The Rejection of Pascal's Wager
Get the Book!

Evolution of the Trial Account

The two trials of Jesus, both unhistorical and fictitious, seems to have developed in two different directions. The trial before the Sanhedrin developed in a direction which tends to pin the blame of Jesus death more and more on the Jews. The trial before Pilate developed in the opposite way, with less and less blame being put on Pilate and the Romans. Why should this be so? In this addendum, we will indulge in a bit of informed speculation about how this evolution took place.

The first clue comes from the environment of the early Christians. Certainly most Jews would not have accepted a crucified person as a messiah, for that would invoke the curse of Deuteronomy:

Deuteronomy 21:22-23
And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death, and you hang him on a tree...a hanged man is accursed by God.

Here, the method of Jesus' death, by crucifixion, made it blasphemous, as far as the Jews were concerned, for the early Christians to claim him as their messiah. The idea probably arose in some of the early converts that if it was blasphemous for them to claim that Jesus was the messiah, it must have been blasphemous for Jesus to do so about himself when he was alive. This could account for the glaring error in the synoptics which made the Sanhedrin condemned Jesus for blasphemy for claiming to be the messiah. [1]

The rejection of many Jews to the message of Christianity would undoubtedly have caused stress in the relationship between the Gentile Christian and the unconverted Jew who does not believe that Jesus was the messiah. The Jewish revolt and the subsequent destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE must have been interpreted differently by the Christians and the Jews.

The Jews probably saw the destruction as God's punishment for straying from his teachings. We can see that they became more and more exclusive in their worship and eventually ejected the Christians out of their synagogues around 90 CE.

The Christians, in particular the Gentile Christians, was probably frustrated with the Jews for rejecting Jesus and viewed the destruction of Jerusalem as God's punishment to the Jews for rejecting His Son. At the same time the Romans were friendly or at least tolerant towards the nascent religion. It was the Gentiles, which doubtless included many Roman citizens who were more inclined to accept Christianity.

There developed thus a progressive tendency to transfer all the guilt of Jesus' death onto Jewish shoulders. [2] This process was already well on its way when Mark was written and was carried further by the three later gospels. The exoneration continued into the later apocryphal gospels. Partly to exonerate Pilate and partly to satisfy the growing hostility of the Christians towards the Jews, a Jewish trial at least as formal and as decisive as Pilate's was invented. [3]

Back to the top


1.Nineham, Saint Mark: p404
2.Ibid: p367-368
3.Ibid: p404

Back to the top

[Home] [The Central Thesis] [Christianity] [The Bible] [Jesus] [Paul] [God] [History] [Pascal's Wager] [Bibliography] [Links]
© Paul N. Tobin 2000

For comments and queries, e-mail Paul Tobin