Jesus’ trial and execution: the human rights violations

The Isenheim Altarpiece painted by Matthias Grünewald in 1512–1516 showing Jesus' crucifiction. It was Grünewald's greatest and largest work, painted for the Monastery of St Anthony in Isenheim near Colmar, France. Credit: Public domain
The Isenheim Altarpiece painted by Matthias Grünewald in 1512–1516 showing Jesus' crucifiction. It was Grünewald's greatest and largest work, painted for the Monastery of St Anthony in Isenheim near Colmar, France. Credit: Public domain

On international human rights day, December 10, Ralston Deffenbaugh, Assistant General Secretary for International Affairs and Human Rights, analyses the striking comparison between text about Jesus' trial and death, and the language of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

 

Much discussion takes place within church circles about the relationship between human rights and the mission of the church.

Indeed, the LWF has published two study books on this topic: How Christian Are Human Rights? (E. Lorentz, ed., 1981) and Faith and Human Rights: Voices from the Lutheran Communion (P. Prove and L. Smetters, eds., 2006). 

Some voices say human rights are political and secular and not the business of the church. Others see human rights as a modern-day explication of how human beings should behave toward one another, and would understand that part of the mission of the church is to promote human rights. 

In considering this matter from a church perspective, it is interesting to compare the Gospel account of the trial and execution of Jesus with relevant articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 December 1948. The following five passages from the declaration closely compare to the Gospel of Mark.

 

1.

Gospel of Mark:

Immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; and with him there was a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.” So when he came, he went up to him at once and said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him. Then they laid hands on him and arrested him. (Mark 14:43-46)

Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile. (Article 9)

 

2.

Gospel of Mark:

They took Jesus to the high priest; and all the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes were assembled… Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for testimony against Jesus to put him to death; but they found none. For many gave false testimony against him and their testimony did not agree. Some stood up and gave false testimony against him, saying, “We heard him say, I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.” But even on this point their testimony did not agree.  Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?” But he was silent and did not answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” Jesus said, “I am; and ‘you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power,’ and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven.’” Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “Why do we still need witnesses? You have heard his blasphemy! What is your decision?” All of them condemned him as deserving death. Some began to spit on him, to blindfold him, and to strike him, saying to him, “Prophesy!” The guards also took him over and beat him. (Mark 14:53-65)

Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him. (Article 10)

Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defense. (Article 11(1))

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance. (Article 18)

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. (Article 19)

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. (Article 5)

 

3.

Gospel of Mark:

As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. Pilate asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” He answered him, “You say so.” Then the chief priests accused him of many things. Pilate asked him again, “Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you.” But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed. Now at the festival he used to release a prisoner for them, anyone for whom they asked. Now a man called Barabbas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection. So the crowd came and began to ask Pilate to do for them according to his custom. Then he answered them, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” For he realized that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed him over. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead. Pilate spoke to them again, “Then what do you wish me to do with the man you call the King of the Jews?”  They shouted back, “Crucify him!” Pilate asked them, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him!” So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified. (Mark 15:1-15)

Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him. (Article 10)

Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defense. (Article 11(1))

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile. (Article 9)

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. (Article 5)

 

4.

Gospel of Mark:

Then the soldiers led him into the courtyard of the palace (governor’s headquarters); and they called together the whole cohort. And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. And they began saluting him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him. After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him. (Mark 15:16-20)

Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. (Article 5)

 

5.

Gospel of Mark:

They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus. Then they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull). And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it. And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take… Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. (Mark 15: 21-24, 37)

Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state. (Article 13(1))

No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; … (Article 4)

Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person. (Article 3)

No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property. (Article 17(2))

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. (Article 5)

 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog are those of the author, and not necessarily representative of Lutheran World Federation policy.