Monday, December 10, 2007

Anti-Judaism in Luke's Roman Trial Narrative

by Ioanes Rakhmat

This is th
e third of four studies concerning early Christian anti-Jewish bias that colors the Roman trial narratives of the NT gospels, concentrating on Luke’s Roman trial narrative and the Acts of the Apostles.

In Luke’s Gospel, during the trial before Pilate, the Jewish authorities accused Jesus of four things: perverting (or misleading) the Jewish nation (“our nation”; to ethnos hēmōn [see also 7:5]) (23:2,14); forbidding the payment of taxes to Caesar (23:2); claiming himself to be the Messiah, a king (23:2); and inciting the people by his teaching throughout the entire land, from Galilee to Jerusalem (“to this place”) (23:5). Clearly, the major charge is that of misleading the nation;[1] the other charges are the subdivisions or specific examples of this major one.[2] All these charges against Jesus are clearly political and are in keeping with one of Luke’s main emphases as appears also in the parallel accusations levelled against Paul in Acts.[3] The picture is thus that the Jewish leaders brought Jesus before Pilate as one they considered a revolutionary who had done harm to the Roman state by perverting his fellow countrymen and inciting them by his teachings to rebellion.[4]

False Accusations Levelled against Jesus

However, the Lukan readers know that all these charges are false and baseless. Far from seeking to overthrow either Herod Antipas or Rome by activities politically motivated, Jesus’ ministry is one of proclaiming good news to the poor and giving sight to the blind (4:18-19). In 9:41 Jesus declares that the nation was already perverse (diestrammenē); and this condition was not a result of his activity. The truth is that he has led the people in a way displeasing to those who accuse him, and that all the people are spellbound by what they hear (19:47-48; 20:6, 19, 26, 45; 21:38; 22:2). Concerning the payment of taxes to Caesar, the authorities’ own spies have inquired about this and obtained an answer from Jesus himself, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” (20:22-26). Indeed, Jesus is notorious for associating with tax collectors (Luke 5:27-30; 7:34; 15:1; 18:9-14). Although Luke’s readers do believe that Jesus is the Christ (2:26; 4:41; 9:20), a king of the Davidic line (e.g. 1:32-33; 2:4; 3:31; 18:37-38; Acts 17:7), yet Jesus has never referred to himself as a king, certainly not in the political sense in which the Jewish leadership has presented the matter to Pilate. To give specific examples: When Jesus is publicly appealed to as the “son of David” by a blind man outside Jericho, Jesus does not rouse the populace to arms but heals that blind man, and all the people, when they see it, praise God (18:35-43). When he is hailed as the “King” upon his entry into Jerusalem, Jesus receives the acclaim, not for any display of political and military prowess, but because of the miracles (peri pasōn dynameōn) he has performed in the sight of all Israel (19:37-40).

Luke’s picture is like a two-sided coin: on the one side, Jesus is plainly innocent of the charges brought by the Jewish leaders; on the other side, because of their lies, Jesus’ accusers must be judged to be evil-doers because they have presented a false charge of forbidding the payment of taxes, distortingly exploited titles such as “Messiah” and “king” that indeed contain ambiguities, accused Jesus of acting as a false teacher who has led the nation astray through his teachings although actually he has not. Clearly, there is embedded in this picture a definite strain of Luke’s anti-Judaism.

The Innocence of Jesus and Luke’s Purposes

The innocence of Jesus can be seen to be one of Luke’s typical emphases, one repeatedly present in the trial and crucifixion narratives. Throughout Jesus’ Roman trial, Pilate three times declares that Jesus is innocent (23:4, 14-15, 22), and also three times reveals his intention to have Jesus released (23:16, 20, 22). As stated by Pilate (23:15), Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee and Perea (3:1), too, found Jesus not guilty. Regarding Jesus, one of the two criminals who are hanged together with him clearly states, “This man has done nothing wrong.” (23:41). When the centurion sees the happenings all around and the way of Jesus’ facing death, he says, “Certainly this man was innocent (dikaios)”[5] (23:47). The sharp contrast made between Barabbas and Jesus is intended also to stress the innocence of Jesus:[6] Barabbas is “the one who had been put in prison for insurrection and murder” (23:19, 25) whereas Jesus is “the holy and righteous one, the author of life” (Acts 3:14-15).

Luke’s emphasis on Jesus’ innocence is in harmony with Matthew’s;[7] but Luke goes further than Matthew as he repeatedly applies the innocence motif to Paul as well in Acts.[8] By laying emphasis on Jesus’ and Paul’s lack of guilt before Roman rulers (Pilate and Festus), Luke clearly wants to show the political innocence of Christianity in the sight of Rome and declare that the Roman state was on the side of Christianity. What he is doing is presenting simultaneously both an apology for Christianity addressed to Rome (that Christians are no danger to the Roman empire)[9] and an apology for Rome directed to Christians (that Roman rulers mean no harm to Christians).[10] With this twofold “apology,” very likely Luke was trying to provide pastoral guidance for his own community (that represented by Theophilus), namely that to confess oneself a Christian was no crime against Roman law; and allegiance to Rome was not inconsistent with faith in Jesus Christ.

Pilate Is Not Exculpated

Although Jesus’ innocence was recognized by the Roman and Herodian authorities (23:4, 14-15), the chief priests, the rulers (archontes)[11] and the people (23:13) rejected him. In response to the second of Pilate’s declarations of Jesus’ innocence[12] (which is the result of his formal judicial investigation, anakrisis[13]) and his intention to release Jesus (23:14-16), they all shout together, “Away with this fellow! Release Barabbas for us” (23:18). When Pilate (in 23:20), wishing to release Jesus, addresses them again, they keep shouting, and insist that Jesus be crucified: “Crucify, crucify him!” (23:21).[14] After Pilate has proclaimed for the third time that Jesus is not guilty and expressed his will to flog (paideuein, “to discipline”) him and then to free him (23:22), the people and their rulers shout even more urgently that he be crucified (23:23a). With this, Luke notes, their voices prevailed (23:23b) and Pilate gave them that which they were demanding: So Pilate gave his verdict (epekrinen) that their demand should be granted (23:24), namely, that Jesus be crucified. By employing the verb epikrinō, Luke does mean to describe “a formal judgment”;[15] this word “could have the technical nuance of issuing an official sentence.”[16] Among the four evangelists, only Luke does state explicitly that Pilate passed sentence, but Luke makes it plain that it actually reflects the Jewish judgment, not the Roman prefect’s: the Roman death sentence is pronounced in accordance with the demand of the Jewish leaders and the crowds (to aitēma autōn genesthai). Thus, here, Pilate is clearly pictured as the Roman prefect who finally was forced to acquiesce to the Jewish pressure to pronounce a sentence of death on Jesus. The trial by Pilate is concluded in 23:25 where it is noted that he [Pilate] “released the man they asked for, the one who had been put in prison for insurrection and murder, and he handed Jesus over as they wished.”

The threefold declaration of Jesus’ innocence by Pilate and the threefold attempt on the part of the prefect at setting Jesus free contain the message noted above: that the Roman state took the side of Jesus (and Christianity), and that Christianity was no harm to the Roman state. The note that the Roman prefect three times declared Jesus to be innocent and tried to release him might lead one to the conclusion that Luke wants to exculpate Pilate and lay the full responsibility for the death of Jesus on Jews. Luke indeed places the bulk of responsibility for Jesus’ death on the Jewish side due to the false charges which the Jewish leaders have levelled against Jesus before Pilate and the Jewish insistent demand for the death sentence on Jesus. The Jewish leaders and the people are thus to be blamed. But Pilate is not exculpated, because he was the prefect who had the authority to inflict the sentence of death on Jesus; without him, or someone else as the Roman prefect, Jesus could not have been sentenced to death. Furthermore, notes elsewhere in Luke-Acts about some of Pilate’s other actions make it unlikely that Luke would have exonerated him: Luke 13:1 (about Pilate’s slaughter of the Galileans); Acts 2:23 (the Romans are designated as lawless), and Acts 4:25-28 (Pilate and the Roman Gentiles are portrayed as raging against Jesus. By the inclusion of Pilate, Herod and the Gentiles, the “coalition of darkness”[17]

The Inhabitants of Jerusalem and Their Leaders

Luke’s anti-Jewish tone continues beyond the Roman trial account. Not only does Luke narrate that the Jewish leaders and the people succeeded in putting pressure on Pilate to pass the death sentence on Jesus; but he also relates in Luke 23:26, 33 that the Jews themselves, not the Roman soldiers, crucified Jesus: “As they led him away...” (kai hōs apēgagon auton....) (23:26); “...they crucified Jesus there....” (ekei estaurōsan auton....) (23:33). The “they” of 23:26, 33 is grammatically the same as the “they” of the preceding verses and it must refer to the “chief priests, the rulers and the people” of 23:13.[18] Not surprisingly, there are those who contend that Luke 23:26 is the first expression of the thought that the Jews themselves carried out the crucifixion.[19] And, beside this verse, there is also the note in Luke 24:20 that two of Jesus’ followers laid the blame on the chief priests and rulers: “And how our chief priests and rulers handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him.”

This thought is reiterated in Acts with references to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and their leaders (2:14; 3:17; 13:27) as the crucifiers of Jesus: “This Jesus whom you crucified” (2:36); “You killed the Author of life” (apekteinate ...., 3:15); “They put him to death by hanging him on a tree” (aneilan kremasantes epi xulou, 10:39); “You crucified and killed (aneilate) by the hands of those outside the law” (2:23). In other passages in Acts members of the Jewish council are accused (by Peter in 4:10; by Peter and the apostles in 5:30, and by Stephen in 7:52) of having been the murderers of Jesus: “You have become his murderers” (phoneis egenesthe, 7:52); “...whom you crucified” (...hon humeis estaurōsate, 4:10); “whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree” (hon hymeis diecheirisasthe kremasantes epi xulou, 5:30).

All these passages in Luke-Acts, with a clear voice, assert that the inhabitants of Jerusalem and their leaders, members of the Sanhedrin, they themselves killed Jesus. The Romans’ share in the killing of Jesus is also mentioned (Acts 2:23; 3:13; 4:27; 13:28); but the greater part of the responsibility for the death of Jesus is emphatically laid on those who lived in Jerusalem and their leaders. In Israel’s history, the inhabitants of Jerusalem and their leaders were notorious for having the habit of persecuting, stoning and killing the prophets (e.g., Luke 13:33-34a; Acts 7:52a); Jesus was one among the prophets whom they rejected and killed (Luke 4:24; 7:16, 39; 13:31-33; 24:19-20; cf. Acts 3:22-23). But this prophet Jesus whom the Jerusalemites and their leaders murdered is proclaimed by his followers to be the Lord and Messiah because of his resurrection (Acts 2:31-36; see also 4:32; 5:42; 8:5; 10:36; 17:3; 18:5; 18:28). This emphasis that the rejected and executed prophet Jesus is the Messiah and Lord of Christian (Jewish or non-Jewish) communities sharpens Luke’s anti-Jewish bias.

In fact, in Luke’s view, not only the residents of Jerusalem and their leaders but also the city itself had to be held responsible for Jesus’ death: this city will be punished; it will be destroyed (Luke 13:33-35a; 19:41-44; 21:20-24; 23:28-31). As with Matthew, Luke here seems to interpret the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 CE as carrying out of God’s judgment.

God’s Punishment and Future Generations

Luke differs from Matthew in not laying the blame and responsibility for the death of Jesus on all the subsequent generations of the Jewish people. It was only the inhabitants of Jerusalem together with their leaders who were to blame, and the punishment for their wrongdoing was the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE.[20] If we place ourselves within the story world of Acts, we read, that not long after the crucifixion, when, e.g., Peter and Stephen are evangelizing the inhabitants of Jerusalem and their leaders, they can aim accusing fingers directly at them, saying “You killed the Author of life” (3:15) and “You have become his murderers” (7:52). However, when referring to Jesus’ condemnation during his preaching on the Sabbath day in the Antioch synagogue, Paul does not accuse his listeners of having killed Jesus; rather, he insists that “Because the residents of Jerusalem and their leaders did not recognize him or understand the words of the prophets..., they fulfilled those words by condemning him. Even though they found no cause for a sentence of death, they asked Pilate to have him killed...., they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb” (Acts 13:27-29). Paul was clearly referring to events which occurred in the past in Palestine, and , therefore, he could not point a finger at Jews living at a later time in Antioch.

This strongly suggests that, for Luke, the threat of God’s punishment did not rest upon all Jews of all generations. And this viewpoint is implied in words attributed to Jesus as he hung on the cross: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34; cf. Stephen’s similar petition to God in Acts 7:60). Because of this, the call to the Jews to repent and be baptized for their salvation was repeatedly offered by the apostles (e.g., Acts 2:37-38; 3:17-19; 8:23; 13:38-39; 20:21). In Acts 3:17-19 we read, that to the residents of Jerusalem and their leaders who have been previously accused of being the murderers of Jesus (3:15) the apostle Peter gives expression to his understanding of the matter and then offers an invitation for them to repent: “And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that the Messiah would suffer. Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out.” The evangelization among Jews, including the priests, in Jerusalem by Peter and other apostles is depicted as greatly successful as is shown by the multiplication of believers (Acts 2:41, 47; 4:4; 5:14; 6:1,7). The missionary activities of Paul and his companions among the Jews of the Diaspora and the Gentiles are said, on the one hand, to have achieved much: “A great number of both Jews and Greeks became believers” (14:1).

But, on the other hand, Luke records that most of the Jews of the Diaspora rejected Paul and his co-workers (e.g., 13:50; 14:2, 19; 18:6; 20:3, 19); and when Paul returned to Jerusalem, the Jews in this city plotted against him (23:12-15). In the end of Acts, Luke, reflecting on the missionary activities toward the Jews outside Palestine, presents Paul as pessimistically warning the local leaders of the Jews in Rome, using Isaian language: “[Y]ou will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull,...” (Acts 28:26-27 = Isaiah 6:9-10 [LXX] ). In a missionary context, this is indeed a somber picture. It is Luke’s view, however, that the gospel was to be proclaimed first to the Jews; only after their rejection of it was the gospel then offered to the Gentiles: “... first to you; since you reject it... we are now turning to the Gentiles.” (13:46; cf. 3:26; 18:6; 22:21; 23:11; 28:28).

This change in the target of missionary activities does not stem from Luke’s intention to denigrate the Jews because of their obstinacy; rather, according to Luke’s understanding, this is in accord with the overall plan of God (hē boulē tou theou) in his dealing with the whole world (e.g., Acts 1:8; 2:23; 3:17-21; 4:27-28; 5:38-39; 9:15; 10:34-35; 11:18; 13:36ff., 47; 17:31; 20:27; 22:14-15,21; 26:22-23; cf. Luke 4:43; 13:33; 22:37; 24:7,26,44), just as the suffering and execution of Jesus by Jewish and Roman hands are to be seen as fulfilling the plan of God to make Jesus Lord and Messiah through his resurrection (Acts 2:22-36; 3:17-26; 4:27-28; 13:32-41; 17:3, 30-31; 28:23). Here Luke emphasizes that the suffering and death of Jesus did not contravene the plan of God but were contained within that plan.

Conclusion

Luke does not ignore the guilt and responsibility for Jesus’ death which are to be laid upon the Jews. It is this element which results in Luke’s anti-Jewish bias. However, when that bias is located where it should be, that is, within the theological framework of the universal plan of God to save humanity by the name of Jesus the Messiah (e.g., Acts 4:12), its highly negative impact is very considerably lessened. But, on the other hand, with this theological framework being used, Luke unfortunately and dangerously views his anti-Jewish position as originating from God himself.

Notes

[1] This major charge appears with varying verbs three times: diastrephō, ‘to pervert’ or ‘to mislead’ or ‘to turn out of the way’ (23:2); anaseiō ‘to instigate’, ‘to stir up’, ‘to incite’ (23:5); apostrephō, ‘to turn a people from their allegiance to their sovereign’, ‘to pervert’ or ‘to incite to revolt.’ (23:14).

[2] Kingsbury, Conflict in Luke: Jesus, Authorities, Disciples (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991) 64, 155 n.84; Brown, Death of Messiah, 1.738; Bond, Pontius Pilate, 146.

[3] The charges levelled against Paul in Acts cover the following: a) “These people [Paul and Silas] who have been turning the world upside down have come here also,... They are all acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor, saying that there is another king named Jesus” (Acts 17:6-7); b) “We have, in fact, found this man [Paul] a pestilent fellow, an agitator (kinounta staseis, ‘inciting seditious movements’) among all the Jews through-out the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. He even tried to profane the temple...” (24:5-6); to this charge, Paul replied: “They did not find me...stirring up a crowd either in the synagogues or throughout the city” (24:12); c) In defense of himself against the unspecified accusations brought by the Jewish leaders, Paul said, “I have in no way committed an offense against the law of the Jews, or against the temple, or against the emperor” (25:7-8).

[4] Van der Kwaak, Proces van Jezus, 141; Bond, Pontius Pilate, 145 n.31.

[5] That the Greek word dikaios can be rendered either as “just”/“righteous” or as “innocent”/“not guilty”, see Brown’s discussion in Death of Messiah, 2.1162-1167. Concerning “innocent” as the rendering, Brown remarks (p. 1163), “Certainly it is not an indefensible rendering; and although I prefer ‘just,’ the semantic range of ‘just’ includes innocence.”

[6] Van der Kwaak, Proces van Jezus, 161; Bond, Pontius Pilate, 147.

[7] This, and the special source used by Matthew, may indicate that the reflection on Jesus’ innocence and the responsiblity it produces had begun very early before the composition of the canonical gospels.

[8] In Luke’s narrative, Paul underwent trials: a) before a Jewish council (Acts 22:30-23:10); b) before the Roman governor Felix at which time accusations were levelled by the Jewish high priest, elders and spokesmen (24:1-23); c) before Festus, the successor of Felix (25:6-12); and d) before both the Herodian King Agrippa and Festus (25:23-26:32). Just as Jesus’ innocence was stressed by the Roman and Herodian rulers, so too was Paul’s lack of guilt: Acts 23:29 (the declaration of innocence by the Commander Claudius Lysias); 25:25 (the declaration of innocence by Festus); 26:31-32 (the declaration of innocence by Festus, King Agrippa and others). In 28:18-19 Paul, referring back to his trials before the Jewish leaders and the Roman governors, said to the local leaders of the Jews in Rome, “When they examined me, the Romans wanted to release me, because there was no reason for the death penalty in my case. But when the Jews objected, I was compelled to appeal to the emperor” (see Acts 25:10-11).

[9] However, this theory about Luke’s objective in writing his two-volume work has several drawbacks. First, the evangelist does not suggest that his community was suffering widespread persecution or injustice at Roman hands which would necessitate such a work. Second, there are several negative pictures in Luke-Acts which would not be likely to commend Christianity to Rome: e.g., the evangelist openly refers to Simon as a zealot (Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13); he makes no attempt to cover up Jesus’ command to buy swords (Luke 22:35-38); nor does he try to hide the kingly aspect of Jesus’ messiahship (Luke 19:38). Other such passages should be noted as well: Luke 1:52; 4:18-19; 12:49, 51; Acts 5:29, 42; 21:38; 28:31. Furthermore, as Jacob Jervell has pointed out in Luke and the People of God. A New Look at Luke-Acts. Foreword by Nils A. Dahl (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1972) 157, 178 n.21., Luke’s conception of God, who governs history by means of miracles and mighty deeds and delivers apostles from all prisons and perils, makes it difficult to imagine that it is Luke’s desire to simply petition the Romans for favorable conditions and the opportunity to practice Christianity as religio licita for the church. Rather than subjecting themselves to the mercy of the Romans, Caesar and the state by means of their political apologetic, in Acts 4:21-31 in which Herod, Pilate and others opposing Jesus are referred to, Luke portrays with great clarity how, in facing the threats from their contemporary opponents, the believers can attain the right to practice their religion, namely by appealing to the God of history, asking him to act powerfully.

[10] This theoretical position in Lukan scholarship, however, does not appear to have no shortcoming either. In Luke-Acts we find no evidence for either the deprecation of Rome by Christians or an expectation of an imminent parousia which would generate a total disregard for advancing a dialogue with the enduring wordly state. Furthermore, if it were Luke’s purpose to depict Rome in a complimentary way, why has he included inconsequential details which only serve to show the representatives of Rome in a very poor light: e.g., the governor Felix hoping for a bribe (Acts 24:26) or Pilate’s slaughter of the Galileans (Luke 13:1) or Pilate’s unimpressive performance while putting Jesus on trial.

[11]The plural noun hoi archontes is the designation in the passion narrative peculiar to Luke (it appears also in 24:20); it is “an umbrella term for all or part of the chief priests, the captains of the Temple, the elders, and the scribes (see Acts 3:17; 4:5-8; 13:27-29) – in short, in the present sequence (from 22:66), members of the Sanhedrin.” (Brown, Death of Messiah, 1.790).

[12] The first declaration of Jesus’ innocence takes place immediately following the one and only short interchange between Pilate and Jesus. After hearing the accusation of Jesus’ claiming himself to be the Messiah, a king (23:2), Pilate asks him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” He answers, “You say so” (sy legeis) (23:3). After this briefest exchange, Pilate quickly says to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find nothing guilty in this man” (23:4). As a reaction to this Pilate’s first, abrupt proclamation of innocence, they protest by presenting the charge of Jesus’ inciting the people by his teaching (23:5). Because Pilate immediately proclaims Jesus innocent (23:4), the “You say so” of verse 3b must be interpreted by him as a negative, a denial. In Luke’s Roman trial narrative, the political charge of Jesus’ kingship – which is the only focus of Pilate in Mark’s Roman trial account (Luke’s source) – appears only in 23:2 and in the exchange in 23:3. The titles “King of the Jews” and “Christ” reappear at the crucifixion (23:37, 38; 23:35, 39).

[13] The verb anakrinein (“to judge”) (Luke 23:14b) is a technical term corresponding to the Latin cognitio referring to a formal examination by a magistrate; it is used also in Acts 4:9; 12:19; 24:8; 25:26 and 28:18. In Acts 24:8 the procurator Felix “investigates” (anakrinas) Paul; in Acts 25:26 the procurator Festus speaks of the “investigation” (anakrisis) of Paul that he and Agrippa II are conducting.

[14] By introducing the words staurou staurou auton Luke has converted Mark’s aorist imperative staurōson auton (Mark 15:13) to a more emotional present imperative and doubled the verb for emphasis, thereby intensifying the urgency of the demand of the chief priests, the leaders and the people.

[15] Brown, Death of Messiah, 1.853.

[16] Fitzmyer, Luke X-XXIV, 2.1492. The verb epekrinen is used in 2 Maccabees 4:47 to render a formal royal condemnation to death; see also 3 Maccabees 4:2 (epikritheisan).

[17] Kingsbury, Conflict in Luke, 62.

[18] Bond, Pontius Pilate, 143; Van der Kwaak, Proces van Jezus, 164; Fitzmyer, Luke X-XXIV, 2.1496. Brown, in Death of Messiah, 1.857-859, advances lengthy arguments to maintain the different position that the “they” in Luke 23:26 refers to Roman soldiers of 23:36, 47. However, to interpret the “they” of 23:26 as referring to Roman soldiers of 23:36, 47 is, according to Fitzmyer (Luke X-XXIV, 2.1496), “to miss the point of the way Luke is handling the passion narrative.”

[19] E.g., Van der Kwaak, Proces van Jezus, 164 (“Zo begint hier de gedachte dat de Joden Jezus hebben gedood”).

[20] Van der Kwaak, Proces van Jezus, 168. that has been formed in Luke 22:2-6― consisting of Satan, Judas and the chief priests as the chief opponents of Jesus― is broadened).