Illegalities in the Arrest and Trial of Jesus

The Arrest

  1. All proceedings were prohibited at night, starting with the arrest and proceeding through the execution. There are a number of reasons for this. First, there were no electric lights, so there was the real possibility of misidentification. Second, it would be difficult to obtain witnesses. Third, darkness works against the openness desired in legal proceedings.
  2. Under Hebrew law, Judas would have been considered a friend and an accomplice. Therefore, he should not have been allowed to participate in any judicial proceedings, including the arrest. Testimony by a friend, relative, or accomplice was considered unreliable and showed a lack of character. Therefore, it was not permitted.
  3. The arrest was not the result of a legal mandate from a court whose intentions were to hold a legal trial. The arrest was not based on a definite charge.

Examination before Annas (or Caiaphas)

  1. The examination was held at night. Again, this does not allow for a proper defense and is certainly not public.
  2. No judge or magistrate, sitting alone, could interrogate an accused judicially or sit in judgment of him. It says in the Mishnah “Be not a sole judge, for there is no sole judge but One."
  3. The examination was not public. Hebrew law allowed no closed sessions.
  4. Jesus was struck by an official. This was not allowed under Hebrew law.

The Indictment

  1. Charges could only originate with a witness, not a member of the court.
  2. The charge must be definite. Jesus was first charged with threatening to destroy the Temple. When that fell through, he was charged with blasphemy.

Proceedings of the Sanhedrin

  1. Trials could not begin before the morning sacrifice (at daybreak). This meant that the trial had to be held during the day, but it also meant that prayer to God was the appropriate way to begin a trial.
  2. Trials were not allowed to begin on a Sabbath or Biblical holiday (such as the Passover). In the case of capital crime, the trial could not begin on the day before a Sabbath or Biblical Holiday. The trials of Jesus took place on the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread and the eve of the Passover.
  3. A trial for a capital crime could only be concluded in one day when the result was an acquittal. Otherwise, a second trial on the following day was required.
  4. The sentence was based on an uncorroborated confession. A confession must be validated by two witnesses to be entered as evidence. Confessions were only allowed as evidence if confirmed by two witnesses.
  5. The verdict was unanimous. He should have been released immediately. In Mark 14: 63–64 we read

    The high priest tore his clothes. “Why do we need any more witnesses?" he asked. “You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?" They all condemned him as worthy of death.

  6. The high priest rent his clothes. See verses above. This was forbidden in Leviticus 21:10–11

    The high priest, the one among his brothers who has had the anointing oil poured on his head and who has been ordained to wear the priestly garments, must not let his hair become unkempt or tear his clothes.

    It was perfectly acceptable for an ordinary citizen to tear his clothes as an expression of disgust, but it was improper for a high priest to do this.

  7. The voting was not done in the proper order. All the younger members should have cast their vote before the high priest made his decision known.
  8. At least some of the members of the Sanhedrin (including the high priest) should have been disqualified as judges (A judge was not to be biased against the accused). However, in Matthew 26:3–5 we find

    Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and they plotted to arrest Jesus in some sly way and kill him. “But not during the Feast," they said, “or there may be a riot among the people."

  9. There was no defense presented. The court could certainly have found witnesses that could have testified in Jesus' behalf. The defense is an essential element of a trial

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