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Before Caiaphas

The second phase of the proceedings began with the examination of witnesses by Caiaphas, in accordance with Jesusí earlier petition to Annas. It is described only by Mark and Matthew. The audience was given to understand that following a brief adjournment some witnesses had been brought in to testify.

In his summary of this part of the proceedings Matthew reports that many witnesses told lies against Jesus, but cites only a single one:

This man said,

I am able to tear down Godís Temple,

and three days later build it up again.

Mark reports the same charge with some changes in wording, but agrees that Jesus did not disown the allegation when confronted with it, remaining silent. This statement, which has always puzzled interpreters, encapsulates the two themes that run through the entire passion narrative

1)Jesusí submission to his humiliating ordeal was the result of choice. In order to fulfill his destiny, he opted not to resort to the unimaginable powers in his possession.

2)†† The high priests of the Temple in Jerusalem have doomed themselves by acting in opposition to Godís will.

By maintaining his silence at this stage of the trial, Jesus was rejecting, in the most categorical terms available to him, the legitimacy of the tribunal. The gospels were written at a time when the legitimacy of the Temple authorities was a burning issue. In order to assist in Paulís defense, the gospel writers tried to prove that because of their stubborn rejection of Jesus, the official representatives of Judaism could no longer be considered as leaders of a permitted religion (religio licita), a privilege that should henceforth be reserved for Jesusí followers. Hence the gospel writers stressed that Jesus, too, had rejected the legitimacy of the Temple authorities at his trial.

Seneca made Jesusí fateful struggle with the Temple authorities the theme of his tragedy. But this mortal antagonism was not invented by Senecait came to him from his informants, the followers of Paul.

Luke omits the entire procedure inside the house of the high priest; instead he dedicates his full attention to the activities of Peter, which were enacted in the open courtyard. Peter had just denied his master for the third time

And immediately, while he was still speaking,

a rooster crowed.

In the ancient theater, various stage effects had to be employed to inform the audience of the passage of dramatic time; the crowing of a rooster came by convention to signify daybreakSophocles used it for just this purpose in his Electra. Since, as Luke testifies, Jesus was brought before the Jewish Senate when day came, (Lk. 22:66), the session of the Senate had to follow immediately upon the third denial of Peter (and the roosterís crowing). To announce the coming of a new day was important since, as mentioned earlier, the Jewish law did not permit a death sentence to be passed on the first day of a trial.

For a Roman audience the roosterís crowing had an added significanceit was considered an evil omen.[1] In Senecaís Medea a somewhat similar stage effect is indicated by the lines quoted earlier:

Thrice has bold Hecate uttered her bark

and her luminous torch has spurted its mystic flames.

We must recall that in Senecaís Nazarenus the cockcrow was heard while flames were still shooting up from the altar at the center of the stage.

Luke provides a strictly chronological account of the events. During the first two phases of the questioning Jesus would have been partly visible on the balcony of the High Priestís house at the second level, his back being turned to the audience, since he had to face his interrogators who were inside. But at the sound of the roosterís crowing Jesus, turning around, looked straight at Peter.[2] Luke, who preserves this dramatic episode, was obviously impressed by an actual scene he had seen enacted. Jesus turned around and looked down at Peter from the balcony above stage level, whereupon Peter went out weeping bitterlythat is, he exited from the stage. In Senecaís play Peterís role did not continue beyond Act One; it began with Jesusí prediction of the denials and ended with the denialsí fulfillment.

Interpreters have wondered how an episode so derogatory to Peter should have found a place in the gospels. The explanation must be sought in terms of the ideological rifts in the early church. Paul saw his mission to the gentiles as the birth of a new Israel, whose members would be selected on the basis of their faith in the resurrected Jesus. This mission was abhorrent to Peter and the church in Jerusalem, although Luke in the Acts tries to minimize the differences among the apostles. Peterís prestige was second to none. Not only had he been the first one to follow Jesus, he was the first to witness the resurrection, as even Paul acknowledged in his letters. Paulís claim to represent the early church was hampered by the fact that he had never met Jesus, and had spent a number of years prior to his conversion viciously persecuting Jesusí followers. If one could not attack Peter directly, one could try to compromise him by spreading rumors about his alleged cowardice and disloyalty.[3] It is on the basis of such tales that Seneca made Peter the object of ridicule in the first act of his play, and after that simply did not mention him at all. But by the time the gospels were being written, the church was fighting for its life; all such bickering had to be put aside in the interest of its survival. The gospel writers strove to compensate for the unfavorable light in which Peter had been cast. It is for this reason that John introduced an episode at the end of his gospel in which Peter three times proclaims his affection for the resurrected Jesus (21:15-17), as if to make up for his earlier denials. But the attack on Peter that was the most serious in Christian eyes was the omission from the play of Peterís primacy as the first witness to the resurrection. This is a matter to which we shall return at the proper place.

The scene of Peterís denials was used by Seneca as a counterpoint to the drama of Jesusí interrogation. Raymond Brown explains:

John has constructed a dramatic contrast wherein Jesus stands up to his questioners and denies nothing, while Peter cowers before his questioners and denies everything.[4]

That certainly is the gist of the situation, but John cannot be given the credit for devising it, since the same contrast is implicit in the accounts of the other evangelists. Peterís presence on the stage provided a visual focus for the audience while Jesus and his interrogators were inside the House of the High Priest. In the next scene, as the drama moved onto the open stage, and the area in front of the central doorway was transformed into the meeting hall of the Senate, Peterís presence was no longer needed: Jesus had to face the Jewish Senate alone. Hence Seneca removed Peter from the stage in preparation for the third and final episode of Act One.



[1] In the Satyricon, the work of one of Senecaís contemporaries, when Trimalchioís feast is interrupted by the crowing of a rooster, the host exclaims: It is not for nothing that this trumpeter has given us notice, for either the house is on fire, or someone in the neighborhood will kill himself.

[2] Luke 22:61. The verb turning around, strepho, is a technical term used in the ancient theater to indicate the movements of the characters on the stage. Cf. Luke 23:28.

[3] Luke, who is the author of Ac ts of the Apostles, systematically downplays the activities of Peter, while closely following those of Paul. For instance, he fails to mention Peterís voyage to Corinth, of which we only learn from Corinthians I. 1. 12.

[4] Op. cit., p. 842.


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