Mark Chapter 14:53-65

I’m trying to keep this in chunks that have some sort of beginning, middle and natural break. Sometimes it’s easier than others.

53 Καὶ ἀπήγαγον τὸν Ἰησοῦν πρὸς τὸν ἀρχιερέα, καὶ συνέρχονται πάντες οἱ ἀρχιερεῖς καὶ οἱ πρεσβύτεροι καὶ οἱ γραμματεῖς.

And they led Jesus to(wards) the high priests and all the high priests gathered, and the elders and the scribes.

Hail, hail, the gang’s all here! This is kind of embarrassing to admit, but it wasn’t until fairly recently (a few years) that I realized that the Pharisees were an informal group, or subdivision. Sort of like the charismatics are a subgroup of Christians. As such, the Pharisees had no ‘official’ role as Pharisees. Hence, while Jesus was sort of an ongoing annoyance for the Pharisees, who were unhappy with his teaching and tried to argue against him, they pretty much disappear at this point of the narrative. The high priests and scribes were the officials, so they are the ones with whom we deal during this phase of the story.

53 Et adduxerunt Iesum ad summum sacerdotem; et conveniunt omnes summi sacerdotes et seniores et scribae.

54 καὶ ὁ Πέτρος ἀπὸ μακρόθεν ἠκολούθησεν αὐτῷ ἕως ἔσω εἰς τὴν αὐλὴν τοῦ ἀρχιερέως, καὶ ἦν συγκαθήμενος μετὰ τῶν ὑπηρετῶν καὶ θερμαινόμενος πρὸς τὸ φῶς.

And Peter from a distance followed him until outside the courtyard of the high priests, and there he sat himself with the (head?) servants and warming himself before the light.

[ The Greek: first, the Greek says ‘light’, not ‘fire’ as does the Latin. Now, back then, at night there was no light without fire, so we can see how the the two could easily be interchangeable. 

Second, << ὑπηρετῶν >> is a really interesting word to translate. It’s a compound word; the base is << ηρετῶν >>, which is ‘rower’. The compound form includes the Greek form of “super”, or “over”, so the word becomes the “over-rower”, the sense being sort of the overseer, or non-commissioned officer. As such, the NASB chose to render this as ‘officers’; the KJV, meanwhile simply translates it as ‘servants’. The NIV and the ESV prefer ‘guards’. Now, to complicate this, the Greek can also simply mean ‘rower’. Now the Latin gives us a clue with << ministris >>, the root of ‘minister’, so it has some of the sense of ‘over-rower’. In other places where this is used, the KJV sometimes uses ‘ministers’, or ‘officers’. I can see why the ESV and NIV chose ‘guards’: it’s a way out of the conundrum  ]. 

54 Et Petrus a longe secutus est eum usque intro in atrium summi sacerdotis et sedebat cum ministris et calefaciebat se ad ignem.

55 οἱ δὲ ἀρχιερεῖς καὶ ὅλον τὸ συνέδριον ἐζήτουν κατὰ τοῦ Ἰησοῦ μαρτυρίαν εἰς τὸ θανατῶσαι αὐτόν, καὶ οὐχ ηὕρισκον:

The high priests and the entire Sanhedrin sought evidence against Jesus in order to kill (execute) him, and they did not find it.

Here is where red flags start going up for me. This is the beginning of a long and convoluted process in which the council twists itself into pretzels trying to come up with evidence against Jesus. Why? Tell the Romans he’s an insurrectionist, that he was captured trying to do some damage to Rome. I think the Romans would have been more than happy to get rid of a nondescript peasant whom the Jewish authorities called a trouble-maker.

Remember: we are smack in the middle of the reign of Tiberius; I spent an entire year with The Annales, in which Tacitus describes, in great detail about how the Emperor killed off prominent senators on the flimsiest of pretexts. As imperial overlords, due process and civil rights were not big priorities for the Romans.

So the question becomes: why are we the Jewish authorities concerned with the fig-lead of propriety? Not for the Romans’ sake. Then for whose? To keep the crowd from rioting? Remember we were told twice,  back in 11:18 and again in 14:2 that the chief priests were afraid to arrest Jesus because they were afraid of the crowd. Now, I failed to distinguish between the language of the two. In 11:18 they were afraid of the crowd because they were spellbound by Jesus teaching. In 14:2, we were told the high priests were afraid of the crowd during the festival. The first is specifically tied to Jesus; the second is much more generic. in 14:2 the implication could be that the crowd might take offense at anyone being arrested. And yet, in Chapter 15, when the crowd is presented with the reality of Jesus having been arrested and on the verge of being executed, far from rioting to prevent this, we are told–emphatically–that they were screaming for his blood.

Which was it?

Now, there is a third choice: that the vast majority of the crowd was there for the festival and didn’t particularly care one way or the other. This, IMO, is the most likely possibility, if only because, generally speaking, either of the extremes is less likely than a more moderate reaction. I bring this up for two reasons: either a lack of reaction, or the reaction that we are told occurred basically and fatally contradicts the high priests’ fears as expressed in Chapter 11. The crowd either didn’t care that Jesus was to be executed, they were wholly in favor. Second, either of these two reactions just as effectively kills the fears of the high priests expressed in Chapter 14. The crowd was not concerned about Jesus’ impending death, nor the deaths of the other two who were executed with him.

So, given that the crowd either didn’t react, or was in favor of Jesus’ execution, we can deduce, rather conclusively, that the high priests had no reason to find someone willing to provide evidence sufficient to have Jesus executed. Since there was no reason to find this evidence, we have to ask if this whole charade of a ‘trial’ before the entire council ever actually happened. If there was truly no need to “find” (i.e. manufacture) evidence in order to give themselves the cloak of respectability necessary to justify the execution of Jesus, why would they have to put themselves through all this?

This is not to say that Jesus wasn’t arrested on the first night of Passover; he may have been. But the arrest may not have been for the reasons stated, nor was it necessarily carried out by the Jewish authorities. Jesus may well have been arrested directly by the Romans.

If this is what happened, then why the whole story? Why invent it? The obvious reason is to absolve the Romans from guilt in the execution of Jesus. This is the line I’ve been walking through this whole exercise–at least that’s how I remember it. Now I realize that citing this as the motive for inventing this story has implications for the dating of the Pre-Markan Passion Story (PMPS) (assuming there was one), and for Mark’s gospel as well. However, I don’t think these implications present insurmountable objections to my position. The thing is, the date for the PMPS may reflect the changes in the composition of Jesus’ assemblies after Paul’s establishment of a number of Gentile communities. These groups may have been reluctant to accuse the ‘Romans’ (in the most general sense, which would include the Syro-Phoenician woman of Chapter 7) of killing Jesus. Since they weren’t Jews, or hadn’t been Jews, blaming the Jews and not the Romans may have been good PR even before Jews became personae non gratae with the Roman authorities.

55 Summi vero sacerdotes et omne concilium quaerebant adversus Iesum testimonium, ut eum morte afficerent, nec inveniebant.

56 πολλοὶ γὰρ ἐψευδομαρτύρουν κατ’ αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἴσαι αἱ μαρτυρίαι οὐκ ἦσαν.

For many gave false testimony against him (Jesus), but the testimonies were not equal.

[ Here, ‘equal’ is a fairly rough translation. The Greek is iso- as in ‘isosceles triangle’. The sense is something for which the measures–perhaps as in weights–are different. The bottom line is that the various witnesses did not corroborate each other, but what gets lost there in the translation is the idea of a physical sense of actual balancing. ]

Here’s a thought. My contention has been that there were a number of different traditions that Mark took and wove together into a (mostly) coherent whole. Perhaps what this line represents is the beginning of that fragmentation. This line/verse could be taken as an indication that the different and conflicting opinions or impressions of Jesus went back a long way. Now, a legitimate point may be raised, that, if there was no trial, then there were no witnesses with differing opinions and testimony. And this is a fair point. However, for Mark to say this doesn’t have to be true or historically accurate; but it does have to be, or at least should be, believable. That is, it needed to sound plausible to his audience. Could this be taken as an indication that Mark’s audience would not have been surprised that there were differing stories about Jesus? Perhaps. It seems likely.

This is the sort of inference that needs to be drawn from a work that is not historical in nature. In the same way, novels or fiction in general provide incidental information about the time in which they were written. For example, science fiction stories written in the 1970s that fail to predict the coming of cell phones tell us quite clearly that cell phone technology simply was not on the horizon at that particular time. In this way, perhaps this verse tells us that different stories about Jesus were part of the social network in which Mark wrote.

56 Multi enim testimonium falsum dicebant adversus eum, et convenientia testimonia non erant.

57 καί τινες ἀναστάντες ἐψευδομαρτύρουν κατ’ αὐτοῦ λέγοντες

And some standing up made false testimony against him, saying:

57 Et quidam surgentes falsum testimonium ferebant adversus eum dicentes:

58 ὅτι Ἡμεῖς ἠκούσαμεν αὐτοῦ λέγοντος ὅτι Ἐγὼ καταλύσω τὸν ναὸν τοῦτον τὸν χειροποίητον καὶ διὰ τριῶν ἡμερῶν ἄλλον ἀχειροποίητον οἰκοδομήσω:

that “We heard him saying that ‘I will destroy the Temple built by hand and within three days I will built another not constructed by hand’.”

Now this is really interesting. This line is repeated in Matthew, and in the same context, and with the same intention of putting across that this prediction or threat or promist to destroy the Temple and rebuilt it  was false testimony, perjury. But we have never heard Jesus say this. And yet, by the time we get to John, Jesus does say this, with the added explanation that he was speaking metaphorically about his body. So here we can see how the story developed, it grew, as I have been suggesting stories tend to do, so that the narrative has it so that Jesus does indeed make this prediction.

But let’s take a step back. Mark is reporting this prediction as perjury, as a lie. What does this say about Jesus’ message? It says something, but, to be honest, I’m not sure what quite yet. More thoughts will follow as I sort this out in my own head.

58 “ Nos audivimus eum dicentem: “Ego dissolvam templum hoc manu factum et intra triduum aliud non manu factum aedificabo” ”.

59 καὶ οὐδὲ οὕτως ἴση ἦν ἡ μαρτυρία αὐτῶν.

And in this way (lit = ‘not in this way’, or perhaps, ‘in this way not’…) the testimonies of them were not equal.

59 Et ne ita quidem conveniens erat testimonium illorum.

60 καὶ ἀναστὰς ὁ ἀρχιερεὺς εἰς μέσον ἐπηρώτησεν τὸν Ἰησοῦν λέγων, Οὐκ ἀποκρίνῃ οὐδέν; τί οὗτοί σου καταμαρτυροῦσιν;

And standing in the middle of them the high priest questioned Jesus saying, “Are you not going to answer anything? (About) what they testify against you? 

[ that was tough to twist into English that satisfies the Greek. I still didn’t quite get it right but I’m not sure how else to bend the English. ]

60 Et exsurgens summus sacerdos in medium interrogavit Iesum dicens: “ Non respondes quidquam ad ea, quae isti testantur adversum te? ”.

61 ὁ δὲ ἐσιώπα καὶ οὐκ ἀπεκρίνατο οὐδέν. πάλιν ὁ ἀρχιερεὺς ἐπηρώτα αὐτὸν καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ, Σὺ εἶ ὁ Χριστὸς ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ εὐλογητοῦ;

But he was silent and did not answer anything. Again, the high priest questioned him and said to him, “Are you the Christ, the son of the Blessed One?”

A very blunt question. And, if you think about it, something that’s out of the blue. To this point we have not been given any indication that the religious authorities had this perception about Jesus, or about his teaching.

61 Ille autem tacebat et nihil respondit. Rursum summus sacerdos interrogabat eum et dicit ei: “ Tu es Christus filius Benedicti? ”.

62 ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν, Ἐγώ εἰμι, καὶ ὄψεσθε τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐκ δεξιῶν καθήμενον τῆς δυνάμεως καὶ ἐρχόμενον μετὰ τῶν νεφελῶν τοῦ οὐρανοῦ.

And Jesus said, “I am he. And you will see the son of man seated on the right (hand/side) of power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”

Coming with the clouds?  And the Latin says the same thing. Paul (1 Thess 4:17) and Mark previously (13:26) said he would be coming on the clouds. Not that it truly matters; it seems like it might be a mixed-up preposition.

62 Iesus autem dixit: “ Ego sum, et videbitis Filium hominis a dextris sedentem Virtutis et venientem cum nubibus caeli ”.

63 ὁ δὲ ἀρχιερεὺς διαρρήξας τοὺς χιτῶνας αὐτοῦ λέγει, Τί ἔτι χρείαν ἔχομεν μαρτύρων;

And the high priest, tearing his robes said of him, “What yet (else) do we need of evidence?  (“What more evidence do we need?” Jesus Christ Superstar)

63 Summus autem sacerdos scindens vestimenta sua ait: “ Quid adhuc necessarii sunt nobis testes?

64 ἠκούσατε τῆς βλασφημίας: τί ὑμῖν φαίνεται; οἱ δὲ πάντες κατέκριναν αὐτὸν ἔνοχον εἶναι θανάτου.

“You heard the blasphemy. How does it seem to you?” And all answered him, “It is enough to be liable for death.”

<< ἔνοχον >> is actually a legal term, or a term used in specifically legal settings. Interesting that Mark knew such a word.

64 Audistis blasphemiam. Quid vobis videtur? ”. Qui omnes condemnaverunt eum esse reum mortis.

65 Καὶ ἤρξαντό τινες ἐμπτύειν αὐτῷ καὶ περικαλύπτειν αὐτοῦ τὸ πρόσωπον καὶ κολαφίζειν αὐτὸν καὶ λέγειν αὐτῷ, Προφήτευσον, καὶ οἱ ὑπηρέται ῥαπίσμασιν αὐτὸν ἔλαβον.

And they began to spit at him and to cover his face, and slap him and to say to him, “Prophecy!” and the guards struck him and led him away.

[ Here we run into the word discussed in verse 54 above: << ὑπηρέται >>. There we discussed how it originally meant ‘rower’; here, the obvious meaning would seem to be ‘guards’. ]

This is interesting: they cover Jesus’ face and hit him, and then demand that he prophecy. About what? Now, we ‘know” that the idea was that he was supposed to prophecy about who struck him, but note that we are not told that. Matthew fills in the blanks, but how did he know? Was this just such common knowledge that Mark didn’t feel the need to explain? Or did he not know? Was the tradition silent on this? How faithfully did Mark record the tradition? Did he miss things once in a while? 

This is another good instance where we don’t know everything that we think we do.

65 Et coeperunt quidam conspuere eum et velare faciem eius et colaphis eum caedere et dicere ei: “ Prophetiza ”; et ministri alapis eum caedebant.

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About James, brother of Jesus

I have a BA from the University of Toronto in Greek and Roman History. For this, I had to learn classical Greek and Latin. In seminar-style classes, we discussed both the meaning of the text and the language. U of T has a great Classics Dept. One of the professors I took a Senior Seminar with is now at Harvard. I started reading the New Testament as a way to brush up on my Greek, and the process grew into this. I plan to comment on as much of the NT as possible, starting with some of Paul's letters. After that, I'll start in on the Gospels, starting with Mark.

Posted on August 29, 2013, in gospel commentary, gospels, mark's gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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