Yeshua/Jesus – Josephus Jewish Antiquities[part 27]
Author: C.C. Saint-Clair
The Temple Mount compound, in Jerusalem, the site of Yeshua’s altercations with the priests and the money lenders made famous in the New Testament, was very much unlike modern day synagogues and churches. It was not only Ancient Israel’s single religious centre, but also a financial turning plate where people came to pay their taxes and tithes.
Knowing that the Temple was the hub of all things Jewish, including political networking, the Roman procurators, through their prefects and their spies, kept a close watch on all manner of activities in that area and its surrounds.
It is said that some three years after he began his ministry, Yeshua, himself was at the Temple during the compulsory pilgrimage of Pesach/Passover. This is what he would have seen: thousands of pilgrims and their families arriving from all over the region and far beyond milling around amongst the crowd of local Jews and Roman soldiers. The men were as much praying as they were conducting their financial affairs. In the Outer Court, they wove their way around cattle and cages of fowl.
They patted and checked the animals to find the best one they could offer in atonement for their sins. This court was also a place of prayer open to all, including the local pagans who were allowed to pray there, among the cacophony of animal sounds – as there was no Roman temple in Jerusalem.
All this may appear quite convivial until we remember that if any pagan ventured beyond the enclosure of the Outer Court and into the Second Court, he or she would be liable to death by stoning. Everyone knew that.
Yeshua, himself would have made his way to the Second Court. He would have walked past the pillar corner stone that carried a dire warning to the non-Jews: No foreigner is to go beyond the balustrade and the plaza of the temple zone. Whoever is caught doing so will have himself to blame for his death which will follow – presumably by stoning.
That warning would not have worried Yeshua in the least, as he kept on walking to the Third Court. He, a circumcised man, who lived by the Torah and who, accordingly, immersed himself in flowing water in the daily ritual of tevilah, was a part of the religious ‘elite’ of men allowed in the Third Court. Only the priests in their vestments were allowed in the Fourth Court, the inner sanctum, where lay the tabernacle that housed the Ark, the Holy of Holies.
Understandably, the mere sight of tetchy Roman soldiers in the heart of their religious celebrations annoyed the people no end. Resentment was high and it is within this snapshot of a Pesach festival at the Temple that, according to the historian Josephus, a very tragic incident occurred there a few years before Yeshua was born.
Picture this: Temple Mount and the surrounding area are teeming with Roman cohorts whose duty it is to apprehend anyone showing signs of disrespect to Roman rule and to immediately quell any sign of insurgence against Rome. These areas, particularly at times of high people concentration such as occurred during religious festivals were ‘Code red’ and soldiers were on high alert.
As can be expected, ogling the Israelite maidens, taunting the men and jeering was many a soldier’s favorite pastime on a quite watch. One day, though, one such game of taunting ended tragically.
A group of young Roman ‘flat-foots’ were indulging in loutish behavior, laughing at the men’s dark long robes, uncut hair and beards worn as signs that there was no place for vanity in their lives – another commandment from their god. The Israelites used to such antics deliberately ignored the soldiers. They knew that any reply, no matter how provoked, would be severely punished. It was simply not worth their while and, on their side, self-control usually prevailed.
Some in the group of soldiers upped the anti that day, and the men nearest them kept a wary eye on the louts. The soldiers began making insulting gestures and in a reckless game of one-upmanship, one young soldier suddenly lifted up his tunic and aimed his backside at the men. No content with that, with his backside deliberately still pointing at the Israelites, he emitted very loudly an imitation of breaking wind.
Some men clamored for the removal and punishment of the offensive soldier, but the younger men lost their self-control. They picked up stones and hurled them. A huge melee ensued. Fearing to be overrun and fearing this moment would be the one they had been apprehending – the spark that would ignite the powder keg on which Rome had been keeping a very tight lid – the soldiers raised the alarm. Swords drawn and in formation, reinforcements arrived briskly from all directions.
An incredible panic gripped the Israelites. A stampede broke out. With only one point of entry each, the various courts and adjacent rooms and workshops became traps. Men women and children, whoever fell to the ground, were unable to regain their feet. They were trampled. Those closest to the walls and narrow exit doors were crushed to death as the panicked pilgrims tried to out-run the Roman cohorts bristling with their swords and lances.
In Jewish Antiquities, Josephus wrote that on that day of Pesach, some 30,000 lives had been lost.
Over the next forty years, the rift between the ruling Romans and the Israelites had widened further. Hence the rebellion led by the Issyim and the dagger-men, the Sicarii, that was fomenting in the hills of Galilee. Hence, too, both Yohannan ha-mabtil’s and Yeshua’s involvement with the insurgents and the news they propagated, each in his own way that the hour of deliverance was nigh.
The primary cause of the arrest and execution of Yeshua a few years later was the series of incidents he created at the Temple in Jerusalem. It has been suggested that Yeshua capitalized on the level of civil unrest by intentionally provoking his arrest. After the grand entrance he had made a few days earlier through the eastern gate of Jerusalem, riding astride a lowly donkey – as proclaimed by the Hebrew prophet Zechariah and Isaiah centuries earlier -Yeshua’s arrest was the next essential act in a series.
One day soon, with the cooperation Judah, his favorite disciple, he would transform from a humble preacher with an uncanny conviction that eternal Greatness awaited him, into the messiah, savior of the downtrodden Jewish people.