The significance of Jesus’ death is apparent from the space that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John devote to the Passion narrative, from the emphasis of many speeches in the book of Acts, and from the missionary preaching and the theology of the apostle Paul. Exegetical discussions of Jesus’ trial and death have employed biblical (Old Testament) and extrabiblical texts in order to understand the events during the Passover of AD 30 that led to Jesus’ execution by crucifixion. The purpose of this book is to publish the primary texts that have been cited in the scholarly literature as relevant for understanding Jesus’ trial and crucifixion. The texts in the first part deal with Jesus’ trial and interrogation before the Sanhedrin, and the texts in the second part concern Jesus’ trial before Pilate. The texts in part three represent crucifixion as a method of execution in antiquity. For each document, the authors provide the original text (Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, or Latin), a translation, and commentary. The commentary describes the literary context and the purpose of each document in context before details are clarified, along with observations on the contribution of these texts to understanding Jesus’ trial and crucifixion.
The materials here assembled provide interested persons the opportunity to examine primary sources regarding the trial and execution of Jesus. Though indirectly.
What I mean by that is that what we have here isn’t material about Jesus’s own trial or execution. Instead we have material about trials and crucifixion in general written during and slightly later than the first century CE.
So, for instance, in part 1, J. Schnabel discusses Jewish trials before the Sanhedrin. He offers extra-biblical texts relating to such things as Annas and Caiaphas, the jurisdiction of the Sanhedrin, capital cases in Jewish law, the interrogation of witnesses, charges of blasphemy, seduction, and sorcery, the abuse of prisoners, and transfer of court cases.
Part 2, again by Schnabel, turns to Roman trials before Pilate, and discusses, by means, again, of extra-biblical texts, Pilate himself, the jurisdiction of Roman prelates, and various Roman legal niceties.
Part 3 is written by D. Chapman and focuses on the act of Crucifixion (in all its gory details). It also addresses what Chapman styles as ‘Bodily Suspension in the Ancient Near East’. Greco-Roman sources on the topic are then laid out as are Hellenistic sources and Jewish sources. Chapman then provides something of a who’s who of crucifixion victims in Roman literature. This is followed by the various ways in which various societies reacted to the act of crucifixion and he closes out his very long third part with a listing of taunts and curses and jests which were hurled at the victims of crucifixion. It’s worth reading. Some of the taunts may be useful to readers of the volume at some point. Especially if they are seeking a fresh rejoinder to hurl at some hapless ill prepared conference presenter.
There are, as one should expect, a fair number of illustrations and the work also includes a bibliography, an index of ancient sources, modern authors, and subjects.
The volume is a sourcebook of materials about trials and crucifixions in the ancient Mediterranean world. It is not, strictly speaking, a volume about the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. The title is, accordingly, a bit inaccurate. It should have been titled ‘Trials and Crucifixions in the World of Jesus’, because that’s what it is about.
Inaccurate title notwithstanding, this is a fascinating sourcebook with mountains of important primary source materials. In their original languages as well as in translation and with helpful commentary. The authors have done a lifetime of work and they are to be congratulated for it.
This resource belongs on every New Testament scholar’s shelf.