The Trial of Jesus

In Danish we have an expresssion "to be sent from Herod to Pilate", but there are probably not many people, who remember, when they use the term, that it originates in the New Testament's description of the trial against Jesus, more specifically from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 23, verse 7 - 12. More on that later. I don't know if a similar expression exists in English for the phenomenon of being sent back and forth between different authorities.

In modern teminology this may have been State vs Jesus of Nazareth or The Roman Occupational Forces vs Jesus, the Jew, but normally we just call it The Trial of Jesus. This trial is probably one of the most debated trials in world history, despite the fact that we know virtually nothing about it. Some scholars believe that the trial may never have taken place, or at least not as described in the gospels, others believe that it took place, but that it was "invalid" and that Jesus should have been released, and still others have completely different explanations. The Gospels - as usual - do not agree on what was going on, and the only thing we know today with any kind of certainty is that Jesus was sentenced to death by crucifixion. I will here disregard the fact that no one today can explain where the Gospels - at least the synoptic ones - got their knowledge from, since none of them participated in the trial or were interrogated by either priests or Pilate. And those who were present would hardly have been interested in telling about it later. All this of cause, is based on the condition, as mentioned in previous articles on this page, that Jesus actually was a historic person. But let me once again start by looking at what the gospels tell. All the Gospels agree that Jesus was arrested one evening in a garden. I have already (in the article The Last Supper and the arrest of Jesus) told about these events, so I will just continue with what happened next.

According to Mark, after his capture, Jesus was taken to the high priest. "They took Jesus to the high priest, and all the chief priests, the elders and the teachers of the law came together." (Mark. 14.53). The high priests, and the Council tried to find witnesses to the crimes that Jesus allegedly committed, and apparently they succeeded. Unfortunately for the accusers, false testimonies were given that were in conflict with each other and therefore Jesus could not be sentenced to death. Then the high priest asked Jesus himself if he had anything to answer to what was testified against him, which he didn't have. The question may seem a little strange, since the witnesses did not agree, so what did they really expect Jesus to answer? Only when the high priest asked if he was the Christ did Jesus answer "“I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven." (Mark. 14.62). Now the high priest found that Jesus himself had confessed, and therefore a unanimous Council sentenced him to death. What he was actually sentenced for is not clear, since it is not mentioned in the gospel, and it was not forbidden under Jewish law to call himself neither the Messiah (Hebrew for "the anointed," as Christ is in Greek), nor the Son of Man - or even Son of God as all Jewish men were considered to be sons of God.

In the morning, when the Council had convicted Jesus, he was led to Pilate. Pilate asked him if he was "the king of the Jews", to which Jesus replied "You have said so.” (Mark. 15.2). This question does not seem to be related to any possible accusation of blasphemy. The high priests again accused Jesus, and Pilate wondered why he would not defend himself. Then follows a description of the episode, with Barabbas, which I will get back to below. Now it was suddenly the "crowd" that, at the request of the high priests, demanded that Jesus be sentenced to death. Pilate wanted to please the crowd and therefore condemned Jesus to death. So much for Mark for now.

Christ before Caiaphas, Mattias Storm, c. 1633, Milwaukee Art Museum

Matthew follows almost the same template as Mark. However, he explains that the scribes and elders were gathered in the high priest Caiaphas' home, where Jesus was led.: "Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas the high priest, where the teachers of the law and the elders had assembled. But Peter followed him at a distance, right up to the courtyard of the high priest. He entered and sat down with the guards to see the outcome. The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death. But they did not find any, though many false witnesses came forward". (Matt. 26-57-60). Therefore in Matthew, it is explicitly the high priest and other chief priests, who themselves tried to get a false testimony against Jesus, and according to this gospel, they actually managed to find two witnesses who agreed: "Finally two came forward and declared, “This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days.’ ”" (Matt. 26.61) Also Matthew, however, knew that Jesus refused to defend himself against the accusers, so also Matthew lets the high priest ask if Jesus was the Christ. Jesus was not quite as specific as in Mark: "“You have said so,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven." (Matt. 26.64) Then, like Mark, Jesus was sentenced to death, but Matthew mentions that it is for blasphemy even if Jesus didn't claim that he was the Son of Man. The next morning all the chief priests and elders of the people decided that Jesus should be put to death, and they handed him over to Pilate. Here Pilate asked the same question as mentioned in Mark, namely whether Jesus was the king of the Jews and Jesus answered as in Mark. The high priests accused him and Jesus did not defend himself. Pilate now began the negotiations about whether Barabbas or Jesus should be released because his wife had told him "While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.” (Matt. 27.19). Despite this, it also eaccording to Matthew, Pilate sentenced Jesus to death, albeit with some reluctance: "Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!” When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”" (Matt. 27: 23-24).

In Luke, Jesus was led to the house of the high priest. Here he was mocked and beaten. This also happened in Mark and Matthew, but it was only after the council had judged him. According to Luke, this did not happen until day had arrived and Jesus was presented to the Council (Sanhedrin). The exchange of words in Luke is somewhat different. The council asked if Jesus was the Christ, and he replied, “If I tell you, you will not believe me, and if I asked you, you would not answer. But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.” They all asked, “Are you then the Son of God?” He replied, “You say that I am.” Then they said, “Why do we need any more testimony? We have heard it from his own lips.” (Luke 22.67-71). The whole assembly then followed Jesus to Pilate, where they accused him of urging the people to refuse to pay taxes to the emperor and of having said that he was a king. Pilate asked if he was the King of the Jews, to which Jesus responds as stated above. Now Pilate concluded somewhat surprisingly, "Then Pilate announced to the chief priests and the crowd, “I find no basis for a charge against this man.” (Luke 23: 4), but the congregation continued to accuse Jesus of "He stirs up the people all over Judea by his teaching. He started in Galilee and has come all the way here." (Luke 23.5) What makes this strange is that Pilate found Jesus innocent, as it would be a crime against Rome if he had called himself king. Pilate now discovers that Jesus is Galilean, and sends him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem for the Passover. Herod was even happy to meet Jesus because he wanted to see him make a sign. He asked him questions, but Jesus neither made signs nor answered. Also with Herod, the high priests accused Jesus, so they had clearly accompanied Jesus from Pilate. Suddenly, Herod and his soldiers began to mock Jesus, after which they sent him back to Pilate (hence the phrase at the beginning of this article). For some reason, this episode made Herod and Pilate, who previously could not stand each other, become friends. "That day Herod and Pilate became friends—before this they had been enemies." (Luke 23.12) Pilate was still very much in doubt about Jesus' guilt though. He summoned the chief priests, the councilors, and the people together, and informed them that he had now interrogated Jesus while they were listening, and that he had not found him guilty of anything. He was not guilty of a crime that resulted in the death penalty, so Pilate wanted to release him. The Jews, however, pressed on and demanded the execution of Jesus and the release of Barabbas. Eventually, Pilate chose to bow to the pressure and handed Jesus over so that he could be executed. Interesting in the description in Luke is, that the interrogation by the high priest and others focuses on Jesus being a blasphemer, but when he is brought before Pilate, he is accused of being a rebel inciting revolt.

And now on to John. He knows a somewhat different version of the story. One is tempted to say "as usual". After Jesus' arrest, he was taken to Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas the high priest. (Annas had been high priest before Caiaphas, but John does not mention that though). In John, it was Annas who questioned Jesus about his teachings. To this Jesus said, "“I have spoken openly to the world,” Jesus replied. “I always taught in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret. Why question me? Ask those who heard me. Surely they know what I said.”" (John 18.20-21). When Annas did not get anything out of Jesus, he sent him to Caiaphas. At Caiaphas' place, apparently, nothing happened. But early in the morning Jesus was taken to Pilate. The Jews did not enter the castle where the governor was staying, so as not to become unclean up until the holiday, so instead Pilate came out to them and asked what they were accusing Jesus of. The accusations are somewhat imprecise in this gospel: "“If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.” (John 18.30). Pilate would not do anything about it and asked the Jews to judge Jesus himself. The Jews, however, claimed that they were not to execute anyone themselves, so Pilate entered the castle again, where he interrogated Jesus. The question was the same as in the other Gospels, namely whether Jesus was the King of the Jews, but the wording of the answer was somewhat different: "“Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?” (Johs. 18.33). Pilate explained that he was not a Jew and that it was the Jews who had handed Jesus over to him. "What is it you have done?" he then asked" (John 18.35), to which Jesus gave a more than strange answer: "“My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”"(John 18:36), and the conversation became no less strange in what followed. Pilate declared that Jesus was king, to which Jesus replied, "You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”" (John 18.37). Pilate wondered what truth was, after which he went out to the congregation outside and told them that he had found Jesus not guilty. After the Barabbas episode, Jesus was crowned with thorns and beaten, after which Pilate again went out and said he found him not guilty. However, the high priests and others still demanded that Jesus be executed. Pilate returned to the palace, had a new conversation with Jesus, and wanted to release him again, but the congregation now threatened to complain about Pilate to the emperor: "If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar", and after a little further talk, Pilate sat in the judgment seat and sentenced Jesus to death. He then handed Jesus over to the Jews so that he could be crucified.

The Barrabas story

Before I get to my own interpretation of the trial (including my own conspiracy theory) I will take a brief look at the episode with Barrabas. This epidsode is mentioned in all four Gospels, but is a little different in each. Most modern scholars agree that the story of Barabbas, as it is told in the Gospels, is a myth. While many reject the whole matter as pure fabrication of the evangelists' or their sources, there are some who believe that the story, after all, has a core of historicity in it.

When the story as such is rejected and considered a myth, it is primarily because it has not been possible to document that the Romans ever practiced a tradition of releasing prisoners on the holidays of conquered peoples. In fact, many believe it would be completely contrary to what is otherwise known about the behavior of the Romans in occupied territories. If a procurator had practiced such a custom without the matter being sanctioned by Rome, his term of office would probably have come to a very abrupt end. Furthermore, it is stated, that even if the custom had existed, Pilate would hardly have agreed to release one who had been sentenced to death for rebellion against Rome, when he could instead release a "modest" pickpocket or the like. The four Gospels also do not agree completely on why Barabbas was released. Markus just says that "Now it was the custom at the festival to release a prisoner whom the people requested" (Mark. 15.6). Matthew can tell pretty much the same thing, namely that "... it was the governor’s custom at the festival to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd". (Matt. 27.15). Luke has " I will therefore chastise him, and release him. (For of necessity he must release one unto them at the feast.)" (Luke 23.16-17 - This is actually quoted from King James' Bible as verse 17 is missing in the version from Biblica Online as it is missing in some manuscritps. Finally, one can read in John: "But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover." (Johs. 18.39).

In the case of Matthew and Mark, it was something that Pilate "used" to do. In John, it was the custom of the Jews (why the Romans had to conform to it is not clear), and in Luke, it is something that Pilate is obviously forced to do whether he wants to or not. As already mentioned, there is no evidence or just a clue that the Romans ever practiced such a custom in any occupied territory, so why and how did history arose?

Let me begin with taking a look at what the Gospels has to say about the man called Barabbas. John is very laconic here, and simply announces: "Now Barabbas had taken part in an uprising." King James's Bible has a different translation that is more equivalent to the Danish version I originally used for the Danish article: "Now Barabbas was a robber." (Johs. 18.40). Matthew does not say anything about Barabbas' crime, but just knows that he was well-known: "At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Jesus Barabbas." (Matt. 27.16). Mark can state that "A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising." (Mark 15.7). Mark does not say anything about Barabba's crime, but with his statement he almost suggests that he was at least not guilty of rebellion, but just was incacerated together with the rebels. Luke is not of the same opinion. He goes a little further and says, "Barabbas had been thrown into prison for an insurrection in the city, and for murder." (Luke 23.1). The passage is not included in all versions of the Gospel of Luke, and some scholars believe that it is a later addition.

Barrabas, James Tissot, c. 1890 (not on display).

So Barabbas was a famous prisoner, a robber or a rebel and a murderer. The latter is probably the most likely since the Greek word used in John, "lēstēs", which actually means "bandit", was often used about those who rebelled against the Romans. In that case he was liable to crucifixion; the same punishment that later befell Jesus. But this causes another challenge. The historical sources know of no insurrection against the occupational forces in Jerusalem at this time. So what was the "insurrection in the city," cf. Luke, and where either Barabbas himself (Luke) or at least other rebels (Mark) had committed murder? Now there have probably been many insurrections in the city during the Roman occupation. But it must have been of some size if more rebels and murderers were imprisoned. But the Gospels decribe something that must have looked like a rebellion, even if they try to camouflage it as something lesser. I am thinking here of the so-called "cleansing of the temple," in which Jesus drives out those who trade in the courtyard of the temple. This episode is depicted in all four Gospels (Matthew 21.12, Mark 11.15-16, Luke 19.45 and John 2.13-16). Jesus overthrows the tables of the money changers, and expels the traders of oxen, sheep, and doves. The only one who tells how he did this John, and John have him do it with a whip of rope. The other gospels just mention that the merchants are being chased away and the tables of the money changers overturned. 

However, the task cannot have been so easy that Jesus had been able to perform it alone, only using a whip. It is estimated that between 10,000 and 20,000 people attended the temple at any given time. Many of these have, of course, been ordinary "temple-goers," but the merchants who were driven out must be presumed to have make some restistance, and they would have had support from the serving priests and Levites, in addition to the Jewish temple guard. If these were not sufficient, the Antonia Fortress was right next to the temple. This is where the Roman guard in Jerusalem was accommodated. The force is believed to have consisted of one cohort, approx. 500 men, so Jesus must have had a fairly large force to back him before he embarked on the task of "cleansing the temple". Not least because those he wanted to chase away were there with the blessing of the temple staff. What they sold was sacrificial animals used in the sacrifices of the temple, and the money changers made it possible for the visitors to buy these animals. Part of the profits went to the temple, so Jesus would not have been able to carry out his temple cleansing without any resistance and without the use of armed force, so this episode may very well have been the insurrection alluded to and which had led to the arrest of Barrabas and several other rebels. If that is the case, the cleansing of the temple had cost human lives, indication that Jesus and his followers were not so peaceful after all, and Barabbas must have been one of Jesus' violent followers.

Do we know anything else about him? Very little. In Matthew he is referred to as Jesus Barabbas, ie the same first name as Jesus. "So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them,Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah" (Matthew 27:17). Now Jesus (Yeshua in Aramaic, Joshua in Hebrew) was not an uncommon name at that time, so it is not unlikely that Barabbas should also have been called Jesus. It is actually more strange that not even more of that name is mentioned in the Gospels when one thinks of how many Simons, Josephs, Judas', Marys, etc. occur. Barabbas' name (or nickname, if he was actually called Jesus) can be translated to "Son of the Father". However, it can also mean "Son of Abba", which was used as a first name. The name Abba though, is most often known from approx. 200 AD and forward. If the name was not used in Jesus' day, and therefore Barrabas actually translates to "Son of the Father", it seems somewhat meaningless if "the Father" was not someone special - just as I have mentioned before in the article The Dicsiple Whom Jesus Loved, that it did not make much sense to refer to "the doubting Thomas" as "the twin," if not the other twin brother, was something special.

Mark ​​uses the word about God: "“Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”" (Mark 14.36) Nowhere in the Gospels Jesus calls himself "Son of the Father". Nevertheless, there are some who believe that Barabbas is simply an allusion to Jesus as the Son of God. Others (who believe that Jesus married and had children) believe that Barabbas was simply the son of Jesus, which would also give meaning to the nickname, Jesus, the Father and Jesus, the Son of the Father. Richard Leigh et al. touches on the same theme in their book "The Holy Blood The Holy Grail" from 1982. Here they mention that the theory can also explain why the crowd wanted Barabbas free instead of Jesus. The reason should be that for the Jews, the "lineage" was more important than the individual man. So if one were to die, it was most appropriate that it was the "father", as the son had the greatest chance of continuing the lineage. However, there is not much support around this theory elsewhere. A single scholar (I don't remebemer who it was) believes that the name Barabbas should not come from Bar-Abba at all, but instead from Berabbi, which should be a title of honor bestowed on particularly deserving rabbis. So Barabbas was simply supposed to be an "ordinary but valued" Jewish rabbi who could very well have taken part in a revolt against the Romans - except that the word rabbi was yet not used at the time of Jesus.

Others believe that the whole story is fake and a construction and that Barabbas never existed, but that the story was invented as part of the "campaign" to shift the blame for Jesus' execution from the Romans to the Jews. Also among those who actually believe that there is some truth in the episode, some claim that it has been "reinterpreted" to blame the Jews for Jesus' crucifixion. According to these, the crowd must have cried out to Pilate in order to release Jesus Bar-Abba, that is, Jesus Christ. Later interpreters/reinterpreters then made Barabbas a different person than Jesus and let the Jews want this other person released instead of Jesus, as they actually demanded. The reason should therefore be to shift the blame away from the Romans. 

My own thoughts go a bit in the same direction, although I am not convinced that the evangelists, or their sources, have deliberately wanted to shift guilt from Jews to Romans - at least not in this case. I think instead there have been some stories going around that they could not explain. Some of these stories told that Jesus Christ was crucified and resurrected (which is the whole essence of the gospels and the Christian faith). At the same time, there were some other stories that told that Jesus, "the father's son" or Barabbas was not executed at all. The evangelists or their sources was not able to reconcile these stories unless they were talking about two different people. So when the crowd demanded Barabbas' release (whether there was any truth in this claim or not, the evangelists believed it had happened), it must have been someone other than Jesus Christ, that were set free, as Jesus Christ was executed and later resurrected.

My view on the trial

So what can you learn (or speculate) from the above? It is probably in connection with these events that my own personal theory is furthest away from that of the recognized scholars, but more on that later.

The three synoptic gospels agree that after the arrest, Jesus was taken to the high priest and judged there. However, they do not completely agree on when and in what way it happened. This is probably because they were aware that something was wrong in what they had been told. The Jewish Council, Sanhedrin, was a council of 71 members that did not sit permanently but convened when there was something to meet about. Both Mark and Matthew suggest that the council was gathered at Caiaphas, but this cannot be correct, for according to Jewish law, the Sanhedrin or any other court was not allowed to meet at night, and they were not allowed to assemble at all during the feasts, and this happened in the middle of the Passover festival. Some scholars point out that during the meeting at night only a small group was assembled and that the Council did not assemble until morning. This is also suggested in Mark (Mark 15.1), where it says "Very early in the morning, the chief priests, with the elders, the teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin, made their plans." Luke knows of no nightly interrogation at all. Unfortunately for proponents of this theory, it does not change the fact that it was still the most important holiday of the Jews and that members of the Sanhedrin were not allowed to meet in secret. A number of other arguments have also been put forward that the description of the trial among the Jews was so contrary to Jewish law that the whole description must be fake and a construction from later times. Among the arguments are the use of false witnesses, bribery etc. Moreover, it was a serious violation of the Mosaic Law if the leaders let a "crowd" do "evil things" while the leaders of the people were aware of it. Nor did the Law of Moses allow for the torture or humiliation to which Jesus is subjected by "his own."

The best argument in my eyes, however, is that the Jews would hardly have demanded that Jesus should be crucified since, according to Jewish law, it was a great sin to "hang a man on a tree." Rather, would they have tried to prevent this. Since Jesus was arrested outside the city, it would have been almost impossible to transport him into Jerusalem either, without the Romans wanting to "take him over", and the Sanhedrin was not allowed to meet outside the city at all. In my opinion, Jesus was not tried before the Council at all. The description, which is not found in John either, may be part of the evangelists' "put the blame on the Jews" idea, or perhaps more likely because they did not actually know exactly what was happening as none of them were present - and neither were probable many others. The trial took place in Pilate's palace and he would hardly have allowed "a crowd" inside. In 1990, what is believed to be Caiaphas' tomb was found about two miles south of Jerusalem, and if his residence was nearby, it may well harmonize with the fact that Jesus was not led into the city at all in the evening, but was led to the home of the high priest (whether it was Caiaphas or Annas, who probably lived near his son-in-law). Only when Jesus was handed over to the Romans did he enter the city. Here, as in many other places in the description of the events in Jerusalem and Judaea, I am more inclined to believe the Gospel of John than the synoptic gospels. There will be an article later where I try to explain how I have reached that conclusion.

Ecce Homo (Pilate presents Jesus to the public), Antonio Ciceri 1871, Museo Cantonale d’Arte, Lugano

Was Jesus not put before the high priest at all then? Yes, I believe he was, and there may have even been others present, but I don't believe there was an actual trial. Some believe that a number of priests who were part of the Council were gathered at Caiaphas, others believe that only the high priest and some specially selected council members were gathered. I am most inclined to agree with the latter. I don't believe though (as most scholars do) that the highest circles of the Jews, not least the clergy, saw Jesus as an "opponent", who could cause the Romans to deprive the priests and the upper class of their privileges. It is therefore believed that Caiaphas and the council members were actually interested in getting rid of Jesus, but without the people being able to put the blame them. Personally, I do not agree. In fact, I believe that if there has been a nightly meeting with Caiaphas or Annas at all, the purpose was not to get Jesus to admit his guilt, so that he could be surrendered to the Romans, quite the contrary. My guess is that such a meeting might have had the purpose of making Jesus admit that he had behaved blasphemously. In that case, the Jews could jugde and sentence him themselves, and even if the blasphemy was very serious (and it was actually only pretending to be God or pronouncing God's name), the Jews could sentence Jesus to death by stoning, and that way save him from the humiliation and sin by of being crucified and thus "hung on a tree". However, Jesus would not admit to having acted against Jewish law, and therefore he was forced to be extradited to the Romans, as he was wanted by them for rebellion. Even if Jesus more or less admitted to being the Son of God, this was not in it self blasphemous. All Jews considered themselves children of God, and many other "Messiah candidates" had previously been much more precise in their claim to be the Son of God than Jesus did, without being accused of anything. Some believe that it is the statement that "the Son of Man will sit by the side of God" that is blasphemous because Jesus here made himself equal to God, but he never stated that HE was the Son of Man, so he could hardly have convicted because of that.

The Gospels several times use the word high priest in the plural, and this was simply not possible, though newer translation has replaced the word with chief priests, maybe because of the fact that there could only be one high priest. Originally, a high priest was appointed for life, but during the Roman occupation, they had taken over the "authority" to appoint and remove high priests. When the Romans deposed Herod the Great's son Arkelaus as tetrarch (regent) in the year 6 AD, the governor of Syria, Quirinius, appointed Annas (also seen as Ananias or Hanan in some texts) as high priest. Despite the fact that Annas was apparently not of Aaron's lineage, as all high priests were supposed to be, he gained high respect among the people. However, immediately after the accession of the Roman governor of Judea, Valerius Gratus, he became embroiled in controversy with Annas immediately after his accession in the year 15, and Gratus deposed him and appointed a new high priest. Incidentally, he did this several times. Annas was succeeded by Ishmael ben Fabi, who was succeeded by Eleazar, who was succeeded by Simon ben Camith, who was succeeded by Josef ben Caiaphas, who was the son-in-law of Annas. From the time Anna was deposed to Caiaphas was installed, only 3 years passed and in that period there had been 3 high priests. So when the Gospels mention the "high priests," then it may be all the deposed they are thinking of. Most scholars, however, agree that only Annas had such respect in the population that the people still have used his title about him. Some Jews would probably consider him the only high priest, as according to Jewish tradition it was illegal to appoint a new one until the previous was dead, and Caiaphas must therefore have been a "false" high priest. When John claims that Jesus was taken to Annas, there may be several reasons. It would be plausible to believe that John knew Jewish law, and by letting Annas take care of the "interrogation" instead of Caiaphas and the Council, there would have been no violation of the law. However, it is also conceivable that Jesus was actually taken to Annas, because he still had great power; in fact greater than Caiaphas, who some scholars believe was in fact just Annas' puppet. Caiaphas was not popular, at least not with the pious Jews, who reportedly called him "the monkey". So maybe Anna herself wanted to interrogate Jesus and then only used Caiaphas as a "rubber stamp".

In any case, Jesus ended up being transferred to Pilate. This story would probabæy indicate that Roman troops were not present when Jesus was arrested (which I doubt, however; see my own theory below). In that case, the soldiers would hardly have agreed to surrender Jesus to the Jews, as he was wanted by the Romans. All four Gospels agree that Pilate found Jesus innocent in the accusations made by the high priests. However, they do not completely agree on what these accusations were about. In the first place, Mark and Matthew do not tell what the Jews accused Jesus of to Pilate. You could therefore imagine that the accusations was in continuation of the nocturnal accusations of blasphemy, and in that case it's understandable that Pilate declared Jesus innocent, because if someone behaved blasphemously according to Jewish law, the Roman occupational forces coudn't care less. The Jews ccould handle such matters on their own. Luke says that the accusations were that Jesus had called for the people to refuse to pay taxes to the emperor, and had called himself a king. This sounds like a more realistic accusation, as it was a revolt against the occupying powers, and Pilate would have to do something about it. According to John, they just told Pilate that Jesus was a criminal, and that's not very telling.

In the three synoptic gospels, Pontius Pilate asked Jesus if he was the king of the Jews. In all cases, Jesus answered some variant on the theme "You say so yourself", which in Danish or English does not sound like an admission oif guilt, as it can almost be interpreted as "It is something you claim, not I". However, some scholars believe that the text in the original language should rather be interpreted as "It is true what you say", and if it is correct, it is completely incomprehensible that Pilate believed that Jesus was innocent. Declaring himself the king of the Jews was a direct rebellion against the Roman Empire, and there was only one possible punishment, death. According to Luke, Pilate was even so confused that he did not know that Jesus, who had been preaching in the country for several years, was from Galilee. When it dawned on him, he sent Jesus to Herod. There is absolutely nothing to suggest that this story has any truth in it, and this is supported by the fact that only Luke tells it. If a Jew had violated Roman law, the governor would surely have judged him without asking others, not least a Jew who ruled under Roman control. And if Pilate found he had not violated Roman laws, he could have just released him, without asking anyone. And why the incident should have made Herod and Pilate friends is also unclear, since Pilate did not achieve what he apparently wanted, namely to get Herod to judge Jesus, so that he himself didn't have to.

Therefore there is nothing to suggest that Pontius Pilate did not immediately find Jesus guilty and ordered him executed for rebellion by crucifixion under Roman law. When the Gospels nevertheless tell a different story, it must be remembered that when they were written down, the Christians were primarily residents in Rome or in Roman-occupied areas outside Jewish territory, and therefore had no interest in arousing the wrath of the Romans. On the other hand, it would be to their advantage to transfer the blame for Jesus' death from the Romans to the Jews, which then happened in abundance. When the Gospels (Luke and John) let Pilate surrender Jesus to the Jews so that they themselves could crucify him, it is completely impossible. On the one hand, the Jews would hardly execute anyone with a method of execution that was found barbaric and that was forbidden under the law of Moses. Moreover, Pilate would hardly surrender a rebel to his countrymen, and finally it is not in accordance with the description of the execution itself, to which I return in a future article about the crucifixion. I must therefore conclude that Jesus was taken directly to Pilate, who sentenced him to death for rebellion against the Rome, and no matter what has happened with Annas, Caiaphas, or the Council, it had little bearing on the outcome of the trial.

Finally my own (conspiracy)theory about what happened, and I admit that it may be far out. It is primarily based on a theory in which Jesus actually survived the crucifixion. I will return to this in a later article. Now, it is not as easy to survive a crucifixion as some authors have suggested, so if you will be sure to survive, the best course to take, will be not to be crucified in the first place. And that's exactly what I think happened. When Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane or elsewhere on the Mount of Olives, it is my theory that it was not Jesus who was arrested at all, but a substitute. Many stories tell, including the Gospels, that Simon of Cyrene carried the cross of Jesus to Calvary. Some apocryphal writings go a step further, claiming that it was Simon who was crucified in Jesus' place. I will get back to that in my next article. If I currently just suppose that Jesus was not crucified but a substitute, and then do not care who the substitute was, then the following may have happened.

When the force came to arrest Jesus on the evening after the Last Supper, Judas Iscariot did not betray Jesus, quite the contrary. It was by agreement with Jesus that he led the force to the place where Jesus and the disciples were resting. He exposed the substitute to the arresting force, which was probably primarily Roman troops, not Jewish, and therefore didn't know Jesus. "The false Jesus" was arrested and taken directly to Pilate, not to either Annas, Caiaphas, or the Sanhedrin. The young man who fled only wearing a sheet, cf. Mark, was in fact Jesus himself, who might not have had time to get dressed after exchanging with his substitute. The fleeing Jesus, was then accompanied by Simon Peter and "the disciple who knew the high priest" to either Caiaphas or Anna's house. Here he discussed something with one or both and perhaps some advisers, eg Joseph of Arimathea or other council members. The subject may have been his escaping from Judea. More on this theory later.

- Return to Jesus page -
- Return to English pages -