1) Passover was a family holiday. Would the entire Sanhedrin (and the high priest) get up and leave their families, first as a group to arrest him, and second, for a trial of a Galilean wonder-worker? According to later Rabbinic tradition, Jewish law forbade trials at night or on holidays.2) In Judaism, punishment for blasphemy was stoning. Simply claiming “messiahship” was not a crime; Josephus related stories of several who claimed to be the messiah and, as far as we know, none of them were executed under Jewish Law. 3) Mark claimed that Pilate had a habit of releasing a prisoner at the Passover festival. However, in all the research done on Pilate, there is no evidence of this. 4) The same crowd who welcomed Jesus into the city a few days earlier as their deliverer, That same crowd that the priests feared would riot so that they had to arrest Jesus, allegedly cried for his crucifixion. Why did they turn against Jesus within a few days? 5) Roman soldiers attempted to keep the victim alive as long as possible (hence, the vinegar stimulants) to demonstrate how rebels would suffer extreme torture. The average time of survival was approximately anywhere from three to five days. The cause of death is a combination of not being able to lift yourself up enough to breath (asphyxiation), as well as loss of blood, pain, and trauma. Jesus died within three hours. This detail was driven largely by the narrative plot, to get him into the grave before Sabbath began at sundown.
6) The tradition had Jesus in the tomb for three days. Yet, if you count from sunset to sunset (Friday evening to Sunday morning), it was only one day and a morning. Nevertheless, the gospels all have references to three days in the predictions, as in Matthew with his analogy of Jonah and the whale. What’s your response?
1. This is a good point to make. Because this is not our time or our culture, it is hard for us to guess what the Sanhedrin might or might not have done in order to get Jesus out of the way. However, it is worth noting that in the year in question, which is AD 30, the Passover meal would have been Friday evening. The arrest of Jesus happened very late Thursday night, and his “trial” occurred very early on Friday morning, so there is no conflict in time between the Passover meal that the members of the ruling council would have attended and this trial. By the time of the Passover meal, the trial was long over. I will have you note that they took the bodies down off the cross mid-afternoon on Friday because the Passover meal was coming that evening. So, the trial you are talking about was long over before these Jewish leaders celebrated the Passover meal with their families.
Also, it is my understanding that you are right about the rabbinic law against holding trials at such a time. This is right, and that is part of the point that the New Testament writers make, which is that this supposed “trial” was an illegal one. The Jews were breaking their own rules to hold a trial of Jesus at night and on the eve of the Passover.
2. I cannot absolutely confirm that there was no law in Judaism against claiming messiahship. Just because we do not have a record of such a thing does not mean that it did not exist. But that is pretty much beside the point because Jesus was not executed for claiming to be the Messiah. He claimed to be God (John 8:56-59), which was more than enough to get him killed, as you can see by the passage in John 8. Claiming to be the Messiah is one thing, but claiming to be God is quite another! If we look at the actual trial of Jesus, his claim to be the Messiah was not even brought up. (It may have been mentioned at the trial, but we have no record of this). The charges included plotting to destroy the temple (Matt 26:61). He was also accused of blasphemy, not for claiming to be the Messiah, but for calling himself the Son of Man. Therefore, to be honest, you bring up a good question, which is whether it was a capital offense to claim to be the Messiah, but this question seems to be irrelevant to why Jesus was in fact executed.
3. The fact that we do not have a record of such a tradition is not evidence that the tradition did not exist. There are an almost infinite number of things from the ancient past that we know nothing of. This is the weakest of all possible arguments against the existence of this tradition. In fact, we do have a record of this tradition—it is called the New Testament. Is there any reason to dismiss the eye-witness claims that this was what happened? No, there is not, so we should give the benefit of the doubt to the veracity of those who recorded these events.
4. There is a grain of truth to your claim that this was the same crowd, but, honestly, this is mostly NOT true. The crowd who welcomed Jesus to Jerusalem the Sunday before appear to have been relative commoners from Jerusalem. Five days later was the eve of the Passover. By this time a massive number of Jews from outside Jerusalem would have arrived for the great feast of Passover. Besides, those in the courtyard were probably a rather different crowd—a different sort of people. I cannot prove this, but it is reasonable speculation that those in the courtyard were not necessarily the commoners who greeted Jesus on his way into Jerusalem. Please forgive me for making a rather wild speculation that less than 3% of those in the crowd that called for Jesus’ execution were also present in the crowd when he came into the city on the donkey, accompanied by the praise of the people. Besides, in the ensuing days, Jesus had cleared the temple, had been publicly opposed by the Pharisees and Sanhedrin, and had publicly rebuked the Pharisees in the strongest possible terms (Matthew 23). Crowds can be fickle. It is not at all surprising to me personally that both the events of Palm Sunday and the trial and request for Jesus’ execution happened in the same city just a few days apart.
5. I do not know where you got your “facts” about crucifixion. Where did you read that the average time to die was 3-5 days? I am very highly skeptical of your data. What is your source here? Besides, what is the point? The fact is that Jesus died within about six hours of his crucifixion. This is what is reported by those who were there. Unless you have a specific reason to propose that these people literally lied, it is not reasonable to make such an accusation. In fact, the time between Jesus’ crucifixion and his death was surely public knowledge. The idea that someone would create a fiction about the time of his death is EXTREMELY unlikely in my opinion, given that the actual facts of the event were well known in Jerusalem and even amongst the early Christians. What is far more likely is that this is reported by all four gospels because it is true. You are proposing some sort of conspiracy to create a false narrative. This is so unlikely that those proposing this ought to be embarrassed to make such an unlikely proposal. That is my opinion.
6. This is a good question. It is my understanding that among the Jews the phrase “three days and three nights” was an idiom which represented any part of three days. If we look at how Jews counted the years of reign of their kings, any part of three years was counted as a three year reign. The actual reign could cover as few as 14 months. For example, to use a Gregorian calendar version, if a king ruled from Dec. AD 35 to Jan AD 37 (14 months) this was counted as a three year reign. I will agree with you that to our way of expressing things, to call Friday afternoon until early Sunday morning, which was a time period of only about 36 hours, three days, is very odd. For this reason, your question is a good one, but this is the understanding I have been given from scholars who appear to know what they are talking about—that three days and three nights means any part of three different days. The time from Jesus’ death on Friday early afternoon until he was raised fairly early Sunday morning spanned three different days in Jewish reckoning.