Trial Before the Sanhedrin

". . .all allegations that the Pharisees or their supreme court, the Sanhedrin, were involved in Jesus’ death were deliberate misrepresentations." (Boteach, Shmuley (2011-12-07). Kosher Jesus (pp. 19-20). Gefen Publishing House.)
"We are forced to accept that history has been altered. This trial, so damaging to the reputation of Jews for millennia, was most likely wholly invented by the writer of the Gospel of Mark, and then copied by Matthew and Luke to implicate the Jews in the murder of Jesus, when really it was a Roman affair from beginning to end. Based on the traces left in the text, the trials were almost certainly fabrications designed to indict the Jews and exonerate the Romans." (Boteach, Shmuley (2011-12-07). Kosher Jesus (p. 93). Gefen Publishing House.)

Some people deny that the so-called 'Jewish Trial' ever happened, though it is clearly recorded in the New Testament, held as inspired scripture by the Christian faith. Does the New Testament incorporate "deliberate misrepresentations" and "fabrications"? Let's see:

Capital Jurisdiction
Night Court
Power to the People
Ways and Means
Gospel of Peter
Book of Acts
Moses Maimonides
The Black Death


Capital Jurisdiction

The Gospel of John reports that the Jewish authorities were obliged to go to the Romans in the matter of Jesus of Nazareth because they had lost capital jurisdiction: "Then said Pilate unto them, Take ye him, and judge him according to your law. The Jews therefore said unto him, It is not lawful for us to put any man to death:. . ." (John 18:31). According to the Talmud, the Sanhedrin lost capital jurisdiction forty years before the temple was destroyed in 70 A.D., i.e., in 30 A.D. or thereabouts. The Sanhedrin ceased to sit in the temple precincts at that time, inasmuch as it was impossible to assure the law would be upheld:

  • "He sent back, 'Thus did my father say: One hundred and eighty years before the destruction of the Temple the wicked State [sc. Rome] spread over Israel. Eighty years before the destruction of the Temple uncleanness was imposed in respect of the country of heathens and glassware. Forty years before the destruction of the Temple the Sanhedrin went into exile and took its seat in the trade Halls. (in respect to what law [is this stated]? — Said R. Isaac b. Abdimi, To teach that they did not adjudicate in laws of fines. 'The laws of fines' can you think so! But say: They did not adjudicate in capital cases.) And should you answer, They [Jose b. Jo'ezer and Jose b. Johanan] flourished during these eighty years too: surely it was taught: Hillel and Simeon [his son], Gamaliel and Simeon wielded their Patriarchate during one hundred years of the Temple's existence; whereas Jose b. Jo'ezer of Zeredah and Jose b. Johanan were much earlier!" (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbath, Folio 15a).

  • "Whence can it be proved that Rome kept faith with Israel for twenty six years? [From the following:] For R. Kahana said: When R. Ishmael b. Jose was ill they sent word to him: Rabbi, tell us the two or three things which thou hadst told us in thy father's name. He then told them: One hundred and eighty years before the Temple was destroyed did Rome cast her rule over Israel; eighty years before the destruction of the Temple it was decreed that neighbouring countries of Palestine were to be regarded as ritually unclean, and likewise all glass vessels. Forty years before the Temple was destroyed did the Sanhedrin abandon [the Temple] and held its sittings in Hanuth. [A place on the Temple mount, v. Sanh. (Sonc, ed.) p. 267, n. 4.] Has this any legal bearing? — Said R. Isaac b. Abdimi: It indicates that [from that time onward] they did not deal with cases of fines. 'Cases of fines'! How can that enter your mind? Has not Rab Judah said [the following] in the name of Rab: Verily that man, R. Judah b. Baba by name, be remembered for good, for were it not for him the laws of fine would have been forgotten in Israel? 'Forgotten'! Surely, they could be studied? — Nay, they would have been abolished; for the wicked Government of Rome issued a decree that he who ordains a Rabbi shall be slain, likewise he who is ordained shall be put to death, the town in which an ordination takes place shall be destroyed and the tehum in which the ordination is held shall be laid waste. What did R. Judah b. Baba do? He went and sat down between two mountains and between two large towns between two tehums, namely, between Usha and Shefar'am and there he ordained five elders: R. Meir, R. Judah [b. Il'ai]. R. Jose, R. Simeon and R. Eleazar b. Shammua (R. Awia adds also R. Nehemiah). On seeing that they were detected by the enemies, he said to them, 'Flee, my children!' but they said to him, 'And you, O Rabbi, what about you?' 'I,' he replied. 'will lie still before them, even as a stone that is not turned.' It was stated that the Romans did not move from there until they drove three hundred iron spears into his body and made his corpse like a sieve! — But said R. Nahman b. Isaac: Say not that 'cases of fines' ceased, but that capital cases ceased. Why? — Because when the Sanhedrin saw that murderers were so prevalent that they could not be properly dealt with judicially, they said: Rather let us be exiled from place to place than pronounce them guilty [of capital offences] for it is written And thou shalt do according to the sentence, which they of that place which the Lord shall choose shall tell thee, which implies that it is the place that matters." (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate ‘Abodah Zarah, Folio 8b).

  • "And there is another Boraitha: Forty years before the Temple was destroyed, the Sanhedrin was exiled from the chamber of the Temple to a store. And R. Itz'hak b. Abudimi explained that it means that from that time the Sanhedrin did not try cases of capital punishment.
  • "
  • (The Babylonian Talmud, edited by Michael L. Rodkinson, Volume XV, Tract Sanhedrin, Chapter V, Kindle location 61523, [Folio 41a])


The Damascus Document, recording the views of the sectarians who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls, explains that capital cases should be referred to the Gentile authorities:

"Any human being that any other human being is under a religious obligation to kill shall be put to death by the laws of the Gentiles." (Damascus Documents, p. 66, The Dead Sea Scrolls, Michael Wise, Martin Abegg, Jr., and Edward Cook).

This seems like a prudent accommodation to foreign government, because the governing authorities usually jealously guard their monopoly on the use of lethal force. Although a Sanhedrin trial could not be sufficient for arriving at a capital verdict, it was nevertheless necessary that Jesus be tried by the Sanhedrin, because that is the indicated venue for an accusation of false prophecy:

"A tribe, a false prophet, and a high priest can only be tried by a court of seventy-one." (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin, Folio 2a, Chapter 1, Mishnah).

Given that some definitions of 'trial' or 'try' specify a hearing before a tribunal competent to carry out its own verdicts: "try:. . .to subject to the examination and decision or sentence of a tribunal. . ." (Webster's International, 1965), and the New Testament makes clear the Sanhedrin did not at that time possess this authority, 'trial' is preferred. The New Testament reader will recall that Jesus was challenged:

"And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her." (John 8:3-7).

They were "tempting him"; how so? Some people just don't get it: "And as to its historicity, the tale comes from a time when early Christians were trying to decide which provisions of the Torah they would retain. Jesus would scarcely have been asked his opinion by a Jewish contemporary on whether the Torah's stipulations ought to be obeyed. 'What do you think, Jesus? Will the sun rise tomorrow?'" (Robert M. Price, The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man, p. 172). Only if watching the sun rise can get you into trouble with the authorities. Adultery was a crime under Roman law, but not a capital crime, and Rome monopolized the death penalty. The answer they expected, 'Stone her,' would have made Him an outlaw, before His time. And that wasn't the answer He wanted to give in any case.


Night Court

'Jewish Trial'-deniers raise another objection: according to later legal doctrine as recorded in the Talmud, a night session of a trial court is considered irregular and inadmissible:

"Even if the Gospels were correct about the trial of Jesus, however, the unlikeliest element of all is the suggestion that the Sanhedrin met at night, and on the first night of Passover no less. This would have violated all of the court’s rules. The Sanhedrin was the highest Jewish court, and its meetings were not taken lightly. Like American courts, the Sanhedrin never met on holidays or in the evening. The Talmud records a law that expressly forbade the Sanhedrin to pass judgment by night." (Boteach, Shmuley (2011-12-07). Kosher Jesus (p. 91). Gefen Publishing House.)

The Talmud says:

"Our Rabbis taught: A leap-year is to be declared only by day, and if it has been declared by night, the declaration is invalid. The sanctification of a month is to be performed by day, and if it has been performed by night it is not valid. . .And it is thereupon written, For this is a statute for Israel, a judgment of the God of Jacob: Just as judgment is executed by day, so also must the sanctification of the month take place by day." (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 11b).

This is not an absolute embargo of any discussion or investigation of the case; the judges are expected to continue the discussion into the night, "The judges then go out in pairs. . .They continue their discussion (outside of the court) all night, and on the morrow they come early to the court." (The Babylonian Talmud, edited by Michael L. Rodkinson, Volume XV, Tractate Sanhedrin, Chapter V, Kindle location 61443).

The Talmud is later than the New Testament, not earlier as some people seem to think. There is no first century record of such a legal principle. However, this legal understanding does seem to have been in force, as the gospels attest, given the way the New Testament describes Jesus of Nazareth's trial before the Sanhedrin, the high court of Israel: first comes an irregular night-time trial in the high priest's house, then a morning session, presumably to regularize the findings of the night court:

"And as soon as it was day, the elders of the people and the chief priests and the scribes came together, and led him into their council, saying, Art thou the Christ? tell us. And he said unto them, If I tell you, ye will not believe: And if I also ask you, ye will not answer me, nor let me go. Hereafter shall the Son of man sit on the right hand of the power of God. Then said they all, Art thou then the Son of God? And he said unto them, Ye say that I am.  And they said, What need we any further witness? for we ourselves have heard of his own mouth. And the whole multitude of them arose, and led him unto Pilate." (Luke 22:66-23:1).

The only apparent motive for this morning session is to legitimize the verdict arrived at the night prior: "Some members of the Sanhedrin had already questioned Jesus on an informal basis the night before. But the Sanhedrin could not conduct a trail involving a capital offense at night, so the full court was assembled at daybreak to legalize their conviction." (A Simplified Harmony of the Gospels, George W. Knight, Kindle location 9158). The other gospel authors see no need to mention this 'technicality,' which however testifies to an understanding on the part of the court that their night session did not suffice to deliver a legal verdict.

One might even quote scripture,

“And concerning the house of the king of Judah, say, ‘Hear the word of the Lord, O house of David! Thus says the Lord: “Execute judgment in the morning; and deliver him who is plundered out of the hand of the oppressor, lest My fury go forth like fire and burn so that no one can quench it, because of the evil of your doings.” (Jeremiah 21:1-12).

There may be a suggestion in a passage like 2 Samuel 15:2, “Now Absalom would rise early and stand beside the way to the gate. So it was, whenever anyone who had a lawsuit came to the king for a decision, that Absalom would call to him and say, 'What city are you from?'”, that morning was the normal time for court to be in session, otherwise Absalom was jumping the gun in waiting on the way to the city gate early in the morning.

Whether because of the difficulty of making identifications under low-light conditions or for some other reason, night sessions were not preferred in antiquity, though one could find precedents. Another ancient deliberative body that considered a night session irregular was the Roman Senate:

"After this he [Varro] proceeds to say, that a consultation of the Senate, holden before sun rise or after sun-set, was not according to established forms; and that they who consulted the Senate at such periods were liable to be called to account by the censors." (Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights, Volume III, p. 131, Book XIV, Chapter VII.)

Even as far back as the Twelve Tables, Roman law frowned upon a night court session: ". . .in the Twelve Tables, the word is thus used: 'before noon hear the cause, the litigants being present: noon being past, if only one be present, give judgment in his favor; if both be present, 'sol occasus,' at the setting of the sun, let the proceedings of the court cease.'" (Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights, Volume Three, Book XVII, Chapter II, p. 261). Inasmuch as Moses laid down no prohibition against night court, yet subsequent to their experience under Roman colonialism, Jewish jurists saw a problem with it, the Roman aversion to justice after the sun goes down may have set a precedent.

Does the fact that a night trial was irregular or illegal indeed prove there was no night trial? The reasoning here is as follows: It was not legal, therefore it could not have happened. The fallacy of this assertion is apparent on its face: illegal things happen every day! This is a method of 'proving' your car did not get stolen, your purse was not snatched, etc., because those events also were illegal. Because the U.S. Constitution guarantees due process, each and every lynching held in the United States has been illegal. To conclude therefrom that no lynching has ever occurred in the United States, would be an error. The fact that something should not have happened does not mean it did not happen. Herod the Great got convicted of murder, and you know what he did? He murdered the judges! That wasn't legal, no sir! This form of argumentation is simply invalid.

Surely desperate times call for desperate measures; in an emergency situation, a trial that was not properly scheduled may have seemed a minor obstacle. There is an element of ethnic exceptionalism in the way this argument is commonly presented: surely no one is surprised when the high court of a banana republic overlooks its own by-laws, but no Jewish court could ever have fallen short of legality, not even by a micron. History does not confirm this claim. Recall the case of Phinehas in Numbers 2:7, never condemned as a law-breaker though he executed a man without trial.

There is a 'tension,' shall we say, between the twin contentions of a modern-day mythmaker like Hyam Maccoby, who avers,

  1. First century Palestine was such a law-abiding place that even a minor breach of legal protocol, such as a night session of the Sanhedrin, cannot conceivably have taken place; and
  2. First century Palestine was a 'Wild-West' kind of place, where the dead bodies piled up on the streets, victims of extra-judicial murder, and members of the Sanhedrin simply stepped over them on the way to work without the thought ever crossing their minds, 'hmmm...there really needs to be a inquiry into this.'

Because this is an odd characteristic of these conspiracy theories. One might call it, 'straining at a gnat while swallowing a camel.' These authors deny that the Bible account can possibly have happened, because a minor deviation from sound legal procedure like a night session is unthinkable. When the reader delves into the nitty-gritty of what they think happened, it turns out that what really happened was an extra-judicial lynch mob proceeding. Which is worse: murder and the failure to assure due process, or night court? These authors follow the lead of the Talmud in demonizing the Sadducees and elevating the Pharisees to unimpeachable status; therefore they think it is very likely the Sadducean High Priest was a common murderer, whereas it is unthinkable the Sanhedrin (whose mixed membership included both Pharisees and Sadducees) can have met at night:

"Imagine that Caiaphas and Pilate had standing agreements and orders concerning Passover, whereby any subversive action involving the Temple and its crowds would beget instant punishment with immediate crucifixion as public warning and deterrent. There would be no need to go very high up the chain of command for a peasant nuisance nobody like Jesus, no need for even a formal interrogation before Caiaphas, let alone a detailed trial before Pilate. In the case of Jesus, there may well have been Arrest and Execution but no trial whatsoever in between." (Boteach, Shmuley (2011-12-07). Kosher Jesus (p. 93). Gefen Publishing House.)

In other words, it is inconceivable that the New Testament's account of the night inquest is true, because, although a night process violates no provision of Moses' written law, the Rabbis whose views were incorporated into the sixth century Talmud disapproved. It is very likely, rather, that the High Priest was a common murderer who acted altogether without the color of law, freely executing 'nobodies' without trial, even though such a course of action is explicitly forbidden by Moses' written law. Readers of these authors can think of many examples of this tendency, which our modern myth-makers follow through consistently, not only with Jesus' trial. In the case of Paul's legal woes, they replace the New Testament account with wild stories of Sadducean lynch mobs run amuck; blood stains the hands of ". . .the High Priest, who, as Paul well knew from personal acquaintance, had a body of ruffians at his command who were accustomed to perform lynchings and assassinations in order to uphold his position as Gauleiter for the Romans." (The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity, Hyam Maccoby, p. 168). All of this was overlooked by an indifferent Roman government winking at the outbreak of extra-legal violence on their watch: "Otherwise, he probably would not have intervened at all, since the Romans were not so conscientious in their duties as police as to be much concerned whether some Jew was killed or beaten in a religious squabble." (The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity, Hyam Maccoby, p. 160). So we are left with the odd conclusion that lynchings were very common in first century Israel, but night court was unthinkable. Which is more lawless, murder or a night-time convening of the court? In what kind of society was the one inconceivable, but the other in no way out of the ordinary? Given that the Sadducees were Jews as were the Pharisees, why is it 'anti-semitic' to ascribe any slightest imperfection to the Pharisees, but not 'anti-semitic' to ascribe every possible evil, including routine murder, to the Sadducees?

All the reader needs to know to understand this 'conspiracy theory' paradigm is 'Pharisee=Good, Sadducee=Bad;' this Talmudic template is then forced down upon history, as if history were made of wax and could be recast however you like it. The reader who remains unconvinced by the Talmud's imposition of a Manichaean Good/Evil divide to coincide with the boundary between Pharisee and Sadducee, finds none of this modern myth-making compelling. Moreover, the council whose actions this conspiracy theorizing addresses comprised both groups. If the Sadducees really were such lawless and abandoned people as these authors claim, why would it be assumed the Sanhedrin to which they belonged was punctilious in its observance of every legal nicety? Certainly if the High Priest was a murderous thug as Hyam Maccoby and Shmuley Boteach allege, then the Sanhedrin over which he presided can have met at night.


Jacques Joseph Tissot, Trial Before Pilate

logo Power to the People

"Here I want to mention just three other aspects of the accounts that seem highly implausible. The first is that when Jesus is brought to Pilate, Pilate asks the crowd whether he should find him guilty or not, and if guilty, what he should do with him. How are we to imagine that this is historical? What self-respecting judge would ask the people in the courtroom what they would like him to decide and what the sentence should then be? None that I know of. Is there any record of any Roman official ever conducting a trial in this way? No." (Bart Ehrman, Jesus Before the Gospels, p. 157).

The custom of allowing the crowd to pardon a condemned criminal, as reported in the gospels, is not directly attested for that time and place in ancient literature, but is by no means so alien to Roman law as it would be under our system. We expect a governor, or a president, to pardon the guilty; the Romans, going back as far as their monarchy, assigned the power to pardon to the populace: "In the Roman constitution the community of the people exercised very much the same functions as belong to the king in England: the right of pardon, which in England is a prerogative of the crown, was in Rome a prerogative of the community; while all government was vested in the president of the state." (Theodor Mommsen, The History of Rome, Volume I, Chapter V, Kindle location 1538). The circumstance that a given arrangement would be unusual for us does not make it absurd, impossible, etc.

The reader may recall how controversial Cicero's execution of the participants in Catiline's conspiracy proved to be. Though it was his finest hour,— he saved the state,— the conspirators' appeal from the Senate verdict to the people went unheard. "Cicero came near being tried immediately for the killing of Lentulus and the other prisoners. This complaint, though technically brought against him, was really directed against the senate. For among the populace its members were subject to denunciations of the utmost virulence voiced by Metullus Nepos, to the effect that they had no right to condemn any citizen to death without the consent of the people." (Cassius Dio, Roman History, Book 37, Chapter 42).

Nevertheless we are accustomed to hearing gales of laughter from our best-selling authors, like Reza Aslan, at the thought of a popular pardon, because this is not something one would have heard of from watching Saturday morning cartoons, or whatever comprises their life experience. However the Romans did think the people should have this power; they even saw it as a right:

"But the act by which Valerius especially showed himself a friend of the people was the proposal of a law — the first passed in the assembly of the centuries — prohibiting any magistrate from executing or flogging a Roman citizen without permitting an appeal to the centuries. Even in the time of the kings there had existed the right to appeal from their decisions, as our pontifical books assert and as the augural records also show." (Marcus Tullius Cicero, On the Commonwealth, Book II, Chapter XXXI).

It was not always observed, even in Rome. Cicero himself, serving as consul, did not afford the participants in Catiline's conspiracy this right, but rather had them summarily executed, believing this evasion of the law was necessary to save the state. Reza Aslan inherited not a strand of DNA from anyplace where they have even heard of democracy, yet he wants it understood it is laughable to imagine any Roman judicial verdict would ever be sent to the people for appeal. But not only was it not laughable, for Roman citizens, it was the law, whose text ran:

"'If a magistrate shall desire to have any Roman put to death, scourged, or fined a sum of money, the private citizen may summon the magistrate before the people for judgment, and in the mean time shall be liable to no punishment at the hands of the magistrate till the people have given their vote concerning him.'" (quote of Publius Valerius (Publicola)'s law, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities, Book V, 19.4 Kindle location 6161).

We too allow appeal of a judicial decision, but to a higher court, not to the people gathered in their centuries. The Romans would have wondered how we can tolerate such tyranny. Of course the inhabitants of Palestine were not Roman citizens, and they were not able, as a matter of right, to demand a verdict be appealed to the people, their peers. Not until Caracalla was citizenship extended to the whole empire. But the general principle, that a convict should have the right to appeal to the people, made sense to the Romans. It was not unthinkable. It isn't our way of doing things, though we sometimes see mobs gathered, burning cars, if they do not like a particular 'not guilty' verdict. Our mobs cannot overturn a 'guilty' verdict, though they could in Rome. We cannot stop talking about how oppressive their system was, though perhaps they might encourage us to look to our own. Not properly holding the right of rogatio, the people of Jerusalem nevertheless got the opportunity, on the holiday, of being Roman citizens for a day, and answering absolvo or damno. We don't do it that way. So? They did.


Torture Stake Nailed to the Tree
Mandatory Sentencing Carrying the Cross
Release of the Body


Another objection is that the Jewish authorities would have had no motive for condemning Jesus. What was the allegation against Jesus of Nazareth? What Mosaic law can He possibly have been accused of violating? The suggestion has been made that false prophecy in and of itself can trigger the death penalty: "For we find no other law but that against false prophets, Deut. xviii. 20, whereby 'making himself the Son of God,' deserved death." (John Locke, The Reasonableness of Christianity, p. 64). But this general condemnation, say, of one who claims to know by supernatural means what is, in fact, not so, namely that He Himself is the Messiah, would not be blasphemy.

As the record in the Talmud makes clear, Jewish objections to Jesus centered around blasphemy and enticement:


When someone says, 'I am God,' then either, a.) He is God, or, b.) he is a blasphemer. There is no third alternative. 'He is is not God, but he is no blasphemer either,' is the excluded middle of this argument.

Observe, for example, the sputtering indignation with which a modern Jewish author reacts to Paul's claim that a man, Jesus of Nazareth, was also God in the flesh:

"Here it is only necessary to mention that Paul's elevation of Jesus to divine status was, for the Pharisees and for other Jews too, a reversion to paganism. . .Even more shocking to Jewish religious susceptibilities is Paul's use of the term 'Lord' (Greek, kurios) as a title of the deified Jesus. This is the term used in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, the Septuagint, to translate the tetragrammaton or holy name of God Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth. To apply the name kurios or Lord in its divine sense to a human being who had recently lived and died on Earth would have seemed to any Pharisee or other Jew sheer blasphemy." (Hyam Maccoby, The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity, pp. 62-63).

Precisely. 'Reversion to paganism' is 'enticement,' 'blasphemy' is, like the man says, 'blasphemy.' (This crime is defined rather narrowly in the Talmud, although its more familiar expansive definition is not an alien concern to the Rabbis). There is no more parsimonious explanation of everything the New Testament and the Talmud say about Jesus than this simple fact: He claimed to be God. This is what the New Testament testifies that Jesus said. And all Rabbis agree, that's illegal:

"Do you ignore the Tanaim who differ on this point in the following Boraitha: If one says: 'Come ye and worship me, for I am a god,' R. Mair makes him guilty as a seducer, and R. Jehudah frees him. However, if there were some who had already worshipped him, all agree that he is guilty." (The Babylonian Talmud, edited by Michael L. Rodkinson, Volume XV, Tract Sanhedrin, Chapter VII, Kindle location 62672).

"All agree," so what is the issue? First we must deny Jesus said any of the things the evangelists report Him as saying, then express wonderment that He was condemned, for He did nothing wrong. Indeed He did nothing wrong if He did nothing at all, and did not even exist. The unexpurgated Talmud reports, as Jesus' crime, enticement to idolatry. To what foreign god did Jesus commend worship? Himself:

"They light the lamp for him in the innermost part of the house and they place witnesses for him in the exterior part of the house, that they may see him and hear his voice, though he cannot see them. And that man says to him: Tell me what you have told me when we were alone. And when he repeats (those words) to him, that man says to him: How can we abandon our God in Heaven and practise idolatry? If he returns, it is well; but when he says: Such is our duty, and so we like to have it, then the witnesses, who are listening without, bring him to the tribunal and stone him. And thus they have done to the Son of Stada [Jesus] at Lud and they hanged him on the day before Passover." (Sanhedrin 67a., quoted Gustaf Dalman, Jesus in the Talmud, Midrash, Zohar, and the Liturgy of the Synagogue, p. 29).

The New Testament agrees with the Talmud, identifying the charge against Jesus, that He was a "deceiver:" "Saying, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again." (Matthew 27:63). This is a technical term, "Meaning Jesus; for no better name could they give him alive or dead, and they chose to continue it; and the rather to use it before Pilate, who had a good opinion of his innocence; and to let him see, that they still retained the same sentiments of him: מסית, "a deceiver", is with the Jews, 'a private person, that deceives a private person; saying to him there is a God in such a place, so it eats, and so it drinks; so it does well, and so it does ill.' But which can never agree with Jesus, who was not a private person, but a public preacher; and who taught men, not privately, but openly, in the temple and in the synagogues; nor did he teach idolatry, or any thing contrary to the God of Israel, or to the unity of the divine being; or which savoured of, and encouraged the polytheism of the Gentiles." (John Gill Commentary, Matthew 27:63). The punishment is in dispute, "Our Rabbis taught; A prophet who seduced [people to idolatry] is stoned; R. Simeon said; He is strangled." (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin, 89b).

The modern field of secular Bible study is founded on the German enlightenment with its conviction that there can be nothing supernatural: "Indeed no just notion of the true nature of history is possible, without a perception of the inviolability of the chain of finite causes, and of the impossibility of miracles." (The Life of Jesus, Dr. David Friedrich Strauss, pp. 74-75). But repeat after me, atheist: 'Father Divine told Faithful Mary that he was God.' Have I said anything supernatural or miraculous? Not at all! Jesus' claim to be God is not itself a supernatural phenomenon; its exclusion on principle from this field of study is the result of pure bias.


Ways and Means

It is often asserted that crucifixion was Roman punishment, not a Jewish one:

"Jewish law allowed execution by stoning only. Had the Jews killed Jesus, He would have been stoned, not crucified. . .Jesus was crucified by Rome as a political insurrectionist." (John Hagee, Final Dawn over Jerusalem, pp. 78-82).

It is certainly true that Roman soldiers crucified Jesus, so the gospels report. However, 'hanging' is a mode of punishment known to the Talmud, considered fit for blasphemers: "MISHNAH. HOW IS HE HANGED? — THE POST IS SUNK INTO THE GROUND WITH A [CROSS-] PIECE BRANCHING OFF [AT THE TOP]. . .AS IF TO SAY WHY WAS HE HANGED? — BECAUSE HE CURSED THE NAME [OF GOD]; AND SO THE NAME OF HEAVEN [GOD] IS PROFANED." (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin Folio 46a.) That this 'hanging' is to be post-mortem rather than the means of execution is less clear in the text than some people wish to make it.

King Alexander Jannaeus, who flourished during Israel's interlude of national independence before falling under the Roman yoke, practiced crucifixion as a method of capital punishment:

"One of them was Alexander Jannaeus, the 'Lion of Wrath.' Alexander, according to the writer 'used to hang men alive [...GAP...] in Israel in former times, for to anyone hanging alive on the tree, [the verse app]lies: 'Behold, I am against [you, says the LORD of Hosts]'" (frags. 3-4 1:7-9).
". . .But when another scroll, the Temple Scroll (text 131), was published in 1977, it became clear that under certain circumstances the scroll writers did approve of crucifixion: 'If a man is a traitor against his people and gives them up to a foreign nation, so doing evil to his people, you are to hang him on a tree until dead' (64:7-8). It so happens that Alexander did crucify eight hundred men for the crime of siding with the Greek king Demetrius II and inviting him to invade Judea." (The Dead Sea Scrolls, Michael Wise, Martin Abegg, Jr., and Edward Cook, p. 27)

During a period of civil strife between Pharisees and Sadducces, Jewish king Alexander Jannaeus crucified eight hundred of the opposing party: "Now as Alexander fled to the mountains, six thousand of the Jews hereupon came together to him out of pity at the change of his fortune; upon which Demetrius was afraid, and retired out of the country; after which the Jews fought against Alexander, and being beaten, were slain in great numbers in the several battles which they had; and when he had shut up the most powerful of them in the city Bethome, he besieged them therein; and when he had taken the city, and gotten the men into his power, he brought them to Jerusalem, and did one of the most barbarous actions in the world to them; for as he was feasting with his concubines, in the sight of all the city, he ordered about eight hundred of them to be crucified; and while they were living, he ordered the throats of their children and wives to be cut before their eyes." (Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, Book 13, Chapter 14, p. 846).

While the Qumran Covenanters were not the party in power, someone forgot to send them the memo about crucifixion being unacceptable as a Jewish method of execution. The language in the Temple Scroll, as mentioned above, specifies hanging until dead, i.e. hanging as a method of execution:

"If a man is a traitor against his people and gives them up to a foreign nation, so doing evil to his people, you are to hang him on a tree until dead. On the testimony of two or three witnesses he will be put to death, and they themselves shall hang him on the tree.
"If a man is convicted of a capital crime and flees to the nations, cursing his people and the children of Israel, you are to hang him, also, upon a tree until dead.
"But you must not let their bodies remain on the tree overnight; you shall most certainly bury them that  very day. Indeed, anyone hung on a tree is accursed of God and men, but you are not to defile the land that I am about to give you as an inheritance." (Temple Scroll, Col. 64, p. 490, The Dead Sea Scrolls, Michael Wise, Martin Abegg, Jr., and Edward Cook).

How often have we heard this type of thing: "Some of the other kinds of execution described in Sanhedrin are quite gruesome, including pouring rocks down on someone or forcing burning pitch down his throat, but however tendentious Talmudic materials can sometimes be, crucifixion was not one of them. In fact, crucifixion or its Jewish equivalent, 'hanging upon a tree,' was quite specifically forbidden under Jewish Law." (Robert Eisenman, James the Brother of Jesus, p. 110). What form of execution, if not hanging upon a tree, is envisioned in Numbers 25:4?: "And the LORD said unto Moses, Take all the heads of the people, and hang them up before the LORD against the sun, that the fierce anger of the LORD may be turned away from Israel." Post-mortem hanging is specified in the Mishna: "All who are stoned are also hanged. So is the decree of R. Eliezer." (The Babylonian Talmud, edited by Michael L. Rodkinson, Volume XV, Tract Sanhedrin, Chapter VI, Kindle location 61855). Good news for Esther and Mordecai, who were not asking for anything "specifically forbidden" when they requested, "And the king commanded it so to be done: and the decree was given at Shushan; and they hanged Haman’s ten sons." (Esther 9:13). Ironically, the whimsical reinvention of history this author promotes lionizes the Hasmonaeans. Someone may object, Alexander Jannaeu's practice of crucifixion was an isolated, brutal act by one individual, albeit one individual acting as the lawful high priest and Jewish head of state. Was it ever repeated? Yes, the Sanhedrin under Simon ben Shetach routinely employed crucifixion as a means of capital punishment:

"Simon ben Shetach, who succeeded Judah as President of the Council, does not seem to have relaxed in severity toward the infringers of the Law. The rare case of witchcraft was once brought before him, when eighty women were condemned for the offense, and crucified in Ascalon." (History of the Jews, by Heinrich Graetz, Volume II, Chapter II, p. 54.)

A similar practice goes very far back: "So Joshua burned Ai and made it a heap forever, a desolation to this day. And the king of Ai he hanged on a tree until evening." (Joshua 8:28-29).

You often hear, 'crucifixion was not a Jewish punishment,' but some Jews, like Simon ben Shetach and Alexander Jannaeus, thought otherwise. The Talmud is not convinced Simon ben Shetach was altogether in the right, implying some impropriety: "Said R. Eliezer to them: Did not Simeon b. Shetha hang females in the city of Askalon? And he was answered: He hanged eighty women in one day, and there is a rule that even two must not be sentenced in one day, if the punishment is with the same death." (The Babylonian Talmud, edited by Michael L. Rodkinson, Volume XV, Tract Sanhedrin, Chapter VI, Kindle location 61865). But it is one thing to say there is some dissension, another to imply the Jews had never heard of such a thing. There is no reason to suppose the circumstance implied in Deuteronomy 21:22 never actually happened, "And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be to be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree:. . ." There is, however, a procedure for it: "How was one hanged? The beam was put in the earth, and it was fastened at the top, and he tied the hands of the culprit one upon the other, and hung him up." (The Babylonian Talmud, edited by Michael L. Rodkinson, Volume XV, Tract Sanhedrin, Chapter VI, Kindle location 61901). It's true that to the Rabbis of the Talmud, unlike Simon ben Shetach, the hanging on a tree was intended as a post-mortem demonstration to the public, not the method of execution: "The rabbis taught: If the verse read, 'If a man committed a sin, he shall be hanged,' we would say that he should be hanged until death occurs, as the government does; but it reads, 'He shall be put to death and hanged,' which means he shall be put to death and thereafter hanged." (The Babylonian Talmud, edited by Michael L. Rodkinson, Volume XV, Tract Sanhedrin, Chapter VI, Kindle location 61920). We can argue about who,— perhaps only an idolater? and about when,— perhaps only post-mortem? but in point of fact, it is not actually factual that "hanging upon a tree" never was a Jewish punishment. It is a shame that this entire 'Jewish Trial' issue is surrounded by so much mythology.

The implication that the Jewish authorities would not even have wanted an execution carried out by the 'wrong' method puts too fine a point upon the matter. This very question is examined in the Talmud, led into by the question of witnesses whose hands have been amputated, who are thus unable to stone the convicted party as indicated. If the proper mode of execution is not available, any will suffice: "We know that one is to be put to death by that which applies to him; but whence do we know that if it is impossible that he should be killed by that which applies to him, he is nevertheless to be executed by any death which is possible? From the verse cited, 'he shall surely die,' which means in any case?" (The Babylonian Talmud, edited by Michael L. Rodkinson, Volume XV, Tract Sanhedrin, Chapter VI, Kindle location 61846). As the gospels make plain, it was the Roman government that delivered and carried out the death sentence against Jesus; why this point is even raised is unclear, but why it must be answered erroneously is even less clear. The Talmud was compiled long after capital punishment had ceased to be an instrument of Jewish law, but under Josephus' understanding, hanging post-mortem was part of the Mosaic punishment for blasphemy:

"He that blasphemeth God, let him be stoned; and let him hang upon a tree all that day, and then let him be buried in an ignominious and obscure manner." (Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book IV, Chapter 8, Section 6, p. 288).

. . .so the punishment was not necessarily considered altogether the 'wrong' one in any case. The Bible is quite clear that the Romans crucified Jesus; we know this because the Bible tells us so, not because 'crucifixion was not a Jewish punishment.'


Nikolai Ge, 'What is Truth' (Christ Before Pilate)


Gospel of Peter

The Gospel of Peter is a non-canonical 'gospel' of which only a fragment survives, popular with some of the authors of the 'Jesus' publishing industry. While its evidentiary value is lacking (even its proponents concede its politics is fictive, Pilate did not take orders from Herod Antipas), this text offers an account of the crucifixion featuring 'new' details lacking direct literary dependence upon the four accepted gospels. This document concurs with the canonical gospels of the New Testament in assigning responsibility for Jesus' death to the religious authorities as well as to the government:

  • ". . .but of the Judeans no one washed his hands, neither Herod nor any one of his judges. Since they were [un]willing to wash, Pilate stood up. Then Herod the king orders the Lord to be [taken away], saying to them 'Do what I commanded you to do to him.'
  • "Then the Judeans and the elders and the priests perceived what evil they had done to themselves, and began to beat their breasts and cry out 'Our sins have brought woes upon us! The judgment and the end of Jerusalem are at hand!'. . .
  • "Pilate responded by saying, 'I am clean of the blood of the son of God; this was all your doing.'"
  • (Gospel of Peter, Chapters 1-11, The Complete Gospels, Robert J. Miller, editor, pp. 402-406).

Younger Brother Say Not Three
Incomprehension Pure Words
Reversion to the Mean Mass Guilt
Changes Beautiful Words
The Evidence The Messiah
Christians United Conspiracy Theory
Must Not, Therefore Did Not
Jacob's Son On the Cross
Anachronism Wrong Day
Was Dead But Lives Appropriation
Saved by the Blood Rabbi Gamaliel
Hyam Maccoby


Why the 'scholars' of the Jesus Seminar like this apocryphal gospel so very much is difficult to fathom. John Dominic Crossan assigns it a very early date on grounds that its agenda of blaming Herod Antipas for Jesus' crucifixion would have become irrelevant with the eclipse of the royal family. But Herod is available, the agenda of enlarging upon Pontius Pilate's reluctance to condemn is evergreen and shows up in other late apocryphal works like the Gospel of Nicodemus, with no motive required but pro-Romanism, whether private or official. Crossan rather bizarrely accuses the canonical gospels of anti-semitism, while exonerating this fictional account. . .because it displays the people as repentant!

To what era should this work be assigned? It was in circulation before the fourth century, because Lactantius seems to have encountered either the Gospel of Peter or some similar pro-Roman source: "Then Pontius was overpowered both by their outcries, and by the instigation of Herod the tetrarch, who feared lest he should be deposed from his sovereignty. He did not, however, himself pass sentence, but delivered Him up to the Jews, that they themselves might judge Him according to their law." (Lactantius, The Divine Institutes, Book 4, Chapter 18). No reason comes to mind why it should be early. Lactantius had the same motive to receive the work, over and above the contradictory testimony of the gospels, as the original writer had to invent it, namely Roman patriotism.

It is clear from the Bible that Jesus died for all, it was our sins laid upon Him that He bore to the cross. When it comes to assigning blame, there is none innocent:

"My hand helped to slay Him, for it was my sin that laid Him upon His brazen altar. Therefore, let me bow in daily, deep humiliation at the foot of the cross and remind my cold, ungrateful heart of the part I played in His agony and shame; and then let me never add another sharp thorn to His brow or a nail to His hands or feet. Since it was my sin that crucified Christ, God help me to hate it with all the abhorrence that can fill a human soul." (All the Messianic Prophecies of the Bible, Herbert Lockyer, p. 376).

It's a shame so many people get caught in the completely unproductive by-way of attacking God's holy word, and for what?


Book of Acts

The earliest sermons of the Christian Church are recorded in the Book of Acts, part two of Luke's history. Though these narrations are not quotes of the gospel passion narratives, they tell the same story:

"Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.  The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree." (Acts 5:29-30).

"The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, hath glorified his Son Jesus; whom ye delivered up, and denied him in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let him go. But ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you; and killed the Prince of life, whom God hath raised from the dead; whereof we are witnesses." (Acts 3:13-15).

"Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it." (Acts 2:22-24).

"Then Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost, said unto them, Ye rulers of the people, and elders of Israel, If we this day be examined of the good deed done to the impotent man, by what means he is made whole; Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole." (Acts 4:8-10).

"Men and brethren, children of the stock of Abraham, and whosoever among you feareth God, to you is the word of this salvation sent. For they that dwell at Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they knew him not, nor yet the voices of the prophets which are read every sabbath day, they have fulfilled them in condemning him. And though they found no cause of death in him, yet desired they Pilate that he should be slain." (Acts 13:26-28).

Paul offers a similar observation in mid-first century:

"For ye, brethren, became followers of the churches of God which in Judaea are in Christ Jesus: for ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews: Who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men: Forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins alway: for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost." (1 Thessalonians 2:14-16).

Another circumstance mentioned in the Book of Acts is that some members of the Jewish 'establishment' adopted Christianity: "And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith." (Acts 6:7). An old objection to the 'Jewish trial' is that, since the disciples fled upon Jesus' arrest, the gospel authors cannot have been eye-witnesses to the trial and so cannot have any information about it. This criticism is just silly, because some of those who joined the infant church must have known all about it: "The rise of a community of Jewish followers of Jesus in Jerusalem, after his death is a historical given that virtually no one doubts. This community would have immediately been in running public debate with other Jews and the official Jewish leadership." (Darrell L. Bock, Who is Jesus? p. 158).

One of the complaints Russian constitutionalists had against the regime of the Tsar was the existence of secret laws. A man could be sent to Siberia, or even executed, without ever knowing the law he was accused of violating! There are no secret laws in Judaism. If Christians in the early church were persecuted by the Jewish authorities, and the Book of Acts testifies that they were, then they must have been informed of the legal basis of the charges against them. The accused would inquire, 'What did I do wrong?' Answer: 'You followed Jesus.' 'And what did He do wrong?' 'That is a closely-held secret known only to a handful of people.' Sorry, that cannot be the answer. Is it really conceivable that Paul, a persecutor of Christians and an intimate of the leadership, converted to Christianity and then refused to inform his new associates of what the legal charges against them even were? In real life, they all must have been able to recite the Sanhedrin's case against Christianity by heart. Jesus' trial would have been a relevant factor in their trial, if one was held. In fact His trial must have been re-enacted every time one of these people was put on trial, because if He was an innocent man, then so were they.



Celsus, an early pagan critic of Christianity, wrote a book called 'On True Doctrine.' This lost work is incorporated entire into Origen's reply, 'Against Celsus.' Though Celsus was not a Jew and has no first-hand testimony to offer, some research does seem to have gone into this project. Though it took some time for any Christian to get around to replying, Celsus' anti-Christian diatribe is actually one of the earlier testimonies to Christianity, going back to the early second century A.D. Celsus represents his Jewish speaker as saying,

"The Jew, then, continues his address to converts from his own nation thus: “Yesterday and the day before, when we visited with punishment the man who deluded you, ye became apostates from the law of your fathers;” showing by such statements (as we have just demonstrated) anything but an exact knowledge of the truth." (Origen, Against Celsus, Book 2, Chapter 4).

If the Jews of Celsus' day were saying what is now so commonly heard, that there was no Jewish trial, Celsus would not have represented his Jewish character as saying "we visited with punishment." Celsus was neither Jew nor Christian and thus has no dog in that fight.

“The Jew continues his discourse thus: 'How should we deem him to be a God, who not only in other respects, as was currently reported, performed none of his promises, but who also, after we had convicted him, and condemned him as. deserving of punishment, was found attempting to conceal himself, and endeavoring to escape in a most disgraceful manner, and who was betrayed by those whom he called disciples? And yet,' he continues, 'he who was a God could neither flee nor be led away a prisoner; and least of all could he be deserted and delivered up by those who had been his associates, and had shared all things in common, and had had him for their teacher, who was deemed to be a Savior, and a son of the greatest God, and an angel.'” (Origen, Against Celsus, Book 2, Chapter 9).

The 'No-Jewish-Trial Theory' is an altogether modern idea, not found in antiquity.


Moses Maimonides

Maimonides was a medieval Jewish author with no first-hand historical testimony to offer about events of the first century. Like all Jews prior to recent times, however, he freely conceded the 'Jewish trial:'

"The first one to have adopted this plan was Jesus the Nazarene, may his bones be ground to dust. He was a Jew because his mother was a Jewess although his father was a Gentile. For in accordance with the principles of our law, a child born of a Jewess and a Gentile, or of a Jewess and a slave, is legitimate. (Yebamot 45a). Jesus is only figuratively termed an illegitimate child. He impelled people to believe that he was a prophet sent by God to clarify perplexities in the Torah, and that he was the Messiah that was predicted by each and every seer. He interpreted the Torah and its precepts in such a fashion as to lead to their total annulment, to the abolition of all its commandments and to the violation of its prohibitions. The sages, of blessed memory, having become aware of his plans before his reputation spread among our people, meted out fitting punishment to him." (Maimonides, Letter to Yemen, iii.)

The Black Death

Throughout history, nations have engaged in crimes including massacre and forced conversion. During their brief interlude of national independence prior to falling under Roman hegemony, the Jewish nation forcibly converted the Edomites:

"Hyrcanus took also Dora and Marissa, cities of Idumea, and subdued all the Idumeans; and permitted them to stay in that country, if they would circumcise their genitals, and make use of the laws of the Jews; and they were so desirous of living in the country of their forefathers, that they submitted to the use of circumcision, and of the rest of the Jewish ways of living; at which time therefore this befell them, that they were hereafter no other than Jews." (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book 13, Chapter 9, Section 1).

To add insult to injury, the Jewish state, having forcibly converted these people, then could not make up its mind whether they were Jews indeed or still foreigners, as seen in references to the Idumean King Herod (though admittedly few would willingly lay claim to such a brutal and barbaric man). These things should not be, but the idea that atrocities past give distant descendants license to vandalize holy writ piles wrong upon wrong.

Some people allege that the New Testament's report of a 'Jewish trial' must be expunged because these reports lead inevitably to anti-Jewish pogroms. Certainly the history of 'Christian' Europe excites horror; these societies aspired to be homogeneous, and when placed under stress tended to lash out at the hated and suspected outsider in their midst. Demagogues like Peter the Hermit arose during the Middle Ages and led fearful slaughters against the Jews. Although in the main these disturbances were neither originated nor condoned by church authorities, the people conducting these atrocities claimed to be Christians. They did not derive from Christian doctrine but rather from 'conspiracy theories' held by people in the day that blamed the Black Death and other disasters on Jews poisoning the wells:

"In every destructive pestilence the common people at first attribute the mortality to poison. No instruction avails; the supposed testimony of their eyesight is to them a proof, and they authoritatively demand the victims of their rage. On whom, then, was it so likely to fall as on the Jews, the usurers and the strangers who lived at enmity with the Christians? They were everywhere suspected of having poisoned the wells or infected the air. . .The persecution of the Jews commenced in September and October, 1348, at Chllon, on the Lake of Geneva, where the first criminal proceedings were instituted against them, after they had long before been accused by the people of poisoning the wells; similar scenes followed in Bern and Freyburg, in January, 1349. . .Already in the autumn of 1348 a dreadful panic, caused by this supposed empoisonment, seized all nations; in Germany especially the springs and wells were built over, that nobody might drink of them or employ their contents for culinary purposes; and for a long time the inhabitants of numerous towns and villages used only river and rain water." (The Black Death, Justus Friedrich Carl Hecker, pp. 34-35).

This is of course madness, but who could imagine that burning the New Testament will do away with it? People today are just as prone to conspiracy theories as in the day. When Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards, Hindu rioting broke out. The mob accused the Sikhs of, among other things, poisoning the wells. While there is no merit to these theories, and indeed the medieval plagues spread just as handily in areas like Ireland and Scandinavia where there was no substantial Jewish population, these were not 'scripture-based' accusations. To blame the gospels for this set of circumstances is grossly unfair.

There is no religion whose sacred scriptures teach that Western doctors who offer vaccinations in third world countries intend to kill the children so that they can sell their body parts. The reason you get stories like this, in this day as in that, is because there are ingrained tendencies in human nature which are not going to go away just because someone proposes the cheery idea of maiming God's holy word.

The nominally Christian mobs who attacked their Jewish neighbors were more concerned with local circumstances than with any events recorded in scripture, a closed book to these people which their church would not allow to be translated into their lingo, if indeed they could even read. Unfortunately a terrified population lacking diagnostic tools to determine what is happening and why is susceptible to scape-goating. A horrifying example of this universal human tendency is found in Philostratus' Life of Apollonius of Tyana, where the rogueish travelling mountebank of the title convinces a mob the plague is caused by one poor shivering homeless man:

"With such harangues as these he knit together the people of Smyrna; but when the plague began to rage in Ephesus, and no remedy sufficed to check it, they sent a deputation to Apollonius, asking him to become physician of their infirmity; and he thought that he ought not to postpone his journey, but said: 'Let us go.'

"And forthwith he was in Ephesus, performing the same feat, I believe, as Pythagoras, who was in Thurii and Metapontum at one and the same moment. He therefore called together the Ephesians, and said: 'Take courage, for I will today put a stop to the course of the disease.'

"And with these words he led the population entire to the the theater, where the image of the Averting god has been set up. [Heracles] And there he saw what seemed an old mendicant artfully blinking his eyes as if blind, as he carried a wallet and a crust of bread in it; and he was clad in rags and was very squalid of countenance. Apollonius therefore ranged the Ephesians around him and said: 'Pick up as many stones as you can and hurl them at this enemy of the gods.'

"Now the Ephesians wondered what he meant, and were shocked at the idea of murdering a stranger so manifestly miserable; for he was begging and praying them to take mercy upon him. Nevertheless Apollonius insisted and egged on the Ephesians to launch themselves on him and not let him go. And as soon as some of them began to take shots and hit him with their stones, the beggar who had seemed to blink and be blind, gave them all a sudden glance and his eyes were full of fire. Then the Ephesians recognized that he was a demon, and they stoned him so thoroughly that their stones were heaped into a great cairn around him.

"After a little pause Apollonius bade them remove the stones and acquaint themselves with the wild animal they had slain. When therefore they had exposed the object which they thought they had thrown their missiles at, they found that he had disappeared and instead of him there was a hound who resembled in form and look a Molossian dog, but was in size the equal of the largest lion; there he lay before their eyes, pounded to a pulp by their stones and vomiting foam as mad dogs do. Accordingly the statue of the Averting god, Heracles, has been set up over the spot where the ghost was slain." (Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana, Book Four, Chapter 10.)


It is a shame people will listen to a demagogue snarling, 'That man over there, — it's him, — he's causing the plague,' but unfortunately, eliminating Christianity is not going to solve the problem; to this very day people are still willing to entertain ill-founded 'conspiracy theories,' such as that vaccination causes autism. Moreover, this particular medieval conspiracy theory may have had an empirical basis. It's a worthy observation that plumbers have eliminated more diseases than doctors. Moses may well have eliminated a few also, or at least controlled their spread amongst those alert to his commands. As has long been noticed, "Taken as a whole, the knowledge of hygiene contained in the Mosaic Law is nothing short of stunning. It correctly identifies the main sources of infection as vermin, insects, corpses, bodily fluids, food (especially meat), sexual behaviors, sick people, and other contaminated people or things." (John Durant, quoted on page 198, Kathleen McAuliffe, This is Your Brain on Parasites). The public health agenda embedded in the Mosaic code was an occult meaning when these edicts first came down, because the people lacked sufficient medical awareness to see any connection between these measures and disease. But these measures, if applied, still would have worked to reduce disease spread.

Although Moses' law is incorporated in the Christian Bible, there does seem to have been a drift away from these provisions. While this author tends towards hysteria, there is a kernel of truth in his observations,

"The main cause of this immense sacrifice of life is now known to have been the want of hygienic precaution, both in the Eastern centers, where various plagues were developed, and in the European towns through which they spread. And here certain theological reasonings came in to resist the evolution of a proper sanitary theory. . .Living in filth was regarded by great numbers of holy men, who set an example to the Church and to society, as an evidence of sanctity." (Andrew D. White, A History of the Warfare of Science and Theology, p. 446).

The problem of course isn't "theological reasonings"; Moses has plenty of those, and he also holds the solution. The world of classical civilization was a world filled with bath-houses, but northern Europe never was that. The Byzantines noticed this when the 'Franks' would pass by, during their various crusades and invasions. After the barbarians triumphed, people did their best to pick up and conserve what remained of civilization, but personal cleanliness doesn't seem to have appealed to these folks. Part of the problem may indeed have been that some monks, perhaps emulating the pagan philosophers known as cynics, dispensed with bathing as a luxury.

So you have two different populations with differing practice, a real world, real time experiment. What would have been the outcome? The result of Moses' purity code, with Pharisaic additions, was that the Jewish district of a medieval city was likely more sanitary than districts inhabited by the indigenous European population, who had the unfortunate habit of wallowing in filth. More filth, more rats; more rats, more fleas; more fleas, more disease. This difference cannot have been without consequence:

"The purpose of the hand-washing was ritualistic, though the result hygienic. The passage in the Gospels (Mt. 15.1-20; Mk. 7.1-19) which, as it were, abolished hand-washing, had a definite unhygienic effect: In the Black Plagues, many more Christians died than Jews, leading some Christians to allege that Jews had poisoned the common wells." (Samuel Sandmel, Judaism and Christian Beginnings, p. 449).

One correction: Jesus did not 'abolish' hand-washing, He only secularized it; those who wash their hands as a public health measure act prudently, though the practice does not bring them any nearer to God, nor does omitting it remove God to a distance. You can still for eternity bask in God's presence if you never wash your hands; indeed, you will be knocking on heaven's gates all the sooner if this is your practice! The backwards inhabitants of Europe neglected prudent public safety measures, not because they were Christian, but because they were ignorant. And unfortunately, their tendency toward conspiracy thinking is ingrained in human nature. The Jewish mortality rate may indeed have been lower than that in the Christian quarters, which should have spurred emulation but instead became the basis for a lurid accusation. Medieval philosopher Moses Maimonides urges keeping kosher, because otherwise ". . .the streets and houses would be more dirty than any cesspool, as may be seen at present in the country of the Franks." (Moses Maimonides, The Guide for the Perplexed, p. 427).


During a nineteenth century cholera epidemic, the poor of Paris noticed that their own mortality rate exceeded that of their wealthier neighbors, and so they concluded, a plot was afoot: "During the cholera epidemic of 1832, when slightly greater sophistication if not tolerance might have been expected, the Parisian mob rioted through the smarter quartiers, accusing nobles and bourgeois not only of suffering less seriously from the disease but of poisoning their impoverished fellow-citizens into the bargain." (Philip Ziegler, The Black Death, p. 101). No 'holy writ' told them so; it is unfortunately just human nature to seek out the conspirators. It's the same impulse which makes people in the third world today blame doctors for spreading AIDS. Stamping out Christianity is no remedy.

If the Jewish physician Balavignus reduced mortality in the Jewish quarters of Strassburg during the Black Death, that is a triumph for humanity. But people who are bound and determiined to see conspiracy, will see conspiracy. It would be arrogant and inappropriate for Christians to demand that Jews denounce Rabbi Akiba, although this personage acclaimed the genocidal Bar Kochba, who massacred Christians wherever he found them, or to expunge the anti-Christian passages in the Talmud. There is no reason to take the 'Jewish trial' passages of the New Testament as anything other than factual history; there is no evidence to the contrary. People should not be so gullible as to allow themselves to be 'shamed' into discarding valid, documented history.