Annas questions Jesus
In the preliminary questioning of Jesus, Annas tried to gather evidence that could later be presented at a formal hearing before the members of the Sanhedrin.
He questioned Jesus about two things:
- his disciples and
- his teaching.
The first line of questions may have been an attempt to gauge the size of the group supporting Jesus. The second suggests that Annas saw Jesus’ theology as a likely area in which he could be attacked, even though the Jewish authorities would later present Jesus to Pilate as a political danger. The highly educated priests were sceptical about the theological knowledge of someone like Jesus, a peasant-preacher from rural Galilee.
We know that Caiaphas, the current High Priest, saw Jesus as a dangerous threat to stability in Jerusalem. We don’t know what Annas thought, but it was probably the same.
Ancient Jewish Trial Law
Strictly speaking, Annas’ questioning of Jesus was not legal. Jewish law provided strict safeguards for the accused, who could not be required to incriminate himself. The case against him had to be established by the testimony of witnesses – defence witnesses first, then witnesses for the prosecution.
But this incident with Annas was not part of a formal trial. It was a quick enquiry, late at night, in an emergency situation. It may have taken only a few minutes, after which Jesus was hustled out into the darkness – see the courtyard and anterooms in the model of Annas’ house (above), where the questioning took place.
When the questioning was finished, soldiers took Jesus to the guards’ barracks and prison cells in the palace of Caiaphas, which was a much larger building than the house of Annas. See a modern reconstruction of this building at right.
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Jesus’ response to the questioning was calm, dignified, but non-committal. He refused to give specific answers to Annas’ questions, and this was interpreted as a lack of respect.
One of the onlookers, a soldier, struck Jesus with his hand (the word in the original text, rhapisma, means a sharp blow with the flat of the hand.) This action began the cycle of violence that would end with Jesus’ death.
If Jesus was to be sentenced to death by Pilate, as seems to have been the plan, a legal accusation had to be made by the reigning High Priest, Caiaphas, as chairman of the Sanhedrin. An accusation by Annas, however influential he was, was not enough.
Moreover, Jewish legal procedure did not permit an accused person’s testimony to be used against him. So when Jesus said ‘Why do you question me?’ it really meant ‘I do not have to answer these questions because you are not following correct legal procedure.’
So the next part of the story would unfold: Jesus would face Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin.
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See the next part of the story at Jesus and Caiphas: the Trial
See Maps of locations in the life of Jesus for further information on Jerusalem