The Sanhedrin Trial of Jesus is an event reported by all the Canonical Gospels, in Mark 14:53–65, Matthew 26:57–68, Luke 22:63–71 and John 18:12-24. After the arrest of Jesus, the Canonical Gospels report that Jesus was taken to the Sanhedrin, a legal body composed of the chief Sadduccees, Pharisees, and elders (Kilgallen 255). The precise location and nature of the trial varies between the canonical Gospels, and particularly between the Synoptic Gospels and the Gospel of John.
In the Synoptics, Jesus is taken to the Sanhedrin, with Matthew adding that the Sanhedrin had assembled where Caiaphas was located, possibly implying that the gathering occurred at the home of Caiaphas. At the time in which the narrative is set, this body was an ad hoc gathering, rather than a fixed court (Brown 146), as in the latter Council of Jamnia, and its gathering in Caiaphas' home is historically plausible, though irregular. Daniel J. Harrington argues that being located in a home makes it more likely that this was a small first preliminary hearing and not a full trial. According to Rabbinic Judaism, the Sanhedrin of the Pharisees, probably a different sanhedrin, was led by Gamaliel from approximately the year 9 to 50. This is believed to be the same Gamaliel who appears in Acts 5:34 and Acts 22:3. Shammai may have also played a role.
In the Gospel of John, however, Jesus is first taken to Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was the high priest. The Gospel of John identifies Caiaphas as the high priest at that time. According to John, when Annas questions Jesus about his teachings and followers, Jesus refuses to be co-operative and instead says that he taught nothing in secret, always teaching in public places, and so Annas should just ask the many witnesses to what he said. (While it is true Jesus preached openly, he does instruct those who knew about his claimed Messiahship not to tell anyone who he was in the Gospel of Mark, which some see as emphasizing the presence of secret teachings, and teachings that were taught to only the disciples and not the crowds - see Mark 4:34 for an example.) John adds that a nearby official struck Jesus for this lack of co-operation, though Jesus subsequently answers "If I have done something wrong, say so. But if not, why did you hit me?" (Gospel of John 18:23 (CEV). John states that having this lack of co-operation, Annas sends Jesus to Caiaphas, though John does not mention at all what happens when Jesus meets Caiaphas, instead focusing on the denial by Simon Peter.
According to the Gospels of Mark and of Matthew, the sanhedrin wish to condemn Jesus to death, but they find the lack of evidence against him to be unhelpful. Matthew and Mark state that many false witnesses made statements to the Sanhedrin, including a claim that Jesus had said he would destroy the man-made temple, and replace it with a non man-made one three days later; according to Matthew and Mark the statements did not agree with each other, and hence since multiple witnesses are required by the Deuteronomic Code, the Sanhedrin are unable to condemn him by this.
All the Synoptic Gospels state that Jesus was asked by the Sanhedrin if Jesus was Christ, Son of God, and Jesus responding with confirmation. Due to the nature of the Greek language, though, this could be translated simply as an anointed, a son of God, or as the Christ, the Son of God, with quite different implications. The former of these simply requires that Jesus had been anointed, and that Jesus was a religious leader (a son of God was a common Jewish term simply referring to any person who was particularly religious); since Jesus had been anointed at Bethany, when a woman poured expensive perfumed oils over him, an anointed, a son of God is simply a very naturalistic and fairly worldly statement for Jesus to confirm. This does, however, seem irrelevant to the case at hand and so the translation the Christ, the Son of God has consequently remained the preferred, more logical choice, seeing as how it is on par with the blasphemy charge driven against him by the members of the Sanhedrin.
The Synoptics also state that Jesus added that the Son of Man would be seen sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One, and coming on the clouds of heaven. Many Christians interpret this as a reference to a future second coming of Jesus, though in ancient times the gnostics read it quite differently as referring to enlightenment reaching each individual - that each individual human (son of man) would spiritually escape the earthly realm and rejoin the world of the monad (mighty one). Apparently, though, the Sanhedrin saw this as Jesus once more attributing Messiahship to himself, enraging them. The Synoptics state that these responses were sufficient for the Sanhedrin to be able to legally argue that Jesus was guilty, with Matthew and Mark adding that the high priest rent his clothes and said that Jesus' responses were blasphemy. In Matthew and Mark, the Sanhedrin then angrily beat Jesus, and then blindfold him and challenge him to prophesy who it is that hits him. In Luke this blindfolding, and challenge to prophesy, also occurs, but it is the guards who do this, and it occurs before the question is posed to Jesus by the Sanhedrin.
Both the Synoptics and the Gospel of John state that early in the morning the Sanhedrin reach their conclusion, and bind Jesus, taking him to Pontius Pilate. The Gospel of John treats the Jewish authorities as being responsible for Jesus' death, stating that the Jews brought Jesus to Pilate, that Pilate initially wanted the Jews to judge Jesus by their own laws, but that the Jews object since they want to execute Jesus but don't have the legal authority, according to John 18:31 yet Acts 6:12 records them ordering the stoning of Saint Stephen and also James the Just according to Antiquities of the Jews 20.9.1. The Jesus Seminar's Scholars Version translation notes for John 18:31: "it's illegal for us: The accuracy of this claim is doubtful." However, Dr Donald Guthrie treats the text of John's description of Pilate as reliable, stating Pilate: "recognised no basis for the serious charge brought against Jesus by his accusers." (IVP New Bible Commentary)
Criticism of the Sanhedrin TrialEdit
The following are some of the Mosaic Laws that according to Christians claims were violated by the Sanhedrin in the trial of Christ: bribery (De 16:19; 27:25); conspiracy and the perversion of judgment and justice (Ex 23:1, 2, 6, 7; Le 19:15, 35); bearing false witness, in which matter the judges connived (Ex 20:16); letting a murderer (Barabbas) go, thereby bringing bloodguilt upon themselves and upon the land (Nu 35:31-34; De 19:11-13); mob action, or 'following a crowd to do evil' (Ex 23:2, 3); in crying out for Jesus to be impaled, they were violating the law that prohibited following the statutes of other nations and that also prescribed no torture but that provided that a criminal be stoned or put to death before being hung on a stake (Le 18:3-5; De 21:22); they accepted as king one not of their own nation, but a pagan (Caesar), and rejected the King whom God had chosen (De 17:14, 15); and finally, they were guilty of murder (Ex 20:13).
The Sanhedrin, or any other Jewish court was forbidden to sit at night (Ex 18:24) nor could it meet during a festival, as it was the first night of Passover (Num 28:18). Scholars in the area of biblical criticism take these inconsistencies with Jewish practice to indicate that such a trial most likely did not take place.
The Scholars Version notes for Mark 14:53-72: "...It is difficult to reconcile much of Mark's picture with known Jewish judicial procedures: a secret court session, at night, with trumped-up and contradictory evidence. Jesus' initial refusal to speak is no defense. Finally Jesus' avowal of his messiahship (14:62) provokes the desired verdict."
- There could be no question of anything corresponding to a trial taking place on this occasion before the Sanhedrin. Whatever inquest was made must have occurred during the Thursday night and outside Jerusalem (for on entering the city a prisoner would have had to be given up to the Roman garrison), and can not have been held before a quorum of the seventy-one members of the Sanhedrin. It is more probable that the twenty-three members of the priestly section of the latter, who had most reason to be offended with Jesus' action in cleansing the Temple, met informally after he had been seized, and elicited sufficient to justify them in their own opinion in delivering him over to the Romans as likely to cause trouble by his claims or pretensions to the Messiahship, which, of course, would be regarded by them as rebellion against Rome. Nothing corresponding to a Jewish trial took place, though it was by the action of the priests that Jesus was sent before Pontius Pilate. The Gospels speak in the plural of the high priests who condemned him — a seeming contradiction to Jewish law which might throw doubt upon their historic character. Two, however, are mentioned, Joseph Caiaphas and Annas (Hanan), his father-in-law. Hanan had been deposed from the high-priesthood by Valerius Gratus, but he clearly retained authority and some prerogatives of the high priest, as most of those who succeeded him were relatives of his; and he may well have intervened in a matter touching so nearly the power of the priests. According to the Talmud, Hanan's bazaars were on the Mount of Olives, and probably therefore also his house; this would thus have become the appropriate place for the trial by the Sanhedrin, which indeed just about this time had moved its place of session thither.
- Arrest of Jesus
- Christianity and anti-Semitism
- Judaism and Christianity
- Council of Jamnia
- Brown, Raymond E. An Introduction to the New Testament Doubleday 1997 ISBN 0-385-24767-2
- Brown, Raymond E. et al. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary Prentice Hall 1990 ISBN 0-13-614934-0
- Crossan, Dominic Who Killed Jesus? Exposing the Roots of Anti-Semitism in the Gospel Story of the Death of Jesus, 1995, ISBN 0-06-061480-3
- Kilgallen, John J. A Brief Commentary on the Gospel of Mark Paulist Press 1989 ISBN 0-8091-3059-9
- Miller, Robert J. Editor The Complete Gospels Polebridge Press 1994 ISBN 0-06-065587-9
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