§ 89. The trial of Jesus before Pilate

Critique of the Gospel History of the Synoptics
by Bruno Bauer

Volume 3



§ 89.

The trial of Jesus before Pilate.


1. The Report of the Fourth.

John 18:33-40. 19:1-16.

The Jews who have their Passover lamb at hand stay outside remain standing outside when they have handed Jesus over to the governor as a criminal deserving of death. Pilate then goes back into the praetorium, welcomes Jesus and asks him whether he is the king of the Jews. If he now, instead of outright declaring himself, thinks he must raise a counter-question, he should in any case have asked it more clearly than he actually did. His question: are you talking about yourself or did others tell you? the judge couldn’t understand and neither do we. Whether the question is meant to ask whether Pilate is considering Jesus’ claim to kingship from a Roman perspective or from the perspective of the Jews who hold this claim, there would be no difference, which is what Jesus seems to be emphasizing at this moment, as the Jews, when speaking with Pilate about the matter, could only present it to him in the dangerous light in which it must have appeared to the Roman.


Or, if the question is meant to ask whether Jesus is speaking about his claim to kingship as a divine belief that he himself holds, or whether he has been told this by others, then we might reasonably ask whether it was the time for Jesus to gain new followers or to pursue any even remotely appearing chance of gaining such followers. However, could he really have been uncertain about who Pilate had heard from that he was the King of the Jews?

Both cases that we had to consider as possible, the meaningless tendency of the question and this pretentious one, have crossed the mind of the Fourth [Gospel writer]. Both are present in the question itself, but these already baseless allusions could not be followed up and shaped into a coherent thought by the Fourth [Gospel writer], because he can never shape and because this time he pursued different tendencies at the same time.

(It is not worth noting that it is inappropriate for the Jews to have argued back and forth without telling Pilate what kind of criminal they were bringing, and for the governor to suddenly ask, “Are you the King of the Jews?” However, it is indicative of the Fourth Gospel writer’s style, or rather, the way he borrows from his predecessors and develops their statements. When Mark says that the Jews handed Jesus over to Pilate and he asked him if he was the King of the Jews, that is something completely different; it is told in a sensible manner.)

“Am I a Jew? replies Pilate. Your people and the chief priests handed you over to me. What have you done?” So because he is not a Jew, he has nothing to do with investigating what Jesus’ supposed claims are all about? And what does that mean, putting off the investigation first and then ask, “What have you done? Well, this latter question is only meant to bring about Jesus’ declaration that his kingdom is not of this world. So you are a king after all? replies Pilate, naive and curious as a child, and Jesus has not even denied it hitherto! He was supposed to only have the opportunity to notice that he is indeed a king and to impart the same formulas he uses throughout the whole fourth Gospel about his purpose for coming into the world. As he also mentions the word “truth” for this purpose, Pilate asks, “What is truth?” However, the Fourth Gospel did not come up with all those interesting intermediate thoughts that later cleverness combined with this question. The evangelist simply wanted to end the conversation and therefore lets Pilate pose a question to which he had very little to answer unless he wanted to teach the same old formulas over and over again. He then says that Pilate went out to the Jews with these words.


We believe Pilate’s report to the Jews that he found no fault in this man during the wonderful interrogation. However, if he was convinced of Jesus’ innocence, he could not even take the middle ground and propose, in accordance with the Paschal custom of releasing a prisoner at that time, whether they wanted him to release to them the King of the Jews. Furthermore, if he wanted to save the accused, it was a childish and reckless obstinacy on his part to provoke the Jews through the form of the proposal, not to mention that it is not the custom of authorities to label the innocent with the title of the accusation.

Although these contrasts all collapse before the human eye, they repeat themselves again and again, until we run out of patience and are compelled and justified to cast down the concoction of this pragmatism with contempt. But it doesn’t even get that bad with him: it falls apart in our hands.

The people want Barrabas, a robber, free. Pilate obeys, takes Jesus, has him scourged, and the soldiers dress him in a mocking royal garb, taunt and mistreat him.


Now we might think that it’s enough and the matter is over. But no! it goes on again and again from the beginning, and we can’t understand how it can ever come to an end.

Once again Pilate goes out to show the Jews, by bringing Jesus out with him, that he finds no fault in him. What a foolish man! How could he hope to find a hearing for his proposals by presenting Jesus to the Jews in a mocking king’s costume! Of course, the high priests and their servants cry out: “Crucify him, crucify him!”

Then Pilate answers, “Take him and crucify him!” As if they hadn’t already said before that they didn’t have the right to execute the death penalty. And if they had just said it again: “He is guilty, but we are not allowed to execute the death sentence ourselves.” No! They answer: “According to our law, he is guilty because he made himself the Son of God.”

Pilate is said to have become “even more” afraid, and he goes back (!) to the Praetorium, asking Jesus where he comes from – ποθεν, as Pilate is familiar with the language of the holy John – but Jesus remains silent. Pilate tries to win him over, reminding him that he has the power to crucify him or to set him free, and – can anyone treat their hero more frightfully, degrade him more deeply? – with this threatening argument, Jesus is actually moved to answer. However, even an answer that rebuked the governor was inappropriate if Jesus had already decided not to answer; indeed, an answer that only elevated his own person above Pilate’s pretended power was the most inappropriate in this case. He should have better introduced or used his reworked version of the saying he read in Luke, the saying (Chapter 22, verse 53) that “this is the power of darkness at this hour”. Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.”


The thing then starts again from the beginning. From then on, it is said – but he had proved from the beginning that he had this intention! — Pilate sought to set him free. But—the steps he tried to carry out his intention are not given! Naturally! because the stuff that his predecessors gave to the Fourth has finally run out — the Jews shouted, if you let him go, you’re no friend of Caesar. Anyone who makes himself king defies the emperor! Finally – as if he hadn’t known from the beginning that this man would attach himself to the kingship, as if it didn’t matter in what sense he attached it to himself etc etc etc — Pilate sits outside on his judge’s seat, carrying Jesus with him, but starts again the unworthy, we should mean long ago hounded joke that he introduces Jesus to the Jews as their king, and then asks them when they demand the crucifixion, should he crucify their king? Only when they reply that we have no king but the Emperor is the matter finally settled. But we still have no rest. Pilate gives Jesus to the Jews to be crucified. The Jews! The fourth, who now had so much to do with the Jews and finally wanted to quench their anger, forgets that Jesus could not be handed over to the Jews, but only to the Roman soldiers, according to the assumptions that he himself had so glaringly emphasized!

But why didn’t he close the matter with the fact that Jesus was handed over to be scourged by the governor and mocked by the soldiers with that king’s habit! Why does he then have this endless tangle of going back and forth, going out and going in, leading out and in! Why is he only now bringing up the fact that the Jews regarded Jesus as guilty of death because he had made himself the son of God! Why does he bring up Luke’s saying about the power of darkness here in the first place! In general, he has to fix the mistakes he made in the composition so poorly, and he even processes the new incident points that the other two have added to the original report, such as the note about the increasing fear of Pilate, even more clumsily than his predecessors!


We’ll catch our breath when we read the original report.

2. The original report.

Mark 15, 1—21

Jesus is handed over to Pilate by the priesthood. He asks him, are you the king of the Jews? Jesus affirms it, but says nothing about all the accusations of the priests, remains silent even there, to the astonishment of Pilate, when he draws his attention to the seriousness of the accusations.

In short, Pilate is at a loss as to what to do.

The fact that the mob stormed up to the praetorium—the negotiations were taking place inside— *) and reminded him that he was in the habit of releasing a prisoner for them at Passover time. He immediately takes this opportunity to propose to them whether he should not release the king of the Jews to them; for he saw that the priests had handed him over to him only out of spiteful envy. Rather, they incited the people to demand Barrabas, a man who had committed murder in a rebellion and was imprisoned with the conspirators. From this proposal Pilate asks what he should do with the king of the Jews, they cry crucify him! and after he had noticed that he had done nothing wrong, and the people had repeated his cry, he gave him up to be flogged and crucified, but released Barabbas, which the fourth had completely forgotten to report on more important matters. The soldiers now lead Jesus into the courtyard, call the whole cohort together, clothe Jesus in that mocking royal garb, mock him, put his own clothes back on him, and then lead him out to be crucified.

*) V. 8: αναβας. After V. 18 :  ο εστι πραιτωριον is a later gloss.


Before we examine the original report more closely, we shall first free it from the additions with which the other two hoped to enrich it for its own good.

3. Luke’s account.

Luke 23, 1-25.

Not even at the beginning, although he is still trying to preserve the structure of the original report, can Luke resist the temptation to improve, to change, to define more precisely; but if these changes are already unfortunate in the beginning, the definiteness which Luke imposes on the original features is only fragmentary, namely only spotted out here and there, while the other features remain as he finds them in the writing of Mark:— so he finally broke through the original report at one point and changed one feature so much that in this respect his account can compete with that of the fourth.

It is far too suggestive when the Jews come forward with the accusation that Jesus deceives the people and prevents them from paying taxes to Caesar by saying that he is the Messiah-King; This detailed and suggestive accusation is now the subject of Pilate’s question: are you king of the Jews? afterwards, when Jesus answers this question in the affirmative, it is much too early and unnaturally hasty that Pilate assures “the priests and the crowd” that he finds no guilt in this man, and when the adversaries affirm again , he stirs up the people by teaching throughout Judea, and that he began his career from Galilee to here is, according to the proportion in which the Gospel passages are worked out and expressed, a very unnecessary and superfluous remark.


To Pilate, the word Galilee was like a godsend. When he heard that Jesus was a Galilean, he remembered that Herod, the accused’s ruler, was present in the capital right now, and sent Jesus to him. Later, after the account of Jesus’ unsuccessful interrogation by Herod, Luke informs us that Herod and Pilate, who had previously been enemies, were good friends at that time.

Pilate hit it very well with his idea. Herod was happy to see Jesus, for he had wanted to see him for a long time and he hoped to see a sign from him. But he asked him a lot!! Jesus was silent and — but where do they come from? did they know that Pilate sent Jesus to Herod? Must they always be where there is something for them to do? — the chief priests and scribes accused him severely! — the chief priests whom Pilate must later call together again when Jesus returns; the high priests, who, if they had accompanied Jesus to Herod, would certainly not have let him go alone on his return!

Later, however, when Pilate calls the priests back, he himself says that he sent them to Herod – but Luke should have mentioned this earlier instead of presenting the matter as if what happened between Pilate and Herod was only a private matter, only a proof of their renewed friendship! And if the priests were sent to Herod with Jesus, shouldn’t they have returned to Pilate with Jesus at the same time?

Things are back to where they were now. Pilate must again protest the innocence of this man and in vain – but no! Luke did not even know how to put the matter in such a way that Pilate, when the people reminded him of the Passover custom, made the suggestion that he should accordingly release the accused — No! after Pilate had declared, without reminding of this custom and without regard to it, that he wanted Jesus, after having him —! — have scourged, release, the people suddenly cry out, without us learning how the idea came about: take him and instead release us Barrabas! Therefore, when Pilate later makes his proposal again and even repeats it once more, despite the people’s outcry, stating that he finds nothing deserving of death in this man, this sets the stage for that endless and senseless expansion that so painfully tormented us in the fourth Gospel. On the other hand, it is not even explained how it came about that the dice were cast between Jesus and Barabbas, i.e., it is not motivated why Pilate persisted with his repeated proposals.


And yet this interlude was originally intended to give Pilate an opportunity to extricate himself from his embarrassment, even through Luke’s unclear and confused presentation this determination can still be seen. — — —

i.e. if Pilate wanted to get himself out of the embarrassment by Jesus’ settlement to Herod – although Luke did not even know how to write in such a way that he would have clearly stated this intention – then a disturbing excess has entered the account.

Finally, the mockery of Jesus in the royal robe is only intended to conclude the development, and because of its crude character, it can only come from the soldiers and as the conclusion of this act, only from the Roman soldiers to whom the condemned was handed over for crucifixion. And, as Luke says, Herod dressed Jesus in the purple robe, mocked him with his soldiers, and sent him back to Pilate in the purple robe.

Not a word more about a report of this kind! We have already shown above that Luke used what Mark reports about the relationship between Herod and the Baptist in the most adventurous way to work out this novel between Jesus and Herod, and his imagination was so poor in this regard that he only knew how to process in this novel what can be read in the original report of the interrogation of Jesus before Pilate and of his mockery by the soldiers.


Matthew has other news to tell us.

4. The account of Matthew.

C. 27, 2. 11-31.

He kept the order of things as they were in Mark, and copied more faithfully than Luke. However, when he comes to that incident and mentions the Paschal custom at the time, and then lets Pilate make the proposal without further explanation: “Whom shall I release to you, Jesus or Barabbas?” – how does the governor know that a certain Barabbas comes into play here? It is because Matthew is excessively hasty and inserts what he has learned from Mark’s scripture into Pilate’s mind without considering it. He had already made an extraordinary mistake in allowing Pilate to speak before telling us that the people reminded the governor of that custom.

As he sits on the judge’s seat and makes that very suggestion, the Fourth Gospel has the note from Matthew about the judge’s seat, which he then introduces in his own very laborious and anxious way. He only has Pilate ascend the seat at the end for the sake of solemnity, and also because the harried Pilate has been running back and forth before. Suddenly, while he is making this suggestion, his wife sends word to him, telling him not to harm this innocent man, for she has suffered much in a dream on account of him. It’s a pity that we don’t hear what she suffered, but it’s unfortunate that this episode is drowned out by the context! Because what did the people say in response to that proposal? We don’t hear it! No, because of that episode, once it’s finished, the story starts all over again: the priests convince the people to demand the release of Barabbas, and in response to this demand – as if it had never been made! – Pilate must reply: which of the two shall I release? The story thus falls into a bottomless abyss from which it will never emerge, and the episode is dragged down with it.


A new episode! Finally, after Matthew has worked his way up to the point with the help of Mark where Pilate is forced to give in to the will of the people, he tells us that Pilate took water, washed his hands in front of the eyes of the people – washing his hands in innocence! – and said, “I am innocent of the blood of this righteous man. You can see for yourselves!” to which the people replied, “His blood be on us and on our children!”

What is the world in which a judge so vehemently protests the innocence of an accused and, when he nevertheless sentences him, thinks himself white-faced and settles the matter completely, as soon as he presents himself before the eyes of malicious persecutors, to whom he exposes the innocent, wash hands? What is the world in which the judge, who sits publicly free in the marketplace among the people, as soon as it enters his mind, immediately has water at hand to wash symbolically, or rather ridiculously earnestly, by washing his hands, to ensure his innocence? It is that world of Matthew in which the Roman governor must at all costs pronounce the innocence of Jesus, whatever the consequences may be. It is the world in which Jesus’ innocence must be declared at any price, even at the price of a Roman governor making himself look ridiculous; it is the same world in which people are sent dreams just as they are necessary for a petty pragmatism: for petty is this effort to establish the innocence of Jesus in every way.

Incidentally, the reason for the last episode, or at least one element that Matthew has processed in it, is that word that, according to Luke’s account, Jesus said to the women who wept for him on the way to Golgotha: Rather weep for you and yours Children!

After the episodes, the contortions, the endless extensions have experienced their fate, the original report will not be able to escape its fate either.


5. Resolution of the original report.

Very wise remarks have been made that Jesus, after briefly professing himself before Pilate as King of the Jews, is silent on all further accusations; but the thing is simply this: Jesus had to be silent, because the Holy Spirit had dictated to the prophet that it would be so, because Jesus is the Lamb which, when it is led to the slaughterhouse (Isa. 53:7), does not open its mouth.

By resisting the demands of the priests, Pilate must provide the proof that Jesus really was innocent, by his inclination for the innocent he must provide the foil on which the raging fury of the Jews appears in all its gloom. and finally he has to declare that he finds no guilt in this man, so that he can speak like those princes who, in contrast to the vengeful priests, declared that Jeremiah (26:16) was not guilty of death.

However, the evangelical view cannot be consistent because it is never concerned with portraying a character accurately, as it does not recognize the value of any individual character or person, and only its momentary needs and contrasts are of importance. Therefore, it should not surprise us when Pilate is suddenly used in a different way and has to renounce his willingness to support Jesus at the moment when another contrast is necessary. As if he could be heard through such bitter jests, he presents Jesus as the King of the Jews to his opponents, because this is what Mark wants at that moment, as he aims to humble the pride of the priests while also demonstrating the Romans’ contempt for all Jewish beliefs.

As for Barabbas, Mark is the only witness who teaches us about that Passover custom, which the people suddenly thought of when things were quite different, but which they had to think of in order to be accepted by Pilate’s suggestion and through the insinuations of the priests it could happen that the lot was drawn over two people who touched each other in a strange way *). The copyist who wrote about Barrabas Matth. 27, 16 first added the addition “Jesus” may have already seen who Barrabas is. Barrabas, i.e. “the son of the father”, is the image of the Messiah created by Mark, namely the lying image of the true Messiah. The Jews demanded the false image and rejected the heavenly archetype. In a rebellion in which he stained himself with blood, Barabbas wanted to fight for the earthly freedom of his people, while Jesus taught freedom and the service of the kingdom of heaven, whose citizenship one only obtains by accepting it as a child. Furthermore, by his name Barabbas is the lying image of him whom his father from heaven called his beloved son. When finally on the Day of Atonement the lot was thrown over two, namely over the two goats, one of which had to fall to the Lord as a bloody sacrifice for the sin of the people, while the other went free, that one had to be chosen in a similar way who was to shed his blood for the sins of the people and the world.

*) As I said, I don’t want to spoil the end of my work by mentioning theological lies and shamefulness here. The theological archeology of the passion story is only a tautology, which merely repeats the information given by the evangelists and has the impertinence of wanting to count as the result of historical research. In another place, however, if one really wants it, although the matter is completely settled with the above criticism, I shall show to what lies theologians have taken refuge in this matter.


The mocking coronation of Jesus by the Roman soldiers—the mockery of the world power at the promised king of Israel—is intended to bring the mockery to the extreme it could reach before the crucifixion and before the scenes that took place at it.



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