Heated exchanges between Jesus and the Temple leaders:

  • PASSAGE: “In the course of his teaching, Jesus said to the crowds, “Beware of the scribes, who like to go around in long robes and accept greetings in the marketplaces, seats of honor in synagogues, and places of honor at banquets. They devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext, recite lengthy prayers.  They will receive a very severe condemnation.” MARK 12:38-40
  • PASSAGE: [Jesus cleanses the Temple and berates the chief priests and scribes]“Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’?  But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’”  MARK 11:17

PERILOUS:  The critique ascribed to Jesus in Mark 12:38-40 unfairly accuses one group of Jews (“lawyers,” or perhaps “scholars”) of abuses for which we have absolutely no evidence. It is almost certainly a non-historical event.

In regard to Mark 11:17, there may well have been disputes between Jesus and the Temple leadership (“chief priests”), as this passage indicates.  It is also possible that Jesus used the words “den of robbers” (which comes from Jeremiah 7), since highly inflated language was the style of argument in those days.

It is important to remember, however, that the Gospel texts were written years after Jesus’ death, and are, therefore, more likely to reflect the friction between some of the Jewish leadership and the followers of Jesus rather than with Jesus himself.

That’s why it is dangerous to read these passages without further interpretation.  If one views the portrayal of the “scribes” and “chief priests” as absolute fact or applies these descriptions to ALL Jews without distinction, it can strengthen anti-pathetical attitudes toward Jews in general.  This cannot have been Jesus’ intention.

Passages on the arrest, trial, crucifixion, and death of Jesus (Passion Narratives)

  • PASSAGE: “So the chief priests and the scribes were seeking a way to arrest him by treachery and put him to death.” MARK 14:1
  • PASSAGE: “Then, while he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve arrived, accompanied by a crowd with swords and clubs who had come from the chief priests, the scribes and the elders.”
    MARK 14:43
  • PASSAGE: “They led Jesus away to the high priest, and all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes came together.” MARK 14:53
  • PASSAGE: “The chief priests and the entire Sanhedrin kept trying to obtain testimony against Jesus in order to put him to death, but they found none.” MARK 14:55
  • PASSAGE: “As soon as morning came, the chief priests with the elders and the scribes, that is, the whole Sanhedrin, held a council.” MARK 15:1
  • PASSAGE: [Here it is said the Pilate tries not to convict Jesus, but the “crowd” forces him to do it.]  The chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him [Pilate] release Barabbas for them instead [of Jesus].  “Then what do you wish me to do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” [says Pilate]   They shouted back, “Crucify him!” MARK 15:11-15

PERILOUS: These passages, many which are read on Palm Sunday in year B of the liturgical year, (the year when Mark is read), have been incredibly difficult for Jews.  They purport to describe the key role of significant Jewish religious leaders –chief priests, scribes, elders, and the Sanhedrin– in the arrest, trial, crucifixion and death of Jesus.  It is a very grim, harsh and ominous portrayal of Jewish leadership and the reason that, sometimes in history, inflamed Christians poured out of their churches on Palm Sunday and inflicted pogroms or otherwise beat up on Jews.

The fact is every New Testament scholar and historian, Christian or otherwise, agrees that crucifixion was a Roman form of execution.  Some Jewish leaders/officials may well have collaborated with their Roman rulers, through either choice or coercion.  But, any claim that “the Jews” crucified Jesus is historically inaccurate.   The followers of Jesus, who wrote the Gospels decades after his death, may have wanted to believe that “the Jews” were responsible and that Pilate, the Roman governor, was relatively innocent, because it helped them build their “case” that the followers of Jesus had “replaced” the Jews as God’s people.

Additionally, the passage that alleges that Pilate releases another prisoner in place of Jesus has no historical evidence.  It is highly unlikely that Pilate would have released a “revolutionary” who “had committed murder during the insurrection [against Rome].” (Mk 15:7)