What Was the Jewish Charge Against Jesus? (part two)

downloadIn my last two posts, I looked at a recent article by Dale Martin arguing that Jesus was arrested and crucified for leading an armed band of disciples into Jerusalem on Passover to join in a heavenly-earthly battle to inaugurate the Kingdom of G-d. After my last post, Professor Martin was interviewed about his article over at The Jesus Blog – I think he makes a better case for his argument in this interview than he did in his article, so the interview is certainly worth a read. I’m still not on board with Prof. Martin, for all the reasons I’ve stated earlier, but I want to emphasize that Martin is one of the smartest people in this room, and I share his focus on the presence of swords in the Gospels. He thinks that Jesus’ disciples were carrying swords for a reason central to his mission; I doubt that they were carrying any weapon like a sword, and I don’t think these swords were ever used. This is a good time to emphasize, both my opinion and Martin’s are minority opinions (at least Martin has the intellectual credentials to go out on a limb – so why am I doing out here on the opposite limb?).

I looked at Martin’s article because it speaks directly to my focus here in recent weeks on the arrest, trial and execution of Jesus. Specifically, I’m interested in the Jewish involvement in what happened to Jesus – did the Apostle Paul have any reason in 1 Thessalonians to write that the Ἰουδαίων (pronounced “Ioudaiōn,” and commonly translated as “Jews”) killed Jesus?  Most recently, I asked what crime Jesus was charged with at his arrest.

Note that I purposely avoided asking why Jesus was arrested – the reasons why a person is arrested may be quite different from the crime named in the indictment against that person. Consider the well-known case against the gangster Al Capone, who was indicted for tax evasion. It’s obvious that the Feds did not go after Capone because he failed to pay taxes on the money he stole. Here, I won’t ask whether Jesus was arrested because the Jewish authorities were jealous of his popularity, or because they saw him as a threat to incite a riot, or because they thought he was a zealous political revolutionary, or (as the New Testament puts it) because Jesus came to Earth “as a ransom for all people.” It’s a complicated matter to determine anyone’s motives, let alone the motives of a Jewish leadership that lived 2,000 years ago and left us with no record of what they were thinking.

The only existing record of Jesus’ arrest and trial is what we find in the Gospel accounts written by Jesus’ supporters, and while these accounts describe (or at least attempt to describe) the inner motivation of Jesus’ prosecutors, I think it’s worth looking for the outward, formal reasons given for Jesus’ arrest. We are, after all, looking at what the Gospels describe as a legal procedure – unlike John the Baptist, the Gospels do not indicate that Jesus was the victim of a political murder. The Gospels indicate that Jesus was arrested, tried and executed in a proceeding under Jewish and Roman law. We shouldn’t be too cynical when it comes to the meaning of the rule of law. Both Roman and Jewish law took procedural requirements seriously. While we’ve already questioned whether Pilate was bound by procedural requirements, scholars recognize that ancient Jewish criminal law contains “strict procedural and substantive requirements.” This does not mean that Jesus received a fair trial before Caiaphas and the Jewish elders, but we might at least learn something from the efforts made by Jesus’ Jewish prosecutors to satisfy these requirements.

However, there’s a problem: the Gospels do not purport to provide us with anything like a complete record of Jesus’ arrest and trial. We don’t have a copy of Jesus’ arrest warrant (if there was a warrant, not that there had to be an arrest warrant) – we don’t even have a statement from the arresting officers saying why Jesus was being arrested. This forces us to look ahead to the trial itself to ascertain the charge against Jesus. But again, the Gospel authors do not provide us with much to go on. We do not know the names of the witnesses, we have no verbatim testimony (except a bit from Jesus), and if the judges reached a reasoned decision, we’re given little more than a hint of what their reasoning might have been.

With so little to go on, I came up with three possible charges against Jesus: (1) he blasphemed, (2) he claimed to be the Messiah, and (3) he threatened to destroy the Temple. But the first two of these charges do not seem to be plausible historically. Two Gospels (Mark and Matthew) indicate that Jesus was convicted for blasphemy, but if Jesus was arrested for blasphemy, then presumably the authorities would have arranged for witnesses to come forward and accuse Jesus of this crime. But the Gospels report no such testimony – in Mark and Matthew, Jesus is convicted for an allegedly blasphemous statement he made at the trial itself.* And as for Jesus’ being arrested for claiming to be the Messiah, this too is unlikely, since claiming to be a Messiah was not a Jewish crime.

(* It’s possible to view as “blasphemous” Jesus’ words and actions against the Temple. I’ll discuss this briefly towards the end of this post.)

We now come to the third possible charge against Jesus, that Jesus was arrested because he advocated the destruction of the Temple. At first blush, this charge does seem historically plausible. For one thing, Jesus may have actually been guilty of this particular crime. In John 2:19, Jesus does say, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Now, it’s not exactly clear what Jesus meant when he said, “Destroy this temple.” John’s Gospel says that Jesus was speaking metaphorically – “he was speaking about the temple of his body.” But even if John was wrong on this point and Jesus was speaking literally, Jesus might have also been speaking hypothetically: Jesus might not have been threatening to destroy the Temple himself. Jesus might instead have been saying that if someone else destroyed the Temple, then Jesus would rebuild it.

But it seems that Jesus’ words were understood literally and not hypothetically by at least some Jews as a threat against the Temple. Jesus was reportedly mocked by passers-by while on the cross: “You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself!”

Moreover, the Gospels tell us that Jesus did more than merely talk about the destruction of the Temple. He took action to “cleanse” the Temple. According to Mark’s Gospel, Jesus “entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. And he was teaching them and saying to them, ‘Is it not written, my house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations? But you have made it a den of robbers.’” The description of this scene in John’s Gospel is even more violent: Jesus “made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.”

The accusation that Jesus sought to destroy the Temple would have been a deadly serious matter. The Temple was the very center of Jewish life, in Jerusalem, in Israel and throughout the world. To destroy the Temple required that it be burned to the ground – indeed, this is how the Romans accomplished the Temple’s destruction, some 40 years after Jesus’ execution. If Jesus truly intended to destroy the Temple, he was threatening armed insurrection, and arson, in a manner that would surely have led to deaths in the thousands. Such a threat, if meant literally and taken seriously, would most certainly have led to Jesus’ arrest and execution.

But there’s the rub: if meant literally and taken seriously. If the Temple authorities thought that Jesus really intended to destroy the Temple, then he should have been arrested then and there, on the Temple mount, before the Last Supper, before Judas’ betrayal. The Temple had a police force. Roman soldiers were stationed nearby. And you have to figure that the money changers had their own security present. The Temple Mount would have been crowded with Passover pilgrims; security forces would have been on high alert. Yet Jesus wasn’t arrested. Mark’s Gospel indicates that Jesus calmly left the scene of the Temple cleansing, without incident. Matthew’s Gospel indicates that Jesus remained at the Temple after the cleansing, to teach and heal the sick, and that Jesus actually had a short debate with the chief priests and scribes before finally leaving the Temple.

To see how improbable these reports appear to be, try to picture this: a young man walks into a major metropolitan bank with his followers. Or if you prefer: the young man walks into an international airport (replete with post-9/11 security), or into the White House. Let’s say that this happens near an important holiday, like Thanksgiving or Christmas, where the scene is unusually crowded. The young man starts overturning tables, scattering money hither and yon, uttering threats and causing the people who work there to flee. What’s going to happen to that young man? Is he going to proceed to teach those remaining in the airport/bank/White House about what comes out of the mouths of infants? Is he going to debate questions of current interest with airport security and White House officials? No. Of course not. He’s going to be immediately arrested, along with all of his followers. His trial will be an open-and-shut affair, with more witnesses than even a zealous prosecutor would know what to do with. The defendant would have no defense, and the idea that he’d been unfairly convicted never would have gotten off the ground.

(Some stories you can’t make up: earlier this year a man was arrested for overturning tables inside Joel Osteen’s megachurch bookstore! And while the irony is heavy here, isn’t this exactly the result we expect when tables are overturned within a commercial establishment? That someone is going to get arrested?)

Here, I’m echoing a point made by many prominent and reputable scholars: from an historical standpoint, the so-called “Temple cleansing” could NOT have happened as it is portrayed in the Gospels. In his landmark book Jesus and Judaism, E.P. Sanders wrote that Jesus’ Temple-cleansing could not have been “substantial enough even to interfere with the daily routine [of the Temple]; for if it had been [Jesus] would surely have been arrested on the spot.” On his blog (subscription required), Bart Ehrman writes that “The reason Jesus wasn’t arrested [in the Temple-cleansing incident] is because it wasn’t a big deal but a very small incident.” Ehrman describes this explanation as “the one that has been most influential among scholars for the past 30 years or so.” The Temple cleansing appears to be a big deal in the Gospels because, according to Ehrman, it was exaggerated by Jesus’ followers after his death.

To understand the Temple cleansing incident, I turn to scholar Paula Fredriksen, who makes the point I’ve repeated here in earlier posts: to understand what happened to Jesus, we have to make sense of the fact that “Jesus’ followers are not rounded up and killed. Only Jesus is killed. That’s one of the few firm facts we have about it.” Add to this that even Jesus is not arrested upon his Temple cleansing. In the Gospel of John, nearly three years pass between when Jesus made his “destroy this temple” utterance and when he was arrested! We should note that many historians doubt the chronology in John, preferring instead the chronology in Matthew, Mark and Luke that Jesus’ Temple cleansing took place at the end of Jesus’ ministry, shortly before his execution. But even if we go with the chronology in Matthew, Mark and Luke, we’re still struck by the fact that three days pass between Jesus’ actions against the Temple and his arrest. Why would the authorities allow Jesus to remain at large in Jerusalem for three days, while the city was overflowing with Jewish Passover pilgrims, if Jesus was taken seriously as a threat against the Temple? If the authorities were worried about Jesus’ supposed threats against the Temple, wouldn’t the authorities have been worried that a delay in arresting Jesus might give Jesus time to act on his threat?

Like me, Fredriksen doubts the historicity of the Temple cleansing reported in the Gospels. But she makes an interesting point in addition. Echoing Sanders, Fredriksen points out that the size of the Temple precinct was enormous: approximately 169,000 square feet, roughly the size of twelve football fields (stands and all). We’re talking about an area that could hold nearly half a million people! Assume for the moment that Jesus did perform some kind of cleansing in this place. Here’s how Fredriksen pictures it:

Imagine Jesus walking over to some of the vendors on the edges of this huge area and overturning their tables. Now ask yourself: How many people would have been able to see him? Those in his retinue and those standing immediately around him. But in the congestion and confusion of the holiday crowd, how many could have seen what was happening, say, twenty feet away? Fifty feet? Shrunk by the size of the Temple’s outer court, muffled by the density of the pilgrim crowds, Jesus’ gesture — had he made it — would simply have been swallowed up. Hermeneutically inaccessible (on the evidence of the evangelists), Jesus’ gesture would have visually inaccessible as well. What, then, on the basis of this gesture, did the priests have to worry about?

Let’s go one step further. We might imagine that Jesus might be arrested by the Jewish authorities merely for saying bad things about the Temple – this in itself might be a form of “blasphemy” against G-d, or G-d’s house, or G-d’s appointed priestly attendants. But as Fredriksen argues, Jesus’ critique of the Temple was rather tame, “compared to how the Pharisees are criticizing the Priests.” After all, Jesus never attacks the priests directly; his comments are directed to the money changers and animal sellers. In contrast, the Jews living in the Dead Sea Scroll community at Qumran referred to the Jerusalem high priest as the “wicked priest” (whether this was a criticism of priests prior to Caiaphas, the priesthood in general or Caiaphas himself is hard to say). As Craig Evans puts it, there is “significant evidence” of Jewish criticism of the way the Temple was being run in Jesus’ day, “some sharp and bitter; and this criticism is widespread and amply attested.” Evans points out that Jewish criticism of Temple operations can be found in the writings of the Jewish historian Josephus, in pseudepigraphical works like 2 Baruch, and later, in the writings that make up the Talmud. It’s hard to explain, then, how Jesus could have been arrested for saying unkind things about the Temple and the way the priests were running the Temple, when so many other Jews who’d said worse were allowed to roam free.

So … where does that leave us? Can we find any Jewish law that the Jewish authorities might have arrested Jesus for breaking?

I think we need to be humble here, and acknowledge both that there’s much we don’t know about Jesus’ final days, and that we can reach no firm conclusion regarding the charge against Jesus at his arrest. I think that most scholars today look to Jesus’ activities at the Temple as a “catalyst” for his arrest, even if these activities did not amount to very much. It’s possible that the Jewish authorities were concerned about the affect Jesus had (or might have) on the Jewish crowds, and whether Jesus might (intentionally or not) spark some sort of disturbance or riot.

Beyond this, I can only say that the facts as we have them, the facts as we’ve examined them, do not add up. The more closely we look at Jewish involvement in Jesus’ arrest, the less clear this involvement seems to be. We’re no longer sure who ordered Jesus’ arrest. While we think there were Jewish Temple police present at Jesus’ arrest, we suspect that Roman troops were also present, and even that these Roman troops might have taken charge. The arrest itself looks odd to us, with Jesus’ compatriots all allowed to go free (at least, none of them were arrested), and with the ear-slicing reported by all four Gospels in serious doubt. Now, we can’t even pinpoint a Jewish charge against Jesus. Something odd is going on here! But let’s keep going. Let’s leave Jesus’ arrest behind, and look at his prosecution. Starting next time.

In the meantime, ask questions! What do you think of the arguments I’ve made so far? Like me, are you starting to think that there’s something strange in the story of Jewish involvement in Jesus’ death? Are there scholarly arguments and opinions that you think we should consider at this point?

  • robrecht

    Hi, Larry. I still don’t understand why you still seem to be insisting that the Roman sunedrion in Jerusalem might only have tried Jesus for violating a specifically Jewish law of Moses. We know from Josephus’ perspective, himself a Jewish priest in Jerusalem, that the Roman sunedria in Jerusalem and elsewhere would be in opposition to any royal claim.

    Jesus’ royal claim in the gospel of Mark is so exalted that it is also considered blasphemous, in other words, his view of himself as the royal Messiah is seen as attributing to himself divine power, he is seated in the presence of God, his coming is most probably seen as part of God’s destruction of the temple in 70 CE (cf Daniel 7 alluded to in Mk 8,38-9,1 13,26 14,62). To historicize this theological vision of Mark is to miss the point of Mark’s narrative. Thus, it is poor historical method to ask if Jesus was tried for claiming to be the messiah or if he was tried for blasphemy or if he was tried for threatening the temple. According to Mark, these are all part of his view of the divine messianic status of Jesus, which he most likely felt was justified, at least in part, by the destruction of the temple in 70 CE. Mark writes his account of Jesus the Messiah’s trial from the perspective of the temple having already been destroyed by God, and which was, lo and behold, already prophesied and symbolically enacted in prophetic gesture by Jesus the Messiah some 40 years
    ago. The Judean authorities did not accept that Jesus was sent by God. Now they have been punished by God.

    If you want to construct a historically plausible Judean scenario, it would be better not to begin from Mark’s later theological vision. You claim that it was not a Jewish crime to claim to be the Messiah, but the Talmud itself claims that the rabbis put Simon bar Kokhba to death on account of his false messianic claim (Bavli Sanhedrin 93b). This is less theological and much more historically plausible than Mark’s account. And yet, most do not necessarily believe it to be historically true, just historically plausible. There are very good reasons to imagine why the Roman sunedrion in Jerusalem, led by the Roman appointed high priest, would have opposed any royal claim or pretense of or about Jesus. Just as the latter rabbis claimed to have done with respect to the false messianic claim of Simon bar Kokhba.

    • Rob, I’m going to address your first sentence first. That may be as far as I get in this reply.

      Keep in mind where this inquiry began: I’m looking for the roots of Christian anti-Judaism (and eventually, also for the roots of what we might call Jewish anti-Christianity). As I think you recognize, these roots go back to how the early Christians saw Jewish involvement in Jesus’ death. But the question of “Jewish involvement in Jesus’ death” turns out to be a difficult area of study. We started with a struggle of what Paul might have meant by “Ioudaiōn.” I concluded that he probably used this word to mean something closer to “Jews” than “Judeans,” though we can’t feel terribly confident in any simple translation. We’re now into a second effort to try and understand what Paul meant when he said that these Jews (or Judeans) “killed” Jesus. My suspicion is that we’ll end up someplace pretty close to your position, that what Paul remembered was a “collaboration” (my word) or a betrayal/handing over/Mosira (your argument from two posts ago).

      But in your first sentence, I run into a problem right away. You refer to “the Roman sunedrion in Jerusalem.” Well … if we conclude that the body that interrogated Jesus after his arrest was Roman … and if we conclude that the folks that turned Jesus over to Pilate were Roman … then our inquiry might end with that conclusion: no “Jews” were involved in Jesus’ execution, but only “Romans.” Of course, that’s not the way Paul saw it, it’s not the way most folks would have seen it then, and it’s not how most folks see it now. The way Paul saw it, I think, is that the Sanhedrin was a Jewish body, and that the high priest (appointed by Rome, and serving at Rome’s pleasure) was a Jewish official. I suspect you’re not arguing the contrary.

      We might conclude that the Jewish Sanhedrin and the Jewish high priest exercised their power for the benefit of Rome, and even that they were controlled by Rome. I think this is a too-simple view of things, but for a too-simple point of view, it DOES have a lot going for it. Even so, I think we describe the reality better if we call the Sanhedrin “Jewish” and not “Roman.”

      Agree? Disagree? You may see this as a small point, and maybe it is, but there’s something about “Roman sunedrion” that seems to set me off on the wrong foot in our discussions. (I DO intend to get to your bigger points about Mark, theological vision, historical method and the like.)

      • robrecht

        “Well … if we conclude that the body that interrogated Jesus after his arrest was Roman … and if we conclude that the folks that turned Jesus over to Pilate were Roman … then our inquiry might end with that conclusion: no “Jews” were involved in Jesus’ execution, but only “Romans.”

        Not at all. No one ever said that Jews were not be members of the Roman sunedria. In fact, we know that Rome intended the Roman sunedria to be composed of local Jewish aristocrats. It was a Roman institution with a Greek name devised to replace (or limit) the Judaen monarchy with an aristocratic form of local Roman government. This is the view of Josephus, a Jewish priest of Jerusalem, who was intimately familiar with the five Roman sunedria of his day.

        • Well, I don’t want to get into an argument about Josephus for the moment. In my view, the fact that the Jerusalem Sanhedrin was made up of prominent Jews and that it performed a function similar to the pre-Roman Judean council of elders gives the Sanhedrin a Jewish character. I think this is how Paul saw it, too, because when he accused the “Jews” of killing Jesus, I think he had the Sanhedrin in mind. We’ll get to this in later posts, but it seems that Jews like Paul expected the Sanhedrin to behave differently than Pilate did, because of its Jewish character. And the argument you’ve made that the Sanhedrin was guilty in Jewish eyes of a MSR betrayal-turning over would require that the Sanhedrin be seen as Jewish in some way (or else it would be Romans turning over a Jew to other Romans).

          Perhaps we’re debating a fine point here … but I am saying something more than that there were Jewish members of the Sanhedrin, or even that all of their members were Jewish. I’m saying that someone like Paul could look at the Sanhedrin, and say that what it did to Jesus was something that the Jews did to Jesus — this notwithstanding the fact that Paul must have understood that the Sanhedrin answered to Rome. To call the Sanhedrin “Roman” is, I think, to confuse this point: that the Sanhedrin potentially had divided loyalties. Even if it always functioned as a loyal lackey of Rome (and I don’t think this was always the case), it remains true that Jews outside of the Sanhedrin expected the Jews inside the Sanhedrin to act with a certain degree of loyalty toward their fellow Jews (i.e., don’t turn them over to Pilate).

          I’m trying to avoid a protracted debate about the nature and history of the Sanhedrin. Maybe I can’t avoid that debate much longer! But the debate will end in considerable uncertainty on both nature and history, and I don’t know how much it will help us understand what I’m trying to look at here. Perhaps you are right and the Sanhedrin was a Roman institution that recruited Jews to serve as its members … in which case the “betrayal” would be that these Jews chose to serve Rome at all. Or perhaps the Sanhedrin was a Jewish institution that collaborated with Rome, in which case the “betrayal” was the collaboration. But if in either case there was “betrayal” of Jews by other Jews, doesn’t that indicate that the institution we’re talking about was not purely Roman? At least, that’s how I see it. I don’t think it’s right to call this body the “Roman” Sanhedrin in Jerusalem.

          If you disagree, then I think we agree to disagree, and I think we’ve both made the points we want to make for the record, such as it is. Let’s move on (later) to the other points you made in your first comment.

          • robrecht

            I do not disagree with the ‘Jewish’ character of the sunedria in general or the Judean character of the sunedrion in Jerusalem, not at all, but I also think you are failing to recognize the Roman character and the social and political function of the institution imposed by Rome and its consequent fundamental opposition to novel royal claims.
            Traditionally, the Jews/Judeans had been allies of Rome for two hundred years at this point.
            Paul’s view is not sociological nor is it saying anything about what all Jews did to Jesus. He is speaking of the opposition of contemporary Judean/Jewish authorities to him and other messianic Jews in Judea.

            • rob, I think I see the Roman and the Jewish character of the Sanhedrin, but I’ll postpone saying more until a post down the road (probably soon) when I look at the Jewish trial scene.

              I see the Jews/Judeans more as a conquered people by 30 CE, and less as a long-time Roman ally. Again, I’m looking to strike a balance here, but I think the balance was shifting at this point away from an alliance.

              As for Paul … I’ve already written what I thought he said and meant in 1 Thessalonians, but I recognize there’s ample room here for other opinions.

              • robrecht

                If you admit to the Roman character of the sunedria, great! My work here is almost done.
                But your reading of 1 Thessalonians is just not possible:
                … τὸν κύριον ἀποκτεινάντων Ἰησοῦν καὶ τοὺς προφήτας …

                The single word ἀποκτεινάντων cannot mean ‘kill’ when applied to one direct object (Jesus) and something else entirely, ie, ‘be disobedient to’, when applied to the the other direct object (the prophets). Paul is not speaking of all Jews here. He is speaking of those in authority in Judea, those who had authority to kill Jesus or the prophets in the past or, in the present day, to persecute the messianic Jews in Judea and to prohibit his own Jewish mission to the Gentiles.

                • Rob, I admit that the character of the Sanhedrin is a mixed bag.

                  I don’t speak Greek and can’t argue the grammar with you. The traditional church interpretation of 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 was that it referred to all Jews. In recent years, it’s common to see the conclusion you’ve reached, that Paul only meant to condemn the Jewish leadership.

                  You were part of a discussion here back in May on this very point, where we had a number of smart voices with different opinions. I agree with you that Paul is probably best interpreted here to mean that the same Jews killed both Jesus and the prophets; more specifically, I think Paul meant that the “Jews” responsible for killing prophets were also responsible for killing Jesus. I agree with you: if we could show that Paul and his readership KNEW that these Jews were the 1% in the leadership, then Paul was not necessarily condemning all Jews (or as I think, all Jews who were not part of his church) in 1 Thessalonians.

                  The difficulty here is that we don’t know who Paul thought was responsible for killing prophets. If we go by Tanakh, the Jews did NOT kill the prophets — from Tanakh, we learn that most prophets died a natural death. Yes, there are references in Tanakh to the idea that Jews killed prophets (1 Kings 18:4, for example). Yes, there were later Jewish traditions — for one, that Isaiah was sawed in half. But there’s no strong indication anywhere I’ve read that first century Jews (let alone the predominantly Gentile audience Paul was writing to) would think that Jewish prophet-killers meant Jewish leadership. I am persuaded (so far) by what I’ve read from a few scholars, that “prophet-killer” is meant metaphorically, to refer to REJECTION of the prophets, and certainly Tanakh portrays the Jewish rejection of prophets as going beyond leadership.

                  The burden here, unfortunately, is on those who would give “Jews” a narrow reading in 1 Thessalonians. I don’t think this burden can be met. But in any event, we discussed this back in May, and smart people here reached different conclusions. I have my opinion, already stated, and I acknowledge that this question is not free from doubt.

                  • robrecht

                    The grammar is not at all difficult. It is the same as in English. If I say ‘the Judeans/Jews who *killed* Jesus and the prophets’. The verb *kills* only occurs once here, with two direct objects. A single use of one word cannot mean two different things at the same time. It cannot mean both ‘the Jews who killed Jesus but who only rejected the prophets’. That would require two different verbs for the two direct objects. If you want to say that the word here only means to metaphorically kill the prophets, then it must also mean here to metaphorically kill Jesus. You cannot have it both ways. Sorry.

                    Secondly, where in the world do you get the idea that the burden of proof is on those who
                    take a more exclusive use of the term Judean/Jewish here?

                    – Did all the Jews cause their own kindred in Judea who believe in Jesus to suffer? Or just those who had some kind of authority to cause suffering to their fellow Jews who believed in Jesus?

                    – Did all the Judeans kill Jesus? No. Just those who exercised some authority in the matter.

                    – Did all the Jews kill the prophets? No, again, presumably just those who possessed some such authority. To claim the contrary, we should expect that such murderers of the prophets were brought to justice. Among all the accounts of martyred prophets, do we have even a hint of such? No.

                    – Did all of the Judeans persecute Paul? Of course not.

                    – Did Paul feel that all Jews were displeasing to God? Including himself and his fellow believers? Including Jesus? Of course not.

                    – Likewise, did Paul think that all Judeans were displeasing to all men? Again, including himself?

                    – Did all Jews forbid Paul to speak to the nations? Of course not. How many Judeans would have any authority whatsoever to forbid Paul to speak to others about something?

                    – Did Paul think that all Judeans had constantly filled up their sins and that the wrath of God had finally come upon all Jews everywhere? No, in fact, he believed that all Israel would be saved.

                    Only (a) very small and specific group(s) of Jews or Judeans could meet any of these criteria,
                    almost all of them a very small fraction of Jews living in Judea at the time of Paul. The common denominator of all seems to be that they exercised some form of Jewish authority in a manner that Paul thought was at odds with God’s plan. If Paul really thought this were true of all Jews everywhere throughout time, how could he possibly believe that all Israel would be saved?

                    Third, I’ve already mentioned to you the Lives of the Prophets, which recounts the martyrdom of not just Isaiah, but also Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Micah, Amos, and Zechariah. Now, you want to claim that perhaps they were martyred by someone else, someone who did not possess authority? Really? Prophets spoke the word of God against kings and priests. Why would anyone seriously expect them to have been killed by anyone other than the authority figures whom they opposed and condemned? For example, Isaiah was killed by Manasseh, the successor of Hezekiah upon the throne of Judah. Ezekiel was killed by the leader of the Israelite exiles, whom Ezekiel rebuked for idolatry. Micah was killed by King Jehoram, who worshiped Baal. Amos was killed by the priest of Bethel. Zechariah was killed by Joash, king of Judah, beside the altar. When Jesus in Q laments over Jerusalem for killing the prophets, do you really think he did not have in mind the Judean authorities in Jerusalem? You think maybe he meant just the ordinary citizens of Jerusalem who possessed no authority, perhaps the poor widow who put her two cents in the temple treasury? The chief priests, scribes, and elders had no difficulty realizing that Jesus told the parable of the killed messengers against them and not against the people.

                    I was not part of the original discussion back in May but joined later and added these comments to you in a later thread, sometime in August. I did read the earlier discussions, but noted not a single refutation of any of these points. And since you never responded to me, I’m not sure who the smart people and scholars are that you mention here are supposed to be. Perhaps you could mention the points of refutation? I do not deny that some people have anti-Semitic interpretations of Paul, but I have never heard any reputable scholar defend your position, let alone claim that it must be given the benefit of the doubt.

    • Rob, you ask why I “still seem to be insisting” that the Sanhedrin “might only have tried Jesus for violating a specifically Jewish law of Moses.” I’ll get the easy part out of the way. “Jewish law of Moses” is not my expression. I think any Jewish law is apropos, whether from Moses or not.

      I’ve tried to be clear, but I’ll try to be more clear. I’m not looking at motive at this point. The motives that drive prosecutors are never easy to discern. I’m assuming that the motives of the Sanhedrin might have been complex, and multi-faceted. Was the motive simply that of punishing any Jewish pretender to royal power? Could be. This seems to be the opinion of Bart Ehrman, for one, that Jesus was executed for saying he was king of the Jews. And perhaps it’s as simple as that: perhaps saying “I am the king” was all it took to get nailed to a cross, and perhaps the Sanhedrin was just as interested as Pilate in executing anyone who said such a thing. I’m not reading you to go this far; by “royal claim,” you may mean a claim coupled with some present or possible future ability to pursue the claim. We then get into the difficult business of trying to figure out whether Jesus might have reasonably been perceived as a threat to the authority of Pilate (I assume this is where your argument leads; I can’t see your argument leading to Jesus being a threat to the authority of Caiaphas, since your argument is that Caiaphas derived his authority from Pilate). My argument is that Jesus should not have been seen as a threat to anybody. Even Reza Aslan thinks that Jesus was a miserable failure as a “zealot.”

      Since I can’t divine motives, I’m doing the lawyer thing and looking at what little we have documenting Jesus’ arrest and trial. Yes, this is what you call an effort to “historicize this theological vision,” and you have a point. I’ve acknowledged, Mark and the other Gospels were not written by court reporters. It may well be the case that Mark ignored all of the legal mumbo-jumbo that someone like me would find interesting, and that the stuff he DID report is “true” in a theological but not a legal or historical sense. If that’s the case, then you’re right, the analysis I’m performing is nonsense, and I could have concluded months ago that Paul’s statement about Jews killing Jesus has no specific basis in historical fact. I could have written instead that Jesus might have been killed by Pilate acting alone, or Caiaphas acting alone, or the Sanhedrin acting alone, or through some collaboration, but who the heck knows, there’s no way to know, so Paul’s blaming of Jews is 100% theological and 0% historical, case closed.

      But if this is the case, why assume that Jesus ran afoul of the authorities for making a royal claim? That’s just as much a part of Mark’s theological vision as anything I’m looking at.

      You suggest that we need look earlier than “Mark’s later theological vision” to construct a historically plausible Judean scenario. But the only material we have about Jesus that predates Mark is from Paul, or perhaps Q, and these materials are theologically loaded, too. In your last post, you put up the Talmud as more historically plausible than Mark, and even if I agreed with you (do you mean in general, or when it comes to the life of Jesus?), the Talmud post-dates Mark, and the claim that the rabbis put Bar Kochba to death for claiming to be the Messiah does not prove that this is what happened to Jesus.

      I’ll pause to get some sleep and let you respond.

      • robrecht

        I am saying nothing at all about motives. What I have said previously is that I presume that those who executed Jesus acted in good faith and presumably believed that they were exercising their authority properly for good purposes. This is not about motives but sociological and political function.
        I think a novel royal claim *and something of a following*, especially with a message that could perceived as essentially comparable to that of Judas the Galilean, also opposed by the Judean priesthood, were sufficient to assure the opposition of the sunedrion, which, in the view of Josephus, was put in place by Rome to replace the monarchy with a local aristocracy.
        The sunedria would not merely see Jesus’ royal claim and message as a threat to the authority of Pilate, but to their whole purpose and authority, namely to replace the monarchy with an aristocracy.

      • robrecht

        Oops, posted the above before I had finished. (I do not like this Discus interface.) It sometimes seems to erase paragraph divisions.

      • robrecht

        Caiaphas’ authority was not merely dependent upon Pilate. The office of high priest could be delegated by Pilate, but also by someone further up the Roman authority structure, eg, the governor/president of Syria. It also had ultimate sacral power and sometimes royal power that was not necessarily part of the Roman governmental structure.

      • robrecht

        Paul’s view is theological, but not extreme Christology, as is found in Mark. For Paul, it is an expression of his theological disagreement with Judean authorities who oppose the churches in Judea and his own sense of ministry to the Gentiles, an opposition that he compares to the opposition that the Thessalonians were experiencing from their own compatriots. It is secondarily ‘christological’, but a very low christology, in that he compares the killing of Jesus by the Judean authorities with their traditional role in the killing of the prophets. Paul’s view is rightly given greater historical value in that it is 25-35 years earlier.
        Your reading of Thessalonians is impossible for grammatical reasons, as I pointed out previously, but I am not sure if you accepted that point.
        The Talmud’s view of the rabbis’ killing of Simon bar Kokhba is also based on a very low traditional ‘christology’, namely the judgment that Simon was a false Messiah. I only bring it up to try and illustrate what is plausible in a traditional Jewish understanding of what was said to have happened with another novel royal and messianic claim that was judged as false. It certainly does not dictate what supposedly happened to Jesus. But neither does the much later codification of Jewish law by Maimonides that you referenced.

        • robrecht

          See also: “Jewish law of Moses” is not my expression. I think any Jewish law is apropos, whether from Moses or not.”

          … and your source: “That he claimed to be the Messiah … could not have been the Jewish charge, for according to Jewish law a claim of Messiah was not a criminal offense … There is no evidence that Bar Kokhba’s claim was considered blameworthy by any of his contemporaries …”

          I don’t mean to make too much of the expression ‘Law of Moses,’ or Maimonides for that matter (cf your JSTOR reference), but I fail to see why the sunedria, a Roman institution, would supposedly only be tasked with deliberation on matters of “Jewish law”? I do not see a basis for this dichotomy. Do you think that the administration of civil authority was entirely done by Roman soldiers or that all cases were sent to Caesarea or were delayed until Pilate visited Jerusalem?

          • Rob, we have a lot of loose threads here we’re both chasing down, from Paul to Bar Kochba. I think for the moment I’ll just focus on a couple of threads that seem most germane to our conversation.

            Let’s talk about this business of Roman law and Jewish law.

            I think that there are two ways I view the question of “Roman law” in Jerusalem and Judea. First, it was whatever Pilate said it was or wanted it to be (subject to the power of the Roman governor in Syria or the Roman emperor to recall or replace Pilate). Second, it was whatever it took to maintain the peace and keep tax revenue flowing out of Jerusalem and into Rome. I’m not picturing that there was much in the way of a Roman criminal code or concept of “justice” that was applicable here.

            Jewish law was a somewhat different matter. Not that we can read the Talmud back two hundred plus years into the life of Judea, but the experts seem to acknowledge that the Jews had a well-developed system of law in place before the Romans arrived, and I think that system was more-or-less intact during Pilate’s reign. I don’t doubt that the influence of the law waxed and waned (I doubt it held firm against the tyranny of Herod the Great, for example), and I’m sure then (just as now) there were cases of corruption or expediency when procedural or substantive requirements were bent or ignored altogether. But the Jewish law was there, in some form, and I think it covered most of the situations that came up in Judea in a way that was perfectly satisfactory to the Roman overlords of the land. Remember, the Romans were primarily interested in peace and taxes, and they should have been perfectly happy most of the time with a Jewish peace kept in a Jewish way. Remember, for most of the years of Jesus’ life, things in Judea and even the Galilee were relatively peaceful. The turmoil around Herod’s death had come to an end in Jesus’ childhood, and the Zealot uprising was well into the future.

            But I think it’s clear that there were tensions between Herod/Rome and the Jewish aristocracy/priesthood that ran things in Judea on a day-to-day basis. I doubt that Rome ever fully trusted the Jews to run things to the satisfaction of Rome. The Jewish desire for freedom was too strong and too well known. The Jewish aristocracy was Hellenized to an extent, but I don’t think they were ever seen as “Roman” or even “Greek” by Pilate and Rome. The Jewish ruling class could not be completely trusted, and this lack of trust was made clear by their Passover holiday, an eight-day mass pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate liberation from a prior world empire. Surely the Romans figured out that the Jews saw them as a passing phase; eventually this empire, too, would pass … and if/when it did, who did the Romans figure would look to seize control? Those very aristocrats they “trusted” to run the country for them!

            So … I figure that Rome/Pilate always sought to bring a little extra pressure on those Jewish aristocrats, to “prove” their loyalty to Rome, even at the cost of sticking it to their fellow Jews every now and again in ways that might have seemed like a betrayal. And those Jewish aristocrats had every interest in appearing that they WERE in control of matters in Judea, that the Romans need not worry about having to step in themselves to maintain order … because when Rome DID step in (as it did during the occasional Passover riot in Jerusalem), thousands of Jews would die … and life (not to mention business) in Jerusalem would suffer.

            I am still trying to work out exactly what happened, but I think Jesus fell victim to this Roman pressure and Jewish aristocratic need to prove that they could be trusted by Rome. I call this “collaboration,” but I won’t object to other words for it.

            • robrecht

              “The Jewish aristocracy was Hellenized to an extent, but I don’t think they were ever seen as “Roman” or even “Greek” by Pilate and Rome.”

              This is not what I have been saying. My point is that the sunedrion was a Roman institution, a form of local government imposed by Rome as a replacement for the monarchy. This was a contemporary Jewish priestly view of the role of the sunedria. As such, they would be necessarily opposed to any novel royal claim as in direct opposition to their own role, purpose, and authority as sanctioned by Rome.

            • robrecht

              “I think that there are two ways I view the question of “Roman law” in Jerusalem and Judea. … Second, it was whatever it took to … keep tax revenue flowing out of Jerusalem and into Rome.”
              The collection of taxes is indeed one of the roles sometimes attributed to the sunedria by scholars. The priests in Jerusalem were already ideally situated to perform this role for Rome because of their traditional role as the recipient of tithes.