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Jesus on trial: What would a modern jury do?
April 22nd, 2011
07:18 AM ET

Jesus on trial: What would a modern jury do?

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Richmond, Virginia (CNN) - If Jesus were tried in Richmond, Virginia, today, would he have been sentenced to death? Or would he have faced life behind bars with no chance for parole?

That’s the choice given to jurors here recently.

During Lent, the Church of the Holy Comforter used Virginia law to retry the sentencing phase of the blasphemy case against Jesus of Nazareth. Church members and guests played the role of the jury.

The trial was the brainchild of Mark Osler, a former U.S. Attorney in Detroit who teaches at the University of St. Thomas Law School in Minneapolis and is friends with a member of the Richmond church.

Osler wanted to hold the trial in part to call attention to the state’s use of capital punishment. Virginia is second only to Texas in the number of executions per state since the mid-1970s, when the U.S. Supreme Court reinstituted the death penalty, according to federal statistics. He held a similar event in Texas a few years ago.

“For many of us our faith, as it relates to policy especially, is often unexamined,” Osler said “We’re surrounded by people who feel the same way, and what we need to do is have it be troubled at least and see if that takes us someplace different.”

The mock sentencing phase was held the night before Palm Sunday.

Osler played the part of Caiaphas, the Jewish high priest in the biblical narrative of the trial. In that account, Jesus had no defense council. But on this night, Osler faced off against Jeanne Bishop, a real-life public defender from Chicago.

“Jesus was indigent,” Bishop said. “And so I think [Osler] wanted a public defender to underscore the point that this is a man with no money, no resources, no position in society.

“Most of the people that I represent fit that description.”

“He also wanted to have a young African-American man play Jesus, and that’s what we have tonight. Most of clients look exactly like this young man who will be sitting beside me,” she said.

The night was bittersweet for Bishop. “My younger sister, her husband and their unborn baby were murdered 21 years ago today, the day before palm Sunday.”

In 1990, Nancy Bishop Langert was killed during a home invasion in Winnetka, Illinois. Her death was part of the reason Jeanne Bishop became a defense attorney and an outspoken opponent of the death penalty.

Even before her sister’s murder, Bishop said, she was against the death penalty. “When my sister and her husband and their baby were killed, my immediate response was, ‘No more killing, no more bloodshed, please let it stop right here.’”

Jeanne Bishop questions a witness at the trial of Jesus in Richmond, Virginia

Osler is also against the death penalty. It was a decision he said he reached as a prosecutor while sitting in church one Sunday.

“They read John 8, about stoning the adulteress, and I’m like everyone else - when I hear a story like that, I put myself in the role of Jesus. A lot of prosecutors who are Christians who talk about that will say, ‘Jesus said go and sin no more.’ And what I came to eventually is, ‘I’m not Jesus. I’m part of the mob. I’m somebody with a stone in my hand.’

“I think that story is very direct that we don’t have the moral authority” to execute prisoners, Osler said.

Playing the role of prosecutor and asking jurors to condemn Jesus to death was difficult for Osler.

“It’s very dark to have the prosecutor in me go to war with the faith [in me]. There’s a cynicism you need to be a good prosecutor,” he said. “It’s been in some ways a troubling enterprise, and I didn’t see that coming.”

“We don’t have a script,” Osler said shortly before taking the stage at the Church of the Holy Comforter. “We’re approaching this the way trial lawyers would. I haven’t known what her theory of the case is or what her arguments will be, and she doesn’t know mine. That’s the way it really works. It’s not a play. It really is a trial in that sense.”

Mark Osler waits to take the stage at the trial of Jesus

As the audience took their seats, Bishop leaned over and whispered to her client, a teenager from the church who sat beside her in a dark blazer and khaki pants.

William G. Broaddus played the role of the judge. He was Virginia’s attorney general for six months after his predecessor stepped down to run for governor. During that time, five defendants were executed in Virginia.

“We will now call the case of the Commonwealth of Virginia versus Jesus of Nazareth,” Broaddus bellowed from the pulpit. “I will remind you this man has already been found guilty of the criminal charge of blasphemy.

“Tonight it is your duty to determine the proper punishment,” he told the jurors.

The attorneys each called two witnesses. The prosecution called Peter, one of Jesus closest disciples, and a rich young ruler whom Jesus urged to sell all of his possessions and give the money to the poor, here though the witness was played by a woman from the congregation. The defense called a centurion whose slave Jesus had healed, as well as Malchus, a high priest's slave whose ear was cut off by Peter then reattached by Jesus.

The sentencing trial followed the rhythms of a standard criminal case. Bishop spoke gently yet firmly as she questioned the witnesses, her line of questioning seeking to emphasize Jesus' acts of compassion and mercy.

Osler was forceful and tried to paint Jesus as a rebel who sought to rend the fabric of society. He also played heavily on the issue of slavery in his questioning.

Richmond was an international slave port prior to the Civil War - a fact not lost on members of the audience, who quietly bristled or frowned when Osler brought it up. He repeatedly reminded them that while Jesus healed the centurion and high priest’s slaves, he did not set them free.

In her closing argument, Bishop told the jury that Jesus loved his enemies. “A man who showed such compassion is at least deserving of your compassion at this moment,” she said.

Osler rebutted that Jesus had “poked a hole in the fabric of society. Are you going to let it tear or are your going to keep it a small hole?” he asked as he tore a hole in his own pressed, white button-down shirt to gasps in the crowd.

After the closing arguments, the audience broke into several juries of 12. Following the Virginia state statutes, they had two votes to consider. First: “Do you find that there is a probability that, if not executed, the defendant would commit criminal acts that would constitute a continuing serious threat to society?”

If they answered yes to that question, they were instructed to move on to the second: “In the light of all mitigation, is a death sentence warranted?” Both questions required a unanimous vote.

In one of the juries, 11 members quickly agreed the answer to the first question was yes, but there was one holdout. The other jury members began to press her in favor of the prosecution. Eventually they were successful.

“I think he's convincing," an older woman on the panel said of Osler, adding, “I didn't like myself for thinking that."

As the judge told the crowd they had just five minutes left to deliberate, the noise in the sanctuary grew louder and more heated.

The votes were taken and the jury forms passed forward.

The judge stepped forward and read the verdict.

“Jesus please stand,” he said.

He read the first question aloud and said, “The majority of the juries have found that should be answered in the affirmative.”

It meant the juries thought Jesus would blaspheme again if not executed.

“Turning then to the next question,” he said. “The majority of the juries voting on that issue found that the death sentence is not warranted.”

There was applause from the audience.

“The defendant is remanded to the jailer for the rest of your natural life.”

And with that the trial ended.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Christianity • Church • Episcopal • United States

soundoff (1,632 Responses)
  1. Joe

    Who goves a rats ass about this fictional charachter? Can we all get a little smarter and give up this whole invisible man in the sky idea? Jesus Christ

    April 22, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
  2. Daniel

    well after he swore in on the BIBLE . He would wonder why gentiles are putting him on trial . He's suppose to be putting them on tiral . But I don't think he would even show up , so he would be in contempt of court.

    April 22, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
  3. CoCycleguy

    He chose to die. Anyone who would prefer he not die, doesn't believe the same thing Jesus did, and would not have been doing him any favors. Anyway, they couldn't have stopped it. He could have, but chose not to.

    That said, He didn't put anyone else to death. Just used the system that was available. Instead of the death penalty, let's have the prisoners work to feed themselves. If they don't work, they don't eat. If they don't eat, they die. Problem solved. No death penalty anymore it's a NO WORK PENALTY.

    April 22, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
  4. Manic Messiah HE HE HA HA

    there is no gdggd it. It is like a contagious virus. Time for quarantine.

    April 22, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
  5. Artist

    Judas if he ex is ted, I can ag ree with that. I have seen no of fi cial do cu ment of the time her di ed sho wing he ex isted. Lets say he did exist, he cl ear ly had ch arm to conv ince a few fol low ers that he was god. He ap pa ren tly believed his hype so much he chose sui ci de. I am gues sing in his last moments a sev eral of thi ngs cros sed his mind.
    1. I ha te ru st y nails
    2. Did I lock up my tent
    3. Hey the view is not so bad up here
    4. I am not ge l lin
    5. Pe rhaps I should have thought this through a lit tle better

    April 22, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
  6. Nate

    If he were on trial today, the wingnuts would be calling him a "lazy, deviant communist" for his support of the poor, the sick, the homeless and taxes. They'd also be questioning his birth story and calling for the harshest punishment available.

    April 22, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
    • Manic Messiah HE HE HA HA

      When you say "they'd" you are mostly referring to the conservative republicans right?

      April 22, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
    • Jesusfreaker

      If he were around today he would represent the opposite of what this country was founded on.

      April 22, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
  7. Up Your Rear Admiral

    Yeah, salvation by killing. Because killing a scapegoat is a great way to please a my-thical creature. Many previous superst-itions already did that one. Copycats...

    April 22, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
    • ASSinine

      Love the name

      April 22, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
  8. Bernie

    Can anyone answer why, if god is all knowing, would send anyone to hell? He knows what are going to do for all eternity, before we are even born, what the hell kind of sense does that make.
    Note, do not use the catch all: "god works in mysterious ways", "we are not worthy of his knowledge" etc.

    April 22, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      Stop it! You're killing me! You're asking for a rational explanation????!?!?!?!?!?!?!? HAHAHHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAH

      April 22, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
    • SchmittyJ

      @Bernie:

      Guess the dogma of Free Will is totally lost on you?

      I'm not a religious person at all... but I don't understand how the atheists can hope to do anything other than flap their gums here, likewise for the believers. Does any of it really make any of you feel any better?

      That being said, I think this was an utter waste of time... why only re-create the sentencing aspect of the trial? Because no blasphemy laws exist in the U.S. upon which to set a standard to try him today? Couldn't very well have a sentencing phase then, could you?

      April 22, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
    • Hugo

      No, I don't know why.

      Now, that I've answered your question, I have one for you. How do you know there is a Hell?

      April 22, 2011 at 1:55 pm |
    • Bernie

      Free will??? Really, is that all you got. All knowing means you know what will be done w/ free will retard

      April 22, 2011 at 2:06 pm |
  9. Tony

    Well this was a moot trial. If Jesus was alive today he would be labeled as a hippy left wing liberal and noone would take him seriously. Unfortunately.

    April 22, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
  10. Up Your Rear Admiral

    How come the article starts with a picture of a statue of Kenny Loggins? And why does Kenny have such a silly hat on?

    April 22, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
  11. Brian

    It's a nice thought to our human minds that Christ could potentially have not been killed on the cross. However, if Christ never died, then our salvation would not be attained. Jesus would not have been God incarnate. Jesus fulfilled all of the OT prophecies about a Savior. If He had not been sacrificed, then He would have only fulfilled many or most of the OT prophecies, therefore negating His ability to be the Biblical savior. If only some of the prophecies were fulfilled in Him, then it might as well have been that none of them were fulfilled. Again, it's a nice idea to think about, until you REALLY think about it.

    April 22, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
    • Up Your Rear Admiral

      Yeah, salvation by killing. Because we know killing a scapegoat is a great way to please a my-thical creature. Many previous superst-itions already did that one. Copycats...

      April 22, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
  12. Judas

    Are you kidding me? Let's get Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck on trial as well....the fact that people believe anything in the
    great Fariy Tale known as the bible amazes me. Sure evidence supports Jesus was a real man...but that's it...a real man nothing more. What a joke.

    April 22, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
    • Roger Banfield

      you chose a well suited name... or were you really named that at birth?

      April 22, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
    • Hugo

      That we believe ANYTHING? Uh, I believe the Jerusalem existed 2 centuries ago and that the Romans occupied it. I bet you believe that too. So, instead of saying something different than what you mean, how about being careful and do your best to say what you mean?

      April 22, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
    • Judas

      Hugo,

      I clearly state that evidence supports Jesus being a real man..and of course the cities mentioned in the bible do and did exist. I should have more clearly stated that anyone that believes a man lived to be 900+ years old or another man lived in the belly of a whale for two days or that somehow the dead came back to life and walked among us are clearly not the most intelligent of beings. The whole basis of any religion is that you have faith and since faith can not be proved or disproved it's perfect fodder for the sheep that follow this way of thinking. The fact that people still go to wars over things that are clearly false and then chastise those who use common sense and intelligence and who know that facts rather than faith is the more suitable path amaze me. So can asssume by your comment that you take the bible in a literal way?
      If you do take the bible at it's word then next time your wife and or girlfriend has her period make sure you have a hut built away from the villiage for her to stay in during her unclean time. You can't pick and choose the parts you like and don't like if you do not follow the literal word of the bible then you are commiting a sin and can not enter into heaven so before you decide to condone me for living in reality maybe you should question your beliefs...because I am certain that you do not follow the bible in a literal form and therefore that only proves my argument that the bible is a complete fairy tale.

      April 22, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
  13. Will

    Instead of everyone giving us sermons on your religious beliefs, let's keep our eyes on the ball. If JC were put on trial today, his case would unfortunately rest upon how much money he has for his defense team; not if he's simply innocent or guilty as these days have shown us in regards to corporate cases and high-profile individual cases. Sad state of affairs, I must say.

    April 22, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      My question is, what would he have been put on trial for in the first place?

      April 22, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
  14. fsmgroupie

    the end is near–repent you vile sinners– love me– worship me-beg for forgiveness-get on your knees and sing songs of praise or burn burn burn in hell for billions and billions of years-ha ha haaaaah!!!!!!!

    April 22, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
  15. keylargo

    Which Jesus, the shortstop, or the featherweight? BTW, they both tested clean for PEDs

    April 22, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
  16. c martin

    Well, I live in Seattle. So if Jesus, as a tradesman with no residence of record, was living here today he probably would have been shot in the streets by the cops for carrying his tools long before even getting arrested.

    April 22, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
    • truth

      just like what happened to the deaf man who was carrying his carving knife.. good lord

      April 22, 2011 at 1:39 pm |
  17. Guy in Texas

    breaking into cheers for not executing Jesus??? Boy that misses the point of Jesus.

    We look at Jesus through the eyes of Christian history.... Its very simple... had Jesus been spared - we all die.... had he been executed – we live....

    April 22, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
    • Artist

      Riiiight and if the easter bunny stops coming around we get no easter baskets.

      April 22, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
    • Hugo

      Artist, how about if you read Guy's post thinking there's a typo? Try "If we..."

      April 22, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      Artist, don't say such things! The Easter Bunny is an eternal source of hoppiness!

      April 22, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
  18. Joseph

    Will we be charging Santa Claus with breaking and entering next? You can't put fictional characters on trial. Some common sense, please.

    April 22, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
    • hola

      love it. Reminds me of the South Park trip to Imagination.

      April 22, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
  19. Steve (the real one)

    Steve (the real one)

    This "trial" was a glorious waste of time, effort, and energy.

    "Osler wanted to hold the trial in part to call attention to the state’s use of capital punishment. Virginia is second only to Texas in the number of executions per state since the mid-1970s, when the U.S. Supreme Court reinst-ituted the death penalty, according to federal statistics. He held a similar event in Texas a few years ago"

    Well Mr Osler consider this:

    From Romans 13 (the Good News Translation):

    1 Everyone must obey state authorities, because no authority exists without God's permission, and the existing authorities have been put there by God.

    2 Whoever opposes the existing authority opposes what God has ordered; and anyone who does so will bring judgment on himself.

    3 For rulers are not to be feared by those who do good, but by those who do evil. Would you like to be unafraid of those in authority? Then do what is good, and they will praise you,

    4 because they are God's servants working for your own good. But if you do evil, then be afraid of them, because their power to punish is real. They are God's servants and carry out God's punishment on those who do evil.

    April 22, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
    • PeterVN

      That's typical buybull nonsense. Following such directions, Gaddafi would be considered a gpod leader and the rebels should be supporting him. Or not, depending on how you interpret the buybull. As usual.

      April 22, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
    • Hugo

      Real Steve, our government is a representative republic. We, as a group, are the ultimate authority.

      April 22, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
    • Hugo

      I should have said we are the ultimate governmental authority.

      April 22, 2011 at 1:43 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      Our government exists because our ancestors completely ignored those admonitions and overthrew the existing government. No one should ever forget that we are the result of a revolutionary overthrow of existing power. The bible is full of bad advice.

      April 22, 2011 at 1:45 pm |
    • Davidloc

      A government is an authority that is in turn given to it by the people it rules. Did you not learn anything from the American Revolution? I guess Lybia doesn't deserve the same respect for theirrevolution in your eyes do they? BBQ a steak with your bible at least get some real use out of it !!

      April 22, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
    • Steve (the real one)

      PeterVN
      That's typical buybull nonsense. Following such directions, Gaddafi would be considered a gpod leader and the rebels should be supporting him. Or not, depending on how you interpret the buybull. As usual
      -------
      Typical atheistic nonsensical response. If there was a conflict between the law and the Word of God, we obey the Word of God. You would have known that IF you knew the BIBLE! Alas, you don't!

      April 22, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
    • Dysert

      Steve, please read a bit of history and think out what you posted. You provided the rationale for the monarchies of Europe. I'm going to guess that the Taliban have very similar justifications.

      April 22, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
    • What??

      Does that apply to authorities everywhere? You think Kim Jong Il is god-approved? What about Chairman Mao, Stalin, Hitler??

      The funny thing is, all those dictators would have the people believe they had some divine right to power that should not be questioned... be it through god or not... but the "authority" under question here is given the right by the people... America rejected religion as the basis for government – your argument is silly.

      April 22, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
    • Vernacus

      Congratulations! After you get through with patting yourselves on the back for a job well done, ask yourself: What does it feel like to send an innocent man to prison for life? Listen, there are only three options available: 1. Jesus is a liar. 2. Jesus is insane. 3. Jesus is telling the Truth.

      April 22, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
    • CClarke

      "3 For rulers are not to be feared by those who do good, but by those who do evil. Would you like to be unafraid of those in authority? Then do what is good, and they will praise you,"

      That's all fine and good until your ruler is Qaddafi or even more extreme, Adolf Hitler. Jesus did what was right and good, healing and preaching God's word, yet authority did not praise him, it tortured (whipped) and executed him (crucified).

      I think this is a perfect example of quoting the Bible in support of one's argument/agenda. Any quote, sound byte, or statistic can be bent in order to support one's point of view. Taken out of context, that is.

      April 22, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
    • Steve (the real one)

      @Hugo, @MarkinFL, @ Davidloc, and @Dysert

      1. Are we a lawless society? Are there no laws to obey? No penalities for breaking the law? No prisons? No death penalities?

      That is what this scripture is speaking of! Not advocating European monarchies, nor dictatorships. Yet when this was written, the author lived under a Roman dictatorship and never once did Paul challenge that. Politics was not their mission!

      2. Did any of you bother to read this or just saw it was a scripture quote? Read verse 3 again.

      Dysert, I appreciate the feedback but I am good with what I posted! Perhaps you took it out of context?

      Davidloc, I'll bring the bible you bring the steaks!

      MarkinFL, not only is the Bible full of good advice it is also full of life! The hard hearted cannot understand that!

      Hugo, I appreciate the feedback yet even with our form of government, there are still laws to be obeyed!

      The guy who lead the trial wanted to make a political point. I was addressing that!

      April 22, 2011 at 2:16 pm |
    • Steve (the real one)

      What??

      Does that apply to authorities everywhere? You think Kim Jong Il is god-approved? What about Chairman Mao, Stalin, Hitler?? The funny thing is, all those dictators would have the people believe they had some divine right to power that should not be questioned... be it through god or not... but the "authority" under question here is given the right by the people... America rejected religion as the basis for government – your argument is silly.
      --------
      @What?? My argument is far from silly! I take it you have no understanding of evil and abuse of power, right. Human governments are granted by God and yet can be abused because of evil, just like anything else! Nobody said Hitler, Mao, Kim, Il Jong or anybody else was God approved. Read carefully what I said. Human goverment was ordained by God yet as you know humans have the tendency and capacity for sin, which is not God approved! While the priciple is true it has been abused by some that are evil! Not hard to understand!

      April 22, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
    • Steve (the real one)

      Vernacus
      Congratulations! After you get through with patting yourselves on the back for a job well done, ask yourself: What does it feel like to send an innocent man to prison for life? Listen, there are only three options available: 1. Jesus is a liar. 2. Jesus is insane. 3. Jesus is telling the Truth
      ----–
      1. Not sure what the pat on the back is referring to
      2. Innocent people do go to jail and to their eath via dealt penalty by mistakes made or just out and out evil! That does not change God's principle! Humans are at fault for that, not God!
      3. I'll stick with answer #3

      April 22, 2011 at 2:31 pm |
    • Steve (the real one)

      CClarke
      "3 For rulers are not to be feared by those who do good, but by those who do evil. Would you like to be unafraid of those in authority? Then do what is good, and they will praise you,"
      That's all fine and good until your ruler is Qaddafi or even more extreme, Adolf Hitler. Jesus did what was right and good, healing and preaching God's word, yet authority did not praise him, it tortured (whipped) and executed him (crucified).
      I think this is a perfect example of quoting the Bible in support of one's argument/agenda. Any quote, sound byte, or statistic can be bent in order to support one's point of view. Taken out of context, that is.
      -------
      1. This is NOT talking about Jesus. It is talking about the basic foundation for human governments ,which is god
      2. Paul adressed this to Christians at Rome, who just happened to live under Romans dictatorships. Roman killed Christians yet even with that knowledge Paul is telling believers the basis for government is God. He is also sharinf with them (and us) the duty to obey. That is the context of this scripture.
      3. You can now explain how this is cherry picking and while your at it please explain how I have taken this out of context!

      April 22, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
  20. keylargo

    You can bet Crucifixion wouldn't be the sentence!

    April 22, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
    • FutureWizard

      Yes, we would have opted for secret trial as he would have posed national security thread. Since is is from foreign country, we might opt for sending him to Syria/Yemen for torture.

      April 22, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.