Top 10 Ways that Mel's Passion Isn't As It Was, Number 2...

2. Pilate was the instigator of the death of Jesus, not Caiaphas.

History is often the way the winners saw the events unfold, and the death of Jesus is no exception. Here the winners are the Gospels, who preserve the only detailed stories about Jesus' execution. (The Josephus account is so hopelessly redacted by his Christian preservers that we can gather little more from him than that Jesus lived, died, and continued to be followed after his death). Yet, as you can see from the previous items in my top ten list, the account of the gospels is in a certain amount of tension with the historical evidence we have of the time period.

One of the biggest is this issue: who wanted Jesus dead?

For an answer, let's look at the working relationship between Pilate and Caiaphas. From the Encyclopaedia Britannica:

Although nominally in charge of Judaea, Samaria, and Idumaea, the prefect did not govern his area directly; instead, he relied on local leaders. The prefect and his small army lived in the predominantly Gentile city Caesarea, on the Mediterranean coast, about two days' march from Jerusalem. They came to Jerusalem only to ensure peace during the pilgrimage festivals—Passover, Weeks (Shabuoth), and Booths (Sukkoth)—when large crowds and patriotic themes sometimes combined to spark unrest or uprisings. On a day-to-day basis Jerusalem was governed by the high priest. Assisted by a council, he had the difficult task of mediating between the remote Roman prefect and the local populace, which was hostile toward pagans and wanted to be free of foreign interference. His political responsibility was to maintain order and to see that tribute was paid. Caiaphas, the high priest during Jesus' adulthood, held the office from about AD 18 to 36, longer than anyone else during the Roman period, indicating that he was a successful and reliable diplomat. Since he and Pilate were in power together for 10 years, they must have collaborated successfully.

Thus, at the time of Jesus' public career, Galilee was governed by the tetrarch Antipas, who was sovereign within his own domain, provided that he remained loyal to Rome and maintained peace and stability within his borders. Judaea (including Jerusalem) was nominally governed by Pilate, but the actual daily rule of Jerusalem was in the hands of Caiaphas and his council.
Caiaphas had been high priest for 6 years before Pilate arrived, and he remained high priest during Pilate's entire tenure. Their mutual power may have derived from a good cop-bad cop relationship, but it's clear who the bad cop would have been - the guy with the Roman troops.

In fact, Pilate kept the high priest's ceremonial robes under lock and key, delivering them to Caiaphas only during feast times. Caiaphas was completely dependant on Pilate for his job. Yet the two had developed some kind of mutually beneficial relationship.

Against this, the story of the Gospels and Mr. Gibson's Passion (Caiaphas the instigator) doesn't make any sense.

The oneupmanship displayed in the Gospels doesn't cohere with the ten years that Caiaphas and Pilate worked together in Judea. How could Pilate have ever trusted the Gospel's Caiaphas ever again? Yet they worked together for another six years.

If Caiaphas had wanted to execute Jesus, he would have had Jesus stoned. He had the authority: Stephen, the first Christian martyr, would be stoned to death. Jesus himself stopped a stoning of the woman caught in adultery. Stoning at the time was not some forbidden thing. Caiaphas had the power to execute, and all claims to the contrary are false.

If Caiaphas had brought an insurgent to Pilate, Pilate would have had the man executed without a second thought. Dilly-dallying about a man who could start a riot is not the Pilate we know from history.

If Pilate had wanted to release Jesus, he would have done so, and slaughtered any Jews that gave him grief about it. It's really that simple. It's good to be the prefect.

But once you accept the premise that Pilate instigated the death, everything snaps into place. During a feast time, Pilate hears about another Messiah, and orders his arrest. As they've done before, the Jewish leaders step between the prefect and his quarry, hoping to clear Jesus of any intent against Rome. They arrange a peaceful arrest on the condition that Jesus be brought to them. They contact Jesus through Judas, and after the Last Supper, Judas escorts the temple guards and Roman soldiers to where Jesus is staying. Jesus leaves peacefully, but confesses to being the Messiah, an act of sedition. Caiaphas has no choice but to hand him over to Pilate, who executes Jesus in the morning. Quick, clean, and no fuss.

This makes sense of Judas' actions as well - an innocent go-between horrified that his actions ended with Jesus crucified. He tries to return the money and then commits suicide.

Even the Gospel stories begin to function as history: The other disciples, who weren't in on the arrest deal, still see what they see. A night arrest with temple guards and soldiers. A contentious questioning at the house of Caiaphas. Jesus led to the Romans. Jesus crucified. They focus on what Caiaphas did more than Pilate, for their own reasons, and fill in the rest of the details, giving us the Gospel stories we hear today.

Caiaphas as the instigator produces discord in the evidence we have. Pilate as the instigator explains all the evidence we have. Mr. Gibson's portrayal of a scheming Caiaphas who manipulates Pilate into crucifying Christ isn't historical.

For more on this, here's a PBS Frontline page with lots of scholars weighing in.