~ An Amazing Life ~ 

A book by Rich Van Winkle

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An Amazing Life: Jesus and the Nozerim

Part Two  (Second Draft!)

Chapter 14

Jerusalem was not a large city, although it was the largest in Judea by a wide margin. Despite its size, it created a large impression. Herod I only deserved the subtitle “the Great” in regards to his building programs. During his reign Jerusalem had been transformed from a congregated mess into one of the most striking cities in the world. The highlight of the city was “Herod’s Temple”, a magnificent aggregation of religious pomposity, ceremonial functionality, and commercial opportunity. Its centerpiece was the re-built “Second Temple”, God’s earthly home.

Herod understood that the beautiful and striking Holy Temple was the draw, but the real beauty of it was in its wealth producing power. Thus, the Holy Temple was but a small part of a huge complex of courtyards, porticos, buildings, chambers, gates, quarters, stables, basilica, and even a fort. The public was allowed to see only a small part of the entire complex that served as the national bank, its archives, and its gathering place.

It had been difficult to say farewell to the land and the people of On. It was not that far away, but Jesus sensed that he would never return. Nor would he ever again see many of the people who had been neighbors and friends. But he was leaving with his family and many of those who had travelled to On in the original caravan. This time he would remember the long trek across the Sinai. The return to Galilee was to be a shocking change for the twelve year old Jesus, but not as shocking and exciting as the visit to Jerusalem. He had been hearing about “Beit ha-Mikdash” (“the sanctified house”) for as long as he could remember and he had heard plenty of stories about the new Temple. Now he would finally get to see both it and the city of Jerusalem.

For Judean Jews, Jerusalem was the center of the Universe. But for Jesus, it was merely the focal point for much of the history he had heard. He had grown up knowing another Temple where the legitimate High Priest lived and served. The Temple in Jerusalem might be more impressive, but it would never hold the mystique for Jesus that it had for many Jews.

Their course took them through Bethlehem, the ancient village which was thought to be the birthplace of David. It was remarkably unremarkable. But soon after passing through Bethlehem, they were treated to their first view of Jerusalem. Unlike the vast and sprawling city of Alexandria with temples and palaces spread everywhere, Jerusalem seemed compact and dominated by one structure. Sitting atop Mt. Moriah the Temple platform seemed to almost float over the city and in the middle of it was the glistening white and gold Temple. Even through the dusty haze and even though one could only see the upper part of it, one could see that the Temple was magnificent.

http://emp.byui.edu/SATTERFIELDB/Jerusalem/JerusalemMtOlivesTemplePainting.jpg

Jesus had marveled at the aqueduct that they had followed since Bethlehem and he was impressed again by the span that crossed the Gihon Valley – a bridge of sorts that carried water above the valley. As they approached the city gates, the towers of Hippicus, Phaesel, and Mariamne towered above them, reminding Jesus of the Pharos Lighthouse. After they entered David’s Gate, they were treated to a close-up view of the “Upper City”, Herod’s Way, and the Temple. Having seen the opulence of Alexandria, Jerusalem seemed rather plain, On the other hand, there was no hiding the wealth behind the numerous palaces that filled the Upper City.

Since many in the caravan were anxious to see the new temple, most of them went directly to it. As they dropped down into the Tyropoeon Valley, the Temple complex loomed above them with fearsome height[1] and they marveled at the massive stairway which led up and into the complex.  

Ancient-Jerusalem

Since they did not intend to make offerings or enter the inner courtyards, they did not need to enter via the lower Huldah gates where the ritual baths were located. The long climb made the entry into the courtyard even more worthwhile. Their first sight was the Stoa or Royal Portico[2].

 Alec Garrard

 

If there had been no other structure in the complex, the Royal Portico would have stood out as noteworthy.  The Royal Portico, consisted of four rows of columns (creating three aisles) with 162 columns (that were almost 60’ tall) made of a single piece of white marble, each topped with a decorative Corinthian capital. The ceiling of the portico was framed with cedar. In all, the southern portico was over 600 feet in length. (See Josephus, War 5.11.2; 190).

Leaving the portico, the visitors were able to look out across the courtyard to see the Temple.

http://emp.byui.edu/SATTERFIELDB/Jerusalem/Temple2.jpg

Being hidden behind its own walled enclosure, not much of the Temple was visible from the outer courts[3]. What really caught the attention of the new visitors was the chaos and commotion in the outer courtyard (the area outside the walls of the inner Temple known as the “Courtyard of the Gentiles” since anyone was allowed there). Packed into this four acres of precious and holy space were hundreds of vendors, money changers, and kiosks each vying for a share of the wealth that the Temple attracted. To those who were accustomed to a “real” Temple, this was an atrocity. Most had already seen enough and turned to leave, but Jesus wanted to see more. Luckily Zakkai, an older friend who knew the city, also wanted to look around, so Jesus and Zakkai were allowed to stay and roam.

Once the initial shock of seeing the commercialization of the Temple wore off, Jesus was able to again focus upon the wonders of the place. But, as they roamed through the crowd to where they could see through the “Beautiful Gate” (into the “Women’s Courtyard”) and Nicanor Gate, it was again impressed upon Jesus that the functions here were more commercial than holy. The outer court of the inner sanctuary functioned primarily as a marketplace to provide sanctified wine, water, wood, and incense as offerings. It was also where tithes were collected and donations were collected. It was “off-limits” to Gentiles, the ritually impure, and mamzers. But, from what Jesus saw, he had no interest in entering anyway.

 

The young men continued their wandering and were interested in the amazingly complex system that worked behind the scenes to permit tens of thousands of pilgrims (on busy days) to change their money, buy a variety of animals, present them for sacrifice, say a prayer, and then get quickly out of the way. Along with that process, the pilgrims needed to ritually cleanse themselves, the sacrificed carcasses needed to be removed, blood was collected for use, and tithes recorded. Wood, wine, oil, and other supplies were brought in from storehouses hidden beneath the Temple. Jesus noted that water from the aqueduct he had seen on the road from Bethlehem flowed freely into the Temple for fountains and cleaning up the mess. In all, it was an engineering and architectural marvel that seemed devoid of holiness. Jesus was not only disappointed, he was distressed by what he saw.

Along with the general sense that this was a bazaar more than a sanctified place, it was impossible to miss the extreme security measures. Temple guards were stationed all around the courtyards and Roman soldiers patrolled along the top of the walls – and they represented only the overt security. No one would doubt that there were as many covert security measures in place. The looming presence of the adjacent Fortress Antonia (that housed the Roman garrison) seemed an affront and the special coves and towers for the Temple guards (placed all around the courtyard) greatly diminished one’s sense of serenity.

Jesus and Parmenas recognized how well the complex had been designed, with careful consideration of function and access: ten public gates allowed a specific hierarchy of access - some convenient to all directions of ingress and some to allow special types of access (including two gates specifically for the powerful and privileged). Two outer areas held great interest to the new visitors: the portico where teaching was traditionally permitted and the northern chambers where the judges met or sat. Jesus’ ears tuned in to hear bits and pieces of instruction as they walked behind the gathered audiences. He wondered if one of the voices might be the greatest teacher of the time – Hillel.

 


Chapter 15

The Temple complex was the “heart” of the city and it alone would have made Jerusalem unique and special. But the city also held the seat of government, palaces for the rich, and several other architectural wonders – including the aqueduct that supplied water to the temple and throughout the city. Herod’s palace was a magnificent structure intended to impress his Roman visitors. The Roman governor had a palace and the “house” of the Chief Priest was a palace and more.

The city focused on visitors as thousands of Jews gathered there daily and tens of thousands arrived during major festival times (usually 5 times per year). The year-around residents often used their houses as hostels. The city had natural divisions (“quarters”) based upon the wealth of residents or their affiliations. The wealthiest sections were walled separately and tended to be the higher areas. Conversely, the lower quarters (where the sewage channels ran) were occupied by those of lower social status. But then, anyone who could afford to live within the walls of the city were far richer than most Judeans.

Joseph and Mary both had family in Jerusalem so they had to choose where they would stay and try not to offend the relatives. Because they were associated with the larger Essene community they always had the option of staying in the Essene quarter where communal housing was traditional and there was an “open door policy” towards fellow Essenes. Instead they stayed with Joseph’s brother Ptolas and his wife Escha at their beautiful house close to the Praetorium – home of the Roman procurator. That section of the city housed many of the mid-level government officials and wealthy businessmen. There, Jesus met two of his cousins with the surprising names of Arsinoe and Selene. He figured that this could not be a coincidence, but he didn’t immediately comment about having met Arsinoe Selene in Alexandria[4].

The change from Leontopolis and the Land of On was great. The lush green of the Nile delta contrasted as much with the dry and brown Jerusalem as did the two societies. The gentle ease and comfortable pace of life in the valley made the hustle and bustle of the hilltop Jerusalem seem unpleasant. Nevertheless, the sons of Joseph found the city to be exciting, interesting, and even compelling. Despite its decline in stature among more fundamentalist Jews, Jerusalem remained the center of their universe, the greatest city in their history, and the place that God had chosen to reside on Earth. Whatever Herod’s new temple may have lacked in “credentials”, it made up for in grandiosity. Whatever decline had occurred in religious tradition, the city seemed to make up in vibrancy and ostentation. The impressions made by this first visit to Jerusalem would remain with Jesus and his brother James for their entire life, even though their experiences there would be dramatically different.

The caravan from On had arrived a week before the greatest gathering in Jerusalem – Passover. This allowed for numerous reunions and the handling of several business matters before the holiday events. Jesus met more than a dozen new relatives and relished that they lived in different sections of the city so that he got to see its many sides. It was good to have this distraction since two days before the start of the Passover Festival, James was formally taken in by the priesthood to begin his new life. This meant that Jesus would rarely see him for several years while James was educated and dedicated as a Nazirite priest of the Jerusalem Temple.  James was still three years away from the minimum age for acting officially as a priest and unlike the priests at Leontopolis, the Hasmonean priests (appointed by and friendly with the Romans) were not impressed by the Galilean/Egyptian newcomer[5]. Of course, for those Jews loyal to tradition and more fundamental principles, the Jews who supported the Romans were traitors.

Jesus wanted to return to the Temple so that he might witness some of the legendary “teaching”. Much of this “teaching” was political or judicial: people brought their disputes to these “courts” where the scribes or rabbis would instruct in the application of the law towards resolution (“Torah” also translates as “learning”). There was also a hierarchy of formal courts so that the most important issues would be decided by the “higher” courts or “sanhedrin”. The highest court or “Great Sanhedrin” rarely met with all 71 members to decide issues of national significance. The Lesser Sanhedrin or Temple Court (with 23 members) met daily except during festivals and Shabbat in the “Hall of Hewn Stones” (Lishkat Ha-Gazith), a building that had one side outside the Temple and one side inside the Temple.

It was the presence of Hillel the Elder (Hillel Hazaken) that most interested Jesus. As Nasi or President of the Great Sanhedrin, Hillel had little time for public lectures, so when he was scheduled to speak, it was sure to draw a crowd. It was not a coincidence that Hillel was presenting the day before the start of the Passover festival. Jesus and Parmenas were allowed to attend – which meant waiting until the gates opened at midnight and spending the night in the Temple Court were Hillel would speak. A sizable group showed up to do the same and it was an interesting and eventful gathering – those who cared enough to spend the night waiting were good students and included those who had come from far away and might never get another chance to hear the Rabboni speak.

 Jesus was already familiar with the new methods of scriptural interpretation promulgated by Hillel since they were being taught and utilized by the Pharisees in the Egyptian synagogues. The term given to this method was “Midrash” and it would change Judaism[6]. It was to become the dominant mode of thought for Jesus. Midrash is both a way of thinking and a process for deriving doctrine from textual deduction. It utilizes rules of logic to apply the limited scriptural law to new conditions instead of relying upon established expositions of the law. Thus, whereas the traditional approach had been to memorize and transmit oral interpretations of the law from one generation to the next, the midrashic approach was premised upon the idea that new laws were implicit in the “Mosaic law” and simply required proper application of midrash to become known.

Having hours to wait for the arrival of Hillel, groups formed within the crowd and Jesus joined one which focused upon stories about Hillel and his teachings. Among the Jesus’ favorites were:

Hillel stood in the gate of Jerusalem one day and saw the people on their way to work. "How much," he asked, "will you earn to-day?" One said: "A denarius"; the second: "Two denarii." "What will you do with the money?" he inquired. "We will provide for the necessities of life." Then said he to them: "Would you not rather come and make the Torah your possession, that you may possess both this and the future world?"

And,

When a young man who wished to become a Jew asked Hillel if he could summarize the Torah while standing on one leg, Hillel said: "What is hateful to thee, do not unto thy fellow man: this is the whole Law; the rest is mere commentary".

 When Jesus heard Hillel speak, his every word was carefully considered. At first this was due to the reputation of the great scholar and the respect offered him by others whom Jesus respected. But after seeing him in person and hearing him speak, Jesus was enthralled. Along with the obvious wisdom and knowledge, there was both manner and personality that Jesus found appealing. Here was a man held in the highest esteem who sought only to serve God and honor God’s laws; worldly titles and material things meant little to him. Along with shaping the way Jesus thought, Hillel’s teachings had great impact. Jesus had heard some of Hillel’s teachings before, but somehow hearing them from Hillel himself gave them greater power:

"Be disciples of Aaron, loving your fellow beings and drawing them fully to Learning."

"Judge not your neighbor until you are in his place, for if I am not for myself, who will be for me, yet if I am only for myself, then what am I? And, if not now, when?"

"Do not separate one’s self from the community."

“Our soul is a guest in this life… and since our existence is a fact, we must live constructively and charitably. We must fulfill the duties of God”

"Appear neither naked nor clothed, neither sitting nor standing, neither laughing nor weeping."

"Judge not thy neighbor till thou art in his place"

"Trust not thyself till the day of thy death."

"One should not be afraid of evil tidings."

"Blessed be the Lord who daily burdens us with benefits."

"Let a man be always humble and patient.”

"Where some gather, scatter; where they scatter, gather!"

"Learn where there are teachers, teach where there are learners."

"If I am here—so says God—everyone is here; if I am not here, nobody is here."

"If you come to my house, I come to yours; if you won’t come to mine, I come not to thine."

"The more flesh, the more worms."

"Whoever has acquired the words of the Law has acquired the life of the world to come."

"The uneducated has no aversion to sin; the ignorant is not pious; the timid cannot learn, nor the passionate teach; he who is busied with trade cannot become wise. In a place where there are no men, study to show thyself a man."

"Whoever seeks to make a name loses the name.”

“He who fails to increase his knowledge, decreases; whoever does not serve the wise and learn is worthy of death.”

“Whoever makes use of the crown perishes.”

It was during this teaching in the Temple that Jesus met two other young men: Johanan ben Zakkai and Gamaliel ben Simeon.  Johanan was several years older than Jesus and a disciple of Hillel’s. Gamaliel was close to Jesus’ age and the grandson of Hillel. There was an immediate bond between them – Jesus was very impressed with their learning and they were very curious about Leontopolis and the brother of the new priest candidate named James. Thus, after Hillel finished his lecture and various discussion groups formed, Jesus, Parmenas, Johanan, and Gamaliel joined the same group. Johanan never mentioned that he was Hillel’s disciple (a prestigious privilege) and Gamaliel never introduced himself, so the exchanges were open. Soon, it was apparent that Johanan knew Hillel’s teachings better than the others, that Jesus knew scripture better anyone his age was expected to, and that Parmenas was the best debater in the group. Soon, their group was attracting other listeners and people began to wonder who these four young men were.

They would not only spend most of the day together, they would become long-time friends.

 

 


Chapter 16

“Blessed are you, O Lord our God, king of the universe, who has created the fruit of the vine. And you, O Lord our God, have given us festival days for joy, this feast of the unleavened bread, the time of our deliverance in remembrance of the departure from Egypt. Blessed are you, O Lord our God, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and enabled us to enjoy this season.”

“I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians.”

Praise the Lord! Praise, you servants of the Lord, praise the name of the Lord! May the Lord’s name be praised now and forevermore! From east to west the Lord’s name is deserving of praise. The Lord is exalted over all the nations; his splendor reaches beyond the sky. Who can compare to the Lord our God, who sits on a high throne? He bends down to look at the sky and the earth. He raises the poor from the dirt, and lifts up the needy from the garbage pile, that he might seat him with princes, with the princes of his people. He makes the barren woman of the family a happy mother of children. Praise the Lord!

Johanan, Parmenas, Jesus, and Gamaliel met as often as they could over the few days they had together in Jerusalem. Although there had already been several caravans to Galilee after Passover, the caravan planned for the week following Passover was a big one. Smaller groups would make their way down to Jericho and then gather for the trip north along the Jordan River. Joseph and family were going to Jericho three days early so they could meet with friends and family there and at Kumran (just south of Jericho). But Jesus wanted to stay in Jerusalem longer to enjoy his new friends and more of the city. Since he was almost a man and was quite responsible, there was no hesitation in allowing him to stay an extra day and travel to Jerico with other relatives. It didn’t quite work out that way.

One of the relatives Jesus was set to travel with became ill and the company postponed their trip to Jericho. They sent word ahead for Jospeh with others, but they never made a connection because Joseph was at Kumran. Needless to say, when Joseph returned to Jericho and Jesus wasn’t there, Mary  had become quite concerned.  Having few choices, they decided to trek back up to Jerusalem. (Jericho is about 20 miles east of and 3,000’ lower than Jerusalem). They hoped they would find Jesus with another group on their way to Jericho. Their hopes didn’t work out and when they reached Jerusalem they distressed to find that no one was at the house.

Jesus was neither worried nor distracted. In truth, he welcomed the delay and the opportunity to spend additional time with his friends. Arrangements had been made for him to join another group heading for Jericho that would meet the Galilean caravan. He was confident that the message sent for his parents would remove any concern. He had no way of knowing that his parents had returned to Jerusalem, that his uncle’s family were out for the day, and therefore no one was there to inform his parents of what had happened or where Jesus was.

Joseph and Mary separated and went to other relatives to see if they could discover what was going on. Their frustration mounted as evening approached and no one seemed to know anything helpful. Finally, they decided to go to the Temple hoping to find their missing boy. As the shohorn sounded to announce the end of the day’s sacrifice, they found Jesus sitting among the last of the groups in the courts. He was as surprised to see them as they were glad to find him. “We were so worried when we couldn’t find you.” “Why were you searching for me?” Jesus asked his mother in confusion. They explained that they had not received any message about the delay and that no one was at the house when they arrived in Jerusalem. “But where else would I be other than here?” and he gestured with both arms. Mary wrapped her arms around him and wept from relief and exhaustion. It would not be the last time she wept for her son in Jerusalem.

They all headed for Jericho the next day and found that their caravan had already departed. They were too tired to try and catch it, especially since Joseph and Mary had made three trips between Jerusalem and Jericho in the last four days. Thus, they had to wait an extra two days in Jericho for the next caravan. Jesus, being both younger and fresher, didn’t want to sit around waiting (and there wasn’t much to see in Jericho), so he asked if he could go down to Kumran to meet his cousin John. Given the situation from the day before, it wouldn’t have been allowed except that a family friend (and distant relative) was going down to Kumran for the day and offered to take Jesus along. Mary consented to the outing with assurances that they would be back that evening.

Lazarus ben Joseph lived in Bethany, a village just east of Jerusalem. His father was Joseph of Arimathea, the relative of Jesus who had allowed Jesus to join his group on the trip to Alexandria and Mormorica. Lazarus was five years older than Jesus, but immediately treated him as an equal. After their first day together, they would be friends for life.

 


Chapter 15

Qumran (aka Kumran) was located about eight miles south of Jericho on the cliffs 250’ above and 1.3 miles from the NW end of the Dead Sea. It overlooked the road from Jericho to Ein Gedi, an important route for commerce.

When Herod became King (37 BCE), one of his first major decisions was to place an Oniad (Ananelus[7]) in the High Priesthood at Jerusalem and those relations and associates of his who had been exiled in Qumran were freed and given it as a “retreat”. But soon thereafter, Herod was compelled to replace Ananelus with Antigonus III, the Hasmonean. To make this less of an insult to Ananelus, Herod gave religious independence and a sizable sum for Qumra. After arranging for the murder of Antigonus a few months later, Herod returned Ananelus to the position of High Priest and Qumran became even more prosperous as the center for production of scribes.

Lazarus and Jesus started early on their walk to Kumran, the hamlet and enclave of the Essene group called Zadokites[8] (meaning “seekers of righteousness”) -  the “Sons of Zadok” who strongly believed that the Hasmonean/Hellenist priests who controlled the Jerusalem Temple from 167 BCE until 37 BCE were usurpers and traitors. The true sons of Zadok, they believed, were the only proper priests and the priestly lineage claimed by the Hasmonean Sadducees was false. The Zadokites were divided into two main groups, the primary being led by Chalkis in the Land of On where he presided over Temple service as High Priest or “Kohen Gadol”. The secondary group (or Kumran group) was led by Honiyya ben Ananias, the brother of Chalkis, great grandson of Onias IV and grandson of Neyhonya bar Onias. His title was “Teacher of Righteousness” (Moreh Tzedek)[9].  The Zadokites carefully maintained their legitimate line of succession and kept the two brothers apart so that the line could not be easily broken. It was also useful to keep them separate since they had dramatically different ideas about how the future should unfold.

The walk to Kumran took Lazarus and Jesus along the west bank of the Dead Sea. It was an area of striking contrast – areas of lush green spotted the shore and cliffs wherever water surfaced. Otherwise it was dry, barren, and bleak. Jesus was surprised at the number of people they saw along the way and around every small oasis. They talked non-stop as they walked. Topics covered a wide range but the focal issue was religion. Lazarus was deeply interested in the unusual views of his young new friend whose ideas had been shaped in a foreign land. Jesus enjoyed the well-considered inquiries and dialog since he was still formalizing many of his ideas and filling in gaps. He was also interested in the repeated references Lazarus made about his younger sisters, Mary and Martha.

One topic that Jesus was still working on for himself was that of the Messiah. He was well aware of the prophetic basis for the beliefs and he understood people’s need for hope. But he couldn’t reconcile most of the beliefs with either reality or his view of God. The reality was that Rome ruled the Jewish world. The Romans were unlike any previous invaders or conquerors as they were more like the Greeks; and Jesus had seen the remnants of Greek influence. Even if his people were able to overcome the Romans and regain their independence, they would neither be the dominant civilization nor the likely focus of the human future. More so, Jesus knew enough about the larger world to see that human civilization would be dominated by Gentiles who would follow the more advanced ideas of the Greeks and Romans. Very few Judean Jews could see the world beyond Judaism.

This reality also influenced Jesus’ view of God. While he saw that the Jewish conception of God was far more complete and honest than the pagan beliefs of the Romans, he also saw that many of the traditional views of his people were flawed. First and foremost was the flaw of thinking of themselves as the “chosen people”. It was only logical that God would favor anyone who devotedly seeks righteousness regardless of where they were born or who their ancestors were. God simply couldn’t be like the angry, jealous, and fickle “Lord” portrayed in scriptural stories. Instead, Jesus reasoned and sensed that God was loving and caring – wanting us to have joy and peace in our lives.

As they approached Kumran they were met by two men who greeted them as friends. Lazarus introduced Jesus and explained that he was the cousin of John bar Zacharias. This led to a flurry of questions that the men spouted as they all walked up the hill to the small community. While answering their inquiries, Jesus realized that the men had come down the hill specifically to met them and see who they were. This focus on security was surprising to him – as would be other aspects of this strange place.

The community or compound wasn’t very large, but there were plenty of people around – all men. Their position offered a commanding view across the valley and Jesus took a minute to admire the blue water and surrounding brownish hills. An unusual voice drew his attention and he turned to see a short familiar looking man who was embracing Lazarus. When their eyes met, Jesus was fascinated by their similarity to Chalkis’ and then he remembered that they were brothers. Honiyya greeted Jesus as though he was family.

Behind Honiyya was a young man whom Jesus didn’t recognize – his cousin John. Jesus was surprised that John had both full beard and long hair since he wasn’t that much older than he. He was also surprised to see him dressed in the plain white garb of the Essene. Their greeting was casual and simple, each somewhat curious about the other. John seemed to be deeply in thought and serious in demeanor; rather withdrawn from social niceties. As it turned out, the trip would do more to introduce Jesus to Honiyya than his cousin.

Honiyya was a strict disciplinarian, a fervent Zealot, and a confirmed bachelor. His preference for the spiritual purity of the celibate lifestyle was about as un-Jewish as pork sausage. But he was the Moreh Tzedek and his views were very influential. The problem was that his choice made him childless and biology had left his only brother childless. The Onias line of succession was about to branch and both the new Kohen Gadol and Moreh Tzedek would be “Nezers” or branches from the direct line of Onias.

There, the goals of the Zadokites and Nozerim aligned – although the Zadokites were looking for a present and perpetual line of Aaronite descendants to assume the legitimate high priesthood the necessary credentials were the same that many Nozerim proposed for the Messiah. That was the reason for John being sent to Kumran. The Zadokites viewed him as the most likely Nezer – largely because his father was a full-time high ranking Levite priest and Essene.

Of course, Honiyya also had rigid views regarding the Messiah – or Messiahs. He just couldn’t envision any one person fulfilling all the messianic prophesies and therefore he proposed that there would be two Messiahs: one from the priestly (Aaronite) line and one from the royal (Davidic) line. His eschatological (“end of time”) views were also somewhat radical. He was sure that God would want to restore Judaism to its proper primacy with traditional flourish and drama – somehow vanquishing the Romans and all other pagans with a mighty sword, plenty of fire, and even some angelic intervention. The royal Messiah would lead God’s armies with David’s aplomb and Solomon’s strength. Then, once the traitorous and wicked priests were removed from God’s House on Earth, the priestly Messiah would restore purity and lead Israel to righteousness. It should not be surprising then that Honiyya would utilize this opportunity to quiz one of the Nozerim messianic “contenders”. It was also not surprising that Jesus was not considered a possible Nezer since so many “defects” precluded one from qualifying. Jesus’ defect was merely doubt about his parentage. Nevertheless, Honiyya liked Jesus and since Jesus was a great admirer of Chalkis, they had a subject of mutual interest.

In the traditional manner, Honiyya directed the entire conversation. Lazarus and John sat in silence while the elder and the boy talked for two hours. That changed somewhat when lunch was served and several strangers joined them. John remained silent through lunch and the businesslike discussion that engaged everyone but the two cousins. They managed to share a few glances, but Jesus found it odd that he couldn’t “read” his cousin like he could most others.

At Kumran, Honiyya was gathering and preparing the spiritual leaders for the coming battle. At other sites along the west bank of the Dead Sea (especially Ein Gedi), his allies and followers were making other preparations with great secrecy. Jericho was the “front city” for their movement and the “secret” balsam resin industry was their disguise. Using a secret entrance to access secret chambers and secret caves, the Zadokites used Masada as their secret storehouse (right under the noses of the Roman garrison housed there). The Zadokites secretly (yes, they were very secretive) aligned with other groups who shared common goals, including some of the more militant Zealot groups. Because Jericho was sufficiently removed from Jerusalem and yet was along three major routes, it was the place where clandestine activities were centered.

Jesus caught a glimpse of this larger picture after the lunch conversation when Lazarus met privately with what appeared to be the inner circle of Kumran’s leaders. John and another older man showed Jesus around the community while the others met and Jesus could see that the place had two distinct functions: the overt scriptorium and the covert logistics center. The presence of too many guards and weapons revealed the deeper truth.

Jesus was impressed that Lazarus was a peer and friend of these serious and powerful men. After they left Kumran, without any other real communication between Jesus and John, Jesus asked Lazarus many questions about the Zadokites and his workings with them. He was pleased that Lazarus spoke freely with him and what he discovered surprised him – Lazarus acted as a buyer and agent for the Zadokites. Working with his father (Joseph of Arimathea), Lazarus was able to procure both weapons and materials for making weapons that were tightly controlled by the Romans. As they approached Jericho, Lazarus stressed the importance of secrecy regarding all these matters as lives were literally at stake.

The discussion with Lazarus opened Jesus’ eyes to part of his life that had been largely ignored – the business, politics, and position of his family. He knew that his life was about to change as he officially became a “man”. He simply had no idea how much.

 


Chapter 16

There are those who will tell you that life is all about living – that we are meant to live in order to serve God. But I think that we are meant to live for death – that we are meant to die in order to serve God. Why else would God have created death and distributed it so widely?

I have lived a good life, full of opportunity and many rewards: I have had three wonderful wives, a group of loving children, and good health. Now, as I find myself about to leave the living, I wonder if any of that mattered. What part of that will I take with me, if any? What part of that has or will serve God? No, my son, serving God in life is not what life is all about. It is serving God through life that is the key to Heaven.

If you will honor me and the One who I would honor, then seek the way to serve God through life. Find those things that are most divine and perfect them within yourself. Then, share them with everyone who will listen and learn. In doing so, you will serve God through living, because you cannot serve life through God.

(Joseph’s last words to Jesus).

His father’s death struck Jesus more deeply than he could have imagined. It came upon him suddenly while on the road north. Although his age showed, Joseph had lived well and looked well until the very end. His mind had stayed active and sharp and his last words would echo in Jesus’ mind for a long time.

After Lazarus and Jesus had returned to Jericho, Jesus started paying more attention to details that had previously seemed insignificant – the people that Joseph met with and the ties that bound his clan together. He suddenly realized that he had spent twelve years in an isolated existence. The Land of On was far removed from the problems and issues of Judea and life there had been relaxed and easy. Here, there was so much strife, stress, and fear. People’s lives were filled with concerns and issues that he had never experienced. Life was far more complex than he had known or seen.

The trip north had been uneventful and unforgettable. Jesus walked with his father and they had talked more than any time in their lives. It marked a change in their relationship and the beginning of adulthood for Jesus. For Joseph, the timing was pefect as he had been hoping that Jesus would transition to manhood in time to deal with a man’s problems. Joseph understood that Jesus would have the opportunity to take over his role and join the Nozerim Council if he proved worthy (despite being a mamzer). The Nozerim were much more interested in a man’s character than his name or his parentage. However, it was one’s name and parentage that made consideration by the Council easier.

Events seemed to stack up for Jesus: the trip to Jerusalem, the meeting in Kumran,  the trip to Galilee, and the sudden death of his father. Over a two week period he met far more relatives than he knew he had and was suddenly aware that his place in the world was far different than he had ever envisioned.

The Sea of Galilee was smaller and more beautiful than he had thought. Under any other circumstance, he might have found it inspiring, but with his father’s body in the cart beside him, Jesus was preoccupied. He had plenty to think about, including the message his father shared the evening of his death. Did he somehow know that Death would be coming for him so soon? Had he know and not said anything? Then there were the practical matters: getting word to James, burying Joseph, and assuming the role of family patriarch. And, slowly surfacing into his consciousness was a new awareness of his own mortality and how the passing of time is worthy of fear.

A new city – named Tiberias - had arisen along the western shores of Lake Gennesaret (aka the Sea of Galilee, a name that was less popular with the Romans). Its opulence and garishness stood out as if to demonstrate long-term Roman influence. The region had been transformed by Herod Antipas with a Roman model and the city of Sepphoris (now called “Autokratoris”) had the look of a Roman metropolis, complete with theater and fortifications. It was now the governmental center for Galilee as well as its major commercial center. There would be plenty of opportunity there for skilled workers. A new Roman road had been built along the western shoreline and it made the carts bounce more than the old dirt road, even though it looked smoother. Jesus was glad that his father didn’t see this new world.

When they arrived at what had been the hamlet of Nazareth, the small village had all but disappeared. It had never been built up as even a village, but when the Nazoreans were there it seemed better established. The spring still provided plenty of good clean water and it didn’t take long for it to reappear as a bustling small community. Jesus had no recollection of the place, but it felt like home when they returned. It would always feel like home after they buried Joseph in one of the local cave-tombs.

It was a time of transition for Jesus and his family – and that in itself was the biggest transition. It was now his family and although Mary would continue as its matriarch, Jesus was the “man of the house”. But then he was not married and under Jewish custom, he wasn’t deemed ready to care for his mother. Thus, the levirate law of marriage applied to Mary and Joseph’s oldest surviving brother took Mary as his second wife. Mary was pleased to become the second wife of Klopas because he was much like Jospeh and she adored Klopas’ wife - her former sister-in-law Hanna. Their daughters were grown and gone, so Hanna became a second mother to Jesus, James, Joses, Salome, and Miriyam. (Later, Mary would have two more sons through Klopas: Simon and Jude).

The transition for Jesus was also apparent in three other ways: in his business, at the synagogue, and with the Nozerim Council. The family business was as it had been a decade earlier – building. Within the Nazorean/Rechabite/Nazareth community there were tradesmen in all of the building crafts and they worked closely with each other. Their reputation for quality and value was great so they soon had more work offers than they could handle. Six days a week they made the four mile trek from Nazareth to Sepphoris, worked most of the daylight hours and then returned home. And this was only one of the family businesses. The hills around Nazareth were perfect for raising sheep and with excess water from their spring, they gardened. This kept some of the boys, girls, and older men busy. The skilled workers who couldn’t make the long trek back and forth to Sepphoris every day built furniture and made other household items. The women sewed, made jewelry, and carried produce to the markets of Sepphoris when they had surpluses. They were industrious and prosperous – except on the Sabbath.

Every seventh day they devoted entirely to God. All other days were simply in God’s service – since these people were not prosperous for their own sake, but for God’s. They lived simple and frugal lives and distributed much of their wealth wherever they believed it served God: as tithes, religious “taxes”, and charitable gifts to the poor and needy. Their Sabbaths were days of study, discussion, and organizing their charity. Jesus was now a full member of the community and participated in both religious services and religious service. Their services were centered in study and consideration of scripture. They had several Rabbis within their ranks and they rotated their services. Some rotated to Jerusalem for Temple services[10], some rotated to surrounding communities that lacked a Rabbi, and one or two would stay in Nazareth. Their Rabbis not only served to offer religious training and worship, they were the ambassadors of charity and faith. But there was more. The Nazorean Rabbis travelled in pairs or groups. This was not only safer, it provided for their other service to God: carrying The Message and acting as messengers. The Message was simple – “prepare for the new kingdom”. Most of Israel was waiting for the new kingdom. The most common view was that God was preparing to restore Judaism to its rightful place and that an Anointed One – The Messiah – was coming soon to accomplish this end. It was the duty of all Jews to prepare for this happening, and most did in one way or another. Some prepared through religious undertakings – prayer and sacrifice. Some prepared through political undertakings – organizing a new government. Some prepared through military undertakings – gathering, equipping, and training the necessary army. The Nazorean Rabbis were the “go-betweens” for many of the groups or sects that shared the common goal of preparing for the new kingdom.

Now that Jesus was of age, he was ready for his first public reading of the scrolls (I’mitzvot) in a ceremony now known as Bar Mitzvah "son of commandment" (then called "bar 'onshin" or “son of punishment”). It meant that Jesus was now accountable for his decisions and was formally an “adult”. Jesus had been prepared as a Nazorean Rabbi. Because of his priestly training and scholarship, he would be a practicing Rabbi in charge of a troop. But in addition to his religious training he would need to learn additional roles. All of the young men (ages 13-20) among the Nazoreans learned one or more functions in the service of God. Those who lacked the aptitude of scholarship and devotion essential for the Rabbis learned supporting skills. Some served as guards, some as couriers, and some as information gatherers. Indeed, one of the most valued functions provided by the Nazorean Rabbis was the accumulating, analyzing, and disseminating of information. It was this skill that set Jesus apart from his peers.

Everyone noticed it right away – Jesus had a “knack” for people. He had some natural empathy and understanding of others that made him easy to talk to and trust. And, he seemed to find no place for bigotry or social status. To Jesus, everyone was equal: men and women, Jews and Gentiles, farmers and priests, and even the clean and unclean. On an individual level, this served him well. On the larger level, it made him socially vulnerable. The bigots of the world can’t stand those who refuse to hate and malign others. Indeed, if there was any group of people that Jesus had problems with, it was the haters. Of course, that was (and still is) a very large group.

In addition to his business and religious life, Jesus was deeply involved in “politics”. His politics were not related specifically to the government or to governing. As an underling of the Nozerim Council, Jesus was involved with a political body working towards religious revolution. Jesus believed in their cause but not necessarily their methods. In essence, the Council accepted almost any method that seemed to further the cause. Jesus was not privy to all the details but he knew that the Council worked with some extremist Zealots groups including some known as the “Sicarii” (assassins). Jesus couldn’t understand the use of such tactics in the service of God.

 

 


Chapter 17

Every discussion of the Messiah followed the same pattern: paternity, prophecy, and person. The Nozerim Council had the paternity matter down to an objective computation, but there was always some debate about the accuracy or reliability of their numbers. The prophecy discussion yielded little agreement because the prophecies were diverse and subject to varied interpretations. The “proof prophecies” were based more upon what the Messiah actually did than upon where he came from or the like. Thus, the group inevitably came to ask – are any of their candidates like a Messiah? In other words, did they demonstrate the qualities one would expect from a future great king, priest, or prophet?

Joseph bar Jacob had remained on the Nozerim Council until his death. Unknown to him was that his friend and fellow councilmember, Simon of Kinneret, had died just two days before him. The filling of the two vacancies at one time was to be one of the great issues ever considered by the Council: there was division regarding both Yeshua bar Jospeh and Judas bar Simon. Judas was just old enough to serve, but was known as a “hothead” and extremist. No one wanted him on the Council, and Simon’s other son was not old enough to serve. Thus, although the Council favored passing empty seats to sons of former members, Simon’s position was offered to the Alexandrian – Parmenas bar Tobias (who we already know). This choice was radical in two aspects: Parmenas was not a Rechabite and his family was more Hellenized than most orthodox Jews cared for. On the other hand, he was a cousin of Chelkias, a student of Philo, and a good friend of Honi. Because he was so devout, so liked, and so well connected, he had been offered the oath of the Haburah. Because he accepted the beliefs and goals of the Ha-nozerim, he agreed to become a member of the Council and share its secrets.

Yeshua, known more by the Greek version of his name – Jesus, was both young and of uncertain parentage. While a few of the old Council would have preferred to seat him, the dissenters won the debate because Simon’s replacement was against it. That was odd and unexpected because Parmenas adored Jesus. Such adoration could not overcome his belief in the law and the sanctity of the Council and when he was given the basic facts regarding Jesus’ birth, he properly applied the Halakha (law). The newest member of the Council held the carrying vote and the sons of Joseph[11] lost their seat on the Council – for now.

The Council had changed significantly with the addition of Parmenas and it would change further with the addition of Prochorus bar Manean. Prochorus exemplified the changing times as much as Parmenas . His father was the famous Essene who had served the Court of Herod I. Many thought Manean a traitor to his people, but the Council knew better. Manean had saved untold lives through both his influence and his “spying”. He was the most powerful pro-Jewish influence upon Herod and the non-Herodian with the closest access to the King. Remaining loyal to his people, Manean had forsaken his reputation in order to help them secretly. Prochorus had been sent to live with Manean’s brother in Cana, the brother-in-law of Tolmay. He was raised as a Rechabite and did not know the details about his father. His addition to the Council was deemed especially appropriate since his grandfather had been one of its founders.

The timing of this change in composition of the Council was significant in two important regards: the circumstances in Judea and Galilee were changing and there was new discussion regarding the Messiah. The two discussions were tied to each other, although in ways not previously apparent. The history of Jews in Egypt was not lost upon these scholars and the possibility or necessity of the Messiah coming from Egypt had been often discussed through the last three-hundred years. Was it possible that these circumstances were occurring as a precursor to fulfillment of prophecy? That would mean that the Messiah could be among them. Most of the group had travelled to Egypt and if the Messiah was among them, he had ended up where he belonged.

Parmenas and Prochorus were surprised to learn of the Council’s efforts to expedite God’s Will regarding the Messiah. They were equally surprised to hear that the program had recently yielded three candidates ranked higher than anyone previously – only with the note that the one on the top of the list was a mamzer. This encouraged continuation of a discussion that had been going on in the background for over a decade: could the Messiah be a mamzer? Indeed, the new Council was able to discuss the issue more freely now that Joseph was no longer present. It was also somewhat unexpected that the primary proponent for the idea that being a mamzer did not disqualify one from being the Messiah was the father of one of the other candidates.

Joseph of Arimathea had travelled from Jerusalem to Galilee for the funerals of Simon and Joseph. Since his son Lazarus was listed in the top five in the Council’s rankings – depending upon whether Jesus was included – some were surprised to hear his arguments that Jesus should be kept at the top of the list. Of course, the starting point for the topic was always: what if Jesus was Joseph’s son and therefore not really a mamzer? It would be more than problematic for them to “disqualify” the Messiah on the basis of some assertion that couldn’t be proven one way or another. Ultimately, the Council compromised and kept Jesus on the list, but in the third position. John bar Zecharias moved up to second and James bar Joseph became the leading candidate.

Only three members of the Council had met John bar Zecharias. Orphaned at the age of six, he had been sent to the Essene community at Ein Gedi where another group aligned with the Nozerim were also trying to avoid the “revolt” and prepare for the Messiah. It became clear that John was a natural leader and “keeper” and it was also clear that he was not priestly in character or disposition. Even his friends had to acknowledge that John was “full of himself”. He was a good student in the subjects that he found interesting or useful, but not in others. And, he seemed to resist all attempts at guidance: when John decided someone was trying to push him in a direction he didn’t want to go, he was most obstinate.

When the Council had their Messiah discussions, Parmenas usually said little. He was new, young, and had different ideas. That was partially a result of his schooling – not only in Greek philosophy but in the divergent ideas more common among the Alexandrian Jews. The influence of Philo and Pythagoras tempered his religious views and he was doubtful that God favored one people over another. He was also strongly influenced by the Theraputae, the great healers of the time. He viewed “The Messiah” as Jewish lore and false hope based upon belief in an “involved God” and some far-removed “Kingdom of God”.  Parmenas was confident that God was bigger and better than anything humans could imagine and that such a God would have more important concerns than petty human matters. But, his ideas were rather radical and he kept them mostly to himself – the exception being his friend Jesus.

James, the second son of Joseph was now the number one candidate for Messiah on the Council’s list. Everyone who met him knew there was something special about him, even beyond his being a kohanim with great gifts and devotion. In the Temple, there was talk of allowing him full priestly duty and privilege at the age of ten. He was amazingly intelligent, pure, fair, and righteous without being self-conscious of it. He seemed a natural leader and no one had ever seen a child so intent upon serving God. Interestingly, the reason some were confident that he was not the Messiah was that, when asked about the Messiah, his answer was “I am sure that we won’t recognize him until he is no longer ours.”

 


Chapter 18

Sepphoris had become much more than the capital of Galilee and the home of its ruler Herod Antipas. It held a Roman garrison, was on the major new road connecting Damascus with the Great Sea, and it became a regional center for arts and crafts. It was, as Josephus put it, ““the ornament of all Galilee.”

Once the Romans deposed Herod Archelaus as Ethnarch of Samaria, Judea, and Edom (in 6 CE), a short period of relative stability and prosperity ensued although Judeans despised Roman rule. The Romans, however, were at the beginning of pax romana with growing power and wealth, so every appearance was that Roman rule would last a long time.

Galilee remained the center of Jewish resistance and would be the starting point for the Jewish-Roman war that began in the year 66. While generally known as the Zealots, the resistance movement included numerous groups generally distinguishable by the level of violence they were willing to support (the “Sicarii”, for example, were assassins who were willing to cause the retribution killing of many Jews in order to kill their target).

Under the weight of manhood, Jesus was quiet and reflective. His mother had sheltered him and his father had been unwilling to impose upon him. He had learned his trade but showed little interest in it. He studied the law and the prophets, but had spent little time in the formal discussions at the Leontopolis Temple. He seemed focused upon his friends and family - and his younger brother, Joses (who followed him everywhere). He was unusually close to his sisters and it was somewhat surprising that his best friend seemed to be Judas bar Simon. He took to Parmenas as Parmenas had taken to him and they had frequent long discussions in private.

For most of his first year back in Galilee, Jesus stayed plenty busy working, learning, and travelling back and forth to Sepphoris. Klopas was a good man, a good uncle/step-father, and a friend to Jesus. It was a blessing that Jesus’ relationship with Klopas had solidified over the years as they were now friends and co-workers. They lived under the same “roof”, but it was understood that the relationship had evolved. In most ways, Jesus was treated as an adult and an equal – except of course that Jesus turned over all his earnings to Klopas.

When the time for the Feast of Hanukkah approached, Jesus was excited for two major reasons – it would be his first festival with full rights and he would get to visit with James. When Mary announced that she wouldn’t be making the trip, it came as a shock. It would be only the third time in his life that he would be away from his mother for more than a day. When he found out why she wasn’t going, he was even more shocked. Mary was pregnant (Jesus had never considered this possibility).

The caravan to Jerusalem was also surprising. Instead of following the traditional route along the Sea of Galilee and the River Jordan, they were going through Samaria. Actually, it was the shorter and easier route, but few Jews would take it. The Samaritans were held in disdain by most Jews. Aside from a 500 year old dispute about the true House of God, there had been continuous disputes between the Samaritans and the Judean Jews over several centuries. At times the Samaritans had sided with the enemies of the Judeans against them. The general view of the Judeans was that Samaritans were unintelligent, removed from God, and traitorous. The Samaritans provided support for the Romans and the Herodians and were enjoying a period of prosperity. The capital city was known as Sebaste (the Greek equivalent of “Augustus”) and the Samaritan Temple at Mt. Gerizim (recently re-built with Herod’s help) competed directly with the Temple in Jerusalem.

 The road south and west across the Plain of Megiddo was downhill and easy, but then they turned more southward and headed uphill. The troop was smaller than ones Jesus had made the pilgrimage with before, and this group seemed different. There were no women or children and even the average age of the men was older. Joseph of Arimathea led them and Jesus was privileged to walk with him for this stretch of the trail. They walked slowly but still panted some as they talked.

“The Samaritans are a strange group, fiercely loyal to each other and their beliefs, but narrow-mindedly disloyal to the Jewish people as a whole“, Joseph lectured. “Of course, the Judeans have made matters worse through their own narrow-mindedness and arrogance. We (Galileans) are caught somewhat in-between.  We agree with the Samaritans that the current Temple leaders are mostly unworthy corrupt imposters.  We do not agree that the Mt. Gerizim Temple is the true House of God – if such a thing even exists.”  “What about their Torah and other scripture?” (Jesus). “Who’s to say? The scribes can argue with great conviction and certainty that their version is the correct one. In truth, none of them are. True scripture is that which resonates in one’s heart and mind. I don’t care where it comes from“. Joseph had to raise his hand to stop Jesus’ objection. “I know that you’ve been taught to accept the words from the scrolls as having come directly from God. But I’ve been buying and selling scrolls for twenty years – not all of them Jewish and some of them from doubtful sources. But the one thing I am sure of is that all of them were written by men, copied by men, and misread by men.”

“The true meaning of scripture is greater than any of us could possibly know or understand. Our only hope is to get help from the source. Without some divine insight and connection with God, we cannot hope to know the meaning of any true scripture.” This was something new and different for Jesus to think about. It almost seemed blasphemous. But then, it also made perfect sense. He could never understand why so many seemingly wise men spent so much time debating what was meant by a certain passage or teaching in scripture. Some thought that God was intentionally obscure just so that people would have to debate the Torah. Others said it was simply beyond our capability – as if God was toying with us intellectually. Other contended that we simply couldn’t understand until or unless we reached a certain state of holiness – that the Torah was meant only for the most righteous. Of course, those who argued such almost always included themselves among the most righteous.

Joseph walked in silence, enjoying the fact that his student was taking the time to reflect and analyze what he had said instead of either trying to impress him with some witty reply or merely restating some well indoctrinated response. On a downhill stretch, he interjected: “There are plenty of scribes and rabbis who are skilled at memorization or recitation. There are plenty of priests who are happy to repeat what they were taught from and about scripture. But there a very few wise men who are able to think for themselves, understand on their own, and communicate God’s message to others without preaching.  I hope that you will strive to be one of the wise ones.”

Sebaste was about half the size of Sepphoris but was going through the same type of reformation. Jesus was surprised that they were greeted as friends by the local leaders – who clearly knew Joseph. It didn’t take long to find out why. Joseph’s company was the largest supplier in the region and business often transcends politics. However, as the evening wore on, Jesus came to realize that there was far more going on that first met the eye. He was allowed to sit in on a meeting of elders where many issues were discussed other than business. Highest on the list was an issue of some contention: what to do about the new Roman taxes.

It had only been a few years since the revolt in Galilee (led by Judas of Gamala) was triggered by the new taxation imposed by Quirinius, Governor of Syria. Although the Romans had successfully quenched the fires of revolt, there remained many burning embers. As the census begun under Quirinius continued there were many Jews who would refuse to pay. The Samaritans generally accepted the necessity of paying the tax merely to avoid further Roman repression and submission. The Galileans were at the heart of the resistance to the tax and the Nozerim were not only Galileans, they were closely tied to the Zealots.

Jesus listened to both sides of the heated debate and knew that both sides had good points. He also knew that the issue was greater than the Roman taxes; there had been an on-going debate among Jews regarding religious taxes. Beyond tithes, the religious tax was quasi-governmental and was administered by the priesthood with almost as much rigor as the Roman’s used to collect their taxes. The poor (or “evyonim”) were particularly stressed by the religious taxes since there were simply no exceptions. At least the Romans seemed to understand that there were some people who should be exempt from taxation. For Jesus, it seemed grossly unfair for so many to be so rich while so many others were so poor.

The next morning they headed south again and as Jesus looked up to Mt. Gerizim he recalled a group of discussions from his boyhood in Leontopolis. The Temple of On was subject to a dispute similar to that of the Samaritan Temple – where was the proper place to offer sacrifice to God. Those in power wanted to claim that there was only one proper place for the holy sacrifice and only the priesthood at their place had the proper authority to offer that sacrifice. At Leontopolis the claim was based upon the presence of the legitimate priesthood and the argument centered upon the people instead of the place. For the Samaritans, it was just the opposite – their claim was based upon the proper sanctity of the place. And, the most powerful group – who happened to hold the place where the traditional Temple was located and had built a magnificent structure there – argued that tradition overrides all. Jesus found all their arguments unconvincing.

More and more he was sure that God didn’t need a house on Earth – or anywhere else. God was greater than any such notion and had no favored place.  God’s “kingdom” (realm) had to be something entirely unlike worldly kingdoms where people fought for position, possession, and power. In God’s kingdom there were no palaces, temples, or thrones. There was no need – people were in the presence of God and would inherently be removed from worldly thoughts, needs, or weaknesses. Thus, to Jesus, the whole idea of sacrificing animals for either God’s favor or redemption was offensive to the very concept of God. What Jesus lacked and longed for, however, was a clear vision of God’s true nature or even a means to achieve such a thing.

 

 


Chapter 19

In “Prometheus Bound”, Aeschylus describes the earliest humans as having no knowledge or culture until the Titan Prometheus, out of his “φιλάνθρωπος" (“philanthropos tropos" or “humanity-loving character”) gave them two great gifts: fire and optimism. These gifts were synergistic – fire led to optimism and optimism led to creative use of fire. Philanthropy combines “loving” and “humanity” with a specific notion of benefiting or nourishing human potential. In ancient times, this “love of humanity” was an educational ideal whose goal was the fullest development of body, mind and spirit (“arete” or excellence).

Joseph of Arimathea was an enigma - he managed to transcend all types of boundaries: social, political, and religious. He was the prototypical philanthropist and used his great wealth to quietly support others who sought to nourish human potential. Thus, he supported diverse groups who shared a common belief and value of peaceful loving-kindness. That was ironic in that the principle business he inherited from his father was supplying the Romans with the metals needed to make weapons of war and mining the metals that financed their wars.

Equally ironic was his political position. Because his business supported the Romans and he dealt with them fairly and honestly, they assumed that he was a friend (and even made him a compatriot). They appointed him to the Great Sanhedrin and gave him a title (“Noblis Decurio”) that permitted him great latitude and deference. But he had little respect for the war-mongering and power-hungry Romans – especially those who misused their power or abused their authority.

On the trail to Arimathea, Jesus decided to ask Joseph about his vision of God. He was surprised by the answer: “Among the stupidest things we try to do is create some image of God. I don’t mean idols, I mean everything having to do with God. How ridiculously arrogant it is of us to think that we might be able to image anything about God.” He looked at Jesus and was shaking his head. “Don’t look at me like that – I am not saying anything blasphemous. Just because the authors of scripture try to picture a god who is like us – or tell us that we are somehow like God – don’t you be fooled. It’s not blasphemy to speak against the myths and stories written into scripture and if anything is blasphemy it is to identify God with human traits.”

“Are you saying that we can know nothing about God?” “What do you know about God?”  “God is…” “No, don’t quote some scripture or something someone else has told you. Tell me what you know about God.” Jesus stopped in his tracks and those behind him were tripped up as they almost collided. Luckily, Joseph also stopped two steps later and looked upon Jesus with his knowing smile. Then he put out his arm for Jesus to join him and they walked on in silence with Joseph’s arm over Jesus’ shoulder. It was a comforting gesture for Jesus because his father was prone to doing the same. Nevertheless, his mind reeled with thoughts as he tried to find something that he knew about God. It took a while.

For several minutes his mind went through various things that he had presumed about God based upon either scripture or the teaching of others. Although they were only things that others had said about God, Jesus had adopted many of them as his own ideas. But when he tested them against the simple criteria set by Joseph, they each had to be dismissed. Jesus didn’t know these things about God – he had merely accepted them out of trust or faith. After a while, he resigned in frustration and with some embarrassment – “I’m not sure I know ANYTHING about God.” “Good. Now you can start discovering God for yourself.” Jesus was tempted to ask Joseph what HE knew about God, but understood that such was exactly what he shouldn’t ask.

Arimathea wasn’t very impressive, but Joseph’s home was. It was neither fancy nor imposing, but it was busy and beautiful. Someone had spent a great deal of time planting and maintaining a wide variety of trees, flowers, and shrubs near the house and an army of workers maintained orchards, fields, and gardens that surrounded the property. As they approached, word spread quickly that Joseph was arriving and the field workers waved and shouted happily as the troop passed with a growing entourage of people who came down the road to meet them. By the time they reached the courtyard, there were over 50 people in the greeting crowd and another 30 walking with them. You have had to be blind not to see that Joseph was liked, loved, and respected by these people. Indeed, Jesus was struck by the number of blind people he saw amongst the crowd. And as he noticed the blind, he also noticed how many of these happy people were injured, disfigured, or otherwise different.

The crowd parted as if on command and allowed the troop to enter the courtyard. There, they were greeted by Rehab, Joseph’s wife. She embraced her husband in a way most uncommon and kissed him openly and longingly. Jesus stood beside them almost embarrassed to be so close to such intimacy. When they loosened their embrace, Rehab turned and looked at Jesus with searching and inquisitive eyes. “You must be Jesus,” she said without any doubt and then went on to greet the rest of the troop. Jesus looked at Joseph wondering how she knew him and he just shrugged his shoulders.

It didn’t take long to get everyone settled in and Jesus was struck by how well organized everything was. He was given a room in the main house and was attended by a beautiful young handmaiden who carefully washed his feet. Another young woman brought additional water, fresh flowers, and a small bowl of fruit. Then a young man showed up with a complete change of clothes and they all left so he could wash himself and change clothes. The moment he was dressed the handmaiden returned and took his dirty clothes so they could be washed while the other girl replaced the dirty water with clean. A distinguished looking old man looked in, asked if Jesus had everything he needed and then invited Jesus to join his hosts. Nothing in his life prior to this time had done as much to make him feel like a man.

The dining room was large and formal. The rug on the floor was as exquisite as any Jesus had seen and the decorations made the room seem palatial. Jesus knew immediately that he was joining an inner family gathering since the dozen people sitting around the table were laughing and talking as only family does. Rehab saw him first and gestured for him to join them. As he approached and sat where indicated, she introduced her family. They were all polite and somewhat formal, but at the same time they made him feel very much at ease. The last two introductions were ones he would never forget: Martha and Mary.

The girls looked very much alike but were entirely different in demeanor. Martha dropped her eyes as custom would call for while Mary looked directly at him in a way that was almost rude. Her gaze was captivating and it took Jesus a moment to realize that Rehab had asked him a question. At the same time he realized that the others were watching him as he gazed at Mary. “Yes, my mother’s name is also Mary,” he replied, “and one of my grandmothers was named Rehab.” He turned his gaze to Rehab and saw that she was staring into his eyes in exactly the same manner as Mary. She seemed to be looking straight into his soul while drawing some part of him into her. It was an unnerving experience and he was glad to hear Joseph’s voice as if from the distance.

“I believe that Jesus is discovering the mysterious powers of the women in my family.” There were chuckles and quiet murmurs from the others that signaled a deeper understanding of Joseph’s statement. But then the group pursued friendly inquiry about Jesus and his life. They were fascinated with his depiction of the Land of On and the Temple there, his description of his experience in Jerusalem, and his mention of Lazarus. Surprisingly, it was Martha who spoke: “When Lazarus was last here, he told us about you. He was very impressed.”

They talked about Lazarus and Jesus listened carefully to see how much of the truth they knew. As it turned out they were all aware of Lazarus’ larger role without being aware of the whole story about Kumran or Ein Gedi . The discussion took an interesting turn when someone mentioned John: “Lazarus mentioned something about John bar Zecharias – aren’t you related?” Jesus affirmed that John was Mary’s nephew and his cousin, but that they had only met once. “Apparently there is some factional dispute going on and John is involved with the splinter group. Abba, do you know anything more about that?” Joseph smiled slightly and nodded, but said nothing. Rehab knew to break up the gathering so that Joseph didn’t need to answer.

Jesus was treated to a tour of the property by Martha and Mary. Everywhere they went people greeted them favorably and it wasn’t long before Jesus found out the reason. Aside from his wealth, Joseph was one of the largest employers in Judea. He favored two types of workers – those with the greatest skills who were willing to work hard and those who had trouble finding work elsewhere. Joseph paid better than the going wages and preferred to hire entire families. He provided a comfortable and safe place to live as well as an opportunity for his workers to earn property. In turn, his workers were extremely loyal and productive.

The other observation that couldn’t be missed was what Jesus had noted when they approached the house – a high percentage of workers who had an ailment or other apparent problem. There was also a disproportionate number of women and children – or as Jesus soon discovered, widows and orphans. Mary explained that they never turned away the needy, but that everyone was expected to work as they could. Those who couldn’t work in the fields worked elsewhere. Even the blind were given jobs. Martha pointed out that they even had a separate camp for the lepers – who were among the most productive workers. Jesus hoped that he would have the opportunity to spend more time there and learn more about the operation of the farm and business.

The party that evening rivaled any Jesus had seen. First, it was obvious that everyone who worked for Joseph felt like they were part of a big family and, second that everyone was delighted to have some time with Joseph. Most of the members of the troop had been there before and the feast was no surprise to them. They were known by many and were also treated like family. Jesus, however, was a complete stranger and therefore he was treated better than anyone except Joseph. Everyone wanted to meet him, introduce their families, and hear all about him. To his surprise, everyone also expected him to drink wine with them.

Rechabites do not drink wine. The Nazoreans were less strict about drinking, but drank far less than most. Jesus had tasted wine, but had little experience with it. It wouldn’t have been his choice to drink much wine during this or any other party, but circumstances led to just that. As the night aged, Jesus was feeling the wine more and more until he was not feeling well at all. Luckily, Martha and Mary had stayed close to him and drew him away before things got worse. They retired to the house and sat in the dining room where they had some privacy but didn’t risk offending anyone. Anyone but Jesus could have seen just how competitive the young women were for his attention. When Rehab walked through and saw them – and then saw Jesus’ condition, she told the girls to take him to his room and let him rest.

The next morning, Jesus was paying for his new experience. First he felt ill and to compound that he was the subject of some humorous abuse over the morning meal. At least he was granted one of his wishes when Joseph suggested that they tour more of his properties together. It was a bright and cool morning with dew making the air feel moist and smell rich. They set out at a pace that quickly made Jesus feel worse, but he said nothing.

The workers were out in numbers and Joseph stopped frequently to chat with them. Many made some comment about Jesus and the party – mostly with the same humorous undertones about Jesus’ drinking as earlier. Joseph was interested in harvests, crops, and farming; the workers were interested in news and things that might affect them. Jesus noticed that Joseph told different groups different news and realized later that the workers would spread the stories and get a more complete picture of what was happening in their part of the world. During a few stops there was some issue or dispute that they asked Joseph to resolve and Jesus was impressed by Joseph’s willingness to listen patiently and offer fair resolutions. But then, as they were approaching the house and had stopped to talk with a pair of workers, a difficult situation was described and instead of responding, Joseph asked Jesus what he thought should be done.

The son of one of the workers had been found with the daughter of the other. The father of the daughter wanted her to marry the boy but she didn’t want to. Her father, already feeling disgraced, was now further disparaged by his daughter’s recalcitrance. To make matters worse, the boy’s father was claiming that the girl was the cause of the problem and that his son was not the first to be seduced by her. He did not want his son to marry the “soiled” girl.

Because Joseph had asked Jesus’ opinion, they all stood there waiting for him to answer. Jesus looked at Joseph with a stern sincerity and asked: “Is the law not clear in such matters? Since neither is married, your son has chosen his wife by choosing to cleave with your daughter. She has also chosen, by her consent, to cleave to him. There is no longer a choice, they are married.”

The two fathers looked at Joseph and saw that he was nodding his agreement. When the boy’s father started to speak, Joseph stopped him with a gesture and added: “You now have a choice also. Your families can join in peace and continue as such, or you can choose a lifetime of strife and difficulty. If you really care about your children, you might want to consider that carefully. It would seem that you have both failed somewhat in the rearing of your children.” With that, the two fathers looked to each other with shared embarrassment, thanked Joseph, turned, and walked away. Joseph looked at Jesus with a grin and whispered: “Very good. I could not have said it better.”

Jesus asked softly “ Is it fair to say that a parent is responsible for the misdeeds of their child?” “There is no job more demanding – or more rewarding – than being a parent. One can do the best they can and still fail, or do poorly and still succeed. Children have the same free will as their parents – sometimes it seems like they have even more. I think it is a mistake to judge how well a parent has done by the actions of their offspring, but I also don’t think it doesn’t hurt to ask a parent to re-examine their efforts when their child misbehaves.” “I am sure that you are a good father,” Jesus offered sincerely, “and I am also sure that you have thought of this before.” “And you, young man. What are your thoughts about getting married and becoming a parent?” Jesus responded with honesty that he hadn’t given it much thought. He was about to, however.


Chapter 20

Although not included in the “Ten Commandments” (עשרת הדברים or “The Ten Terms”), the Jews accepted “Be fruitful and increase your numbers” (Gen. 1:28) as a commandment and obedience to it was expected. Thus, marriage and reproduction were more than social norms and those who did neither were suspect.

Under the general laws of marriage in Judaism and especially under the laws of mamzerim, Jesus was limited in his options: he could not marry a Jewish woman. A mamzer could marry another mamzer, a convert to Judaism, or a non-Jewish slave (converting her). However, mamzerim foundlings were not so free; they were not permitted to marry a mamzer or another foundling[12]. Of course, in societies where the father chooses his son-in-law, finding a Gentile father who would choose to have his daughter marry a Jewish man was difficult.

The troop left Arimathea the next morning for the four hour walk to Jerusalem. The previous night Jesus had pondered the matter of marriage and becoming a parent. What he decided was that he lacked a clear enough vision of his future to permit any kind of decision about a family. He also had a lingering question that was relevant and when he had the opportunity he posed it to Joseph. He was surprised that Joseph spent several minutes considering the question before responding. “It is an unanswerable question,” he finally offered, “because it is impossible to say how people will respond. Although there is certainly a new attitude about mamzerim law, many of the traditional notions remain. And even where many people might overlook the law in some regards, they may not when it comes to their daughter. “ “So, if I was to ask for your permission to marry Martha, for example?” “Hmmm, I was just considering that very possibility. You know that I think highly of you – as does Rebah. But my thoughts must turn to the grandchildren.”

Jesus was aware of the problem – under mamzerim law his children would be considered mamzers for ten generations (or forever). “Of course, the solution for many is to move far enough away that no one knows that you’re a mamzer. But then you must always live in fear that someone will discover the secret and ruin your life. I would not want that for either my daughter or my grandchildren.” “We are taught that it is one of our most sacred duties to procreate, but it would seem that these laws should provide good cause for remaining unmarried.” Joseph nodded his agreement and added, “There is also the position argued by Honiyya that women tend to distract us from righteousness, although it has been my experience that women are more likely to help us give God due attention.” Jesus laughed at that comment because he was well aware of that circumstance. “My mother would serve to prove your point.”

Once in Jerusalem, Jesus wasted no time in looking up his friends Johanan and Gamaliel. He wanted to spend some time with James but knew that such had to be arranged differently. Priests in training were not only kept very busy, there was a specific intent of removing distractions and outside influences. This trip to Jerusalem seemed much different to Jesus since he was left on his own: Jesus came and went as he pleased. Johanan and Gamaliel were as pleased to see Jesus as he was to see them. Unfortunately, Gamaliel’s grandfather Hillel was ill and he was trying to spend as much time with him as possible. Johanan and Jesus walked the circuit around the courts listening for something of interest. There were always plenty of debates, but most were rather mundane or repetitious. Luckily for them, they got to listen to a brief dialog with Shammai, the Av Beit Din (Vice-President) of the Great Sanhedrin (Hillel was its President). The debates between the two great scholars were already legendary and at times the followers of each became so divided that fighting broke out between them.

On that afternoon, Shammai was lecturing on the Birkat Hamazon or after-meal prayer. Apparently this was part of an on-going debate between Hillel and him, and Shammai began with his opponents view: “Some will tell you that it makes no difference where you perform your holy duties – that it is sufficient to offer grace anywhere or anytime. But I tell you that it is not enough to merely go through the motions and that God will not tolerate shortcuts or half-way measures. The Law is clear and easily understood, so there is no excuse for failure to obey it. Besides, we all know what will happen once you begin to think that something less than what the Law requires is sufficient – soon thereafter you begin to find more and more reasons for delaying or reducing what is required. I tell you that our duty to God is complete obedience, complete respect, and complete submission. Do not risk offending your Lord by offering less than is demanded.”

As was the informal tradition, after the speaker presented his view, the audience proceeded with discussion and debate. Sometimes the speaker would even mingle with the crowd and get involved in the smaller group discussions. On this day, Shammai remained on the speaker’s platform and members of the crowd shouted out questions or comments. It didn’t take long for the scene to get more chaotic and it became a shouting match. Jesus and Johanan moved to the side and watched as temple guards finally intervened to disband the disrupting crowd. It was then that Jesus looked out across the Temple compound and realized how absurd the whole thing was – the last thing anyone wanted in their home was a fight. But it was more than that.

The hordes of people and the sounds and smell of slaughter filled the place. In the outer courtyard vendors chanted their pleas for people to buy from them and it looked more like a bazaar than a holy site. There was the strange sense of domination created both by the size of the place and the number of obvious guards and soldiers. And there was the mystery and power of its centerpiece – the Holy of Holies. If God really did look out from there, what would be the impression created? The answer was clear as could be for Jesus – insanity! Surely any intelligent being would think that the whole arrangement was worse than crazy. Imagine how many people could be fed just by all the animals (or parts of animals) that were burnt each day. Imagine how many homes could be built with all the materials and labor that went into building this meaningless monument. And for what? Could not people gather on a mountaintop like they did at Mt. Gerizim (where the “temple” was a small modest structure) and worship God just as well? Weren’t there better ways of showing one’s devotion to God and righteousness than wasting God’s creatures? And then a great depression came over him as it struck him just how many people were actually diverted away from God by this impressive distraction.

He spoke of these things with Johanan that evening and then spoke even more when Gamaliel arrived. Not surprisingly, Gamaliel found much of what Jesus had to say objectionable. After all, he was a scribe of the Pharisitical school and his father was the most revered scriptural scholar of the time. Jesus was suggesting that much of the dogma that Judaism rested upon was flawed. For two thousand years, Judaism had been a temple-centered sacrifice-based religion that honored a human-like lord/God. And, although the Pharisitical movement sought to modernize the Temple practices and make them more relevant to the people, there were still very much Temple centered. In addition, the Soferim  (body of scribes) advanced a progressive and liberal view of the Torah while they maintained very conservative in views of righteousness and religious practice. Gamaliel felt that Jesus’ was bordering on blasphemy and it was only Johanan’s calming influence that prevented harsher dialog. It was here that Jesus first learned that some views were better if not expressed so directly.

The Passover festival held less significance for Jesus that year than any prior one. It seemed that the more he observed from a detached viewpoint, the more obscene the whole ritual was – too much blood, too many sacrifices, and too much money involved. People were practicing the rituals more out of habit and expectation than from true devotion to God. And there were far too many distractions that were now part of the informal celebration: drinking, womanizing, and partying. For many, the pilgrimage seemed to be more an opportunity to transact business than to celebrate God’s mercies.

At least one part of the pilgrimage was a success: Jesus got together with James for an afternoon. He was surprised at the change in his younger brother, who now seemed older and more serious. Whatever distractions may have been present in the temple for the masses, they appeared to have the opposite effect on James. His focus was greater than ever – God, service, righteousness, and good deeds were his life and he was intent upon maximizing all of them. It touched Jesus deeply to see his brother so absorbed, so joyous in his work. It was inspiring just to be with him.

The trip home was another new experience for Jesus. He was anxious to get out of Jerusalem and just as soon as it was possible, he headed for Jericho. This meant that he left ahead of the Galilean Nazoreans, who he intended to meet up with later in Jericho. He found that he wanted to see Lazarus and discuss the troubling ideas that were dominating his thought. Additionally, he had a new curiosity about John and the activities at Kumran.

Lazarus wasn’t at his house in Jericho, so Jesus headed south on his own. It was already late afternoon and the wilderness trail across the barren hills was deserted. Jesus figured that this might be due to most people still being in Jerusalem, but he also knew that Lazarus didn’t make the annual pilgrimage and he was confident that most of the Kumran people didn’t either. As Jesus came to the top of a small rise where he could see the Dead Sea and both directions along the trail for some distance, he realized just how alone he was. Never in his life had he been so alone.

The feeling that came over him was unexpected; it was some combination of exhilaration and emptiness leading to an overwhelming sense of awe. It was so powerful that it brought tears to his eyes and made him sob. Then it passed just as unexpectedly. Jesus sat on a large rock and watched the shadow of the western hills walk across the valley. It never occurred to him that he was about to be alone in the dark – probably because he was feeling anything but alone and full of a new light that would have blinded him had it been a torch.

Jesus had read the Prophets and had heard stories of “religious experiences” throughout his life. But while he was having one, he had no idea what was going on. To call it overwhelming would be understating it. The sense of awe so filled him that he didn’t even notice the first stars appear. The warm feeling of closeness and oneness he had totally negated the chill that overtook the valley. Instinctively Jesus stood, stretched out his arms, and spun slowly in his delightful daze of the divine.

His mind had been elsewhere for some time and when his senses returned, Jesus had no idea how much time had passed. It just didn’t matter. He probably should have been scared as hell; he was all alone in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night. Instead, he was full of peace and tranquility. His mind should have been full of fearful thoughts. Instead he was subdued by the brilliance of the stars, captivated by the miracle of his breathing, and drenched by the sense of completeness that showered upon him. He soaked it in, trying to maximize and make every detail a memory.

He didn’t sleep a wink all night. Even as his experience tapered back into something more like normality, it remained powerful. His mind raced to make sense of this magical new thing. When some clarity of thought finally revealed the answer, it was stunning. Jesus knew he had just been touched by God. His first thought was to look around for a burning bush. Then he felt silly for the thought. If what he had just experienced was a touch from God, a raging forest fire couldn’t contain God’s presence. The transition to reasoned thought revealed its weaknesses – God transcends rationality and normal thought is incapable of making sense of any real Divine experience. Nevertheless, the mind has to try.

Aside from trying to develop some context in which to place this new experience, Jesus had to understand its meaning: why him, why now, for what purpose?

Jesus struggled with his questions until the sun was fully in the sky. Then his thoughts were interrupted by the noise of a small band of men heading his way northbound. It seemed a horrible intrusion because their presence forced him to put his experience behind him and focus on the present. However, he was still sufficiently distracted that he didn’t give these men the attention they deserved; when he finally paid sufficient attention, he saw that their movement was not that of passers-by. Instead, they clearly saw him as a threat. Oddly, it was Jesus’ non-response to the men that changed the situation. His youth and obvious lack of weapon or threat also helped.

“Who are you,” the leader of the group demanded as he sheathed his small sword. The others moved closer and surrounded the intruder. “I am Jesus bar Joseph, friend of Lazarus and cousin of John bar Zacharias.” The men looked at each other with mixed doubt and surprise. Their leader pressed: “And, what are you doing here – alone?” “I have just come from Jerusalem and am on my way to Kumran since I have been told that Lazarus is there.” “And how is it that you know Lazarus?” “I am a friend of his father Joseph, his mother Rehab, and his sisters, Martha and Mary.” The man’s attitude changed quickly and he asked with some apparent concern: “And how long have you been here?” “Since last night.” Shaking his head and giving Jesus a look of disbelief, the man sounded incredulous: “You spent the night here, alone, without a tent, without a pack, without a weapon? Where’s your food – and water?”

The question did prompt Jesus to think that he had been a bit foolish to head out without even the most basic provisions. But the fact that he had done so and seemed nonplussed by it all impressed these men. “Are you hungry – or thirsty?” “Didn’t you get cold?” “How old are you?” Strangely, Jesus wasn’t hungry, thirsty, or cold and when he declined the courteous offer, the leader just shook his head. “Well then, come along Jesus bar Joseph and we’ll take you to see Lazarus.” It was then that Jesus realized that these men had come out specifically to meet him and see who he was. “How did you know I was here?” The man pointed down the valley to another hilltop and waved. A man there moved from behind a rock to be seen and waved back. “If you had walked that far last night, you would have been able to stay in our camp.” “I was just fine right where I was, “Jesus replied honestly while thinking to himself, “There isn’t anywhere else I would have rather been last night.”

Jesus was introduced to the others and they walked and talked briskly all the way to their camp. One man was designated to take Jesus to Kumran and the others remained at the camp. Their parting expressions were very friendly and they specifically invited Jesus to stop by their camp anytime he passed by. He had no way of knowing that the youngest of these men, Andrew, would be his friend and follower a few years later.

Honiyya seemed genuinely happy to see Jesus but immediately asked: “So, what are you doing here, Jesus?” Jesus mentioned Lazarus and John and saw Honiyya’s expression change darkly. “I’m afraid that they’re not here… and I’m not sure where they are.” Jesus knew that this was obfuscation and questioned whether he should challenge the elder. Wisdom took hold and he chose to not refute his host or show his doubt. Honiyya seemed to recognize that Jesus had consciously made that choice and invited him for lunch.

When they walked together to the community meal hall, they passed another sizable room where about a dozen men were working at tables. They didn’t stop and even though Honiyya saw that Jesus noticed, he did not explain what the men were writing. However, one of the others in their group said something about eating to those in the room and Jesus could hear the sudden break in the silence as they broke into conversation and prepared for lunch. Jesus wondered if there was some relationship between these scribes and the scrolls the Joseph of Arimathea had mentioned.

Lunch was informative and somewhat eventful: although Jesus was engaged in discussion at one end of the table, he could hear several other discussions around the table. The seating hierarchy was interesting as those who were elders and supervisors sat at the table while others sat around the periphery leaning against the walls. About half of the discussions were obviously focused upon translations, interpretations, and transcriptions and Jesus was interested to hear several different languages that he was unfamiliar with spoken fluently. Part of the discussion closest to him was of particular interest because it involved John.

Apparently there had been some dissent among several of the younger members of the group and John was viewed as their leader. The issue was whether some formal disciplinary proceeding was called for – basically whether John and the other dissenters should be expelled from the group. Honiyya seemed to wish that the discussion be put off until some other time, but the others pushed on. One of the elders was firmly positioned: “If we don’t maintain order and insist upon respect for our beliefs, we may as well disband.” His opposition seemed equally firm:”And, if we don’t accept new ideas and allow our brethren to challenge our old ideas, we may as well disband. We should be more concerned about those who simply accept the beliefs of others without thought than about having our beliefs tested and challenged.” As their disagreement grew more heated, more of the others listen and chose sides. Finally, it became impossible to ignore the debate and Honiyya interceded: “My brothers, please let us not burden our guest today with this matter. And, do not let us forget that we are sworn to each other regardless of our feelings about this issue or any other.” That quickly settled things and everyone quietly finished their meal, including Honiyya who seemed too distracted in thought to continue conversing with Jesus.

With the meal finished, Jesus sensed a new coolness to his presence. They walked to a prominent point that looked out over the valley and Sea where Honiyya asked him, “Are you a member of the Nozerim Council?” The question surprised Jesus and the suspicious and less friendly expression on Honiyya made it worse. But, the easy and honest answer came easily: “No”. “Will you be?” That question proved more difficult and although Jesus thought he would be, he wasn’t sure and said just that. Honiyya accepted his answer with a nod and probed more: “Are you working for the Council – spying for them?” “Neither,” Jesus answered and watched Honiyya search his eyes for truthfulness. And, once he resolved that Jesus was being honest, his mood lightened abruptly and the discussion turned pointedly.

“I can see that you are not going to be a politician. You will not be allowed to be a priest. So what will you be my young friend?” It was a question Jesus had been asking himself often and although he hadn’t answered it yet for himself, he had an immediate answer for Honiyya: “A servant of God.” That brought a surprisingly loud and long laugh from the generally serious and subdued man. “A servant of God!” Honiyya repeated and laughed some more – enough that Jesus found it irritating. “Forgive me, Jesus. But I have heard too many men tell me they were to become servants to God when all they really meant was that they would use God to serve themselves. So tell me, how will YOU serve God?”

The question was a familiar one to Jesus who had repeatedly asked it of himself. After his recent experience, the question was even more compelling to him. He considered offering one of several stock or flippant answers, but put them aside. Honiyya waited patiently until Jesus finally said “I don’t know – yet.” Nodding his approval, Honiyya found such honesty refreshing: “Promise me, my young friend: when you know just how you will serve God, that you will tell me.” Jesus understood and appreciated Honiyya’s wisdom in allowing another the privilege of seeking their own way of serving God instead of suggesting or imposing their ideas of such.

Their meeting ended abruptly when two other men arrived to visit with Honiyya. Jesus was disappointed when Honiyya made it clear that he was not going to see either Lazarus or John during his visit. Instead, Honiyya politely suggested that there were protocols and procedures for visitors and that should Jesus want to return, he should follow them. With that, he arranged for Jesus to be escorted out of the camp. Looking back over his shoulder as they walked down the path to the seashore, Jesus had a strange sense about the place and the man who seemed to like him but not trust him.

The man who escorted Jesus from the camp was serious and silent. Everything about him said “warrior” and Jesus sensed how deeply different that they were. As they walked he thought of wars and warriors, of glory and defeat, and of the long traditions of his people. His conclusion was clear and simple: war would never serve God. At best, it was the failed means by which humans prevented other humans from being human.

Jesus was pleased that his escort took him back to the camp where he had been invited to return. There, he was greeted as a friend whereas the man escorting him was greeted rather coldly and formally. The tension was obvious and the escort wasted no time in informing the guards that Jesus was to leave. Then he turned and headed back to Kumran. Jesus could see that the others were glad to see him go.

There were inquiries about Jesus’ visit and destination and although still not too late to head for Jericho, Jesus was invited to spend the night at the camp. While he welcomed and accepted the invitation, he regretted that he couldn’t return to the hill where he had felt the touch of God.

The men got to know each other better and the guards were fascinated with the Land of On and Jesus’ experiences there. They seemed in awe of Joseph of Arimathea and impressed by Jesus’ friendship with him. The youngest of the guards was named Andrew bar Johan and he was from Bethsaida along the shore of the Sea of Galilee. He was curious for news from Galilee and was pleased that Jesus knew Bethsaida. Jesus mentioned that he knew a Johan from Bethsaida and that his “uncle” Zebdi lived in neighboring Capernaum. Andrew smiled brightly. “If you know Johan of Bethsaida, then you know my father because I know of no other by that name in our village and if you are related to Zebdi, then we are related because one of my uncles is married to Salome’s sister.”

Jesus could not speak of the Nozerim Council in this company, but was able to confirm that Andrew’s father, Johan of Bethsaida was the Council member Jesus knew. The revelation of their relationship led to many questions that Jesus wanted to ask, but couldn’t unless they had a chance to talk in private. Meanwhile they talked of other family members they both knew and Andrew mentioned his brother Simon. It was apparent that Andrew held him in high esteem and that they were on different paths: Simon was the oldest son and had inherited the family fishing business whereas Andrew was somehow sent here.

Just before dinner, the head of the guards assigned the nightly watch schedule and when Andrew was mentioned, Jesus caught the glimpse that told him they could talk in private then. After a rousing evening of tales and joking, the group retired for the night and Jesus slept soundly until he was softly woken. He followed Andrew away from the camp to a nearby high point where they sat beneath the pale moonlight. Jesus was awed by the beauty of the black water, the grey hills and shadowy mountains. He was also interested to see the bright line that the trail made through the dark wilderness.

They talked for some time before Jesus was sure that this was a son of Johan of the Nozerim Council. When he finally mentioned the Nozerim and Andrew smiled, Jesus realized that Andrew was being just as cautious as he was in making sure that Jesus was who he claimed to be. Andrew explained: “Honiyya is aware of the Nozerim and the Council, but doesn’t know much. He knows that John has some relationship to us and that worries him. Besides, John has some ideas that differ from those of Honiyya and he doesn’t keep them to himself.” “What kind of ideas?”

Andrew smiled and spoke with unmasked admiration for John: “More than anything, John is a true zealot: he is the most devout and focused person I’ve ever known. He sees the entire Temple and sacrifice based structure of our religion as misguided and misleading. So, while he and Honiyya agree that the current priesthood is corrupt, Honiyya would merely replace it with those who have both a legitimate right to the position and a more traditional view of its function. John would replace the entire system.” “With what?”

“In truth, I cannot say. He has never explained his entire vision for the priesthood. Indeed, it is difficult to get John beyond his criticism for the current system and his view of righteousness. To him, we spend far too much time and effort on trying to ritualize religion instead of focusing upon our individual devotion to God and God’s Will.” Jesus considered Andrew’s words and the manner in which they had been spoken. “This does not seem like the place where you belong, Andrew.” Andrew smiled again in the manner that Jesus would come to love more and more and he answered softly, “I belong wherever my father wishes me to be.” It was a common enough expression often spoken with little meaning, but it was clear to Jesus that for Andrew the words were from his heart.

The young men sat in silence for a while as each reflected upon the other and their circumstance. Then, they both broke the silence in the same moment. Andrew asked: “Are you the Messiah?” and Jesus asked “Are you spying for the Council?” Each was surprised by the other’s question and there was that awkward minute when neither was sure who would answer first. Finally, Andrew spoke: “I hope that my question is not offensive.” “I hope that mine is not inappropriate.” Then, there was another silence as each waited for the other.

“Yes, they have not said it so directly, but it is clear that I am here to gather information and report it back to the Council.” “How do you report it back?” “Mostly via Lazarus, but I also meet with my brother on his monthly business trip to Jerusalem and with my Father during festivals.” “But if Honiyya knows about the Council, doesn’t he know that your father and Lazarus’ father are members?” “I don’t think so. Besides, he has other concerns far greater than friends who simply want to keep abreast of his plans and actions – we are not in opposition to Honiyya or his group; we simply have different approaches to a common goal.” Then Andrew looked at Jesus, smiled again, and reminded him: “You have not answered my question.”

Jesus smiled, but was uneasy with the question. He had given the idea some thought, but had never been confronted so directly. On one hand the answer seemed obvious – if he was the Messiah, certainly he would know it. Since he was at best unsure and had no sense that he was the Messiah, he must not be. On the other hand, he felt that he had a special purpose – that there was some meaning to his life that was important, but unknown to him. And, he had the sense that the Messiah – whoever he might be – would not necessarily know his role until some series of events occurred that would make it known. Thus, he spoke simply: “I don’t know.”

Andrew accepted this answer with his smile and a look of empathy that warmed Jesus. “I cannot imagine the burden one would feel to not know. Just the possibility would create many pressures – and I can imagine that others make it difficult for you; some by merely asking inappropriate questions.” This brought a smile to Jesus and he promised: “Well, my brother, I say to you that when I know – one way or the other – you will be among the first that I burden with the knowledge.” With that, first light revealed that it was time for Andrew to wake his replacement.

Jesus was disappointed that he didn’t get to see either Lazarus or John, but felt that special warmth that comes with finding a new life-long friend. As he walked the trail back towards Jericho, he paused on the rise where he had felt the presence of God, half expecting the experience to be repeated. Instead, he was overwhelmed by a sense of awe, humility, and purpose. He knelt and prayed with a new assuredness that God would hear his prayer: “Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu (Blessed are you, Lord, our God), King of the Universe, Who has sanctified us and returned within me my soul of righteousness. How abundant is your grace and faithfulness. How glorious is all your Creation and how magnificent are your many miracles. You know that I am your servant and that I seek to honor your will. I ask for your guidance and wisdom in all things, in distinguishing between the sacred and the secular and in fulfilling your desires within each. Help me prepare myself to best serve you and to understand my role.”

 

 

 


Chapter 21

The Torah contains several references to "the End of Days" (acharit ha-yamim), which is the time the Mashiach[13] will be anointed as king. The word "mashiach" does not mean "savior" [14] and it was (and still is) believed that every generation has at least one person born with the potential to be the Mashiach. But that person may only become the Mashiach if the time is right for the End of Days within that person's lifetime. Thus, the first question to be answered when considering whether someone was the Mashiach is whether they initiated the End of Times.

The prophecies held that the Mashiach would be a great military leader who will win battles for Israel, he will be a great and  charismatic political leader (descended from King David), he will be a scholar of Jewish law and observant of its commandments, he will inspire others to follow his example, he will be a great judge, who makes righteous decisions, and, above all, he will be a human being (as opposed to “divine”).

“Are you the Messiah?” Andrew’s direct question tumbled around in Jesus’ mind refusing to find a resting place. Every rational thought told him that he was not the Messiah and could not be the Messiah. More so, he didn’t want to be the Messiah. But two things kept the question alive: first, Jesus had this recurring sense of some profound mission for his life and, second, he had yet to resolve a satisfactory means for serving God’s will. Besides, it didn’t help that there continued to be this subtle belief in the minds of some that he should be the Messiah.

The Nozerim Council grew increasingly divided about the Messiah issue; there was a fairly even split into four camps: those advocating for Jesus or James, those advancing John bar Zecharias, those advocating someone else (without agreement on who it was) and those who advocated no one in this generation. The debate continued about whether Jesus was automatically disqualified based upon his unusual birth circumstance. On this issue, the Council was divided evenly with a full range of beliefs. A couple of those who believed that he should not be disqualified were adamant in their position and two of the opponents were equally firm in theirs. Over time, the issue became the most frequent side discussion and those opposed to Jesus had become less sensitive to the possibility of offending him – even in his presence.

Interestingly, the fact that Jesus sided with those who thought he was not qualified gained him respect with all and was used as argument in favor of both views. The opponents would chide his supporters by exclaiming that “even he acknowledges that he is not the Messiah.” But few had the oratorical skills of Nicodemus who answered: “If you would listen more carefully to what he has said, you would know that Jesus only acknowledges the scriptural problems with any mamzer being the Messiah and that he has no reason to believe that he is the Anointed One. If our history tells us anything, it is that our prophets are often surprised to learn that they are prophets and that the Lord, our God, often has different ideas about what the scripture says than we do.”

For his part, Jesus continued his prayers seeking both guidance and grace from God. He longed for another experience in which he would feel the close presence of God. To this end he often stayed awake late into the night and would walk off to be alone in the darkness. On occasion he would get so involved in his prayer or thought that the sun would rise before he returned to camp. His behavior was considered very strange since most people were terribly afraid of the dark. Some took this as a sign that he was special and it made him seem more like a prophet or the Messiah. To others, he seemed to be a bit more than odd.

When Jesus’ prayers were answered, it was in a way he didn’t expect – an odd little man named Ichabod. After the death of their Synagogue’s hazzan (attendant), Ichabod had assumed that role. He was a quiet unassuming elder who had been taking care of his ailing wife for several years and had been only loosely associated with the Nazorean group near Sepphoris. He was, however, a regular voice in the synagogue and he read with both artfulness and authority. Now alone, he seemed to live in the synagogue (little more than a tent) and care for the community’s prized possessions – a dozen scrolls.

One early Sabbath morning, after one of Jesus’ overnight prayer sessions, he was surprised to find Ichabod already at the synagogue. As Jesus entered Ichabod spoke without looking up, “How far have you walked this morning?” Jesus was well aware of the restrictions against labor and travel on the Sabbath and knew that he had walked farther than 2,000 cubits away from his home during the night. As Jesus prepared to apologize and explain, Ichabod looked up with a kind smile and gesture to stop. “Why do we honor the Sabbath young man?”

Jesus had heard the lectures many times. He had also heard the debates regarding the trivial aspects of Shabbat law. He had often thought they were silly if not completely wrong. The easy answer was “Because that is the law,” but Jesus just couldn’t bring himself to say it. Instead, he spoke from his heart: “Because most people need to be reminded or required to take time to honor God.” Ichabod chuckled and his eyes lit up. “Well, well. Could it be that we have an independent thinker amongst us?” Ichabod looked at Jesus with directness and seriousness before asking “And how much time do you think that we should spend honoring God?” Jesus looked deeply into the eyes of his questioner and saw that his question was heartfelt. “I think any time we spend not honoring God is wasted.” Ichabod smiled again, grabbed Jesus in an embrace, and introduced himself formally.

It was a couple of hours before the first people arrived for the Sabbath service and the two new friends wasted no time in exploring their shared ideas. Jesus was surprised by how much Ichabod knew about him and the Nozerim Council. Everyone in the Nazorean community knew of the Council’s existence and who its members were. Jesus had never heard any mention of Ichabod from a Council member and wondered why this elder of the community was not involved. Ichabod was characteristically direct – “I have some beliefs and ideas that differ from those of the Council and was politely asked to leave a long time ago. But, I still have friends on the Council who keep me informed about its doings.”

Ichabod saw that Jesus was going to inquire, so he explained: “The Council shares the common belief that our people will be saved by another great prophet and king – The Méle ha-Mašía. They think that this Moshiach will either be a king, a priest, or both and must be an heir of David’s throne. They think that this Anointed One will act like his forbearers and produce results akin to theirs. And, they believe that God is ours and that we are God’s chosen people, soon to be brought into God’s kingdom.” Ichabod studied Jesus’ reaction to his words while he waited for a response.

“You have said that you do not believe these things, but not what you believe. May I offer a guess as to what you do believe?” “Please do…” Jesus stared into Ichabod’s eyes and spoke softly: “You believe that God is misrepresented in the Scripture, that the Prophets speak so vaguely that one may interpret them in almost any way they wish, that God’s chosen people are those who do God’s will regardless of their ancestry, and that our problems cannot be solved by any king, priest, or prophet.”

The effect of Jesus’ words was obvious, but Ichabod was slow in making his feelings clear. “You have a gift – and an intelligence – that I have never witnessed before. It is now clearer to me why others might believe that you could be the Mashiach. Tell me Jesus, how will you serve God?” “I have prayed for guidance from God many times, but none has been offered.” “Has it occurred to you that you are serving God by merely seeking such guidance and offering to do God’s will?” “Perhaps, but I sense that there is something far more important – far more meaningful – that is my role.” “And what if that role is not what you want or expect?” “I have decided that I will follow God’s will regardless of my own.” Ichabod gave Jesus another odd look as he plainly debated with himself. Then he said: “I have something to tell you – it’s a message from God.”

As Jesus considered those remarkable words, Ichabod stood to greet his two helpers for the service. This forced Jesus to wait until later that afternoon for further explanation. But first, Jesus had to suffer the indignation of being publically scolded by his mother for not coming home during the night or morning and to answer Ichabod’s call for his targumim[15]. Ichabod’s chosen Scripture was a well known passage from Esaias (Isaiah) which Jesus paraphrased correctly:

 

 

 

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me; he has sent me

to preach glad tidings to the poor,

 to heal the broken in heart,

 to proclaim liberty to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind;

to declare the time of the Lord, and the day of retribution;

to comfort those who mourn;

that there should be given to them that mourn in Zion

glory instead of ashes,

 the oil of joy to the mourners,

the garment of glory (talit) for the spirit of heaviness:

 and they shall be called generations of righteousness, the trees of the Lord for glory.

 

Jesus looked to Ichabod and, as was customary, went on to explain the passage. “The scribes tell us that the Prophet Isaiah promises us a savior king – the Moshiach – who will heal the nation of Israel by restoring righteousness and opening the door for God’s Kingdom. This Mosiach will bring hope for the poor, heal the infirm, free the slaves, and bring justice and relief for those stricken by our oppressors. Our mourning and suffering shall turn to joy and glory as we are anointed and clothed in our most holy righteousness – the stalwarts for the glory of God.”

 

It would have been perfectly acceptable for Jesus to end his explanation there, and that would be what the people expected. Instead, he continued: “But I say to you, this scripture may be fulfilled today by your hearing. The Prophet Isaiah was not referring to a person, but to all of us as a people. Each of us has been anointed by God to preach glad tidings to the poor, heal the infirm, comfort those who mourn, and declare the time of the Lord. Only when we – the people – take on this role, this duty, and this promise should we expect glory instead of ashes and a lifting of our spirit of heaviness. Only then may we be called the generation of righteousness and the zealots of God’s glory.”

 

Jesus looked up and saw that his words had shocked many. He also saw that many heads nodded approval, including that of Ichabod. Just when he thought some of the more conservative men were ready to challenge his teaching, Ichabod stood and surprisingly announced the end of the teaching and service (skipping the normal Psalm chant) with the standard doxology: “Blessed are they that dwell in thy house, O Lord: they shall praise thee forever and ever”, to which the audience responded automatically: “Amen”.

The congregation knew the service was over, but the abrupt closing and sense of controversy kept most from leaving. Jesus was still standing behind the scroll stand when Ichabod approached and stood beside him. It was an act of support and affirmation not missed by many. There were some mumblings among a few in the congregation, but then a few started to leave. One of the men approached Jesus and said softly: “If you wish to preach like a Rabbi, you need to first obtain sechima (ordination).” Ichabod quietly replied: “Do you not recall what David said: ‘I learned nothing from Ahitophel except two things, yet called him my Rabbi.’” The man walked away obviously trying to place the quotation.

Another man approached, “I believe that the honor of exposition should be reserved for the elders – and even then it should follow the approved interpretations of the scribes (Pharisees).” Ichabod smiled softly and replied: “Does not Proverbs tell us that ‘the wise shall inherit honor?'(3:35)” The man grimaced and walked away. But then two other men came by and praised the teaching. The second asked if Jesus would be teaching again soon. Ichabod answered quickly: “If we can keep him around more.”

Following the service there were the normal discussions and informal dialogues. After all, it was the Sabbath and not much else could be done. Following Ichabod’s comment, Jesus realized that he had either been working in Sepphoris or travelling a lot during the last few months – or year – and had rarely been in here for Sabbath. He also gave some thought to the man’s comment about his becoming ordained as a Rabbi. Finally, he returned to Ichabod’s comment about a message from God. Was he actually referring to a message for Jesus or something more generic? As he considered this, Ichabod approached him with two other men in tow.

Jesus recognized both men, but didn’t know either well. One was new to the community and the other was unquestionably the most difficult and distant man in the community – Abihud bar Nahor. “Jesus, these men have some questions for you,” Ichabod began. “I’m sure that you know Abihud, but I’m not sure that you’ve met Azor bar Zerubbabel?”  Jesus acknowledged the elder politely and greeted the new man with some formality. Azor was in his mid-twenties, stood a head above Jesus, and had the appearance of a scholar. Abihud was obviously anxious to speak and barely waited for the introduction to complete: “I have heard many a brash young man attempt to prove himself with expositions copied from others. I have heard others attempt to show their wit through creative exposition that only showed their foolishness. And, I’ve heard more than a few expositions that simply proved nothing, said nothing, and were worth nothing. Where amongst these would you place your exposition today?”

Jesus didn’t have to think about his answer – “I merely spoke from an inner voice – the one I most closely associate with the truth and the divine.” Abihud offered his opinion with a grunt, but before he could speak, Azor interjected: “Does this voice offer the words or merely the ideas?” When Jesus looked more carefully into Azor’s eyes, he realized that Azor was both a friend and another who heard this voice. “Usually, just the idea, but sometimes there are words associated with the ideas,” he explained. This time, Abihud jumped in before Azor: “And just what makes you think these voices are divine?”

In Abihud’s eyes, Jesus saw only doubt, skepticism, and self interest. “It is only one voice and when it speaks, it leaves no doubt that it is divine. It fills me with awe and humility; it never misguides me, and it always expresses some greater good. When I listen and obey, it always gives me peace and joy. What could be more divine?” Abihud reflected carefully upon the words and Jesus watched as they transformed him. He softened and almost smiled. He looked deeply into Jesus’ eyes and saw no deception. In fact, what he saw was pure empathy. “If you are seeking God, my friend, you need look no farther than deeply inside yourself. God is there, waiting patiently for you to ask sincerely for guidance and strength. And when you ask with honesty and humility, it will be offered.” Abihud seemed to understand exactly what Jesus proposed and his eyes moistened and his heart warmed. He reached and embraced Jesus saying “I believe you. I will pray as you suggest.” “And I will pray for you, Abihub of Capernaum.”

When Abihud walked away in silent reflection, Ichabod and Azor looked at Jesus with near shock – the transformation of Abihud had been both unexpected and amazing. Azor looked at Ichabod with a raised brow and then at Jesus. “That was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen. I have not known him for very long, but I would have bet a day’s wages that Abihud could not be silenced as you just did.” Jesus simply smiled and put his arms around the two men, “We have something in common, the three of us. I want to explore it deeply. To begin, I want to hear about your message, Ichabod.”

They sat in a corner of the synagogue and spoke quietly of their most private and profound thoughts. Ichabod explained that he had spent years praying for the coming of the Messiah – for the salvation of his people and reuniting of the tribes of Israel. Then, one day several years ago, as his prayer came to its close, he had a revelation. It wasn’t a voice, but it had that quality and clarity. The message was simple: don’t bother looking for the Messiah, you have been misguided. However, one will come who needs your help – a message. When he comes, tell him this: “God knows your heart better than you know your mind. When your heart and mind align, you will find the divine.” Ichabod looked closely to Jesus: “I think that you are the one for whom the message was intended. Does it make sense to you?”

Not only did it make sense, it struck several chords within Jesus. First, he was immediately sure that the message was intended for him. Second, he was awed by the method of its delivery – that God would act in this prescient and unexpected manner. And thirdly, he knew (or “felt”) exactly why the message was needed: his heart and mind were not aligned. All of these ideas were going to require more thought, but for the moment Jesus focused upon Ichabod and wondered why God would choose this man to deliver this message. Jesus gave him his most piercing gaze – the soul revealing search of the man’s eyes and mind-merging connection that he used reservedly.

Ichabod stood powerless before this gaze, but found no intrusion from it. Indeed, the connection he felt through it was both warming and intriguing. He knew the answer to his question before Jesus spoke it. He wasn’t surprised that Jesus wanted to know more about the manner in which the message was offered and why he thought it was intended for Jesus. “I have tried many times to relate the experience to others – without success. I have also questioned whether it was real or just something like a dream. All I can say is that it had a quality and character different from any other thought or idea. I felt affirmed and moved by it. And, since it didn’t follow my own thinking, it seemed to come from someone else. I have questioned both who and how such might come to be and resolved that the best answer is God. Once I accepted that, the outcome was simple: I quit searching for some Messiah and started looking for the one who needed the message.”

“And what made you think that I needed the message?” Ichabod smiled and answered with confidence, “I spent a long time trying to figure out who I knew that needed this message. I had no luck. Finally, I resolved that when the right person appeared, I would simply know it. All that was required was the patience and trust to wait for it to happen – and here you are.” Jesus considered the answer and had but one question: “But we have met before, why didn’t you give me the message then?” “I guess the time wasn’t right?” Jesus shook his head in amazement of it all. Indeed, the message would not have been timely before.

Azor had been silently observing the exchange and could wait no longer: “Perhaps this is the way things go here all the time, but I must say that it is all very odd to me“. “Oh yes, I apologize Azor. It has been a strange morning for me as well, “Ichabod began. “But I also had the feeling that you two should meet. I guess that it is because you have both heard the voice of God.” Azor looked at Jesus with new interest and Jesus looked at Ichabod with his mind wondering how he knew that Jesus had heard God’s voice. “Ichabod,” Azor asked with curiosity, “when we talked, I said nothing about hearing the voice of God.” “Yes, but you have, haven’t you?”

Azor hesitated. It was a strange dilemma – acknowledging the reality of his belief was far more difficult that one would think. Hearing God’s voice should be among the greatest of life’s experiences. But more often than not, those who claimed such were treated suspiciously or skeptically – even by those closest to them. In addition, there was something about the experience that was highly personal or private. Plus, there was the added factor that he didn’t know either of these men well. But he liked Ichabod and had just heard him state that he had received a message from God. He was very interested in Jesus and Ichabod’s statement that he had heard God’s voice. So, the hesitation wasn’t long and Azor asked Jesus: “Has it changed your life?”

It was as much a statement as a question since Azor had no doubt that anyone who heard God’s voice would be changed and so would their life. The question had great meaning for Jesus and it confirmed to him that Azor was both serious and sincere about his experience. “It has given it new meaning and purpose.” “Yes, exactly. It is impossible to view the world as before. But I have yet to fully understand the full meaning.” “Then we might all agree that Ichabod’s use of the word ‘voice’ is incorrect. I did not hear any voice: but the way in which my mind responded was as if I had heard God speak.” “Yes, I agree with Jesus. I have not heard a ‘voice’, but I feel as though God has spoken to me.” Ichabod understood completely: “I did not mean that we have heard sounds from God; my use of the word ‘voice’ was figurative.” With that issue clarified, the men each talked of their experience.

Ichabod restated his message story and Jesus told them about his experience near Jericho. Then Azor offered his story. “I love to climb to the top of Mt. Arbel, spend the night praying, and watch the sun rise. It always awes and inspires me. Last spring I was sitting up there just before the sun appeared and I felt this presence – as if there was someone sitting beside me, but there was no one. And then this idea appeared. It was, as you said, as if I had heard a voice with a message. It seemed as though I had heard a voice, but since I couldn’t describe its sound or say whether it was a man’s or woman’s voice, I’m sure I didn’t hear it. The message was as clear as if it had been shouted.”

Azor hesitated again and then explained, “It was a private message.” Neither Ichabod nor Jesus prodded him, but their waiting in silence led to Azor’s continuing: “The message had two parts. The first part was to sin no more. The second was that God’s kingdom is here.” Ichabod and Jesus looked at each other and then back to Azor. He was plainly embarassed, but explained: “I am guilty of sinful thoughts – lustful thoughts.” The others smiled sympathetically. Ichabod wondered: “God’s kingdom is here? What does that mean to you, Azor?” “I’m not sure, although I’ve given it plenty of thought. My most persistent thought is that it means the Messiah is here. I guess, that’s one of the reasons I’m here. There’s speculation among the Gennesaret that the people around here have some special insight about the Messiah. One of the reasons I’m here is to explore that idea.” Azor looked at Jesus with some expectancy and their eyes met. But Jesus said nothing. Azor turned to Ichabod who shrugged his shoulders and looked towards Jesus.

Jesus answered more confidently than he had previously: “If you are looking for THE Messiah, the One who will fulfill the prophecies and meet the expectations of our people, then I can assure you that I don’t know who he is. There are a few who believe that I could be him and I tell them that I disagree. Indeed, I not only agree with those who argue that I am not qualified to be the Messiah, I am inclined to accept that no one can be.”

This response seemed to surprise both men. Azor said that he had heard about some local council that actively pursued finding and facilitating the Messiah. Jesus answered vaguely that he had heard of such a council. Dissatisfied, Azor pressed on: “And I have been told that you are one of those the council considers most possibly the Messiah?” “I cannot speak for the beliefs of others and I have offered you my views.” “Do you know why some might think you could be the Messiah?” “I do.”

Seeing that Jesus was not going to explain, Azor turned to Ichabod – who instead focused on Jesus: “Then what is it that God has told you?” Jesus had to pause in order to find the right words. “That it is possible for me to serve God in a very important way that requires great sacrifice and that I should be certain that I am willing to choose that path.” Azor and Ichabod looked at each other sharing the same thought: “And don’t you think that such is consistent with being the Messiah?” “I suppose that it could be – however it is not consistent with the essence of the message that I feel. If you understood what I said during the teaching today, then perhaps you will understand why I think this way.”

“And what you told Abihud,” Azor added. “And, my message,” suggested Ichabod. “Yes, and something more.  I have been listening to a new ‘voice’ inside my mind; the one your message has termed ‘heart’. It is a voice like that of God in that it has no sound or words, but its messages are profound.” It was something Jesus would not say to others, but since both these men had heard from God, he was confident that they would understand – and they did. As it would turn out, Jesus would rarely encounter others who could understand this and it would form a secret bond between these men that lasted through their lives.

It was one of the most important days in the life of Jesus for several reasons. He had begun two wonderful relationships with men who would be very important in his life (one of whom would introduce him to another important contributor), he had impressed some with his teaching such that it would be remembered and discussed (correctly or not) for a long time, he had fixed in his mind a new commitment to God’s course and was thereafter pointed in a new direction for his life, and he had set into motion a series of events that would change history for much of humankind.

Two of those events would happen soon and unexpectedly. As their discussion came to a close, Azor invited Jesus to visit his home in Magdela and the next morning, as the workers made their way to Sepphoris, Abihud asked Jesus to visit him in Capernaum so that he could meet a friend. Not coincidentally, Mary had asked Jesus if he would take her to visit her sister in Bethsaida. Jesus decided that he would combine these visits with a business trip later in the week.


Chapter 22

The great fresh water “sea” in Galilee was more than a scenic wonder – it was the economic foundation of the region. Magdala, also known as Tarichaeae ("Processed fish town"), was the major fish-processing center and fishing port. It was too difficult to keep fish fresh for transport, so it was processed fish that become a food staple throughout the Mediterranean. Fish were cured and pickled (often with wine mixed into the brine) or dried and salted. The fishing industry had three distinct groups:  those who caught the fish, those who processed the fish, and those who marketed the fish. These generally worked as “cooperatives” and the co-ops were government controlled.

While it was possible to fish from the shore (angling or casting nets), most of the commercial fishing was done from boats and boat ownership was the easiest aspect of the industry to tax and regulate. Only the wealthy could own boats and those owners were highly protective of their territories. While family members would “captain” the fishing boats, laborers were hired to do the work:  manning the oars and sails, mending nets, casting the nets and hauling and sorting fish. Such laborers represented the bottom of the social-economic scale in the fishing industry.

The fish industry also required a substantial amount of supporting resources. Farmers supplied flax for the nets and net-making was an important industry in itself.  Anchors were made by stone cutters, carpenters made boats and oars and did repairs, basket makers provided processing screens and packaging for shipping, and potters made jars and containers also used for processing and shipping.[16]  

To outsiders, it was called the “Sea of Galilee”. The Romans called it the “Sea of Tiberias”. But the locals called it the lake of the Gennesaret. The first view of the lake while walking down the ancient path was always striking to Jesus and seeing the fishing boats made him think of Joseph. On the earliest trip Jesus could remember, when he first saw a boat, he had wanted to go out in one. But Joseph was afraid of the water and when Uncle Zebedee offered to take Jesus onto the boat, Joseph wouldn’t go along. As much as Jesus wanted to go, he wouldn’t go unless his father went also. With great effort and apparent reservations, Joseph managed a short loop in the boat. It was a family story told every time he saw Zebedee – the only time Joseph ever got into a boat was that one time with Jesus.

Jesus asked Zebedee if he had heard of Azor of Magdela or Abihud of Capernaum and wasn’t surprised that he knew of both men, especially Abihud. “Old Abihud can be one of the most cantankerous men – or one of the gentlest men you’ll ever meet. If you’re on his good side – or a friend – no one will treat you better. But, you sure don’t want to be on his bad side.” Zeb assumed that Jesus had business with Abihud and inquired about it. When Jesus explained how they had met and that he had been invited to visit, Zeb was surprised and pleased. “Well, like I said, if he’s a friend, you’ll have none better. When you see him, I wouldn’t mention that we’re related or know each other – I once had some problems with his brother.” Zebedee didn’t elaborate and Jesus didn’t inquire further.

While in Bethsaida, Jesus was pleased to spend some time with his cousins: Johanan, Jacob, and Julia. Johanan and Jacob were older than him and Julia was born the year after he was born, but all of them were within four years of the others. Jesus found the men somewhat distant as they were focused on their fishing business and he had little interest in it (other than enjoying boating). Julia was a different story as she had found Jesus both fascinating and adorable since they first met as children. Now as a young woman expected to marry soon, she took on a whole new demeanor towards her favorite cousin. In reality though, they both knew that they could never be more than friends and cousins. In this context, Jesus and Julia had a memorable conversation sitting by the lake.

“Have you thought about marriage,” Julia wondered. Jesus found her directness desirable and he was equally succinct: “Of course, but not very much. I’m not really sure that marriage is right for me.” “Why not? … You don’t mean because of the mamzerim issue do you?” “That’s a factor, but no, it’s much more than that.” Jesus paused because he had never discussed this matter with anyone before. “I feel as though I have some role to fulfill – a duty to God – that would conflict with being either a father or a husband.” “What kind of role? Do you mean like being a priest?” “No, I’m having trouble figuring it out. I keep praying for guidance and hoping for some inspiration, but for now all I have is this vague notion of some meaningful duty and an important destiny.” “Well, I agree that you shouldn’t get married until you figure it out. On the other hand, maybe what you need is a good wife to help you figure it out?” They laughed with each other and Jesus grew even more in love with her.

The next day, he headed out alone for Capernaum to spend the day with Abihud. He was surprised to find that Abihud lived in one of the largest houses in the village. He was even more surprised to meet the friend Abihud wanted him to meet – the Pharisee Nicodemus ben Gurion. Nicodemus was famous in both Judea and Galilee as a statesman, a healer, and a Rabboni. As it turned out, Nicodemus and Abihud had grown up together and had studied together as scribes. Whenever Nicodemus tired of life in Jerusalem he would come to Capernaum to spend time with his friend and relax by the lake.

“So, I hear you want to become a Rabbi,” Nicodemus said soon after the introduction. Jesus was both surprised and put out that Abihud would make such a presumptuous assertion on his behalf, but the honesty of it prevailed. “Yes, it would seem that I would avoid needless criticism if I properly held that title.” “And you haven’t chosen that path because it seems an unnecessary investment of your time?” Jesus gazed at Nicodemus to find his deeper meaning and found Nicodemus already giving him that gaze. It was the first time in his life that Jesus had been met with his own probing. Nicodemus merely returned a small smirk and went to sit down. Jesus and Abihud joined him where they could enjoy a view of the lake.

“What if I told you that I could ordain you today if you could answer six questions correctly?” “I would say that those who have spent years studying for the privilege might be dismayed.” “Perhaps, but few of them could answer correctly.” This brought a smile to Jesus and he saw that Nicodemus wanted him to accept the challenge, although he thought it some type of trap or trick. Perhaps there were no right answers. “I am willing to answer your questions if you will answer one of mine.” “Six for one - that seems like too good a deal to pass up.”

Jesus asked: “What is the role that God has chosen for me?” “Ah, you have tricked me, “Nicodemus smiled and then turned serious. “I cannot answer your question, nor should I. However, your question says much about you. It is up to you to identify what gifts you have been given by God and how to best use them to honor God’s will. However, I am sure that God will make your role clear to you in time – if you continue to seek your answer earnestly and humbly.” Abihud interjected,” Do you know why it is inappropriate for anyone else to answer your question?” “Because only God knows the answer and God will know when it is best for me to know the answer.” Another smile grew across the wise looking face of Nicodemus: “Abihud, you were right about this one, I hope that you will consider my questions even though I did not answer yours.” Jesus had no objection and changed his mode of thought as he listened for the first question.

“Which of God’s commandments is the most important?” “All of them are equally important because to select one over the others is arrogant and ignorant; if we choose to honor God we must obey all of God’s commandments.”

“What is the essence of the Torah [the learning of the law as expressed in the first five books of Moses]?” “I submit the answer of the Great Hillel: ‘That which is hateful to you, do not do to others.’ The rest is explanation and elaboration. However, I find the stories and history useful in knowing how others have perceived God and how God has dealt with both the righteous and unholy.”

“If you were a Rabbi and a Gentile woman prostitute came to you seeking to convert to Judaism, what would you do?” “I would tell her that God will forgive her sins if she repents, regardless of whether or not she becomes a Jew, that she should seek God’s grace and guidance with humility and honesty, and that she should strive to honor God’s will.”

Nicodemus looked to see if Jesus intended to say more and when he saw that he didn’t, he continued.

“What are the primary functions of a Rabbi?” “A Rabbi is not significantly different than any other person – except in their commitment to study and teach both the Torah and its application. As the word suggests, a Rabbi is one who is accepted by others as a teacher of the law and a judge of its application.”

“Which of the Prophets do you admire the most and why?” “I think we misuse the title “Prophet” [“nabi”] to mean “seer” [“hozeh]”– a prophet is a spokesman for God and the Torah[17] teaches us that the criterion of a true prophet is whether his words are true. From this we could say that whoever speaks the greatest truth is the greatest prophet. We deem Moses as the greatest prophet, but I believe that Moses was much more than a Prophet and thus, I will not place him in this group. I would describe Moses the ‘Lord of the Prophets’. “

“Using truth as the measure of a prophet, I would have to consider those who are not often thought of as prophets – including those who are not even Jews. I have heard of several Greeks who offered great truths, but I do not know enough about them to say that I admire them. Of course, Abraham was a great prophet, but we are told that he was instructed by Melchizedek[18] who must therefore be a greater prophet.”

“Truth is a complex thing. It can be something simple and easily discerned, but trivial. Or, it can be something confusing and challenging, but essential. Sometimes I think that the greatest truths are those we don’t recognize when they are proffered. We often hold things to be great truths merely because we find them comforting or promising. But for me, the greatest truths are all about God and therefore I must name the one who taught me the most about God: Joseph, my father, is the prophet I admire the most.”

Jesus saw that his answer pleased the Rabboni, who had otherwise remained unreadable. And with a glimmer in his eye, Nicodemus asked his final question: “If you could change any one thing, what would you change?” Jesus did not hesitate to consider his answer, “I would open the hearts of everyone to the love of God.”

Nicodemus looked carefully to be sure that Jesus understood that his words had two meanings and that both were profound. Instead he saw that Jesus was hoping that he understood that the words had two meanings and that they were profound. In that moment, the teacher became the student and would remain so.

Nicodemus looked to Abihud and revealed his joy. “My friend, you have given me a great gift. I have hoped to meet such a man my entire life.” Then he looked back to Jesus with both admiration and great fondness. “Your father must have been a great man.” “He was. Not only did he teach us well, he had the wisdom to ensure that others taught us as well.” “I understand that one of your brothers is in the priesthood?” “Yes, my younger brother James entered Temple service last year.” Nicodemus gave that passing consideration and did not inquire further, so Jesus volunteered: “I am mamzerim.” There was no need to explain further.

Nicodemus had given his test to many hopefuls. Normally, it was used to determine which prospective rabbis would be allowed to enter the guild as an apprentice. Only once before had Nicodemus found the answers sufficient to award a semicha or authority to the person and he had been formally trained but had not completed the program. Nevertheless, there was no doubt in his mind that Jesus possessed sufficient education and proper judgment to render halakhic rulings. Moreso, Nicodemus was sure that others would respect the wisdom and insight of this young man.

After a quick look to Abihud and his nod, Nicodemus stood and gestured for Jesus to stand with him. “Normally, it requires three Rabbis to ordain a new Rabbi. But it is my judgment that the Lord is with us today and with two Rabbis present, there are three here qualified to offer this semicha.” He placed his hands upon Jesus’ shoulders and spoke solemnly: “Hear, O Israel, Jehovah, our God, is One. In the sight of the One and all I hereby commission this man, Jesus bar Jospeh, as Yoreh Yoreh[19] and Yadin Yadin[20], spokesman of the law. Let the God of all living souls appoint this man over the community. Let him come and go before them, and let him bring them forth and lead them. Let God's community not be like sheep that have no shepherd. As Joshua bar Nun was filled with a spirit of wisdom, because Moses had laid his hands on him, let this Rabbi act as God had commanded Moses.” Nicodemus drew Jesus into an embrace and kissed his forehead and then closed: “Blessed are they that dwell in thy house, O Lord: they shall praise thee forever and ever.” Jesus and Abihud echoed “Amen.”

Unexpectedly, Jesus was flooded with emotion and he could not contain it. First, he knew how joyful this would have made Joseph and he regretted that he was missing. But mostly, it was a sense of destiny or fulfillment – that he had just taken a major unexpected step towards the expected course for his life. Something inside him knew that this step would lead to some profound and awesome outcome and it felt both joyous and sorrowful. It was a feeling that would come often for the rest of his life.

The men spent the afternoon talking and enjoying Abihud’s excellent wine. Nicodemus was curious about Jesus’ past and especially about his training. When Jesus talked about his time in Egypt, Nicodemus was fascinated and asked many questions. It soon became apparent that there was much more to the young new Rabbi than Nicodemus had discerned with his experienced eye and he made Jesus promise that he would visit him in Jerusalem the next time he was there.


Chapter 23

The rabbinical movement began with destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 587 BC (during the 70-year exile in Babylon). The priests who had controlled the rituals of the Temple were functionally disbanded and the scribes and sages, later called rabbis (Heb.: "my master"), took over the study of the Torah. The rabbi sages identified themselves with the Prophets and developed and maintained an oral tradition that they argued was associated directly with the Torah of Moses.

The Pharisees (פרושים or perushim  meaning "set apart") and their school of thought led to a social movement and a Jewish political party. Their key development was the creation of Jewish houses of assembly ("Beit Knesset" in Hebrew or "synagogue" in Greek), houses of prayer (“Beit Tefilah” in Hebrew or προσευχαί, proseuchai in Greek)and houses of study ("Beit Midrash"). Without a Temple, these became the primary meeting places for prayer and learning – led by a master or Rabbi.

Even after the Temple was restored, the Pharisitical movement continued to grow as the dispersed Jewish population found a local place or worship more functional than a remote Temple. By the time of Hasmonean rule (167-40 BCE), there were synagogues in Jerusalem offering a religious alternative to a priesthood that many found lacking. During that period, the political division occurred between the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The Sadducees were generally conservative, aristocratic monarchists who supported the priesthood whereas the Pharisees were diverse, popular, and more egalitarian.

The difference between the Sadduccean and Pharisaic positions is exemplified by the Pharisitical teaching that "A learned mamzer takes precedence over an ignorant High Priest."

During the walk back to Bethsaida, Jesus reflected upon his new friends, the questions Nicodemus had asked, and what it would mean to be a Rabbi. He found it interesting that Abihud had said so little during the visit and that he was, in fact, a Rabbi. Jesus wondered why he didn’t make that better known among the Nazoreans. When he considered the questions from the perspective of Nicodemus he found the wisdom in their mix. Instead of merely testing knowledge gained from reading or the teachings of others, they were clearly intended to measure the thought and understanding. And, Jesus realized, they reflected the insight of one who understood the relationship between man’s religion and the divine.

Jesus had never thought of himself as a Rabbi and the adjustment came slowly. While he considered what it might mean for his future he came up with few answers – only more questions. As usual, when things like this happened unexpectedly, Jesus analyzed them to be certain that they were part of God’s will and then sought to understand how they might fit together in the plan he presumed must exist. On the surface, being a Rabbi seemed like an obvious way to serve God, but somehow it just didn’t seem consistent with his vague vision.

 When he arrived in Bethsaida it was late and he said nothing about his semicha. The family of fishermen woke early, ate, and went to work before sunrise. When Zebedee asked Jesus about his day he offered the briefest summary but included meeting Nicodemus and his being ordained a Rabbi. At first, it seemed impossible to everyone and there was friendly disputation, but when Jesus explained in more detail and spoke about THE Nicodemus, they began to take him more seriously. And, after affirming his story to Mary, the astonishment began to set in.

This family had many ties to the rich and powerful and Zebedee had met Nicodemus several times. So, when Jesus provided details about him and the process, Zebedee was confident that Jesus was not joking. Jacob was curious about the questions that Nicodemus had asked but Jesus had promised to not discuss the details of his “testing” with others. He did say that his sechima included both Yoreh Yoreh and Yadin Yadin and that began another round of doubt. Everyone knew that only the most honored Rabbis were elevated to Yadin Yadin.

Their breakfast had taken longer than normal and Zebedee wanted to talk with Jesus more so he proposed that Jesus go out with him on his boat, offering to take him to Magdela. Jesus agreed and they set about their morning routine. The family owned four fishing boats, three being captained by the father and sons and the fourth by one of Zebedee’s cousins, Tolmei. Tolmei managed the boats and their shore crews, arriving earlier than everyone else to make sure everything was in order for the days sailing. Thus, when Zebedee arrived, there was no delay in heading out. Surprisingly, Zeb introduced Jesus as his “nephew the Rabbi”. Tolmei seemed impressed and then introduced Jesus to his son, Nathanial.

The winds were light, but favorable and the small heavy boat moved slowly across the lake under sail. The other boats followed in the same general direction but separated more and more as they travelled southwest. Jesus and Zebedee sat by the tiller and they talked as the crew of six went about their routine of getting their nets ready. Everyone kept an eye on the water looking for fish and on Jesus, who seemed out of place. The men had all heard him introduced as a Rabbi.

Jesus spotted a small disturbance on the water ahead of them and pointed it out. Zebedee promptly steered the boat in that direction and three nets were quickly cast into the water. Two of them came back with several fish in them and from then on, Jesus was a welcomed addition to the crew. His eyes proved adept at spotting fish and it distracted from the discussion that Zebedee had intended. The focal issue was Nicodemus and Zeb offered his view of the man: “A true politician – he uses his influence wisely and broadly. Make sure you know what he has in mind before you get too involved because he uses people readily in achieving his goals. If Nicodemus offered you sechima, he had something specific in mind for you.” Seeing Jesus’ consternation, Zebedee added, “That does not mean that he is not a good man or that his goals are flawed. For sure, Nicodemus has proven himself a good and righteous man.”

Then after another examining glance, Zebedee changed direction: “I don’t know how you envision your future or how your becoming a Rabbi fits into your vision, but I want to share with you part of a discussion I once had with your father.” Jesus appreciated that Zeb never treated him as anything other than his nephew and the way he referred to Joseph as his father made it clear that rumors to the contrary made no difference to him. “Joseph marveled at your ability to relate to people – I guess it would be called empathy. He also appreciated your devotion to study and the service of God. What he made clear is that he didn’t expect you to continue as a builder or even in the trade. He saw your destiny as something bigger, better.”

“I tell you this because I suspect that you have bigger or better ideas and you should not base your choices on some idea of an obligation to Joseph or his choices. I’m sure that I don’t have to tell you that for him business was both a way to provide for his family and a way to serve God. It was never where his heart was – even though he took over the business as his father had wanted.” Jesus reflected back on the times he spent helping Joseph with various projects and realized that Zebedee was right – although he loved his work, it was never the center of his life. He was going to tell Zeb how much he appreciated both him and his words, but his eyes caught movement in the water and they quickly returned to the business at hand. Soon thereafter, they reached the shore at Magdala and as Jesus went ashore Zebedee offered a few words of warning: “I don’t know what business you have in Magdala, but you may wish you had a bodyguard?”

Magdala was much like Bethsaida – a fishing village along the lake. However, it differed in one important way: it had a rather bad reputation as an unholy place. If a Jew chose not to follow the traditions – or the laws – of Judaism, Magdala was a place one might live. While Jesus was sure that this reputation did not mean that everyone living in Magdala was corrupt, sinful, or lacking in righteousness, he did wonder why a man like Azor would live there. As he walked through the village looking for the place Azor had described, he saw much of the basis for the reputation; prostitutes seemed numerous (and vied openly for customers), games of chance were played noisily along the streets, and wine flowed freely. Indeed, the whole place had a rather festive nature to it.

Jesus got his bearings from the small bazaar and then headed towards a grove of trees to the northeast. As he drew closer he saw the small farm Azor called home and the goats he called friends. Tending to the goats, Jesus saw a woman who looked up to him and smiled. “Are you Jesus, the Nazorean?” Being recognized was a surprise, but being addressed in this manner by a woman he had never met was almost shocking. Jewish women never addressed a stranger without their father, husband, or brother being present. Jesus saw no one else, but acknowledged that he was the one she had named. “My brother said that we should expect you. He is working in the village. Shall I take you to him?”

Strange, was this situation. Would this woman actually walk into the village with a man she only knew by reference? It would be a scandal in most places. But Jesus accepted her offer and gazed at her questionably as she dusted off her garb casually and approached him. “My name is Miryam,” she said with brightness and a stare that was as foreign as a Roman legion. Jewish girls were taught to never make eye contact with strange men and they rarely did so even with family. Indeed, the only women Jesus could think of who did make such eye contact were the prostitutes. She had a lightness in her step that matched the brightness of her eyes. As they walked, she asked question after question in a way that was both disarming and charming. Her voice had qualities that made her sound both musical and mystical. In short, the moment was as captivating as it was fascinating.

But then came the real shocker – Azor not only worked at an establishment that offered gambling and prostitutes, he owned it. And Miryam seemed wholly at ease in the place and very friendly with the “staff”. Out of deference to Jesus, Azor led him out the back to a quieter place where they could sit in the shade. Azor brought a good size jar of wine and Miryam carried a tray of food. She sat and joined them as if Jesus was an old friend or relative – and as if she was a man. It took a while for Jesus to adjust to such behavior and this circumstance.

Azor wanted to explain, but clearly was not apologizing. He explained that the business had been his father’s and that his mother had been one of the workers. Seeing the expression of Jesus, he added that his mother was also Miryam’s. Miryam watched closely to gauge Jesus’ reaction and he looked to her to see if she would answer his question through her eyes. Instead, she spoke it – “And she was a prostitute.” And then there was a moment of doubt where Jesus worried that Miryam might also be a prostitute.

As if he wanted to get all the troubling news out early, Azor went on… “We had different fathers. Mine was killed a few years ago in a drunken brawl. Miryam doesn’t know who her father was since our mother wasn’t sure – except to say that he wasn’t my father. I guess she’ll never know since mother died two years ago.” Azor spoke without emotion and saw that Jesus noted it. “Our mother was a terrible woman. After my father died, she ran the business with the help of a client from Smyrna – a gentile. He wanted to sell Miryam’s virginity in some type of auction, but mother wouldn’t let him. She wanted to wait until she was more developed and would get a higher price. Luckily, he ran off with one of the workers a few months before mother died – and before…” He stopped himself and glanced at Miryam.

Miryam looked at Jesus and he immediately felt the pain she bore as she spoke: “She never sold my virginity, but she used me in other ways. She let men use me in ways that wouldn’t ruin my value. When she got to the point where men would no longer get excited by her, she made me dance in ways that would excite them. Need I explain?” Jesus shook his head, but she went on anyway, “I have seen men do things that even their wives would never see and I have seen things that most people could not imagine.”

There was a short silence while they watched Jesus to see how he would deal with their revelations. There was also a short time while Jesus considered how he would deal with all this. He had lived the kind of life where such things were never discussed. Suddenly, he found himself sitting with two very delightful people with a sordid past who lived in a reality completely foreign to him. But his inner sense was clear – these were good people and their reality was the one most people lived with, a reality of imposed choices and necessity. “Who am I to judge them,” he thought to himself. Then he recalled their meeting in Nazareth.

“You were introduced as Azor bar Zerubabbel. Was that your father’s name?” Azor smiled, “No. And I am sorry to have said so. My father’s name was Lucas, the son of a Roman soldier and a Kittim whore. But I’m sure you understand why I don’t tell everyone that.” “Yes, I do understand. Some believe that my father was a Roman soldier, enough so that I am mamzerim.” “I don’t know that word,” Miryam asked. “It means something like ‘bastard’ although it applies to any Jew whose parentage is uncertain or outside the normal married Jewish father- Jewish mother parentage.” “Oh. And what does that mean – for you.” “It means that I am restricted from the priesthood and certain religious functions. It also means that I may not marry a Jewish girl who is not also mamzerim.” Miryam thought about that for a moment and then smiled.

There was another period of silence while they ate and drank, each considering their new friend or friends. Throwing tradition into the lake and then drowning it, Miryam spoke first and unabashedly, “Are you married or planning on marrying?” Both Jesus and Azor laughed and Miryam turned an appealing shade of pinkish-red. But she wanted her answer and waited. “Neither”, Jesus answered curtly and vaguely. Miryam showed her impatience and clarified: “Do you mean you have no immediate plans to marry or that you will never marry?” “I have no immediate plans for marrying. The future remains uncertain, although marriage may not fit within my plans.” Pushing further, Miryam looked at him seriously: “What plans? Why not marry?”

Azor apologized for his sister and asked about Jesus’ more immediate plans and whether he might spend the night in Magdala. “If you think this is bad, you should see our village after the fishermen return.” Miryam looked at Azor with disgust, “What are you trying to do – chase him away?” “No, sister, I dearly hope that he will stay – and to encourage that, I will promise him a meal that he will never forget.” He looked at Jesus and elaborated: “Miryam cooks the finest fish in all of Galilee, and I commit her to cooking such if you will join us.” She was smiling and clearly hopeful. “I would be foolish to turn down such an offer. I will accept your offer of hospitality if we may enjoy a sunrise atop Mt. Arbel tomorrow.” His hosts we delighted and Jesus added, “But, I must warn you: my Aunt Salome in Bethasida is one of the best cooks I know and you will have great difficulty in surpassing her fish, especially since she gets it as fresh as it can be.”

Mt. Arbel from magdala

While Miryam accepted the challenge, Azor puzzled and then wondered, “Is your aunt the wife of Zebedee, the fisherman?” Jesus was surprised by the query and affirmed that she was. Azor smiled and explained, “I know your Uncle and your cousins. Indeed, I know many of the crews from around the lake, including your uncle’s. Jesus’s first thought was Azor might know them as customers, but then Azor explained. “As you might guess, we don’t have a synagogue here so we go to the one in Capernaum. That’s how I know Abihud and Zebedee. They’re trying to start a new synagogue in Bethsaida, but everyone prefers the hazzan and Rabbi at Capernaum. Jesus wondered why Abihud had said nothing about either the synagogue or its rabbi.

Azor and Jesus talked casually while Miryam busied around them. She paid close attention to the discussion and frequently interjected ideas or questions. Not only did these new friends feel like family, but Jesus found both their familiarity and casual attitudes welcoming and relaxing. Because his mother was more traditional and his sisters followed her lead, it was rare for Jesus to have female involvement in what would be a man-to-man discussion. He found Miryam’s participation most enjoyable.

With a fire started and other preparations completed, Jesus watched with interest as Miryam went to a large open jar or tub and reached in. After a few seconds and some swishing, she pulled out a good size fish and clenched it with both hands as it wiggled to free itself. She smiled joyfully as she showed off her “catch” and then unhesitantly bashed its head against the jar, either stunning it or killing it. She plopped it onto a table, gutted it expertly, threw the entrails into another covered jar, cleaned it again, and then laid it on a thin slab of wood over the fire. After quickly washing her hands, she came and sat with the men: “We’ll eat in a little while.” She gestured to Azor and he passed her the bota.

The fish was even better than suggested and the accompanying food was equally delicious. The wine was sweet and strong and as evening passed they conversed in the open air, a moist warm breeze flowing ashore from the lake. In the distance they could hear the revelry as the fishermen spent their earnings on wine, women, and song. The pleasant relaxed atmosphere was made even more enjoyable when Miryam sang them a song. It was a sweet but somewhat bawdy song that brought forth both laughs and smirks. Jesus found himself charmed by the half-siblings of odd background, odd culture, odd profession, and odd ways. It should not have surprised him to find that they had some very odd friends.

They retired late and woke early for the two hour hike to the top of Mt. Arbel[21]. Jesus found himself a bit disappointed that Miryam could not join them. He was glad to have Azor as a guide since they travelled by starlight alone and the path was less than obvious. At half way, the early morning glow appeared and they reached the summit a good hour before sunrise. The panoramic view was amazing and with the eerie light, the scene was magical. The men sat in silence and absorbed it all, each feeling the awe of God’s splendor.

The Sea of Galilee and town of Magdala from Mt. Arbel (looking northeast)

Jesus expected to be moved spiritually by this magnificence. Instead, he found his mind dominated by thoughts of Miryam. As he explored those thoughts he found a whole new set of feelings associated with them and, as he explored those feelings, he found a whole new level of spirituality. By the time the sun peeked above the eastern hills, Jesus was sure that he had found his mate. That realization burst upon him with a flood of thoughts, questions, and powerful sensations. When he turned to look at Azor, he found Azor watching him closely with a smile. Azor assumed that Jesus was having a powerful religious experience and as Jesus thought to correct him he realized that Azor was right.

As they walked down the path returning to Magdala, Jesus considered both of his new friends with admiration and growing adoration. That he and Azor had exchanged barely a dozen words all morning was a very good sign. They communicated well without words and felt little need to make “small talk”. Both men found silence to be “golden”, but Jesus found need to break their silence: “Has Miryam made plans for her future?”

Azor had watched his sister with interest since Jesus had arrived. It would have been obvious to anyone, but it was more than obvious to Azor that she had a special interest in Jesus. Now, knowing that Jesus also had an interest in her, Azor considered the possibilities more carefully. There was nothing in the world he wanted more than for Miryam to be happy; and that was only partly due to their relationship. Azor knew that she had been cheated out of part of her childhood and that she would never have a normal adulthood. She was simply a very good human being who deserved better than she had had. So Azor analyzed his new friend from a different perspective and wondered about some of the mysterious aspects of his life.

First and foremost in his mind came two thoughts – why wasn’t Jesus already married and what kind of ties he had with the Zealots. He knew part of the answer to the first matter, but Jesus’ mamzerim status did not preclude his marriage, it merely limited his options. There were plenty of mamzerim women available. Azor figured that it had been Jesus’ choice to not marry and that was so unusual that it needed discussion.

The Zealot issue was more complex: in part due to Azor’s own mixed feelings about the various zealot movements and in part because he had enough information to know that it was a sensitive subject for Jesus. If there was any common element to all the zealot groups in Galilee it was their need for and enforcement of secrecy. That Jesus was openly known as a Nazorean meant little since the Nazoreans were neither Zealots nor militant. Just the opposite, they were publicly known for their moderation and isolation from politics. But Azor had too many contacts and too much information to accept that as the whole story. He suspected that the Nazoreans acted in several functions that were very secret and it was clear that they had direct ties to several zealot groups. From what he knew of Jesus and the way he lived, there was plenty of room for suspicion.

“If you mean – does she have plans for marriage? – the answer is no. For good reasons, she is more than a little mistrustful of men. If fact, she finds most men rather disgusting. In fact, I’ve never seen her look at a man the way she does you or act the way she does around you.” Jesus couldn’t help but smile with that good news and it added to his rapidly growing fondness for Miryam. But as that sense arose in him, Azor turned serious and continued: “Jesus, I don’t wish to offend you or pry, but I must ask you about your future plans – and specifically if you have involvement with any zealot groups.” It was both a good thing and a bad thing that Jesus had to give his answer substantial deliberation. Azor was smart enough to know that it meant Jesus had to be careful about what he said.

Jesus wanted to be frank and intended to be forthright with Azor, but it was a difficult query. “I do not believe that we can gain anything of lasting value through militant action and I am opposed to the political assassinations as much as I am Roman oppression. I am not directly involved in any of the militant groups, but I am associated with some who are.” Jesus looked carefully to gauge Azor’s reaction and added, “And, I work with others who work with the Zealots… and the Sicari.”

Azor nodded his understanding. “I believe as you do – sometimes it is hard to see that our zealots are any better than the Romans. If one thinks that he must kill another to make his point, he doesn’t understand what point he is making. I, for one, believe that the ten terms[22] are perfectly clear and that we should not choose to murder one another. I have heard some Zealots argue that the Romans and corrupt politicians have given us no choice, but it seems to me that killing is merely the simple choice – as well as the foolish and unrighteous choice.”

Jesus could not help but marvel at the paradox Azor created. His business and way of life would be viewed by many as so fundamentally unholy that mere association with him would be sacrilege. And yet, he was so basically good and righteous that he exemplified what religion should be about. It became clearer to Jesus that people could not be measured or judged by the trappings of life. Indeed, it was becoming increasing obvious that many of the most holy and righteous of people were living quiet and simple lives of imposed ordeal. Azor’s seemingly impure life did not make him an impure man. In that thought, Jesus saw Miryam in a new light and most of his lingering doubts disappeared.

Azor saw that Jesus’ thoughts had moved elsewhere and he didn’t interrupt them. This man was unlike any he had ever known. It was both troubling and interesting and Azor found him so appealing and refreshing that his oddness was easily put aside. But above all, Azor was a pragmatic realist and his thoughts turned to the specifics – if the person he loved the most found love with this man, what would that mean? Knowing that he would not force the issue, Azor nevertheless resolved that he would know more before he supported any kind of relationship between Jesus and Miryam. He tried to envision what kind of relationship that would be.


Chapter 24

There is something about a mountain top that awes us. There is something about a sunrise that awakens us. And, there is something about the combination that inspires us.

From the summit of Mt. Arbel, one can see the snowcapped splendor of Mt. Hermon, 35 miles to the north. As the lake glistens below and the beauty of the world erases all the evil and stress of mankind, one can feel the touch of God if they seek it. Jesus made it his ritual to enjoy the sunrise and took every opportunity to relish that joy from some high place.

 

Mt. Hermon (2,814 m / 9,232 ft) from the south

The trip down to Magdala took less than half the time of the trip up the mountain. But Magdala was a fishing town and it woke early. By the time Azor and Jesus arrived, most of the fishing boats were already underway and the village seemed busy. The busiest place was a small market set up in front of Azor’s place where a dozen or more women were bargaining for various goods. Miryam was working there and waved when she saw them approach. She quickly accepted the price being offered her for some eggs and turned over the business to another worker.

One could not mistake the bounce in her step and the gleam in her eyes; she was enthused in that special way that only early love can produce. Azor looked to see if Jesus noted it and saw that he did. He also saw a look in Jesus’ eyes that made him smile. For a moment, Azor thought that Miryam was going to rush right up and embrace Jesus, but she stopped short of that and looked up at him joyously: “How was your morning?” Azor could not recall having ever been greeted by his sister as such and felt a bit of jealousy. But it quickly faded when she turned her attention to him and shared some of her new brightness. Miryam prepared them a small meal before Jesus bid them farewell. He would have liked to stay, but was sincere in saying that he would return as soon as he could. Miryam unabashedly made it known that she wanted such – and Azor agreed.

The walk from Magdala to Bethsaida was as pleasant as any in the region. Tracing the shoreline of the lake it was both scenic and cool. The next village of size along the road was Capernaum and Jesus planned to stop and see Abihud. Along the way, his thoughts were dominated by one subject – a new subject for him. He had had plenty of reasons to think about girls and women, but never had he so focused upon any one of them. They remained somewhat of a mystery to him, physically, mentally and spiritually. With Miryam he had cause to reflect upon all three.

The physical mystery was neither anatomical nor functional. Jesus grew up with his sisters and although their culture carefully separated the sexes, it was impossible to provide either complete privacy or lack of contact. Such was equally true of sexuality and with the open practice of prostitution, the details of sexual life were learned at an early age. The physical mystery involved intimacy more than anything and Jesus had yet to experience physical intimacy with a woman. Others had described the sex act with sufficient clarity and detail that little mystery remained regarding it. The way it had been described, it seemed to have little to do with physical intimacy. “Sex” between people appeared to be much the way it was practiced by other animals. Jesus knew there had to be something more to it.

In his culture, the minds of women were kept as secluded and secret as their bodies. From Jesus’ experiences, most women seemed to stay entirely focused upon three things: family, gossip, and what’s for dinner. They astutely avoided more “serious” subjects and they were culturally prohibited from the “serious” schools of thought. But Jesus also had other unusual experiences: he knew that women were just as smart and capable as men – and that they were experts at making things happen indirectly. The women in his family were given great liberty when out of the public eye to express their thoughts and participate in the “affairs of men”. He repeatedly encountered women of influence, stature, and ability as the wives of men of similar position. Jesus wanted the opportunity to explore the mind of a woman with the kind of intimacy that a few men he knew seemed to share with their wife.

The idea of having a wife remained foreign to Jesus. It was the only aspect of being a mamzer that offered him some advantage – he wasn’t under the same pressure as others to get married. That some Jews felt that mamzers shouldn’t marry at all reflected the circumstance. He knew that his mother wanted him to marry, but she had clearly avoided any pressure upon him. Of course, the fact that he had never met a woman that interested him sufficiently to consider marriage was a key factor in his lack of consideration of the topic. But now, it was both central and substantial to his thinking. Without doubt, he would need to put the subject to prayer and the test of God’s will. For now, he was forced to change focus as he approached Abihud’s place.

“Greetings Rabbi,” Abihud exclaimed and Jesus replied in kind. Abihud seemed quite happy to see Jesus while also seeming distracted and reserved. They drank some wine, ate some snacks and talked like family. Nicodemus had headed south earlier that morning and Jesus was somewhat disappointed that he had not seen him on the road. When he mentioned that he had just come from Azor’s,  Abihud looked at him quizzically and asked pointedly: “What did you think of Miryam?” Jesus’ smile was revealing and he answered honestly, “I’m still trying to decide what I think of Miryam.” Then he continued, “What do you think of Miryam?”

Abihud didn’t answer Jesus and dropped into thought. For a moment, Jesus thought that Abihud had some serious issue regarding Miryam, but instead he was on another tangent. “Have you heard the news?” “No, what news?” “Augustus has died[23]. Tiberias[24] will be the new Roman Emperor.”

For the most part it made little difference to the Jews who ruled in Rome. That Rome ruled over them was the key point. For some, the transition to a new ruler seemed opportune for revolt and this was the concern that Abihud was focused upon. After the disastrous revolt following the death of Herod, many feared that the zealot groups could lead the Jews to an even greater disaster. Also of some relevance were the traditional re-assignments upon succession – Judea was likely to get a new procurator and he would have a very direct effect upon the lives of the Jews. The powerful in Jerusalem would again have to curry favor with their new master.

Jesus did not follow the politics and intrigue of the Romans so he had to ask, “Are you familiar with Tiberias?” “Yes, he’s one of their greatest generals. Augustus thought highly of him and groomed him to be his successor. But I don’t think he’s ambitious enough to be Emperor, at least not the kind of Emperor the Romans are accustomed to.” “You speak as if you’ve met him.” Abihud smiled and said modestly, “I have. Years ago[25] we sent a delegation to Rome to redress Herod Archelaus. Tiberias was acting as an aide of Augustus and met with us. He seemed bored by it all, but listened and relayed our concerns to Augustus who then sent for Agrippa and eventually removed him as Tetrarch.” Jesus knew of the mission as did most Jews since it was considered a great victory for them and for justice. “How did you become part of the delegation?” “I was a scribe and went along to help with the Latin.”

Jesus wanted to hear the whole story but he had a long way to walk yet and didn’t want to arrive too late. He had also wanted to ask about the new synagogue in Capernaum, but decide to put that off until another day. So after he politely excused his need to depart, Jesus was back on the road deep in his thoughts. He found his new friends interesting and he most assuredly hoped to spend more time with all of them – especially with Miriam. He liked the area around the lake as well and resolved that he would make it his home.

About half way to Bethsaida, Jesus took a break and sat on a rock at the water’s edge. His mind had been active during his walk with the same focus – Miryam. But now, he just relaxed and enjoyed the slight breeze. Almost immediately he was swept into a wakeful dream full of mixed ideas and images. Along with feelings of joy and success he had a deep sense of sorrow and failure. He imagined himself amongst crowds in both cities and countryside. He felt Miryam as his constant companion. And he felt the continuing presence of God, both as “father” and “lord”.

As he emerged from the dream, he held one firm idea – he must choose. His vision was that of a chosen future. He wasn’t sure exactly what choice was required, but since Miryam had been involved it was clear that choosing her was part of the larger choice he had to make. He also understood that his choice involved God and although nothing had changed in his desire to serve God, the details seemed clearer. If he was to choose to follow God’s course, there would be suffering and sorrow along with the joy and pleasure. Two answers had come to him: becoming a Rabbi was consistent with God’s will and Miryam was part of his future, a big part.

If following God’s will was always as easy as Jesus’ pursuit of Miryam, devotion and righteousness would dominate our lives. For several months Jesus found or made every excuse to be in “Capernaum”. The only time such trips didn’t also include Magdala was when Miryam was in Capernaum. Their ‘affair” would have been scandalous except that no one in Magdala ever considered the concept and when they were together in Capernaum, they stayed with Abihud – away from prying eyes and public scrutiny. That is not to say or even suggest that their relationship was anything untoward, but under the standards of the time, unmarried men and women did not spend time together alone.

The more time he spent with her, the more he found her compelling and essential. That she was pleasing to the eye was the least of her attractions. Jesus found himself enthralled with her mind and then her spirit. Her thoughts were so different and unexpected that he found her constantly surprising. Her view of people and the world was so different than his that it seemed they could never be compatible. And her relationship with God was so odd that he initially thought she was godless. But more and more he saw her basic goodness, honesty, and devotion.

Miryam had seen and experienced the worst of humanity and yet her view of humans was one of compassionate understanding. She had grown up in a godless home and had every reason to believe that no god of worth would create such misery and suffering. Yet she not only believed in a loving God, she was sure that God hated misery and suffering as much as she did. Her religion lacked all the formality and structure of Judaism while it incorporated all its best features. And, she was aware of all that is greater than any one – that spiritual connectedness that enriches, empowers, and awes beyond reason.

She was never afraid to speak her mind or ask a question. If you offered an opinion or suggested some idea, you had best been ready to explain or defend it. She tested ideas and thoughts from many angles or directions and took little for granted or given. And she avoided either quick conclusions or judgments – especially regarding people. With Miryam you always got the benefit of doubt and she was willing to trust until one proved untrustworthy. Everyone was treated fairly and equally regardless of their circumstance; but when one’s choices were flawed or careless, she was always on the side of repentance. Everyone was Miryam’s friend unless they harmed another or themselves. Her tolerance and patience was extraordinary until someone tried to impose their will on another. It had been done to her and she knew its error.

Given her strong belief against imposition of will, it was somewhat surprising that she didn’t have a deep hatred of the Romans. “I see the trade-off. Sure, they impose their will, but they also impose law and order. If the Romans treated everyone like Romans, wouldn’t the world be a better place?” When someone argued that the Hasmoneans[26] also brought law and order under Judaism, she countered: “Yes, the law of the priests, the taxes of the Temple, and the order of men. Under their law, women are more like slaves or property than people and there are hundreds of offenses that warrant death – without appeal. The Romans treat most non-Romans better than the Jews treat their women and most non-Jews.”

Jesus and Miryam discussed marriage, but her unorthodox views were nowhere more apparent. “Why,” she would ask, “should I want to marry any man or any man to marry me? Would I love you more or will you love me more if we were married? Will I be respected more if we are married? Could we serve God any better if we perform some silly ceremony?” Obviously, the discussion of marriage also included the issue of children. In that, Miryam was clear: “I will not bring children into a world that is so full of violence, hatred, corruption, and godlessness.” Besides, in a related discussion she had made it clear to Jesus that she wasn’t likely to overcome the harm done to her as a child and that sexual relations were never going to be “normal” for her. The very thought of “being with a man” was repulsive to her. The only men she shared any intimacy with were Jesus and Azor – and only because they were so different than other men she had known.

They spent much of their time discussing God. Jesus had not heard or had such an open and frank conversation about God since he had left Egypt. It was apparent that Miryam and Azor had spent considerable time on the subject and that their views differed considerably. Miryam had her basic questions that framed their discussion of God: “Why is it that when we talk about God the rules change and we’re not supposed to ask obvious and reasonable questions?” “Why isn’t God subject to the same scrutiny as any other ‘lord’?”  “Why should we fear God or think that God would be irrational?” “Why should we believe that some people know or understand God better than others?” “Isn’t God everyone’s God? What gives us the right to claim that we are God’s ‘chosen people’. Our history would certainly indicate otherwise.” “Let’s stop assuming that God is a man and thinks and acts like one.”

Miryam was curious to hear about Jesus’ relationship with God and his “dreams” regarding his future. When he affirmed that he intended to continue honoring what he believed was God’s will, Miryam was more than supportive. “Azor has told me about his messages from God and I believe in him even more than I believe in God.” Jesus had to laugh at the simple honest sacrilege of his newfound lover, especially since she was so unpretentious about it. “I have never been blessed with such contact and is easy for me to doubt such. But, the two men I love more than anyone else both believe in their contact with God so I take it as truth. And regardless of that, I believe that we must follow our hearts – that which we think is right and best at the deepest level – whether it is communicated directly by God or not.” Jesus was warmed by her thoughts and purity of spirit, but he began to wonder how his family would view Miryam and her unusual ideas. He found out soon enough.


Chapter 25

The term "Sabbath" (שַׁבָּת or Shabbat in Hebrew = "to cease") was used in reference to the seventh day in the Biblical account of Creation (Gen. 2:2-3) and became a sacred day of each week for the Jews (observed from Friday sundown until the appearance of three stars in the sky on Saturday night). Jews are commanded to remember the Sabbath day and to keep it holy as a perpetual sign and covenant between God and man. Sabbath-breakers are to be cut off from the assembly or killed.

Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, rest… Remain each of you in his place; let no one go out of his place on the seventh day (Ex. 16:26, 16:29; 20:8-10). To explain and enforce this commandment, Jews have created an extensive and detailed list of what may be done and what can’t be done on the Sabbath. That list and the exceptions to it have been the subject of debate for over thirty centuries.

On a Sabbath they went to the synagogue in Capernaum together and there they found Zebedee and Salome with their sons. Luckily, Azor was along and that made the introductions simpler – Azor was known to them. They had seen Miryam before, but had not associated. As she normally would, Miryam hung next to Jesus and it was obvious to all that they were a couple. Salome was taken back by the surprise and the awkwardness whereas Johanan and Jacob clearly knew who Miryam was and liked her. Julia seemed rather jealous, but also seemed to like Miryam. That none who knew said anything about Azor’s and Miryam’s business couldn’t be ignored, so Jesus also left that unspoken. He saw the look on Salome’s face when it was said that they owned a small farm near Magdala.

Capernaum – on the northwest coast of Lake Gennesaret

“What does your mother think of your bride-to-be,” Salome asked Jesus when she had the chance to speak to him away from Miryam. Jesus could only smile at the presumptive and complex question, but he answered honestly – “They have yet to meet.” This confused Salome and she wanted some explanation, but Jesus began to converse with Johanan before she could continue.

After the service, Jesus, Azor, Abihud, Zebedee, Johanan, Jacob, and a few other men gathered to discuss the service, the reading, and the news while Miryam was left with the women. Jesus was heavily engaged in the discussion since he was a new Rabbi and several of the other local men were anxious to quiz him. He tried to keep an eye on the women since he partly expected a full-scale riot to break out. But whenever he did see Miryam she was with Salome and they seemed to be getting along well. Aside from the normal religious debate and discussion, there was great interest in Emperor Tiberias and the new Judean procurator Valerius Gratus. Jesus heard for the first time that Herod Antipas intended to build a new city along the Sea of Galilee to honor Tiberias. The big issue was that the plans called for building this new city over the village of Emmaus[27] and the site of a Jewish cemetery. If that was true, the entire city would be ritually unclean and no Jews could live there. These men thought that such was the intent.

As Jesus and Miryam returned to Magdala they discussed the situation regarding his family and decided that it was time to introduce Miryam. They considered various options and reached no conclusion on how to best present her. There was some trepidation about Mary’s reaction especially since Jesus also planned to announce his intent to move down by the sea. Those details were still quite sketchy, but the intention was solid.

When Jesus returned to the Nazorean camp he was surprised to find so many of the people had left. The word regarding the new city had reached the workers and many had decided to move nearby and seek employment. Before he had had a chance to bring up his topics, Mary asked whether he thought they should also move. While he was settling on that suggestion, she shocked him further: “When are you going to introduce your woman?” The grin and gleam told him that he needn’t bother evading, she knew enough to compel disclosure.

He didn’t hold back so the whole story took awhile. Mary listened attentively without interruption or indication of her thoughts. When Jesus finished, she had only one question: “Are you going to marry her?” There was no doubt that she understood the complexity of the situation and the several questions that belied hers. As she often did, Mary had reduced the whole matter into one question. Jesus’ answer was equally succinct: “Do you think I should?” There was simply no need to answer the basic questions – do you love her and do you want to marry her?

The traditional path to marriage had never been an option for Jesus. His father had died before he was betrothed and because of Jesus’ status his uncles had not pushed the issue or offered to act for him. And, he had not encouraged them to do so. His mother had never made marriage an issue and she only wanted what was best for Jesus. The family was big enough that there would be plenty of grandchildren whether or not Jesus married.

Mary’s response was a double entendre: “Is there a need to marry her?” “I suppose the greatest need would be to please you.” Mary knew that Jesus had understood her questions and smiled with the answers. “It would please me for you to be happy – to find love and a mate who you can share your life with. Don’t worry about formalities or traditions, follow your heart. Those who love you will accept your choice and those who know you will know that you’re acting as you think you should… So I still haven’t heard when I will get to meet her!”

Mary and Miryam would be more than friends and Miryam would always view Mary as more than an informal mother-in-law. She would become the mother that Miryam had never had and had often wished for. Mary’s total acceptance of Miryam meant few questions or problems for the unmarried couple and when it came time for them to move to Capernaum, their harmony made it all a sweet song. The circumstances made it even sweeter.

During a visit to Abihud’s home after a Sabbath service, Jesus mentioned his intent to move to Capernaum. Abihud smiled at him and unhesitantly said, “Good, you can live here. I only have two demands… that you make Nicodemus welcome for his visits and that Miryam promises not to let her goats come into the house.” Jesus was surprised and unsettled by this generous offer and Abihud explained: “I have decided to move back to Jerusalem and I was wondering what I was going to do with this place. Your living here will be an answer to my prayers. Besides, the place needs some repairs and I know of no one better to handle them.”

Miryam was delighted with the offer and gave Abihud a huge hug when she next saw him. He was so obviously embarrassed and enjoying it that Miryam gave him another. Mary was overcome. She had not had a “house” since marrying Joseph. He was a sufficiently orthodox Rechabite to follow their nomadic edicts and even though he had the wherewithal to have a nice house, they lived in what appeared more like a tent. She had never complained and had not been uncomfortable, but she had long hoped for a more substantial home. Abihud’s house was not only substantial, it was beautifully situated.

The Capernaum community was accustomed to seeing Jesus and Miryam together and most gave them little consideration. When they became members of the community, few gave them consideration beyond curiosity and courtesy. However, the questions soon came, starting with issues centered upon Miryam having come from Magdala and then the direct issue of their living together without being married. It didn’t take long for the rumors to surpass the truth and things came to a head during one Sabbath when someone demanded that Jesus and Miryam be asked to leave the synagogue.

As fate would have it, the day was unusually gloomy and the weather seemed to affect the mood of some. There was one whose brightness withstood the gloom – Heli bar Esli. Rabbi Heli was the Hazzan of the Capernaum synagogue and he held the respect of everyone. His nickname was “Dov”, because he was bearish in appearance – hairy and brawny. Despite his appearance he was gentle in demeanor and could sing like an angel. The popularity of the Capernaum synagogue was mostly due to Dov.

“If there are those present who are so holy and sinless that they find offense in those whom God so clearly favors, then I trust that they will instruct us in which of God’s laws we might accuse Jesus and Miryam.” “They live together without being married,” was the heated answer. “Perhaps I was not clear – I did not ask what custom they might have offended, I asked what law they have violated.” There was a silence among the gathering until one elder spoke: “Does not the Debarim (Deuteronomy) say that an unmarried woman who lies with a man is a prostitute and that prostitutes are to be stoned?” Dov looked at the man as if he were a child and simply answered, “It says no such thing.” “What does the law say about marriage?” another asked.

Dov looked at Jesus and said: “Let the Rabbi Jesus instruct us on marriage law.” The gathering turned to face Jesus and his mind set into motion. He knew the teachings well enough to cite them rotely, but instead allowed a deeper voice to speak. “Avinu (the Father) created man and women for each other – as companions and mates. To sanctify the union of a man and women we have instituted both shiddukhin (betrothal  - from “Qof-Dalet-Shin”, meaning "sanctified”) and nissu'in (wedding) but the actual marriage is the consecration by the man and acceptance by the woman. The union of man and woman is sanctified by commitment and dedication – it is made holy by their agreement to serve God together by serving each other. The ceremony of marriage is not about any law, but is about rejoicing the fulfillment of God’s will that a man and a woman should serve God together.”

 “And what is the reason for the kesef (gift of value)in halakha (the law)?” Dov followed. Jesus had not given much thought to the ancient custom of giving the bride a coin or ring to fix the contract of the marriage parties and its purpose was not part of the standard teachings. “A marriage is a private agreement or contract between the husband and the wife and under early business law, a thing of value was exchanged to ‘seal the deal’. The husband offers it along with his commitment to provide for her because she is agreeing to let him manage and benefit from her property. In this regard, much of our marriage tradition is centered upon business and making a binding contract.”

“Is there a legal requirement for any public ceremony or official endorsement of a marriage?” “No. Tradition desired the presence of two witnesses to the proposal and the acceptance, but it also provided for betrothal  through private sexual relations – without witnesses. [There were a few giggles]. The wedding was a means of both celebrating the sanctity of the marital relation and announcing that the woman has been set aside as the wife of a particular man. It would seem that most weddings serve the families of the bride and the groom as much or more than the couple.”

Dov paused for a moment to allow everyone to reflect upon the teaching and then asked, “Is there anyone in the assembly who questions the accuracy of the Rabbi’s explanations?”  After a silent pause, he continued, “Is there anyone who doubts that Jesus and Miryam have a private agreement known to God that sanctifies their relationship?” Dov knew that the idea of privacy in marriage was deeply rooted and sacrosanct. He also knew that everyone present was confident that God knows everything. And, by using the same root word (“Qof-Dalet-Shin” – sanctify ) as the word used for proposal (shiddukhin), he knew there could be no question that God would favor this relationship with out without “marriage”.

The ensuing silence spoke louder than the initial critics and there was never again a question in Capernaum about the relationship between Jesus and Miryam. And, for the rest of his life, Dov would be a dear friend of both. It was a tragedy that his life would be cut short.

 (End of Part Two)

(Click here to proceed to Part Three)

 



[1] The western wall of the Temple Mount rose up from the bottom of the valley 84 feet and, above that wall, the wall of Solomon's cloister rose an additional 50 feet (perhaps the greatest masonry mural in the world).

[2] The lifelike pictures of the Temple are from a model created by Alec Garrard from Northfolk, England. He hand- carved over 4,000 figurines to occupy his model.

[3] The inner courts are briefly described later; see Appendix XIII for more pictures, diagrams and details.

[4] Arsinoe was the famous Cleopatra’s younger half-sister and after she was murdered upon Anthony’s order while under the “sanctuary” of the temple of Artemis in Ephesus, her name became “popular” (after the demise of Antony and Cleopatra). Selene (as in the moon), was a popular name for girls, especially after Cleopatra’s daughter (by Antony) was surnamed Selene.

[5] The zealous revolt in the north (Galilee) was viewed unfavorably by many in the south (Judea); especially by those whose power and wealth were dependent upon the Romans.

[6] For a worthy and detailed exploration of Midrash, I recommend “The Midrashic Imagination: Jewish Exegesis, Thought, and History” by Michael A. Fishbane, Suny Press (1993) – especially Chapter One by Ithimar Gruenwald. A short introduction to Midrash is included in Appendix V.

[7] Ananelus (or Hananeel in some sources) is said to be from “Babylon” and most assume this refers to Babylon in Persia instead of the Egyptian city in the Heliopolite Nome near Leontopolis – a more reasonable home reading.

[8] There were several groups who used this name and it is thought that the “Sadducees” (or "Tzedukim" in Hebrew) derived their name from Zadok. The proper Zadokites were of the house of Zadok and occupied the High Priesthood until usurped by the Maccabees/Hasmoneans – certainly not akin to the Sadducees.

[9] A nickname used by Qumranites for their leader was “Interpreter of the Law (doresh ha-torah)”.

[10] An honor which Jesus would be denied as a mamzer.

[11] James was old enough to serve, but had been consecrated to the Temple. The other sons were not old enough.

[12] Judaism distinguished the biologically-based classes of foundlings (Jews of uncertain lineage) and mamzers (Jews born out of wedlock, from incestuous relationships, from adulterous relationships and/or Jews born to those of uncertain parentage). If Jesus’ biological father was unknown, he was both foundling and mamzer and could only marry a Gentile girl (and convert her to Judaism).

[13] The Christian concept of Jesus the Messiah has become so deeply ingrained in our psyches that the English word can no longer be used to refer to the Jewish concept. The word "mashiach" will be used herein when referring to the formal Jewish concept.

[14] The notion of an innocent, divine or semi-divine being who will sacrifice himself to save us from the consequences of our own sins is a purely Christian concept that has no basis in Jewish thought. http://www.jewfaq.org/mashiach.htm.

[15] The standard synagogue service had five parts: the Shema’ (“Hear, O Israel; Jahweh our God is one Jahweh”), a prayer (with benedictions and petitions), the reading of the Torah (in weekly sequence by randomly selected members of the congregation), a pre-selected reading from the Prophets, and an expository Scripture lesson (often by a guest Rabbi). The service ended with an antiphonal chanting from Psalms and the doxology (sometimes with the Shema repeated). .

[16] I recommend (and have relied upon) “The Galilean Fishing Economy and the Jesus Tradition” by K. C. Hanson available at http://www.kchanson.com/articles/fishing.html. (Originally published in Biblical Theology Bulletin 27 (1997) pp. 99-111).

[17] (Deut. 18:22)

[18] Genesis 14:18-20; Note Genesis Rabbah 43:6.

[19] He shall teach, the common rabbinical role. Authorizes one to issue judgments regarding application of Jewish law to everyday situations.

[20] He shall judge, an advanced rabbinical role. Authorizes one to issue judgments regarding monetary and property matters.

[21] Mt. Arbel rises 481 meters above the Sea of Galilee and has a 110 meter cliff.

 [22] "Ten Terms" is derived from the Greek “Decalogue” [“δεκάλογος dekalogos”] in the Septuagint and is a better translation of the Hebrew “עשרת הדברים” than “Ten Commandments”. The word “commandment” was a later modification. The common usage at the time of Jesus was “terms of the Covenant” and included 15 or more “terms”.

[23] August 19, 0014

[24] Aka “Caesar”

[25] In the year 6 CE.

[26] The Hasmoneans ruled Judea between 140 BCE (after the Seleucids) and 37 BCE (until the Romans).

[27] This is not the same as the city nearer Jerusalem. The Romans already had a presence at nearby Hammat where they developed the hot springs.

 

 

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