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Sunday, September 28, 2003

Your one-stop Passion news emporium, Part I.

In four segments, this time.

1. I hope you have a Plan B, Prof. Fredriksen.

Contrary to the good professor's prediction in The New Republic, biblically-literate evangelicals, instead of savaging the film, are giving it a thumbs up. Dr. Darrell Bock, a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary and author of a recent work about Christ and the Gospels that has been favorably compared to Raymond Brown, finds the griping about the film ludricrous, and offers interesting historical facts that buttress the film (i.e., the Gospels). Most significantly, history tends to support the idea that Caiaphas did have impressive influence over Pilate:

What do you make of the dispute involving the use of work by the medieval Catholic visionary, Sister Emmerich? Her writing includes a mystic vision of the cross being built in the Jewish Temple. Apparently that scene has been removed from the movie?

I don't know if it's been removed--it's been discussed. I've not only seen the movie, I've seen the report [of the Catholic-Jewish scholars' group]. That was one of [their] complaints, that this scene was happening in the Temple at night. There was a huge crowd associated with this initial trial scene.

I spent a year researching the historicity of the Jewish examination of Jesus and wrote a monograph on it. I don’t believe it’s a trial scene; it's more like a grand jury investigation. The Jewish high priests were trying to gather information to take to Pilate. They were seeking a political charge, because if they get a political charge and Rome agrees to Jesus’ guilt, they're protected.

So this is what happened in the film?

This is what happened in the film, because this is what happened in the biblical story. I think it's what happened historically. There are Jewish historians who say that their leadership was responsible for the death of Jesus. Josephus wrote a very famous passage in Antiquities, in which he says the Jewish leadership shares blame for the death of Jesus.

Caiaphas and Pilate had an ongoing relationship. Pilate appointed a high priest every year, and every year he ruled for Rome, he appointed Caiaphas. It was a very close relationship.

Was that usual?

Caiaphas came from a family that had five different relatives over a three-decade period who were high priests. Caiaphas was high priest for 9 or 11 years out of that total. This family had a lot of power and a very good relationship with Rome.

Pilate also had a very sensitive relationship with Jews because twice he was insensitive to them. He put standards in the city of Jerusalem, little ensigns with the Roman eagle on them, which the Jews viewed as idols. When they reacted he removed them.

In one of the passages from Josephus, Pilate threatens to kill Jews who protest. They all lay down in front of him, saying that if he wanted to cut their heads off, he could go ahead. The story as Josephus tells us is that [Pilate] was so impressed with their devotion to the law that he backed off. There are two incidents of this in Pilate's rule.

And there's a third one that Philo, yet another Jewish historian, writes about. The Jews come in and say, "If you don't do what we want, we will write the emperor." And he doesn't do what they want, they do write to the emperor, and he's called back to Rome. Of course, by the time he gets back there, the emperor has died, so he's spared. But the point is, the claim in the [USCCB scholars'] work that the Jewish leadership could not influence Pilate is false, according to ancient Jewish writers.

There are several points about which the scholars have challenged the film. One is the use of Latin by the Romans—in that, the scholars are almost certainly correct.The language would have likely been Greek, and the everyday street language would have been Aramaic. Although I think in terms of the substance of the film, it doesn't make much difference. It's the feel of the foreignness that artistically drives this film. So that didn't bother me that much. If I'd been asked, I would have told them to use Greek, but in terms of what the film is doing visually and conceptually, that's a minor detail.

The other thing was the gathering in the evening in the Temple. That wasn't the location of the meeting where the Jewish examination of Jesus happened. The Gospel accounts have them meeting initially in the house of the high priest of the family of Annas and Caiaphas. But whether there was a larger meeting in another location--that's possible--because there were a series of meetings portrayed on the last evening.

In the gospels?

In the gospels, yes. When you string everything together, all four accounts, there are as many as six. There's debate on the meeting with the Jews at which they finally get the charge, because the time is in the evening in a couple gospel accounts, and in the morning in Luke. There are debates about whether there were two separate meetings, an inquiry and then the more official one, or whether there was just one meeting that stretched from evening into morning.

What do you think happened, based on your research?

I think it could well be one meeting. Some scholars will play those two facts against one another, saying that since we have an irreconcilable contradiction, we really don't know what happened. But I think the likelihood of knowing what happened at this meeting is pretty good. Although we only get one side of the debate in the New Testament, in the public square at the time, there certainly would have been a Jewish position as to why Jesus would have been crucified.

This was part of an ongoing debate. Annas the Second, who was a member of Caiaphas' family, in the 60s C.E. executes James, Jesus' brother. It's a three-decade-long family feud. There's a long history and a long debate. These facts would have been known even if—and the more skeptical scholars point this out--there weren't any disciples at the scene. Another contributing fact is that you may have had some members of the leadership at the scene who may have become Christians afterward, someone like Paul. In all likelihood, this trial scene wouldn't have taken place in the temple and would not have involved a crowd.

Read the whole thing. It's very illuminating, and tends to reinforce my belief that a lot of the criticism of the film is driven by the fact the historical-critical scholars regard this as a turf war--provoked by the temerity of one of the unlettered infringing on their prerogatives.

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