D The Arrest of Jesus and Flight of the Disciples

That Jesus was arrested is not in doubt. and it is hardly likely that the tradition was recalled independently of the fuller story of Jesus' final hours. The tradition is firm on a number of features:46 that the event took place across the Kidron/on the Mount of Olives (Mark 14.26 pars.).47 that Judas led/came with the arresting party (14.43 pars.). that one of those with Jesus offered resistance to the extent of cutting off the ear of a member of the arresting party (14.47 pars.).48 and that Jesus remonstrated briefly (14.48-49 pars.). Round that core several performance elaborations are evident: perhaps the betrayal with a kiss (Mark 14.44-45). Jesus' rebuke to the one who resisted (Matt. 26.52-54) and healing of the wound (Luke and the mysterious young man in Mark

The character of the arresting party is confused in the various tellings: a 'crowd' from the chief priests (and scribes) and elders (Mark 14.43/Matt. 26.47);

44. See further Brown. Death particularly 1364-73: 'we have here a theologoumenon. i.e.. the presentation of the Last Supper as a paschal meal is a dramatization of the preGospel proclamation of Jesus as the paschal iamb' (1370).

45. Nicely concise discussions in E. Schweizer. The Lord's Supper according to the New Testament {1956; ET Philadelphia: Fortress, 1967) 29-32; O'Toole, East Supper, ABD 4.23537; Theissen and Merz. Historical Jesus 423-27.

46. Cf. Pesch. Markusevangelium 2.403; see further Legasse. Trial of Jesus 14-22.

47. S. Safrai maintains that there was a tradition current at the time of Jesus of a specific location on the Mount of Olives where King David used to pray which became a focal point of prayer (Flusser. Jesus 144 n. 26).

48. The fact that the anonymity of the one who resisted is retained in the Synoptic tradition (otherwise John 18.10) suggests that the story was framed early on when it would still be necessary to safeguard the individual concerned ('protective anonymity') from possible reprisals (Theissen and Merz. Historical Jesus 447).

49. Meier is fairly certain that the story is a Lukan creation (Marginal Jew 2.714-18).

50. Often taken to be Mark himself; see. e.g.. discussion in Taylor. Mark 561-62.

chief priests and 'temple officers' (strategoi) and elders (Luke 22.52); a 'cohort (speira)' and 'attendants (hyperetai)' (John 18.3). But beyond some story-telling the various accounts hold together well enough. There is no reason to conclude that there was Roman involvement,52 since all agree that the arresting party came from the chief priests, who could use Temple police for the purpose (strategoi?).

The flight of the disciples is recalled only by Mark and Matthew (Mark 26.56). But together with the subsequent denial of Peter, dramatically retold in all four Gospels (Mark 14.66-72 pars.), and the (almost) total absence of the male disciples from the crucifixion scene,55 they are too shameful to have been contrived. Here not least the suggestion that such stories emerged as malicious, factional rumours against Peter and the others56 can be dismissed as fanciful; the likelihood of such material being accepted and becoming established within this core tradition is very small indeed. It is much more plausible that those penitent over their failure should have sought to make some amends by including recollection of it within the core tradition for whose basic shape they were no doubt primarily responsible.57

e. The Role of Pilate

Pilate is almost as enigmatic a figure as Judas. This is no doubt the result of a notable tension between the Gospel accounts and our knowledge of Pilate from Josephus and For in the latter, Pilate comes across as a ruthless governor,

51. A cohort would normally consist of 600 soldiers!

52. Speira is the normal Greek term for the Roman cohort, but Roman military terms were used for non-Roman troops (Brown, Death 248 n. 11; see also above, chapter 8 nn. 200, 201).

53. See Brown, Death 1430-31; fuller discussion on 246-52.

54. The description of place (courtyard), participants (servant woman and others), and details (fire, accusation, Galilean dialect) certainly smacks of eyewitness recall (Taylor, Mark 572; Pesch, Markusevangelium 2.451-52; Meier, Marginal Jew 3.242-45). The differing tellings as to detail and setting within the larger story (tabulated in Brown, Death 418-19, 59091) are typical of performance variation.

55. The one exception might be the mysterious 'beloved disciple' (John 19.26-27). Possibly we should add Simon of Cyrene, evidently known to Mark's circle as 'father of Alexander and Rufus' (Mark 15.21; see further Brown, Death 913-17; Le'gasse, Trial of Jesus 80-81; Davies and Allison, Matthew did he become a disciple as a result, and also a source for some of the details recounted by Mark (thus providing an answer to Liidemann's dismissive question, 'Who would have had a correct recollection of that?' — Jesus 107)?

56. E.g., K. E. Dewey in Kelber, ed., Passion in Mark 106.

57. See further Schillebeeckx, Jesus 320-27; Brown, Death 614-26.

58. Philo, Legat. 299-305 (set up shields in Herod's palace in Jerusalem); Josephus, War determined to impose his will, and only moved otherwise by the possibility of unfavourable reports being sent back to Emperor Tiberius59 — in other words, a fairly typical middle-ranking official60 representing the awesome power of the empire in a tiresome but sensitive part of its eastern territories. The fact that he held office as long as he did (26-37)61 indicates both his astuteness and his ability to survive most of the crises he engendered, apart from the last.62 There can be little doubt that he would have had no qualms about arbitrarily executing someone who could be plausibly accused of trouble-making or worse.63 Crucifixion, we may recall, was a Roman form of punishment for recalcitrant slaves and political rebels.64 That Jesus was crucified on the direct authority of Pilate himself need not be doubted for a minute.65

The only reason for hesitation before drawing such a straightforwardly firm conclusion is what we might call the counter-evidence of the Gospels themselves. For they clearly evidence a strong tendency to shift responsibility for the execution of Jesus away from the Roman to the Jewish authorities.66 Pilate 'perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had handed him over' (Mark 15.10). He gave the crowd the option of saving Jesus or Barabbas (Mark 15.6-15).67 Luke emphasizes that Pilate sent Jesus to Herod (Luke 23.6-

2.169-77; Ant. 18.55-89 (introduced standards with effigies of Caesar into Jerusalem by night, used Temple treasury money to build an aqueduct, ruthlessly suppressed a Samaritan 'uprising').

59. See particularly Bond, Pontius Pilate chs. 2-3.

60. The Roman governors of the few third-class imperial provinces, of which Judea was one, were drawn from the equestrian order and commanded only auxiliary troops (Bond, Pontius Pilate 5, 9-11).

61. The usual dates for Pilate's term of office, though D. R. Schwartz argues for a starting date in 19 ('Pontius Pilate', ABD 5.396-97).

62. The accusation of needless slaughter of the Samaritans is the reason given by Josephus for Pilate's dismissal in 36/37 (Ant. 18.85-89); see further n. 70 below.

63. One of Philo's virulent accusations against Pilate is that he was responsible for 'frequent executions of untried prisoners' (Legat. 302); though see Bond, Pontius Pilate 31-33.

64. See particularly Hengel, Crucifixion 33-63; Kuhn, 'Kreuzesstrafe' 706-32.

65. We recall that both Josephus (Ant. 18.63-64) and Tacitus (Annals 15.44) attribute Jesus' execution to Pilate (above, §7.1). That the death penalty was a power (ius gladiij reserved to the Roman authorities is now generally accepted; see, e.g., Legasse, Trial of Jesus 51-56.

66. See also Carroll and Green, Death of Jesus 182-204.

67. It is frustratingly difficult to assess the historical value of the Barabbas episode, not least since the name is uncannily akin to that of Jesus (Jesus Barabbas; 'Do you want me to release Jesus Barabbas or Jesus called Messiah?' — Matt. 27.17), and the custom of releasing a prisoner at Passover (Mark 15.6/Matt. 27.15; in Luke 23.17 only as v.l.) is otherwise unknown (hence the dismissive treatment of Lüdemann, Jesus 105-106; 'parable, not history' — Crossan and Reed, Excavating Jesus 225). But see full discussion in Brown, Death 793-803, 811-20; briefly in Pesch, Markusevangelium 2.467; Legasse, Trial of Jesus 67-69; Davies and Allison, Matthew 3.583, 585; Theissen and Merz, Historical Jesus 465-66.

12).68 He declared Jesus innocent and wanted to let him off (Luke 23.14-15. 20. 22). Matthew has the story. grist to many a subsequent novellist's imagination. of Pilate's wife warning him to 'have nothing to do with that just man' (Matt. 27.19). as also the account of Mate washing his hands and declaring himself 'innocent of this man's blood' it was the chief priests and el ders who wanted to 'destroy' Jesus (27.20). 'all the people' who accepted the blood guilt (27.25). And John imagines a debate between Jesus and Pilate. in which Pilate is impressed by Jesus' answers and repeatedly insists. 'I find no case against him' (John 18.38; 19.4. 6); he is dissuaded from releasing Jesus only by the threat of complaint made against him to the Emperor (19.12).

Roman history shows from many examples that provincial governors were vulnerable to complaints of unjust government; so there are certainly plausible elements in the basic scenario.70 Even so. the depiction of Pilate being in effect bullied by the high priest and his counsellors. to execute a man of whose innocence he was convinced. almost certainly owes more to political motivation than to historical recollection.71 Of course. the policy of excusing Roman injustice is understandable for a movement which soon sought to win converts through the eastern territories of the Roman Empire. And in subsequent Christian fiction it was pushed still further to a ridiculous extent.72 But the startling contrast here with the treatment of Judas is a reminder of some very unsavoury undercurrents within early Christianity.

The outcome of these tensions is to leave the role of Pilate in Jesus' execution tantalisingly obscure at various points. After all. the more negative portrayal of Pilate by Josephus and particularly was probably as biased against Pilate as the more exonerating portrayal of the Gospels is biased in his favour. At the very least. however. the primary responsibility for Jesus' execution should be

68. The fact that only Luke has this episode raises the question of its historical value more sharply. but there is nothing intrinsically implausible in the basic account; see. e.g.. Fitzmyer. Luke 2.1478-79; Brown. Death 783-86; Flusser. Jesus 163-64.

69. These certainly read like novellistic embellishment — based. perhaps. on Deut. 21.6-8 and Ps. 26.5-6 (Koester. Ancient Christian Gospels 221). Neither Brown {Death 803807. 831-36) nor Davies and Allison {Matthew 3.587-88. 590-91) think it necessary to make a case for their historicity.

70. It was a complaint by Samaritans against Pilate's overreaction to a 'disturbance' (thorybos) in Samaria which occasioned his downfall a few years later (Josephus. Ant. 18.8889); see further n. 62 above.

71. Note. however. Josephus's confirmation that Pilate condemned Jesus to be crucified on the accusation of 'men of the highest standing amongst us' {Ant. 18.64). Bond points out that the Gospels are by no means uniform in their portrayal of Pilate. It is only Luke who presents him as weak. whereas Mark presents him as a skilful politician and John as manipulative. derisive, and sure of his authority {Pontius Pilate 117-18, 159-60, 192-93, 205-206).

72. See the Pilate cycle collected in Elliott. Apocryphal New Testament 164-225; in the Coptic church Pilate has even been canonized.

firmly pinned to Pilate's record, and the first hints of an anti-Jewish tendency in the Gospels on this point should be clearly recognized and disowned.

Study Aid

Study Aid

This Book Is One Of The Most Valuable Resources In The World When It Comes To Getting A Scholarship And Financial Support For Your Studies.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment