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Lukexxiii.2. And they began to accuse him, saying, We found this Jerusalem.
fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute
Ans. Nothing is more certain than that many cities, and some whole countries, bad obtained from the people and emperors of Rome, the privilege of being governed by their own laws, and by their own magistrates, in a greater or less degree. The Carthaginians, after the second Punic war, had the power of executing their own laws, even in capital punishments; and many other instances might be enumerated. Why may we not then suppose that the people of Judea were equally favoured? It may indeed be shewn, from many things recorded in history, that the Romans were more peculiarly disposed to be favourable to the Jews.
3. According to the civil law of Rome, the presidents alone.
Answ. This is taking for granted the thing that is questioned.
1. The most plausible of all is, that saying of the Jews to
Ans. The context proves that these words do not imply that the Romans had deprived them of the liberty of judging men by their own law, but show on the contrary, that they had the option of trying Jesus themselves, or of giving him up to the Roman Governor. For Pilate had only a moment before said, “ Take ye him, and judge him according to your law.” Their answer, is evidently a refusal of the Governor's offer; and if we interpret the words in any other way, we are naturally brought to the conclusion, that Pilate, when he said “ Judge him according to your Jaw," spoke in mere mockery, and intended to remind tbem of their subjection, which is not probable, as he was then called upon to act in his official capacity. Something more therefore must be understood than what is expressed; and nothing I think can be so reasonably supplied to make the sense complete, as that which regards the time in which the conversation took place, namely, the first day of the passover week, and the preparaiion for the Sabbath" It is not lawful for us to put any man to death this holy festival.” In the same manner it was not lawful for them to go into the judgment-hall (Joho xviii. 28.) Pilate, who bad been long Governor, must have been well acquainted with their customs, and must bave perfectly comprehended their meaning. St. Augustine, Cyril, and several other ancient fathers, put the same construction on these words, which agrees exactly with the rule laid down in the Talmud.' The Mishna says expressly that capital causes, in which the criminal was condemned, were always to be finished after the trial began, for
Jo. xvii. 33. Then Pilate entered into the judgment-hall again, and Jerusalem.
wbich reason these trials were never to begin the day before the
The day on wbich' our Lord was put to death was the first
people might attempt a rescue. (Luke xxji. 2. Matt. xxvi. 5.) They therefore used every argument, even to threatening, with Pilate, to procure his condempation. An additional evidence in favour of this side of the question, is given us in the words of St. John, xviii. 32. wbo, when the Jews reject the offer of Pilate, saying, “ It is not lawful for us to put any man to death,” adds, that the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled, which he spake, signifying the death he should
dic. If we do not consider the subject in this point of view, the prediction of our Lord (John xii. 32, 33.), which foretells the manner of his death, ceases to be a prophecy, for if the Jews no longer retained the power of inflicting capital punishments, there could not be much difficulty in specifying the particular death of a criminal according to the Roman laws.
2. Pilate says to our Lord, “ Knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and power to release thee?” which words are said expressly to declare, that Pilate was the supreme and only judge who was invested with the power of pronouncing sentence of absolution or condemnation.
Ans. It is granted, that Pilate was supreme judge under the Emperor, and Governor of Syria, in this and every other case, within the province of Judea, but this does not prove that he was the only judge ; nor does it from hence follow that the Jews had not the privilege of trying and executing their own criminals.
3. Again, the Jews say to Christ, “ Moses in the law commanded that such should be stoned; but how sayest thou?" It is added, “ This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him;” which is interpreted, if he had determined, the woman takon in adultery should be stoned, according to the Mosaic law, they designed to accuse him to the Roman Governor; because, if the Jews were prohibited from the use of their own laws, this act might have been considered as seditious: if, on the contrary, he had decided that she ought not to be stoned, they would bave accused him of derogating from the law of Moses, and have thereby lessened his influence among the people.
Ans. This is taking for granted the point to be proved, with.
Mt.xxvii.li. And Jesus stood before the governor: and the governor Jerasalem.
asked him, saying, Art thou the King of the Jews ?
out one word being said in its confirmation. It is probable the
Many more arguments are adduced by Biscoe in support of
Again, it is related that Peter and the other apostles were brought before the council, (Acts v. 27.) who, it is expressly said, “ took counsel to slay them,” (Acts v. 33.) and would doubtless have put their design into execution, had they not been dissuaded from it by Gamaliel. Is it probable that St. Luke, who mentions all these proceedings, should not have once intimated that they exceeded their power in so doing, if the Romans bad prohibited them from exercising their own punishments ? But, on the contrary, we find the High Priest and the elders asserting their authority, in open court, in the presence of the Roman Governor himself, who was seated as a judge, without any reproof on his part. Tertullus declares to Felix, in the case of St. Paul, whom “ we took and would have judged according to our law.” (Acts xxiv. 6.) If the ex. ercise of their law had been taken from them, wbat possible construction could have been put upon such a declaration, but open rebellion against the Roman states and could any magis. trate have suffered it to pass unnoticed. St. Paul himself acknowleges the power of the Jewish council, (Acts xxiii. 3.) and it is evident from the accusation that his was a capital cause. It may be further observed, in support of this opinion, that the four evangelists are unanimous that the Jews attempted to prosecute our Saviour for the capital crime of sabbath-breaking, that they might put him to death, Matt. xii. 10. Luke vi. 7. John v.9, 10. 16.; and Mark, chap. ii. 3.says, " They watched him, whether he would heal on the sabbbath-day, that they might accuse him;"
but evidently not before the Roman Governor, for it would have been difficult to have convinced bim that the performance of a wonderful and beneficent action on
Jo. xviii. 31. Jesus answered him, Sayest thou this thing of thyself, Jerusales.
or did others tell it thee of me?
the sabbath-day was worthy of death. Who then can doubt that
If the Jews had not sought to take away the life of Christ
After the resurrection of Lazarus, we read the Chief Priests and Pharisees gathered a council, and determined to put our Saviour to death. (Jobn xi. 47. 53.) And a short time afterwards we are told, the Chief Priests consulted how they might put Lazarus also to death. (John xii. 10.) But what gives addi. tional weight lo this argument, is the fear of the people, so frequently expressed. Matthew (xxi. 46.) says, when the Chief Priests and Pharisees sought to lay bands on him, they feared the multitude ; (also Matt. xxvi. 4, 5.) Mark xi. 18. also relates, the Scribes and Chief Priests sought how they might destroy bim, for they feared him, because all the people were astonished at his doctrine; and again, they sought to lay hold on him, but feared the people. (Mark xii. 12.) See also Luke xix. 47, 48. xx. 19. and xxii. 2. If the Jews bad meditated the destruction of our Saviour by any private hand, or in any extra-judicial manner, or if they had intended to use their influence with the Governor, to prevail upon him to pronounce a sentence of condemnation, if sufficient evidence was wanting to establish bis crime, why had the Chief Priests and Pharisees so much reason to fear the people? The instigators and actors in these cases might perbaps have had some reason to fear; but to suppose that the whole body of Jewish magistrates should be so affected, when the discovery was so improbable, seems wholly incredible. Who could force the assassin to acknowledge his guilt, when the magistrates of course would not? It must, therefore, be an act of the great council of the Jewish nation, aud not any secret means of destruction, which is referred to, in those places of the Gospels, where this general fear is expressed; for we read, the Chief Priests, the Scribes, and the elders were afraid of the people. They were afraid to put Jesus to death, in the same manner, and for the same reason, that Herad was afraid to put John the Bap.
Jo. xviii. 35. Pilate answered, Am I a Jew? thine own nation and Jerusalen.
the chief priests have delivered thee unto me : what hast
tist to deatb, “ they feared the multitude." (Matt. xiv. 5.) And
They would bave executed him by their own laws, had it not
The Talmudists mention many instances, proving that the power of inflicting capital punishments was retained by the Jews: the Gemara expressly asserts that the four capital punishments inflicted by the Jewish council or magistracy, were in use during the forty years before the destruction of Jerusalem ; though, according to the Talmudists, they were much interrupted. But even this was owing, as Josephus has shewn, to the corruption and mal-administration of the Roman Governors ; who were induced by bribes, or the share of plunder, to use their influence to protect criminals from those punishments denounced against them by the Jewish laws. Even Felix himself employed robbers to murder Jonathan, the High Priest, for having reproved him for injustice; and after this time murders were not only frequent, but committed with impunity. The corruption of this Governor is hinted at Acts, xxiv. 26. Josephus also asserts, tbat Albinus dismissed all malefactors for money; and that Gessius Florus was sharer with such in their unlawful gains.
Josephus never alludes to the supposed loss of their power by the Jews; ou the contrary, he observes, that the Sadducees are cruel above all the Jews in matters of judicature(b), and at that time they had been fifty years under the Roman power.
Josephus asserts also, that in cases of dispute concerning the Mosaic laws and institutions, the power of inflicting capital punishment was left to the High Priest (c).
In speaking of the Essenes, Josephus expressly affirms, that if any one speaks evil of any of their legislators, he is punished with death (d).
Such is a brief abstract of the reasoning of Mr. Biscoe on this subject, which appears satisfactorily to refute the principal arguments of Lardner on the other side of the question. I had indeed maintained the opposite and more general opinion.
Lightfoot, in his Talmudical Exercitations, after a long discussion on the question whether the Jews at this time retained the power of life and death, remarks, that it is the received