Jewish historian, I can’t fall back on miracles to make the implausible plausible). But Luke’s explanation does not work well enough for me.

      So I give Martin credit: at least he sees we have a problem here!

      • R Vogel

        Oh I do take him seriously, which is why I am looking forward to a more complete discussion on his part. He is certainly the expert here. I agree that the swords are serious, even more so if thy were employed as the gospels indicate. But at first blush his argument seems to lack balance between Jesus’ overall message as set out in the Sermon on the Mount, and Jesus as leader of an armed band. I think he has to address this tension. I look forward to see how he might do this.

        • R, do you know whether Martin plans to give us a fuller explanation of this particular thesis? There’s been talk that this article will be a topic of discussion in the next meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, but I haven’t heard that there will be a formal panel or anything like that.

          Agreed 100% about the apparent lack of balance.

          • R Vogel

            I haven’t heard anything yet, but I assume such a provocative topic coupled with the lively response it has generated would warrant further discussion. I think Dr McGrath alluded to this being a potential topic at the upcoming SBL meeting, I guess we’ll have to wait and see,

      • Robert

        Definitely anachronistic to see a *maxaira* as the ‘assault rifle’ of its time. Homer uses this word for the dagger that a warrior might wear next to his sword or for a common domestic knife. It could be any knife, or sometimes one with a specific purpose, eg, one used in ritual sacrific, a surgeon’s scalpel, or a barber’s razor. Such a knife could be easily concealed. It could be a larger knife, short sword, or even a longer sword, perhaps a curved one, but there is no reason to assume that it is a sword in the modern, large sense.

        A couple of very good exegetes even read Mark’s earliest account (as more likely indicating that the weapon was wielded by one of those who came to arrest Jesus, either someone who had second thoughts about the arrest or perhaps the high priest’s servant was wounded by accident. Such a reading (not mine BTW) would work best if one does not assume that Matthew and Luke used Mark independently or that John’s gospel must be understood as independent attestation.

        As you know, I argue that good historical method is not excused from the prior task of first determining the meaning of the story in its original literary context, and this is not done by merely saying that the story doesn’t make sense in Mark’s gospel or that Mark simply didn’t consider it a big deal.

        • Robert, at least I called myself on the anachronism! I’m aware that the word commonly translated as “sword” in Mark 14:47 (μάχαιραν, pronounced “machairan”) isn’t necessarily the large, nasty killing weapon that Roman soldiers carried. But μάχαιραν is the word Matthew uses in 10:34, when he reports Jesus saying that he came not to bring peace, but a “sword.” This passage would take on a very different meaning if we decided that Jesus came to bring a common domestic knife. Ditto if we read the advice in Matthew 26:52 as “he who lives by the razor shall die by the razor,” or Romans 13:4 to read “rulers do not bear the scalpel for no reason.” Context is king.

          Obviously, I’m having a little fun with you here! I’ve previously written ( that the ear of the slave of the high priest was probably sliced off with a knife or small sword. In this post, I acknowledged Paula Fredriksen’s argument about knives and swords. For that matter, you did acknowledge that μάχαιραν can mean “sword.”

          I’m aware that there are a few scholars out there who imagine that the slave of the high priest might have been attacked by a member of his own party. But I don’t think this is anything like a mainstream view, nor do I think this is a good reading of Mark.

          As for my interpretation of Mark … obviously here in these comments, I offered up a summary of what I’ve written earlier. I’ve spent considerable time here in earlier posts on longer explanations. In particular, I’ve explained in detail how I find it hard to understand the Gospel explanation of this incident. But isn’t it obvious that I AM looking for an explanation?

          • Robert

            Maybe I am not remembering this correctly, but I thought in your first post on this pericope, one of your primary reasons for dismissing the historicity of the event was the disjointed and difficult to explain character of the story in Mark’s gospel, the earliest account. So it seemed to me that you were not much interested in finding the meaning of the story from Mark’s perspective. I think it can be explained from both the perspective of a pre-Markan passion narrative or from Mark’s final perspective and therefore need not be assumed to be historical. I do not think that we know very much of the story prior to Mark’s gospel because his account is rather clever and profound and we should not assume that the other gospels or their hypothetical sources offer us multiple independent attestation.

            I want to check to be sure, but if I am remembering correctly, the two Markan exegetes I have in mind are about as mainstream as they come. I will check tonight and let you know. It is not a majority position, but the majority is not very scholarly. Most Christian exegetes would not want to say Matthew, Luke and John were all wrong.

            • Robert

              In their top-tier scholarly commentaries, Joachim Gnilka (II 270), Rudolf Pesch (II 400), and Robert Gundry (890) all take the position that it is more likely not one of the disciples who accidentally wounded the high priest in Mark’s narrative. Raymond Brown (Death of the Messiah, I 266) is also said to have taken this position, but I do not have immediate access to this work. Brown may be speaking of the historical event and not merely of the text of Mark. There are no New Testament scholars more mainstream than these. My position is that the identify of the sword-bearer is probably not of great consequence to Mark. Of likely more importance to Mark’s narrative is perhaps the outrage of Jesus being betrayed and handed over to foreign courts (mosira) and the shameful and symbolic injury to the servant of the high priest who is ultimately responsible for handing Jesus over to trial before Pilate. It may be that a disciple who did not understand God’s plan resisted violently, thus akin to Peter’s objection to the initial passion prediction in 8,22 (Adela Yarbro Collins 868), or the emphasis may merely be upon the portent against the high priest (GWH Lampe, independently).

              • Robert, the view I described as being outside of the mainstream is that “the slave of the high priest might have been attacked by a member of his own party.” I didn’t say that the only mainstream view of Mark is that the attacker was a follower of Jesus. Mark describes the attacker only as someone “standing there,” so it’s possible that the attacker was a bystander. That’s a perfectly reasonable view — in fact, I argued in this post that Mark did not identify the attacker.

                As for Raymond Brown in “Death of the Messiah”: he calls Mark “vague” on this identification, and after considering many views, concludes that the “most likely inference” is that Mark’s attacker was neither a disciple nor a member of the arresting party, but instead a “bystander.” (266-67)

                • Robert

                  Pesch, Gnilka, and Gundry all speak of the injury being inflicted by one of the captors–that is the view I was describing.
                  Thanks for the information on Brown’s position–is he speaking of his own reconstruction of historical events behind the text or is he saying that Mark’s reader would naturally infer that there were other bystanders who were neither disciples nor among the crowd that came with Judas?

                  • Robert, when you wrote “more likely not one of the disciples,” that did not indicate “one of the captors.” Let’s also keep in mind the distinction between a mainstream scholar and a mainstream point of view. This distinction is well-illustrated by Dale Martin’s piece here — simply because Martin is a prominent and widely respected scholar does not mean that we can describe his “armed but not dangerous” view of Jesus as mainstream. This being said, in “Death of the Messiah,” Brown assigns to H.M. Schenke the view that the attacker was a member of Jesus’ arresting party. Brown considers this view and rejects it, saying it is “hard to understand” why the slave would have been intentionally attacked by “one of his companions.” (This is pretty much the same conclusion Dale Martin reaches in his article.)

                    The question you asked in your second paragraph above goes to difficult questions of hermeneutics and historiography, so I may not get the nuance of this answer to your satisfaction … but I think Brown is doing what I might call a “close reading” of the text, and giving us what he thinks is the best reading of the text. Brown never exactly gives his take on “what really happened” in this case. He distrusts John’s report that the ear-slicer was Peter. But his conclusion about how to read Mark is not 100% certain (“in the Marcan account the perpetrator was seemingly not a disciple”), yet he seems to prefer Mark’s account as a historical report to that found in the other three Gospels. He concludes his summary by saying that this incident “may be a puzzling memory from the early tradition,” which might mean that Brown is not sure what really happened. (308)

                    As for how Mark was read by his contemporaries … well, we don’t know, of course. If Matthew and Luke read Mark, then this is some evidence that they read Mark to identify the attacker as a disciple … but it’s not strong evidence, as Matthew and Luke might have decided to change Mark’s story, or they may have been relying here on other oral or written traditions. Brown cites Gerd Theissen’s view that Mark changed the oral tradition to hide the identity of the attacker, in which case it’s possible that Mark’s readers (familiar as they may have been with the oral traditions) came to the text familiar with this story and believing already that the attacker was a disciple. (Note that Brown does not draw out this inference; he merely includes a reference to Theissen as part of his discussion of the meaning of Mark.)

                    • Robert

                      “Robert, when you wrote “more likely not one of the disciples,” that did not indicate “one of the captors.”
                      – It most certainly did mean that. We need not (and probably should not) imagine an unmentioned group of people present that were explicitly neither followers of Jesus nor members of the the crowd that accompanied Judas. And note that I was very explicit: “one of those who came to arrest Jesus”.

                      I also made it very clear that I was describing a view that, while supported by mainstream scholars, is not the majority view.

                      Do not confuse Shenke’s view, at least as represented here third-hand, with that of Pesch, Gnilka and Gundry. For example, Gnilka is explicit about the possibility that the servant of the high priest might be understood as injuring the high priest by accident. See above where I described this position as “or perhaps the high priest’s servant was wounded by accident”. While I also alluded to Shenke’s view, I did not want to name him as he is certainly not one of the mainstream or major commentators on the gospel of Mark. Note that Pesche and Gnilka both have two volume commentaries on the Greek text of Mark. Gundry’s commentary is only one volume but it is around 1000 very dense pages.

                      I understand that you are approaching this text as a well-read nonscholar and I apologize if I sometimes assume too much.

                    • Robert, of course there’s a third possibility that the slave was injured by a bystander who was neither a disciple nor a member of the arresting party. It’s more than a possibility, since this is what Brown thinks the text probably means. I get that you might believe that the text should be read so that there were only Jesus’ followers and the arresting party present at the scene — this is what Martin also believes, but Martin took the time in his relatively short piece to consider (then dismiss) the possibility that the attacker could have been a bystander. So, logically, the third possibility exists.

                      Personally, I think Mark should simply be read as not identifying the attacker, and I agree with you to an extent: I think it’s unlikely that Mark meant to identify the attacker as a bystander. I think the most logical way to read this scene is between opposing forces A and B, and if someone in B’s party is attacked, it’s most logical to assume that the attacker is from force A. I mean, if I told you that X was wounded in battle, you wouldn’t assume I was referring to “friendly fire” unless I so indicated. If Mark meant to convey that there was something like dissent in the ranks of B, I think he would have said so. If Mark meant to convey that there were bystanders present at the scene who rallied to Jesus’ defense but who were not (strictly speaking) his followers, I think he would have said so. But this is mere conjecture, and arguing from silence is dangerous. If all we had was Mark, I think we’d have to conclude that Mark left it to us to guess who attached the slave of the high priest.

                      But let’s take a step back, you and I. Nothing I write here is going to change Jesus scholarship, nor is it likely to be taken very seriously by professional scholars. (I was thrilled when James McGrath cited me in a friendly way, but that doesn’t make me a peer of Dr. McGrath.) I’m here first and foremost to promote interfaith dialogue, and for reasons that aren’t always clear (not even to me!), I think that talking about Jesus is an important part of this dialogue. I can elaborate on this point, but for the moment, let’s just take this as a given. I’m here for the conversation.

                      The conversation we’re having, you and I, does not seem to me to be going well. I appreciate your interest in what I’m doing, and I much appreciate the knowledge and wisdom you bring to this discussion. And I don’t want to discourage you from trying to move the dialogue along. So, let’s restart. You’ve read stuff I haven’t read, and I gather that you’ve also studied this area professionally. I am happy to see people contributing here who know more than I do. I’m not likely to back down from what I see and what I understand — as you can tell from the way I engage Drs. Le Donne, Keith, Joseph et. al. I see a need for someone to take the perspective I try to do, and while it surprises me (and I’ve discussed this with Dr. Le Donne privately, and it surprises him too), there doesn’t seem to be anyone else blogging out there who is trying to engage this material as a Jew and from an attempted perspective of interfaith dialogue. (If someone like Amy-Jill Levine ever started blogging, I’d probably quit doing this here, and instead limit myself to commenting on that site.)

                      So for the time being at least … I am going to do this, regardless of my lack of expertise. But I want to do what I do with a certain humility. I know very well what goes into getting a Ph.D — my wife has one of those, in an unrelated field. I know what it took to get my J.D., and I know the difference between a legal expert and an intelligent amateur interested in legal topics.

                      So … let’s try to do this differently. I’ll work on writing more humbly. This would be good for me in any event. I’ll ask you to write here more like a teacher. While I appreciate the compliment in your assuming “too much,” assume less instead. Tell us what you know, and if you can, please help me move this project forward. Thanks.

                    • Robert

                      “Robert, of course there’s a third possibility that the slave was injured by a bystander who was neither a disciple nor a member of the arresting party. It’s more than a possibility, since this is what Brown thinks the text probably means. I get that you might believe that the text should be read so that there were only Jesus’ followers and the arresting party present at the scene — this is what Martin also believes, but Martin took the time in his relatively short piece to consider (then dismiss) the possibility that the attacker could have been a bystander. So, logically, the third possibility exists.”

                      – Larry, I have never denied the possibility of reading the text in that manner. I can’t comment on Raymond Brown’s interpretation until I’ve read it. I have always had a great deal of respect for him, but I was trainied in a very rigorous historico-critical school of thought that simply does not share some of his methodological presuppositions and working hypotheses.

                      I am very interested in your project and have tried to participate and help move it forward because of my interest in it. Yet I am discouraged by how often it seems like you either explaining things to me or arguing with positions that you assume I am defending. Maybe I am doing a very poor job of making my positions (or lack thereof) clear.

                    • OK. I’ll try to do better going forward.

                    • richardrichard2013


                      if you have time, can you please share your thoughts on neil godfrey’s and dr carrier’s opinions below. both seem to be arguing that pilate was not needed.


                      The Judas Narrative

                      Brown then acts like a fundamentalist (the thing he accuses me of) by saying the Jewish authorities “could have seized [Jesus] in public at any time they wanted, [only] if they wanted to risk a deadly skirmish,” a claim that presumes a literal reading of the Gospels in which Jesus is so famous and beloved that “the public” would have battled any soldiers sent to seize him. That is simply not a plausible assumption (were Jesus that famous and that supported by the masses, we would surely have much more evidence of him, as then the literary elite of the era and region could hardly not have noticed

                      Indeed, if we are to suppose a riot would have ensued at that action, it would have ensued the moment he was crucified…yet somehow, suddenly, the Jewish authorities stop being concerned about deadly skirmishes, when they do something enormously worse than merely arrest him, but actually murder him in a public and humiliating manner, and most offensively, on (or on the dawn of) a high holy day. So we’re supposed to believe riots would ensue at his mere arrest that didn’t ensue at his outrageous public murder? If we’re going to play the game of “read the Gospels literally,” the story just
                      ends up making less sense, not more.

                      If you want a more historically plausible account of how the Jewish elite would have
                      actually handled the Jesus problem, look at how we’re told they planned to
                      handle the Paul problem (Acts 23:12-21). More likely, they would have killed him immediately upon his vandalism of the temple square, which was guarded by six hundred armed soldiers (with thousands more to summon just a javelin’s throw away in Fort
                      Antonia, which housed a whole Roman legion, adjacent to the Temple: Josephus,
                      Jewish War 2.12.1, 4.5.1, 5.238-248; Jewish Antiquities 20.8.6, 20.8.11), who
                      were not afraid to beat down any rebellious public who got in their way (most
                      especially trouble-makers in the Temple). Certainly in the temple they could
                      have arrested him easily, with ample armed support (note that Gentiles were
                      permitted in the Temple area that Jesus vandalized, so Roman legions could
                      police it, as well as the Jewish guards authorized to kill any Gentiles who
                      entered the forbidden areas).

                      Thus, as Acts would have it, Claudius Lysias
                      had no difficulty dispatching hundreds of soldiers and cavalry from within
                      Jerusalem to escort Paul outside the city (Acts 23:22-24), and Paul was able to
                      be arrested even in the middle of a riot. As Josephus relates in Antiquities
                      20.1, the Romans regularly killed political undesirables surrounded by hundreds
                      of fanatical supporters, without wasting time on an arrest or trial. And even
                      Mark seems to imagine the Jews could assemble a large armed force, and indeed
                      arrest Jesus with one (Mk. 14:43, Mt. 26:47; according to John 18:3, they even
                      came with six hundred Roman legionairies, a full cohort).

                      ……………. ……………..

                      Indeed, here it’s interesting that to Fisher,
                      Porter, an accomplished contemporary scholar, is incompetent because he is a
                      fundamentalist, but she is okay relying on the fifty-years-old scholarship of
                      hard-core Lutheran abbots like Jeremias. But no matter. The conclusion he
                      reaches changes nothing, as it indeed only reinforces my point that they cannot
                      possibly have crucified Jesus during the festival if they feared mass violence
                      merely at his arrest. It’s not like he was crucified in private. Contrary to
                      Fisher’s undefended assumption, why would there be no crowds about?

                      Jesus was marched in public from the city court
                      (which was packed with crowds noisily crying out to Pilate to crucify Jesus),
                      through the city streets, right into a mass crucifixion within view of the
                      city…where random pilgrims could be pressed into service (Mk. 15:21) and lots
                      of folk were about to mock Jesus (Mk. 15:29-32), but somehow not a single
                      supporter managed to notice or hear about any of this or tell anyone about it,
                      despite it all going on for over six hours. Maybe Fisher will go fundamentalist
                      herself here and claim the Gospel of John contains the only true account of the
                      crucifixion and that it therefore occurred in a private garden away from the
                      prying eyes of all but an inexplicably selected few, who must have been busy
                      dodging the shadows cast by the tombs John says were there, lest they be ritually
                      defiled. But I can only speculate.

                    • Richard2, I appreciate the effort you put into this comment, and you are raising important points. But it would help me (and I think others here) if you use quotation marks and work titles when you quote works of others.

                      I have not written much here about the thinking of Mythicists like Carrier and Godfrey. I have read a bit of work by Mythicists, and I’m not favorably impressed by what I’ve read. I firmly believe both that Jesus existed and that it’s possible to know at least a little bit about who he was.

                      This being said … I see two issues raised in the material you quoted that I think are worth exploring further. The first is the oft-repeated theme in the New Testament that the Jewish authorities wanted to act against Jesus and his followers, but refrained from doing so out of fear of the Jewish crowd. If this was the case, then the actual timing of when the authorities moved against Jesus (during the height of the Passover season, when the potential for crowd rioting was greatest) is puzzling. The second is the apparent change in how the Jewish crowd regarded Jesus during his final days. What can account for this change of heart? The Gospel explanation might be that “the chief priests stirred up the crowd” (Mark 15:10), but if the high priests held this kind of influence over public opinion, then why fear the crowd in the first place?

                      These are the kinds of questions that historians ask, and should ask. The possible answers are limited only by the powers of our imaginations. Maybe Jesus wasn’t so popular. Maybe Jesus was popular, but the potential for riot was not so high. Maybe there were disturbances in reaction to Jesus’ execution that the Gospels failed to report. Maybe this is one of the many cases in history where something odd happened, and our quest for the plausible Jesus is going to lead us astray.

                      My own take on this, one that’s already attracted some criticism here, is to imagine that Roman and Jewish interests in this affair were distinct and imperfectly aligned. To paraphrase my friend and scholar Chris Keith (see my earlier posts here on his book “Jesus Against the Scribal Elite”), Jesus may have been on the “radar” of the Jewish authorities for quite some time. But personally, I don’t think he was on the “radar” of the Roman rulers of Judea until shortly before his death. Once Rome took an interest in Jesus, the picture changed rapidly, with the Jewish authorities abandoning their earlier stance in an effort to please their Roman masters. I see this as a classic pattern of collaboration. But I have a long way to go in my series on Jesus’ arrest and execution to bring all this out.

                    • richardrichard2013

                      thank you for your reply

  • Chris Eyre

    I’ve been reading your series on this with interest, and thinking about it. I confess that I have prejudices in favour of (1) a nonviolent Jesus (as it seems the general tenor of the gospels supports this) and (2) Jesus not actually being grossly wrong about almost everything (I think he was an apocalyptic prophet, and that the predicted apocalypse occurred in 70 CE).

    That said, what leaps out at me from this story is the absolute absence of any mention of what happened to the sword/knife wielder. In the circumstances described otherwise by any of the gospels, if the knife wielder didn’t leg it out of there with speed (to which Mark 14:50 may just possibly refer), I would expect either that he’d be killed on the spot or that he’d shortly afterwards be occupying a cross. And I think that would have been worthy of mention, and it definitely isn’t.

    Where the account includes a healing miracle, I start being very suspicious as to historicity, given the absence of that in Mark – but I can easily see the other three evangelists liking the opportunity presented by a story of a severed ear.

    I’m left either with non-historicity (your position) or a cut-and-run, I think.

    • Chris, if I skip past your idea that the apocalypse occurred with the fall of the Temple, we’re pretty much eye-to-eye here. Under your influence and that of R Vogel, I’ll concede that flight is possible, but I don’t think it’s highly plausible. (1) Arresting forces tend to anticipate flight, and try to head it off (“give up, we’ve got you surrounded!”). (2) Arresting forces tend to be good at chasing people trying to flee. (3) An effort would have been made to identify the attacker, and search for him – the attacker would have to have both fled and gone into hiding. (4) An attack on the high priest, through the person of his slave, was not likely to be forgotten. (5) Some retribution was likely – if not against the attacker himself, then against his confederates, real or imagined, but the Gospels report no retribution.

      Even if we imagine that flight is plausible, there’s too much about the ear-slicing that remains implausible, including (1) the impossibility of administering such an injury with a sword, and the great difficulty of administering such an injury with a knife, (2) the fact that the account is of only one act of violence, with no retaliation or reported evident concern on the part of the arresting party, and (3) the fact that the attack is not mentioned as evidence against Jesus at his trial – it is seemingly forgotten in the Gospel story immediately upon its occurrence.

      There’s also this: imagine the ear-slicing incident expunged from the Gospels. Does anything change? Would this leave unresolved any previous story in the Gospels, or leave unexplained any subsequent story in the Gospels? Seemingly, you could take a razor to your New Testament and remove this story without leaving a hole. In contrast, the presence of this story in the Gospels creates problems for other stories and Gospel themes, including most significantly (1) the fact that Peter is reported chumming around with the arresting force in Caiaphas’ courtyard just minutes after the attack, and (2) the fact that Jesus preached nonviolence and would certainly have tried to impart to his followers the discipline necessary to respond to the authorities nonviolently.

      There is the possibility that you considered and (I think rightly) rejected, that the ear-slicing is easily explained by factual material not reported in the Gospels (such as the attacker being crucified along with Jesus). I am assuming the historical accuracy of Jesus having been the only member of his group to have been arrested that Passover. In fact, I’m relying heavily on this being historical fact.

      Can all this be explained? Sure. Can it be explained plausibly? I don’t think so. But I think a plausible explanation has to do at least some of the things Martin has done. If this sword attack took place, then I think it was a bigger deal than the Gospels admit.

      • Chris Eyre

        I’m not wedded to the “flight” explanation, but might want to push back a little there. I think I need to work on the assumption that there was no Roman involvement in the arrest, so we aren’t looking at a coherent military body, or even a coherent police body (certainly, Mark’s account doesn’t have the feel of something very organised). In the twilight or dark, in a garden, I think flight is feasible. I think you’re completely right that an attempt would be made to search for the attacker, unless the arresting force were small compared with the number of assembled supporters.

        I completely take your point about the attack on the slave being considered an attack on the high priest. I recall being present in court in front of a Judge (I was prosecuting on that occasion – it was an issue of contravention of noise prevention regulations) when the defendant pulled a knife (actually a very small knife, but he could have cut off an ear with it, I suppose) and threatened everyone generally. The upshot was that I left him having the law of treason explained to him, having threatened a representative of the Queen… (Incidentally I didn’t cover myself in glory – I slid gently below the advocates’ table and hid).

        How, though, do you go about identifying and bringing to book a dimly seen assailant who has fled? Well, one thought which crosses my mind is that the wrath might transfer to the putative leader, who is in custody.

        Granted, there’s absolutely no indication of that in any of the accounts, but I do bear in mind that there’s a very strong probability that all the accounts of trials (various) are reconstructions, and not based on any sympathetic eyewitness, at best on some second or third hand report. They are also accounts which underline the points of view of the evangelists, so I treat this as an area where we may not have any authentic evidence.

        I’m entirely with you in concluding that this incident demands explanation, that it need not have been included in order for the story to flow naturally, and that it raises a strong presumption that we just do not have enough forensic information on which to posit a convincing case for an account of what actually happened. Sure, we can try to fill in the gaps, and with relatively little nay-saying to the various accounts, we might just construct a plausible account, but I don’t rate our chances of it being convincing.

        At the point of writing, I’m inclined to think that it’s more plausible to consider that the arresting force was small (possibly merely tasked with “I want to talk to this guy, bring him to me”) and that therefore there weren’t resources to chase after, or possibly even arrest, a knife-swinging adherent, and that the incident created some additional animus against Jesus which is unreported in accounts of “trial”. However, I think I need to take seriously your suggestion that one or more others were also arrested; if the arresting group was big enough, this seems to me overwhelmingly likely.

        Why, if this were the case, might we not hear about what happened to them? Well, perhaps they were not considered important enough to chronicle (which rules out Peter and any other named disciples). I could suspect that, if others had been arrested and met similar fates to that of Jesus, the evangelists might have omitted that information as detracting from the particularity of Jesus’ death. Then again, they may have been quietly disposed of as being of no account, whereas an example needed to be made of the leader.

        OK, this is all pure speculation, but then, so, to my mind, is Dale Martin’s account!

        • Chris, great story about hiding under the table. I’m hiding there with you, in spirit.

          And yes, about the wrath attaching to Jesus as putative leader … I’m sure that would have happened if there had been swordplay, and I’m reasonably sure it would have carried through to the trial and crucifixion. My not seeing Gospel evidence of this particular wrath is part of the reason why I think the ear-slicing didn’t happen. I think if the ear-slicing had happened, more people would have been arrested, if only to be “interrogated” (a nice word for it) about the identity of the attacker.

          Point taken about the darkness, though I would think that the arresting forces would have been aware of this problem and have taken counter-measures to keep anyone (in particular, Jesus) from fleeing into the night. But let’s make the best case we can for flight. Let’s say that the arresting party approaches the Garden from the west. Let’s also say that they deploy a second force, to cut off Jesus’ possible retreat to the east (I’ll ignore north and south to keep this simple). In my best case, the slave of the high priest is at the back of the arresting party – he’s not armed, he’s there as an observer, so he’s standing near the back of the arresting force. Someone – we don’t know who – recognizes the slave. Our attacker slips off into the darkness (more likely if, as Robert suggests, the attacker was not a known associate of Jesus). The attacker sneaks unnoticed behind the slave, and from behind, cuts off the slave’s ear. Then the attacker (who is behind the arresting party) flees away from the attacking party, TO THE WEST. The slave falls and screams in pain, but the attacking party is slow to react, because this action has taken place behind them, in the opposite direction from where they’ve focused their attention (on Jesus and his disciples). The arresting force hadn’t thought to prevent flight to the west, as Jesus would have had to fight his way through the entire force to escape in that direction. The arresting force facing Jesus would have had to divide AGAIN, into three forces now, to pursue the attacker in numbers. So, they send a few soldiers or Temple police after the fleeing attacker, to no avail.

          Um … that could work.

          Our problem, then, is with the other Gospel accounts. I will assume (mindful that we cannot know) that Matthew and Luke have redacted Mark’s story. A common assumption (it’s in Martin’s article, and elsewhere) is that Matthew and Luke were “embarrassed” by this story and sought to change the story accordingly (Jesus rebukes, Jesus heals). I’ve already addressed the oddity that Matthew and Luke both identify the attacker as an associate of Jesus, which tends to heighten the perceived “embarrassment.” But if the attacker snuck behind the arresting party, sliced and fled, then this makes Matthew’s story almost impossible – Jesus would not have known the identity of the attacker, and would have been rebuking the attacker in absentia. (“When you catch him, tell him he’ll die by the sword!” “He should be so lucky, Jesus.”) Luke is a little more plausible, but it still would be strange for Jesus to protest “No more of this!” in response to an attack by someone he didn’t know (as Robert says, the attacker could have been a member of the arresting party) after the attack was clearly finished (the attacker was fleeing – so … no more of what? Flight?). And of course, John’s Gospel is inconsistent with the flight scenario, as the attacker is identified by John, would likely have been known to all, and showed up at Caiaphas’ doorstep before dawn.

          There remain other elements of implausibility. One being: we should probably assume that the Temple police and/or Roman guard were not terribly popular in Jerusalem during Passover. Would it really have been all that simple to attack one in their rank from behind?

          OK. Flight is a possibility. It’s more possible than I was initially willing to admit. It still seems unlikely to me, and in combination with the many other unlikely elements of this story, give this story an unlikely feel to me.

          • Robert

            “Our attacker slips off into the darkness (more likely if, as Robert suggests, the attacker was not a known associate of Jesus).”
            Recall that is not my own position. I was only pointing out that major exegetes can approach the ambiguities of Mark’s text in such a manner. Pesch, Gnilka & Gundry speak of the wound being inflicted, possibly accidentally or even ironically, by one of the arresting party, and, as you point out, Brown speaks of an uninvolved bystander. My position is that the identity was not terribly important to Mark’s purposes in including the story. I don’t think the story in Mark, much less in the later gospels, can be used to reconstruct historical events and identities in detail. The best we can do, in my opinion, is try to best understand Mark’s purposes in including the story or at least how the story functions within his narrative. Elaborate historical reconstructions more often than not impede that task.

            • Got it. I only wanted to give you credit for reminding us of the position of these scholars.

        • Robert

          “There’s also this: imagine the ear-slicing incident expunged from the Gospels. Does anything change? Would this leave unresolved any previous story in the Gospels, or leave unexplained any subsequent story in the Gospels? Seemingly, you could take a razor to your New Testament and remove this story without leaving a hole.”

          “I’m entirely with you in concluding that this incident demands explanation, that it need not have been included in order for the story to flow naturally …”

          Chris & Larry, let’s forget about reconstructing historical events for a moment; let’s try to understand the story and the slicing element within Mark’s narrative. The story of ‘the handing over’ of Jesus is a very important part of a much larger arc in Mark’s gospel. Note the frequent use of the verb in Mark when it has this sense: 1,14 3,19 9,31 10,33 13,9.11-12 14,10- 15,1.10.15. Jesus’ ministry begins with the handing over of John the Baptizer (1,14) and looks into the future (the evangelist’s present) when Jesus’ disciples themselves will also be handed over to sunedria (13,9). That ‘the handing over’ of Jesus was an important part of the earliest tradition is seen already in Paul’s use of this same verb in this way (1 Cor 11,23). Jesus was the victim of handing over, mosira, by Judas HaMoser (as he is first introduced in the gospel 3,19), and the high priests, elders and scribes, the local sunedrion (15,1.10).

          So what does the ‘ear slicing’ element add to this story? Why would Mark include it? If nothing else, it shows not only that this was indeed a violent event, something that should not have happened, comparable to the point of Jesus’ immediately following statement that he taught openly in the temple, but also that at least one Jewish bystander (disciple or otherwise) justly opposed the handing over of Jesus at this point as would Joseph of Arimathea oppose the idea of letting Jesus’ body remain on the cross. From Jesus’ perspective it must have happened, of course, and it was the fulfillment of prophecy about he himself being struck down by a sword (see the sword of Zecharaiah in Gethsemanee and Mk 14 and Qumran). But that theological perspective does not yet discount the sense of betrayal involved.

          The ‘ear slicing’ may have been seen as the just and righteous response to Jesus being handed over to the foreign courts of the sunedrion and Pilate. The high priest’s servant was an ideal recipient of such a shameful and priest-invalidating wound. The zealous opposition to mosira is praiseworthy. This may account for the tendency to identify the sword bearer not only as a disciple but even Peter.

          From the point of view of Jewish-Christian dialogue, the first followers of Jesus saw themselves as the victims of their fellow Jews/Judean authorities, they too were being handed over to sunedria and synagogue leaders. Jews also would also detest the moser who handed over information, property, or fellow Jews to the Gentile courts. On this Jews and Christians might be able to agree. Please note I am not equating the treatment of the earliest Jewish followers of Jesus by Jewish authorities with the Christian persecution of Jews throughout history. But, when seeking to understand ‘anti-semitism’ in the earliest Christian strata (Paul, Mark), it was felt as a rejection and betrayal by one’s own compatriots.

          • Robert, thanks for this. I think it’s possible to understand the ear-slicing differently than what you’ve described from a narrative standpoint, but I like the approach you’re following here, to look at this story through the big-picture lens of how the Gospels perceive the Jewish role in Jesus’ death. The question of this Jewish role, from both the historic and the narrative perspective, is the reason I’m looking at all this material, so your focus here is particularly appreciated.

            To help us clarify here: the Greek word you are referring to in Mark 1:14 is παραδοθῆναι, pronounced “paradothēnai.” This word is translated differently in different NT translations of 1:14, sometimes “put in prison” or “arrested,” but I gather that a more literal translation would be “delivered up” (or together with the Greek τὸ, “the delivering up”?). Ah! I had not seen this before. This same word “paradothēnai” is used in Luke 24:6-7 to describe what had to happen to Jesus. Yes, I can see the sense of betrayal in the handing over in Mark 13:11. Matthew 17:22, Luke 9:44, Luke 21:12 and Luke 22:48, and the related words παραδιδοὺς, παραδιδόναι, παραδίδοται, παραδιδόντος and παραδιδόντα seem to be commonly translated as “betray” or “betraying” (Matthew 26:24, Luke 22:21, John 6:71, John 12:4, John 13:11 and many other places). Very interesting! Variants of this word seem to be used in contexts in the NT that don’t imply betrayal, such a 1 Corinthians 15:24 (Christ hands over the Kingdom to G-d the Father), Acts 15:26 and 2 Corinthians 4:11 (positive mention of people who have handed over their lives for Jesus) (references to “handing over” in Luke 4:6 are clearly negative, but don’t seem to carry the same sense of betrayal as Mark 1:14 and Luke 24:6-7). I note the exceptions for the record; the rule seems to be that handing over = betrayal.

            I’ll caution again, I don’t read Greek, and I’m working off online dictionaries, translations and concordances.

            Questions for you, as I try to digest this:

            1. The connection between “handing over” and “betrayal” is clear, but I’m not sure how to understand it. You are saying, I think, that this connection is Jewish, but we’re working from the Greek, so isn’t the connection between betrayal and handing over a Greek connection?

            2. You are referring to Judas as “Judas HaMoser,” using the Hebrew for “the informer.” No question: there is a strong traditional Jewish condemnation of the “moser.” But where are you getting this as the Jewish name for Judas? You say that this is how he is introduced in Mark 3:19, but of course he’s not introduced by Mark in Hebrew. Mark 3:19 refers to Judas as Ἰούδαν Ἰσκαριώθ, right? Judas Iscariot?

            Not to put too fine a point on it, but “informing” and “handing over” are not exactly the same things.

            • Robert

              Hi, Larry. This reading is not intended to be the only reading of Mark’s text. There are always alternative ways to read any text. The historico-critical side of me is always (at least) trying to understand ‘Mark’s intended meaning in the historical context of his community, but the post-modern side of me always appreciates the role of ‘the reader’ and different readers in determining meaning. Still, it is always best if the reader understands the languages of the text and traditions behind the text.

              Yes, the word in question is παραδοθῆναι. (By the way, how do you type in Greek on this site?). It very frequently means ‘to betray’, especially in the New Testament because of the betrayal of Jesus, but that is not it’s most fundamental or usual meaning wider Greek literature. Literally, and most often it means ‘to give over’, and the specific meaning is typically determined by the context. When a person is ‘given over’ to someone else, and that someone else has some kind of authority, it is a handing them over to be dealt with by the authority. That can be a personal betrayal, especially if it is done by a trusted friend or disciple, if the authority that receives the one handed over as some kind of criminal, he is understood to be arrested. If the arresting power is particularly violent, as in Herod or Pilate, it can be understood as turning over someone to be most probably executed. Paul and others use it also in the receoption and ‘handing down’ of traditions.

              Thinks of the Rabbis and the traditions that Paul received about the life and death of Jesus whom he never met. In this usage, it is the common translation of the Hebrew MSR. (By the way, how does one type Hebrew on this site?) Think of the MaSoRetes who handed down the traditional reading or vocalization of the TaNaK. This is exactly the same verb that is used for the MaSiRa and MoSer, the act of handing someone over, and the one who hands over. That which is handed over can be information, eg, inforamtion about the temple treasure that will then be taken by the Gentile authorities (think Maccabees), the property of someone else, or the person themselves. So a MoSeR can be understood as an ‘informer’ but that is not quite a literal translation. And when one informs on a fellow Jew to the Gentile authorities, it is typically expected that their fellow Jew will be arrested and frequently executed. Even in modern times, when the Gentile punishment for the crime in question is not subject to capital punishment but prison, a few, very few, very conservative rabbis might say that prison is a dangerous place and one can be killed there and thus MoSiRa is never justified. The overwhelming majority do not follow a strict interpretation of this. But in more ancient times, when captial punishment was much more widespread, one can understand why such an understanding developed. Because a MoSeR put someone’s life in danger, it was permitted to kill the MoSeR without a trial in order to save the person who was about to be informed upon. After the betrayal had already taken place, it was no longer permitted to kill the MoSeR because it was no longer a matter of self-defense or the defense of another’s life. This is where the Din MoSeR and the Din RaDaF coincide, the law or judgement regarding the ‘informer’ and the law/judgement regarding the ‘persuer’. For this reason it would be understood as a righteous deed for the someone to try to prevent Jesus from being handed over. The mysterious sword wielder in our pericope would have been perfectly justified in killing those of the arresting party to prevent Jesus from being handed over to the sunedrion and then to Pilate. If the disciples in Mark’s narrative had been paying attention, they knew that he was being handed over to be killed by the sinful Gentiles.

              The best Hebrew translation of Mk 3,19 would be Judas HaMoser. Not the Iscariot part, but what follows: … and Judas Iscariot (man of the sicari [small sword]?), ‘the one who handed over’ him.

              More recently, Markan exegetes have been coming to better appreciate the Jewish background of the author of Mark and the prior tradition. He may have been the first to translate some of these traditions into Greek. How much was traditional and how much was his own creativity we will never know but it oftentimes helps to think of how these stories would be told in Hebrew or Aramaic. I think that Mark’s Greek speaking community or audience would most likely have had a large component of so-called Jewish Christians, ‘though a better term would be messianic Jews. Not in the modern sense of messianic Jews, but in the original sense of the earliest Jewish followers of Jesus, before anyone thought of giving them the Greek name of ‘Christians’. ‘Mark’ himself may have been Jewish, comparatively well trained in in Greek writing and literature. The Greek background and text of Mark is very important, but the central importance given to the Jewish scriptures and the Temple in Mark is easier to understand on the hypothesis that ‘Mark’ was well versed in the Jewish scriptures, typically the Greek translation of the Septuagint. Recall that ‘Mark’ also transliterates some Aramic words of Jesus, eg, Psalm 22 as Jesus dies on the cross.

              G’mar Hatimah Tovah

              • Have to get ready for Yom Kippur, Thanks for this.

                I “type” Greek and Hebrew here by copy-paste. Sometimes this prints the Hebrew left to right!

              • robrecht

                Just for fun, I checked to see how the 14th c Shem Tov Hebrew version of Matthew renders Mt 10,4 and Mt 26,48 (parallel to Mk 3,19 & 14,44) is rendered and there too MoSeR is used for παραδιδοὺς.
                Excursus: The rabbinical versions of Matthew, of which this is the oldest extant, are thought by a few shcolars (eg, Howard, Tabor) to still carry some elements of an ancient Hebrew version of Matthew that which over time underwent extensive revision to the Koine text type. Howard is appropriately circumspect so as not to contest Markan priority. He merely believes in parallel ancient versions of Greek Matthew and Hebrew Matthew, without saying which one was the literary model for the other. It is not unrealistic to believe that ‘Matthew’ produced both a Greek Matthew (based upon our Greek text of Mark) and (he or one of his associates) a Hebrew version that at times might betray a more primitive or more authentic understanding of the earlier tradition. Josephus also produced Aramaic and Greek versions of his Judean War. There are some elements that seem more primitive than our extant text of Matthew Greek, but this theory (of which I am skeptical) is in no way necessary to my understanding of Mark’s text. I only include this excursus for informational purposes as part of the history of the pre-Internet history of Jewish Christian Intersections.

                • There is a pre-internet history of Jewish-Christian intersections? LOL!

                  This is fascinating. I did not know about these Hebrew versions of Matthew. Even if these texts do not go back to an ancient Hebrew version of Matthew (I, too, am skeptical), it’s still interesting that a medieval translator would render παραδιδοὺς as “moser.” It does say something about how Jews could view Judas’ betrayal.

                  • Robert

                    And how the first followers of Jesus may have seen the Roman sunedria they were brought before in Judea. That is not anti-semitism but rather the expectation of Jewish solidarity.

                    • Robert, we have some disagreement on the Jewish view of the Sanhedrin. I am happy to learn from you on this. It appears from the Gospels that the early Christians remembered the Sanhedrin quite negatively. But I think that the wider Jewish take on the Sanhedrin was pretty positive. The Rabbis appeared to view the Sanhedrin as an esteemed body that pre-existed Roman rule by a considerable extent. Granted, it’s been a while since I looked at this.

                      Even if we limit our consideration here to the early Christians while they were still a Jewish sect, I’m not sure these folks would have viewed the Sanhedrin as “informers.” Collaborators? Yes. Perhaps we should see the “snitch” as a particularly reviled form of collaborator.

                      Are you the same commenter as robrecht?

                    • Robert

                      Yes, I am the same. I think when I log into Disqus, it converts my comments from guest comments to member comments. I had forgotten that I even had a Disqus account.

                      The Talmud presents an anachronistic view of the Great Sanhedrin as a largely religious body led by scholars, eg, the zugot, and then the later descendants of Hillel. This was largely true from the time of Jamnia on, in the generation following the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. When one looks at the earlier Pirke Avot, however, there was the Great Knesset and then the zugot, but no mention of the Sanhedrin. For an earlier and contemporary account of the Roman origin of the five sunedria (Greek plural), see the Jewish priest Josephus. I don’t have the references handy, but I think I have posted them here before. He understood sunedria as as a Roman institution of local aristocratic government to replace (or limit) the Jewish monarchy. It was the local loyal Roman governing body, called together only with the permission of the procurator or governor (or king when Rome recognized one). The leader of the Jerusalem sunedrion (Greek singular, there were five in Roman Judae and Galile), typically the high priest, was appointed by the governor of Syria or (usually) the procurator of Caesarea, sometimes every year, and the sunedrion could only be legally constituted with the approval of the procurator. This Roman form of local government would, by its very nature, be directly opposed to any competing royal or messianic claim of civil authority. Caiaphas was very successful at maintaining his high priestly role throughout the time of Pilate in Caesarea. Even when he was deposed by Vitellius, when he also sent Pilate to Rome, the House of Annas maintained their dominance.

                    • Robert, I would think to date Pirkei Avot to around 200 CE, the date I see most often for when the Mishnah was written. Are you thinking it is an earlier work?

                      We will continue to disagree about the Sanhedrin. I think you’re right that Josephus first uses this word in connection with the 57 BCE decree of the Roman governor of Syria, Gabinius, who divided Judea into five provinces, and placed a sanhedrin at the head of each province. Whether this is the first time this Greek word was used to describe a ruling/judicial council in Judea is another question. But that there was some sort of Judean body like the Sanhedrin prior to 57 BCE seems beyond question. Josephus refers to a senate or council of elders (γερουσία) in place no later than the second and third centuries BCE, It seems likely to me that the Romans seized upon this existing institution to form part of the local government of Judea (under their control, of course).

                      The argument we’re having (and really, this is a nuanced question) is whether this body should be characterized as a “local loyal Roman governing body.” My preference is to see this body as a more or less historic continuation of the council of elders from pre-Roman days, and that its loyalties were split between Rome and Judea. Granted, except for those relatively few years of Hasmonian independence, this council would have been subject to the control of some foreign power. Granted, by 63 BCE the Romans were firmly in charge, and the continuing authority of the Sanhedrin depended on its ability to serve its Roman masters. Doubtless it was also the case that the Sanhedrin (just as any council of elders that may have preceded it) also tended to uphold the interests of the Judean ruling elites. I’m not trying to make out the Sanhedrin as some kind of Continental Congress. I’m saying that their ability to function required them to walk a delicate balance between collaboration with Rome and consideration for the interests and desires of the Jews/Judeans they were supposed to judge and govern.

                      I’m reluctant to cite Philo — just don’t know his work very well. But in something called The Embassy to Gaius, Philo discusses an incident with “shields” that brought Pilate into conflict with Jewish authorities, including “the four sons of the king” and “those magistrates who were among them at the time,” elsewhere describing them as “those who were in power in our nation.” The possibility for such conflict always existed — the interests of the Romans and the Jews who exercised local rule under Roman control could never have been perfectly aligned.

                      So to call the Sanhedrin under Pilate a “loyal Roman governing body” is, I think, a bit off. It’s probably the case that the right way to characterize the Sanhedrin probably changed from time to time. The Sanhedrin that summoned Herod to appear before it in 47 BCE was probably less “loyal” and less “Roman” than the one that remained later, after Herod reportedly killed all of its members! Instead of “Roman” and “loyal,” I’d probably characterize the Sanhedrin as “Jewish” and “collaborationist,” with the understanding that (here as elsewhere) we don’t know as much as we wish we knew, and that the right characterization probably depends on when we look and which incident we care to examine.

                    • robrecht

                      No, I don’t think it was earlier, but it is generally, if not universally, as the oldest part of the Talmud and purports to contain the oldest traditions in the Talmud. The later rabbinic discussions of the Sanhedrin all seem later and not more reliable, certainly not more reliable than Josephus on the sunedria. Being a priest of the 2nd Temple period, writing at that time, I think he is fairly reliable when he is not advancing some of his personal views. In no way do I mean to imply that there was not a council of elders prior to the imposition of the sunedria by Rome. Nor do I imagine that there was never tension with Pilate from members of the Jewish aristocracy. I haven’t read Philo for a few years, but I will take a look. Is your recollection that he presents the sunedria in general or Caiaphas specifically as opposed to Pilate. I don’t recall anything like that, but I will take a look.

                    • Philo simply presents those I mentioned, including “magistrates,” as opposing Pilate. Magistrates may or may not indicate Sanhedrin. He doesn’t say anything about priests, interestingly.

                    • robrecht

                      The term used by Philo (oi en telei) is not any kind of paricular office of government, but, more importantly, their appeal is presented as one of loyalty to the emperor and to Roman law and custom, and Pilate is portrayed as fearing how Rome would regard his own corruption if reported. And indeed Rome supports their supplication. This story supports my view. No doubt, Pilate would have different views with respect to Jewish religious law than the members of the local sunedria–Pilate was not Jewish–I would never deny this. Rome had been considered an ally from the time of the Maccabees, and I have yet to see any evidence that the sunedria at this time were not loyal to Rome.
                      As for the earlier situation between Herod, Hyrcanus, and the sundedria, this illustrates the tension between an aristocratic form of local government and a usurper who is trying to marry his way into the position of a king who is outraged by any exercise of local authority over the king. Rome would sometimes recognize loyal kings and the Herodians had to continually demonstrate their loyalty to Rome. This does not change the fact that the sunedria were implemented by Rome as a Roman form of local government to replace or limit the power of an independent king. Thus, there should be nothing surprising about a sunedrion opposing a novel royal or messianic claimant.

                    • rob, thanks for checking Philo’s Greek (I hadn’t done that). My point was simply that the protest was made by Jewish elites — it could have included members of the Sanhedrin, but it certainly included the “upper class” of Jews in Jerusalem that the Sanhedrin might be said to best represent.

                      Good point about the protest in Philo’s story being made to Rome. But really, where else could the protest have been directed? The decision to “work within the system” may be based more on pragmatic considerations and less on loyalty to Rome or the emperor. I think the key factor here is that these Jewish elites insisted (at some risk to their own well-being — it could have gone badly for these elites if their protest had been turned down) that Rome honor particular, local Jewish concerns and sensitivities. The “loyalty” here, if that’s the right word, was (I think) more to Jewish law than to anything Roman.

                      On your last paragraph … I see your point, and I acknowledge that the role of the Sanhedrin was kind of fluid. It’s likely that the Sanhedrin played little or no role in Judean life during most of Herod’s reign. (So says Lawrence Schiffman in his book “From Text to Tradition.”) The Sanhedrin might have functioned as a check on the power of local kings, or as a cooperative (collaborative) body assisting the administrations of Roman governors, depending on time and circumstance. Let’s continue this discussion in future posts, as I elaborate what I think happened with Jesus’ arrest and trial.

                    • Robert (aka robrecht)

                      My point is not merely that these elites in this particular example worked within the system, but that the sunedria were part of the very system that Rome had imposed.

                      The balancing act that you attribute to collaborators, as somehow significantly different from the interests of Rome, was in fact very similar to the balancing act that Rome itself had been pursing on a larger scale. You feel that the Sanhedrin somehow needed to appease both the potentially rebellious Jewish people and their Roman overlords, but is that not exactly what Rome itself wanted?

                      When the viciousness and idolatry of Herod Archelaus did not succeed, he was replaced by Rome. Likewise, when the viciousness of Pilate became excessive, he too was reined in (Philo) and replaced (Josephus). In contrast to Judas the Galilean, the popular high priest Joazar was already quite willing to cooperate with Cyrinius and Coponius in persuading the Jews to accept direct Roman rule (Antiquities 18,1), how much more so the house of Ananus, when he was appointed high priesthood by Cyrinius (Antiq 18,26). I have never seen any evidence that the sunedrion in Jerusalem during the time of the House of Ananus, especially during the long reign of Caiaphas, was anything but entirely loyal (supportive, submissive, subservient, supplicant whatever comparable word you want to use) to Rome, as one would expect from a local governing body imposed by Rome and its appointed leader. If you have evidence of this, by all means, I’m all ears.

                      The bottom line for me, from a historical point of view, is whether or not we should assume that the interests of the Roman sunedrion in Jerusalem were in any way significantly different from those of Pilate and Rome in their attitude toward Jesus and his fate. There are good reasons to think that their attitude should have been essentially the same.

                      Jesus’ preaching of the kingdom of God might sound very similar to the zealot philosophy of Judas the Galilean, who would not accept Roman taxation or any king over them but God alone. The high priesthood was not well disposed to such rabble rousers. Why should they not oppose yet another royal claimant as much as Pilate and Rome, for they saw their own source of power as the desire by Rome to replace the monarchy with more direct rule through them. That is the
                      view of Josephus, a Jewish priest of the time. I accept his view as very plausible. It also accords well witht the specific view of Josephus about the fate of Jesus (if there is an authentic core), and to the views of Paul and pretty much with Mark and the other gospels, ‘though there is a progressive attempt to excuse Rome, which I would not endorse.
                      OK, I agree to disagree (if you still disagree) and not post any more in this thread.