The Life of Jesus
Last Week Of Jesus
JESUS did, in fact, set out with his disciples to see once more, and
for the last time, the unbelieving city. The hopes of his companions were
more and more exalted. All believed, in going up to Jerusalem, that the
kingdom of God was about to be realized there. The impiety of men being
at its height was regarded as a great sign that the consummation was at
hand. The persuasion in this sect was such that they already disputed for
precedence in the kingdom. This was, it is said, the moment chosen by Salome
to ask, on behalf of her sons, the two seats on the right and left of the
Son of man. The Master, on the other hand, was beset by grave thoughts.
Sometimes he allowed a gloomy resentment against his enemies to appear;
he related the parable of a nobleman who went to take possession of a kingdom
in a far country; but no sooner had he gone than his fellow-citizens wished
to get rid of him. The king returned, and commanded those who had conspired
against him to be brought before him, and had them all put to death. At
other times he summarily destroyed the illusions of the disciples. As they
marched along the stony roads to the north of Jerusalem, Jesus pensively
preceded the group of his companions. All regarded him in silence, experiencing
a feeling of fear, and not daring to interrogate him. Already, on various
occasions, he had spoken to them of his future sufferings, and they had
listened to him reluctantly. Jesus at last spoke to them, and, no longer
concealing his presentiments, discoursed to them of his approaching end.
There was great sadness in the whole company. The disciples were expecting
soon to see the sign appear in the clouds. The inaugural cry of the kingdom
of God, "Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord," resounded
already in joyous accents in their ears. The fearful prospect he foreshadowed
troubled them. At each step of the fatal road the kingdom of God became
nearer or more remote in the mirage of their dreams. As to Jesus he became
confirmed in the idea that he was about to die, but that his death would
save the world. The misunderstanding between him and his disciples became
greater each moment.
The custom was to come to Jerusalem several days before the Passover,
in order to prepare for it. Jesus arrived late, and at one time his enemies
thought they were frustrated in their hope of seizing him. The sixth day
before the feast (Saturday, 8th of Nisan, equal to the 28th March) he at
last reached Bethany. He entered, according to his custom, the house of
Lazarus, Martha and Mary, or of Simon the leper. They gave him a great reception.
There was a dinner at Simon the leper's, where many persons were assembled,
drawn thither by the desire of Seeing him, and also of seeing Lazarus, of
whom for some time so many things had been related. Lazarus was seated at
the table, and attracted much attention. Martha served, according to her
custom. It seems that they sought, by an increased show of respect, to overcome
the coolness of the public, and to assert the high dignity of their guest.
Mary, in order to give to the event a more festive appearance, entered during
dinner, bearing a vase of perfume, which she poured upon the feet of Jesus.
She afterwards broke the vase, according to an ancient custom by which the
vessel that had been employed in the entertainment of a stranger of distinction
was broken. Then, to testify her worship in an extraordinary manner, she
prostrated herself at the feet of her Master and wiped them with her long
hair. All the house was filled with the odor of the perfume, to the great
delight of everyone except the avaricious Judas of Kerioth. Considering
the economical habits of the community, this was certainly prodigality.
The greedy treasurer calculated immediately how much the perfume might have
been sold for, and what it would have realized for the poor. This not very
affectionate feeling, which seemed to place something above Jesus, dissatisfied
him. He liked to be honored, for honors served his aim and established his
title of son of David. Therefore, when they spoke to him of the poor, he
replied rather sharply: "Ye have the poor always with you; but me ye
have not always." And, exalting himself, he promised immortality to
the woman who in this critical moment gave him a token of love.
The next day (Sunday, 9th of Nisan) Jesus descended from Bethany to Jerusalem.
When, at a bend of the road, upon the summit of the Mount of Olives, he
saw the city spread before him, it is said he wept over it, and addressed
to it a last appeal. At the base of the mountain, at some steps from the
gate, on entering the neighboring portion of the eastern wall of the city,
which was called Bethphage, no doubt on account of the fig-trees with which
it was planted, he had experienced a momentary pleasure. His arrival was
noised abroad. The Galileans who had come to the feast were highly elated,
and prepared a little triumph for him. An ass was brought to him, followed,
according to custom, by its colt. The Galileans spread their finest garments
upon the back of this humble animal as saddle-cloths, and seated him thereon.
Others, however, spread their garments upon the road, and strewed it with
green branches. The multitude which preceded and followed him, carrying
palms, cried: "Hosanna to the son of David! Blessed is he that cometh
in the name of the Lord!" Some persons even gave him the title of king
of Israel. "Master, rebuke thy disciples," said the Pharisees
to him. "If these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately
cry out," replied Jesus, and he entered into the city. The Hierosolymites,
who scarcely knew him, asked who he was. "It is Jesus, the prophet
of Nazareth, in Galilee," was the reply. Jerusalem was a city of about
50,000 souls. A trifling event, such as the entrance of a stranger, however
little celebrated, or the arrival of a band of provincials, or a movement
of people to the avenues of the city, could not fail, under ordinary circumstances,
to be quickly noised about. But at the time of the feast the confusion was
extreme. Jerusalem at these times was taken possession of by strangers.
It was among the latter that the excitement appears to have been most lively.
Some proselytes, speaking Greek, who had come to the feast, had their curiosity
piqued, and wished to see Jesus. They addressed themselves to his disciples;
but we do not know the result of the interview. Jesus, according to his
custom, went to pass the night at his beloved village of Bethany. The three
following days (Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday) he descended regularly to
Jerusalem; and, after the setting of the sun, he returned either to Bethany,
or to the farms on the western side of the Mount of Olives, where he had
A deep melancholy appears, during these last days, to have filled the
soul of Jesus, who was generally so joyous and serene. All the narratives
agree in relating that before his arrest he underwent a short experience
of doubt and trouble; a kind of anticipated agony. According to some, he
suddenly exclaimed, "Now is my soul troubled. O Father, save me from
this hour." It was believed that a voice from heaven was heard at this
moment: others said that an angel came to console him. According to one
widely-spread version, the incident took place in the garden of Gethsemany.
Jesus, it was said, went about a stone's throw from his sleeping disciples,
taking with him only Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and fell on his
face and prayed. His soul was sad even unto death; a terrible anguish weighed
upon him; but resignation to the Divine will sustained him. This scene,
owing to the instinctive art which regulated the compilation of the Synoptics,
and often led them in the arrangement of the narrative to study adaptability
and effect, has been given as occurring on the last night of the life of
Jesus, and at the precise moment of his arrest. If this version were the
true one, we should scarcely understand why John, who had been the intimate
witness of so touching an episode, should not mention it in the very circumstantial
narrative which he has furnished of the evening of the Thursday. All that
we can safely say is, that during his last days the enormous weight of the
mission he had accepted pressed cruelly upon Jesus. Human nature asserted
itself for a time. Perhaps he began to hesitate about his work. Terror and
doubt took possession of him, and threw him into a state of exhaustion worse
than death. He who has sacrificed his repose and the legitimate rewards
of life to a great idea always experiences a feeling of revulsion when the
image of death presents itself to him for the first time, and seeks to persuade
him that all has been in vain. Perhaps some of those touching reminiscences
which the strongest souls preserve, and which at times pierce like a sword,
came upon him at this moment. Did he remember the clear fountains of Galilee
where he was wont to refresh himself; the vine and the fig-tree under which
he had reposed, and the young maidens who, perhaps, would have consented
to love him? Did he curse the hard destiny which had denied him the joys
conceded to all others? Did he regret his too lofty nature, and, victim
of his greatness, did he mourn that he had not remained a simple artisan
of Nazareth? We know not. For all these internal troubles evidently were
a sealed letter to his disciples. They understood nothing of them, and supplied
by simple conjectures that which in the great soul of their Master was obscure
to them. It is certain at least that his Divine nature soon regained the
supremacy. He might still have avoided death; but he would not. Love for
his work sustained him. He was willing to drink the cup to the dregs. Henceforth
we behold Jesus entirely himself; his character unclouded. The subtleties
of the polemic, the credulity of the thaumaturgus and of the exorcist, are
forgotten. There remains only the incomparable hero of the Passion, the
founder of the rights of the free conscience, and the complete model which
all suffering souls will contemplate in order to fortify and console themselves.
The triumph of Bethphage -- that bold act of the provincials in celebrating
at the very gates of Jerusalem the advent of their Messiah-King -- completed
the exasperation of the Pharisees and the aristocracy of the temple. A new
council was held on the Wednesday (12th of Nisan) in the house of Joseph
Kaiapha. The immediate arrest of Jesus was resolved upon. A great idea of
order and of conservative policy governed all their plans. The desire was
to avoid a scene. As the feast of the Passover, which commenced that year
on the Friday evening, was a time of bustle and excitement, it was resolved
to anticipate it. Jesus being popular, they feared an outbreak; the arrest
was therefore fixed for the next day, Thursday. It was resolved, also, not
to seize him in tho temple, where he came every day, but to observe his
habits, in order to seize him in some retired place. The agents of the priests
sounded his disciples, hoping to obtain useful information from their weakness
or their simplicity. They found what they sought in Judas of Kerioth. This
wretch, actuated by motives impossible to explain, betrayed his Master,
gave all the necessary information, and even undertook himself (although
such an excess of vileness is scarcely credible) to guide the troop which
was to effect his arrest. The remembrance of horror which the folly or the
wickedness of this man has left in the Christian tradition has doubtless
given rise to some exaggeration on this point. Judas until then had been
a disciple like the others; he had even the title of Apostle; and he had
performed miracles and driven out demons. Legend, which always uses strong
and decisive language, describes the occupants of the little supper room
as eleven saints and one reprobate. Reality does not proceed by such absolute
categories. Avarice, which the Snoptics give as the motive of the crime
in question, does not suffice to explain it. It would be very singular if
the man who kept the purse, and who knew what he would lose by the death
of his chief, were to abandon the profits of his occupation in exchange
for a very small sum of money. Had the self-love of Judas been wounded by
the rebuff which he had received at the dinner at Bethany? Even that would
not explain his conduct. John would have us regard him as a thief, an unbeliever
from the beginning, for which, however, there is no probability. We would
rather ascribe it to some feeling of jealousy or to some dissension among
the disciples. The peculiar hatred John manifests towards Judas confirms
this hypothesis. Less pure in heart than the others, Judas had, from the
very nature of his office, become unconsciously narrow- minded. By a caprice
very common to men engaged in active duties, he had come to regard the interests
of the treasury as superior even to those of the work for which it was intended.
The treasurer had overcome the Apostle. The murmurings which escaped him
at Bethany seem to indicate that sometimes he thought the Master cost his
spiritual family too dear. No doubt this mean economy had caused many other
collisions in the little society.
Without denying that judas of Kerioth may have contributed to the arrest
of his Master, we still believe that the curses with which he is loaded
are somewhat unjust. There was, perhaps, in his deed more awkwardness than
perversity. The moral conscience of the man of the people is quick and correct,
but unstable and inconsistent. it is at the mercy of the impulse of the
moment. The secret societies of the republican party were characterized
by much earnestness and sincerity, and yet their denouncers were very numerous.
A trifling spite sufficed to convert a partisan into a traitor. But if the
foolish desire for a few pieces of silver turned the head of poor Judas,
he does not seem to have lost the moral sentiment completely, since, when
he had seen the consequences of his fault, he repented, and, it is said,
Each moment of this eventful period is solemn, and counts more than whole
ages in the history of humanity. We have arrived at the Thursday, 13th of
Nisan (2nd April). The evening of the next day commenced the festival of
the Passover, begun by the feast in which the Paschal lamb was eaten. The
festival continued for seven days, during which unleavened bread was eaten.
The first and the last of these seven days were peculiarly solemn. The disciples
were already occupied with preparations for the feast. As to Jesus, we are
led to believe that he knew of the treachery of Judas, and that he suspected
the fate that awaited him. In the evening he took his last repast with his
disciples. It was not the ritual feast of the passover, as was afterwards
supposed, owing to an error of a day in reckoning; but for the primitive
Church this supper of the Thursday was the true passover, the seat of the
new covenant. Each disciple connected with it his most cherished remembrances,
and numerous touching traits of the Master which each one preserved were
associated with this repast, which became the corner-stone of Christian
piety and the starting-point of the most fruitful institutions.
Doubtless the tender love which filled the heart of Jesus for the little
Church which surrounded him overflowed at this moment, and his strong and
serene soul became buoyant, even under the weight of the gloomy preoccupations
that beset him. He had a word for each of his friends; two among them especially,
John and Peter, were the objects of tender marks of attachment. John (at
least, according to his own account) was reclining on the divan, by the
side of Jesus, his head resting upon the breast of the Master. Towards the
end of the repast the secret which weighed upon the heart of Jesus almost
escaped him: he said, "Verily I say unto you, that one of you shall
betray me." To these simple men this was a moment of anguish; they
looked at each other, and each questioned himself. Judas was present; perhaps
Jesus, who had for some time had reasons to suspect him, sought by this
expression to draw from his looks or from his embarrassed manner the confession
of his fault. But the unfaithful disciple did not lose countenance; he even
dared, it is said, to ask with the others: "Master, is it I?"
Meanwhile, the good and upright soul of Peter was in torture. He made
a sign to John to endeavor to ascertain of whom the Master spoke. John,
who could converse with Jesus without being heard, asked him the meaning
of this enigma. Jesus, having only suspicions, did not wish to pronounce
any name; he only told John to observe to whom he was going to offer a sop.
At the same time, he soaked the bread and offered it to Judas. John and
Peter alone had cognisance of the fact. Jesus addressed to Judas words which
contained a bitter reproach, but which were not understood by those present;
and he left the company. They thought that Jesus was simply giving him orders
for the morrow's feast.
At the time this repast struck no one; and apart from the apprehensions
which the Master confided to his disciples, who only half understood them,
nothing extraordinary took place. But after the death of Jesus they attached
to this evening a singularly solemn meaning, and the imagination of believers
spread a coloring of sweet mysticism over it. The last hours of a cherished
friend are those we best remember. By an inevitable illusion, we attribute
to the conversations we have then had with him a meaning which death alone
gives to them; we concentrate into a few hours the memories of many years.
The greater part of the disciples saw their Master no more after the supper
of which we have just spoken. It was the farewell banquet. In this repast,
as in many others, Jesus practiced his mysterious rite of the breaking of
bread. As it was early believed that the repast in question took place on
the day of the Passover, and was the Paschal feast, the idea naturally arose
that the Eucharistic institution was established at this supreme moment.
Starting from the hypothesis that Jesus knew beforehand the precise moment
of his death, the disciples were led to suppose that he reserved a number
of important acts for his last hours. As, moreover, one of the fundamental
ideas of the first Christians was that the death of Jesus had been a sacrifice,
replacing all those of the ancient Law, the "Last Supper," which
was supposed to have taken place, once for all, on the eve of the Passion,
became the supreme sacrifice -- the act which constituted the new alliance
-- the sign of the blood shed for the salvation of all. The bread and wine,
placed in connection with death itself, were thus the image of the new testament
that Jesus had sealed with his sufferings -- the commemoration of the sacrifice
of Christ until his advent.
Very early this mystery was embodied in a small sacramental narrative,
which we possess under four forms, very similar to one another. John, preoccupied
with the Eucharistic ideas, and who relates the Last Supper with so much
prolixity, connecting with it so many circumstances and discourses, and
who was the only one of the evangelists whose testimony on this point has
the value of an eyewitness, does not mention this narrative. This is a proof
that he did not regard the Eucharist as a peculiarity of the Lord's Supper.
For him the special rite of the Last Supper was the washing of feet. It
is probable that in certain primitive Christian families this latter rite
obtained an importance which it has since lost. No doubt Jesus on some occasions
had practiced it to give his disciples an example of brotherly humility.
It was connected with the eve of his death, in consequence of the tendency
to group around the Last Supper all the great moral and ritual recommendations
A high sentiment of love, of concord, of charity, and of mutual deference,
animated, moreover, the remembrances which were cherished of the last hours
of Jesus. It is always the unity of his Church, constituted by him or by
his Spirit, which is the soul of the symbols and of the discourses which
Christian tradition referred to this sacred moment: "A new commandment
I give unto you," said he, "that ye love one another; as I have
loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that
ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. Henceforth I call you
not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have
called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have
made known unto you. These things I command you, that ye love one another."
At this last moment there were again evoked rivalries and struggles for
precedence. Jesus remarked that if he, the Master, had been in the midst
of his disciples as their servant, how much more ought they to submit themselves
to one another. According to some, in drinking the wine, he said, "I
will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine until that day when
I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom." According to others,
he promised them soon a celestial feast, where they would be seated on thrones
at his side.
It seems that towards the end of the evening the presentiments of Jesus
took hold of the disciples. All felt that a very serious danger threatened
the Master, and that they were approaching a crisis. At one time Jesus thought
of precautions and spoke of swords. There were two in the company. "It
is enough," said he. He did not, however, follow out this idea; he
saw clearly that timid provincials would not stand before the armed force
of all the great powers of Jerusalem. Peter, full of zeal, and feeling sure
of himself, swore that he would go with him to prison and to death. Jesus,
with his usual acuteness, expressed doubts about him. According to a tradition,
which probably came from Peter himself, Jesus declared that Peter would
deny him before the crowing of the cock. All, like Peter, swore that they
would remain faithful to him.
Arrest And Trial Of Jesus
IT was nightfall when they left the room. Jesus, according to his custom,
passed through the valley of Kedron; and accompanied by his disciples, went
to the garden of Gethsemane, at the foot of the Mount of Olives, and sat
down there. Overawing his friends by his inherent greatness, he watched
and prayed. They were sleeping near him, when all at once an armed troop
appeared bearing lighted torches. It was the guards of the temple, armed
with staves, a kind of police under the control of priests. They were supported
by a detachment of Roman soldiers with their swords. The order for the arrest
emanated from the high priest and Sanhedrim. Judas, knowing the habits of
Jesus, had indicated this place as the one where he might most easily be
surprised. Judas, according to the unanimous tradition of the earliest times,
accompanied the detachment himself; and, according to some, he carried his
hateful conduct even to betraying him with a kiss. However this may be,
it is certain that there was some show of resistance on the part of the
disciples. One of them (Peter, according to eye-witnesses) drew his sword,
and wounded the ear of one of the servants of the high priest, named Malchus.
Jesus restrained this opposition, and gave himself up to the soldiers. Weak
and incapable of effectual resistance, especially against authorities who
had so much prestige, the disciples took flight, and became dispersed; Peter
and John alone did not lose sight of their Master. Another unknown young
man followed him, covered with a light garment. They sought to arrest him,
but the young man fled, leaving his tunic in the hands of the guards.
The course which the priests had resolved to take against Jesus was quite
in conformity with the established law. The procedure against the "corrupter"
(mesith) who sought to injure the purity of religion is explained in the
Talmud, with details the naive impudence of which provokes a smile. A judicial
ambush is there made an essential part of the examination of criminals.
When a man was accused of being a "corrupter," two witnesses were
suborned, who were concealed behind a partition. It was arranged to bring
the accused into a contiguous room, where he could be heard by these two
without his perceiving them. Two candles were lighted near him in order
that it might be satisfactorily proved that the witnesses "saw him."
He was then made to repeat his blasphemy, and urged to retract it. If he
persisted, the witnesses who had heard him conducted him to the tribunal,
and he was stoned to death. The Talmud adds that this was the manner in
which they treated Jesus; that he was condemned on the faith of two witnesses
who had been suborned, and that the crime of "corruption" is,
moreover, the only one for which the witnesses are thus prepared.
We learn from the disciples of Jesus themselves that the crime with which
their Master was charged was that of "corruption"; and, apart
from some minutiae, the fruit of the rabbinical imagination, the narrative
of the Gospels corresponds exactly with the procedure described by the Talmud.
The plan of the enemies of Jesus was to convict him, by the testimony of
witnesses and by his own avowals, of blasphemy, and of outrage against the
Mosaic religion, to condemn him to death according to law, and then to get
the condemnation sanctioned by Pilate. The priestly authority, as we have
already seen, was in reality entirely in the hands of Hanan. The order for
the arrest probably came from him. It was before this powerful personage
that Jesus was first brought. Hanan questioned him as to his doctrine and
his disciples. Jesus, with proper pride, refused to enter into long explanations.
He referred Hanan to his teachings, which had been public; he declared he
had never held any secret doctrine; and desired the ex-high priest to interrogate
those who had listened to him. This answer was perfectly natural; but the
exaggerated respect with which the old priest was surrounded made it appear
audacious; and one of those present replied to it, it is said, by a blow.
Peter and John had followed their Master to the dwelling of Hanan. John,
who was known in the house, was admitted without difficulty; but Peter was
stopped at the entrance, and John was obliged to beg the porter to let him
pass. The night was cold. Peter stopped in the antechamber, and approached
a brasier, round which the servants were warming themselves. He was soon
recognized as a disciple of the accused. The unfortunate man, betrayed by
his Galilean accent, and pestered by questions from the servants, one of
whom, a kinsman of Malchus, had seen him at Gethsemane, denied thrice that
he had ever had the least connection with Jesus. He thought that Jesus could
not hear him, and never imagined that this cowardice, which he sought to
hide by his dissimulation, was exceedingly dishonorable. But his better
nature soon revealed to him the fault he had committed. A fortuitous circumstance,
the crowing of the cock, recalled to him a remark which Jesus had made.
Touched to the heart, he went out and wept bitterly.
Hanan, although the true author of the judicial murder about to be accomplished,
had not power to pronounce the sentence upon Jesus; he sent him to his son-in-law,
Kaiapha, who bore the official title. This man, the blind instrument of
his father-in- law, would naturally ratify everything that had been done.
The Sanhedrim was assembled at his house. The inquiry commenced; and several
witnesses, prepared beforehand according to the inquisitorial process described
in the Talmud, appeared before the tribunal. The fatal sentence which Jesus
had really uttered, "I am able to destroy the temple of God and to
build it in three days," was cited by two witnesses. To blaspheme the
temple of God was according to the Jewish law, to blaspheme God himself.
Jesus remained silent, and refused to explain the incriminating speech.
If we may believe one version, the high priest then adjured him to say if
he were the Messiah; Jesus confessed it, and proclaimed before the assembly
the near approach of his heavenly reign. The courage of Jesus, who had resolved
to die, renders this narrative superfluous. It is probable that here, as
when before Hanan, he remained silent. This was in general his rule of conduct
during his last moments. The sentence was settled; and they only sought
for pretexts. Jesus felt this, and did not undertake a useless defence.
In the light of orthodox Judaism, he was truly a blasphemer, a destroyer
of the established worship. Now, these crimes were punished by the law with
death. With one voice the assembly declared him guilty of a capital crime.
The members of the council who secretly leaned to him were absent or did
not vote. The frivolity which characterizes old established aristocracies
did not permit the judges to reflect long upon the consequences of the sentence
they had passed. Human life was at that time very lightly sacrificed; doubtless
the members of the Sanhedrim did not dream that their sons would have to
render account to an angry posterity for the sentence pronounced with such
The Sanhedrim had not the right to execute a sentence of death. But,
in the confusion of powers which then reigned in Judea, Jesus was, from
that moment, none the less condemned. He remained the rest of the night
exposed to the ill treatment of an infamous pack of servants, who spared
him no indignity.
In the morning the chief priests and the elders again assembled. The
point was to get Pilate to ratify the condemnation pronounced by the Sanhedrim,
which, since the occupation of the Romans, was no longer sufficient. The
procurator was not invested, like the imperial legate, with the disposal
of life and death. But Jesus was not a Roman citizen; it only required the
authorization of the governor in order that the sentence pronounced against
him should take its course. As always happens when a political people subjects
a nation in which the civil and religious laws are confounded, the Romans
had been brought to give to the Jewish law a sort of official support. The
Roman law did not apply to Jews. The latter remained under the canonical
law which we find recorded in the Talmud, just as the Arabs in Algeria are
still governed by the code of Islamism. Although neutral in religion, the
Romans thus very often sanctioned penalties inflicted for religious faults.
The situation was nearly that of the sacred cities of India under the English
dominion, or rather that which would be the state of Damascus if Syria were
conquered by a European nation. Josephus asserts, though this may be doubted,
that, if a Roman trespassed beyond the pillars which bore inscriptions forbidding
pagans to advance, the Romans themselves would have delivered him to the
Jews to be put to death.
The agents of the priests therefore bound Jesus and led him to the judgment-hall,
which was the former palace of Herod, adjoining the Tower of Antonia. It
was the morning of the day on which the Paschal lamb was to be eaten. (Friday
the 14th of Nisan, our April 3rd.) The Jews would have been defiled by entering
the judgment-hall, and would not have been able to share in the sacred feast.
They therefore remained without. Pilate, being informed of their presence
ascended the bima or tribunal, situated in the open air, at the place named
Gabbatha, or, in Greek, Lithostrotos, on account of the pavement which covered
He had scarcely been informed of the accusation before he displayed his
annoyance at being mixed up with this affair. He then shut himself up in
the judgment-hall with Jesus. There a conversation took place, the precise
details of which are lost, no witness having been able to repeat it to the
disciples, but the tenour of which appears to have been well divined by
John. His narrative, in fact, perfectly accords with what history teaches
us of the mutual position of the two interlocutors.
The procurator, Pontius, surnamed Pilate, doubtless on account of the
pilum or javelin of honor with which he or one of his ancestors was decorated,
had hitherto had no relation with the new sect. Indifferent to the internal
quarrels of the Jews, he only saw, in all these movements of sectaries,
the results of intemperate imaginations and disordered brains. In general,
he did not like the Jews, but the Jews detested him still more. They thought
him hard, scornful, and passionate, and accused him of improbable crimes.
Jerusalem, the center of a great national fermentation, was a very seditious
city, and an insupportable abode for a foreigner. The enthusiasts pretended
that it was a fixed design of the new procurator to abolish the Jewish law.
Their narrow fanaticism and their religious hatreds disgusted that broad
sentiment of justice and civil government which the humblest Roman carried
everywhere with him. All the acts of Pilate which are known to us show him
to have been a good administrator. In the earlier period of the exercise
of his office he had difficulties with those subject to him which he had
solved in a very brutal manner; but it seems that essentially he was right.
The Jews must have appeared to him a people behind the age; he doubtless
judged them as a liberal prefect formerly judged the Bas-Bretons, who rebelled
for such trifling matters as a new road, or the establishment of a school.
In his best projects for the good of the country, notably in those relating
to public works, he had encountered an impassable obstacle in the Law. The
Law restricted life to such a degree that it opposed all change, and all
amelioration. The Roman structures, even the most useful ones, were objects
of great antipathy on the part of zealous Jews. Two votive escutcheons with
inscriptions, which he had set up at his residence near the sacred precincts,
provoked a still more violent storm. Pilate at first cared little for these
susceptibilities; and he was soon involved in sanguinary suppressions of
revolt, which afterwards ended in his removal. The experience of so many
conflicts had rendered him very prudent in his relations with this intractable
people, which avenged itself upon its governors by compelling them to use
towards it hateful severities. The procurator saw himself, with extreme
displeasure, led to play a cruel part in this new affair, for the sake of
a law he hated. He knew that religious fanaticism, when it has obtained
the sanction of civil Governments to some act of violence, is afterwards
the first to throw the responsibility upon the Government, and almost accuses
them of being the author of it. Supreme injustice; for the true culprit
is, in such cases, the instigator!
Pilate, then, would have liked to save Jesus. Perhaps the dignified and
calm attitude of the accused made an impression upon him. According to a
tradition, Jesus found a supporter in the wife of the procurator himself.
She may have seen the gentle Galilean from some window of the palace overlooking
the courts of the temple. Perhaps she had seen him again in her dreams;
and the idea that the blood of this beautiful young man was about to be
spilt weighed upon her mind. Certain it is that Jesus found Pilate prepossessed
in his favor. The governor questioned him with kindness, and with the desire
to find an excuse for sending him away pardoned.
The title of "Kings of the Jews," which Jesus had never taken
upon himself, but which his enemies represented as the sum and substance
of his acts and pretensions, was naturally that by which it was sought to
excite the suspicions of the Roman authority. They accused him on this ground
of sedition, and of treason against the Government. Nothing could be more
unjust; for Jesus had always recognized the Roman Government as the established
power. But conservative religious bodies do not generally shrink from calumny.
Notwithstanding his own explanation, they drew certain conclusions from
his teaching; they transformed him into a disciple of Judas the Gaulonite;
they pretended that he forbade the payment of tribute to Caesar. Pilate
asked him if he was really the King of the Jews. Jesus concealed nothing
of what he thought. But the great ambiguity of speech which had been the
source of his strength, and which, after his death, was to establish his
kingship, injured him on this occasion. An idealist that is to say, not
distinguishing the spirit from the substance, Jesus, whose words, to use
the image of the Apocalypse, were as a two-edged sword, never completely
satisfied the powers of earth. If we may believe John, he avowed his royalty,
but uttered at the same time this profound sentence: "My kingdom is
not of this world." He explained the nature of his kingdom, declaring
that it consisted entirely in the possession and proclamation of truth.
Pilate understood nothing of this grand idealism. Jesus doubtless impressed
him as being an inoffensive dreamer. The total absence of religious and
philosophical proselytism among the Romans of this epoch made them regard
devotion to truth as a chimera. Such discussions annoyed them, and appeared
to them devoid of meaning. Not perceiving the element of danger to the empire
that lay hidden in these new speculations, they had no reason to employ
violence against them. All their displeasure fell upon those who asked them
to inflict punishment for what appeared to them to be vain subtleties. Twenty
years after Gallio still adopted the same course towards the Jews. Until
the fall of Jerusalem, the rule which the Romans adopted in administration
was to remain completely indifferent to these sectarian quarrels.
An expedient suggested itself to the mind of the governor by which he
could reconcile his own feelings with the demands of the fanatical people,
whose pressure he had already so often felt. It was the custom to deliver
a prisoner to the people at the time of the Passover. Pilate, knowing that
Jesus had only been arrested in consequence of the jealousy of the priests,
tried to obtain for him the benefit of this custom. He appeared again upon
the bima, and proposed to the multitude to release the "King of the
Jews." The proposition made in these terms, though ironical, was characterized
by a degree of liberality. The priests saw the danger of it. They acted
promptly, and, in order to combat the proposition of Pilate, they suggested
to the crowd the name of a prisoner who enjoyed great popularity in Jerusalem.
By a singular coincidence, he also was called Jesus, and bore the surname
of Bar-Abba, or Bar-Rabban. He was a well-known personage, and had been
arrested for taking part in an uproar in which murder had been committed,
A general clamor was raised, "Not this man; but Jesus Bar-Rabban";
and Pilate was obliged to release Jesus Bar- Rabban.
His embarrassment increased. He feared that too much indulgence shown
to a prisoner to whom was given the title of "King of the Jews"
might compromise him. Fanaticism, moreover, compels all powers to make terms
with it. Pilate thought himself obliged to make some concession; but still
hesitating to shed blood, in order to satisfy men whom he hated, wished
to turn the thing into a jest. Affecting to laugh at the pompous title they
had given to Jesus, he caused him to be scourged. Scourging was the general
preliminary of crucifixion. Perhaps Pilate wished it to be believed that
this sentence had already been pronounced, hoping that the preliminary would
suffice. Then took place (according to all the narratives) a revolting scene
The soldiers put a scarlet robe on his back, a crown formed of branches
of thorns upon his head, and a reed in his hand. Thus attired, he was led
to the tribunal in front of the people. The soldiers defiled before him,
striking him in turn, and knelt to him, saying, "Hail! King of the
Jews!" Others, it is said, spit upon him, and struck his head with
the reed. It is difficult to understand how Roman dignity could stoop to
acts so shameful. It is true that Pilate, in the capacity of procurator,
had under his command scarcely any but auxiliary troops. Roman citizens,
as the legionaries were, would not have degraded themselves by such conduct.
Did Pilate think by this display that he freed himself from responsibility?
Did he hope to turn aside the blow which threatened Jesus by conceding something
to the hatred of the Jews, and by substituting for the tragic denouement
a grotesque termination, to make it appear that the affair merited no other
issue? If such were his idea, it was unsuccessful. The tumult increased,
and became an open riot. The cry, "Crucify him! Crucify him!"
resounded from all sides. The priests, becoming increasingly urgent, declared
the Law in peril if the corrupter were not punished with death. Pilate saw
clearly that to save Jesus he would have to put down a terrible disturbance.
He still tried, however, to gain time. He returned to the judgment-hall
and ascertained from what country Jesus came, with the hope of finding a
pretext for declaring his inability to adjudicate. According to one tradition,
he even sent Jesus to Antipas, who, it is said was then at Jerusalem. Jesus
took no part in these well-meant efforts; he maintained, as he had done
before Kaiapha, a grave and dignified silence, which astonished Pilate.
The cries from without became more and more menacing. The people had already
begun to denounce the lack of zeal in the functionary who protected an enemy
of Caesar. The greatest adversaries of the Roman rule were suddenly transformed
into loyal subjects of Tiberius, that they might have the right of accusing
the too tolerant procurator of treason. "We have no king," said
they, "but Caesar. If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar's friend:
whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar." The feeble
Pilate yielded; he foresaw the report that his enemies would send to Rome,
in which they would accuse him of having protected a rival of Tiberius.
Once before, in the matter of the votive escutcheons, the Jews had written
to the emperor, and had received satisfaction. He feared for his office.
By a compliance, which was to deliver his name to the scorn of history he
yielded, throwing, it is said, upon the Jews all the responsibility of what
was about to happen. The latter, according to the Christians, fully accepted
it by exclaiming, "His blood be on us and on our children!"
Were these words really uttered? We may doubt it. But they are the expression
of a profound historical truth Considering the attitude which the Romans
had taken in Judea, Pilate could scarcely have acted otherwise. How many
sentences of death dictated by religious intolerance been extorted from
the civil power! The king of Spain, who, in order to please a fanatical
clergy, delivered hundreds of his subjects to the stake, was more blameable
than Pilate, for he represented a more absolute power than that of the Romans
at Jerusalem. When the civil power becomes persecuting or meddlesome at
the solicitation of the priesthood, it proves its weakness. But let the
Government that is without sin in this respect throw the first stone at
Pilate. The "secular arm," behind which clerical cruelty shelters
itself, is not the culprit. No one has a right to say that he has a horror
of blood when he causes it to be shed by his servants.
It was, then, neither Tiberius nor Pilate who condemned Jesus. It was
the old Jewish party; it was the Mosaic Law. According to our modern ideas,
there is no transmission of moral demerit from father to son; no one is
accountable to human or Divine justice except for that which he himself
has done. Consequently, every Jew who suffers to-day for the murder of Jesus
has a right to complain, for he might have acted as did Simon the Cyrenean;
at any rate, he might not have been with those who cried "Crucify him!"
But nations, like individuals, have their responsibilities, and, if ever
crime was the crime of a nation, it was the death of Jesus. This death was
"legal in the sense that it was primarily caused by a law which was
the very soul of the nation. The Mosaic law, in its modern, but still in
its accepted form, pronounced the penalty of death against all attempts
to change the established worship. Now, there is no doubt that Jesus attacked
this worship, and aspired to destroy it. The Jews expressed this to Pilate
with a truthful simplicity: "We have a law, and by our law he ought
to die; because he has made himself the Son of God." The law was detestable,
but it was the law of ancient ferocity; and the hero who offered himself
in order to abrogate it had first of all to endure its penalty.
Alas! it has required more than eighteen hundred years for the blood
that he shed to bear its fruits. Tortures and death have been inflicted
for ages in the name of Jesus on thinkers as noble as himself. Even at the
present time, in countries which call themselves Christian, penalties are
pronounced for religious offences. Jesus is not responsible for these errors.
He could not foresee that people, with mistaken imaginations, would one
day imagine him as a frightful Moloch, greedy of burnt flesh. Christianity
has been intolerant, but intolerance is not essentially a Christian fact,
It is a Jewish fact in the sense that it was Judaism which first introduced
the theory of the absolute in religion, and laid down the principle that
every innovator, even if he brings miracles to support his doctrine, ought
to be stoned without trial. The pagan world has also had its religious violence.
But, if it had had this law, how would it have become Christian? The Pentateuch
has thus been in the world the first code of religious terrorism. Judaism
has given the example of an immutable dogma armed with the sword. If, instead
of pursuing the Jews with a blind hatred, Christianity had abolished the
regime which killed its founder, how much more consistent would it have
been! how much better would it have deserved of the human race.
Death Of Jesus
ALTHOUGH the real motive for the death of Jesus was entirely religious,
his enemies had succeeded, in the judgment-hall, in representing him as
guilty of treason against the State; they could not have obtained from the
skeptical Pilate a condemnation simply on the ground of heterodoxy. Consistently
with this idea, the priests demanded, through the people, the crucifixion
of Jesus. This punishment was not Jewish in its origin; if the condemnation
of Jesus had been purely Mosaic, he would have been Stoned. Crucifixion
was a Roman punishment, reserved for slaves, and for cases in which it was
wished to add to death the aggravation of ignominy. In applying it to Jesus
they treated him as they treated highway robbers, brigands, bandits, or
those enemies of inferior rank to whom the Romans did not grant the honor
of death by the sword. It was the chimerical "King of the Jews,"
not the heterodox dogmatist, who was punished. Following out the same idea,
the execution was left to the Romans. We know that among the Romans their
soldiers, their profession being to kill, performed the office of executioners.
Jesus was therefore delivered to a cohort of auxiliary troop's, and all
the most hateful features of executions introduced by the cruel habits of
the new conquerors were exhibited towards him. It was about noon. They re-clothed
him with the garments which they had removed for the farce enacted at the
tribunal, and, as the cohort had already in reserve two thieves who were
to be executed, the three prisoners were taken together, and the procession
set out for the place of execution.
The scene of the execution was at a place called Golgotha, situated outside
Jerusalem, but near the walls of the city. The name Golgotha signifies a
skull; it corresponds with the French word Chaumont, and probably designated
a bare hill or rising ground, having the form of a bald skull. The situation
of this hill is not precisely known. It was certainly on the north or north-west
of the city, in the high irregular plain which extends between the walls
and the two valleys of Kedron and Hinnom, a rather uninteresting region,
and made still worse by the objectionable circumstances arising from the
neighborhood of a great city. It is difficult to identify Golgotha as the
precise place which, since Constantine, has been venerated by entire Christendom.
This place, is too much in the interior of the city, and we are led to believe
that in the time of Jesus it was comprised within the circuit of the walls.
He who was condemned to the cross had himself to carry the instrument
of his execution. But Jesus, physically weaker than his two companions,
could not carry his. The troop met a certain Simon of Cyrene, who was returning
from the country, and the soldiers, with the off-hand procedure of foreign
garrisons, forced him to carry the fatal tree. Perhaps they made use of
a recognized right of forcing labor, the Romans not being allowed to carry
the infamous wood. It seems that Simon was afterwards of the Christian community.
His two sons, Alexander and Rufus, were well known in it. He related perhaps
more than one circumstance of which he had been witness. No disciple was
at this moment near to Jesus.
The place of execution was at last reached. According to Jewish custom,
the sufferers were offered a strong aromatic wine, an intoxicating drink,
which, through a sentiment of pity, was given to the condemned in order
to stupefy him. It appears that the ladies of Jerusalem often brought this
kind of wine to the unfortunates who were led to execution; when none was
presented by them, it was purchased from the public treasury. Jesus, after
having touched the edge of the cup with his lips, refused to drink. This
mournful consolation of ordinary sufferers did not accord with his exalted
nature. He preferred to quit life with perfect clearness of mind, and to
await in full consciousness the death he had willed and brought upon himself.
He was then divested of his garments, and fastened to the cross. The cross
was composed of two beams, tied in the form of the letter T. It was not
much elevated, so that the feet of the condemned almost touched the earth.
They commenced by fixing it, then they fastened the sufferer to it by driving
nails into his hands; the feet were often nailed, though sometimes only
bound with cords. A piece of wood was fastened to the upright portion of
the cross, towards the middle, and passed between the legs of the condemned,
who rested upon it. Without that the hands would have been torn and the
body would have sunk down. At other times a small horizontal rest was fixed
beneath the feet and sustained them.
Jesus tasted these horrors in all their atrocity. A burning thirst, one
of the tortures of crucifixion, devoured him, and he asked to drink. There
stood near a cup of the ordinary drink of the Roman soldiers, a mixture
of vinegar and water, called Posca, The soldiers had to carry with them
their posca on all their expeditions, of which an execution was considered
one. A soldier dipped a sponge in this drink, put it at the end of a reed,
and raised it to the lips of Jesus, who sucked it. The two robbers were
crucified, one on each Side. The executioners, to whom were usually left
the small effects (pannicularia) of those executed, drew lots for his garments,
and, seated at the foot of the cross, kept guard over him. According to
one tradition, Jesus pronounced this sentence, which was in his heart if
not upon his lips: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they
According to the Roman custom, a writing was attached to the top of the
cross, bearing in three languages, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, the words:
"THE KING OF THE JEWS." There was something painful and insulting
to the nation in this inscription. The numerous passers-by who read it were
offended. The priests complained to Pilate that he ought to have adopted
an inscription which would have implied simply that Jesus had called himself
King of the Jews. But Pilate, already tired of the whole affair, refused
to make any change in what had been written.
His disciples had fled. John, nevertheless, declares himself to have
been present, and to have remained standing at the foot of the cross during
the whole time. It may be affirmed, with more certainty, that the devoted
women of Galilee, who had followed Jesus to Jerusalem and continued to tend
him, did not abandon him. Mary Cleophas, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, wife of
Khouza, Salome, and others, stayed at a certain distance, and did not lose
sight of him. If we must believe John, Mary, the mother of Jesus, was also
at the foot of the cross, and Jesus, seeing his mother and his beloved disciple
together, said to the one, "Behold thy mother!" and to the other,
"Behold thy son!" But we do not understand how the Synoptics,
who name the other women, should have omitted her whose presence was so
striking a feature. Perhaps even the extreme elevation of the character
of Jesus does not render such personal emotion probable at the moment when
solely preoccupied by his work, he no longer existed except for humanity.
Apart from this small group of women, whose presence consoled him, Jesus
had before him only the spectacle of the baseness or stupidity of humanity.
The passers-by insulted him. He heard around him foolish scoffs, and his
greatest cries of pain turned into hateful jests: "He trusted in God;
let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son
of God. He saved others," they said again; himself he cannot save.
If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we
will believe him! Ah, thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in
three days, save thyself." Some, vaguely acquainted with his apocalyptic
ideas, thought they heard him call Elias, and said: Let us see whether Elias
will come to save him." It appears that the two crucified thieves at
his side also insulted him. The sky was dark; and the earth, as in all the
environs of Jerusalem, dry and gloomy. For a moment, according to certain
narratives, his heart failed him; a cloud hid from him the face of his Father;
he endured an agony of despair a thousand times more acute than all his
torture. He saw only the ingratitude of men; he perhaps repented suffering
for a vile race, and exclaimed: "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken
me?" But his Divine instinct still prevailed. In the degree that the
life of the body became extinguished, his soul became clear, and returned
by degrees to its celestial origin. He regained the idea of his mission;
he saw in his death the salvation of the world; he lost sight of the hideous
spectacle spread at his feet, and, profoundly united to his Father, he began
upon the gibbet the Divine life which he was to live in the heart of humanity
throughout infinite ages.
The peculiar atrocity of crucifixion was that one might live three or
four days in this horrible state upon the instrument of torture. The hemorrhage
from the hands quickly stopped, and was not mortal. The true cause of death
was the unnatural position of the body, which brought on a frightful disturbance
of the circulation, terrible pains of the head and heart, and, at length,
rigidity of the limbs. Those who had a strong constitution only died of
hunger. The idea which suggested this cruel punishment was not directly
to kill the condemned by positive injuries, but to expose the slave, nailed
by the hand of which he had not known how to make good use, and to let him
rot on the wood. The delicate organization of Jesus preserved him from this
slow agony. Everything leads to the belief that the instantaneous rupture
of a vessel in the heart brought him, at the end of three hours, to a sudden
death. Some moments before yielding up his soul his voice was still strong.
All at once he uttered a terrible cry, which some heard as: "Father,
into thy hands I commend my spirit!" but which others, more preoccupied
with the accomplishment of prophecies, rendered by the words, "It is
finished!" His head fell upon his breast, and he expired.
Rest now in thy glory, noble initiator. Thy work is completed; thy divinity
is established. Fear no more to see the edifice of thy efforts crumble through
a flaw. Henceforth, beyond the reach of frailty, thou shalt be present,
from the height of the divine peace, in the infinite consequences of thy
acts. At the price of a few hours of suffering, which have not even touched
thy great soul, thou hast purchased the most complete immortality. For thousands
of years the world will extol thee. Banner of our contradictions, thou wilt
be the sign around which will be fought the fiercest battles. A thousand
times more living, a thousand times more loved since thy death than during
the days of thy pilgrimage here below, thou wilt become to such a degree
the corner-stone of humanity that to tear thy name from this world would
be to shake it to its foundations. Between thee and God men will no longer
distinguish. Complete conqueror of death, take possession of thy kingdom,
whither, by the royal road thou hast traced, ages of adorers will follow
For the full text, see he Internet Infidels Secular Web file on
Ernest Renan's Life of Jesus
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