This weekend, you can reflect on the trial of Jesus at a seasonally appropriate time, but also from the new perspective you have from studying Roman law. The trials of Jesus and Paul are significant events related in the New Testament that, regardless of their theological import, reflect the power dynamics of Roman authority in the provinces. Judea had initially been ruled by client kings once under Roman sway, and Herod the Great (ruled 34-4 BCE) was from the Roman perspective a perfectly successful one. He made massive infrastructural improvements within his realm, was a visible friend of Rome in the region, and ruled his people with a firm hand. He built the first real port city in the region, which he dutifully named Caesarea Maritima, a Greco-Roman kind of place with an artificial harbor where the Romans could feel very comfortable in an otherwise bewildering county. After Herod’s death, however, it became apparent that there was no suitable successor, so eventually Judea and Jerusalem fell under direct Roman rule in 6 CE. This is why stories of Jesus’ birth involve Herod the Great, yet his trial as an adult was held under a Roman official.
Both trials reveal the interaction between two jurisdictions: the “Temple State” under Jewish law, where the high priest and members of the Sanhedrin or council in Jerusalem have their say, and the Roman provincial authority, ruling from Caesarea and only intervening in matters that pertain directly to Roman interests, such as tax gathering, keeping the peace, and not challenging Roman authority or those invested with it. We will look carefully at the gospel narratives of the trial of Jesus to see, despite their differences in detail, what kind of dynamic we see in the relationship between the two jurisdictions and what it tells us of the Roman legal foothold so far from Rome. Jesus was not a Roman citizen and was not treated as such, as the crucifixion alone tells us. But Paul of Tarsus did claim Roman citizenship, so his trial, occurring under different circumstances, tells us something different about how one could be indicted under Jewish law yet claim a Roman’s defense.
Assignment for 4/22 and 4/24
Read the extracts from the 4 canonical gospels and see what the different narrative accounts seem to highlight in relation to the trial of Jesus. Read also the account in Acts of Paul’s trial, and how he very effectively mounts a defense of himself, unlike Jesus. What is the significance of this difference between the two trials in terms of the religious tradition?
Group assignments: to make this easier, each team can take a gospel to talk about. Compare your gospel with the other 3 and highlight what is different.