Friday, 8 April 2016
The tragedy of Calvary. Part 70.
There in these meetings of the princes of Judea, when before Caiphas and Annas, and when he was haled before Pilate and Herod were fulfilled the words of the Psalmist written more than one thousand years before: " The council of the malignant hath besieged me. They have dug my hands and feet." (Psalm xxi. 17.) " The kings of the earth stood up, and the princes met together against the Lord and against his Christ." (Psalm ii. 2.)
But God will not be frustrated in his designs. Al though the Jewish nation rejected him, there are other nations to carry on his work, to administer his Church, as was foretold: " But I am appointed king by him over Sion, his holy mountain, preaching his commandment," says the Lord through the mouth of David. " The Lord hath said to me, Thou art my son, this day have I begotten thee. Ask of me and I will give to thee the Gentiles for thy inheritance, and the utmost parts of the earth for thy possession." (Psalm ii. 6-8.) We see the prophecy going on before our eyes every day in the conversion of the nations, while Israel remains outside the Church till the time marked in the hidden providence of God for the conversion of the Hebrews.
Three judges or even one could sit in small civil cases. But not less than twenty-three formed the court for a death sentence on a priest or false prophet. (Numb. xvi. ; xxxv. 23, 24, 30.) Any city with one hundred and twenty families had a court of twenty-three judges, composed of two lawyers, two scribes, two sextons, one prosecuting attorney, one for the accused; two witnesses for the defendant, two against him; two each to testify to the witnesses' standing in the city, five to execute the sentence; one treasurer, one barber, one to represent the synagogue, and a school teacher.
The meeting this Monday was to find means of executing the sentence of death pronounced by the great national Sanhedrin or supreme court, which had met a month before. The Lord was not regularly convicted and sentenced at the midnight meeting held at the high priest's house on Thursday night For the law was that no court could sit at night. (Ab. Zar. 8. b.)
The hours for the sitting of court were from after the morning Temple service, till the noonday prayers, and from the end of these midday services till the beginning of the sacrifice of the lamb at three o'clock. Very minute directions are given regarding citing witnesses, and taking testimony. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, excepted, no witness appeared for the Accused. The judges were filled with hate and fury against him, and we have no doubt but twenty or twenty-one voted for his death as soon as it could be done without rousing a tumult among the people.
Hatred, fanaticism, Oriental exaggeration, Hebrew stubbornness, false witnesses and a prejudiced court distorted his words, imputed to him things he never did, claimed he worked miracles by demoniac power, and showed him to be a dangerous person to be let to go on and seduce the people, destroy the Jewish religion, start an insurrection and bring the whole power of Rome against the nation.
The Talmud says that the principal charges were that he was a Massith, that is one who privately seduces the people into idolatry, (San. vii. 10 ; Jer, Yeb. 15 d.) advocates in public the worship of some false god, uses the holy language, that is the Hebrew, and that he was a Maddiach, that is cue who publicly seduces the people into idolatry, using the Aramean tongue which the common people spoke. The Talmud gives two stories which state that witnesses had lain in wait to hear and report Christ's words, (San. 67 a) and that forty days before his execution, heralds had summoned witnesses in his favor. (San. 43 a.) This was evidently the time when the great national Sanhedrin met and condemned him to death.
The judges of this court sitting now, had before their eyes examples of recent revolts against the Romans, which were put down with terrible execution. The first was a rebellion under Theudas, who put himself at the head of 400 persons, under promise of dividing the waters of the Jordan, when he and his followers were cut down by the Roman army. (Josephus Antiq., xx. 5-1.) The other was led by an Egyptian Jew, who gathered 3,000 or 4,000 on the Mount of Olives, promising to blow down the walls of Jerusalem with the breath of his mouth. (Antiq. xx. 8, 6.) Still another named Simon of Cyprus, had pretended to be a magician, and he tried to separate the beautiful (Ibidem, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, etc.) Drusilla from Felix, her husband, who later became the Roman procurator of Judea. There were bands continually rising up against the Romans and disturbing the peace, and this Jesus was the most dangerous of them all, and he ought to be put down. This was their way of looking at things.
The chief difficulty was to find an accusation against him which would stand before the procurator Pilate. For the claim of Jesus that he was the Messiah was a religious question, which did not belong to the civil court, and Pilate would not enter into the question of belief, for the Romans had given the Jews the free exercise of their religion. But they voted to put him to death, basing their chief accusation on the words of Leviticus xxiv, which punishes blasphemy with death. This was only an excuse. For they had determined to kill him, and they were only looking for a charge against him which could be sustained before the procurator.
Now let us see what history says regarding these twenty-three members of this court, who that day passed the sentence to put into execution the death decree pronounced on the Messiah a month before. The character of these men can be found in Hebrew writers, in the Talmuds and in histories of that time.
The presiding judge of this court was the high priest Joseph Caiphas, his name meaning "depression." For at the death of the great Hillel it was enacted that the high priest should always be the presiding judge of the Sanhedrin.
Caiphas, the 71st high priest from the time of Aaron, was the son of Simon, son of Camith. Valerius Gratus, the Roman proconsul of Syria, in the year 18 A. D. had removed his father-in-law Annas because of his crimes, and appointed this Caiphas his son-in-law to the high-priesthood. Both he and the members of his family were active Sadducees, who did not believe in the future life, as Josephus says. We find by experience that those who do not believe in the immortality of the soul, hardly ever believe in God, and we conclude that he was an infidel.
He hated Jesus Christ with a fury we can hardly realize. He was filled with the most unbending pride, and was given up to avarice. (Dupreon, Concord. S. Scriptures, Caiphas.)
The office he occupied paid well, and he had a fine house on Sion near but north' of the Cenacle.
The site of his house is now occupied by a church. Behind the building, in the yard, there were seen beautiful mosaics recently uncovered, which perhaps once formed a part of the pavement of his hall. But the Turks for bad any further excavations, lest they might uncover the vast treasures David placed in his own tomb, and which the Turks think remain there still.
Caiphas retained the high-priesthood during Pilate's whole administration. He was deposed in the year 86 because of his high crimes and misdemeanors by the proconsul Vitellius, his brother-in-law Jonathan, Annas' son, taking his place. (Josephus, Antiq. xviii. 4.-3.) Some of the early writers confound him with Josephus the historian, and say that he was converted to Christianity.
Annas, " Grace of Jah," was the son of Seth. After the battle of Actium, A. D. 7, when he was thirty-seven years of age, Quirinius, the Roman governor of Syria, appointed him to the high priesthood. During the seven years of his pontificate he displayed such avarice, violence, corruption of judges, etc., that he and his whole family were accused of " whispering," whereby " morals were corrupted, judgment perverted and the Shekina withdrew from Israel." (Tos Sot. xiv.) But the Shekina, the Holy Spirit, withdrew from the Holy of Holies, not because of Annas' and his family's sins, but because the whole ceremonial of the Temple had been fulfilled at the death of Christ.
Although Caiphas was the high priest, he was only a figure-head. The power behind the throne was Annas. With his five sons, his sons-in-law, with other relatives he ruled the Sanhedrin, so that the members were all more or less terrorized. The protests of Joseph of Arimathea, of Nicodemus, and of the gentle Gamaliel in favor of Christ were powerless against the influence of Annas. The family of Annas dominated the assembly of the Sanhedrin, the Temple and the whole spiritual life of the Scribes, Pharisees and Rabbis. The Talmud in terrible language describes the character of the high priests of this period, when only the sons of Annas, or men married into his family occupied the position. (Pes. 57 a.) It seems that the " house of Annas was guilty of gross self-indulgence, violence, (Josephus, Antiq. xx. 8. 8.) public indecency and high crimes." Few of the members of his family retained the office for much more than a year. They used to send their servants into the thrashing-floors of the priests to seize the tithes. (Ibidem.)
Annas and Caiphas derived large revenues from the sale of victims for the Temple sacrifices. The money changers, who had their stalls in the Temple had to give up a certain percentage of their profits to them, and the expulsion of these men by Christ roused the fury of these two against him. Annas had four dove-cotes called Beth-ini, on Mount of Olives shaded with two large cedar trees, where he sold doves for the sacrifices. Here the Virgin bought the two turtle-doves for presentation more than thirty-three years before, on the day of her purification. The families of these two men had rolled in the wealth of the Temple offerings and their business suffered enormously from Christ's action and preachings, and in driving out the money-changers. They had hardly any religion beyond that of making money out of the Temple.
Nicodemus, " innocent blood," was a Pharisee and a leader in Israel. He secretly believed in Christ and came to him by night, when Christ explained to him the necessity of baptism before the light of faith can exist in the soul, which enables one to see the Church, the kingdom of God. (John iii) He was present at the crucifixion, helped to bury the dead Christ, and later he was converted and baptized by Peter or John. Because of this the Jews deprived him of his office in the Sanhedrin, and drove him from the city; but his relative Gamaliel gave him shelter. The latter was afterward converted to the faith and when he died he was buried beside Nicodemus near Stephen's grave. The three bodies were discovered in 415.
In the Talmud Nicodemus is called Nicodemus Ben Gorion, and it also states that he lived till the Romans took the city. At the time of Christ his family was perhaps the richest in Jerusalem, owning much property, but the Jews persecuted him and the members of his household so that they became reduced to great poverty.