posted on Apr, 9 2020 @ 05:03 PM
The fickleness of the Jerusalem crowd is one of the great clichés of the Easter narrative.
At the beginning of the week they shouted “Hosanna!”
At the end of the week, they shouted “Crucify him!”
It’s a standard, frequently quoted, illustration of the way that mobs behave.
But this traditional charge needs to be examined closely. Yes, we know from the gospels that these things were shouted by the crowd that was present
at the time, but was it the same crowd both times? Is the label “Jerusalem crowd” a misleading way of describing what might be two entirely
different sets of people?
Let’s look at the evidence for this one.
“And those who went before and those who followed cried out; Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Mark ch11 v9).
Jesus was approaching Jerusalem to take part in the Feast. Evidently “those who went before and followed” were approaching Jerusalem for the same
purpose. They were visitors, then, not residents. When Jesus was recognised, the news of his presence among the travellers spread in both directions,
which prompted the shouting. Many of the crowd, and possibly most of the shouters, would have been Galileans, knowing him from his work in Galilee.
“The next day a great crowd who had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to
meet him, crying; Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” (John ch12 vv12-13).
Still the visitors to Jerusalem, but now including those who had arrived on previous days. In many cases, it is because they have heard about the
raising of Lazarus The Pharisees complain that they can do nothing.
“As he was drawing near, the whole multitude of disciples began to rejoice… saying; Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”
(Luke ch19 vv37-38).
Clearly identified as disciples. The Pharisees ask him to rebuke his disciples. Jesus complains that the city of Jerusalem is unwilling to learn from
him, which makes it unlikely that the residents of Jerusalem were becoming his disciples.
“And when he entered Jerusalem, all the city was stirred, saying ‘Who is this?’ And the crowds said ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Galilee”
(Matthew ch21 vv10-11).
Matthew confirms the tendency of the other gospels, by showing a clear distinction between the crowds and the city.
“The crowds” are those who went before him and followed him, as in Mark. In other words, the visitors. It is reasonable to assume that they are
Galileans, because they know him, and that they are disciples.
“The city” means, mostly, the permanent residents of the city. Their reaction is not praise but simple curiosity.
So the gospels are giving the overall impression that the visitors from Galilee were shouting “Hosanna!”, and the real Jerusalem people did not
know who he was.
All the gospels report that the crowd in front of Pilate was stirred up by the chief priests and the elders. But what people were in the crowd, being
“Pilate said; You have a custom that I should release one man to you at the Passover… They cried out again; Not this man but Barabbas. Now
Barabbas was a robber” (John ch18 vv39-40).
“Barabbas- a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city” (Luke ch23 v19).
Surely this is a clue. There is a general consensus nowadays that Barabbas was not an ordinary thief, but a pollical bandit. As such, he would have
had his own followers within the city.
If there was a custom that Pilate released one prisoner at the Passover, then the followers of Barabbas would have wanted to take advantage of it. Of
course they would have known, in advance, that he was a condemned prisoner. If they were expecting to appeal for this privilege, they could have
arrived in good time, securing places for themselves at the front of the crowd.
This accounts for “Release Barabbas!”, of course. It also accounts for the apparently gratuitous “Crucify him!” For on the premise that one
condemned prisoner, and only one, would be released, the cry “Not this man, but Barabbas, to be released!” has the logical and necessary
consequence “Not Barabbas, but this man, to be crucified!” Not so much “Crucify him!” as “Crucify him!” There is no need to
suppose any personal animosity. If Pilate had suggested releasing Roderick or Brian, logic would have compelled them to give the same response. If
you’re going to crucify all the prisoners except one, then crucify all of them except Barabbas.
The neutral citizens of Jerusalem would have been there, because it was one of their big occasions.
As for the followers of Jesus, there are at least two reasons why they might have been absent from the scene.
Firstly, they were not reacting fast enough. Not all of them would have known about the overnight events. If they knew that Jesus had been arrested,
they would not necessarily know that he had been condemned so quickly. And they might not even have thought of this opportunity to get a prisoner
released, especially if it was usually billed as Pilate’s gift to the people of the city.
Secondly, if they did know about the overnight crisis, then fear would have been enough to keep them away.
All the evidence seems to point to;
The disciples of Jesus crying “Hosanna!”
The non-disciples of Jesus shouting “Crucify him!”
In other words, nobody was being fickle and inconsistent.