Matthew Chapter 26:59-68

This very long chapter concludes. We left Jesus in the hands of sinners, being taken to Caiaphas.

59 οἱ δὲ ἀρχιερεῖς καὶ τὸ συνέδριον ὅλον ἐζήτουν ψευδομαρτυρίαν κατὰ τοῦ Ἰησοῦ ὅπως αὐτὸν θανατώσωσιν,

60 καὶ οὐχ εὗρον πολλῶν προσελθόντων ψευδομαρτύρων. ὕστερον δὲ προσελθόντες δύο

61 εἶπαν, Οὗτος ἔφη, Δύναμαι καταλῦσαι τὸν ναὸν τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ διὰ τριῶν ἡμερῶν οἰκοδομῆσαι.

The high priest and the whole Sanhedrin sought false witness against Jesus in such manner as they were able to put him to death, (60) and they did not find many coming forward bearing false witness. Finally coming forward two (61) said, “He said, ‘I am able to destroy the Temple of God and through three days to build it’.”

First of all, I’ve read a number of not terribly consistent accounts of this “trial”. Some have stated that it could not have happened; for some reason or another, having this trial at night would have contravened some aspect of Jewish law. I am not competent to comment on that. Others, however, have focused on the kangaroo court aspect, that we are immediately told that they wanted false testimony–perjury. The implication is that there was no legitimate foundation for Jesus’ execution.

And certainly we have to ask if this whole affair ever did occur. Josephus seems to believe it did, for he says something about the leading men among us putting Jesus to death. Maybe. The thing is, even if he did actually say that, and it wasn’t interpolated by Christian copyists, he was writing in the 90s. By that point the Christian story had pretty well been finalized; it had acquired its outlines and taken on the certainty of doctrine. It was the story everyone told, and the story everyone believed. By the sheer weight of repetition it became accepted as accurate. So any reference to the Passion story after a certain point cannot be taken as independent evidence, but is rather a demonstration of the tradition that had become accepted. I would suggest that this point is at least as early as Matthew, and possibly even before that. As a postlude, apparently there exists a Jewish tradition from the 2/3 Century claiming that the Council here spent three days looking for people to bear witness in favour of Jesus. This is a great example of something that is dependent on the tradition–factual or not–of the story presented here in the gospels. The gospel narrative has been swallowed and digested and become the accepted story. Jewish thinkers, whom I would guess were under mounting pressure as Christians multiplied while they remained more or less static, rather defensively came up with their own tradition that they had tried to exonerate Jesus. That they failed was due to lack of people willing to speak for him rather than to their overwhelming desire to railroad Jesus into execution. This is a great example how even a false account can spur its own corroborations at a later time.

Some, or even much, of this question depends on whether one believes that the Temple authorities really wanted Jesus dead, and whether they were willing to go to the lengths described to see that he got there. The only evidence we have for this is contained in the gospels; as such, the entire case for this rests on whether one believes that the story presented in the gospels makes sense on its own terms. That is, is the story internally consistent? No surprise, but I do not believe it is. The story presented tries to tie together a number of separate power groups into a single, malevolent whole, and I don’t believe that the case makes sense on these terms. For example, we have the Herodians plotting with the Scribes and/or Pharisees against Jesus earlier, but when Jesus is sent to Herod, the latter seems more amused than angry or frightened.

The point here, of course, is to emphasize the need for false testimony. Of course Jesus was blameless, so it could only be by way of perjury that any sort of charges could be made to stick, or even to seem plausible. Then too, the need to trump up some sort of charge is back-handed evidence that the trial simply didn’t take place at all; or, at least, it didn’t take place in front of the Sanhedrin. Why were there no charges? Because no such trial ever took place. Of course it’s possible that the trial did take place and the gospel writers simply don’t want to provide the real reason for Jesus’ arrest and execution; however, given Paul’s attitude towards the reason for the crucifixion, I find this less than convincing. Paul not only neglects to tell us; he also demonstrates a complete lack of interest in the reason, at least the earthly reason. It’s all about the expiation and/or the sacrifice.

There are two possibilities: either Paul knew, or did not know what the charge was. If he did not know, I would suggest it’s because the charge was trivial. This does not indicate the threat of revolution, or of overturning the Jewish authorities. Those are not trivial charges, and would have been readily remembered. Then, there’s the possibility that Paul knew and chose not to tell us. Why not? Because the charge was embarrassing, and a trivial charge as suggested above could very easily be seen as embarrassing. So if you follow the logic of the binary choices, Knew/~Knew; Significant/Trivial, most of the branches lead to a reason that was trivial or irrelevant, or at least deemed so by Paul. Based on this, an elaborate trial of the nature shown here, is highly unlikely.

59 Principes autem sacerdotum et omne concilium quaerebant falsum testimonium contra Iesum, ut eum morti traderent,

60 et non invenerunt, cum multi falsi testes accessissent. Novissime autem venientes duo

61 dixerunt: “Hic dixit: ‘Possum destruere templum Dei et post triduum aedificare illud’.”

62 καὶ ἀναστὰς ὁ ἀρχιερεὺς εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Οὐδὲν ἀποκρίνῃ; τί οὗτοί σου καταμαρτυροῦσιν;

63 ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς ἐσιώπα. καὶ ὁ ἀρχιερεὺς εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Ἐξορκίζω σε κατὰ τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ζῶντος ἵνα ἡμῖν εἴπῃς εἰ σὺ εἶ ὁ Χριστὸς ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ.

64 λέγει αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Σὺ εἶπας: πλὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ἀπ’ἄρτι ὄψεσθε τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου καθήμενον ἐκ δεξιῶν τῆς δυνάμεως καὶ ἐρχόμενον ἐπὶ τῶν νεφελῶν τοῦ οὐρανοῦ.

And standing up, the high priest said to him, “Do you not answer? To what they testify against you?” (63) But Jesus was silent. And the high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath, according to the living God in order that you should tell us if you are the the anointed, the son of God”. (64) Said to him Jesus, “You say it, except I say to you, from just now you will see the son of man seated at the right of the power and coming upon the clouds of the sky”.

“I charge you under oath” often gets translated as “I adjure you”. The thing is, “ad-jure” means to put under law, as in taking an oath under penalty of perjury. And the Latin in this case is a pretty good one-to-one translation of the Greek. Both have the sense of a legal action, with perjury as the result for not speaking the truth. In English usage, this legal aspect has been blunted, or even lost. I had a Classics prof say, “I adjure you…” before giving me advice. He wasn’t making me swear; he was urging me strongly. So I put back the legal sense of the word. It fits the setting of a trial, even if the trial only occurred in the land of make-believe.

The other thing is the time aspect of “from just now”. The Greek is a combination of a preposition (apo) and a word meaning “just now”. The NT lexicon gives this <<ἀπ’ἄρτι>> construction the meaning of “presently”, or “henceforth”, the implication being that it will happen at some point. “From just now”, technically, carries that meaning. At some point from this moment forward; that rather sums it up without being too liberal with the exact meaning of the Greek.

Oddly, Matthew tones down what Mark has Jesus say about being the anointed. In Mark, Jesus flatly says “I am” when asked if he’s the messiah. Matthew waffles with the “you say it” construction. This less-definitive attitude by Matthew is interesting, given that he has been more insistent on Jesus’ identity as the anointed right from the start. Other than that we notice that Jesus refers to himself as the son of man; hardly unusual, even for Matthew. The point to remark is that the chief priests automatically take this to mean that Jesus is talking about himself. I believe it’s Erhman (or Mack) who claims that “son of man” is a vernacular for “yours truly”. The way it’s used here that would seem to be plausible if this scene had ever truly been carried out in reality. But it’s not reality. That anyone would have had knowledge of what was said in this trial is beyond belief. So it’s a fictional account, even if  it were (which I doubt) based on a true story. 

62 Et surgens princeps sacerdotum ait illi: “Nihil respondes? Quid isti adversum te testificantur?”.

63 Iesus autem tacebat. Et princeps sacerdotum ait illi: “Adiuro te per Deum vivum, ut dicas nobis, si tu es Christus Filius Dei”.

64 Dicit illi Iesus: “Tu dixisti. Verumtamen dico vobis: Amodo videbitis Filium hominis sedentem a dextris Virtutis et venientem in nubibus caeli”.

65 τότε ὁ ἀρχιερεὺς διέρρηξεν τὰ ἱμάτια αὐτοῦ λέγων, Ἐβλασφήμησεν: τί ἔτι χρείαν ἔχομεν μαρτύρων; ἴδε νῦν ἠκούσατε τὴν βλασφημίαν:

66 τί ὑμῖν δοκεῖ; οἱ δὲ ἀποκριθέντες εἶπαν, Ἔνοχος θανάτου ἐστίν.

67 Τότε ἐνέπτυσαν εἰς τὸ πρόσωπον αὐτοῦ καὶ ἐκολάφισαν αὐτόν, οἱ δὲ ἐράπισαν

68 λέγοντες, Προφήτευσον ἡμῖν, Χριστέ, τίς ἐστιν ὁπαίσας σε;

Then the chief priest tore his garment, saying, “He blasphemed! What yet need have we of witnesses? Behold, now you heard the blasphemy! (66) “How does it seem to you?” The chief priests said, “It is sufficient of death.” (67) Then they spat on his face and struck him, the ones striking saying, “Prophesy to us, Christ, who is it striking you?”   

I’ve mentioned–more than once, IIRC–that Josephus tells us that the Romans allowed the Temple authorities to execute anyone who violated the space of the Holy of Holies in the Temple. I suppose this would be on a par with that? Is that why it’s worthy of death? This is what I mean about internal consistency of the story; it seems to be lacking to some (large) degree. Things don’t quite fit, don’t connect, don’t work together. This offense is worthy of death, and yet they have to go convince the Romans to perform the execution, even though Josephus says they actually had the authority to do it themselves. It’s tempting to mention Josephus’ story of the killing of James, brother of Jesus, who was…stoned? Or thrown off the cliff? Something like that, and for religious reasons. However, there is a lot of contention about whether that story is authentic, or a later Christian interpolation. Regardless, the point remains that certain significant elements of the story do not hang together very well. 

The last two verses are especially peculiar. They just simply don’t seem to fit at all. We are told in one of the gospel accounts that this sort of behaviour was the work of soldiers, but here it seems to imply that it’s the chief priests, or members of the Sanhedrin that are doing the spitting and the striking? Does that make sense? Perhaps it does. 

65 Tunc princeps sacerdotum scidit vestimenta sua dicens: “ Blasphemavit! Quid adhuc egemus testibus? Ecce nunc audistis blasphemiam.

66 Quid vobis videtur? ”. Illi autem respondentes dixerunt: “ Reus est mortis! ”.

67 Tunc exspuerunt in faciem eius et colaphis eum ceciderunt; alii autem palmas in faciem ei dederunt

68 dicentes: “ Prophetiza nobis, Christe: Quis est, qui te percussit?”.

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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 October 9, 2016, in Chapter 26, gospel commentary, gospels, Matthew's Gospel. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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