Unreal Birth Circumstances – Jesus of Nazareth

 

Circumstances of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth are no less than incredible. A three-way confluence of events from locations in Rome, Persia and Nazareth, hundred miles apart from each other and months in the making, culminated in a small town where none of the figures of the story lived.

Two Gospel accounts cover the Nativity story, Matthew and Luke, each complimenting the other with few overlapping details. According to Luke, Caesar Augustus issued a registration decree although the Roman story behind the story is not told.

Caesar Augustus was designated Pater Patrie of the Roman Empire, Father of the County, on February 5, 2 BC, by the Roman Senate. The achievement was one the 35 highlights in The Deeds of Divine Augustus listing the accomplishments of Caesar over his 25 years of rule.[1]

To honor Augustus in 2 BC, planning began for a special registration of the entire Roman Empire including the provinces, not just the typical census for citizens of Rome. Each registrant was expected to swear an oath of allegiance to Augustus.[2]

Logistics to execute this registration decree required considerable planning, time and resources, especially in a era without electricity, computers, phones, etc. Just the minimal time by horse to enact the announcement in far reaching provinces like Syria would take months.[3]

Meanwhile, Magi “from the East” (Persia, by reputation and historical context), according to Matthew, saw stellar and planetary alignments which signaled something exceptional was about to happen – the birth of a King of Judea. Not just any King – what they saw was so awe-inspiring, they were moved to act.

Believing wholeheartedly in their observations, they planned a journey that would cover hundreds of miles by camel in a quest to find this baby King. Much more than just a tribute visit, they intended to present the baby with precious gifts and worship him.

Greek text of Matthew uses the word proskynēsai or proskuneo translated as “worship.” The word means “to do reverence to;” “bow down or bow down before;” “kneeling or prostration to do homage (to one).”[4]

In another concurrent series of events, while the Magi were on their journey to Jerusalem, Joseph and Mary were busy going about their daily business. Preparing for the arrival of their new baby, they were planning his birth in Nazareth without any clue what was about to befall them.

Suddenly, everything changed – a praeco announced Augustus’ registration decree that compelled the betrothed couple to do the unthinkable. On short notice, an unplanned 90-mile trek on foot to register for the decree in Bethlehem was required in-spite-of Mary’s imminent childbirth.[5]

No one or thing trumped a decree by a Roman Caesar. Although it is not definitively stated that the decree had a deadline, Rome expected prompt compliance. Evidence of this urgency is seen by the immediate response of Joseph and Mary.

People were required to register in the home town of their family linage. In the case of Joseph and Mary, it was Bethlehem, the home town of King David who lived about a 1000 years earlier.

No doubt Mary would give birth before they returned to Nazareth where Mary should have been with her family and friends. Timing in this scenario is critical – if the praeco had announced the decree about two weeks earlier or later, Jesus would not have been born in Bethlehem.

Weary from the unplanned long trip from Nazareth, Joseph and Mary discovered that lodging accommodations in Bethlehem were full and they had to stay in a stable. As if this situation wasn’t challenging enough, Mary went into labor and was forced to give birth to Jesus using a manger for his crib.

According to Luke, the birth of Jesus was heralded by a host of angels. Shepherds left their flocks in the fields and went to Bethlehem to see this sight.

Not knowing their final destination, the Magi initially headed for Jerusalem, the government center of Judea. The city seemed to be a good place to get information and they went to the palace of Judea’s King Herod to ask him.

Arrival in Jerusalem by the Magi entourage was big news. It was not often that Magi visited Jerusalem being off the major trade routes and it likely caused a stir.[6] Further, the mystic Magi practices embraced by Hellenism were shunned by Judaism yet favored by the King.

Herod immediately granted the Magi access to his palace when the they arrived. The reigning King was informed of the news of the birth of a King of Judea, one with his own star – it was most shocking news.

At that point, Herod did not know any further details. However, it can be surmised that the King figured the Magi obviously knew something profound, both considering their reputation and the fact of their long journey to honor and worship this baby.[7]

After the Magi left the palace, the King summonsed the Jewish chief priests and scribes and asked if they knew where Christos was to be born. No ambiguity surrounded the question, the Jewish religion experts knew exactly what Herod was asking. They cited an ancient prophecy from Jewish prophet Micah who foretold the Messiah was to be born in “Bethlehem in land of Judah.[8]

Now that Herod believed he knew where the Christos was to be born, he planned to exchange that knowledge with the Magi to learn the exact location of the baby. The King secretly hailed the Magi to return back to the palace where they unwittingly agreed to the deal.

After leaving the palace, “his Star” reappeared at some point to the Magi and then stood over Bethlehem. The Magi were extremely excited and it corroborated the information given to them from Herod. Still not exactly sure of their final destination, they headed South toward the town just a short distance away.

Far off the path of a major trade route, unexpectedly the Magi from Persia arrived in Bethlehem. If their arrival was big news in Jerusalem, image what it was in the much smaller town. The Magi didn’t belong there, but the destination is where their quest took them.

In a small town where everyone knows everyone else’s business, finding the child would not have been difficult. The Magi found the new family, then presented the newborn with their precious gifts and worshiped him.

Not all the drama was finished. Warned in a dream, according to Matthew, the Magi did not return to Jerusalem to tell Herod where the Christos was located.

Once Herod realized he had been duped, he commanded that all the male babies in the Bethlehem area under 2 years of age to be killed. Actions taken by the King were consistent with his ruthless reputation.

Joseph and Mary with Jesus escaped the King’s horrific murders by hiding in Egypt until Herod died shortly thereafter. Historian Josephus describes in detail events that transpired during the final weeks leading up to the King’s death. Eventually Joseph and Mary returned to Nazareth where they raised Jesus and his siblings.

Was it just a coincidence that a 3-way confluence of events culminating in Bethlehem involved a quest by Magi from Persia following only stellar signs; Caesar’s registration decree intended only to honor himself and Rome; and Joseph and Mary who were compelled by the decree to embark on a 90-mile trip from Nazareth when she was about to give birth? Or was it divine plan? 

 

Updated May 4, 2024.

 

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REFERENCES:

[1] Martin, Ernest L. The Star of Bethlehem – The Star That Astonished the World. Associates for Scriptural Knowledge. 2003. Chapter 13. <http://askelm.com/star/star000.htm#_edn11>  Gertoux, Gerard. “Dating the death of Herod.” 2015. Academia.edu. 2015. <http://www.academia.edu/2518046/Dating_the_death_of_Herod>  Gertoux, Gerard. “Dating the two Censuses of Quirinius.” 2018. Academia.edu. <http://web.archive.org/web/20220427180241/http://www.academia.edu/3184175/Dating_the_two_Censuses_of_Quirinius>  Jachowski, Raymond. Academa.Edu. “The Death of Herod the Great and the Latin Josephus: Re-Examining the Twenty-Second Year of Tiberius.” n.d. <https://www.academia.edu/19833193/The_Death_of_Herod_the_Great_and_the_Latin_Josephus_Re_Examining_the_Twenty_Second_Year_of_Tiberius> “pater patriae.” Nova Roma. 2007. <www.novaroma.org/nr/Pater_Patriae_(Nova_Roma)>  Mosley, John.  “Common Errors in ‘Star of Bethlehem’ Planetarium Shows.” Reprinted from the Planetarian, Third Quarter 1981, International Planetarium Society, Inc. n.d. <http://www.ips-planetarium.org/?page=a_mosley1981>  Augustus. The Deeds of the Devine Augustus. #35.  Augustus, Caesar.  The Deeds of the Devine Augustus (Res gestae divi Augusti). #35. Trans. Thomas Bushnell. 1998. <http://classics.mit.edu/Augustus/deeds.html>  “pater patriae.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2018. <https://www.britannica.com/topic/pater-patriae>  confluence logo. Clipground.com. 2019. <https://clipground.com/images/confluence-logo-1.jpg>  Hochhalter, Howard. “The Star of Kings and the Magi.” 2023. video. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KGTmwuqznec
[2] Gertoux, Gerard. “Herod the Great and Jesus.” Platner, Samuel Ball. A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome. 1929. “Forum Augustum.” <http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Gazetteer/Places/Europe/Italy/Lazio/Roma/Rome/_Texts/PLATOP*/Forum_Augustum.html#Aedes_Martis_Ultoris>  CR “Temple of Mars Ultor, Rome.” World History Encyclopedia. n.d. <https://www.worldhistory.org/article/617/temple-of-mars-ultor-rome/>
Orbis. Stanford University. map calculator of the Roman world. n.d. <https://orbis.stanford.edu/> “Census.” <https://books.google.com/books?id=Cu89AAAAYAAJ&pg=PA403&lpg=PA403&dq=greek+word+for+census&source=bl&ots=LM1MjmCiJt&sig=1_yjJgyNxcCcSWZvf0QK69IJuMw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjx0oPA04DYAhXo6YMKHebvAEwQ6AEIejAK#v=onepage&q=census&f=false>  Livius, Titus. The History of Rome. Book 33, #28. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.02.0144:book=33:chapter=28&highlight=crier>  Pliny the Elder.  The Natural History. 1.Dedication C. Plinius Secundus to His Friend Titus Vespasian. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.02.0137:book=1:chapter=dedication&highlight=crier#note-link34>  Gertoux, Gerard. “Dating the two Censuses of Quirinius.” n.d. Academia.edu.  <http://www.academia.edu/3184175/Dating_the_two_Censuses_of_Quirinius>  Heinrich, Bill. Mysteries of the Messiah. 2016. “The Registration (Census).” <https://www.mysteriesofthemessiah.net/2016/01/04-03-09-bethlehem-c-6-5-b-c-the-registration-or-census/#_ftnref3>  Hochhalter. “The Star of Kings and the Magi.”
[3] Orbis. Stanford University. “Travel Time from Ancient Rome.” Brilliant Maps. 2023. <https://brilliantmaps.com/travel-time-rome/>
[4] Matthew 2:2. BibleHub.com. n.d. lexicon. <https://biblehub.com/lexicon/matthew/2-2.htm> Matthew 2:2 BibleHub.com. interlinear. n.d. <https://biblehub.com/interlinear/matthew/2-2.htm> Matthew 2:2. NetBible.net. “4352.” n.d. <https://classic.net.bible.org/verse.php?book=Mat&chapter=2&verse=2> “G4352. Greek Dictionary (Lexicon-Concordance). definitions. n.d. <http://lexiconcordance.com/greek/4352.html>
[5] Luke 2:4. Smallwood, E. Mary.  The Jews Under Roman Rule: From Pompey to Diocletian. 2nd Ed. 1981. p 152. <https://books.google.com/books?id=jSYbpitEjggC&lpg=PA151&ots=VWqUOinty4&dq=census%20Syria%20Rome&pg=PP1#v=snippet&q=register&f=false>  Heinrich, Bill. Mysteries of the Messiah. 2016. <https://www.mysteriesofthemessiah.net/2016/01/04-03-09-bethlehem-c-6-5-b-c-the-registration-or-census/>  Smith, William; Wayte, William; Marindin, G.E., Ed. A Dictionary  of Greek and Roman Antiquities. 1890. “commentaries, #4;” “census.” <https://books.google.com/books?id=Cu89AAAAYAAJ&pg=PA403&lpg=PA403&dq=greek+word+for+census&source=bl&ots=LM1MjmCiJt&sig=1_yjJgyNxcCcSWZvf0QK69IJuMw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjx0oPA04DYAhXo6YMKHebvAEwQ6AEIejAK#v=onepage&q=register&f=false>  Hochhalter. “The Star of Kings and the Magi.”  Tarwacka, Anna. “The consequences of avoiding census in Roman law.” 2013. <https://www.academia.edu/5525859/The_consequences_of_avoiding_census_in_Roman_law>
[6] Matthew 2:3.  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>
[7] Plato. Republic. Book 9, Section 572e. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0168:book=9:section=572e&highlight=magi>  “Daniel, Chief of Wise Men – a Hebrew Magi?” TheOdds.website. 2018, revised 2023. <https://theodds.website/daniel-chief-of-wise-men-a-hebrew-magi/>
[8] Matthew 2:4-6. Hochhalter. “The Star of Kings and the Magi.”

Palm Sunday – a Triumphal Entry to Jerusalem

 

One day an unusual encounter happened while Jesus of Nazareth was working his way through villages and towns heading toward Jerusalem for the final time. Some Pharisees forewarned Jesus that Tetrarch Herod was seeking to have him killed.[1]

No fan of the Pharisees nor Herod Antipas who had John the Baptist beheaded, the response was blunt: “Go, tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I shall be perfected.’” [2]Jesus finished by quoting from Psalms 118:26.[3]

LK 13:35 “…I say to you, you shall not see Me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’”

PS .118:26 “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD! We have blessed you from the house of the LORD.” (NKJV)

Lazarus had been raised from the dead in Bethany by Jesus of Nazareth who had then slipped away to Ephraim to escape the constant celebrity turmoil. After a short period of time, he returned to Bethany for a Saturday night dinner at the home of Simon the leper, presumably one of the many lepers previously healed by Jesus.

Martha was serving the meal, her sister Mary and brother Lazarus along with all 12 Disciples were in attendance, perhaps others, too.[4] Outside a crowd of onlookers gathered to see Jesus and Lazarus, the novelty man who had been raised from the dead after 4 days in a tomb.[5]

Sunday the next morning, Jesus sent Disciples, Peter and John into Jerusalem a couple of miles away to fetch a donkey and find a place to observe the Passover.[6] The entire episode was a mysterious mission – finding a donkey with its young colt belonging to an unidentified person who would also provide a place to eat the Passover meal.7]

Not knowing any specific details, only clues, the sign for the Disciples would be to find a man carrying a jar of water and a tied-up mother donkey with its colt.[8] They were to untie the donkey and if he asked about it, they were to say, “The Lord needs it.”[9] From there they were to follow the man to a house, then say to the house owner, “The Teacher says, ‘My time is near. I will observe the Passover with my disciples at your house.’”[10]

Exactly as Jesus had predicted, it happened. Peter and John found the donkey with a colt; the person with the donkey asked what they were doing; and after responding as instructed, the man then led them to a house. The owner showed them an upstairs room, fully furnished and prepared for the Passover.[11] Afterwards, the two Disciples took the donkeys to Jesus.[12]

Matthew and John Gospels point out that this event was a fulfillment of the Zachariah messiah prophecy that foretold the King of Israel would arrive riding on a donkey. Specifically, the foal colt of a donkey – at that age, it had never been ridden.[13]

Zech 9:9:  “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (NRSV)

All four Gospel authors write about that day described as “triumphal” by the Gospels when Jesus rode into Jerusalem seated on a donkey colt. Many people, including ones who had seen Lazarus raised from the dead, began chanting, laying down their outer garments and placing palm branches in his path.

Seeing and hearing all the commotion, others asked, “Who is this?” Christianity refers to this final entry to Jerusalem as “Palm Sunday.”[14]

JN 12:12-13  “The next day a great multitude that had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, and cried out:  “Hosanna! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’ The King of Israel!”” (NKJV)

“Hosanna” is a shortened version of the Hebrew saying “Anna Adonai hoshi-‘ah-nna” from Psalms 118:25.[15] A customary cry of joyful celebration, “hosanna” traces to ancient Jewish times when a marching procession would wave branches of palm, myrtle and willow each day of the Sukkot festival (aka the Feast of Booths or the Feast of Tabernacles). [16]

“According to John xii. 13…which has the story preserved in its original form, the same cry was raised by the multitude on the occasion of Jesus’ arrival at Jerusalem. They “took branches of palm-trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried, Hosanna: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord”—that is, the verse following “Anna Adonai hoshi’ah-nna” in the Hallel psalm — and then called him “the King of Israel.” … The Psalm verses recited have been interpreted by the Rabbis also as referring to the advent of the Messiah…” – Jewish Encyclopedia [17]

Sukkot, usually falling in the month of September, begins five days after Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It is one of the three annual pilgrim festivals required by the Law.[18]

Often referred to as the “season of our Rejoicing,” the Sukkot holiday serves a dual purpose. Sukkot celebrates both the harvest as well as the Hebrews emerging from the 40 years of wondering in the Sinai desert wilderness where they had lived in temporary shelters called “tabernacles.”

Seventh and final day of the Sukkot festival is called “Hoshanna Rabbah” meaning “Great Salvation.” The Jewish nation is judged by God that day to determine whether or not they  would be worthy of the seasonal rains.[19]

Psalms 118 is regarded in Judaism as the concept of salvation pointing to the arrival of the Messiah.[20] Jewish sage Rabbi Rashi quoted from Psalms 118:22 in his commentary of the Micah 5:2(1) Bethlehem prophecy.

Rashi’s commentary says, “the stone the builders had rejected became a cornerstone” expounding that this refers to “the Messiah, son of David.”[21] In reverse, the Rabbi did not provide this same commentary for the actual verse of Psalms 118:22 saying:  “A people that was humble among the peoples.”[22]

Were Zechariah’s Messiah prophecy and the Psalms 118 prediction of his triumphal final entry into Jerusalem fulfilled by Jesus on Palm Sunday ?

 

Updated May 4, 2024.

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REFERENCES:

[1] Luke 13:31.
[2] Luke 13:32. NJKV.
[3] Luke 13:35.
[4] Matthew 26:6; John 11:43-44, 54; 12:1-2.
[5] John 12:9.
[6] Luke 22:8.
[7] Matthew 26:17-19; Mark 14:12-16; Luke 19:28-36. John 11:18; 12:12.
[8] Mark 14:13. Luke 19:30-34.
[9] Matthew 21:3; Luke 19:31-35.
[10] Mark 14:14.
[11] Mark 14:15.
[12] Matthew 21:7; Luke 19:35; John 12:14.
[13] Matthew 21:5; John 12:15.
[14] Matthew 21:2-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-40; John 12:12-16.
[15] “Hosanna.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/7893-hosanna> Psalms 118:25. BibleHub. Lexicon. 2021.<https://biblehub.com/lexicon/psalms/118-25.htm> “3467. yasha.” BibleHub. 2021. <https://biblehub.com/hebrew/3467.htm>  “Hosanna.” YouTube. photo. 2022. <https://i.ytimg.com/vi/pRpF_lQiroE/maxresdefault.jpg
[16] “What is Sukkot.” Chabad.org. 2014. <http://www.chabad.org/holidays/JewishNewYear/template_cdo/aid/4784/jewish/What-is-Sukkot.htm>  Rich, Tracey R.  “Sukkot.” JewFAQ.org. n.d.  <http://www.jewfaq.org/holiday5.htm>
[17] “Hosanna.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2021. <https://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/7893-hosanna
[18] Deuteronomy 16:9-17. “Tabernacle, Feast of | Sukkot.” YouTube. photo. 2022. <https://i.ytimg.com/vi/KxFzn-ivQv0/maxresdefault.jpg
[19] Lawrence, Natan. HoshanaRabbah.org. “Origin of “Hoshana Rabbash.”” 11/15/2019. <https://hoshanarabbah.org/blog/2019/11/15/origination-of-hoshana-rabbah> Rich. “Sukkot.”
[20] “Salvation.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/13051-salvation> “Salvation.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. Psalms 118:15. BibleHub. Lexicon. 2021. <https://biblehub.com/lexicon/psalms/118-15.htm>  “3444. yeshuah.” BibleHub. 2021. <https://biblehub.com/hebrew/3444.htm>  Psalms 118:15. Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi Commentary. 2021. <https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/16339/showrashi/true>  Psalms 118:25. BibleHub. Interlinear. 2021. <https://biblehub.com/interlinear/psalms/118-25.htm>  “3467. yasha.” BibleHub. 2021. <https://biblehub.com/hebrew/3467.htm>
[21] The Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi’s Commentary.
[22] Micah 5. The Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi’s Commentary. <https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/16191/showrashi/true> Psalms 118. The Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi’s Commentary.

Pharisees & Jewish Leaders vs. Jesus

 

Pharisees and the Jewish leadership were the dogged antagonists of Jesus of Nazareth. Their provocations at times elicited from Jesus his revelations about being the Son of God, the prophesied Messiah, to which they had forbidding reactions.

Three main religious factions played an influencing role in Jerusalem – the Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes – all with common ground being the written Law of Moses.[1] Key to understanding the friction between the Jewish leadership and Jesus of Nazareth is knowing the backdrop of this Jewish religious power base, especially Pharisees.

Essenes were a very closed sect keeping to themselves and are not mentioned in the Gospels. References in the Gospels to the Pharisees are 10-fold greater than the Sadducees who strongly disagreed with the Pharisees:

“…[Pharisees] have delivered to the people a great many observances by succession from their fathers which are not written in the laws of Moses; and for that reason it is that the Sadducees reject them” – Josephus [2]

Jewish leadership was comprised of the high priests, Pharisees and Sadducees who often had membership in the Sanhedrin (Sanhedrim), a supreme court of 71 judges established under Moses.[3] The Sanhedrin progressively gained political power during its final years under the Roman Empire.

Four prominent Jewish historical and Biblical figures were Pharisees who provided insights to the Jewish authority apparatus. Flavius Josephus was a Sanhedrin-appointed Pharisee General before he was captured by the Romans and became an official Jewish historian for Rome.[4]

Nicodemus and Josephus of Arimethea were both Pharisee members of the Jewish Council. Saul, who became the Apostle Paul after his conversion, also was previously a Pharisee.[5]

Power and influence increased significantly for the Pharisees under Jewish Queen Salome Alexandra a generation before King Herod.[6] On his death bed, King Alexander advised his daughter, Queen Alexandra, to grant some of her powers to the Pharisees to gain their favor in the kingdom.[7]

Queen Alexandra followed the King’s advice and granted the Pharisees “all things into their power, both to the dead body, and as to the affairs of the kingdom…”[8] In return, the Pharisees threw their support behind Alexandra as ruler…but it came with a price:

“Now Alexandra hearkened to them to an extraordinary degree….while she governed other people, and the Pharisees governed her.” – Josephus [9]

Josephus described the Pharisees as legal experts “esteemed most skillful in the exact explication of their law.”[10] According to the historian, the Pharisees “valued themselves highly upon the exact skill they had in the law of their fathers, and made men believe they were highly favored by God.”[11]

Gospel accounts of the Pharisees indicate Jesus of Nazareth had a very similar view as Josephus. Jesus acknowledged the religious authority of the Pharisees yet despised their hypocritical behavior.[12]

Pharisees had their own contingent of officers with full arrest powers.[13] Once they were sent to arrest Jesus simply because the crowd was murmuring about things he was teaching.[14]

Officers of the Pharisees were part of the posse that arrested Jesus on Mt. Gethsemane.[15] Saul, later known as Paul, admitted zealously arresting Christians on behalf of the Sanhedrin before his own conversion to Christianity.[16]

Etching by Rembrandt – 1649 AD

Confronting Jesus numerous times, the Jewish leadership wanted to know by what authority he was forgiving sins and performing miracles. Responses from Jesus came in the form of parables, riddles or not answered at all. On a few dramatic occasions shortly before he was arrested and crucified did Jesus answer them directly.

October is the month when the Feast of the Tabernacles celebration, now known as Sukkot, is observed in Jerusalem.[17] Six months before Jesus would be crucified, the Disciples of Jesus went to this week-long festival without him, however, midweek Jesus secretly slipped into the city and taught at the Temple.[18]

Officers reported the appearance of Jesus to the Pharisees and Jewish leadership prompting them to find him.[19] When they heard Jesus say “I am the light of the world,” the Pharisees objected and pressed him further when Jesus said:[20]

JN 8:24 “…for unless you believe that I AM, you’ll die in your sins.” (ISV)

Turning to his Judean believers, Jesus explained further, then the dialog turned to Abraham. When Jesus spoke as though he knew Abraham, it led to this exchange:

JN 8:57-58 “‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.’” (NKJV)

In this exchange, Jesus claimed to be I AM and since God called Himself “I AM,” it was considered blasphemy. According to the Law of Moses, blasphemy was to be punished by stoning.[21]

“They picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out from the temple area.” Noted, the Greek word Ioudaios is translated as Jews or Judean and does not say the Pharisees were the ones wanting to stone Jesus although they were present.[22]

December before Jesus would be crucified, he attended the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, today known as Hanukkah.[23] Under Solomon’s Portico at the Temple, the Jewish leaders known to include Pharisees, surrounded and confronted Jesus asking, “How long will you keep us in suspense?  If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”[24] They got a succinct answer:

JN 10:30 “The Father and I are one.” (NET)

Again, the reaction was severe – the Jewish authorities picked up stones to kill Jesus when he asked them why they were reacting this way?[25] Instead, Jesus suggested they should consider the “good deeds” he had performed because miracles could only be accomplished with the power of his Father – God.[26]

JN 10:36-38 “…do you say about the one whom the Father set apart and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? If I do not perform the deeds of my Father, do not believe me. But if I do them, even if you do not believe me, believe the deeds, so that you may come to know and understand that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” (NET)

Response from the Jewish leaders: “We are not going to stone you for a good deed but for blasphemy, because you, a man, are claiming to be God.”[27] An attempt was made to seize Jesus rather than to stone him. A change in their reaction may have been more for political self-interests and less for religious reasons.

Jewish leaders were reportedly afraid of the people because they viewed Jesus as a prophet. He also threatened their controlling influence over the people. Raising Lazarus from the dead caused his popularity to reach a point that it became the catalyst for the Jewish leaders to devise a plan to eliminate Jesus.[28]

Just hours before he was to be crucified came the most dramatic moment involving the high priest himself. During his nighttime trial by the Jewish leadership at the Temple, undoubtedly knowing it would cost him his life, Jesus testified under oath that he is ego eimi, Greek for “I AM”.[29]

MK 14:62 Jesus said, “I AM, and ‘you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power’ and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven.'” (ISV)

Jewish leadership and the Sanhedrin bore witness to the fact that Jesus testified under oath that he is “I AM.” Caiaphas immediately exclaimed, “‘He has blasphemed! Why do we still need witnesses? Listen! You yourselves have just heard the blasphemy! What is your verdict?’ They replied, ‘He deserves to die!’”[30]

On three occasions, Jesus specifically identified himself as equal to God, the Son of God, and each time those who heard it wanted to kill him. Jesus said it – the question is who was correct, the Jewish leadership or Jesus?

 

Updated October 1, 2023.

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REFERENCES:

[1] Josephus, Flavius. Antiquities of the Jews. Book XIII, Chapter V.9.  The Life of Flavius Josephus. I.2. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false> “Scrolls from the Dead Sea.” Library of Congress. n.d. <https://www.loc.gov/exhibits/scrolls/late.html>
[2] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XIII, Chapter XI.6.
[3] Exodus 18:25-26; Deuteronomy 1:15-17, 16:18-20.  Josephus,. Antiquities. Book XIII, Chapter X.4 foot note *.  Josephus, Flavius. Wars of the Jews. Book II, Chapter VIII.7-11.   “Sanhedrin.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/13178-sanhedrin>  “Sanhedrin.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2020. <https://www.britannica.com/topic/sanhedrin> “Sanhedrin.” Jewish Virtual Library. 2020. <https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/the-sanhedrin>  *93 Gospel mentions of Pharisees, 9 Gospel mentions of Sadducees or which 6 also included the Pharisees.
[4] Josephus, Flavius. The Life of Josephus. 12.[5] John 3:1, 7:50; Acts 8:1-3; 9:1-23. “Paul the Apostle.” Denova, Rebecca. Ancient History Encyclopedia. 2013. <https://www.ancient.eu/Paul_the_Apostle/#:~:text=Paul%20was%20a%20Pharisee%2C%20and,was%20the%20Law%20of%20Moses> “St. Paul the Apostle.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2020. <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Paul-the-Apostle>
[5]Josephus. The Life of Josephus. 12. 
[6] Weiner, James. WorldHistory.org. “The Forgotten Ancient Queen: Salome Alexandra of Judea.” 2013. <https://etc.worldhistory.org/interviews/the-forgotten-ancient-queen-salome-alexandra-of-judea/>  Whitson, William. The Complete Works of Josephus. “Antiquity of the Jews, Book VI, Chapter IV.3 foot note †;” “Book XIV, Chapter IX.4, footnote †;” Dissertation I.V; Book XIII, Chapter XVI foot note †. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>  Josephus. Antiquity. Book IV, Chapter VII.14; Book XIV, Chapter IX.4. Josephus. Wars. Book II, Chapter XV.6. “Salome Alexandra.” New World Encyclopedia. 2019. https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Salome_Alexandra>
[7] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XIII, Chapter XV.5, XVI.1.
[8] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XIII, Chapter XVI.1.
[9] Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter V.
[10] Josephus. Wars. Book II, Chapter VIII.14.  Josephus. Antiquities. Book XIII, Chapter XI.6.
[11] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter II.
[12] Matthew 3:7, 16:6, 12, 23:1-13, 15, 25, 27, 29, 33; Mark 12:38-40; Luke 11:43, 12:1, 18:11, 20:45-47.  Rembrandt (Harmenszoon van Rijn). Welcome Collection. photo. 1649. <https://wellcomecollection.org/works/j7evnu32>&nb
[13] John 1:24; 7:32, 45; 11:57; 18:3, 12.
[14] John 7:32.
[15] John 18:1-12.
[16] Acts 8:1-3; 9:1-23.
[17] “Sukkoth.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2020. <https://www.britannica.com/topic/Sukkoth-Judaism> “The Meaning of the Feast of Tabernacles.” One For Israel. 2020. <https://www.oneforisrael.org/bible-based-teaching-from-israel/the-meaning-of-the-feast-of-tabernacles>
[18] John 7:2.  Footnote [18 (previously 17)  DELETED (references added to #4)
[19] John 7:1-9, 14, 32, 45; 8:12.  CR John 1:24; 11:57; 18:3, 12.
[20] John 8:12.
[21] Leviticus 24:16.
[22] John 8:59. Ioudaios <2453>. NetBible.org. 2023. <https://classic.net.bible.org/strong.php?id=2453>
[23] John 10:22. “Hanukkah.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2020. <https://www.britannica.com/topic/Hanukkah> “Hanukkah.” History.com. 2020. <https://www.history.com/topics/holidays/hanukkah>
[24] John 10:24. NET.
[25] John 10:31-32. NET. John 10:24. Netbible.org. Footnote 1. <http://classic.net.bible.org/verse.php?book=Joh&chapter=10&verse=24>  CR John 10:31. International Standard Version, New Heart English Bible. <https://biblehub.com/john/10-31.htm>
[26] John 9:16. CR John 10:40-41.
[27] John 10:33. NET.
[28] Matthew 19:2, 21:46, 26:4-5; Mark 11:18, 14:1-2; Luke 12:1, 21:38; John 11:47-48; 12:18-19. Josephus. Antiquities. Book XIII, Chapter XI.5, Chapter XI.5-6, Book XVII, Chapter II.4.
[29] Matthew 26:63-64.
[30] Matthew 26:65-66. ISV. CR Mark 14:63-64.