Archive for April 2014
Weeks passed with no word of Yohanon’s fate; the few travelers Yeshua encountered offered little new information. A chance meeting with a pilgrim on his way to Galilee finally provided information as to Yohanon’s whereabouts.
“Yes, I know of the Baptist,” the man said in response to Yeshua’s query. “But I wouldn’t be in too big a hurry to find him if I were you.”
“Why not?” Where has he been taken?”
The man looked at Yeshua with deep sadness. “Macherus.”
“Macherus? Are you certain?” Yeshua asked, incredulous. Macherus was the name of a fortress some miles from Jerusalem. Originally built as an outpost for troops guarding the southern frontier, in recent years it was used as a prison for political dissidents. It also had the reputation of being the final destination for King Herod’s enemies.
The traveler nodded solemnly in response and continued on his journey, leaving Yeshua to his own thoughts as he watched the pilgrim walk away. If what the man had told him was true, there was little hope he would ever see Yohanon again. He returned to his campsite in a state of near despair. Without the Baptist’s leadership, the movement he began would founder, the people unprepared for the Messiah when he appeared and Kingdom of God would not be realized.
Yeshua was not ready to abandon Yohanon’s mission when the Kingdom was so close at hand. He shared his mentor’s belief that the teachings of the Torah were not a collection of abstract ideas but an integral part of everyday life. He understood Yohanon’s sermons and lessons were intended to show the rules of the Covenant were not obstacles but a means to improve their lives. When God saw fit to establish His Kingdom — and it would not be long in coming — only those who freely repented their sins and followed the rules of the Covenant for love of God would be welcomed into the Kingdom and given the opportunity to enjoy all its freedoms. There were many, Yeshua knew, who heard the Baptist’s message and were gladdened by the hope it inspired. But he also knew without Yohanon’s presence to constantly reinforce his message, they would soon fall away and seek out others whose messages held appeal.
There were other preachers who wandered the desert. Yeshua had seen some of these sad, demented med, preaching their gospels of divine retribution; of a Messiah, a Warrior King who would force the Romans from Israel and establish a kingdom of the righteous to last for all time. It was a message that held no small appeal for many, especially the poor and those who did not benefit as a result of the Roman occupation. Yeshua understood, as the Baptist did, these wandering preachers were mere rabble-rousers parading as prophets and promoting a message of outright rebellion, a message shared by the Zealots. They were not interested in establishing a kingdom dedicated to peaceable adherence to God’s Covenant.
The majority of Jews did not accept the idea of open rebellion against Rome. They had their fill of war; many were still haunted by the images of the thousands crucified by the Romans after the rebellion led by Judas of Galilee. They had little or nothing to do with Romans. Like Yeshua, they wanted only to work their fields or conduct their business, raise their families and worship their God without Roman interference. They constantly complained of the Roman demand for taxes, which they characterized as tribute to a pagan god; something strictly forbidden by Mosaic Law. It was a major point of contention between Jew and Roman, one that escalated from demonstrations of Jewish outrage to widespread guerilla warfare. It was also a subject the Romans found increasingly difficult to comprehend.
The few Romans the people did encounter were soldiers; men who regarded religion as little more than superstition, more useful in preparing men for combat or controlling populations than in paying tribute to some supernatural deity. The one area in which this attitude was obscured was in regard to the Emperor. While it was true the Emperor was elevated to the status of a god, usually by his own decree, most Romans viewed the various celebrations and rituals in his honor as more a matter of political necessity than religious observance. Yeshua had seen evidence of this attitude while working at Sepphoris.
Aurelius Galba, one of the Roman engineers charged with overseeing construction in the city, had summoned Yeshua to explain the day’s construction plans. “King Herod wants a likeness of the Emperor Tiberius carved for the atrium wall of his residence, Jesus<” the engineer said without looking up from the plans strewn across the table in front of him. Galba spoke only Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic being too difficult a tongue for the Romans to master.
“There are none among the men who have such skill, Engineer Galba,” Yeshua replied in Greek.
“You mean to tell me there are no artisans among you Jews?”
“None with the skill you require, Engineer Galba. Our artisans content themselves with making ornaments for the Temple, clothing or jewelry or other useful items. They do no make images of animals or men.”
Galba was nonplussed. “Surely, there must be such images in the Temple in Jerusalem; images of your god, your holy prophets there.”
“There are none, Engineer Galba,” Yeshua replied matter-of-factly. “The Torah, our Holy Law, forbids making such images lest they be taken for gods and worshipped before the God of Israel.”
Aurelius Galba tried, unsuccessfully, to hide his consternation. It wouldn’t do to berate these men for following their religion. It would only make it more difficult to get them to work, and it was hard enough as it was. “I’ll have to bring an artisan from Damascus to do the work,” he conceded, obviously irritated by the delay it would cause in the construction. The engineer leaned heavily on the work table and appeared to study the plans laid out there. “Perhaps it’s not such a bad thing you are forbidden to carve images of men, Jesus,” he said more to himself than to his foreman. “It’s been my experience that men make poor gods, and gods make even poorer rulers.” After several moments of silence passed between the two men, Galba looked up. “That will be all, Jesus.”
Alone in his cave, Yeshua paced as he contemplated what to do next. “Should I go to Macherus and add my voice to those calling for his release?”, he asked aloud. “Or should I go to Jerusalem and petition the Sanhedrin to intervene on his behalf?” Neither idea held promise. The addition of his voice to those already petitioning the king for the Baptist’s release would scarcely matter to anyone except himself and the likelihood of the Sanhedrin entering the controversy on the side of an itinerant preacher against King Herod was practically non-existent. Even if the high court took up the matter, it could be months before they decided on a course of action and by then it would be too late. Prayer and meditation had proved ineffective. Something had to be done, and done quickly or the Baptist’s movement would collapse and his message would be lost.
Pilate’s summons was not unexpected. For the past week the city had been rife with rumors of the arrest of the Baptist. The outcry prompted by the rumors had thrown Jerusalem into a state of near chaos; leaders of the various factions within the city had flooded the Temple with pleas for the High Priest to intervene on the Baptist’s behalf. For his part, Caiaphas could not believe Herod was act so rashly as to arrest as popular as the Baptist, one whom many considered a holy man. The summons from Pilate could only mean the rumors were true, which put Caiaphas in a precarious position.
While he did not agree with the Baptist’s teachings, he could not deny the preacher’s right to interpret Scripture as he chose, regardless of the official interpretation. The Baptist’s sermons were a powerful attraction for the masses who flocked to hear him speak. Many saw him as the Messiah, or as Elijah reborn. This, combined with his recent vocal criticism of King Herod, a less-than-revered monarch, proved irresistible; many deserted the Temple when the Baptist preached. Herod’s arrest of the charismatic preacher had only served to increase the Baptist’s standing. Caiaphas had to admit one thing, though; with the Baptist’s arrest money would, once more, flow into the Temple coffers now that the troublesome preacher was no longer distracting worshippers.
The civil unrest created by Herod’s actions was, undoubtedly, the reason for the Procurator’s summons. Pontius Pilate took a dim view of any action which disturbed the status quo, and the arrest of the Baptist had done precisely that. Caiaphas knew there was no love lost between the Procurator and the Galilean tetrarch. If the High Priest could find a way to ingratiate himself with Pilate, perhaps offering his services as a mediator, he could garner some much needed political capital and improve his own rather tenuous standing with Procurator. As his caravan, with its heavily armed escort, sped through the countryside toward Cesarea, Caiaphas pondered how best to accomplish his goal.
When the High Priest arrived at Pilate’s seaside residence, the Procurator was storming about, ranting about the “asinine, inbred fool who supposedly ruled in Galilee.” A guard stood nervously at attention outside the door to Pilate’s suite, unwilling to risk his commander’s ire by announcing the visitor. Seeing the guard’s hesitation, Caiaphas announced himself.
“I see the Procurator has taken the news of the Baptist’s arrest with his usual good grace,” he said. The High Priest’s sarcasm, under different circumstances an unwise move, had the desired effect. Pilate stopped in mid-rant and turned to face the High Priest. The expression on his face showed a marked lack of appreciation for Caiaphas’ sense of humor.
“Good grace be damned!” he snarled. “If not for the fact Herod enjoys the Emperor’s favor, I’d have one less troublesome Jew to deal with in Galilee.” Pilate strode to his writing desk, riffled through the documents scattered there, produced a parchment and handed it to the High Priest. “Herod’s spies have convinced him this Baptist person is responsible for the attack on Sepphoris.”
“I take it your Excellency doesn’t agree,” Caiaphas said and dropped the parchment onto the table.
“My own sources tell me this Baptist is a preacher. Oh, he draws crowds, sometimes several hundred, but he never preached violence, never incited the people to rebel against the king.”
“But Herod thinks otherwise?”
“It appears the king has thin skin when it comes to having his relationships criticized.” Pilate responded. “It seems the Baptist took exception to king marrying the wife of his half-brother; something about its being against his god’s law.” Pilate had been pacing about the room but with this last statement he turned to face the High Priest, an unasked question in his expression.
“The Baptist was not the only one to question the wisdom of Herod’s divorce and remarriage,” Caiaphas said. “Many of the more conservative among the Sanhedrin refuse to accept the king’s marriage to his brother’s wife while his brother lives. Of course, it doesn’t help that she is a gentile, a non-believer. The Baptist and a number of Pharisees believe the king should dissolve this marriage; a union they see as an abomination before God. The Baptist, of course, was the most outspoken of the king’s critics.”
“So you think this has nothing to do with the attack on Sepphoris?” It was clear Pilate wanted to steer clear of becoming embroiled in a religious dispute. He had no understanding, nor appreciation of Jewish law and no desire to acquire any. If this matter of the Baptist was, in fact, a religious quarrel, he would leave its resolution to the Jews.
“I believe the king is using Sepphoris as an excuse to censure his critics,” Caiaphas replied. “It would appear he is having little success in tracking down those responsible for the attack and is using this as means of retaliation.”
“Leave it to that fool to try to douse a fire with oil.” Although he was angry with Herod, Pilate was more disturbed by the distraction the incident with the Baptist was creating in dealing with the Zealots. His spies in Galilee had been unable to identify any of those responsible for the attack on Sepphoris. These criminals disappear into the wilderness like ghosts and the people refuse to help ferret them out. They fear the Zealots more than they fear the Romans, and with good cause. Those who give aid to the authorities, Roman of Jew, against the Zealots are killed without exception. “It’s hard enough dealing with rebels without something like this happening,” Pilate complained as he lowered himself into a chair, his brow furled in concentration. “You seem well-informed in this matter, Caiaphas,” he said. “Perhaps you could use what influence you have with Herod to resolve this problem.”
The High Priest smiled. This was the opportunity he had been waiting for. If he could remove the burden of dealing with what was, in effect, a religious dispute, the Procurator would be in his debt. It was a rare opportunity and one Caiaphas was quick to exploit. “I have already dispatched a delegation to Macherus, where the Baptist is being held, Excellency,” he responded. In fact, Caiaphas had done no such thing, but would see to it upon his return to Jerusalem.
“Very good. That will allow me more time to deal with rebels instead of preachers,” Pilate said, pushing out of his chair. “My spies suggest the Zealots have camps here, in Judea. I’m sending troops into the wilderness to hunt them down. If Herod’s mercenaries can’t find these rabble, perhaps my legionnaires can.”
Yeshua shivered awake. The fire of the night before had long since died out and the early morning chill crept under his thin coverlet and rudely brought him to wakefulness. An occasional chirp interrupted the silence that enveloped him as the life of the surrounding wilderness began to stir. He laid for a moment, awake in the surrounding stillness, and felt more than saw the dawn insinuate its thin light into the cave. He threw off his blanket and sat, stretching and rubbing the remains of sleep from his eyes. He was alone.
The morning air smelled clean and fresh after the rain, as though God had washed all that was impure and foul from the earth, leaving only the sweet, clean fragrance of His creation. Yeshua stood at the edge of the river and stared blankly into the racing water, Had the previous night’s cleansing encompassed him, he wondered? He removed his robe and stepped into the river, wading out into the flow then submerged himself in the water, remaining beneath the surface for as long as he could hold his breath. Suddenly, his lungs near bursting with the need for oxygen, Yeshua broke the surface of the water, a child expelled from the river as from a virgin womb. He stood in the midst of the river and, pushing the water from his face and hair, drew huge gulps of air into his lungs; invigorating air, cleansing air, God’s breath of life filling his lungs. He spread his arms wide and laid back in the water, floating there and looking up at the heavens now fully lighted by the sun as it moved above the surrounding mountains. He marveled at the sky, the few high, drifting wisps of cloud scudding across the blue. An osprey, wings outstretched and floating on the wind, glided across the blue, eyes keenly searching the ground below for signs of movement that would be its morning meal. The hawk, Yeshua thought as he stood in midstream, had better expectations of obtaining food than he did. He shook water from his hair and waded to the riverbank to retrieve his clothes. The early morning sun was bright but had not yet warmed the air and he shivered as a breeze swept by on its way to somewhere else. As he started back to his hiding place he stopped here and there to collect a twig or a bit of scrub to use as kindling for a fire, heartened as much by the thought of having a good fire as was at the prospect of at least one meal, meager though it may be, before he gave himself over to hunger.
Shadows played on the cave wall and gave the impression of a crowd milling about as Yeshua sulked. Earlier he had wept, ashamed of himself for his desertion of the Baptist. He had committed himself to Yohanon’s cause, to helping prepare the people for the coming of the Messiah and Kingdom of God, and yet when faced with adversity in the form of armed soldiers he had bolted. He ran away. Yeshua stared with red-rimmed eyes as the shadows danced in place on the wall.
“What choice did I have?” he said aloud to his accusers. “There were too many of them and they were armed with swords and truncheons.” The crowd stood mute in response to his protestations. “I could have been killed! What would that have accomplished? Nothing.” The shadows continued to mill about, ignoring his protests of innocence, mocking him with their silence. Yeshua’s grief was slowly replaced with anger. He stood up and began to pace the floor of the cave. This group of inquisitors infuriated him. What right did they have to accuse him? Where were they when he traveled Judea, urging the people to come out and hear Yohanon? Where were they when peasants threw stones and bits of offal at him and ran him off, preferring to live in ignorance of the Word of God? Where were they when he tried to warn Yohanon of the danger of his attacks on Herod and his family? Hadn’t he tried to dissuade the Baptist from criticizing the king? Hadn’t he warned him of the possibility of Herod taking action against him? Where were they when Yeshua did all these things? They were right here, smugly milling about in this cave, safe from all the privations and danger. How dare they chastise him! He had done everything in his power to persuade the Baptist he had no chance of winning in a test of wills with Herod. The king would surely arrest him and put an end to his crusade.
End part 2 . . .to be continued
It rained most of the day. It was not a violent downpour, no lightning or thunder: only the steady, soaking rain prevalent at this time of year and depended on so much by the farmers. Yeshua and a few of the Baptist’s entourage had taken shelter in the shallow caves east of the river. Yeshua sat near the mouth of the cave and stared out at the rain. The others of the group sat farther back in the cleft, huddled around the meager fire made from the few bits of kindling they managed to snatch up before the rain came. The fire did little to mitigate the chill brought on by the rain and the atmosphere of uncertainty that permeated their hiding place.
“At least the farmers will have a good harvest,” Yeshua said as he turned from the cave entrance to move closer to the fire.
“Our lives are in danger and you make jokes,” Ezra said. He poked at the fire and the flames flared up, briefly illuminating the interior of the cave. As if on cue, the five men looked toward the opening of the cave as though expecting soldiers to materialize at the entrance. Yeshua picked up an errant twig and tossed it into the fire.
“It’s unlikely Herod’s soldiers would be out in this weather,” he said, looking from one to the other of his companions. “Besides, if they wanted to arrest us they would have taken us when they arrested Yohanon.” It had been a simple matter to escape while the soldiers were distracted by the struggle to take the Baptist into custody. Yeshua and a few of the others managed to splash across the river and escape into the hills. They were not there when Yohanon was taken but remained hidden in the caves without word of his fate. It was obvious Herod’s men were not interested in arresting any of Yohanon’s followers. It was the Baptist Herod wanted.
“We tried to warn Yohanon about preaching against the king,” one of the men said, trying to assuage his own sense of guilt. The others nodded in agreement.
“We all tried to dissuade Yohanon from attacking King Herod in public,” Yeshua said. It would do no good to start accusing one another of not doing all they could to forestall the outcome of Yohanon’s chastisement of the king. Yeshua’s own conversations with the Baptist were to no avail. Yohanon would have none of it.
” It makes no sense to admonish the people to live their lives according to the Torah when the king lives in sin,” Yohanon said, “I will continue as I have been until King Herod submits to God’s Law.”
Yeshua struggled to understand his rabbi’s course of action. “If you continue on this course, Herod may choose to separate your head from your shoulders,” he said. It was well-known the king was prone to violence when confronted by people he perceived as a threat to his crown. If Yohanon continued to preach against the king, it was likely Herod would take some action against the Baptist.
“I cannot turn from the path God has set for me, Yeshua,” Yohanon said. “The kingdom of God will not be realized until all the people, King Herod included, return to the Covenant.”
“Don’t be a fool, Yohanon!” Yeshua said, anger and frustration boiling to the surface. “You can’t bring the people back to the Covenant if you’re in prison or dead.”
The Baptist looked at his disciple, his closest friend, with an expression of utter disappointment. “I thought you, of all my disciples, would understand,”
There was a moment, a brief suspension of time, when the two men stood facing one another, the air between them empty of sound, as though each was challenging the other to relent, when a word from Yeshua could have mended the burgeoning rift that sprang up between the two. Neither man spoke. The Baptist drew himself up to his full height, turned and walked away.
The men sat glumly staring into the fire.
Abruptly, Levi spoke up. “We can’t just sit here doing nothing,” he said, “We should at least try to find out what happened to Yohanon. If the soldiers did manage to arrest him, we should find out where they’ve taken him.”
“I agree with Levi,” Joshua said. “If the soldiers were after us, they would have found us by now.” The others nodded their agreement.
The rain had begun to subside and Levi, taking note of the change in the weather said, “We should leave as soon as the rain stops. Wherever they’ve taken Yohanon it should be easy enough to catch up with them. They have to be somewhere between here and Jerusalem, if not in the city itself.”
All agreed this made sense. Even if the soldiers had not gone to Jerusalem to wait out the storm, it should be easy enough to learn of Yohanon’s whereabouts from his followers in the city. It was dark by the time the rain ended and the men decided it was best to wait until daylight. At first light they began gathering their belongings in preparation for their departure when one of the men, Hosea, noticed Yeshua had not moved from his place before the fire.
“Aren’t you coming with us, Yeshua?”
“I’m going to stay here for a while,” Yeshua replied. “I have much to consider before I see the Baptist again.”
“But you were one of the closest to him,” Hosea argued. “He will be expecting you to follow him.” The other men gathered about Hosea, looking at Yeshua as he sat before the fire.
Yeshua stared into the flames a long time before answering. When he looked up at those gathered about him, his eyes were moist and full of sadness, “Yohanon and I argued before he was arrested,” he said. “I said some things that were, uh, unkind.” He turned his attention, once again, to the flames. “And when he needed my help the most, I failed him and ran away. I’m not sure Yohanon will want to see me again, at least not now, when the things I said would happen have come to pass.”
None of the men responded to their friend’s confession, only stared as Yeshua continued to gaze into the flames. After a few moments, without comment, they left their hiding place in search of their rabbi.
End, part one. . .to be continued.
A few years ago, I decided I wanted to write a book about Jesus. I was somewhat inspired by a quote by Oscar Wilde to the effect that all beginning writers start out writing about Jesus Christ or themselves. Since my life doesn’t lend itself to “thrilling narrative”, I thought the subject of Jesus a worthy one to investigate. Besides, I carried with me an ill-defined “anger” against God and thought writing such a book would, in some equally ill-defined way, serve to mitigate that anger. But a curious thing happened during my research and writing. I discovered I wasn’t so much angry with God as I was angry with those who purported to “serve God’s interests” on earth; specifically the Roman Catholic Church.
Strangely enough, as my anger dissipated so did my desire to continue the book. I’d only ever showed the pages I’d written to one other person, (my brother, Mike), whose opinion I valued (and still value) above all others. His comments were “encouraging” and allowed me to believe the project was worthy of completion. However, my own lack of self-confidence, as well as any credentials that would lend support to any conclusions I may, or may not, have reached in the book, dissuaded me from finishing the work. I put the hundred or so finished pages in a box and promptly forgot about them . . . almost entirely.
The other night I was watching a tape of “Jesus Christ Superstar”, the Andrew Lloyd Weber/Tim Rice rock opera, when I began thinking of my long-forgotten book about Jesus. I’ve always enjoyed the album and the film, finding Andrew Lloyd Weber’s lyrics slightly “subversive” (but only slightly) and tending to support my feelings regarding organized religion (which are more than “slightly” subversive). I came to the realization my book, should I ever decide to finish it, was every bit as valid an interpretation of the Gospel “facts” as anyone else’s. Granted, I’m what you would call an “intuitive” writer, willing to write what I “know” based on historical evidence (of which there is none), rather than reiterating the established dogma of previous writers. In any event, the material presented in the Gospels is so contradictory, so removed from the events they supposedly recount, what difference would it make to add one more retelling? And besides, it’s entirely possible my posting of these pages could provide the impetus to complete the tale I started so long ago.
Enough “back story”. Without further ado, I give you . . .
In the matter of the recent Supreme Court decision regarding campaign financing, McCutcheon vs. Federal Election Commission, I’d like to pass along a few thoughts. First among them is the fact this particular decision should come as no surprise to anyone, especially those who follow the workings of the Court. What did surprise me was how blatant and heavy-handed were the means used.
Conservatives have long endeavored to rescind some (or all) the government’s restrictions in the area of campaign financing, and with the enthusiastic assistance of Chief Justice John Roberts, along with Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas and Alito they have succeeded admirably.
In 2009, in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, these same justices held that corporations, independent of the people employed therein (and in complete contradiction to the very idea of “personhood”), are “persons” and as such entitled to First Amendment rights of free speech; which, in this instance, means corporations are free to dispense trainloads of money in elections.
Now, in McCutcheon, the Court not only removed the most important restrictions on campaign financing, the aggregate amounts, the Court also admonished the government for instituting the restrictions in the first place. As Chief Justice Roberts, (writing for the majority) states: “The Court has identified only one legitimate governmental interest for restricting campaign finances: preventing corruption or the appearance of corruption . . . Moreover, the only type of corruption Congress can target is quid pro quo corruption.” (For those among you who don’t “do” Latin, allow me to translate. Quid pro quo can be (loosely) as, “You stuff my pockets; I’ll stuff yours”).
Chief Justice Roberts continues: “Spending large sums of money in connection with elections, but NOT in connection with an effort to control the exercise of an officeholder’s official duties, does not give rise to quid pro quo corruption”. (Will someone please explain for me, “Why would anyone, other than the candidate, spend “large sums of money” on an election?”) “Nor does the possibility that an individual who spends large sums garner “influence over or access to” elected officials or political parties”. So, according to Roberts & Co., if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck . . .it’s probably a rhinoceros.