ã N. L.
THE JEWISH TRIAL
There is an ongoing debate as to whether or not Yahshua's appearance
before the judicial body of the sanhedrin was a trial or an investigatory
hearing; whether it was legal or illegal; and whether or not it was before the
full sanhedrin. I will endeavor to show in this chapter that the appearance of
Yahshua before this governmental tribunal was, in fact, a trial, entirely legal
in every principle of the law, and that it was held before the 23-member
judicial sanhedrin; that at morning light he was taken to Bethphage for the
pronouncement of the verdict (where he also received a flogging); that Yahshua
was brought before a Jewish criminal court in order to answer a Jewish criminal
accusation, and that the charge was fully defined as blasphemy by Jewish law.
There were, during the time of Yahshua, three sanhedrins: 1) a three-judge panel; 2) a 23-member judicial sanhedrin; and 3) a full 71-member religious sanhedrin. Only the 23-member sanhedrin was qualified to try criminal cases. Those accused of capital crimes were brought before this court over which the nasi and ab bet din presided. At the time of Yahshua the Sadducees held the powerful offices of the criminal court.
Cases involving the death penalty are judged before
twenty-three [judges] [Mishnah, Sanhedrin 1:4a].
The Great Sanhedrin [sometimes called the Great Beth Din] was a tribunal body consisting of three chambers: the Chamber of the Chief Priests; the Chamber of the Scribes; and the Chamber of the Elders (sometimes called counsellors). These three chambers were divided into 23 members each, which when combined constituted a body of 69 members. Added to this were the two high priests: the nasi and the ab bet din, making a total of 71 members in all. This legislative unit was responsible only for the administration of the Temple. The only capital cases brought before it were those involving women who committed adultery and cases against the priesthood, or the High-Priest himself. This court was authorized only to administer the "bitter water" to those women caught in adultery (the sotah), and to sentence members of the priesthood. It [Great Sanhedrin] sat in judgment on women suspected of adultery, and sentenced them to drink the bitter water (Sotah I.4) [Sanhedrin, The Jewish Encyclopedia, p. 44].
The exception to this rule was in the case where the accused adulteress was an arusah (a priests daughter), who was "singled out by the Divine Law [and punished] by stoning [instead of burning or strangulation]" [Talmud, Sanhedrin 50a].
The Chamber of Priests included the leading priests and their Levitical
attendants. Their duties consisted of the administration of various
sacrificial functions of the Temple. The majority of these priests were
Sadducean. They were often in opposition to the Pharisees in that the
Sadduceans were more political and held a stricter interpretation of the
written Mosaic law. During the time of Yahshua, the Sadducees, who had formed
an alliance with the Herodians, had become materialistic, greedy, and
political. They did not believe in the resurrection of the dead nor an
afterlife, but did, however, follow the strictest tenets of Mosaic criminal
law. It was this aggregate of priests who found Yahshua a threat to the
economic and political stability of the priestly oligarchy and their Temple
The Chamber of the Scribes was a group of scholars (called sages), primarily composed of Pharisees. They received their titles (soferim) because, originally, it was their duty to count the words of Torah in order to determine if texts were corrupt.
Why is a scribe called a sofer? The Hebrew word sofer
(plural, soferim) means "one who counts." The Talmud informs us that some of
the early scribes were called soferim because they used to count all the
letters, words, and verses of the Torah. They did so in order to make certain
that letters or words were neither added nor omitted and that a Torah scroll
represented as correct was indeed so. This practice of counting words, verses,
and lines was well known in the literary world of the Greeks and Romans and
appears to have been introduced by the librarians of the great library in
Alexandria, Egypt, in the second or third centuries B.C.E. Authors and copyists
would indicate at the end of their works all or some of these vital statistics
for two reasons: to help teachers and students refer to passages and to enable
buyers of manuscripts to check whether the exact number of words and lines were
copied -- without addition or deletion [Alfred J. Kolatch, This is the Torah,
In New Covenant writings they are called "lawyers" in that they interpreted the Mosaic law by oral tradition and set down precedents for future legislation. While the Sadducees had objected to Yahshua on political grounds, it was this group who found offense in Yahshua's teachings. No teacher could base his teaching merely on his own authority; and the fact that Jesus did this, was no doubt one of the grievances against him on the part of the Jews...the statement (Matt. vii. 28,29) that Jesus taught them as one having authority and not as their scribes, was certainly cause sufficient that the people should be astonished at his teaching, and that the scribes should be incensed and alarmed [R. Travers Herford, Christianity in the Talmud and Midrash, p. 9].
Scribes, like lawyers today, were known to have cited at least one authority (and preferably more) when trying to establish law. Without such citations, scribes could be held accountable for "leading the nation astray" through the teaching of "false and misleading" doctrines. The scribes and Pharisees of the New Covenant are one and the same; the title scribe denotes their occupation, the word Pharisee denotes their affiliation. The Pharisees were neither a party nor a sect, but rather a socio-religious movement. And we should note that within the boundaries of the Pharisaic movement one can discern at least two different religious approaches to a given situation. The different approaches became especially evident when Palestine was ruled by a pagan power or by a Jewish government friendly to it...One wing of the Pharisaic movement, then, exercised some influence on the revolutionary trend which gained ground among the Jews in the first century. It is therefore quite evident that prior to AD 70 Pharisaism, so-called, far from being a monolith, was a rather complex and heterogeneous religious movement [Irving M. Zeitlin, Jesus and the Judaism of His Time, pp. 14-15].
While there were several splinter groups from the Pharisaic movement, at least four factions of Pharisees can be identified within the first century: Essenes (the seclusive radicals), Zealots (the militant radicals), those simply called "Pharisees" in the gospels (Hellenistic radicals), and the more conservative group within which Yahshua was accepted as hasidim. The most extreme of the Hellenistic Pharisees were those who were connected to the sanhedrin as members of the Chamber of the Scribes. The early Scribes were, as Bickerman suggests, similar to the "Roman juris periti of the same period, who were the legal advisers of the pontifices." Some think that these Scribes were the predecessors of the Sages and eventually, the Rabbis -- Masters or teachers of Torah [Reuven Hammer, The Classic Midrash, p. 18].
It was also this brotherhood of scribes which was to later become the dominant sect. They became responsible for instituting and recording the Mishnaic Code from what they believed was the traditional "oral" law handed down from Moses. This contemporary view of the law was thought by Hillel and others to be a more feasible corpus of law for the nation of Israel within the Hellenic culture of the first century than was the written Mosaic legislation adhered to by the Sadduceans. The naive and artless interpretations of the Torah, offered by the Midrash, would no longer suffice in an age of intellectual vigor. The rabbis began to add Greek reasoning to biblical revelation. The result was the Mishna, the work of a new set of Jewish scholars known as the Tannas...like the Midrash, it kept on diluting the Word of God with liberal quantities of fallible human opinion [John Phillips, Exploring the World of the Jew, pp. 56-57].
The Chamber of the Elders, also called "senators" or "councillors", were men of aristocratic lineage who maintained the view that the nation should remain faithful to the written law of Moses. While many were Pharisees, themselves, they were generally adverse to the policies of the extreme Pharisaic Chamber of Scribes. It is clear there were a number of different factions within the "brotherhood" of the Pharisees. As mentioned earlier, it is believed some of the more radical among them were the Zealots and Essenes; the conservative Pharisees with whom Yahshua was congenial generally associated themselves with the Chamber of Elders. This is the reason that Yahshua sometimes is found dining with, conversing with, and visiting with some Pharisees. It was to this conservative group that Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimaethea belonged. Unfortunately, this chamber was the least influential of the three chambers and had nothing to do with criminal law.
In order to apply for membership in this elite political and religious governing assemblage one must (eliminating both kinship and wealth) meet the following criteria and possess the following qualifications:
"1. He must have been a Hebrew and a lineal descendant of Hebrews.
2. He must have been learned in the law, both written and unwritten.
3. He must have had judicial experience; have begun with one of the local courts and passed through two magistracies in Jerusalem (Jose b. Halafta, I.c).
4. He must have been especially well grounded in astronomy, medicine, chemistry, and familiar with the arts of the necromancer.
5. He must have been an accomplished linguist, familiar with all the languages of the surrounding nations. The reason for this is found that interpreters were not allowed in Hebrew courts. After 70 A.D., the Sanhedrin discouraged learning the Greek language.
6. He must have been modest, popular, of good appearance and without haughty demeanor.
7. He must have been pious, strong and courageous." [S. Srinivasa Aiyar, The Legality of the Trial of Jesus, pp. 49-50].
8. He must have been qualified for a regular trade, occupation, or profession. Unless he could meet this qualification, he would not at all be qualified for membership [Ibid., p. 50].
In addition to these requirements, he must have been genealogically
qualified to intermarry with women belonging to the priestly families.
From the seventy-one members of this great tribunal (Great Sanhedrin) were taken the 23-member criminal court. It was this 23-member judicial sanhedrin before which Yahshua was tried. It consisted of twenty-one members (extracted from the sixty-nine of the Great Beth Din), as well as the nasi (President/High-Priest) and the ab bet din (Vice President/High-Priest). While the official presiding officer of the body was the nasi, it was the ab bet din who held the real power over these individuals. The group required to hear criminal cases also constituted a quorum of the larger body. It is for this reason that neither Nicodemus nor Joseph (conservative Pharisees) were present for Yahshua's trial. The majority of these individuals, then, could be hand-picked by Annas in order to assure the verdict he desired. Since at least a quorum was in opposition to Yahshua on both economic-political (Sadducees), and religious grounds (Pharisees/Scribes), it would not have been difficult for Annas to pick a group willing to put him to death. Ordinarily, this group of individuals would have been above reproach.
The laws that not all [persons] are eligible, and
that twenty three judges are necessary, are but one. -- There is yet another
[difference]: for it has been taught: We do not appoint as members of the
Sanhedrin, an aged man, a eunuch or one who is childless...People of
illegitimate birth are ineligible as judges in capital cases because a court of
twenty-three holds the status of a minor Sanhedrin, with whom pure descent is
essential; hence they are counted as one [Talmud, Sanhedrin 36b and
But look what happens when the case of a mesith (one who leads the nation astray) is to be tried: the requirement is PURPOSELY REVERSED! It is the reverse in the case of a Mesith, for the Divine Law states, Neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him...Because such are more or less devoid of paternal tenderness [Tosef. Sanh. VII and X; Talmud, Sanhedrin 36b and 36b(6)].
Furthermore, the trial for such an accused might be legally held in one day (or night) [a decision for the hour, or horaat shah], and he can be convicted by a unanimous verdict of guilty. His case may be begun by day and finished by night; they may begin and end it on the same day, whether he be guilty or not; they may arrive at a verdict by a majority of one whether it be for conviction or acquittal; ALL MAY PLEAD FOR ACQUITTAL OR ALL FOR CONVICTION; one who pleads for acquittal may retract and plead for conviction. THE EUNUCH AND THE CHILDLESS CAN ACT AS JUDGES, AND, ACCORDING TO R. JEHUDA, EVEN THOSE WHO ARE BIASED IN THE DIRECTION OF SEVERITY [Tosefta, Sanhedrin X, 11]. As we know, this is exactly what occurred during Yahshua's trial. Many attempts have been made to exonerate the Jewish sanhedrin by claiming that the trial was highly irregular and illegal, but upon closer examination of the law, we shall learn that this is simply not the case. These judges were unanimously determined to put Yahshua to death for his interference in their affairs.
An investigation might be made into those members of the sanhedrin who might have been most likely chosen by Annas and present during the trial of Yahshua. Authorities have long recognized that these individuals were primarily Sadducees connected with the House of Annas and the infamous oligarchy in control of the Temple Cult, those having an interest in the Temple traffic. One Jewish historian states:
He [Yahshua] was held in custody in the house of the
high priest. Temple scribes and priests had been called to the house. These
were Sadducee members of the committee responsible for the functioning of the
Temple [Chaim Potok, Wanderings, p. 374].
The following individuals then might be the most likely candidates to serve as judges (or elohiym) in the trial proceedings:
1. CAIAPHAS [HOUSE OF HANAN]: Caiaphas held the office of high priest during the entire term of Pilates procuratorship (25-36 C.E.). He was appointed by Valerius Gratus in 25 C.E. [Josephus, Antiquities 18.2.2]. Little is known about him, except that his "father-in-law" (or ab bet din) was Annas. As stated earlier, I believe it was to his title that the author of John referred, rather than to any notion of kinship by marriage. That is not to say Caiaphas was not a member of the House of Hanan. He was, however, a mere puppet who held no real political power. In the case of Yahshua, he presided as nasi over the sanhedrin and pronounced the final verdict of blasphemy. He was deposed from his office in the same year that Pilate was recalled to Rome. This fact would seem to indicate that the two were, perhaps, intimately connected.
2. ANNAS (Ananus) [HOUSE OF HANAN]: Annas was the former high priest, holding office seven years under Coponius, Ambivus, and Rufus (7-11 C.E.) [Josephus, Antiquities 20.9.1]. He was called by Josephus the "ancientest of the high-priests" [Josephus, Wars 4.3.7]. He also states that it was Annas death that "was the beginning of the destruction of the city" [Ibid., 4.5.2]. Annas was slain in the midst of Jerusalem. At the time of Yahshua's trial and execution, he served as ab bet din, the "father of the court". It was his duty to bring forth the formal accusation. As stated above, while Caiaphas was the high priest, Annas held the actual power. History is quite clear about this. His wealthy family, in fact, held the office of the high priesthood for fifty years without interruption. In the words of one scholar they were "haughty, audacious, and cruel" [Dale Foreman, Crucify Him, p. 110]. Josephus gives us this report about his government:
[B]ut for the high-priest Ananias [Annas], he
increased in glory every day, and this to a great degree, and had obtained the
favor and esteem of the citizens in a signal manner; FOR HE WAS A GREAT
HOARDER UP OF MONEY; he therefore cultivated the friendship of Albinus, and
of the high-priest [Jesus], BY MAKING THEM PRESENTS; HE ALSO HAD SERVANTS
WHO WERE VERY WICKED, who joined themselves to the boldest sort of the
people, and went to the thrashing-floors, AND TOOK AWAY THE TITHES THAT
BELONGED TO THE [conservative] PRIESTS BY VIOLENCE, AND DID NOT REFRAIN FROM
BEATING SUCH AS WOULD NOT GIVE THESE TITHES TO THEM. SO THE OTHER HIGH-PRIESTS
ACTED IN THE LIKE MANNER, AS DID THOSE HIS SERVANTS WITHOUT ANYONE BEING ABLE
TO PROHIBIT THEM; so that [some of the] priests, that of old were wont to
be supported with those tithes, died for want of food [Josephus, Antiquities
3. ELEAZAR BEN HANAN [HOUSE OF HANAN]: Eleazar was the eldest son of Annas. He was high priest under Valerius Gratus, holding that office between 23-24 C.E. He had replaced Ismael ben Phabi I, who had already served one term as high priest. When Eleazar had served for one year, Gratus gave the office to Simon ben Camithus (who also served about a year). [Josephus, Antiquities 18.2.2].
4. JONATHAN BEN HANAN [HOUSE OF HANAN]: Jonathan, another son of Annas replaced Caiaphas as high priest for one year [Josephus, Antiquities 18.4.3] and was deposed by Vitellius and Herod the tetrarch (Antipas) in 37 C.E., who installed in his stead Jonathans brother Theophilus at the death of Tiberius [Josephus, Antiquities 18.5.3]. Pilate had already been called to return to Rome by this time. Jonathan was again appointed High-priest by King Agrippa, who deposed Simon [II] [Boethus] Cantheras, but Jonathan, who had held the office before refused the honor and offered it to his brother, Matthias [Josephus, Antiquities 19.6.4]. During the siege of Jerusalem, he was the first man murdered by the sect of the Sicarii [Zealots]. These sicarii were called by that name because of the concealed daggers they carried in their cloaks [Josephus, Wars 2.8.3]. The Sicarii terrorized the priesthood because it was sympathetic to Rome. Jonathan was mentioned in the book of Acts [4:6], along with Annas, Caiaphas, and Alexander (his kinsmen) as present at the examination of Peter and John. This places the disciples arrest prior to 37 C.E. since that was the year Jonathan replaced Caiaphas as high priest.
5. THEOPHILUS BEN HANAN [HOUSE OF HANAN]: Theophilus, another son of Annas was high priest after his brother Jonathan [Josephus, Antiquities 18.5.3]. He held the office for five years until 42 C.E. and was replaced by another brother Matthias (but this was not until after Simon, the son of Simon Boethus had served in that capacity). Not much is known about the activities of this man. Josephus here contradicts himself and tells us he was replaced by Simon [II], the son of [Simon] Boethus, appointed by King Agrippa, "whose name was also Cantheras, WHOSE DAUGHTER [the daughter of Simon I] KING HEROD HAD MARRIED" [Josephus, Antiquities 19.6.3]. Josephus tells us the high priesthood now returned to the family of Boethus for a time, but as we have stated before Matthias officiated for two years during this time. Unless this Matthias, brother of Jonathan, and son of Ananus (Annas) was also related to the Boethus family, this is not possible. We note that this Simon Is name was also "Cantheras", indicating that intermarriage within the four families of the high-priesthood (and apparently with the Herodians as well) was a fairly common practice.
In the Second Temple period, the leading priestly
families made a practice of endogamous marriage; but under suitable
circumstances they were not unwilling to establish matrimonial ties with
influential families not included among the priesthood [ed. H. H. Ben-Sasson, A
History of the Jewish People, p. 195].
6. MATTHIAS BEN HANAN [HOUSE OF HANAN]: This son of Annas became high priest for two years (42-44 C.E.), succeeding his brother, Jonathan [Josephus, Antiquities 19.6.4].
7. ANANUS BEN HANAN [HOUSE OF HANAN]: Ananus, son of Annas. This was the high priest who was said to be a Sadducee of "extravagant zeal". This Ananus II was the priest who illegally condemned James and other Nazareans to be stoned and was deposed by Albanus (who replaced the prefect Portius Festus), the representative of the Roman government in 62 C.E. [Josephus, Antiquities 20.8.1]. The more conservative Pharisees contacted King Agrippa, who deposed Ananus and replaced him with Yahshua, the son of Damneus. Ananus II was said to be ineffective and cruel.
8. JOAZAR BEN BOETHUS [HOUSE OF BOETHUS]: Joazar, the son of Simon Boethus (I) served for six years (4 B.C.E.-2 C.E.) He had married the sister of the High-priest Matthias and replaced Matthias in that office (this man is not the same as Matthias ben Hanan above but a member of the Boethus family). It was during his tenure that Cyrenius, the Roman senator, became the governor of Syria and, along with Coponius, imposed a census in Judea, "being sent by Caesar to be a judge of that nation, and to take an account of their substance" [Josephus, Antiquities 18.1.1]. This is the census to which Luke refers [Luke 2:1-3]. It was Joazar ben Boethus who persuaded the Jews to accept the taxation imposed on them. [Ibid.]. This census was concluded in the "thirty-seventh year of Caesars victory over Antony at Actium" [Josephus, Antiquities 18.2.1] (which occurred in 31 B.C.E.). It occurred during the year Joazar was installed in the priesthood (4 B.C.E.). We might here mention that it was also during this time that Yahshua was born. Both Luke and Josephus seem confused in their narratives. Herod the Great had just died. Here, we find a discrepancy in the writings of Luke, since Herod was supposed to have slain all infants in Bethlehem "two years old and under". The phrase would suggest that Yahshua had been born in 6 B.C.E., his family immediately fleeing to Egypt. They would not return until Archelaus was king (4 B.C.E.) (at the time of the taxation), because it was at this time that the kingdom of Judea was to revert to Archelaus. It was at this time that Antipas was appointed tetrarch of Galilee and Berea [Josephus, Antiquities 17.8.1]. Archelaus deposed Joazar and replaced him with his brother Eleazar ben Boethus [Josephus, Antiquities 17.13.1]. After three months, the priesthood was then transferred to Jesus ben Sie [Ibid.]. Josephus again contradicts himself, stating that "he [Archelaus] deprived Joazar of the high-priesthood, which dignity had been conferred on him by the multitude, and he appointed Ananus [Annas], the son of Seth, to be high priest" [Josephus, Antiquities 18.2.1]. Apparently, Eleazar held the office for three months, then Jesus ben Sie, who held the office for five or six years until 7 C.E. when he was replaced by Annas, who resided as ab bet din at Yahshua's trial.
9. ELEAZAR BEN BOETHUS [HOUSE OF BOETHUS]: Eleazar, the son of Simon Boethus I served only three months as high priest in 2 C.E. He replaced his brother Joazar [Josephus, Antiquities 17.8.1].
10. SIMON CANTHARUS BEN BOETHUS [HOUSE OF BOETHUS]: This is the Simon (II) mentioned above, the third son of Simon Boethus. He served only a few months as high priest in 42 C.E. [Josephus, Antiquities 19.6.2,4]. At this time "Herod of Chalcis petitioned Claudius Caesar for the authority over the temple, and the money of the sacred treasure, and the choice of the high-priests, and obtained all he petitioned for" [Josephus, Antiquities 20.1.3]. Afterward, this Herod installed Joseph, the son of "Camus" or "Camydus" [Gamus] as high priest [Ibid., 20.5.2], who after serving a short period of time in office was succeeded by Ananias, the son of Nebedeus [Hananiah ben Nedebai], before whose tribunal Paul appeared [Acts 23:2-5].
11. ISMAEL BEN PHIABI (FABUS, PHABI) I [HOUSE OF PHIABI]: Ismael ben Phiabi was high priest for nine years under Valerius Gratus, the predecessor of Pontius Pilate. He is said to have been "the handsomest man of his time, whose effeminate love of luxury was the scandal of the age" [S. Srinivasa Aiyar, The Legality of the Trial of Jesus, p. 53]. His grandson is believed to have been Rabbi Ishmael of the sages, who was said to have been tortured at the hands of the Roman soldiers for having studied Torah [Elie Wiesel, Sages and Dreamers, pp. 212-213].
12. JESUS BEN SIE: Jesus ben Sie held the high priesthood for five or six years (1-6 C.E.) just prior to the introduction of our infamous Annas into the high-priesthood [Josephus, Antiquities 17.13.1]. This Jesus had replaced Eleazar ben Boethus, who held the office only three months. While he served a relatively lengthy stint in the high priestly office, not much is known of him.
13. SIMON BEN CAMITHUS [CAMITHI]: Simon ben Camithus served as high priest for one year (24-25 C.E.). He is often ridiculed in the Talmud [Yoma 47, for example]. Joseph Caiaphas was his successor [Josephus, Antiquities 18.2.2].
14. JOSHUA BEN PHIABI [HOUSE OF PHIABI]: This man served as high priest under Herod the Great. He was an Alexandrian Jew and his descendants served in the office of high priest at various times during the following years.
The greatness of the third priestly family, the house
of Phiabi, which also seems to have come from Egypt, is reflected in the fact
that it supplied three High Priests: the first, Joshua ben Phiabi, held office
under Herod himself; the second, Ishmael ben Phiabi I functioned as High Priest
under the early Roman governors; the third, Ishmael ben Phiabi II, was
appointed by Agrippa II [ed. H. H. Ben-Sasson, A History of the Jewish People,
15. ALEXANDER BEN HANAN [HOUSE OF HANAN]: Josephus says that he afterward (after his term of office) became an Alabarch -- first magistrate of the Jews in Alexandria [Josephus, Antiquities 20.5.2]. It is said he was very rich and at one time loaned King Herod Agrippa two hundred pieces of silver [Josephus, Antiquities 18.6.3]. One source claims he was "a priestly partner of the sons of Annas in the Temple traffic" [John E. Richards, The Illegality of the Trial of Jesus, p. 16]. He is the Alexander mentioned in Acts 4:6. It was this Alexander (a Jewish high priest) who commanded that Simon and James, the two sons of Judas, the Galilean Zealot, BE CRUCIFIED! [Josephus, Antiquities 20.5.2].
16. HANANIAH BEN NEDEBAI (Ananias ben Nebedeus): Ananias was a high priest under Ventideus, Cumanus and Felix. He served for twelve years (47-59 C.E.) [Josephus, Antiquities 20.5.2; 20.6.2; 20.9,2-4]. Ananias (the High Priest) and Ananus II (the "commander of the Temple" i.e. the Captain of the Temple at that time) were sent in bonds to Rome to appear before Claudius Caesar for their report on a recent Samaritan revolt. The two must have been received favorably because Ananus II is found again in Jerusalem as high priest in 62 C.E. when James was executed. He was infamous for his excessive gluttony, and was exceptionally wealthy. A tradition has been preserved in the Talmud [Gittin 56a] that there were three other rich men of Jerusalem who could supply Jerusalem with all that was needed to withstand a siege for a number of years (27 years to be specific): Nicodemus ben Gorion (who might have been the Nicodemus of the New Covenant); Ben-Kalba Savua and Ben-Zitzit Hakkesset [ed. H. H. Ben-Sasson, A History of the Jewish People, p. 270].
Three men of great wealth, Nakdimon ben Gorion, Ben
Kalba Savua, and Ben Tzitzit ha-Keset, lived in Jerusalem. Nakdimon ben Gorion
was so called because the sun continued shining (nakedah) for his sake. Ben
Kalba Savua was so called because one would go into his house hungry as a dog
(kelev) and come out full (savea). Ben Tzitzit ha-Keset was so called because
his fringes (tzitzit) used to trail on cushions (keset). One of the three said,
"I will keep the people of Jerusalem in wheat and barley." A second said, "I
will keep them in firewood." (The sages considered the offer of wood the most
generous. They pointed out that R. Hisda [used to hand all his keys to his
servant, except the one to the woodbin, for, he] would say, "To bake one load
of wheat requires sixty loads of wood.) [ed. Bialik and Ravnitzky, Sefer
Ha-Aggadah, Legends of the Jews 189-190:2].
Ananias, after the Zealots had set fire to his house on the 14th of Av, was slain in 66 C.E. by the Sicarii [Josephus, Wars 2.17.9], along with his brother Hezekiah (Ezekias), while hiding in an aqueduct. It was about this time that the Bazaars of Annas were destroyed. It is noted by Josephus that after the burning of Ananias house, the Zealots "carried the fire to the place where the archives were reposited, and made haste to burn the contracts belonging to their creditors, and thereby dissolve their obligations for paying their debts; and this was done, in order to gain the multitude of those who had been debtors, and that they might persuade the poorer sort to join in their insurrection with safety against the more wealthy; so the keepers of the records fled away, and the rest set fire to them" [Josephus, Wars 2.7.6]. At that time, this "vaulted" structure (called the Arch of Accounts or Bet HaKana) was located upon the Mount of Olives.
17. HELCIAS BEN PHIABI [HOUSE OF PHIABI]: Helcias (or Chelcias) was the keeper of the sacred Treasury. He is called "Helcias the Great" by Josephus, who states that he and the other "principal men of that family" went to Petronius (a Roman publican) to persuade him to reason with Caius (Caligula) Caesar concerning the bringing of his own statue to Jerusalem to be placed in the Temple" [Josephus, Antiquities 20.8.4]. Helcias is believed to have been the Chief Treasurer of the Temple during the trial of Yahshua and would have been responsible for giving the thirty pieces of silver to Judas Iscariot (not out of character for these families, who were often known to have made "bribes") to betray his Master.
18. SCEVA: We know little of Sceva except that he was one of the principal priests of the Temple. He had seven sons who devoted themselves to witchcraft (see Acts 19:13-14).
19. JONATHAN BEN UZIEL (YONATHAN BEN OUZIEL): He was a scribe and translator of the prophets (except for the book of Daniel). He is said to have been the best scholar of the School of Hillel [Elie Wiesel, Sages and Dreamers, p. 162].
20. RABBI NACHUN HALBALAR: He was another scribe who acted as a judge in Yahshua's case. He was known to have been a member of the sanhedrin in the year 28 C.E. [S. Srinivasa Aiyar, The Legality of the Trial of Jesus, p. 56].
21. NARADA BEN ZITZIT HAKKESSET (HACKSAB): Narada, a Pharisaic Elder who it has been said "proclaimed to the full body, the question of guilt of Jesus" [S. Srinivasa Aiyar, The Legality of the Trial of Jesus, p. 58]. His father, as mentioned earlier, was one of the three richest men in Jerusalem.
22. DORAS: A treacherous man, Doras was known to have been persuaded by the procurator Felix to bring "robbers" (Sicarii) against his most faithful friend Jonathan ben Hanan (the high-priest and son of Annas) in order to murder him [Josephus, Antiquities 20.7.5]. Felix had not liked Jonathan because that priest was known to have given him frequent "admonitions about governing the Jewish affairs better than he did, lest he should himself have complaints made of him by the multitude" [Ibid.]. It was at Jonathans request that Felix was brought to Judea as prefect.
23. MATTHIAS BEN BOETHUS [HOUSE OF BOETHUS]: He served as
one of the high priests and was betrayed by Simon, a former high priest, to the
Romans during the Jewish War. His three sons were put to death before his eyes
prior to his own execution [Josephus, War 5.8.1]. They were left in the
streets to rot.
The foregoing list of participants seems the most likely to have been among the judges during the trial of Yahshua. All belonged to the exclusive Temple Cult, all were among the four families controlling the priesthood, and all were partners in the Bazaars of Annas and the Temple bank. These corrupt priestly families, intermarried among themselves and with the Herodian royal house (whose sons were raised in the Roman Emperors own household), and were those before whom Yahshua stood because he had dared to confront them with their avarice, politics, and irreligion. The Pharisaic rabbis and sages of the latter first century and onward, for the most part, held these individuals in utter disdain.
What a plague is the family of Simon Boethus;
cursed be their lances! What a plague is the family of Ananos; cursed be
their hissing of vipers! What a plague is the family of Cantharus;
cursed be their pens! What a plague is the family of Ismael ben Phabi;
cursed be their fists! They are high priests themselves, their sons are
treasurers, their sons-in-law are commanders [captains], and their servants
strike people with staves [thus verifying the words of Josephus about the
servants of Annas] [Talmud, Pesahim 57].
Of the foregoing assemblage of Priests, Scribes, and Elders we find at least eight members of the House of Hanan, four members of the House of Boethus, and three members of the House of Phiabi. The remainder are their kinsmen. Their influence in the government of Israel and on Rome, itself, was extremely powerful. They were hated by the populace because of their close political ties to both the Herodian royal house and the Roman government. It is difficult to imagine that these four families might be amenable to the teachings of Yahshua. In their opinions, this mans teachings were in opposition to their governmental persuasions. He stirred up the dissatisfied people, already ripe for revolt. When Yahshua was brought before Annas, that ab bet din found in him little to commend in light of the political and economic policies of the Temple Cult of which he was the chief. After Annas completed the formal accusation at Bethphage, Yahshua had been bound and sent to Caiaphas, who was temporarily residing in the Parwah "house" of the Temple ("Stone House"). It is also here that we find the council chamber in which were gathered the infamous judges. We are told by the gospel narrators that witnesses were procured. These would necessarily have been the same witnesses who had testified during the initial accusation phase of the trial. Peter was, apparently, released from further duty as an "unreliable" witness, for we learn that he awaits the outcome of the trial in the "porch" or "place of blowing" [Beth Chatser] alongside the guard and temple servants. Yohanan Eleazar (Lazarus), on the other hand, as a member of the sanhedrin (but not of the criminal court) was allowed to remain as a spectator to the travesty. It is to him we owe our debt of gratitude for the report of the trial proceedings. This is the disciple who beareth witness concerning these things and who hath written these things; and we know that true is his witness [John 21:24].
Yet the report is not entirely rendered in the Gospel of John. It is to the other gospels (who received that oral testimony) that we must now turn. Mark, as a disciple of Peter, would have had this tradition from both the author of John and from Peter, yet not even all the tradition was reported at that time. Luke and Matthew are known to have taken parts of their own gospels from Mark, and each gives details from a different viewpoint that help us to understand the trial.
Academicians have insisted that the Jewish trial was highly illegal and an unexcused breach of the existing law. At first glance, this seems feasible. An investigation into the finer points of the law will prove otherwise. Below are the arguments made by the proponents of an illegal trial. Some of the evidence used below has already been covered in the chapter entitled The Crime: Apostasy From the Law, but for the sake of clarity a few citations bear repeating.
1. Capital cases are said to begin with the defense of the accused rather than the prosecution.
...in capital cases they begin only with the case for
acquittal, and not with the case for conviction [Mishnah, Sanhedrin
There appears to have been no attempt to first pursue acquittal at Yahshua's trial. To the contrary, "the High-priest and all the High-council were seeking against Yahshua testimony, with the intent to put him to death" [Mark 14:55].
2. We are told by Mark that "the High-priest rising up into the midst questioned Yahshua" [Mark 14:60]. Talmudic law states this is highly illegal in that the accused is never required to testify against himself. Adin Steinsaltz explains:
The basic assumption in halakhah is that a man does
not belong only to himself; just as he has no right to cause physical harm to
others, so he has no right to inflict injury on himself. THIS IS WHY IT WAS
DETERMINED THAT THE CONFESSION OF THE DEFENDANT HAD NO LEGAL CONSIDERATION.
This rule, which has its own formal substantiation, served courts for centuries
as a powerful weapon AGAINST ATTEMPTS TO EXTRACT CONFESSIONS BY FORCE OR
PERSUASION. Not only can no man be forced to incriminate himself through
his own testimony, but SELF-INCRIMINATION HAS NO SIGNIFICANCE AND IS
UNACCEPTABLE AS EVIDENCE IN COURT [Adin Steinsaltz, The Essential Talmud,
That Caiaphas sought such a confession from Yahshua, even to the point of placing him under oath, is ordinarily seen as nullifying the proceedings. It goes even farther, FOR IT MAKES NO USE WHATEVER OF ADMISSIONS OR OF CONFESSIONS OF GUILT, EITHER IN OR OUT OF COURT; [Deuteronomy 19:15] is understood as EXCLUDING THE MOUTH OF THE ACCUSED; and THE PRINCIPLE IS LAID DOWN, "NO ONE CAN MAKE HIMSELF OUT GUILTY" (OR WICKED), and it appears often throughout the Talmud [The Jewish Encyclopedia, Accusatory and Inquisitorial Procedure, p. 163].
3. Caiaphas, after Yahshua's statement claiming he was "Son of Man" (i.e. a frail human), that he would sit on the right hand of "Power" and come in the clouds, declared no further need for witnesses. Mishnaic law, if on no other single point, is quite clear about the necessity of qualified eyewitnesses, two or three, agreeing as to what they had seen. Capital punishment in rabbinic law, or indeed any other punishment, must not be inflicted, except by the verdict of a regularly constituted court (Lesser Sanh.) of three and twenty qualified members (Sanh. 1:1; Sifre, Num. 160), and except on the most trustworthy and convincing testimony of at least two qualified eye-witnesses to the crime...who must depose that the culprit had been forewarned as to the criminality and the consequences of his project (Sanh. 5:1 140b et seq.) [The Jewish Encyclopedia, Capital Punishment, p. 556].
Caiaphas statement concerning no further need for such witnesses would seem to invalidate the trial.
4. Trials for capital punishment were not to take place on either the eve of the Sabbath or on a festival day. Furthermore, the trial and the verdict could not be confined to a single day.
In capital cases they come to a final decision for
acquittal on the same day, but on the following day for conviction. (Therefore
they do not judge capital cases either on the eve of the Sabbath or on the eve
of a festival) [Mishnah, Sanhedrin 4:1(k-l)].
Yet we know that Yahshua was brought to trial, a verdict was rendered, sentence passed, and execution carried out in a single day (beginning about 3:00 A.M. and ending at 3:00 P.M. on 14 Nisan) and that that day was both the eve of the Sabbath and the Eve of Passover.
5. The sanhedrin was not allowed to render a unanimous verdict of guilty.
...in capital cases they decide by a majority of one
for acquittal, but only with a majority of two [judges] for conviction
[Mishnah, Sanhedrin 4:1(f)].
We are told in the gospel of Mark that "they all condemned him to be worthy of death."
At first glance, these irregularities seem to completely invalidate the trials proceedings and thus close the case. The fact is, however, these proceedings, which would have been highly illegal in any other capital trial, were not illegal in the case at bar. We only need to look to the nature of the crime and what the Sanhedrin tractate of the Tosefta says about the requirements concerning trial proceedings in order to establish legality. As mentioned before, when an individual is brought to trial, charged as a Mesith, the entire order as narrated above is then REVERSED! The reversal process is one of the finer points of Jewish law during the first century, and we have only to recite the two all-inclusive Jewish statutes concerning the mesith to prove our case.
His case may be begun by day and finished by night; THEY MAY BEGIN AND END IT ON THE SAME DAY, WHETHER HE BE GUILTY OR NOT; they may arrive at a verdict by a majority of one whether it be for conviction or acquittal; ALL MAY PLEAD FOR ACQUITTAL OR ALL FOR CONVICTION; one who pleads for acquittal may retract and plead for conviction. THE EUNUCH AND THE CHILDLESS CAN ACT AS JUDGES, AND, ACCORDING TO R. JEHUDA, EVEN THOSE WHO ARE BIASED IN THE DIRECTION OF SEVERITY...[furthermore he is] BROUGHT TO JERUSALEM and kept in prison till a feast AND KILLED AT A FEAST, for it is written: AND ALL THE PEOPLE SHALL HEAR AND FEAR, AND DO NO MORE PRESUMPTUOUSLY...therefore THEY KILL HIM AT ONCE...[Tosefta, Sanhedrin X.11; XI.7].
In capital cases they begin not with the case for
prosecution, but with the case for the defence, EXCEPT ONLY IN THE CASE OF A
BEGUILER TO IDOLATRY (Mesith), and, according to R. Jehoshua, the son of
Karha, THE CASE OF ONE WHO LEADS A TOWN ASTRAY [Tosefta, Sanhedrin
In just such a case, the defendant might even be allowed to testify and accuse himself. As mentioned in the last chapter, Caiaphas had every legal right to place Yahshua on oath and could use his testimony to condemn him. Did Yahshua confess his "crime"? We shall learn later that, in fact, he did, but he had not elaborated in his "confession", and it was the failure to elaborate which would have condemned him. They had wanted to cross-examine him further, but as they related to Pilate, it was "not lawful" to put a man to death. That statement has absolutely nothing to do with any notion that capital jurisdiction and the death penalty had been taken away from them at the time. The word "lawful" is the Greek exetazo or etazo meaning "to examine" or "to test thoroughly (by questions)", "to ascertain or interrogate" [Strongs Concordance, p. 29]. Thayers Lexicon defines it as "to search out", "to examine strictly", "to inquire...by direct question". What they were saying to Pilate was, in effect, "We cannot by our law interrogate Yahshua in the way we would like because our law does not permit it, but you, as a Roman prefect, might legally ask the questions we cannot." The rulers hypocrisy is quite blatant, and Pilate would have recognized it. For this reason, when he was questioning Yahshua for them, his scorn for their hypocrisy would be reflected in such statements as "Am I a Jew?", and "What is truth?" It is clear the sanhedrin did not want to accept full responsibility for Yahshua's execution. They used a point of Jewish law to force Pilates hand in the matter. By claiming they were not allowed to question Yahshua directly (since capital law forbids it), the court was attempting to "pass the buck", so to speak, to the Roman administration who was hated even more than the sanhedrin itself. Their attempt to coerce Yahshua into a Mesiths confession by placing him on oath had resulted, not in the confession of a clear capital crime as they had desired, but in what they considered the foolish "vain oath", a lesser crime for which Yahshua might be flogged with thirty-nine stripes. We must not be deceived, however, for that legislative body had found him guilty of blasphemy by enticement, and this is clearly evidenced by the niddui, or excommunicative process. The author of John merely mentioned that the death penalty had been abolished at the time to point out the hypocritical nature of the criminal court. It is believed that the Talmudic reference regarding the abolition of the death penalty was an interpolation made later because of the anti-semitism and persecution of Jews by the early Roman church. Here is the statement as recorded in the Talmud.
More than forty years before the Temple was
destroyed, capital cases were removed [from the authority of the Beth Din]
[Talmud, Sanhedrin 18a].
The fact of the matter is that capital cases were tried and the death penalty exacted throughout the next two centuries. The book of Acts records at least two more instances against the followers of Yahshua, as well as the attempted trial and execution of Peter and John. The first was only a few years after Yahshua's execution when the sanhedrin put Stephen on trial, finding him guilty and further enforcing the penalty of stoning [Acts 6:12]. The second example of this type of conduct by the sanhedrin is in the case of Paul [Acts 22:23;23]. It might be noted that the Roman captain who first arrested him, believing the proper jurisdiction lay within the authority of the Jewish political sphere, delivered Paul to the High-Council. We have, on authority of the Talmud, numerous instances of the same practice. The most historical of the sources, some would believe, is Josephus, who tells us Ananus II in 62 C.E. "assembled the sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Yahshua, who was called [Messiah], whose name was James, and some others [Nazareans or Ebionites]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned" [Josephus, Antiquities 20.9.1] If the statement in the Talmud is to be taken seriously, then the sanhedrin often broke their own law. What was theory and what was reality were two different things. One Jewish historian explains. Nevertheless, we sometimes get the impression that the Jews were accustomed to trying capital cases. A comparative study of the sources leads to the following conclusions: (1) in principal, criminal jurisdiction was indeed transferred from the Jewish institutions to the Roman administration; (2) IN THE CASE OF OFFENSES DIRECTLY INVOLVING THE DESECRATION OF THE TEMPLE, THE SANHEDRIN WAS ENTITLED TO PASS DEATH SENTENCES, though even here there was a measure of supervision by representatives of the Roman administration; (3) the degree of supervision was liable to change according to the circumstances...and WHEN THE CIRCUMSTANCES WERE FAVORABLE THE JEWS COULD GIVE A BROADER INTERPRETATION TO THEIR RESIDUAL POWERS OF CAPITAL JURISDICTION AND INCLUDE RELIGIOUS OFFENSES CONNECTED ONLY INDIRECTLY WITH THE TEMPLE; (4) EVEN IN MATTERS THAT WERE NOT IN ANY WAY RELATED TO THE TEMPLE OR ITS CULT, THE ROMAN AUTHORITIES SOMETIMES VOLUNTARILY AUTHORIZED THE SANHEDRIN AND THE HIGH PRIEST TO TRY CAPITAL CASES [ed. H. H. Ben-Sasson, A History of the Jewish People, p. 250].
The leading authorities simply did not want to give over their power to the "Son of David", who would rule the nation in righteousness. Later Talmudic comments would reflect their position. Judah and Hezekiah, the sons of R. Hiyya, once sat at table with Rabbi and uttered not a word. Whereupon he said: Give the young men plenty of strong wine, so that they may say something. When the wine took effect, they began by saying : The SON OF DAVID CANNOT APPEAR ERE THE TWO RULING HOUSES IN ISRAEL SHALL HAVE COME TO AN END, viz., the Exilarchate in Babylon and the Patriarchate in Palestine, for it is written, And he shall be for a Sanctuary, for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both houses of Israel. Thereupon he [Rabbi] exclaimed: You throw thorns in my eyes, my children! At this, R. Hiyya [his disciple] remarked: Master, be not angered, for the numerical value of the letters of yayin is seventy, and likewise the letters of sod: When yayin [wine] goes in, sod [SECRETS] comes out [Talmud, Sanhedrin 38a].
The fact is these rulers KNEW Yahshua was the promised Messiah. There is further proof in the Gospel of Matthew within the parable of the vineyard. A man there was, a householder [Yahweh], Who planted a vineyard [Israel; Isaiah 5:7, Surely the vineyard of Yahweh of hosts is the house of Israel], And a wall around it placed, And digged in it a wine-vat, And built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen [rulers], And left home. And when the season of fruits drew near He sent forth his servants [the prophets] unto the husbandmen to receive his fruits. And the husbandmen [rulers] taking his servants [the prophets], One indeed, they beat, And another slew, -- And another stoned. Again sent he forth other servants [prophets] more than the first, and they did unto them likewise. Afterwards however, he sent forth unto them HIS SON, saying, -- They will pay deference unto my son! But the husbandmen [rulers] SEEING THE SON SAID AMONG THEMSELVES, THIS IS THE HEIR: COME ON! LET US SLAY HIM, AND HAVE HIS INHERITANCE. And taking him, they cast him forth OUTSIDE THE VINEYARD ["outside the camp"] -- and slew [EXECUTED] him [Matthew 21:33-39].
But look at the reply of the rulers to Yahshua's parable. And the Chief-priests and the Pharisees hearing his parables TOOK NOTE THAT CONCERNING THEM HE WAS SPEAKING [Matthew 23:45].
Herod Antipas, too, would have perceived Yahshua as a threat to his position. While his title was tetrarch, Antipas viewed himself as a "king", a member of the royal household of Israel. He had, in fact, already contested his fathers Will unsuccessfully. By codicils to his last will, Herod appointed his son Archelaus king; named another son, Herod Antipas, as tetrarch of Galilee; and gave Trachonitis and neighboring districts to a third son Philip. He gave the Roman emperor Augustus power over the ratification of the will, a move intended to secure enforcement. Trouble immediately broke out at Jerusalem. Archaelaus went to Rome, and HIS CLAIM TO KINGSHIP WAS CHALLENGED BY HEROD ANTIPAS ON THE BASIS THAT HE WAS KING UNDER THE WILL AND THE WILL PREVAILED OVER THE CODICILS [Alan Watson, The Trial of Jesus, p. 11].
Antipas had recently put John the Baptist to death, proving that he, too, had the power to enact the death penalty when he so desired without Roman intervention. The statement that Yahshua was "connected with royalty" [Sanhedrin 43a] would have been of great significance to him. He, like his father Herod the Great, would have been greatly suspicious of and disturbed at the prospect of any rumor circulating that a "usurpation" of the kingdom by a legitimate heir of the House of David was at hand. Whether correctly understood or not, his prophecy of the kingdom was interpreted by the ROMAN TETRARCH HEROD ANTIPAS (SON OF HEROD THE GREAT) IN A POLITICAL MANNER. [Thomas A. Idinopulos, Jerusalem Blessed, Jerusalem Cursed, p. 131].
Since he and his wife Herodias were of some kinship to the priesthood (as well as allied with them), he would have agreed wholeheartedly with their wishes in this matter. Josephus gives us the history of the sanhedrin during the days of the Temple. Accordingly the number of the high-priests, from the days of Herod [The Great] until the day when Titus took the temple and the city, and burnt them, were in all twenty-eight; the time also that belonged to them was a hundred and seven years. SOME OF THESE WERE THE POLITICAL GOVERNORS OF THE PEOPLE UNDER THE REIGN OF HEROD, AND UNDER THE REIGN OF ARCHELAUS HIS SON, ALTHOUGH, AFTER THEIR DEATH, THE GOVERNMENT BECAME AN ARISTOCRACY, AND THE HIGH-PRIESTS WERE INTRUSTED WITH A DOMINION OVER THE NATION [Josephus, Antiquities 20.10.1].
Herod Antipas was a member of that aristocracy because of his kinship with the priestly families. Both Josephus and the gospels inform us of his lavish lifestyle. He was often called "king" and was certainly viewed by the populace as the reigning monarch. There is every indication that Pilate sent Yahshua to Herod, the Roman-appointed tetrarch of Galilee, to investigate the possibly of any treasonous act against Rome, but Herod had found no legal Roman crime. This is not to say that he found no Jewish crime in Yahshua's activities. There is certainly evidence in New Covenant writings that Herod envied Yahshua as much or even more than he had envied John the Immerser. In fact, we are told that he had sought "to slay him" [Luke 13:31]. The Hellenistic and self-seeking Herod, as acting "king" of Judea, would have envied the "miracles" of Yahshua. Like Vespasion afterward, his Hellenic background would have required him (as "king") to verify his rule by "miracles". He sought to learn the "magicians tricks" through the help of Yahshua to attain such an affirmation of "divinity". He had heard rumors that there were those among the population (probably Zealots) who desired to make Yahshua king. There is also no reason to assume that because Herod had found no legal Roman crime against Yahshua that the proceedings of the sanhedrin were nullified. While Herod was a Roman puppet, he was also powerful in his own right as a Jewish ruler, and while entitled tetrarch, there can be no question that his lifestyle and power was that of a king. His primary interest was in the survival of the Jewish-Roman economic-political structure that he had inherited from his father, Herod the Great, over which he maintained complete control. If we are to give any credence to the apocryphal Gospel of Peter, it was, indeed, Herod who gave final approval to the sanhedrin for the execution of Yahshua, and whoever the anonymous author of the gospel was, he certainly believed Herod was king. And then HEROD THE KING commandeth that the [Master] be taken saying to them, WHAT THINGS SOEVER I COMMANDED YOU TO DO UNTO HIM, DO [Gospel of Peter, The Lost Books of the Bible, p. 283].
As mentioned above, The Talmud [Sanhedrin 43a] mentions the fact that Yahshua is connected with malkhut, and it has been compromised by Jewish scholars to mean the "Roman government". Nothing could be further from the truth. While the word "malkhut" can mean government, it means most specifically ROYALTY and in Jewish writings, it particularly designates that royalty as being the government of Israel! Since we are tackling the task of determining what it means to be the Hebrew messiah, we must look at how the JEWS of the first century (and even later) define the word malkhut. It is defined in the Zohar as "community" or "kingdom" and refers only to the GOVERNMENT OF ISRAEL! The Zohars expression "Community of Israel" (Knesset Yisrael) refers not to the actual people Israel, but symbolically to the tenth and final Sefirah, Malkhut or Shekhinah [that is, as Rabbi Eleazar defines it, the KINGDOM OF ISRAEL] [Ed. Barry W. Holtz, Back to the Sources, p. 331].
Yet the Malkhut or Shekinah is also connected with the royalty of the Son of David, the object of Yahwehs love, since it is said to reside in him. Midrashic interpretation of Jeremiah 2.2 states: "This verse refers to the COMMUNITY [OR KINGDOM] OF ISRAEL (malkhut) when She was walking in the wilderness along with Israel" [Ibid.]. Jewish interpretation of the word malkhut is, then, expressed as the royal kingdom of the House of David and thus relates to the Messiah and the messianic government.
Since the sanhedrin and the Herodians were allied, the fact that Yahshua is sent to Herod for examination would tend to indicate that the tetrarchs involvement was more than cursory. Mention has already been made in a previous chapter of Herods complicity, but there would appear to be some verification in a custom dating to 38 C.E. just five years after the execution of Yahshua which was invented to ridicule the Herodian family.
In particular it has been observed that the buffonery
in which...[the] soldiery engage for their diversion has a PARALLEL in a
sequence of theatrical street-performances ENACTED BY THE ALEXANDRIAN MOB
THAT RIDICULED [HEROD] AGRIPPA I [the brother of Herodias; brother-in-law of
Antipas] WHEN HE VISITED THEIR TOWN IN 38 C.E. [five years after the
execution of Yahshua]. Philos In Flaccum preserves a fairly detailed
account of the manner in which the mob of Alexandria TOOK PLEASURE IN MAKING
FUN OF THE KING OF THE JEWS -- AGRIPPA. On the occasion of his visit, the
rabble collected and proceeded to enact a sort of mime: they dressed a
well-known street-lout named Karabas [whose name means the "Lamb of the
Father"], DECKED HIM OUT IN ROYAL STYLE, PUTTING A PAPYRUS SHRUB ON HIS HEAD
AS IF IT WERE A DIADEM, HANGING A DOORMAT AROUND HIS SHOULDERS IN PLACE OF THE
CHLAMUS [ROBE], AND PUTTING IN HIS HAND A PAPYRUS STICK FOR A SCEPTRE. Thus
adorned like a carnival-king, Karabas was led by the mob through the streets of
the city receiving mock-homages from the merry-making crowds. THE
ALEXANDRIANS INTENTION WAS TO HOLD AGRIPPA UP AS AN OBJECT OF
RIDICULE [Paul Winter, On the Trial of Jesus, p. 103].
The custom (38 C.E.) might well have originated with the events occurring during the interview between Yahshua and Herod. We might note that after the execution of Yahshua many Nazareans migrated to Alexandria (for instance, Mark is said to have lived there early on) where the Nazarean community was quite large. We also find large Jewish communities there as well. It is not unreasonable to surmise that the Nazareans had great scorn for the family of Antipas, and their ridicule of the Herodian king would have been meant to ridicule the artificial king and the Herodian family for their involvement in the case of Yahshua. It cannot be conclusively proven that it was Roman soldiers who mocked and scorned Yahshua. It cannot be coincidental that the first notation concerning his treatment during the Herodian interview is that "HEROD WITH HIS SOLDIERY, having set him at nought, and MOCKED HIM, THREW ABOUT HIM A GORGEOUS ROBE, and sent him back to Pilate" [Matthew 27:27-31]. The passage in Matthew would indicate that it was Herod who was "governor" of Israel and it was his band who put the scarlet robe on Yahshua. Then the soldiers of the governor [Herod] taking Jesus aside into the judgment-hall, gathered unto him ALL THE BAND [perhaps a combination of the Temple guard, Herodian soldiery, and Romans] and unclothing him, a SCARLET [ROBE] PUT THEY ABOUT HIM [Matthew 27:27].
Three groups of soldiers are said to have mocked Yahshua in the same way, and three different descriptions of the robe were given: scarlet, purple, and "gorgeous" [or radiant, magnificent]. It is within this context that we might determine just who the majority of those soldiers might have been. Herods robe would have been the one called "gorgeous". The indication is that it was Herods robe (a ROYAL robe) that was draped around Yahshua's shoulders. Neither the Roman military guards nor the Temple guard would have been in possession of such a fine seamless garment, nor would Pilate, since his dress would have been of the military type. Josephus tells us just what sort of royal robe it was in his description of the type of robe King Herod Agrippa The Great was wearing when he was arrested by the emperor Tiberius. It was the robe of state. Upon which [HEROD] AGRIPPA betook himself to make supplication for himself, putting him [Tiberius] in mind of his son, WITH WHOM HE [AGRIPPA] WAS BROUGHT UP, and of Tiberius [his grandson] whom he had educated, but all to no purpose, for they led him [Agrippa] about BOUND EVEN IN HIS PURPLE GARMENTS [Josephus, Antiquities 18.5.4].
During the Jewish War Simon bar-Giora (the "leader" of Jerusalem) wore the same habit during his attempt to escape the Romans. Dressed in a white tunic OVER WHICH FLOATED AN AMPLE PURPLE ROBE, he emerged suddenly, like a phantom, from beneath the earth, amid the ruins of the Temple area [Benjamin Mazar, Mountain of the Lord, p. 93]. The royal robes color hue might easily have been described as scarlet or purple (as only royalty might wear) and was definitely "gorgeous" [magnificent]. It is a fact that this color is often described subjectively; individual viewpoints might differ as to the varying hues of the fabric which might range from blue, bluish-purple, red, and purple. William Wilson defines the Hebrew word for this "color". [Tekeleth]: blue - a shell-fish...This colour distinguished the dress of princes, &c., imported from remote countries, and is supposed to have been procured from the juice of a purple shell-fish in the Mediterranean sea, conchylium of the ancients, helix ianthina, Linn.; or from indigo. This word is almost constantly joined with argaman (purple) reddish purple; Exodus xxv.4, &c. [William Wilson, Wilsons Old Testament Word Studies, p. 43].
In the book of Exodus (25:4) the color is described as a mixture of the three colors: "blue, and purple, and scarlet". Because of the difficulty in identifying a single color, it was sometimes called scarlet, sometimes purple, and sometimes blue, depending upon the observation of the individual. The Greek word chiton here is equivalent to the Hebrew kuttoneth and means "robe", not tunic as it is so often mistranslated. It is derived from the Hebrew katheph meaning "to clothe the shoulder proper, the spot where the garments hang." There is little doubt that it was Herods robe of state that the attendants at the execution did not want to rend.
Any discussion of the Jewish trial would be incomplete without the sanhedrins perspective of the political nature of Yahshua's activities. He was believed to have consorted with the worst elements of society; in particular, tax collectors and "robbers" (lestai). Some scholars believe that many of Yahshua's own disciples were Galilean Zealots, and there appears to be some evidence that this is so. The most obvious among them is Simon Zelotes (the Zealot), but there are others who might well have been involved with that movement as well. For instance, it is thought that Peters appellation Bar Jonah should instead be read Peter, the barjona, or terrorist.
The baryonim or biryonim (An Akkadian loanword) were
outlaws or terrorists; according to TB Gittin 56a they gained control of the
temple area during the first Jewish revolt against Rome, under the leadership
of one Abba Siqera [from which the word sicarii is believed to have derived]
[Robert Eisler, The Messiah Jesus and John the Baptist, pp. 252 ff, as quoted
in F. F. Bruce, Stephen, Peter, James & John, p. 16n].
Peter did, indeed, keep a short sword beneath his cloak [John 18:10], and when Peter rebuked Yahshua for speaking of his death, some have seen an attempt by Peter to tempt Yahshua into becoming militant [Mark 8:31-33]. Matthew is believed to have been the "tax collector" Levi, who would have been regarded by them as a Roman "robber", and even Judas Iscariot is thought to have been the disgruntled Zealot who had become disenchanted with Yahshua's peaceful program. Galileans, in general, were distrusted by the sanhedrin since it was that region that fomented the zealous patriots who threatened their status. We must also remember that Yahshua was executed with two supposed robbers, or lestai, who Josephus, in using the same word, calls the rebellious sicarii (Zealots). The fact that Yahshua was well-acquainted with such people led the sanhedrin to try Yahshua as a mesith, killing two birds with one stone, because that crime is both of a political and a religious nature. He could thus be described as a revolutionary, and as such could be taken "outside the camp" to the Mount of Olives as one smitten by God [i.e. with leprosy; Isaiah 53]. The Messiah has been called the "Leper Scholar" in Jewish writings. The precedent for punishment of a rebellious person is based upon Moses reaction to his sisters leprosy [Numbers 12:14]. For this reason, the face is covered and the individual is spat upon. BUT THE LORD SAID TO MOSES, "IF HER FATHER SPAT IN HER FACE WOULD SHE NOT BEAR HER SHAME FOR SEVEN DAYS?" (Num 12:14). R. Ahai b. R. Joshia says, "It is as if she were doubly chastised" [Midrash, Numbers 12:1, Sifre N. 99, 97; Reuven Hammer, The Classic Midrash, p. 263].
One of the purposes for excommunication was to insult and debase the accused. As evidenced by the list enumerated below, Yahshua was excommunicated for a number of reasons. Later authorities enumerate the twenty-four [reasons for excommunication] as follows: (1) INSULTING A LEARNED MAN, even after his death...(5) DEALING LIGHTLY WITH ANY OF THE RABBINIC OR MOSAIC PRECEPTS...(13) TAKING THE NAME OF GOD IN VAIN...CAUSING OTHERS TO PROFANE THE NAME OF GOD ("hillul hashem")...(17) PUTTING A STUMBLING-BLOCK IN THE WAY OF THE BLIND, that is to say, tempting one to sin [Excommunication, The Jewish Encyclopedia, p. 286].
All these "crimes" were blasphemous and said to have profaned the name of God. The "vain oath" had resulted in the thirty-nine stripes, "the beating of a lawless man". This is described by the Greek word dero [for smote] in Luke 22:64, meaning "to flay", or "to scourge". More definitively, the word smote in Matthew 26:68 is the Greek paio, "to sting as a scorpion". Both terms indicate that a whip was used for this purpose. He was also beat with the palms of their hands.
The events of the trial narrative within the gospels are sketchy at best, but I believe it is possible to determine the proceedings of the Jewish trial of Yahshua. Following the Talmudic passage pertaining to the execution of Yahshua (Sanhedrin 43a) is a cryptic passage concerning "five disciples" of Yahshua. The passage has baffled scholars for centuries, and most have passed it off as impossible to decipher. The passage is quoted below in its entirety. I have placed the Scriptures to which the dialogue is referred at the end of each phrase in brackets.
Our Rabbis taught: Yeshu [Yahshua] had five
disciples, Matthai, Nakai, Nezer, Buni and Todah. When Matthai was brought
[before the court] he said to them [the judges], Shall Matthai be executed? Is
it not written, Matthai [when] shall I come and appear before God [Psalm 42:3,
an "Instructive" Psalm]? Thereupon they retorted: Yes, Matthai shall be
executed, since it is written, When Matthai [when] shall [he] die and his name
perish [Psalm 41:5]. When Nakai was brought in he said to them: Shall Nakai be
executed? It is not written, Naki [the innocent] and the righteous slay thou
not [Exodus 23:7]? Yes, was the answer, Nakai shall be executed, since it is
written, In secret places does Naki [the innocent] slay [Psalm 10:8]. When
Nezer was brought in, he said: Shall Nezer be executed? Is it not written, And
Nezer [a twig] shall grow forth out of his roots [Isaiah 11:1]. Yes, they said,
Nezer shall be executed, since it is written, But thou art cast forth away from
the grave like Nezer [an abhorred offshoot] [Isaiah 14:19]. When Buni was
brought in, he said: Shall Buni be executed? Is it not written, Beni [my son],
my first born [Exodus 4:22]? Yes, they said, Buni shall be executed, since it
is written, Behold I will slay Bine-ka [thy son] thy first born [Exodus 4:23].
And when Todah was brought in, he said to them: Shall Todah be executed? Is it
not written, A psalm for Todah [thanksgiving] [Psalm 100:1]? Yes, they
answered, Todah shall be executed, since it is written, Whoso offereth the
sacrifice of Todah [thanksgiving] honoureth me [Psalm 50:23] [Talmud, Sanhedrin
R. Travers Herford, who studied in-depth the Talmud and Midrash for traces of Christianity, like other scholars who have tried to tie the disciples to those of the gospels, states: Little or nothing can be learnt from the names of the five disciples; only the first, Matthai, has any close resemblance to a name in the list of the twelve (Matt. x. 2-4). The last, Thodah, is not unlike Thaddaeus; but in Hebrew that name would be Thaddai, not Thodah. The others, Naqi, Netzer, and Buni, have no parallels in the list of the Twelve; indeed, it is doubtful whether they, and Thodah, were ever names of persons at all. At most they may have been nick-names, and they certainly RAISE THE SUSPICION THAT THEY HAVE BEEN CHOSEN FOR THE SAKE OF THE TEXTS. I suggest that the case stands thus: -- five disciples of Jesus, i.e. five Christians, were on some occasion condemned to death, that their real names, if known, were not mentioned, that one of them was designated Matthai with reference to the name attached to the first Gospel, that the play upon his name suggested a similar device in the case of the others, and that for them other names were invented, EACH OF WHICH HAD SOME REFERENCE TO JESUS, AS REGARDED OF COURSE BY CHRISTIANS [R. Travers Herford, Christianity in the Talmud and Midrash, pp. 92-93].
Mr. Herford recognizes two major themes appearing in the passage: 1) that the names were "chosen for the sake of the texts," and 2) that each name was a "reference to Yahshua." But there is more to the text than the recalling of the trials of five unknown disciples. I suggest that within the Scriptural references we are to find hidden messages that give us the very transcript of the Jewish proceedings during the trial of Yahshua. That the rabbis chose to hide the traditions of the trial through such "fencing" is not at all unusual, and in this way they might prevent the "church", whose anti-semitism had caused the censorship of their precious Talmud, from understanding their discussion. The stories and legends of the Midrash and Talmud are, many times, presented as parables or fables in order to discuss events in a "hidden way" through Scriptural commentary. Certain linguistic devices are merely used as symbols for those who studied the Hebrew language with such exactness. The sages believed that one needed to "work" and "suffer" to obtain a true meaning of the writings. It is for this reason that much of the Talmud and Midrash seems "silly" to most westerners. The plain fact is that many of the "legends" (which are based on placing a "fence" around Torah) can be found to be tied to Scripture. The real meanings of those legends can be derived from Scripture. Another interpretation: MAY MY DISCOURSE COME DOWN AS THE RAIN Deut. 32:2). The Sages say, "Moses said to Israel, Perhaps you do not know how much I suffered for the Torah, how much effort I put into it, how much I toiled for it: teach it by suffering -- MAKE IT DIFFICULT OR EXPENSE TO ACQUIRE [Midrash, Deuteronomy 32:1, Sifre D. 306, 328; Reuven Hammer, The Classic Midrash, p. 345].
It is, therefore, thought to be the mark of a great sage to be able to discover the secret messages hidden with the Talmud. Such parables as "growing cucumbers", connoting magic, using biblical names such as Balaam to refer to Yahshua, the four sages excursion into "Pardes" (Paradise; a mnemonic: Pesat=literal interpretation; Remez=allegorical interpretation; Deras=homiletic interpretation; Sod=mystical interpretation; see Oxford Companion to the Bible, p. 309), and the fable of Lilith (lilyth=screech owl in KJV) are based on Scripture and are ways of discussing the "secrets of God" or other subjects too sensitive to discuss openly. The passage above is another such example. Prior to further investigation into the tradition, I shall attempt to reconstruct the examination of Yahshua before the sanhedrin in transcript form. These appear to be the main points in the trial. Both the questions and the responses are based on Scripture. I do not here state that these are the actual words of the participants; however, it is clear that the wording of the cryptic passage suggests some similar rendering. It would go something like this:
SANHEDRIN (CAIAPHAS): "I put thee on oath by the Living God, that to us thou say -- Whether thou art the [Messiah], the Son of God?" [Matthew 26:63]. What is your name? What "god" do you worship? [Implying that Yahshua was a mesith].
YAHSHUA: Yahshua remains silent. He does not recognize this beth din as the authority of God [Matthew 26:63]. He refuses to answer their question, instead fencing with the Masters (as is characteristic of their debates). When [Matthai] am I to appear before righteous judges (elohiym) and appear before Yahwehs true representatives? [This is a rhetorical question].
SANHEDRIN: When [Matthai] will you be executed and your name perish? What is your name? [The High-priests consider his reply an insult to the integrity of the court and reply in like manner, pressing for his name].
YAHSHUA: I am innocent [Nki]. Will you slay me? "If I should tell you in nowise would ye believe, And if I should put questions in nowise would ye answer" [Luke 22: 67-68].
SANHEDRIN: You are leading the innocent [Naki] astray by teaching them your false doctrine in secret. (Again a reference to a charge of "mysticism", "sorcery", or slanderous conduct toward the scribes.) What is your name?
YAHSHUA: "I openly have spoken unto the world, -- I ever taught in synagogue, and in the temple, where all the Jews gather together; and in secret spake nothing" [John 18:19]. I am a Nazarean, the branch [Nezer] from the stock of Jesse. I am the Messiah.
SANHEDRIN: We believe you are a detested and abhorred offshoot [Nezer], an impostor. What is your name?
YAHSHUA: I am the Son [Beni] of God, his firstborn son.
SANHEDRIN: We are going to execute you if you persist in these appellations. Dont you know we shall execute you if you continue saying you are the firstborn [Bine-ku]? What is your name?
YAHSHUA: God desires thanksgiving, praise [Todah] and mercy, NOT SACRIFICE of animals by which you gain your wealth and power. "Hereafter ye will see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming upon the clouds of heaven [Matthew 26:64].
SANHEDRIN: This is a confession to the crime. He tells us in our presence that he is against the priesthood of the nation, against the Temple, and he has desecrated the Name of God and the authority of the Beth Din while under oath. We shall honor God by offering [Todah] Temple sacrifice and by offering [yadah, the root of todah, stoning and hanging and used as referring to "making confession" or atonement by death] this mesith as a "lawless man". "What further need have we for witnesses. Heard ye the profanity? What to you doth it appear?"
SANHEDRIN: Guilty on all counts [Mark 14:64].
Since Yahshua was pronounced guilty, he was then sent to Bethphage
"outside the camp" for sentencing. It was only here that a criminal sentence
might be pronounced. Once the judges had gathered at Bethphage (at daybreak),
the following verdict would have been added to the trial transcript.
VERDICT: The verdict is unanimous. The accused is to be flogged with
thirty-nine stripes for the indiscretion of the "vain oath". After consulting
with the Roman authorities (both Pilate and Herod), he is to be taken to the
Beth haSeqilah ("Place of Stoning") at Gulgoleth, on the Mount of
Olives, where he shall be hanged alive and stoned for the crime of blasphemy.
The High Priest goes to a ewer and washes his hands.
Within the Toldoth Yeshua is an interpolated text of the same proceedings, and for confirmation that this cryptic Talmudic passage relates to the trial proceedings of Yahshua, that portion (Chapter 4, verses 11-19) is quoted here.
(11) Immediately the wise men perceived this, they
rose up against him, and seized him. (12) They say unto him, What is thy name?
He saith unto them, Mathai. They say unto him, How establishest thou this? He
saith unto them, When (mathai) shall I come and appear before God? They say
unto him, When (mathai) shall he die, and his name perish? (13) Again they say
unto him, What is thy name? He saith, Naki. They say unto him, How establishest
thou this? He saith, Innocent (nki) of hands, and pure of heart. They say
unto him, The innocent (nakeh) he will not clear. (14) Again they say unto him,
What is thy name? He saith, Buni. They say, How establishest thou this? He
saith, My son (bni) my firstborn, even Israel. They say, Concerning thee
it was said, Behold, I will slay thy son (binchah), even thy firstborn. (15)
And they say again, What is thy name? He saith, Netser. They say, How
establishest thou this? He saith, A branch (netser) shall spring forth from his
roots. They say unto him, Thou art cast out of thy grave like an abominable
branch (netser). And in like manner, much more, AS HE STATED IN HIS BEHALF
MANY OTHER NAMES. (16) Forthwith THEY HELD HIM, and his three hundred and
ten disciples were unable to deliver him. (17) Now the same hour that he saw
himself brought to death, he began and said, Did not David prophesy concerning
me and say, For thy sake we are killed. But of you said Isaiah, Your hands are
full of blood. And of you said the prophet before the Holy One, blessed be he,
And thy prophets they slew with the sword. (18) Then began the insurgents
[disciples] to lament, but they were not able to deliver him. (19) AND IN
THAT SAME HOUR THEY BROUGHT HIM DOWN TO THE PLACE OF STONING...AND WAS HE PUT
TO DEATH [Toldoth Yeshu, translation by Hugh Schonfield in According to the
Hebrews, pp 49-50].
Although the tradition in Verse 22 describes the later Pharisaic method of stoning an individual prior to hanging him on the tree, the Sadducean practice was the biblical method, to be stoned by the Whole Congregation of Israel and hanged on a tree. Did this occur? We shall examine this in our chapter on The Execution. This part of the text describes part of the punishment: For while he was YET ALIVE he knew the custom of Israel that they would HANG HIM, and knew his death, and the manner of being put to death, THAT AT THE LAST HE WOULD BE HANGED ON A TREE [Toldoth Yeshu, translation by Hugh Schonfield in According to the Hebrews, pp. 50].
Five times Yahshua was asked who he was. The first time he would have asked to be fairly treated. Each time the judges determined that the verdict should be guilty. What Yahshua basically said was this: "When can I be brought before righteous judges? I am innocent of the charges. My residence is in Nazareth (I am a Nazarean), and I am the "branch" of Jesse, of the royal House of David. I am the expected legitimate Messiah. I am the Son of God. God desires mercy and thanksgiving, not the sacrifice that you render to him in the Temple." The judges would have immediately seized upon this last Scripture as being in opposition to their Temple graft and banking hierarchy, a confession to his "crime". They would have declared him guilty of the crime of political and religious insurgency; he would have been labeled a mesith, one who was leading the nation of Israel astray by his teachings, and one who found the scribal interpretations of the rulers objectionable. As Caiaphas said, "What further need have we for witnesses. Heard ye the profanity? What to you doth it appear?" [Mark 14:63-64]. At this point, "they all condemned him to be worthy of death" . This cryptic passage that has eluded us for so long becomes clear when taken in conjunction with the gospel narratives.
The original Hebrew Gospel (Gospel of the Hebrews) conforms with the Gospel of John in that it clearly states the Jewish rulers were responsible for the execution of Yahshua.
It is written in the Gospel of the Hebrews...The Jews
[rulers] grew envious of him and came to hate him. They changed the custom of
their law and they rose up against him and laid a trap and caught him. They
turned him over to the governor [Herod? Pilate?], WHO GAVE HIM BACK TO
THEM TO CRUCIFY [HANG]. AND AFTER THEY HAD RAISED HIM ON THE CROSS
[TREE], the Father took him up into heaven to himself [Paraphrased by Cyril
of Jerusalem; Robert J. Miller, ed., The Complete Gospels, Annotated Scholars
Version, p. 430].
In light of the evidence presented in this chapter, it simply cannot be said that the trial of Yahshua was illegal in any way. Perhaps the sanhedrin was corrupt and self-serving, but that same sanhedrin governed Israel as its supreme authority. As the supreme Jewish authority, it had every legal right to try Yahshua (even on trumped-up charges) and to put him to death. The sanhedrin simply sought to exercise that option. In hindsight, we see the sanhedrins actions as a moral crime. While centuries of study have enabled us to recognize and more fully understand the spiritual character and nature of Yahshua, as well as his doctrine, the chaotic state of political affairs in Judea during the first century and the rigid legal rules of the scribes, would have made it impossible for the ruling class to view Yahshua in a favorable light (just as God had willed it). They found him a threat to their system of graft, to their Hellenized society, and a threat to what they deemed national security. In their own understanding and under the legislation current at that time, Yahshua could be tried as a mesith and a blasphemer; he was deemed a threat to their political existence. The rulers did not, however, want to be held responsible by either the Roman government for fear their positions might be placed in jeopardy (which would lead to complete Roman authoritarian rule over Israel), nor by the population of Israel for fear the Zealots would revolt and kill them (which they eventually did anyway). They had tried to maintain a delicate balance between the two, but their plan, while at first succeeding, backfired on them. They would not only lose their powerful positions, they would lose their nation and their lives. But it was with that plan in mind, they bound Yahshua and took him to Pilate.
The Nazarenes of Mount Carmel
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