According to Catholic scholar Jerome Murphy O'Connor, when Jesus entered Jerusalem for Passover he probably had only between ten and twenty followers. Whether he thought of himself as the Messiah is debated among scholars. Ben Witherington III, the token evangelical scholar interviewed for the program (N. T. Wright is also there, but is given little opportunity to make strong points), argues that Jesus' constant self-reference as "the Son of Man" and his frequent teaching about the kingdom of God both derive from the Book of Daniel and support the conclusion that Jesus regarded himself as having a divine, messianic mission. But others, skeptical of the Gospels, of course disagree. What everyone agrees happened is that Jesus went to Jerusalem for the Passover and within a week had been killed. The role of the Jewish and Roman authorities is particularly disputed. One scholar can describe Annas (who served as high priest, as did six of his relatives) as a kind of "godfather" of the high priesthood. However, the scholars Jennings interviews all seem to agree that because the priestly authorities were installed by the Romans they would have been anxious primarily to keep the peace and keep Rome happy. For that reason, they conclude, the high priest Caiaphas probably intercepted Jesus and turned him over to Pilate at Pilate's request, rather than putting Pilate up to executing Jesus for them as the Gospels indicate.
One can only wonder how a Catholic scholar can fail to acknowledge that Jesus had many more than ten followers. At any one time the contingent of men and women traveling with him in his itinerant ministry may have floated between ten and twenty, but he would surely have left devoted friends behind in many of the places he visited. I see no reason to question the veracity of the report in Acts 1 that there were 120 persons in Jerusalem in the weeks immediately after Jesus' death and resurrection who gathered together as his followers, and of course there would have been others not in the vicinity.
Witherington should be given a lot of credit for making many points winsomely and forcefully, and his point about Jesus' consciousness as Daniel's "Son of Man" is one of them. To elaborate, the criterion of dissimilarity makes it virtually certain that Jesus used this title of himself, since the NT writers essentially never do so except in statements attributed to Jesus (Acts 7:56 and Rev. 1:13, both in the context of visions, being the only exceptions). Note that I am not arguing the reverse-that if the NT writers themselves used a title for Jesus then he must not have used it (an invalid form of the criterion of dissimilarity).
The relationship between the Jewish Temple authorities and Pilate was likely to have been complex. As some of Jennings's scholars noted, Pilate liked to give the Jewish leaders a hard time but also had to be careful not to antagonize them too deeply (see segment 4). It is quite possible that from their varying perspectives, the Temple authorities thought they were using Pilate and vice versa. The Gospel of John gives a very nuanced view of the matter. Caiaphas and at least some of the Sanhedrin privately sought to get rid of Jesus because they feared he would incite a popular uprising that would result in the Romans taking away what little authority they had (John 11:47-50). The reason they first gave Pilate for handing Jesus over was that he was an evildoer who made the political (and treasonous) claim to be the King of the Jews (John 18:29-30, 33, 39; 19:14-15; cf. also Luke 23:1-2, 14). On the other hand, the Sanhedrin found Jesus deserving of death because of his alleged false teachings and blasphemies, specifically his claim to be the Son of God (John 18:19-24; 19:7). The bottom line is that Jesus represented a threat to the Jewish religious and political establishment on more than one level, and this explains the unusual and complex interaction between the high priest's office and Pilate over the disposition of Jesus.
In This Entry
About This Page: