Sanhedrin Insiders – 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, members of the the ruling 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 opened 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 arch-nemesis, 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 logic, much less Judaism’s beliefs that are unclear about 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 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)

Later in John’s account, another incident involving Nicodemus is 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 for judgement. When the officers returned empty-handed, 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] Their response did not answer the question, rather 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 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 responsible for having Jesus crucified, Joseph approached Pilate to ask for the body.[13]

Arriving at Pilate’s headquarters 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 at 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 Pilate and Joseph plus any other Roman staff who may have been the the room.

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. There 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 members within the ruling Jewish Council, if not present, they were at least aware that the Jewish leaders again approached Pilate the next day.[19] It was 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 three 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 according to Gospel account. The exclusivity of the information is demonstrated by the women of Galilee who planned to go to the tomb at sunrise after the Sabbath. Wondering if anyone would be there to help roll away the stone from the entrance, they apparently were not aware that the tomb was sealed and guarded by the koustodia.[21]

As members within the ruling Sanhedrin Jewish Council, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea were privy to the inner workings of the Jewish leadership, each was called out by name in the Gospels. John, the eyewitness author, even quoted Nicodemus indicating he was a source.[22]

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

Were either or both Nicodemus or Joseph of Arimathea the insiders who provided important details of the Jewish Council?

 

Updated October 1, 2023.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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.  “Who was Nicodemus in the Bible?” GotQuestions.org. image. n.d. <https://www.gotquestions.org/img/OG/Nicodemus-in-the-Bible.jpg
[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>  “Who was Joseph of Arimathea? GotQuestions.org. image. n.d. <https://www.gotquestions.org/img/OG/Joseph-of-Arimathea.jpg
[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 by a posse of the Jewish leadership in the Garden of Gethsemane outside Jerusalem. Escorted by the armed guards back into the city, Jesus would be aberrantly tried on the charge of blasphemy as defined in the Law of Moses.[1]

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

Rome would surely react unfavorably to any potential new Jewish figurehead if they did nothing. A conviction as an insurrectionist and tax evader might be viewed by Rome positively and trouble could be averted.

Conviction from a Jewish perspective would publicly label Jesus as a blasphemer worthy of death, not worship. God’s Law would be successfully defended and upheld.

Acquittal would mean, at the very least, that Jesus would likely be considered the Son of God, worthy of worship. Such a verdict would be an embarrassment for the Jewish Council and pose a threat to their religious political power base.

As an added bonus, a conviction would eliminate the subversive threat to the Jewish leaders political power base. A Jewish Talmud Gemara would later expose the reasoning:[2]

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.”[3]

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 power base that was responsible for rendering the verdict – the prosecution witnesses even came from among those serving as judge and jury.[4]

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?[5] Even his most stalwart disciple, Peter, upon whom Jesus had declared he would build his church would deny knowing Jesus three times that very night as the aberrant trial progressed.

Other ominous signs did not favor a fair trial given 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:[6]

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. 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)

Not sitting well with his captors, one of them reacted by hitting Jesus. Holding firm, Jesus again challenged his captors 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 at the Sanhedrin meeting hall at the Temple, Jesus had been mocked and beaten.

Chief Priest Caiaphas presided over the trial held that fateful night. The Law required two eyewitnesses to corroborate the same point of evidence to establish a fact for a conviction.[8]

Initially the High Priest’s prosecution effort was not going well with many accusers coming forward; however, no two witness testimonies could agree.[9] Finally, two witnesses made the same accusation: “We heard Him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with hands, and in three days I will build another made without hands.’”

Not quite the same, Jesus actually had said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”[10] Nevertheless, Jesus was accused of saying he would destroy the Temple and rebuild it in just three days when previously it took 46 years to build.

Implying only God could do this, it created an opening, Caiaphas understood the implications. He pounced on the moment with an indicting question that cut to the heart of the trial:

MK 14.61 “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 his life on the line knowing that he would die if he acknowledged this to be true? The answer to Caiaphas was unambiguous:

I am.

To be crystal clear, Jesus added:

MK 14:62 “’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)

Understand the implication, immediately the verdict was rendered when Chief Priest Caiaphas tore his robe and said,

MT 26:65 “He has blasphemed! What further need do we have of witnesses?”(NASB)

– – – – –

Sentencing was still not a slam dunk. Under Rome’s laws, the Jews were not allowed to carry out capital punishment.[11]

Would a heathen Roman government even entertain a charge of blasphemy based solely in Jewish religious law? Probably not, they figured.

On the outside chance Rome did level such a charge, would they issue a death penalty judgement for blasphemy? Even more unlikely.[12]

Considering their options, the Jewish Council sought to convince Pilate that Jesus was guilty of failure to pay taxes to Caesar and for insurrection to Rome. Either of those charges could result in the Roman death penalty.

For Pilate, the accusation of insurrection was a hot button issue with Rome having battled insurrections throughout his tenure as Procurator … at least this was assumed to be the case.[13] Ultimately, Pilate found Jesus to have no guilt on either charge. Subsequent Jewish political pressure compelled Pilate to sentence Jesus to be crucified.

Was the trial of Jesus fair or was the verdict a divinely predestined outcome?

 

Updated June 5, 2024.

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.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

REFERENCES:

[1] Leviticus 24:15-16. John 18:3, 12: “chiliarchos <5506>” and “speira <4686>”. CR Edersheim, Alfred.  The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 1883. Book V, Chapter 15, pp 1382-1392 & pp 1393-1421. <http://philologos.org/__eb-lat/default.htm>  Edersheim, Alfred. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. Chapter 10. 1826 -1889. The NTSLibrary. 2016. <http://www.ntslibrary.com/PDF%20Books/The%20Temple%20by%20Alfred%20Edersheim.pdf>Babylonian Talmud.
[2] Instone-Brewer, David. Instituto John Henry Newman. “Jesus of Nazareth’s Trial in the Uncensored Talmud.” n.d. <https://institutojohnhenrynewmanufv.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/01/jesus-of-nazareth-s-trial-in-the-uncensored-talmud.pdf>
“Lady Justice.” ClipArtBest.com. image. 2022. <http://www.clipartbest.com/clipart-4cbo7xgei
[3] Soncino Babylonian Talmud. Ed. Isidore Epstein. 1935 – 1948. Sanhedrin 49b.<https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/sanhedrin/index.html>
[4] 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> CR Numbers 30:35.
[5] Sanhedrin 43a.
[6] Sanhedrin 32a – 36b.; CR. Deuteronomy 19:16-18.
[7] 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>
[8] Deuteronomy 17:6, 19:15; Numbers 35:30.  Sanhedrin 9a, 30a.  Resnicoff, Steven H. “Criminal Confessions in Jewish Law .“  2007. <http://www.torah.org/features/secondlook/criminal.html>
[9] Sanhedrin 41a.  “Capital Punishment.” Jewish Virtual Library. http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/capital-punishment>
[10] John 2:19. NASB.
[11] Sanhedrin 41a. “Capital Punishment.” Jewish Virtual Library. http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/capital-punishment>
[12] Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Book V, Chapter 14.
[13] Forsythe, Gary Edward.  “Ancient Rome – The Roman Army.” 2007.  <http://history-world.org/roman_army.htm>