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Trials of Christ

jesus pilate caiaphas shown

Following the Agony in the Garden, *Betrayal, and *Arrest of Christ, the Gospels, with some variation in detail, describe that Jesus was first brought before the Jewish high court (the Sanhedrin) where he was questioned by the high priest *Caiaphas (perhaps in a formal procedure, or perhaps not). When Jesus did not deny that he was the Messiah, Caiaphas accused him of blasphemy and sentenced him to *death. This scene is less often illustrated than Jesus’ later questioning under Roman authority, though examples can be found in early Christian and medieval art where the scene is often combined with the denial of *Peter, trial by *Pontius Pilate, *Mocking, and *Crucifixion. One, two, or three priests may be shown (John 18:13 mentions Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas). Jesus stands before them, often surrounded and gripped by several figures; the seated Caiaphas tears his own garments in indignation.

Jesus was then taken to the Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate, who questioned Jesus and his accusers extensively. Pilate was at first unwilling to condemn Jesus; *Luke 23:7-12 recounts that Pilate sent Jesus to *Herod, who was similarly unwilling to pass such a judgment. Pilate then offered to free a criminal and asked the populace to choose between Jesus and the condemned murderer Barabbas. Barabbas was chosen and set free; Jesus was sentenced to death, and Pilate symbolically washed his hands to signify his lack of responsibility. Depictions of these events are found in art from the fourth century onward, and most often include the motif of the seated Pilate washing his hands in a basin held by an attendant. Jesus stands before him or is shown already being led away to *Calvary. Pilate may be shown turning away from Jesus or thoughtfully watching him as he departs. Sometimes the hand-washing motif is omitted, and the seated Pilate gestures in speech toward Jesus, who is standing among his accusers. Pilate’s wife may watch the scene, and a *demon may be shown next to Pilate. The image of Pilate presenting Jesus to the people is found especially in later medieval art.

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