‘You Have Heard His Blasphemy’ -- By: David Catchpole

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 16:1 (NA 1965)
Article: ‘You Have Heard His Blasphemy’
Author: David Catchpole

‘You Have Heard His Blasphemy’

David Catchpole

THE PROBLEM LIES in the conflict between the sentence passed on Jesus and the definition of blasphemy in Sanhedrin 7:5: ‘The blasphemer is not culpable unless he pronounces the Name itself.’1 Jesus, it seems, did not pronounce the divine Name, and yet was convicted as a blasphemer.

There are four possible solutions to this problem. Firstly, some scholars add this discrepancy to the already long list of illegalities in the trial of Jesus and conclude that only the Sadducees could ignore the rules so blatantly.2 Secondly, many others claim that Mark betrays his ignorance of Jewish law, and that the account of the Sanhedrin hearing is a fiction.3 Thirdly, it has been argued by E. Stauffer4 that Jesus did pronounce the divine Name when he replied ‘I am’ (Mk. 14:62; cf. Ex. 3:14). And lastly, it is possible that the definition of blasphemy was wider in Jesus’ time than that of Sanhedrin 7:5.

For this last possibility there is some evidence.

1. In Tosephta Sanhedrin 1:2, R. Eliezer the son of R. Jose the Galilean says ‘Everyone who arbitrates (after judgment has been passed) is a sinner, and he who praises such a sinner blasphemes the Place’.5 R. Eliezer was a second century Tanna, a pupil of R. Akiba, and his view suggests that the strict definition of Sanhedrin 7:5 was formulated later, and nearer A.D. 200 when R. Judah compiled the Mishna.

2. Mark 2:7 and John 10:33 ff. are often cited, but it may be objected that legal definition and non-legal use of the term may be different. However in John 10:24-39 the setting is quasi-juridical.6 And when those who speak of blasphemy are themselves lawyers,

even if the setting is non-juridical, we cannot allow too wide a gap between usage inside and outside the court-room.

3. It is likely that offences not specifically covered in Pentateuch or Rabbinic law would necessitate an extension of the legal definition. And when this became necessary, the Sadducees would probably act with extreme harshness.

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