by miriam berg
Chapter XXVII

Yeshua was taken before the Sanhedrin, the supreme council of the Jewish nation. It was presided over by the chief priest, who in 29 A.S.D. was a man named Caiaphas. It was made up of 71 priests and scribes and elders of the people chosen from families of wealth and racial purity. Its function was to pass judgment in disputed matters or criminal offenses, according to the principles set down in Deuteronomy regarding the settlement of disputes, the most important requirement of which was for two or three witnesses whose testimony was identical in order to establish guilt. Its forum was a section of the temple called the Court of Israel, where they met between the ninth hour and the sixteenth hour, except on sabbaths and festival days. Their deliberations could not continue into the evening unless the judges could not reach a decision. It was also required that at least 24 hours pass between the reaching of a verdict and the pronouncement of a sentence.

Despite these procedural rules, Yeshua was apparently brought to the home of the high priest immediately after his arrest. Their desperation to get rid of him must have temporarily blinded them to their own judicial practice! Simon, having recovered from the panic which led him to flee the scene of the arrest, followed along, and sat with the officers of the court, warming himself by the fire.

The first requirement was the establishment of the evidence, and we are told that many witnesses were brought, but that none of them agreed in their testimony. They are said to have presented false testimony, the specific charge being that Yeshua said that he would destroy the temple, and in three days he would build another made without hands. Noplace in any of the three Synoptic gospels does Yeshua make such a statement. The gospel of John does report that he said this, but that he was talking about the body and not Herod's temple. But if it was false testimony, as Mark and the other two say, then John must be mistaken in telling us that Yeshua said it; but if John is correct in his report, then the others are mistaken in saying that it was false testimony. We can conclude nothing from this, except perhaps to believe that none of the witnesses agreed with each other, as Mark says.

Caiaphas then asked Yeshua for his own testimony, which was another part of Deuteronomic jurisprudence: the accused was allowed to speak in his own defense. He asked Yeshua, "What do you say to these accusations?" But Yeshua stood mute, and said nothing. Standing mute is an old practice in trials, permitting a defendant to plead neither guilty nor not guilty, either of which pleas might be challenged. Today the practice exists as the plea of nolo contendere: "I do not wish to contend," which is consistent with Yeshua's teachings in the Great Sermon regarding going to court, even though his life was at stake.

Caiaphas then asked Yeshua point-blank if he was the messiah. The gospels use the Greek translation of this word, which is "christ", also meaning "anointed" with oil or lotion, though not for being proclaimed king as the word messiah meant in Hebrew. Caiaphas could not have asked Yeshua if he was the "son of God", since there was no such concept in monotheistic Judaism and the messiah was not considered to be such, but merely a divinely empowered human being. Nevertheless, however it was that the high priest phrased the question, all four gospels agree that Yeshua's answer was "nolo contendere", that is, neither yes nor no:
That is the charge.
The Greek words humes legete may be translated as, "You are saying that," or "That is what you are saying," or, as above, "That is the charge." Mark alone in the gospels reports Yeshua at this point as giving a definite Yes; but in the light of all the other answers, in the other gospels, and even in Mark on all other occasions, together with the substance of all his teaching which we have seen so far that he has never, never had any intention of proclaiming himself to be the messiah or acting like one, we can conclude that this was a later alteration of the original text which came into the hands of both Matthew and Luke and was copied exactly by them, meaning:
It is you who are saying that.
From which we can conclude that, while Yeshua did not consider himself to be a "messiah" in the Old Testament sense, he did consider himself to be divinely empowered and led, and so could not answer the question no. Mark reports Yeshua then as quoting from the book of Daniel regarding the coming of the son of man on the clouds of heaven; but again he has never used this phrase elsewhere in his teaching.

So now they forgot their Deuteronomic rules again, and the high priest tore his robe asunder, as a way of proclaiming his great misery at hearing such a blasphemy. But there was no blasphemy; there were no two witnesses as required by the Judaic code; and they should not have been meeting at night in the high priest's home anyway, nor on a festival day. But the rest of them agreed, and said that he should be condemned to death, even though the sentence was not supposed to be pronounced until after twenty-four hours.

Did it really happen this way? did the Jewish leaders forget all their practices so completely, when they were such sticklers upon all the precepts in the law? It is possible; they might have been so enraged at his denunciation of them, and the merchants who made money by selling in the temple might have been so angry that they wanted to get rid of him even if they observed no legal protections whatsoever. It has certainly happened to many lesser men than Yeshua, men who were deprived of life and liberty without due process of law. But it is more likely that the story as we have it represents a telescoping of the events, since none of them were written down until many years after Yeshua's death, and while they remembered the sequence of events they did not remember accurately the time between each one.

But immediately after this, we are told that a certain woman approached Simon as he sat by the fire, and looking closely at him, she said, "You were one of them with this Nazarite named Yeshua, weren't you?" And Simon, fearful of being arrested himself, denied it, and said, "I don't know and I don't understand what you are saying." But she followed after him as he went out onto the porch, and said to others who were there, "This man was one of them." Simon shook his head vigorously, and denied being one of them, saying loudly, "Man, I am not." Just then a rooster crowed somewhere, as it was nearly dawn; the trial had lasted all night.

Then others of the people there approached Simon, and insisted that he was one of them, for they could see that he was certainly a Galilean. Simon, shaking within from fear, began to curse and swear, saying, "By the Lord God I do not know this man of whom you are speaking." Then the rooster crowed a second time.

Suddenly Simon remembered how Yeshua had told him that he would deny him three times that night before the cock crowed two times. It had happened! exactly as Yeshua had said, and after Simon's vehement protestation of sticking with Yeshua no matter what! Grief and shame overcame Simon, and he broke down and wept bitterly: "I have denied my master and teacher!" This is a touching story, but it could not have happened because there was a law against keeping poultry in the city of Jerusalem.

Events continued to move swiftly. He was arrested at night, tried late at night, condemned before sunrise; and in the morning he was brought before the entire Sanhedrin for a final sentence. No details of this session are reported, but they then hustled Yeshua off to the Roman governor to stand another trial, since the Sanhedrin did not have the power to inflict a death sentence. Matthew tells us that now Judas was shocked at what he had done, and tried to return the money to the priests that they had paid him to betray Yeshua. This may confirm us in the opinion that Judas expected Yeshua to show miraculous power in some way, or even military power, when confronted with arrest and execution; but we cannot know for sure.

The Roman governor was named Pontius Pilate; he was prefect of the Palestine province from about the year 26 A.S.D until his removal in 36 A.S.D. His reports do not mention Yeshua or any trial, however. His predecessors had refrained from putting images of the emperor in Jerusalem because of the Jews' religious feelings; but Pilate's first act had been to put up medallions with the face of Tiberius on them. The Jews strongly objected, presenting a petition to Pilate in his court at Caesarea on the coast. Herod's sons also presented a petition directly to Tiberius, who ordered the medallions taken down.

The chief priests and scribes must have decided that Pilate would not care whether Yeshua claimed to be a religious messiah or not, so they presented a different accusation to Pilate, according to Luke: "We found this man perverting our nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, and declaring himself to be a king." This is certainly a perjured version of what Yeshua had said! "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's"; and refusing at any time to accept the title of messiah. But we can understand how in their determination to get rid of Yeshua they did not care what kind of false witness they gave, even if it went against their own ninth commandment of Moshe: "Thou shalt not bear false witness." Perhaps this just reveals how little hold even the greatest moral and ethical precepts have on us in times of great anger.

We can ask ourselves (or we can ask the gospels) what were their real motivations, however, in thus perjuring themselves and misrepresenting the words of Yeshua. It may have been because they were wealthy, and gave but little to the poor; and Yeshua has spoken against hoarding of wealth, but after all no more than the prophet Amos had said eight centuries earlier: Do not sell the poor for silver, nor the needy for a pair of shoes. But he had done more than talk, he had actually driven out the merchants from the temple where they were doing a good business. Perhaps this was the reason. It may also have been that even though they accused Yeshua of forbidding tribute to Caesar that that was what they really wanted to do, and because he had opposed them, and because of the widespread Zealot influence which wanted to drive out the Romans by force and violence, which Yeshua also had opposed, that they wanted to get rid of him for that reason. But again, these are all speculations; we cannot be certain, no matter what we may prefer to believe.

In the court of Pontius Pilate, who during in his previous tenure of office had shown himself to be no friend of the Jews, Yeshua again remained silent when Pilate asked him how he answered his accusers. Pilate is reported to have been astonished at Yeshua's refusal to answer; perhaps he was not familiar with the practice of standing mute. But when Pilate asked Yeshua directly, "Are you really the king of the Jews?" his answer was the same as before:
That is the charge.
The gospel of John reports much more dialogue between Pilate and Yeshua; but this is unlikely in view of the report of Mark, Luke, and Matthew that he said nothing. John also portrays Yeshua as claiming to be a king of another world, which is not supported by anything he has said in the first three gospels.

Luke tells us that when Pilate found out that Yeshua was a Galilean, he sent him under guard to Herod, who just happened to be visiting in Jerusalem that day, probably also for the passover. Luke says that Herod was anxious to see Yeshua and hoped to see some miracle, and that he questioned him long; but again Yeshua answered nothing. So Herod sent him back to Pilate; and the rumor spread that Herod and his soldiers had mocked at Yeshua and made fun of him, and that Herod and Pilate became friends that very day.

Back in Pilate's courtroom, Pilate decided that he could not find any reason for condemning Yeshua, and we are told that he could also see that the chief priests had brought him there just because they wanted to get rid of him. So he asked them, "Shall I release this man you call the king of the Jews?" But the chief priests asked him to release instead a man named Bar-Abbas, who was said to be an insurrectionist lying in prison for having committed murder. The gospels report that there was a custom that the Roman governor would release a prisoner on their high feast-days, and that was why they asked for the release of Bar-Abbas. But there is no record in Pilate's reports or contemporary Roman history of such a custom. The preference for the insurrectionist, who must have been a Zealot, however, confirms our supposition that the Jews preferred to listen to one who advocated rebellion against Rome.

So the chief priests incited the crowd to demand the release of Bar-Abbas, whose name means merely "the son of a father," or more colloquially, "this guy." Pilate asked them, "What shall I do then to this man whom you call the king of the Jews?" And, prodded by the religious leaders, the crowds cried out, "Crucify him!" Pilate remonstrated, asking, "Why, what evil has he done?" But the shouts continued, "Crucify him! crucify him!" All of which is familiar as the way in which men in power seek to destroy those who challenge their power, by urging outcries against them.

But this scene is open to doubt: it is unlikely that the Roman governor would have let himself be pushed around by the Jewish people, and more likely that he was convinced that yes, Yeshua was a rebel, he was a strong leader with a large following, and it may have even been the Romans themselves who arrested Yeshua that night in the garden, and all the trial before the Jews was trumped up later to place the entire blame for the death of Yeshua on the Jews in order to exonerate the Gentiles. Matthew tells us that Pilate took a bowl of water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, "I am innocent of the blood of this righteous man." But this too is unlikely; it was a Jewish custom, not a Roman one. This is illustrative of how the narrators of the gospels tried to remove any responsibility for the death of Yeshua from the Romans, even though they carried out the act.

So the chief priests had won, it seemed, as the Romans took Yeshua away to be crucified. The custom was to make the victim carry his own cross up the hill to the place of crucifixion; and we may even speculate that this was the real origin of the expression attributed to Yeshua, to "carry one's own cross." But for some reason they conscripted a man named Simon from Cyrene, which was a city on the north coast of Africa in Egypt, to carry Yeshua's cross for him. Luke tells us that on the way they were followed by a multitude of people and women bewailing and lamenting his execution. Whether this was possible or not we don't know, since the Romans probably didn't let the people come near a condemned person; but Luke tells us that Yeshua turned to them and uttered another sad lament for their sakes:
Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children.
      For the days are coming in which they shall say, Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the breasts that never gave suck. Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us; and to the hills, Cover us. For if they do these things when the tree is green, what shall they do when it is withered and dry?
Coming at the moment of his own death, and in the echo of his plaintive cry over not having been able to gather them all together as a mother hen gathers her brood, and his tears on the day of his arrival at Jerusalem, when he said, If you had only known the things of peace! but the days are coming, when they shall dash you and your children to the ground, we can plainly see that the whole thrust of his ministry during these seven or nine or eleven months has been to save them from a coming destruction by the Romans and to teach them how to write the law of God in their inward parts, as Jeremiah says. Surely this really is something he said, whether on the way to the cross, or sometime before.

Finally they arrived at a place called Gol-Goath, which means in Hebrew "the hill of Goath," and not, as the gospels say, "the place of a skull," which is gul-goleth. It was about the third hour, which is about nine o'clock in the morning. An awful lot has happened in no more than twelve hours! if we accept the timetable as told in the gospels. These events must have taken longer; but the gospels are the only account we have of them. We are given as mass of details: he was offered a drink of wine mixed with myrrh, a bitter herb, which he refused; they took off his clothes, and cast lots over them; two robbers were crucified alongside of him; witnesses and passersby scoffed at him and laughed. Many of these come from verses in the Psalms, which were freely interpreted by later ages as being predictions of Yeshua's death. There was an inscription written above his head, but the gospels do not agree on what the words were, except that they had to do with his being the king of the Jews. He was heard to utter some words during the afternoon; but the gospels do not agree on what those were, either. Mark and Matthew say that he cried out in pain:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
which is a quotation from the 22nd psalm. Luke tells us that he first said, as he was being crucified,
Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.
and later, about the ninth hour, or 3 p.m.:
Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.
John reports that after he had taken a sip of vinegar from a sponge, he said:
It is finished.
But it is doubtful that anyone could have been near enough to make out the words. Luke also tells us that after he had passed, and stirred no more upon the cross, that a centurion of the Roman soldiers exclaimed, "Surely this was a righteous man!" just as had Pilate a few hours earlier.

And Mark tells us that there were many women watching from the distance, Mary Magdalene, and Salome the mother of Yakub and Yohan, and another Mary, the mother of another Yakub and Yosef, who could have been Yeshua's mother, since Mark says that those were two of his brothers' names (but she is not called his mother in the text); and many other women who came up from Jerusalem. Perhaps two of his brothers were in the crowd; certainly his brother Yakub became the leader of Yeshua's followers in Jerusalem, as we are told by the book of the Acts and the letters of Saul.

Thus Yeshua ben Yosef died, executed as a political offender for sedition against the state. He was not the first nor the last to be crucified; it was the usual Roman punishment for rebels and assassins. Whether the Jews actually accused him of blasphemy, and perjured themselves to the Romans by charging him with advocating rebellion, may be doubted; the Talmud, the Jewish compendium of teachings added to the Torah through the centuries, says that he led Israel astray and caused them to rise in rebellion. Perhaps this is the fact. But we have followed his career as he has taught throughout Galilee and Judea, and nothing he has said during those travels seems to incite war against Rome but appears rather to advocate against it. We must conclude that he was crushed by the combination of the Jewish priests who feared his attacks on their wealth and power, and the Roman authorities who feared that he was secretly a Zealot organizing resistance to them and creating a tumult among the people.

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