Zeteo’s Weekly update

Review for Sunday September 24, 2017

Text below from John is the translation by Raymond E. Brown, John I-XII (The Anchor Yale Bible) .

Map of New Testament Israel:  http://www.bible-history.com/geography/ancient-israel/israel-first-century.html

Maps of Jerusalem at the time of Jesus and at the Siege of 70 CE: http://www.jesus-story.net/maps_jesus.htm




63. The Trial of Jesus before Pilate

Episode 3

After this remark Pilate went out to the Jews again and told them, “For my part, I find no case against this man. 39 Remember, you have a custom that I release someone for you at Passover. Do you want me, then, to release for you the King of the Jews?” 40 At this they shouted back, “We want Barabbas, not this fellow.” (Barabbas was a bandit.)

Elizabeth Fletcher: 

Convinced that Jesus was no threat, Pilate refused to find him guilty.


Were there any other reasons for Pilate’s refusal to condemn Jesus?

He was well aware of the way in which the leading Jewish families competed for social prominence and influence. So he may have seen this case as an attempt to use Roman authority (him) in a game of Jewish factionalism, at the expense of the near-silent Galilean.

He may also have been influenced by the recent fall of Sejanus, the Emperor Tiberius’ virulently anti-Semitic right-hand man. Pilate no longer needed to kow-tow to Sejanus’ prejudices.

Death Sentence for Jesus

Why did the crowd in Jerusalem choose Barabbas, not Jesus? Because Barabbas, a political terrorist and criminal, was the Sanhedrin’s preferred candidate.

Pontius Pilate did not realize that the people of Jerusalem, who hated the Roman presence in Jerusalem and were fiercely loyal to their leaders, would never accept Pilate’s choice.

The Passover amnesty

Apparently it was the custom to release a prisoner at Passover. Josephus, the Jewish historian, says that the Romans sometimes gave an amnesty to prisoners in Judaea for political reasons.

This practice is not mentioned outside the gospels, but that is no reason to doubt it. It may have been Pilate’s invention, occurring only while he was governor. He was always looking for ways to mollify the people and gain popularity for himself. Jerusalem was a notoriously difficult posting for any governor.

On this particular morning a crowd had gathered outside Pilate’s Jerusalem headquarters. It was early, but the city was swollen with Passover pilgrims from all over Israel.

A substantial crowd came from the lower city, the less affluent part, to the praetorium. They were there to support their preferred candidate for amnesty. Some may have been Galileans, but not many. The arrest and trial of Jesus had taken most of his supporters by surprise, and they probably did not know his whereabouts, let alone the danger he was in.

Most of the people there would have been supporters of

the Sanhedrin, the Temple authority that hoped Pilate would sentence Jesus to death, or

Barabbas, a man who led an uprising and committed murder, who many ordinary citizens of Jerusalem saw as a patriotic freedom fighter.

Because he had opposed the Romans, Barabbas would be a hero to many of the Jews; they would prefer him to Jesus, a religious reformer from remote Galilee.

Pilate gives the crowd a choice

Pilate saw this as an opportune moment. He was convinced Jesus was innocent, and he clearly did not want to release Barabbas, who was more of a political threat to the Romans than Jesus was.
He wanted to play the crowd against their leaders, the Sanhedrin, and deflect its members from a choice he deemed madness – the murderer Barabbas. He believed the people would fall in line with his proposal, and free the comparatively harmless Jesus.

By doing so he showed himself to be out of touch with local sentiment.

The crowd chooses Barabbas – why?

Why was the Jewish Sanhedrin determined to get rid of Jesus?

Some of them were genuinely nervous of the crowds Jesus attracted. Jerusalem was always combustible, particularly at festival time, and as far as they were concerned, Jesus was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Some may have been jealous of his popularity and influence.

Most if not all of them resented Jesus’  blistering attacks on the Temple priesthood, from which the Sanhedrin came. They, highly educated men, may have felt humiliated that a peasant from nowhere had made such an impression on the people, and was influencing them to ask questions about the established hierarchy; was this the Establishment versus a grassroots reform movement?

What was Pilate’s position?

Both Philo of Alexandria (a philosopher) and Josephus (a Jewish historian) make it clear that Pilate detested the Jews. Whenever he had to deal with them he inevitably took the opposite position to what they wanted. He did this when the Sanhedrin brought Jesus to him.

But he was no fool. He saw that the Sanhedrin were using legal processes to get rid of someone who was causing them trouble.

What happened?

The crowd had to choose between two candidates, one proposed by Pilate, representative of Rome, and the other by the Sanhedrin, their leaders. It was no contest. Choosing Jesus would have been disloyal to their Jewish leaders. So Jesus became a victim of the political forces that swirled around Israel/Judah.

Pilate may have seen Barabbas as a terrorist but elements of the crowd, on that particular morning, in that particular place, saw him as a freedom-fighter.  They clamoured for Jesus’ execution – virtually a lynch mob. There was the unspoken assumption that if Pilate was a good governor, he would bow to their wishes, rather than provoke a revolt.
Pilate was clearly amazed by the people’s choice of Barabbas. Although he was unhappy, he nevertheless went along with it. He knew Jesus had not violated any Roman law.


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The class moderator sends a midweek email to class members with a link to this page, as a review of the previous Sunday’s discussion and a reminder of where the class begins when it meets again.

For more information contact Terry.Foreman (AT) murraystate.edu