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And Jesus stood before the governor: and the Matt. xxvii. governor asked him, saying, Art thou the King of the Jews ?
every other case, within the province of Judæa; but this does not prove that he was the only judge; nor does it from hence follow that the Jews had not the privilege of trying and executing their own criminals.
3. Again, the Jews say to Christ, “ Moses in the law commanded that such should be stoned: but how sayest thou?" It is added, “ This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him;" which is interpreted thus : “ If he had determined, the woman taken in adultery should be stoned, according to the Mosaic law, they designed to accuse him to the Roman Governor; because, if the Jews were prohibited from the use of their own laws, this act might have been considered as seditious: If, on the contrary, he had decided that she ought not to be stoned, they would have accused him of derogating from the law of Moses, and have thereby lessened his influence among the people."
Ans. This is taking for granted the point to be proved, without one word being said in its confirmation. It is probable the only snare here laid, was to obtain from our Saviour something in derogation of the law of Moses. He had so often preached the doctrine of forgiveness to the greatest extent, (Mark v. 38.) that the Pharisees might have hoped he would have committed himself, by deciding against the execution of the Mosaic penalties in this instance; and thereby have furnished them with matter of accusation against him, both before the Jewish magistrates and the people ; and, if necessary, before Pilate also.
Many more arguments are adduced by Biscoe in support of his opinion. “ It cannot be denied, (he says,) that in the Acts of the Apostles there is one very plain instance in the case of the protomartyr Stephen, of the council's sitting and hearing witnesses (Acts vi. 12. to the end), and that his execution was performed according to the law of Moses. Compare Deut. xviii. 5, 6, 7. with Acts vii. 58, 59. He is cast out of the city, and the witnesses throw the first stone. Some, even here, bring in the objection, that there is no relation of any sentence pronounced; but surely an historian seldom enters into detail of a trial; he confines himself to the most remarkable circumstances. Common ceremonies are omitted, as being too generally known to be mentioned. And these particulars of St. Stephen's trial would never have been recorded, had it not been for his noble speech, and to shew us the frame of mind of the Apostle Paul at that time. If indeed the Jews did not possess the power of putting Stephen to death, if he should be found guilty, for what purpose did they meet together ? If they did; the thing contended for is granted; and it is of little import whether the sentence was actually passed or not.”
Again, it is related that Peter and the other apostles were brought before the council, (Acts v. 27.) who, it is expressly said, “ took counsel to slay them," (Acts v. 33.) and would doubtless have put their design into execution, had they not been dissuaded from it by Gamaliel. Is it probable that St. Luke, who mentions all these proceedings, should not have once intimated that they exceeded their power in so doing, if the Romans had prohibited them from exercising their own punishments ? But, on the contrary, we find the High Priest and the elders asserting their authority in open court, in the presence of the Roman Go
Jesus answered him, Sayest thou this thing of Jerusalem. thyself, or did others tell it thee of me?
vernor himself, who was seated as a judge, without any reproof on his part. Tertullus declares to Felix, in the case of St. Paul, whom “we took and would have judged according to our law.” (Acts xxiv. 6.) If the exercise of their law had been taken from them, what possible construction could have been put upon such a declaration, but open rebellion against the Roman states? and could any magistrate have suffered it to pass unnoticed ? St. Paul himself acknowledges the power of the Jewish council, (Acts xxiii. 3.) and it is evident from the accusation that his was a capital cause. It may be further observed, in support of this opinion, that the four evangelists are unanimous that the Jews attempted to prosecute our Saviour for the capital crime of sabbath-breaking, that they might put him to death, Matt. xii. 10. Luke vi. 7. John v. 9, 10. 16.; and Mark, chap. ii. 3. says, “ They watched him whether he would heal on the sabbath-day, that they might accuse him ; but evidently not before the Roman Governor, for it would have been difficult to have convinced him that the performance of a wonderful and beneficent action on the sabbath-day was worthy of death. Who then can doubt that our Saviour was to be prosecuted before the Jewish council, who took counsel how they might destroy him ? (Matt. xii. 14.) and he only avoided the impending danger by removing from thence to the sea of Galilee. (Mark iii. 7. and John vi. 1.) “For after these things Jesus would not walk in Jewry, because the Jews sought to kill him," John vii, 1.
If the Jews had not sought to take away the life of Christ by judicial proceedings, why should he avoid Judæa, and all places subject to their jurisdiction ? Had they meditated his destruction by a private hand, or by making interest with the Roman Governor to execute him, he might have been as secure from these dangers by withdrawing into some of the remoter parts of Judæa, as by removing into Galilee. But it was well known to the people of Jerusalem that the Sanhedrim were lying in wait for him; and that he was under prosecution for capital crimes. When he appeared at the feast of tabernacles, they said, “ Is not this him whom they seek to kill ? Do the rulers know indeed that this is the very Christ ?" John vii. 25, 26, 27. And afterwards we find several bystanders wished to apprehend him, but did not, because his hour was not yet come. (John vii. 30.) They seem to have been restrained by some supernatural influence. From the obvious construction of these passages, we have reason to infer that the Jewish magistrates executed their own laws in capital cases.
After the resurrection of Lazarus, we read, the Chief Priests and Pharisees gathered a council, and determined to put our Saviour to death. (John xi. 47. 53.) And a short time afterwards we are told, the Chief Priests consulted how they might put Lazarus also to death. (John xii. 10.) But what gives addi. tional weight to this argument, is the fear of the people, so frequently expressed. Matthew (xxi. 46.) says,
“ when the Chief Priests and Pharisees sought to lay hands on him, they feared the multitude ;” also (Matt. xxvj. 4, 5.) Mark xi. 18. also relates, that the Scribes and Chief Priests sought how they might destroy him; “for they feared him, because all the people were astonished at his doctrine;" and again, they sought to lay hold on him, but feared the people.” (Mark xii. 12.) See also Luke xix. 47, 48. xx. 19. and xxii. 2. If the Jews had meditated the destruction of our Saviour by any private hand, or in any
Pilate answered, Am I a Jew? Thine own nation John xviii 35. and the Chief Priests have delivered thee unto me: what hast thou done?
extra-judicial manner, or if they had intended to use their influence with the Governor, to prevail upon him to pronounce a sentence of condemnation,--if sufficient evidence was wanting to establish his crime, why had the Chief Priests and Pharisees so much reason to fear the people? The instigators and actors in these cases might perhaps have had some reason to fear ; but to suppose that the whole body of Jewish magistrates should be so affected, when the discovery was so improbable, seems wholly incredible. Who could force the assassin to acknowledge bis guilt, when the magistrates of course would not? It must, therefore, be an act of the great council of the Jewish nation, and not any secret means of destruction, which is referred to, in those places of the Gospels, whiere this general fear is expressed; for we read, the Chief Priests, the Scribes, and the elders were afraid of the people. They were afraid to put Jesus to death, in the same manner, and for the same reason, that Herod was afraid to put John the Baptist to death, “they feared the multitude." (Matt. xiv. 5.) And this fear, finally, induced them to lay snares for him in his discourses, that they might draw from him something contrary to the Roman state, and make him obnoxious to the Roman governor, (Luke xx. 19, 20.) And when our Saviour was at last unexpectedly delivered into their hands, their precipitate and unusual conduct shewed the greatness of their alarm. Our Lord was seized, examined, and convicted, by the High Priest and Sanhedrim in one night.
They would have executed him by their own laws, had it not been the day of the passover, when “ it was not lawful for them to put any man to death:" and they feared a tumult among the people too much, to detain him in prison till they could exercise this power. They therefore lost no time in delivering him up to Pilate, well knowing, that, by this step, all responsibility was taken from them : and, in case of any disturbance, the assistance of all the military force of the province would be called out. They accuse him to Pilate, not only of blasphemy, but sedition ; and he at last is so intimidated, that contrary to his conscience, he is compelled, as Cæsar's representative and friend, to take cognizance of the offence, and put Christ to death, after the Roman custom; and thus our Lord's predic. tion was fulfilled. : The Talmudists mention many instances, proving that the power of inflicting capital punishments was retained by the Jews : the Gemara expressly asserts that the four capital punishments inflicted by the Jewish council or magistracy, were in use during the forty years before the destruction of Jerusalem ; though, according to the Talmudists, they were much interrupted. But even this was owing, as Josephus has shewn, to the corruption and mal-administration of the Roman governors ; who were induced by bribes, or the share of plunder, to use their influence to protect criminals from those punishments denounced against them by the Jewish laws. Even Felix himself employed robbers to murder Jonathan, the High Priest, for having reproved him for injustice; and after this time murders were not only frequent, but committed with impunity. The corruption of this governor is hinted at, Acts xxiv. 26. Josephus also asserts, that Albinus dismissed all malefactors for money; and that Gessius Florus was sharer with such in their unlawful gains.
John xviii. 36.
'Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this Jerusalem. world: if my kingdom were of this world, then
Josephus never alludes to the supposed loss of their power by the Jews; on the contrary, he observes, that the Sadducees are cruel above all the Jews in matters of judicature (b), and at that time they had been fifty years under the
Josepluus asserts also, that in cases of dispute concerning the Mosaic laws and institutions, the power of inflicting capital punishment was left to the High Priest (c).
In speaking of the Essenes, Josephus expressly affirms," that if any one speaks evil of any of their legislators, he is punished with death (d).”
Such is a brief abstraet of the reasoning of Mr. Biscoe ou this subject; which appears satisfactorily to refute the principal arguments of Lardner on the other side of the question.
Lightfoot, in his Talmudical Exercitations, after a long discussion on the ques. tion, whether the Jews at this time retained the power of life and death, remarks, that it is the received opinion, that the Romans divested the council of their authority, and took away from them the power of inflicting capital punishments. And this argument is defended from that tradition of the Talmudists, which says, that the great council removed from the room Gazith, where alone they could pass a sentence of death, forty years before the destruction of Jerusa lem; from which it is inferred, that the power of judging in cases of life and death could not proceed, because the lesser councils were not permitted to sit on capital judgments, unless the great council was in its proper place, and capable of receiving appeals ; the room Gazith being near the Divine presence, half of it within, and half without the holy place. In answer to this assertion it is obe served, " But if this indeed be true, Ist, what do then those words of out Saviour mean, “They will deliver you up to the councils ?' 2d, How did they put Stephen to death ? 3d, Why was Paul so much afraid to commit himself to the council, that he chose rather to appeal to Cæsar?"
" The Talmudists excellently well clear the matter, and the reason was this,
because they saw murderers so much ,כיון דחזו רכפישי לחו רוצחין ולא יכלו למירן
increase, that they could not judge them : they said, therefore, it is fit that we should remove from place to place, that so we may avoid the guilt of not judging righteously in the room Gazith,' which engaged them to do so. The number and boldness of thieves and murderers were so great, and the authority of the council so weak, that they neither could nor dared put them to death."
And again it is said, in another Talmudical tradition, “Since the time that homicides multiplied, the beheading the heifer ceased, Sotah. fol. 47. 1; so in the case of adultery : 'and since the time that adultery so openly advanced under the second temple, they left off trying the adulteress by the bitter water, &c. Maimon. in Sotah. chap, iii. So that we see the liberty of judging in capital matters was no more taken from the Jews by the Romans, than the beheading
(1) Οίπερ εισί περί τας κρίσεις, ώμοι, παρά πάντας τες Ιεδαίος.P. 896, b. 37. (c) Joseph. Antiq. xiv. 16. 2. Bell. Jud. l. vi. 2. 4. Kάν βλασφημήση τις εις τέτον, κολάζεσθαι θανάτω.-De Bell. Jud. 1. 2. c. 8. sect. ix.
would my servants fight, that I should not be de- John xviii. 26.
of the heifer, or the trial of the suspected wife by the bitter waters was taken away from them, which no one will affirm."
“ The slothfulness of the council destroyed its own authority; the law slept while wickedness was in the height of its revels; and primitive justice was so out of countenance, that as to uncertain murders they made no search, and against certain ones they framed no judgment. The Sanhedrim, from mere inactivity, or a foolish tenderness towards an Israelite, as a seed of Abraham, so far neglected to punish bloodshed, and other crimes, that wickedness grew so untractable, that the authority of the council trembled for fear of it, and dared not kill the killers. In this sense that saying must be understood, 'It is not lawful for us to put any man to death;' for it is evident, when they make this assertion, they do not deal fairly with Pilate ; for their authority of judging had not been taken from them by the Romans, but lost by themselves, and despised by the people. Under these circumstances it was only exercised when there was no danger to be apprehended. They were happy enough to use it when they had the opportunity of judging, persecuting, and torturing poor men and Christians ; and they would certainly have condemned our Saviour to death, had they not feared the people, and if Providence had not otherwise determined it."
Lightfoot mentions many other circumstances which took place after Judæa had long been subject to the Roman yoke, which clearly affirm the opinion, that the authority of the council in capital matters was not taken away by the Romans; and he agrees with Biscoe in supposing that it was gradually, from various causes, relinquished by the Jews themselves, and that it imperceptibly lapsed into the hands of the Romans (e).
The Romans were always the ruling power wherever their conquests extended. They varied in the privileges they granted, but uniformly retained in their own hands the influence of the sword. The consequence would naturally be, that on all important occasions, nothing could be done without their sanction or conni
The Municipia and some provinces were certainly allowed nominally to be governed by their own laws and customs : but this very permission seems to have introduced such irregularities into the government, that they petitioned to have the anomalous privilege removed, and to become at once subject to the Roman laws. The reason evidently was, that the power of the sword, the influence of the Roman name, and their unavoidable interference in the government of their native magistrates, had greatly interrupted, and oftentimes suspended, the practice of their national laws: and such, as it appears to me, was the situation of Judæa, at the time of our Lord's condemnation. The power of life and death had not been formally abrogated by the Romans ; but the grant which secured to the Jews their own rights and privileges, had been gradually set aside by the influence of the Roman authority, which had in some measure superseded the Jewish magistracy().
(e) Hebrew, and Talmud. Exercit. vol. ii. p. 248, 249. () See Bowyer's Critical Conj. p. 318; Doddridge; Rosenmüller; the discussion of Lardner, in his Credibility, &c. &c. Lightfoot, in his Talmudical Exercitations upon the