Herod Antipas's Defense Before the Roman Senate In Regard to the Execution of John the Baptist
We found on the records of the Roman Senate Herod Antipas's defense respecting the various accusations preferred against him by different persons. In his defense there are some very important items regarding the Christian Church. The reader will notice that the events were recorded with no intention of establishing other facts. (1) The history of John the Baptist. (2) The history of Jesus Christ. (3) The killing of the children by his father at Bethlehem.
"To Tiberius Caesar and the Senate of Rome.
My Noble Lords, Greeting: It is true, as my opponent asserts, that I was defeated in battle with Aretas, King of Arabia, but I was forced to fight when unprepared for the conflict. I either had to fight or have the country overrun by this wicked people. It is true I was defeated, but it was owing to the want of time and better preparation, Aretas came upon me without warning. Notwithstanding I was defeated, his army was so crippled that he had to withdraw his forces from the field, and has not been able to rally them since. So our country was saved from the devastation of a foreign foe,
"I understand that the superstitious Jews say my defeat was for my wickedness in beheading John the Baptist. My understanding of the God of the Jews is, that He does not chastise the innocent for the crimes of the guilty. What did my actions have to do with the poor, suffering soldier? But if He had to punish all in order to reach me, then where is His almighty power they boast so much of? I do not know whether their God was angry at me or not. There is one thing I know, the act was done with the holy intention of bringing the greatest amount of good to the greatest number of people; and if this is so, no court can gainsay it or condemn it.
"The facts in the case are about as follows: John the Baptist had set up a new mode of religion altogether different from the Jewish religion, teaching baptism instead of circumcision; which had been the belief and custom of the Jews in all ages past. According to their theory, God appeared to Abraham hundreds of years before, and told him with His own lips how and what to do to be saved; and the Jews had lived according to this until it had become their nature, and all their forefathers had lived in this way. David, Solomon, Isaac, Jacob, and all the holy prophets had gone to heaven in this way of God's own appointment. Now, the question came to them, as they suggested it to me: Has God found that He was wrong? Has His wisdom failed Him? or has the unchangeable changed, and is He wavering in His purpose? Such would be the natural conclusion of a sensible man under the circumstances. Now, John the Baptist had no authority from God for what he was doing, as Abraham had. All he could say was, 'He that sent me to baptize is true;' and he cannot tell who he was. Then his going into the wilderness: God had ordered Solomon to build the finest temple that was ever built in the world, and made promises that whosoever came to that house with his offerings his prayers should be heard and answered,, This temple had been the place of their meeting for hundreds of years, for the Jews think this temple the next place to heaven.
"Now see the difference:
"1st. John has no authorized authority.
"2nd. He changes God's place of worship.
"3rd. He changes the doctrines.
"4th. He changes the mode of application.
"Now, the idea of Gamaliel was that John wanted to be some great man; hence, he took this mode of eccentric life to establish it, And there is nothing better qualified than the course he took to make an impression upon the ignorant and unlearned to go away out into the wilderness by himself, get a few friends from Jerusalem to go out and hear him, and come back and tell of the great wonders which they had seen in the wilderness. Then John's appearance his long, uncombed hair and beard, his fantastic clothing, and his food, nothing but bugs and beans--such a course and such a character are well qualified to lead the illiterate astray. These troubles on the Jewish mind were very heavy, and gave such men as Hilderium, Shammai, Hillel, and others great concern. And no wonder, for in their judgment it was vacating the temple of religious worship; it was blocking the road to heaven, and driving the poor and unsuspecting to ruin, as well as destroying the whole nation. So it was, by their request, as so ordered, that it was better to execute one to save the many from a worse fate. And this is the true reason for the deed, and not to please the whim of a dancing-girl, as you have heard. Now, my lords, if this is not satisfactory, I would ask my accuser, Caius, to write to any of the learned Jews, and learn if my statement is not correct.
"As to Agrippa's accusing me of having arms for seventy thousand soldiers, it is correct; but they were left me by my father, Herod the Great, And as they were needed to defend the province, and I did not know it was necessary to report them, I never thought of keeping them secret. But as to my being in league with Sejonius, I appeal to the virtue of my conduct, and demand investigation.
"As to what Pontius Pilate says in regard to my cowardice and disobedience in the case of Jesus of Nazareth, I will say in my own defense: I was informed by all the Jews that this was the same Jesus that my father aimed to destroy in his infancy; for I have it in my father's private writings and accounts of his life, showing that when the report was circulated of three men inquiring where was he that was born King of the Jews, he called together the Hillel and Shammai schools, and demanded the reading of the sacred scrolls; that it was decided he was to be born in Bethlehem of Judea, as read and interpreted that night by Hillel, So when my father learned that there was a birth of a male child in Bethlehem under very strange circumstances, and he could not learn who nor where the child was, he sent and had the male children slain that were near his age. Afterward he learned that his mother had taken him and fled into the wilderness. For this attempt to uphold the Roman authority in the land of Judea the world has not ceased to curse him to this day; and yet the Caesar's have done a thousand worse things, and done them a thousand times, and it was all well. Just think how many lives have been lost to save the Roman Empire; while those infants were only removed in their innocence from the evil to come. The proper way to judge of action is to let the actor judge, or the one with whom the action terminates. If this should be done, and there is a life of happiness beyond this for innocence to dwell in, those infants as well as the Rachel's should be thankful to my father for the change. Again, my lords, Pilate is a higher officer than I; and you know in our law the lower court always has the right to appeal to the higher. As to Pilate's saying that Jesus was a Galilean, he is mistaken. Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, as the records show, And as to his citizenship, he had none. He wandered about from place to place, having no home, making his abode principally with the poor. He was a wild fanatic, who had taken up the doctrines of John (but not his baptism), and was quite an enthusiast. He had learned sooth-saying, while in Egypt, to perfection. I tried to get him to perform some miracle while in my court, but he was too sharp to be caught in a trap; like all necromancers, he was afraid to show off before the intelligent. From what I could learn he had reprimanded some of the rich Jews for their meanness, and his reproaches were not out of the way, from what I heard they would have been much better men if they had practiced what he preached.
"So this is my defense. I submit it for your consideration, praying for clemency.