• RBL 04/15/2002


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    • Abstract: RBL 04/15/2002Heusler, ErikaKapitalprozesse im Lukanischen Doppelwerk: Die Verfahren Gegen Jesus und Paulusin Exegetischer und Rechtshistorischer AnalyseNeutestamentlishce Abhandlungen Neue Folge 38Münster: Aschendorff Verlag, 2000. Pp. viii + 294, Cloth, DM 78,00, ISBN 3402047861.

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RBL 04/15/2002
Heusler, Erika
Kapitalprozesse im Lukanischen Doppelwerk: Die Verfahren Gegen Jesus und Paulus
in Exegetischer und Rechtshistorischer Analyse
Neutestamentlishce Abhandlungen Neue Folge 38
Münster: Aschendorff Verlag, 2000. Pp. viii + 294, Cloth, DM 78,00, ISBN 3402047861.
Matthew L. Skinner
Princeton Theological Seminary
Princeton, NJ 08542
In this exploration of the structure and content of the judicial action against Jesus and
Paul in Luke-Acts, Erika Heusler offers a thesis that buttresses the familiar theory of the
Lukan writings as an apologia pro ecclesia. As many have noted, the Lukan account of
Jesus’ trial diverges significantly from the Markan version, and numerous elements of the
prosecution of Paul in Acts 21-26 resemble parts of Luke 22-23. Heusler believes that
knowledge of legal history explains these phenomena better than hypotheses about Lukan
theology or soteriology. She asserts that the author of Luke-Acts—who acted to provide
not accurate biographical information but, for a particular apologetic purpose, a sense of
assiduous attention to legal detail—structured these trial accounts to correspond to formal
elements of a Roman judicial process, thereby correcting the Gospel of Mark’s
procedural infelicities and suggesting that Jesus and Paul received from the Romans all
the benefits and protection of a fair legal process. The Lukan perspective, therefore,
contends that, despite their ultimate fates, nothing less than a thorough and just legal
system judged Jesus and Paul innocent of sedition against Rome.
Heusler’s work, which is her University of Würzburg dissertation (1999), minimally
revised, divides into two parts. The first is an exegetical analysis of the legal elements of
the Lukan proceedings. Each of four chapters treats a scene from Jesus’ trial in Luke and
a parallel from Paul’s in Acts: an interrogation by the Jewish high council (Luke 22:66-
71; Acts 22:30-23:10); a hearing before a Roman governor (Luke 23:1-7; Acts 24:1-22);
a consultative meeting before a Jewish king (Luke 23:6-12; Acts 25:23-26:32); and a
second hearing before a governor (Luke 23:13-25; Acts 25:1-12). Comparisons with
Mark 14:55-15:15, where applicable, contribute by isolating Lukan peculiarities. In
aligning the two Lukan trials as parallels, Heusler must negotiate some obstacles—such
as the position in which the sessions with Herod and Agrippa stand within the sequence
of hearings and Pilate’s capitulation to the will of the people in Luke 23:24-25—but in
the end she discerns in both trials a four-step procedure governed by various principles of
This review was published by RBL  2002 by the Society of Biblical Literature. For more information on obtaining a
subscription to RBL, please visit http://www.bookreviews.org/subscribe.asp.
order. First, in advance of the trials proper, Jesus and Paul are interrogated in preliminary
hearings to clarify the political charges against them. Next, each receives three hearings:
two before a Roman governor and one presided over by an expert charged with advising
the governor. In each case the governor does not rush to make decisions and provides
opportunities for the defendant to answer the formal charges of the Jewish plaintiffs.
Part 2, which is half the length of part 1, compares the process evident in Luke-Acts to
observations on Roman law and judicial procedure. Heusler acknowledges both the
dearth of first-century sources on the topic and the reality that Roman judicial standards
varied across eras, provinces, and social strata. She nevertheless depends nearly
exclusively on Theodor Mommsen’s Römisches Strafrecht (Leipzig: Duncker &
Humblot, 1899) in the claim that the criminal procedure accusatio from the late
republican and early imperial periods likewise involved a preliminary inquiry, formal
presentation of charges, interrogation, rebuttals, and the provision for multiple hearings to
eliminate doubt before a passing of judgment. Heusler contends that the various sessions
of Jesus’ and Paul’s trials in Luke-Acts generally satisfy the procedural and legal
demands of accusatio as Mommsen presents them (distilled primarily from some of
Cicero’s speeches and Pliny’s correspondence to Trajan). One point of significant
divergence from this criminal procedure, however, involves the role of the crowd in
Jesus’ capital trial. Several verses indicate that the public plays a central role in these
proceedings (Luke 23:4, 13, 18-23), and Pilate’s final decision is to hand over Jesus,
despite his obvious innocence, to the murderous will of the people. Heusler cannot fit this
notion of popular authority into the accusatio procedure but suggests that it reflects an
older, republican ideal of a public trial, when the provocatio ad populum appeal was a
safeguard against arbitrary rulings of magistrates.
Other scholars have looked to legal history, and to Mommsen’s study in particular, to
explain the Lukan trial accounts. In contrast to those who stress that Luke-Acts reports a
legally realistic narrative of the cases against Jesus and Paul (e.g., A. N. Sherwin-White,
Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament [Oxford: Clarendon, 1963]; Harry
W. Tajra, The Trial of St. Paul: A Juridical Exegesis of the Second Half of the Acts of the
Apostles [WUNT 2/35; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1989]), Heusler believes that the legal
knowledge of the biblical author serves an apologetic interest. The Lukan heroes are
defendants (and repeatedly recognized as innocent) in a judicial process that represents
the ideals of Roman justice. Heusler is aware that Jesus, as one of the peregrini, would
not have received the judicial rigor and security of a formal procedure usually reserved
for citizens facing charges in the capital. If the Roman governors in Luke-Acts find Jesus
and Paul not guilty through the course of such exceptionally fair and thorough trials, the
emphasis is that Rome should realize that these men and their movement pose no threat
to the state. The failure of the trials to end in acquittal for Jesus and Paul is, Heusler
maintains, astonishing in light of the governors’ judgments, and it lays blame upon the
hostility of the Jewish plaintiffs (thus the role of the people in Jesus’ trial) and upon some
conciliatory gestures by certain governors to Jewish interests.
This review was published by RBL  2002 by the Society of Biblical Literature. For more information on obtaining a
subscription to RBL, please visit http://www.bookreviews.org/subscribe.asp.
The exegetical discussions are the greatest contribution of this book. With a clear
focus on the judicial questions at stake, on the roles and interests of each participant, and
on the legal terminology, Heusler handles the texts well and with a thoroughness that
befits a dissertation, offering countless insights on the legal logic of the narrated action.
The most helpful of her comments involve the illumination of Synoptic parallels and
deviations. Although the exegesis clearly anticipates the legal-historical comparison that
follows, the fact that the analysis of biblical texts comes first privileges questions of
Lukan tendencies over questions of the roots or purposes of those tendencies. Whether
this is a strength or a weakness depends upon the interests of Heusler’s readers.
In its systematization of exegetical observations into a particular judicial procedure,
the book provokes some questions. To support the notion of a discernible process
undergirding the Lukan trials, Heusler appeals to patterns in interrogations, delays in
rendering final verdicts, verses that may acknowledge standard legal principles (e.g., Acts
23:34-35; 24:19; 25:6, 16-17), technical terminology, and a vague sense of formality and
order that she considers generally absent from Mark 14:55-15:15. The latter two
measures are occasionally problematic in that little discussion of other ancient texts
appears in the analysis of what is often quite common and multivalent terminology, and
the criteria for a “formal” or “official” occasion usually remain unstated or
unsubstantiated from a historical perspective.
The lack of sources illuminating actual legal jurisdiction in the Roman provinces of
the first century makes it difficult to speak too strongly about a real-life parallel to the
Lukan judicial process that Heusler reconstructs. At the same time, her focus on the
fairness of Jesus’ and Paul’s trials and on the repeated pronouncements of their innocence
impels the question of the real-life purpose behind these idealized accounts. Heusler does
not pursue very far her suggestion that the composition of the capital trials serves an
agenda of Luke-Acts as political apologetic, but her comments toward this end raise
additional questions about exactly which first-century audiences would find such
accounts convincing. Furthermore, Heusler tends, as have others who advance an
apologia pro ecclesia position (e.g., Hans Conzelmann), to depict a Lukan apologetic
agenda in predominantly if not exclusively political colors. Surely, however, the content
of Paul’s defense speeches and the willingness of Pilate, Felix, and Festus to make
concessions to Jewish interests suggest that the trials are about more than the threat of
sedition, understood in purely political terms.
This review was published by RBL  2002 by the Society of Biblical Literature. For more information on obtaining a
subscription to RBL, please visit http://www.bookreviews.org/subscribe.asp.


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