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  • D. L. Dusenbury (a1)


In Pilate and Jesus, Giorgio Agamben argues that Pontius Pilate never formally condemned Jesus of Nazareth. “The traditional interpretation of Jesus’ trial … must be revised,” he urges, because “there has not been any judgment in a technical sense.” In Agamben's telling, Pilate's non-judgment is the original truth of Jesus's death that has been covered over by tradition. This is an intriguing hypothesis, but Agamben's use of sources in arguing it is highly irregular. This article offers a critique of the legal and philological argumentation of Pilate and Jesus. In the process, it revisits an ancient—and still actual—controversy surrounding the Roman trial of Jesus and demonstrates that Pilate did sentence Jesus, pro tribunali, to death on a cross.

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1 Agamben, , Pilato e Gesú, 2nd edition (Rome: Nottetempo, 2014); Agamben, , Pilate and Jesus, trans. Kotsko, Adam (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2015).

2 Agamben, , “Il fascino discreto di Ponzio Pilato,” La Stampa (2013), 3031 .

3 And for the marked influence of Enzo Melandri on Agamben's concept of “philosophical archaeology,” see Agamben, , The Signature of All Things: On Method, trans. D'Isanto, Luca with Attell, Kevin (New York: Zone, 2009), 96107 .

4 Among his more recent contributions are Agamben, , The Kingdom and the Glory: For a Theological Genealogy of Economy and Government, trans. Chiesa, Lorenzo with Mandarini, Matteo (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2011); Agamben, , The Sacrament of Language: An Archaeology of the Oath, trans. Kotsko, Adam (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2011); Agamben, , Opus Dei: An Archaeology of Duty, trans. Kotsko, Adam (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2013); Agamben, , The Highest Poverty: Monastic Rules and Form-of-Life, trans. Kotsko, Adam (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2013).

5 Agamben, Signature of All Things, 31–32.

6 More recent is Agamben, , Stasis: Civil War as a Political Paradigm, trans. Heron, Nicholas (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2015).

7 Agamben, Pilate and Jesus, 57.

8 Bloch, , The Spirit of Utopia, trans. A., Anthony Nassar (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2000), 168. Note that although the first edition of Bloch's Geist der Utopie is dated 1918, most of the book was drafted in the years 1915–16.

9 Agamben, Pilate and Jesus, 57.

10 The contrast could not be sharper with Bloch's materialist reading of Jesus's trial. Bloch has nothing but contempt for what he reads as the “noblesse” of Pilate and the “defeatism” of Jesus, particularly in John's trial narrative. “It is incompatible with the courage and dignity of Jesus,” Bloch decides, “that he should use such defeatist words in front of Pilate.” (He has in mind especially John 18:36: “My kingdom is not of this world.”) Bloch is adamant that “the Romans convicted Jesus as a revolutionary” (emphasis added), while he cannily appeals to Jesus's titulus as evidence of a Roman sentence. Bloch, Ernst, Atheism in Christianity: The Religion of the Exodus and the Kingdom, trans. Swann, J. T. (London: Verso, 2009), 112–23. For a discussion of biblical translations used, see footnote 38.

11 Agamben, Pilate and Jesus, 48–49 (emphasis added).

12 Agamben, Signature of All Things, 105.

13 Agamben, Pilate and Jesus, 51 (emphasis added).

14 Ibid., 32 (emphasis added).

15 Yet Agamben, strangely, only sees a “hypocritical scrupulousness” in Pilate's hand-washing. Agamben, Pilato e Gesú, 10 (author's translation).

16 Philo's Greek speaks directly to Agamben's thesis in Pilate and Jesus. With the phrase I translate here as “extrajudicial killings,” Philo criticizes Pilate for having put to death Roman subjects in Judaea “without a trial”—or, more literally, “without a judgment” (tous akritous … phonous). In Pilate and Jesus, Agamben argues precisely that Pilate handed Jesus over to be crucified “without a judgment” (akritos).

This Philonic passage elicits a comparison with two Lukan sentences:

“Is it lawful for you,” Paul challenges a tribune in Jerusalem, “to scourge a man who is a Roman citizen and has not been sentenced [akatakriton; Vulgate indemnatum]?” (Acts 22:25)

And again, this is Paul's challenge to a Roman officer: “They have beaten us publicly, without our having been sentenced [akatakritous; Vulgate indemnatos], men who are Roman citizens.” (Acts 16:37)

These are the only New Testament occurrences of akatakritos—a peculiarly Lukan term that seems to carry the same sense as Philo's akritos.

Unlike Paul, of course, Jesus was not a civis Romanus. Paul had a citizen's panoply of rights; Jesus did not. The crucial point for us, however, is that Luke clearly had a term at his disposal–“unsentenced” or “uncondemned” (akatakritos)—to characterize Jesus's death if Pilate had sent him to the cross without having sentenced him. The origins of this procedural terminology in classical Athenian law are sketched by Carawan, Edwin M., “ Akriton Apokteinai: Execution without Trial in Fourth-Century Athens,” Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies 25, no. 2 (1984): 111–21. And it is worth noting that neither the Lukan term akatakritos nor the Philonic term akritos occurs in the New Testament—or, to my knowledge, in any early Christian text—apropos of Jesus's death.

17 Philo Judaeus, Legatio ad Gaium 302; Philo, , The Embassy to Gaius, ed. with trans. Colson, F. H. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971), 152–53 (translation modified).

18 Agamben, Pilate and Jesus, 49; Agamben, Pilato e Gesú, 67.

19 Agamben, Pilate and Jesus, 49.

20 This, despite the fact that Dante's treatise was burned publicly—on the pope's orders—in 1329.

21 Dante, Monarchia 2.11.4–5; Dantis Alagherii De Monarchia libri 3, ed. Bertalot, Ludwig (Florence: Leon S. Olschki, 1920), 72.

22 Institutiones 4.4; Justinian's “Institutes,” ed. Krueger, Paul, trans. Birks, Peter and McLeod, Grant (London: Duckworth, 1987), 126–27. Difficulties arise, however, as soon as we consider the special definitions of iniuria set out in Institutiones 4.4 (where any unjust verdict constitutes iniuria: the evangelists of course regard Pilate's verdict as unjust, even if the trial is procedurally valid); the Lex Aquilia at Institutiones 4.3 (where it is never iniuria to kill a latro, that is, a “bandit” or “rebel”: Pilate decrees that Jesus should be crucified between two latrones, and he sentences him as a rebel); and the Lex Julia at Digesta 48.7 (where only Roman citizens can suffer judicial iniuria: Jesus is, of course, not a Roman citizen).

23 Dante, Monarchia, 2.11.1–2; Dante, , Monarchy, trans. Shaw, P. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 6061 .

24 Agamben, Pilate and Jesus, 15 (emphasis added).

25 Agamben, Signature of All Things, 32.

26 Agamben, Pilate and Jesus, 15.

27 The Johannine trial can be differently punctuated. Josef Blinzler, for instance, sees six distinct scenes (sechs Einzelszenen) where Agamben sees seven. Blinzler, , Der Prozess Jesu. Das jüdische und das römische Gerichtsverfahren gegen Jesus Christus auf Grund der ältesten Zeugnisse dargestellt und beurteilt (Regensburg: Friedrich Pustet, 1955), 135.

28 Agamben, Pilate and Jesus, 15.

29 For an argument that Pilate was “a prefect determined to promote a form of Roman religion in Judaea,” see Taylor, Joan E., “Pontius Pilate and the Imperial Cult in Roman Judaea,” New Testament Studies 52, no. 4 (2006): 555–82.

30 It has recently been argued that Pilate administered Judaea from 17/18 to 36/37 C.E., but the accepted dates are still 26 to 36 C.E. See Chapman, David W. and Schnabel, Eckhard J., The Trial and Crucifixion of Jesus: Texts and Commentary, Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 344 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2015), 158–63.

31 Symbolum Nicaenum,” in Enchiridion Symbolorum definitionem et declarationem de rebus fidei et morum, ed. Denzinger, Heinrich, rev. Schönmetzer, Adolfus, 32nd ed. (Barcelona: Herder, 1963), 5253 .

32 The Council of Constantinople sat from July 9 to 30, 381. Conciliorum Oecumenicorum Decreta, ed. Alberigo, Giuseppe et al. 3rd ed. (Bologna: Istituto per le Scienze Religiose, 1973), 23.

33 “Symbolum Constantinopolitanum,” in Enchiridion Symbolorum, 66–67.

34 Agamben, Pilate and Jesus, 1.

35 Ibid., 2.

36 Ibid.; Agamben, Pilato e Gesú, 8–9. Agamben's reference here is to Inferno 1.70, where Vergil introduces himself to the poet, saying, I was born sub Julio.The Inferno of Dante: A New Verse Translation, trans. Pinsky, Robert, annot. Pinsky, Nicole (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1994), 4. As Agamben surely knows, Dante's late medieval chronography is far from exemplary. Vergil was born in 70 B.C.E.—under the Republic, not sub Julio.

37 Agamben, Pilate and Jesus, 2.

38 I often quote the Douay-Rheims (D-R) translation of the New Testament—and always the Vulgate—from The Vulgate Bible, vol. 6, The New Testament, Douay-Rheims Translation, Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library 21, ed. Kinney, Angela M. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013). But I have, with some frequency, preferred the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of The Book of Common Prayer … According to the Use of The Episcopal Church (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007). Note that I have at places silently modified the English of both translations in light of the Greek original.

39 Agamben, Pilate and Jesus, 2–3 (emphasis added).

40 Ibid., 3; Agamben, Pilato e Gesú, 10.

41 Agamben, Pilate and Jesus, 3.

42 Krzhizhanovsky, , The Letter Killers Club, trans. Turnbull, Joanne and Formozov, Nikolai (New York: New York Review Books, 2012), 4751 , esp. 50–51.

43 Matthew 27:14.

44 Agamben, Pilate and Jesus, 2.

45 Tacitus, Annales 15.44; Tacitus, , The Annals. Books XIII–XVI, ed. with trans. Jackson, John (London: William Heinemann, 1981), 282–83.

46 Justinus, Apologia I 13; Justinus, , S. Iustini Philosophi et Martyris Opera, 2 vols., ed. Otto, Johann Carl Theodor (Jena: Frider. Mauke, 1847), 1:33–35; Justin Martyr, “The First Apology of Justin,” in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1, The Apostolic Fathers: Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, ed. and trans. Alexander Roberts et al. (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, n.d.), 166.

47 I argue the same point somewhat more sharply in an essay that was written when this article was in press: Dusenbury, “Pilate Schemes,” TLS. The Times Literary Supplement 5895, March 23, 2016, 15,

48 According to an inscription on a limestone block that was recovered at Caesarea Maritima in Israel, in 1961, where [PO]NTIVS PILATVS is titled the [PRAEF]ECTVS IVDA[EA]E. For a reconstructed text, translation, and level-headed interpretation of this “architectural dedication dating to A.D. 31–36,” see Chapman and Schnabel, Trial and Crucifixion of Jesus, 165–67.

49 The scholarly consensus is that the crucifixion occurred on April 7, 30 C.E. But Helen Bond has very recently argued that “all that the evidence allows us to claim is that Jesus died … between 29 and 34 CE.” Bond, Helen K., “Dating the Death of Jesus: Memory and the Religious Imagination,” New Testament Studies 59, no. 4 (2013): 461–75.

50 Suetonius, Tiberius 41–45; Tiberius,” in Suetonius I, ed. with trans. Rolfe, J. C. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998), 368–75.

51 Chapman and Schnabel, Trial and Crucifixion of Jesus, 196 (“Tacitus mentions Pontius Pilatus only because he wants to provide the historical context for the execution of Jesus … which he presents as the result of a legally correct trial.”).

52 Ibid., 161.

53 Luke 2:1. Or so the Vulgate, at least, referring to Augustus reads “edictum a Caesare Augusto ut describeretur universus orbis.” The Greek reads “pasan tēn oikoumenēn.” See Aland, Kurt, Synopsis Quattuor Evangeliorum. Locis parallelis evangeliorum apocryphorum et patrum adhibitis (Stuttgart: Württembergische Bibelanstalt, 1964), 10.

54 According to Mishnah Sanhedrin 7.1, the only methods of execution permitted under Judaic law are stoning, burning, “slaying” (that is, beheading), and strangling. See Winter, Paul, On the Trial of Jesus, Studia Judaica: Forschungen zur Wissenschaft des Judentums 1 (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1961), 70; Bickerman, E. J., “Utilitas Crucis: Observations on the Accounts of the Trial of Jesus in the Canonical Gospels,” in Studies in Jewish and Christian History: A New Edition in English Including The God of the Maccabees, Arbeiten zur Geschichte des Antiken Judentums und des Urchristentums 68, ed. Tropper, Amram (Leiden: Brill, 2007), 2:784.

55 Hoehner, Harold W., Herod Antipas, Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series 17 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972), 174–75.

56 Bond, Pontius Pilate, 194–96.

57 Kelly, Early Christian Creeds, 20.

58 Ignatius, Epistola ad Magnesios 11.1; Ignatius to the Magnesians,” in The Apostolic Fathers, 2 vols., ed. with trans. Lake, Kirsopp (London: William Heinemann, 1912), 1:208–9.

59 Ignatius, Epistola ad Smyrnaeos 1.2; “Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans,” in Lake, Apostolic Fathers, 1:252–53 (translation modified).

60 Arguably written as early as 139 C.E. P. Buck, Lorraine, “Justin Martyr's Apologies: Their Number, Destination, and Form,” Journal of Theological Studies 54, no. 1 (2003): 4559 , at 55.

61 Justinus, Apologia I 13; Justinus, S. Iustini Philosophi et Martyris Opera, 1:33–35; Justin Martyr, “The First Apology of Justin,” 166.

62 Justinus, Apologia I 61; Justinus, S. Iustini Philosophi et Martyris Opera, 1:147; Justin Martyr, “The First Apology of Justin,” 183.

63 Justinus, Dialogus cum Tryphone, 85; Justin, S. Iustini Philosophi et Martyris Opera, 1:293; Justin Martyr, “The First Apology of Justin,” 241.

64 Tertullianus, De Virginibus Velandis 1; Patrologia Latina, 221 vols., ed. Migne, Jacques-Paul (Paris, 1844–1864), 2:889; Tertullian, “On the Veiling of Virgins,” Tertullian, Part Fourth; Minucius Felix; Commodian; Origen, parts first and second, vol. 4, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, ed. and trans. Alexander Roberts et al. (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, n.d.), 27.

65 Enchiridion Symbolorum, 20.

66 Ibid., 21.

67 Kelly, Early Christian Creeds, 149.

68 Forcellini, Egidio et al. , Totius Latinitatis Lexicon, 6 vols. (1864–1926; 1940; repr. Bologna: Arnaldo Forni, 1965), 1:795–96, s.v. “conscientia.”

69 Tacitus, Annales 15.44; Tacitus, The Annals. Books XIII–XVI, 282–83.

70 For the classical specificity of endeixis, see MacDowell, Douglas M., The Law in Classical Athens (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1978), 5761 . Note also the definitions listed at Liddell, Henry George and Scott, Robert, A Greek–English Lexicon, rev. Jones, Henry Stuart, with McKenzie, Roderick et al. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 558, s.v. “ἔνδειξις.” According to Liddell and Scott, the Greco-Roman “law-term” endeixis can denote the “laying of information against one who discharged public functions for which he was legally disqualified.” This is of course the crime designated on Jesus's titulus: he is crucified as a pretender to Israel's throne.

71 Josephus, Antiquitates Judaicae 18.63–64.

72 Mark 15:10 ≈ Matthew 27:18. I use two symbols throughout this essay to indicate cases in which the wording of a verse or phrase in one gospel is identical (=) or nearly identical () to one in the same or another gospel.

73 Mark 15:14; Matthew 27:23; Luke 23:22.

74 Luke 23:4, 23:13–15, 23:22; John 18:38, 19:4, 19:6.

75 Luke 23:14.

76 Luke 23:24 (D-R).

77 Luke 23:24 (NRSV).

78 According to Mark 15:27 (duo lēstas) and Matthew 27:38 (duo lēstai). What is crucial about the term lēstēs in Matthew and Mark is that it designates a public criminal (and a public enemy), rather than a man sentenced under Roman private law. The Vulgate's latrones is, thus, accurate—as can be inferred from Digesta 50.16.118. Modern English renderings tend to obscure this Greco-Roman legal sense of lēstēs-latro. Less specific is Luke 23:32, where Jesus is sent to the cross with “two other malefactors” (heteroi kakourgoi duo). In John 19:18, Jesus is merely crucified between “two others” (allous duo)—although John 18:40 specifies that Barabbas was a lēstēs. The evangelists all position Jesus's cross in the middle of the group.

79 Aristotle, Poetics 1453b–1454a, at 1453b26–28: “The early [Greek] poets … made the [tragic] agents act in knowledge and cognisance (eidotas kai gignōskontas), as Euripides [in recent times] made Medea kill her children. Alternatively, the agents can commit the terrible deed … in ignorance.” Translation taken, with slight modifications, from Aristotle, “Poetics”; Longinus, “On the Sublime”; Demetrius, “On Style,” ed. with trans. Stephen Halliwell, F. Hamilton Fyfe, and Doreen Innes (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995), 74–77.

80 John 8:12. Compare John 12:34–36, 46. And for “Son of God,” see John 19:7.

81 John 3:14–15.

82 Elliott, J. K., The Apocryphal New Testament: A Collection of Apocryphal Christian Literature in an English Translation (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), 164–65.

83 It is unlikely that the Acts of Pilate cited by Justin Martyr at First Apology 35.48 corresponds to the Acts of Pilate we still possess. See, ibid., 164.

84 Ibid. (emphasis added).

85 Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica 2.2.1–3; The Ecclesiastical History, vol. 1, ed. with trans. Lake, Kirsopp (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1926), 110–17.

86 “Paradosis Pilati,” Elliott, Apocryphal New Testament, 211.

87 A feast of Saint Procla is still observed on October 27 in the Orthodox churches. Laporte, Claude, Tous les saints de l'Orthodoxie (Vevey: Xenia, 2008), 554. Unaccountably, the date of October 26 is given at Agamben, Pilato e Gesú, 16; Agamben, Pilate and Jesus, 8.

88 Matthew 27:19.

89 Winter, Trial of Jesus, 57–61.

90 Tertullianus, Apologeticus adversus gentes, 21; Migne, Patrologia Latina, 1:403.

91 For the most credible report of Pilate's suicide, see Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica 2.7; The Ecclesiastical History, 1:124–27. And for a critical review of this tradition, see Maier, Paul L., “The Fate of Pontius Pilate,” Hermes 99, no. 3 (1971): 362–71, at 369–71.

92 Agamben, Pilate and Jesus, 12; “Mors Pilati,” Elliott, Apocryphal New Testament, 216–17.

93 Brandon, S. G. F., The Trial of Jesus of Nazareth (New York: Stein and Day, 1968), 154.

94 Agamben, Pilate and Jesus, 5 (“as we will see”).

95 In Pilate and Jesus, Agamben prefers to call this Acts the Gospel of Nicodemus, a somewhat larger collection of extra-canonical texts within which the Acts of Pilate has been transmitted.

96 Agamben, Pilate and Jesus, 4.

97 Ibid., 5; Agamben, Pilato e Gesú, 12.

98 Agamben, Pilate and Jesus, 47.

99 Ibid., 13; Agamben, Pilato e Gesú, 22–23.

100 Agamben, Pilate and Jesus, 47–48.

101 Luke 23:24 (“And Pilate gave sentence (epekrinen; Vulgate adiudicavit)).”

102 Matthew 20:18; Mark 10:33.

103 John 7:43–53; see especially John 7:51 (“Does our law judge (krinei) any man,” asks Jesus's night-visitor, Nicodemus, “unless it first hear him?”).

104 Agamben, Pilate and Jesus, 52.

105 Ibid., 19–20.

106 Acta Pilati a 3.2; Constantin Tischendorf, de, Evangelia Apocrypha, adhibitis plurimis codicibus Graecis et Latinis maximam partem nunc primum consultis … (Leipzig: Hermann Mendelssohn, 1876), 230.

107 Acta Pilati a 9.5; Elliott, Apocryphal New Testament, 176; Tischendorf, Evangelia Apocrypha, 244–45 (translation from Elliott, modified by reference to Tischendorf; emphasis added).

108 Luke 23:32 (kakourgoi duo); Tischendorf, Evangelia Apocrypha, 245 (duo kakourgoi).

109 Matthew 27:33; Mark 15:22; Luke 23:33; John 19:17.

110 Agamben, Pilate and Jesus, 52; Agamben, Pilato e Gesú, 71 (“Gesú non poteva, in realtà, essere giudicato.” (emphasis added)).

111 Agamben, Pilate and Jesus, 37 (emphasis added).

112 Ibid., 52.

113 Ibid., 30; Agamben, Pilato e Gesú, 44.

114 John 3:17–18; Agamben, Pilate and Jesus, 37–38.

115 “Judgment” = krisin.

116 “Execute judgment” = krisin poiein.

117 “I judge” = krinō.

118 “Judge with right judgment” = dikaian krisin krinate.

119 “To judge” = krinein.

120 “The judgment of the world” = krisistou kosmou.

121 “Already judged” = kekritai.

122 John 12:33.

123 There is a rising trend in New Testament interpretation to see the gospels—and the evangel—in Roman imperial terms. For a recent analysis of Jesus's depiction as a “world ruler” in the Gospel of Mark, which persuasively situates this “in the context of Roman political ideology,” see Winn, Adam, “Tyrant or Servant? Roman Political Ideology and Mark 10.42–45,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament, 36 no. 4 (2014): 325–52.

124 Agamben, Pilate and Jesus, 37–38, 51–52.

125 Ibid., 51; Agamben, Pilato e Gesú, 70.

126 Agamben, Pilate and Jesus, 49; Agamben, Pilato e Gesú, 67.

127 Agamben, Pilate and Jesus, 20–21.

128 Ibid., 36.

129 Ibid., 47.

130 Hobbes, Thomas, Leviathan, vol. 3, The English and Latin Texts (ii), ed. Malcolm, Noel (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2012), 922–23.

131 Rosadi, , Il processo di Gesú (Florence: G. C. Sansoni, 1904).

132 Rosadi, Giovanni, Le Procès de Jésus, trans. D'Albola, Mena (Paris: Perrin et Cie, 1908), 297 (author's translation from the French). I only learned of an English edition after this article was in press: Rosadi, Giovanni, The Trial of Jesus, trans. Reich, Emil (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1905). (My thanks to Rupert Shortt for bringing this translation to my notice.)

133 Bickerman, “Utilitas Crucis,” 2:790–91.

134 Ibid., 2:738–39.

135 Incredibly, the topic of von Ammon's 1926 doctoral thesis is “the binding unlawful command.” von Ammon, Wilhelm, Der bindende rechtswidrige Befehl, Strafrechtliche Abhandlungen 217 (1926; repr. Frankfurt: Keip, 1977). After the Second World War, von Ammon was found guilty of crimes against humanity by the Nuremberg Tribunal. The prosecution cited his enforcement of the notorious Nacht und Nebel decree of December 7, 1941—which is to say, his enforcement of a “binding unlawful command.”

136 von Ammon, Wilhelm, “Das Strafverfahren gegen Jesus von Nazareth,” Nachrichten der Evangelisch-Lutherischen Kirche in Bayern 8 (1953): 6972 , at 71, quoted in Blinzler, Josef, “Der Entscheid des Pilatus—Exekutionsbefehl oder Todesurteil?,” Münchener theologische Zeitschrift 5, no. 3 (1954): 171–84, at 172.

137 Blinzler, Prozess Jesu, 171–72. My thanks to A. S. Dusenbury for help with the translations of von Ammon's and Blinzler's statements.

138 Although he disapprovingly quotes Blinzler at Agamben, Pilate and Jesus, 38.

139 Ibid., 48–49; Agamben, Pilato e Gesú, 67.

140 Burkill, T. A., “The Condemnation of Jesus: A Critique of Sherwin-White's Thesis,” Novum Testamentum 12, no. 4 (1970): 321–42, at 328–29.

141 Agamben, Pilate and Jesus, 13; Agamben, Pilato e Gesú, 23.

142 Matthew 20:18; Mark 10:33.

143 Matthew 26:66: apokrithentes; Matthew 27:3: katekrithē; Mark 14:64: katekrinan.

144 A sentence written in the 1970s still delivers a sharp rebuke to Agamben: “[T]he title ‘Jesus and Pilate’ does not do justice to the trial before Pilate, as it is set forth in the Fourth Gospel. The real title should be ‘Jesus and the Jews before Pilate … .’” Pancaro, Severino, The Law in the Fourth Gospel: The Torah and the Gospel, Moses and Jesus, Judaism and Christianity according to John (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1975), 307.

145 Agamben, Pilate and Jesus, 47.

146 Luke 23:24 (D-R). For an identical modern rendering, see Bond, Pontius Pilate, 143.

147 Luke 23:24 (NRSV).

148 Sophocles, E. A., Greek Lexicon of the Roman and Byzantine Periods (Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1983), 503, s.v. “ἐπίκρισις”: “judgment on anything” (followed by references to Strabo, Dioscorides, Plutarch, and Apollonius Dyscolus).

149 Forcellini et al, Totius Latinitatis Lexicon, 1:86, s.v. “adjudico.” The twentieth-century philologist Max Zerwick keeps adiudicavit here. Zerwick, Max, Analysis Philologica Novi Testamenti Graeci, Scripta Pontificii Instituti Biblici 107 (Rome: Sumptibus Pontificii Instituti Biblici, 1966), 205.

150 Agamben, Pilate and Jesus, 47.

151 Plato, Leges 767e–768b, noting the occurrence of epikrinein at 768a; Plato, , Laws, 2 vols., ed. with trans. Bury, R. G. (London: William Heinemann, 1967), 1:444–47. This judicial verb in Laws VI is a hapax in Plato's corpus, as in the New Testament. Brandwood, Leonard, A Word Index to Plato (Leeds: W. S. Maney and Son, 1976), 377, s.v. “ἐπικρίνειν.”

152 Stephanus, Henrico [Henri Estienne], Thesaurus Graecae Linguae, 9 vols. (Graz: Akademische Druck- und Verlaganstalt, 1954), 4:1656, s.v. “Ἐπικρίνω” (“Ἐπέκρινε τούτοις θάνατον … ex 2 Macc. [4:47] pro Hos morte damnavit. Ad verbum, Adjudicavit his mortem.”).

153 Hoffman, Paul, Hieke, Thomas, and Bauer, Ulrich, Synoptic Concordance: A Greek Concordance to the First Three Gospels in Synoptic Arrangement, Statistically Evaluated, Including Occurrences in Acts, 4 vols. (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2000), 2:538, s.v. “ἐπικρίνω.”

154 According to Hoffman, Hiecke, and Bauer, Synoptic Concordance, 2:538, and Aland, Synopsis Quattuor Evangeliorum, 479, the only Synoptic parallel to epikrinein in Luke 23:24 is boulomenos at Mark 15:15.

155 Bond, Pontius Pilate, 158n84.

156 “Under the same sentence” = en tōi autōi krimati; Vulgate = in eadem damnatione.

157 Zerwick, Max and Grosvenor, Mary, A Grammatical Analysis of the Greek New Testament, vol. 1, Gospels—Acts, 3rd rev. ed. (Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1974), 278 (“κρίμα judgement, hence sentence.”).

158 “Sentenced to death” = krima thanatou; Vulgate = in damnationem mortis.

159 Zerwick and Grosvenor, Grammatical Analysis, 281.

160 Matthew 27:1–2; Mark 15:1; Luke 23:1; John 18:28–29.

161 Agamben, Pilate and Jesus, 36; Agamben, Pilato e Gesú, 53.

162 Bonsirven, Joseph, “Hora Talmudica: La notation chronologique de Jean 19, 4 aurait-elle un sens symbolique?,” Biblica 33, no. 4 (1952): 511–15, at 513 (author's translation), quoted in Blinzler, “Entscheid des Pilatus,” 172.

163 This thematic is elegantly summarized at Pancaro, Law in the Fourth Gospel, 324–25.

164 Agamben, Signature of All Things, 100–1.

165 Blinzler, Prozess Jesu, 175.

166 Agamben, Pilate and Jesus, 47–48; Agamben, Pilato e Gesú, 65–66.

167 Matthew 20:18–19, 27:1–2, 27:11–13; Mark 10:33–34, 14:63–64, 15:1–4; Luke 22:71, 23:2; John 18:28–30, 18:35. Especially important are Matthew 20:18–19 ≈ Mark 10:33–34, where it is prophesied that Jerusalem's priestly courts will “condemn (katakrinousin) Jesus to death,” and then “hand him over (paradōsousin) to the Gentiles … to be crucified.”

168 Mark 1:14: paradothēnai; Matthew 4:12: paredothē.

169 Matthew 10:17–25, 24:9; Mark 13:9–13; Luke 21:12–18; Acts 8:3, 12:1–5, etc.

170 There is no second iteration of “hand you over” (se paradōi) in some manuscripts, but the sense remains in any case: Aland, Synopsis Quattuor Evangeliorum, 79.

171 Bickerman, “Utilitas Crucis,” 2:778.

172 Matthew 18:27, 34.

173 Matthew 18:35 (“So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you.”).

174 1 Corinthians 5:1–5.

175 1 Corinthians 5:9–13.

176 Ceslas Spicq, Theological Lexicon of the New Testament, trans. and ed. James D. Ernest, 3 vols. (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), 3:23.

177 Ibid., 3:21.

178 Luke 20:20, 24:20.

179 Luke 23:24–25.

180 Agamben, Pilate and Jesus, 48.

181 The same could be said of the central idea in Aslan's, Reza Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth (New York: Random House, 2013)—a zealously marketed little book in which Aslan tries to sell us, as new, the oldest historical-critical interpretation of Jesus's life, message, and death.

Aslan's thesis first appeared in print in 1778, when G. E. Lessing published a redacted and unfinished but truly seminal work by a German Hebraist who had passed away in 1768: Reimarus, Hermann Samuel, The Goal of Jesus and His Disciples, trans. Buchanan, George Wesley (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1970). If nothing else, Zealot is evidence that Reimarus is still survived by his Jesus.

Paul Winter's 1961 assessment of the Reimarus hypothesis was, by all rights, conclusive: “Jesus of Nazareth was not in any sense of the word a λῃστής [bandit or rebel]. He was no revolutionary, prompted by political ambitions for the power of government; he was a teacher who openly proclaimed his teaching.” Winter, Trial of Jesus, 50.

David Catchpole's statements, a decade later, are no less categorical: “Jesus was no Zealot, nor was he close to the Zealots. It is altogether in excess of the evidence to regard his movement and Zealotism as parallel or in sympathy with one another.” In documentary terms, that is to say, “the ‘political Jesus’ theory is a failure.” Catchpole, , The Trial of Jesus: A Study in the Gospels and Jewish Historiography from 1770 to the Present Day, Studia Post-Biblica 18 (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1971), 126, 270. As Zealot’s reception proves, however, the “political Jesus” theory is a lucrative failure.

182 I regret that time has not permitted me to track down a pair of extremely rare early modern tracts on Pilate's judgment:

  1. 1.

    1. Johannes Steller, Defensus Pontius Pilatus [or, according to one nineteenth-century catalogue entry: Pilatus liberatoris Jesu subsidio defensus], Dresden, 1674.

  2. 2.

    2. Daniel Hartnaccius, Confutatio dissertationis perquam scandalosæ Joh. Stelleri, qua Pilatum defensum superiori anno turpissime prodidit, quæque ad verbum huic opusculo præfixa est, Leipzig, 1676.

183 Hugonis Grotii Annotationes in Novum Testamentum. Denuo emendatius editae, 9 vols. (Groningen: W. Zuidema, 1826–1834) (All translations from this work are my own).

184 For Grotius's critical relation to the Senecan model, see Parente, James A. Jr., Religious Drama and the Humanist Tradition: Christian Theater in Germany and in the Netherlands, 1500–1680 (New York: E. J. Brill, 1987), 5458 .

185 Hugonis Grotii Tragoedia Christus Patiens (Munich, 1626); translated into English as Grotius, Hugo, Christs Passion: A Tragedie with Annotations, trans. Sandys, George (London: Printed by Iohn Leggatt, 1640).

186 Nellen, Henk J. M., Hugo Grotius: A Lifelong Struggle for Peace in Church and State, 1583–1645, trans. Grayson, J. C. (Boston: Brill, 2015), 102–12, esp. 105–6.

187 Grotius, Annotationes in Novum Testamentum, 2:354. Whoever one takes to be the first orthodox proponent of Pilate's non-judgment (for example, St. Aristides), this tradition seems to be linked to a second-century docetic text, The Gospel of Peter. (Agamben appeals to this extra-canonical gospel to bolster his—unconvincing—interpretation of John 19:13 at Pilate and Jesus, 36.) In The Gospel of Peter, Pilate unyieldingly refuses to sentence Jesus. The task thus falls to Herod Antipas and “his judges”—in other words, to the Judaean authorities. It is unequivocally the tetrarch Herod, in The Gospel of Peter, who “commanded that the Lord should be taken off” and killed. Thus, after the resurrection, Pilate can unctuously protest that he is innocent of “the blood of the Son of God.” Evangelium secundum Petrum 1.1–2, 11; Elliott, Apocryphal New Testament, 154–57.

188 Lactantius, Divinarum Institutionum 4.1.1; Lactantius, , Institutions Divines. Livre 4, crit. ed. and annot. Monat, Pierre (Paris: Les Éditions du Cerf, 1992), 32.

189 Lactantius, Divinarum Institutionum 4.10.18; Lactantius, Institutions Divines, 90; Lactantius, , Divine Institutes, trans. Bowen, Anthony and Garnsey, Peter (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2003), 239 (translation modified).

190 Bloch, Atheism in Christianity, 119.

191 Lactantius, Divinarum Institutionum 4.18.6–9; Lactantius, Institutions Divines, 164; Lactantius, Divine Institutes, 257 (translation modified).

192 Lactantius, Divinarum Institutionum 4.18.4; Lactantius, Institutions Divines, 162; Lactantius, Divine Institutes, 257.

193 Lactantius, Divinarum Institutionum 4.18.6; Lactantius, Institutions Divines, 164; Lactantius, Divine Institutes, 257 (translation modified).

194 Agamben, Pilate and Jesus, 47.

195 Lactantius, Divinarum Institutionum 4.18.6; Lactantius, Institutions Divines, 164.

196 Paul Winter traces this tradition back to the apology by Marcianus Aristides (a.k.a. St. Aristides), who claimed that Jesus was “crucified (pierced) by the Jews.” Winter, Trial of Jesus, 58. This apology bears the significant title, To the Emperor Hadrian Caesar from the Athenian Philosopher Aristides. Aristides is reputed to have delivered his oration at Athens, in Hadrian's presence, during the imperial visit of 125/26 C.E. Like Lactantius's Divine Institutes, then, Aristides's oration was addressed to a Roman emperor.

197 Lactantius, Divinarum Institutionum 4.18.6–9; Lactantius, Institutions Divines, 164; Lactantius, Divine Institutes, 257 (translation modified).

198 In his second gloss, Agamben contrasts Matthew's account of the crucifixion—in which it is clearly “the soldiers of the governor” (27:27) who “led Jesus away to crucify him” (27:31)—with Luke's account. “Significantly,” writes Agamben, “in Luke there is not a word (non si fa parola) about the soldiers.” Agamben, Pilate and Jesus, 50–51; Agamben, Pilato e Gesú, 69–70.

Agamben does not detail the precise significance that this supposed omission has for him—but in any case, there is no such omission. We find a reference to Pilate's troops at Luke 23:36 (“and the soldiers also mocked him”), and again at Luke 23:47 (“Now the centurion … said, ‘Indeed this was a just man’”).

The indistinctness of Luke's crucifixion narrative—he says only that “they crucified him” (Luke 23:33)—has nothing to do with the later myth of a Judaic crucifixion. Rather, it is accounted for by Luke's reprise of Jesus's death in Acts 4:24–28, where the parties culpable for the crucifixion are enumerated as “Herod and Pontius Pilate with the Gentiles and the people of Israel” (4:27). According to Luke, the whole of Roman Judaea killed Jesus.

199 Grotius, Annotationes in Novum Testamentum, 2:354–55.

200 Ibid., 2:355. See Chapman and Schnabel, Trial and Crucifixion of Jesus, 196 (“Tacitus mentions Pontius Pilatus only because he wants to provide the historical context for the execution of Jesus … which he presents as the result of a legally correct trial.”). And we should not overlook Josephus's reference to Pilate's sentence at Antiquitates Judaicae 18.64 (“When Pilatus had condemned him (epitetimēkotos) to the cross.”).

201 Grotius argues that Jesus's cross signifies his conviction of the “crime of sedition” (crimen seditionis) at Annotationes in Novum Testamentum, 2:355.

202 Ibid. Grotius's appeal to Christ's saying is less uncritical than it may strike us. In his somewhat later text, Pilatus Judex, Willem van der Goes (Goesius) similarly contrasts the gospel text—in this case, Luke 23:24: “And Pilate gave sentence”—with Lactantius's argument, without further elaboration. When van der Goes writes that Jesus was crucified after being “convicted under a passed sentence (lata ſententia)”; and notes that sedition was “the charge it pleased Pilate to judge, rather than blasphemy” (Hæc enim cauſa damnationis magis placuit Pilatus, quam crimen blaſphemiæ); van der Goes then enters a scriptural reference in the margins (“Luc 23. 24”), followed by a dismissive—because contrastive—citation of Lactantius (Aliter tamen Lact. 4 de vera ſap. 18 [= Divine Institutes 4.18]). Goesius, Willem, Pilatus Judex, ad virum illuſtrem Constantinum Hugenium, Equitem, Zulichemi Toparcham, &c. (The Hague: Johannem Tongerloo, 1681), 6263 (All translations from this work are the author's own).

203 Grotius, Annotationes in Novum Testamentum, 2:355.

204 Ibid.

205 In his Homilies on the Gospel of John, Augustine vigorously rebuts the idea of Pilate's non-judgment. Augustinus, In Evangelium Ioannis Tractatus, 114–17; Migne, Patrologia Latina, 35:1936–47.

Agamben takes note of this opposition in his first gloss, and has the temerity to charge Augustine with “doing violence” (facendo violenza) to the syntax of John 19:16 in a Vetus Latina version (which is identical, here, to the Vulgate). Pilate and Jesus, 48; Agamben, Pilato e Gesú, 66–67. Unsurprisingly, Augustine's Latin is better than Agamben's.

206 Hugo Grotius, Meletius, sive De iis quae inter Christianos conveniunt Epistola, crit. ed. with trans. Guillaume H. M. Posthumus Meyjes (New York: E. J. Brill, 1988), 64.

207 Grotius, Annotationes in Novum Testamentum, 2:133.

208 Bickerman characterizes the procedural effect of the Sanhedrin's praeiudicium at “Utilitas Crucis,” 2:750 (“Pilate was not obliged to be content with the results of the information supplied by the Sanhedrin, but to conduct a trial in depth.”).

209 John 18:31.

210 Chapman and Schnabel, Trial and Crucifixion of Jesus, 161.

211 Grotius, Annotationes in Novum Testamentum, 2:338.

212 Ibid.

213 Ibid., 2:350.

214 Ibid., 2:354. I have reordered Grotius's list, which is neither logical nor chronological.

215 Ibid.

216 Ibid., 2:350.

217 Ibid., 4:263. Also relevant here is Grotius's remark on 1 Timothy 6:13 (“Christ Jesus … in his testimony before Pontius Pilate”), which draws out the juridical sense of the proto-creedal formula, “before Pontius Pilate” (epi Pontiou Pilatou). “Taken in its proper sense,” Grotius specifies, “epi denotes standing before a judge.” Ibid., 7:270.

218 Goesius, Pilatus Judex, 69.

219 Grotius, Annotationes in Novum Testamentum, 2:354.

220 See, for instance, John 10:31; Acts 4:56–59.

221 Chapman and Schnabel, Trial and Crucifixion of Jesus, 155–56.

222 See Bickerman, “Utilitas Crucis,” 2:743.

223 Per Jarle Bekken, The Lawsuit Motif in John's Gospel from New Perspectives: Jesus Christ, Crucified Criminal and Emperor of the World, Supplements to Novum Testamentum 158 (Leiden: Brill, 2015), 23–70, at 69.

224 Grotius, Annotationes in Novum Testamentum, 2:338.

225 Ibid., 2:354.

226 Ibid.

227 Ibid., 3:476.

228 Ibid., 3:497.

229 Ibid., 2:354.

230 Ibid., 2:357.

231 Ibid., 2:354.

232 Samuelsson, Crucifixion in Antiquity, 235–36 (“The common assumption that the Dead Sea Scrolls contain references to crucifixion [under Judaic law] cannot be upheld.”).

233 Bickerman, “Utilitas Crucis,” 2:784.

234 Winter, Trial of Jesus, 69–74, especially 70 (citing Mishnah Sanhedrin 7.1).

235 Matthew 23:37 = Luke 13:34.

236 Bickerman, “Utilitas Crucis,” 2:731, 739.

237 Grotius, Annotationes in Novum Testamentum, 2:354, 361. Compare Matthew 27:37; Mark 15:26; Luke 23:38; John 19:19.

238 Winter, Trial of Jesus, 107.

239 Grotius, Annotationes in Novum Testamentum, 2:360.

240 Besnier, R., “Le Procès du Christ,” Tijdschrift voor Rechtsgeschiedenis/Revue d'histoire du droit 18, no. 2 (1950): 191209 , at 202–3 (author's translation).

241 Winter, Trial of Jesus, 50.

242 Ibid., 109.

243 Grotius, Annotationes in Novum Testamentum, 2:354.

244 Agamben, Pilate and Jesus, 50.

245 Ibid., 52; Agamben, Pilato e Gesú, 71–72 (emphases added)

246 Agamben, Pilate and Jesus, 51; Agamben, Pilato e Gesú, 70.

247 John 19:10.

248 Winter, Trial of Jesus, 56 (“Jesus could never have been put to death by the manner of crucifixion unless a verdict to this effect had been given by a Roman magistrate.”).

249 Agamben, Pilate and Jesus, 15.

250 Rosadi, Procès de Jésus, 297.

251 Agamben, Pilate and Jesus, 56.



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