John 18

CHAPTER XVIII.

Jesus passes the brook Cedron, and goes to the garden of

Gethsemane, 1.

Judas, having betrayed him, comes to the place with a troop of

men to take him, 2, 3.

Jesus addresses them, and they fall to the ground, 4-6.

He addresses them again, and Peter smites Malchus, 7-11.

They seize him and lead him away to Caiaphas, 12-14.

Peter follows to the palace of the high priest, 15-18.

The high priest questions Christ concerning his doctrine, and

Jesus answers, and is smitten, 19-23.

Peter denies his Lord twice, 24-27.

Jesus is led to the judgment hall, and Pilate and the Jews

converse about him, 28-32.

Pilate converses with Jesus, who informs him of the spiritual

nature of his kingdom, 33-37.

Pilate returns to the Jews, and declares Christ to be innocent,

38.

He seeks to discharge him, and the Jews clamour for his

condemnation, 39. 40.

NOTES ON CHAP. XVIII.

Verse 1. Over the brook Cedron] Having finished the prayer

related in the preceding chapter, our Lord went straight to the

garden of Gethsemane, Mt 26:36, which was in the mount of Olives,

eastward of Jerusalem. This mount was separated from the city by a

very narrow valley, through the midst of which the brook Cedron

ran: see 1 Macc. 12:37; Joseph. War, b. v. c. 2, s. 3. xii. 2.

Cedron is a very small rivulet, about six or seven feet broad, nor

is it constantly supplied with water, being dry all the year,

except during the rains. It is mentioned in the Old Testament:

2Sa 15:23; 1Ki 15:13; 2Ki 23:4. And it appears the evangelist

only mentions it here to call to remembrance what happened to

David, when he was driven from Jerusalem by his son Absalom, and

he and his followers obliged to pass the brook Cedron on foot: see

2Sa 15:23. All this was a very expressive figure of what happened

now to this second David, by the treachery of one of his own

disciples. This brook had its name probably from Kadar, he was

black; it being the place into which the blood of the sacrifices,

and other filth of the city, ran. It was rather, says Lightfoot,

the sink, or the common sewer, of the city, than a brook. Some

copyists, mistaking κεδρων for Greek, have changed του into των,

and thus have written τωνκεδρων, of cedars, instead of του

κεδρων, the brook of Cedron: but this last is undoubtedly the

genuine reading.

A garden] Gethsemane: See Clarke on Mt 26:36.

The Jewish grandees had their gardens and pleasure grounds

without the city even in the mount of Olives. This is still a

common custom among the Asiatics.

St. John mentions nothing of the agony in the garden; probably

because he found it so amply related by all the other evangelists.

As that account should come in here, the reader is desired to

consult the notes on Mt 26:36-47. See also Mr 14:30-36, and

Lu 22:40-44.

Verse 2. Judas-knew the place] As many had come from different

quarters to celebrate the passover at Jerusalem, it could not be

an easy matter to find lodging in the city: Jesus therefore chose

to pass the night in the garden with his disciples which, from

this verse, and from Lu 22:39, we find was his frequent custom,

though he often lodged in Bethany. But, as he had supped in the

city this evening, Judas took it for granted that he had not gone

to Bethany, and therefore was to be met with in the garden; and,

having given this information to the priests, they gave him some

soldiers and others that he might be the better enabled to seize

and bring him away.

Verse 3. A band] τηνσπειραν, The band or troop. Some

think that the spira was the same as the Roman cohort, and was the

tenth part of a legion, which consisted sometimes of 4200, and

sometimes of 5000 foot. But Raphelius, on Mt 27:27, has clearly

proved, from Polybius, that the spira was no more than a tenth

of the fourth part of a legion. And as the number of the legion

was uncertain, and their divisions not at all equal, no person can

tell how many the band or spira contained. See many curious

particulars in Raphelius on this point, vol. i. p. 351, edit.

1747. This band was probably those Roman soldiers given by the

governor for the defense of the temple; and the officers were

those who belonged to the Sanhedrin.

With lanterns and torches] With these they had intended to

search the corners and caverns, provided Christ had hidden

himself; for they could not have needed them for any other

purpose, it being now the fourteenth day of the moon's age, in the

month Nisan, and consequently she appeared full and bright. The

weapons mentioned here were probably no other than clubs,

staves, and instruments of that kind, as we may gather from

Mt 26:55; Mr 14:48; Lu 22:52. The

swords mentioned by the other evangelists were probably those of

the Roman soldiers; the clubs and staves belonged to the chief

priest's officers.

Verse 4. Jesus knowing all things, &c.] He had gone through all

his preaching, working of miracles, and passion, and had nothing

to do now but to offer up himself on the cross; he therefore went

forth to meet them, to deliver himself up to death.

Verse 5. Jesus of Nazareth.] They did not say this till after

Judas kissed Christ, which was the sign which he had agreed with

the soldiers, &c., to give them, that they might know whom they

were to seize: see Mt 26:48. Though some harmonists place the

kiss after what is spoken in the ninth verse.

Verse 6. They went backward, and fell to the ground.] None of

the other evangelists mentions this very important circumstance.

Our Lord chose to give them this proof of his infinite power, that

they might know that their power could not prevail against him if

he chose to exert his might, seeing that the very breath of his

mouth confounded, drove back, and struck them down to the earth.

Thus by the blast of God they might have perished, and by the

breath of his nostrils they might have been consumed: Job 4:9.

Verse 8. Let these go their way] These words are rather words of

authority, than words of entreaty. I voluntarily give myself up

to you, but you must not molest one of these my disciples. At your

peril injure them. Let them go about their business. I have

already given you a sufficient proof of my power: I will not exert

it in my own behalf, for I will lay down my life for the sheep;

but I will not permit you to injure the least of these. It was

certainly the supreme power of Christ that kept the soldiers and

the mob from destroying all the disciples present, when Peter had

given them such provocation, in cutting off the ear of Malchus.

There were probably no other disciples with Christ than Peter,

James, and John, at this time. see Mt 26:37; Mr 13:33.

Verse 10. Having a sword] See Clarke on Lu 22:36.

Cut off his right ear.] He probably designed to have cloven his

scull in two, but God turned it aside, and only permitted the ear

to be taken off; and this he would not have suffered, but only

that he might have the opportunity of giving them a most striking

proof of his Divinity in working an astonishing miracle on the

occasion: see the notes on Mt 26:51-56.

The other three evangelists mention this transaction; but

neither give the name of Peter nor of Malchus, probably because

both persons were alive when they wrote; but it is likely both had

been long dead before St. John published his history.

Verse 11. The cup which my Father hath given me] The cup

signifies, sometimes the lot of life, whether prosperous or

adverse: here it signifies the final sufferings of Christ.

Verse 12. The captain] χιλιαρχος, The chiliarch, or chief

over one thousand men-answering nearly to a colonel with us.

See Clarke on Lu 22:4. He was probably the prefect or captain

of the temple guard.

Verse 13. To Annas] This man must have had great authority in

his nation: 1. Because he had been a long time high priest; 2.

Because he had no less than five sons who successively enjoyed the

dignity of the high priesthood; and, 3. Because his son-in-law

Caiaphas was at this time in possession of that office. It is

likely that Annas was chief of the Sanhedrin, and that it was to

him in that office that Christ was first brought. Some think that

Annas was still high priest, and that Caiaphas was only his

deputy, though he did the principal part of the business, and

that it as because of this that he is called high priest. But see

the notes on Mt 2:4, and Lu 3:2.

That same year.] The office was now no longer during life as

formerly. See Clarke on Joh 11:49.

What is related in the 24th verse, Joh 18:24,

Now Annas had sent him bound to Caiaphas, comes properly in

after the 13th verse. Joh 18:13 One of the Vienna MSS. adds

this verse here; the later Syriac has it in the margin, and St.

Cyril in the text. See the margin.

Verse 14. Caiaphas was he which gave counsel, &c.] Therefore he

was an improper person to sit in judgment on Christ, whom he had

prejudged and precondemned: see on Joh 11:50-52. But Christ

must not be treated according to the rules of justice: if he had,

he could not have been put to death.

Verse 15. And-another disciple] Not THAT other disciple, for the

article is omitted by AD, two others; some editions; Syriac,

Persic, Gothic, and Nonnus. So the Vulgate is to be understood.

There are many conjectures who this disciple was: Jerome,

Chrysostom, Theophylact, Nonnus, Lyra, Erasmus, Piscator, and

others, say it was John. It is true John frequently mentions

himself in the third person; but then he has always, whom Jesus

loved, as in Joh 13:23; 19:26; 21:7, 20, except in Joh 19:35,

where he has plainly pointed out himself as writer of this Gospel;

but, in the place before us, he has mentioned no circumstance by

which that disciple may be known to be John. To this may be added

that John being not only a Galilean, but a fisherman by trade, it

is not likely that he should have been known to the high priest,

as it is here said of that disciple who followed Jesus with Peter.

See Bishop Pearce and Calmet. The conjecture of Grotius is the

most likely: viz. that it was the person at whose house Jesus had

supped. St. Augustin, Tract. 113, speaks like a man of sound

sense: We should not decide hastily, says he, on a subject

concerning which the Scripture is silent.

Verse 17. The damsel that kept the door] Caezarius, a writer

quoted by Calmet, says this portress was named Ballila. It is

worthy of remark that women, especially old women, were employed

by the ancients as porters. In 2Sa 4:6, both the Septuagint and

Vulgate make a woman porter to Ishbosheth. ARISTOPHANES, in

Vespis, v. 765, mentions them in the same office and calls

them σηκις, Sekis, which seems to signify a common maid-servant:-

οτιτηνθυρανανεωζενησηκιςλαθρα.

And EURIPIDES, Troad. brings in Hecuba, complaining that she,

who was wont to sit upon a throne, is now reduced to the miserable

necessity of becoming a porter, or a nurse, in order to get a

morsel of bread. And PLAUTUS, Curcul. Act. i. sc. 1, mentions an

old woman who was keeper of the gate:-

Anus hic solet cubitare custos janitrix.

Why they, in preference to men, should be pitched upon for this

office, I cannot conceive; but we find the usage was common in all

ancient nations. See Clarke on Mt 26:69.

Verse 18. Servants and officers] These belonged to the chief

priests, &c.; the Roman soldiers had probably been dismissed after

having conducted Christ to Annas.

Verse 19. Asked Jesus of his disciples, and of his doctrine.] He

probably asked him by what authority, or in virtue of what right,

he collected disciples, formed a different sect, preached a new

doctrine, and set himself up for a public reformer? As religion

was interested in these things, the high priest was considered as

being the proper judge. But all this, with what follows, was

transacted by night, and this was contrary to established laws.

For the Talmud states, Sanhed. c. iv. s. 1, that-"Criminal

processes can neither commence not terminate, but during the

course of the day. If the person be acquitted, the sentence may be

pronounced during that day; but, if he be condemned, the sentence

cannot be pronounced till the next day. But no kind of judgment is

to be executed, either on the eve of the Sabbath, or the eve of

any festival." Nevertheless, to the lasting infamy of this people,

Christ was judicially interrogated and condemned during the night;

and on the night too of the passover, or, according to others, on

the eve of that feast. Thus, as I have remarked before, all the

forms of justice were insulted and outraged in the case of our

Lord. In this his humiliation his judgment was taken away. See

Ac 8:33.

Verse 20. I spake openly to the world] To every person in the

land indiscriminately-to the people at large: the τωκοσμω, here,

is tantamount to the French tout le monde, all the world, i.e.

every person within reach. This is another proof that St. John

uses the term world to mean the Jewish people only; for it is

certain our Lord did not preach to the Gentiles. The answer of our

Lord, mentioned in this and the following verse, is such as became

a person conscious of his own innocence, and confident in the

righteousness of his cause. I have taught in the temple, in the

synagogues, in all the principal cities, towns, and villages, and

through all the country. I have had no secret school. You and your

emissaries have watched me every where. No doctrine has ever

proceeded from my lips, but what was agreeable to the

righteousness of the law and the purity of God. My disciples, when

they have taught, have taught in the same way, and had the same

witnesses. Ask those who have attended our public ministrations,

and hear whether they can prove that I or my disciples have

preached any false doctrines, have ever troubled society, or

disturbed the state. Attend to the ordinary course of justice,

call witnesses, let them make their depositions, and then proceed

to judge according to the evidence brought before you.

Verse 22. One of the officers-struck Jesus] This was an outrage

to all justice: for a prisoner, before he is condemned, is ever

considered to be under the especial protection of justice; nor has

any one a right to touch him, but according to the direction of

the law. But it has been observed before that, if justice had been

done to Christ, he could neither have suffered nor died.

Verse 24. Now Annas had sent him, &c.] It has been observed

before that the proper place of this verse is immediately after

the 13th; and, if it be allowed to stand here, it should be read

in a parenthesis, and considered as a recapitulation of what had

been before done.

Verse 27. And-the cock crew.] Peter denied our Lord three

times:-

Peter's first denial.

I. This took place, when he was without, or beneath, in the hall

of Caiaphas's house. He was not in the higher part where Christ

stood before the high priest; but without that division of the

hall, and in the lower part with the servants and officers, at the

fire kindled in the midst of the hall, Joh 18:16, 18; and the

girl who kept the door had entered into the hall, where she

charged Peter.

Peter's second denial.

II. This was in a short time after the first, Lu 22:58. Having

once denied his Master, he naturally retired from the place where

his accuser was to the vestibule of the hall, Mt 26:71, and it

was the time of the first cock-crowing, or soon after midnight.

After remaining here a short time, perhaps an hour, another girl

sees him, and says to them who were standing by in the vestibule,

that he was one of them. Peter, to avoid this charge, withdraws

into the hall, and warms himself. The girl, and those to whom she

had spoken, follow him; the communication between the two places

being immediate. Here a man enforces the charge of the girl,

according to Luke; and others urge it, according to St. John; and

Peter denies Jesus vehemently.

Peter's third denial.

III. He was now in the hall, and also within sight of Jesus,

though at such a distance from him that Jesus could not know what

passed, but in a supernatural way. And, about an hour after his

second denial, those who stood by founded a third charge against

him, on his being a Galilean, which St. Luke says, Lu 22:59, one

in particular strongly affirmed; and which, according to John,

Joh 18:26, was supported by one of Malchus's relations. This

occasioned a more vehement denial than before, and immediately the

cock crew the second time, which is eminently called

αλεκτοροφωνια. The first denial may have been between our

twelve and one; and the second between our two and three.

At the time of the third denial, Lu 22:61 proves that Jesus was

in the same room with Peter. We must farther observe that Matthew,

Mt 26:57, lays the scene of Peter's denials in the house of

Caiaphas: whereas John, Joh 18:15-23, seems to intimate that

these transactions took place in the house of Annas; but this

difficulty arises from the injudicious insertion of the particle

ουν, therefore, in Joh 18:24, which should be omitted, on the

authority of ADES, Mt. BH, many others; besides some versions, and

some of the primitive fathers. Griesbach has left it out of the

text. See Bishop Newcome's Harm. notes, p. 48.

The time of Peter's denials happened during the space of the

third Roman watch, or that division of the night, between twelve

and three, which is called αλεκτοροφωνια, or cock-crowing,

Mr 13:35. Concerning the nature and progress of Peter's denial,

see the notes on Mt 26:58, 69-75.

Verse 28. The hall of judgment] ειςτοπραιτωριος, To the

praetorium. This was the house where Pilate lodged; hence called

in our margin, Pilate's house. The praetorium is so called from

being the dwelling-place of the praetor, or chief of the province.

It was also the place where he held his court, and tried causes.

St. John has omitted all that passed in the house of

Caiaphas-the accusations brought against Christ-the false

witnesses-the insults which he received in the house of the high

priest-and the assembling of the grand council, or Sanhedrin.

These he found amply detailed by the other three evangelists; and

for this reason it appears that he omitted them. John's is

properly a supplementary Gospel.

Lest they should be defiled] The Jews considered even the touch

of a Gentile as a legal defilement; and therefore would not

venture into the praetorium, for fear of contracting some

impurity, which would have obliged them to separate themselves

from all religious ordinances till the evening,

Le 15:10, 11, 19, 20.

That they might eat the passover.] Some maintain that τοπασχα

here does not mean the paschal lamb, but the other sacrifices

which were offered during the paschal solemnity-for this had been

eaten the evening before; and that our Lord was crucified the day

after the passover. Others have maintained that the paschal lamb

is here meant; that this was the proper day for sacrificing it;

that it was on the very hour in which it was offered that Christ

expired on the cross; and that therefore our Lord did not eat the

Paschal lamb this year, or that he ate it some hours before the

common time. Bishop Pearce supposes that it was lawful for the

Jews to eat the paschal lamb any time between the evening of

Thursday and that of Friday. He conjectures too that this

permission was necessary on account of the immense number of lambs

which were to be killed for that purpose. When Cestius desired to

know the number of the Jews, he asked the priests how he might

accomplish his wish? They informed him that this might be known by

the number of the lambs slain at the passover, as never less than

ten partook of one lamb, though twenty might feast on it. On

this mode of computation he found the lambs to be 256,500; εικοσι

πεντεμυριαδαςηριθμησανπροςδεεξακισχιλιακαιπεντακοσια. See

Josephus, War, b. vi. c. 9. s. 3.

That Jesus ate a passover this last year of his life is

sufficiently evident from Mt 26:17-19; Mr 14:12-18; Lu 22:8-15;

and that he ate this passover some hours before the ordinary time,

and was himself slain at that hour in which the paschal lamb was

ordered by the law to be sacrificed, is highly probable, if not

absolutely certain. See Clarke on Mt 26:20, and at the

conclusion of the chapter, where the subject, and the different

opinions on it, are largely considered. See Clarke on Mt 26:26

Verse 29. Pilate then went out] This was an act of

condescension; but, as the Romans had confirmed to the Jews the

free use of all their rites and ceremonies, the governor could not

do less than comply with them in this matter. He went out to them,

that they might not be obliged to come into the hall, and thus run

the risk of being defiled.

Verse 30. If he were not a malefactor] So they did not wish to

make Pilate the judge, but the executor of the sentence which they

had already illegally passed.

Verse 31. It is not lawful for us to put any man to death] They

might have judged Jesus according to their law, as Pilate bade

them do; but they could only excommunicate or scourge him. They

might have voted him worthy of death; but they could not put him

to death, if any thing of a secular nature were charged against

him. The power of life and death was in all probability taken from

the Jews when Archelaus, king of Judea, was banished to Vienna,

and Judea was made a Roman province; and this happened more than

fifty years before the destruction of Jerusalem. But the Romans

suffered Herod, mentioned Ac 12:1, &c., to exercise the power of

life and death during his reign. See much on this point in Calmet

and Pearce. After all, I think it probable that, though the power

of life and death was taken away from the Jews, as far as it

concerned affairs of state, yet it was continued to them in

matters which were wholly of an ecclesiastical nature; and that

they only applied thus to Pilate to persuade him that they were

proceeding against Christ as an enemy of the state, and not as a

transgressor of their own peculiar laws and customs. Hence, though

they assert that he should die according to their law, because he

made himself the Son of God, Joh 19:7, yet they lay peculiar

stress on his being an enemy to the Roman government; and, when

they found Pilate disposed to let him go, they asserted that if he

did he was not Caesar's friend, Joh 18:12. It was this that

intimidated Pilate, and induced him to give him up, that they

might crucify him. How they came to lose this power is accounted

for in a different manner by Dr. Lightfoot. His observations are

very curious, and are subjoined to the end of this chapter.

See Clarke on Joh 18:40

Verse 32. That the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled] Or, thus

the word was fulfilled. God permitted the Jews to lose the power

of life and death, in the sense before stated, that according to

the Roman laws, which punished sedition, &c., with the cross,

Christ might be crucified, according to his own prediction:

Joh 12:32; 3:14.

Verse 33. Art thou the king of the Jews?] St. Luke says,

expressly, Lu 23:2, that when the Jews brought him to Pilate they

began to accuse him as a rebel, who said he was king of the Jews,

and forbade the people to pay tribute to Caesar. It was in

consequence of this accusation that Pilate asked the question

mentioned in the text.

Verse 34. Sayest thou this thing of thyself] That is, Is it

because my enemies thus accuse me, or because thou hast any

suspicion of me, that thou askest this question?

Verse 35. Am I a Jew?] That is, I am not a Jew, and cannot judge

whether thou art what is called the Christ, the king of the Jews.

It is thy own countrymen, and their spiritual rulers, who

delivered thee up to me with the above accusation.

What hast thou done?] If thou dost not profess thyself king over

this people, and an enemy to Caesar, what is it that thou hast

done, for which they desire thy condemnation?

Verse 36. My kingdom is not of this world] It is purely

spiritual and Divine. If it had been of a secular nature, then my

servants would have contended-they would have opposed force with

force, as the kingdoms of this world do in their wars; but as my

kingdom as not of this world, therefore no resistance has been

made. Eusebius relates, Hist. Eccles. lib. iii. c. 20, that "The

relatives of our Lord were brought before Domitian, and

interrogated whether they were of the family of David; and what

sort the kingdom of Christ was, and where it would appear? They

answered, that this kingdom was neither of this world, nor of an

earthly nature; that it was altogether heavenly and angelical;

and that it would not take place till the end of the world."

Verse 37. Thou sayest] A common form of expression for, yes, it

is so. I was born into the world that I might set up and maintain

a spiritual government: but this government is established in and

by truth. All that love truth, hear my voice and attend to the

spiritual doctrines I preach. It is by truth alone that I

influence the minds and govern the manners of my subjects.

Verse 38. What is truth] Among the sages of that time there were

many opinions concerning truth; and some had even supposed that it

was a thing utterly out of the reach of men. Pilate perhaps might

have asked the question in a mocking way; and his not staying to

get an answer indicated that he either despaired of getting a

satisfactory one, or that he was indifferent about it. This is the

case with thousands: they appear desirous of knowing the truth,

but have not patience to wait in a proper way to receive an answer

to their question.

I find in him no fault] Having asked the above question, and

being convinced of our Lord's innocence, he went out to the Jews

to testify his convictions and to deliver him, if possible, out of

their hands.

Verse 39. But ye have a custom] Nothing relative to the origin

or reason of this custom is known. Commentators have swam in an

ocean of conjecture on this point. They have lost their labour,

and made nothing out: see the notes on Mt 27:15; Lu 23:17.

Verse 40. Barabbas was a robber] See Mt 27:16.

The later Syriac has in the margin, αρχιληστης, a chief robber,

a captain of banditti, and it is probable that this was the case.

He was not only a person who lived by plunder, but shed the blood

of many of those whom he and his gang robbed, and rose up against

the Roman government, as we learn from Lu 23:19. There never

existed a more perfidious, cruel, and murderous people than these

Jews; and no wonder they preferred a murderer to the Prince of

peace. Christ himself had said, If ye were of the world, the

world would love its own. Like cleaves to like: hence we need not

be surprised to find the vilest things still preferred to Christ,

his kingdom, and his salvation.

1. IT is not easy to give the character of Pilate. From the

manner of his conduct, we scarcely can tell when he is in jest or

in earnest. He appears to have been fully convinced of the

innocence of Christ; and that the Jews, through envy and malice,

desired his destruction. On this ground he should have released

him; but he was afraid to offend the Jews. He knew they were an

uneasy, factious, and seditious people; and he was afraid to

irritate them. Fiat justitia, ruat caelum! was no motto of his.

For fear of the clamours of this bad people, he permitted all the

forms and requisitions of justice to be outraged, and abandoned

the most innocent Jesus to their rage and malice. In this case he

knew what was truth, but did not follow its dictates; and he as

hastily abandoned the author of it as he did the question he had

asked concerning it. Pilate, it is true, was disposed to pity-the

Jews were full of malice and cruelty. They both, however, joined

in the murder of our Lord. The most that we can say for Pilate is,

that he was disposed to justice, but was not inclined to hazard

his comfort or safety in doing it. He was an easy, pliable man,

who had no objection to do a right thing if it should cost him no

trouble; but he felt no disposition to make any sacrifice, even in

behalf of innocence, righteousness, and truth. In all the business

Pilate showed that he was not a good man; and the Jews proved that

they were of their father, the devil. See Joh 19:8.

2. As Dr. Lightfoot has entered into a regular examination of

when and how the Jews lost the power of life and death in

criminal cases, it may be necessary to lay before the reader a

copious abstract of his researches on this subject, founded on

Joh 18:31.

"It cannot be denied that all capital judgment, or sentence upon

life, had been taken from the Jews for above forty years before

the destruction of Jerusalem, as they oftentimes themselves

confess. But how came this to pass? It is commonly received that

the Romans, at this time the Jews' lords and masters, had taken

from all their courts a power and capacity of judging the capital

matters. Let us superadd a few things here. Rabh Cahna saith, When

R. Ismael bar Jose lay sick, they sent to him, saying, Pray, sir,

tell us two or three things which thou didst once tell us in the

name of thy Father. He saith to them, A hundred and fourscore

years before the destruction of the temple, the wicked kingdom

(the Roman empire) reigned over Israel, fourscore years before the

destruction of the temple, they (the fathers of the Sanhedrin)

determined about the uncleanness of the heathen land, and about

glass vessels. Forty years before the destruction of the temple,

the Sanhedrin removed and sat in the Taberne. What is the meaning

of this tradition? Rabbi Isaac bar Abdimi saith, They did not

judge judgments of mulcts. The gloss is, Those are the judgments

about fining any that offered violence, that entice a maid, and

the price of a servant. When, therefore, they did not sit in the

room Gazith, they did not judge about these things, and so those

judgments about mulcts or fines ceased. Avodoh Zarah. fol. 82.

Here we have one part of their judiciary power lost; not taken

away from them by the Romans, but falling of itself, as it were,

out of the hands of the Sanhedrin. Nor did the Romans indeed take

away their power of judging in capital matters; but they, by their

own oscitancy, supine and unreasonable lenity, lost it themselves,

for so the Gemara goes on: Rabh Hachman bar Isaac saith, Let him

not say that they did not judge judgments of mulcts, for they did

not judge capital judgments either. And whence comes this? When

they saw that so many murders and homicides multiplied upon them

that they could not well judge and call them to account, they

said, It is better for us that we remove from place to place; for

how can we otherwise (sitting here and not punishing them) not

contract guilt upon ourselves?

"They thought themselves obliged to punish murderers while they

sat in the room Gazith, for the place itself engaged them to it.

They are the words of the Gemarists, upon which the gloss. The

room Gazith was half of it within, and half of it without, the

holy place. The reason of which was, that it was requisite that

the council should sit near the Divine Majesty. Hence it is that

they say, Whoever constitutes an unfit judge is as if he planted a

grove by the altar of the Lord, as it is written, Judges and

officers shalt thou make thee; and it follows presently after,

Thou shalt not plant thee a grove near the altar of the Lord thy

God, De 16:18, 21.

They removed therefore from Gazith, and sat in the Taberne; now

though the Taberne were upon the mountain of the temple, yet they

did not sit so near the Divine Majesty there as they did when they

sat in the room Gazith.

"Let us now in order put the whole matter together.

"I. The Sanhedrin were most stupidly and unreasonably remiss in

their punishment of capital offenders; going upon this reason

especially, that they counted it so horrible a thing to put an

Israelite to death. Forsooth, he is of the seed of Abraham, of the

blood and stock of Israel, and you must have a care how you touch

such a one!

"R. Eliezer bar Simeon had laid hold on some thieves. R. Joshua

bar Korchah sent to him, saying, O thou vinegar, the son of good

wine! (i.e. O thou wicked son of a good father!) how long wilt

thou deliver the people of God to the slaughter! He answered and

said, I root the thorns out of the vineyard. To whom the other:

Let the Lord of the vineyard come and root them out himself. Bava

Meziah, fol. 83, 2. It is worth noting, that the very thieves of

Israel are the people of God; and they must not be touched by any

man, but referred to the judgment of God himself!

"When R. Ismael bar R. Jose was constituted a magistrate by the

king, there happened some such thing to him; for Elias himself

rebuked him, saying, How long wilt thou deliver over the people of

God to slaughter! Ibid. fol. 64, 1. Hence that which we alleged

elsewhere: The Sanhedrin that happens to sentence any one to death

within the space of seven years, is termed a destroyer. R. Eliezer

ben Azariah saith it is so, if they should but condemn one within

seventy years. Maccoth, fol. 7, 1.

"II. It is obvious to any one how this foolish remissness, and

letting loose the reins of judgment, would soon increase the

numbers of robbers, murderers, and all kinds of wickedness; and

indeed they did so abundantly multiply that the Sanhedrin neither

could nor durst, as it ought, call the criminals to account. The

law slept, while wickedness was in the height of its revels; and

punitive justice was so out of countenance that as to uncertain

murders they made no search, and against certain ones they framed

no judgement. Since the time that homicides multiplied, the

beheading the heifer ceased. Sotoh, fol. 47, 1. And in the place

before quoted in Avodah: When they saw the numbers of murderers so

greatly increase that they could not sit in judgment upon them,

they said, Let us remove, &c., fol. 8, 2. So in the case of

adultery, which we also observed in our notes on Joh 8:3-11.

Since the time that adultery so openly advanced, under the

second temple, they left off trying the adultress by the bitter

water, &c. Mainaon. in Sotoh, cap. 3.

"So that, we see, the liberty of judging in capital matters was

no more taken from the Jews by the Romans than the beheading of

the heifer, or the trial of the suspected wife by the bitter

waters, was taken away by them, which no one will affirm. It is a

tradition of R. Chaia, from the day wherein the temple was

destroyed, though the Sanhedrin ceased, yet the four kinds of

death (which were wont to be inflicted by the Sanhedrin) did not

cease. For he that had deserved to be stoned to death, either fell

off from some house, or some wild beast tore and devoured him. He

that had deserved burning, either fell into some fire, or some

serpent bit him. He that had deserved to be slain (i.e. with the

sword) was either delivered into the hands of some heathen king,

or was murdered by robbers. He that had deserved strangling, was

either drowned in some river, or choked by a squinancy.

"This must be observed from the evangelists, that when they had

Christ in examination in the palace of the high priest all night,

in the morning the whole Sanhedrin met that they might pass

sentence of death upon him. Where then was this that they met?

Questionless in the room Gazith-at least if they adhered to their

own rules and constitutions: Thither they betook themselves

sometimes upon urgent necessity. The gloss before quoted excepts

only the case of murder, with which, amongst all their false

accusations, they never charged Christ.

"But, however, suppose it were granted that the great council

met either in the Taberne, or some other place, (which yet agreed

by no means with their own tradition,) did they deal truly, and as

the matter really and indeed was, with Pilate, when they tell him,

It is not lawful for us to put any man to death? He had said to

them, Take ye him and judge him according to your laws. We have

indeed judged and condemned him, but we cannot put any one to

death. Was this that they said in fact true? How came they then to

stone the proto-martyr Stephen? How came they to stone Ben Sarda

at Lydda? Hieros. Sanhed. fol. 25, 4. How came they to burn the

priest's daughter alive that was taken in adultery? Bab. Sanhed.

fol. 52, 1, and 51, 1. It is probable that they had not put any

one to death as yet, since the time that they had removed out of

Gazith, and so might the easier persuade Pilate in that case.

But their great design was to throw off the odium of Christ's

death from themselves; at least among the vulgar crowd; fearing

them, if the council should have decreed his execution. They seek

this evasion, therefore, which did not altogether want some colour

and pretext of truth; and it succeeded according to what they

desired. Divine Providence so ordering it as the evangelist

intimates, Joh 18:32,

That the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled, which he spake

signifying what death he should die: that is, be crucified

according to the custom of the Romans. While I am upon this

thought, I cannot but reflect upon that passage, than which

nothing is more worthy observation in the whole description of the

Roman beast in the Revelation, Re 13:4.

The dragon which gave power to the beast. We cannot say this of

the Assyrian, Babylonish, or any other monarchy; for the Holy

Scriptures do not say it. But reason dictates, and the event

itself tells us, that there was something acted by the Roman

empire in behalf of the dragon, which was not compatible with any

other, that is, the putting of the Son of God to death. Which

thing we must remember as often as we recite that article of our

creed, 'He suffered under Pontius Pilate,' that is, was put to

death by the Roman empire,"

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