THE  TRIAL  AND  DEATH  OF  JESUS



DOES the New Testament provide an accurate account of the Trial and Passion of Jesus?


A Justice of the Israeli Supreme Court seeks the answer to that question through a profound and respectful engagement with the Gospel narrative. He brings to this endeavor an intimate knowledge of ancient Jewish and Roman law and the historical period in which Jesus lived. His conclusions will challenge believer and non-believer alike while providing the historical background essential to a deeper understanding of the New Testament story.


The recent release of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ has provoked powerful responses from believing Christians and non-believers alike. The publishers feel it appropriate to reissue at this time a probing work that examines from another perspective these events that can fairly be said to have changed the course of Western history. A Justice of the Supreme Court of Israel, writing as an expert on Jewish legal history, who is proud of Jesus' ethnic and philosophical background, here challenges the descriptions and interpretations of the trial and death of Jesus as presented by the Evangelists in the New Testament.


Subjecting the Gospel reports to close forensic examination, Justice Cohn scrutinizes the texts in the light of information we possess from other sources concerning the laws and procedures (both Jewish and Roman) then prevailing; the political, ideological and religious motivations which may have prompted the actors to act; and the causes and purposes for which the Evangelists may have given the accounts they did. By thus placing the trial of Jesus in the context of known legal, political and religious facts, he is able to reconstruct the events as they may really have happened. And in so doing, he makes the case that the "perversion of justice" traditionally ascribed to the trial itself must more truthfully be attributed to the aftermath of the trial —namely, the prejudice and persecutions of centuries.


Whether we ultimately accept or reject Justice Cohn's conclusions, his incisive analysis and extraordinary command of historical evidence provides a context to deepen and challenge our interpretations of the Gospel narrative.


Mr. Justice Haim H. Cohn was born in Luebeck, Germany, in 1911. In 1930 he came to Palestine and took up rabbinical studies at the Yeshivat Merkaz Harav as well as Judaistic studies at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Upon the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 he was appointed State Attorney and shortly thereafter Director-General of the Ministry of Justice. In 1950 he was made the Attorney-General of Israel. In 1952 he joined the Cabinet as Minister of Justice and in 1953 resumed the attorney-generalship until his appointment in 1960 as a Justice of the Supreme Court of Israel.


Mr. Justice Cohn represented the State of Israel on the United Nations Commission on Human Rights and was a member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague. He also served on the Board of Governors of the International Institute of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France.



THE TRIAL AND DEATH OF JESUS

by Haim Cohn







INTRODUCTION



Of the sixty thousand-odd books said to have been written on the life of Jesus in the last century alone,1 not many paid particular attention to his trial, as if the story of it were not really part of the story of his life.2 Nor were many books written on the trial itself, and of those concerned with investigation and description of the judicial proceedings against Jesus, only a few were written by lawyers and legalistically. This is indeed surprising. No trial in the history of mankind has had such momentous consequences. None has given rise to such far-reaching, authoritative, and persistent assertions of a grave miscarriage of justice. None has had repercussions which have lost nothing of their impact or actuality even after the lapse of almost two millennia. And none has been so widely and yet so inconclusively and unsatisfactorily reported. That all the reports, such as they are, expressly or by necessary implication insinuate that the trial was but a travesty of justice and the crucifixion a judicial murder should have put conscientious legal observers on the alert, rather than dazzle them, with the rest of Christianity, into a belief that no legal argument could shake. It is a belief still so strong and apparently so changeless that the largest concession which even the great liberals among the hierarchy of the Catholic Church would nowadays be prepared to make would be to absolve the Jewish people as a whole, and the Jews of later generations, from a guilt which—they hold - attaches irrevocably to the Jews whom the Gospels accuse of an active part in the trial.


The fact that legal research into the trial and its historical and political background had been undertaken, in the most impressive and thorough manner, by nonlawyers, by theologians and historians, may have led jurist students of legal history to believe that nothing was left to be done. It is true that we owe a great debt of gratitude to scholars like Mommsen or Schuerer, who painstakingly and, as a rule, conscientiously collected legal background material from Jewish and Roman sources and made ample use of it for their own purposes; no successor could, or can, do without the foundation that they laid. But, to the lawyer working on this material, it soon becomes evident that what it provides is, indeed, foundation only, raw stuff which must be sifted, analyzed, and appraised to arrive at valid conclusions. Any such process of research presupposes, of course, a readiness in principle to approach the sources critically, with no preconceptions as to their conclusiveness.
That, however, is not the approach to be found in all the books by lawyers on the trial. Even a modern lawyer, brought up in the common law tradition of fairness and caution in evaluating evidence, will ordinarily be unable, if he be a faithful son of the Church, to emancipate himself from the dogma of the "Gospel truth," and will find "legal" ways and means to invest the Gospel reports with evidentiary import and reliability. Thus, in his introduction to a book on the trial, an English judge writes that he shares the traditional Christian belief "that there is weighty historical and other evidence to justify a belief beyond reasonable doubt that the writers of the Gospels had personal knowledge and information of the matters about which they wrote; that their original  writings  were read  and   treasured in the Apostolic Churches; that when the original writings disappeared, authentic copies continued in use; that the greater part of the New Testament was in writing before the fall of Jerusalem in a.d. 70 and that the remainder came into existence soon after that event."3


      

THE  AUTHOR  NOW  SHOWS  HIS  DENIEL  OF  THE  NEW  TESTAMENT  BEING  INSPIRED  BY  GOD'S  SPIRT,  HENCE  CORRECT  IN  ALL  WAYS 


We shall try to show that the factual premises given by the learned judge as to the nature and dating of the Gospel reports are mistaken, but at least he grants that the premises, which he takes for his starting point, are, for him, a matter of "traditional Christian belief" and, therefore, for him again, unassailable.


Another distinguished jurist, a former Chief Justice of Ontario, says, in the preface to his recent book on the trial, that "the record as contained in the four Gospels is accepted as fact. Where the authors are at variance with one another, their differences are considered just as those found in the evidence of honest witnesses. All evidence is affected by the capacity of the witness to observe, his powers of accurate recollection, his gift of expression and, where his evidence depends on the word of others, the accuracy of the information communicated to him. It is for biblical scholars to debate the authenticity of the Gospel records and how far one version of the same event is to be preferred to another. The approach of the layman is to accept what he finds and in doing so to treat the respective accounts as supplementing one another. This I have done."4 Here we have a very proper reservation with respect to the experts in purely exegetic and text-critical analysis of the Scriptures; but the implied admission that the texts stand in need of such analysis, presupposing, as it should, some natural caution in assessing them, is straightway thrown to the winds, and they are accepted as they are, as if they were the recorded testimony of credible and trustworthy eyewitnesses. In accepting "what he finds," the author deliberately blinds himself to the fact that what he has found and accepted may well, on specialist scrutiny, be proven unauthentic and, therefore, unreliable. The potential un-authenticity and the manifest inconsistency of the Gospel reports must, then, give the legal historian cause and justification to reject narratives which cannot be supported by law or reason, and accept only what is reasonable or corroborated by legal customs and practices of the time.


It is now no longer seriously disputed that there was not available to the authors of the Gospels any testimony of eyewitnesses who were present at any of the stages of the arrest, trial, or crucifixion of Jesus and gave a direct account of it.5 There is a vague reference to such in the first verses of the Gospel of Luke: his oral tradition, which he now seeks to preserve in writing, has for its ultimate, but not direct, source what the "eyewitnesses and ministers of the word" had "delivered unto us . . . from the beginning" (1:1-4) 6 A second reference is in the Gospel According to John, saying that he who saw the crucifixion "bare record, and his record is true, and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe" (19:35), again an assurance that the tradition is well founded, but—if only because of the undisclosed identity of the witness—too imprecise to be of any evidentiary value.7 Theories propounded time and again that the fourth evangelist himself, or Joseph of Arimathaea, may have attended the meeting of the Sanhedrin, lack support even in the Gospels. And Peter rendered himself unavailable as an eyewitness by his reported denials (Mark 14:66-72; Matt. 26:69-75; Luke 22:55-62; John 18:16-17). No minutes were taken at the proceedings, and if any documents were indited in connection with the trial, none was preserved.8 There is not only no resemblance at all between the Gospel accounts and the testimony of witnesses, but they cannot even lay claim to such credit as would normally be accorded nowadays to a reporter's version of proceedings which he had attended.


This rejection of the Gospel reports as dependable evidence is not to be stigmatized as the presumptuous arrogance of lawyers notoriously preoccupied with technicalities. In this respect, lawyers find themselves in the numerous company of theologians and historians who have concluded that the Gospel texts are not, nor were meant to be, historical records of the events which they describe. 


"The Gospels were not written for the purpose of guiding historians," pronounced a recent book on the trial;9 "the use which their authors intended for the Gospels was religious, not historical. When the evangelists wrote down their account of Jesus trial, they did so not with a view to preserving a record for historical research, but in order to convey a religious message." And a great contemporary theologian warns the readers of his biography of Jesus of Nazareth 10 that if they wanted to learn from the Gospel records what really happened, was said and done then and there, they would be disappointed: "If we were to accept uncritically all the traditions recorded in the Gospels as if they were historical accounts, we would submit the Gospels to an examination which is alien to their nature, and would presuppose a historical understanding which they did not pretend to have." 


But, he continues, it would be quite wrong to assume that, with all their "historical carelessness," the Gospels forbade an independent investigation into what really happened. On the contrary, the theological issues which they raise and determine make one almost compulsory: the independent investigator finds himself challenged by innumerable problems for whose solution the Gospels provide questions but not answers, and there is no keeping back the stream, however many of its waters may have been channeled into erroneous courses: it is for us then to build true dams and make those waters disappear, and the solid land spread before our eyes."11 


In short, the Gospel traditions are:


"messages of faith and not historiography":12 any historical material in their hands the authors used "to add detail and graphic quality, but, on the whole, they freely exercised their fantasy in presenting, and in meaning to present, not history but theology."13


SO  THE  TEACHING  IS:  THERE  ARE  MANY  MISTAKES IN THE GOSPELS;  WE  TAKE  THE  BASIC  THEOLOGY  ONLY  AND  CERTAINLY  DO  NOT  USE  THEM  FOR  ANY  HISTORICAL  TRUTH  OR  FACT  -  Keith Hunt


It is submitted—and on good authority—that they had in mind not only this theological purpose but also an apologetic one. The earliest Gospel, of Mark, was written between a.d. 70 and 72, some forty years after the trial and crucifixion;14 the Gospel of Luke was next, written about 85;15 the Gospel of Matthew is commonly dated about 90, and that of John about 110.16 


FACTS  NOW  PROVE  THE  ABOVE  DATES  ARE  INCORRECT  -  Keith Hunt


Over the span of the second half of the first and the beginning of the second century, the Christians were a small community, struggling desperately for some measure of tolerance from their Roman overlords, who regarded Christian refusal to worship the deified emperor, Christian insistence on worshiping God and His Messiah, the Christ, as a capital offense.17 It was bad enough to deny the imperial divinity and pray to an invisible God, as the Jews did; but it was unforgivable, on top of that, to worship "a malefactor crucified by the government of Rome and declared to have an authority exceeding that of the emperor of Rome." Infuriated by the "inflexible obstinacy" of the Christians, by their "adherence to a depraved superstition,"18 the Romans persecuted them cruelly: surely, from any "public relations" point of view, there can have been no more urgent or important concern for the tormented Christians than to try to enhance their prestige, and better the image of their religion and of Christ, in the eyes of the Roman government and public alike, whereas to admit that Christ had been crucified by Roman authority for a criminal offense, or, a fortiori, to level the slightest criticism or reproach at the Romans for having tried and crucified him, would have been likely to heap fuel on the flames of oppression. It was, therefore, in the vital interest of the Christians, at the time, to represent the contemporary Roman powers-that-be as favorably inclined to the Christ, his activities and teachings, and with no hand at all in his trial and its sequel: if it could be made out that the Roman governor in Jerusalem had been satisfied of the legitimacy and harmlessness of Jesus' works and doctrines, there would be no sense or justice in persecuting Christians in Rome for adopting and following them. This, we hold, is the motive which prompted the evangelists to depict the passion story in a manner calculated to discharge the Roman governor of any responsibility for the crucifixion, placing it squarely upon the shoulders of the Jews, who were anyway an object of intense and equal hatred to Romans and Christians.19


NO  SUCH  DELIBERATE  PLANNING  BY  CHRISTIANS  WAS  EVER  DONE.  IT  IS  IN  THE  EYES  OF  THE  AUTHOR,  THAT  IT  WAS  SO,  AND  SO  HELPS  HIS  IDEA  OF  THE  NEW  TESTAMENT  BEING  UN-INSPIRED;  CERTAINLY  FAR  FROM  WHAT  THE  APOSTLE  PAUL  TAUGHT  -  "GOD  BREATHED"  -  Keith Hunt


It has been suggested that while Jewish Christians must have seen the glory of martyrdom in the Christ precisely because he had been sentenced and crucified by the abhorred Roman governor, the Gentile Christians living in Rome, "who were now acutely conscious that many thousands of Jewish rebels had died similar deaths for contesting Rome's rights to dominion over their land," could never have associated the crucifixion of a rebel or other criminal by the procurator of an overseas province with the alleged divine act of salvation.20 Thus it was for the sake of Gentile Christianity, no less than for official and outside consumption, that the Roman governor had to be thoroughly whitewashed and a belief in the Christ, his innocence and integrity shown to be entirely compatible with loyalty to Rome and confidence in Roman justice.


Seen in this light, all the "fantasies" and "historical carelessness" of the Gospel authors assume new qualities: in the given situation, they would have done the greatest disservice to their faith—indeed, they might have been persuaded that they would jeopardize its very survival—by reporting the truth that Jesus had been found guilty of the capital crimen maiestatis and duly tried and crucified in accordance with Roman law. Even if they had been aware of that truth, they would not, and could not, admit and broadcast it; they felt called upon, not to serve as law reporters or neutral chroniclers, but rather to do their utmost to promote their faith and save it from perdition. Even without taking into account the physical danger in which every Christian found himself, and his licit and fully understandable resolve to guard life and liberty, the purely religious issue was burning enough to warrant emergency action. It was not the first time, or —alas!—the only one, in the history of religions, that, for the glory of God and the victory of the true faith, all otherwise poignant inhibitions would be shed, justice be suppressed, and truth trampled underfoot. In comparison with crimes and atrocities committed in later centuries for those twin causes, falsifications of historical fact, such as those in which the evangelists may have indulged,   might,   to   the   outside  observer,   appear   harmless enough. 21 Not only were there misrepresentations dictated by necessity, but nobody really knows to what extent they—or some of them—did not bona fide accept the veracity of the stories which they had been told or—albeit not without deviations—had copied from earlier texts.


THE  AUTHOR  HAS  SHOWN  MORE  IDEAS  AS  TO  WHY  THE  GOSPELS  ARE  UN-RELIABLE  AND  CERTAINLY  NOT  "INSPIRED"  IN  EVERY  WAY  -  Keith Hunt 


Another circumstance that impugns the historicity and reliability of the Gospel accounts is a natural tendency of the authors, who, it must be remembered, were not, and did not profess to be, trained historians, to transplant situations of their own experience, and personalities of their own knowledge, into that comparatively distant past in which the events which they describe had taken place. For them, it was self-evident that "rabbis," "scribes," or "elders" in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus were the counterparts of those whom they themselves encountered in the current Jewish communities in Rome or Alexandria, two or three generations afterward. And their cardinal mistake was to assume that the attitude of contemporary rabbis toward Christianity and its founder must have been identical with that of their Jerusalem precursors toward Jesus. They failed to take into consideration that Christianity, as a competing creed, had not come into existence until long after Jesus' death, and that the attitude of Judaism toward its apostatical, traitorous, and ever more popular rival must now have been altogether different from what it was toward an individual preacher and prophet from its own midst. The more numerously the Christian faith took root and the wider the incompatibility became between Jewish tenets and Christian— mainly Pauline—theology, the greater would be the scorn and outspokenness of orthodox Jewish reaction, and, if, as the Gospels were being written, Christians were seemingly harassed by the Romans much more than were Jews, that only sharpened Jewish disdain and disappointment at their heresy.


SO  FOR  THE  AUTHOR  ALL  THIS  "HISTORY"  OF  JEWS  AND  CHRISTIANS"  IN  THE  SETTING  OF  THE  ROMAN  EMPIRE,  MEANS  THE  GOSPELS  WERE  FULL  OF  SLANTED  MISTAKES  AND  ERRORS  -  Keith Hunt


So the Gospel authors were accustomed to rabbis and scribes and elders who—true enough—were devoured by venom and hatred toward Christians,22 and the Jerusalem council of priests and elders and scribes (Mark 14:53) could be surmised to have been not otherwise. This is why we find the evangelists portraying councils and crowds of Jews as they knew them from their own local observation, little caring or inquiring whether there was, in fact, any similarity, as far as the attitude to the Christ was concerned, between them and their Jerusalem forebears. Small wonder that the Jews of Jerusalem at the trial of Jesus were supposed by the evangelists to have lived up to their imagined character, and that the conduct of the council of priests and elders was patterned after the open hostility that the evangelists had encountered from rabbis of their own day.23


AGAIN  MORE  IDEAS  AS  TO  WHY  THE  GOSPELS  WERE  SLANTED  AGAINST  THE  JEWS  -  Keith Hunt


Taking for granted, then, the questionability of the Gospel reports in the light of their purpose and orientation, we must still ask whether the evangelists could not, and did not, rely on valid oral or written traditions for some, at least, of the events which they narrated, and if so, whether it would not be possible to identify them, establish their validity, and single them out for special reliance. The quest for such traditions has occupied scholars for more than a century now, with the upshot that it appears "quite certain" that the Gospels were "preceded by some written accounts, more or less fragmentary, of the Gospel tradition."24 Luke testifies that "many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us" (1:1), but, of the manifold settings-forth, only those of the four evangelists have been preserved, and we do not know whether the others anteceded them and provided them with source material. It is generally assumed that a collection of the sayings of Jesus (the so-called Logia) had been in existence and available at least to Luke and Matthew, and its reconstruction was attempted,25 but sayings in it could bear no relation to the accounts of Jesus' trial and crucifixion. As to the events with which we are concerned, the existence and contents of any literature earlier than the year 70 are matters of pure speculation. In the last analysis, it comes down to this: 


the traditions were presumably oral, of the first generation of Jesus' disciples; but it has truly been said that they were handed down in "separate pieces, passed round independently, and put together by collectors who adopt a standpoint altogether foreign to the material itself." 26 In the judgment of a second-century historian, Papias, "Mark was quite justified in writing down some things just as he remembered them," without caring much about their authenticity; and Papias himself, "unlike most people," "felt at home not with those who had a great deal to say," but with those who sifted their material and, in the event, "taught the truth." We owe this information to Eusebius (260-340), who comments that "Papias got these notions by misinterpreting the apostolic accounts and failing to grasp what they had said in mystic and symbolic language. For he seems to have been a man of very small intelligence, to judge from his books."27 It is illuminating that the sources and methods of the evangelists and apostles should in those earliest centuries have already given rise to doubts and discussions, and it is hardly surprising that this dubiety has persisted until today.28


LOOKING  AT  ROMAN  CATHOLIC  HISTORY,  ONE  CAN  SEE  WHY  SUCH  ARGUMENTS  AS  ABOVE  WOULD  BE  FORTHCOMING.  THE  TRUE  CANONIZATION  OF  THE  NEW  TESTAMENT  IS  GIVEN  IN  STUDIES  ON  THIS  WEBSITE,  AND  IT  HAS  NOTHING  TO  DO  WITH  THE  ROMAN  CATHOLIC  CHURCH  -  Keith Hunt


Even if we must despair of the possibility of validating any given tradition on the strength of external evidence, we should perhaps not abandon the possibility of doing so by other means. One test, for instance, could be that the tradition is common to all the evangelists: if each repeated and adopted it, one might presume that they had a satisfactory and conclusive source. Another could be that it is objectively reasonable that the events could indeed, in the given and known circumstances, have happened in the way and the setting described.29 Either test may be expressed negatively. A tradition reported in an earlier Gospel, which the later evangelists, or any of them, saw fit to dismiss, by contradiction or exclusion, as untrue or unreliable may well be viewed with suspicion. Or events which could not, in the given and known circumstances, actually have happened in fact in the way and the setting described may safely be ascribed to fancy rather than to sober tradition.


THE  AUTHOR  HAS  JUST  GIVEN  MORE  HUMAN  ARGUMENTS  AS  TO  WHY  THE  GOSPELS  ARE  NOT  DIVINELY  INSPIRED,  BUT  MERE  WRITINGS  OF  MEN,  WHO  MADE  MISTAKES,  CONTRADICTED  ONE  ANOTHER,  FUDGED  THINGS  FOR  THEIR  BIAS  OF  THEOLOGY  AND  ETC.  -  Keith Hunt


It is by no means an easy task to determine which of the traditions that found expression in the Gospels has the fiat of all the evangelists: the discrepancies are many and multiple, and at times concern issues so fundamental that, at first glance, one might think that they spoke of totally different events and personalities. It looks as if Jesus in Mark were not the same person as Jesus in John: "They speak differently, act differently, die differently."30 For our purpose, there is nothing so relevant as the traditions surrounding the events that led up to the crucifixion, but it is just in that context that the Gospels are full of contradictions, and many of the incongruities do not lend themselves to reconciliation. We are faced with the choices of a night trial before the Sanhedrin (Mark 14:55-64 and Matt. 26:59-66), an early morning trial (Luke 22:66-71), and no Sanhedrial trial at all (John 18:19-21), and there are several variants as to the details of the proceedings before Pilate. The dilemma could be made less tractable only if, as has been suggested, we were to read into one Gospel accounts coming from another:31 that would, indeed, not be legitimate, and would cause confusion rather than clarification. Bible exegetes and text critics claim that they can sift the reliable from the not, or the more from the less, accepting one version as original and authentic, discarding the other as corruption and interpolation—a method not open to, or envied by, the unbiased lay reader, who is, a priori, entirely ready to give every version that he meets the like credit and an even chance of authenticity. Nor can he be greatly encouraged by the results of the critical exegesis, seeing that, to the original inconsistencies in the Gospel accounts, there are added those which stem from the all too often irreconcilable differences of opinion among the exegetes. Rather than rely on this or the other exegetic theory, we shall invoke the benefit of laity and endeavor to consider each version on its merits, disregarding none, however much it may be rebutted.


THE  GOSPELS  ARE  THOUGHT  TO  BE  FULL  OF  CONTRADICTIONS,  AND  AT  ODDS  WITH  EACH  OTHER.  NOTHING  COULD  BE  FURTHER  FROM  THE  TRUTH.  ALL  SO-CALLED  CONTRADICTIONS  OF  THE  GOSPELS  ARE  ANSWERABLE,  HAVE  BEEN  ANSWERED  BY  CHRISTIAN  SCHOLARS  SINCE  THIS  BOOK  WAS  PUBLISHED  -  Keith Hunt


There are, to be sure, a good many traditions which have mustered the consensus of all evangelists and thus pass our first test. Of those which directly concern us, the following enjoy that unanimity: Jesus was arrested at night; some Jews were present at the arrest and took part in it; after arrest, he was brought into the house of the high priest; the next morning, the Jews brought him before Pontius Pilate; to Pilate's question "Art thou the King of the Jews?" he replied, "Thou sayest it" (or: "Thou sayest that I am a king"); Pilate "delivered" him to be crucified; he was crucified, together with two other convicts, by Roman soldiers; and a "title" was put on the cross with the words "King of the Jews."


ABOVE  IS  WHAT  THE  AUTHOR  SEES  AS  THE  BASIC  TRUTHS  OF  THE  GOSPELS  -  Keith Hunt


Our inquiry will show that these traditions satisfy also our second test: what they tell is objectively reasonable because, in the circumstances and under the prevailing conditions as we know them, it could, in fact, have happened. In this respect, they differ from other traditions on which, also, the evangelists are unanimous: it will be shown that the episodes of Judas Iscariot and of Barabbas, for instance, could not have so happened, and, therefore, cannot be accepted as "objectively reasonable."


COULD  NOT  HAVE  HAPPENED  ACCORDING  TO  THE  WAYS  OF  RUNNING  OF  THAT  SECTION  OF  THE  WORLD;  BUT  THE  AUTHOR  CANNOT  SEE  IT  WAS  A  TIME  OF  GOD  MOVING  IN  THE  HEARTS  OF  MEN,  SO  "RUNNING  AS  NORMAL"  WAS  JUST  NOT  NORMAL;  THINGS  WERE  SAID  AND  DONE  THAT  WAS  FAR  FROM  THE  "NORM"  OF  THE  WAYS,  THE  RULES,  THE  LAWS,  THAT  MAN  HAD  CREATED  -  Keith Hunt


We shall start, then, from the premise that events described by all the evangelists in substantially the same manner which, in the circumstances and under the prevailing conditions as we know them from independent and indubitable sources, could conceivably have taken place in that manner did, indeed, so happen. The framework thus fashioned will have to be engrossed with such further detail as the source material available to us may warrant. The fact that, in the circumstances as we know them, any such reported event could conceivably have happened does not necessarily mean that it did in fact happen. We are concerned not so much with the historicity of the events as with the evidentiary worth of the tradition. Once accepted as potentially valid testimony, each tradition will be the starting point from which the further inquiry may proceed, the nucleus around which the potentially true story will have to be retold. For example, that Jesus was arrested, if accepted as a practically uncontested starting point, will at once invite the questions by whom, on whose orders, and for what purpose. Or, that he was brought into the high priest's house, though an accepted fact, is, in itself, inconclusive until one knows why, and what actually happened, or might have happened there, before he was delivered into the hands of the Roman governor.


THE  AUTHOR  OUTLINES  ABOVE,  HOW  HE  WILL  WORK  -  Keith  Hunt


It is as well to avoid involvement in the centuries-old argument as to the historicity or non-historicity of Jesus himself, his ministry, or any particular episodes of his life, or, for that matter, the life of Pontius Pilate and his governorship of Judaea. Jewish advocates of non-historicity have, at times, tried to set aside not only Christian eschatology, but Christology as a whole, by the simple expedient of denying that Jesus had ever lived or been crucified. Non-Jewish protagonists of the theory have cited the inherent uncertainty of the Gospel tradition and the absence of all external evidence.32 But Rousseau gave early warning that denial of the historicity of Jesus is nothing more than reluctance to grapple with the difficulties presented by the Gospel inconsistencies, not a solution of them; moreover, "things like that are not just invented."33 We may go along with a great contemporary Protestant scholar who lamented that "we cannot know the character of Jesus, his life, or his personality; none of his words can be regarded as purely authentic,"34 and confessed that, in his opinion, "we can sum up what we know of the life and personality of Jesus as simply nothing,"35 yet asserted unequivocally that "there is no ground at all for any doubt of the actual existence of Jesus; indeed, the idea of his historicity need not be defended."36 Belief in the historicity of Jesus is not at odds with acceptance of the shortcomings and even valuelessness of much of the source material, any more than belief in his non-historicity is a necessary or inescapable consequence of conceding that the sources to hand are unauthentic and unreliable. It will transpire that, however critical and skeptical the approach to the sources may be, what emerges from the analysis of such traditions as are found objectively probable and thus potentially valid is amply sufficient to   make Jesus appear—even to those without emotional or religious predilections—as a personality very much alive, and very much to be admired.


ABOVE  IS  IDEAS  ON  JESUS;  NEVER  EXISTING  TO  EXISTING  BUT  KNOWING  NOTHING  ABOUT  HIM,  THEOLOGY  -  Keith Hunt


We shall be constrained to pass upon the historicity of certain events in negative mood, by showing that they could never have happened as reported. In our test of "objective reasonableness" is implied a negation of the objectively unreasonable, and hence unbelievable: if it can be determined that the description or interpretation of a certain event is at variance or discordant with facts satisfactorily established, or with the natural and logical trend of contemporaneous reasoning, or with known data of contemporaneous religious or political expediencies and necessities, it ought not, in reason and fairness, to be assumed that, though pictured in the Gospel reports, people did in actuality behave abnormally and unnaturally and against their better interest. If we start from the premise that the reports are biased and tendentious, it is only by testing every detail against the background of conditions of life at the time, including laws and customs as we know them from independent sources, that we may succeed in winnowing the reliable from the uncertain, the acceptable from the inadmissible.37 It is true that this examination and the consequent rejection of a particular report may entail, at one and the same time, acceptance of traditions found potentially valid and rejection of apparently authentic interpretations of them as unreasonable: while, for instance, accepting the tradition that Jesus, after arrest, was brought into the house of the high priest, we may have to reject the Gospel report as to why he was brought there. But, insofar as concerns motives and intentions behind overt acts, interpretations by reporters—including trained historians—are always open to doubt and revision, and are, in fact, always approached questioningly by critics possessing their own means of information; and where a reporter is known to have written with some tendentious purpose, those interpretations of his are highly suspicious in any case, however exact his reportage of the outward events. If that applies to contemporary history, it must apply all the more to events described after the lapse of half a century; and if it applies to history written in our own days, with all the modern apparatus of research at the reporter's disposal, it must apply all the more to "history" written two thousand years ago. Even where any interpretation of intention or motive was itself based on some tradition, that is to say, even where the evangelists had a tradition to rely upon not only for the occurrence of an event but also for what had prompted the actors in it to act as they did, the interpretative element of the tradition may legitimately be jettisoned even though the factual element is not. 


THE  ABOVE  IS  MORE  IDEAS  AS  TO  WHAT  MAY  BE  TRUTH  AND  WHAT  MAY  BE  ERROR,  IN  THE  GOSPELS  -  Keith Hunt


Aside from personal views and conclusions, traditions, too, may have their origin in preconceived ideas, in prejudices, in slanted orientations. To discover and comprehend the true meaning and import of events described, and the considerations and aims behind them, we will do better to look at the actors   rather than at the reporters. We pride ourselves on knowing today a good deal more about the actors than the reporters did: we have neutral and credible evidence of their laws and customs,38 their way of thinking and reacting, their internal strife, their political aspirations and frustrations, their religious and scholarly involvements. It is in the light of this knowledge that we shall try to understand their conduct and bare their motives, and so arrive at a reconstruction of the events as, in the circumstances and with these particular dramatis personae, they could well have happened. This may, of course, amount to a finding that, since they could have happened only in a certain way, they could not have happened in any other, that, if they did happen, it was thus alone. It is the lawyer's privilege never to take the reported fact for granted: rightly or wrongly, he feels called upon to delve into the evidence, ascertain its source and validity, and make sure of its credibility before conceding the fact as established to his satisfaction.39 Neither the reputation of illustrious and ancient historians and scholars nor the authority and sacrosanctity of Scripture can deflect him from his task of weighing and appraising every piece of evidence on its merits. 


There is no shred of disrespect in an investigation of this kind: even the greatest genius, even the holiest of men, by undertaking to interpret reported facts, implicitly invites a critical assessment of his views; it was only by later canonizers that some such books were elevated to the rank of untouchability and indisputability. 


CANONIZATION  OF  THE  NEW  TESTAMENT  WAS  DONE  IN  THE  FIRST  CENTURY  A.D.  AND  WAS  NOT  A  PRODUCT  OF  THE  ROMAN  CATHOLIC  CHURCH.  SEE  THE  STUDIES  OF  CANONIZATION  OF  OLD  AND  NEW  TESTAMENT  ON  THIS  WEBSITE  -  Keith Hunt


True scholarship—including true theological scholarship—always held itself entitled, and in duty bound, to explore the factual background of scriptural tradition, undismayed by the possibility that its conclusions might conflict with biblical texts. 


TRUE  BIBLE  SCHOLARSHIP  HAS  SEARCHED  AND  FOUND  THE  BIBLE  IS  ALWAYS  CORRECT,  FOR  THE  CHRISTIAN  BIBLE  IS,  AS  IT  SAYS,  INSPIRED,  GOD  BREATHED.  THE  SO-CALLED  CONTRADICTIONS  HAVE  BEEN  ANSWERED;  ARCHAEOLOGY  EVER  PROVES  THE  BIBLE  TO  BE  CORRECT  -  Keith Hunt


This is, indeed, the stand which modern Christian theology has taken in respect of the life and death of Jesus as reported in the Gospels; and it is not least the courage and imagination displayed by some of the eminent theologians of our time toward a revision of inveterate errors and prejudices that sprang from misconceived Gospel interpretations that heartened me to embark, from the lawyer's point of view and with a lawyer's tools, on an inquiry into those aspects of that life and death which have made legal history.


THE  GOSPELS  ARE  NOT  "MISCONCEIVED"  OR  HAVE  MANY  "ERRORS"  -  THEY  ARE  INSPIRED  AND  ALL  SO-CALLED  CONTRADICTIONS  HAVE  BEEN  ANSWERED.  


THE  AUTHOR  GIVES  US  SOME  GOOD  HISTORICAL  BACKGROUND  TO  THE  FOUR  GOSPELS  AND  TO  THE  TIME  WHEN  JESUS  LIVED  ON  EARTH;  THE  FIRST  TWO  CHAPTERS  ARE  WORTH  REPRODUCING  IN  THEIR  ENTIRETY  FOR  YOUR  EDIFICATION.


Keith Hunt