~ An Amazing Life ~ 

A book by Rich Van Winkle

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An Amazing Life: Jesus and the Nozerim

Part One – (Second Draft!)

Chapter 1

It was and has been the greatest collective dream in all human history – the coming of a divine savior who would bring God’s Kingdom to Earth, reward the righteous, and remove the unjust, immoral, and corrupt. Although this hope had existed before, it had not existed among a people like the Jews and it had not been as clearly formulated as it was after their Babylonian exile[1]. Numerous prophecies had emerged and Jews discussed and debated the matter routinely[2]. Some had even claimed to be the Moshiach[3] (one anointed by God) and others had appeared to be saviors (Judas and Jonathan, the Maccabaean kings). But no one had appeared who met the prophetic criteria and seemed divinely empowered.

It would have awed any member of the Nozerim Council to witness a single prophecy fulfilled and now it appeared that several were about to be realized. This council of Jews had been meeting for 175 years; its current members spanned four generations. But even with that long investment and continuous commitment, no one imagined this kind of success, this kind of fulfillment. It was not a lack of faith that had caused their surprise because these were among the most faithful of all men. Instead, it was the completeness and wonder in the way the prophecies were unfolding that surprised them. Despite their firm religious beliefs and high hopes, not one of the twelve had imagined that events would unfold in this way.

They were Nozerim[4]  or “Keepers” and while they sought to uphold all of the great traditions and laws of their faith, their focus was on the great hope of Divine interdiction. They all believed that they were among the chosen of the chosen and their very existence had a single purpose – to do God’s Will. For each of them this meant dedication to something far greater than religious rites, politics, or even the Council. It meant seeking as well as keeping, and their seeking involved both truth and awareness. They knew the scripture as well as any scribe or priest, but they viewed it as guiding them to the truth instead of stating it. Their truths lived in the hearts and minds of men.

The truth they shared most completely was that the righteous would enter into God’s Kingdom. Close behind this belief was their faith that God would help the righteous and that this help would come in the form of an inspired and inspiring leader. The term given to describe this leader was an ancient one – Moshiach, but their view of the Messiah was more evolved and involved. Scripture identified prior Messiahs among great Jewish rulers and priests and foretold of a Messiah that would bring God’s Kingdom to the righteous. The members of the Nozerim had pledged their lives to help bring those prophecies to fruition[5].

Beyond these basics, there was great diversity in their ideas and beliefs. Some argued for two Messiahs. Others were confident that The One who would come could fulfill both kingly (“Davidic”) and priestly (“Zadokite”) roles. A few had the faith to leave it in God’s hands; the chosen one would be whoever God chose and would act however God willed. Despite their differing views, all were committed to preparing the way for whoever God sent. History had taught these wise men that God would help as much as the righteous were willing to help themselves. But what good is a leader without dedicated followers?


Moses said: 'The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him. For that is what you asked of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said: "Let us not hear the voice of the Lord our God nor see His great fire any more, or we will die." The Lord said to me: "What they say is good. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put My words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command them. If anyone does not listen to My words that the prophet speaks in My name, I Myself will call him to account."'  Deut. 18.15-19.

Chapter 2

Mary had been sheltered starting at the age of 5. After the death of her natural father at the hands of the hated Herod I (aka “the Great”), she had been taken to the sacred Temple in Jerusalem for her protection.  This was necessary because her bloodline combined those ancestral lines sought by Herod to improve the royal claims of his offspring. As Herod had done repeatedly, he would “marry” those with Davidic, Hasmonean, Levite, or Zadokite blood and sire his dynasty (among his children he didn’t kill). When Mary reached puberty, she could no longer stay at the Temple and her new family intended to take her to safety in Galilee.

As she laid there, Mary’s mind floated into a dizzying montage of thoughts, dreams, and silent screams. She knew what was happening, but it was beyond her wildest imagination or expectation and so she was simply unable to integrate this new reality into her mental self-image. It wasn’t just the physical pain or the emotional distress, it was the collapse of an entire framework: mental, emotional, and spiritual. Suddenly, she was no longer the person she had envisioned and her life was going somewhere entirely different than she had often dreamed.

It was on their journey from Jericho to Bethshean that robbers had attacked the caravan that included Joachim[6], Anna, and their daughters. In what may have seemed like good fortune, a small troop of Roman soldiers appeared and the bandits were quickly dispatched. However, in return for “saving” the band of travelers, the soldiers exercised what many of them deemed their right and made sport of every young woman in the group. The efforts of Joachim and Anna to hide and then protect their daughters were fruitless and two of their precious daughters were dragged away in panic.

Resistance was futile and Mary had neither the will nor the strength to ward off the powerful soldier. On the other hand, she had been grabbed by the troop’s leader and so he alone would have her. Unlike the other soldiers, he was neither rushed nor frenzied. Indeed, he was just the opposite. So as Mary sat in rigid fear staring at him, her mind barely registered the screams and cries coming from the other girls. She wasn’t engaged in any kind of deep thinking, but her core being was wondering: “How could God allow this to happen?”

When the time came and he approached her, she first turned even more rigid. But when he touched her, the rigidity turned to limpness. It was as though her body betrayed her and as much as she wanted to fight and resist, she became helpless. In the same manner that her body seemed remote, her mind drifted away into a delirium of contradictions and imaginations. Her thoughts bounced back and forth between two competing ideas: God is in control and everything that happens is part of God’s plan, however, can a loving God plan for and allow such things? This contradiction echoed through her with a resonance more powerful than what was happening to her body and it was then that she saw the “angel”.

Early the next morning the soldiers went on their way and left the women to return to their group. More than frightened and sick for their daughter, Joachim and Anna were too happy to have her back to fret about her experience. Indeed, they did their best to put it behind them and tried to accept Mary’s shocked silence as necessary for whatever time she needed. As Anna held her daughter and they travelled northward in near silence, Joachim pondered his daughter’s future and the many implications of this terrible circumstance.

When the caravan set up camp for the night and people gathered around the central fire, there was a heated discussion regarding their disaster. Two issues were the focus: how (or if) they should retaliate against the Romans and how should they handle the spoiling of their daughters. Of the eight girls that had been taken from six families, two were about to be betrothed, two were betrothed, two were married but had yet to bear children, and two were young mothers. The senior grandmother of one of the victims harshly criticized the men in the group for not fighting off the soldiers, but most realized that such would have meant an even greater disaster. Besides, the larger band of robbers had disarmed the men before the Romans arrived. They were simply incapable of fighting professional soldiers who could be anywhere – and all Roman soldiers looked alike. So pursuit was out of the question and registering a complaint with the authorities was farcical. Thus, the discussion soon turned to dealing with the results.

Chapter 3

They openly termed themselves the “Ha-nozerim” (diligent observers) and referred to each other as “Perisha” – separate ones. They belonged to the larger brotherhood known as the Haburah[7] and had taken the oath of Levitical purity[8]. They lived in community with each other and were known for their industriousness. Their time was spent in their work, in their practice of benevolence, or in their seeking of righteousness. They refrained from sensual pleasures in order to be initiated into the highest mysteries of God’s Kingdom[9]. They followed the Nazarite[10] tradition and their first eligible child was always consecrated to God. Thus, they were part of another larger sect known as the Nazareans[11].

The Council was comprised of leaders, but there were no followers under its leadership. Each of its members led some other group, sect, or community and within the social context of the times, it was difficult to assign labels to such people[12].  In some form they were all Zealots as they all believed strongly in opposition to the Romans and their corrupt priesthood[13]. They were all Pharisees because they believed in the role of the righteous in interpreting God’s Will and opposed the traditional priestly monopoly over interpreting the Torah. They were all Essene (“Yssyn” in Aramaic = healer) in that they believed in aspiring to the highest degrees of holiness through their study, devotion, and good works. They were all Rechabites and they endeavored to resist settled life and held that their covenant with God was superior to all others – even that of David. They sought to fulfill that covenant through planned intermarriage with the priestly clan – the Levites.

It is not surprising that those who believed in the supremacy of their righteousness and stature with God would also believe that the Messiah would arise from their ranks. The Nozerim had done everything they could think of to ensure that the next great prophet and leader of Israel would be one of them. Whenever possible they would arrange the marriage between Perisha with royal heritage and someone with priestly heritage. The preferred coupling was that of Davidic lineage with Levite lineage and, with carefully kept genealogical records, each coupling was ranked based upon the directness of the lineage.

It would be misleading to suggest that the Nozerim had some kind of “breeding program”, but it would also be incorrect to suggest that messianic bloodline was not a primary consideration when arranging marriages. Aside from the need to keep the bloodlines “clean” for priestly considerations, the Nozerim wanted to ensure that the opportunity for prophetic fulfillment was available. For them, this meant that the Messiah would, at the very least, meet these requirements and fulfill these prophecies[14]:

He must be a nasi (prince) from the roots of Jesse (from the house of David born in Bethlehem) who becomes an idealized king, a 'son of God', who defends truth, humility and righteousness by defeating the enemies of Judah[15] (thought to be either the Romans or the Assyrians) and restoring Israel (some thought this meant re-uniting the original twelve tribes). He will be free from sin in order to rule a great people. He will expose officials and drive out sinners by the strength of his word. Taught by God, the Messiah will also be a righteous king over the gentile nations. There will be no unrighteousness among them in his days, for all shall be holy[16].

He will be an 'anointed one' and 'a priest for ever' who will lead the holy ones and free the Jews and restore their Temple[17]. He was to inaugurate an age of peace and righteousness and judge the nations[18]. The heavens and the earth, and all that is in them, will obey him[19]. He will glorify the pious ones on the throne of the eternal kingdom. Over the meek his spirit will hover and the by his power he will:

    • heal the slain,
    • restore the faithful,
    • resurrect the dead,
    • release captives,
    • comfort those who mourn,
    • make the blind see,
    • raise up the downtrodden,
    • and announce glad tidings to the poor.

Of course, there were many other prophecies and expectations regarding the Messiah, but many of those were considered spurious by the Nozerim and others messianic beliefs were frequently debated. Of greatest difficulty were those prophecies which seemed directly contradictory; and those led many to think that there would be more than one Messiah. Several members of the Council were “Zadokites” whose primary hope was that the Messiah would restore the true High Priesthood in the Temple (which had been defiled before being usurped by the Hasmonaeans and corrupted by the Romans)[20]. Several in that group believed that the Messiah would act as High Priest and lead Temple services as the great Jewish kings and prophets had in the past.

Chapter 4

The laws of mamzerim are written in Deut. 23:3: a mamzer is any child born as the offspring of a father and mother between whom there could be no lawful betrothal in Judaism – such as the union of a gentile and a Jew. (The meaning is quite different from “bastard”). Under Jewish law, such a child must not "enter the congregation of the Lord," that is, marry an Israelite, "nor shall his tenth generation…" Traditional Jewish law was even more rigorous, declaring any child of a forbidden connection a mamzer (Yeb. iv. 12, 13; Yer. ib. 6b; Bab. ib. 44a, 49a). Mamzers are prohibited from entering the inner Temple and may not serve as priests, although a mamzer is considered as an ordinary relative for the purpose of inheritance and levirate marriage. Mamzers may serve as judges and even possibly as kings.

There is a strong presumption against mamzerim status - A child born within 12 months of a woman's most recent meeting with her husband is presumed to be legitimate; however if more than 9 months have elapsed and she is known to have been unfaithful then the presumption does not apply (Shulhan Arukh Even haEzer Rama 4:14-16). Jewish law makes no exception for compulsion or consent.

The anguish of Joachim and Anna couldn’t be matched. Their personal loss was immense but secondary. It was the broad impact upon their daughters that troubled them most as they understood that this impact transcended the emotional and social. Some of the mothers hoped to lessen the impact by invoking “old wives” remedies to avoid pregnancy. Anna believed that the emotional harm of such efforts outweighed their likely effectiveness. She couldn’t even bring herself to ask her daughters for enough detail to know if the soldiers had employed coitus interruptus – something their pagan gods didn’t oppose. (Perhaps it was a good thing that most Roman soldiers had no desire to bring more Jews into the world).

The campfire discussion was just plain ugly and inconsiderate, but to wander far enough away from the group to avoid hearing the discussion was to invite danger. So, the young women who had just suffered greatly were made to suffer the stupidity and insensitivity of their parents. Shlomit and Mary, the half-sisters of Joachim and Anna, enjoyed the comfort of their mother’s embrace, love, and acceptance as they listened to the others. “We are cursed” cried one of the mothers, “What have we done to bring the Lord’s wrath upon us?” “It was the godless Romans who are full of evil that did this, not our Lord.” “Yes, but those robbers were Jews and if they hadn’t attacked us, this wouldn’t have happened.” Knowing that Joachim was a priest, the most distressed mother asked him: “Are we cursed? What have we done to deserve such punishment? What has my beautiful daughter done to deserve this shame?”

Joachim spoke with the measured pace that age and wisdom brought him: “This is not a curse and there is no shame. Shame only comes from choosing a path of unrighteousness and curses are directed towards those with evil in their hearts. Our challenge is to continue choosing righteousness despite the difficulties of life – as Job and Abraham showed us, the greatest love of God is demonstrated when our challenges are great and we still choose devotion.” Joachim looked deeply into the eyes that were focused upon his and asked: “Will you let his evil take away your devotion to your daughters? Will you let your sense of shame corrupt their righteousness? Divine love is capable of forgiveness and compassion beyond our imagination, let us seek and offer such love in this time when it is needed most.” As he finished speaking and his eyes met Mary’s, she felt his love and compassion. In that moment she remembered the angel she had seen in her dream and tried to recall what she had heard it say.

Chapter 5

When the Nozerim Council first developed its system for ranking messianic candidates there was considerable debate regarding the weighing of the various factors. There was little debate regarding the factors themselves. In the end, the first factor was the most difficult to weigh: Davidic descendancy. After almost 1000 years, there were few Jews who didn’t have some Davidic blood and the lines of descendancy had become blurred. Amongst those who had legitimate claim to the Throne of David, the priority went to the Meshullamite[21]line, then the Pelatiahite line (also called the “Anti-princes”) [22], followed by two lines mothered by “foreign princesses”: Amytis, the Babylonian Princess bride, who mothered the Abuidite line and Rhodah, the Persian Princess bride, who mothered the  Rhesaite line. (There was also a line from another son of Esthra who ended up being the “exilarch princes”). Herod’s pogrom was systematically eliminating the male Davidic heirs under a “ranking system” similar to that of the Council. Meanwhile, Herod sought to marry or kill the Davidic princesses.

The succession of murders by Herod’s Idumean henchmen made the ranking the Davidic heirs a continuous challenge. This combined with the unexpected exhaustion of two Davidic lines[23] to make for strange and unexpected results. Thus, it was somewhat astounding (and confusing) to the Council that the highest messianic rank known was for one of their members: Joseph bar Jacob of Bethlehem (the one in Galilee).  It was confusing because Joseph only had only two daughters and reason seemed to dictate that God would make the rating/result pairings align better. Joseph was sure that it was a mistake.

But these wise men had long ago given up the notion that God’s actions should make sense to them. It had only been a decade before, when a second daughter was born to Joachim, that they had decided to send the entire family to Jerusalem so that Joachim could serve full time in the Temple priesthood and the young maiden named Shlomit could be kept as pure as possible in the Temple surrounds (before being wed to another Davidic heir). They didn’t foresee the sudden end to another primary priestly/royal line fathered by Joachim’s brother and Joachim’s subsequent levirate marriage[24] to Anna.

When Joseph bar Matthat of Egypt (and now of Arimathea), the current and youngest ever head of the Council, was informed that two of Joachim’s daughters had been accosted and defiled during their journey north, he immediately understood the implications:  if it was Joachim’s daughters, then his good friend was going to suffer a great loss, but if it was the adopted daughter of Anna, then Judaism would suffer the loss of one of the highest messianic rankings possible in this generation. It made Joseph’s head swim just trying to work through all the possibilities from here. In the middle of his thoughts, he lost focus and turned instead to how his friends Joachim and Tolmay would deal with the bad news.

Tolmay of Cana was also a cousin of Joseph’s, and although not a member of the Council, he was part of its brotherhood and an important worker in its cause. His father, Alphaeus, was the son of Melchi – one of the founders of the Council. The arranged marriage between Tolmay and Mary could yield a son with great messianic potential. Their daughter would rank only slightly lower even though no one would have considered the possibility of a female messiah. Plans had been carefully considered for either possibility, but now, all those plans seemed at risk.

At times it seemed as though God was against their plans – it wasn’t long ago that the primary hope of the Council focused upon Joseph bar Jacob and his wife Melcha. As if God wanted to show the folly of such plans, Melcha first gave birth to two daughters. Then, she died in childbirth along with her son. It was arranged for Jospeh to marry Melch’a oldest unmarried sister, Escha; a godsend for Jospeh who had been very fond of Melcha. Escha not only had many of her sister’s good qualities, she was very anxious to bear Joseph’s child. It was frequent for members of the Council to joke about their “devoted efforts” to honor God with a son. But, despite over two years of such devotion, they were not favored with a child. So much for planning…

Meanwhile Joseph’s brothers (Zebdi and Klopa bar Jacob)) both sired sons (Zebdi was married to Salome, Anna’s sister and Klopa was married to Miriam, Melcha’s and Escha’s sister)[25]. Klopa’s son Simon ranked only slightly higher than Zebdi’s son James in the Council’s hereditary computation and suddenly there seemed to be promising matches for the next generation of Nozerim. No one would have predicted the series of events that would follow: Anna’s oldest sister Elizabeth, wife of the elderly Zacharias, became pregnant against all odds. The Council carefully guarded the secret that their male offspring (Johanan bar Zacharias) would have the highest messianic ranking of any child known.

The arranged marriage of Tolmay with Mary was one of several that had similar potential for messianic offspring. They had been matched due to that potential and their compatible ages. Tolmay was 15 and Mary had just had her thirteenth birthday - no longer eligible for Temple service as a young woman. The day after the marriage of Tolmay and Mary was announced, Escha died unexpectedly and Joseph bar Jacob was heartbroken again – wifeless and heirless at 54 years of age.

Chapter 6

Josephus called Sepphoris (aka Zippori) “the ornament of all Galilee.” Located midway between the Mediterranean and the Sea of Galilee, it was the largest city in Galilee and its cultural and trade center. Herod Antipas chose the site for the capital of his government and rebuilt it in spectacular fashion (thus Josephus’ description). It became known as an academic center and was one of only five cities allowed to have its own Sanhedrin[26].

A few miles south of Sepphoris there was a small spring and a small encampment occupied by the nomadic Rechabite/Nazarean builders who found work plentiful in the rebuilding at Sepphoris. This place later became known as Nazareth although its occupants were known as Nazoreans even before the place took its name.

Of course, there were many questions Joachim wanted to ask, but couldn’t. Some of the most basic questions didn’t really need to be answered for no matter what the answer, custom and law held the same result. Mary was defiled or presumed to be defiled and the implications were the same. There was some undesired relief in the simple reality of the times – Mary’s situation was a common one. The social stigma and “disgrace” that was traditionally associated even with victimized women was lessened during an era where such a large number of Jewish women had been abused. Despite such, she was no longer “pure” and there was no way for her to regain her purity (even if she was still a virgin).

News of the tragic events reached most of the Council well before Joachim and family arrived in Sepphoris. In fact, three of the Council members joined with the caravan as it passed along the west shore of the Sea of Galilee and then headed up to Sepphoris. Three other Council members had already been in Sepphoris and two more arrived the same day as the caravan. The remaining three arrived the next day ahead of the planned meeting. None could remember a sadder or more troubled meeting. The victims were both family and friends and Joachim’s pain was felt by them all. Joseph bar Jacob’s loss had similar effect

Even before the scheduled meeting, Tolmay had been asked if he would accept Mary despite the travesty. He had said he would. But, when Joachim looked into his eyes and asked if he could truly and fully accept Mary as his wife, Tolmay couldn’t lie to his friend and prospective father-in-law. There was shock in the Council as each looked to the others for some answer. No one wanted to see Joachim hurt further, but all knew that the loss of this husband meant that Mary might never wed. The voice that spoke was the least expected. Joseph bar Jacob, who had been essentially excused by his grief from participation in this meeting , simply said, “If my brother and friend Joachim would allow it, I would take Mary as my wife.” The reaction was quickly divided; some saw it as astoundingly wise and some thought it foolhardy – a poorly considered emotional offer made in clouded haste. Both Josephs started to speak at the same time and the young Council leader deferred to his elder. Their eyes met and Joseph bar Jacob nodded for Joseph bar Heli to continue.

“I am the youngest among you and although you have made me leader of this Council, I cannot claim any experience in any circumstance like this one. I have not had time to think this matter through and normally I would want to encourage a lengthy discussion regarding such an important matter. But, sitting amongst you just now, I had some kind of profound spiritual touching that leaves me without doubt:  I can say with assurance that Joseph’s offer is favored by All that is Good.” He looked around and saw that the others were taken back by this statement and for a moment he thought it was a mistake to have spoken such. There was a pause for thought and shared glances before Honi, the elder of the group, spoke in his slow and deliberate voice. “I am glad you spoke my brother. As my mind tried to deal with all the matters involved in Joseph’s offer and its implications, my heart was shouting with glee at this possibility. If I had done as you did, and simply listened to my heart, I would have realized also that this is what is right and best. I do hope, (looking at Joseph, son of Jacob) that you feel the same about this.”

It was rare for anyone to disagree with Honi and even rarer for any member of the Council to deny his words the reflection they deserved. So, in the moments of silence that followed, – and with most eyes fixed upon Joseph bar Jacob – there was no expectation of a quick reply. But Joseph didn’t have to think for long: “I have given the matter much thought since last night when the idea first came to mind. I was unsure what our good friend Tolmay might do, but I certainly understood the dilemma and difficulty this matter would provide him. Then, in a moment of great lucidity and clarity, it was a certainty that I should and would marry Joachim’s daughter… with his consent and blessings, of course.”

Joachim was still shaken by the changes in his life and had just now added surprise to his flood of feelings and thoughts. In the hours leading up to this meeting, he had grown more and more confident that Tolmay would properly decline to marry Mary and that he would never find her a husband – and certainly not one with Joseph’s stature. Despite thoughts running in many directions, he quickly resolved his answer: “I consent with all my affection and appreciation. And I hope that this marriage yields you many heirs.” With this unexpected turn, the tone of the meeting changed dramatically. There were a few minutes of side discussion involving a range of topics: the ceremony, the Roman soldiers, and Anna.

Meanwhile, Yaaqov, Alphaeus, and Joses, busily computed the ranking of this newly proposed marriage. When the result was known, Yaaqov softly interrupted the discussion: “Excuse me. Excuse me. Excuse me! Perhaps it is the wrong time to ask this question, but it has some importance.” The others waited as Yaaqov carefully framed his thought. “It is obvious that this marriage could provide some highly significant offspring. Indeed, a son from this marriage will rank higher than any child yet.” This triggered a quick round of glances, smiles, and comments from the group before Yaaqov continued: “But, if Mary was to have a child, particularly a son, in about nine months, how would we treat him?”

Everyone immediately knew the issues and probably knew the answer. Nevertheless, the discussion or debate that followed was both long and involved. If the marriage was consummated any time within the next three months, there would be doubt about any child born within nine months. Any child born under such suspicion was – by law – a mamzer[27]. If the marriage was not consummated and a child was born, there would be no doubt – and by law the child would be a mamzer. Luckily, these were all men of good heart and their concerns centered on Joachim, Anna, Joseph and Mary, not with the “letter of the law”.

The discussion turned to that topic – what was best for them… and the child. There were only two options: If the marriage went ahead and was consummated, the child would have the benefit of doubt. (Marriage – without traditional consummation – was not considered an option). This also reduced the impact on Joachim and Anna. Joachim and Joseph both thought this was the only option. The only question was Mary’s feelings. It might seem strange, but the Council was divided about whether they should ask Mary for her view. In the end, they decided to ask Anna if they should ask Mary. (These were very wise men).

Chapter 7

Jewish weddings are full of rituals intended to represent the beauty and glory of the marital relationship as well as the couple’s obligations to each other and to their people. The wedding day should be the happiest and holiest day of one's life - a personal Yom Kippur for the chatan (groom) and kallah (bride). On this personal Day of Atonement, all their past mistakes are forgiven; having now merged into a new, complete soul, the pair begin a new life as one.

It is said that a Roman woman asked a Jew, "if your God created the universe in six days, what has he been doing since then?" The Jew replied that God has been arranging marriages (the “bashert” or “soul mate”). The Roman woman scoffed and claimed that arranging marriages is a simple task, but the Jew countered that arranging marriages properly is as difficult as parting the Red Sea. To prove her point, the Roman woman went home and matched a thousand male slaves and a thousand female slaves in marriages. The next day the slaves appeared before her: one with a cracked skull, another with a broken leg, another with his eye gouged out, all asking to be released from their marriages. The woman went back to the Jew and said, "There is no god like your God."

Anna had put if off as long as she could, but after she heard of Joseph bar Jacob’s and the Council’s proposal, she  decided it was also time to discuss the attack with Mary. Anna was prepared for the worst and enjoyed her first surprise when Mary’s reaction to Tolmay’s withdrawn proposal was minimal. Anna had quickly added that Joseph bar Jacob had offered to marry her and, again, there was little response. Anna then offered, “Your father and I have agreed to let you choose; you may proceed with the planned marriage – only with Joseph – or you may wait for someone else.” She made no effort to hide her belief that someone else may never come along.

Anna gazed upon her daughter and saw that she had matured greatly in only a week. Mary’s eyes showed peacefulness or serenity that surprised her mother. With a calm and sure voice she said, “It makes sense now. I had a dream, and in it there was an angel who made me feel like everything would be ok – whatever might happen. I think the wedding should go on. I am sure that any man that you and Abba would find acceptable will be my bashert.” Anna could see in Mary’s eyes that she understood what might happen and was ready for it. Her sense of relief was only slightly greater than her growing feeling of pride in her daughter.

Under Jewish law, marriage is essentially a contractual agreement between the groom’s family and the bride’s family.  Marriage is a multi-stage process that has distinct stages: Shiddukhin (the matching), Mohar (setting the Bride’s Price[28]), Mattan (optional love gifts by the groom), Shiluhim (the dowry given to the bride by her father as an inheritance), Ketubah (the contract stating the rights of the bride and the promises by the groom), Kiddushin (akin to betrothal) and Nisuin (consummation of marriage). Kiddushin basically means "sanctified for a special purpose” and occurs when the contract is settled. Then there is a waiting period (often a year or more) to allow the groom to prepare the home. During this period, the couple are legally bound as man and wife, but do not live together or consummate the marriage. Then, after the wedding ceremony is held, the marriage is consummated when the bride moves in with her husband.

In the case of Mary, all but the Nisuin had taken place between representatives of Tolmay’s family and Anna’s family before they had left Jerusalem. In most circumstances, this would have been difficult to undo, renegotiate, or settle, but Tolmay had made it easy: he willingly transferred his part to Joseph and Joseph willingly took Tolmay’s rights and obligations. Thus, the wedding occurred as scheduled.

The wedding was a huge affair and, probably because there was a certain tension underlying it, the celebration seemed greater than normal. It was impossible for the audience to gauge Mary’s feelings, but it was clear that Joseph had mixed feelings during the ceremony. Most figured it was due to the strange circumstances involving Mary. A few understood that Joseph’s thoughts would return to Escha and even Melcha. Joseph found the effect that Mary had upon him was surprising – she was subdued, but radiant. There was a mysterious sense about her that troubled him throughout the ceremony. He could only wonder what she would be like when they were alone.

Alone in the wedding chamber that had been carefully prepared for them, nothing went as expected. It began with a hug. Even before the door was closed behind them, Mary turned and clasped her hands around her husband. Her first private words to him were “Thank you!” Mary was anxious to tell him about two things: her dream and her nightmare. She had not told her mother the whole dream and she would never tell another about her nightmare. Joseph listened silently and attentively. When she finished, he only had one question. “This child you are sure to have. Who will be his father?” Mary smiled, looked at him earnestly, and said with certainty: “God’s”. Then she added, “But I hope his seed is from you.”

Later, Joseph made sure the Council was made aware of Mary’s dream and one aspect of her nightmare. She was unsure about one critical detail – whether or not the soldier had left his seed inside her. Based upon his gentile prodding of Mary’s recollection, Joseph thought that the soldier had practiced coitus interruptus. It also seemed consistent with the oddity that the soldier had been less than crude and had even told Mary his name – Pantera. But there was simply no way to be certain except to wait for Mary’s bleeding. But in accordance with the Council’s decision, Joseph happily shared his seed with Mary before anyone could know if Mary was already pregnant.

When the boy was born nine months later, no one could have convinced Joseph that he was not his son and no one dared question such where Joseph might hear of it. Yeshua bar Joseph entered the world as a mamzer, but he wouldn’t hear the term until he was eleven. It was a strange beginning for the most amazing life.

Chapter 8

His early years were not really his. Destiny would play a greater than normal role throughout his life and the social-political realm would repeatedly change his course. The first big change occurred when he was only two years old and involved someone he didn’t know or care about. The man known as Herod the Great died (in 4 BCE) and the Nozerim Council foresaw the resulting revolt. A caravan was organized to take as many families as could go to the Land of On.

The ties between Egypt and the Jews were ancient and strong, and many Jews believed that the Messiah would come “out of Egypt”[29]. Because more Jews lived in Egypt than in Judea and because those Jews lived in a much more diverse society, they tended to have more “modern views” than the Judeans. They had scripture written in Greek[30] that was much more widespread than the Hebrew versions and they had a Temple where many thought the legitimate High Priest presided[31]- in the Land of On (about 20 miles NE of modern Cairo).

The Nozerim Council was essentially apolitical, but several of its members were not. Indeed, if there is “guilt by association”, the Romans would have considered the Council as Zealots and rebels. The more militant Zealot groups saw the death of Herod as an opportunity for revolt – presumptively a result akin to the Maccabean revolution of a century and a half previous. The Council saw the situation otherwise – the Romans would suppress any revolt and things would get worse for the Jews, perhaps far worse.

The Land of On was a refuge for dissident Jews and a meeting place for those who believed that the priesthood serving under Herod and the Romans had no authority. The Temple at Leontopolis had been built by Onias IV, the lawful heir of the legitimate high priesthood , around 170 BCE. While not as ostentatious as the Temple at Jerusalem, it was the only Temple other than Jerusalem’s where legitimate sacrifices could be made (although the Samaritans thought otherwise). Being convenient to Alexandria – where more Jews lived than anywhere else – the Temple of Onias became the second major gathering place for Jews.

The Council organized two caravans for the trip[32]. One would head west and follow the Great Sea south and west. The other would follow the traditional path along the Sea of Galilee, down the Jordan River and then head west through Jerusalem. The first was structured as a “trade caravan” and carried the heavy goods under heavy guard. The second caravan was lighter and included most of the people. When the caravans left Galilee they included over 200 families and well over 100 wagons. Since pilgrimages to Jerusalem were so frequent, the people were accustomed to organizing for trips and no suspicions were raised by such movement. This trip was somewhat different, however, since some felt like they might never return to Galilee. From Jerusalem, there was further division of the group since an additional fifty or so families joined the mini-exodus between Galilee and Jerusalem and an equal number joined from Jerusalem. In all there were over 300 families moving to Egypt.

They followed the new Roman built road from Jerusalem down to the coast and joined the older road that crossed the desert to Pelusium. The trip took ten days, but it was springtime and a pleasant time to be travelling. It was apparent that other groups were also expecting trouble since the roads were crowded going eastward. From Pelusium, most of the travelers headed for Alexandria (by boat) whereas the Council’s caravans headed southwest towards Memphis. Arriving in the evening, the travelers were treated to the amazing sight of the Great Pyramids of Giza silhouetted against the sunglow.

Chelkias ben Ananias was the Kohen Gadol or Great Priest of On. Honi (Onias) of Magdala was his cousin and members of their family (mostly kohanim/priests) were the most prominent Jews in Egypt. Thus, the Nozerim were well known to Chelkias and the newcomers were greeted as friends and family. There was plenty of land to be distributed and the local flax crop was highly prized and priced. Times were prosperous and peaceful for the Jews of On and Alexandria while revolt and mayhem raged through Galilee.

In Galilee and most of Judea, Jews were revolting as the Romans divided Herod’s realm among four of his sons; the biggest share going to Archelaus. During his short tenure as Ethnarch tens of thousands of Jews were slain or enslaved. Zealots led by Judas bar Hezekiah attacked the palace/armory at Sepphoris and occupied the city. The Roman governor of Syria, Quinctilius Varus, counterattacked and re-took the city. Sepphoris was burned to the ground, hundreds were crucified, and most of its inhabitants were sold as slaves. The wisdom of the Nozerim Council had saved their people. 

Joseph and Mary enjoyed life in the Land of On. Mary bore Joseph two more sons: James and Joses. Since Joseph’s first-born son, Yeshua, was unable to be consecrated to God, that “privilege” was given to James. As a life-long Nazarite, he would live in the Temple and, as kohanim (inherited from his widowed mother’s side), he would serve as a priest.  Joseph prospered because he was a skilled builder and building skills were in high demand. His family grew even more with the addition of two daughters (Salome and Lydia).

Chapter 9

The Onias Temple had prospered for decades after its establishment, especially during the period when Jews were prohibited from practicing their religion in Jerusalem (at least 169-165 BCE). After Judas Maccabee captured Jerusalem and re-consecrated the Temple (the origin for the Jewish holiday Chanukah), many Jews expected the legitimate High Priest (an Oniad) to be re-instated. Instead, the Maccabees decided to elevate themselves into the position. For many Jews – especially non-Judeans – this meant the proper place for worship was in Egypt.

A century of negotiations between the Maccabees/Hasmoneans and the Oniads never solved the dispute and as the Hasmoneans became more powerful they were bold enough to capture and place key descendants of Onias into exile (at Qumran). Meanwhile, the Onias Temple and the Jews of On prospered. They had served the Ptolemy family (rulers of Egypt) well and even after Cleopatra VII (who was actually the 6th) committed suicide ending the Ptolemy dynasty, the new Roman government honored the Egyptian Jews with religious autonomy. The Jewish farms in the Land of On supplied the Romans with flax and onions (and didn’t cause the same kind of trouble as the Judean/Galilean Jews).

The community that Onias IV had founded was highly communal and agrarian. It was 90% Jewish, but Onias had specifically decreed that locals would not be supplanted from their homes and farms. Many of them converted to Judaism, but those who chose to keep their ancient religions were allowed to do so. The Jewish population of On was remarkably diverse and included Samaritans, Babylonians, Alexandrians, Marmoricans, Cyrenaicans, Cyprians, Syrians, and many others. Having established a reputation for religious tolerance and opportunity for prosperity, the Land of On attracted diverse refuges from faraway lands. Because it incorporated the academic centers at Bubastis and because its Jewish founders had included a strong academic base from its inception, the region became known as a learning center.

Also adding to the diversity of culture were the many travelers who passed through the region. Almost everyone heading southward along the Nile from the east passed through On and many of those travelling westward did so also. The Nile delta created a formidable obstacle to travel and the wind and currents between Pelusium and Alexandria made boating westward an expensive and unpredictable choice. However, one could travel easily to Memphis and then cross the Nile or float easily and cheaply down to Alexandria. The hospitality industry added to the prosperity of the region.

Jesus was sheltered from most of these things until he reached the age where he could work with Joseph. By then, he was already speaking in both “common Greek” (Koine) and “common Hebew” (Semitic Aramaic) with a spattering of other foreign terms and sayings. His mother’s formal learning was reflected in his syntax and cultural informality was reflected in his accent and dialect. His father, Joseph, was a man of few words who spoke with enough Galilean accent that others could readily tell that he had spent most of his life in that region. But his words were always well chosen and, although he tended to speak allegorically, people knew that whatever he said would be wise and worthwhile.

Some fathers might have been disappointed when a son showed little interest in their profession, but Joseph accepted that Jesus’ interests centered on almost anything except building and handiwork. Whereas Joseph made his living through the practical arts, he saw that Jesus would make his way with his mind. Luckily, there’s was a culture that valued learning and teaching such that a livelihood could be made by those with that tilt. On the other hand, Joseph believed strongly that every man should be able to use basic tools and be self-sufficient, so he made sure that Jesus learned hand-skills and farming.  For the later, he sent Jesus to help in the fields of an “uncle”.

Another “uncle” provided Jesus with some extraordinary experiences when he was eight years old. In part, because Jesus was not favoring his father’s trade, he was allowed to accompany a small group going to Alexandria and then on to Marmorica – early home of the Joseph now known as Joseph of Arimathea. The travelers included an Alexandrian Jew named Parmenas who would become like an older brother to Jesus. Parmenas was always smiling and never had a bad thing to say about anybody. His wit cut with broad stokes and he was interested in everything. He had inherited well but was not married at the “old age” of 25. Many were awed at his spectacular array of knowledge and just how useless most of it was. Ask him when the last time there was a full moon on the first day of the month and he could tell you the last seven times. Ask him where he left his sandals five minutes after he entered your house and he’d have to go looking. Everybody liked Parmenas.

Chapter 10

The Nozerim Council was formed by six young men who had common purpose: to honor God’s Will. They had every reason to believe that those who presumed to speak for God had some other purpose.

Soon after Onias IV was forced into exile in Egypt, the Hellenists took control of Jerusalem (~170 BCE, the era of Simeon, Tobias, Jason and Menelaus[33]). The “pious ones” (Hasidim- opponents of the Hellenists) hoped an offering of cooperation could lead to peace, but then Alcimus became High Priest and then, in 162 BCE, the Syrian general Bacchides (in support of Alcimus) massacred over 50 Hasidim who refused to fight on the Sabbath. Six of the surviving sons of those massacred vowed life-long oaths to avenge the death of their fathers – making the Hellenists their bitter enemies. Thus, in 159 BCE, Eleazar, Dinai, Amram, Tahina, Zakkai, and Doras formed the brotherhood or “Haburah” with pledges and oaths avowing obedience to Judaic custom, a commitment to Judaic nationalism, and loyalty to each other.

The situation changed again when the tyrannical, war-mongering, Alexander Jannaeus (Hasmonean) became King and High Priest in 103 BCE. He continued the pogrom of his father, John Hyrcanus, against the Pharisees which led Judea into civil war (93-87 BCE). The war left 50,000 Judeans dead and Jannaeus celebrated his “victory” by having 500 of his Judean opponents crucified - with many having their throats cut while their wives and children looked on. Among Jannaeus’ opponents were the Zugot[34] pair of Pharisees, Joshua ben Perachya and Mattai of Arbela/Galilee (who were in exile in Egypt). 

The Jewish community in Alexandra was well ahead of its Judean counterparts – they had heard the message of Micah and had taken it to heart:

"Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?" (Micah 6:6-8).

Yes, there were still many Alexandrian Jews who followed tradition and custom to make offerings, but their beliefs and attitudes about “sacrificial offerings” were generally different than those of their fathers. But that was only one of several major differences.

The Alexandrian Jews had created a Greek translation of the Torah (known as the Septuagint, completed in 132 BCE) and continued translating other important and popular works of Jewish scripture[35]. Rather than produce these in a “Sefer Torah” or handwritten “Torah scroll” (sanctioned by Temple authorities under their extremely strict standards of production and written on animal skins or “gevil”), the Alexandrians produced a sheet version (as a prelude to the codex) on papyri (paper). This meant that every synagogue could have a written copy of the Torah in the more commonly spoken language.

Because the Alexandrian Jews were at the forefront of the synagogue movement (initiated by the Pharisees who had been exiled there during the reign of Alexander Jannaeus), there was a whole new system of Judaism emerging – one in which the Temple was far less significant. The focus of Alexandrian Jews turned away from ancient rituals towards education and acts of devotion to God’s Will. The “rabbi” (as master of the synagogue) was viewed as a more reliable source for religious instruction than the priests (whose role had become centered upon managing offerings and sacrifices).

Another important community thrived on a low hill just outside of Alexandria by the Lake Mareotis – the Therapeautae. They were the great healers of their time and had communities throughout the ancient (western) world, including at Mt. Carmel. They lived simple chaste lives dedicated to the contemplative life and their activities for six days of the week consisted of ascetic practices, severe fasting, solitary prayers (focused on keeping God active in their lives), meditation, and the solitary study of scripture. As Philo described them, "the entire interval from dawn to evening is given up by them to spiritual exercises. For they read the holy scriptures and draw out in thought and allegory their ancestral philosophy, since they regard the literal meanings as symbols of an inner and hidden nature revealing itself in covert ideas." (Philo, On Ascetics, III,18-28[36]). They renounced property and "professed an art of healing superior to that practiced in the cities." Ibid. On the Sabbath, the Therapeutae met in a meeting house or synagogue for common prayer and a common meal, after which they would sing antiphonal hymns until dawn. Every seven weeks they would meet for a all-night banquet and celebration where they served one another. "[T]hey are not waited on by slaves, because they deem any possession of servants whatever to be contrary to nature; for she has begotten all men alike free" (Philo, supra @70).[37]

Chapter 11

The Nile Valley was the “cradle” of human civilization. Long before the first books of the Bible were written, the Egyptians had developed a form of writing, amazing architecture, and a complex religious system. A thousand years (5500 BCE) before other cultures showed similar mastery, the tribes living in the Nile valley were making good use of agriculture and animal husbandry. Freed from the full-time burdens of basic survival, they developed stunning advances in art, architecture, and technology along with something even more profound – bureaucracy.

The early Egyptian concept of a central administration led to a new class of educated scribes and officials who administered the bureaucracy. They stood apart from the religious leader or Pharaoh and provided a new level of social stability.  These officials collected taxes, coordinated irrigation projects, organized work on construction projects, and established a justice system for maintaining peace and order. This led to a surplus of resources, a stable economy, and a thriving export business. The state was able to sponsor construction of colossal monuments, to commission exceptional works of art, and to invest in “scientific” pursuits (chemistry, cosmetics, metallurgy, and medicine). They domesticated the donkey, advanced writing, and invented mortar.

By 31 BCE, Egypt had endured over 300 years of foreign rule and the Nile Valley was the “breadbasket of Rome”; considered one of its most important Provinces (“Aegyptus”). The great city of Alexandria was past its prime, but was still one of the most beautiful and respected cities in the world. An education in Alexandria was considered the best you could get.

During the time of Jesus, the most famous person in Alexandria was Julius Philo, also known simply as Philo of Alexandria.  Born around 20 BCE to a Jewish mother and Roman father, Julius Philo (aka “Yedidia”, "Philon", and “Philo Judaeus of Alexandria”) was a philosopher, statesman, and aristocrat whose popularity and intellect made him possibly the best-known Jew of the era. He came from a powerful aristocratic family that had lived in Alexandria for generations under the rule of the Ptolemies and which had later gained favor with the Romans. His family were noble, honourable and wealthy, with connections to the Jewish Priesthood (both in Egypt and in Judea), the Hasmoneans, the Herodians and Roman Julio-Claudians.  

Philo was fond of allegorical arguments (as a specific Midrash) focused on fusing and harmonizing Greek philosophy and Judaism; a method which followed the practices of both Jewish exegetes and the Stoics. Philo held that the highest perception of truth is possible only after an encyclopedic study of the sciences and that Jewish scripture contained both religious and general truths.  Those truths, he argued, appear in two forms: the “ad litteram" and the "allegorice" ("Quæstiones in Genesin", 2:21). The literal truth is intended for adaptation to common human needs whereas the allegorical truth is the more meaningful one – intended only for those who have been properly initiated (“μύσται”). Philo offers a special method for determining the real meaning of Scripture which arises only when we determine the correct allegory[38]. In other words, according to Philo, the literal sense of certain passages of the Bible (such as senseless or contradictory statements or where something unworthy is said of God) must be rejected altogether. There, only allegorical expression may be useful in determining the truth. Philo provided special rules that tell one how to recognize which passages require allegorical interpretation and how the initiated should find the correct and intended meaning[39].

Philo was involved in various importing and exporting enterprises and was also directly tied to tariffs, customs, and taxation. His brother was the minister in charge of the largest taxing agency in Egypt – the river and canal tolls: an agency almost exclusively in the hands of Jews. Philo was so wealthy that kings came to him when they needed to borrow money. 

Chapter 12

The delta of the Nile was an ever-changing array of river branches, islands, lakes, and swamps. It was also contained some of the most productive farmland in the world. The river had provided a highly variable supply of water and the silt that made agriculture Egypt’s largest industry. It was also a convenient and efficient means of transportation for people and goods (especially since the typical wind pattern resulted in an upstream breeze).

Egyptians had dug irrigation canals 3,000 years before Alexandria was founded and had later dug numerous transportation canals that marveled ancient historians. It is hard to appreciate the extent to which Egyptians revered their river. The Nile was an important part of ancient Egyptian spiritual life - a causeway from life to death and the afterlife.

Along its banks at Giza were the most magnificent monuments created by humans – ever, anywhere. The Great Pyramids of Khufu and Kafre simply cannot be fully appreciated unless seen in person and up close. They were built over 2,500 years before Jesus could have seen them and during his time they would have still been encased in their original smooth casing stones. Seeing them would have awed and inspired then even more than now.


As Jesus and company approached the crossing of the Nile, they stared in awe at the magnificent monuments left by Egyptians long before Moses or Abraham. Jesus found this unimaginable, but Parmenas kept reassuring him that the Great Pyramids were ancient when Noah built his ark. It was the first time that Jesus had considered that there were people around when Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden of Eden. Parmenas didn’t just say that there were other people, he merely asked a few simple questions:

Where did Cain’s wife come from?

Who lived in the “land of Nod”?

Cain went to build not a home or a farm or a village but a CITY. For whom?

For Jesus, there were two major lessons learned: stories in scripture may reveal more than first supposed and asking questions is a good way to get different answers. Soon, both of these lessons would become deeply ingrained into his thinking.

It’s hard to say which had more impact – seeing the Nile River or riding in a boat. The Nile was like 1,000 times larger than any stream Jesus had seen before. He had seen the Sea of Galilee and the Mediterranean Sea, but somehow they just didn’t have the impact of this magnificent river: so much water always moving. It begged the questions of where does it come from and where does it go? But, before he had time to seek those answers, he marveled at the felucca that was his means of transport down the river.

Working Felucca  

The craft was simple, elegant, and functional. On this day, there was a slight breeze favoring their direction, so the agile boat cruised at about five knots. After a couple of hours, the novelty lessened and the scenery was redundant. Jesus took the opportunity to quiz Parmenas (who always seemed willing to answer his questions): “where does the river water come from?”  “I don’t think anybody knows, but I have heard that no man has ever seen the whole river. It is said that in lands far to the south, two great rivers – one white and one blue – come together to make this river.” “They must have lots of rain in those lands?” “Perhaps, but not in Egypt or its neighbors.” Jesus pondered over this and tried to imagine this river going forever.

“Where does all the water go?” “Into the Great Sea.” “Doesn’t it ever get full?” “No, in fact you will soon see places that man built many generations ago when the sea was at the same exact level – so it seems as though the water must flow out again at some far away place – perhaps at the place where the Great Sea empties into the ocean.” Jesus didn’t want to acknowledge that he had never heard of the ocean, so instead he asked where it was. “Far to the west. It is said to be a river so wide that only the gods can sail across it. In Greek, it is called “Atlantis thalassa” after their god Atlas. “I have never heard of that one.” “Well, that’s not surprising. In their theology, Atlas was a Titan and the Titans lost the war against the Olympians. Atlas was the leader of the Titans, so Zeus condemned him to stand at the western edge of the Earth and hold up the Sky for all eternity.”  Jesus pondered that for a moment and then got side-tracked again.

“Why don’t the Greeks worship the Lord instead of all those other gods?” “You are full of questions today, my young friend,” Parmenas smiled appreciatively, “and that is a good thing. Why do you think that someone would worship a god other than the Lord?” Jesus had wondered about it before, but had never reached a conclusion. He didn’t rush to respond and Parmenas was pleased to see the thought going into the answer. “I don’t think that they know about our Lord, because if they knew God, they would know that theirs can’t be divine.” “And what makes our God more divine than theirs?” Jesus grimaced at the challenging questions, but was pleased to be asked about things normally reserved for adults. Again, after careful consideration, Jesus answered: “There can only be one king and therefore, I think there can only be one God.” “Yes, but Judea has a king and Rome also has a king – they call Caesar. The Greeks believe that Zeus is their highest god – the king of the Gods. If we have kings, why shouldn’t the gods?” Jesus was stumped and admitted, “I need to think about this more.” “That is the best possible answer.”

They sailed or floated through the night, stopping only twice to pay a toll. Jesus was too excited to sleep well and was glad that there was a bit more than a half-moon to provide some light. The early glow announcing the coming of the sun was beautiful and inspiring. It prompted Jesus to offer a prayer of thanks. He sat reverently as the sun first peeked above the horizon and Jesus marveled at the sight. The Egyptians worshiped the sun as a god and that prompted reconsideration of the earlier discussion: why do people worship any god other than the One God? Jesus waited for Parmenas to wake up so he could offer his new answer.

Parmenas was impressed: “It seems as though you have given this plenty of thought. Why do you think people need to believe in a god or gods?” “There are many questions that we cannot answer and we want some kind of answer even if it really isn’t an answer. Many things happen that make no sense, but seem to have intent behind them. So people create gods to explain things and make sense of happenings.” “And why is our Lord different than their gods?” It was a simple and logical question that triggered an unexpected response within Jesus. His mouth refused to speak the words that came to mind, but the expression of Parmenas encouraged him to say his thoughts – blasphemous thoughts? “I suppose that in some ways our Lord is not different from their gods.” Parmenas smiled appreciatively, “Jesus, my young friend, you are wise beyond your years. I hope that your wisdom doesn’t get you into too much trouble.” Jesus welcomed the compliment but had never heard of wisdom getting people in trouble. The thought troubled him at some deep level.

Their discussion was interrupted by a change in scenery and circumstance; they stopped to pay another toll at the entrance to a canal. This straight canal sharply contrasted with the river – it was just wide enough for two boats to pass and cut through both green swampy areas and golden sandy areas. The boaters had to use poles to push the boat along and they enlisted the help of their passengers. It took them two hours of slow moving to gain sight of the lake – Lake Mareotis. Parmenas caught Jesus’ attention and pointed to the distant north where an object seemed to reach for the heavens. Where the pyramids impressed with their sheer mass, this structure was strikingly tall (over 400’).

The Pharos Lighthouse

Jesus found it hard to believe that people could build such a structure – that it wouldn’t topple under its own weight. But among the things he had learned from his father was that human ingenuity could achieve remarkable and often surprising results. As they made their way across the lake, Jesus saw some of the most impressive man-made objects in the world – the great stadium and Pompey’s Pillar, various temples and palaces, and a glowing white city of immense size. They docked in a small harbor off the lake and went ashore. Jesus’ legs welcomed the solid ground beneath him.

Alexandria was at least fifty times the size of Sepphoris – the largest city in Galilee - and about ten times the size of Jerusalem. Everything about it seemed to emphasize opulence and artisanship.  As they walked around the harbor, Jesus caught occasional glimpses of the main harbor and central city where the royal palaces and major temples stood. There were more ships in the harbor than he had imagined existed in all the world. Jesus was accustomed to seeing the pagan temples of the Egyptians, but they were not at all like those in Alexandria. These were more modern, better kept, and nicely adorned. He hoped that they would have the opportunity to go nearer. For now, though, the destination was the Jewish Quarter.

It seemed as though the Jewish “Quarter” occupied about half the city (because it did). Jesus was fascinated to see so many different cultures and races represented and Parmenas assured him that they were almost all Jews – although not all Jews were as pious as those Jesus was accustomed to being around. They passed four synagogues on one street – each of which dwarfed the synagogues in On. When they reached their destination, Jesus thought they were entering the largest synagogue he had yet seen. Instead, it was the home of their host, Alexander (cousin of Joseph).

Chapter 13

Even if one experiences lustrations and purifications, he defiles his mind while he cleanses his body. Again, even if from abundant wealth he founded a temple and provided it with lavish endowment and expenditures, or if he makes offerings and does not cease to sacrifice young bulls or to decorate the shrine with costly votive offerings, he still will not be inscribed with the pious, for he has wandered from the way of piety. Thinking religion to be ritual instead of holiness, he offers gifts to the One who cannot be flattered, who welcomes only genuine service and hates the counterfeit. Genuine worship occurs when the soul brings plain Truth as its only offering.

The greatest beauty is that which is beautiful by nature - the Word of God. Now the Word is our "father's house" and we dwell within it when we honor the life of the soul. The sacred Word bears abundant witness that the food of the soul is not earthly but heavenly; You see, the soul is fed not by earthly and corruptible things but by words which God might shower from the high and pure Nature which has been called "Heaven". What kind of food feeds the soul - the continuous Word of God. The Word of God is above all the world; for the divine Word dwells and walks among those who honor the Father. But those who honor the life of pleasure have only the image of a "good time," wrongly so-called.

Take these things into your own hearts as being sacred mysteries, you initiates whose ears have been purified. And do not divulge them to any of the uninitiated. Rather, like stewards, keep the treasure with yourselves, not stored in with silver and gold but where there is the finest possession: acquaintance with the Cause, with Virtue and, thirdly, the offspring of both. You are the sons of the Lord God, go in peace.[40]

Jesus had never seen such opulence – the house of Alexander was three stories tall and had over 40 rooms. It sat in a courtyard that was decorated with exotic plants and birds. Everywhere one looked there something golden, jeweled, or finely painted. Jesus counted over thirty servants, stewards, and workers – and he was sure that wasn’t more than ¾ of them. There were fountains, baths, and pools all over the place with what seemed to be the purest water possible. They washed in water clearer than what Jesus normally drank.

Their host put on a welcoming banquet that offered more food than twenty men could have eaten. Jesus saw foods he couldn’t recognize and some he did that he couldn’t imagine eating. He wished that he could have bothered Parmenas with questions, but Alexander treated both Joseph and Parmenas as long-lost brothers and they were kept occupied with tales and queries by their host. It was rather awkward for Jesus since he was at least five years younger than anyone else there. And, although he preferred the privilege of sitting with the elders, he wasn’t about to join in the festive discourse. But then the strangest thing happened, a young woman who was clearly related to Alexander came and sat next to Jesus and asked his name. She introduced herself as Arsinoe Selene, Alexander’s niece. It wasn’t clear which was more profoundly disturbing about this – the exotic beauty of this woman or the fact that she would simply sit down next to an unknown boy and strike up a conversation. It took Jesus a moment to realize that she was simply being a good hostess and seeing that Jesus was out-of-place, she was trying to make him more comfortable.

But she was really good at it – and before long, she had Jesus talking and laughing in a manner much like all the others were. While that was great, what Jesus really appreciated was having someone who could and would answer all his questions. She preferred to be called Selene, she was 17 years old, and she wasn’t a mother or a widow – she said she was hoping to meet a man she could love, but her eyes said she was ready to give up the search. Seeing Jesus’ consternation, she explained that most wealthy Alexandrian Jews didn’t force their daughters into marriage and that her parents weren’t in agreement about her status; her mother was anxious for her to marry but her father was allowing her the privilege of choice.

Selene was wonderfully knowledgeable about Alexandria and its history so Jesus just kept asking about it. He had lost track of time and was surprised when it was announced that a special guest had arrived – Alexander’s brother Philo. “Oh, I hope we get to hear him speak; he is so wonderfully eloquent and smart,” Selene whispered. “He started teaching at the Academy when he was only fourteen and he has written several books.” “What about?” But before Selene could answer, Philo approached her with a broad smile and obvious admiration: “Ah, Selene. I have been missing our discussions. How have you been?” Jesus watched this odd man as he addressed Selene with such focus and intensity. Finally, he looked to Jesus and inquired to him directly – “We have not met, but I see that you are a friend of Selene so that means you are a friend to me.” “I am Yeshua bar Joseph of the Land of Onias and I am pleased to be your friend as well.” Philo smiled at the formality and propriety of his introduction: “Yes, yes, your father is the son of Jacob, son of Matthan. I met him once when I was not much older than you.” He turned back to Selene and admonished her, “Selene, dear one, please come by to see me more often.” “I don’t want to disturb you or keep you from your work.” “I thought that you were smarter than that – you could never be a disturbance, except in the most pleasing ways.”

As was common with the adults Jesus knew, when the opportunity presented itself, they would begin discussion over some issue or topic. And so it was with that evening. After talking about the news from Judea and Galilee and about the Herodians and the Romans, the focus turned to the new Temple in Jerusalem. Jesus had heard some things about it, but it wasn’t a popular subject at home. As it turned out, Philo had been there a few months earlier and was able to offer a first-hand account.

“It is truly a magnificent structure and would be worthy of the god they serve. But, since they remain in service to an older concept of God and rituals intended only to forward their agenda and fortunes, it will not last. We are entering the age when such temples will begin to disappear – monuments to an idea that we will outgrow.”

These comments were clearly not what was expected and created plenty of discussion. Jesus was somewhat disappointed that he didn’t hear more about the actual structure, but he found this new topic enthralling. And, he found it surprising that Parmenas was engaged in the discussion as an equal participant in agreement with Philo. But then, something even more striking happened – Philo asked Selene what she thought. (Even if she had been a he, it would have been unusual for one so young to be so engaged).

Selene wasn’t flustered by the focus and inquiry, nor was she rushed to answer. “It is said that man was created in God’s image and many have interpreted that to mean that God has human qualities and character. Thus, we have sought to endear ourselves to God in the same way we might serve a king or master hoping for some reward. But, if God is ineffable and transcendent as the scripture says, then we have nothing to offer God except acceptance and appreciation. Erecting temples and offering physical offerings shows only our ignorance and arrogance. I hope that we are, indeed, maturing beyond such.” Philo gave her a nod of approval and the others gave her the dignity of a contemplative pause. Jesus was working through her words when he was again surprised: “Jesus, what do you think?”

One part of him wanted to panic, but another part took over. “God created the heavens and the earth, what man could do the same? God created us, and yet we attempt to create God in our image. If God is not like us, shouldn’t we work at becoming more like God instead of trying to make God more like us?” It pleased Jesus to see that his words were well taken although only he understood that they were not his words. He had allowed an inner voice to speak and it had served both him and God well. It was something he would rely upon for the rest of his life.

After Jesus and Selene had spoken, there was a request for Philo to lecture. He began with an interesting comment: “What you have just heard is the voice of the future. Young minds will see the world differently and view God differently. We are too bound up in our past and have created a vision for the future based upon that past. It will not be. It will not be as we expect it. And, it will not be ours alone. God is just and will not play favorites with His children; Jews and Gentiles alike.”

That night, Jesus couldn’t sleep. So much had happened that day and many questions lingered in his mind. He considered his discussions with Parmenas and Selene, but mostly, he tried to echo and absorb the words that Philo had spoken…

What good is it if one practices lustrations and purifications if meanwhile he defiles his mind? What good is there in cleansing the body if one doesn’t also cleanse their spirt? Do those with great wealth who build temples or those who make offerings of young bulls honor piety or pride? Who is it that really believes that a religion based upon ritual instead of holiness truly honors God? Does it make sense to offers material gifts to the One who cannot be flattered, to the One who can create heavens and earth?

Having found the truth in these ideas, Jesus recalled the words in his mind that had seemed so profound:

Genuine worship occurs when the soul brings plain Truth as its only offering. The greatest beauty is that which is beautiful by nature – the Word of God. Now the Word is our “father’s house” and we dwell within it when we honor the life of the soul.

Jesus couldn’t exactly make sense of these difficult ideas, but he knew they were truth and decided to commit them to memory so that he could give them due consideration later. Then he continued working on the rest of Philo’s lecture…

The soul is fed not by earthly and corruptible things but by words which God might shower from Heaven.

Jesus recognized that he was currently inundated with such words…

 What kind of food feeds the soul - the continuous Word of God. The Word of God is above all the world; for the divine Word dwells and walks among those who honor the Father. But those who honor the life of pleasure have only the image of a "good time," wrongly so-called.

So, the Word of God is ours here and now – not something that is coming. But we are so involved in seeking pleasure, comfort, and earthly things that we ignore the real wealth that is all around us. The truth in this had been obvious to Jesus before, but now he had a better way of expressing it. But the last part of Philo’s lecture still didn’t make sense…

Take these sacred mysteries into your hearts, you initiates whose ears have been purified, and do not divulge them to any of the uninitiated. Rather, like stewards, keep the treasure with yourselves and treat them like your finest possession:

acquaintance with the Cause,

with Virtue and,

their offspring.

Who or what were the initiates or the initiated? Was he initiated? Perhaps not and that might explain why he was having trouble with the “Cause”, “Virtue”, and their children.


(End of Part One) 

To continue to Part Two, click here.

???  Should I add a chapter involving a tour of Alexandria? Part two begins with Jesus returning to Galilee via Jerusalem. Jesus will meet Selene again and discover how they are distantly related. He doesn't return to Egypt or meet Philo again. 

[1] In 597 BCE, Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon captured Judea and took the High Priest and most of Jerusalem’s prominent leaders into exile at Babylon. They were not allowed to return until Cyrus (the Great Persian King who is called Messiah or God’s anointed in Isaiah 45.1) captured Babylon and ended the exile in 538 BCE.  

[2] See Deut. 18.15-19 for the key source of the Jewish messianic expectation. Appendix VI has a more complete discussion.

[3] The term “Messiah” is a Graecized transliteration of the Aramaic term "Mashia". Because it is more familiar to English readers, I will use it subsequently.

[4] “Nostrim” in Greek. This word was probably the first formal Jewish term used to describe the “Christians”. See Amidah 12 at http://www.defendingthebride.com/bb/curse.html. There is no historical record of any “council” named such although the record does identify the Nazareans/Nazoreans/Nazarenes as Jesus’ sect. See Acts 24:1-9.

[5] For more information and discussion of the Messiah and Messianic prophecies, see Appendix VI.

[6] Joachim was married and had two daughters before he took Anna in levirate marriage (as below). But, his first wife had passed away before this journey began. His older daughter was already married.

[7] “Haburah” literally means brotherhood.

[8], "Haberim" were members of associations ("aburot") who pledged themselves to keep the rules of ritual cleanliness and tithing or "ma'aserot".

[9] The “mysticism” of the time was pre-Kabbalahistic. It was mostly based upon the Enoch traditions and a collection of works called Heichalot (“The Palaces”).

[10] The term “Nazarite” had evolved from the earliest use in Numbers (6:1-21) and of Amos (2:12). The original meaning was a lifelong vow or consecration to God shown by abstention from drinking intoxicating beverages (or any product from the vine), not cutting one’s hair, and separation from any dead thing (even one’s closest relatives). Rechabites practiced a pre-Canaanitish type of worship and abstained from all the luxuries of civilization (II Kings 10:15 et seq.; Jer. 35) while the term “Nazarite” during the time of Jesus more generally referred to those who had taken a temporary vow (Note Acts 18:18; 21:.23- 24).

[11] See Appendix I for discussion of this sect and the terms Nazorean/Nazareth.

[12] Details about the various sects popular during the era are available in Appendix III.

[13] The Jewish priesthood and issues regarding it were central and critical to the Jews of this era and the actions of Jesus. It is dealt with separately and more fully in Appendix VII.

[14] In scriptural apocalyptic texts the writing is often vague and symbolic. For example, in the book of Daniel there is a many-horned beast with iron teeth representing Alexander the Great. The horn that has eyes and a mouth and speaks boastful words represents Antiochus IV (Daniel 7.7-8 and 8.11).  Such writings are subject to a variety of interpretations – any of which could be valid.

[15] These references come from the Dead Sea Scrolls (“DSS”) using standard notation. “Second Isaiah”- 4QFlorilegium 1.7-13, 18-19; 4Q285 5.1-6; 4Q521 (Note Isaiah 35 & 61).

[16] Psalms of Solomon 17.32-36.

[17] This was the “Messiah of the spirit”, a priestly Messiah akin to Melchizedek (who was God’s anointed) but not of the High Priest lineage.

[18] Psalms 2; 20; and 110; War scroll 11.4-9; 11Q13 col.2, 13-20

[19] Targum 1 Samuel 1.10 (Aramaic); Hebrews 4.14-16; Isaiah 56.6-8.

[20] See Appendix VII for details.

[21] All the Davidic lines passed through Zerubabbel, but under the “laws of Ezra”, his first son by his third wife (and first Jewish wife) Esthra, Prince Meshullam, was the primary line.

[22] From Zerubabbel’s second Jewish son, Prince Hananiah whose lineage was corrupted by a foreign bride.

[23] Either because the heir didn’t marry, married a only a foreign wife, or otherwise had no heir claimants.

[24] Where the brother of a deceased man is obligated to marry his brother's widow and the widow is obligated to marry her deceased husband's brother. It is required under Deut. 25:5-10.

[25] A complete family tree showing most of these relationships is available in Appendix IX. Family intermarriage was commonplace during this era.

[26] The Jewish religious and political Council or Court that acted as the governing body for the Jews. The “Great Sanhedrin” in Jerusalem served Judea and was considered the supreme authority on most matters of Jewish law.

[27] The laws of mamzerim are written in Deut. 23:3: a mamzer is any child born as the offspring of a father and mother between whom there could be no lawful betrothal. Such a child must not "enter the congregation of the Lord," that is, marry an Israelite, "nor shall his tenth generation…" Traditional Jewish law was even more rigorous, declaring any child of a forbidden connection a mamzer (Yeb. iv. 12, 13; Yer. ib. 6b; Bab. ib. 44a, 49a). See Appendix V for a more complete exposition.

[28] Jacob served Laban for fourteen years as mohar for Laban’s two daughters Leah and Rachel. Gen. 29 & 30.

[29] See Hosea 11:1.

[30] Known as the Septuagint (abbreviated LXX).

[31] See Appendix XIII for details regarding the Jewish Temple at Leontopolis and Appendix VII regarding the High Priesthood.

[32] Made easier because of the Rechabite tradition of avoiding “anchors”.

[33] A history of the Jewish High Priesthood can be found in Appendix VII.

[34] The Zugot were the two leading teachers of the Law during each successive generation during the period of 142 BCE to 40 CE. Tradition had the pair stand side to side at the head of the Sanhedrin; one as president ("Nasi") and the other as vice-president or father of the court ("Av beit din").

[35] The Torah (Hebrew: תּוֹרָה, "teachings") is also known as the Pentateuch (Greek: Πεντάτευχος, “five books”) and refers to the five books of Moses (Genesis-Deuteronomy) – the foundation of Hebrew scripture. The Nevi'im (Hebrew: נְבִיאִים N'bhiʾim, "Prophets", such as Isaiah) is the second major section and the Ketuvim (Hebrew: כְּתוּבִים‎ "writings", such as Psalms) is the last part of the Jewish canon or “Tanakh” (from the first letters TNK).

[36] From http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/ancient/philo-ascetics.html.

[37] “It is true that there are considerable similarities between the Therapeutae and the way of life of the first Christian monks of Egypt, especially those of the Nitria Desert.”;“The Therapeutae of Philo and the Monks as Therapeutae according to Pseudo-Dionysius” by Dr. Constantine Scouteris ,Orthodox Research Institute, School of Theology of the University of Athens. Available at http://www.orthodoxresearchinstitute.org/articles/patrology/scouteris_theraputae.htm.

[38] It is through the soul alone “by which truth and falsehood are distinguished from one another.” “On the Contemplative Life of Suppliants”, II, 10.

[39] See   "De Vita Contemplativa" § 8 [ii.481] available at http://cornerstonepublications.org/Philo/

[40] Adapted from Philo’s writings – these are mostly quotations from varying contexts.


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