Tuesday, March 31, 33 AD

 

Now the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some sly way to arrest Jesus and kill him. "But not during the Feast," they said, "or the people may riot." (Mark 14:1-2)


"Two days before the Passover," according to Mark, Jesus was again in Bethany, where he was anointed with costly ointment of pure nard* by Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, in the house of Simon the leper. As Mark notes, anointing was preparation for burial and also the designation of a king. (In John's Gospel this incident occurred prior to Holy Week.)

*Nard: a perfume made from an aromatic oil extracted from the roots of the herb nardostachys jatamansi grown chiefly in India.

Right, a home in modern al-Azariah (Bethany); reminiscent of the one occupied by Mary, Martha and Lazarus and their special Passover-week guests, Jesus and his disciples.
Tuesday morning, on his way back to Jerusalem, he passed the same fig tree he had cursed the previous day. Peter pointed out that it had withered overnight. Jesus told Peter:


"'Have faith in God,' Jesus answered. "I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours'" (Mark 11:22-23).


When Jesus made this statement he was probably passing over the summit of the Mount of Olives. Even today from this vantage point you can see Herod the Great's mountain fortress, the Herodion, on the horizon to the south, near Bethlehem. The Herodion was built inside an artificial mountain resembling a volcanic cone. Originally there were two hills standing next to each other "like a woman's breasts" as Josephus puts it. Herod used thousands of slaves to demolish one and level off the other. Atop the remaining hill a palace was built, consisting of a ring of three concentric walls with round towers at the four cardinal directions. The leftover earth from the other hill was poured over the walls to form one large, steep-sided hill. This was literally a mountain that had been moved! To the west you can see the rift valley of the Jordan River and the Dead Sea, some 20 miles away. With these references in mind, it is possible to see that Jesus was actually giving an object lesson and was saying to the disciples: "With faith and trust in God, you, too, can do unbelievable things."

Matthew and Luke tell us that this day Jesus continued teaching and debating in the Temple courts. The Temple officials were still seething over his actions the previous day, but the large crowds gathered around him prevented them from acting on their plan to seize him and put him on trial.


In the footsteps of Jesus...


Any modern-day visitor to the Temple Mount can attest to its enormous size. Now, as in Jesus' day, the area inside its massive retaining walls measures 35 acres. You proceed from the noise and congestion of the Old City, past metal detectors and armed guards, to a stairway climbing high above the Western Wall plaza, an open-air synagogue and modern Judaism's most sacred shrine, to the Gate of the Moors, or Bab al-Maghariba, in Arabic (after passing through another metal detector), and emerge awestruck into a vast expanse of grass and ancient stones, known to Muslims as the Harem esh-Sherif (the Noble Sanctuary).


The Temple Mount


The brightness of the sunlight overwhelms you; the trees sigh in a steady, cooling breeze. Surely more history and reverence is packed into this breathtakingly beautiful place than anywhere in the world. All three monotheistic faiths Christianity, Islam and Judaism agree on the sacred nature of this site. Tradition holds that this is Mount Moriah, where Abraham, in a test of faith, raised his knife to sacrifice his only son Isaac, stopped only by an angel of the Lord, also the spot from which Mohammed, astride his winged horse al-Buraq, made his Miraj or ascent through the heavens to God's presence during one night in the 7th century AD. It is also the site of Solomon's Temple, built in the 10th century BC and destroyed by the forces of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC and replaced by the Second Temple which stood until rebuilt by Herod the Great. It became the centerpiece of the king's colossal building program, and the focal point of the Roman invasion in the First Jewish Revolt of 66-70 AD, which brought an end to ancient Judaism. But, most importantly for our purpose today, this was the holiest place on earth for Jews at the time Jesus, a massive sacred complex that was, at the same time, a sanctuary, state treasury and slaughterhouse.

(Above) Temple complex from the east; (right) Temple and the restrictive Jewish-only inner courts.

When Jesus re-entered the Temple Mount that Tuesday in late March of 33 AD, he saw a gleaming gold and white marble sanctuary shrouded by the smoke of sacrifices. Nearly two thousand years later, on what is likely the same site, we see the massive gold dome and white, blue and green tiled walls of the Dome of the Rock (below left), resting somewhat off-center on an elevated area the size of a couple adjacent football fields (to continue with our earlier analogy). The purchase of a ticket for about $7.00 lets you explore the spectacular interior of the Dome of the Rock (below right), every inch of which is covered in decorative patterns and gold calligraphic verses from the Quran, the Muslim holy book. Plain-clothed Muslim guards monitor decency, so couples can't hold hands; appropriate dress is mandatory (no bare arms and legs), and you must remove your shoes, but thick oriental carpets cover the floor (as in any mosque). Even non-Muslims are permitted this not-to-be-missed sensory experience. Orthodox Jews, however, will not enter because they might inadvertently trespass on the site of the Most Holy Place, the inner sanctum of all three Jewish Temples where only the high priest was permitted to enter, and then only once a year on the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur.

In the 1st century AD, when a rabbi taught in public he would not go into the exclusive, Jewish-only, inner Temple precincts, but to the Court of Gentiles, specifically, the colonnades around the perimeter. The normal style of teaching there was more like a series of questions and answers than a sermon. The Gospels record several attempts by the chief priests, scribes, and elders to trap Jesus into self-incriminating statements:

When they asked him: "by what authority are you doing these things?" and "who gave you this authority?" Jesus turned their question back on them by asking about the authority of John the Baptist. After they refused to answer him, Jesus said, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things." This angered the Temple officials because Jesus was in essence saying, "From where did your authority come"

To the Pharisees and Herodians who sought to entrap him with a politically explosive question about Roman taxes he said, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." The fact that these men had a coin bearing the image of Caesar a coin whose use was forbidden in Temple indicates that they were not there for worship, but to trap Jesus.

(Right) a silver denarius ("containing ten") minted at Lyons in Gaul (modern France), showing a portrait of Tiberius, the reigning emperor at the time of Jesus. The principal silver coin of the Roman empire, it was the common payment for a day's wages, as in Matthew 20:2: "He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard." The denarius was also the main denomination used to pay Roman taxes.

To a scribe's question about which was the greatest commandment, Jesus replied that the first and greatest commandment was to love God totally and the second was to "love your neighbor as yourself."

He also warned the people against the ostentatious piety of the Scribes and their questionable morality.

Matthew's Gospel reports that Jesus was particularly hard on the Pharisees, whose general offices were located in the Royal Stoa, just inside the southern wall of the Temple Mount (this was also where the Sanhedrin law court was located). Here, Jesus told his listeners, in the form of a sermon, how they should live and act by pointing out the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, some of whom undoubtedly had come out to hear Jesus speak, but got the shock of their collective lives


"The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat.* So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy loads and put them on men's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted in the market-places and to have men call them 'Rabbi'. But you are not to be called 'Rabbi,' for you have only one Master...For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted" (Matthew 23:2-12).


*The "Moses seat" was the place of honor in a synagogue reserved for a visitor or the most distinguished elder. Just such a seat was discovered in the ruins of the synagogue at Korazin (right), high above Capernaum on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee.


"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to" (Matthew 23:13).

"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are" (Matthew 23:15).

"Woe to you, blind guides! You say, 'If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.' You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? You also say, 'If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gift on it, he is bound by his oath.' You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? Therefore, he who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And he who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. And he who swears by heaven swears by God's throne and by the one who sits on it" (Matthew 23:16-21).

"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel" (Matthew 23:23-24).


At another time, Mark relates that Jesus entered the Court of Women and sat down on one of the benches provided for worshipers. Along the sides, probably near the Gate of Nicanor, were thirteen boxes with inscriptions indicating the special purpose of each: oil, wood, priestly vestments, doves, etc. There Jesus watched the crowd putting their money into the Temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said,


"I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything all she had to live on" (Mark 12:41-44).


(Right) A "lepton" or "prutah," the familiar "Widow's Mite" in the Gospels of Mark and Luke, minted during the reign of the Hasmonean ruler Alexander Jannaeus (103 - 76 BC). Each Widow's Mite was hand cast from bronze, so each was uniquely shaped. Smaller than today's U.S. dime, the relief designs feature symbolic representations of anchors (left), stars, eight-spoked wheels (right), cornucopias, and other objects used in daily life some 2,000 years ago. These tiny bronze coins won't win any beauty contests, they were never well-crafted, even when new. The Widow's Mite was widely used throughout the Middle East. They were the coinage of the common people, the peasants. (According to one website, the current price of a "Widow's Mite" is $39.95)

Jesus' Life Home n Wednesday, April 1, 33 AD