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Young Jesus: Restoring the “Lost Years” of a Social Activist and Religious Dissident by Jean-Pierre Isbouts

August 8, 2017

I stumbled across this book almost by accident and although I  don’t agree with the author’s conclusions and although there isn’t much that is new, there are many nuggets of information, graphically told, that will help preachers to enliven their sermons.  It does considerably better what  A Boy Named Jesus by Robert Aron tried to do in providing the political and social background in which Jesus grew up and which influenced him in later life.

Drawing on new evidence from the historical and archeological record, as well as insightful close readings of both the canonical and the Gnostic Gospels, Dr. Jean-Pierre Isbouts paints a fascinating portrait of Jesus as a grass-roots reformer with a social agenda who’s as much dissident as messiah. Dr. Isbouts reveals an adolescent Jesus scarred by peasant rebellion, economic repression, and the wholesale displacement of the Galilean peasantry. Using modern economic, forensic, and psychological models as well as information from Roman and Jewish documents, Isbouts shows how these horrifying conditions galvanized Christ’s mission as a social activist and religious rebel. Isbouts’s approach is sophisticated and secular, though respectful of faith, and results in a narrative of compelling interest for a wide range of readers—from scholars to skeptics to believers. A 16-page color insert with photos of historic sites, archaeological digs, and artwork enhances the text.

The Christian scriptures have virtually nothing to say about Jesus’ life as a child. According to tradition, he, like his father, was a carpenter and is often pictured living a quiet life in a woodworker’s shop. This, says Isbouts (The Biblical World ), is a completely false image. Relying on ancient historians such as Josephus, archeological findings of the Ancient Near East, and scripture, Isbouts shows how, after living for centuries as subsistence farmers, families like Jesus’ were pitched into poverty by the taxes levied by Herod and various Roman overlords. As a result, greedy oligarchs bought up foreclosed lands, turning former landholders into indentured servants. Isbouts believes that Jesus’ ministry was a response to such injustices. The other key factor in Jesus’ youth is his questionable paternity, as described in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. The rumor of illegitimacy, says Isbouts, would have made him a pariah in his small village. Isbouts argues that like so many famous geniuses, Jesus’ stressful childhood paradoxically gave him “greater freedom to observe, cope, and re-create the world “around” him. While some will quibble with the specific interpretations Isbouts puts forth, the result is a vividly moving portrait of one of the best-known but least understood people of all time.

Quotations:

Seen from the vantage point of the biblical tradition, this is nothing short of amazing. In the Hebrew Scriptures, which Christians call the Old Testament, we are often presented with detailed stories about the early years of Israel’s patriarchs, such as Isaac, Jacob, or Joseph, or prophets such as Samuel and Jeremiah.

Galilee was therefore an enclave of sorts, insular and landlocked, though with access to the Sea of Galilee. In sum, it formed an almost perfect circle of highly fertile land surrounded by foreigners—which is probably the root of the word Galilee (ha-gahl), a presumed shortening of the Hebrew galil ha-goyim, meaning “circle of the peoples?”

A late first-century inscription of a syn­agogue, found in Jerusalem and honoring the “donor” of the synagogue building, summarizes the functions of the building quite succinctly: “Theodotus, son of Vettenos … built this synagogue for the reading of the Law and the study [teaching] of the commandments, and the guest cham­bers, the rooms, the water installations for an inn for those in need from foreign lands.” If large enough, the synagogue could also be used for local tribunals, as a collection point for tithes and taxes, and for community banquets.

Scholars, however, are divided on the issue of whether the schoolings described in rabbinic sources are based on actual practice, or rather reflect a pious ideal that could- only occasionally be realized. Moreover, there is considerable doubt that any such schools would have existed in the Galilean countryside before the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E. Luke tells us that Jesus returned to Nazareth at the beginning of his ministry and “went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom,” but it is doubtful that Luke ever visited Nazareth. This description may simply be based on synagogue services Luke himself observed in Asia Minor in the latter part of the first century.

On the other hand, in 1955, a Franciscan archaeologist, Bellarmino Bagatti, began a series of excavation campaigns directly underneath the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth—traditionally the site associated with the paternal house of Mary. He uncovered a number of architectural fragments from the second century C.E. that he identified as the remains of a village synagogue. This identification has been hotly contested, however, principally because the building is oriented toward the north, rather than toward Jerusalem, as was the custom for synagogues.

We are left with the conclusion that there is no evidence for the exis­tence of a synagogue in Nazareth at the time of Joseph and Jesus. Village gatherings, such as they were, would have simply taken place in a central area, perhaps near the shade of a tree or the village cistern, or in the largest mud-brick house of the village This also implies that most of the village boys would have received their vocational training at home, which almost invariably meant following in the footsteps of their fathers. By age thirteen, a boy was deemed to have reached adulthood.

because neither the Gospels, the Q source, nor the “Gospel” of Thomas give us the impression that Jesus was a carpenter at all. On the contrary, when Jesus searches for metaphors to explain his teachings in the form of parables, he uses not the language of the workshop, but the language of the field. This is surprising in a carpen­ter, for the lore of sawing, carving, and hammering would have provided him with a wonderful visual vocabulary of its own.

It is unlikely that Joseph and Mary would have been permitted to “date” in a modern sense, or even to engage in any lengthy courtship. Even the urbane and cosmopolitan Jewish philosopher Philo (20 B.c.E.-50 c.E.), a contemporary of Jesus, warned that a woman should “cultivate solitude,” and urged her husband “not to let her be seen going about like a woman who walks the streets in the sight of other men, except when it is neces­sary for her to go to the temple.” Nor should she be allowed to “go to the market at noon, when [it] is full, but only after the majority of the people have returned home.” While according to the Mishnah a woman was allowed to leave the house occasionally, for example to visit a mikveh or rit­ual bath, to see friends, to shop, or to attend a feast, she was to behave decorously at all times. Loose hair, a torn dress, or washing in public was not tolerated and could, in fact, be grounds for divorce without alimony.”

Matthew’s model is the Genesis story of God’s appearance to Abraham, telling him that he will be the father of a son by his wife Sarah.

Luke takes his cue from the Abraham story in Genesis, but his narrative is modeled on two different prophecies: that involving the child of Abraham’s wife, Sarah, and another involving the son of Sarah’s handmaiden, Hagar. Since Sarah had been unable to present her husband with a son, Abraham decided to lie with Hagar, which was his right by Mesopotamian custom as a tribal leader.

Celsus claimed that the story of conception was a myth, hastily cooked up to conceal the fact allegedly had an affair with a Roman soldier while she was to Joseph. When Mary was found to be pregnant, the soldier and both abandoned her, and Mary wound up giving birth to Jesus As a document, the discourse by Celsus is not unusual; by the late century, there were several pagan authors taking aim at a religious that they considered un-Roman and hostile to the state. What is remarkable, however, is that Celsus is somehow able to identify Mary’s paramour by name. He is called Pantera or Pandera.

The tombstone referred to a .man named Tiberius Iulius Abdes Pantera who lived from 22 B.C.E. to 40 C.E. According to the inscription, Pantera was born in Sidon in Phoenicia and served during the reign of the emperor Tiberius.

The discovery would have given scholars pause, were it not for the fact that Celsus’s accusation is not found in any other source from either the first or second century C.E. It does not appear in any of the polemic exchanges between Christian and pagan authors before 178 C.E., even though many a pagan polemicist would gladly have seized on it in order to substantiate his case against Christ. Moreover, Celsus’s allegation originated not in Palestine but, most likely, in Egypt, where relations between Hellenists and Jews (and by extension, Judeo-Christians) had always been tense.

Perhaps a solution to this dilemma (and the source of these seemingly conflicting statements) is found in the book of 2 Samuel. Here we find God’s promise to David that he will be the founder of a dynasty: “I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom…. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me.” This revealing statement tells us a few things. One, it shows that, to observant Jews, the idea that a child born from a mortal man of Davidic lineage could still be like a son to God, just as God could be like a father to him. The agency of this “adoption” by God is the Holy Spirit.

Throughout the Old Testament, we read of prophets favored by “God’s Spirit,” including Elijah,” Samuel, and David. It seems to me that Matthew, and particularly Luke, seized upon this verse in 2 Samuel to conflate two arguments: that Jesus (through Joseph) was a direct descendant of David, and that through the divine Spirit, Jesus was like a son to God, and God like a father to him.

The fact that both evangelists use this argument to “explain” the premari­tal pregnancy of Mary may suggest that her rather controversial condition is rooted in an authentic tradition too prominent to ignore. Joseph’s deci­sion to “take in” Mary despite her pregnancy is also an indication that from a strictly historical perspective, Joseph probably was the biological father, or that at least he may have thought he was the biological father. As far as the “virginal conception” is concerned, this is a spiritual matter that falls out­side the scope of this book. If a virtual impregnation did occur, we lack the historical data to corroborate it. Instead, several scholars have argued that the idea of Mary conceiving as a virgin was inspired by the reference to “a virgin” in the Greek translation of Isaiah.

Within this territory, Galilee was a veritable Garden of Eden filled with a vast range of flowers, plants, and produce. “Its soil is so universally rich and fruitful, and so full of the plantations of trees of all sorts,” wrote Josephus, “that it invites even the most indolent to engage in agriculture, because of its fruitfulness!” Within Lower Galilee itself there were two distinct geophys­ical regions, each with a particular type of vegetation. The ridges surrounding the Allonim Hills were covered with lush shrubs that thrived on the alluvial soil of chalk and limestone. High on the ridges, some tere­binth and evergreen oak (Pistacia palaestina) could be glimpsed, while the hillsides teemed with the dense brush of carob (Ceratonia silqua) and mastic trees (Pistacia lentiscus). In drier areas there were dense clusters of styrax.

On the eastern side of Lower Galilee, an entirely different picture pre­sented itself. Here were highlands made largely of basalt, a forbidding element for natural growth, so that hillsides could stretch for miles without any prominent vegetation other than low-level brush and grass.

Josephus, writing at the of a Roman imperial house, calls Hezekiah a “bandit,” an epithet to most characters in his book who dare to challenge the sovereignty of Rome. It is quite possible, however, that Hezekiah was not an outlaw but al nobleman, a member of the rural landed gentry who owed their title, and lands to the Hasmonean House.

it is no exaggeration to say that the source of the terrible socioeconomic upheaval among the Galilean peasantry was rooted in Hezekiah’s revolt and the brutal reprisal by an insecure and inexperienced governor, later to be known as Herod the Great.

he made sure that coins struck during his reign avoided the usual portrait of the Roman emperor, or any other representation of humans or animals that could offend the Jewish ‘ prohibition on graven images.

the rising hatred of his subjects toward their sover­eign prompted Herod to create a police state not unlike the totalitarian regimes of the mid-twentieth century. Prominent officials and citizens were ordered to swear an oath of allegiance to Herod. Everyone arousing even e slightest suspicion was closely watched by Herod’s secret police. Citizens were encouraged to inform on one another;”even in the cities and on the open roads, there were men who spied on those who met together,” says Josephus. Dissidents were caught and “disappeared”—they were dis­patched to concentration centers in Herod’s fortresses, such as the Hyrcania, and executed without trial. Furthermore, Herod encircled his kingdom with a string of fortresses, both to keep invaders out and to defend against any dangers from within.

Herod’s vast construction program, and the growing trade with Roman 0ossessions on the Mediterranean through Caesarea, created a boom econ­omy—but a boom that mostly benefited the upper crust of Jewish society: the merchants, the priestly elite of the Sadducees, and Herodian officials eager to collaborate with the Roman occupiers.

Things came to a head when the Hasmonean king Alexander Jannaeus, officiating as high priest, delib­erately bungled a libation ceremony, pouring the water on his feet rather than on the altar. A crowd of protestors, many Pharisees among them, promptly pelted him with fruit. Furious, Alexander struck back by initiating a bloody persecution of Pharisees that by Josephus’s count cost the lives of thousand Jews. According to one story, some eight hundred Pharisees crucified in public while Alexander and his concubines reclined to the spectacle.’

The Pharisees were not primarily a priestly aristocratic faction; they were a group of pious laymen passionately devoted to the application of Covenant Law. Whereas the Sadducees (naturally) emphasized the sacrificial cult as the only redemptive activity in Jewish life, the Pharisees felt that man should please God in virtually every action of everyday life, particularly when it came to matters of purity. The Pharisaic concern for ritual observance, so often maligned in the Gospels, was really an attempt to transfer the priestly rules governing purity from the Temple to the home—giving, in effect, every man the opportunity to serve as a priest of God. This explains the great popularity enjoyed by the Pharisees in Palestine, particularly in urban areas. Against the arrogant and haughty attitude of the Sadducees, the Pharisees offered a populist and progressive attitude toward observance of the Law. For example, whereas the Sadducees considered the written texts of the Hebrew Scriptures a closed book, the Pharisees con­tinued to debate and interpret the application of Scripture to everyday life, a corpus of wisdom and exegesis that became known as the Oral Law. In the process, the Pharisees developed detailed rules governing food prepara­tion, ritual bathing, tithing, and Sabbath observance—matters that, in later years, they would sometimes debate quite vigorously with a certain itiner­ant rabbi from Nazareth.

What is so interesting for our story is that the Pharisees embraced the Hellenistic idea of the immortality of the soul, as well as the belief in the resurrection after Judgment Day—two concepts that would return in the teachings of Jesus. It was the Pharisees who articulated the idea that immoral souls are punished, while righteous souls pass into immortality.’

Socially, too, the Pharisees were distinct from the wealthy priestly aris­tocracy dominated by the Sadducees. Pharisee support could usually be found among the professional “middle class,” including scribes, teachers, tradesmen, merchants, and trained craftsmen.Their leaders formed a minor­ity position on the Great Sanhedrin; but, because of their support among the urban elites of the country, their influence was still strong.

The tomb also contained a vial of seven grams of an unknown substance. Microscopic analysis, followed by a chromatography performed by the Hadassah Medical School, revealed that the material was Cannabis sativa. Such use is also documented in Egyptian papyri from around 1600 B.C.E. Apparently, hashish could be administered to mothers to increase their con­tractions, while also lessening the pain. A study by British medical researchers has corroborated the effectiveness of cannabis in “increasing the force of uter­ine contractions, along with a significant reduction of labor pain.”‘

Thus cleansed, Jesus was laid on the lap of the midwife and swaddled in or linen strips. The swaddling was tightened so that he was prevented m injuring his eyes with his fingers. Lastly, he was laid down on a pillow of hay or on a mattress with a depressed channel, to prevent him from rolling over. Soranus’s text advocated the use of a feeding trough as a cradle, since the trough’s slight incline would prop up the baby’s head­ suggesting that Luke’s portrayal of Jesus in a manger may reflect actual use. Mary, meanwhile, was gently moved from the birthing chair and back to her bed, there to lie back and rest while waiting for the moment to hold her newborn son in her arms.

The Talmud states that mamzers can have no voice in public congregations—they are supposed to be silent at all times…… The other children in the village would have been forbidden to play with him. If Jesus was allowed to participate in “synagogue” gatherings at all, he would have been prevented from speak­ing up. Quite possibly, he would not even have been able to attend.

First, she took a jar that held the precious kernels of grain; it Nightly closed with flax rope to keep out hungry rodents and other tres­passers.Then she poured out several cupfuls of grain onto the mill. This mill consisted of two round slabs of stone, anchored on a central wooden which allowed the top to be moved back and forth across the bot­slab by way of a wooden handle. The motion crushed kernels and d them into a fine flour that sifted down to the floor. It was hard for a young girl of fifteen: one hour of grinding would typically pro-e only some 800 grams of flour. Mary then collected the flour in a bowl added a bit of salt, a few drops of olive oil, and half a cup of water, ding the mixture until it had the consistency of dough. She also added t—the spoiled remains of dough from two days back—to leaven the d so it would rise in the oven.

At one point or another, the toddler Jesus might rise in search of his other, only to find her busy at work kneading the dough. He must have observed her closely; later, in the days of his ministry, he would compare the Kingdom of Heaven to “yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour, until all of it was leavened?” Once the dough was ready, Mary’s agile hands quickly shaped it into thin round cakes, which baked more quickly and thus saved time and fuel.

Then it was time to fire the oven. Mary probably used animal dung to fire her oven, with branches and leaves for kindling. Once it was lit, Mary waited until the small clay chamber immediately above the fire was sufficiently hot. She then placed the cakes on a wooden baker’s palette and slid the cakes into the baking chamber, checking regularly to ensure that the bread rose and baked to her liking.

After fifteen or twenty minutes, the cakes would be ready. By this time, Joseph would have risen and washed himself, either at the village well or from a nearby cistern that collected rainfall in winter months. As the sun rose, the family sat down to enjoy their first meal of the day—delicious hot bread, dipped in olive oil and seasoned with garlic. They ate the bread at a low table, sitting on rough woolen rugs. Mary made sure to save several cakes for Joseph’s haversack, to serve as his lunch in the field. Other pieces were carefully stowed away to feed the family at suppertime, the second and last meal of the day, when the bread would be augmented with a cooked egg or vegetable. Only on the Sabbath would the family eat three meals. Later rabbinic writings specified that a Sabbath meal should include at least two cooked foods to underscore the festive character of this holy day—for example, fried fish, legume paste, or vegetables.’

In all, the daily process of preparing and baking the bread, the staple of a peasant’s diet, would have taken anywhere from two to three hours. Jesus would later pay homage to this quintessential ritual of Galilean life by including the words “give us this day our daily bread” in the prayer he taught to his disciples. Thus fortified by the morning meal, Joseph rose, kissed his young wife and son, and headed for his fields to spend the rest of the day in cultivating the land.

This treasury, as we have seen was the central repository of Temple tax proceeds, as well as being Judea’s “central bank,” swollen with deposits from wealthy families throughout region.

The Roman census, Judas claimed, was illegal because the land to be assessed did not belong to Rome but to God. It was God who had given the Promised Land to his people, for them to till as tenants. To submit to the census and accept the Roman occupation as a fait accompli was there­fore tantamount to accepting the yoke of slavery and rejecting the Lord’s title to one’s property. Consequently, Judas urged the populace to simply refuse any dealings with the Roman authorities, at any level, whether involving the census or any other form of contact.

Life in Galilee had always been bound up in land. Land brought a family ty and anchored it to the soil of its ancestors. Land encouraged fathers mothers to seek marriage partners for their children among their kins ­so as to keep the ownership of that land within the clan. Land was more just soil to be tilled and harvested; it was the source of a farmer’s pride, sense of dignity, as it had been for his father and his father’s father before Take it away, and you took away the very purpose of his existence.

As we have seen, the tax burden on the peasantry—taking into account the es levied by the priesthood as well as the taxes charged by the Romans and Herodian regime–escalated to around 30 to 40 percent of a peasant’s harvest yields, compared to a tax rate of around 9 to 12 percent elsewhere in the man Empire, such as Egypt.’ Unlike landowners, however, the Palestinianpeasant did not have the surplus to absorb these exorbitant taxes, for he prac­ed subsistence farming rather than bulk agriculture.Virtually every crop he raised was used to feed his family first and to barter for seeds and other nec­essary goods second. His margin for taxation, allowing for bad harvests, droughts, and the ravages of war, was therefore extremely limited—certainly not more than between 10 and 15 percent of yields.

The accumulation of land in the hands of a small group of wealthy landowner—speculators also changed the nature of agricultural production in Galilee. Previously, as we have seen, peasants like Joseph cultivated a broad spectrum of produce in small quantity—enough to provide their families with a varied diet of bread as well as vitamin-rich vegetables such as onions, cabbage, squash, and beets, and occasionally grapes, olives, or figs. The compartmentalization of land into tiny crop-defined plots inevitably left the peasant with little surplus to sell. This is why before the Herodian era, agricultural production for markets outside of the immediate vicinity of peasant villages was limited.

With the rapid growth of other “capitalist” landholdings, owned by the new elites around Herod and his offspring, the percentage of diverse sub­sistence farming in Galilee dropped precipitously in favor of dedicated cultivation specifically for urban markets in Galilee and beyond. Land that had previously sustained the growth of many different crops was now seeded exclusively for popular export products such as grains. Orchards were combined to become vast production regions of olives (and olive oil), dates (and date wines), or grapes (for wine)—three key products

Meanwhile, another group, led by Sicarii or “daggermen,” broke into the public archives in Jerusalem, where the records of all indebted land and property were kept, and burned the building to the ground.

As far as we can determine, a tektoon was engaged in various types of building. Elsewhere in the Greek world, the word “tektoon” could also signify a man skilled in the working of wood. This led to the unfortunate translation, starting with the King James Bible, of tektoon as “carpenter,” which in our Western culture—as the painting by our Pre-Raphaelite artist suggests—is often taken to mean “cabinetmaker,” or at least someone with the requisite skills to craft objects in wood.” What this translation failed to take into account was that Palestine did not have the large forests that Europe had. Even in Galilee, as we have seen, wood crops were sparse.

Consequently, wood was a very expensive material. The popular image of Joseph contently carving doors or cabinets for his fellow villagers is a fantasy, for none of the villagers could have afforded it. What little workable wood that existed was cut down and transferred to wood shops in or near Jerusalem itself, there to be worked by skilled craftsmen for the only clien­tele who could pay for such luxury—namely, the Temple and the owners of palatial mansions going up in Jerusalem’s Upper City.

A vast enterprise such as the construction of a city must have sucked resources and manpower from every corner of Lower Galilee. It is therefore inconceivable that the inhab­itants of the tiny hamlet of Nazareth would have been unaffected. Nazareth ay only four miles from Sepphoris—a two-hour walk at most. Nevertheless, for the peasants of the village, the project would have been a mixed blessing. On the one hand, Antipas’s zest for construction necessi­tated the continued levy of heavy taxes, just as Herod the Great had financed his great monuments with the sweat of Galilean peasants. On the other hand, the project also offered the thousands of landless and disenfran­chised peasants an opportunity to find long-term employment. Better, certainly, than standing in the square each day, waiting for a landlord to drop by and offer work for mere pennies.

As it was, the construction of the new city of Sepphoris took fourteen years. Scores of peasants would have been needed to provide the muscle for hefting beams, hoisting smooth-hewn blocks of stone, or pounding slabs of  pavement. But the project would also have employed hundreds of skilled workers—those experienced in chiseling stone, sawing wood, or polishing marble. These were the tektoi described in the Gospel of Mark.

Consequently, I do believe that sometime after Jesus reached his twelfth birthday, when a Jewish boy was considered old enough to undergo his bar mitzvah and join his father in whatever craft he was engage in, he and Joseph made their way to Sepphoris to join the throngs of peasants and workers in search of work. Whether this was entirely of their own volition, or whether they had been conscripted into construction gangs, is not clear. When governing Bithynia for the emperor Trajan, the younger Pliny found that public construction relied on a large amount of men who had been sentenced ad opus publicum by way of penalty for crimes or misdemeanors. In many cases, however, such convict labor was not sufficient to build large construction projects. The town of Urso in Roman Spain, for example, passed a decree expressly authorising it to conscript its population for building works if no adequate source of forced labour could be found.

Conscripting the peasantry into building his new city would not have freed Antipas from the obligation to pay them, though he would have been able to set wages that reflected the depressed economic condition of the peasantry at the time. Roman records from Africa suggest that it cost between sixty and seventy thousand sesterces to build a modest temple, whereas the construction of a theater ran around six hundred thousand ses­terces. These budgets would have been difficult to maintain if all workers assigned to the project were paid the usual one dinarius per day.

Jesus’ purported sojourn in Sepphoris is important for two reasons. First of all, in the Gospels Joseph disappears from view, never to be heard from again. When compared to ancient literature, including the Hebrew Scriptures, this is unique. The death of a father in ancient times was a significant event, for inevitably it made the oldest son the new head of the household. One would thus expect the Gospel literature to tell us when Joseph, a major character in the Gospel of Matthew, passed from this world, leaving the care of his family to his oldest son. But it doesn’t, and so we are left to speculate about what happened to Joseph and why we are not given information about his death. One thing is clear: Joseph did not live until old age, as Mary did.

It is not impossible to imagine that Joseph was the victim of a construc­tion accident in Sepphoris. In the ancient world, accidental deaths of workers were quite common. Safety concerns of the type that govern our modern building sites were unheard of. Workers were cheap and plentiful, certainly in Herodian Galilee, and therefore expendable. What’s more, con­struction methods were primitive, and working with heavy masonry was inherently dangerous. Though Antipas availed himself of Greco—Roman architects, he may not have had access to the more sophisticated hoists and tools that we know were being deployed in Augustus’s blossoming empire.

If this suggestion is true, then Jesus would have brought the body home to Nazareth, there to be buried before sundown. Mary would have wept; Jesus would have consoled her; and the- next day he would have returned to Sepphoris, knowing that the burden of supporting his family now fell entirely on him.

The distance between Nazareth and Sepphoris would have made it impractical for Jesus (and Joseph, while he lived) to return home after work ceased at the end of the day. More than likely, they would have lived in a workers’ camp, in tents or huts erected for the purpose just outside the city proper. It would have been primitive living, without women or children; it would have been too costly to feed them as well. Instead, the men would have j only returned to their villages in time for the beginning of Sabbath on Friday evening at sunset, to return to the work pits when the holy day was over.

The archaeological record on this issue is quite specific. As of the time of this writing, no synagogue from the time of Jesus has been excavated anywhere in Galilee

If Tiberias had a prayer house, then it is certainly conceivable that Sepphoris had one, too.

As we have seen, the Pharisees were a pious group of religious laymen who rejected the idea that the only path to a Jew’s salvation led through the rite of frequent sacrifice at the Temple. They believed that, in contrast, a purification of mind and body could be realized by the meticulous appli­cation of Mosaic ritual purity on everything that a person touched, from the moment he got up to the time he went to sleep.The Pharisees are often depicted in the Gospel literature as people hopelessly obsessed with the minutiae of the Law; but in practice they represented a strong reformative element in Second Temple Judaism that continuously sought solutions for situations that the Mosaic Laws had never anticipated. The foreign occupa­tion of Palestine’s land, the need to pay taxes to a pagan power, the necessity of dealing with Gentiles on a daily basis challenged the most essential tenets of the Law and demanded answers. Unlike the Sadducees, who considered the Pentateuch a closed book, the Pharisees led the ongoing debate to apply the principles of the Law to the changing circumstance of Palestinian Judaism—a process known as the development of the Oral Law. Indeed, one of the more revolutionary concepts that the Pharisees were prepared to accept from Hellenistic thought was the very idea of a life after death—an idea that would resonate with our rabbi from Nazareth.

The Pharisaic movement consisted of two “houses.” The House of Hillel followed the milder and more liberal teachings of the great rabbinic sage Hillel (30 E.c.E.-10 c.E.). The House of Shammai followed a harsher and more radical school of thought. The House of Shammai had, in fact, thrown its support behind the “tax revolt” of Judas in Galilee in 6 C.E. Both movements would continue to figure prominently in the great debate of the Law that would ultimately produce the Mishnah of 200 C.E.

after the Saducees had succeeded in excluding the Pharisaic party from the power cir­cles in  Jerusalem in the late Hasmonean period, many Pharisees may have simply packed up and left for townships outside of Judea.

I believe it is reasonable to assume that the development of Sepphoris as preeminent administrative center in Galilee would have attracted a large number of Pharisaic professionals.

Why would some of these Pharisees have taken this young boy under their wing? The answer may be that Jesus had recently lost his father. What’s more, the young Jesus was an intelligent, inquisitive, and attentive young man. It is eminently plausible

that in the course of his building tasks, he would have come in contact with Pharisees. Once invited into their midst, he would have been intrigued by the Pharisaic idea that the Torah was not an immutable codex of human behavior: that one, in fact, had the freedom to interpret and debate the tenets of the written Covenant Law; that God encouraged such interpreta­tion and sent his divine Spirit to guide such deliberations, as his Spirit had guided prophets of days past; and that, lastly, the cumulative wisdom of these discussions, this “Oral Law,” could help Palestinian Jews to better cope with the great social inequities of their time. All of these ideas, which are cornerstones of Pharisaic thought (as well as the core principles of the Pharisees’ spiritual heirs, the postwar rabbinate), would resonate strongly in Jesus’ teachings. Furthermore, Jesus may have observed something that he had never encountered in the humble home of his parents: a group of lit­erate people, eager to engage each other in stimulating debate. His quick mind must have leaped at the opportunity to learn from—and match wits with—these highly articulate men.

The Pharisees, for their part, were devoted to educating the young. While they may not yet have created the “Sunday School” system of syna­gogue education that was to emerge after the destruction of the Temple, they may nevertheless have anticipated the idea in Talmudic literature that by applying the Mosaic Laws in everyday life, a Jew could “restore” that Temple by turning his home into a living sanctuary. Hence, the education of young Jews in the tenets of these Mosaic Laws may have been a high Pharisaic priority, for only through knowledge of the Law could a Jew attain the level of piety to which YHWH called him.

How Jesus would have been educated in Sepphoris is open to specula­tion. Perhaps he frequented the local synagogue or “prayer house,” assuming that such a place existed at the time, where his quick mind may have caught the attention of a kind Pharisaic scribe or teacher. Conversely, a Pharisee may have taken pity on the boy still mourning for his father and taken him into his family home. This would explain why Jesus not only became an expert in Scripture but also a close observer of Pharisaic life and customs, as countless parables would later attest.

In sum, by the latter part of the first century C.E., when the evangelists t began to write, Sepphoris was perceived as hopelessly pro-Roman and collaborationist. Exactly what the Galilean population thought about the inhabitants of Sepphoris is vividly illustrated by Josephus’s account of the assault on Sepphoris at the beginning of the Jewish War. “The Galilean,” says Josephus, “took this opportunity for venting their hatred on them, since they detested that city. They then set out to destroy them all, even those who had sought refuge there. And so they descended upon them and set their houses on fire!”

If the evangelists had known about Jesus’ education in the city, there would have been little incentive to associate him with a community of such questionable character.

But perhaps the most important reason why the role of the Pharisees of Sepphoris in Jesus’ life was erased from the record is that the evangelists, writing for a Greco—Roman audience outside of Palestine, chose to make the Pharisees the ultimate villains of the Jesus story. They, rather than the Romans, are cast as the evil opponents of Jesus at every turn; they are the architects of Jesus’ arrest and ultimate downfall. The possibility that these very same Pharisees would have figured in Jesus’ education certainly did not fit that scenario.

Many, mostly Gentile workers, may have left for Tiberias. Most of the Jewish labor, however, would have refused to follow Antipas to his new city. The reason is simple: Antipas, a man never bothered by Jewish purity laws, had picked a spot which, according to local lore, had once been a Jewish cemetery.

By this time, the role of paterfamilias, the head of the household, would have been assumed by James. Even though James was a younger brother, Jesus’ prolonged sojourn in Sepphoris would have made James the oldest male in the family by default.

In some villages Jesus would have been welcomed, given the chance to the odd thing here and there, and paid with shelter and a meal. In other locales, all but eviscerated by debt and grinding poverty, there would have been little to do; but rarely was he turned away without at least a cup of water.

But when they lost their land, the Galilean peasantry also lost the ability to provide their families with balanced nutrition. With what little they made as tenant farmers or day-laborers, their daily diet was reduced to bread, occa­sionally relieved with a piece of salted fish if they were lucky. What’s more, the bread they ate was no longer made from emmer wheat but from barley, previously grown as fodder for farm animals. The quality of this barley bread was considerably more primitive than, for example, the bread baked by pro­fessional bakeries and consumed by the poor of Rome. Because many displaced peasants were deprived of their village mills and ovens, the cereal would have been poorly sieved and improperly leavened, impairing the absorption of vital minerals, producing coarse bread of poor quality. Modern studies bear this out.

by singling out barley loaves and small fishes, Jesus not only exposes the conditions to which the peasantry had been reduced; by multiplying this humble meal into a veritable banquet, he also exalts the innate dignity of the peasant and holds up an example of how the riches of the earth should be shared rather than hoarded.

Barley bread, the staple of the peasantry in Jesus’ day, is notably deficient in vitamins A, C, and D, as well as minerals such as zinc.Vitamin A deficiency would have inevitably led to eye disease, which is still common in develop­ing countries today—including xerophthalnfia, keratomalacia, and, in the worst cases, blindness. A 1998 study in Latin America concluded that no less than 25 percent of children under the age of five in this region suffered from some form of vitamin A deficiency, with eye lesions and irreversible blind­ness being the most common manifestations. In rural areas, the incidence was as high as 41 percent.” In the Middle East, these conditions would have been exacerbated by the intense sunlight, heat, and blowing sand. Significantly, the Gospels contain eighteen references to the blind.

A group of researchers at the University Clinic of Zurich has identified another affliction linked to vitamin A deficiency. Their research shows that it can also produce layers of bony tissue in the periostal capsule of the labyrinth, as well as advanced suppuration of the middle ear, inevitably leading to par­tial or complete deafness.The deaf, too, play a prominent role in the Gospels.

In addition to vitamin A, a lack of vitamin C can also have severe con­sequences. One particular condition is known as osteomalacia, a bone disease that can have a devastating effect on pregnant and lactating women whose condition is aggravated by the loss of calcium inherent in pregnancy and breast feeding. It can also attack the formation of healthy bones in young children, in essence crippling them.” The study of two skeletons from the Villa Gordiani near Rome has shown a strong link between low mineral counts (such as zinc) and bone disease.’

Joseph Zias , citing several studies, has suggested that the New Testament form of leprosy ­refers to a particularly virulent form of nonvenereal syphilis, transmitted through sexual intercourse but by skin contact, mostly in childhood; other scholars have pointed at tuberculosis.”

Recovered from his long journey (which in the best of times would have taken at least five days), Jesus finally made for the city. He must have been amazed, as any country bumpkin would have been, upon setting foot in what was then the most cosmopolitan city in all of Palestine. Even Pliny, an experienced globetrotter, called Jerusalem “by far the most famous city, not only of Judea, but of the whole East.” It was perhaps the first time Jesus had er gazed upon the glittering marble walls of the Temple complex, rising majestically above the ochre-tinted hubbub of the Lower City—certainly the first time since his infancy. The way I envision it, pilgrims would have been pouring down into the valley of Kidron, streaming toward the shin­ing promontory of the Temple. The roads were so clogged that Jesus had to take care not to trip over other people’s feet. Nevertheless, the mood of the crowds was upbeat; the mere sight of the Temple, its marble as bright as snow against the indigo sky, was enough to fill their hearts with pride.

Eventually he arrived at the mikva’ot below the eastern steps, where Pharisees insisted that worshipers undergo ritual immersion, but neither the heat nor the long lines would have dampened the pilgrims’ spirit. Jesus, too, waited patiently for his turn, paid the obligatory shekel to the Pharisee running the baths, then headed for the men’s section, where he stripped to his loincloth. He followed the man in front of him through the wonder­fully cool and cleansing waters of the mikveh and emerged refreshed, as cleansed as a newborn babe.

From there, Jesus once again joined an immense throng of the pilgrims, now pressing toward the city gate. A number of enterprising traders had set up a row of stands from which they sold water, fruits, devotional items, and souvenirs. Jesus ignored them and allowed himself to be carried through the gate, only to be caught up in an even greater maelstrom of humanity swirling through the small alleys and passages of the Tyropoeon Valley, on the way to the Temple. At every corner his ears, used to the stillness of the fields, were assaulted by the bleat of sheep, the cries of hawkers, the wails of beggars, and pilgrims speaking in every language imaginable.Through it all, mothers called for lost children, shoppers bargained and argued, and deliv­erymen with stupendously laden donkeys struggled to carry their produce to nearby stalls. And then there was the smell: the stink of rotting fruit, ani­mal dung and sweating bodies in the hot midday sun, permeated by the odor of burnt flesh wafting down from the Temple complex.

Wherever he looked, Jesus saw huddles of peasant families and their grimy children, crowded under the overhang of a shop or simply squatting in the dirt, prepared to defend their precious perch at all costs. High above them rose great columns of thick oily smoke, rising from the altar beyond the great walls, casting thin flakes of ash on the crowds below.

At last, Jesus turned a corner and there it was: the “stupendous mass” of the Temple’s walls, in the phrase of Josephus, eighty-four feet high, built up of huge hewn blocks of limestone that were fitted so tight that not even a knife could be pushed through the joints. He allowed himself to be carried along, up the long flight of stairs that led to the Double Gate, also known as the West Huldah Gate, leading to the Temple sanctuary. He stumbled, nearly fell, and discovered the reason: the steps of the stairway were uneven. A bystander may have explained that the steps were cut to different heights so that pilgrims were forced to ascend slowly and carefully, each tread reminding them that they trod on sacred ground.

The throng now entered a long tunnel lit by smoky, sputtering torches. A thousand voices echoed against the smooth Herodian stone as Jesus fol­lowed the crowd up a long flight of steps, his eyes adjusting to the sudden darkness. There, up ahead, a light blazed with such brightness that Jesus had to avert his gaze. As he came closer, he realized what it was: the bright white pavement of the Great Court, that vast esplanade of white marble that sur­rounded the actual Temple complex.

Now a new barrage of sounds assaulted him: the din of a thousand ham­mers and saws. The Stoa, the building under which he had just passed, was still partly under construction, encased in scaffolding, as were parts of the colonnade that ran all along the forecourt. Marble and limestone dust was everywhere; Jesus could taste it on his lips. And yet the space was vast. Even though the tunnels kept spewing forth crowds of people onto the forecourt, all were soon lost in the immense stretch of the esplanade. It was the largest thing built by man that he, or any of his contemporaries, had ever seen. Even by the inflated standards of imperial Rome, the Herodian SecondTemple was a marvel, a monument to man’s genius, a throne worthy of the Lord.

Some pilgrims had brought sacrificial animals that would soon meet their fate under the knife of the priests. Most peasants, however, could not afford this luxury; from them, the priests were content to accept a dove instead.

Jesus turned and moved toward the entrance of the Temple precinct proper. He first passed the soreg, a wooden fence some ten handbreadths high that marked the line beyond which Gentiles as well as those consid­ered ceremonially unclean (such as some of the chronically ill) were not allowed to pass. For a moment his gaze fell upon one of the marble tablets, placed at intervals of a hundred paces, that warned that any Gentile found beyond this boundary would be stoned to death. The text was repeated in and Greek for good measure, lest some dim-witted tourist stray beyond the fence and find himself facing a death sentence.

Just beyond the soreg, Jesus climbed the twelve shallow steps that led to what the Book of Acts calls the Beautiful Gate, a set of double doors that opened up into the first of two courts.The first was called the ezrat nashim, the Court of Women, beyond which no woman was allowed to pass. It was surrounded on all sides by a colonnade with gilded Corinthian capitals. Each of the four corners was taken up by a pavilion. One was used for the storage of wood to fuel the altar oven; the other was destined for “lepers,” those afflicted by any skin diseases, after they had been cured and cleansed. In another pavilion, known as the Chamber of Oils, the oils and wine for sacrificial ceremonies were kept.

Many people had gathered here, for a variety of reasons. Sacrifice was not the only reason why a devout Jew would go to the Temple. Many wor­shipers came to offer their first fruits, tithes, or other obligatory offerings; to pray; to study the Torah or question priestly scholars on matters of the Law; or simply to receive blessings.

The colonnade surrounding the Court was topped by an open terrace or portico—the same portico from which worshipers had pelted Roman soldiers during the riots of 6 C.E. Whenever the Court was used for actual ceremonies, such as the celebration of water libation on the first day of Succoth, the men stood in the Court while the women observed the pro­ceedings from the galleries above. As Jesus paused and observed the comings and goings of worshipers, he may have realized that it was near here, in the original forecourt of the First Temple, that Jeremiah had once stood to deliver his dramatic Temple appeal to the worshipers of his day. “At the beginning of the reign of King Jehoiakim son of Josiah of Judah,” says the book of Jeremiah, “this word came from the Lord: Stand in the court of the Lord’s house, and speak-to all the cities in Judah that come to wor­ship in the house of the Lord.” And Jesus may have remembered God’s oracle: “If you will not listen to me, to walk in my law that I have set before you … then I will make this house like Shiloh.”31 Shiloh had once been an important sanctuary to YHWH, but it had been destroyed in the eleventh century B.C.E. Right on this spot, in other words, Jeremiah had predicted the imminent destruction of the Temple.

Jesus turned. Just ahead of him, fifteen curved steps led to the magnificent brass double doors of the Nicanor Gate, which led to the sacrificial area proper. He waited for his turn to enter, then followed a group of men inside.

He now stood in the second or inner court, facing the Sanctuary proper, the Second Temple. A rectangular building originally constructed in 515 B.C.E. with funds from the Persian treasury, the Second Temple had been built on the foundations of the First Temple. This original Temple, as tradition went, had in turn been constructed by King Solomon in the tenth century, though it was destroyed after the capture of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar II in 586 B.C.E. We are not quite sure to what extent Herod altered the sixth-century structure, but we do know that he covered the exterior with gold leaf that reflected the light of the sun in all directions. As a result, it was dif­ficult to gaze at the Temple directly, especially in the morning hours when the sun, rising over the Mount of Olives, splashed the Temple in a golden halo of light. Jesus knew that no one except a priest was allowed to enter the Temple proper. Deep inside the Temple was an even more sacred place, the Holy of Holies, where the Ark of the Covenant had once been kept. Though the room was now empty, only the high priest was allowed to enter it, and then only once a year, during the Feast of Atonement,Yom Kippur.

The court was divided into two sections.The narrow strip in which Jesus and other worshipers stood was called the Court of the Israelites, from which they could observe the sacrificial ceremonies. These took place in a slightly elevated section, which was known as the Court of the Priests. This area was dominated by the huge altar that rose some twenty-five feet in the air. The altar was really a huge oven, stoked by sweating assistants on all sides, while priests standing on its summit threw large chunks of meat on the fire. Even on normal days, a variety of sacrifices would be made, presented by worshipers from all over Palestine and beyond. These included burnt offerings, peace offerings, offerings for thanksgiving, sin offerings, and purification offerings. While the meat was being roasted by the flames, some priests busied them­selves pouring oil, wine, and blood on the embers, while others, standing on “the steps to the sanctuary, sang hymns and blessed the worshipers.The liquids hissed, the meat fats popped, and all was consumed in billowing clouds of smoke that slowly rose from the altar and darkened the skies over Jerusalem.

we must recognize is that fishing in the Sea of Galilee was far from the tive occupation that traditional scholarship has always assumed it was. As have seen, the dislocation of the peasantry from their ancestral land had resulted in the growth of a vast proletariat without homes or means of sup­port. Bereft of the chance to inherit a piece of their fathers’ property, many of these men, both young and middle-aged, would have converged on the Sea of Galilee. Here, they reasoned, was still a harvest to be had, a harvest of fish, from which no Roman or landowner could bar them.

Thus, hundreds of untrained amateurs began competing with the tightly knit group of professional fishermen who had plied these waters for genera­tions. Many of these new arrivals may have tried to catch fish from the shore, with little effect. To get to the principal feeding ground, one needed a boat—specifically, a boat big enough to hold the usual complement of fishermen needed to cast and draw nets—and a crew adept at navigating the sometimes treacherous waters of the lake. Boats were expensive, but they could be leased out to multiple teams working in shifts. And this is precisely what happened, resulting in a virtual explosion of fishing activity on the Sea of Galilee.

As John Dominic Crossan has shown, excavations below the waterline have revealed no fewer than fifteen different harbors around the lake from the first century C.E. Certainly Bethsaida, Capernaum, Tabgha, Gennesaret, Magdala, and Ammaus, all cities referred to in the Gospels, had berths for fishing boats. But modern surveys have also revealed harbor structures in Tiberias, Sennabris, BeitYerah, Tel Samra, Duerban, Sussita, Ein Gofra, and Gergesa. Each of these ports followed the same model, with varying degrees of sophistication: a short pier, protected by a long, curved breakwater to shelter the fishing boats at anchor.

Consequently, the lake in Jesus’ time must have been teeming with fish ing boats both large and small. Inevitably, this vast increase in activity led to over-harvesting and the gradual depletion of the fish population. We find further evidence of this depletion in the Gospel of Luke, in which a morose Simon Peter tells Jesus that they have “toiled all night long, and not caught ..

Jesus had come to understand that the method of transformation advocated by the Pharisees was wrong. It was all well and good to be obses­sive about the purity of the food one ate, the water with which one cleansed oneself, or the things one was or was not allowed to do on the Sabbath. These, Jesus acknowledged, were legitimate concerns enshrined in Laws of the Kingdom.What was wrong, however, was to pursue these con­cerns at the expense of everything else, missing the whole point of the Law. In Jesus’ vision, the sole purpose of the Law was to please God with one’s heart and to share responsibility for the welfare of one’s fellow man. “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?” he thunders during one of his speeches.” “Shame on you, scribes and Pharisees,” he rails elsewhere, speaking as one who has observed Pharisaic customs up close: “for- you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, but you neglect the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith.”

It was all very clear to him now Neither the Essenes, the Pharisees, nor John had held the key to the solution of Israel’s ills, though each, in their own way, had made a major contribution to Jesus’ development as a religious reformer. The only solution, in his eyes, was to go back to the fundamental idea of Israel as a land of God—as a community that did not cleave to Roman dictates nor to the vainglorious pretensions of the Herodian dynasty, but to the principles of God’s rule.

What Jesus is saying is this: there is no point in sitting around and waiting for some great cataclysm, some instrument of God’s terrible wrath, to come about and do the work for you. We, the people, says Jesus, e the power to take destiny in our own hands, to join together to rid our villages and towns of the greed, the injustice, the disease that has plunged Palestine into despondency. “The Kingdom:’ says Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas, “is inside of you.”” One can glimpse the heavenly Kingdom, experience and live the Kingdom today—by acts of compassion toward one’s fellow man and obedient love of God. We are, perhaps, reminded of the words of the Mahatma Gandhi, urging his followers to “be the change you want to see.”

Jesus’ manifesto was a call to all Jews to rise up and build the Kingdom of God now, today, irrespective of the Romans or the priesthood or any­one else responsible for the decay of Israel. Jesus, to put it bluntly, believed in people power. He believed that by sowing the seeds of a new sense of social solidarity, grounded in faith, between landowner and serf, toll collec­tor and fisherman, he could restore the Kingdom of God just as it had been in the earliest days of the settlement in the Promised Land.

For Jesus, the Kingdom was not a political institution, but a state of grace, in anticipation of the great Kingdom of Heaven after death. As Martin Buber put it: “the Kingdom … is no other-worldly consolation, no vague heavenly bliss. It is the perfect life of man with man:’ It is, in short, a compact for living that extends the Covenant of Moses into a new and more intimate sphere of human relations.

The answer may be more obvious than we think. To see it, we must remember that Jesus was still a relatively young man, only recently set free from the shadow of a charismatic and domineering teacher. What’s more, there was so little time. Most sages, philosophers and spiritual leaders  know from antiquity took years to formulate their doctrine. Jesus was oper­ating in a span of mere months. He was literally developing his Kingdom manifesto as he went along.

My conclusion is that the “Kingdom” philosophy we see in the Gospels is not an arbitrary grouping of sometimes contradictory statements, but the process by which Jesus is slowly refining his teaching. We all know that the best way to grasp a complex idea is to try to explain it to others.

It is quite possible that the Qumranite idea of a shared meal as a spiri­tual act was communicated to Jesus by John. But in Jesus’ hands, this table fellowship gained an entirely new meaning. Whereas the table of Qumran was shared only with the members of the cult, Jesus welcomed people from every walk of life, without any regard for the social barriers that had bifur­cated Galilean society. For him, the Kingdom of God was explicitly egalitarian and inclusive.

In other words, though Jesus may have never considered himself the biological, consubstantial son of God, he certainly thought of God as his Abba, his spiritual father. Indeed, this intimate connection with God, ampli­fied by his recognition of his extraordinary healing powers, remained the strongest motivating force throughout Jesus’ career.

When he looked at the gilded Corinthian capitals and the expanse of mar­ble pavement stretching out across the esplanade, he saw only the sweat and blood of the peasant families at whose expense all this excess had been built. He may have remembered Jeremiah’s rebuke, spoken right here in the :Temple: “Thus says the Lord:… I did not speak to [your ancestors] or com­mand them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. But this command I gave then. And he would have remembered Jeremiah’s dire warning of what God would do if the people did heed his call to repent:”I will do to the house that is called by my name I did to Shiloh.’

In fact, historical precedent argues against the premonition of death. Jesus had every reason to think that if apprehended, he would face the until of the Sanhedrin and suffer corporal punishment. And while a death sentence was always a possibility in extremis, it was certainly not inevitable; and if, for any reason, Jesus had been condemned to die, he would have been executed by stoning (as in the case of Stephen) or beheading (as in the case of John the Baptist and James, brother of Jesus, who was condemned on orders of king Herod Agrippa I). Josephus also reports the execution of James, but states that he was thrown off the Templeparapet and stoned to death.’

The Tractate Sanhedrin in the Mishnah lists four methods of execution used by the Sanhedrin: stoning, burning, decapitation, and strangulation.17 Jewish authorities did not use crucifixion; that was a Roman form of exe­cution, and Jesus had no reason to think that the Romans would take an interest in his case. His crime, such as it was, was disturbing the peace in the Temple forecourt, provoking the priesthood, and prophesying, like Jeremiah, that the Temple would be destroyed. All these were matters of a religious nature, which therefore fell under the jurisdiction of the Great

Council of the Sanhedrin.

This is extremely important, because the full Sanhedrin consisted of some seventy-one members, many of whom were not Sadducees, but Pharisees.” As I have sought to argue in the foregoing, the Pharisees had ample reason to take issue with some of Jesus’ teachings, but no motive whatsoever for seeing him removed from the scene. On the contrary; if there was one foe with whom the Pharisees were in almost daily conflict, it was the Sadducees, not a poor hasid from the provinces. A hasid, moreover, who taught an interpretation of the Law that had much in common with that great Pharisaic sage, Rabbi Hillel, albeit in a rather unorthodox manner. Far from being a threat, Jesus would have been perceived as an ally against the Sadducee hegemony.

Jesus had, therefore, every reason to believe that if and when he had his day in court—in front of a true quorum of the Sanhedrin—he could rely on a sympathetic hearing from the Court’s quite powerful Pharisaic wing.

Simon of Cyrene. We don’t know who this man is; the Gospels do not give any further details. But Simon complies. He knows that contact with Jesus’ blood will make him instantly impure, but he doubts that he can make the Roman officer understand. And so he stretches out his hands, takes the rough wooden beam, and hefts it on his shoulder. Jesus is dragged to his feet.

There is no reaction. Jesus has been dead for more than an hour. The ropes are untied and the nails are driven out—carefully, so as not to break them. The soldiers fight over who gets what. They know that peo­le in Palestine and Syria attribute magical powers to nails used in a crucifixion. Each nail can command a hefty price

Outside, the sky is turning dark. The servants roll a stone in front of the entrance and mark it with whitewash—a sign to all who pass that there is a fresh body inside. Mary casts one final look back. In a few days, she knows, she will return.

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