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The Trial and Condemnation of Jesus.

By J. Salvador.

Translated by Henry Goldsmith.

After the above exposition of the administration of justice,* I shall follow the application of it in the most memorable trial in history, namely, that of Jesus of Nazareth. I have already stated the motives which prompt me, and the object I have in view in treating this subject; I have already shown that amongst the Jews no title or rank could protect any one from a decree of accusation. Whether this law was a good one or not, whether the forms were good or bad, I do not now wish to examine. Whether the Jews ought to be pitied for their blindness in not recognising a god in Jesus, or that it is astonishing that a god in person, who wished to be understood as such, was not understood, are questions which I do not wish to inquire into. But since they did not look upon him as any more than a plain citizen, did they try and condemn him according to law and existing forms? This is my question, unequivocally. It is from the evangelists themselves that I shall draw all the facts, without even questioning whether the whole of this history has not been developed afterwards, for the purpose of serving as a form to a new doctrine, or rather to an old one which received a new extension.

* I must here apprise the reader that this article is an extract from Mr. Salvador’s very voluminous work entitled, “Histoire des Institutiones de Moise et du peuple Hebreu.” This trial is here introduced by way of illustration of the administration of justice amongst the Hebrews.—Note by the Translator.

Jesus descended from rather an unfortunate family; his reputed father perceived that his wife was likely to become a mother, without his being able to account for it. If he had called her legally to an account, she, in the ordinary course of proceedings, would have been condemned (see Deut. 22:23, 24), and Jesus, after being declared illegitimate, would never have been allowed a seat in the high-council (see Deut. 23:2). Joseph, however, who, in order not to dishonour his wife, took the resolution to send her away secretly, soon had a dream which consoled him.

Jesus, after having been circumcised, drew up like the generality of men; he was present at the solemnization of the feasts, and displayed at an early age surprising wisdom and sagacity. In the sabbatical assemblies, the Hebrews, who were fond of polemical discussions arising from the interpretation of the law, liked to hear him. But he soon elevated himself to more important pursuits: he rebuked and censured whole cities, particularly Capernaum, Chorazin, and Bethsaida (see Matthew 11:21, 22, 23). Calling back the times of Isaiah and Jeremiah, he thundered against the chiefs of the people with a vehemence which would intimidate us in our own days (see Matthew 23.) The people were then pleased to consider him a prophet (Matthew 21:11, 46); he was heard to preach in the villages and in the cities, without encountering any difficulties or obstacles, and he was seen surrounded by disciples, according to the custom of the learned in those days. However displeased the leaders of the people may have been, they kept silent while he remained within proper bounds.

But Jesus, in presenting new ideas, and in giving new forms to ideas already promulgated, speaks of himself as if he were a god, his disciples repeat it, and the sequel of events proves incontestably that they understood him thus.* This was horrible blasphemy in the eyes of the citizens: the law commands them not to attach themselves except to the Eternal, the Sole, the only one; never to believe in gods of flesh and bone resembling man or woman, neither to listen to, nor spare the prophet who should announce a new god, a god whom neither they nor their fathers had any knowledge of, notwithstanding his performing miracles (see Deut. 4:15, 13:1,2,3). Jesus in fact having said one day, “For I came from heaven not to do mine own will but the will of him that sent me,” the Jews, who until then paid attention to him, murmured and said: “Is not this Jesus the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it then that he says ‘I came down from heaven ?’” (John 6:38, 42.) On another occasion the Jews, irritated for the same reason, took stones and threatened him, Jesus then said to them, “Many good works have I showed you from my father, for which of those works do you stone me?” The Jews then answered, “For a good work we stone thee not, but for blasphemy, and because that thou being a man, makest thyself God.” (John 10:31, 32, 33.)

* The expression “Son of God,” was often used amongst the Jews to denote a man of great wisdom and piety. Jesus, however, did not make use of it in that sense, otherwise it would not have caused such a tremendous sensation. Besides, if any one should pretend to say—in order to make it a subject of accusation against the Jews—that Jesus did not proclaim himself as god in an express manner, he would expose himself to the answer on their part, “Then why do you believe it?”

His language was not always clear. It often occurred that his disciples did not understand him. Among his maxims, some of which breathed a spirit of great meekness, there were others which the Hebrews, struck only by their natural signification, considered criminal. “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in­law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father and mother more than me, is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:34, 35, 36.) Moreover, if indeed he performed miracles in the presence of some of the people, his answers to questions propounded to him by the learned, were generally of an evasive character. (See Matthew 16:1,2,3,4.)*

* In justification of this assertion of the author, let the indulgent reader notice the following passages from John 8:13-18, “The Pharisees, therefore, said unto him, thou bearest record of thyself; thy record is not true. Jesus answered and said unto them, Though I bear record of myself, yet my record is true: for I know whence I came, and whither I go; but ye cannot tell whence I come and whither I go. Ye judge after the flesh; I judge no man. And yet if I judge, my judgment is true; for I am not alone, but I and the father that sent me. It is also written in your law, that the testimony of two men is true. I am one that bear witness of myself, and the father that sent me beareth witness of me.” Compare this to various passages in the Pentateuch, whenever the Israelites grew rebellious. When they asked for water in the wilderness, where ostensibly there was none, Moses procured it for them through a miracle; when the water was bitter he made it sweet; when they had no bread, God sent them the manna; when they bewailed the want of flesh, quails came up. In short, whenever the people evinced a want of faith, either in God or His messenger, they were satisfied by some miracle. Mark well! that was after they had already been convinced of the powers of the Almighty, and of the truth of the mission of Moses. Besides, look at the shallowness of Jesus’ reasoning, when he speaks of the two witnesses. When Moses said to God, “Behold, they will not believe in me,” he might, according to the same logic, have answered, “Thou art one, and say that I sent thee, here are then two witnesses.” I am, however, afraid, that such kind of testimony would not be taken in any court of justice.—Note by the Translator.

In a political point of view, he created dissension. A great number of persons of bad repute, whom he intended to reform, but who inspired the national council with fear, ranged themselves about him (see Luke 15:1,2). His discourses flattered them, inasmuch as he pronounced anathemas against the rich: “Know,” he said unto them, “that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” In this state of things, the council deliberates. Some are of opinion to regard him only as a maniac (see John 10:20); others say that he seeks to deceive the people (John 12:12). Caiphas, whose dignity imposes on him the obligation of defending the letter of the law, observes that those dissensions were likely to become a pretext for the Romans to oppress Judea, and that the interest of the nation ought to preponderate that of an individual. The order is then given to have him arrested. But here let us reflect on a fact of the greatest importance. The senate does mot commence (as is usual in our days in similar cases) by arresting Jesus. No! it commences by giving an order for his arrest after due deliberation. This proceeding is conducted publicly; it is known by all, and by Jesus in particular. No obstacle prevents him from passing the frontiers; his liberty entirely depends upon himself.*

* But it is said, “Jesus would not exile himself, he had long before announced his death as necessary to verify the prophecies.” Be it so; but then the prophecies caused his death, and not the Hebrews; for if the Hebrews had been more powerful than the prophecies, and had not condemned him, the latter would have proved false; and if they had been found false, Jesus could not have been God; therefore, following the consequences of the Christian system, there would have been greater cause for complaint, if through their not condemning Jesus, they would have caused the failure of the events announced. We must at least acknowledge that the Hebrews have been placed in a very awkward and singular position. In condemning him they killed God and became Deicides. Had they not condemned him, they would have been still greater Decides; since in falsifying the truth of the prophecies and the words of Jesus, they would have killed the divinity of Jesus himself in a more direct manner.

One of my Christian friends attempted to answer this difficulty very ingeniously. He said, “True! the death of Jesus had been foretold, but nevertheless the Jews were free agents, the action was not forced upon them.” To strengthen his argument, he quoted the case of Pharaoh, (whose heart God hardened and still punished him,) as offering, if not a parallel, at least something analogous to the case of Jesus. But however plausible this argument may appear at first sight, it will not stand the test of a careful examination. It is a great error to suppose that God punished Pharaoh for actions over which he had no control, Such mode of judging would be inconsistent with divine justice, nor can we deny that Pharaoh’s obstinacy in refusing the Israelites to leave Egypt, was involuntary on his part, for we see it repeated several times, “God hardened his heart,” “God strengthened his heart.” The punishment which befell him and the Egyptians, was owing to their unlawfully enslaving and afflicting the Israelites. Had Pharaoh consented to let them go at the first summons of Moses, it would not have exempted him from the fate which awaited him. But God, in order to multiply his wonders and miracles, hardened [Pharoah’s] heart. Now, although God foresaw and foretold to Abraham that his seed shall be enslaved in a land not their own, the crime on the part of the Egyptians and Pharaoh, was not the consequence of God’s foresight, but His foresight was the consequence of their crime, and did therefore not interfere with their free agency; forasmuch as God is unlimited by space as much is He is unlimited by time; with him there is no past or future. He sees that which is done, doing, and to be done. But according to the Christian system, not only was the death of Jesus foretold, which alone would not have militated against their free agency, but it was absolutely necessary for the purpose of making an atonement prospectively and retrospectively for mankind; whereas the Israelites could have fulfilled their destiny, without having been enslaved in Egypt four hundred years.—Note by the Translator.

(To be continued.)