Gospel of John: He is a Galilean


The chiasm outlined by Jo-Ann A. Brant has a classic seven-point structure.

A Exterior: John 18:29-32, Jesus is brought to Pilate with a demand for execution; Pilate refuses

     B Interior: John 18:33-38, Pilate asks about Jesus’s royal claim

          C Exterior: John 18:38-40, Pilate finds Jesus innocent, but the temple elite choose Barabbas

               D Interior: John 19:1-3, Soldiers scourge and scorn Jesus

          C’ Exterior John 19:4-8, Pilate finds Jesus innocent, but temple elite charge capital crime

      B’ Interior John 19:9-11, Pilate asks about Jesus’s origins

A’ Exterior John 19:12-15, Temple elite demand Jesus’s execution; Pilate agrees

We are now at the third point in the chiasm, Pilate is once again outside with the temple elite. There has been the initial demand for Pilate to find the prisoner worthy of execution and Pilate’s initial conclusion that Jesus is not only innocent, his case is not even within Pilate’s purview. Now will come the absolute and obdurate demand for Jesus’s death -at any cost.-

But the other gospels, which were already circulating when John released his, place an unexpected interlude in the flow . . .

What is truth, the procurator had asked, but it was a rhetorical question, and meant to be his sardonic commentary on spiritual matters. All around him were the gods of perhaps half a dozen different cultures. Certainly there was the Jewish God, where Pilate was sequestered, at the heart of their religious center, the holy mount surrounded by the holy city, and upon which sat Herod the Great’s magnificent temple complex gleaming in gold and pure white marble.

But the captain of his cohort here in Fort Antonia, a Greek, swore by Apollos. Many of his Gallic soldiers were enthralled with Mithras, the “Lord of Light.” It was a man’s religion, no women permitted, thick with hard training, strange initiation rites involving blood, and a ranking system so rigid it made the army seem relaxed. His Syrian archers had imported their eastern god, and what did he care? It made them disciplined and devoted bowmen.

He himself—though he certainly hailed Caesar and worshipped the gods of Rome—was intrigued with the Egyptian pantheon, particularly Isis. He smiled, remembering his most recent sojourn in Egypt. Lovely women. Then shook his head. These Jewish fanatics were so bent on self-destruction they accepted death over the standard of Caesar in Caesar’s own fort, just because it was on their temple mount, next to their temple. It had been early in his tenure, and a rough introduction to this godawful outpost. He had finally had to take the standards down or empty the populace of all Judea by way of crucifixion.

The Galileans were particularly noxious. Not long ago, on another Passover, insurrectionists had drawn their swords thinking they would storm Fort Antonia. It had not gone well, and the people had picked up the cry he had mixed their blood with the blood of the sacrificial lambs. Bah. And he spat at the memory of it.

He had a similar experience when he had hung the golden shields of Tiberius, “Tiberius Caesar Augustus, son of divine Augustus,” on Herod’s royal residence in Jerusalem, for which he had felt perfectly within his rights as procurator of Judea. It was to be a reminder, in that central and highly visible location, of Rome’s imperial authority in all things.

Predictably, trouble came from Galilee when Antipas and Herod the Great’s other sons had sued and Tiberius had himself personally sent official command to have them removed.

What is truth? Pilate grimaced.

Almost before he realized it, he was standing at the entry of the Antonia palace, glaring at Caiaphas and the aging Annas. He thanked himself once again for deposing the crafty Annas and appointing his son-in-law as high priest in his stead. Not that Caiaphas was without guile. But he was more straightforward. Pilate looked at them with appraisal. Of all the Jewish sects, these Sadducees were the easiest to work with.

Both men now stepped forward, suddenly alert and wary, as Pilate began to speak.

I myself find not even one fault in him.

No preamble, simply the judgment of the supreme court in their land. Not even one fault.

Annas’s face hardened with frustration, it was uncharacteristic of the prefect to be interested in saving a Jewish man’s life. But Caiaphas took on the stance of an orator debating his case. He raised one arm up and the other arm out, and spoke with a strident tone,

He stirs up the people, teaching down throughout Judea, and beginning from the Galilee to here.

Pilate’s stance shifted, he leaned forward, taking another step toward them. Annas cocked an eyebrow, Caiaphas waited expectantly. He had been forceful in his insistence that Jesus was an agitator, inciting trouble all over Judea, having started his insurgency in the northernmost reaches of Jewish territory and bringing subversion all the way down to Jerusalem.

But Pilate had other thoughts.

Galilee? The man comes from Galilee?

Both Annas and Caiaphas nodded, cautiously.

It was all coming together in Pilate’s mind. The procurator’s jurisdiction reached as far north as Samaria and as far south as Idumea, but the borders of his region ended at the Galilee. That was Herod’s area.

Pilate did not care for the Herods, they were self-indulgent pretenders to Rome, oily and sickly in their relationships, like a cloying perfume that eventually nauseates and brings on headache. His lips twisted at the thought. How often had Herod Antipas and his duplicitous wife Herodias invited him to their private feasts and entertainment. And Agrippa was little better, an ambitious contriver who made his intentions clear enough. He wanted Judea for himself. They were a family to be avoided.

However, politically, Herod Antipas could be useful. He was tetrarch of Galilee, usually ensconced in his vast royal resort in Caesarea, but the Idumean had pretenses of being Jewish, and had come as was his wont to Jerusalem for the Passover. While Pilate stared at the small knot of priests and elders before him, he devised a plan. Nodding, he left them standing there and summoned one of the sentries at the palace’s door.

Send the prisoner to Herod’s royal residence.

The morning was still quite early, and he enjoyed the thought of rousing Herod from his bed, surely still heavy from the drinking and carousing of the night before. With that pleasant image in his mind, Pilate turned back before re-entering his palace in time to see Caiaphas’s jaw dropped open, and Annas’s face even more wrinkled in a frown of open irritation. This was not what they were after, and each minute counted as they were held hostage here rather than released to their duties within the temple.

Once again they would need to reorganize the priestly roster to cover for their continued absence, and send for new advisors, as the priests with them must go. Annas signaled to the temple guard nearest him to bring a fresh squad to relieve those with them, and sent an elder to bring word of their delay to the rest of the Sanhedrin.

John, for his part, remained farther back, watching, observing, remembering, and trying to blend in with the background. He, too, had been alarmed that the Master would be sent to that villain. He remembered just days before when some sympathetic Pharisees had hurried to them while Jesus was teaching. Go and depart from here, they had told Jesus, fearfully looking over their shoulders. Jesus had remained unperturbed.

Wild-eyed, one of them grabbed the rabbi, Go! Because Herod wants to put you to death!

Jesus had considered him for a moment as the other messengers had clenched and unclenched their teeth, their hands curled into fists.

You all who are going, tell that fox this: behold, I am casting out demons and accomplishing healings, today and tomorrow, then the third I bring to completion.

They had not really understood what Jesus meant, then, though he often spoke in threes. Such as last night. The temple destroyed and rebuilt in three days’ time.

It occurred to John that he could go to Herod’s royal court himself, he knew servants there as well, for the Zebedee fishing business was well-known in Jerusalem. Joanna was there, one of Jesus’s most faithful and generous financial supporters, and her husband Chuza held a high position in Herod’s household, being his steward. He was certain he could gain access to Herod’s meeting hall, and perhaps strengthen the rabbi’s spirit with his nearness.

Even as he thought these things, movement caught his eye. Pilate was reemerging, changed into his walking shoes, wearing his official robes of state, his retinue all around him. It seemed the governor would also go to Herod’s opulent alcazar, perhaps a fifteen-minute walk across the bridge and into the city. Caiaphas and Annas were hurriedly regrouping as well, since they, too, had observed Pilate’s departure. Perhaps they hoped they could use this unforeseen situation. Herod was not averse to ridding himself of a religious upstart, as John the Baptist’s beheading had proven well.


[Story taken from John 18:38, Luke 23:5-7, Luke 13:1, 31-32]

Jesus before Pilate, above, and before Herod, below | By Duccio di Buoninsegna – The Yorck Project (2002) 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei (DVD-ROM), distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH. ISBN: 3936122202., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=150328%5D

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