Jewish Leadership – Recognition of the Messiah?

Jewish leadership acknowledged the supernatural abilities and authority of Jesus of Nazareth…some even recognized him as the Messiah. It began at the time of his birth.

Magi saw signs that a special King of the Jews was to be born and began a quest traveling hundreds of miles not knowing exactly where to find him. None other than King Herod gave the Magi the birth location of the Messiah as it was provided to him by the Jewish religious experts.

Herod’s question to the chief priests and scribes was simple – where is the Christ (Greek for Messiah) to be born?  His question was based not on “if,” rather an assumption of fact asking “where” the Messiah was to be born? Their answer:  “In Bethlehem of Judea.”[1] Accordingly, Herod sent the Magi to Bethlehem where they did indeed find the child, Jesus.

Eight days after Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Joseph and Mary took him to the Temple in Jerusalem a few miles away to comply with the Jewish laws to formally name him, to be circumcised, offer a sacrifice and for his father to bless him.[2] Simeon met them in the Temple, took the babe in his arms and blessed Jesus, too, saying:

LK 2:30-32 “For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” (NIV)

Previously Simeon had received a vision that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah.  Upon seeing the baby Jesus, Simeon acknowledged to God that His promise had been fulfilled and he was now ready to die. Before the new family left, Simeon foretold what to expect for the life of their child, Jesus:

LK 2:34-35 “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (NIV)

Anna was a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel of the Asher tribe. Her husband had died after only seven years of marriage leaving her a widow for the next 84 years. Living a reclusive life, she never left the Temple fasting and praying day and night.[3]

Seeing Joseph, Mary and Jesus, Anna came up to them and began giving thanks to God. The prophetess then spoke of Jesus to all who came into the Temple interested in the “redemption of Jerusalem.”

Several groups of Jewish religious leaders are referenced in the Gospels, usually in opposition to Jesus – the rulers of the Sanhedrin, the High Priest, the Pharisees, the Herodians, the chief priests, the legal experts and the elders. While opposing him as a threat to fundamental Judaism, they acknowledged the supernatural abilities and powers of Jesus inadvertently corroborating that he possessed the characteristics of the prophesied Messiah.[4]

Sanhedrin was the ruling political body of the Jewish theocracy.[5] The High Priest was the head of the Sanhedrin and political leader of all the Jewish people.[6] Pharisees were one of three predominate religious factions in Jerusalem and most noticeable throughout Judea.[7]

Scribes were the legal experts of Jewish law, the lawyers of the day.[8] Chief priests were religious leaders from the Temple and members of the Sanhedrin.[9] Elders were valued in Jewish society for their wisdom in consultations.[10] Herodians were a minor religious faction although they shared a common enemy of Jesus.[11]

Chief priests, legal experts and elders acknowledged Jesus had the supernatural power and authority to cast out demons and to perform “signs” often translated as “miracles.” [12] Asking Jesus to identify the authority of his power “to do these things,” they could not answer a legal riddle posed to them and, in return, Jesus neither answered their question.[13]

Pharisees were the primary nemesis of Jesus in the Gospels. Inexplicably, they viewed Jesus as being on their level calling him “teacher” who taught “the way of God in truth” and took offense when Jesus dared to eat with the “sinners.”[14] Admitting Jesus performed “signs” so amazing that “the whole world has gone after him,” they sought to kill him.[15]

Arresting Jesus, the Jewish leadership put him on trial when he admitted under oath to being the “Son of God.” The High Priest in charge of the trial, Caiaphas, reacted to the admission by tearing his clothes in a customary display of grief for hearing blasphemy exclaiming, “Why do we still need witnesses?”[16]

Not all the Jewish leadership shared the same disdainful views of Jesus. In one instance, Jesus was invited to dinner by a Pharisee named Simon.[17] While dining, an uninvited guest – a local woman “sinner” – washed the feet of Jesus with her tears and hair. Jesus forgave her many sins causing Simon and his guests to wonder who is Jesus to be able to forgive sins?[18]

Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea were identified as Jewish rulers who followed Jesus.[19] Nicodemus had met secretly with Jesus and once pushed back on unfair accusations of his ruling peers.[20] Joseph asked Pilate for the crucified body of Jesus and both Jewish rulers together buried him in Joseph’s unused tomb.[21]

King Herod believed as a result of the Magi’s visit and his royal Jewish council that the Messiah had been born in Bethlehem. At the Temple, a Jewish prophetess and a priest recognized baby Jesus as the Messiah. Later, archenemies of Jesus acknowledged his supernatural abilities to heal, perform other miracles, and his authority of power over evil. Was Jesus the prophesied Messiah?

 

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REFERENCES:

[1] Matthew 2:5.
[2] Luke 2:21-33.
[3] Luke 2:36-38.
[4] Matthew 12:9; Mark 11:18; Luke 6:6-11; John 11:46-48. Sanhedrin 49b. Soncino Babylonian Talmud. 1935-1948. <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/sanhedrin/sanhedrin_49.html “Chief Priests.” Encyclopedia.com. 2019. <https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/chief-priests>
[5] “Sanhedrin.” JewishEncyclopedia.com. 2011. <https://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/12291-portalis-comte-joseph-marie>
[6] “High Priest.” JewishEncyclopedia.com. 2011. <https://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/7689-high-priest>
[7] “Pharisees.” JewishEncyclopedia.com. 2011. <https://jewishencyclopedia.com/articl s/12050-perushim>
[8] “Scribes.” JewishEncyclopedia.com. 2011. <https://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/13831-sofer>
[9] “Chief Priests.” Encyclopedia.com. 2019. <https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/chief-priests>
[10]“Elder.” Jewish Virtual Library. 2021. <https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/elder>
[11] “Herodians.” JewishEncyclopedia.com. 2011.  <https://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/7605-herodians>
[12] Mark 2:6; 3:22; Luke 6:7; John 11:47.
[13] Matthew 21:23; Mark 11:28.
[14] Matthew 22:16; Mark 2:13-16. Luke 5:30, 7:39, 15:2: John 8:3.
[15] Matthew 12:9, 22:15; Mark 3:1-6; Luke 5:21, 6:2, 11, 11:53; John 7:31-32, 11:47-50; 12:19.=
[16] Mark 14:61-63. NET, NRSV. CR Matthew 26:63-65; Luke 22:70-71. O’Neal, Sam. Learn Religions. 2019. <https://www.learnreligions.com/why-people-in-the-bible-tore-their-clothes-363391>
[17] Luke 7:44.
[18] Luke 7:36-35.
[19] John 3:1, 7:50-51, 19:38-39
[20] John 7:50-51.
[21] Matthew 27:57-60; Mark 15:42-46; Luke 23:50-53; John 19:38-42.

The Arabian Desert – Two Routes to Bethlehem?

Matthew’s Nativity account of the wise men, the Magi, reveals their quest to find the newborn King of the Jews took them first to Jerusalem, then on the Bethlehem. After being warned not to return home the way they came, the Magi took a different route back to their homeland was there a second route?

Magi were well-known by reputation for their origins in Persia east of Judea hundreds of miles away. Facing them were the hardships and challenges posed by the great Arabian Desert.[1]

Marco Polo, famed thirteenth century explorer, wrote in 1298 of his travels to the Province of Persia searching for information about the Magi.[2] Writing of a city called Saba, Polo wrote that he first visited the burial place of the “magi who came to adore Christ in Bethlehem.”

Today the city is known as Saveh located about 50 miles southwest of Tehran, Iran.[3] From Saba, Marco Polo’s pursuit to find the location where the Magi had lived took him on a 3-day trek to the castle of “Palasata, which means the castle of fire-worshippers,” a same name for Magi found in the Talmud.[4]

Visiting with the residents of the Palasata castle, they told the story of three renowned Magi whose home towns were given as Dyava, Saba and the castle of Palasata. While Matthew’s account neither discloses the number of Magi nor that they were kings, Marco Polo recounts being told of “three offerings” made by three kings:[5]

“…anciently, three kings of that country went to adore a certain king who was newly born, and carried with them three offerings, namely, gold, frankincense, and myrrh:  gold, that they might know if he were an earthly king; frankincense, that they might know if he were God; and myrrh, that they might know if he were a mortal man.” [6]

Travel from Persia to Judea offered only two realistic route choices when confronted with the second largest desert in the world. One option was a route around the northern edges of the Arabian Desert. The other option was the longer southern route through the desert by way of Petra south of the Dead Sea.

Shorter of the two trade routes to Jerusalem, the initial destination of the Magi, was approximately 700 miles.[7] The route coursed from Seleucia near present day Baghdad, north through the populous area east of the Euphrates River, on to Edessa in southeast Turkey, turned west to Damascus, Syria, then turned south following the ancient King’s Highway paralleling the east side of the Jordan River.

 

Parthian Empire’s trade routes and the Arabian Desert, 2 BC – 1st AD

Trade route spurs West off the King’s Highway across the Jordan River were limited to only three. When traveling from the north, the first two were not logical choices for a Jerusalem destination. The last crossing opportunity was to ford the Jordan just above the Dead Sea heading west by Jericho, then onward to Jerusalem.

King Herod’s winter palace was located in Jericho where he would soon travel in his final days for the futile treatment of his horrible bowel disease.[8] The crossing point of the Jordan near Jericho was the same place where the Israelites entered into land of Abraham after their wonderings in the Sinai wilderness.[9]

Erza 7:9 mentions how a similar journey from Babylon to Jerusalem took four months. On the timeline of history, Ezra was written after the Hebrew’s release from Babylonian captivity thought still under the rule of the Persian Empire in the late 300 BC era.[10]

Scrolling forward a century to the last quarter of the 200s BC, trade routes had been established by the Parthian Empire making travel relatively much faster.[11] Commonly referred to as “caravan routes,” these trade routes were busy – the interstate highways of the day dotted with trading posts making them the best practical means for land travel.[12]

First, the Magi traveled to Jerusalem where they sought guidance from ruler of the land, King Herod. Jerusalem was not located on the common caravan routes making it a newsworthy event where everyone seemed to be aware of their arrival in the city .[13]

Aside from their unusual arrival, perhaps attention was also garnered by  their conspicuous caravan of camels; their foreign grandiose attire; or that they were regarded as kings from Persia.[14] Nevertheless, it is obvious the Magi were recognized on the highest social hierarchy as King Herod who granted the Magi immediate access to his palace.

After consulting with Jewish religious experts, Herod directed the Magi to go to Bethlehem in exchange for revealing the exact location of the child after they found him. Bethlehem was only 5 miles to the south of Jerusalem accessible directly by a north-south road. Matthew’s account then provides a key detail:

MT 2:12 “And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.” (NIV)

Consensus agreement by the Magi to avoid King Herod suggests that they all received the message…and it presented a costly logistical challenge requiring full agreement. Herod would assuredly know if the Magi were back in the City of Jerusalem; undoubtedly he would know if they were passing by the much smaller Jericho where area local contacts to the King’s winter palace were certain.

A return route back to Persia that avoided Jerusalem and Jericho left only one other option across the Arabian Desert the southern Parthian loop. It was a much longer trek, some 100 miles longer at around 800 miles.

South of the Dead (Salt) Sea, the King’s Highway routed to Petra, then East on the southern Parthian route across the Arabian Desert to Central Persia. The catch was how to reach it from Bethlehem.[15]

 

https://i0.wp.com/i.pinimg.com/originals/cb/8e/5c/cb8e5cdfa8e96c2fdc1eb3c884cc5f75.jpg?resize=657%2C392&ssl=1

 

Access to the southern Parthian trade route was literally at the doorstep of the Magi. The Central Ridge route ran south out of Bethlehem to Hebron; connected to the Spice Route which passed under the Dead Sea; and then joined the King’s Highway south to Petra.[16] The other less traveled minor route spurs off the Central Ridge Road may have shortened the southward path, the tradeoff being a more difficult passage, fewer trading posts, and greater risks.

 

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Copied with permission: Biblewalks.com.

Many secular historical accounts confirm the origins of the Magi – who they were, their reputation, from where they came. Two well-known geographically established caravan trade routes involving the Arabian Desert existed from Persia to Judea. Do these historical accounts corroborate and add credibility to Gospel account of Matthew and the Nativity of Jesus of Nazareth?

 

Updated December 19, 2021.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

REFERENCES:

[1] Matthew 2:1, 12. “Arabian Desert.” New World Encyclopedia. n.d. <https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Arabian_Desert>  “Arabian Desert.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2020. <https://www.britannica.com/place/Arabian-Desert>
[2] Polo, Marco.  The Travels of Marco Polo the Venetian.  1818.  Ed. Ernest Rhys. 1908 Edition.  Chapter XI. p 50. <http://archive.org/stream/marcopolo00polouoft#page/50/mode/2up> “Marco Polo.” Bibliography.com. 2020 <https://www.biography.com/explorer/marco-polo>  
“Marco Polo and his travels.” Silk-Road.com. n.d. <http://www.silk-road.com/artl/marcopolo.shtml
[3] Saveh, Iran (untitled). Bing.com/maps. Map. 2020. <https://www.bing.com/maps?osid=caeb94c6-d007-42ed-a5c8-19628ce0cebc&cp=35.411126~50.908664&lvl=9&v=2&sV=2&form=S00027> Hartinger, J. A. “Saba and Sabeans.” Catholic Encyclopedia. Volume 13. 1912.  NewAdvent.org. 2009. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/13285c.htm>
[4] Strabo. Geography. Chapter III. n.d. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0239:book=15:chapter=3&highlight=magi>Stillwell, Richard, et. al. The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites. “Hatra Iraq.” n.d. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.04.0006:entry=hatra&highlight=caravan> Soncino Babylonian Talmud. Ed. Isidore Epstein. The Soncino Press. 1935-1948. Sanhedrin 98a.  <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/sanhedrin/sanhedrin_98.html#98a_22> Sanhedrin 74b. <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/sanhedrin/sanhedrin_74.html>  “Babylonia.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/10263-magi>
[5] Matthew 2:11.
[6] Polo. The Travels of Marco Polo the Venetian.  p 50.
[7] II Kings 25:1-17; Jeremiah 52:3-30. Middle East. Bing.com. Map. 2020. <https://www.bing.com/maps?osid=a2a3d404-6095-4abc-9ac8-b6d695d42293&cp=34.13455~41.097873&lvl=7&v=2&sV=2&form=S00027>  “Atlas of Iran Maps.” IranPoliticsClub.net. Chapter 4. March, 2000. <http://www.iranpoliticsclub.net/maps/maps04/index.htm>  “Spice Ways.”  Israel Antiquities Authority.  Map.  n.d.  2014.  <http://www.mnemotrix.com/avdat/spiceroute2.gif>  “Trade Routes of Palestine.” Bible Odyssey. Map. 2019. <https://www.bibleodyssey.org/en/tools/map-gallery/v/map-trade_routes-g-01>
[8] Josephus, Flavius. Antiquities of the Jews.  Trans. and commentary.  William Whitson.  The Complete Works of Josephus. 1850. Book XVII. Chapter VI. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>   Geva, Hillel. “Archaeology in Israel: Jericho – The Winter Palace of King Herod.” Jewish Virtual Library. 2020. <https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jericho-the-winter-palace-of-king-herod> “Herodian Jericho.” Oxford Bible Studies Online. 2020. <http://www.oxfordbiblicalstudies.com/article/opr/t393/e57>
[9] Numbers 20:19, 22:1; Deuteronomy 32:48, 34:1-4; Joshua 3:14-17. “Roads in Israel.” Bible History Online. Map.  n.d.  <http://www.bible-history.com/maps/ancient-roads-in-israel.html>
[10] “Ezra and Nehemiah, Books of.” Jewish Virtual Library. 2020. <https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/ezra-and-nehemiah-books-of> “Ezra.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2020. <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Ezra-Hebrew-religious-leader>
[11] “Trade between the Romans and the Empires of Asia.” MetMuseum.org. 2020. <https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/silk/hd_silk.htm> “Map of Roman & Parthian Trade Routes.” Ancient History Encyclopedia. 2020. <https://www.ancient.eu/image/11763/map-of-roman–parthian-trade-routes>  Hopkins, Edward C. D. “History of Parthia.”  Parthia.com. 2008. <http://www.parthia.com/parthia_history.htm>  “Parthian Empire.” Iran Chamber Society. 2020. <http://www.iranchamber.com/history/parthians/parthians.php>
[12] Stillwell, Richard, et. al. “Bernice or Pernicide Portum (Madinet el-Haras) Egypt.” The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites. n.d. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.04.0006:entry=berenice-1&highlight=caravan>  Stillwell, Richard, et. al. “Beroea (Aleppo) Syria.” The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites. n.d. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.04.0006:entry=beroea&highlight=caravan> Stillwell, Richard, et. al. “Dura Europos Syria.”  The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites. n.d. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.04.0006:entry=dura-europos&highlight=caravan> Stillwell, Richard, et. al. “Palmyra (Tadmor) Syria.” The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites. n.d. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.04.0006:entry=palmyra&highlight=caravan> “Trade Routes/” National Museum of American History. n.d. <https://web.archive.org/web/20160618154742/http://americanhistory.si.edu/numismatics/parthia/frames/pamaec.htm>  “Chapter 4. Iran Historical Maps Arsacid Parthian Empire, Armenian Kingdom.” “Iran Historical Maps Arsacid Parthian Empire, Armenian Kingdom.” Iran Politics Club. n.d. <http://iranpoliticsclub.net/maps/maps04/index.htm>  “Roads in Israel – 1st Century AD.” Bible-History.com. Map. n.d. <https://www.bible-history.com/maps/first-century-roads-israel2.jpg>
[13] Matthew 2:3.
[14] Strabo. Geography. Chapters II-III. n.d. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0239:book=1:chapter=2&highlight=magi> <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0239:book=15:chapter=3&highlight=magi>  Diogenes Laertius. Lives of Eminent Philosophers. n.d. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0258:book=1:chapter=prologue&highlight=magi>  Stillwell, Richard et. al. “Gaza Israel.” The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites. n.d. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.04.0006:entry=gaza&highlight=caravan>
[15] Josephus, Flavius. Wars of the Jews. Trans. and commentary. William Whitson. The Complete Works of Josephus. 1850. 4.451. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0148:book=4:section=451&highlight=petra>
[16] “Major Trade Routes.” Bibarch.com. Map. n.d. <http://www.bibarch.com/images/Map-Regions.jpg> Ancient Israel trade routes (untitled).  BibleWalks.com. Map. 2011. <https://web.archive.org/web/20190414151021/https://biblewalks.com/Photos72/IncenseRoute.JPG> “Ancient Palestine.” The History of Israel. Map. n.d. <http://www.israel-a-history-of.com/images/AncientRoadsandCities2.jpg>  “Old Testament Map & History.” The History of Israel.  “Ancient Palestine.” Map. n.d.  <http://www.israel-a-history-of.com/old-testament-map.html> ;   “The Geographical, Historical, & Spiritual Significance of Shechem.” Bible.org. 2020. <https://bible.org/article/geographical-historical-spiritual-significance-shechem> “Spice Ways.” Israel Antiquities Authority. Map. n.d. Mnemotrix Systems, Inc. 2014.  <http://www.mnemotrix.com/avdat/spiceroute2.gif>  “The Urantia Papers’ First Century Palestine.” The Urantia Book Fellowship. Map. n.d. 2013. <http://web.archive.org/web/20070820230158/http://www.urantiabook.org/graphics/gifmap1.htm>  “Eastern Desert.” Pinterest.com. Map. n.d. <https://i.pinimg.com/originals/cb/8e/5c/cb8e5cdfa8e96c2fdc1eb3c884cc5f75.jpg> Last accessed 19 Dec. 2021.  Stillwell, Richard, et. al. “Petra (Selah) Jordan.” The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites. n.d. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.04.0006:entry=petra-2&highlight=caravan> Stillwell, Richard, et. al. “Elusa (El-Khalasa) Israel.” The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites.. n.d. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.04.0006:entry=elusa-2&highlight=caravan>