Top 10 Ways that Mel's Passion Isn't As It Was, Number 5...

5. The Jews who spoke with Jesus were trying to intercede on Jesus' behalf, not railroad him.

The author of this website, Historical, Jewish Jesus, has a lot of good things to say about the circumstances of the death of Jesus. I wish he would find a publisher so that I could read the whole theory, but what's there is intriguing. He suggests a reframing of the "trial" of Jesus before Jewish leaders, and he's using the text and other historical records to show why it's better.

Even though the Gospels do depict a crowd of Jews calling for his crucifixion (when they pick Barabbas over Jesus to be freed), scholars realize how unrealistic this is. They reject this for primarily three reasons:

1) there is no historical context for it; why would a crowd of Jews call for the death of Jesus?; Jews never called on Roman governors to do this to one of their own;

2) there are contradictions to this in the Gospels which also show popular support for Jesus (e.g., Mark 11:18; 12:12,37; 14:2); such support is more historically believable; and

3) a good case can be made that blaming Jews was done out of anger by Jesus' followers (because most Jews did not accept Jesus as Messiah) and out of a desire to deflect blame from Rome in order to avoid Roman persecution.

But you know what? All three of these reasons apply just as well to the problem of the priests' involvement. They have been libeled. There is no historical context for such lethal cooperation between Jewish priests, or any Jewish leaders, and Rome. Nowhere in the writings of Flavius Josephus, the ancient Jewish-turned-Roman historian, do Jewish authorities work with Roman officials to get rid of Jewish troublemakers. They do not conduct trials on behalf of Rome, they do not beg Rome to execute Jews, they never act as Rome's police force. They never even threaten Jews with turning them over to Rome or helping to make a case against them for Rome. It never enters their imagination. It is only in the imagination of scholars who rewrite Josephus.

What you will see priests do is beg Jews not to antagonize Rome and if that doesn't work, they go home. There is nothing further they can do. There is even one case when the priests and other leaders refused to turn over some Jewish upstarts to the Roman procurator. That is the historical context. Even the Gospels indicate that the priests were afraid of taking action against someone who was popular (see the cites in #2 above). And that is just the tip of this long suppressed iceberg. There are more details in the Gospels and Josephus to support the contention that Jewish authorities tried to save Jesus than there are that they tried to dispose of him.

From the essay, Blaming Jewish Leaders
It's amazing, isn't it? The only time that a mob of first century Jewish people or the first century Jewish leaders have ever been accused of forcing the death of a Jewish teacher by Roman hands is in the case of Jesus. Doesn't it stand to reason that perhaps there's something else going on here?

Leon Zitzer, the author above, has given two bits of evidence supporting his case, and I've seen a third.

The word most often used to tell what Judas did, paradidomi, doesn't carry the connotation of betrayal. A related word, prodidomi, is used for betrayal, but that word is only used once in connection with Judas. If the meeting between Jesus and the Jewish leaders wasn't antagonistic in nature, then Judas is simply a go-between, setting up the meeting. Zitger's correct that in this case, there would be no treachery involved in this act at all. Didn't Jesus himself send Judas out from the Last Supper to do what he was going to do?

Zitger also points out the anomalies of calling this meeting a trial. The different Gospels don't agree in what happened here. Luke lacks a description of the earlier "hearing," recording only the daylight meeting of the Sanhedrin. Yet Matthew and Mark say that the Sanhedrin met at the night meeting. This was against Jewish law, as was a trial during Passover. John records a highly informal questioning at the hands of Annas, who sends Jesus to Caiaphas. Caiaphas takes him straight to Pilate, with no Sanhedrin meeting at all.

Finally, my point: If this was an attempt to railroad Jesus through the Jewish legal structure, then why the conflicting witnesses? If the object is to frame Jesus, then why couldn't they find two people to pay to say the same thing? No, we are to believe that these Jewish leaders are frothing at the mouth to condemn Jesus, but they go through the bother of actually vetting the witnesses. They're snapping Jewish laws in half left and right, but they ran out of money when they bribed Judas?

It makes more sense that this meeting was not meant to be antagonistic towards Jesus. The situation is tense - Roman soldiers went with the group that escorted Jesus back to the meeting. Something is up. But every person who slams Jesus is not corroborated by others. Jesus is in the clear - until he claims to be the Messiah, with Roman soldiers at hand. At that point, what else could the Jewish leaders have done? Caiaphas was an appointee of Pilate, who could remove him at a whim. If Jesus was determined to proceed with this course of action, how could the Jewish leaders have stopped him?

Mr. Zitger, again:
As far as "meeting versus trial" goes, I can also make this point: It is fairly easy to explain how a simple, informal, attempt-to-help meeting was exaggerated into a hostile procedure, but it is impossible to explain how a hostile procedure (if that was the case) was downgraded into the extremely low-key affairs we have in Luke and John. There is no sensible case to be made for the latter.
To Mr. Gibson's credit, the description of this event in his film does bow to a measure of scholarship.
Gibson does indicate that Jesus has supporters; one man calls the proceeding "a travesty," and another asks, "Where are the other members of the council?" - a suggestion that Caiaphas and his own circle are taking action that not everyone would agree with.

Who Killed Jesus?
But his movie assumes that this was meant to be a meeting of the Sanhedrin - it wasn't. He still portrays a sizable portion of the Jewish leadership as being out to get Jesus out of the way - they were actually trying to protect him from Roman wrath.