Extrajudicial killing. EJK.
I know. This is hardly the topic befitting the holidays.
However, in light of what some people had raised recently, it got me wondering: is it true that the Lord Jesus Christ, whose birth we recall and celebrate at Christmas, was a victim of extrajudicial killing?
We have been reminded time and again, in church and on feast days, of what the Messiah had to go through in the hands of his accusers—both the Sanhedrin, the most prominent religious group of his time, and the Roman government of the Caesars. Yet, have we really thought of the ramifications of such recollections to our present-day life?
This piece comes in the wake of the celebration of the International Day of Human Rights. The National Shrine of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, also known as Baclaran Church, recently hung a powerful message on its crucifix: “Stop the Killings” instead of the usual “INRI.”
The question: was EJK an accurate description of how Christ died in the hands of the most powerful people of his day?
I guess it is safe to say that anyone speaking on the matter of extrajudicial killings must first define terms. My goal is to present what may have happened on the actual trial and execution of a man believed by millions to be the Son of God and what his experience teaches us today.
In a statement by presiding justices Ruben T. Reyes and J. Mariano C. Del Castillo in the website of the Court of Appeals, “There is a need for a clear-cut definition of what ‘extrajudicial killing’ is, for homicide and murder are ‘extrajudicial killings’ too. The name is a misnomer since every killing, outside of the death penalty, is extrajudicial. Shouldn’t the crime be called a ‘political killing’ instead? When will a case fall under ‘extrajudicial killings’ in order that the special court can assume jurisdiction? Thus, the motive must be determined during investigation. This is relevant in the light of the existence of special courts to handle such cases. A categorical definition would pinpoint who are to be held liable and who are the victims.”
The United States defines extrajudicial killing as “a deliberated killing not authorized by a previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples. Sinaltrainal v. Coca-Cola Co., 578 F.3d 1252 (11th Cir. Fla. 2009).”
The Philippines’ Commission on Human Rights (CHR) takes its definition of EJKs from the one made by former United Nations Special Rapporteur Philip Alston: extrajudicial killing “encompasses any killing by government forces as well as killings by any other groups or individuals which the government fails to investigate, prosecute, and punish when it is in a position to do so.”
To put it plainly, it is the planned and intentional killing of an individual by state agents or non-state agents outside existing legal and due processes, and minus the benefit of investigation, unquestionable evidence, and prosecution.
If the Gospels are to be believed as accurate, then the accounts of Christ’s death by writers Matthew, Mark, Luke and John may prove unparalleled in establishing how Christ was tried and executed as a common criminal.
Based on the paper, “The Legal and Medical Aspects of the Trial and Death of Christ” by Las Vegas, Nevada scholar Robert Bucklin, M.D., there is greater reason to believe the Gospel accounts than any argument seeking to discredit them.
“Our knowledge of the lives of the Evangelists leads us to the consideration that they were honest men. Certainly they did not receive an earthly reward for their adherence to the truths which they preached, for they all were persecuted and treated shamefully. Their sincerity in attempting to report the facts would appear to be unquestionable. So also would their ability, as shown by the style of their writings, particularly the writings of Luke and John. Literacy must be assumed, since the Gospels were written either in Greek or Hebrew. One might logically assume that the backgrounds of the Evangelists would be helpful in their being able to reproduce in writing the events which they had observed. We know that Luke was a physician (Col. IV:14), and Matthew was a revenue collector (Matt.IX: 9), both of which occupations would tend to indicate more than minimal powers of observation as well as suggesting some degree of analytical ability. The dignity in which the writings are conducted seems to remove them from the realm of the fanatic, the biased or the prejudiced. The relationships of the Gospel writers to Christ are important in evaluating their truth, and it is well known that some of them, and John in particular, were very close to Christ and were actual eye witnesses to many of the facts about which they wrote. That the writings were made a number of years after the events took place should not detract from their accuracy, since in very many instances there is an amazing correlation of facts in accounts written far apart and with no chance of collaboration.”
In Bucklin’s estimation, given all the admissible evidence presented in relation to the laws and legal bodies tasked to administer justice at the time, it is safe to conclude that a serious breach of legal protocol happened during the trial of Christ.
Bucklin lists down several provisions breached in the Hebrew and Roman criminal code from which the religious and political authorities of the day, respectively, must base their movements and decisions regarding the accused. Here are a few of them:
- Court of the Sanhedrin was disallowed to instigate charges despite having free rein to hold an official trial, but never on the eve of the Sabbath or Sabbath day, or any feast day. It was also illegal to hold a trial and arrest at night as there was poor lighting at the time. The Sanhedrin scheduled trials every Mondays and Thursdays. Any charges presented during such a trial cannot be changed abruptly from religious to political to establish the guilt of the accused;
- Trials should not be conducted in one sitting because further inquiry into the case was required;
- The Sanhedrin cannot impose the death penalty. It was a sentence that should be made under the sole jurisdiction of the Roman Imperial government; cases must first be reviewed by the Roman governor who was answerable only to Emperor Tiberius Caesar;
- No lawyers or attorneys were required during the trial; however, witnesses were demanded to give a full account of the ‘crime’ to which both must 100% agree. That was the safety net;
- No oath of truthfulness was also required from the witnesses as the Ninth Commandment, which outlawed the bearing of false testimony, was enough;
- Hearsay and circumstantial evidence, no matter how convincing, were not allowed;
- The accused wasn’t required to testify on his own behalf, although he would be allowed if he so wished;
- According to Bucklin, “The innocence of the accused was presumed, and during the debate among the judges which followed the giving of testimony by the witnesses and preceded the balloting, the tendency was toward trying to find a reason for acquittal. Only after exhaustive debate on the merits of all the evidence presented did the judges cast their ballots in favor of or against the accused”;
- A majority vote (or at least two) were needed to land a conviction; if they failed to get a majority vote, the prisoner was immediately released;
- All rules governing the ruling bodies appear to favour the acquittal of the accused; all evidence and accounts of witnesses must fully and without doubt agree 100% in order to land a guilty verdict.
On the strength of these policies and laws, Bucklin believes that Jesus Christ fell as victim of extrajudicial killing during his execution as a common criminal:
- Christ was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane at night, an act particularly forbidden by Jewish law;
- Christ’s arrest was the product of a conspirator/traitor bribed by the Sanhedrin, a clear breach of the Hebrew law found in Leviticus 19:17;
- The trial and arrest were conducted on the eve of the Sabbath. Bucklin says, “The date of the trial was on the fourteenth Nisan, which began at sunset of April 6, 30 A.D. and lasted until sunset Friday, April 7. The trial was conducted during the period of one day in addition to being held on a day when the court could not legally convene”;
- Caiaphas, the high priest and member of the Sanhedrin instigated the initial charges of blasphemy and even sat as one of the judges (Matthew 26:6), a clear display of prejudice;
- Blasphemy, a charge of little consequence and importance, if at all, to the Romans, was changed to treason and sedition in relation to alleged statements undermining the power of the Roman emperor and his governors. As an aside, Roman Caesars were believed to either be the sons of gods or gods themselves;
- After tearing his clothes and saying that Christ had blasphemed, Caiaphas said there was no need for further witnesses. This was illegal as they presented no two witnesses who had yet to fully agree on their accounts of Christ’s crimes;
- There was no actual ‘legal and official trial’ conducted by the Sanhedrin. The apostle John’s account implies that whatever stood as Christ’s trial happened in the court of Caiaphas, where Christ was thereafter sent to face Pilate. By law, the Sanhedrin held court and official trials at the Liscat Haggazith, a hall which dated from the time of King Jannaeus;
- If at all there was a trial, it was one staged by a religious court obviously biased and prejudiced against Christ and what he stood for. The Sanhedrin was a known critic of Christ and his teachings;
- Christ wasn’t permitted any form of defense, as Bucklin stated: “It was strictly held under Jewish law that there be an exhaustive search into the facts presented by the witnesses in order to prove their accuracy. This was not done, because the witnesses were false and were hirelings of the Sanhedrin and their testimony would not stand investigation. If the procedure had been followed, even if there had been a prima facie case against Christ, the court would have been obliged to make a searching study of the evidence and undoubtedly would have taken judicial notice of the many facts about the life of Christ which had been brought forth in the prophesies and had been fulfilled”;
- Finally, the Sanhedrin, which had no authority to pronounce a death sentence on the accused, was permitted to do so by Pilate (who washed his hands of any wrongdoing) during the so-called second trial. Bucklin said, “This authority was reserved to the Romans who could either retry the accused or review the evidence before issuing its verdict. This policy resulted in there being actually two trials, the second of which was conducted in the presence of Pontius Pilate. Since the trial by the Jews was for a religious offense which was of no interest to the Romans and would probably not have even been reviewed by them, it became necessary to add another charge which would serve to bring the prisoner under the jurisdiction of the Roman court. The second trial, then, had to be a trial de novo, since the charge was entirely different. The charge was vague at best, but included three items specifically: perverting the nation, forbidding the giving of tribute to Caesar, and claiming to be a king (Luke XXIII: 2)”.
Based on this study and the Gospel accounts, Christ was no doubt a victim of injustice. Based on several definitions of EJK I quoted above, you decide.
If you ask me, yes, he was a victim of EJK.
This much is certain: no one can side with powerful oppressors and the war on drugs and at the same time profess devotion to the Savior of mankind without staining their claims to faith. It is hypocrisy, plain and simple.
Today, Dec. 25, 2017, we are reminded, too, of Jesus Christ’s birth as a wanted man. A few days after his birth, King Herod had commanded the massacre of children one year old and below all throughout his domain to stop the birth and rise of the prophesied boy-savior.
No, Christ wasn’t born on Christmas day, but the memory of his birth reminds us of how unbridled power can turn a blind eye on anything and everything, including children, that stands in the way of its authority, and well, ego.
But we here are also reminded that if God can turn hate and hostility during humanity’s darkest hour—the death of the Savior of mankind—into hope, a hope that will not disappoint, then we have no reason to fear.
On behalf of my colleagues and friends in the Philippines Graphic, happy holidays, everyone. G