Friday, January 26, 2007

Pilate's Extended Dialogues in the Gospel of John: Did the evangelist alter a lost written source?

Part 4: Pilate Talks to the Jews

For Part 1: Introduction, go here.
For Part 2: Pilate talks to Jesus: GMark vs. GJohn, go here.
For Part 3: Reconstructing Pilate's Dialogue with Jesus in GJohn's Source, go here.

Let me turn now to some anomalies in the dialogue between Pilate and the Jews. Table 3 presents the complete dialogue between Pilate and the Jews in the same sequential order set forth in GJohn.

In the beginning of GJohn’s dialogue with the Jews, Pilate asks what accusations the Jews bring against Jesus. [18:29.] As in GMark the accusations are not specified. The Jewish authorities respond, “If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.” This is sort of like saying, “Beats me. You figure out what he did wrong.” [18:30.] Pilate responds by telling the Jews to take Jesus and try him themselves according to their own law. [18:31.] Pilate seems to be saying, "if you won’t tell me what he did, don’t bother me with your problems." We should recall here that in GJohn there was no Jewish trial of Jesus prior to going to Pilate and no charges had been voted against him.

At this point, the Jews respond, “We are not permitted to put anyone to death.” [18:31.] In GMark, there is no explanation for why Pilate is asked to conduct proceedings against Jesus when the dispute seems to be an internal Jewish affair of no import to the Roman government. In GJohn, the Jewish reply attempts to explain why Pilate winds up hearing the charges against Jesus. As a result, Pilate, apparently with great reluctance, agrees to hear the case and goes off to question Jesus outside the presence of the Jewish authorities. [18:39.]

Contrast this portion of the dialogue with a later exchange between Pilate and the Jews. It takes place after Pilate has partially examined Jesus, after the Barabbas incident, and after the mockery and abuse of Jesus. Pilate exhibits Jesus in mock royal garb and the Jews cry out, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” [19:6.] In response, Pilate says, “Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him.” [19:6.]

Pilate’s response is troubling and presents a chronological problem. GJohn has already told us earlier that Pilate told the Jews to take Jesus themselves and try him, and the Jews said they weren’t allowed to put anyone to death. If the Jews said they couldn’t put anyone to death, why would Pilate then tell the Jews to crucify Jesus themselves? The sequence seems to be out of chronological order. So is the next Jewish response. “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God.” [19:7.] Shouldn't this acusation come up when Pilate asked what the charges were? And why didn't the Jews remind Pilate that they couldn’t put anyone to death?

The narrative flow seems to suggest that some questions and answers were inverted. When Pilate says that the Jews should try Jesus themselves, it would seem that this would be the place where the Jews would respond that they have a law and according to that law Jesus should die. Then we would expect Pilate to say that if Jesus violated Jewish law then the Jews themselves should crucify Jesus, at which point the Jews would respond that they are not permitted to put anyone to death. But that is not the sequence in GJohn.

Let’s look at another example. After Pilate’s initial examination of Jesus, he comes out and announces that “I find no case against him.” [18:38.] Pilate then immediately raises the alleged custom of having the Governor release a prisoner over the Passover holidays and asks if he should release “the King of the Jews.” [18:39.] The Jews reject the offer and ask for the release of Barabbas. [18:40.] Pilate takes Jesus and has him whipped, and the Roman soldiers mock and abuse him.

Later, after further questioning Jesus, GJohn tells us “From then on Pilate tried to release him” but the Jews opposed his action. [19:12]. This allegation about Pilate, from then on, trying to release Jesus also seems out of chronological order. He had already been trying to release Jesus earlier, right after the first interview with Jesus when he declared that he found no case against him. Let’s review that scene again for further difficulties.

When Pilate came out after the first interview with Jesus and said he found no case against him, he immediately raised the question of releasing a prisoner over the holidays. Let’s put aside here the problem that in GMark it is Jews in the crowd who raise the issue of a prisoner release and not Pilate. In terms of GJohn’s narrative flow, this sequence doesn’t make sense. Pilate had just declared that he found Jesus innocent. It was his initial duty therefore to release him. He should not have to raise the holiday release issue unless some opposition had been voiced to the release. But no opposition had yet been raised. Why didn’t he simply announce, “Therefore I am releasing him”? If opposition arose, then he might consider the holiday appeal.

This suggests that the later reference to Pilate, from then on wanting to release Jesus, actually belongs earlier in the story, after the first declaration that Pilate found no case against Jesus, and that the holiday offer followed at some point after that reference.

In Part 5: Reconstructing the Dialogue between Pilate and the Jews in GJohn's Source

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