Mistrial of the Millennium
Less than a generation after Jesus' trial, Joshua son of Hananiah began prophesying judgment against the temple, shouting, "A voice from the east, a voice from the west, a voice from the four winds, a voice against Jerusalem and the holy house, a voice against the bridegrooms and the brides, and a voice against this whole people!"
The priestly aristocracy, who controlled the temple establishment, angrily arrested him. They dragged him before the Roman governor, Albinus, who had Joshua scourged with a flagellum—a leather whip with pieces of bone or metal embedded in its ends—reportedly "till his bones were laid bare."
But there the similarity between Jesus' trial and Joshua's ends; Jesus went on to be crucified; Joshua was released. Why?
Joshua, unlike Jesus, seemed harmless: Josephus reports, "Albinus took him to be a madman, and dismissed him," allowing Joshua to walk the streets for seven years shouting, "Woe, woe to Jerusalem" until he was killed in the siege of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
Jesus, on the other hand, was charged with claiming to be a king—a claim that in Rome's eyes constituted high treason. When this charge was prosecuted by means of a series of improper procedures, Jesus' fate was sealed.
Jesus' trial was anything but typical. In fact, the Gospels' descriptions of the trial stray so far from the Mishnah (an early third-century A.D. collection that explains Jewish law) that some scholars have doubted the Gospels' reliability.
Here are some of the legal principles that the Gospels' descriptions seem to contradict:
- Judges must conduct and conclude capital trials during daylight.
- Trials should not occur on the eve of a Sabbath or festival day (though executions provided their greatest impact in such public settings).