Faith of the Apostles 7


The Game

“Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the High Priest, who was called Caiaphas, and took counsel together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him.”

The Gospels indicate the extent of Jesus’ following. The priesthood feared the crowds that followed him, and his power over them. They held him in the same esteem that Herod had for John, they were afraid that he might cause an uprising against them.

“But they said, ‘Not during the feast lest there be a tumult among the people.”

“And he was teaching daily in the Temple. The chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people sought to destroy him, but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people hung upon his words.”

“The scribes and the chief priests tried to lay hands on him at that very hour, but they feared the people…”

Let’s be realistic. If the reading of the passion story calls up visions of dark midnight meetings and secret rendezvous with the Apostles, we are sadly mistaken. The crowds spoken of here, who were in Jerusalem for the Passover, numbered in the tens of thousands, day and night. People slept in the streets, the fields and hills surrounding Jerusalem.

Jesus’ personal following numbered in the hundreds. Those who were closest to him, including his family, disciples including women like Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Mary and Martha, and Mary his mother; workers, and the Apostles, in the dozens if not more. Jesus and the twelve were seldom, if ever, alone. And when they managed to separate themselves from the crowds it was only to be a few yards away.

In this scenario it would have been almost impossible to arrest him when he was alone, in the light of day or at night. Even when he was in Bethany in the house of Simon, many people surrounded him including the woman Mary, who had anointed him with oil.

In the eyes of those who saw him as a figure of power, for those who spied for his enemies, that was an act of treason. It was the symbolic anointing of a king, and in the end, Pilate used the moment to embarrass and humiliate the Jews by naming Jesus, King of the Jews. The eyes of Rome were everywhere, and those who plotted against him knew him by sight!.

We are now at the hour of passion, the Passover feast, which has been the subject of continuing argument and dissertation. Though the oldest of Gospel narratives to be given fixed oral form, or to be set to writing, the Passion narrative has stirred up conjecture due to the ease with which continuing generations have changed it.

“A comparison of Mark 14-15 with the parallel narratives in Matthew and Luke-not to mention John-will indicate that even after the written Gospel of Mark had appeared, the passion narrative continued to grow, changes, rearrangements, and additions, could still be made to it. Equally, a close analysis of the Marcan narrative itself will suggest that an earlier pre-Marcan narrative has been expanded, amplified, and modified by Mark.”

When do we come to the end of this deception? Words are translated improperly, mistakes are made, assumptions are put into print, original text is changed at the whim of non-descript, unknown individuals, and it is left in place as though it were part of the original Gospel.

The story of the Passover meal has created controversy over the years, for many say that it was not the Passover meal that Jesus and the disciples celebrated.

“But there are a number of indications-in addition to the chronology-that the meal was not the Passover, unless by a kind of anticipation: the use of bread (artos) not matzoth (azuma), the absence of any mention of the lamb… not to speak of the impossibility of a legal trial and execution on the festival. All this has led many scholars to believe that the passage originally recounted the last supper of Jesus with his disciples, and that this has been rewritten by Mark as an account of a Passover meal.”

All of this over a proper timing of the crucifixion. Jesus is announced to have been crucified at the very hour of the sacrifice of the paschal lambs, which precedes the Passover (Nisan 15) by one full day. Thus, all Christian theology points to a memorialization of the Passover, which has become the Eucharist. Jesus and his disciples celebrated their last meal together, a symbolic feast which, as the Gospels point out, included prayer, the blessings as pronounced by the male head of the family, and chanted hymns.

“The original account was an etiological narrative explaining the origin of the Lord’s supper as it was observed in the Gentile churches; even Paul’s account in 1 Cor. 11:23-25 does not refer to the Passover, but ‘to the night when he was betrayed’.”

“…a ‘Dispora Passover’, held on the eve of the 14th of Nisan, instead of the regular date of the 15th… as well as differences in calendar in various parts or sects of Judaism. The solar calendar used at Qumran may shed new light on the whole problem by showing that the sect always celebrated Passover on Tuesdays… If Jesus followed such a calendar, many problems would be solved, by allowing enough time both for the Sanhedrin’s and for Pilate’s activities. But it creates some new problems: e.g. how could such a tradition be forgotten so completely that the Synoptic Gospels all conform to the official Jewish calendar.”

If one returns to pages 38, 41, 115 and 189 of this thesis, to name only a few, they will find examples where this same question has been asked before. How could the writers of the Gospels be so uninformed about their own recent history, and the religious practices of their own people?

The response made was that either the evangelists wrote the Gospels far later than we are led to believe and these matters had long been forgotten, or that they were not eyewitnesses and were writing from a tradition that was completely foreign to the actual events. Here we have an instance where learned theologians are asking the same question as a layman.

Peake’s begins to show us that a proper knowledge of Jewish practices belies ‘intellectual’ endeavors and they are pushed aside as a reckless attempt to justify the lack of understanding, or awareness, of the political and religious divisions that haunted Palestine during this period. The Passover meal and the celebrations discussed within the volumes of theological dissertation deal with the practices of the Jerusalem Jews of the first century. It is also further proof of a nation divided over the priesthood and its practices.

Jesus and his followers, which includes not only the disciples, but those faithful who followed him on the road and his friends in Bethany, were not Jerusalem Jews, they were Galilean Jews. Their religious practices were quite different, as were the practices of the Hasidic Jews.

“Julian Morgenstern has argued that Jesus and the Galilean Jews, in strict conformity with the procedure set forth in Exod. 12:1-14, began the observance of the Passover festival with the slaying of the paschal lamb and the eating of the Passover meal on the eve of the fourteenth of Nisan, while the Jerusalemites followed what was then, and has continued ever since to be, the established procedure of normative Judaism, and sacrificed the paschal lambs and began the celebration of the festival with the eating of the Passover meal on the fifteenth of Nisan.”

It was the Passover meal as Jesus would have practiced it as a Galilean Jew, a Nazarite, and a follower and upholder of the Law of Moses. That was his personal statement, and it would follow that it was also his habit. It is no more contrary than the difference in dates in the celebration of Easter and Christmas between the Roman Catholic Church, and the Greek or Russian Orthodox Church. In this case, Jesus’ honoring of the Law only supports the Gospel stories, and the very great possibility that in this matter, they have not been changed.

All the chronological events that follow, come into line with this bit of knowledge in hand. What follows during the dinner itself, has been altered to fit the growing, theological church of Paul.

“The early Christians believed that Jesus’ blood availed for the forgiveness of sins (Rom. 3:25; Eph. 2:13; 1 John 1:7); and it was natural for Matthew to add this phrase.”

The meal itself follows the proscribed Passover tradition.

“Whatever may be the true explanation of this, Mark’s tradition is very old and can be reconciled with both Passover and habhurah customs. Jesus took the bread, as the father or host did at any Jewish meal, and blessed, and broke it.”

What Jesus said during the meal, to this study, is unimportant. Much of it is drawn on Old Testament scripture and doctrine. However, over the centuries, the activities that took place that evening have become the sacramental doctrine of Christianity.

The very essence of the ‘body and the blood’ envisioned in the communion service are argued daily by various sects of Christianity. The reality of this sacrament varies from those groups who perform it as a ‘remembrance’ and are aware that the wine, or grape juice, (an argument of its own) and bread, or matzoth, (another bone of contention) are just that, to those who state that they are the actual ‘flesh and blood’ of Jesus.

No amount of rancor is going to force any theologian to assist us in dating the sacrament, but certainly it is the oldest of all the acts performed in the primitive church. It was, however, practiced in the form of a full meal in which all members participated in common.

After the meal, Jesus makes a vow to the disciples. He states that he will not drink again of “…this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you…”

“This verse belongs to the oldest part of the tradition. The supper is not only a farewell but a pledge that the kingdom will be established…”

The end of the meal has come, and Judas is gone. The Gospel stories tell us that they sang a hymn and then walked to the Mount of Olives. At that point, Jesus tells the disciples where he will meet with them again, in Galilee. Not Jerusalem, not in the kingdom, but in Galilee.

In answer to Jesus’ admonition that all of them will desert him, Peter responds with bravado.

“Peter declared to him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.”

But none of us know, when faced with the reality of extreme danger and death, how we will act or who we may deny. In effect, they did not leave Jesus at the outset, but stood ready to defend him. All four Gospel stories point out only too well, that even here he was surrounded by the faithful and crowds of admirers, many of whom were armed and would have taken up the sword at his call.

At his arrest, as told by all four Gospels, an unnamed party does take up a sword to protect him, only adding another crime to the long list already charged against him, armed rebellion.

“And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword, and struck the slave of the High Priest, and cut off his ear.”

“But one of those who stood by drew his sword, and struck the slave of the High Priest…”

“He said to them, “But now, let him who has a purse take it, and likewise a bag. And let him who has no sword sell his mantle and buy one… And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.”

“Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the High Priest’s slave…”

It is not necessary to question the actions of others, not even Judas Iscariot, for Jesus’ end was to be set in stone when Pilate learned that he was, a Galilean. Now, only the proper time keeps the priesthood from carrying out their plot.

“Judas, who betrayed him, said, ‘Is it I, Master?’ He said to him, ‘You have said so.'”

“…and they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.”

“Why he did it is not so certain. Mark’s tradition (Mark 14:11), which is very ancient, says that the chief priests agreed to give him money; but could this be sufficient motive for an intimate disciple to betray Jesus? Was Judas disappointed because Jesus refused to be king of Israel and lead a revolt against the Romans? Did he think that in this way he could force Jesus to defend himself and assert his kingship?”

Hardly for money as Judas was the group’s ‘treasurer’, he held the purse strings and as it has been noted already, these men were not poor. Taken along with Mary’s anointing of Jesus, Judas’ purpose becomes clear, even more well defined since we have studied the scene at Jesus’ arrest.

At this point, one must seriously consider what it was that Judas betrayed. Jesus was known to everyone, especially the priesthood and the agents of Herod. As Jesus said; “I sat daily with you teaching in the Temple.”

They also would have known where Jesus was after the meal and during the evening hours. They were watching him constantly.

“Luke 22:39 states that it was Jesus’ custom to go out to the Mount of Olives, in accordance with Luke 21:37.”

“And he came out, and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives…”

“And every day he was teaching in the Temple, but at night he went out and lodged on the mount called Olivet. And in the morning all the people came to him in the Temple to hear him.”

But what we learn next stretches belief to a very thin line.

“While he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people.”

“…Matthew had no thought that Roman soldiers were present… they came at night with swords and clubs because they regard Jesus as a revolutionary who may offer resistance.”

Mark, however, had others implicated in the assault.

“…and with him a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders.”

Luke says that it was only a crowd, but John goes beyond expectation, and we must wonder if that writer did not see the cause of Jesus’ troubles much as we have.

“So Judas, procuring a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons.”

“So the band of soldiers and their captains and the officers of the Jews seized Jesus and bound him.”

The further we move from the event in history, the greater the army becomes that was sent to take him. Their numbers grow and their rank increases with every moment. And in this mass of troops, with lights glowing and sabers clashing, they ‘stealthily’ move through the tens of thousands of sleeping and encamped pilgrims without so much as a stir in their number. Incredible!

“The ‘sign of the kiss’ had made itself a well-remembered place in the tradition, but it is hard to see why it was necessary, although one should not picture Gethsemane as a desolute place in meditative moonlight on this evening when there were pilgrims all over the place.”

The arrest is made, by whom we can only conjecture. In the end, he is taken to Caiaphas for a mock trial, a drumhead court. And there was to be no religious accusation made against him, no sacrilegious condemnation, but only the cries of insurrectionist and revolutionary.

“In that same hour said Jesus to the multitude; ‘Are ye come out as against a thief with swords and staves to take me? I sat daily with you teaching in the Temple, and ye laid no hold on me.'”

Each of the synoptic Gospels carries these words of Jesus. Obviously, Jesus knows why they did not arrest him in the midst of the crowds, so even now he attacks their cowardice. But the metaphor of a ‘thief’, or, ‘robber’, is enlightening. The Greek word is, lestes, and of it, the following is noted.

“The word translated, ‘robber’, is used by Josephus to describe those revolutionists who combined banditry and violent nationalism (e.g., Antiquities XX.8.5). Jesus was not one of these…”

The theologian who wrote this last line must certainly have been ignorant of the ‘hard line’ Jesus openly expounded against the priesthood. Nothing more need be said on this point, the Gospels speak for themselves.

FEATURE: Roman Religion

Explore the core beliefs of Roman Religion, beyond the mythology, in our section Roman Religion.