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Were Jesus and His Followers Armed?

Were Jesus and his followers armed?  That’s the question for this week’s Readers’ Mailbag.  I had started to address the question when I realized that I had already said what I have to say as well as I could say it in my recent book Jesus Before the Gospels.  And so I will give that discussion here.  So, here’s the question and my response

 

QUESTION:

What is the scholarly view on this subject: did Jesus himself, his movement and then early Christians walk around with weapons (swords, e.g.) to protect themselves, despite preaching the love for enemies? Do we have any historical evidence of how things looked like in this matter?

 

RESPONSE:  (Taken from Jesus Before the Gospels)

In all four Gospels, at least one of Jesus’ followers is armed when he is arrested.   In the Synoptics, this unnamed follower draws his sword and strikes the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear (see Mark 14:47).  In John’s Gospel we learn that the sword-bearing disciple was Peter (John 18: 10).   Jesus puts a halt to his follower’s violent inclination, however, and humbly submits to his arrest.  In Luke’s version he does so only after healing the ear (Luke 22:51).

From the eighteenth century until the present day (starting with Hermann Samuel Reimarus, the first scholar to write a critical study of the historical Jesus in the modern period), there have been scholars, and non-scholars, who have thought that this incident in the garden is both altogether plausible and indicative of the character of Jesus’ message and mission.  In this opinion, the incident must be historical for a rather simple reason.  What later Christian would make up such a story?   When Christians were telling and retelling their accounts of Jesus’ life in the years after his death, of course they would want him to appear entirely palatable to their audiences.   Nothing would make Jesus more palatable in Roman eyes than the view that he was a peace-loving promoter of non-violence, not a violent insurrectionist against Rome.  If Jesus allowed his followers to be armed, however, that would suggest he was in favor of them carrying out acts of violence.   If later Christians would not make up the idea that Jesus’ promoted violence, then no one could make up the idea that his followers were armed.   Following this logic, the story of the sword in the garden is not an invented tradition but a historical fact.   Jesus’ followers, therefore, were armed.  Moreover, if they were armed, so this reasoning goes, then Jesus must have anticipated and even promoted an armed rebellion.

There’s a good deal of sense to this view and it is easy to see why it is attractive.  Still, at the end of the day I don’t find it convincing.  This is for two reasons…

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Am I A Better Person as an Agnostic? A Blast from the Past
My Work as a Historian and Paul in Conflict with the Jerusalem Church: Readers’ Mailbag August 20, 2016

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    Boltonian  August 26, 2016

    Another possible reason: I imagine swords were out of the financial reach of poor farmers and fishermen. They might have had knives, primarily as work tools, but weren’t swords carried as a matter of course only by soldiers and wealthy individuals who could afford to protect themselves against bandits?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 28, 2016

      Good question! I assume others had swords, but right, they may have been expensive. (And unwieldy)

      • Avatar
        KathleenM  September 8, 2016

        The word sword in Greek has been “translated” knife in English. Knives were needed for cutting and digging roots (locust root like JTBaptist ate in the wild, a yam shaped like a grasshopper that people still love today) and when tying cords and ropes (knives like scissors if you will) along the road. You obviously have looked at the Gk word–I’m no Gk expert. Haven’t found the word in Aramaic yet, just curious though how that gospel translation has it, I know it was after the Greek, but they grok the idioms.

        Also how about how just an ear “lobe” was lopped or carved off. Many times I’ve pictured that – why didn’t the guy just pass out, bleed to death or have his brain exposed, if it was a sword? A knife would make sense, like our painter friend Van Gogh had done/did. Maybe it was just the slave’s ear lobe, and Jesus breathed on it, or cupped his hands over it, stopped the bleeding, or somehow tacked the torn flesh back on and the slave went off with his hand over his ear, or a rag from someone’s sleve. (Breathing in someone’s ear is a healing tachnique in the Near East, Ruha, the holy breath resurrects people, or rises them up. You can try it by 1) rubbing your palms together, they will be warm, while you inhale. 2) breathe out on your palms, now they are even warmer 3) put them over your pain–ears, eyes, sore muscles. Ha! It works! Your aching body part, your throat, or limb, face, lips will feel great!! Maybe this is all an “idiomatic phrase,” for Jesus healing someone’s ear of something on the moment’s spur.) I know it does say “Peter” did it, but he was no thief or bad man, I think Peter was a Jewish Rabbi from Bethsaida. There is a house with a synagog there and a huge key that fits the door, like a door knob and a key, it opens the door to the synagog attached to the house called “Peter’s Place.” (The Pope was given a copy of the key.) Whoever lived in the house had a fishing boat for 12, and it’s said Peter’s 12 servants fished for him, one seat for the rudder man.

        Aramaic does interpret “That’s enough, or that’s sufficient” to mean – “go away now and drop the subject,” not necessarily that “2 knives/swords would be plenty.” But just “That’s plenty on that subject.” His original remark was in reference (as mentioned in posts below too) about what would happen after Peter et al went on the road without him – many robbers there were in those days, Bar Abbas had been released earlier or escaped I think. Zealots, the disposesed etc.,were all out and around the country roads. (Good Jews may have become “roadmen” too, f their families were starving in caves, or necessity or dought somehow forced them to become slaves to bandits. Bar Abbas kidnapped people according to history, good and the bad alike, much as happens today with child traffickng.

        4 DISCIPLES SPENT THE NIGHT IN JAIL WITH JESUS?
        ******One other idea in addition to all the good posts below! : IE there are stories where ****4 of the disciples were in jail all night along with Jesus. Of course he, Jesus, blew his own case if he really said he was the Messiah, ie a king, that would have slammed Pilate’s patience. Or perhaps just the way he said “you say that I am” just sent Pilate over the edge. In that Judas Gospel — we read also that Judas was smart and a good buddy with Jesus, maybe even a classmate, so maybe all kinds of ideas were going on that night. Perhaps the apostles or Judas thought they would be sobered up in jail over night, then released to go home, and no one guessed Jesus would be identified possibly with a “king” vs. Rome, or mistaken to be the robber Bar Abbas and mistakenly taken to court. Maybe Pilate screwed it up and let the robber Bar Abbas, or Zealot Bar Abbas, go in error, but executed by capital punishment our Man, a true Son of God (bar Abba). It wasn’t his tradition to let anyone go from prosecution, but he had 2 guys with the same name, the crowd labelled our Jesus for execution and the criminal set free (an error). Perhaps the crowd were Zealots.

        Good topic as always.

  2. Avatar
    moose  August 26, 2016

    Mr Ehrman. This is actually a question that can be answered pretty convincingly from a mythicists point of view, just by looking at Exodus Chapter 17.
    Exodus chapter 19 tells about when Yahweh descended on top of Mount Sinai – on the third day – and Moses was allowed to witness this miracle.
    Now, let us be mythicists just for a minute, and assume that Exodus 19 is the template for the resurrection story. What had happened two chapters before, in Exodus 17? First of all that Moses struck the rock, and water came out. But what happens next is what concerns our case.
    Exodus 17,8-9: “Then Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim. So Moses said to Joshua, “Choose for us men, and go out and fight with Amalek”.
    The servant who got his ear chopped off in John’s gospel is named Malchos. Malchos may easily well be an anagram for Amalek.
    This is from a mythicists point of view is a reasonable explanation for why Jesus’ followers were armed when he was arrested.

    He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one(…)The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.” “That’s enough!” he replied. – Luke 22,36-38

    • Avatar
      moose  August 28, 2016

      This incident when Moses struck the rock, and water came out, is important for the understanding of later Christology – I think.
      It explains this strange idea of drinking the blood of Christ as a further theologically development of drinking water from the “the rock”. Christ was this “rock” in Exodus, as Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 10.
      But it is equally important to understand that this incident explains The Denial of Peter! We find this same story, only slightly changed, in Numbers 20. This time Moses strikes the rock twice. How many times did he actually hit the rock? One time as in Exodus 17, or twice as in Numbers 20. A theological answer could be to summarize the number of times in both Exodus and Numbers, and say that Moses struck the rock a total number of three.
      Anyway, in the Numbers we see how crucial this incident was for Moses.
      Numbers 20,12: “But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.”
      Moses did not honor Yahweh as holy in the sight of the Israelites – Moses had denied Yahweh in the sight of the Israelites!
      Because of this incident Moses was not allowed to lead the Israelites in to the Promised Land.

  3. Avatar
    Eric  August 26, 2016

    I don’t know enough about everyday life in Palestine in those days, but surely in many times and places in world history, innocent travelers would be considered fools if they went about completely unarmed. Being armed on the “highway” doesn’t make one an insurrectionist or a highwayman, does it? Deterrence being a key purpose.

    Carrying a staff, wearing a dagger or sword are not necessarily (in many places and times) aggressive or “living by the sword” (which to me would be initiating violence). So to me, carrying a sword might be perfectly consistent with a message of peace — and the ear story the exception that proves the rule.

    If there is evidence that this would not have been reasonable norm in Roman Palestine, then I stand ready to be corrected.

  4. Avatar
    Karol Dziwior  August 26, 2016

    Dr Ehrman,

    Thank you for answering my question. Could you please relate to the Luke 22:36 (and also following two verses)? A lot of people (from my perspective a lot of Christian people) quote this verse as to show that Jesus did encourage his disciples to arm themselves.

    Thank you!

    • Bart
      Bart  August 28, 2016

      It’s worth noting that this verse is found only in Luke. I’m not sure what to make of it, except to say that if it was historical — if Jesus’ followers really were carrying swords — again it’s hard to explain why they too weren’t arrested as insurgents.

  5. Hastings
    Hastings  August 26, 2016

    I have watched gun-toting fundamentalists use this story from scriptures to validate their 21st century desire to carry weapons even when faced with the horrendous surge of gun violence in our country over recent years and it upsets me as I do believe Jesus was a teacher of non-violence. Thanks for posting this.

  6. talmoore
    talmoore  August 26, 2016

    Dr. Ehrman, I see the logic in your argument, but I see a different logic in the arrest narrative that’s the complete opposite of yours.

    1) Jesus and his followers believed the Kingdom of God (Messiah, Resurrection, Judgment, etc.) was not only imminent, but was to begin right then and there, 30CE, during or immediately subsequent to the Passover.
    2) As part of these eschatological events, the Messiah (or Son of Man) was going to lead God’s Host (i.e. His angelic army, lead by Michael) into Jerusalem, coming from the east (i.e. out of the desert — A herald crying in the wilderness: “…prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”)
    3) And this army of angels will assist the Righteous Jews as they do battle with the Wicked men (and their allies, the army of Satan’s demons) in the Valley of Yehoshphat (i.e the Kidron valley, immediately east of Jerusalem). (cf. the War Scroll of the DDS)
    4) Upon the victory of the Righteous, with the help from God’s angelic forces, the Messiah or Son of Man will then judge every man, separating the worthy righteous from the unworthy wicked (like wheat from chaff, or good fruit from bad fruit, or crops from weeds). The Righteous will remain in the Messiah’s new paradisal kingdom on earth, while the Wicked are damned to everlasting torment in Gehenna.

    Now, assuming that Jesus and his followers believed all of this, which is not an unreasonable assumption, it would not only be acceptable to think they were armed, it would be expected. For who knowingly comes to a potential battle unarmed?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 28, 2016

      Yes, it’s all plausible. But again, if they were armed and willing to fight, it’s hard to explain why they weren’t arrested and tried as well….

      • talmoore
        talmoore  August 28, 2016

        Aha, I think, Dr. Ehrman, that you are over thinking this. Here’s a possible hypothesis by way of offering a quick outline of how I am tackling this scene in the novel that I’m am writing about Jesus. After their Passover Seder, Jesus and his followers (the Nazoreans) sneak out of the city in the dead of night, heading east, crossing the Qidron and ascending up the Mount of Olives. Their path is illuminated solely by the stars and moon (The night of April 6th-7th [15-16 Nisan] of the year 30CE was a full moon.) They are travelling up the hill in anticipation of God’s Host coming from the east with the morning sunrise. They stop at the olive vats (Gath-Shemen) and olive presses within the olive orchards — the agreed upon rally point. They are armed with meager weapons — swords, spears, clubs. As most of the followers go to sleep, several of the others, including Jesus, stay up to keep vigil. As Jesus wanders off to give up a prayer to God before morning, his fellow vigilants fall asleep on their watch. Upon his return, Jesus kicks them awake and chides them for their weakness. Not too long after, Judas, called Ish-Qiryyot, walks out of the darkness. His fellow Nazoreans are suspicious of his tardiness. Judas nervously approaches Jesus, kissing his master on the lips. Suddenly, a dozen soldiers race out of the darkness, shouting for the Nazoreans to drop their weapons and back away. The sleeping followers jump to their feet in a haze, and in their confusion run off into the darkness every which way. One Nazorean makes a move to strike a soldier, but is suddenly taken with fright as he sees more soldiers coming out of the darkness, and dropping his blade, he, too, runs away into the darkness. A shocked Jesus, abandoned by all of his loyal followers, is dragged away. Come morning, some of the Nazoreans come out of hiding, and, one by one, they regroup. The one Nazorean who raised his sword but was too scared to fight is asked by the others if he used weapon on the soldiers. He doesn’t remember; it all happened so fast. Another Nazorean mentions seeing him take a swing and hitting one of the soldiers. As the days, weeks and months pass, that one misperception becomes elaborated into a Nazorean cutting off a soldier’s ear. By the time Luke recounts the event, Jesus (unrealistically) has time to give a short speech and even heal the ear back onto the soldier.

        Now, of course, this is a fictional product of my imagination, but it’s constructed so as to at least be plausible.

        • Avatar
          Odin  March 22, 2018

          That is very nearly how I imagine it too. Roman soldiers would not wait for a speech and a medicinal moment. Moments of panic become muddied and the best versions of the story, according to the people alive to tell it, become legend.

  7. Avatar
    Pegill7  August 26, 2016

    Bart,

    What do you make of Luke 22:36, “….And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one”?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 28, 2016

      It’s worth noting that this verse is found only in Luke. I’m not sure what to make of it, except to say that if it was historical — if Jesus’ followers really were carrying swords — again it’s hard to explain why they too weren’t arrested as insurgents.

  8. Avatar
    JoeRoark  August 26, 2016

    But did not Jesus tell the disciples to get a sword, then limit the number of swords needed to only two? And this was, as I understand it, to show that his kingdom was not of this world?

    Luke 22: 36, 38 Those without a sword were to sell their robe and buy one, but after it was discovered they already had two swords, Jesus said it was enough. Two swords for a dozen men?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 28, 2016

      It’s worth noting that this verse is found only in Luke. I’m not sure what to make of it, except to say that if it was historical — if Jesus’ followers really were carrying swords — again it’s hard to explain why they too weren’t arrested as insurgents.

  9. Rick
    Rick  August 26, 2016

    Speaking to the more general question posed – whether they went around armed. Can we tell if the apocalyptic Jesus’ message was strictly reserved for those who would join him in the Kingdom of God or perhaps was for the Children of Israel more generally? If the peace was reserved for those who would gain the Kingdom then could it have been alright for Jesus followers to be armed to protect themselves (and Jesus) from those who, as aggressors, certainly would be denied the Kingdom?
    Also, the ear was the ear of a slave which perhaps would not have represented an attack on other than property thus excusing Peter/whomever from arrest. But, does that sound like a literary device rather than ….. surviving history?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 28, 2016

      It appears that only those who followed Jesus’ teachings would be admitted into the kingdom (he rants against others within Israel who will not get in). And yes, I don’t think the story can be historical, since then Peter (or whomever) would have been arrested as well.

  10. Avatar
    godspell  August 26, 2016

    For obvious reasons, it is hard to believe the story about Jesus giving a man his ear back after Peter cut if off (where was Jesus when Vincent Van Gogh needed him?).

    Question–how common was it for ordinary people to go around armed in those days? There were robbers on the roads, and in the cities. There would be times when a short sword, good for both stabbing and cutting, might come in handy. But how did Roman law treat the average person’s right to bear arms? (The NRA wants to know). I get that most people living in Palestine weren’t Roman citizens, merely Roman subjects, so maybe that made some difference. But if you’re a Roman soldier, and you see someone walking around with a sword strapped to his belt (they’d be hard to conceal), and it’s a province known for rebellion, how do you react?

    The gospel story tells us that Jesus told the disciples to arm themselves, shortly before he was taken by the authorities–but they only showed him two swords (probably expensive and difficult to obtain on short notice), and he said that was fine. That was all that was needed. Needed for what? My theory is that he wanted to demonstrate that he was not giving himself up willingly because his followers were incapable of defending themselves, but because it was his own will to submit peacefully. It wouldn’t have the same effect, to surrender non-violently if violence wasn’t really an option. You can’t prove you believe in putting aside the sword, if you don’t have any swords to put aside. That’s like saying you are fasting to purify your soul when you don’t have any food.

    Jesus seems to have often failed to carefully explain himself to his disciples, and was often impatient with what he perceived as their inability to understand him–“If you have ears, hear!” They were supposed to figure some things out for themselves. Somebody asks him a straighforward question, and he responds with a question, or a proverb, or a parable. He was not much given to directness at times. So maybe some of the disciples believed Jesus wanted them to use the swords, and then he had to correct them. And there really wasn’t any kind of fight–these were not trained fighters–but there was a bit of a fracas there in the garden, or elsewhere, and this served Jesus’ purpose fine–he proved that yes, they would fight for him, but no, he would not let them shed blood for him. This was his test, not theirs. Theirs would come later.

    The problem with this theory is that the disciples seem to have felt deep guilt that they hadn’t resisted his arrest more effectively. That guilt, as much as anything, may have led to the visions they had of a risen Jesus. But maybe they just felt they should have died along with him. Survivor’s guilt was surely as much of a thing then as it is now. We can’t take it for granted that all Jesus’ followers shared his feelings about violence at the time of his death. Some might still have believed he was going to be the traditional Jewish Messiah. As you’ve said many times, it was only after his crucifixion that they had to abandon that idea, and replace it with a new messianic concept.

    And given the power the Romans had, their ability to crush even the most determined revolt, nonviolent resistance certainly had its advantages. It was, in fact, a winning strategy in the long run.

  11. Avatar
    Tempo1936  August 26, 2016

    Before the disciple used his sword in the garden in Luke 22:49, Jesus and the disciples were talking a lot about swords
    Luke 22:36
    He said to them, “And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one.”
    Luke 22:38
    And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.”
    (Not clear that it is enough to have two swords for all the disciples or two swords for each disciple.)

    early in the ministry Jesus does not appear to be a man of peace as he is portrayed later on
    Matthew 10:34
    “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
    Today we might see this group of 12 as a gang or even terrorist.
    Publicly Jesus is usually portrayed as a man of peace, but privately to his disciples message is more violent.
    Honestly I’m amazed these passages were not removed later on in the recopying it is inconsistent with the idealized Jesus, creator of the universe

    • Avatar
      godspell  September 3, 2016

      He pretty clearly did not mean two swords for each disciple. No Roman soldier carried two swords. The meaning is “I come to bring not peace but division.” Because some in each community, each family, would accept his teachings, while many others would not, and in fact this did lead to division, among both Jewish and Pagan families.

      I don’t believe his message was ever violent. If he’d wanted violence, he would have told them to get more swords. He wanted to prove his movement was nonviolent, and the best way to do that was to demonstrate that even if they had swords, they wouldn’t use them.

      You shouldn’t try to make symbolism literal. It leads to bad results.

      • Avatar
        Kazibwe Edris  September 4, 2016

        why would a peaceful message from peaceful man lead to division?

        what about avalos who takes complete different stance on this

        quote:

        Another reason is equally circular, namely , that jesus is recorded to have preached ‘unqualified love’ elsewhere. but how did the fellows determine that it is the loving jesus that is authentic rather than the more violent one? if this saying is so starkly contraposed to the love sayings, then why does the redactor not see that? denying that jesus uttered this logion because it alludes to MIC 7.5-6 is also circular. given that QUOTING, or ALLUDING to, the HEBREW BIBLE was common in jewish exegesis of the time, how did the fellows determine that jesus could not allude to that passage?

        However, perhaps the most common strategy is to misread jesus’ purpose clause, (‘for i have come to set a man against his father…’) as a result clause, which is not what the grammar of jesus’ language indicates at all. the relevant clauses in mt. 10 .34-35 are PURPOSE clauses, as indicated by the infinitives, in the greek expression…

        ‘ do not think that i have come to bring peace on earth; i have not come to bring peace, but a sword. for i have come to set a man against his father….’

        As daniel wallace notes purpose clauses can be expressed by a [s]imple or “naked” infinite (usually following an [intransitive] verb of motion . A close parallel to the use of the infinitive in mt. 10:34 is found in mt 5.17

        ‘think not that i have come to abolish the law and the prophets; i have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them’

        jesus did not say that his mission would simply result in family strife. jesus is saying that a primary PURPOSE of his mission is to create violence within families, and the mention of sword is consistent with that violent intent

        the bad jesus
        page 93-94

        quote:
        Because some in each community, each family, would accept his teachings, while many others would not, and in fact this did lead to division, among both Jewish and Pagan families.

        question:
        but if the message was peaceful how could it cause fire and division even if it is rejected?
        why is it not possible that jesus went around causing division? why is it not possible that when someone rejected jesus, jesus got pissed and started making trouble and cursing people and used violence?

        • Bart
          Bart  September 6, 2016

          It’s certainly possible. But some of these “division” sayings may have come from later Christian story tellers trying to make sense of the fact that the Christian faith was indeed splitting up families, and putting these notions back on Jesus’ lips.

          • Avatar
            Kazibwe Edris  September 7, 2016

            is there a possibility that early christians did not view their faith as peaceful?

          • Bart
            Bart  September 8, 2016

            Some probably didn’t.

  12. Avatar
    Kazibwe Edris  August 26, 2016

    how come the “live by the sword…” words are missing from marks version? mark does not report about jesus’ rebuttal to the attacker, but he rebuts the people who came to arrest him
    jesus’ disciples are portrayed as cowards with weak faith . jesus seems to have more faith in violent angels then his disciples

    are you not aware that I can call on my father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?

    is it possible that the christians created the line about legions of angels because jesus was portrayed as one who was easily arrested and couldn’t do anything about it?

    one wonders if the line about angels really said that angels would come down an assist jesus ?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 28, 2016

      Yes, I think that’s why Christian story tellers invented those lines.

  13. Avatar
    marcrm68  August 26, 2016

    Did this “lovefest” idea really come from an apocolyptic preacher? Getting to the bottom of this is maddening… I guess I never will…

    Paul’s letters contain beautiful passages about lovng your fellow man, but also nasty intoleration for sinners.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 28, 2016

      True! (Though Paul never suggests putting them to the sword!)

  14. Avatar
    Hume  August 26, 2016

    1. You subscribe to Enuma Elish influencing Jewish elites (and thus the creation story of Genesis) during the Babyloian captivity of 597- 539 BC. What other parts of Judaism did the Babylonians influence/the Jewish elites borrow during the captivity?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 28, 2016

      The other major work usually mentioned is the Gilgamesh Epic for the flood narrative.

  15. Avatar
    Stephen  August 26, 2016

    Prof Ehrman

    I don’t have any Greek so pardon me if this question is just a function of reading in translation, but could Mark 14:47 be an interpolation? Neither Jesus or his captors respond at all in Mark to this overt act of violence and at least in the NRSV 14:48 seems to be Jesus’ response to the action described in 14:46.

    thanks

    • Bart
      Bart  August 28, 2016

      There’s nothing in the Greek (or the Greek manuscripts) to suggest it was an interpolation.

  16. Avatar
    prairieian  August 26, 2016

    Who knows. The whole story of the arrest is attended by many imponderables with regard to the scale of the arresting party, how it was arrayed, what level of resistance it was expecting and on it goes. Frankly, any explanation can be compelling here. The Romans may have sent a company of troops to arrest the potential insurrectionist and his crew and the whacking off of the ear was the one token of resistance before the Jesus party was overwhelmed. What levels of violence was then visited on that party is unknowable – how many of the disciples were killed or otherwise dealt with is also unknown given the varying number of ‘disciples’ claimed at various points. Once the person of Jesus was secured the overwhelming force of troops would potentially have cowed the “rebels” and it was done. Jesus was supposedly badly treated during the period he was held by the Romans and that bit of nastiness could have commenced quite easily in the Garden of Gethsemane.

    Bottom line, we don’t know much at all.

    My sense is that being armed was routine in the period and some level of utterly ineffective resistance quite possible, particularly if caught unawares. Rome was ruthless.

  17. Avatar
    Jayredinger  August 27, 2016

    Hi Bart, do you think the story about Barabbas is historical. He is mentioned in all the gospels, but why would the authorities have been willing to set Jesus free if he was perceived to be a political threat to Rome? Was this story added to convince people that it was the Jews who were ultimately responsible for the death of their Messiah?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 28, 2016

      Ah, I’ll add this on the Readers’ mailbag. It’s a good question!

  18. Avatar
    chupacabra  August 27, 2016

    Hi Bart,

    I have two comments to make that are unrelated to today’s post but, I hope, still poignant.

    1) A suggestion on how to improve your blog, one of technical nature. I think it would help immensely, especially when accessing your blog from a smart phone, if you had a button on the top ribbon that linked directly to the most recent post. I find that it is often difficult to transition from Facebook to the blog to finish reading your latest post. Sometimes I just give up and wait until I am in front of the computer (and sometimes I actually forget to get back to it.)

    2) I notice you seem to get quite a bit done in a day (more than most people I know,) and that you have been doing that from a fairly young age (at one point you even experimented with decreasing your sleeping hours, If memory serves). The biggest hindrance to productivity for me is procrastination (like right now, for example). How do you deal with it? You must feel it too, sometimes. Did you always have an easier time concentrating than other folks? Did you learn it early in life (maybe by watching your parents)? If so, what techniques do you employ to deal with it?

    Cheers.

  19. Avatar
    chupacabra  August 27, 2016

    Actually you can ignore the first point on the previous comment. The link I was asking for is obviously already there. I still would like to know, however, how you deal with procrastination. Thanks.

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    SidDhartha1953  August 27, 2016

    Couldn’t it be the case that one or more of Jesus’ disciples was arrested with him? Would that not explain the one or two “malefactors” crucified with him, and his/their anger at his not saving them and himself? Also, whether or not the story is true, I have seen and heard much discussion of what Jesus would have meant when he told his followers earlier on the evening of his arrest, that two swords were enough? Or was he saying that was enough talk about that? It still doesn’t make sense to me either way because, if Jesus asked if they were armed and they told him they were, why did he not use that as the occasion to tell them what happens to people who live by the sword? The only sensible conclusion to me is that Jesus was not a complete pacifist.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 28, 2016

      Interesting idea! (Except on the cross both of the others mock him!)

      • Avatar
        SidDhartha1953  August 30, 2016

        Mark and Matthew say both mocked him. Luke (23:39-43) says one mocked him and the other admitted Jesus was the future King of Israel. (“Remember me, etc.”) Could Luke have been told one or both were followers of Jesus? John concurs that two were crucified with Jesus, but they don’t say anything to him.

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          SidDhartha1953  August 30, 2016

          I notice several of your readers have made essentially the same point, and your answer in every case seems to be that you don’t see why no one else was arrested with him. Could you be so convinced of that supposition that you refuse to consider any evidence that would suggest the contrary? How certain can you be that no one else was arrested with him?

          • Bart
            Bart  August 31, 2016

            I”m not staking it out as a dogmatic positoin (in this case!). It is a genuine wonderment. If they were armed, why weren’t they arrested? There is zero to suggest they weren’t. But why?

        • Bart
          Bart  August 31, 2016

          Possibly. But Mark is the earliest one, of course.

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