Apocalypse for whites • XI

by Evropa Soberana

 

Herod the Great

Augustus (born Gaius Octavius), successor of Julius Caesar at the head of the Roman Empire, appointed Herod, son of Antipater, as king of Judea, and financed his army with Roman money. Herod was a capable, brutal, competent and unscrupulous leader (he practically dispatched his entire family), as well as an excellent warrior, hunter and archer. He expelled the Judean Parthians; protected Jerusalem from pillage, persecuted the bandits and highwaymen and executed the Jews who had supported the Parthian marionette regime, consolidating himself in 37 BCE as king of Judea.

Although Herod is portrayed by history as a ruthless, cruel and selfish king, the reality is that, as hard as it may seem to believe, as a sovereign he was one of the best that this land ever had. Even in 25 BCE he sacrificed important personal wealth to import large quantities of grain from Egypt, with the aim of fighting a famine that was spreading misery in his country.

Despite this and everything he did for Israel, Herod is viewed with antipathy by the Jews, for having been a pro-Roman, pro-Greek sovereign and, above all, because his Jewishness was questioned: Herod descended from his father’s side of Antipater (the one who supported Cassius), who in turn descended from those Idumeans (or Edomites) forced to convert to Judaism when John Hyrcanus, a Hasmonean king, conquered Idumea (or Edom) around 135 BCE.

On the maternal side Herod descended from the Arabs, and the transmission of the Jewish condition is matrilineal. Therefore, although Herod identified himself as a Jew and was considered a Jew by most authorities, the masses of the Jewish people, especially the most orthodox, systematically distrusted the king: especially in view of the opulent and luxurious life he imposed on his court, and held for him a contempt perhaps comparable to the one that the Spaniards of the 16th century felt by the Marranos or Jews converted to Christianity.

For his education and Greco-Roman inclinations, it is more likely that this king felt less Jewish, although he certainly wanted to please Jewry and be an effective sovereign by the prosperity that he brought to them. More rational than his fundamentalist subjects, Herod understood that enraging Rome was not good business.

Herod gave Israel a splendour that it had never known, not even under David or Solomon. He embellished Jerusalem with Hellenistic architecture and sculpture; carried out an ambitious program of public works, and in 19 BCE demolished and rebuilt the very Temple in Jerusalem, considering it too small and mediocre.

This angered the Jews, who hated Herod for being a protégée of the Romans, whom cordially they hated even more. Undoubtedly, the most orthodox sectors of the Jewish quarter were happy with the Temple as it was, and they must have seen as bad its conversion in a more Roman-looking building, especially when the king ordered to decorate the entrance with a golden imperial eagle. (Paradoxically, the Jews would later mourn the destruction of this same Temple at the hands of the Romans.)

Herod was continually involved in conspiracies by his family, much of which, including his own wife and two of his children, was executed at his request. As he was getting old, he developed ulcers and convulsions. He died in 4 BCE, at the age of 69. Eventually it was said that he had ‘ascended to the throne like a fox; ruled like a tiger, and died like a dog’.

The first temple in Jerusalem was a very shabby building, as we have seen in a previous chapter. The second, similar to the first, was built under the protection of the Persian emperor Cyrus the Great in 515 BCE. In the year 19 BCE Herod proposed to renovate and enlarge it, for which he demolished the old temple; erecting, under Roman protection, a much grander one, although it continued to be called ‘Second Temple’ (or Temple of Herod). Although Jewry would abhor Herod, the truth is that he gave the temple a size and splendour that neither Solomon nor Zerubbabel could have imagined.

In that same year of 4 BCE, two Jewish Pharisees called Zadok (or Tsadoq) and Judas the Galilee (also called John of Gamala) called for not paying tribute to Rome. There was a Pharisee uprising, and the rabbis ordered to destroy the ‘idolatrous’ image of the imperial eagle that Herod had placed at the entrance to the Temple in Jerusalem. Herod Archelaus, the son of Herod, and Varus, a Roman commander, stifled the revolt harshly, and had nearly 3,000 Jews crucified.

It is thought that perhaps this first revolt is the origin of the Zealot movement, about which we will talk in the next section. Archelaus, despite having been proclaimed king by his army, did not assume the title until he had presented his respects, in Rome, to Augustus. He was made the Roman client king of Judea, Samaria and Idumea, despite of the sentiments of the Roman Jews, who feared him for the cruelty with which he had repressed the Pharisee uprising.

Archelaus is mentioned in the gospel of Matthew, since Yosef, Miriam and Yeshua—known as Joseph, Mary and Jesus—had escaped to Egypt to avoid the massacre of the innocents. (Supposedly, that year Herod Archelaus ordered the execution of all the firstborn of Bethlehem.) [1]
 

The Zealots

In the year 6 CE, after the complaints of the Jews, Augustus dismisses Archelaus, sending him to Gaul. Samaria, Judea and Idumea are formally annexed as a province of the Roman Empire, with the name of Judea. The Jews become governed by Roman ‘procurators’: a kind of governors who had to maintain peace, Romanize the area and exercise the fiscal policy of Rome by collecting taxes. They also arrogated to themselves the right to appoint the high priest of their choice.

The Jews hated the puppet kings despite the fact that they imposed order, developed the area and, in short, civilised the country. Paradoxically, from the beginning the Jewish quarter was also highly hostile to the Romans, whose intervention they had practically begged! Now, in addition to the Temple tribute, they also had to pay tribute to Caesar—and, by tradition, money was not something the Jews happily lavished.

That same year, the consul Publius Sulpicius Quirinius arrived in Syria to make a census in the name of Rome with the objective of establishing taxes. Since Judea had been annexed to Syria, Quirinius included the Jews in the census. As a result of this and of the new irruption of European culture in the area, the fundamentalist terrorist movement of the Zealots flourished.

Flavius Josephus considers the Zealots as the fourth Jewish sect together with—from least to greatest religious extremism—the Essenes, the Sadducees and the Pharisees. The Zealots were the most fundamentalists of all: they refused to pay taxes to the Roman Empire. For them, all other Jewish factions were heretical; any Jew who collaborated minimally with the Roman authorities was guilty of treason and should be executed. The armed struggle, the militarization of the Jewish people and the expulsion of the Romans, were the only way to achieve the redemption of Zion. According to the New Testament, the apostle Simon, one of the disciples of Jesus, belonged to this faction (Luke, 6:15).

Among the Zealots the Sicarii stood out, a faction even more fanatized, sectarian and radicalised, so called by the sica: a dagger that could be easily hidden and used to kill their enemies. The Zealots and Sicarii would form the hard core of the Great Jewish Revolt which we will see in another section. They were also the most active element of Judaism of the time, since at that time it is probable that most Jews, although they detested both Greeks and Romans cordially, would simply like to live and enrich themselves in peace, agreeing with whom it was necessary for it.

As it could not be otherwise, the Sicarii and zealots also fought among themselves. There were a total of twenty-four Jewish factions that generally fought against each other, in a very representative frame of what the rabbis called Sinat chinam, that is, ‘groundless hatred’ from Jew to Jew (maybe because hating non-Jews does make sense): an attitude that perhaps has been better caricatured in the movie Life of Brian.

In year 19, with Jewry in process of climbing to acquire influence at Rome itself, Tiberius expelled the Jews from the city, instigated by the Senate. Concerned about the popularity of Judaism among freed slaves, he forbids Jewish rites in the capital of the Empire, considering Jewry ‘a danger to Rome’ and ‘unworthy to remain within the walls of the City of the Legions’ according to Suetonius. That year, on the occasion of a famine in the province of Egypt, Tiberius denies to the Alexandrian Jews grain reserves, since he does not consider them his citizens.

Tiberius set in motion anti-Jewish measures during his reign, during which Jesus was executed.

___________________

[1] Note of the Ed.: An obviously fictional gospel tale, as no Roman historian mentions it, not even the Jew Flavius Josephus.

Published in: on December 20, 2017 at 5:14 pm  Comments Off on Apocalypse for whites • XI  
Tags:

Gospel Fictions, 3


 
Below, part of Gospel Fictions’ third chapter, “Nativity legends” by Randel Helms (ellipsis omitted between unquoted passages):



Two of the four canonical Gospels—Matthew and Luke—give accounts of the conception and birth of Jesus. John tells us only of the Incarnation—that the Logos “became flesh”—while Mark says nothing at all about Jesus until his baptism as a man of perhaps thirty. Either Mark and John know nothing about Jesus’ background and birth, or they regard them as unremarkable.

Certainly Mark, the earliest Gospel, knows nothing of the Annunciation or the Virgin Birth. It is clear from 3:20-21 that in Mark’s view the conception of Jesus was accompanied by no angelic announcement to Mary that her son was to be (in Luke’s words) “Son of the Most High” and possessor of the “throne of David” (Luke 1:32 NEB [New English Bible]).

According to Mark, after Jesus had openly declared himself Son of Man (a heavenly being, according to Daniel 7:13), his family on hearing of this “set out to take charge of him. ‘He is out of his mind,’ they said.” Surely Jesus’ mother and brothers (so identified in Mark 3:31) would not have regarded Jesus’ acts as signs of insanity if Mark’s Mary, like Luke’s, had been told by the angel Gabriel that her son would be the Messiah.

But Mark’s ignorance of Jesus’ conception, birth, and background was no hindrance to the first-century imagination. Many first-century Jewish Christians did feel a need for a Davidic messiah, and at least two separate groups responded by producing Davidic genealogies for Jesus, both to a considerable extent imaginary and each largely inconsistent with the other. One of each was latter appropriated by Matthew and Luke and repeated, with minor but necessary changes, in their Gospels. Each genealogy uses Old Testament as its source of names until it stops supplying them or until the supposed messianic line diverges from the biblical. After that point the Christian imaginations supplied two different lists of ancestors of Jesus.

Why, to show that Jesus is “the son of David,” trace the ancestry of a man who is not his father? The obvious answer is that the list of names was constructed not by the author of Matthew but by earlier Jewish Christians who believed in all sincerity that Jesus had a human father. Such Jewish Christians were perhaps the forbears of the group known in the second century as the Ebionites.

The two genealogies in fact diverge after David (c. 1000 B.C.) and do not again converge until Joseph. It is obvious that another Christian group, separate from the one supplying Mathew’s list but feeling an equal need for a messiah descended from David, complied its own genealogy, as imaginary as Mathew’s in its last third. And like Mathew’s genealogy, it traces the Davidic ancestry of the man who, Luke insists, is not Jesus’ father anyway, and thus is rendered pointless.

Moreover, according to Luke’s genealogy (3:23-31) there are forty-one generations between David and Jesus; whereas according to Mathew’s, there are but twenty seven. Part of the difference stems from Mathew’s remarkably careless treatment of his appropriated list of names.

Thus we have a fascinating picture of four separate Christian communities in the first century. Two of them, Jewish-Christian, were determined to have a messiah with Davidic ancestry and constructed genealogies to prove it, never dreaming that Jesus could be thought of as having no human father.

But gentile Christians in the first century, who came into the new religion directly from paganism and were already infected with myths about licentious deities, had a much different understanding of what divine paternity meant. Plutarch speaks for the entire pagan world when he writes, in Convivial Disputations, “The fact of the intercourse of a male with mortal women is conceded by all,” though he admits that such relations might be spiritual, not carnal. Such mythology came with pagans converted to Christianity, and by the middle of the first century, Joseph’s paternity of Jesus was being replaced by God’s all over the gentile world.

“The virgin will conceive and bear a son, and he shall be called Emmanuel,” a name which means “God is with us.” (Matthew 1:20-23)

The Septuagint, from which Matthew quotes, uses, at Isaiah 7:14, parthenos (physical virgin) for the Hebrew almah (young woman) as well as the future tense, “will conceive,” though Hebrew has no future tense as such. Modern English translations are probably more accurate in reading (as does the New English Bible), “A young woman is with child.” We can scarcely blame the author of Matthew for being misguided by his translation (though Jews frequently ridiculed early Christians for their dependence on the often-inaccurate Septuagint rather than the Hebrew). We can, however, fault him for reading Isaiah 7:14 quite without reference to its context—an interpretative method used by many in his time and ours, but a foolish one nonetheless. Any sensible reading of Isaiah, chapter seven, reveals its concern with the Syrio-Israelite crisis of 734 B.C. (the history of which appears in I Kings 16:1-20).

(Jesus’ real father? According to a malicious, early Jewish story, Jesus was the illegitimate son of a Roman soldier called Pantera. The name is so unusual that it was thought to be an invention until this first-century tombstone came to light in 1859; for the Latin inscription see below.)

It is clear, however, that though the mistranslated and misunderstood passage in Isaiah was Matthew’s biblical justification for the Virgin Birth, it was not the source of the belief (indeed Luke presents the Virgin Birth without reference to Isaiah). The doctrine originated in the widespread pagan belief in the divine conception upon various virgins of a number of mythic heroes and famous persons in the ancient world, such as Plato, Alexander, Perseus, Asclepius and the Dioscuri.

Matthew writes that Joseph, having been informed in his dream, “had no intercourse with her until her son was born” (Matt. 1:25). Luke gives us a different myth about the conception of Jesus, in which the Annunciation that the messiah is to be fathered by God, not Joseph, is made to Mary rather than to her betrothed. Embarrassed by the story’s clear implicit denial of the Virgin Birth notion, Luke or a later Christian inserted Mary’s odd question [“How can this be, since I know not a man?”], but the clumsy interpolation makes hash of Jesus’ royal ancestry.

(The inscription reads: “Tiberius Julius Abdes Pantera of Sidon, aged 62, a soldier of 40 years’ service, of the 1st cohort of archers, lies here”; only “Abdes” is a Semitic name.)

In due course, Jesus was born, growing up in Nazareth of Galilee, a nationality different from the Judean inhabitants of Jerusalem and its near neighbor, Bethlehem. After Jesus’ death, those of his followers interested in finding proof of his messiahnship in the Old Testament worked a Christian reinterpretation of Micah 5:2 concerning the importance of Bethlehem as the birthplace of David and his dynasty:

You, Bethlehem in Ephrathah, small as you are to be among Judah’s clans, out of you shall come forth a governor for Israel, one whose roots are far back in the past, in days gone by.

That is, the one who restores the dynasty will have the same roots, be of the same ancestry, as David of Bethlehem. Prophesying, it would appear, during the Babylonian exile, Micah (or actually a sixth-century B.C. interpolator whose words were included in the book of the eight-century B.C. prophet) hoped for the restoration of the Judaean monarchy destroyed in 586 B.C.

But since some first-century Christians did read Micah 5:2 as a prediction of the birthplace of Jesus, it became necessary to explain why he grew up in Nazareth, in another country, rather than Bethlehem. At least two different and mutually exclusive narratives explaining this were produced: one appears in Matthew, the other in Luke.

Matthew has it that Mary and Joseph lived in Bethlehem when Jesus was born, and continued there for about two years, fleeing then to Egypt. They returned to Palestine only after Herod’s death. For fear of Herod’s son, they did not resettle in Bethlehem. But moved rather to another country, Galilee, finding a new home in Nazareth.

Luke, on the other hand, writes that Mary and apparently Joseph lived in Nazareth, traveling to Bethlehem just before Jesus’ birth to register for a tax census. They left Bethlehem forty days later to visit the temple in Jerusalem for the required ritual of the first-born, returning then to their hometown of Nazareth.

Examination of these two irreconcilable accounts will give us a good picture of the creative imaginations of Luke, Matthew, and their Christian sources.

In most of Matthew’s Gospel, the major source of information about Jesus is the Gospel of Mark (all but fifty-five of Mark’s verses appear in Matthew, either word-for-word or with deliberate changes). But Mark says nothing about Jesus’ birth. When one favorite source fails him, Matthew inventively turns to another—this time to the Old Testament, read with a particular interpretative slant, and to oral tradition about Jesus, combining the two in a noticeably uneasy way.

We must remember that for the Christian generation that produced our Gospels, the Bible consisted only of what Christians now called the Old Testament, and a particular version thereof, the Greek Septuagint. But before they wrote the New Testament, Christians created another entirely new book, the Old Testament, turning the Septuagint into a book about Jesus by remarkably audacious and creative interpretation. Meanings it had held for generations of Jews, its historical and poetic content especially, ceased to exist; it became not a book about the past but about its own future.

Of course, other groups such as the Qumran sect also read the Bible oracularly, but Christians specialized this technique, finding oracles about Jesus of Nazareth. If a passage in the Septuagint could be read as a prediction of an event in the life of Jesus, then the event must have happened. Thus, if Micah were understood to mean that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, then Jesus must have been born there, no matter what his real hometown. But as it happens, the Bethlehem birth story, dependent upon the Christian interpretation of Micah, and the magi-and-star legend, dependent upon Hellenistic and Jewish oral tradition, fit together very uneasily. The story of the magi (“astrologers” is a more meaningful translation) says that “the star which they had seen at its rising went ahead of them until it stopped above the place where the child lay” (Matt 2:9).

In all the stories, the astrologers point to a special star, symbol of the arrival of the new force (Israel, Abraham, Jesus). Says Balaam: “A star shall rise [anatelei astron] out of Jacob, a man shall spring out of Israel, and shall crush the princes of Moab” (Num. 24:17 LXX). The astrologers in Matthew likewise point to a star: “We observed the rising of his star” (Matt. 2.2).

Now the source of the story of the king (Nimrod, Herod) who wants to kill the infant leader of Israel (Abraham, Jesus) shifts to the account of Moses in Exodus, the classic biblical legend of the wicked king (Pharaoh) who wants to slay the new leader of Israel (Moses). Indeed, the story of Moses in the Septuagint provided Matthew with a direct verbal source for his story of the flight into Egypt. As Pharaoh wants to kill Moses, who then flees the country, so Herod wants to kill Jesus, who is then carried away by his parents. After a period of hiding for the hero in both stories, the wicked king dies:

And the Lord said unto Moses in Midian, “Go, depart into Egypt, for all that sought thy life are dead” (tethnekasi gar pantes hoi zetountes sou ten psychen—Ex: 4:19 LXX).

When Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel for those who sought the child’s life are dead” (tethnekasin gar hoi zetountes ten psychen tou paidiou—Matt 2:20).

Of course, Moses flies from Egypt to Midian, while the Holy Family flees to Egypt through Midian.

* * *

“This was to fulfill the words spoken through the prophets: ‘He shall be called a Nazarene’” (Matt. 2:23). There is, however, no such passage in all the Old Testament. Matthew had apparently vaguely heard that such a verse was in the “prophets,” and since he really needed to get the Holy Family from the supposed birthplace to the known hometown, he reported the fulfillment but left the biblical reference unspecified.

Like Matthew, Luke faced the same problem of reconciling known Nazarene upbringing with supposed Bethlehem birth. His solution, however, was entirely different, and even less convincing. Whereas Matthew has the Holy Family living in Bethlehem at the time of the birth and traveling to Nazareth, Luke has them living in Nazareth and traveling to Bethlehem in the very last stages of Mary’s pregnancy. Though Luke 1:5 dates the birth of Jesus in the “days of Herod, king of Judaea,” who died in 4 B.C., he wants the journey from Galilee to Bethlehem to have occurred in response to a census called when “Quirinius was governor of Syria.”

As historians know, the one and only census conducted while Quirinius was legate in Syria affected only Judaea, not Galilee, and took place in A.D. 6-7, a good ten years after the death of Herod the Great. In his anxiety to relate the Galilean upbringing with the supposed Bethlehem birth, Luke confused his facts. Indeed, Luke’s anxiety has involved him in some real absurdities, like the needless ninety-mile journey of a woman in her last days of pregnancy—for it was the Davidic Joseph who supposedly had to be registered in the ancestral village, not the Levitical Mary.

Worse yet, Luke has been forced to contrive a universal dislocation for a simple tax registration. Who could imagine the efficient Romans requiring millions in the empire to journey scores of hundreds of miles to the villages of millennium-old ancestors merely to sign a tax form!

Needless to say, no such event ever happened in the history of the Roman Empire.