The great majority of historians, clergy, and religious commentators believe that Jesus (Joshua) was an apocalypticist -- a fancy word for those who believe (in any era) that the end is near, a great event--probably very destructive-- and a new age will begin. For Christians, and some Jews, this means that the judgment day will occur, and the good will be separated from the evil. The good will live happily in God's kingdom and the evil will suffer the torments of hell. It is undoubtedly true that many Jews of the so-called Second Temple Era believed that the apocalypse was imminent, and may holy men as well as not-so-holy men were preaching this very thing.
I don't believe that Jesus was among them. He was assuredly a devout and committed believer in an all-powerful and all-wise God, and he was convinced that it was his duty--and privilege--to do God's will. He was all too aware of the sufferings of his people under Roman rule, authoritarian, vicious and deeply cruel. And the cruelest man of the era was Pontius PIlate. It was also clear to Jesus that Pilate was intent on provoking a rebellion, which he would then joyfully crush with the full weight of the empire. At the Passover of Jesus's death, probably 33 C.E., Pilate had requested from the Syrian Legate additional troops. He had already quietly brought all the soldiers under his command from Caesarea to Jerusalem, dispersing them from Herod's Palace to the Antonia Fortress, where he waited anxiously for the proper moment.
Jesus understood this very well--the apocalyptic event that awaited his people was not the arrival of God's kingdom, but the holocaust planned by Pilate. It was from this understanding that Jesus acted as he did, and it was to save his people that he sacrificed himself. He did not die for some nebulous concept of "our sins," but to thwart the villainous Pilate. He succeeded, but only for a while. In 66, goaded beyond belief, the Jews erupted in rebellion, and there was no Jesus of Nazareth to save them.
One of the most despised figures in all of human history is Judas, one of the original 12 disciples of Jesus of Nazareth. According to the traditional telling, Judas is the person who identified Jesus to the Temple guards who were searching for him by leading them to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus and the others were spending the night, and then kissing him on the cheek. Thus we have the original villain who betrays a friend or family member by giving the “Judas kiss.” Of course, the story is preposterous. Jesus had been openly teaching in the courts of the Temple for days, making no attempt whatsoever to hide his identity. It was the time of the Passover, the Feast of Liberation. Jerusalem was filled with travelers from all over Israel and the Jewish diaspora. Pilate, concerned there might be an uprising at this most dangerous of moments, had requested and received the basing of extra troops from Damascus in the Syrian Department. There is no doubt that the Romans knew who Jesus was and they were following his every movement. They knew that day after day, Jesus had been walking from the home of Lazarus in Bethany to the Jerusalem Temple and preaching for hours.
Joseph Caiaphas, the Jewish High Priest and his supporters and guards, not to mention spies, were also aware of the presence of Jesus, his disciples, and hundreds, perhaps thousands of followers who watched his comings and goings, and listened to his teaching iin the Temple courtyard.
We know that subsequently Jesus was arrested by Pilate, condemned as a seditionist, tortured and crucified. What happened subsequently is a matter of overwhelming importance in human history.
As for Judas, we are told that he was agonized by his betrayal and committed suicide. In The Murdered Messiah, these subsequent events are described in a singular manner.
But what about Caiaphas—and Pilate? Their stories occur after the time frame of this book. However, we do know something of their subsequent history. According to traditional telling, Jesus was crucified in 30 C.E. I believe this terrible event occurred between 33 and 36 C.E. The year 36 C.E. was of tremendous importance in the lives of these powerful but not lovable men. Caiaphas was stripped of his status as High Priest, although the reasons are not entirely clear. Pilate, ruthless as ever, ordered a violent attack on the Samaritans at their sanctuary on Mt. Gerizim. Thousands were slaughtered and shrines destroyed, all without any apparent authority. This terrible event was reported to Rome, Pilate was stripped of his position as Prefect (governor) of Judaea, ordered to return to Rome and more or less disappears from history.
I've begun to receive a number of very favorable reviews for The Murdered Messiah and I'm very grateful for them. It will take many more to lift the book in the Amazon ratings and I will do my best to earn them. There is one review I may not receive--a review that recognizes the unique connections I have made between elements which are known to those who are interested in Jesus and Second Temple Judaism, but not usually (if ever) considered to be related. Thus, scholars and even non-scholars who are familiar with this era are obviously aware of Johannon the Immerser, the Essenes, Qumran, Judas the Zealot, Judas the disciple, Herod Antipas, and of course, Jesus of Nazareth. Some historians have written that the Immerser may have been in contact with the Essenes in Qumran, based on proximity. No-one that I am aware of other than I, has put Jesus, Johannon, Judas (the disciple) and the Essenes together at the same time.
There are many other connections I have made, some direct, some more subtle. There are clues to these relationships in the "Notes and Citations," but even then, simply indicating sources is not enough. Actually, to fully understand my intentions requires a scholar who is totally knowledgeable about Jewish and Christian scripture and the relevant history of the era. Not that I consider myself such a scholar, but I have the advantage of having written the material and knowing what sources I used and the connections I was trying to make. The irony is that the people who can most readily decipher the text and understand these relationships are not likely to read The Murdered Messiah. Some have contempt for fiction, others claim that they haven't the time.; they must limit themselves to verifiable "facts."
Fortunately for me, my audience is not limited to "experts." I wrote The Murdered Messiah" for general audiences, and my novel will succeed or fail based on their responses.
Lately, I've been receiving some very interesting reviews of this book. I have always been concerned that I might be misunderstood; that readers might believe I am the enemy of Jesus of Nazareth--that I might be the enemy of Christianity. There are many people and events in The Murdered Messiah which can be offensive to some readers if they are both devout and profoundly opinionated. Fortunately, thus far this has not been a problem (Thank God). In fact, one reviewer wrote that her belief in God and love for Jesus had grown deeper and stronger after reading the book. Another wrote that he hadn't really connected with Jesus as a person until he read my novel--that Jesus had come alive for him in my pages.
I am profoundly gratified by these responses. It is been a long slog, and from time to time I have wondered whether or not I should even have begun this project, let alone devoted decades to this historical novel.
Some readers have been impressed by the extent of my research. Of course, reading hundreds of books, attending many seminars and lectures, conversing with experts--real and self delusional--visiting many relevant sites in Israel, Jordan and Egypt, has been essential and enlightening for me, but none of this proves that my views and interpretations are correct. And yet, more and more recently revealed data have helped strengthen my belief in what I've been doing. I have read and I was told that the Jews of Jesus's time limited their rituals and their studies to the great Temple in Jerusalem. But then, the ruins of a first century C.E. Jewish synagogue were revealed at Migdal on the Sea of Galilee (Mary Magdalene). An older Jewish synagogue was discovered under the ruins of the known 4th Century C.E. acknowledged synagogue at Capernaum. Further ruins which may be from a synagogue were uncovered near Jesus's hometown of Nazareth. It now appears there may have been as many as 400 synagogues in and around Jerusalem at the time of the Jewish War, 66-70(or 72) C.E. and many others elsewhere in Judaea and Galilee
Until the late 19th century, it was generally believed that Jesus was literate, and then subsequently, as the study of the historical Jesus developed, there were many scholars, perhaps most, who came to believe that Jesus was illiterate. I think that's nonsense, and there is not a shred of evidence to support it, but that is another matter.
Very recently, in the crypt of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, evidence has been found of an ancient burial in the very site, traditionally believed to be the place where Jesus was buried. A reader of The Murdered Messiah will find that in the Prologue there is a compelling episode involving this hallowed ground.
Perhaps I've been on the right track(s) all along.
Once again recently I’ve heard a politician justify his plans for raising taxes by quoting Jesus responding to his interrogators in the Temple. They have inquired of Jesus whether it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. Jesus asks them to show him a coin, and they produce a Roman coin showing the emperor as a god. Jesus does not, as some uninformed “historians” state, ask to hold and examine the coin—that would have been blasphemous in his view. When he is shown the coin, Jesus says, “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and to God that which is God’s. The interrogators walk away, thwarted in their attempt to trick Jesus into revealing that he is an enemy of the state.
Jesus’ answer is brilliant—although very often misunderstood. In Jesus’ view, EVERYTHING belongs to God, which means there is nothing for Caesar. Politicians who cite this incident to prove Jesus’ agrees with their view of taxation are liars or fools, possibly both.
It has become fairly common of late to refer to the Jewish people of the Second Temple era as Judeans rather than Jews. The commentators who prefer this usage claim that this is how the Jews themselves described themselves. It is true that the center of Jewish culture, religion and civilization was Jerusalem and that Jerusalem is located centrally in the area of the Holy Land known as Judea, and in fact, the entire area from Idumea in the south up to and including Galilee and beyond in the North is sometimes referred to as Judea.
These writers, many of them respected scholars, claim they are using this description in the search for accuracy. They point to the fact that the root word in Greek can be translated as either Jews or Judeans. These scholars describe all the Jews of the ancient world--whether they reside in Egypt or Greece or even Rome as Judeans. While I do not doubt the integrity of these folks, I consider this usage not only inaccurate but dangerous. It is difficult for me to believe that the members of the Jewish community in Rome, dating back hundreds of years, and accorded special privileges by Julius Caesar and some of his successors considered themselves to be Judeans.
Furthermore, this usage tends to truncate, diffuse, even obliterate Jewish history. When did these Jews cease to be Jews and become Judeans? When did they cease to be Judeans and become Jews? In some cases, commentators are forced to invent cumbersome, even silly, constructions. For example, one historian, trying to describe the attributes of these "people of the book," refers to their Judean-ness,
The overall effect of this word-play is to diminish the Jews and separate them from their history and their culture. After millennia describing these folks as Jews, they now have a non-specific title that ties them to a piece of real estate, not their extraordinary culture.
In some instances, I can't help believing that, with all their good intentions, these folks are perpretating a sly form of anti-Semitism. After all, a Greek or an Arab, or a Roman could live in the area of Judea without being a Judean--in fact that person could well be offended by being referred to in that manner..
But the real reason for ending this usage is that it does not help in describing or evaluating the Jews of the Second Temple era. In fact it neuters them; in this iteration they are connected to a patch of earth, to a climate and geography. No doubt the Jews of that time felt connected to Judea, Galilee, etc. Those of the diaspora felt an identity so strong that thousands traveled from the far reaches of the Roman Empire to Jerusalem to mark the major pilgrimage festivals. And virtually all of the people who attended the ceremonies and rituals at the Jerusalem Temple, willingly--nay, happily paid the 1/2 shekel annual tax.
Let's not destroy, diminish or cheapen the identity of the Jews. It is particularly worrisome today, an era in which anti-Semitism is on the rise in many parts of the world, even in the heart of /Europe where millions of Jews were slaughtered. Universities are teaching various form of anti-semitsm, student associations are blocking open converse by Jews and their supporters, even physically attacking them. For their own sake, these pitiful villains, these mental midgets, these under-educated and over-praised students should at least agree on the name of their enemy,
The recent passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, reminded me of the day I was sworn in by Chief Justice Rehnquist as a member of the U.S. Supreme Court Bar. Afterwords, the little delegation of new members from the University of Chicago Law School met with Justices Scalia , Breyer and Ginsburg for "tea' and a chat.
I was especially interested in speaking to Scalia because of various connections I had with him, not personal, but institutional. Justice Scalia had taught for several years at my Alma Mater, The University Of Chicago Law School. He matriculated at Georgetown, where he earned his Bachelor's. My late daughter graduated from Georgetown, but from the Law School, not the College. Scalia graduated from Harvard Law. I had done by post graduate legal studies at Harvard Law, where I worked on he American Law Institute Tax Project. Kind of a stretch, right? But most of all I admired Scalia for his profound legal scholarship, exquisitely crafted decisions and famous wit and humor.
All three justices proved to be very pleasant conversationalists, although Justice Ginsburg seemed especially frail, Still, this was over a decade ago and she is still active on the court.
The religious profile of the court was remarkable: 6 Catholics and 3 Jews. While all of the Jewish justices tended to vote on the liberal side, the Catholics were split. Justice Sotomayor was (is) liberal; Kennedy relished being the swing vote when the court was split 4-4. Roberts, surprisingly, turned out to be the wild card, twice voting to uphold Obamacare, astonishing his colleagues.
Does the voting record of the justices have anything to do with their religious affiliation? It shouldn't, but it probably does. Yet it would be difficult to assess accurately the contribution of religious affiliation to the record of the justices.
The death of Scalia has precipitated a mini-crisis. Whether it will turn out to be a major turning point in American jurisprudence remains to be seen. Did I glean any special predictive information in my brief conversations with the justices? Regrettably, no. Still, it was fun, and made me feel that while I wasn't a significant part of history, I was close to those who were.
Figure 14 on the Maps and Images page shows a proposed reconstruction of one of the buildings at Qumran, based on a project of scholars at UCLA who investigated this site near the Dead Sea and re-imagined its original design. But there is no certainty as to its purpose. The conventional theory is that the Essenes, an esoteric group with its own rules and secret writings, occupied this site from some time in the Hasmonean era, beginning approximately in 150-160 B.C.E. until the complex was destroyed by the Romans in 68. C.E. on their way to Jerusalem to battle the Judaeans. They were ascetic, their life was monastic, and they were opposed to worship in the Jerusalem temple, but their language was Hebrew (and Aramaic) and their sacred writings included all the works of Jewish Scripture. Again, according to the majority view, one portion of their establishment was a scriptorium where they copied and re-copied documents for their own use and for distribution elsewhere.
There are other views of this group and their facilities, including the idea that this was a fortress of some sort, or the vast estate of some wealthy individual, or a sort of hotel/way station for travelers. There are even some who cast doubt on the concept that the community included a scriptorium.
The situation is complicated, or enriched, by the fact that documents of great importance in Jewish history were hidden in eleven caves in the cliffs and escarpments that are within sight of the community. These documents were preserved in scrolls in large clay pots stored in the caves. The dry, desert air helped to keep the documents from deteriorating.
The scrolls were first found by Bedouin in 1947, and their value not was initially recognized. The pots and their contents followed a checkered history until they were finally acquired by the government of Israel, and they are maintained and displayed in the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem. Ninety percent of the scrolls were found in a single cave, “Number 3,” but no-one knows how many were hidden in this area originally, nor can anyone be certain that all of them have either been found, or even whether some remain, undisclosed in “Private” hands or in the possession of some government.
Amazingly, the scrolls include all of the books of the Hebrew bible with the exception of the Book of Esther, and although they may have been written in the second century B.C.E., their text is almost identical to the Masoretic text of approximately 900 C.E. This is a tribute to the scribes who copied and recopied these texts over as much as one thousand years. Unfortunately, the documents which are now described as the New Testament, have not had as happy a history, and while there are thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of copies of the gospels, and other Christian writings, their authenticity is far more difficult to ascertain.
The connections between the Essenes and Johannon the Immerser and Jesus (Joshua) of Nazareth are of great interest to me, and I have researched and written about these matters to the best of my ability, and I am personally convinced that the relationship between them not only exited but was of considerable importance in the development of Jesus’ ministry and actual course of his life and death.