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§ 284. Double Dealing of the Sanhedrim.
It is obvious, at first sight, that the procedure of the Sanhedrim in condemning Christ was illegal and arbitrary. It was not a regular inquiry after the truth; Christ stood in the way of the hierarchy, and his case had been prejudged; Caiaphas himself had, in fact, announced that his death was decided on. A wicked policy demanded the victim. Moreover, the necessity of putting him to death before the feast caused the sentence to be hastened as rapidly as possible under the forms of justice.
It must be borne in mind that at that time the Sanhedrim had only subordinate authority to assign penalties for violations of the religious law; it could not lawfully pronounce sentence of death without the authority of the Roman governor.772772 Joseph., Archaeol., xx., 9, § 1. The high-priest, Ananus (Annas), had taken advantage of the absence of the governor to inflict capital punishment on the authority of the Sanhedrim. He was accused for the act before the Prefect Albinus: “ᾫς οὐκ ἐξὸν ἦν Ἀνάνῳ χωρὶς τὴς ἐκείνου γνώμης καθíσαι συνέδριον;” obviously showing that the consent of the governor was essential in such cases. The misdemeanor was deemed so grave that Ananus was removed from office. The reading of Synkellos, “ἐκευνων,” would give an entirely different meaning; but it is obviously incorrect. It had, therefore, to seek, in Christ’s case, some plausible grounds for condemnation that would stand the scrutiny of that officer. No accusation of heresy, blasphemy, or false assumption of the prophetic character would suffice. Some political charge must, therefore, be trumped up. But in this the hierarchical party had to act in direct opposition to their own convictions; Jesus had always refused to meddle with civil affairs. It is true, he had been attended into the city by an enthusiastic multitude, acknowledging him as Messiah; but his withdrawal from them, and, indeed, all his movements on that occasion, abundantly proved that he had no intention to make use of worldly means. This is shown sufficiently by the fact that no attempt was made by the Sanhedrim to use the triumphal entry as ground for a political charge. Had it been at all suspicious in that respect, the Roman governor would have taken it up; as popular movements of the kind’ were generally, and with good reason, looked upon with distrust.
A charge of interference with the state, than, could not be sustained, even according to the judgment of his enemies. It was clear that he had used no other influence over men’s minds than the inward power of his words and works to move their convictions; and this was 413obviously beyond the sphere of civil jurisdiction. But antiquity could not conceive of a holy sphere of conscience and conviction beyond the reach of human tribunals. It was first opened to the Old-World consciousness by the idea of the kingdom of God as brought to light by Christ. Before, either religion was subordinated to the state, or the state to religion (the latter being the Theocracy in its political form; the former being state-religions). In the Jewish constitution (which, however, did not exist in its original form under the Roman sway) the state was subordinate to religion. It was the crime of the Sanhedrim that it decided, arbitrarily, to retain this old stand-point, contrary to the judgment of God, as shown in the signs of the times pointed out by Christ; that it would not give up its selfish interests, or bow before the higher power which had come into the world to break down the old landmarks. Even if it could not fully admit Christ’s claims, it was bound, on its own stand-point, to investigate the proofs which he offered in testimony of his Divine calling; and when phenomena appeared which could not be explained except as the workings of the Spirit of God, at least to leave them, as Gamaliel did afterward, to the judgment of God as history773773 To this judgment Moses refers, Deut., xviii., 20-22. should unfold it. But the grounds of the incapacity of the heads of the hierarchy to admit the proofs of Christ’s Divine calling had often before been pointed out by himself; the inability was a moral one, founded in their dispositions of heart, and therefore it was guilty.774774 Cf. p. 293, 294.
As before remarked, the grounds on which the Sanhedrim condemned Christ were not sufficient to induce Pilate, the Roman procurator, to inflict capital punishment upon him. Another charge was needed. To serve the purpose, recourse was had to his claim of Messiahship, on which they had professed to found their own decision, with the addition of a political element: “He has claimed to be a king;” and hence “he perverts the nation (contests the Roman authority), and forbids to give tribute to Caesar.”775775 Luke, xxiii., 3. This passage is obviously presupposed in John, xviii., 33. John’s account takes many things for granted that are recorded in the other Gospels; but the latter in turn, must often find their supplement in the former, as is the case in this part of Luke. None but an eye-witness could have given the account in so exact a connexion as John’s. The simple reply to Pilate’s question, οὺ λέγεις, as given in Luke, xxiii., 3, Matt., xxvii., 11, needs the further explanation given by John (xviii., 36, 37), to make it fully accord with the facts; for he was not, and did not claim to be, “King of the Jews,” in the Roman sense of the phrase: nor could Pilate have pronounced him guiltless after such a declaration. An accusation of this sort could be the more readily admitted, as the Roman authorities were well aware that the Jews felt themselves degraded and disgraced by paying taxes to a heathen power.
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