Little more need be said on this point. The prominence of the chief priests in the move to silence Jesus fits well with the earlier observations: that the Temple was not only the centre of Israel's religion but also the very substantial economic base for the political power of the high priestly families (§9.3a) and that Jesus' symbolical act in the Temple and talk of the Temple's destruction provided the final reason/(excuse?) for Jesus' arrest and the primary accusations levelled against
113. Mark 14,1/Luke 22.2; Mark 14.43; Mark 14.53/Matt, 26.57; Mark 15.1/Luke 22.66; Luke 23.10; Mark 15.31/Matt. 27.41; note also the Passion predictions (Mark 8.31; 10.33) and Mark 11.18.
114. Matt. 26.3; Mark 14.43, 53/Matt. 26.47, 57; Luke 22.52; Mark 15.1/Matt. 27.1; Matt. 27.3, 12, 20, 41.
115. 'Scribes' are regularly mentioned with Pharisees, but as a separate group (Mark 7.1/Matt. 15.1; Matt. 5.20; 12.38; 23.2, 13, 15,23,25,27, 29; Luke 5.21; 6.7; 11.53; 15.2; John 8.3). See above, §9.3c(2).
116. Cf. Légasse, Trial of Jesus 35-38. I have already noted the unlikelihood that the charge against Jesus was that of being a false prophet or a magician (above, chapter 15 n. 95).
117. Sixteen occurrences in Mark 14-15, nineteen in Matthew 26-28, thirteen in Luke 19-24, and fourteen in John 18-19. Sanders sets out the data synoptically (Jesus see the fuller analysis of the various parties involved in opposition to Jesus in Brown, Death 142434.
him Most likely it was because Jesus was seen as a threat to the status quo, a threat to the power brokers within Israel's social-religious-political system, that they decided to move decisively against him.118 In the event it would seem that they were able to portray the decision to hand Jesus over to Pilate for summary execution as a purely religious one (Jesus guilty of 'blasphemy' — Mark 14.63-64 pars.). In the event too Pilate took not very much persuasion to condemn Jesus as a political challenge to Roman power (§17.1e).119 But it is unlikely that Pilate would have taken steps to remove Jesus without that persuasion. Jesus was executed, in the final analysis, because he had become too much of a thorn in the side of the religious-political establishment.
But how much of a thorn? Was it only when he went to Jerusalem that he became so perceived? Or had there been smouldering resentment earlier which burst into flame only on Jesus' (final) trip to Jerusalem? Here the boot is more on the other foot, in that in the Gospels (even John), the chief priests hardly feature before Jesus' entry into Jerusalem;120 earlier the chief protagonists are consistently described as scribes and Pharisees. At the same time there are hints that Jesus' words and actions would probably have been seen as an irritation (or worse) to priestly prerogatives.
b. Forgiveness — Bypassing the Cult?
We have already observed the relative prominence of the prospect of forgiveness held out to repentance by both the Baptist and Jesus.121 The point should not be exaggerated, as though either of them offered a forgiveness nowhere else available within Second Temple Judaism.122 For Israel delighted in their God as a
118. Sanders, Jesus 287-90, 301-305; also Historical Figure 265-69, 272-73. Cf. particularly E. Rivkin, What Crucified Jesus? (Nashville: Abingdon, 1984); Horsley, Jesus 323-26. On the sensitivity with which criticism of the Temple would be received by the Jerusalem leadership see further Theissen, 'Jesus' Temple Prophecy'. Becker urges caution: 'Relating Jesus' temple action to his death may be a popular thing to do today, but that connection is nowhere indicated by the sources' (Jesus 332; he is aware of Mark 11.18). But the link between the Temple saying and the action against Jesus (Mark 14.58) is firm (see above, §15.3a), and some association between Temple action and Temple saying can be safely assumed.
'A man who spoke of a kingdom, spoke against the temple, and had a following was one marked for execution' (Sanders, Jesus 295).
120. Apart from the Passion predictions (Mark 8.31 pars.; Mark 10.33/Matt. 20.18), only John 7.32, 45 call for consideration; the other Johannine references all follow on John's trigger event, the raising of Lazarus (John 11.47, 49, 51, 57; 12.10).
122. So Perrin, Rediscovering 97, 107; rebuked by Sanders, Jesus 200-204 (both cited in my Partings 44-45).
God of forgiveness, a merciful and gracious God 'forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin' (Exod. 34.6-7).123 Prayer for forgiveness was part of Israel's liturgy.124 And the sacrificial system, particularly the sin offering and the Day of Atonement, was designed to provide forgiveness. So talk of forgiveness now and the reality of forgiveness experienced now would hardly have been strange to the devout Jew of Jesus' time.
Jesus, however, is recalled as causing surprise or offence by saying 'Your sins are forgiven' both to the paralyzed man, (Mark 2.5, 9 pars.),126 and to the 'sinner' who anointed his feet in Luke 7.48-49.127 In the former case the story now attests the Son of Man's authority to forgive sins (2.10), and that affirmation answers the querulous response of the scribes, 'Who can forgive sins but God alone?' (2.7). But the statement, 'Your sins are forgiven', is simply a pronouncement of forgiveness, and the passive form of the verb128 indicates that it is God who forgives (as when a Christian priest pronounces absolution in a present-day Christian congre-gation).129 Presumably this was the implication too when the Baptist pronounced sins forgiven (as implied by Mark or when in the Prayer of
Nabonidus from Qumran, Nabonidus says 'an exorcist forgave my sin' (4QprNab 4).131 In neither case is there any thought of the individual in question usurping a divine prerogative, only of human mediation of divine forgiveness.132
A more likely cause of protest in the incident itself was that Jesus pro
123. Exod. 34.6-7 is regularly echoed in Jewish Scripture (Num. 14.18; Neh. 9.17; Pss. 86.15; 130.4; 145.8; Dan. 9.9; Joel 2.13; Jon. 4.2; Mic. 7.18; Nah. 1.3).
124. E.g., 1 Kgs. 8.30-50; 2 Kgs. 5.18; 2 Chron. 6.21-39; Pss. 25.11; 32; 51; 79.9; Prayer ofManasseh. As Ps. 51.16-19 reminds us, while sacrifice without such prayer was recognized to be vain, effective prayer which could dispense with sacrifice was not contemplated. Note also, of course, Matt. 6.12/Luke 11.4; Mark 11.25/Matt. 6.14-15.
125. In the legislation governing sin offerings and guilt offerings (Leviticus 4-5) we find the repeated phrase, 'so the priest shall make atonement for him for his sins, and he shall be forgiven' (4.26, 31, 35; 5.10, 16, 18). Note also the range of sins against God and the neighbour covered by such provision (Lev. 6.1-7). Eschatological forgiveness (Jer. 31.34) was presumably not thought of as a first-time forgiveness but as a complete or final (?) forgiveness.
127. But otherwise the Jesus tradition is silent on the subject, apart from John 20.23.
128. The 'divine passive' (Jeremias, Proclamation 11).
129. Already in John 20.23 that is regarded as 'authority to forgive sins' (to echo Mark 2.10 pars.).
130. In a similar way the Qumran sect bypassed the Temple by claiming that atonement could be experienced independently of the Temple cult (see above, chapter 11 nn. 94, 99).
131. Martinez reconstructs the preceding phrase (missing) as T prayed to the God Most High and an exorcist forgave my sin' (3-4) — a plausible suggestion, since Nabonidus goes on to testify (presumably) to the ineffectiveness of the prayers he had made previously to the gods of silver and gold . . . (7).
132. Sanders, Jesus 273; Leivestad, Jesus 137-38.
nounced sins forgiven both outside the cult and without reference (even by implication) to the cult. Sins were (apparently) forgiven there and then; there is no suggestion in the tradition that a sacrificial offering would be necessary. In other words, it was not so much that Jesus usurped the exclusive prerogative of God to forgive sins which caused offence, as that he usurped the role which God had assigned to the priest and the cult in the established religion of the people.133 John's baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins raised similar questions (§11.3b).
There is certainly a danger of drawing too much from a single incident, and the sparseness of the theme within the Jesus tradition forbids any attempt to make much of the theme (Jesus and forgiveness). The point is simply that if Jesus' (occasional) pronouncing of sins forgiven caused any upset, the upset would most likely have been to those who valued the religious proprieties embodied and safeguarded in the Temple system. The chief proprietors (guardians and beneficiaries) of the system were the high priestly families. Possibly, then, news of another, like the Baptist, seeming to bypass the cult, would have been a factor already causing irritation to the Temple authorities well before Jesus (finally) entered Jerusalem.
Was this article helpful?