• lisabozarthozaeta

Aslan, R., Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth

By: Lisa Bozarth Ozaeta





Introduction

Messianic Claims and Revolutionary Aspirations
  • In 4 B.C.E., the year in which most scholars believe Jesus of Nazareth was born, a poor shepherd named Athronges put a diadem on his head and crowned himself “King of the Jews”; he and his followers were brutally cut down by a legion of soldiers.

  • Another messianic aspirant, called simply “the Samaritan,” was crucified by Pontius Pilate even though he raised no army and in no way challenged Rome—an indication that the authorities, sensing the apocalyptic fever in the air, had become extremely sensitive to any hint of sedition.

  • There was Hezekiah the bandit chief, Simon of Peraea, J

  • udas the Galilean,

  • his grandson Menahem,

  • Simon son of Giora, and Simon son of Kochba—all of whom declared messianic ambitions and all of whom were killed for doing so. LOCATION: 178

  • Add to this list the Essene sect, some of whose members lived in seclusion atop the dry plateau of Qumran on the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea;

  • the first-century Jewish revolutionary party known as the Zealots, who helped launch a bloody war against Rome;

  • and the fearsome bandit-assassins whom the Romans dubbed the Sicarii (the Daggermen),

  • and the picture that emerges of first-century Palestine is of an era awash in messianic energy. LOCATION: 179

Historical Jesus
  • The problem with pinning down the historical Jesus is that, outside of the New Testament, there is almost no trace of the man who would so permanently alter the course of human history. LOCATION: 187

  • The passage proves not only that “Jesus, the one they call messiah” probably existed, but that by the year 94 C.E., when the Antiquities was written, he was widely recognized as the founder of a new and enduring movement. LOCATION: 197

  • The trouble with Paul, however, is that he displays an extraordinary lack of interest in the historical Jesus. Only three scenes from Jesus’s life are ever mentioned in his epistles: the Last Supper (1 Corinthians 11:23–26), the crucifixion (1 Corinthians 2:2), and, most crucially for Paul, the resurrection, without which, he claims, “our preaching is empty and your faith is in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:14). LOCATION: 205

  • with the possible exception of the gospel of Luke, none of the gospels we have were written by the person after whom they are named. LOCATION: 210

  • Such so-called pseudepigraphical works, or works attributed to but not written by a specific author, were extremely common in the ancient world and should… LOCATION: 21

  • Naming a book after a person was a standard way of reflecting that person’s beliefs or representing… LOCATION: 212


  • the gospels are not, nor were they ever meant to be, a historical… LOCATION: 213

  • not eyewitness accounts of Jesus’s words and deeds recorded by… LOCATION: 214

  • most widely accepted theory on the formation of the gospels, the “Two-Source Theory,” holds that Mark’s account was written first sometime after 70 C.E.,… LOCATION: 216

  • Mark had at his disposal a collection of oral and perhaps a handful of written traditions that had been passed around by… LOCATION: 218

  • Yet Mark’s gospel is a short and somewhat unsatisfying one for many Christians… LOCATION: 221

  • narrative; Jesus simply arrives one day on the banks of the Jordan River to be baptized by John the Baptist. There are no resurrection appearances. Jesus is crucified. His body is placed… LOCATION: 221


  • Two decades after Mark, between 90 and 100 C.E., the authors of Matthew and Luke, working independently of each other and with Mark’s manuscript as a template, updated the gospel story by adding their own unique traditions, including two different and conflicting infancy narratives as well as a… LOCATION: 225

  • Together, these three gospels—Mark, Matthew, and Luke—became known as the Synoptics (Greek for “viewed together”) because they more or less present a common narrative and chronology about the life and ministry of Jesus, one that is greatly at odds with the fourth gospel, John, which was likely… LOCATION: 231

  • We now have access to an entire library of noncanonical scriptures written mostly in the second and third centuries that provides a vastly different perspective on the life of Jesus of Nazareth. These include the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Philip, the Secret Book of John, the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, and a host of other… LOCATION: 234

  • these books are significant in that they demonstrate the dramatic divergence of opinion that existed over who Jesus was and what Jesus meant, even among those…his bread and ate with him, who heard his words and… LOCATION: 239



  • only two hard historical facts about Jesus of Nazareth upon which we can confidently rely: the first is that Jesus was a Jew who led a popular Jewish movement in Palestine at the beginning of the first century C.E—these two facts can help paint a picture of Jesus of Nazareth that may be more historically accurate than the one painted by the gospels. Indeed, the Jesus… LOCATION: 244

  • a zealous revolutionary swept up, as all Jews of the era were, in the religious and political turmoil of first-century Palestine—bears little resemblance to the image of the gentle… LOCATION: 245

Why would the gospel writers go to such lengths to temper the revolutionary nature of Jesus’s message and movement? LOCATION: 258
  • we must first recognize that almost every gospel story written about the life and mission of Jesus of Nazareth was composed after the Jewish rebellion against Rome in 66 C.E. In that year, a band of Jewish rebels, spurred by their zeal for God, roused their fellow Jews in revolt. Miraculously, the rebels managed to liberate the Holy Land from the Roman occupation. For four glorious years, the city of God was once again under Jewish control. Then, in 70 C.E., the Romans returned. After a brief siege of Jerusalem, the soldiers breached the city walls and unleashed an orgy of violence upon its residents. They butchered everyone in their path, heaping corpses on the Temple Mount. A river of blood flowed down the cobblestone streets. soldiers set fire to the Temple of God. Tens of thousands of Jews were slaughtered. The rest were marched out of the city in chains. LOCATION: 267

  • the rabbis of the second century gradually and deliberately divorced Judaism from the radical messianic nationalism that had launched the ill-fated war with Rome. LOCATION: 269

  • The Torah replaced the Temple in the center of Jewish life, and rabbinic Judaism emerged. LOCATION: 270

  • Thus began the long process of transforming Jesus from a revolutionary Jewish nationalist into a pacifistic spiritual leader with no interest in any earthly matter. LOCATION: 273

  • That was a Jesus the Romans could accept, and in fact did accept LOCATION: 275


  • three centuries later when the Roman emperor Flavius Theodosius (d. 395) made the itinerant Jewish preacher’s movement the official religion of the state, and what we now recognize as orthodox Christianity emerged. LOCATION: 275

The great Christian theologian Rudolf Bultmann liked to say that the quest for the historical Jesus is ultimately an internal quest. LOCATION: 288

Jerusalem History and Temple
  • Entrance to the Holy of Holies is barred to all save the high priest, who at this time, 56 C.E., is a young man named Jonathan son of Ananus. Like most of his recent predecessors, Jonathan purchased his office directly from Rome, and for a hefty price, no doubt. LOCATION: 403

  • Judea is, for all intents and purposes, a temple-state. The very term “theocracy” was coined specifically to describe Jerusalem. LOCATION: 413

  • Think of the Temple as a kind of feudal state, employing thousands of priests, singers, porters, servants, and ministers while maintaining vast tracts of fertile land tilled by Temple slaves on behalf of the high priest and for his benefit. LOCATION: 419

  • and it is easy to see why so many Jews view the entire priestly nobility, and the high priest in particular, as nothing but a band of avaricious “lovers of luxury,” to quote Josephus. LOCATION: 421

  • Roman dominion over Jerusalem began in 63 B.C.E., when Rome’s master tactician, Pompey Magnus, entered the city with his conquering legions and laid siege to the Temple. By then, Jerusalem had long since passed its economic and cultural zenith. LOCATION: 454

  • Jerusalem, at the time of the Roman invasion, was home to a settled population of about a hundred thousand people. To the Romans, it was an inconsequential speck on the imperial map, a city the wordy statesman Cicero dismissed as “a hole in the corner.” LOCATION: 462

  • In 586 B.C.E. the Babylonians—masters of Mesopotamia—rampaged through Judea, razing both Jerusalem and its Temple to the ground.

  • The Babylonians were conquered by the Persians, who allowed the Jews to return to their beloved city and rebuild their temple, not because they admired the Jews or took their religion seriously, but because they considered Jerusalem an irrelevant backwater of little interest or concern to an empire that stretched the length of Central Asia (though the prophet Isaiah would thank the Persian king Cyrus by anointing him messiah). LOCATION: 474

  • The Persian Empire, and Jerusalem with it, fell to the armies of Alexander the Great, whose descendants imbued the city and its inhabitants with Greek culture and ideas. Upon Alexander’s untimely death in 323 B.C.E., Jerusalem was passed as spoils to the Ptolemaic dynasty and ruled from distant Egypt, though only briefly. LOCATION: 480

  • In 198 B.C.E., the city was wrested from Ptolemaic control by the Seleucid king Antiochus the Great, whose son Antiochus Epiphanes fancied himself god incarnate and strove to put an end once and for all to the worship of the Jewish deity in Jerusalem. But the Jews responded to this blasphemy with a relentless guerrilla war led by the stouthearted sons of Mattathias the Hasmonaean—the Maccabees—who reclaimed the holy city from Seleucid control in 164 B.C.E. and, for the first time in four centuries, restored Jewish hegemony over Judea. LOCATION: 480

  • next hundred years, the Hasmonaeans ruled God’s land with an iron fist. They were priest-kings, each sovereign serving as both King of the Jews and high priest of the Temple. LOCATION: 485

  • when civil war broke out between the brothers Hyrcanus and Aristobulus over control of the throne, each brother foolishly reached out to Rome for support. Pompey took the brothers’ entreaties as an invitation to seize Jerusalem for himself,

  • thus putting an end to the brief period of direct Jewish rule over the city of God. LOCATION: 486


  • In 63 B.C.E., Judea became a Roman protectorate, and the Jews were made once again a subject people. LOCATION: 489

Financial Tensions and Temple
  • Meanwhile, the chasm between the starving and indebted poor toiling in the countryside and the wealthy provincial class ruling in Jerusalem grew even wider. LOCATION: 492

  • Rome ensured that local leaders remained wholly vested in maintaining the imperial system. Of course, in Jerusalem, “landed aristocracy” more or less meant the priestly class, and specifically, that handful of wealthy priestly families who maintained the Temple LOCATION: high priest.

  • As head of the Sanhedrin and “leader of the nation,” the high priest was a figure of both religious and political renown with the power to decide all religious matters, LOCATION: 499

  • If the Romans wanted to control the Jews, they had to control the Temple. LOCATION: 501

  • And if they wanted to control the Temple, they had to control the high priest,

  • which is why, soon after taking control over Judea, Rome took upon itself the responsibility of appointing and deposing (either directly or indirectly) the high priest, essentially transforming him into a Roman employee. LOCATION: 502


  • the Jews were better off than some other Roman subjects. For the most part, the Romans humored the Jews, allowing them to conduct their rituals and sacrifices without interference. LOCATION: 506

  • All that Rome asked of Jerusalem was a twice-daily sacrifice of one bull and two lambs on behalf of the emperor and for his good health. LOCATION: 508

  • keep up with the taxes and tribute, follow the provincial laws, and Rome was happy to leave you, your god, and your temple alone. LOCATION: 509

  • Evocatio

  • under a practice called evocatio, the Romans would take possession of an enemy’s temple—and therefore its god, for the two were inextricable in the ancient world—and transfer it to Rome, where it would be showered with riches and lavish sacrifices. The god would continue to be honored and worshipped in Rome if only his devotees would lay down their arms and allow themselves to be absorbed into the empire. LOCATION: 515


  • were even more lenient toward the Jews and their fealty to their One God—what Cicero decried as the “barbarian superstitions” of Jewish monotheism. LOCATION: 517

  • but rather what the Romans considered to be their unfathomable sense of superiority. The notion that an insignificant Semitic tribe residing in a distant corner of the mighty Roman Empire demanded, and indeed received, special treatment from the emperor was, for many Romans, simply incomprehensible. LOCATION: 522

Historical Prompt for Zeal
  • And yet, a thousand years later, this same tribe that had shed so much blood to cleanse the Promised Land of every foreign element so as to rule it in the name of its God now found itself laboring under the boot of an imperial pagan power, forced to share the holy city with Gauls, Spaniards, Romans, Greeks, and Syrians—all of them foreigners, all of them heathens—obligated by law to make sacrifices in God’s own Temple on behalf of a Roman idolater who lived more than a thousand kilometers away. LOCATION: 537

  • What the Romans could not understand was that this Jewish exceptionalism was not a matter of arrogance or pride. It was a direct commandment from a jealous God who tolerated no foreign presence in the land he had set aside for his chosen people.

  • How would the heroes of old respond to such humiliation and degradation? What would Joshua or Aaron or Phineas or Samuel do to the unbelievers who had defiled the land set aside by God for his chosen people? LOCATION: 541

  • They would smash the heads of the heathens and the gentiles, burn their idols to the ground, slaughter… LOCATION: 543

  • As for the high priest—the wretch who betrayed God’s chosen people to Rome for some coin and the right to prance about in his spangled garments? His very existence was an insult to God. It was a… LOCATION: 546

Chapter Two King of the Jews

  • Rome became enmeshed in a debilitating civil war between Pompey Magnus and his and his erstwhile ally Julius Caesar,

  • farms that for centuries had served as the primary basis of the rural economy were gradually swallowed up by large estates administered by landed… LOCATION: 553

  • Rapid urbanization under Roman rule fueled mass internal migration from the… LOCATION: 554

  • The peasantry were not only obligated to continue paying their taxes and their tithes to the Temple priesthood, they were now forced to pay a heavy tribute to Rome. For farmers, the total could amount to half of their yield. LOCATION: 556

  • no choice but to borrow heavily from the landed… LOCATION: 559

  • massive fines that were levied on the poor for late payments had… LOCATION: 560

  • in Galilee, a handful of displaced farmers and landowners exchanged their plows for swords and began fighting back against those they… LOCATION: 565

  • Like Jewish Robin Hoods, they robbed the rich and, on occasion, gave to the poor. To the faithful, these peasant gangs were nothing less than the physical… LOCATION: 568

  • The Romans had a different word for them. They called them…They called them lestai. Bandits.

  • The bandits represented the first stirrings of what would become a nationalist resistance movement… LOCATION: 573

  • The bandits claimed to be agents of God’s retribution. They cloaked their leaders in the emblems of biblical kings and heroes and presented their actions as a prelude… LOCATION: 575

  • One of the most fearsome of all the bandits, the charismatic bandit chief Hezekiah, openly declared himself to be the messiah, the promised one… LOCATION: 578

  • The messiah was popularly believed to be the descendant of King David, and so his principal task was to rebuild David’s kingdom and reestablish the… LOCATION: 582

  • the messiah at the time of the Roman occupation was tantamount to declaring war on Rome. LOCATION: 583

  • Antipater cemented his position among the Jews by appointing his sons Phasael and Herod as governors over Jerusalem and Galilee, respectively. LOCATION: 590

  • He even captured the bandit chief Hezekiah and cut off his head, putting an end (temporarily) to the bandit menace. LOCATION: 592


  • The Roman Senate determined that the most effective way to retake Jerusalem from Parthian control was to make Herod its client-king and let him accomplish the task on Rome’s behalf. LOCATION: 597

  • In 37 B.C.E., Herod marched to Jerusalem with a massive Roman army under his command. He expelled the Parthian forces from the city and wiped out the remnants LOCATION: 600

  • In recognition of his services, Rome named Herod “King of the Jews,” granting him a kingdom that would ultimately grow larger than that of King Solomon. LOCATION: 602

  • Upon ascending the throne, he massacred nearly every member of the Sanhedrin and replaced the Temple priests with a claque of fawning admirers who purchased their positions directly from him.

  • This act effectively neutered the political influence of the Temple and redistributed power to a new class of Jews whose reliance on the favors of the king transformed them into a sort of nouveau riche aristocracy. LOCATION: 604


  • There were, according to Josephus, twenty-four fractious Jewish sects in and around Jerusalem. Although none enjoyed unfettered dominance over the others, three sects, or rather schools, were particularly influential LOCATION: 610

  • the Pharisees, who were primarily lower- and middle-class rabbis and scholars who interpreted the laws for the masses; LOCATION: 612

  • the Sadducees, more conservative and, with regard to Rome, more accommodating priests from wealthier landowning families; LOCATION: 612

  • Essenes, a predominantly priestly movement that separated itself from the authority of the Temple and made its base on a barren hilltop in the Dead Sea valley called Qumran. LOCATION: 613


Herod's reign ushered in an era of political stability among the Jews that had not been seen for centuries. LOCATION: 616
  • public works project LOCATION: 617

  • built markets and theaters, palaces and ports, LOCATION: 618

  • To pay for his colossal construction projects and to satisfy his own extravagance, Herod imposed a crushing tax rate upon his subjects, LOCATION: 619

  • instituted a forced Hellenization program upon the Jews, bringing gymnasia, Greek amphitheaters, and Roman baths to Jerusalem. LOCATION: 622

  • made Greek the language of his court and minted coins bearing Greek letters and pagan insignia. LOCATION: 623

  • Herod was also a Jew, LOCATION: 624

  • It was Herod who had the Temple raised on a platform atop Mount Moriah—the highest point in the city—and embellished with wide Roman colonnades and towering marble columns that gleamed in the sun. LOCATION: 626

  • The rebuilding of the Temple was, for Herod, not only a means of solidifying his political dominance; it was a desperate plea for acceptance by his Jewish subjects. It did not work. LOCATION: 629

When Herod the Great died in 4 B.C.E., Augustus split his realm among his three sons: Archelaus was given Judea, Samaria, and Idumea; Herod Antipas—known as “the Fox”—reigned over Galilee and Peraea (a region in the Transjordan northeast of the Dead Sea); and Philip was handed control over Gaulanitis (modern day Golan) and the lands northeast of the Sea of Galilee. LOCATION: 637
  • The division of Herod’s kingdom proved a disaster for Rome, as the dam of anger and resentment that had been built during his long and oppressive reign burst into a flood of riots and violent protests LOCATION: 642

  • These uprisings were no doubt fueled by the messianic expectations of the Jews. In Peraea, a former slave of Herod’s—an imposing giant of a man named Simon—crowned himself messiah and rallied together a group of bandits to plunder the royal palaces at Jericho. LOCATION: 648

  • A short while later, another messianic aspirant, a poor shepherd boy named Athronges, placed a crown upon his head and launched a foolhardy attack against Roman forces. He, too, was caught and executed.

  • The chaos and bloodshed continued unabated until Caesar Augustus finally ordered his own troops into Judea to put an end to the uprising. Although the emperor allowed Philip and Antipas to remain in their posts, he sent Archelaus into exile, placed Jerusalem under a Roman governor, and, in the year 6 C.E., transformed all of Judea into a province ruled directly by Rome. NOTE: Other people claiming to be the Messiah. LOCATION: 650


  • No more client-kings. No more King of the Jews. Jerusalem now belonged wholly to Rome. LOCATION: 655

  • There is, of course, another tradition told about the demise of Herod the Great: that sometime between his death in 4 B.C.E. and the Roman takeover of Judea in 6 C.E., in an obscure hillside village in Galilee, a child was born who would one day claim for himself Herod’s mantle as King of the Jews. LOCATION: 658

Chapter Three You Know Where I Am From

Ancient Nazareth
  • No more than a hundred Jewish families live in this tiny village. There are no roads, no public buildings. There is no synagogue. The villagers share a single well LOCATION: 663

  • village of mostly illiterate LOCATION: 665

  • peasants, farmers, and day laborers; a place that does not exist on any map. LOCATION: 666

  • The lucky inhabitants have a courtyard and a tiny patch of soil to grow vegetables, for no matter their occupation or skill, every Nazarean is a farmer. The peasants who call this secluded village home are, without exception, cultivators of the land. It is agriculture that feeds and sustains the meager population. LOCATION: 669

  • That he came from this tightly enclosed village of a few hundred impoverished Jews may very well be the only fact concerning Jesus’s childhood about which we can be fairly confident. LOCATION: 676

Why, then, do Matthew and Luke—and only Matthew (2:1–9) and Luke (2:1–21)—claim that Jesus was born not in Nazareth but in Bethlehem, even though the name Bethlehem does not appear anywhere else in the entire New Testament (not even anywhere else in Matthew or Luke, both of which repeatedly refer to Jesus as “the Nazarean”), save for a single verse in the gospel of John LOCATION: 680

  • “This man is the messiah!” This is no simple declaration. It is, in fact, an act of treason. In first-century Palestine, simply saying the words “This is the messiah,” aloud and in public, can be a criminal offense, punishable by crucifixion. LOCATION: 696

  • Some believed the messiah would be a restorative figure who would return the Jews to their previous position of power and glory. Others viewed the messiah in more apocalyptic and utopian terms, as someone who would annihilate the present world and build a new, more just world LOCATION: 700

  • Nevertheless, among the crowd of Jews gathered for the Feast of Tabernacles, there seems to have been a fair consensus about who the messiah is supposed to be and what the messiah is supposed to do:

  • he is the descendant of King David;

  • he comes to restore Israel,

  • to free the Jews from the yoke of occupation,

  • and to establish God’s rule in Jerusalem.


  • To call Jesus the messiah, therefore, is to place him inexorably upon a path—already well trodden by a host of failed messiahs who came before him—toward conflict, revolution, and war against the prevailing powers. LOCATION: 707

  • John shows no interest at all in Jesus’s physical birth, though even he acknowledges that Jesus was a “Nazarean” (John 18:5–7). In John’s view, Jesus is an eternal being, the logos who was with God from the beginning of time, the primal force through whom all creation sprang and without whom nothing came into being (John 1:3). LOCATION: 720

  • Mark, written just after 70 C.E. Mark’s focus is kept squarely on Jesus’s ministry; he is uninterested either in Jesus’s birth or, perhaps surprisingly, in Jesus’s resurrection, as he writes nothing at all about either event. LOCATION: 721

  • The Q material, which was compiled around 50 C.E., makes no mention of anything that happened before Jesus’s baptism by John the Baptist. LOCATION: 725

  • But as interest in the person of Jesus increased after his death, an urgent need arose among some in the early Christian community to fill in the gaps of Jesus’s early years and, in particular, to address the matter of his birth in Nazareth, LOCATION: 728

  • some means to get Jesus’s parents to Bethlehem so that he could be born in the same city as David. LOCATION: 731

  • For Luke, the answer lies in a census. LOCATION: 732

  • Luke is right about one thing and one thing only. Ten years after the death of Herod the Great, in the year 6 C.E., when Judea officially became a Roman province, the Syrian governor, Quirinius, did call for a census to be taken of all the people, property, and slaves in Judea, Samaria, and Idumea—not “the entire Roman world,” as Luke claims, and definitely not Galilee, where Jesus’s family lived (Luke is also wrong to associate Quirinius’s census in 6 C.E. with the birth of Jesus, which most scholars place closer to 4 B.C.E., the year given in the gospel of Matthew). LOCATION: 738

  • because the sole purpose of a census was taxation, Roman law assessed an individual’s property in the place of residence, not in the place of one’s birth.

  • NOTE: Joseph and Mary probably didn’t go to Bethlehem for the census LOCATION: 741


  • What is important to understand about Luke’s infancy narrative is that his readers, still living under Roman dominion, would have known that Luke’s account of Quirinius’s census was factually inaccurate. LOCATION: 747

  • he describes, knew that what he was writing was technically false. LOCATION: 749

  • but Luke never meant for his story about Jesus’s birth at Bethlehem to be understood as historical fact. LOCATION: 750

  • The notion of history as a critical analysis of observable and verifiable events in the past is a product of the modern age; it would have been an altogether foreign concept to the gospel writers for whom history was not a matter of uncovering facts, but of revealing truths. LOCATION: 751

  • The readers of Luke’s gospel, like most people in the ancient world, did not make a sharp distinction between myth and reality; the two were intimately tied together in their spiritual experience. That is to say, they were less interested in what actually happened than in what it meant. LOCATION: 754

  • Hence, Matthew’s equally fanciful account of Jesus’s flight into Egypt, ostensibly to escape Herod’s massacre of all the sons born in and around Bethlehem in a fruitless search for the baby Jesus, an event for which there exists not a shred of corroborating evidence in any chronicle or history of the time whether Jewish, Christian, or Roman—a remarkable fact considering the many chronicles and narratives written about Herod the Great, who was, after all, the most famous Jew in the whole of the Roman Empire (the King of the Jews, no less!). LOCATION: 758

  • Matthew needs Jesus to come out of Egypt for the same reason he needs him to be born in Bethlehem: to fulfill the scattered prophecies left behind by his ancestors for him and his fellow Jews to decipher, to place Jesus in the footsteps of the kings and prophets who came before him, and, most of all, to answer the challenge made by Jesus’s detractors that this simple peasant who died without fulfilling the single most important of the messianic prophecies—the restoration of Israel—was in fact the “anointed one.” NOTE: So what does it mean if the prophecies are not fulfilled LOCATION: 764


  • The problem faced by Matthew and Luke is that there is simply no single, cohesive prophetic narrative concerning the messiah in the Hebrew Scriptures. LOCATION: 768

  • one would discover a host of contradictory prophecies about the messiah, collected over hundreds of years by dozens of different hands. LOCATION: 774

  • (There is, however, one thing about which all the prophecies seem to agree: the messiah is a human being, not divine. The idea of a divine messiah is anathema to Judaism, which is why, without exception, every text in the Hebrew Bible dealing with the messiah presents him as performing his messianic functions on earth, not in heaven.) LOCATION: 779

  • Matthew has Jesus flee to Egypt to escape Herod’s massacre not because it happened, but because it fulfills the words of the prophet Hosea: “Out of Egypt I have called my son” (Hosea 11:1). LOCATION: 782

  • Luke places Jesus’s birth in Bethlehem not because it took place there, but because of the words of the prophet Micah: “And you Bethlehem … from you shall come to me a ruler in Israel” (Micah 5:2). LOCATION: 785

  • But the real Jesus—the poor Jewish peasant who was born some time between 4 B.C.E. and 6 C.E. in the rough-and-tumble Galilean countryside—look for him in the crumbling mud and loose brick homes tucked within the windswept hamlet of Nazareth. LOCATION: 792

Chapter Four The Fourth Philosophy

  • woodworker or builder— LOCATION: 798

  • that claim is true, then as an artisan and day laborer, Jesus would have belonged to the lowest class of peasants in first-century Palestine, just above the indigent, the beggar, and the slave. LOCATION: 799

  • The Romans used the term tekton as slang for any uneducated or illiterate peasant, and Jesus was very likely both. LOCATION: 800

  • Jewish peasantry could neither read nor write, LOCATION: 802

  • the overwhelming majority of Jews in Jesus’s time would have had a rudimentary grasp of Hebrew, enough to understand the scriptures when they were read to them at the synagogue. LOCATION: 805

  • Peasants like Jesus would have had enormous difficulty communicating in Hebrew, even in its colloquial form, which is why much of the scriptures had been translated into Aramaic, the primary language of the Jewish peasantry: the language of Jesus. LOCATION: 805

  • The only Jews who could communicate comfortably in Greek were the Hellenized Herodian elite, the priestly aristocracy in Judea, and the more educated Diaspora Jews, not the peasants and day laborers of Galilee. LOCATION: 809

  • Luke’s account of the twelve-year-old Jesus standing in the Temple of Jerusalem debating the finer points of the Hebrew Scriptures with rabbis and scribes (Luke 2:42–52), or his narrative of Jesus at the (nonexistent) synagogue in Nazareth reading from the Isaiah scroll to the astonishment of the Pharisees (Luke 4:16–22), are both fabulous concoctions of the evangelist’s own devising. LOCATION: 812

  • Jesus would not have had access to the kind of formal education necessary to make Luke’s account even remotely credible. LOCATION: 814

Virgin Birth and Jesus Family
  • That Jesus had brothers LOCATION: 817

  • There is no rational argument that can be made against the notion that Jesus was part of a large family that included at least four brothers who are named in the gospels—James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas—and an unknown number of sisters who, while mentioned in the gospels, are unfortunately not named. LOCATION: 820

  • On the one hand, the fact that both Matthew and Luke recount the virgin birth in their respective infancy narratives, despite the belief that they were completely unaware of each other’s work, indicates that the tradition of the virgin birth was an early one, perhaps predating the first gospel, Mark. LOCATION: 825

  • On the other hand, outside of Matthew and Luke’s infancy narratives, the virgin birth is never even hinted at by anyone else in the New Testament: not by the evangelist John, who presents Jesus as an otherworldly spirit without earthly origins, nor by Paul, who thinks of Jesus as literally God incarnate. LOCATION: 827

  • Although there is no evidence in the New Testament to indicate whether Jesus was married, it would have been almost unthinkable for a thirty-year-old Jewish male in Jesus’s time not to have a wife. LOCATION: 840

  • Yet while it may be tempting to assume that Jesus was married, one cannot ignore the fact that nowhere in all the words ever written about Jesus of Nazareth—from the canonical gospels to the gnostic gospels to the letters of Paul or even the Jewish and pagan polemics written against him—is there ever any mention of a wife or children. LOCATION: 844

Fortunately, Nazareth was just a short walk from one of the largest and most affluent cities in Galilee—the capital city, Sepphoris. NOTE: The people of Nazareth could not have afforded to keep an artisan (even if it was both carpentry and stone work) well enough to support a family. LOCATION: 859

Herod’s monumental building spree, and especially his Temple expansion project, had employed tens of thousands of peasants and day laborers, many of whom had been driven off their land by drought or famine or, often enough, the malevolent persistence of the debt collector. But with the end of the building boom in Jerusalem and the completion of the Temple shortly before Herod’s death, these peasants and day laborers suddenly found themselves unemployed and cast out of the holy city to fend for themselves. LOCATION: 881

Fourth Philosophy
  • After Herod’s death, Judas the Galilean joined forces with a mysterious Pharisee named Zaddok to launch a wholly new independence movement that Josephus terms the “Fourth Philosophy,” so as to differentiate it from the other three “philosophies”: the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes. LOCATION: 888

  • What set the members of the Fourth Philosophy apart from the rest was their unshakable commitment to freeing Israel from foreign rule and their fervent insistence, even unto death, that they would serve no lord save the One God. NOTE: They were know for their Zeal LOCATION: 891

  • Zeal implied a strict adherence to the Torah and the Law, a refusal to serve any foreign master—to serve any human master at all—and an uncompromising devotion to the sovereignty of God.

  • To be zealous for the Lord was to walk in the blazing footsteps of the prophets and heroes of old, men and women who tolerated no partner to God, who would bow to no king save the King of the World, and who dealt ruthlessly with idolatry and with those who transgressed God’s law. The very land of Israel was claimed through zeal, LOCATION: 893

  • But there were some who, in order to preserve their zealous ideals, were willing to resort to extreme acts of violence if necessary, not just against the Romans and the uncircumcised masses, but against their fellow Jews, those who dared submit to Rome. They were called zealots. LOCATION: 899

  • But God’s reign could only be ushered in by those with the zeal to fight for it. LOCATION: 906

  • Now fully armed and joined by a number of sympathetic Sepphoreans, the members of the Fourth Philosophy launched a guerrilla war throughout Galilee, plundering the homes of the wealthy and powerful, setting villages ablaze, and meting out the justice of God upon the Jewish aristocracy and those who continued to pledge their loyalty to Rome. LOCATION: 913

  • The census, they argued, was an abomination. It was affirmation of the slavery of the Jews. To be voluntarily tallied like sheep was, in Judas’s view, tantamount to declaring allegiance to Rome. It was an admission that the Jews were not the chosen tribe of God but the personal property of the emperor. LOCATION: 919

  • The tribute was particularly offensive as it implied that the land belonged to Rome, not God. LOCATION: 923

  • Indeed, the payment of tribute became, for the zealots, a test of piety and allegiance to God. Simply put, if you thought it lawful to pay tribute to Caesar, then you were a traitor and apostate. You deserved to die. LOCATION: 924


  • bumbling high priest at the time, a Roman lackey named Joazar, who happily went along with Quirinius’s census LOCATION: 926

  • As far as Judas’s zealots were concerned, Joazar’s acceptance of the census was his death warrant. LOCATION: 928

  • It is clear from the fact that the Romans removed the high priest Joazar from his post not long after he had encouraged the Jews to obey the census that Judas won the argument. LOCATION: 933

  • Josephus’s problem with Judas seems not to have been his “sophistry” or his use of violence, but rather what he derisively calls Judas’s “royal aspirations.” LOCATION: 936

  • Not long after he led the charge against the census, Judas the Galilean was captured by Rome and killed. LOCATION: 940

  • As retribution for the city’s having given up its arms to Judas’s followers, the Romans marched to Sepphoris and burned it to the ground. LOCATION: 941

  • men were slaughtered, the women and children auctioned off as slaves. More than two thousand rebels and sympathizers were crucified en masse. LOCATION: 942



  • Jesus of Nazareth was likely born the same year that Judas the Galilean—Judas the failed messiah, son of Hezekiah the failed messiah—rampaged through the countryside, burning with zeal. LOCATION: 944

  • Six days a week, from sunup to sundown, Jesus would have toiled in the royal city, building palatial houses for the Jewish aristocracy during the day, returning to his crumbling mud-brick home at night. He would have witnessed for himself the rapidly expanding divide between the absurdly rich and the indebted poor. LOCATION: 951

Chapter Five Where Is Your Fleet to Sweep the Roman Seas?

  • Prefect Pontius Pilate arrived in Jerusalem in the year 26 C.E. He was the fifth prefect, or governor, Rome had sent to oversee the occupation of Judea. After the death of Herod the Great and the dismissal of his son Archelaus as ethnarch in Jerusalem, Rome decided it would be best to govern the province directly, rather than through yet another Jewish client-king. LOCATION: 965

  • Yet Pilate was no less hard a man. The sources describe him as cruel, coldhearted, and rigid: a proudly imperious Roman with little regard for the sensitivities of subject peoples. LOCATION: 974

  • Pilate simply took the money to pay for the project from the Temple’s treasury. When the Jews protested, Pilate sent his troops to slaughter them in the streets. LOCATION: 980

  • What Pilate was best known for was his extreme depravity, his total disregard for Jewish law and tradition, and his barely concealed aversion to the Jewish nation as a whole. LOCATION: 983

  • But whereas Gratus appointed and dismissed five different high priests in his time as governor,

  • throughout Pilate’s decade-long tenure in Jerusalem, he had only one high priest to contend with: Joseph Caiaphas. LOCATION: 992


Revolutionary Messiahs and Rebels
  • In 28 C.E., an ascetic preacher named John began baptizing people in the waters of the Jordan River, initiating them into what he believed was the true nation of Israel.

  • When John the Baptist’s popularity became too great to control, Pilate’s tetrarch in Peraea, Herod Antipas, had him imprisoned and executed sometime around 30 C.E.

  • A couple of years later, a peasant day laborer from Nazareth named Jesus led a band of disciples on a triumphant procession into Jerusalem, where he assaulted the Temple, overturned the tables of the money changers, and broke free the sacrificial animals from their cages. He, too, was captured and sentenced to death by Pilate. LOCATION: 1011

  • Three years after that, in 36 C.E., a messiah known only as “the Samaritan” gathered a group of followers atop Mount Gerizim, where he claimed he would reveal “sacred vessels” hidden there by Moses. Pilate responded with a detachment of Roman soldiers who climbed Gerizim and cut the Samaritan’s faithful multitude to pieces. LOCATION: 1012

  • In 44 C.E., a wonder-working prophet named Theudas crowned himself messiah and brought hundreds of followers to the Jordan, promising to part the river just as Moses had done at the Sea of Reeds a thousand years earlier. This, he claimed, would be the first step in reclaiming the Promised Land from Rome. The Romans, in response, dispatched an army to lop off Theudas’s head and scatter his followers into the desert. LOCATION: 1019

  • In 46 C.E., two sons of Judas the Galilean, Jacob and Simon, launched their own revolutionary movement in the footsteps of their father and grandfather; both were crucified for their actions. LOCATION: 1022

  • Jerusalem: a shadowy group of Jewish rebels that the Romans dubbed Sicarii, or “Daggermen,” due to their penchant for small, easy-to-conceal daggers, called sicae, with which they assassinated the enemies of God. LOCATION: 1049

  • The leader of the Sicarii at the time was a young Jewish revolutionary named Menahem, the grandson of none other than the failed messiah Judas the Galilean. LOCATION: 1057

  • In the year 56 C.E., the Sicarii under Menahem’s leadership were finally able to achieve what Judas the Galilean could only dream of accomplishing.

  • During the feast of Passover, a Sicarii assassin pushed his way through the mass of pilgrims packed into the Temple Mount until he was close enough to the high priest Jonathan to pull out a dagger and swipe it across his throat. LOCATION: 1061

  • Yet the Sicarii had only just begun their reign of terror. Shouting their slogan “No lord but God!” they began attacking the members of the Jewish ruling class, plundering their possessions, kidnapping their relatives, and burning down their homes. LOCATION: 1068


  • With Jonathan’s death, the messianic ardor in Jerusalem reached fever pitch. There was a widespread sense among the Jews that something profound was happening, a feeling born of desperation, nurtured by a people yearning for freedom from foreign rule. Zeal, LOCATION: 1071

  • The signs were everywhere. The scriptures were about to be fulfilled. The end of days was at hand.

  • a holy man named Jesus son of Ananias suddenly appeared, prophesying the destruction of the city and the imminent return of the messiah. LOCATION: 1078

  • Another man, a mysterious Jewish sorcerer called “the Egyptian,” declared himself King of the Jews and gathered thousands of followers on the Mount of Olives, where he vowed that, like Joshua at Jericho, he would bring the walls of Jerusalem tumbling down at his command. The crowd was massacred by Roman troops, though, as far as anyone knows, the Egyptian escaped. LOCATION: 1079

  • number of prophets and messiahs gathering followers and preaching liberation from Rome was growing out of control, LOCATION: 1084

Rome's Response
  • In May of 66 C.E., Florus suddenly announced that the Jews owed Rome a hundred thousand dinarii in unpaid taxes. LOCATION: 1098

  • Roman governor marched into the Temple and broke into the treasury, plundering the money that the Jews had offered as a sacrifice to God. LOCATION: 1099

  • The young Agrippa rushed to the holy city in a last-ditch effort to stave off war.

  • Standing on the roof of the royal palace with his sister Bernice at his side, he pleaded with the Jews to face the reality of the situation.

  • “Will you defy the whole Roman Empire?” he asked.

  • “What is the army, where is the weapon on which you rely? Where is your fleet to sweep the Roman seas?

  • Where is your treasury to meet the cost of your campaigns?

  • Do you really suppose that you are going to war with Egyptians or Arabs? LOCATION: 1105



Of course, the revolutionaries had an answer to Agrippa’s question. It was zeal that inspired them. LOCATION: 1111

  • Still, up to this point, war with Rome could have been avoided if it had not been for the actions of a young man named Eleazar, who, as the Temple captain, was the priestly official with powers to police disturbances in the Temple vicinity. LOCATION: 1115

  • Eleazar seized control of the Temple and put an end to the daily sacrifices on behalf of the emperor.

  • The signal sent to Rome was clear: Jerusalem had declared its independence.

  • In a short time, the rest of Judea and Galilee, Idumea and Peraea, Samaria and all the villages scattered across the Dead Sea valley would follow. LOCATION: 1116


  • Yet rather than sending a massive army to retake Jerusalem, Rome inexplicably dispatched a small force to the city, which the rebels easily repelled LOCATION: 1123

  • After that, there was no turning back. The Jews had just declared war on the greatest empire the world had ever known. LOCATION: 1127

Chapter Six Year One

  • year was 73 C.E.

  • The city of Jerusalem had already been burned to the ground, its walls toppled, its population slaughtered. The whole of Palestine was once more under Roman control. LOCATION: 1132

  • 66 C.E., the Sicarii, under the leadership of Menahem, seized Masada from Roman control and took its weapons back to Jerusalem to join forces with Eleazar the Temple captain. LOCATION: 1146

  • started minting coins to celebrate their hard-won independence.

  • These were etched with symbols of victory—chalices and palm branches—and inscribed with slogans like “Freedom of Zion” and “Jerusalem Is Holy,” written not in Greek, the language of the heathens and idolaters, but in Hebrew.

  • Each coin was self-consciously dated “Year One,” as though a wholly new era had begun. LOCATION: 1148


  • Menahem did something unexpected. Draping himself in purple robes, he made a triumphal entry into the Temple courtyard, where, flanked by his armed devotees among the Sicarii, he openly declared himself messiah, King of the Jews. LOCATION: 1152

  • And who else should don the kingly robes and sit upon the throne but Menahem, grandson of Judas the Galilean, great-grandson of Hezekiah the bandit chief? LOCATION: 1156

  • Eleazar’s men suddenly rushed the Temple Mount and overpowered his guards. They dragged Menahem out into the open and tortured him to death. LOCATION: 1160

  • Seven years the Sicarii waited. As the Romans regrouped and returned to wrest Palestine from rebel control, as one after another the towns and villages of Judea and Galilee were razed and their populations LOCATION: 1162

  • The Roman regiment arrived at the foot of Masada in 73 C.E., LOCATION: 1166

  • The following morning, as the Romans stood triumphantly atop the hitherto impregnable fortress of Masada, all they encountered was a ghostly calm: nine hundred and sixty dead men, women, and children. The war was finally over. LOCATION: 1183

  • One by one the rebellious cities gave way to the might of Rome as Titus and Vespasian carved a trail of destruction across the Holy Land.

  • By 68 C.E., all of Galilee, as well as Samaria, Idumea, Peraea, and the entire Dead Sea region, save for Masada, were firmly back under Roman control.

  • All that remained was for Vespasian to send his armies into Judea to lay waste to the seat of the rebellion: Jerusalem. LOCATION: 1189

  • Vespasian received word that Nero had committed suicide. LOCATION: 1193

  • Civil war was tearing through the capital. In the span of a few short months, three different men—Galba, Otho, and Vitellius—declared themselves emperor, each in turn violently overthrown by his successor. LOCATION: 1193

  • The haste, it seems, was unnecessary. Long before he reached the capital in the summer of 70 C.E., his supporters had taken control of the city, murdered his rivals, and declared Vespasian sole emperor. LOCATION: 1199

Total Destruction of Judea
  • Vespasian knew that to consolidate his authority and address the malaise that had descended upon Rome, he needed to focus the people’s attention away from their domestic troubles and toward a spectacular foreign conquest. LOCATION: 1206

  • And so, immediately upon taking the throne, Vespasian set out to complete the task he had left unfinished in Judea. LOCATION: 1209

  • He would utterly annihilate the Jews. He would wipe them from the earth. Devastate their lands. Burn their temple. Destroy their cult. Kill their god. LOCATION: 1211

  • sent word to his son Titus to march at once to Jerusalem and spare no expense in bringing the rebellion of the Jews to a swift and decisive end. LOCATION: 1212


  • But the Romans never came. The rebels were certainly aware of the devastation taking place around them. LOCATION: 1218

  • The longer the rebels waited for the Romans to arrive in Jerusalem, the more fractured and unstable the city’s leadership became. LOCATION: 1221

  • At the head of this camp was a coalition of peasants, lower-class priests, bandit gangs, and recently arrived refugees who came together to form a distinct revolutionary faction called the Zealot Party. LOCATION: 1231

  • Poor, pious, and antiaristocratic, the members of the Zealot Party wanted to remain true to the original intention of the revolt: to purify the Holy Land and establish God’s rule on earth. LOCATION: 1233

  • They were violently opposed to the transitional government and its plans to surrender the city to Rome. This was blasphemy. It was treason. LOCATION: 1234

  • The third and largest rebel camp in Jerusalem was led by Simon son of Giora, one of the bandit leaders who fought off the initial assault on Jerusalem by Cestius Gallus. LOCATION: 1251

  • Yet what truly set Simon apart from the rest of the rebel leaders in Jerusalem is that, from the very beginning, he unabashedly presented himself as messiah and king. Like Menahem before him, Simon dressed himself in kingly robes and paraded about the city as its savior. He declared himself “Master of Jerusalem” LOCATION: 1257

  • As a result, Simon son of Giora ultimately came to be recognized as the supreme commander of the fractured rebellion—and just in time. For no sooner had Simon consolidated his authority over the rest of the rebel groups than Titus appeared at the city gates, with four Roman legions in tow, demanding Jerusalem’s immediate surrender. LOCATION: 1262

  • But Titus was in no hurry to attack. Instead, he ordered his men to build a stone wall around Jerusalem, trapping everyone inside and cutting off all access to food and water. He then set up camp on the Mount of Olives, from which he had an unobstructed view of the city’s population as they slowly starved to death. LOCATION: 1263

  • Thus, in late April of 70 C.E., as death stalked the city and the population perished by the hundreds from hunger and thirst, Titus rallied his legions and stormed Jerusalem. LOCATION: 1272

  • As the flames slowly died down, the city was laid bare for Titus’s troops. LOCATION: 1276

  • the Temple was in their sights. With the last of the rebel fighters trapped inside the inner courtyard, the Romans set the entire foundation aflame, making it seem as though the Temple Mount was boiling over at its base with blood and fire. LOCATION: 1280

  • When the fires finally subsided, Titus gave orders to raze what was left of the city so that no future generation would even remember the name Jerusalem. LOCATION: 1283

  • Thousands perished, though Simon son of Giora—Simon the failed messiah—was taken alive so that he could be dragged back to Rome in chains for the Triumph that Vespasian had promised his people. LOCATION: 1284

  • sacred treasures of the Temple: the golden table and the shewbread offered to the Lord; the lampstand and LOCATION: 1286

  • the seven-branched Menorah; the incense burners and cups; the trumpets and holy vessels. LOCATION: 1286



Finally, at the end of the procession, the last of the spoils was carried out for all to see: a copy of the Torah, the supreme symbol of the Jewish religion. LOCATION: 1288

  • Titus publicly presented the destruction of Jerusalem as an act of piety and an offering to the Roman gods. LOCATION: 1290

  • Remarkably, Vespasian chose to waive the customary practice of evocatio, whereby a vanquished enemy had the option of worshipping its god in Rome. Not only would the Jews be forbidden to rebuild their temple, a right offered to nearly every other subject people in the empire; they would now be forced to pay a tax of two drachmas a year—the exact amount Jewish men once paid in shekels to the Temple in Jerusalem—in order to help rebuild the Temple of Jupiter, which was accidentally burned down during the Roman civil war. LOCATION: 1292

  • Rome expelled every surviving Jew from Jerusalem and its surrounding environs, ultimately renamed the city Aelia Capitolina, and placed the entire region under direct imperial control. LOCATION: 1299

  • Romans strove to create the impression that there had never been any Jews in Jerusalem. By the year 135 C.E., the name Jerusalem ceased to exist in all official Roman documents. LOCATION: 1301

Jewish Response
  • In the years to come, the Jews would begin to distance themselves as much as possible from the revolutionary idealism that had led to the war with Rome. LOCATION: 1308

  • a flourish of apocalyptic writings would emerge over the next century reflecting the continued longing for divine deliverance from Roman LOCATION: 1309

  • The lingering effects of this messianic fervor would even lead to the outbreak of a brief second Jewish war against Rome in 132 C.E., this one led by the messiah known as Simon son of Kochba. LOCATION: 1310

  • the rabbis of the second century would be compelled by circumstance and by fear of Roman reprisal to develop an interpretation of Judaism that eschewed nationalism. LOCATION: 1312

  • Holy Land in more transcendental terms, fostering a messianic theology that rejected overt political ambitions, as acts of piety and the study of the law took the place of Temple sacrifices in the life of the observant Jew. LOCATION: 1313

  • Meanwhile, in triumphant Rome, a short while after the Temple of the Lord had been desecrated, the Jewish nation scattered to the winds, and the religion made a pariah, tradition says a Jew named John Mark took up his quill and composed the first words to the first gospel written about the messiah known as Jesus of Nazareth—not in Hebrew, the language of God, nor in Aramaic, the language of Jesus, but in Greek, the language of the heathens. The language of the impure. The language of the victors. This is the beginning of the good news of Jesus the Christ. LOCATION: 1318

PART II

Zeal for Your House

attested to by all four canonized gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John— LOCATION: 1333

Yet all four evangelists present this monumental moment in a casual, almost fleeting manner, LOCATION: 1334

  • The year is approximately 30 C.E. Jesus has just entered Jerusalem, riding a donkey and flanked by a frenzied multitude shouting, LOCATION: 1340

  • “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed be the coming kingdom of our father David!” The ecstatic crowd sings hymns of praise to God. Some spread cloaks on the road for Jesus to ride over, just as the Israelites did for Jehu when he was declared king (2 Kings 9:12–13). Others saw off palm branches and wave them in the air, in remembrance of the heroic Maccabees who liberated Israel from foreign rule two centuries earlier (1 Maccabees 13:49–53). The entire pageant has been meticulously orchestrated by Jesus and his followers in fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy: “Rejoice greatly, daughter of Zion! Cry out, daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and victorious is he, humble and riding upon an ass, upon a colt, the son of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9). LOCATION: 1341

  • It is not surprising, therefore, that the Temple priests demand to know just who this rabble-rouser thinks he is. By what authority does he presume to cleanse the Temple? What sign can he provide to justify such a blatantly criminal act? LOCATION: 1363

  • Put aside for a moment the centuries of exegetical acrobatics that have been thrust upon this bewildering episode in Jesus’s ministry; examine the event from a purely historical perspective, and the scene simply boggles the mind.

  • It is not the accuracy of Jesus’s prediction about the Temple that concerns us. The gospels were all written after the Temple’s destruction in 70 C.E.; LOCATION: 1372

  • Rather, what is significant about this episode—what is impossible to ignore—is how blatant and inescapably zealous Jesus’s actions at the Temple appear. LOCATION: 1375

  • The Temple authorities also recognize Jesus’s zeal and hatch a clever plot to trap him into implicating himself as a zealot revolutionary. Striding up to Jesus in full view of everyone present, they ask, “Teacher, we know that you are true, that you teach the way of God in truth, and that you show deference for no man. Tell us: Is it lawful to pay the tribute to Caesar or not?”

  • This is no simple question, of course. It is the essential test of zealotry. LOCATION: 1379


  • Jesus’s words speak for themselves: “Give back (apodidomi) to Caesar the property that belongs to Caesar LOCATION: 1399

  • The verb apodidomi, often translated as “render unto,” is actually a compound word: apo is a preposition that in this case means “back again”; didomi is a verb meaning “to give.” Apodidomi is used specifically when paying someone back property to which he is entitled; the word implies that the person receiving payment is the rightful owner of the thing being paid. LOCATION: 1399

  • In other words, according to Jesus, Caesar is entitled to be “given back” the denarius coin, not because he deserves tribute, but because it is his coin: his name and picture are stamped on it. God has nothing to do with it. By extension, God is entitled to be “given back” the land the Romans have seized for themselves because it is God’s land: “The Land is mine,” says the Lord (Leviticus 25:23). Caesar has nothing to do with it. LOCATION: 1402

That is the zealot argument in its simplest, most concise form. LOCATION: 1406

  • Jesus and bring him to the authorities in Jerusalem, where he is charged with sedition for, among other things, “forbidding the paying of tribute to Rome,” a charge that Jesus does not deny (Luke 23:2). LOCATION: 1419

  • Jesus’s titulus reads KING OF THE JEWS. His crime: striving for kingly rule; sedition. And so, like every bandit and revolutionary, every rabble-rousing zealot and apocalyptic prophet who came before or after him—like Hezekiah and Judas, Theudas and LOCATION: 1423

  • Athronges, the Egyptian and the Samaritan, Simon son of Giora and Simon son of Kochba—Jesus of Nazareth is killed for daring to claim the mantle of king and messiah. LOCATION: 1425

  • Jesus was crucified by Rome because his messianic aspirations threatened the occupation of LOCATION: 1430

  • Palestine, and his zealotry endangered the Temple authorities. That singular fact should color everything we read in the gospels about the messiah known as Jesus of Nazareth—from the details of his death on a cross in Golgotha to the launch of his public ministry on the banks of the Jordan River. LOCATION: 1431

Chapter Seven The Voice Crying Out in the Wilderness

  • If the gospel account is to be believed, Antipas imprisoned John LOCATION: 1451

  • because he criticized his marriage to Herodias, who was the wife of Antipas’s half brother (also named Herod). LOCATION: 1451

  • Not satisfied with merely locking John up, the wily Herodias hatched a plot to put him to death. LOCATION: 1452

  • Alas, the gospel account is not to be believed. LOCATION: 1457

  • the story of John’s execution may be, it is riddled with errors and historical inaccuracies. LOCATION: 1457

  • A more prosaic yet reliable account of the death of John the Baptist can be found in Josephus’s Antiquities. LOCATION: 1461

  • According to Josephus, Antipas feared that John’s growing popularity among the people would lead to an insurrection, “for they seemed ready to do anything that he should advise.” LOCATION: 1462

  • John promised the Jews who came to him a new world order, the Kingdom of God. LOCATION: 1465

  • Antipas was right to fear John; even his own soldiers were flocking to him. He therefore seized John, charged him with sedition, and sent him to the fortress of Machaerus, where the Baptist was quietly put to death sometime between 28 and 30 C.E. LOCATION: 1467


  • Despite his fame, however, no one seems to have known then—just as no one knows now—who, exactly, John the Baptist was or where he had come from. LOCATION: 1475

  • The gospel of Luke provides a fantastical account of John’s lineage and miraculous birth, which most scholars dismiss out of hand. LOCATION: 1476

  • historical information to be gleaned from Luke’s gospel, however, it is that John may have come from a priestly family; his father, Luke says, belonged to the priestly order of Abijah (Luke 1:5).

  • If that is true, John would have been expected to join the priestly line of his father, though the apocalyptic preacher who walked out of the desert “eating no bread and drinking no wine” had quite clearly rejected his family obligations and his duties to the Temple for a life of asceticism in the wilderness. LOCATION: 1477

  • Perhaps this was the source of John’s immense popularity among the masses: he had stripped himself of his priestly privileges so as to offer the Jews a new source of salvation, one that had nothing to do with the Temple and the detestable priesthood: baptism. LOCATION: 1481


  • The Jews revered water for its liminal qualities, believing it had the power to transport a person or object from one state to another: from unclean to clean, from profane to holy. LOCATION: 1485

  • Because the Essenes viewed the physical body as base and corrupt, they developed a rigid system of full immersion baths that had to be completed over and over again to maintain a constant state of ritual purity. LOCATION: 1494

  • This could have been the source of John’s unusual baptismal rite.


  • John himself may have been an Essene. LOCATION: 1496

  • Both John and the Essene community were based in the wilderness region of Judea at approximately the same time:

  • John is presented as going off into the Judean wilderness at a young age, which would be in keeping with the Essene practice of adopting and training the sons of priests.

  • Both John and the Essenes rejected the Temple authorities:

  • the Essenes maintained their own distinct calendar and their own dietary restrictions and refused the concept of animal sacrifice, which was the primary activity of the Temple.

  • Both saw themselves and their followers as the true tribe of Israel, and both were actively preparing for the end times:

  • the Essenes eagerly awaited an apocalyptic war when “the Sons of Light” (the Essenes) would battle “the Sons of Darkness” (the Temple priests) for control over the Temple of Jerusalem, which the Essenes would purify and make holy again under their leadership.

  • And both John and the Essenes seem to have identified themselves as “the voice crying out in the wilderness” spoken of by the Prophet Isaiah: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight the paths of our God” (Isaiah 40:3). LOCATION: 1501


  • Yet there are enough differences between John and the Essenes to make one cautious LOCATION: 1507

  • John is presented not as a member of a community but as a loner, a solitary voice calling out in the wilderness.

  • His is by no means an exclusivist message but one open to all Jews willing to abandon their wicked ways and live a life of righteousness.

  • Most crucially, John does not appear to be obsessed with ritual purity; his baptism seems to have been specifically designed as a one-time affair, not something to be repeated again and again.


  • John may have been influenced by the water rituals of other Jewish sects of his time, including the Essenes, but it appears that the baptism he offered in the Jordan River was uniquely his inspiration. LOCATION: 1508

  • Josephus explicitly states that John’s baptism was “not for the remission of sins, but for the purification of the body.” LOCATION: 1516

  • Indeed, the life of the historical Jesus begins not with his miraculous birth or his obscured youth but at the moment he first meets John the Baptist. LOCATION: 1522

  • The problem for the early Christians was that any acceptance of the basic facts of John’s interaction with Jesus would have been a tacit admission that John was, at least at first, a superior figure.

  • If John’s baptism was for the forgiveness of sins, as Mark claims, then Jesus’s acceptance of it indicated a need to be cleansed of his sins by John.

  • If John’s baptism was an initiation rite, as Josephus suggests, then clearly Jesus was being admitted into John’s LOCATION: 1526


  • John the Baptist’s historical importance and his role in launching Jesus’s ministry created a difficult dilemma for the gospel writers. LOCATION: 1529

  • His fame was too great to ignore, his baptism of Jesus too well known to conceal. LOCATION: 1531

  • The two men’s roles had to be reversed: Jesus had to be made superior, John inferior. Hence the steady regression of John’s character LOCATION: 1532

  • from the first gospel, Mark—wherein he is presented as a prophet and mentor to Jesus—to the last gospel, John, in which the Baptist seems to serve no purpose at all except to acknowledge Jesus’s divinity. LOCATION: 1533

  • To John, Jesus is merely another supplicant, another son of Abraham who journeys to the Jordan to be initiated into the renewed tribe of Israel. He simply moves on to the next person waiting to be baptized. NOTE: Maybe. This seems to be a strong assertion. LOCATION: 1542

  • This frantic attempt to reduce John’s significance, to make him inferior to Jesus—to make him little more than Jesus’s herald—betrays an urgent need on the part of the early Christian community to counteract what the historical evidence clearly suggests: whoever the Baptist was, wherever he came from, and however he intended his baptismal ritual,

  • Jesus very likely began his ministry as just another of his disciples. LOCATION: 1566


  • Not everyone who was baptized by John became his disciple; many simply returned to their homes. But Jesus did not. The gospels make it clear that rather than returning to Galilee after his baptism, he went “out into the wilderness” of Judea; that is, Jesus went directly into the place whence John had just emerged. LOCATION: 1568

  • And he stayed in the wilderness for a while, not to be “tempted by Satan,” as the evangelists imagine it, but to learn from John and to commune with his followers. LOCATION: 1571

  • Of course, Jesus’s first disciples—Andrew and Philip—were not his disciples at all; they were John’s (John 1:35–37). They only followed Jesus after John was arrested. LOCATION: 1575

  • Jesus remained in Judea for some time after his baptism, moving in and out of John’s circle, preaching his master’s words and baptizing others alongside him, until Antipas, frightened by John’s power and popularity, had him seized and thrown into a dungeon. Only then did Jesus leave Judea and return home to his family. LOCATION: 1577

  • It would be back in Galilee, among his own people, that Jesus would fully take up John’s mantle and begin preaching about the Kingdom of God and the judgment that was to come. LOCATION: 1580

  • Jesus’s message would be far more revolutionary, his conception of the Kingdom of God far more radical, and his sense of his own identity and mission far more dangerous than anything John the Baptist could have conceived. LOCATION: 1581

  • John may have baptized by water. But Jesus would baptize by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit and fire. LOCATION: 1583

Chapter Eight Follow Me

  • The Galilee of Jesus’s childhood had undergone a profound psychic trauma, having felt the full force of Rome’s retribution for the revolts that erupted throughout the land after the death of Herod the Great in 4 B.C.E. LOCATION: 1587

  • The Romans easily snuffed out the uprisings in Judea and Peraea. But special attention was given to Galilee, the center of the revolt. LOCATION: 1591

  • Thousands were killed as the countryside was set ablaze. The devastation spread to every town and village; few were spared. LOCATION: 1592

  • Rome may have been right to focus so brutally on Galilee.

  • The region had been a hotbed of revolutionary activity for centuries. Long before the Roman invasion, the term “Galilean” had become synonymous with “rebel.” LOCATION: 1595

  • Josephus explicitly refers to the people of Galilee as a separate ethnoi, or nation; the Mishnah claims the Galileans had different rules and customs than the Judeans when it came to matters such as marriage or weights and measures.

  • These were pastoral people—country folk—easily recognizable by their provincial customs and their distinctly rustic accent (supposedly it was his Galilean accent that gave Simon Peter away as a follower of Jesus after his arrest: LOCATION: 1604

  • No doubt the Galileans felt a meaningful connection to the Temple as the dwelling place of the spirit of God, but they also evinced a deep disdain for the Temple priests who viewed themselves as the sole arbiters of God’s will. LOCATION: 161


Antipas
  • The divide between Judea and Galilee grew wider after Rome placed Galilee under the direct rule of Herod the Great’s son, Antipas. LOCATION: 1619

  • Rome had installed Antipas and Rome commanded him. But Antipas’s rule allowed for a small yet meaningful measure of Galilean autonomy.

  • There were no longer any Roman troops stationed in the province; they had been replaced by Antipas’s own soldiers.

  • And at least Antipas was a Jew who, for the most part, tried not to offend the religious sensibilities of those under his rule—his marriage to his brother’s wife and the execution of John the Baptist notwithstanding. LOCATION: 1623

  • For in the span of those twenty years, Antipas built two new Greek cities—his first capital, Sepphoris, followed by his second, Tiberias, on the coast of the Sea of Galilee—that completely upended traditional Galilean society. LOCATION: 1630

  • placed enormous pressure on the region’s economy, essentially dividing the province between those with wealth and power and those who served them by providing the labor necessary to maintain their lavish lifestyles. LOCATION: 1633

  • Taxes were raised, land prices doubled, and debts soared, slowly disintegrating the traditional way of life in Galilee. LOCATION: 1636

Location of Jesus Birth and Ministry
  • When Jesus was born, Galilee was aflame. His first decade of life coincided with the plunder and destruction of the Galilean countryside, his second with its refashioning at the hands of Antipas. When Jesus departed Galilee for Judea and John the Baptist, Antipas had already left Sepphoris for his even larger and more ornate royal seat at Tiberias.

  • By the time he returned, the Galilee he knew—of family farms and open fields, of blooming orchards and vast meadows bursting with wildflowers—looked a lot like the province of Judea he had just left behind: urbanized, Hellenized, iniquitous, and strictly stratified between those who had and those who had not. LOCATION: 1639

  • Capernaum was the ideal place for Jesus to launch his ministry, as it perfectly reflected the calamitous changes wrought by the new Galilean economy under Antipas’s rule. LOCATION: 1660

  • The true gift of Capernaum was the magnificent sea itself, which teemed with an array of fish that had nourished and sustained the population for centuries. LOCATION: 1665

  • however, Capernaum’s economy had become almost wholly centered on serving the needs of the new cities that had cropped up around it, especially the new capital, Tiberias, LOCATION: 1667

  • in the rest of Galilee, the profits from this increase in the means of production disproportionately benefited the large landowners and moneylenders LOCATION: 1669

  • This is not to say that Jesus was interested solely in the poor, or that only the poor would follow him.

  • A number of fairly prosperous benefactors—the toll collectors Levi (Mark 2:13–15) and Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1–10) and the wealthy patron Jairus (Mark 5:21–43), to name a few—would come to fund Jesus’s mission by providing food and lodging to him and his followers. LOCATION: 1674


  • The message was simple: the Lord God had seen the suffering of the poor and dispossessed; he had heard their cries of anguish. And he was finally going to do something about it. LOCATION: 1678

Disciples
  • The gospel of Luke claims that there were seventy-two disciples in all (Luke 10:1–12), and they undoubtedly included women, some of whom, in defiance of tradition, are actually named in the New Testament: LOCATION: 1692

  • Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward, Chuza; Mary, the mother of James and Joseph; Mary, the wife of Clopas; Susanna; Salome; and perhaps most famous of all, Mary from Magdala, whom Jesus had cured of “seven demons” (Luke 8:2).

  • That these women functioned as Jesus’s disciples is demonstrated by the fact that all four gospels present them as traveling with Jesus from town to town (Mark 15:40–41; Matthew 27:55–56; Luke 8:2–3; 23:49; John 19:25). The gospels claim “many other women … followed [Jesus] and served him,” too (Mark 15:40–41), from his first days preaching in Galilee to his last breath on the hill in Golgotha. LOCATION: 1695


  • But among the seventy-two, there was an inner core of disciples—all of them men—who would serve a special function in Jesus’s ministry. These were known simply as “the Twelve.” LOCATION: 1698

  • Yet the Twelve had another more symbolic function, one that would manifest itself later in Jesus’s ministry. For they will come to represent the restoration of the twelve tribes of Israel, long since destroyed and scattered. LOCATION: 1710

Jesus Authority, Pharisees, Priests
  • what astonished the crowds at that Capernaum synagogue was the charismatic authority with which Jesus spoke, “for he taught them as one with authority, and not as the scribes” (Matthew 7:28; Mark 1:22; Luke 4:31). LOCATION: 1716

  • Jesus was a peasant. He spoke like a peasant. He taught in Aramaic, the common tongue. His authority was not that of the bookish scholars and the priestly aristocracy. Their authority came from their solemn lucubration and their intimate connection to the Temple. Jesus’s authority came directly from God. LOCATION: 1718


  • While the gospels tend to paint the Pharisees as Jesus’s main detractors, the fact is that his relations with the Pharisees, while occasionally testy, were, for the most part, fairly civil and even friendly at times. LOCATION: 1725

  • Legend says it was a Pharisee who warned Jesus that his life was in danger (Luke 13:31),

  • a Pharisee who helped bury him after his execution (John 19:39–40), a Pharisee who saved the lives of his disciples after he ascended into heaven (Acts 5:34).

  • Jesus dined with Pharisees, he debated them, he lived among them; a few Pharisees were even counted among his followers. LOCATION: 1727


  • In contrast, the handful of encounters Jesus had with the priestly nobility and the learned elite of legal scholars (the scribes) who represent them is always portrayed by the gospels in the most hostile light. LOCATION: 1729

  • Like his zealous predecessors, Jesus was less concerned with the pagan empire occupying Palestine than he was with the Jewish imposter occupying God’s Temple. LOCATION: 1734

  • Jesus’s main antagonist in the gospels is neither the distant emperor in Rome nor his heathen officials in Judea. It is the high priest Caiaphas, LOCATION: 1735


  • Good Samaritan - Christians have long interpreted this parable as reflecting the importance of helping those in distress. But for the audience gathered at Jesus’s feet, the parable would have had less to do with the goodness of the Samaritan than with the baseness of the two priests. LOCATION: 1751

  • How was Jesus perceived by others?

  • To those he claimed to have been sent to free from oppression—Jesus was neither messiah nor king, but just another traveling miracle worker and professional exorcist roaming through Galilee performing deeds. LOCATION: 1774


Chapter Nine By the Finger of God

  • Galilee especially abounded with charismatic fantasts claiming to channel the divine for a nominal fee. LOCATION: 1780

  • Galileans, what set Jesus apart from his fellow exorcists and healers is that he seemed to be providing his services free of charge. LOCATION: 1781

  • But for the people of Capernaum, what mattered was not so much the source of Jesus’s healings. What mattered was their cost. LOCATION: 1784

  • And Jesus healed them all. LOCATION: 1791

  • It may seem somewhat incongruous, then, to say that there is more accumulated historical material confirming Jesus’s miracles than there is regarding either his birth in Nazareth or his death at Golgotha. LOCATION: 1795

  • All of Jesus’s miracle stories were embellished with the passage of time and convoluted with Christological significance, and thus none of them can be historically validated. LOCATION: 1800

  • It is equally senseless to try to demythologize Jesus’s miracles by searching for some rational basis to explain them away: LOCATION: 1800

  • How one in the modern world views Jesus’s miraculous actions is irrelevant. All that can be known is how the people of his time viewed them. And therein lies the historical evidence.

For while debates raged within the early church over who Jesus was—a rabbi? the messiah? God incarnate?—there was never any debate, either among his followers or his detractors, about his role as an exorcist and miracle worker. LOCATION: 1802

  • All of the gospels, including the noncanonized scriptures, confirm Jesus’s miraculous deeds, as does the earliest source material, Q. LOCATION: 1806

  • At no point in the gospels do Jesus’s enemies ever deny his miracles, though they do question their motive and source. LOCATION: 1809

  • Again, Jesus was not the only miracle worker trolling though Palestine healing the sick and casting out demons. This was a world steeped in magic and Jesus was just one of an untold number of diviners and dream interpreters, magicians and medicine men who wandered Judea and Galilee. LOCATION: 1812

  • Nor was Jesus the sole exorcist in Palestine. The itinerant Jewish exorcist was a familiar sight, and exorcisms themselves could be a lucrative enterprise. LOCATION: 1821

  • However one wishes to define demon possession—as a medical problem or a mental illness, epilepsy or schizophrenia—the fact remains that the people of Palestine understood these problems to be signs of possession,

  • the early Christians went to such lengths to argue that Jesus was not a magician. LOCATION: 1853

  • Note that these enemies of the church did not deny that Jesus performed wondrous deeds. They merely labeled those deeds “magic.” LOCATION: 1857

  • theologian Origen of Alexandria, responded furiously to these accusations, decrying the “slanderous and childish charge [that] Jesus was a magician,” LOCATION: 1858


  • Yet when Jesus stood before the Roman and Jewish authorities to answer the charges against him, he was accused of many misdeeds—sedition, blasphemy, rejecting the Law of Moses, refusing to pay the tribute, threatening the Temple—but being a magician was not one of them. LOCATION: 1887

  • There is clearly something unique and distinctive about Jesus’s miraculous actions in the gospels.

  • It is not simply that Jesus’s work is free of charge,

  • or that his healings do not always employ a magician’s methods.

  • It is that Jesus’s miracles are not intended as an end in themselves.

  • Rather, his actions serve a pedagogical purpose. They are a means of conveying a very specific message to the Jews. LOCATION: 1900

  • A clue to what that message might be surfaces in an intriguing passage in Q. LOCATION: 1901

  • Curious about the reports, John sends a messenger to ask Jesus whether he is “the one who is to come.” LOCATION: 1903

  • By connecting his miracles with Isaiah’s prophecy, Jesus is stating in no uncertain terms that the year of the Lord’s favor, the day of God’s vengeance, which the prophets predicted, has finally arrived. God’s reign has begun. LOCATION: 1910

Jesus’s miracles are thus the manifestation of God’s kingdom on earth. LOCATION: 1912



Cleansing of the Leper

  • the only way for a leper to be cleansed is to complete the most laborious and costly ritual, one that could be conducted solely by a priest. LOCATION: 1926

  • Obviously, Jesus is not telling the leper he has just healed to buy two birds, two lambs, a ewe, a strip of cedarwood, a spool of crimson yarn, a sprig of hyssop, a bushel of flour, and a jar of oil and to give them all to the priest as an offering to God. He is telling him to present himself to the priest, having already been cleansed. This is a direct challenge not only to the priest’s authority, but to the Temple itself. LOCATION: 1934

  • Jesus did not only heal the leper, he purified him, making him eligible to appear at the Temple as a true LOCATION: 1937

  • And he did so for free, as a gift from God—without tithe, without sacrifice—thus seizing for himself the powers granted solely to the priesthood to deem a man worthy of entering the presence of God. LOCATION: 1938

For it is not just Jesus’s miraculous actions that they fear; it is the simple yet incredibly dangerous message conveyed through them. The Kingdom of God is at hand. LOCATION: 1944

Chapter Ten May Your Kingdom Come

  • Of this there can be no doubt: the central theme and unifying message of Jesus’s brief ministry was the promise of the Kingdom of God. LOCATION: 1966

  • Practically everything Jesus said or did in the gospels served the function of publicly proclaiming the Kingdom’s coming. LOCATION: 1967

  • It was the very first thing he preached about after separating from John the Baptist: “Repent, the Kingdom of God is near” (Mark 1:15). LOCATION: 1968

  • It was the core of the Lord’s prayer, which John taught to Jesus and Jesus in turn taught to his disciples: “Our Father, who is in heaven, holy is your name. May your Kingdom come …” (Matthew 6:9–13 | Luke 11:1–2). LOCATION: 1969

  • It was what Jesus’s followers were told to strive for above all else—“Seek first the Kingdom of God, and God’s justice, then all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33 | Luke 12:31)—for only by forsaking everything and everyone for the Kingdom of God would they have any hope of entering it (Matthew 10:37–39 | Luke 14:25–27). LOCATION: 1971

  • “Kingdom of God” appears only in the apocryphal text The Wisdom of Solomon (10:10), in which God’s kingdom is envisioned as physically situated in heaven, the place where God’s throne sits, where the angelic court sees to his every demand, and where LOCATION: 1978

  • Yet the Kingdom of God in Jesus’s teachings is not a celestial kingdom existing on a cosmic plane. LOCATION: 1979

  • Those who claim otherwise often point to a single unreliable passage in the gospel of John in which Jesus allegedly tells Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world” LOCATION: 1979

  • it is an imprecise translation of the original Greek. The phrase ouk estin ek tou kosmou is perhaps better translated as “not part of this order/system [of government].” LOCATION: 1981

  • Even if one accepts the historicity of the passage (and very few scholars do), Jesus was not claiming that the Kingdom of God is unearthly; he was saying it is unlike any kingdom or government on earth. LOCATION: 1983

  • he was pointing to God’s saving action in his present age, at his present time. LOCATION: 1986

  • But far from auguring some future apocalypse, Jesus’s words were in reality a perfectly apt description of the era in which he lived: an era of wars, famines, and false messiahs. LOCATION: 1988


  • Jesus seemed to expect the Kingdom of God to be established at any moment: “I tell you, there are those here who will not taste death until they see the Kingdom of God. LOCATION: 1989

  • what Jesus was proposing must have been a physical and present kingdom: a real kingdom, with an actual king that was about to be established on earth. LOCATION: 1991

  • Jesus’s particular conception of the Kingdom of God may have been distinctive and somewhat unique, but its connotations would not have been unfamiliar to his audience. Jesus was merely reiterating what the zealots had been preaching for years. LOCATION: 1993

What made Jesus’s interpretation of the Kingdom of God different from John’s, however, was his agreement with the zealots that God’s reign required not just an internal transformation toward justice and righteousness, but a complete reversal of the present political, religious, and economic system. LOCATION: 2009

  • These abiding words of the Beatitudes are, more than anything else, a promise of impending deliverance from subservience and foreign rule. They predict a radically new world order wherein the meek inherit the earth, the sick are healed, the weak become strong, the hungry are fed, and the poor are made rich. In the Kingdom of God, wealth will be redistributed and debts canceled. “The first shall be last and the last shall be first” (Matthew 5:3–12 | Luke 6:20–24). LOCATION: 2011

  • The Kingdom of God is not some utopian fantasy wherein God vindicates the poor and the dispossessed. It is a chilling new reality in which God’s wrath rains down upon the rich, the strong, and the powerful. LOCATION: 2016

  • The Kingdom of God is about to be established on earth; God is on the verge of restoring Israel to glory. But God’s restoration cannot happen without the destruction of the present order. God’s rule cannot be established without the annihilation of the present leaders. LOCATION: 2020

The Kingdom of God is a call to revolution, plain and simple. LOCATION: 2024

  • If the Kingdom of God is not an ethereal fantasy, how else could it be established upon a land occupied by a massive imperial presence except through the use of force? LOCATION: 2026

  • The common depiction of Jesus as an inveterate peacemaker who “loved his enemies” and “turned the other cheek” has been built mostly on his portrayal as an apolitical preacher with no interest in or, for that matter, knowledge of the politically turbulent world in which he lived. LOCATION: 2032

  • The Jesus of history had a far more complex attitude toward violence. There is no evidence that Jesus himself openly advocated violent actions. But he was certainly no pacifist. “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth. I have not come to bring peace, but the sword” (Matthew 10:34 | Luke 12:51). LOCATION: 2035

  • the early Christian church tried desperately to distance Jesus from the zealous nationalism that had led to that awful war. As a result, statements such as “love your enemies” and “turn the other cheek” were deliberately cleansed of their Jewish context and transformed into abstract ethical principles that all peoples could abide regardless of their ethnic, cultural, or religious persuasions. LOCATION: 2037

  • Fundamental fact: Jesus was not a Christian. Jesus was a Jew preaching Judaism to other Jews.

  • His was a Jewish mission, one concerned exclusively with the fate of his fellow Jews. Israel was all that mattered to Jesus. LOCATION: 2041

  • Whenever Jesus himself encountered gentiles, he always kept them at a distance and often healed them reluctantly. As he explained to the Syrophoenician woman LOCATION: 2047

  • The oft-repeated commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself” was not Jesus’s invention. It comes directly from the Torah and is meant to be applied strictly in the context of internal relations within Israel. LOCATION: 2051

  • The verse in question reads: “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). LOCATION: 2053

  • “neighbor” meant one’s fellow Jews, whether friend or foe. LOCATION: 2054

  • With regard to the treatment of foreigners and outsiders, oppressors and occupiers, however, the Torah could not be clearer: “You shall drive them out before you. You shall make no covenant with them and their gods. They shall not live in your land” (Exodus 23:31–33). LOCATION: 2055

  • There is no reason to consider Jesus’s conception of his neighbors and enemies to have been any more or less expansive than that of any other Jew of his time. His commands to “love your enemies” and “turn the other cheek” must be read as being directed exclusively at his fellow Jews LOCATION: 2064

  • The commands have nothing to do with how to treat foreigners and outsiders, especially those savage “plunderers of the world” LOCATION: 2066


  • He understood what every other claimant to the mantle of the messiah understood: God’s sovereignty could not be established except through force. LOCATION: 2070

  • It was precisely to prepare for the unavoidable consequences of establishing the Kingdom of God on earth that Jesus handpicked his twelve apostles. The Jews of Jesus’s time believed that a day would come when the twelve tribes of Israel would be reconstituted to once again form a single, united nation. LOCATION: 2078

  • The restoration and renewal of the true nation of Israel, which John the Baptist had preached, was finally at hand. The Kingdom of God was here. LOCATION: 2084

  • The designation of the Twelve is, if not a call to war, an admission of its inevitability, which is why Jesus expressly warned them of what was to come: “If anyone wishes to follow me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). LOCATION: 2089

  • This is not the statement of self-denial it has so often been interpreted as being. The cross is the punishment for sedition, not a symbol of self-abnegation.

  • Jesus was warning the Twelve that their status as the embodiment of the twelve tribes that will reconstitute the nation of Israel and throw off the yoke of occupation would rightly be understood by Rome as treason and thus inevitably lead to crucifixion. LOCATION: 2092

  • Then again, it does not take a prophet to predict what happens to someone who challenges either the priestly control of the Temple or the Roman occupation of Palestine. LOCATION: 2099


  • After all, if the Kingdom of God, as Jesus presented it, was in fact a real, physical kingdom, then did it not require a real, physical king?

  • Was not Jesus claiming for himself that royal title? He promised a throne for each of his twelve apostles. Did he not have in mind a throne for himself? LOCATION: 2119


  • There are no practical programs, no detailed agendas, no specific political or economic recommendations in Jesus’s teachings about the Kingdom of God. LOCATION: 2122

  • It was the only question that mattered, the only question he would have been brought before the Roman governor to answer before being sent off to the cross to receive the standard punishment for all rebels and insurrectionists. “Are you the King of the Jews?” LOCATION: 2131

Chapter Eleven Who Do You Say I Am?

  • Jesus has not only carried on his master’s [John the Baptist] message about the Kingdom of God; he has expanded it into a movement of national liberation for the afflicted and oppressed—

  • a movement founded upon the promise that God would soon intervene on behalf of the meek and the poor, that he would smite the imperial Roman power just as he smote Pharaoh’s army so long ago and free his Temple from the hands of the hypocrites who controlled LOCATION: 2138


  • Despite their relative success, however, Jesus and his disciples have for the most part restricted their activities to the northern provinces of Galilee, Phoenicia, and Gaulanitis, wisely keeping a safe distance from Judea and the seat of the Roman occupation in Jerusalem. LOCATION: 2142

  • They have rambled along the edge of the Decapolis, yet strictly avoided the Greek cities themselves and the heathen populations therein. LOCATION: 2146

  • Jesus has focused his attention on poorer villages such as Nazareth, Capernaum, Bethsaida, and Nain, where his promise of a new world order has been eagerly received, as well as on the coastal towns that rim the Sea of Galilee, save for Tiberias, of course, where Herod Antipas stews on his throne. LOCATION: 2147

  • Jesus stops and turns to his disciples. “But who do you say I am?” It falls upon Simon Peter, the nominal leader of the Twelve, to answer for the rest: “You are messiah,”

  • Peter says, inferring at this fateful juncture in the gospel story the mystery that the tetrarch in Tiberias could not possibly comprehend (Matthew 16:13–16; Mark 8:27–29; Luke 9:18–20). LOCATION: 2190

  • What makes these three clearly interconnected scenes so significant is that up to this point in Jesus’s ministry, particularly as it has been presented in the earliest gospel, Mark, Jesus has made no statement whatsoever about his messianic identity. LOCATION: 2207

  • Over and over again Jesus rebuffs, avoids, eludes, and sometimes downright rejects the title of messiah bestowed upon him by others. LOCATION: 2212

Messianic secret.
  • Some believe that the messianic secret is the evangelist’s own invention,

  • that it is either a literary device to slowly reveal Jesus’s true identity or a clever ploy to emphasize just how wondrous and compelling Jesus’s messianic presence was; LOCATION: 2215

  • The notion that the messianic secret may have been Mark’s way of slowly revealing Jesus’s identity belies the fundamental theological assertion that launches the gospel in the first place: “This is the beginning of the good news of Jesus the Christ” (Mark 1:1). LOCATION: 2219


  • It is more likely that the messianic secret can be traced to the historical Jesus, though it may have been embellished and reconstructed in Mark’s gospel before being adopted haphazardly and with obvious reservations by Matthew and Luke. LOCATION: 2224

  • If it is true that the messianic secret can be traced to the historical Jesus, then it could very well be the key to unlocking, not who the early church thought Jesus was, but who Jesus himself thought he was. LOCATION: 2237

  • It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to rely on the gospels to access Jesus’s self-consciousness. As has been repeatedly noted, the gospels are not about a man known as Jesus of Nazareth who lived two thousand years ago; they are about a messiah whom the gospel writers viewed as an eternal being sitting at the right hand of God. LOCATION: 2238

  • They were constructing a theological argument about the nature and function of Jesus as Christ, not composing a historical biography about a human being. LOCATION: 2241

  • Even those Jews who agreed that Jesus was the messiah did not agree about what being the messiah actually meant. LOCATION: 2245

  • The problem for the early church is that Jesus did not fit any of the messianic paradigms offered in the Hebrew Bible, nor did he fulfill a single requirement expected of the messiah. LOCATION: 2257

  • Jesus spoke about the endof days, but it did not come to pass, not even after the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and defiled God’s Temple.

  • He promised that God would liberate the Jews from bondage, but God did no such thing. He vowed that the twelve tribes of Israel would be reconstituted and the nation restored; instead, the Romans expropriated the Promised Land, slaughtered its inhabitants, and exiled the survivors. The Kingdom of God that Jesus predicted never arrived; the new world order he described never took shape. LOCATION: 2259


  • The early church obviously recognized this dilemma and, as will become apparent, made a conscious decision to change those messianic standards. LOCATION: 2264

  • How did Jesus himself understood it? After all, in the entire first gospel there exists not a single definitive messianic statement from Jesus himself, LOCATION: 2268

  • early Q source material, which also contains not a single messianic statement by Jesus. LOCATION: 2271

  • especially in Mark, every time someone tries to ascribe the title of messiah to him—whether a demon, or a supplicant, or one of the disciples, or even God himself—Jesus brushes it off or, at best, accepts it reluctantly and always with a caveat. LOCATION: 2273


Son of Man
  • The phrase “the Son of Man” (ho huios tou anthropou in Greek) appears some eighty times in the New Testament, and only once, in a positively operatic passage from the book of Acts, does it occur on the lips of anyone other than Jesus. LOCATION: 2282

  • Stephen’s distinctly formulaic use of the title is proof that Christians did in fact refer to Jesus as the Son of Man after his death. LOCATION: 2287

  • the fact that it never occurs in the letters of Paul, make it unlikely that the Son of Man was a Christological expression made up by the early church LOCATION: 2289

  • On the contrary, this title, which is so ambiguous, and so infrequently found in the Hebrew Scriptures that to this day no one is certain what it actually means, is almost certainly one that Jesus gave himself. LOCATION: 2290

  • Some have even argued that Jesus deliberately used the expression to emphasize his humanity, that it was a way for him to say, “I am a human being [bar enash].”

  • However, such an explanation is predicated on the assumption that the people of Jesus’s time needed to be reminded that he was in fact “a human being,” as though that were somehow in doubt. LOCATION: 2303

  • The idea that Jesus’s audience would have needed constant reminding that he was “just a man” makes no sense at all.

  • In any case, while it is true that the Aramaic phrase in its indefinite form (bar enash rather than the definite bar enasha) can be translated as “a son of man,” or just “man,” the Greek version ho huios tou anthropou can only mean “the son of man.”

  • The difference between the Aramaic and Greek is significant and not likely the result of a poor translation by the evangelists. LOCATION: 2305


  • Jesus was using it in a wholly new and unprecedented way: as a title, not as an idiom. Simply put, Jesus was not calling himself “a son of man.” He was calling himself the Son of Man. LOCATION: 2310

  • Yet if there is one thing scholars agree on, it is that the primary source for Jesus’s particular interpretation of the phrase likely came from the book of Daniel. LOCATION: 2319

  • The Ancient of Days passes judgment on the beasts, killing and burning some with fire, taking dominion and authority away from the rest. Then, as Daniel stands in awe of the spectacle, he sees “one like a son of man [bar enash] coming with the clouds of heaven.” LOCATION: 2327

  • Thus, the “one like a son of man,” by which Daniel appears to be referring to a distinct individual, is given sovereignty over the earth and accorded power and authority to rule over all nations and all peoples as king. LOCATION: 2331

  • Both 4 Ezra and the Similitudes of Enoch were written near the end of the first century C.E., after the destruction of Jerusalem and long after Jesus’s death. No doubt these two apocryphal texts influenced the early Christians, who may have latched on to the more spiritual, preexistent son of man ideal described in them to reinterpret Jesus’s mission and identity and help explain why he failed to accomplish any of his messianic functions on earth. LOCATION: 2344


  • by the time John writes his gospel, the Son of Man is a purely divine figure—the logos—very much like the primal man in 4 Ezra), Jesus himself could not have understood the Son of Man in the same way. LOCATION: 2353

  • If one accepts the consensus view that Jesus’s main, if not sole, reference for the Son of Man was the book of Daniel, then one should look to that passage in the gospels in which Jesus’s use of the title most closely echoes Daniel’s in order to uncover what Jesus may have meant by it. LOCATION: 2355

  • Finally, the high priest Caiaphas stands and asks Jesus directly, “Are you the messiah?” LOCATION: 2360

  • the messianic secret is finally peeled away and Jesus’s true nature seemingly revealed. “I am,” Jesus answers. LOCATION: 2362

  • it is clear that Jesus’s conception of the Son of Man is to take precedence over other people’s assertion of his messianic identity. LOCATION: 2372

  • Even at the end of his life, when he stands in the presence of his accusers, he is willing to accept the generic title of messiah only if it can be made to fit his specific interpretation, à la the book of Daniel, of the Son of Man. LOCATION: 2373

  • What this suggests is that the key to uncovering the messianic secret, and therefore Jesus’s own sense of self, lies in deciphering his unique interpretation of the “one like a son of man” in Daniel. one can come closest to discovering who Jesus thought he was. LOCATION: 2377

  • in Daniel is never explicitly identified as messiah, he is clearly and unambiguously called king—one who will rule on behalf of God over all peoples on earth. Could that be what Jesus means when he gives himself the strange title “the Son of Man”? Is he calling himself king? LOCATION: 2377

  • When Jesus calls himself the Son of Man, using the description from Daniel as a title, he is making a clear statement about how he views his identity and his mission.

  • He is associating himself with the paradigm of the Davidic messiah, the king who will rule the earth on God’s behalf,

  • who will gather the twelve tribes of Israel (in Jesus’s case, through his twelve apostles, who will “sit on twelve thrones”)

  • and restore the nation of Israel to its former glory.

  • He is claiming the same position as King David, “at the right hand of the Power.” In short, he is calling himself king.

  • He is stating, albeit in a deliberately cryptic way, that his role is not merely to usher in the Kingdom of God through his miraculous actions;

  • it is to rule that kingdom on God’s behalf. LOCATION: 2394



  • Recognizing the obvious danger of his kingly ambitions and wanting to avoid, if at all possible, the fate of the others who dared claim the title, Jesus attempts to restrain all declarations of him as messiah, opting instead for the more ambiguous, less openly charged title “the Son of Man.” LOCATION: 2397

  • But Jesus’s kingdom—the Kingdom of God—was very much of this world. LOCATION: 2406

  • But though it may be Passover, Jesus will not be entering the sacred city as a lowly pilgrim. He is Jerusalem’s rightful king; he is coming to stake his claim to God’s throne. LOCATION: 2414

Chapter Twelve No King but Caesar

  • His very ministry is founded upon the destruction of the present order and the removal from power of every single person who now stands in judgment of him. What else is there to say? LOCATION: 2440

  • The only reason a poor Jewish peasant and day laborer would be brought before him is if he had jeopardized that order. LOCATION: 2443

  • Pilate, as the histories reveal, was not one for trials. In his ten years as governor of Jerusalem, he had sent thousands upon thousands to the cross with a simple scratch of his reed pen on a slip of papyrus. LOCATION: 2444

  • Either the threat posed by Jesus to the stability of Jerusalem is so great that he is one of only a handful of Jews to have the opportunity to stand before Pilate and answer for his alleged crimes, or else the so-called trial before Pilate is pure legend. LOCATION: 2447

  • What is truly beyond belief is the portrayal of Pontius Pilate—a man renowned for his loathing of the Jews, his total disregard for Jewish rituals and customs, and his penchant for absentmindedly signing so many execution orders that a formal complaint was lodged against him in Rome—spending even a moment of his time pondering the fate of yet another Jewish rabble-rouser. LOCATION: 2462

  • Why would Mark have concocted such a patently fictitious scene, one that his Jewish audience would immediately have recognized as false?

  • The answer is simple: Mark was not writing for a Jewish audience. Mark’s audience was in Rome, where he himself resided. LOCATION: 2464


  • More to the point, they had to reinterpret Jesus’s revolutionary message and his self-identity as the kingly Son of Man in light of the fact that the Kingdom of God they were awaiting never materialized. LOCATION: 2468

  • Scattered across the Roman Empire, it was only natural for the gospel writers to distance themselves from the Jewish independence movement by erasing, as much as possible, any hint of radicalism or violence, revolution or zealotry, from the story of Jesus, and to adapt Jesus’s words and actions to the new political situation in which they found themselves. LOCATION: 2469

  • By most accounts, the church they left behind was demolished in 70 C.E. and all signs of the first Christian community in Jerusalem were buried in a mound of rubble and ash. LOCATION: 2476

  • With the Temple in ruins and the Jewish religion made pariah, the Jews who followed Jesus as messiah had an easy decision make:

  • they could either maintain their cultic connections to their parent religion and thus share in Rome’s enmity (Rome’s enmity toward Christians would peak much later),

  • or they could divorce themselves from Judaism and transform their messiah from a fierce Jewish nationalist into a pacifistic preacher of good works whose LOCATION: 2479


  • After 70 C.E., the center of the Christian movement shifted from Jewish Jerusalem to the Graeco-Roman cities of the Mediterranean: Alexandria, Corinth, Ephesus, Damascus, Antioch, Rome.

  • A generation after Jesus’s crucifixion, his non-Jewish followers outnumbered and overshadowed the Jewish ones. By the end of the first century, when the bulk of the gospels were being written, Rome—in particular the Roman intellectual elite—had become the primary target of Christian evangelism. LOCATION: 2485

  • Reaching out to this particular audience required a bit of creativity on the part of the evangelists. LOCATION: 2487

  • the Romans had to be completely absolved of any responsibility for Jesus’s death. It LOCATION: 2488

  • Luke, writing in the Greek city of Antioch at around the same time as Matthew, not only confirms Pilate’s guiltlessness for Jesus’s death; LOCATION: 2500

  • Thus, a story concocted by Mark strictly for evangelistic purposes to shift the blame for Jesus’s death away from Rome is stretched with the passage of time to the point of absurdity, becoming in the process the basis for two thousand years of Christian anti-Semitism. LOCATION: 2518



  • Early Sources - Q. But there is reason to believe that other blocks of traditions existed before the gospel of Mark

  • These so-called passion narratives set up a basic sequence of events that the earliest Christians believed occurred at the end of Jesus’s life.

  • The Last Supper. The betrayal by Judas Iscariot. The arrest at Gethsemane. The appearance before the high priest and Pilate. The crucifixion and the burial. The resurrection three days later. LOCATION: 2536


  • This sequence of events did not actually contain a narrative,

  • but was designed strictly for liturgical purposes.

  • It was a means for the early Christians to relive the last days of their messiah through ritual by, for instance, sharing the same meal he shared with his disciples, praying the same prayers he offered in Gethsemane, and so on.

  • Mark’s contribution to the passion narratives was his transformation of this ritualized sequence of events into a cohesive story about the death of Jesus, which his redactors, Matthew and Luke, integrated into their gospels along with their own unique flourishes (John may have relied on a separate set of passion narratives for his LOCATION: 2538 As with everything else in the gospels, the story of Jesus’s arrest, trial, and execution was written for one reason and one reason only: to prove that he was the promised messiah. Factual accuracy was irrelevant. LOCATION: 2543

  • It needed to be slowed down and refocused. It required certain details and embellishments on the part of the evangelists. LOCATION: 2546


Crucifixion
  • Yet it would be inaccurate to refer to crucifixion as a death penalty, for it was often the case that the victim was first executed, then nailed to a cross. LOCATION: 2560

  • The criminal was always left hanging long after he had died; the crucified were almost never buried. Because the entire point of the crucifixion was to humiliate the victim and frighten the witnesses, the corpse would be left where it hung to be eaten by dogs and picked clean by the birds of prey. LOCATION: 2563

  • His crime was daring to assume kingly ambitions. LOCATION: 2571

  • Jesus was executed by the Roman state for the crime of sedition. Everything else about the last days of Jesus of Nazareth must be interpreted through this singular, stubborn fact. LOCATION: 2573

  • trial before Pilate as pure fiction LOCATION: 2575

  • If Jesus did in fact appear before Pilate, it would have been brief and, for Pilate, utterly forgettable. LOCATION: 2576


  • The trial before the Sanhedrin violates nearly every requirement laid down by Jewish law for a legal proceeding. LOCATION: 2587

  • The Sanhedrin is not permitted to meet at night. It is not permitted to meet during Passover. It is not permitted to meet on the eve of the Sabbath. LOCATION: 2588

  • The argument that the trial rules laid down by the rabbis in the Mishnah did not apply in the thirties, LOCATION: 2591

  • when Jesus was tried, falls flat when one remembers that the gospels were also not written in the thirties. LOCATION: 2591

  • At the very least, what these flagrant inaccuracies demonstrate is the evangelists’ extremely poor grasp of Jewish law and Sanhedrin practice. That alone should cast doubt on the historicity of the trial before Caiaphas. LOCATION: 2593

  • if Jesus’s answer did signify blasphemy, then the Torah could not be clearer about the punishment: “The one who blasphemes the name of the Lord shall surely be put to death: the congregation shall stone him to death” (Leviticus 24:16). LOCATION: 2598

  • Stephen is not transferred to Roman authorities to answer for his crime; he is stoned to death on the spot. LOCATION: 2599


  • But one cannot lose sight of the fundamental fact with which we began: Jesus is not stoned to death by the Jews for blasphemy; he is crucified by Rome for sedition. LOCATION: 2601

  • Because the Jewish authorities technically had no jurisdiction in capital cases, they handed Jesus over to the Romans to answer for his seditious teachings. The personal relationship between Pilate and Caiaphas may have facilitated the transfer, but the Roman authorities surely needed little convincing to put yet another Jewish insurrectionist to death. LOCATION: 2605

  • Thus, on a bald hill covered in crosses, beset by the moans of agony from hundreds of dying criminals, as a murder of crows circled eagerly over his head waiting for him to breathe his last, the messiah known as Jesus of Nazareth would have met the same ignominious end as every other messiah who came before or after him. LOCATION: 2620

  • Except that unlike those other messiahs, this one would not be forgotten. LOCATION: 2622