Sanhedrin Insider Sources – Nicodemus or Joseph of Arimathea?

One of the mysteries of the Gospels is how the authors gained knowledge of inner workings of the Jewish Council. Two possibilities were Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea – actual ruling members of the Sanhedrin’s Jewish Council.[1]

Early on, Nicodemus wanted to learn more about this new celebrity, Jesus of Nazareth. With his stature in the Jewish Council, it seemed to open the door to set up a meeting with Jesus. Great caution was necessary with Jesus being the archenemy of the Council; where exposure of their meeting could have dire consequences.

Taking the big risk, they agreed to a secret night-time meeting. An unofficial summit, so to speak, where one of the rulers of the Jewish Council, Nicodemus, met clandestinely with the leader of its archnemesis, Jesus of Nazareth.

Miracles performed by Jesus rang an element of truth with Nicodemus asking, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no-one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.”[2]

It was the response that completely threw Nicodemus when Jesus said, “unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Incredulous, Nicodemus asked, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”[3]

For a Pharisee who prided himself for righteously following the letter of the Law, a single act, to be born again was an entirely foreign concept. It was completely contrary to Judaism’s beliefs which does not provide a clear path to the afterlife.[4] Pulled from a MyJewishLearning.com webpage header: “We Don’t Know, So Must Make Our Lives Count.”[5]

Jesus continued, “What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.”[6] Explaining further led to the most famous quote of Jesus in all the Gospels, often seen on signs and T-shirts at major sporting events and the name of a song by country music superstar, Keith Urban, “John 3:16”:[7]

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (NKJV)

Next in the Gospels came another incident involving Nicodemus, a confidential meeting among the Jewish Council members themselves. The scenario would not otherwise be known unless someone who was present during the private meeting divulged the details to John.

Sanhedrin officers had been sent to listen to Jesus hopefully teaching heresies, then bring him back to the chief priests and Pharisees. When the officers returned emptyhanded, the Council authorities were baffled and asked, “Why didn’t you bring him back with you?” The officers responded, “No one ever spoke like this man!”[8]

Nicodemus asked his fellow Sanhedrin peers, “Does our law judge a man before it hears him and knows what he is doing?”[9] For asking this, they mocked Nicodemus, “Surely you are not also from Galilee, are you? Search and you will see that no prophet is to arise from Galilee.”[10]

At the crucifixion scene of Jesus another Sanhedrin Pharisee is introduced, Joseph of Arimathea, a Judean town.[11] Joseph is identified as a rich man, a prominent member of the Sanhedrin Council and a follower of Jesus.[12]

Joseph first appears in all four Gospel accounts in the scene when Jesus hung dead on the cross. Taking great courage to overcome his fear of both the Sanhedrin and the fearsome Roman ruler who ordered Jesus to be crucified, Joseph approached Pilate to ask for the body.[13]

Arriving before the execution squad Centurion’s report, Pilate was surprised to hear Jesus was already dead.[14] Pilate first wanted confirmation from the Centurion that Jesus was, in fact, dead.[15]

Forced to wait for a decision, it was no doubt nerve-wracking – a despised Jew waiting in the Roman government local headquarters. Upon confirmation from the Centurion, Pilate granted the body of Jesus to Joseph.[16] Knowledge of these distinctive details were limited only to the Romans present with Pilate and Joseph.

Back at the Golgotha crucifixion scene, Joseph claimed the body from the Roman quaternion. He was joined by none other than Nicodemus who brought 75 pounds of burial spices, a mixture of myrrh and aloes – very specific details.[17] Together, the two Pharisee Council rulers carried the body of Jesus to the nearby unused tomb owned by Joseph where they wrapped the body in linens with the burial spices according to Jewish custom.[18]

In the next phase of the Gospel accounts, the Resurrection, neither Nicodemus nor Joseph are mentioned again, but they are still part of the story. As rulers within the Jewish Council, if not present, they were at least aware the Council again approached Pilate the next day on the Sabbath.[19] It was again a meeting with only the Romans, namely Pilate with his staff, and the Jewish leaders in attendance – none of the followers of Jesus were present.

Affirming to Pilate that Jesus was dead and buried, the Jewish authorities requested a means to secure the tomb to protect against theft of the body by followers of Jesus. To convince Pilate, they had to acknowledge Jesus prophesied he would rise from the dead after 3 days.[20] Pilate seemed annoyed by yet another meeting with the Jews and told them to secure the tomb as best they could.

No one had informed the followers of Jesus about the joint Roman-Jewish security actions. The exclusivity of the information is demonstrated by the women of Galilee who planned to go to the tomb at sunrise after the Sabbath thinking they could gain access to the body of Jesus. They wondered if anyone would be there to help roll away the stone from the entrance.[21]

How did the Gospel authors obtain insider information on the Jewish Council plans to trap and kill Jesus, their conversations, quotes from the Sanhedrin trial of Jesus, their request of Pilate to secure the tomb, and the chief priest’s response to the koustodia’s report of the missing body of Jesus? At least one insider or more within the Jewish Council had to be the source or sources of this information.

As ruling authorities within the Sanhedrin Jewish Council, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea were privy to the inner workings the Jewish leadership. Each was called out by name in the Gospels. John, the eyewitness author, even quoted Nicodemus.[22] Was the insider source one of them, maybe both or perhaps someone else?

Insider information of the Jewish Council, if true, lends significant credibility to the truthfulness of the Gospels. One key consideration goes unstated making it a fact of silence – the Jewish Council did not deny the statements or actions of Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea as written in the publicly distributed Gospels.

 

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REFERENCES:;

[1] John 12:42. John 3:1. Net.Bible.org. Greek text. 2020. <http://classic.net.bible.org/verse.php?book=Joh&chapter=3&verse=1> “archon <758>” Net.Bible.org. 2020. <http://classic.net.bible.org/strong.php?id=758>  Mark 15:43; Luke 23:50. Net.Bible.org. Greek text. <http://classic.net.bible.org/search.php?search=Arimathea&mode=&scope=> “bouleutes <1010> Net.Bible.org. 2020. <http://classic.net.bible.org/strong.php?id=1010>
[2] John 3:2. NIV.
[3] John 3:4. NRSV.
[4] Josephus, Flavius. Wars of the Jews. Book II, Chapter VIII.14. Trans. and commentary. William Whitson. The Complete Works of Josephus. 1850. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false> Moffic, Evan. “Do Jews Believe in an Afterlife?” ReformJudaism.org. 2020. <https://reformjudaism.org/practice/lifecycle-and-rituals/death-mourning/do-jews-believe-afterlife>  Gilad, Elon. “What Is the Jewish Afterlife Like?” Haaretz.com. 2019. <https://www.haaretz.com/jewish/.premium-what-is-the-jewish-afterlife-like-1.5362876>
[5] Rose, Or N. “Heaven and Hell in Jewish Tradition.” MyJewishLearning.com. 2020. <https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/heaven-and-hell-in-jewish-tradition>
[6] John 3:6. NET.
[7] Rossen, Jake. “The Unbelievable Life of the ‘John 3:16’ Sports Guy.” 2017. <https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/500515/unbelievable-life-john-316-sports-guy#:~:text=The%20%22John%203%3A16%22,%2C%20but%20have%20everlasting%20life.%E2%80%9D>  Urban, Keith. “Keith Urban – John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16 (Official Music Video).” YouTube.com. 2015.< https://www.google.com/search?rlz=1C1GCEB_enUS885US885&ei=X8ffXtCaI8-WsAXMz4fIAg&q=john+3%3A16+keith+urban&oq=john+3%3A16+keith+urban&gs_lcp=CgZwc3ktYWIQAzoECAAQR1CC2hBYpO4QYP_wEGgAcAN4AIABSIgB_QSSAQIxMZgBAKABAaoBB2d3cy13aXo&sclient=psy-ab&ved=0ahUKEwiQxsi_ofXpAhVPC6wKHcznASkQ4dUDCAw&uact=5>
[8] Luke 7:45. NET.
[9] John 7:51. NKJV.
[10] John 7:52. NSRV.
[11] Luke 23:51.
[12] Matthew 27:57, Mark 15:43, Luke 23:50-52, John 19:38. Mark 15:43. Net.Bible.org. Footnote #1. <http://classic.net.bible.org/verse.php?book=Mar&chapter=15&verse=43#> Luke 23:50. Net.Bible.org. Footnote #2. <http://classic.net.bible.org/verse.php?book=Luk&chapter=23&verse=50>
[13] Matthew 27:58-59; Mark 15:43; Luke 23:51-52; John 19:38.
[14] Mark 15:44.
[15] Mark 15;44-45.
[16] Luke 23:51.
[17] Matthew 27:33; Mark 15:22; John 19:17-19, 39. CR Luk3 23:33.
[18] Matthew 27:57; John 19:40-42.
[19] Matthew 27:62-66; Luke 23:54; John 19:42.
[20] Matthew 27:62-27.
[21] Mark 16:3.
[22] John 3:1, 4, 9; 7:50, 19:39.

The Trial of Jesus — Guilty or Innocent?

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 power base. 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]

MISHNA: Sanhedrin 32a:

“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 High Priest’s prosecution effort was not going well 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 somewhat true (Jesus actually said if the Temple were to be destroyed, he would rebuild it in 3 days). The incident occurred when he wrecked the tables of the money changers and merchants in the Temple – .[x]Was it 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)

Immediately the verdict was rendered 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 or was it a divinely predestined outcome?

 

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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.  The NTSLibrary. 2016. <http://www.ntslibrary.com/PDF%20Books/The%20Life%20and%20Times%20of%20Jesus%20the%20Messiah.pdf> 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>