Luke's story of a trial befbre Herod was probably invented to fiilfil Ps. Acts 4. Another such invention was the noctumal trial before the sanhedrin on Passover night, when leaving one's house was prohibited!
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When such Propaganda, and the novelistic elements—clevemess stories, and so on—are set aside, little reliable information remains. Among the elements discrediting the stories of the trials before the sanhedrin is their Suggestion that the high priests were in doubt as to what to do with Jesus, whereas they were previously said to be plotting to destroy him. Now they "seek testimony against him. John says he did make this threat or offer? Matthew and Mark say it was one of the taunts fiung at him duting the cmcifixion, and it recurs in Acts where the first martyr, Stephen, is charged with repeating it.
Evidently it was an important cause of the hostility toward the early Jemsalem church; yet It plays no part in the proceedings before Pilate, nor in any recorded events except the cases of Jesus and Stephen, it is a reminder of how little we know. The climax of the noctumal trial is Jesus' admission that he is "the Christ, the Son of the Blessed" so Mk.
From the point of view of Jewish law the proceedings are impossible—claiming to be the Messiah does not constitute blasphemy; a condemnation for blasphemy would have to be punished by the penalty legally prescribed stoning , not by handing the offender over to the Romans; etc. Such considerations, with historical difficulties of the sort already mentioned, leave no doubt that the stories are fiaitious; their trae function seems polemic—to make Jesus' death result from the Jewish authorities' rejection, as blasphemous, of the formal S t a t e m e n t of his tme nature and rank.
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This Statement is what Mark's church was preaching; the rejeaion of this triple title and the consequent charge of blasphemy by the high priest and sanhedrin are the retrojeaed reaaions of the Jews opposing the church in which this tradition was formed. This explains why it is only here i4. Each one usually appears by itself.
This suggests that they came from dififerent traditions, perhaps originally from groups that had different notions of Jesus' nature. The difference between the traditions is particularly clear in the case of the title "Son of God," which in the synoptics almost always appears in miraculous contexts. The only exceptions are this passage Mk. On the other hand, "Son of God" very rarely appears in messianic contexts.
The likelihood is that the term came from a tradition in which it designated not a messiah, but a supematural being, both worker and subjea of miracles. Thus the purpose of Mk. Son of God Lk. Such diversification of what is clearly the same story suggests that the common source lay a good ways back.
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Priestly rejection of his claims to one or another of the titles Messiah, Son of God and Son of Man could—if he claimed them—have begun in his lifetime. John, who seems here to have better historical information, says nothing of a trial before the sanhedrin.
He has Jesus taken to the house of Aimas, a senior member of the high priestly group. Questioned by Annas about his teaching, Jesus replied that he had always and only taught in public—"Why ask me? Ask the people who heard me" In John's account of the trial before Pilate, when "the Jews" are pressing for Jesus' execution, they advance the argument, "We have a Law, and according to the Law he ought to die, because he made himself a son of Crod" It is amazing that a scene so loaded with theological motives should fit the actual Situation so well and correctly dramatize though it could not accurately report the political conflict going on between Roman rulers and Jewish priesthood.
So he would have. Thus three widely variant traditions, those of Mark followed by. It is better to suppose that the three stories are different reflections of a charge made by the high priests against Jesus. If this charge figured in the trial before Pilate it must have been phrased in different language: claiming to be the son of a god was not an aaionable offense in Roman law, but, as already mentioned, magicians often claimed to be gods or sons of gods, so the claim could have been an important point and could have been remembered by Christians as the all important point in the evidence brought to prove the actual charges, which were those of political Subversion and praaicing magic.
The charge of practicing magic is made bluntly in Jn.
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The synoptics' trial scenes are surprisingly taciturn. Jesus may have experienced that difficulty too. Having nothing to say is an excellent reason iot taciturnity. His opponents presumably had plenty to say—but his followers did not choose to report the more disgraceftd or specific and damaging points. There is no hint of the damning facts that he was arrested at a secret, noctumal assembly in which some of his men were armed Luke elsewhere insisted they had only two swords, Then as now, to be executed as a political leader and pretender to a throne was no social disgrace, but the other presumable charges were less respeaable.
In the other synoptics, Pilate, without any explanation, questions Jesus as to his royal claims Mk. Next, the people demand a prisoner's release allegedly customary a t the festival and Pilate offers to release Jesus; the high priests in Mark and. Matthew stir up the people to ask for one Barabbas, and to demand Jesus' crucihxion Mk.
In Luke they do so themselves N o arguments are given. In Luke the high priests do not appear at the crucifixion; in Mark and Matthew they are among those who mocked Jesus while on the cross. The taunt assigned to them is, "He saved others, he could not save himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, now come down from the cross, that we may see and believe" Mk.
John omits the mocking, but makes the high priests complain to Pilate about the sign on the cross stating the charge against the culprit. Behind this plausible legend lies not only the surprising political sensitivity already noticed, but also the ancient belief in omens. Any chance sign or utterance might be an omen and thereby shape the course and nature of the world. The final appearance of the high priests in the gospels is in Matthew. They teil Pilate, "That magician, while yet alive, said, 'After three days I sfmll arise,'" and they ask that a guard be set at Jesus' sepulchre to prevent the disciples from steaUng the body and spreading the report that he had risen as he prophesied.
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Pilate gives them some watchmen; they seal the sepulchre and set the watch. After the resurrection, the watchmen report to them what has happened and they bribe the men to say that while they were asleep the disciples stole the body. When we review these reports about the high priests, we find an account of their historical actions that is brief, clear, and credible: They asked Jesus the source of his mi raculous power and, when they got no answer, bribed one of his followers to betray his whereabouts, seized and handed him over to Pilate with charges that probably included the practice of magic, criminal assembly, armed resistance, and a plot to destroy the temple, and certainly included allegations that he claimed to be King of the Jews, forbade payment of tribute toRome, and was stirringup the people to revolt.
Ifthere was a chance that he. The picture they had formed of Jesus is reasonably clear. The authors of the gospels tried to answer the attacks on Jesus being circulated by opponents of the Church. But care is necessary to weed out anachronistic elements. New Testament apologetics have been shaped by the beliefs and needs of the two or three generations between the crucifixion A.
Some of the Opposition they report is wholly imaginary that of the demons , more is put into the mouths of groups that had little or nothing to do with Jesus Herodians and Pharisees. Jesus, by his miracles, attracted a large and enthusiastic following. Even his libertine practice eating with sinners, neglect of fasts, sabbarhs, and purity rules got him into trouble mainly with the "scribes"—the schoolteacher-lawyer-notary class of the jalilean towns. In Galilee, after the Baptist's execution, many believed that he had raised from the dead and called into himself the spirit of the Baptist, and by him controlied the demonic powers.
This is said to have been common opinion; the scribes, who pretended to leaming, identified him with a demon whom they called Beelzebul. More favorable outside opinion thought him a prophet, most often Elijah, the femous Old Testament miracle worker, whose return was expected to precede the end of the world; but he made no claim—in fact, he reportedly refused to claim—that he was a prophet sent by "the Lord" Yahweh , or that what he said was "the word of the Lord.
The Factor of Fear in the Trial of Jesus
Some of these people became his followers and others among his followers may have shared their opinions; others thought him the Messiah, and others "the Son of Man," a supematural being expeaed to preside over the end of the world. There the attention o f the high priests was drawn to him by the enthusiasm of his followers when he entered the city, by the story—if not the spectacle—of his miracles, and by his interference with the temple market.
Convinced that he was not a prophet, and fearing the consequences of a messianic uprising, they interpreted the supematural claims made either by or fbr him as blasphemy. They turned him over to Pilate with charges of magic and sedition. That material is intended to counter the polemic begun and carried on by the scribes, taken up by the high priests, and at two later periods, first from about A.
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Hence we may reasonably suppose that the Outsiders' picture ofJesus discernible in the gospels is mainly that of the scribes and high priests of Jerusalem, but carries on considerable elements derived from the scribes o f Galilee and from Jesus' lifetime. Whatever their inaccuracies, they cannot be dismissed as the inventions of Christian propaganda.
We know of them because they were charges the authors o f the gospels wanted to answer.