by miriam berg
Chapter XVIII

(John 18:1-2)
Jesus and his disciples then go over the brook Kidron, to a garden where they had often been before. This accords with the next episode in the story told by Matthew, Mark, and Luke, where Jesus goes into "a place called Gethsemane" and prays to be released from his destiny, but conquers his fear. It seems likely that the event in the Synoptics was remembered and retold as a dramatization by Jesus of his command to us to carry our own cross in order to be his disciple, with all the suffering that might ensue; but it has been chiefly understood as an allegorical suffering on Jesus' part, as John portrays, rather than real anguish as the Synoptics report it (Mark 14:32-42; Matt. 26:36-46; Luke 22:39-46). But this episode is missing completely in John; we may perhaps be excused for suspecting that John omitted it (if he even had known of it) becauee it was inconsistent with his picture of Jesus as a totally divine being.

(John 18:3-11)
Then Jesus is arrested. John has omitted Jesus' prediction that they would all forsake him (Mark 14:27; Matt. 26:31), and also omits here that the disciples all did flee (Mark 14:50; Matt. 26:56). The detail of cutting off the priest's ear is reported as well in the Synoptics; but Jesus' reproof of Peter in John is based on his having this assigned role from God instead of not repaying evil with evil as the Synoptics report:
(John 18:11) The cup which the Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?
(Matt. 26:52) They that take the sword shall perish by the sword.
We prefer the report of Matthew, as being more consistent with the teachings in the Sermon on the Mount. John portrays Jesus as so commanding in appearance that the officers fall over backwards, as earlier they return to the chief priests saying, Never man so spake (John 7:46). Thus we find another cobble in John's mosaic of Jesus as a divine being. Mark and Matthew report that Jesus merely asked them why they came out at him like he was a robber when he had been sitting teaching in the temple daily (Mark 14:48-49; Matt.26:55), which is typical of his sharp untheological retorts at other places in the Synoptics. Then instead of reporting that the disciples flee, John says that Jesus told the officers to let them go. But it is hard to believe that they would have stayed even if Jesus had commanded them to, so powerful a force is fear on the mind.

(John 18:12-27)
We need now to step very carefully, looking closely at the correspondences between the reports of the trials in John and those in the Synoptics. The first thing we notice is that John reports that Jesus was first taken before Annas, father-in-law to Caiaphas, the high priest. But Mark knows nothing of this first interrogation, but reports Jesus as being taken directly before the chief priests; and only Matthew says that it was Caiaphas. Johannine apologists say that Annas was the previous high priest, but John himself does not, but refers to him in these verses as the high priest. John then reports that Jesus was next taken before Caiaphas, but gives no details of the interview, in fact, omits it entirely. Now, did Annas or Caiaphas first interrogate Jesus? Who rent his clothes? Was it Caiaphas, as Mark reports? Or was it either of them, since John does not mention it?

John also reports that both Peter and "another disciple known unto the high priest" followed and that it was the other disciple who asked that Peter be admitted. But Mark reports that only Peter followed and sat in their midst. That even Peter did so is surprising in the light of Jesus' prediction that they all would forsake him; but that this other disciple (not identified as the author of this Gospel) did too is contradicted by that prediction. Unless, of course, Jesus never actually made that prediction, or perhaps he was mistaken, or perhaps this unnamed disciple was not even one of the Twelve. But why did not they accuse this other disciple of being "one of them", as they did Peter? This glaring contradiction in the story serves all the more to make us doubt John's authorship or sources of information. This disciple was "known unto the high priest" but apparently not known to Peter, since Mark's report doesn't mention it, or even to the author of John, since he nowhere names him. Of course the excuse could be made that it is John himself, and he is not mentioning his name out of modesty; but his reference to himself as the "beloved" disciple makes that modesty rather hollow.

But back to the first interview, no matter who it was before, whether Annas or Caiaphas, John reports that Jesus was asked about his teaching, and here replied that he had been teaching openly in the temple for days if not weeks or months. But the story in Mark is that they "bare false witness" against Jesus, including the accusation that he said that if they destroy the temple he would raise it up again in three days. John reports Jesus as indeed saying this, at the beginning of his career when he cast commerce from the temple, but Mark does not report Jesus as saying it anywhere. So did Jesus say it or not? If he said it as John reports, then Mark is mistaken in calling it "false witness"; if it was a false accusation as Mark reports then John is mistaken in attributing it to Jesus. John does not report any false accusations, but reports Jesus as being flip with Annas, and later also with Pilate, but all three Synoptists affirm that Jesus was silent during the trials. So we have two conflicting reports: in John, a hearing before Annas, where Jesus is not accused of anything but sasses Annas and the officer standing by, then his being sent before Caiaphas, where the "other disciple" apparently never went; in the Synoptics, a trial before Caiaphas, where he is accused falsely of many things by witnesses who could not agree, and answers nothing, but is accused by the high priest of blasphemy. The Synoptics report that he replies, "You say so", "That is the charge" when asked if he is the Messiah; but John does not mention his even being asked. Which can we believe really happened? Which is more consistent with the picture generally given, in John versus the Synoptics? Which leader would we prefer to follow and believe in? Why should we believe John rather than Mark?

(John 18:28-40)
After that Jesus is led before Pilate. There can be no doubt as to the sequence of events; nevertheless the haste with which the whole thing is done is astonishing and suggests condensation of the original occurrence. Certainly justice, or rather, injustice often moves overly quickly to prevent rebels or revolutionaries from gaining support; but since the opposition to Jesus came from the Jews, and we may believe that the Romans couldn't have cared, we do not understand why they would have moved so hastily. However, here again the stories do not square: Luke reports direct political accusations made against Jesus, all false:
And they began to accuse him, saying, We found this man perverting our nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ a king. (Luke 23:2)
But John reports that they waffle:
They answered and said unto him, If this man were not an evil-doer, we should not have delivered him up unto thee. (John 18:30)
As much as to say, If a man is not there, then he must be here. Anyway Pilate takes him inside, and questions him regarding kingship and truth, and Jesus answers with a mini-theological discourse. But again the Synoptics report that Jesus said nothing, so that Pilate marvelled (Mark 15: 4-5). So Pilate goes back outside, and offers to release Jesus, but they demand instead the release of Bar-abbas, a murderer and an insurrectionist, or, in other words, a political rebel, no doubt a Zealot involved in the movement to oust the Romans. The fact that they prefer such a person is convincing indirect evidence of Jesus' message in the Sermon on the Mount: Love your enemies. So what was Jesus' conduct before Pilate? Did he answer nothing, as Mark reports? Or did he claim a kingship "not of this world", as John tells us, with all the other phrases similar to other discourses in John?

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