The Sanhedrin Trial of Jesus refers to the trial of Jesus before the Jewish Council, or Sanhedrin, following his arrest and prior to his trial before Pontius Pilate. It is an event reported by all four Canonical Gospels of the Bible ( , , and ).
The Gospels report that after Jesus Christ and his followers celebrated Passover as their Last Supper, Jesus was betrayed by his apostle Judas Iscariot, and arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane (sometimes known as the garden of tears by some hymn writers). Jesus was then put on trial by Jewish authorities to determine whether his guilt, in their eyes, justified handing him over to the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate with their request that the Roman Empire put Jesus to death on popular demand from the people.
The trial most probably took place informally on Thursday night and then again formally on Friday morning (see the article on Crucifixion of Jesus for a discussion on the exact date of Good Friday, which in recent years has been estimated as AD 33, by different groups of scientists).
Structure of the trial
The Canonical Gospels report that after the arrest of Jesus, Jesus was taken to the Sanhedrin, a Jewish judicial body. The precise location and nature of the trial varies between the canonical Gospels, particularly between the three Synoptic Gospels and the Gospel of John. In the Synoptics' version, Jesus is taken to the Sanhedrin, with adding that the Sanhedrin had assembled where Caiaphas the High Priest was located. This reference, instead of stating a fixed location, may imply that the gathering occurred at the home of Caiaphas. The gathering would have occurred quite late at night the barbas, after Jesus' followers had completed their Passover "Last Supper" and they spent further time in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane.
In the era in which the narrative is set, this body was an ad hoc gathering, rather than a fixed court, as in the later Council of Jamnia, and its gathering in Caiaphas' home is historically plausible, though irregular. Daniel J. Harrington argues that being located in a home makes it more likely that this was a small first preliminary hearing and not a full trial. The existence of two trials is also suggested in the book Poem of the Man God - see the section below on Criticism of the Sanhedrin Trial for a possible rationale that makes the account in all four Gospels consistent on this issue.
The dominant historical view is that the Sanhedrin was controlled primarily by the Sadducee associated with the ruling elites, rather than the Pharisees who are better known as a result of the widely-read Christian Bible. The High Priest Caiaphas was a Sadducee appointed by the Roman Governor Valerius Gratus, who was later replaced by Pontius Pilate. Due to the Roman conquest and occupation of Judea in 63 BC, the Roman Empire controlled all officials of the province. Members of the Sanhedrin and the High Priest and other chief priests were subject to the approval of and removal by Rome, and were selected for their expected loyalty to the Roman occupiers. For example, in John 11:48, the chief priests and Pharisees worry that "the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation."
According to Rabbinic Judaism, the Sanhedrin of the Pharisees, probably a different Sanhedrin, was led by Gamaliel from approximately the year 9 to 50 CE. This is believed to be the same Gamaliel who appears in and . Shammai may have also played a role.
In Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was the current high priest at that time. Annas is believed to have been the former high priest, and it appears that Caiaphas sought Annas' confirmation of Caiaphas' actions....., however, Jesus is first taken to
Conduct of the trial
According to Simon Peter., when Annas questions Jesus about his teachings and followers, Jesus refuses to be co-operative and instead says that he taught nothing in secret, always teaching in public places, and so Annas should just ask the many witnesses what Jesus had taught. John adds that a nearby official then struck Jesus for this lack of co-operation, though Jesus subsequently answers "If I have done something wrong, say so. But if not, why did you hit me?" ( ). John states that faced with this lack of co-operation, Annas sends Jesus to Caiaphas, though John does not mention at all what happens when Jesus meets Caiaphas, instead focusing on the denial by
While it is true that according to Gospel accounts Jesus usually preached openly, he also instructs those who knew about his claimed Messiahship not to tell anyone who he was, as recorded in the Gospel of Mark. Some see this as emphasizing the presence of secret teachings, and teachings that were taught to only the disciples and not the crowds - see for an example.
According to the Gospels of Mark and of Matthew, the Sanhedrin wished to condemn Jesus to death, but they found the lack of evidence against him to be unhelpful. Matthew and Mark state that many false witnesses made statements to the Sanhedrin. According to Matthew and Mark the witnesses did not agree with each other, and hence since multiple witnesses are required by the Deuteronomic Code, the Sanhedrin was unable to condemn him by their inconsistent testimony. Statements included the claim that Jesus had said he would destroy the man-made temple, and replace it with a non man-made one three days later . (Jesus did prophesy that the destruction of the temple would occur, but never claimed he would do it. ) However, according to a traditional Christian interpretation , Jesus was referring to his own body as "the temple" (Hence Jesus' resurrection 3 days after his death).
The charges brought against Jesus were primarily of blasphemy for claiming to be God, claiming to be the King of the Jews, and for allegedly violating various laws under the laws of Moses, which governed Jewish life. When the Jewish leaders' plan to kill Jesus first arose, they explained in John 10:33: '"For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God."'
However, the Bible portrays the true motivation for the trial as being political, rather than religious. The rulers (who had been hand-picked themselves by the Romans) were afraid that the Roman Empire occupying their country would view Jesus' following among the people as yet another uprising, prompting a military attack by Rome to crush a rebellion by the Jewish people.
John 11: "47 What are we accomplishing?" they asked. "Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation." 49 Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, "You know nothing at all! 50 You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish." 51 He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, 52 and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one.
All the Synoptic Gospels state that Jesus was finally asked directly by the Sanhedrin if he was the Christ, Son of God. Jesus responded, as in Mark 14:60-62: "And Jesus said, "I am; and you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming with the clouds of heaven." (See also Second Coming)
The interpretation of Jesus' statements by the Sanhedrin and their reaction, having no language translation issues and observing him speak live, is offered by Christians as proof that Jesus claimed to be the Messiah (and ending the Messianic Secret). The Sanhedrin's response shows their understanding that Jesus was once more attributing to himself the role of Messiah, if not Godship, which enraged them. Mark 14:63-64: "Tearing his clothes, the high priest said, 'What further need do we have of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy; how does it seem to you?' And they all condemned him to be deserving of death."
Due to the nature of the Greek language, though, "Christ" could be translated simply as an anointed, a son of God, or as the Christ, the Son of God, with quite different implications. The former of these simply requires that Jesus had been anointed, and that Jesus was a religious leader (a son of God was a common Jewish term simply referring to any person who was particularly religious); since Jesus had been anointed at Bethany, when a woman poured expensive perfumed oils over him, an anointed, a son of God is simply a very naturalistic and fairly worldly statement for Jesus to confirm. This does, however, seem irrelevant to the case at hand and so the translation the Christ, the Son of God has consequently remained the preferred, more logical choice, seeing as how it is on par with the blasphemy charge driven against him by the members of the Sanhedrin.
The Synoptics also state that Jesus added that the Son of Man would be seen sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One, and coming on the clouds of heaven. Many Christians interpret this as a reference to a future second coming of Jesus as it closely parallels Daniel's prophecy about the Son of Man in , though in ancient times the gnostics read it as referring to enlightenment reaching each individual - that each individual human (son of man) would spiritually escape the earthly realm and rejoin the world of the monad (mighty one).
The Synoptics state that these responses were sufficient for the Sanhedrin to be able to legally argue that Jesus was guilty, with Matthew and Mark adding that the high priest rent his clothes and said that Jesus' responses were blasphemy. In Matthew and Mark, Jesus is then beaten blindfolded, and challenged him to prophesy who it is that hits him. In Luke this blindfolding, and challenge to prophesy, also occurs, but it occurs before the question is posed to Jesus by the Sanhedrin (although the question is stated in the morning trial in Luke). The beating is attributed to the guards in Mark and to "those holding Jesus in custody" (ESV) in Luke.
Both the Synoptics and the Gospel of John state that early in the morning the Sanhedrin reached their conclusion, and bound Jesus, and took him to the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate.
The following are some of the Mosaic Laws that according to Christians were violated by the Sanhedrin in the trial of Christ: bribery (Deuteronomy 16:19; 27:25); conspiracy and the perversion of judgement and justice ( ; ; ; Le 19:35); bearing false witness, in which matter the judges connived (Ex 20:16); letting a murderer (Barabbas) go, thereby bringing blood-guilt upon themselves and upon the land (Nu 35:31-34; De 19:11-13); mob action, or 'following a crowd to do evil' (Ex 23:2, 3); in crying out for Jesus to be impaled, they were violating the law that prohibited following the statutes of other nations and that also prescribed no torture but that provided that a criminal be stoned or put to death before being hung on a stake (Le 18:3-5; De 21:22); they accepted as king one not of their own nation, but a pagan (Caesar), and rejected the King whom God had chosen (De 17:14, 15); and finally, they were guilty of murder (Ex 20:13).
Under a contrary view, if Jesus is not God, then the Sanhedrin voted correctly. Under the Jewish Mosaic Law, if a man committed blasphemy against God, he was to be put to death. Jesus' claim to be God would be a blasphemy as well as idolatry, that is, encouraging people to worship him as a man instead of worshipping God. Repeatedly the New Testament states that Jesus' followers fell down and worshipped him—live, in his presence. For Jesus to permit anyone to worship him as God would itself be blasphemy both by Jesus and those he allowed to worship him.
Thus, the legality of the Sanhedrin's decision to recommend that the Romans put Jesus to death ultimately rests upon whether Jesus was correct in claiming to be God incarnate, such that there was no blasphemy in claiming to be what he actually was.
The Sanhedrin, or any other Jewish court was forbidden to sit at night (Ex 18:24) nor could it meet during a festival, as it was the last night of the Passover Festival that had begun seven days earlier (Num 28:18). See "seder service is planned for the last night of Passover"  and "the last night of Passover... Observant Jews make a festive meal that night."
Scholars in the area of biblical criticism take these inconsistencies with Jewish practise to indicate that such a trial most likely did not take place.
The Complete Gospels notes for Mark 14:53-72: "...It is difficult to reconcile much of Mark's picture with known Jewish judicial procedures: a secret court session, at night, with trumped-up and contradictory evidence. Jesus' initial refusal to speak is no defense. Finally Jesus' avowal of his messiahship (14:62) provokes the desired verdict."
While some biblical scholars have struggled with this fact, a possible scenario has been suggested in the book Poem of the Man God that makes the Gospel of Mark consistent with the other Gospels on this issue, in that Mark 14 may refer to the first of two trials, one at night and the other after daybreak. The second trial being prompted by the time and place of the night trial being against Jewish judicial procedures as the Complete Gospel notes suggests.
- There could be no question of anything corresponding to a trial taking place on this occasion before the Sanhedrin. Whatever inquest was made must have occurred during the Thursday night and outside Jerusalem (for on entering the city a prisoner would have had to be given up to the Roman garrison), and can not have been held before a quorum of the seventy-one members of the Sanhedrin. It is more probable that the twenty-three members of the priestly section of the latter, who had most reason to be offended with Jesus' action in cleansing the Temple, met informally after he had been seized, and elicited sufficient to justify them in their own opinion in delivering him over to the Romans as likely to cause trouble by his claims or pretensions to the Messiahship, which, of course, would be regarded by them as rebellion against Rome. Nothing corresponding to a Jewish trial took place, though it was by the action of the priests that Jesus was sent before Pontius Pilate. The Gospels speak in the plural of the high priests who condemned him — a seeming contradiction to Jewish law which might throw doubt upon their historic character. Two, however, are mentioned, Joseph Caiaphas and Annas (Hanan), his father-in-law. Hanan had been deposed from the high-priesthood by Valerius Gratus, but he clearly retained authority and some prerogatives of the high priest, as most of those who succeeded him were relatives of his; and he may well have intervened in a matter touching so nearly the power of the priests. According to the Talmud, Hanan's bazaars were on the Mount of Olives, and probably therefore also his house; this would thus have become the appropriate place for the trial by the Sanhedrin, which indeed just about this time had moved its place of session thither.
Jesus assigns some of the guilt to Pontius Pilate but places the majority of the guilt on the High Priest Caiaphas. In John 19:11, "Jesus answered, "You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason he who delivered Me to you has the greater sin." It has been widely but inaccurately said that Jesus referred to "the Jews" collectively although in fact Jesus referred only to a singular person as "he" or "the one" who was responsible.
- Isaac Newton, 1733, Of the Times of the Birth and Passion of Christ, in "Observations upon the Prophecies of Daniel and the Apocalypse of St. John" (London: J. Darby and T. Browne).
- Bradley Schaefer, 1990, Lunar Visibility and the Crucifixion Quarterly. Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society 31.
- Astronomers on the Date of the Crucifixion http://www.mirabilis.ca/archives/000736.html
- Astronomers on Date of Christ's Death http://english.pravda.ru/science/tech/16-05-2003/2819-christ-0
- John Pratt Newton's Date For The Crucifixion "Quarterly Journal of Royal Astronomical Society", Sept. 1991.
- Newton's Date For The Crucifixion http://www.johnpratt.com/items/docs/newton.html
- Brown, Raymond E. An Introduction to the New Testament Doubleday 1997 ISBN 0-385-24767-2, p. 146.
- Maria Valtorta, The Poem of the Man God, ISBN 9992645571
- Valtorta on Luke 22:66 http://www.valtorta.org/synoptic_puzzle_solved_defaultpage.asp
- Reconciling Mark 14 with Luke 22 based on the explanation of the Poem of the Man God http://www.valtorta.org/synoptic_puzzle_solved_defaultpage.asp
- Brown, Raymond E. et al. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary Prentice Hall 1990 ISBN 0-13-614934-0
- Crossan, Dominic Who Killed Jesus? Exposing the Roots of Anti-Semitism in the Gospel Story of the Death of Jesus, 1995, ISBN 0-06-061480-3
- Kilgallen, John J. A Brief Commentary on the Gospel of Mark Paulist Press 1989 ISBN 0-8091-3059-9
- Miller, Robert J. Editor The Complete Gospels Polebridge Press 1994 ISBN 0-06-065587-9