~ An Amazing Life ~ 

A book by Rich Van Winkle

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An Amazing Life: Jesus and the Nozerim

Book Four (First Draft)

Author’s Notes

We have come a long way in our story and have met many characters. I hope that you will forgive me if a few of them are not given a further role until the sequel – After Jesus.  Thus far, I have taken substantial literary liberty with the many historical gaps which confound us about Jesus. For the most part, I have made great effort to stay true to what was most likely from a cultural and religious perspective, best supported within the record, or a best “informed guess”. A number of the events created for the story are needed for what is to follow.

Now we venture into a different time in the life of Jesus – different because his life changes and different because we have much more information to work from or around. As I explained in the beginning, I accept the gospel accounts of the New Testament as stories which were intended to advance those parts of a tradition needed to support a new religion created by someone (and promulgated by a group) who never met Jesus. Thus, parts of what follows will seem familiar until it seems quite incorrect.

It’s difficult to re-tell a story that is known so well in a way different than people have come to expect. Almost as difficult is giving up one’s expectations about a story. At this point, I ask you to try and do just that – give up your expectations that have come from the gospels. Quite simply, they’re wrong – and they were made wrong intentionally. This work is not a re-telling of that story – it is a new telling and different version of the same events, with enhancements. Hopefully, in this version, we can avoid the contradictions and absurdities, circumvent the distortions and fabrications, and add useful content to make the story more accurate and meaningful.

Among the many contradictions in the gospel accounts is the length of Jesus’ ministry. Although we are told that it began after Jesus was baptized by John, we don’t know when John’s ministry began or when Jesus was baptized. In the shortest possibility, the entire story would occur between 32-33 CE. It is more likely that the gospel stories occurred between 20 and 36 CE, and I would have John start his ministry sooner.

It is now the year 18 CE. The morose, jealous, and corrupt “Princeps” Tiberias was in firm control of Rome, Judea was even more firmly in control of the Roman Prefect Valerius Gratus[1], and Galilee remained under the rule of Herod Antipas.

File:First century palestine.gif

 


Chapter 34

The great Jewish prophets might be thought of as “the prophets of the desert” and the desert motif (desert = “wilderness”) was firmly tied to divine revelation (right along with the mountaintop motif)[2]. That John would seek divine guidance during desert seclusion should not be surprising and following the Elijah path, he would have stayed for 40 days and 40 nights (1 Kings 17 – 19).

Divine revelation in Judaism is viewed in two different ways: as the self-disclosure of God revealing God’s nature, essence, or attributes and as God making known God’s will. Whereas scripture states that God “speaks”, we should not expect to hear God’s “voice” or words. In the first form, God’s revelation exists in truth, justice, love, beauty, and the details of our Universe and, in the second, God’s revelation arises within human conscience, intuition, reasoning, and inquiry. God’s revelation exists equally in the arts and in science.

The Nevi'im or books of the Prophets are considered divinely revealed, but are to be read symbolically instead of literally. Jewish prophets used metaphors and analogies as ways to express their divine experience since both language and common understanding prevent direct communication of true revelation.[3]

John arrived in Jerusalem two weeks later than expected, six weeks after they had parted in Galilee. He was gaunt and weather-worn with full beard and longer hair which showed premature graying. His eyes had a different gaze and he spoke with different tones. Those who hadn’t known him well might not have recognized him and those who did know him well recognized that he had changed in ways more profound than appearance.

“I have found my path,” he told the gathering of the “Deh’rek  Neh’der “ (which had already been truncated from “Way of the Vow” to just “the Way”) - Jesus, Miryam, and Prochorus; Azor was still in Magdela and James was in the Temple). Prochorus was most direct in asking what that meant. “I went into the desert seeking a revelation and came out with nothing more than too much sun and a great thirst. But on the way here, I stopped for a rest and some water and had a profound experience: I watched a bug moving across the road as others walked by. Every time it sensed a shadow or something nearby, it changed direction so that they all missed stepping on it. I wondered, what is it that guides the bug? Does God guide it or is it smart enough to figure out its own path? What is that path?

It occurred to me that we are all much like that bug – we follow some path without understanding where it is leading us or knowing if it is the right one. The beetle isn’t smart, but is just as much a part of God’s will as we are. It doesn’t question whether its path is the righteous one because God didn’t give it that potential. So, what is our excuse? If we chose anything other than the righteous, how will we explain that to God?

John gave his friends a chance to consider his experience and then continued. Ours MUST be the path of righteousness since we are the ones God has given the gift of choice. And, we must choose righteousness because it is righteous and for no other reason – if we choose the right path for the wrong reason, we have still chosen wrongly. We may get to where we wanted to go, but we will have lost something important along the way. Once I accepted this idea – fully accepted it as truth – I had the revelation that I had impatiently sought in the wilderness.

His friends never doubted that such revelations were offered and had there been doubt, the almost painful expression offered by John would have convinced them. “We have condemned ourselves through our own arrogance and ignorance. We have been like children playing with fire, not even understanding that it might burn us and destroy our home. We have basked in the sunlight without seeing the sun as its source. We have lost our way and have stopped looking for the way home simply because our current path is an easy downhill walk.”

“And what is your path,” Prochorus wondered? “I will speak the truth and hope that those who have ears will listen. I will be the messenger least appreciated by those who most need the message. I will cry out from the wilderness for all those who seek God to repent and rededicate themselves to holiness. I will expound righteousness for the sake of righteousness and condemn the villainous who defy it. If these are the end-of-days, then it is time for us to get serious about guiding the people to the gates of God’s kingdom.”

“Have you received a sign?” asked Miryam. “I doubt if there is a sign – or if there is supposed to be a ‘sign’. God has given us the ability to understand the times and it is only the unrighteous that need a signal from God to tell them the time is right for righteousness. Who is it who believes that we should wait for a sign from God to harvest the ripe fruit? Who would wait for a signal to know that we should quench our thirst? I tell you that the time for God’s Kingdom on Earth is at hand and that we should have been preparing for it even before the prophets spoke of the end-of-days.”

John spoke as a prophet and none doubted that he had been touched with a revelation of truth. They watched with awe as the power of conviction filled their friend with a new vigor which transcended his new meek and frail appearance. But they also couldn’t miss the obvious weight that John had taken on – the burden of belief in a divine mission. For the rest of his life, John would be dedicated to both his Nazirite vow and his new calling. It was Miryam who immediately understood the implications for Tabitha.

 

Chapter 35

Who can say what it means to be a “holy man”? How much does one have to sacrifice in order to show their love of God? At what point does one forego living in order to live for God? These are the questions that John asked himself. His friends were confronted by similar questions. To what degree should they follow along? Is their path inherently the same as that of one who honestly seeks righteousness?

In the days that followed, John and his friends tried to reason what approaches might best fulfill the mission John had chosen. But after his private meeting with James, John had turned notably inward and sought time alone. It wasn’t until years later that James would reveal the essence of that discussion. For his other friends, it was presumed that John’s change in mood was as much to do with Tabitha as anything.  In part that was because she took John’s message and mission as exclusionary – John’s vision didn’t seem to include a place for her. But then she had a long talk with Miryam and the situation changed completely.

Miryam tended to bring out the best in people and she knew intuitively that Tabitha was meant to be John’s mate. All that was needed was to help her see her role in the mission. “If we could begin the process whereby people begin to see that they have a choice, and that their choice to be righteous could lead them to God’s Kingdom, then so much good could come from it.” Tabitha understood, but didn’t see where she had a role in achieving this desirable result. “John is going to find that righteousness is easy to sell to people who had little to lose. But those who are entrenched and obliged to a system which relies upon ignorance and blind acceptance will find John’s message an affront and a challenge to their authority, their wealth, and their power. People don’t give up those things without a fight.” “But, I’m not a fighter,” as Tabitha gestured to her diminutive size. “I beg to differ – I think that you have weapons far more powerful than anything the Sadducees have.”

Tabitha had heard of the Sadducees, but asked for clarification. Miryam said that she was not all that knowledgeable about them, so she asked Prochorus (who was nearby) if he could help them. “I suppose I know enough about them to be useful. First and foremost, they’re almost always rich and powerful so their primary interest is staying rich and powerful. They control the High Priesthood, the Sanhedrin, and the major Jewish political offices. They are dominated by the Tobiads (the tax collectors that everyone hated) and the old Hellenist/Hasmonean fundamentalists who support some crazy mix of conservative Judaism and Hellenistic reforms. Basically, I think that they advocate whatever political, social, or religious position will help them keep their money and positions. Many think that they are traitors because they are willing to work for and support the Romans.”

Tabitha was shaking her head: “But the tax collectors have their goons and the others have armed guards in their employ. Miryam says that I have better weapons than they have?” Prochorus looked at Miryam with admiration and said he agreed with her. But, he waited for Miryam to explain. “The most powerful weapon the Sadducees have is fear. Their goons and guards are primarily used to create fear – not to actually do physical harm. But that’s not what makes them powerful. It is the fear of God that is their most potent weapon and they wield it with great bluster and authority.” Prochorus nodded his agreement and encouragement. “But the truth is much more powerful than fear and those who value the truth are the hardest to frighten. Especially if they know the greatest truth of all.” This time, Miryam stopped and gestured for Prochorus to finish. He smiled and spoke reverently: “The greatest truth of all is that God is the most loving, forgiving, understanding, tolerant, patient, and gracious being imaginable. God expects nothing from us and we have nothing to fear from God.” Tabitha was confused, “But what about piety, devotion… and sin offerings.”

“Does it seem right that the Creator of the entire Universe would want or expect our silly tokens of repentance as a means of paying for our bad choices? Or, does it seem more reasonable that the One who gave us the freedom to choose would find the greatest pleasure in our choice to do what is right and good?” Miryam continued Prochorus’ argument: “A parent may welcome their child’s love and devotion, but does a good parent value token gifts more than their child’s wisdom, honesty, and charity? Indeed, aren’t those the greatest ways for a child to honor their parents?” “I see your point, but I don’t see how that gives me a role in John’s mission.”

“Do you love John?” It was a bold and unexpected question rarely asked, but Miryam wasn’t one for conventions. “Yes, very much.” “Then even if you have nothing else to offer, you will be critical to his success.” Tabitha hoped to hear more along this line. “If you love him, you will be honest with him,” Miryam offered with assurance. “And we all know how much men need an honest woman to keep them from straying from the path,” Prochorus joked. The women smiled, but offered serious agreement. “Is that the ‘weapon’ you were referring to?” “No, not really. But it will be a powerful asset for John and the mission. What I was referring to was the spiritual support that you can offer. I expect that John will be confronted by many distractions and more than a few difficulties. And, he will attract others who will want to use him for their ends. He will need to be reminded, refocused, and renewed. He will need a confidant, a friend, and someone he can trust for honest opinions. I don’t think anyone could do those things better than you.” Once Tabitha saw her place and her opportunity to contribute, she was overwhelmed with tearful joy, and she embraced Miryam with deep affection. Prochorus found this somewhat discomforting and eased away.

John knew that his friends were willing to join him in his mission, but he didn’t anticipate the degree to which they would sacrifice for both him and that mission. Of course, John didn’t really appreciate the risks that he would encounter although had had no delusions regarding the power of those who would align against him. Before he set out, he had a few details to work out. And, he had three important discussions that would shape his future.

Miryam gently reminded John that he needed to talk with Tabitha and offered only three words to help frame that discussion: “She loves you.” It wasn’t an earth shattering revelation, but it turned an issue he had put aside into a weighty matter. John’s reaction was two-sided: the idea of being loved was foreign to him and he had to find some context in which he could assimilate it; and he hadn’t really fleshed out his own feelings regarding Tabitha or how their relationship might fit into his vision. When he considered it more fully, he was astounded that he had been able to turn his focus away from her. For weeks she had dominated his thoughts. In fact, when he entered the desert to seek his revelation, he was disgusted with himself for his inability to get her off his mind. For a while he had even blamed her for keeping him from succeeding. Now he understood that she wasn’t the problem – if there had been a problem.

The current problem was that he felt very uncertain about having this discussion. He had almost zero experience with women, no experience with love of this type, and no relevant background to draw from. What became most apparent as he contemplated the situation was that the thing that scared him the most was the possibility of hurting her or losing her. He wondered what her expectations might be and he worried that he might not be able to fulfill them.

They sat on the “roof” of the white house, alone together in the evening. From there, the bustle and stench from the streets was minimal and the view towards the Temple was inspiring. The sun was low enough that it was cooler, although a warm breeze still came up the hill. Tabitha could see that John was nervous and she instinctively reached for his hand. With that touch, their future together was sealed as both of them experienced the magic: the invisible bond that forms between mates. Invisible, it can be stronger than the largest chain; subtle, it can move mountains with it power. At that moment it merely forced John’s mind to pause until it could regain its focus. That took considerably longer than it seemed, but neither minded as they were locked in a gaze that spoke volumes.

“Tabitha, I apologize for not talking with you sooner.” “You had bigger issues on your mind.” “No, I had other issues on my mind – not bigger ones.” That brought a smile from Tabitha that warmed his soul. “I have thought about you – about us – more than anything else since we met. I was so focused upon finding a path of righteousness that I ignored the most obvious path, the one we could walk together.” The smile remained, but a tear ran down Tabitha’s cheek. ”There is much about my future that remains unclear, but one thing I have resolved is that we were meant to share a future.” He waited for her to answer and began to have second thoughts when it took longer than expected. Her words came softly and with depth: “I have stopped imagining any future without you.” He felt a relief greater than soaking one’s hot feet in a cold stream. The next wait was much easier to bear. “I think that our future will be different, awkward. It may not be like I had imagined before or like the future we are taught to expect. But even then, every part of me is delighted with the idea of being with you; being part of you.” Now it was his turn for tears. “I feel like I should make you some promise or that there is something that is expected, but I don’t know what it is or how to proceed.” “I think that you have already crossed that bridge – you have chosen to be honest with me. If you promise nothing more than that, it will be enough.” “I can promise more, but let me make that my first and greatest promise – I will always be honest with you.” “And I, with you.”

With that, their bond was completed like placing the keystone in an arch. Indeed, their relationship would be different and awkward, but they would keep their promises. But there would be other bonds and other promises and they too would profoundly affect John and Tabitha’s future.

The first came with James, but not before James offered a surprise of his own.


Chapter 36

The idea of a celibate priest was self-contradictory in fundamentalist Judaism. Indeed, celibacy was considered a radical if not unholy concept by almost all Jews. Temple priests were expected to marry and generally those marriages were arranged jointly between the priest’s family and the Temple “family”. It was considered a duty of the Temple priests to marry for the benefit of the priesthood.

The power of the priesthood originally arose from scriptural authority and although the traditional ancestral requirements (Levite/Aaronite) were enforced for all but the High Priest (now appointed by the Romans but even they didn’t try to force a non-Aaronite as High Priest), the power of the priesthood was greatly enhanced by selective marriage. Priestly daughters were married to royalty and secondary royal daughters were married to priests.

James had the unusual situation of a strong and influential family, but without another priestly representative or father to speak for him. Thus, James’ engagement for marriage was brought about by a professional match-maker or "shadchan" (who was a full-time Temple official)[4]. The process was called Shidduchim (“matches” in Hebrew) and the match chosen for James was controversial.

Berenice (the 5th) was the daughter of Herod III Phaesalus [5] (and thus the granddaughter of Herod I and his 5th wife, Cleopatra of Jerusalem[6]). Hardly considered even a minor princess, she was still royalty and a prized wife. She was also a renegade within the family as she readily criticized the foibles of her relatives and their incessant (and often incestuous) infighting and inbreeding. Many thought that she was strongly influenced by her uncle, Philus, the nephew of Cleopatra VII. The last thing she wanted was to be married to some Jewish priest. But then, she didn’t have much say in the matter.

The negotiation that the shadchan completed was based more upon the dowry offered than the status of the bride. It was apparent that family members wished to get rid of this troublesome “child” and they offered a sizable sum to ensure that she would be bound up in the Temple “wife-hood” (almost a prison sentence). Berenice (who we will call Bernice from here on) was stuck between that well known “hard place” and a very large “rock”. Her other uncle was Herod Philip the tetrarch and she had been living in his palace after the death of her parents. There she felt like a prisoner, so at least marriage had the potential of freeing her from those confines. It was already a “done deal” before she first met James bar Jacob[7].

“Jehoshaphat, he’s not much to look at!” was her first thought. “Don’t they feed their priests? Will he cut his hair and beard before he’s married? … At least he has kind eyes.” Thoughts generally ran rampant through her mind and meeting her future husband triggered a flood – an epic sized flood – of thoughts.  James, on the other hand, found the whole experience less than engaging [another bad pun] – at least until he saw her. Then, suddenly his interest was piqued. Bernice was “well rounded” in a both a physical way and in her intellect. Far from obese, she was more than large-boned; she was stout, strong, and fully developed. She had a pleasant face and eyes that showed her intensity and verve. James had been told very little about her, but he could see that she was from a wealthy family as she was clearly well cared for.

For most Jewish marriages, there was a sizable wait (averaging around a year) between betrothal (kiddushin) and actual marriage (nisuin) – a period in which the bride was prepared for her duties and the man made a home ready for his wife. As a Temple priest, James would be given a home in Jerusalem so there was no need for delay in that regard. One of Bernice’s aunts had acted on her behalf in arranging the "tena'im" (conditions) and negotiating all aspects of the “deal”. Bernice’s Herodian family had rushed the process with additional sums and financial commitments so that Bernice would be wealthy for her entire life. Thus, the normal times were greatly compressed and it was only a month from the time of the kiddushin (formal marriage commitment) until nisuin (wedding) was scheduled to take place (during the coming Festival of Tabernacles).

John was impressed by James’ relaxed attitude about it all. “Do you think that you’ll get along with her?” James merely shrugged and John realized how different his experience had been. He had been able to find and choose his mate without all the formality and imposition of tradition. He told James about Tabitha and James found John’s attitude about his mate promising. He was tempted to ask about their plans for children, but decided it was improper to do so. It was something he had not given much thought to until the kiddushin, which happened only a few days after he was told he was getting married.

While their marriage and mating discussion came first, it was secondary to the issue that came next. John described his experiences, thoughts, and plans with James. James listed silently and thoughtfully until several minutes had passed after John’s words. John had seen others “meditate”, but he had never seen the kind of focus and depth displayed by James. He waited patiently until James brightened and spoke with authority. “You have finished your midrash of Elijah and concluded that your divine path should follow his. How do you expect it to end?”

John was breathless as he took in this observant and insightful question. Indeed, he had given much consideration to the model of Elijah and his prophecies and his greatest difficulty was formulating a vision of where his life would lead if he followed this path. He was blunt, “I don’t know.”  James nodded in both acceptance and appreciation of this admission. “And yet you are confident this is your destiny and you are willing to accept whatever may come from it.” “Yes, I believe that it is God’s will.” “Then you are blessed. What about Tabitha?” “She is also willing.” “Then you are doubly blessed.” James took another pause for thought and then added, “I think that we shall not meet again – after my wedding – and that this will be the last time we have the opportunity for discussion. But I hope that we may keep in contact through Jesus.” John didn’t think James was right on the first idea, but welcomed the second. As usual, he felt like James had more to offer but was choosing to keep it to himself. But after they exchanged the customary hug, James added a short aside: “Where ever your path leads you, do not look back.”

John returned to the white house and shared the news, but not the rest of the discussion or the ominous impact that those final words had had upon him. He would have difficulty getting his mind to focus on the festivities around him.

Jesus went to the home where Klopas, Mary , and the rest of the family were staying for the festival to give them the news about James’ wedding. It was awkward for Klopas as James’ step-father and awkward for Mary since she would not have the role traditionally given to a groom’s mother. But she was excited for James and sought information regarding the bride. No one she knew had any knowledge of Bernice, so she sent word to her second cousin JoAnna, whose husband Chuza was a steward in the Herodian palace, asking her to come by.

JoAnna was a jovial and talkative woman who was always delighted to share some gossip – and some wine. Of course she knew Bernice, she began, “she’s the only princess who treats the non-royals as if they’re more than dirt. But, oh my gosh, will your son have his hands full. She is going to rule their home like a goddess rules her temple.”  Her laugh wasn’t comforting to Mary who wondered how James would deal with her. JoAnna saw the consternation of her cousin and added “But she’s nice, and smart. She’ll be an easy mother (meaning she was large and sturdy for childbirth) and I predict a flock of children.” Mary smiled at that thought as every mother is warmed by the idea of grandchildren and by the image of James as a father. “Just think, your grandchildren will be related to the Ptolemies through two lines.”

Mary had trouble making that connection and JoAnna was happy to show off her encyclopedic knowledge of family and royal genealogy. “Well, let me think… our grandfather, on your father’s side and on my mother’s was Mattat ben Levi, right?” (She didn’t have to wait for confirmation, she knew this well). “And your grandmother was Elizabeth, who became the Princess Alexandra II. One of her brothers-in-law was Ptolemy bar Menneus, who was also a nephew of Arsinoe bat Ptolemy Aueletes (the Pharaoh). But that’s a distant relation. However, Joseph’s mother was Cleopatra Ourania  (“Heavenly”) who some call “Cleopatra of Jerusalem” since many believe she was the secret daughter of the Queen and the Roman Antony. I don’t know about her father, but we are sure that she was a Ptolemy because of her later marriage to Herod the Idumean[8].” JoAnna paused just long enough to catch a breath: “Now Berenice is the daughter of Phaesalus bar Herod and the granddaughter of Cleopatra Ourania, so she and James are cousins. Both of them will offer Egyptian royal blood to your grandchildren. Of course James also has royal blood from both David and the Assmoneans, and priestly blood from Levi, Zadok, and Onias. I think that this is a very good marriage.”

Mary had been sufficiently isolated from the time that she was young that she had never heard details about her ancestry. She knew that her grandfather had been the High Priest Yehoshua bar Phabet (the 59th High Priest, 36-23 BCE) since so many in the Temple knew such. She knew that her mother Anna had first been married to a Hasmonean “Prince” she knew as Heli, but she had no memory of him. As she considered this new information, she decided that it was important for her to begin learning more. She was most curious about the “Cleopatra” that seemed to tie the families together.

JoAnna gave her a conspiratorial glance and started, “It is strictly forbidden o talk about such, but since we’re family… As you may have heard, Herod’s second wife, Mariamne – the first one - was the daughter of Queen Alexandra who happened to be a good friend of Queen Cleopatra from when they were young and so when Queen Cleopatra gave birth to a child during the time when the war against the Romans was going badly, she knew it would be in danger and decided to send it away to safety – to her friend Alexandra who made sure that the daughter was raised secretly, and Jewish. But then Alexandra found herself in trouble with Herod, and the young girl, who was named Cleopatra Ourania[9] (which you know means heavenly, right) needed to be taken to safety. Queen Cleopatra had told Alexandra that her daughter had been promised in marriage to the Parthian king Phraates, so she was sent to Parthia. But, Augustus didn’t want that marriage so he decided to send a girl as the prince’s bride[10] – I think her name was Theramuse or something like that – and Ourania was to be sent back to Alexandra, who had died, and so an arrangement was made for her to marry Jacob ben Matthan, Joseph’s father[11]. By the way, Ourania had a daughter by Phrates named Julia and she had a son named Gamala. The royals, they bounce wives around like playthings and everybody is marrying their nieces, cousins, and whatever. You know, Queen Cleopatra even married her brother and her son.

Mary found all this interesting and tried to remember as many details as she could. But her real interest was her future daughter-in-law and what she was like. She steered JoAnna back in that direction. “Oh yes, well Princess Berenice is – as I already said – not much like the other Princesses. She definitely has a mind of her own and isn’t afraid to speak what’s on her mind. You know, since her father died when she was young, she has that in common with you and after the death of her mother – I think she was one of the daughters of Cypros – her position was greatly diminished. But, she is a granddaughter of the madman Herod and her Uncle has protected her, so I guess she has grown up somewhat uninhibited. Besides, I think she was one of the children sent to Rome – probably with Archaelus’ boys and Agrippa Aristobulus – another one who lost his father to the madman – but I’m not too sure about that, her going to Rome, I mean. But she’s very bright – oh, I think I already said that – and she has a real talent with languages. I think that’s part of the reason her Uncle keeps her around. Anyway, you know that he divorced his first wife in order to marry Herodias – the daughter of his half-brother and the wife of another half-brother. It’s a scandal that everybody is talking about – and it looks like there’s going to be war with Aretas (the Nabetean King) because of the insult to his daughter Phasaelis. Men are crazy!

JoAnna could see that Mary didn’t care about Herodias, Aretas, or his daughter, so she returned to Berenice. “Oh yes, now where was I… Yes, uh, Berenice. Even though she’s a minor royal, I would think that the wedding will be attended by a group of her relatives. What do you know about the arrangements?” Mary acknowledged that she knew almost nothing about the wedding plans and JoAnna helped little: “It’s been a few years since I have attended one of the Temple sponsored weddings. They’re pretty basic. The party afterwards can be a big event, but it is sponsored by the family of the bride. From what I’ve heard about the tena'im and shiluhim, I doubt if Berenice’s uncle will be willing to spend much on the party.

   

 
Chapter 37

Throughout history there have been those special people who stand apart from others. Some do so through wisdom, some through physical appearance, and some through charisma. But others manage distinction without any obvious or apparent attribute. There is just something about them.

It is odd that history records the unique perceptions created by both John (fire and brimstone) and James (righteous and just), but much less so about Jesus. In part we may attribute this to the fact that the gospel writers never knew Jesus and were therefore unable to express the impact that he had upon others. Instead, what we have done is create a persona based upon what we have been told about Jesus’ teachings and actions. However, even cursory study of those can only lead to one conclusion: Jesus had multiple personas and created diverse perceptions that were difficult to personify.

What does emerge from the gospel accounts is a portrait of Jesus that shows he made no effort to define or create a persona - that his was a natural and unpretentious manner. We should note how remarkable that was for both a person who was obviously venerated and for writers who were clearly willing to create (or replicate) whatever myths were needed to support their theology.

Jesus was surprised to hear that his brother would be married soon. Somehow it had seemed as though he would never marry even though it wasn’t logical to think such. He went to meet with James to discuss both the arrangement of the marriage and the plans for the wedding. Instead, James wanted to talk about John and his mission.

“John believes that the Council has it backwards – that our goal should be to create the conditions necessary to trigger the end-of-days and then the Messiah will appear. He is confident that the end-of-days can only be started when there are enough truly righteous people.” Jesus continued James’ idea: “And he believes that it doesn’t matter if those people are Jews or Gentiles.” “What do you think?” they both asked at the same time. James deferred to his older brother. “It makes sense, but then it is entirely possible that the only way we’ll get enough people to accept righteousness is through the appearance of a ‘savior’.”

James:”People are expecting the Messiah to be their savior; that they don’t have to do anything except follow his lead.”

Jesus: “You are right. And it would seem that most people believe that righteousness involves making the right sacrifices in the Temple and paying their tithes on time.”

James:”So if John is right, we have a dilemma – the end-of days can’t begin until there are enough righteous people and most people have the wrong concept of righteousness or believe that they can wait until the Messiah appears before they start trying to be righteous.”

Jesus:”So you think his mission is doomed to fail?”

James:”I don’t know. I can sense the Divine Will behind it and you can’t miss his devotion. That has always proven to be a powerful combination.  Did he tell you about his being touched by God?”

Jesus:”Yes, and it is time that I tell you about my experience…”

James listened intently as Jesus told him about his experience in the wilderness between Jericho and Qumran. When Jesus finished with the story, James waited for Jesus to continue. Jesus knew what his brother was waiting to hear, but hadn’t yet answered the question for himself. But, under the pressure to explain what it meant, his mind produced an answer: “Like John, I have a mission. Unlike John, my mission has yet to coalesce. For now, I am to wait and listen. When the time is right, God will guide me so long as I’m wanting and willing to accept the Divine Will as my own. Until then, I will seek to purify my spirit so that I am deserving and most able.”

“Will you join John in his mission?” “Only if I get some indication that it is part of my mission to do so. For now, I don’t sense that it is my place.” “What are your plans, then?” Again Jesus was uncertain and the question led him to some resolution. “I will stay here for your wedding and through the holiday. Then, I will go back to Galilee and discuss it with friends and family. Finally, once I have something in mind, I’ll come back and discuss it with you – and perhaps John.”

With that much resolved they talked about women, marriage, and children until it was time for James to return to his duties[12]. As they parted, Jesus watched his younger brother walk away and thought about how much he had changed. There was now a presence about him that best fit the word “holy” and Jesus understood how certain men in history had gained that appellation. Then he thought about John and what descriptive term best fit him. The first thing that came to mind was venerable – a venerable hermit. Those thoughts led Jesus to consider his own image and he wondered how others perceived him, how he would want others to perceive him, and how he would want to be perceived if he were to take on some divine mission.


Chapter 38

Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles or “Booths”) is a seven day pilgrimage holiday celebrating the fall harvest with special prayer services and meals. The Torah instructs that “all citizens in Israel shall live in booths, in order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in sukkah (booths) when I brought them out of the land of Egypt” (Lev. 23:42-43). Thus, people in the cities built similar booths outside their houses or in their courtyards where they took their meals or slept during the festival. Jews typically treated the mid-week festival days as a vacation period, entertaining guests, visiting other families in their sukkah, taking family outings, or celebrating important ceremonies. The last day of Sukkot is called Hoshana Rabbah where pilgrims walk around the perimeter of the sanctuary during morning services.

John met up with Andrew, Yochanan and Bannus in Jerusalem during Sukkot according to their prior arrangement. Lazarus also arrived for the Feast and had been kind enough to arrange for the lodging of John’s friends within the city. But then, with so many booths (tents) set up around the city, there were plenty of places to stay. With the entire Nozerim Council in the city, it was a good opportunity for many matters to be discussed and resolved. And, of course, there was a wedding to prepare for – James and Bernice would be wed in the relatively simple ceremony of Temple priests (kept simple so that the cost to the Temple was reduced).

The reunion of John and friends soon became an opportunity for a larger get-together at the “white house” as Miryam invited them all (along with Lazarus, his sisters, and a few other friends) for a feast. It began well enough as everyone was in a festive mood and there were many shared acquaintances. Among the Jews the adage  – a friend of yours is a friend of mine – has deep roots. But when John introduced Bannus to Miryam, there were unexpected fireworks. “Your father’s name was Nobeus? Was he from Damascus?” When Bannus affirmed that he was, Miryam proceeded to interrogate him in a way that few women would dare. But then, it was her house. After Bannus had affirmed that his father was a “trader”, had often travelled through Galilee, and resembled his present son, Miryam stood and ordered him out of the house.

Bannus was already insecure in his place with these people that he found quite strange and he chose not to make a fuss. But the look he gave Miryam left no doubt about how he felt and as he left, he muttered something in Syrian about women knowing their place. Miryam caught enough of his words to rejoin – “Yes, it is my place and I will not have pigs or piglets at my table.” It was a great insult that Bannus would not soon forget.

The others had no idea what was going on and Miryam was going to let it pass, except that Lazarus asked. She explained, “His father was once a customer, until one night when he beat up one of our workers. He was lucky that Azor isn’t here, lest he might have recovered some of the unpaid damages from the son.” Most of the party at the table knew about the business that Miryam and Azor ran and thereby inferred what had happened. But Lazarus didn’t, so he was befuddled. “Is it fair to impugn the son for his father’s sins?” Miryam paused briefly, took a breath, and then spoke with less fire in her voice: “Perhaps not, but I didn’t like him from the first moment I laid eyes on him. Even if I hadn’t known Bannus’ father, I would have warned John about his so-called friend and his intentions.” “I’m afraid that you have made an enemy,” Martha offered. “Better an enemy known than an unknown enemy you think you know,” Jesus added.

The festive spirit soon returned and new friendships were formed. The sisters Mary and Martha found Miryam fascinating, and although they both had “eyes” for Jesus, they saw that they couldn’t compete with this woman. So, instead, they made her a friend. They were also enamored with Eppy who treated them with special regard after they effused numerous compliments upon her. It would be fair to say that all the men were also taken by Eppy. There was something incredibly sensuous and exotic about her – an attribute that Miryam saw the moment they first met. When Azor and Miryam took over the family business, one of the first things Miryam did was to ask Eppy if she wanted to return to her home country of Ethiopia (where she had been removed as a slave girl). Eppy declined saying that there she would be treated much worse if she were to return. So Miryam gave her freedom and offered her work as a dancer. When Eppy accepted with great delight, Miryam brought her into their home as a friend. In return for her affection and grace, she received Eppy’s undying gratitude and devotion.

After the torches were lit and the wine skins were flat, the discussion turned more serious as the men knew that they had little time to work out some important details. It is likely that this was the only house in Jerusalem where the women didn’t retire to their own room when the men started such discussion. For Andrew and Yochanan, this was still a new idea – they had lots to learn. What they learned next would change their lives forever. John started by offering a more specific vision for his mission…

“I have taken counsel with my brothers from Mt. Carmel and have decided that I will follow the path of the prophet Elijah. It is not enough for us to prepare the way for the Messiah; we must prepare the people who will open the door for the coming of God’s Kingdom. We shall enter into a new covenant with God and cleanse our own house so that we may be worthy of God’s grace. We will utilize mikvah to achieve Mitzvah [a play on words meaning to use ritual immersion to achieve a religious duty or moral deed]. Instead of seeking ritual purity through association and obedience, we will offer real purity through repentance and consecration. Instead of hiding in the desert and secretly selecting those who will be offered salvation [as do the Qumranians], we will openly proclaim our mission and accept all those who truly seek to honor God’s Will. We will become God’s shepherds for the Lord’s flock has strayed“.

Then, he offered more details regarding his plan: “Soon after the wedding of James, I will proceed to Jericho where I will search for the site where Elijah crossed the river Jordan. There, I will establish a camp and find a suitable place along the riverbank for immersions. Once I am ready, I will go to Jericho and begin to proclaim my message for all: Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.”

“How will you live?” wondered Mary.  I will try to live off the land. “You know that you are welcome to visit us whenever you wish,” Lazarus offered. “Are we to join you?” “Yes, Andrew, you and Yochanan are welcome to join me, but that it your choice – as is accepting my mission and methods.” “They make sense to me,” offered Yochanan, “but I wonder how people will interpret your message.” “What part of it is not clear?” “שׁוּב (sha·vu meaning to turn back) means to return to the beginning – to what beginning?” “The idea is to get people to turn back to the ways of God; to honor righteousness.” “I see, and when you say that God’s Kingdom is ‘at hand’, do mean that it is already here?” “Yes and no; by ‘לָבֹ֔וא’ I also mean ‘קָרוֹב’ (to come and to arrive soon).” “Here now and yet to still arrive?” “Yochanan, I am not trying to make this a semantics issue; I merely wish to convey a sense of urgency.” “I understand, but I want to be able to answer questions correctly.” “Yes, I also want you to answer correctly. But in this case, the answer may have to come from within the individual. If the wording has prompted you to make that inquiry within yourself, then it is properly worded.” Yochanan nodded to acknowledge his appreciation and acceptance of that answer.

“And then what will happen?” asked Lazarus. “God will decide.” John’s non-answer brought some chuckles – it was a common reply to a question that couldn’t be answered, but here John meant it more seriously. “I have great confidence that the path upon which I have been guided is one that pleases God, but I have not been offered any insight into the result.” Everyone automatically understood that this was a common situation: we start many undertakings without knowledge of where they will lead, but trust in God allows us to invest in such.

 


Chapter 39

Through marriage, God has not merely allowed human beings an erotic indulgence, God has sanctified us by giving us its institution. Through this institution, we achieve completion (being only half a person until mated), a more intimate relationship with other people, and  a closer relationship with God. Through marriage we enrich the family and perpetuate the species, for God created the world with the specific purpose that it be inhabited, civilized, and appreciated.

A Jewish wedding is a solemn joining of two souls as one in what is viewed as possibly the most holy of all human actions. The joining was formally consummated in the bridal chamber – and the newlyweds were offered an odd mix of privacy and invasion during this extraordinary moment.

The wedding of James and Bernice had the distinction of being the first held in the newly completed Royal Portico in the Temple precinct (pictured above). This location created some special problems for traditional ceremonies since weddings were held at the groom’s house and the couple proceeded directly from the ceremony to the bridal chamber or yichud where the final act of chuppah seals the marriage- they are not legally man and wife until they emerge from the yichud with proper consummation. For James and Bernice, the yichud was a Tabernacle built inside the stoa where they would have their first private time together (with two witnesses standing outside).

JoAnna was right about Bernice’s uncle being unwilling to spend substantially on the ceremony, but she didn’t know that others would more than make up for it. There were crowds in Jerusalem for the festival and because it was the first wedding in the new portico, a royal wedding, a priestly wedding, and an open wedding[13], the party was magnificent. Far more people wanted to enter than the huge building could accommodate and the party spread out onto the courtyard. People who had never heard of either the bride or the groom became aware of them and their names were mentioned favorably for a long time afterward.

For James and Bernice the union was more than awkward. Aside from being thrust into a new realm of physical intimacy, they were expected to consummate a relationship. Both had received detailed instruction on what was required and how to proceed. That was the easy part for as soon as James had taken Bernice’s hand to walk her to the yichud, it was apparent that the physical part would come naturally. Both were well accustomed to dealing with procedural requirements. Their “script” was disrupted when they sat together to break their fast and they both felt the “magic” which only a holy union can bring. The experience was so powerful and overwhelming that it took them some time to move on: James wanted to ponder the wonder of it and Bernice wanted to talk about it. These characteristics would highlight their differences throughout their marriage.

All the members of the Nozerim Council were present for the wedding. They had met the day before and their primary discussion had been marriage although the new information regarding John was a close second. The Council was again split by the meaning of these events and the direction of their response. The biggest surprise occurred when Parmenas decided to speak his mind:

“Brothers, we cannot allow our differences to divert us from our common purpose. I need not re-emphasize that we are here to honor God’s Will and that we all agree that preparing the Way of righteousness is the foundation of our beliefs. It my thinking that we are allowing different views of the mechanisms and methods of this to detract from our focus and unity. Does it really matter whether the end-of-days will begin with the coming of the Messiah or whether the Messiah will bring the end-of-days as part of his mission. Perhaps it is as some suggest and the Messiah may only emerge when we have accomplished the purity and piety which is a prerequisite.

I am new to the Council and the youngest among you, so I speak only with the authority of reason. Is it not most reasonable to act according to that which is known and to put actions based upon speculation and mere belief aside? We debate who might be the Messiah and how to best prepare Him and for Him when we should be deciding how to best preparing ourselves and others to serve that righteousness which we know the Messiah and the Lord must share. I am convinced that the Messiah will only serve those who are willing to take on the yoke of piety and purity which scripture demands.”

 His words struck deeply and with resonance. They were seconded by Joseph who added, “I agree with my friend and brother – we should not make the same mistake as so many others and deceive ourselves into believing that we know the way of the Lord. History should teach us that God has a Way and all we must do is figure it out and join in. Our focus has turned to the result we seek instead of the means to achieve God’s Will. If we perfect the means, we will achieve the result. If righteousness is both a means and the desired result – we must seek the Way of righteousness. The Messiah will be He who best leads to righteousness.”

While intended to return unity to the group, the ideas of Parmenas and Joseph first led to heated discussion. A couple of the members thought that their intent was to support a particular candidate as the “one who best leads to righteousness.” But after further elaboration, there was consensus regarding that approach and dispute regarding how to best determine who actually was leading to righteousness. It was an age-old problem. Finally, a voice which had remained silent spoke and caught everyone’s attention: “There is a simple solution.” the ancient voice of Zakkai offered, “Since there are those who believe the Messiah is already among us, why don’t you ask your Messiah what his view is?” Those who thought otherwise had difficulty suppressing their smiles.  Not only were Zakkai’s ideas always treated with great respect, his logic here was incontrovertible. Besides, several of the council members already knew what the leading Messianic candidates thought.

The Councils selected three groups of three to go and talk to the nine leading Messianic candidates and they drafted a list of questions that would be asked of each. That process took several weeks, so the interviews could not be accomplished while most were in Jerusalem for the festival.


Chapter 40

Baptism wasn’t new, but its use had previously been restricted to the conversion of proselytes to Judaism[14]. The one known exception was that of the Qumranians who used repeated baptisms for ritual cleanliness. John seems to have transformed baptism into a one-time ritual cleansing whereby Jews and Gentiles could be converted into righteous devotees of God.

The choice of the Jordan River for John’s ministry was logical in several regards: it provided a year-around flow of “living water”, it was where God commanded Elijah to seek refuge from King Ahab and where Elijah anointed Elisha and ascended to heaven, and it was near a popular road.

Following Hoshana Rabbah (the Sabbath ending Sukkot), John met again with his friends before leaving Jerusalem. The largest remaining question was Jesus – what were his plans? Andrew and Prochorus were going with John and they were travelling to Jericho with Lazarus, his sisters, and their crowd. All of them were in favor of Jesus joining them and they encouraged him to do so. But, despite their urgings, he said he had some other things he needed to do and vaguely put them off by promising to come to Jericho later.

The trip to Jericho was uneventful, but it served as a good opportunity to John to develop his thoughts and his presentation since the group talked about it continuously through the ten hour walk. Once they reached Jericho, John and retinue spent the night with Lazarus where Martha and Mary showed particular interest in one idea that John had talked about – baptism.

“While I was at Qumran, I met a man from Antioch named Eugnos who knew of a group called “Gnostics” or those who love wisdom (“Sophia”). They believe that angels are those who have escaped imprisonment in matter and live as spiritual beings – having achieved this by resurrection of the spirit during ritual immersion. I found this interesting because I believe that God is a spiritual being and that tevilah (Hebrew for "immersion") is the basis of the mikveh (Jewish ritual cleansing).

I began to wonder if the sages understood that the purpose of mikveh was spiritual rather than physical cleansing. After all, they taught that the mikveh cleanses the unclean in the same way that the Holy One cleanses Israel. Then I thought about Giyur and the conversion of Gentiles to Jews – where tevilah and mikveh are combined again as the way to purify those who choose to accept our Lord. Is there a form of ritual lustration, when combined with spiritual ablution, that can lead to spiritual redemption?”

Mary wondered, “Do you mean that we can become angels? By immersion?” John shook his head: “If God wanted us to be angels, it would be simpler to transform us or make us angels to start with. I think that there is something profound and divine in that which we find to be ‘spiritual’ and that is why we associate it with God and angels. But we too have a spiritual essence and the first step in choosing to be closer to God should be a spiritual step.”

“Isn’t that what mikvah and sacrifice is about?” (Martha). “No, I think that we have changed our view so that they are now seen as ways to remove barriers and grease the rail to some favor from God; their spiritual essence has been lost. Is it righteousness people seek through ritual or are they merely hoping to improve their odds of winning in the game of God[15]?” Martha’s hands flew to cover her face under these harsh words and John’s thoughts turned to the way in which certain words impact people. Mary moderated, “I think that it is what’s in the person’s heart that matters – the ritual is simply a token of that.” “Exactly,” John agreed, “unless your heart is in the right place, all ritual is wasted. But then that raises the opposite question – if you heart is right, then does the ritual actually matter?”

Lazarus had been silent during the discussion as his mind had raced ahead after John’s early comments regarding the Gnostics. But now he wondered aloud: “If the way to righteousness is spiritual and the ritual of mikvah leads to spiritual resurrection through physical immersion, then doesn’t the ritual have great importance?” John was pleased to have his new friend share his thinking and the focus of the discussion shifted because of Andrew’s question… “But the Gnostics were not Jews were they? Could Gentiles have spiritual righteousness [beyond that of Jews]?“ “At some point we will have to accept that gerei toshav (גר תושב or “resident aliens”) may be considered righteous so long as they honor the Noahide laws.” John added, “Doesn’t it make sense that God would honor any who honor Him, regardless of their parents?”   

Prochorus offered his first contribution: “We allow a Gentile to become a Jew if they commit to following God’s laws and they undergo tevilah mikvah. Doesn’t this mean that God would permit the same conversion to spiritual righteousness?” “But what about circumcision?” (Andrew) “I had the privilege of hearing the Great Hillel speak of this and his thought was that circumcision was a law from the time in Egypt and that it may be time to reconsider its current importance to God.” “He said that?” Lazarus blurted and then added, “If anyone else said such a thing they would be stoned for blasphemy.”  “He said it with more cautious words and as a question. But he has made his views known about circumcising those born without a foreskin – that it is unnecessary. And, I have heard that in private he has made the point that women are the carriers of Jewish ancestry[16] and they are not circumcised.” The women smiled with this acknowledgement of the stature of their gender and the hint of sexuality.

John had been deep in thought and came to an important realization: he had allowed his culture to influence his thinking in a way that made little sense. The only thing that made Jews “special” to God was their righteousness and everyone – Jew or Gentile – who seeks God through righteousness would be welcome in God’s Kingdom. The key was to turn away from a focus on material things and to turn towards the spiritual. Ritual immersion would then act to trigger some spiritual awakening that would empower people towards righteousness. He shared those thoughts with the others and they were inspired by the idea. Lazarus suggested that John speak in the synagogue for next week’s service and share his new message.

Having four days before the next Sabbath, John, Andrew, and Prochorus surveyed the area along the Jordan River looking for likely sites of Elijah’s crossing. Eventually they realized that the best sites for crossings were the worst sites for immersion and that convenient access to roads would be important. It was Andrew who mentioned the possibility of needing to deal with small groups or crowds and as unlikely as that may have seemed, it was something that they kept in mind. Finally they came upon a site which everyone agreed was ideal – it was close to a crossing point and near the entry point of a wadi. The seasonal stream formed a pool and had good places for gathering, immersion, and camping. The only issue was that it was situated on the east side of the river, technically outside of Judea and inside of Perea (territory ruled by Antipas instead of the Roman Prefect)[17]. Nobody viewed that as being a problem.

 

Chapter 41

After the death of Herod the madman, there had been both a revolt between the Jews and the Romans and between the two major factions of Judaism – the Pharisees and the Shammaites (Sadducees). Since he had become Nasi in 23 BCE, Hillel had dominated Jewish scholarship with a bent toward the Pharisitical views in contrast to Shammai who was strongly a Sadducee. But Hillel could see that the pendulum of power was swinging towards the aristocrats against the Pharisees and so, in 20 BCE, Hillel sent his trusted friend and colleague, Menahem the Essene, along with 80 pairs of his disciples to Damascus.

Shammai sought to use the Jewish people’s deeply rooted fear - that too much contact with the gentile Romans would weaken their religion and identity as a people - to push his agenda. But Hillel and the Pharisees managed to remain the dominant force and resist the Shammaites until Hillel grew old and weak.  Then the Shammaites composed a new set of rules, called the “Eighteen Measures”, dealing mostly with “ritual cleanliness, and purity” hoping to create greater division and separation between the Jews and the Gentiles[18]. Hillel strongly opposed the measures as being needlessly divisive and hateful, but then he died in 10 CE.

Soon thereafter, the Shammaites called for a debate on the measures to be held at a “neutral location” (the estate of  Hananiah ben Hezekiah (ben Gurion).  The Shammaites showed up with weapons and after the first vote was taken on the “eighteen measures” several disciples of Hillel were killed by disciples of Shammai. To avoid further bloodshed, Hillel’s son Simon (the new Nasi) swore an oath to uphold the 18 measures, as did the rest of Hillel’s disciples at the “debate”.

Simon kept his position as Nasi, but lost influence with the Pharisees. The Shammaites/Sadducees took control and a time of great religious turmoil ensued. This was one of the biggest issues during the adult life of Jesus.[19]

Before Jesus would leave Jerusalem, he wanted to spend some time with his friends Gamaliel and Johahan and to introduce them to Mary. After John and party departed, Jesus sent Boaz with an invitation for his friends (and wives) – which he reported was happily accepted by both. Much had changed in the year since he had last seen them, the most striking of which was the appearance of Gamaliel. Two things showed on him: his wife’s good cooking and the burden of his role as leader of the Pharisees. Johanan had changed less physically, but was fully subservient to his wife Ada and enamored with his two twin daughters.

Most of the evening was spent socializing and getting acquainted. Ada quickly adjusted to the informal and egalitarian atmosphere, but Dorit (Gamaliel’s wife) seemed to be intimidated and remained shyly withdrawn. Nevertheless, she attentively followed the discussion and seemed to enjoy the growing comradery. Meanwhile, Jesus found himself distracted by two trains of thought: first, how much time people invest in frivolous dialog and social protocol and second, how the news from Gamaliel might affect his plans.

As a general observation, Jesus was finding that the amount of time he was willing to spend in the process of getting to substantive matters was diminishing. The nuisance of greetings, “small talk”, and warming up meant that far too little time was left for the things that really mattered to him. In a world where so much needed to be corrected and where so many were deprived of the most important things, Jesus simply couldn’t see the justification for all the ancillary talk. And so much of that was of the thoughtless-routine type that served mostly to fill time and avoid issues. Besides, Jesus was anxious to hear what was going on with Gamaliel, the religious disputes, and the Temple-Sanhedrin-Priesthood and the group was more focused upon the weather, city news, and royal intrigue.

Gamaliel had briefly alluded to the increasing militancy of the Sadducees and the awkward position of his father Simon (the “Nasi” or president of the Sanhedrin). There was a hint of the effects of those trends upon James and the permanent priesthood, but before Jesus could pursue that topic, they were distracted. The world of Judaism was still in shock from the appalling actions of the Shammaites following the death of Hillel. While the “18 Measures” adopted by the Shammaites were merely controversial, the murder of Hillel’s supporters marked more than a despicable act - it ushered in a new era of militant fundamentalism. Jesus understood the many implications of this change.

“I am afraid that my father has the strength of conviction which allows him to ‘honor his oath’, but lacks the conviction which would compel him to declare the Shammaite atrocity a crime and void the new laws. He has become a mere puppet or figurehead and will not risk his own life or the life of others to defend the people, the law, or justice.” Johahan offered some consolation to Gamaliel, “His power may be minimal, but it wouldn’t be greater if he and his father’s supporters were dead.” He didn’t need to add that Gamaliel would be included in that group and Gamaliel didn’t need to add that he was also working from a weak position. He did summarize the situation succinctly: “Between the Shammaites, the Sadducees, and their Zealot factions, we face an enemy within that sides with our larger enemy and is becoming more and more powerful.” “It would seem that we are destined to repeat the disaster caused by the Tobiads and Hellenists before the Hasmonean revolt,” opined Johanan. “No, this could be far worse, “Jesus added, “the Romans are a much more powerful adversary than the Syrians were: they are not only stronger, they corrupt with greater wealth and unsavory ethics.”

Gamaliel spoke of James with surprising respect, “He is the one voice that speaks out for justice and has gathered a significant following among the priests – even among those who might agree with the new laws there are those who understand how far astray the leadership has gone. Unfortunately, most are unwilling to risk the wrath of either Annas (the High Priest) or his son-in-law Caiaphas (the Av Beit Din of the Sanhderin and leader of the Shammaites)”.  “How great is his danger?” Miryam asked with the same concern as Jesus. “I would say that the danger is great,” Gamaliel answered honestly, “but it is offset by the fact that James is very popular with the people, highly respected by his peers, and protected by powerful friends. He is adept at walking the tightrope of righteous dignity and knows just how far to push his opposition.” “I would guess that his marriage to Bernice also helps to protect him,” noted Ada with a surprising entry in the discussion.

While the discussion turned to James and his new wife, Jesus wondered about his brother’s goals and decided that he would visit him before leaving Jerusalem. When the discussion paused, he interjected his pending question for Gamaliel: “What is your belief about the future – your future and that of the Pharisees?” His expression soured noticeably and the weight of this question showed on Gamaliel. He didn’t rush to answer and glanced at Dorit before he did. “My father is ailing and I am slated to replace him as Nasi. It is a path which has no worthy destination, but which I must walk. Despite what I said earlier about his insufficient conviction to battle the Shammaites, I understand the terrible consequences which might result from open ‘war’ between the factions and the lack of any possible gain for the people. I worry for my children, my people, and my religion because I see no road which averts destruction, demise, and disaster. But it is my duty to do all that I can to steer us clear of the Armageddon of my nightmares.”

Gamaliel’s ominous tone dampened the discussion and Johanan asked what Gamaliel thought about the meshiach beliefs. “Childish wishes.” he started and then added ”Whatever visions the prophets may have had  were likely misinterpreted or intentionally misrepresented to offer hope to the hopeless and to inspire those few who might not otherwise attempt to lead us out of this mess.” He looked to Jesus and gestured for him to add his thoughts. “I agree that most of what is believed about the messiah is based upon fables, myths, and vague prophecies and that many have misused the hope that underlies the notion of a divinely empowered savior in order to gain power for themselves. But there is still great power in that hope and it may well be that it will take a divinely inspired and guided leader to guide those believers into righteousness.”  Gamaliel nodded his approval and paused in reflection for a moment.

“I am inclined to share a secret with you all. It is, I suppose, a ‘big’ secret – but one not well kept or entirely necessary. However, I am under oath to only share it with others who are also under oath and may benefit from knowing it. If you are unwilling to take an oath or don’t want to hear this secret, then you must say so now.” He paused and made sure that there was a fair opportunity for questions or withdrawal, then administered an oath which all accepted. “Almost forty years ago, just as Herod was starting to re-build it, my father had a vision of the destruction of the Temple. This aligned with his sense that we are headed for self destruction and that our enemies are growing and becoming stronger. He discussed this with his best friends and closest disciples and a decision was made to remove many of the leaders and best students to Damascus. There, they established a synagogue and started a new Jewish community which is conjoined with the Essene community. They are developing a new form of religious worship and structure known as Rabbinical Judaism in which the emphasis is scholarship, community, and charity.”

 

Johanan interjected, “That is hardly a secret, my friend.” “Indeed, you are right. But it provides the background for the secret I will share and one that I can’t – because I don’t know it myself.  The secret I can share is that the Damascus Jewish community is connected to another community where a repository has been created for our most sacred objects, our scripture, and our records.” This had their attention and Johanan drew a gush of air in realization of its larger meaning: “You mean THE sacred objects?” Gamaliel merely nodded. Johanan’s reaction was striking enough that Miryam had to ask: “I’m sorry, but I don’t understand.” Gamaliel explained…

During the time of King Josiah, when the cleansing of the Beit HaMikdash (Temple ) took place and the Torah was found, he had a vision that warned him of the coming invasion by Nebuchadnezzar . So the wise King instructed Jeremiah to find a repository for the sacred treasures of Moses, David, and Solomon. A small group of trusted priests under the most sacred oath were given the responsibility for both securing the treasures and developing a way to pass the secret along to future generations. They hid the ancient Tabernacle with its Curtain, the Holy Menorah, the Ark of Testimony, the golden forehead Nameplate, the golden crown of Aharon the Cohen, the Breastplate of Judgment, the silver Trumpets, the Cherubim, and the Altar of burnt offerings, the Curtain of the Communion Tent, the forks and the bread molds, the Table of the Showbread, the Curtain of the Gate, the Copper Altar, the sacred garments of Aharon (worn only by the Cohen Haggadic (High Priest) only on the Day of Atonement), Pa'amonim (golden bells) and Ramona (golden pomegranates) on the hem of the High Priest’s robe, the holy vessels that Moses made on Mount Sinai, the Staff of Moses, the Jar of the Manna, the Qalal which held the ashes of the red heifer, and the Sapphire Rod. These treasures and more were secretly taken from the Genizah of Solomon’s Temple and hidden in seven caves in the Valley of Achor near the grave of Moses at Mt. Nebo. These caves were so well concealed that they remained hidden for over 500 years.

“So, when were they recovered? And where are most of them?” Johanan wondered. “They were never recovered.” Gamaliel gestured to stop Johanan. “I know, people think that some of the sacred objects were found and placed back into Temple service. But instead, the objects in the Temple now are replicas created by Josiah so that no one would realize the sacred objects had been removed. Oh, and that is a secret I didn’t intend to mention.”

Miryam was ahead of the others and asked: “So what are the sacred objects that will be kept in Damascus?” Gamaliel smiled, “They won’t be kept IN Damascus, but the hazzan of the Essene synagogue in Damascus knows how to contact those who will know how to find the treasures – the original sacred objects hidden by Jeremiah for King Josiah.” “And they have the objects now?” “No, they will gather them when all the preparations are completed.” “But they went to Damascus over forty years ago – are they still preparing? And how will they find the objects?” Gamaliel smiled again and looked at Miryam with an expression of fatherly affection. “You ask good questions.” “For a woman, you mean?” “No, for anyone.” Miryam smiled back.

 

Seeing that more explanation was needed, Gamaliel continued: “My grandfather came into possession of a special copper scroll which could only be deciphered by the holiest of men. It took him much of his life, but he decoded its message. When he realized that it was detailed instructions to locate the hidden Temple treasures, he put together a plan to protect the scroll and to determine if the sacred objects had been found or looted.  After a careful search, Hillel and Menahem concluded that the caves had not been discovered. Then they debated what they should do and initially decided to simply let them stay where they were. But then, Hillel was advised that another scroll was known to exist and was in the possession of the Romans. Although he doubted whether they could decipher it, he couldn’t take that chance and organized a small group who would attempt to recover the items. At the same time, he had another group begin to search for a better place to hide them – without telling them exactly what they would be hiding.” Gamaliel paused long enough that Johanan urged him to continue.

“Well, that’s really all I know. I have reason to believe that the treasures were found and relocated. I heard that new scrolls were created akin to the first. And, then all the information ends. But that’s the best indication that the end is exactly what we might hope for – if they have succeeded then very few people know about it and it is a closely held secret.” “And you…” Johanan stopped himself, but Miryam went on: “But there is something else; something that you would like to mention, but are unsure whether you should.” Gamaliel smiled at her again, as before. “Yes. I will not break my oath, but I will say that I have been given a code and the name of a person. If I got to the hazzan who I mentioned before and give him or his replacement the code and the name, he has instructions on who I am to meet and where, with another code. As I understand it, there are several copies of the new scroll which are divided into segments which are meaningless by themselves. A few people have keys – a code and a name – which can allow them to reassemble a scroll, but only if they start with the right person. There are several starting points so there are twelve different ways the scroll can be reconstructed, but each path requires at least four people to agree on the assembly of a scroll and then it must be deciphered before it can be used to find the treasure.”

“Is there any risk that such a complex system might fail and the treasure not be found – ever,” Dorit worried. “That is always a possibility. But then, it would suggest that God doesn’t want the treasure found. Of course, if God decides that the treasure should be found by someone else, they could be guided by direct revelation. Besides, my grandfather was a very wise man and I have reason to believe that he devised more than one system for encrypting the information. I can say little more, but would remind you that he was a foremost scholar on the Kabbalah, especially Ma'aseh B'reshit (Hebrew: מעשה בראשית‎ or "the act of Creation"). I was blessed to receive his Megilot (mystical scrolls) as an inheritance and consider them my most valuable possession. Everyone understood the implication and after a period of reflection, the discussion moved on to other subjects that allowed the gathering to part on less serious terms.

 

Chapter 42

The Decapolis (Greek for ”ten cities”) were a group of  cities or colonies in the region near or east of the Jordan River. Later, it was the name of a Roman Province which included most of the original ten cites and added others. These cities were given a certain degree of autonomy and self-rule during the Seleucid dynasty and formed an un-official league but were never a political unit. They shared a formalized mix of Semitic (Nabatean, Aramean, and Jewish) and Hellenistic peoples with common languages, culture, and trade (see the maps below).

  

Damascus is and was the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. It was the only city in the Decapolis which was not captured by the Hasmoneans and forced to adopt Judaism. When the Romans took control of the region, they returned the autonomy enjoyed by the city-states and they each took on very different character depending largely upon the ratio of Jews to gentiles and how the Jews had treated the gentiles while they were in control.

Jesus met with James at his new house a short walk below the Hulda Gates at the Temple’s south end. It was small and modest, but comfortable and convenient. Jesus was pleased to see that James looked relaxed and happy as, among other matters, Jesus was curious to see how they were getting along. It had only been a couple of weeks since their marriage, but it was Jesus’ experience that you could tell a lot about a marriage early on. Bernice also looked happy, and more. It was when she first drew close to James and affectionately leaned against him that the bell went off for Jesus. James was never one to hold back the truth and he soon acknowledged that he and Bernice had been diligent in fulfilling their duty of attempted procreation. They both smiled coyly and Jesus joined them.

Jesus was pleased to see that James wanted Bernice to be involved in their discussion and he was a bit surprised to see that they had a servant girl working for them. There was no need to ask, it had to be from Bernice’s funds. Bernice inquired about Miryam and Jesus explained her absence and added that Bernice would always be welcome to stop by the white house (where Miryam was busy preparing for their journey). And then it was time for “business” and Jesus related much of the information he had received from Gamaliel. It was not a surprise that James knew Gamaliel – after all he was the grandson of Hillel and the son of the current Nasi, but Jesus was surprised that he and James had talked recently. “Actually,” James offered, “the last time we talked was mostly about you.” Seeing that Jesus was curious about that, he continued: “Gamaliel is a man with many interests, plenty of friends and contacts, and a great sense of patriotism. As far as I know, he has no relationship with the Council, but knows something of it, its members, and its purpose.” Bernice stopped him and wanted to hear about the Council. James offered a brief description and then continued.

“I don’t think that Gamaliel believes in the Meshiach in any traditional form, but he is involved with many others who have strong beliefs. From someone, he had heard about the Council and our status with it.” “What status?” James explained to Bernice, “The Council has a system by which it rates various messianic candidates for likelihood to be a Meshiach. Jesus and I rank highly as does our cousin John.” Bernice seemed surprised and James returned to his prior thought, “Gamaliel is also involved with several Zealot factions, has mysterious dealings with foreigners, and seems to be trying to find common ground between those unwilling to see such.” Bernice cut in again: “Why would you two rank highly in the Council’s ranking?” James smiled with his wife’s clear doubt that he should be considered a messianic possibility. “Well, my wife, I suspect it’s because they rate sexual prowess very highly.” That brought both a chuckle and a blush from both Bernice and Jesus. “Actually, since we are not members of the Council, we are not privy to their rating system,” James noted. But that didn’t satisfy Bernice and she pressed for more. “My dear, if you will wait until my brother departs, I will explain in detail why he should be the Meshiach.” “I would guess that after your brother leaves us, the first thing you will want to do is show off your ‘sexual prowess’ again.”  “And, so, I’ll explain aftwerwards.” They both smiled at each other with clear affection and it warmed Jesus to see it.

Finally, James got back on track and asked Jesus about his discussion with Gamaliel. Instead, Jesus asked a question: “What do you know about the Temple’s sacred objects?” James was immediately cautious and concerned. “Part of the holy oath of the priesthood compels us to not discuss such.” Jesus understood two parts of that reply – that such an oath was part of the induction was interesting and that James would not break such an oath for his brother or his wife. So, Jesus replied, “I am also under oath in this regard, so instead of discussing those particulars, let us talk a little about history and possibilities. It is written[20] that Jeremiah hid the sacred vessels and objects before the exile. We know that the golden Ark of the Covenant with the Torah tablets, the golden pot of manna, and Aaron’s rod were never found. We are told that the ashes of the red heifer of Moses and the Anointing Oil of the kings and the prophets were lost. And, many believe that the garments of Aaron (worn by the High Priest), the original Breastplate with twelve polished gemstones, the Ephod of the High Priest, and the Urim and Thummin were also lost during the exile and have been replaced with others. But we should wonder, if all the Temple treasures were hidden by the same people at the same time, how were some recovered and the most irreplaceable never found? Would it be reasonable to believe that those items which were supposedly recovered were not the originals, but replicas? After all, had there not been workable replacements, the idea of hiding the treasures would have been discovered immediately.”

“My brother, you would make a powerful advocate,” James said smiling. “Of course, I can affirm your history, but not your speculation. I can say that it is p-e-r-f-e-c-t-l-y reasonable. I can also say that there are those within the priesthood who have asked your questions and the responses of the highest officials would tend to support your position.” Appreciating that James had said as much as he could, Jesus responded in kind. “Then, I would wonder if perhaps there were not some clever means devised by those who hid the treasures to keep this ultimate secret while ensuring that those in future generations would have a means to rediscover their location.” James pondered this briefly and then lit up, nodding. “Yes, it also makes perfect sense. I have no knowledge of this, but I heard of a group of elders, scholars, and priests who have been sequestered and are working on some very important but very silent project. Perhaps it is related to your idea?” “I also have no knowledge of this, but I would guess that they are wasting their time.” James grinned and nodded his understanding – the treasures had already been found, so finding a coded map or directions would lead to an empty chamber. But then, one just had to know where the treasures were and who had them. Seeing this question in his brother’s eyes, Jesus said, “I don’t know. However, we have a mutual friend who has some of the answers and he appears to want some help in getting more answers.”

Bernice had followed this dialog with keen interest but minimal understanding. She was tempted to ask some direct questions, but understood that as much as could be said had been said. She would try to fit the pieces together later. For now, she looked upon her husband and new brother-in-law with a whole new perspective.

 

On the way home after meeting with James and Bernice, Jesus came to the realization that part of his destiny was to be involved in protecting the lost Temple treasures. He was in a unique position to assist through the right contacts and opportunities. He felt that Gamaliel would agree and he intended to offer his involvement when the opportunity arose. But first, he wanted to talk it over with Miryam.

 


Chapter 43

The advent of the concept of Jewish divinity was a giant leap for humankind, although it wasn’t the clear-cut jump to monotheism as commonly asserted. In what is oxymoronic, Judaism is based upon a monotheistic plurality[21] – the belief in a single god that has several forms. (“Theists” believe in an entity which underlies the creation of reality - the creative basis of everything other than itself. “Monotheism” is the view that there is only one such God, generally thought to be omnipotent, moral, and perfect). What really set Judaism above other religions were three concomitant ideas:

1.       Yahweh is the creator of heaven and earth and is their Lord.

2.       Yahweh is the greatest and mightiest of the gods.

3.       Yahweh and only Yahweh may be worshiped and should be worshiped by everyone.

These ideas alone were not enough to elevate Judaism into a “superior” theistic position. There were three other essential concepts:

1.       God is not part of nature and nature is not God:  nature is finite and amoral, God is infinite and moral.

2.       God cares about creation, creates with purpose, and wants creation to be good: a caring God hopes to create caring beings that act toward one another with love and justice.

3.       God rules by moral authority alone: a God lacking goodness cannot demand goodness.

 The plurality of the Jewish Yahweh is the subject of substantial debate and, as with many theological matters, there are divergent views. But as a good starting point for consideration, I would point to Exodus 23:21: “"Behold, I am sending an angel before you to protect you on your journey and lead you safely to the place I have prepared for you. Pay careful attention to him and obey his voice; do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon transgressions, for my name is in him.”[22] There is also the matter of “Rua ha-odesh" (or Holy Spirit) and the prophecy of Daniel 7:13-14 (where the “Son of Man”l is to reign like God and be worshiped like God).

Jesus had one other visit on his agenda before leaving Jerusalem, to see Nicodemus. He was unexpectedly hard to find and even harder to see. Jesus first went to his house where he was directed to an “office” nearer the Temple. There, he encountered a strange little man who acted as Nicodemus’ gatekeeper – controlling the queue of people waiting to see Nicodemus. Because Jesus wasn’t known to this man and because he had no appointment, he was told to wait. And he did, for a long time. At least it wasn’t time wasted since Jesus enjoyed analyzing the odd collection of people waiting to see Nicodemus. He also discovered two related things: everyone who introduced themselves with the title “Rabbi” went to the front of the queue even if they didn’t have an appointment and people with injuries or disabilities also received preference. Jesus debated with himself whether he should re-introduce himself to the little man, but before he decided, Nicodemus looked into the waiting room and spotted him.

“Argulus,” Nicodemus instructed the little man,”this is Rabbi Yehoshua bar Joseph. You will not forget him or make him wait again.” Argulus gave Jesus an apologetic and curious look, clearly wondering why he hadn’t mentioned his title. Jesus felt a bit guilty being advanced ahead of everyone else, but upon hearing him called “Rabbi”, the others assumed that he had that privilege. In part, Jesus had come to thank Nicodemus for the generous use of his villa in Capernaum, but Nicodemus gave him little opportunity. “I talked with Gamaliel briefly this morning and he mentioned meeting with you. While we cannot talk about it here or now, I must tell you that I am pleased that he has decided to entrust you.” Jesus couldn’t mask his surprise or his pleasure in this revelation – Nicodemus was aligned with Gamaliel and involved in the recovery of the Temple treasure. It occurred to Jesus that there seemed to be a large number of his acquaintances involved in various clandestine activities. But then, it made sense that at a time when the country was occupied by violent foreign forces, led by an oppressive foreign king, guided by greedy illegitimate priests, and desperate for some solutions, that many people would be working behind the scenes to bring about change.

“I hear that you are leaving Jerusalem soon? Is there any chance that you might stay for one extra day? There is someone I want you to meet.” Jesus could hardly refuse his most generous benefactor. Besides, he was not in any great rush to return north, he was curious about who this might be, and he knew that Miryam would welcome the extra time in Jerusalem. “Of course. Who is it that I should meet?” Nicodemus smiled and offered nothing but, “You’ll see. Can you meet me here tomorrow morning – early?” “With joy and pleasure. Would a gift be in order?” “Oh no, just bring your wit and wisdom.” At least he had eliminated a few possibilities with the subtle inquiry about the gift. Jesus still wondered who Nicodemus would want him to meet.

As expected, Miryam was happy to have the extra day in Jerusalem, but she too was curious about who Jesus would meet. She was tempted to ask if she could join Jesus, but thought the better of asking. Jesus arrived plenty early (since he habitually woke early) and enjoyed the early morning light, the pre-bustle bustle of the city, and the fresher air from the night breeze. Nicodemus arrived soon after sunrise and seemed surprised to see Jesus waiting, but didn’t comment about it. He took Jesus by the arm and guided him along beside him. “We will move quickly for a few minutes; just follow my lead.”

They turned a few corners, walked through a couple of narrow passages, and stopped abruptly a few times. Nicodemus would glance around and then they repeated the process. Jesus recognized that the intent was to make certain they weren’t followed. Finally, they came to a common looking house, Nicodemus knocked at the door, and someone inside opened the door without a word. They stepped briskly inside and the door closed behind them. In the shadows, Jesus saw several men move as Nicodemus led Jesus into a small courtyard. One man came out to greet them, clearly recognized Nicodemus and gave Jesus a quick examination from foot to nose. “Shalome,” he offered with a friendly tone and guided the newcomers to a table that was already set for breakfast. There were three others reclining at the table and they welcomed Nicodemus with casual friendliness. “This is Rabbi Yehoshua bar Joseph, the Nazorean from Galilee.” The hosts nodded and beckoned the guest to sit with them.

Nicodemus did the other introductions: Rabbai Hezekiah bar Judas , Zakkai bar Eleazar, and Marcus. Since he was seated in the middle, Jesus presumed that Zakkai was their host. He had heard of this Hezekiah if he was the one from Gamala. That the third man was introduced merely as Marcus – as plainly a Roman name as there was – seemed very odd. Jesus purposely did not turn his gaze upon these men, but saw a resemblance right away. Protocol allowed and expected Jesus to ask of Hezekiah, “Are you from Gamala?” He gave Jesus a glance that hinted of surprise and nodded affirmatively. It was Jesus’ impression that these men weren’t exactly pleased to meet him, but Zakkai extended his guests the standard courtesy of food and tea (and a few minutes to relax). Despite that, they wasted little time in starting their queries.

“You appear quite young for a Rabbi – where did you receive your ordainment?” Jesus summarized succinctly and Nicodemus added, “His semicha is from Abihud bar Nahor and me.” There were approving sounds and Hezekiah asked, “And who was the third?” “There were only the two – I invoked the ‘sight of the One’.” This clearly surprised the men: “I have never heard of that being done – and certainly not by you, Nicodemus.” It spoke volumes that Nicodemus felt no need to defend his unusual action and that these men made no further issue of it. It also seemed to change the tone of the inquiry. Zakkai took a turn: “Tell us, young Rabbi, what is the true nature of God?”

Jesus quickly assessed the type of answer that was appropriate for these men (common, scriptural, philosophical, theological or…) and answered: ”The true nature of God is that God’s true nature is beyond our comprehension. We can only know that part of God’s true nature which is within ourselves.” Jesus saw that he had chosen his answer wisely and had their attention.  He also decided not to push his reply farther. He was surprised when Marcus quickly asked: “What is God’s greatest treasure?” Jesus replied easily, “God’s greatest gifts are love, beauty, justice, and life, but the greatest treasure is our opportunity to serve God.” “And how does one best serve God?” Hezekiah asked. “In whatever way makes the best use of their abilities and opportunities consistent with God’s Will.” “And what is God’s Will?” “It is the greatest of all mysteries, the most worthy of all challenges, and the most precious result of righteousness.” Marcus wondered, “In what way is God’s Will a result of righteousness?” “That we may have some knowledge of it; otherwise, it is like God and beyond our comprehension.” “But is it not the function of the priests to know God’s will?” Jesus smiled at the trap. “The priests define their own roles, but it is only through righteousness that they may know God’s Will, and then only for themselves. One does not need to be a priest in order to be righteous.”

Clearly pleased with Jesus’ answers so far, Jesus began to speculate about why he was being questioned in this manner. The next question provided a clue: “Would you be willing to kill someone else if it was God’s Will?” For the first time, Jesus set his gaze upon Marcus in order to search his soul; and then seeing no malice or evil, he answered, ”We readily deceive ourselves into believing that God’s Will aligns with our wants and desires and so we must always confirm that what we perceive as God’s Will meets three basic tests: God’s Will is always moral and can never point towards an immoral result; God’s Will is always just and can never result in an injustice; and God’s Will is always reasonable and although we may not understand its rationale, it should never defy reason. As we do not give a gift and then steal it back, God does not give the gift of life and then will us to steal it from another. So, I cannot imagine how one can ever think that killing another is God’s Will.” The three hosts looked at each other and Jesus could see that his answer made them uneasy.

Hezekiah asked somewhat defensively, “Then is there no circumstance in which you believe that killing is the right thing to do?” “I can’t imagine that there is any circumstance in which God would want us to kill someone else. We must not confuse that which is relatively right with that which is morally right; the first reflects reality whereas the second deals with ideals. We are sometimes compelled to make choices between two evils and must decide which is the lesser of the two. Ideally, we would be righteous enough to avoid such choices, but that is not our reality.” “Then could you think of a circumstance in which you could kill someone else?” “The thought has never occurred to me. I can envision defending myself or someone else, but not seeking to kill to accomplish that.” And then, while considering his answer, Jesus spoke of something he had not put into words before. “I have envisioned myself dying in order to fulfill righteousness, but never killing.” Sensing that something profound had just been said, the men took pause. When Jesus looked up, there was an obvious sadness in his eyes and everyone understood that Jesus’ vision was more than mere imagination.

Zakkai broke the silence: “Tell us about your family.” Jesus understood that the purpose of the question was to learn about his ancestry, but he took it in the present tense.” “Our matriarch is my mother Mary, a woman full of grace and without flaw. My brothers and sisters and I rely upon her for guidance and her solid anchoring of our values and beliefs. She is a woman of wit, charm, and great depth. Most of my brothers take after their father, with the exception of Judah. He takes after his mother and has recently decided he prefers the name Thomas. My sisters take after their mother, with the exception of my youngest sister, Lydia. We often wonder who it is that she takes after.” Zakkai redirected: “And your grandparents?”

“I didn’t know them,” was Jesus’ intentionally vague response. He had decided that he had said enough to men who had yet to identify their interests or their reason for inquiring. This willingness to take a stance in this circumstance earned him favor with his inquisitors. Marcus even lightened up enough to offer a smile. It was the smile that triggered Jesus’ recognition – Marcus resembled Prochorus. It wasn’t enough to affirm a relationship, so Jesus turned the questioning around: “I have a friend named Prochorus; are you related to him?” This caught Marcus off-guard and his expression confirmed Jesus’ guess. Seeing that he had revealed this, Marcus confirmed that Prochorus was his half-brother. “If you see him, be sure to ask about his friend John.” For the others, this was an odd turn which they didn’t really understand. They were accustomed to controlling the dialog and they recognized that they had lost control of this one. Zakkai tried to get back to their questioning. “Our questions about your family are intended to provide us with some indication of who you are related to that we might already know or have dealings with.” It was Jesus’ turn to smile. “My family is complex and represents only a small part of those who I think of as family. I do not give as much weight to blood relationships as some because there is doubt about who provided the seed for my birth. Given this doubt, I can be viewed as either as a Davidic heir or as an illegitimate child of a Roman soldier. If you choose the former, then you must confront the fact that my father Joseph renounced his Davidic heritage; if you choose that later then you must either deem me an outcast or judge me on my merits. I hope that you will do the later, but frankly, it makes little difference to me until I believe that we share some common purpose.”

Some men would have been offended by such words from a young “upstart”, but these men weren’t.  Instead, they found it refreshing and encouraging. The type of associates they sought were invariably independent minded and self assured; it was actually rare to encounter one. “What is it that you think I might be able to offer you?” The hosts looked at each other to affirm their agreement and decide who would speak. Marcus spoke: “We too find it best to work with those who share our purposes as well as our values and beliefs. We represent three different groups who have such shared purpose but work to accomplish it by different means. We were brought together by Nicodemus who had the wisdom to see that through working together we could be much more effective. Thus, although we work separately, we get together every now and then to develop ways in which we can assist each other.”

Jesus guessed intelligently, “And Nicodemus has been the one who goes between your groups and coordinates your efforts. But he is looking to retire and you are looking for a replacement.” The hosts looked to Nicodemus who shrugged and pled, “I didn’t say anything to him about it.” Jesus knew he had guessed correctly and went on, “Hezekiah works with the Nationalists and is looking to rid Israel of the foreign forces. Zakkai works with the Zadokites and is looking to restore the High Priesthood to the legitimate successors. Marcus is an Essene who has ties to a group in Damascus hoping to restore legitimacy to the Temple or, at least, protect the Temple from destruction. That which ties you together is a common belief in the sanctity of Divine Purpose – a purpose which centers upon bringing God’s Kingdom to Earth.” Again the expressions of the men revealed that Jesus had guess rather accurately. A glance to Nicodemus returned a nod which confirmed that much of his premise. Jesus realized that he had gone a bit too far and that they were still catching up.

“Gentlemen, you must know that Nicodemus is irreplaceable. You should understand that I am here because of him – both because he invited me and because I wouldn’t have come for many others. So let us waste no more time. I also wish for God’s kingdom, but perhaps do not conceive of it the way that you do. I also believe in the sanctity of Divine Purpose and accept that there are many paths which might achieve it. Tell me how I might be of help in your works towards these goals.” They did.

 

 

Chapter 43

Jesus had plenty to think about. Just when he began to think that he had a handle on his own mission, he was pulled into John’s mission, Gamaliel’s mission, and the “triune” mission (his code name for the coalition of Hezekiah, Zakkai, and Marcus). All of these missions had some overlap in both purpose and people, and Jesus was beginning to wonder if they really needed to be so secret and separate.

Caesarea Philippi (aka Caesarea Paneas) was a new city built at an ancient location near the southwestern base of Mount Hermon. There, the spring named “Panias” gushed next to the "way of the sea", the great ancient highway mentioned by Isaiah. It became the administrative capital of Herod Philip's large tetrarchy of Batanaea and enjoyed great prosperity during the years 3 BCE-33 CE.

Jesus and Miryam were happy to be back in Galilee where the pace of life was so different than in Jerusalem, where the air was much cleaner, where there were so many friends and family, and where it seemed as though God was closer. Jesus relished his early morning hikes to the nearby mountains where he could watch the sun rise and feel the presence of God. He developed the habit of speaking aloud to God when he was alone and found it easier to listen when there were no other voices. Jesus continued to seek some clear indication of his direction, focus, and mission, but got little more than the satisfaction of seeking and accepting that infinite beings have plenty of time (and are cannot be rushed).

After two weeks of visiting and being settled, it was time to head north to Damascus and begin a new adventure. Jesus and Miryam were pleased to be joined by James and Julie. (James had business in Damascus and Julie wanted to “tag along”). Jesus had not been north of Bethsaida and was looking forward to seeing some new areas.

First they walked north along the Jordan River towards the Huela marshes until they encountered a major road that followed a valley eastward and upward. They came to a beautiful waterfall and then the Panias spring (where a river seemed to magically emerge from the limestone). This was surrounded by newly built temples and was adjacent to the glistening new city of Philippi which had just been renamed Caesarea to honor the Roman Emperor (also known as Caesarea Philippi or Banias Caesarea to distinguish it from numerous other cities named Caesarea). They spent the night with an Essene family that kept their small herd of goats inside. None of the guests were accustomed to the noise or the smell of goats and they didn’t sleep well.

The family’s oldest son woke early to take the goats to pasture and Jesus joined him. Walking up the hillside they caught partial glimpses of Mt. Herman with its dusting of snow. The white seemed heavenly to Jesus and he had a longing to climb to its summit and see this sight up close. He would have liked to enjoy the view longer, but knew the others would be ready to leave and they had a long journey ahead.

File:Hermonsnow.jpg

Mt. Herman from the southeast (2,814 m / 9,232 ft)

From Caesarea Philippi, the road continued eastward and uphill until it crested above the plains of Syria at Phiala (Ram Lake). From there, they had a sweeping view of Mt. Herman and the opportunity to refill their water sacks (water was scarce from the lake to the lower plains). Dropping down to the plains and turning more northerly, they walked until evening and stopped in a small village inn where a dozen or so other travelers would also spend the night. A couple of the others were musicians and the weary walkers were treated to some unfamiliar but delightful tunes. The four from Galilee slept well, making up for the prior night’s restlessness. Even with that, Jesus was awake before sunrise and he walked to the edge of the village to marvel at the early morning light shining on the snow of Mt. Herman. Jesus marveled at the wonder and awe of it – rain freezes into ice, turns from clear to white, from liquid to solid, and then returns to its former state when warmed. He wondered, was all this planned by God or was it just the way things are? It seemed too perfect to be unintended.

They reached Damascus just after midday (having only 10 miles to walk that morning) and were impressed by its size (about twice the size of Jerusalem and 1/4th the size of Alexandria). They found it hard to believe when Jesus told them that Alexandria was much bigger yet. It took them almost an hour just to make their way through the outer city to the Jewish community within the city’s walls. The ancient city was a maze of short streets that dead-ended and was packed with people, markets, and oddities. Among the greatest oddities for the visitors was the vast diversity of peoples and cultures represented, especially the peoples of the far east. They stood out because of their brightly colored garments, some with large turbans that seemed to shine like fish scales.

Once in the Jewish community, Jesus inquired about the synagogue and he was asked “which one”. It hadn’t occurred to him that there might be more than one, so he guessed the Essene synagogue. Having found it, he easily located the hazzan , who was a surprisingly young man named Hanan. Aside from his youth, Hanan stood out because of his unusual features – he was very light skinned, had light brown hair, and blue eyes. Although he was very pleased to meet the visitors from Jerusalem (and get some news), his slow and soft demeanor made him seem unexcitable. His voice was high pitched, but also soft and his Greek was rather formal. His first priority, before Jesus could suggest his reason for being there, was to make sure that the group had a place to stay and were comfortable. He guided them to a nearby house where a widowed woman and her son lived in a small three story apartment. She seemed quite pleased to have guests (and the promise of some “gift” for her trouble).

Jesus attempted to get Hanan aside so that he could confirm that he had the right person for his contact and when he had his opportunity, Hanan preempted him: “Yes, yes. I can see that you have been sent here. You have come to the right man. But there will be plenty of time for ‘business,’ right? Let us get you settled and comfortable and then we will talk. I live in the next house on that side (pointing). If you go to the roof (pointing), you can easily reach mine. Just come over when you are ready; I will be there waiting. All of this seemed very odd to Jesus, but he did as instructed.

Miryam and Julie were anxious to explore the city (and its bazaars) and James volunteered to escort them. Their host’s ten year old son offered to show them around and with his mother’s encouragement, they accepted. Everyone understood that Jesus had his own agenda for this visit.

Hana was sitting on a stool at a small table when Jesus announced himself. He didn’t divert much attention to Jesus although he directed him to sit on a stool across from him. When Jesus saw what he was doing, it surprised him – on the table there were pages of writing on “paper” (papyrus) and Hanan was copying from them onto parchment. “Forgive me, but I am in the middle of a section and want to finish it while it is in my head.” He mumbled as he wrote and Jesus could pick out much of what he was saying – it was an unfamiliar scripture. Watching him write, Jesus noted that his fingers were not stained with ink, the ready and unavoidable identifier of the scribes. When Hanan put down his quill, he wiped his fingers, dipped them in a solution, and wiped them again. All traces of the ink disappeared. Seeing Jesus’ interest, he explained: “The ink is from India where they call it ‘masi’. I coat my fingers before I write and the ink cannot stain; then the ink wipes off and this liquid removes the coating. It is expensive, but worth the cost.” He held out his hand and Jesus grasped it as he had been instructed. It was a signal to identify himself. Hanan replied, “מלכות השמים‎” (“Malkuth haShamayim” – the Kingdom of Heaven) and Jesus answered, “Βασιλεία τν Ουρανν” (Basileia tōn Ouranōn – the Kingdom of Heaven). Hanan asked for Jesus’ instruction and Jesus replied, “וּֽבְיֹומֵיהֹ֞ון דִּ֧י מַלְכַיָּ֣א אִנּ֗וּן יְקִים֩ אֱלָ֨הּ שְׁמַיָּ֤א מַלְכוּ֙ דִּ֤י לְעָלְמִין֙ לָ֣א תִתְחַבַּ֔ל וּמַ֨לְכוּתָ֔ה לְעַ֥ם אָחֳרָ֖ן לָ֣א תִשְׁתְּבִ֑ק תַּדִּ֤ק וְתָסֵיף֙ כָּל־ אִלֵּ֣ין מַלְכְוָתָ֔א” (And in the days of kings, the God of heaven will establish a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end” from Daniel 2:44) Hanan looked at Jesus with some surprise and consternation, “Do you know where that saying comes from?” Jesus admitted that he didn’t. Hanan shuffled back through a few pages on his desk and pulled one out. “Do you read Greek?” Jesus nodded and Hanan handed him the paper. It began: “Then the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a night vision. Then Daniel blessed the God of heaven…” Jesus read the entire page which included this passage and ended: “God has made known to the king what will take place in the future; so the dream is true and its interpretation is trustworthy.” (Dan. 2:45).

Jesus handed the page back to Hanan and ran the text back through his mind. Hanan waited and watched and only when he saw that Jesus was finished, he added, “It is from the Book by Daniel, a prophet who lived not far from here during the exile.”  “Do you believe it?” Jesus asked. “I accept it,” Hanan said acceptingly, “Belief requires a certain resonance (he looked to be sure that Jesus knew the word) between faith and reason. Besides, being from ‘Babylon’, I understand well the problems with language and its limitations. I’m not at all sure that ‘kingdom’ has the meaning we generally give it. And I’m always more cautious when someone feels the need to say that their words are trustworthy.” Jesus smiled and knew that he was with a new friend.

But Hanan turned to business without further delay: “You are the first to arrive with this message. Do you know its significance?” Jesus said that he only had general background information but no details. “That makes sense. People are told as little as possible and never before it is necessary. Every precaution has been taken to ensure that this secret is safe; even I don’t know the secret, only a path by which the right people might discover what they are supposed to know.” But then Jesus noted, “Perhaps, but you have been able to discern or assemble enough parts to have some view of the whole.” Hanan smiled and showed surprisingly white teeth. “I am beginning to see why you are the first with this message.” He thought for a moment and continued, “There is a certain complexity here and it will take some time for me to assemble and decrypt your instructions. Perhaps you would prefer to rejoin your friends?” Jesus didn’t explain that he couldn’t and that he would rather not. Instead, he asked if he could stay and read more of the writing. Hanan turned the papers for Jesus and flipped them to the beginning.  Jesus read while Hanan sorted through other writings and made notes.

When Hanan was finished, he sat across from Jesus and looked at him oddly. “Your message is different than any I have deciphered before. Either it will make sense only to you or someone like you, or it will be useless. I have checked it twice to confirm that I have properly assembled it. He read it to Jesus. Jesus had a sense of recognition and understanding, but it wasn’t complete. He asked if he could read the message. Hanan told him that the notes were written in a secret language and that he would burn the paper as soon as Jesus had it memorized. Jesus was impressed that such carefully designed measures were used and understood more than ever how important this secret was. He repeated the instructions back to Hanan exactly as had been given him and Hanan went to the day candle[23] and ignited it. He dropped it to the floor at the last moment and then stomped out the ashes. His job completed, Hanan had the liberty of choosing to know this stranger who received this unique message (which had no meaning to him). His demeanor changed dramatically and he hoped that Jesus would want to make a new friend. The message was never mentioned again.


Chapter 44

The message that Jesus received from Hanan was fascinating – a striking mix of contextual, scriptural, and social clues which would require a Rabbi with the right knowledge and midrashic skill[24] to grasp. As he considered it, he realized that he had been given just enough context, had been asked to show a sufficient knowledge of scripture, and had demonstrated the proper midrash to make sense of it. Whoever had figured all this out was a genius – perhaps even Solomon, Jesus wondered. But then he realized that secrets have been around since Eve and ways to keep them have had plenty of time to evolve.

The instructions Jesus received could not be shared. He would have willingly shared them with both Miryam and James, but his oath prevented it. To her credit, Miryam knew that Jesus had taken an oath and didn’t try to force the issue or lead him to breaking it. He gave no clue to the others what he was to do, but as they approached the time to leave Damascus, he asked them if they would like to take a different route home (for a change of scenery) and they all agreed to his suggestion.

They only spent three days in Damascus. On their second day, James attended to his business while Jesus and the women toured other parts of the city. Their guide was Rascus, the son of their hostess who knew the city well and was as out-going as he could be. Aside from being a good guide, he spoke five languages: conversant Syriac, Greek, Aramaic, and a smattering of Hindi and Mandaic. You didn’t have to be around him for more than a few minutes to know why he had such language skills – he loved to talk and wasn’t shy about starting a conversation with anybody. They also learned that he was being taught by Hanan.

When they returned from their tour, Hanan had a surprise for them. He had invited a couple of friends to join them for dinner – both from the Far East. Bhagavan was a slight man with huge intellect, a Hindu sage of great repute, and Kanakavatsa (or just “Kanak”) was a rotund Arahant (Buddhist sage). Both lived and taught in Damascus and spoke passable Greek, and both were vegetarians. The evening was a delightful mix of learning and sharing as Jesus learned of many new ideas, places, and customs. He had heard of those who didn’t eat meat for a variety of reasons, but when Bhagavan talked of animals having souls, it struck a chord within him. They too were creatures of God and deserved more respect. Seeing these two men who were obviously healthy revealed that eating meat was not a dietary requirement. When Hanan discussed the scriptural oddities regarding the eating of meat and revealed that he was also a vegetarian, Jesus was determined to give it a try. Besides, the vegetarian meal they had was delicious and beyond satisfying. Miryam seemed especially fond of Bhagavan although she invited Hanan and both of the Eastern men to visit if they ever had the opportunity to be in Galilee or Judea.

Bhagavan and Kanak were from a region called Kashmir in a country called India. They spoke of it with great affection and described its wonders beautifully; they made it sound like Heaven on Earth. They also reflected an obvious pride in their culture and its rich history; India, they said, has been civilized for thousands of years – as best indicated by their reverence for life. When Jesus inquired about their religious beliefs, they were delighted to discuss them. Kanak talked of Siddhārtha Gautama as a spiritual teacher and as the Supreme Buddha or the "awakened and enlightened one” and Jesus was curious whether they considered him divine or theos (θεός). There are those who view him as a “supreme being”, but he is not THE supreme being, Kanak admonished. But when Jesus tried to find out if they acknowledged a single God as the ultimate Creator, he got confusing answers.

Their last day (and night) in Damascus also had some surprises. Miryam and Sylvia went shopping with Rascus and insisted that his mother, Apama, join them. John had some other business to pursue and Jesus spent the day with Hanan. They talked as Hanan worked on his transcription; he said he had need to finish it that day. It turned out that Hanan could converse, translate, and transcribe while carrying on a complex discussion. He and Jesus discussed scripture, theology, messianism, and eschatology. Both benefitted from the other’s erudite and evolved thoughts. Upon hearing such from Hanan, Jesus wondered why Hanan wasn’t a Rabbi and then why he hadn’t met the Rabbi of the Synagogue.

Hanan gave Jesus a pained look and spoke softly: “Our synagogue was built early in the rabbinical movement by a group in Jerusalem who still control it. Our Rabbi is named Ananias, an appointed replacement from Jerusalem. His views are fundamentalist and conservative and he is not at all open to new ideas. He does not want competition so he makes it almost impossible to gain semikhah (ordination). There are at least three others here who are qualified, but have not been advanced. There are other rabbis at other synagogues, but they won’t act because of Ananias and his powerful supporters in Judea.  It has become a scandal here.

Jesus was confused by such matters because it was so far from his character and experience. He knew there we people who chose to do evil things, who refused to do good things, and whose hearts were full of malice and ill-will. He just couldn’t relate to them. He wondered how he might help, but had nothing specific to offer. What came to him was to restate the invitation made earlier: “If you should be able to come to Jerusalem during a pilgrimage or festival, try to locate me. My younger brother is a Temple priest named James bar Joseph, and if you can’t find me, find him. Hanan thanked Jesus for his offer of hospitality and they continued talking about other subjects until Hanan finished his work. He collected the parchments into a folder, looked at them with an artist’s parting fondness, and held them out to Jesus.  At first, Jesus thought he was being asked to review the text, but then looked into Hanan’s eyes and understood his intent. “It is too much – I cannot accept such a gift. Besides, I am your guest; it is me who gives the gift.” Hanan wouldn’t accept Jesus’ refusal and too much of a refusal was worse than impolite. Jesus gave in with reluctance. “Whatever it is that you have been instructed to do, I hope this helps you in some way.” Jesus thought for a moment and then replied, “Solomon, Josiah, Jeremiah, Zidkiyah, and Haggai would be pleased with you Hanan of Damascus as you have served them well.” Looking at Hanan, Jesus could see that he was already trying to solve the puzzle inherent in those names. Jesus was confident that he would, but not quickly.  

Miryam, Sylvia, Apama, and Rascus returned from shopping with bundles of goods they had purchased. They even brought someone else to help carry the load. Apama and Rascus were effusive that much of the bounty was intended for them, gifts from their guests. But as they sorted it out, there remained a sizeable stack that Miryam intended to take home. They would need a donkey, which worked out well because when James returned, he had also wanted to buy a few things but didn’t want to carry them back to Bethsaida. He and Rascus went to purchase a donkey and have it delivered early the next morning.

With “Zud”, the donkey, packed the travelers bid their hosts farewell. Miryam gave Apama a small leather pouch with some coins (as tradition dictated) which she didn’t open until later (also per tradition). Jesus also handed Hanan a small pouch and thanked him again for the special gift. James gave Rascus a single coin, one he had never seen before – a Roman aureus[25]. For a moment, Rascus was a bit disappointed as he thought the single coin was a quadrans (~$1). But Apama knew the coin and was quick to tell Rascus how valuable it was (a half-month’s wages). The excitement almost overwhelmed Rascus and his gratitude made the gift even more appropriate. Apama squeezed her light pouch and wondered what it might contain (4 aurei – what she would normally earn in 3-4 months).

Zud was carefully packed so that her cargo was made to look like common wares. It wasn’t especially heavy or bulky, but was quite valuable: silk, teas, incense, spices, and oils for Miryam, Hard-to-find boating parts and tools for John, and the parchments for Jesus. John had consciously picked an older skinny mare that would seem inconspicuous and Zud seemed happy to be leaving Damascus. Along with the goods and wares, she was carrying a large watersack and her own food. The travelers were happy to find and join another small group travelling south on the Bashon road towards Neve.


Chapter 45

Gadara[26] and the nearby baths at Hammat-Gader enjoyed fame as both academic and therapeutic centers. The small city was home to well known cynics, philosophers, mathematicians, and rhetoricians. Its colonaded streets crisscrossed beneath its basilica and joined its marketplaces and theaters. Like its neighboring cities in the Decapolis, Gadara had been conquered by Alexander Jannaeus (the Jewish king around 100 BCE) and restored to its semi-autonomous statehood under Pompey (~60 BCE). It was, however, one of the cities where the Jews and Greeks had made their peace and lived together without strife.

It had taken the travelers two days to reach Gadara, partly because Zud had her own pace which she wasn’t about to change. But then, she was carrying the load, so no one complained about the leisurely pace. Once in Gadara, Jesus made inquiries to find the person he was to contact: Rabbi Joshua. He was easy to find since he spoke almost daily in the smallest of the city’s three theaters and was well known for his booming rhetoric and unusual ideas.

His mannerisms and character fit his reputation as he was a large man with a robust personality. You never would have known that the travelers were not old friends given the way in which Joshua greeted them. He invited them into his house and had his son tend to Zud while they talked. After traditional introductions and sharing of news, they got to the business at hand. Jesus had a letter from Hanan which he handed to Joshua and the group watched as he read it. His expression when he looked up at Jesus was revealing – he was awed and amazed. However, he said nothing about the letter at the time and went on about normal dealings. He asked if they had a place to stay (presuming that they were staying the night) and arranged a place when they said they didn’t. It was pleasant and convenient that Joshua’s brother and family were away and his empty house was less than half a Sabbath’s walk[27] away.

Joshua allowed them a reasonable amount of time to settle in and then came by. He suggested that Josiah, his son, would give them a tour of the city and take them to the springs for a bath. Jesus opted out of the tour (but couldn’t turn down the bath). This gave him a change to meet in private with Joshua and they walked out of the city to a quiet and private place where they had a great view of the Sea of Galilee.

Joshua began surprisingly: “I am at your service, Master.” Jesus made it clear that he was nobody’s “Master” and that he was merely the friend of a friend. Joshua acknowledged this, but continued to show deference and obsequiousness. It didn’t help when Jesus then gave three secret code phrases with two proper responses by Joshua. “I will answer any question that I can” offered Joshua and Jesus wondered if that meant there were answers he was not allowed to provide. Joshua assured him that the code phrases Jesus had provided allowed him to speak without restriction. Jesus asked him to summarize what he knew as a “Keeper”.

Joshua smiled and began, “It has been years since I have been able to talk freely with anyone about these things. A few people have come with authority to know one particular thing or to know a certain group of things, but no one has been allowed to know everything.” Then he revealed the scope of his knowledge regarding the Temple treasures: he knew where they had been kept for 500 years, the general location where they were now, and at least two people who knew the specific location. He knew about the copper scroll, about the people who had deciphered it, and about many of the security practices invoked to both protect the secret and make sure it was passed to posterity. His summary took about 30 minutes and he freely named names and offered details where needed. Clearly, he was among the very few people who had been trusted with much of the greatest secret of his time. Jesus’ first questions were about who else knew as much as Joshua.

Again, Joshua smiled and began:”Whoever started you on this path must know a great deal more than me. I don’t know how many know as much or who they are, but it is my belief that there are twelve of us who have been each given about 1/3rd of the secret in ways that overlap so that it would take at least six sets of knowledge together to form a complete picture. I would guess that you have been given the names of enough people that you will be able to know it all. And, based upon your questions, I would guess that I am the first you’ve talked with.” Jesus grinned appreciatively and affirmed Joshua’s insights. Then Joshua added, “It is a great gift and greater burden that you have been given. More than mere trust was required, someone believed that you deserved to have this responsibility and that you would do whatever was necessary to save and protect our greatest treasures. Indeed, it is easy to suggest that you have been chosen by God for this task – something a father would only trust to his favorite son.” Jesus had not thought of it in that manner and it sat heavily with him. In the history of his people, it was rare for such divine trust to come without some great sacrifice.

They talked for a couple of hours and Joshua revealed both his knowledge and his speculations. From the combination, his conclusion was that most of the Temple treasures had been moved from Mt. Nebo to Pella where a group of trusted families had dug out a complex maze of secret caves under the guise of quarrying stone for local temples. A different group was still at Mt. Nebo working to uncover the remaining treasures.  Apparently, the group led by the prophet Jeremiah had separated the treasures into different groups and hid them in different caves such that even with the information from the copper scroll, the recovery was difficult, dangerous, and slow.

Then, the discussion took an odd turn and Joshua wondered about Jesus’ views regarding the treasures: “Do you believe the ancient stories? (For example, that the exodus party had received and collected manna from heaven and that God had written the Decalogue on stone tablets and gave them to Moses). Jesus was somewhat reluctant to answer since his views were uncommon and contrary to the most popular ideas. “If God can create a world and mankind, and man can create ideas, then it is certain that God can create ideas within man. Would we know if an idea is ours instead of God’s? Is it then possible that Moses merely believed that he had witnessed God and that God had written the tablets because God had given him that idea? I have wondered why God would not write the Commandments on something divine and indestructible, perhaps a large jewel unlike any known by man. If God wanted to feed the Israelites through some miraculous heavenly food, would that food appear only with the dew, spoil so quickly, and be suited for worms? Clearly, there was some type of unexpected food found by the travelers, but I would expect that the jars of manna included with the Temple treasures contain something no more divine than God’s great gift we know as wheat.”

Joshua gave these ideas some thought and then wondered, “Then how is it you think of the Temple?”  This was a matter to which Jesus had given plenty of thought. He allowed himself the rare open expression of his thinking… “Is it reasonable to believe that an infinite divine being would want or need a place in Jerusalem – or anywhere else on earth – as a home? Or, is it more likely that humans created a place which they identify as God’s home so that they could somehow possess God for themselves or profit from controlling that place? What better way could they have to sell their ownership of God than to claim possession of uniquely divine objects – things God made for them or which are claimed to have divine attributes. We have taken a step ahead of many religions by foregoing human representations of God and sacrificing other humans to somehow worship God. We don’t have specific idols or talismans that represent God, but we do claim to have special holy devices, places, and people. If we could simply try to think like God might by being as smart, caring, just, loving, and reasonable as we can be, then we might have a better idea of just what God is like. Instead, we tend to focus upon many of our less divine attributes when we speak of God’s wants, desires, goals, and methods. Scripture states that we are created in God’s image (Gen. 1:27) and then we presumptuously suggest that God must be like us. A statute is created as a human image, does that make the statute like us – or us like the statute?”

Jesus saw that he had confounded Joshua and reined in his thoughts. “The Temple is a human institution which has become little more than a place to take people’s money under false pretenses. A true Temple would be a place where people find awe, joy, inspiration, and will to righteousness. Our Temple treasures have proven their ability to awe, inspire, and evoke in God’s name. They deserve to be returned to divine service instead of human misuse, and I have pledged to further that goal.” Joshua relaxed noticeably with these words and with relief said, “You have a way of speaking that I have never seen before – you speak with authority and honesty in a way that reaches deep into the soul. I hope that you will teach whenever you have the opportunity. I would ask that you speak at our Sabbath service tomorrow and possibly at a less formal gathering afterwards.” Jesus accepted the invitation and suggested that his bath was past due. Joshua merely smiled and nodded agreement.


Chapter 45

The Lord is my shepherd,
         I shall not want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures;
         He leads me beside quiet waters.

He restores my soul;
         He guides me in the paths of righteousness
         For His name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
         I fear no evil, for You are with me;
         Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
         You have anointed my head with oil;
         My cup overflows.

Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life,
         And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

(23rd Psalm of David)

Joshua introduced Rabbi Jesus to the congregation and Jesus began by reciting the 23rd Psalm with solemnity and the deep feeling he held for it. It was impossible to not be touched by the beauty of this masterpiece and Jesus paused to allow its impact to be fully felt. Then he explained:

Our Heavenly Father, whose Name we revere and whose Kingdom we seek, is the shepherd of our souls. We ask our Father to guide us in the path of righteousness and yet we still need to be herded along it. Unlike sheep who rely upon the shepherd to tell them when it is time to move, we know. Unlike sheep who don’t care where the path leads them (even when it is off to slaughter), we care. And, unlike sheep who see little more than the comforts of green pastures and quiet waters, we see our own mortality.

The shepherd of our souls has anointed us and provided for us, but it is up to us to recognize that the paths of righteousness may not be the easy paths or the smoothest paths, but we must still choose those paths for God’s sake and for the sake of our souls. Surely, goodness and lovingkindness are those paths and if we choose them, we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Jesus presumed that they would close their services in a manner like the others Jesus had attended and offered the closing prayer. When finished, the congregation seemed confused and unsettled until Joshua rose and told them, “Today’s service will continue as a discussion with Rabbi Jesus and then we will sing.” That seemed to please the crowd and Jesus was pleased to answer the many well-considered questions. Then, he expected a short informal song or two, which was not common, but also not rare. Instead, several musicians had brought instruments, a small “choir” gathered, and a diverse variety of music was played for an hour. In some, the crowd joined in, in others they didn’t. Clearly, for many, the music was the highlight of the gathering. The songs ranged from familiar favorites performed with unusual accompaniment to songs that seemed foreign, but inspiring. Ultimately, Joshua had to signal the end of the services since it appeared that people would have stayed all day. Then, as the final song played, they passed around a bowl and people put coins in it. Jesus was almost aghast.

His first thought was that they were paying the musicians as it was not uncommon to “pass the hat” in order to pay performers – but certainly not on the Sabbath in a synagogue. Then Joshua said something like “Rabbi Jesus has come from far away – if you want him to return, be generous.” There was an obvious increase in the number of coins being placed in the bowl and Joshua encouraged his congregation even more. The music picked up and that seemed to encourage the giving. Finally, with perfect timing, the music ended and Joshua handed the bowl to Jesus. He took it automatically and was trying to sort this out. He simply couldn’t accept payment for his “preaching”, but he didn’t want to offend. So, he held the bowl up and declared: “For the Shepherd, to be distributed to the poor and needy among the flock.” Then he handed the bowl back to Joshua.  The crowd let him know that they appreciated this choice.

When they sat for refreshments afterwards, Jesus asked Joshua about the service and the music. Joshua explained that the normal service involved a longer reading, “sermon”, or teaching and that he wanted Gentiles to attend. So they were mostly done in Greek and included more music. He noted that about half of the people who had attended the morning service were Gentiles. That surprised Jesus and he considered the many ramifications. “Do you convert many to Judaism?” “A few, but that’s not the goal and I don’t work at it. I hope that they find their own way to God, that they find the services instructive and inspiring, and that we find common ground so that local Jews and Gentiles can live together peacefully.” Jesus showed his approval and added, “Now I understand why you are held in high esteem among the Keepers.”

Joshua explained that Jesus’ afternoon presentation was to take place in one of the city’s theaters. Jesus had presupposed that it was an informal gathering in the synagogue and had intended to merely read from the scripture given to him by Hanan. Was he expected to do more? Joshua assured him that a reading from scripture would be well received so long as it included discussion at the end – and was read with enthusiasm and vigor. When he thought about it, he decided that he would try a style akin to his cousin John’s. The idea of speaking in front of a larger crowd in a theater took some adjusting.

Jesus had yet to read all of the document he had been given and so he rather quickly scanned through it to select what he would read for the gathering. But, before he had gotten far, Joshua came to guide him to the theater. It wasn’t a long walk, but Joshua wanted to arrive early. So, the small party consisting of Jesus’ group, Joshua’s family, and a couple of neighbors made their way into the heart of the city and into its largest theater. It was magnificent! Although it wasn’t as large as several others Jesus had seen, it had a breathtaking view over the Jordan valley. Jesus began to feel a little nervous, especially since he still hadn’t decided what he was going to be reading. But, once they were seated, everyone gave him some time to organize. Unsure how long he had to prepare, he decided he wouldn’t try to choose a section, he would choose “by lot”. He reached into the stack of parchment and flipped over some pages. Then, he worked backward until he found the beginning of a section and then forward to a sensible ending point. He glanced at it and felt warmed by the choice. He read it once quickly to himself…

Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and have dealt iniquitously, and have done wickedly, and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes and our ancestors, and to all the people of the land.

Lord who is righteous, this day we are covered with shame—the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem and all Israel, both near and far, in all the countries where you have scattered us because of our unfaithfulness to you. We and our kings, our princes and our ancestors are covered with shame because we have sinned against you. But our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him; we have not obeyed our God or kept the laws he gave us through his servants the prophets. All Israel has transgressed your law and turned away, refusing to obey you.

 Therefore the curses and sworn judgments written in the Law of Moses, the servant of HaShem, have been poured out onto us, because we have sinned against you. You have fulfilled the words spoken against us and against our rulers by bringing on us great disaster. Under the whole heaven nothing has ever been done like what has been done to Jerusalem. Just as it is written in the Law of Moses, all this disaster has come on us, yet we have not sought the favor of our God by turning from our sins and giving attention to your truth. The Lord did not hesitate to bring the disaster on us, for God is righteous in everything he does; yet we have not obeyed him. Now, our God, who brought our people out of Egypt with a mighty hand and who made for yourself a name that endures to this day, we have sinned, we have done wrong. Lord, in keeping with all your righteous acts, turn away your anger and your wrath from Jerusalem, your city, your holy hill. Our sins and the iniquities of our ancestors have made Jerusalem and your people an object of scorn to all those around us.

Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servants. For your sake, Lord, look with favor on your desolate sanctuary. Give ear, our God, and hear; open your eyes and see the desolation of the city that bears your Name. We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act! For your sake, my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.

And while Daniel was speaking, and praying, and confessing his sins and the sins of the people of Israel and presenting supplication before HaShem for the holy mountain, the angel Gabriel appeared and told Daniel, “I am now come forth to make you skilful of understanding. At the beginning of thy supplications a word went forth, and I have come to declare it; for you are greatly beloved; therefore look into the word, and understand the vision…”

“Seventy weeks are decreed upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sin, and to forgive iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal vision and prophet, and to anoint the most holy place. Know therefore and discern, that from the going forth of the word to restore and to build Jerusalem unto mashiach, a prince, shall be seven weeks; and for threescore and two weeks, it shall be built again, with broad place and moat, but in troublous times. And after the threescore and two weeks shall an anointed one be cut off, and be no more; and the people of a prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; but his end shall be as with a flood; and unto the end of the war desolations are determined.

He shall make a firm covenant with many for one week; and for half of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the offering to cease; and upon the wing of detestable things shall be that which causes disgust and that until the extermination wholly determined be poured out upon that which caused the disgust.”

When he looked up and listened, he realized that a large crowd had gathered and that his mind had totally blanked out everything except the words he had read. He understood what Daniel was saying and why this message was also his message.

Joshua had arranged a table to hold the parchment and then introduced Jesus as a well-known Rabbi from Capernaum in Galilee. Jesus stood, placed the parchment on the table, and introduced it:

“I have the good fortune to be a friend of Hanan of Damascus who has given me two wonderful gifts recently: the scripture that I will read from today and an introduction to Joshua. I have only known this writing for a few days, but have found that it is remarkably timely and appropriate. It is the Book of the Great Prophet Daniel.

If you have never heard of the prophet Daniel, then I should tell you a few things about him. He was of royal Davidic lineage living during the time of Nebuchadnezzar and was thus a captive during the Babylonian exile. He trained for service in the palace of the Persian king where he became the interpreter of the king’s dreams and a member of the king’s court. Others in the court became jealous of Daniel and at one point had him thrown into a den of lions for continuing to practice Judaism. However, God intervened and the lions were pacified – a miracle which led Darius to issue a decree enjoining reverence for ‘the God of Daniel’.  Some believe that it was Daniel who persuaded Cyrus the Great to end the exile and allow Jews to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem.

During his life, Daniel had his own dreams which he believed were prophetic – and history proved him correct in several of them. However, I will not read from his prophecies, but from his prayers… (as above).

Jesus read in a slow and rhythmic manner but with as much volume as he could sustain without shouting. He used the same type of tone and inflection that he had seen and heard John use, emphasizing the scolding implied by Daniel. The reading took about ten minutes, but left Jesus exhausted. When he finished, he carefully re-assembled the parchments and closed them inside their leather folder. When he looked up at the audience he saw that they were sitting quietly and expectantly, hoping for more. He began an explanation with his normal voice, unsure if those farther back would be able to hear.

As I stand before you on this day, I tell you that Daniel’s prophecy is affirmed. My brothers among you know that as a people, the Israelites have sinned and have dealt injustice and have behaved wickedly and have rebelled against our Father’s love. We have turned away from God’s commandments and towards the path that is straight and easy. Some of you have been the victims of our sins and yet you sit here among us today in peace and dignity. You have done more to honor OUR God than many of us have.

Because of OUR choices, we find ourselves under the yoke of tyrants. Because of OUR sins, we suffer the duress of knowing unrighteousness. Because of OUR failures, we have become the disobedient children that we all abhor. Nevertheless, as Daniel recognized, our Father in Heaven is gracious, understanding, and forgiving. If we repent – and I mean that we reverse our course and choose righteousness – then there is hope of salvation.  If we turn from our inequity and honor God’s truth, then we regain hope and heal our wounds. If we pray sincerely and seek God’s Will, then we can find the way, the life, and the spirit.

Daniel heard the voice of Gabriel and grasped God’s method: become skillful in understanding, remain humble, accept God’s love, and seek the word of God’s truth. In that, you will know God’s Will to bring in everlasting righteousness.

Daniel understood Gabriel’s message as a prophecy about the possible: if we end our transgressions, make an end of sin, and restore righteousness, we will be restored, our holy places will be restored, and the anointed one (mashiach) will be restored.

Jesus discovered how good the acoustics of the theater were when the first question came from a man towards the rear: “Rabbi, is this prophecy about the Mashiach?”  Jesus knew how focused people had become on their hope for a savior in the form of an anointed one. In time, he would discover that almost every teaching yielded some question regarding the Messiah and when he was coming. He had heard many discussions on the matter and had given the matter considerable thought – without reaching any conclusion or getting any sense of the truth. Clearly, the prophecies were anything but conclusive and given the extent of the disagreement between the scholars, it was an issue unlikely to find easy resolution. Jesus did not want to dash people’s hope, but he also wanted to be honest. Thus, although he did not share the common expectations regarding the anointed one, he wasn’t going to share his beliefs with everyone. Thus, he explained: “The anointed one is fundamental to the future of our people, but scripture allows for many possibilities. One can read Daniel’s words and reasonably conclude that he is setting a timeframe in which a meshiach will come and lead the restoration of holiness, righteousness, and justice.  Or, one might read his words and believe that he is expressing a hope more than a prediction. Of course, both could be true.”

There were other detailed questions of a scholarly nature and several questions about the process or methods of returning to righteousness. For those, Jesus had an answer: “I expect that there will emerge a voice crying out from the wilderness who will speak to that. He will follow in the steps of Elijiah and he will have your answer. Until you hear from him, look within yourself for that spark of the divine and nurture it into a brilliant flame of righteousness. Then, you will be ready for God and God’s Kingdom – which is closer than you think.”

The greatest surprise from this session was that two men came down at the end and asked how they could convert to Judaism. Jesus referred them to Joshua and he was happy to explain the process. The other surprise was the collection: Joshua had placed his sons and two friends each at an exit so that everyone leaving would pass a collection bowl. After everyone had left, the boys brought the bowls down and the coins were counted. There were some thirty different types of coin and the worth of many varied greatly. But four of the coins stood out: Roman gold quinarii (each worth ½ of a gold aureus – worth about $500 each). They created quite a stir and Joshua interrupted his dialog with the proselytes. “Ah yes, you must have pleased old Demetrius, the grandson of the area patriarch. I saw him in the crowd. He is very rich and sometimes generous, but not towards Jews. It seems that you have broken through his shell.” James and Miryam tallied the collection at 200 denarii. Joshua was pleased for his new friend and even more pleased when Jesus gave it to him to distribute to the needy. Jesus was lifted by the earnings and by the fact that he had given Hanan 200 denarii as his parting gift (as a fair value of the parchments).    


Chapter 46

In the Hebrew Bible, there is no title “Messiah” or reference to “The Messiah”. The Hebrew term “משיח” (mashiach) means simply "anointed one" and is used to describe certain priests and kings who were traditionally anointed with holy anointing oil (per Exodus 30:22-25). The only example of it being used in title form is where  Cyrus the Great, a Gentile king of Persia, is referred to as "God's anointed" (Isaiah 45:1). Thus, the Jews of Jesus’ time were not expecting a divine being to deliver them salvation, they were expecting a religious, social, political, and military leader who was properly anointed to lead them to salvation.

Having left Gadara with new friends, new information, a new beginning, and a promise to return, Jesus, Miryam, James, and Sylvia returned to Bethsaida. Their journey had been unexpectedly eventful and far more significant than they realized.

Jesus’ transformation was continuing at a faster pace as his potential unfolded and new opportunities and abilities emerged. He was now part of four significant movements or sects: the Nazorean, the Rabbinical, the “Way”, and the “Keepers”. He had become a focal point within each but the leader of none; and that was what he preferred. For him, these social and political movements had less and less importance whereas his evolving religious and philosophical views were increasingly influential. After leaving Bethsaida, Jesus and Miryam had some time alone (except for Zud, that is) and they talked at length about their trip and their relationship.

“I have been giving this much thought and I want to hear your ideas about this: if, as we are told, the marriage of two people completes the whole being by bringing together two halves, then we are one. If I take an oath saying that I will not share what I know with someone else, that cannot include you because you are part of me – we are one. Whatever commitments either of us make, binds us both even if both are not aware of it because legally, we are one.” “What about when we disagree?”  “It is as though we disagree with ourselves, which I find, I’ve been doing more and more lately.” They walked in silence for a while and then stopped with Zud along the lake for a drink and a break.

Miryam looked at Jesus with eyes full of affection, “I love you more than I love myself. You are right, scripture is right, you have completed me. More and more I find that my thoughts seem incomplete until we finish them. More and more I realize that my future is our future and that whenever I make a decision, we make a decision. I trust you as much as I trust myself and I will honor whatever decisions you make.”  It was a vow that touched Jesus deeply and permanently. They proceeded to reinforce their bond physically and spiritually in the sight of God alongside the lake, under the sun, and in each other’s arms.

As they sat on a rock afterwards, Jesus told Miryam everything: the secrets he had sworn to keep and his inner-most privacies. If there was such a thing as “baring one’s soul”, Jesus perfected it. There were plenty of things for Miryam to absorb and assess, but none as compelling as Jesus’ deepest fears. The easy one was his fear of failure – that he would somehow not fulfill God’s Will. The difficult one was his deep sense that his life had to be sacrificed in the process, especially since Jesus had recently re-framed that fear with his enormous love for Miryam and the sense of loss he expected to suffer. Miryam took all this stoically and empathically, realizing that she had already sensed the same things without really accepting them. She did offer one helpful thought: “As you said earlier, we are now one and nothing can ever change that, not even death.”

 

(End of Part Four )

(Click Here to Proceed to Part Five)

 



[1] Gratus (Prefect from 15-26 CE) is remembered for his manipulation of the Jewish High Priesthood: he replaced Ananus with Ismael bar Fabi (15 CE) who he replaced with Eleazar bar Ananus (16 CE) who he replaced with Simon bar Camithus (17 CE) who he replaced with Joseph Caiaphas, the son-in-law of Ananus (18 CE). We don’t know what the basis was for these changes, but it was likely a matter of selling the position to the highest bidder.

[2] Note “Prophetic figures in late second temple Jewish Palestine: the evidence from Jospehus” by Rebecca Gray, Oxford University Press (1993), “Elijah: the Desert Prophet” by Hugh Taylor Howat, Johnstone, Hunter, and Co., (1868), and “Israel in the wilderness: interpretations of the biblical narratives in Jewish and Christian traditions” by Kenneth Pomykala, BRILL (2008), p. 37 ff.

[3] See “Understanding Jewish Theology: What is Revelation?” by Rabbi Stuart W. Gershon (May 26, 2006) available at http://www.templesinainj.org/content/sermons/pdf/2006-05-26-Sermon.pdf.

[4] The Temple/priestly shadchan were among the most respected and sought after professional match-makers and received a sizeable fixed fee in the form of a dowry (the priests were not allowed to receive the dowry personally).

[5] We have record of two other Herodian descendants with the identifier Herod III: Herod III Antipas (Galilee) and Herod III Chalcis who was granted authority over the Temple with the hereditary right to appoint its high priests. Herod III Phaesalus is unknown in the historical record.

[6] Cleopatra of Jerusalem is a historical figure of significant mystery. For a discussion of her recorded role and my speculation regarding her, see Appendices III, IX, and especially Appendix XIV.

[7] The Shiddukhin was negotiated between the “parents” and often included the bride’s consent. That was based upon many factors including the Mohar or (bride price paid by the groom), the Shiluhim (dowry and inheritance) negotiated between the bride’s parents, and the Mattan (an “optional” gift from the groom to the bride) and the terms of the Ketubah (marriage contract). Oh yes, sometimes there was an issue of compatibility or affection.

[8] The Jewish name for Herod I. “Cleopatra of Jerusalem” was his 5th wife.

[9] Cleopatra’s twins by Antony were named Alexander Helios (sun) and Cleopatra Selene (moon).

[10] King Phraates had three sons who were kept in Rome as virtual hostages: Phraataces, Orodes, and Vonones. After Theramusa was made Queen, she wanted to be rid of any royal competition

[11] Jacob was murdered by Herod in 23 BCE and Cleopatra was given to the High Priest Simon Boethus as a bride until Herod had him killed in 19 BCE whereupon he took her as his fifth wife.

[12] The record does not tell us which positions James held in the Temple. The church historian Jerome tells us that he enjoyed the privilege of entering the Holy of Holies (traditionally reserved to the High Priest on one day of the year) which is a remarkable claim ("Lives of Illustrious Men", Ch. 2). If, as Eisenman and others suggest, James was considered the “opposition High Priest”, our view of him and his relationship with Jesus must change dramatically.

[13] Although it was a tradition to invite a few poor people to a wedding, it was not common for the rich to have open weddings where almost anyone could enjoy the celebration.

[14] The formal act of conversion from non-Jew to Jew is called “גיור” (giyur) and even those who fully adopt Jewish customs and religious beliefs are not considered full members of the community until this conversion. Giyur is both a religious act and an expression of the desire to be associated with the Jewish people. The formal conversion could also be used to remove any doubt as to the Jewishness of a person.

 

[15] It was the Jewish view that idolaters and pagans were playing a “game of god”, so this reference had offensive overtones.

[16] Under the ruling of Ezra, one is only Jewish by birth if their mother was Jewish.

[17] Note “The Identification of Bethany Beyond the Jordan,” doctoral dissertation of J. Carl Laney, Dallas Theological (1977) at http://www.bibleplaces.com/Identification_of_Bethany_Beyond_the_Jordan,_by_J_Carl_Laney.pdf.

[18]  See “Darke-ha mishnah” by Zacharias Frankel, (Leipzig, 1859).

[19] The Jerusalem Talmud calls the day of the debate and killings the blackest day ever to befall the Jewish people. Later, it was stated that “he, who observes the teachings of Beit Shammai, deserves death.” (Berakhot 11A and Jerusalem Talmud Berakhot 1:4).

[20] “[T]he prophet [Jeremiah], following a divine revelation, ordered that the tent and the ark should accompany him and how he went off to the mountain [Mt. Nebo] which Moses climbed to see God's inheritance. When Jeremiah arrived there, he found a room in a cave in which he put the tent, the ark, and the altar of incense; then he blocked up the entrance. Some of those who followed him came up intending to mark the path, but they could not find it. When Jeremiah heard of this, he reproved them: ‘The place is to remain unknown until God gathers his people together again and shows them mercy.’” (NAB 2 Maccabees 2:4-7)… “Besides these things, it is also told in the records and in Nehemiah's Memoirs how he collected the books about the kings, the writings of the prophets and of David, and the royal letters about sacred offerings” (Ibid, 13). Note Talmud Huriot 12A.

[21] The early biblical Judaism was “monolatrous” - the existence of other gods was acknowledged, but Jews were commanded to worship one god exclusively – the “Lord of Lords”. Over time, the other “lords” were deemed less than divine which left a single Lord. However, this Lord was specifically pluralistic (as in “they”).

[22] “It is evident that the figure is a personification of the name [YAHWEH] itself. From the text it is quite clear that Yahoel is God’s vice-regent, second only to God himself.” “Two Powers in Heaven – Early Rabbinic Reports about Christianity and Gnosticism” by(Alan F. Segal, Brill Academic Publishers (2002),  p. 196.

[23] Ancients had no easy way to start a fire, so a large slow-burning candle was kept lit all day.

[24] For a more complete explanation of midrash, see Appendix V. As an example of aggadic-homiletic midrashim (where a variety of methods are employed to derive deeper meaning or metaphorically reflect content), consider this short example of midrashic reading of Genesis 1:31: ("And God saw all that He had made, and found it very good. And there was evening, and there was morning, the sixth day."), "Behold, it was good" refers to the Good Desire; "And behold, it was very good" refers to the Evil Desire. (It only says "very good" after man was created with both the good and bad inclinations, in all other cases it only says "and God saw that it was good") Can then the Evil Desire be very good? That would be extraordinary! But without the Evil Desire, however, no man would build a house, take a wife and beget children; and thus said Solomon: "Again, I considered all labour and all excelling in work, that it is a man's rivalry with his neighbor." (Kohelet IV, 4; Genesis Rabbah 9:7).

[25] There were many coins used during the time and conversions are difficult and complex. I offer an estimate of comparable worth in terms of modern currency.  See Appendix V for more information.

[26] Mentioned in Matthew 8:28 where Jesus cast demons into the swine.

[27] Following the injunction of Exod. 16:29 that every man is to "abide in his place" and not "go out of his place" on the Sabbath (“techum Shabbat”), Jews are limited to walking about 2,000 yards on those holy days.

 

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