Saturday, July 12, 2008

Chapter 15 - The Aftermath

A new religious movement was born on Easter Sunday (17 April 35 CE) on the threshold of the fourteenth jubilaic era, which was also counted as the twenty-first year of Tiberius. Josephus presumably made note of this event where he recorded: "Now about this time [that is, about the same time when Pilate had put down the insurrection raised over the work done on the viaduct] lived Jesus, a wise man (if indeed it be lawful to call him a man). For he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of men who received the truth with pleasure; and drew over to him many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. [These people said,] He was the Christ [but there were also those who charged he who would challenge Roman rule and attempt to establish a new kingdom]. And when Pilate, at the information of the leading men among us, had condemned him to the cross, those who had loved him at first did not cease to do so. For [they said] he appeared to them again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold this and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named are not extinct at this day."[1]

The Book of Acts adds that the revivified Jesus spent 40 days among his disciples instructing them further and admonished them to carry their witness "unto the uttermost part of the earth."
"And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight.
"And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel;
"Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven."[2]

The likely day for the ascension of Jesus into heaven was May 25th when the planet Mars had returned to the very same position in the gateway to heaven near the manger in the constellation of Cancer, which aspect had also occurred when Jesus was born some twenty-eight years and three months earlier. Jupiter and Saturn had, for much of the previous year, traveled together as companions in the constellation of Leo the Lion close to the royal star of Regulus.

The Festival of Weeks occurred ten days following the ascension of Jesus into heaven, and a week of weeks since the sabbath when the body of Jesus had rested in the tomb. The festival drew many pilgrims as well as the disciples to Jerusalem. The Book of Acts records an outpouring of heavenly spirit upon the disciples. The same Peter, who had disavowed his association with Jesus just two months earlier at the time when Jesus had been crucified, now has found the courage to proclaim repentance and a baptism by the spirit, which shall serve the faithful until the time of restitution of all things.

Another event, in harmony with the messianic fervor of the day, occurred in Samaria most likely concurrent with the Festival of Weeks in Jerusalem. Josephus reports, "But the nation of Samaritans did not escape tumult. The man who excited them to it was one who thought lying a thing of little consequence, and who contrived everything to please the multitude. So he bade them assemble together upon Mount Gerizim which is by them looked upon as the most holy mountains, and assured them, that when they came there, he would show them the sacred vessels that were buried there, because Moses had put them there. And they went there armed, and thought the statement of the man probable; and as they encamped at a certain village, which was called Tirathana, they got together as they could, desiring to go up the mountain en masse. But Pilate prevented them by occupying the ascent with a band of horse and foot, who attacked those who were concentrated in the village; and when it came to an action, they slew some, and put others to flight, and took many alive, the leaders of whom and also the influential of those who fled away, Pilate ordered to be put to death."[3]

The massing of troubles that fell one upon another at the time of heightened messianic expectation proved to be too much for Pilate. His falling upon the Samaritans gathered at the base of Mount Gerizim proved costly, because Rome depended heavily upon the Samaritans to serve as mercenaries to enforce Roman will within Jewish Palestine. Reports concerning the tumult reached the responsible overseers both in Syria and Rome. By the time of the next Passover in Jerusalem, Pilate found himself removed from office. The Syrian governor traveled to Jerusalem, listened to the many grievances, and even relaxed some of the burdensome agricultural taxes.

The Roman loyalist Jewish authorities were encouraged, and in their turn attempted to curb the actions arising from both the Christian and Zealot enthusiasts. A fervent follower of Jesus by the name of Stephen was stoned to death because he had envisioned a resurrected Jesus standing on the right hand of the throne of heavenly power. The vision had not only challenged traditional Jewish values but could also be construed as competing with the Roman acceptance of having Julius Caesar and Augustus residing among the gods in heaven. A Jewish man named Saul attempted to curtail the spread of the Christian movement, but he ultimately became a chief advocate for the Christians after he had a visionary experience in which he was taken up into heaven where he reported having witnessed the resurrected Jesus.

Herod Antipas used this same time period in an attempt to forcibly resolve his differences with King Aretas, the Arabian Monarch. His initial defeat met with derision among the common people who had looked up to John the Baptist as heralding a new age. Here again, the Syrian governor took charge and defeated the disruptive Arab neighbors. This however did not help Antipas. Antipas saw his fortune decline and his political ambitions fall apart. His stockpile of weapons, unauthorized meetings with political ambassadors from foreign countries, and his private war with his Arabian neighbor were interpreted as not consonant with Roman goals. Antipas and Herodias were therefore exiled to Gaul.

The Roman emperor, Tiberius, died in the sixth month into the twenty-third year of his reign. Caligula (Gaius) became the next emperor. He promptly installed his longtime friend, Agrippa, a Herodian and brother to Herodias, as the successor to Philip's territory. When Antipas and Herodias were exiled to Gaul, Caligula also added the territory that had been ruled by Antipas to the territory ruled by Agrippa. The Jews were hopeful that a new era of friendly coexistence with Rome had begun. But by the time of the next Sabbatical year arrived, tension renewed and a major disaster was barely averted. Caligula thought of himself as more than a man, and chose to glorify himself by means of erecting statues of himself throughout the empire. A statue was planned for the Jerusalem temple. The Jews were outraged, and reacted against this proposal much in the same way as Jesus had when he had been tempted to worship Satan while he was in the wilderness. Agrippa and the Syrian governor, Petronius, appealed to Caligula to relent. Caligula did change his mind, but changed it again when he learned how Petronius had not carried out his original plans. Fortunately, as providence would have it, Caligula was assassinated in Rome and the desecration of the Jerusalem temple was averted.

Claudius followed Caligula. Agrippa, who had spent much of his time in Rome, supported Claudius during the aftermath following the death of Caligula and was rewarded by Claudius, who extended Agrippa's territory to the same size as ruled by his grandfather, Herod the Great. Agrippa returned to rule over all of Judaea, but he only ruled for a short time. He died three years later. On his final week of life, he had pompously dressed himself in a silver garment during a time of festival and paraded himself into the theatre where the light of the morning sun caused a grand spectacle. Some chose to flatter Agrippa by commenting that he was a god. They added, "Be thou merciful to us; for although we have hitherto reverenced thee only as man, yet do we henceforth own thee a superior to mortal nature." Agrippa did not reject their words, and thereupon was overcome by a pain in his stomach. Only then, quite belatedly, did he admit to his own mortality. He died some few days afterwards, in the seventh year of his reign from when he had been named ruler over Philip's territory.

Agrippa II succeeded his father as king in Jerusalem. At this time, when Nero had succeeded Caligula, and Florus served as procurator over Jerusalem, rebellion broke out after Florus had invaded the temple treasury on the pretext of collecting a specified tribute required by Nero. The king addressed the flood of anger among his subjects by describing the likely outcome if they continued their rebellion. He said a revolt would most certainly not be supported by any other viable military force, and consequently appealed to the sensibility of the rebellious forces by reasoning as follows: �So there is no refuge left except to make God your ally. But He too is ranged on the Roman side, for without His help so vast an empire could never have been built up. Think how difficult it would be, even if you were fighting feeble opponents, to preserve the purity of your religion, and how you will be forced to transgress the very laws which furnish your chief hope of making God your ally, and so will alienate him. If you observe the custom of the Sabbath with its complete cessation of activity, you will promptly be crushed, as were your ancestors by Pompey, who was most active in pressing the siege on the days when the besieged were passive. But if in the war you transgress your ancestral Law I don't see what you have left to fight for, since your one desire is that none of your ancestral customs should be broken. How will you be able to call the Deity to your aid if you deliberately deny Him the service that is due?"[4] Agrippa's speech quieted the rebellion for the moment. The tax-collectors went out into the districts and collected forty talents in overdue taxes. Unfortunately, at about this time an ominous comet[5] had appeared which seemed to cast a disastrous spell over future events. Surely enough, the peace was broken shortly thereafter, when Agrippa attempted to persuade his subjects to resubmit to Florus until a successor could replace the procurator. The rebels simply lost patience at this point. Anarchy broke out. The rebellious forces were able to occupy Jerusalem, burn down the house of Ananias, the high priest, the royal palaces, and the public archives where all the recorded debt obligations had been stored, and drive the Roman military forces out of Palestine. Thus, after some thirty years after Pilate had been deposed the Jews in Palestine reasserted their independence from Roman rule.

The Jews established a provisional government in Palestine, assigned a prominent Pharisee named Josephus to defend Galilee, and prepared to defend themselves from an attack by the Romans. Nero chose Vespasian to regain control over the lost territory. The Romans slowly and systematically recaptured the territory surrounding Jerusalem over the next three years, and finally laid siege to Jerusalem during the seventh year. When Galilee fell, Josephus was captured and predicted that Vespasian would be named emperor as did, indeed, transpire. Josephus also named Vespasian to be the true Messiah of the day, a messiah who, according to Roman values, could turn stone into bread, promote the imperial interest for wealth and power, and establish a regimen, which was unimpeded by the cycles of heaven.

In the course of the Jewish campaign Nero, died by committing suicide (9 June 68 CE). Soon afterwards, in the early part of July, various supporters in both Egypt and Syria declared their allegiance to Vespasian as the Emperor. The following spring Vespasian left for Rome to promote his cause, and left his son Titus in charge of the final assault on Jerusalem. The eventual fate of Jerusalem could hardly be in doubt. During the siege of Jerusalem starvation took a deadly toll. The Jewish military forces, constrained by a defensive posture imposed by the seventh year, were ultimately overcome. On the final day of resistance the temple was burned. Upon defeat, the inhabitants were slaughtered and sold into slavery, while the city was leveled to the ground. It was Josephus who left us with the recorded history of the events that led to the destruction of the temple at Jerusalem. He wrote of the final disaster, "We may wonder too at the exactness of the cycle of Fate: she kept as I said, to the very month and day which centuries before had seen the Sanctuary burnt by the Babylonians"[6], but added nothing concerning the concurrent timing of the seventh year when Jerusalem had fallen. In contrast to Josephus, the oral tradition preserved by the sages recorded this additional information: "It is said, The day on which the temple was first destroyed was the ninth of Ab, and it was the going out of the Sabbath, and at the end of the seventh year. The [priestly] guard was that of Johojarib, the priests and Levites were standing on their platform singing the song. What song was it? 'And he hath brought upon them their iniquity, and will cut them of in their evil' (Psalms xciv:23). They had no time to complete [the psalm with] 'The Lord our God will cut them off, before the enemies come and overwhelm them'. The same happened the second time [when the sanctuary was destroyed the second time]."[7] This was said to have occurred in the fifteenth year before the forthcoming fifteenth jubilaic era (29 August 70 CE).

Some thirty-six years earlier than the destruction of the temple, Jesus stood in front of the sabbath assembly at Nazareth and announced the then forthcoming "acceptable year of the Lord" by reading the haftarah scripture found in Isaiah 61:1,2. The events described by the synoptic gospels and the aftermath that followed after his death appear to have followed as a natural consequence. Ever since the time of the destruction of the temple, and the time when Titus brought his triumphal march into Rome, the authors of our common historical script have managed to obliterate much of what actually took place. The trend had been set by Titus where he commented, "We are told that the seventh day was set aside for rest because this marked the end of their toils [for those who followed the Jewish holy words]. In the course of time, the seductions of idleness made them [the Jewish people in Palestine] devote every seventh year to indolence as well." Consequently, according to the preferences set by Rome, the kingdom of heaven that was synchronized with every sabbatical year has been all but ignored. Perhaps someday in the future we may still come to reassess those promises that were outlined by the "acceptable year of the Lord" as proclaimed by Jesus in a different light, but only perhaps.

[1] Josephus, Antiquities III:2
(See Flavius Josephus, The Second Jewish Commonwealth: From the Maccabaean Rebellion to the Outbreak of the Judaeo-Roman War, edited by Nahum N. Glatzer, published by Schocken Books)
For a detailed discussion of "Testimonium Flavianum" see Steve Mason, "Josephus and the New Testament," Ch. 5, Section: "Jesus, A Wise Man," pgs. 163-75.

[2] Acts 1:8b,9-11

[3] Josephus, Antiquities IV:1

[4] Josephus, The Jewish War, II: 399 (pg. 153; Penguin Classics)

[5] Josephus, The Jewish War VI: 289 (pg. 348)
This comet has been identified as Halley's comet. An appearance of Halley's comet has been recorded at about 25 August 12 BCE and is usually noted during Planetarium exhibitions during Christmas time. Since Halley's comet has a periodic cycle on average of 76 years, the next apparent arrival time would have been about the fall in the year of 65 CE.

[6] Josephus, The Jewish War VI: 277 (pg. 347)

[7] Talmud Kodashim, Vol. III, pg. 65

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