The Day Jesus Was Crucified – An Appointed Time?

Execution of Jesus of Nazareth didn’t happen on just any day of the year…the timing is simply too hard to ignore. The day Jesus was crucified – an appointed time or simply a 1-in-365 odds happenstance incident?

Of all the days in the year for Jesus to be crucified, it occurred on the first day of the Jewish Passover commemorating the event when the sacrifice of an innocent lamb had once been required of God for salvation from slavery and tyranny. Merriam-Webster defines sacrifice as “an act of offering to a deity something precious.”

Crucifixion circumstances were completely controlled by the archenemies of Jesus and the Roman government; impossible to be controlled by anyone else – not a human messiah figure, not his Disciples nor any alleged Christian conspirators.

Does the timing at The Passover have a deeper significance, a divine parallelism? Clues to a possible answer start with a basic understanding of an appointed time in the Hebrew Law given by God at Mt. Sinai.

_ _ _ _ _

From the burning the bush at the base of Mt. Sinai, God told Moses to return to Egypt after a 40-year exile. Along with his brother Aaron, they confronted the mighty Pharaoh with the message – it was clear and succinct:

Ex 5:1 …”Thus says the LORD God of Israel: ‘Let My people go, that they may hold a feast to Me in the wilderness.’”(NKJV)

Pharaoh was not initially willing to give up his slave labor force, but he paid a big price for taking that stance. Suffering through several plagues, Egypt’s Ruler was finally looking to stop their misery and commanded, “‘Go, serve the Lord your God.”

Having an afterthought he asked, “Exactly who is going with you?” Pharaoh realized he was about to make a big mistake if he let all the Hebrews leave. On the other hand, if he allowed only the Hebrew men to go have this feast, he could hold their families hostage.[i]

Moses countered with a response that ruined Pharaoh’s scheme: “We will go with our young and our old, with our sons and our daughters, and with our sheep and our cattle we will go, because we are to hold a pilgrim feast for the Lord.”[ii]

‘No way!’ was the essence of Pharaoh’s response saying “‘No! Go, you men only, and serve the Lord, for that is what you want.’ Moses and Aaron were then driven out of Pharaoh’s presence.”[iii]The plague of locusts followed making it clear that nothing less than a full release of the Israelites was acceptable to God. Next came the 9th plague of deep darkness for three full days.

Leading up to the horrible night of the 10th plague, God offered protection for the Hebrews by following a precise sacrificial ritual. Each family chose one of their unblemished lambs, sacrificed it, splashed its blood on the door posts of their homes, and roasted the lamb for a family feast at sunset.

At midnight, the angel of death passed over any home with the blood splashed on the doorposts sparing the lives of the Hebrew firstborn. For the Egyptians, the 10th plague was devastating. Every firstborn, young and old, even the livestock, died that night including the Ruler’s own son. Pharaoh’s resolve was finally broken.

Salvation from the plague of death set the stage for what would become Israel’s first legally mandated Feast observance saying, “It is the LORD’s Passover.” Every year thereafter, the Passover was to be observed as a celebration festival to remember how God delivered the Hebrews from Egyptian tyranny:[iv]

Ex 12:14‘So this day shall be to you a memorial; and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD throughout your generations. You shall keep it as a feast by an everlasting ordinance.(NKJV)

A few weeks later, God handed down the Law to Moses at the top of Mt. Sinai. The Law defined the observance of three annual Festivals or Feasts using similar terms as for the weekly Sabbath, each called “a holy assembly” or “holy convocation.” The Passover opened the annual festival cycle beginning with the Feast of Unleavened Bread to be observed in the place God chooses at its appointed time in the month of Abib aka Nissan 14th – 21st:[v]

Lev. 23:4-7 ‘These are the feasts of the LORD, holy convocations which you shall proclaim at their appointed times.

‘On the fourteenth day of the first month at twilight is the LORD’S Passover.

‘And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the LORD; seven days you must eat unleavened bread.

‘On the first day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall do no customary work on it. (NKJV)

For the Passover, the primary component was the sacrifice of the paschal lamb. The feast and the week that followed were to be a time of solemn celebration in remembrance of God’s miraculous deliverance from slavery and tyranny.

Was it merely a coincidence that Jesus of Nazareth, found to be innocent by rulers of Judah (Herod) and Rome (Pilate), was still crucified at the behest of the Jewish Council on the first day of Passover? Chance or a divine plan?

REFERENCES:
NKJV = New King James Version translation.
NET = NETBible translation
[i] NET
[ii] NET
[iii] Quotes from NET translation. Exodus 10[iv] Exodus 12
[iv] Exodus 13, 34.
[v] Exodus 12; Deuteronomy 16; Leviticus 23. “Abib” and “Nisan.”  Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011.

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God v. Jesus – The Trial of Jesus

Jesus of Nazareth had been arrested Thursday evening, formally the Jewish beginning of Friday, Passover Nissan 15, by a posse of the Jewish leadership in the Garden of Gethsemane outside Jerusalem. Escorted by the armed Temple Guards and their Roman captain back into the city, he was to immediately stand trial on the charge of blasphemy as defined in the Law of Moses.[i]

Prosecuting the case in defense of God’s Law was Chief Priest Caiaphas. The defendant representing himself was Jesus of Nazareth. The verdict of the trial of Jesus would have colossal implications in one of two very different ways.

Acquittal would mean, at the very least, that Jesus could possibly be the Son of God. Such a verdict would be an embarrassment for the Jewish council while posing a threat to their religious political powerbase. Rome would surely react unfavorably to any potential new Jewish figurehead who might be viewed as an insurrectionist.

Conviction would publicly label Jesus as a blasphemer worthy of death, not worship. God’s Law would be successfully defended and upheld.[ii]Trouble with Rome would be averted. As an added bonus, the subversive threat to their Jewish political powerbase would be eliminated. A Jewish Talmud Gemara would later expose another truth behind of the charge of blasphemy: 

San 49b “…thus the blasphemer and the idol-worshipper are executed.  Wherein lies the particular enormity of these offences? — Because they constitute an attack upon the fundamental belief of Judaism.”[iii]

Gravity of the situation called for a fair and thorough trial, but how likely was that reality? At stake was the defense of Judaism, a religious institution headed by the same powerbase that was responsible for rendering the verdict – the prosecution witnesses even came from among those serving as judge and jury.[iv]

Defense witnesses for Jesus were nowhere to be found. Not because there weren’t any, but being under the threat of death themselves, who would come forward in his defense?[v]Even his most stalwart disciple, Peter, upon whom Jesus had declared would build his church, would deny knowing Jesus three times that very night as the trial progressed.

Other ominous signs did not favor a fair trial since it was not conducted in accordance with Jewish law. Legal code in the Talmud defined how capital offenses were to be tried and convictions rendered. Among them: [vi]

Sanhedrin 32a Mishnah:

“Capital charges must be tried by day and concluded by day.”

“In capital charges, anyone may argue in his favour, but not against him.”

“Capital charges may be concluded on the same day with a favourable verdict, but only on the morrow with an unfavourable verdict therefore trials are not held on the eve of a Sabbath or Festival.”

Pretrial events began at the residence of Annas, a Sanhedrin power broker, former Chief Priest and father-in-law of Chief Priest Caiaphas.[vii]Annas began with cursory questions asking Jesus about his disciples and his teachings. Jesus replied that he had always spoken openly in the Temple and synagogues – there were no secrets. “Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said.”(NRSV)

His response did not sit well with his captors, one of them reacted by hitting Jesus. Holding firm, Jesus challenged his captors again saying, “”If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?””(NRSV) With this, Annas sent the posse with their blindfolded and bound prisoner to Caiaphas. By the time they arrived, Jesus had been mocked and beaten.

Chief Priest Caiaphas presided over the aberrant trial held that fateful night. The Law required two eyewitnesses to corroborate the same point of evidence to establish a fact for a conviction.[viii]Initially the proceedings were not going well for the prosecution effort with many accusers coming forward, but no two testimonies could agree.[ix]Finally, two witnesses confirmed an accusation: “We heard Him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with hands, and in three days I will build another made without hands.’”(NASB)

It was true. Jesus had made this claim after he wrecked the tables of the money changers and merchants in the Temple.[x]Was this a literal or figurative claim by Jesus? Was it really evidence he blasphemed God? Caiaphas understood the implications – he pounced on the moment with an indicting question that cut to the heart of the trial:

“Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” (ISV, NLT, NRSV)

An answer in the affirmative would be self-incriminating and condemning. It was the moment of truth – was Jesus of Nazareth willing to put it all on the line knowing that he could die if he acknowledged this to be true? The answer to Caiaphas was clear when Jesus answered:

“I am.”

To be crystal clear, Jesus added:

“’you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power’ and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven.’” (ISV, NET, NRSV)

Verdict was rendered immediately when Chief Priest Caiaphas tore his robes and said,

“He has blasphemed! What further need do we have of witnesses?”(NASB)

– – – – –

Sentencing was still not a slam dunk. Under Roman rule, the Jews were not allowed to carry out capital punishment.[xi]Would a heathen Roman government even entertain a charge of blasphemy based solely in Jewish religious law? They figured, probably not. On the outside chance that did happen, would Rome issue a death penalty verdict for blasphemy? Even more unlikely.[xii]

Considering their options, the Jewish council sought to convince Pilate that Jesus was guilty of failure to pay taxes to Caesar and insurrection to Rome for claiming to be a king. Either could result in the Roman death penalty. For Pilate, insurrection was a hot button issue with Rome having battled insurrections throughout his tenure as Procurator.[xiii]Ultimately Pilate found Jesus to have no guilt, but caved to the political pressure and sentenced Jesus to be crucified.

Was it a fair trial?

REFERENCES:

NASB = New American Standard Bible translation
ISV = International Standard Version translation
NLT = New Living Translation
NRSV = New Revised Standard Version translation
Gospel accounts:  Matthew 26-27, Mark 14-15, Luke 22-23, John 18-19.

[i] Josephus, Flavius. Antiquities of the Jews. Book XX, Chapter VIII.  NetBible.org. Greek Text. John 18:3, 12: “chiliarchos <5506>” and “speira <4686>”.
[ii] Leviticus 24:15-16. Josephus. Against Apion. Book II, #21-23. Soncino Babylonian Talmud. Ed. Isidore Epstein. 1935 – 1948. Sanhedrin 49b. <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/sanhedrin/index.html>
[iii] Sanhedrin 49b.
[iv] Josephus.  Against Apion. Book II.  <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>   Spiro, Ken. “History Crash Course #39: The Talmud.” <http://www.aish.com/jl/h/cc/48948646.html>  Valentine, Carol A. . “The Structure of the Talmud Files.” <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/structure.html>
[v] Sanhedrin 43a.
[vi]  Sanhedrin 32a – 36b.
[vii] Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 1883. Chapter 13.  <http://philologos.org/__eb-lat/default.htm>  Josephus.  Antiquities. Book XX, Chapters IX.1 & X.1; Book XVIII, Chapter IV.   Whitson, William. The Complete Works of Josephus. 1850. Footnotes – Book XX, Chapter VIII. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false
[viii] Deuteronomy 17, 19; Numbers 35.  Sanhedrin 9a, 30a.  Resnicoff, Steven H. “Criminal Confessions in Jewish Law .“  2007. <http://www.torah.org/features/secondlook/criminal.html
[ix] Sanhedrin 41a.  “Capital Punishment.” Jewish Virtual Library. http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/capital-punishment>
[x] John 2.
[xi] Sanhedrin 41a. “Capital Punishment.” Jewish Virtual Library. http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/capital-punishment>
[xii] Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Book V, Chapter 14.
[xiii] Forsythe, Gary Edward.  “Ancient Rome – The Roman Army.” 2007.  <http://history-world.org/roman_army.htm

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Cicero’s Prosecution of Crucifixion

Crucifixion is as closely associated with the image of Jesus of Nazareth as any other save perhaps the manger scene. Yet some question the reality of whether Rome executed Jesus by nailing him to a cross – if doubts about the Gospel accounts can be meaningfully established, it discredits the integrity of the Gospel’s claim that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.[i]

All four Gospels record that Jesus of Nazareth was scourged and killed by crucifixion. The location was Golgatha just outside the city of Jerusalem where passersby could see and mock him. Aside from that, the Gospels do not go into the gory details of the crucifixion for one very simple reason – it was not necessary.

“Tacitus (“Annales,” 54, 59) reports therefore without comment the fact that Jesus was crucified. For Romans no amplification was necessary.” JewishEncyclopedia.com

Just about anyone living in the Roman Empire, the primary audience of the Gospel authors, knew about crucifixion – and most likely from firsthand experience.[ii] The Jewish crowd at Pilate’s judgement knew about it calling out “crucify him!” Not even Roman historians Josephus, Tacitus or Suetonius found it necessary to explain crucifixion.[iii] But, there are a few exceptions…

– – – – –

Cicero is commonly regarded as the greatest orator in Roman history. A Senator and Consul, he lived about 100 years before Pontius Pilate was Procurator of Judea.[iv] A lesser known fact is that Cicero was a prosecutor, a Roman lawyer.

In Secondary Orations Against Verres, Cicero wrote about his prosecution of Verres.[v] The charge was the premeditated murder of a noble Roman citizen, one Publius Gavius, because of his public crusade for freedom and citizenship.

Scourging and crucifixion was the murder weapon – death by crucifixion. Cicero’s accusation of Verres in court described how humiliation, psychological and mental anguish were part of the excruciating, long lasting torment of the victim nailed to the cross, a fate reserved only for slaves at that time: [vi] 

“…according to their regular custom and usage, they had erected the cross behind the city in the Pompeian road…you chose that place in order that the man who said that he was a Roman citizen, might be able from his cross to behold Italy and to look towards his own home?… for the express purpose that the wretched man who was dying in agony and torture might see that the rights of liberty and of slavery were only separated by a very narrow strait, and that Italy might behold her son murdered by the most miserable and most painful punishment appropriate to slaves alone.

It is a crime to bind a Roman citizen; to scourge him is a wickedness; to put him to death is almost parricide. What shall I say of crucifying him? So guilty an action cannot by any possibility be adequately expressed by any name bad enough for it…that you exposed to that torture and nailed on that cross…He chose that monument of his wickedness and audacity to be in the sight of Italy, in the very vestibule of Sicily, within sight of all passersby as they sailed to and fro.”[vii]

Seneca the Younger, born in Spain virtually the same year as Jesus of Nazareth, was educated in Rome. He became a stoic philosopher, statesman and dramatist gaining acclaim as a writer of tragedies and essays.[viii]

With a penchant for including horror scenes in his tragedies, Seneca was familiar with the gruesome realities of crucifixion. In one “Dialogue,” he wrote to his embittered friend, Marcia, who had been grieving three years over her son’s death. Using a metaphor of crucifixion to describe the mental anguish of people of virtue striving to overcome their own self-imposed tribulations, he wrote:   

“Though they strive to release themselves from their crosses those crosses to which each one of you nails himself with his own hand – yet they, when brought to punishment, hang each upon a single gibbets [sic]; but these others who bring upon themselves their own punishment are stretched upon as many crosses as they had desires….”[ix]

Seneca’s letter suggests he expected Marcia to be familiar with the horrific analogy of crucifixion. A gibbet was a gallows-like structure used to hang dead, executed victims by chains or ropes for public display as compared to living victims of crucifixion who were stretched out and nailed to crosses.[x]  

By the time of Josephus, crucifixion was commonly used by Rome to punish such crimes as robbery and insurrection devolving to the point it became sport.[xi] Josephus made nine references to Roman crucifixions. In one, he wrote of acts by Procurator Florus and in another from his Roman eyewitness perspective to the siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD:[xii]

“…they also caught many of the quiet people, and brought them before Florus, whom he first chastised with stripes, and then crucified…for Florus ventured then to do what no one had done before, that is, to have men of the equestrian order whipped and nailed to the cross before his tribunal…” [xiii]

“So the soldiers, out of the wrath and hatred they bore the Jews, nailed those they caught, one after one way, and another after another, to the crosses, by way of jest, when their multitude was so great, that room was wanting for the crosses, and crosses wanting for the bodies”.[xiv]

One central theme to the historical depictions of Roman crucifixion – it was common knowledge that victims were nailed to the cross as an extreme torturous means to kill them. Are the accounts of the Gospels credible in saying that Roman crucifixion was used to kill Jesus?

REFERENCES:

[i] “Jesus did not die on cross, says scholar.” The Telegraph. n.d. <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/7849852/Jesus-did-not-die-on-cross-says-scholar.html rel=”nofollow” rel=”nofollow”> Warren, Meredith J.C.  “Was Jesus Really Nailed to the Cross?”  The Conversation.  2016.  <https://theconversation.com/was-jesus-really-nailed-to-the-cross-56321 rel=”nofollow”>   Perales, Ginger. “Was Jesus Nailed or Tied to the Cross?”  2016.  <http://www.newhistorian.com/jesus-nailed-tied-cross/6161 rel=”nofollow”>
[ii] Josephus, Flavius.  Wars of the Jews.  Book IV, Chapter V. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false
[iii] Tacitus, Gaius Cornelius.  The Annals. Ed. Church, Alfred John and Brodribb, William Jackson. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.02.0078> Perseus Digital Library. Ed. Crane, Gregory R.  Tufts University. n.d. Word search “crucified” <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/searchresults?page=4&q=crucified>
[iv]  Linder, Douglas O. “The Trial of Gaius (or Caius) Verres.”  2008.  <http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/Verres/verresaccount.html
[v] Cicero, Marcus Tullius. “The Fifth Book of the Second Pleading in the Prosecution against Verres.” Ed. Crane, Gregory R.  Perseus Digital Library. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.02.0018%3Atext%3DVer.%3Aactio%3D2%3Abook%3D5
[vi] Greenough, James. B.; Kittredge, George; eds.   Select Orations and Letters of Cicero.  1902.  Introduction I.  Life of Cicero. VII. “From the Murder of Caesar to the Death of Cicero.”   <http://books.google.com/books?id=ANoNAAAAYAAJ&pg=PR1#v=onepage&q&f=false>   Quintilian, Marcus Fabius.  Quintilian’s Institutes of Oratory.  1856.  Book 8, Chapter 4.   Rhetoric and Composition.  2011. .<http://rhetoric.eserver.org/quintilian/index.html>   “Crucifixion.” JewishEncyclopedia.com < http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/4782-crucifixion >
[vii] Cicero, Marcus Tullius. “The Fifth Book of the Second Pleading in the Prosecution against Verres.” Ed. Crane, Gregory R.  Perseus Digital Library. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.02.0018%3Atext%3DVer.%3Aactio%3D2%3Abook%3D5>  
[viii] “Seneca.”  Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Ed. Zalta, Edward N.  2015. <https://plato.stanford.edu>  Mastin, Luke. “Ancient Rome – Seneca the Younger.” 2009.  Classical Literature. <http://www.ancient-literature.com/rome_seneca.html>
[ix] Seneca, Lucius Annaeus.  “De Consolatione Ad Marciam+.”  “To Marcia on Consolation.”    Moral Essays.  Trans. John W. Basore.  1928-1935.   “Seneca’s Essays Volume II.”  Book VI.  Pages xx 1-3.  The Stoic Legacy to the Renaissance.  2004.  <http://www.stoics.com/seneca_essays_book_2.html#%E2%80%98MARCIAM1>    Seneca, Lucius Annaeus.  “De Vita Beata+.”  “To Gallio On The Happy Life.”  Moral Essays.  Trans. John W. Basore.   1928-1935.  “Seneca’s Essays Volume II.”  Book VII.  The Stoic Legacy to the Renaissance.  2004.  <http://www.stoics.com/seneca_essays_book_2.html#%E2%80%98BEATA1
[x] “gibbet.”  The Free Dictionary by Farlex.  2017.  <http://www.thefreedictionary.com/dictionary.htm>  “gibbet.”  Merriam-Webster.com. 2017 <http://www.merriam-webster.com>
[xi] “Crucifixion.” JewishEncyclopedia.com.
[xii] “FLORUS, GESSIUS (or, incorrectly, Cestius).” JewishEncyclopedia.com. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/6200-florus-gessius
[xiii] Josephus, Flavius.  Wars of the Jews.  Book II, Chapter XIV. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>
[xiv] Josephus.  Wars. Book V, Chapter XI.

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