Fixing Jesus

In C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce, a ghostly theologian has found himself at the very edge of heaven, having taken a bus from hell. He is invited to remain, though doing so will require that he leave behind the imaginary world of the unreal (hell), and take on the difficult task of being truly what he was created to be.

The conversation has an interesting moment when he describes his latest project: thinking about what Jesus might have accomplished had he not died so tragically young. The proposition is comic, on its surface, a misunderstanding of Christ’s work so profound as to be silly – except that it’s not. “Fixing Jesus” is a very apt metaphor for the task that secularized Christianity has set for itself. And, that I might be clear, every Christian in the modern world is tempted, at some level, to secularize his faith. We all want to fix Jesus.

As much as Jesus is admired in our culture, even quoted on occasion, He remains a bothersome and uncooperative figure. He healed the sick, but seems to have left no lasting plan or program for their long-term care. I’ve even heard the question, “Why didn’t He heal everyone?” Indeed, there is a puzzlement that He still allows us to suffer disease, and is given credit for the deep injustice of sickness itself. Why do children get cancer and Nazis live to old age in the backwoods of Brazil?

Jesus clearly spoke of justice and care for the poor. But He established no guidelines for a just economy, nor did He challenge the economic systems of His time. Sometimes He seems to have avoided the topic on purpose.

Among the most useless pronouncements in our modern culture are the statements, “Jesus never said anything about…[fill in the blank].” This is always said by people for whom what Jesus actually said already carries no weight. “Jesus never said…” means that you may not say it either, except as an example of bigoted traditionalism.

The deep drive of modern secularism has been to tame Jesus, to make Him serve the purpose of the modern project in the construction of liberal democracy. That project requires that all creeds be held in private for the greater public good. Indeed, the modern project would suggest that all religions essentially say the same thing – that liberal democracy and its prosperous peace is the goal of human progress. Inasmuch as Jesus might have done something to contribute to that project, He is useful and good.

This is much more than a culture critique, for that which we can see in the culture has also been written deep within our hearts. It is a worldview we imbibe simply by being born in this time and in this place. That worldview generally sees the world as existing for its own sake (and our lives as existing for their own sake as well). Even when those things are married to some notion of a “greater good,” that good is generally about the world for its own sake. Those things that disrupt the public good are seen as troublesome (at the very least) and needing modification.

Of course, the public good is measured only by this world for its own sake, for its wealth and our general health. Happiness (that fleeting and ever-changing thing) is the common goal of us all.

It would be a mistake, however, to assume that Jesus is focused on some world beyond this one. He is decidedly here-and-now (Matt. 6:34). Indeed, secularism would not exist without Christianity having preceded it. For it is in the teaching of Christ that attention is drawn directly to that which is at hand rather than to life elsewhere. In Christ’s teaching, “The Kingdom of God is among you” (Luke 17:21). What we see today as secularism is a heresy, a false reading and distortion of the Christian tradition. It is the world, in and of itself, as a substitute for the Kingdom of God. A world without depth or meaning apart from its own self.

Christ does not abolish the world (the one that we call “secular”). Instead, He reveals it to be what it is. This material world in which we dwell, to which we are inseparably united, is shown to be the gate of heaven, the bread of life, the medicine of immortality, and so on. For all of these things are not made known to us apart from, nor in spite of their material aspects. Fr. Alexander Schmemann said quite rightly that the sacraments do not seek to replace the material: it shows material to be what it is. In St. Basil’s epiclesis we pray, “And show this bread to be the precious Body of our Lord, and God, and Savior, Jesus Christ…” In the hands of Christ, all bread becomes what it is meant to be, that which alone can truly feed us.

The world does not exist in and of itself, nor is its value and meaning in and of itself. But neither does its true existence, value, and meaning exist somewhere else of which it is a non-participant or an empty shadow. The material world is the locus of the marriage of heaven and earth. In that sense, Christ draws attention to the created order in a manner without precedent. It is the de-coupling of that attention from Christ Himself and the deeper reality that underlies the created order that has given us our present delusion. It is as though all our attention were on human bodies – without souls. As such, we are the dead among the dead.

More than half a century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of older people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.

Since then I have spent well-nigh fifty years working on the history of our Revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous Revolution that swallowed up some sixty-million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.

What is more, the events of the Russian Revolution can only be understood now, at the end of the century, against the background of what has since occurred in the rest of the world. What emerges here is a process of universal significance. And if I were called upon to identify briefly the principal trait of the entire twentieth century, here too, I would be unable to find anything more precise and pithy than to repeat once again: Men have forgotten God.

The world’s efforts to “fix” Jesus are invariably directed towards either removing Him from this world, or placing Him in the world as a manageable object. Just as the world turned St. Nicholas into Santa Claus (he’s so cuddly!), so Christ becomes a religious mascot of whatever worldly value we want to promote. Solzhenitsyn, in his famous Templeton Lecture, described this process of secularization in profound terms:

Secularism is the forgetting of God, or remembering Him in a manner that is truly less than God. This is the cause of all injustice. Indeed, it is the great injustice: that human beings forget their Creator and the purpose of their existence. When we forget God, everything is madness.

Jesus, have mercy on us and fix us.

Father Stephen Freeman is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, serving as Rector of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.

The photo shows Protestant iconoclasm. The caption reads, “Klaus Hottinger pulls down the wayside cross near the mill at Stadelhofen, in 1523.”

The Crucifixion, Part 3

As mentioned, giving the victim a proper burial following death on the cross during the Roman period was rare and in most cases simply not permitted in order to continue the humiliation – it was common for Romans to deny burial to criminals, as in the cases of Brutus and his supporters (Suetonius, Augustus 13.1-2) and Sejanus and company (Tacitus, Annals 6.29). The corpse was in many cases either simply thrown away on the garbage dump of the city, ‘buried’ in a common grave, or left on the cross as food for wild beasts and birds of prey.


Petronius, in the Satyricon (111), writes an amusing – to the Romans at least – story about a soldier who was tasked to guard the body of some crucified criminals from theft.

The soldier manages to lose one of the corpses, however, when he diverts his attention from the crosses in order to pursue an amorous interlude with a widow mourning for the loss of her husband (who was buried near the execution site):

…Thus it came about that the relatives of one of the malefactors, observing this relaxation of vigilance, removed his body from the cross during the night and gave it proper burial. But what of the unfortunate soldier, whose self-indulgence had thus been taken advantage of, when next morning he saw one of the crosses under his charge without its body! Dreading instant punishment, he acquaints his mistress with what had occurred, assuring her he would not await the judge’s sentence, but with his own sword exact the penalty of his negligence. He must die therefore; would she give him sepulture, and join the friend to the husband in that fatal spot?

But the lady was no less tender-hearted than virtuous. ‘The Gods forbid,’ she cried, ‘I should at one and the same time look on the corpses of two men, both most dear to me. I had rather hang a dead man on the cross than kill a living.’ So said, so done; she orders her husband’s body to be taken from its coffin and fixed upon the vacant cross. The soldier availed himself of the ready-witted lady’s expedient, and next day all men marveled how in the world a dead man had found his own way to the cross.

Beyond the baudiness and light-heartedness of the anecdote lies the seriousness with which Romans could take the matter of guarding victims: the soldier guards the crosses for three nights, and fears for his life when the theft is discovered.

The prevention of burial also serves to show a graphic display of the power of the Roman Empire: by not allowing the victims even a decent burial, it is declared that the loss of these victims is not a loss to society, but far from it, they actually served to strengthen and empower Rome, ridding the Empire of its enemies and maintaining the status quo and preserving law and order.

Because of these details, some, like John Dominic Crossan, suggest controversially that it was improbable that Jesus was given a proper burial, as the Gospels relate; instead, he might have been thrown in the waste dump in Jerusalem. Indeed, there were times in which Roman officials in Judea behaved like their counterparts in other areas of the Empire.

When Publius Quinctilius Varus, then Legate of Syria, moved into Judea in 4 BC to quell a messianic revolt after the death of Rome’s client king Herod the Great, he reportedly crucified 2000 Jewish rebels in and around Jerusalem (Josephus, Antiquities 17.295).

Later, the procurator of Judea, Gessius Florus is said to have ordered indiscriminate crucifixions, including those who were actually Roman citizens (Josephus, Jewish War 2.306-7). And, finally, in 70 AD, the general Titus ordered hundreds of Jewish captives to be crucified around the walls of Jerusalem in the hopes that this would drive the Jews to surrender (Jewish War 5.450). Josephus does not state explicitly that the bodies were left hanging, but that would be entirely consistent with the general purpose of these crucifixions.

Even so, one needs to consider the situation of the Province of Judea within the time of Jesus: at that time the situation was (in one sense) peaceful enough that events in and around Jerusalem were not always under control of the Prefect of Judea. While there is a small contingent of soldiers stationed in the Antonia Fortress, the day-to-day government of the city is largely left to Jewish hands, specifically the high priest and the council, who were accountable to the Prefect (in this period, Pontius Pilate).

The Prefect in turn was accountable to the Legate of Syria, and it was the interest of all to keep the status quo undisrupted. It would then be a mistake to assume that episodes like those of Varus, Florus, and Titus are typical of the situation surrounding Jesus’ burial.

However, taking victims of crucifixion down from their crosses and burying them was not unheard of. Philo (Flaccus, 10.83-84) tells us that:

“I actually know of instances of people who had been crucified and who, on the moment that such a holiday was at hand, were taken down from the cross and given back to their relatives in order to give them a burial and the customary rites of the last honors. For it was (thought to be) proper that even the dead should enjoy something good on the emperor’s birthday and at the same time that the sanctity of the festival should be preserved. Flaccus, however, did not order to take down people who had died on the cross but to crucify living ones, people for whom the occasion offered amnesty, to be sure only a short-lived not a permanent one, but at least a short postponement of punishment if not entire forgiveness.”

Josephus (Jewish War 4.5.2) relates that Jews took down the bodies of those who were crucified during the Great Revolt, as is the command in Deuteronomy 21:22-23 (“When someone is convicted of a crime punishable by death and is executed, and you hang him on a tree, his corpse must not remain all night upon the tree; you shall bury him that same day, for anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse“).

In Jewish thought, giving a proper interment for someone — even the dead of their enemies — was considered to be ritual piety (2 Sam. 21:12-14):

“…But the rage of the Idumeans was not satiated by these slaughters; but they now betook themselves to the city, and plundered every house, and slew every one they met; and for the other multitude, they esteemed it needless to go on with killing them, but they sought for the high priests, and the generality went with the greatest zeal against them; and as soon as they caught them they slew them, and then standing upon their dead bodies, in way of jest, upbraided Ananus with his kindness to the people, and Jesus (ben Ananias) with his speech made to them from the wall:

Nay, they proceeded to that degree of impiety, as to cast away their dead bodies without burial, although the Jews used to take so much care of the burial of men, that they took down those that were condemned and crucified, and buried them before the going down of the sun. I should not mistake if I said that the death of Ananus was the beginning of the destruction of the city, and that from this very day may be dated the overthrow of her wall, and the ruin of her affairs, whereon they saw their high priest, and the procurer of their preservation, slain in the midst of their city…”

In a few cases, concessions can be made if relatives or friends of the victim asked for the corpse to give it a decent burial. The discovery of the bones of a victim who died of crucifixion discovered in 1968, within an ossuary inside a tomb may suggest that giving proper burial to crucifixion victims (as in the case of Jesus), while being rather rare, was not unknown.

Despite being mentioned in many literary sources for the Roman period, few exact details as to how the condemned were affixed to the cross have come down to us. But we do have one unique archeological witness to this gruesome practice.

In 1968, building contractors working in Giv’at haMivtar (Ras el-Masaref), just north of Jerusalem near Mount Scopus and immediately west of the road to Nablus accidentally uncovered a Jewish tomb dated to the 1st century AD. The date of the tombs, revealed by the pottery in situ, ranged from the late 2nd century B.C. until 70 A.D.

These family tombs with branching chambers, which had been hewn out of soft limestone, belong to the Jewish cemetery of Jesus’ time that extends from Mount Scopus in the east to the tombs in the neighborhood of Sanhedriya (named after the Jewish Sanhedrin; it is not certain, however, whether the tombs, which are occupied by seventy people of high status, were the burial places of Sanhedrin officials), in the north west.

A team of archeologists, led by Vassilios Tzaferis, found within the caves the bones of thirty-five individuals, with nine of them apparently having a violent death. Three children, ranging in ages from eight months to eight years, died from starvation. A child of almost four expired after much suffering from an arrow wound that penetrated the left of his skull (the occipital bone). A young man of about seventeen years burned to death cruelly bound upon a rack, as inferred by the grey and white alternate lines on his left fibula.

A slightly older female also died from conflagration. An old women of nearly sixty probably collapsed from the crushing blow of a weapon like a mace; her atlas, axis vertebrae and occipital bone were shattered. A woman in her early thirties died in childbirth, she still retained a fetus in her pelvis.

The late Professor Nicu Haas, an anthropologist at the Anatomy School at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem-Hadassah Medical School, examined one of the bones, which were placed inside a stone ossuary (right) placed inside one of the tombs which bears the Hebrew inscription ‘’Yehohanan the son of Hagaqol’.

The bones were those of a man in his twenties, crucified probably between 7 A.D., the time of the census revolt, and 66 A.D., the beginning of the war against Rome. The evidence for this was based on the right heel bone, pierced by an iron nail 11.5 centimetres in length.

The nail penetrated the lateral surface of the bone emerging on the middle of the surface in which the tip of the nail had become bent. The bending of the tip upon itself suggests that after the nail penetrated the tree or the upright it may have struck a knot in the wood thereby making it difficult to remove from the heel when Yehohanan was taken down from the cross.

The point of the nail had olive wood fragments on it indicating that Yehohanan was crucified on a cross made of olive wood or on an olive tree, which would suggest that the condemned was crucified at eye level since olive trees were not very tall. Additionally, a piece of acacia wood was located between the bones and the head of the nail, presumably to keep the condemned from freeing his foot by sliding it over the nail. Yehohanan’s legs were found broken, perhaps as a means of hastening his death (Crucifragium; cf. John 19:31-32).

Haas asserted that Yehohanan experienced three traumatic episodes: the cleft palate on the right side and the associated asymmetries of his face likely resulted from the deterioration of his mother’s diet during the first few weeks of pregnancy; the disproportion of his cerebral cranium (pladiocephaly) were caused by difficulties during birth. All the marks of violence on the skeleton resulted directly or indirectly from crucifixion.

He also postulated that the legs had been pressed together, bent, and twisted to that the calves were parallel to the patibulum, with the feet being secured to the cross by one iron nail driven simultaneously through both heels (tuber calcanei), and also deduced from a scratch on the inner surface of the right radius bone of the forearm, close to the wrist, that a nail had been driven into the forearm at that position.

However, a subsequent reexamination by Joseph “Joe” Zias, former Curator of Archaeology and Anthropology for the Israel Antiquities Authority, and Eliezer Sekeles in 1985 found that many of the conclusions upon which his attempted reconstruction were made were flawed. The nail which Haas reported to be 17-18 centimeters in length was but 11.5 centimeters, making it anatomically impossible to affix two feet with one nail.

Furthermore, despite the original belief that evidence for nailing was found on the radius, a subsequent reexamination of the evidence showed that there was no evidence for traumatic injury to the forearms; various opinions have since then been proposed as to whether the feet were both nailed together to the front of the cross or one on the left side, one on the right side, and whether Yehohanan’s hands was actually nailed to the cross or merely tied (Zias’ reconstruction of Yehohanan’s posture, at right).

While the archeological and physiological record are mostly silent on crucifixion, there are possibilities which may account for this: one is that most victims may have been tied to the cross, which would explain the lack of any direct traumatic evidence on the human skeleton when tied to the cross. The other is that the nails were usually either reused or taken as medical amulets, as stated in Part 1.

Patrick lives in Japan. He supports the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite according to the Missal of Bl. Pope John XXIII.

The photo shows, “Compassion,” by William-Adolphe Bouguereau, painted in 1897.

The Hope That Is In Us

“Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believe.” These words of Christ, spoken to Thomas and recorded in John 20:29, have often been misunderstood. Some suggest that Christ was offering a blessing to those who believe in Him without any evidence at all, who accept Him on blind faith. This is not what Christ meant, for Thomas never accepted Christ on blind faith in the absence of any evidence.

Indeed, Thomas had plenty of evidence and reason to accept Jesus as the Christ, including the many miracles he saw Him perform. By these words Christ was not affirming the necessity of blind faith, but offering a blessing to those who believed in Him even though they never experienced a resurrection appearance as Thomas did.

For there are all sorts of reasons for believing in Christ and all kinds of evidence for the truth of Christianity, even apart from experiencing a Resurrection appearance as did the apostles. St. Peter told his new converts to always be ready to make a defense to anyone who called them to give a reason for the hope that was in them (1 Peter 3:15), and so Christians must have reasons for their hope in Christ. I would like to mention three of them, three pieces of evidence for the truth of Christ’s Resurrection.

These pieces of evidence all presuppose the essential reliability of the Gospel accounts. That in itself is not unreasonable, for the Gospels can all lay claim to relate first-hand eye-witness testimony: Matthew was one of the Twelve, as was John, who repeatedly stressed the first-hand nature of his testimony (e.g. John 19:35, 21:24). Luke wrote his account after consulting with many first-hand witnesses (Luke 1:1-4), and Mark wrote his account after listening to Peter’s reminiscences in Rome.

And the first three Gospels were written within about thirty years of the events they recount—i.e. they were practically contemporaneous with those events. Moreover, the Gospel writers wrote and circulated their writings while surrounded by a hostile group of people (the unbelieving Jews) who would have contested and contradicted their reporting if it veered from the known facts, and this hostility acted as a kind of control to keep the writers’ accounts accurate. So we may have confidence in the essential accuracy of the Gospel accounts.

The first piece of evidence is the emptiness of Jesus’ tomb. The apostles were publically proclaiming in the very heart of the Temple the Resurrection of Christ (and the consequent guilt of the Sanhedrin for the crime of having the Messiah crucified), and all the enraged Sanhedrin could do in response was to arrest Peter and John and to threaten them, telling them to cease and desist (Acts 3-4).

They could have shut down the whole apostolic enterprise and crush out the nascent Christian movement then and there—all they needed to do was to produce the corpse of Jesus, who had been buried a scant distance away from the Temple. But this they did not do. Why not? Obviously because the corpse of Jesus was no longer in the tomb and available to them.

So where was it? Why was it not in the tomb? The apostles’ explanation was that the tomb was now empty because God had raised Jesus from the dead, and that Jesus had emerged from the tomb, meeting with His disciples during the following forty days before being taken to heaven.

The Jewish explanation for the emptiness of the tomb was that the disciples came by night while the Roman soldiers guarding the tomb were asleep and these disciples stole the corpse (Matthew 28:12-15). Let us examine this explanation at greater length, for it contains a few problems.

The first problem with the explanation is the presupposition that a Roman soldier on guard duty would fall asleep—something which would bring swift and violent response from his commanding officer if he were caught.

Yet this story asks us to believe that all the soldiers on guard duty fell asleep, and all at the same time, and that they fell so soundly asleep that the disciples sneaking up, unsealing the tomb, moving the huge stone, and making off with the corpse didn’t wake them.

Even harder to believe is that the disciples stopped in the midst of this dangerous theft and took time to strip the corpse of its grave-clothes before carrying it away (compare John 20:6-7).

The Jewish explanation produces more questions than answers. Even if the apostles could somehow have sneaked up unseen on the Roman guards, and waited until all the guards fell so soundly asleep at the same time that they did not stir when the stone was noisily moved and the corpse stripped and stolen, why would they do this? What did they have to gain from it?

All they had to gain from their leadership of the Christian movement is what they in fact did gain from it—namely, suffering, poverty, hardship, and eventual martyrdom (see 1 Corinthians 4:9-13). And where did they then bury the corpse? And how could such a burial escape detection in a city swarming with their enemies to such an extent that they had to lock the doors when they met together? (see John 20:19).

And why would they persist in such a lie? It is incredible to imagine that such a colossal conspiracy would not somehow have leaked out, especially as persecution arose. Moreover, the Jewish explanation is not even self-consistent: if the guards were all asleep, how could they know that it was the disciples who stole the corpse? The whole thing is harder to believe than the Resurrection.

The second problem with denying the historicity of the Resurrection of Christ lies in the change in the apostles. From the time of Jesus’ arrest, during His trial and crucifixion, and immediately after His death, they all displayed tremendous cowardice—or (to put it more charitably) a tremendous concern for their self-preservation.

During His arrest, they all forsook Him and fled (Mark 14:50), and Peter, when challenged a number of times as to whether he was part of His movement, repeatedly denied even knowing Him (Mark 14:66f). None but John were present at His cross, and after His death, when they met together, they made sure that the outer door was locked, for fear of being arrested by the Jews—all in all, not a great display of courage and boldness.

Yet fifty days later they were so bold that they publically preached to anyone who would listen that Jesus was the Messiah, risen from the dead, and openly accused the Sanhedrin of disowning the Messiah and having Him killed (Acts 5:28). Arrest, flogging, and threats of further punishment could not deter the apostles.

The question is: what produced this change of heart and inspired this new boldness? The apostles explained it by saying they had seen the risen Lord. If they did not in fact see the risen Lord, what other explanation could there be for such a swift, radical, and unanimous change of heart among all of them?

The question becomes more acute as persecution of the Church intensifies: even when martyrdom threatened, the apostles continued to preach that they had indeed seen the risen Christ. Who would die for what they knew was a pointless lie? The apostolic boldness is only explicable if they were telling the truth about the Resurrection.

The third problem with denying the Resurrection of Christ is the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. He was adamantly opposed to the Christian movement, and took drastic and effective steps to try to crush it out. He was present for the martyrdom of Stephen, and ravaged the Church in Jerusalem, entering house after house and dragging off to prison the disciples of Jesus, both women as well as men (Acts 8:3).

Not content with this, he requested and received authorization from the high priest to journey to far away Damascus and arrest any disciples of Jesus he found in the synagogues there.

Accordingly, he journeyed to Damascus, but upon arriving there, when he entered the synagogue, instead of denouncing Jesus as a false-Messiah and arresting His disciples, He proclaimed that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. What produced such a sudden and stunning volte-face?

Saul (also known as Paul) explained it by relating that as he approached Damascus he received a visitation from the risen Jesus, an encounter which converted and temporarily blinded him.

Then one of Jesus’ disciples, Ananias by name, found Saul in the city, explained that Jesus had appeared to him in a vision, and sent him to heal Saul of his blindness, which he did. If one rejects Saul’s explanation of what caused his volte-face, what other explanation could there be? And once again, we may ask, why would Saul lie? What would he have to gain by it?

There are other reasons for accepting the truth of the Christian Faith as well—reasons having to do with subjective experience of the presence of Christ, and of contemporary miracles and answers to prayer.

But these three historical reasons, I submit, are sufficient—or at least they were sufficient for me. If Christ did rise from the dead, then the emptiness of His tomb, the change in the apostles, and the conversion of Saul of Tarsus are all adequately and fully explained. If His Resurrection did not in fact occur, these three things remain inexplicable.

At the very least the burden of proof shifts to those who would deny the Resurrection. Such historical evidence constitutes a reason for the hope that is in us—and challenge to those who would deny the Resurrection and choose to live without such hope.

Father Lawrence serves as pastor of St. Herman’s Orthodox Church in Langley, BC. He is also author of the Orthodox Bible Companion Series along with a number of other publications.

The photo shows, “The Doubting Thomas” by Leendert van der Cooghen, painted in 1654.

The Sadducees: What Do We Know?

In the famous account of the meeting of Christ with the Sadducees (Luke 20: 27–40), the question is brought up of the resurrection of bodies (in other words, their “recovery” after death). More importantly, the representatives of the “party” that was once the majority in the Sanhedrin, the Sadducees, seek to ask the “Master,” the “Rabbi,” the “Doctor” this fundamental question to which they think they have the correct answer. They hope to bewilder the man they are addressing, and care little for the title they use for him. But their hopes are dashed by the answer they receive: after the Resurrection, men will be like angels.

Our God is the God of the living; there is thus a life after life. But the conception of the afterlife among Jews, as embodied by the Pharisees and mocked by the Sadducees, is indeed so simplistic that it can only lend itself to derision.

On the whole, this controversy illustrates the refusal of history by the Sadducees, who themselves are an enigma. They were members of the priestly class, who were in conflict with the Pharisees, and who refused the very idea of ​​resurrection. That’s about all we know about them – aside from the reference that their name makes to Zadok, high priest under David. They were also supporters of the Romans, during the time of Christ, who lost control of the Sanhedrin to their opponents, the Pharisees.

In comparison to the Pharisees, the Sadducees held a very “modern” and simple doctrine – after death, there is nothing. The soul disappears, there is no other world, there is no destiny. Man has the free choice between good and evil in this life. After death, it is all over. Their doctrine denied all “post mortem” reality. In this they opposed the Pharisees who believed in the immortality of the soul and the resurrection of the “good” – the “bad,” on the other hand, fell prey to eternal punishment.

The “theology” of the Sadducees was the work of a group of priests, who founded the sect, and who were vocal on the theological as well as the political level. They recognized value only in the Torah, thus dooming the rest of the Bible to nothingness. And, although a minority, their “lobby,” during the time of Christ, dominated the priestly caste. Thus, for them, history did not exist, Providence did not exist, only the chaos of human choices reigned. Man had before him neither a future, nor hope of resurrection. It can be said, without caricature, that the Sadducee is the prototype of today’s “average atheist,” – and he was a priest! For him, the Messiah was the hero of a myth.

Let us return to the controversy with Christ on the subject of the resurrection of the body, taking into account that for the Sadducees the world as it is, is nonsense. And, indeed, their position is quite singular, since all the peoples of the earth, of all times, believed, until the eighteenth century in Europe, at least, in a transcendence, including at least one god, or a pantheon, and an afterlife. The memory of a primitive religion is common to all of humanity. But the Sadducees, for their part, had managed to eliminate the history of Israel – and they were practically in power! Nevertheless, the Hebrews believed in the resurrection, since Moses at least (just like the Egyptians, by the way). Did not God promise to restore the world?

And the answer Jesus gave took them for a loop – first, that the dead are indeed resurrection, and two, that the resurrected will be like angels. His opponents, who knew the concept of “angel” but did not believe it, could not imagine such a metamorphosis. And the answer also highlights the idle nature of their question.

We should note that the angel-analogy relates only to the condition of men and women resurrected, who then will have no carnal relationship because they will not feel the need. And the Talmud does tell us that in the Otherworld, you do not drink, you do not eat, all are equal and in harmony. The body of the resurrected undergoes a metamorphosis.

But why should angels not have carnal relations? Simply because they are not susceptible to death and thus do not survive by procreation. (We might suppose that angels also multiple, but that is a different discussion).

Here it seems that Christ establishes a causal relationship between carnal reproduction and the necessity of death. In Heaven, one does not die, one does not die any further. The carnal relation is really a continuation of the original decay. Adam and Eve, after the fall, lost their garment of Light, and, being naked, they were then covered with skins of animals and subject to death. But in the hereafter, people, as began with their first parents, find a body of Light. They participate in the mystery of the resurrection. And the Resurrection of Christ is the principle of all resurrection: by resurrecting, he resurrects in the entirety of his being, body and soul.

Thus, the pool of the Sadducees is paved over! Risen humanity will participate in the rightful filial dignity of the risen Christ, in which filiation and rebirth from the dead together proclaim Him Son of God.

We also notice the Sadducees’ petty notion of sexuality, expressed in a manner that regulates the lot of widows. For the Sadducees, marriage is nothing but a carnal union, we may say a bestial one, since it denies all transcendence accessible to mankind. Marriage, in this case, only a system of filiation; and it is a fact, recognized and regulated by the Law, that the only husband of the woman is the first deceased brother. And yet, clinging to the Law, it seems that the Sadducees have not understood, in their pettiness and narrow mindedness, the full significance of marriage, nor have they grasped the grandeur of human destiny.

Christ makes Filiation holy by his Divinity, by opening us to the omnipotence of God, and thus reminding us of the promise of history, which includes our very own resurrection.

Father Frédéric Guigain was born in Paris, and obtained a DEA in philosophy at the Sorbonne (Paris IV). He was ordained a priest in the Maronite diocese of Jbeil-Byblos (Lebanon) in 2001, and assumed various tasks of pastoral care in Nigeria (Port-Harcourt), Italy (Rome-Albano) and Lebanon (Diocese of Jbeil). He was a parish priest in Amsheet, in charge of the chancery of the bishopric, and chaplain of the diocesan committee for youth ministry. He is currently vicar of the parish of Saint-Cloud in the diocese of Nanterre.

The original version of this article is in French. This English translation is by N. Dass.

The photo shows Christ teaching, from a French breviary, dated to ca. 1511.

Crucifixion, Part 2

Blood loss from the scourging helped determine the time the victim survived. In any case, victims suffered a long time (at most, days) before falling into prolonged unconsciousness and death. Soldiers typically did not hasten things along because a long and painful death was the point of the execution method. Usually the victim was left on the cross until birds and wild beasts consumed the body.

Death could result from a variety of causes, including blood loss and hypovolemic shock, or infection and sepsis, caused by the scourging that preceded the crucifixion or by the nailing itself, and eventual dehydration. A theory attributed to French surgeon Dr. Pierre Barbet (author of A Doctor at Calvary: The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ As Described by a Surgeon) holds that, when the whole body weight was supported by the stretched arms, the typical cause of death was asphyxiation. He conjectured that the condemned would have severe difficulty inhaling, due to hyper-expansion of the chest muscles and lungs.

The condemned would therefore have to draw himself up by his arms, leading to exhaustion, or have his feet supported by tying or by a wood block. Indeed, the executioners were sometimes asked that the legs of the victim were broken or shattered, an act called crucifragium which was also frequently applied without crucifixion to slaves.

This act speeded up the death of the person but was also meant to deter those who observed the crucifixion from committing offenses. Once deprived of support and unable to lift himself, the victim would die within a few minutes.

Experiments by Dr. Frederick Zugibe, former chief medical examiner of Rockland County, New York have revealed that, when suspended with arms at 60° to 70° from the vertical, test subjects had no difficulty breathing, only rapidly-increasing discomfort and pain. This would correspond to the Roman use of crucifixion as a prolonged, agonizing, humiliating death.

Zugibe claims that the breaking of the crucified condemned’s legs to hasten death was administered as a coup de grâce, causing severe traumatic shock or hastening death by fat embolism. Crucifixion on a single pole with no transom, with hands affixed over one’s head, would precipitate rapid asphyxiation if no block was provided to stand on, or once the legs were broken.

It is possible to survive crucifixion, if not prolonged, and there are records of people who did. The historian Josephus, a Judean who defected to the Roman side during the Jewish uprising of 66-72 AD, describes finding two of his friends crucified. He begged for and was granted their reprieve; one died, while the other recovered. Josephus gives no details of the method or duration of their crucifixion before their reprieve.

It is still a matter of debate whether victims were crucified in the nude or with their loincloths left on. There is no doubt that many (if not most) crucifixion victims were stripped naked, either with or without a loincloth, as it would have humiliated the victim further. This is one of the elements which made crucifixion notorious: due to the physical, mental and emotional pain it caused.

While traditionally Jesus and the two criminals are depicted as having a sort of loincloth for modesty (in a few depictions, Jesus even wears a full-length robe, called a colobium), a few very early depictions depict the victim as either being stark naked on the cross or with some loincloth on (also see illustration at left and below right, one of which is a graffito found in Puzzuoli, with the other being a gem found in Syria, dating from the late 2nd-3rd century). As a general rule of thumb, most of these early representations are not depictions made by Christians, who still didn’t depict the Crucifixion overtly during this time period, but were usually created by non-Christians and/or Gnostics.

While some take the position that Jesus was not spared even a loincloth when He was crucified, some believe that due to Jewish sensibilities, loincloths were left on or provided (it would be fitting to remind here that many people in ancient times did not even wear loincloths; for them, their tunics served as their undergarment). So, before we could have any conclusive evidence, it would seem that the best answer here for the moment is that it depended on the situation and the location.

The gibbet on which crucifixion was carried out could be of many shapes. Josephus records multiple tortures and positions of crucifixion during the Siege of Jerusalem as Titus crucified the rebels; and the Roman historian Seneca the Younger recounts (To Marcia, On Consolation, 6.20.3): “Video istic cruces non unius quidem generis sed aliter ab aliis fabricatas: capite quidam conversos in terram suspendere, alii per obscena stipitem egerunt, alii brachia patibulo explicuerunt. Video fidiculas, video verbera, et membris singulis articulis singula docuerunt machinamenta: sed video et mortem…” [I see there crosses, not merely of one kind but fashioned differently by others: a certain one suspends with head down towards the ground, others drive stakes through their private parts; others stretch the arms out on the gibbet; I see cords, I see whips, and contraptions designed to torture every joint and limb, but I see death as well…]

At times the gibbet was only one vertical stake, called in Latin crux simplex or palus. This was the simplest available construction for torturing and killing the criminals. Frequently, however, there was a cross-piece attached either at the top to give the shape of a T (crux commissa) or just below the top, as in the form most familiar in Christian symbolism (crux immissa). Other forms were in the shape of the letters X and Y.

While the view that Jesus died on a stake has thus been propounded by writers of the nineteenth and twentieth century (and is still popular among Jehovah’s Witnesses), second-century writers, such as Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, who were much closer to the event, speak of him only as dying on a two-beam cross.

In the same century, the author of the Epistle of Barnabas and Clement of Alexandria saw a two-beam shape of the cross of Jesus as foreshadowed in a numerological interpretation of Genesis 4:14, and the first of these, as well as Justin Martyr, saw the same shape prefigured in Moses keeping his arms stretched out in prayer in the battle against Amalek. At the end of the same century, Tertullian speaks of Christians as accustomed to mark themselves repeatedly with the sign of the cross, and the phrase “the Lord’s sign” (τὸ κυριακὸν σημεῖον, to Kyriakon simeion) was used with reference to a cross composed of an upright and a crossbeam. Crosses of † or Τ shape were in use, even in Palestine, at the time of Jesus.

See here for more in-depth discussion on the shape of Jesus’ cross.

In popular depictions of crucifixion, the condemned is shown with nails in the palm of their hands. Although historical documents refer to the nails being in the hands, the word usually translated as hand, “χείρ” (cheir) in Greek, referred to arm and hand together, so that, words are added to denote the hand as distinct from the arm, as “ἄκρην οὔτασε χεῖρα” (Akrin outase cheira, “he wounded the end of the ‘cheir'”, i.e. he wounded her hand).

A possibility that does not require tying is that the nails were inserted just above the wrist, between the two bones of the forearm (the radius and the ulna). The nails could also be driven through the wrist, in a space between four carpal bones. The word χείρ, translated as “hand”, can include everything below the mid-forearm: Acts 12:7 uses this word to report chains falling off from Peter’s ‘hands’, although the chains would be around what we would call wrists. This shows that the semantic range of χείρ is wider than the English hand, and can be used of nails through the wrist.

An experiment that was the subject of National Geographic Channel’s documentary entitled, Quest For Truth: The Crucifixion, showed that a person can be suspended by the palm of their hand. Nailing the feet (or the ankles) to the side of the cross relieves strain on the wrists by placing most of the weight on the lower body.

Another possibility, suggested by Frederick Zugibe, is that the nails may have been driven in at an angle, entering in the palm in the crease that delineates the bulky region at the base of the thumb, and exiting in the wrist, passing through the carpal tunnel.

A footrest attached to the cross, perhaps for the purpose of taking the man’s weight off the wrists, is sometimes included in representations of the crucifixion of Jesus, but is not mentioned in ancient sources. These, however, do mention the sedile (a small piece or block of wood attached to the front of the cross, about halfway down, where the victim could rest) which could have served that purpose.

The question has long been debated whether Jesus was crucified with three or with four nails.

The treatment of the Crucifixion in art during the earlier Middle Ages strongly supports the tradition of four nails, and the language of certain historical writers (none, however, earlier than Gregory of Tours, “De Gloria Martyrum”, vi), favors the same view. The earliest depictions of the subject might also favor this view, as they generally depict the feet of the victim as being separate from each other.

On the other hand, in the thirteenth century, most of Western art (with a few exceptions; see the image to the right, painted by Diego Velázquez in 1632) began to represent the feet of Jesus as placed one over the other and pierced with a single nail. This accords with the language of Nonnus and Socrates and with the poem “Christus Patiens” attributed to St. Gregory Nazianzus, which speaks of three nails.

This depiction of three nails had actually caused some controversy when it was first introduced. For example, in the latter part of the 13th century the bishop of Tuy in Iberia wrote in horror about the ‘heretics’ who carve ‘ill-shapen’ images of the crucified Jesus ‘with one foot laid over the other, so that both are pierced by a single nail, thus striving to annul or render doubtful men’s faith in the Holy Cross and the traditions of the sainted Fathers.’

Archaeological criticism has pointed out however not only that two of the earliest representations of the Crucifixion (the Palatine graffito does not here come into account), viz., the carved door of the Santa Sabina in Rome, and the ivory panel of the British Museum, show no signs of nails in the feet, but that St. Ambrose (“De obitu Theodosii” in P.L., XVI, 1402) and other early writers distinctly imply that there were only two nails. However, this does not answer why in Luke 24:39-40 Jesus is said to have shown ‘his hands and his feet’ to his disciples, unless there was some distinguishing mark located there.

St. Ambrose informs us that Empress Helena had one nail converted into a bridle for Constantine’s horse (early commentators quote Zechariah 14:20, in this connection), and that an imperial diadem was made out of the other nail. Gregory of Tours speaks of a nail being thrown (deponi), or possibly dipped into the Adriatic Sea to calm a storm. It is impossible to discuss these problems adequately in brief space, but the information derivable from the general archaeology of the punishment of crucifixion as known to the Romans does not in any way contradict the early Christian tradition of four nails.

Patrick lives in Japan. He supports the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite according to the Missal of Bl. Pope John XXIII.

The photo shows the “Crucifixion Fresco” from the fifth century Ancient Church of Saint Mary (the Santa Maria Antiqua). The fresco dates from ca. 741 to 752 AD.

Crucifixion Part 1

This is the first in a 3-part examination of the history of Roman crucifixion.

I. INTRODUCTION

Crucifixion (from Latin crucifixio, perfect passive participle crucifixus, fixed to a cross, from prefix cruci-, cross, + verb ficere, fix or do, variant form of facere, do or make ) is an ancient method of execution, whereby the condemned person is tied or nailed to a large wooden cross (of various shapes) and left to hang until dead.

German scholar of religion Martin Hengel, the author of the work entitled Crucifixion (full title Crucifixion in the Ancient World and the Folly of the Message of the Cross), originally published in 1977, writes that while authors commonly regard the origins of crucifixion as coming from Persia due to the writings of the Greek historian Herodotus, the practice of impaling or nailing someone to a post or something similar to it, was also found among the Indians, Assyrians, Scythians, Taurians, Celts, Greeks, Seleucids, Romans, Britanni, Numidians and Carthaginians. The Carthaginians is commonly thought to have passed the knowledge to Romans, who then perfected the method.


II. HISTORY

While the origins of this method of execution are quite obscure, it is clear that the form of capital punishment lasted for over nearly 900 years, starting with the Persian king Darius’ (reigned 550-485 BC) crucifixion of 3000 Babylonian slaves in 519 BC and ending with Constantine in 337 AD; thus tens if not hundreds of thousands of individuals have been subjected to this cruel and humiliating form of punishment. There are records of mass executions in which hundreds of thousands of persons have died due to this practice.

It is common belief that crucifixion was only reserved for criminals, as a result of Plutarch’s passage that “each criminal condemned to death bears his cross on his back”, however literature clearly shows that this class were not the only individuals who were subjected to crucifixion. For example, Alexander the Great crucified 2000 survivors from the siege of Tyre on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Condemned Roman citizens were usually exempt from crucifixion (like feudal nobles from hanging, dying more honorably by decapitation) except for major crimes against the state, such as high treason.

The goal of Roman crucifixion was not just to kill the criminal, but also to mutilate and dishonour the body of the condemned. In ancient tradition, an honourable death required burial; leaving a body on the cross, so as to mutilate it and prevent its burial, was a grave dishonour.

Under ancient Roman penal practice, crucifixion was also a means of exhibiting the criminal’s low social status. It was the most dishonourable death imaginable, originally reserved for slaves, hence still called “supplicium servile” by Seneca, later extended to provincial freedmen of obscure station (‘humiles’). The citizen class of Roman society were almost never subject to capital punishments; instead, they were fined or exiled. The Jewish-Roman historian Josephus mentions Jews of high rank who were crucified, but this was to point out that their status had been taken away from them.

Control of one’s own body was vital in the ancient world. Capital punishment took away control over one’s own body, thereby implying a loss of status and honor. The Romans often broke the prisoner’s legs to hasten death and usually (with a few known exceptions) forbade burial.

III. METHODS OF CRUCIFIXION

Crucifixion was literally a death that was ‘excruciating’ (from the Latin word ‘ex cruces’, “out of crucifying”), gruesome (hence dissuading against the crimes punishable by it), and public (hence the expression “to nail to the cross”), using whatever means expedient for that goal. The methods varied considerably with location and with time period.

The Greek and Latin words corresponding to “crucifixion” covered a wide range of meaning, from impaling on a stake to affixing on a tree, to a mere upright pole (a ‘crux simplex’) or to a combination of an upright stake (‘stipes’ in Latin) and a crossbeam (‘patibulum’).

If a crossbeam is used, the victim was forced to carry it on his shoulders, which would have been torn open by a brutal scourging, to the place of execution. The Roman historian Tacitus records that the city of Rome had a specific place for carrying out executions, situated outside the Esquiline Gate, and a specific area reserved for the execution of slaves by crucifixion.

A. SCOURGING

Scourging the victim was a legal preliminary to every Roman execution, and only women and Roman senators or soldiers (except in eases of desertion) were exempt. The usual instrument was a short whip (known as a flagellum or flagrum, seen at right) with several single or braided leather thongs of variable lengths, in which small iron or lead balls or sharp pieces of sheep bones were tied at intervals.

For scourging, the man was first stripped of his clothing, and his hands were tied to an upright post.

The poet Horace refers to the horribile flagellum (horrible whip) in his Satires, calling for the end of its use. Typically, the one to be punished was stripped naked and bound to a low pillar so that he could bend over it, or chained to an upright pillar as to be stretched out.

The back, buttocks, and legs were flogged either by two Roman officials known as lictors (from the Latin verb ligare, which means “to bind”, said to refer to the fasces that they carried) or by one who alternated positions (some reports even indicate scourgings with four or six lictores). The severity of the scourging depended on the disposition of the lictores and was intended to weaken the victim to a state just short of collapse or death.

There was no limit to the number of blows inflicted — this was left to the lictores to decide, though they were normally not supposed to kill the victim. Nonetheless, Livy, Suetonius and Josephus report cases of flagellation where victims died while still bound to the post. Josephus also states that, at the Siege of Jerusalem at 70 AD (Jewish War 5.11), Jews who were captured by Titus’ forces “were first whipped, and then tormented with all sorts of tortures, before they died, and were then crucified before the wall of the city. This miserable procedure made Titus greatly to pity them, while they caught every day five hundred Jews; nay, some days they caught more; yet it did not appear to be safe for him to let those that were taken by force go their way, and to set a guard over so many he saw would be to make such as great deal them useless to him. “

Flagellation was so severe that it was referred to as “half death” by some authors and apparently, many died shortly thereafter (some survivors were even reported to have gone mad due to the intensity of the scourging). Cicero reports in In Verrem (II.5), “pro mortuo sublatus, perbrevi postea est mortuus” (“taken away for a dead man, shortly thereafter he was dead”). Often the victim was turned over to allow flagellation on the chest, though this proceeded with more caution, as the possibility of inflicting a fatal blow was much greater.

As Pontius Pilate was only the Prefect/Equestrian Procurator of Iudeaea Region (from 26-36 A.D.), he might have had no true lictor of his own, hence regular soldiers might have administered the scourging in place of lictores.

After the scourging, the soldiers often taunted their victim. In Jesus’ situation, this took the form of plaiting thorns (several prickly or thorny shrubs found in Palestine, especially the Paliurus aculeatus, Zizyphus Spina-Christi, and Zizyphus vulgaris may have served for the purpose) into a sort of ‘crown’ (the Gospels use the Greek word stephanon, which usually implies a wreath or garland of some sort; however some think that it is likely that the crown was a sort of ‘cap’ that covered the whole head, as in the illustration at right), dressing him in a purple (so say Mark and John) or scarlet (Matthew) cloak (Matthew and Mark used the Greek word chlamys, which was originally a sort of cloak worn by Greek soldiers made from a rectangle of woollen material about the size of a blanket, typically bordered, and was usually pinned at the right shoulder while John used the word himation, which was a type of cloak worn over the tunic or chiton), in order to mock him as King of the Jews. In addition, he was also provided a reed (kalamos) for a sceptre, which was later used to beat him (Matt. 27:30). However, once the soldiers got tired of this sport, they took off the robe, “dressed him in his own clothes, and led him off to crucify him.”

B. TO THE PLACE OF EXECUTION

It was customary for the condemned man to carry his own cross from the flogging post to the site of crucifixion outside the city walls. He was usually naked, unless this was prohibited by local customs. Since the weight of the entire cross was probably well over 300 pounds (136 kilograms), only the crossbar was carried. The patibulum, weighing 75-125 pounds (35-60 kg). was placed across the nape of the victim’s neck and balanced along both shoulders. Usually, the outstretched arms then were tied to the crossbar.

The processional to the site of crucifixion was led by execution teams composed of four soldiers, headed by a centurion, with the condemned man placed in the middle of the hollow square of the four soldiers.

A herald carried a sign (titulus, epigraphe) on which the condemned man’s name and crime were displayed; alternatively, it would have been hung around the victim’s neck. The board was said to be whitened with gypsum while the lettering was in black; alternatively, the lettering was done with gypsum. The description of guilt written thereon was usually made to be as brief and as concise as possible; the Gospel’s record that Jesus’ titulus merely contained his name and his crime (“the King of the Jews”). Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History 5.1) recorded a Christian martyr named Attalus who was led to the ampitheatre to be killed, with a placard being carried before him which said simply: “This is Attalus the Christian.”

At the site of execution, the victim stripped of his clothing (if any) and, at least in Palestine, was given a bitter drink of wine mixed with myrrh (gall) as a mild analgesic to help deaden the pain. The criminal was then thrown to the ground on his back, with his arms outstretched along the patibulum. Any article of clothing belonging to the victim became the property of the party of soldiers in charge of the execution, as per the law; thus, the soldiers drew lots for Jesus’ clothes.

There was no ‘set’ posture for someone being crucified; soldiers usually crucified victims in various postures and positions (Josephus mentions that during the Siege of Jerusalem, soldiers crucified those they caught “one after one way, and another after another” to amuse themselves).

Upright posts would have presumably been erected and fixed permanently in such places, and the crossbeam, with the condemned man perhaps already nailed to it, would then be attached to the post. To prolong the crucifixion process, a horizontal wooden block or plank serving as a crude seat (known as a sedile or sedulum), was often attached midway down the stipes.

C. TYING OR NAILING TO THE CROSS?

The condemned man may sometimes have been attached to the cross by tying him securely there (some scholars have, in fact, argued that crucifixion was actually a bloodless form of death and that tying the victim was the rule), but nails are mentioned by Josephus, who states that, again during the Siege of Jerusalem, “the soldiers, out of the wrath and hatred they bore the Jews, nailed those they caught, one after one way, and another after another, to the crosses, by way of jest, when their multitude was so great, that room was wanting for the crosses, and crosses wanting for the bodies.”

Therefore, other scholars such as Hengel, who here takes along with Hewitt (1932) have argued that nailing the victim by his hands and feet was the rule and tying him to the cross was the exception.

In Roman times iron was expensive; thus, nails from a crucifixion were usually removed from the dead body and reused over and over to cut the costs. Also, objects used in the execution of criminals, such as nails or ropes from a crucifixion were frequently sought as amulets by many people, and was thus removed from the victim following their death.

This is attested to by a passage in the Mishna (Tractate Sabbath 6.10) which states that both Jews and Amorites (a sort of ‘codeword’ for non-Jews) may carry a nail from a crucifixion, a tooth from a jackal and an egg from a locust as a means of healing:

MISHNA IX: It is permitted to go out with eggs of grasshoppers or with the tooth of a fox or a nail from the gallows where a man was hanged, as medical remedies. Such is the decision of R. Meir, but the sages prohibit the using of these things even on week days, for fear of imitating the Amorites.

GEMARA: The eggs of grasshoppers as a remedy for toothache; the tooth of a fox as a remedy for sleep, viz., the tooth of a live fox to prevent sleep and of a dead one to cause sleep; the nail from the gallows where a man was hanged as a remedy for swelling.

“As medical remedies,” such is the decision of R. Meir. Abayi and Rabha both said: “Anything (intended) for a medical remedy, there is no apprehension of imitating the Amorites; hence, if not intended as a remedy there is apprehension of imitating the Amorites? But were we not taught that a tree which throws off its fruit, it is permitted to paint it and lay stones around it? It is right only to lay stones around it in order to weaken its strength, but what remedy is painting it? Is it not imitating the Amorites? (Nay) it is only that people may see it and pray for mercy. We have learned in a Boraitha: It is written: “Unclean, unclean, shall he call out [Leviticus, 13:45].” (To what purpose?) That one must make his troubles known to his fellow-men, that they may pray for his relief.”

As this Mishnaic passage mentions both Jews and non-Jews carrying these objects one can infer the power of these amulets and their scarcity in the archaeological record. Not only Jewish sources attest to the power of these objects; Pliny in Naturalis Historia (28.11) wrote that:

…So, too, in cases of quartan fever, they take a fragment of a nail from a cross, or else a piece of a halter that has been used for crucifixion, and, after wrapping it in wool, attach it to the patient’s neck; taking care, the moment he has recovered, to conceal it in some hole to which the light of the sun cannot penetrate…

Perhaps, however, the number of the individuals crucified may determine the manner in which the execution took form. For example, during the Third Servile War (led by the slave Spartacus), which happened in 73-71 BC, 6600 prisoners of war were crucified along the Via Appia between the cities of Rome and Capua, it would seem plausible that the most quick and efficient manner of death was employed; namely, to simply tie the victim to the tree or cross with his hands suspended directly over his head, causing death within a few minutes, or perhaps an hour if the victims’ feet were not nailed or tied down.

Patrick lives in Japan. He supports the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite according to the Missal of Bl. Pope John XXIII.

The photo shows, “The Crucifixion,” by Jacopo Tintoretto, painted in 1565.

Who Was Caiaphas?

Joseph Caiaphas, the Jewish high priest between AD 18-37, best known for his role during the trial of Jesus of Nazareth. Nothing is known about his early career, but we can assume that he was a member of a wealthy family, because he married a daughter of the high priest who is called Annas (or Ananus) son of Seth, high priest from AD 6-15 (John 18:13). Even when he was no longer in function, he was apparently extremely influential. According to Josephus, five of Ananus’ sons became high priest (Antiquities 20.198); to this we may add Caiaphas, his son-in-law.

Both Annas and Caiaphas may have sympathized with the Sadducees, which found most of its members among the wealthy Jewish elite. Some scholars think it probable that Caiaphas was a member of the embassy that went to Rome in AD 17 to discuss fiscal matters (Tacitus, Annals, 2.42.5).

In AD 18, the Roman governor Valerius Gratus (AD 15-26) appointed Caiaphas as high priest. The two men must have had an excellent working relation, because Caiaphas remained in office exceptionally long. Gratus had dismissed at least four high priests – Annas (Ananus), Ishmael ben-Fabus, Eleazar ben-Ananus, and Simon ben-Camithus – before appointing Caiaphas. Aside from Annas, the aforementioned high priests ruled for only a single year before being taken out of office.

It is tempting to link this appointment to the Jewish embassy that in AD 17 had appealed to Tiberius for a reduction in the tribute of Judaea: was Caiaphas rewarded for his tactful behavior in Rome? In any case, Gratus’ successor Pontius Pilate never changed the high priest, which can mean that he had found in Caiaphas a man who could be trusted.

Jerusalem at the time of Jesus was goverened by the high priest and his council. This was a reversion to the system that had been followed in the Persian and Hellenistic periods before the Hasmonean revolt. The high priest, often in concert with the ‘chief priests’, sometimes with the ‘elders’ (influential, aristocratic laymen), was in charge of ordinary police and judicial procedures, and he – alone and in such combinations as just described – figures large in the Gospels, Acts and in Josephus.

Priesthood was hereditary among the Jews; the priests traced their lineage to Aaron, brother of Moses and first high priest. During the Persian and Hellenistic periods, the high priests, who were rulers of the nation, were (or were thought to be) members of the family of Zadok (1 Kings 1:28-45). The Hasmoneans were hereditary priests, but they were not Zadokites. When they arose to power as a result of the Maccabean revolt against the Seleucids, however, the natural consequence was that the leading member of the family was declared high priest.

When Simon ascended to the high priesthood (1 Maccabees 14:41-49), the previously ruling Zadokite family was deposed, though the system of government remained the same. About a hundred years later, however, the revolt of Aristobulus II (66-63 BC) and his son led to Herod’s appointment as King of Judaea, and this changed the system.

Herod, himself a non-Jew, could not claim descent from a priestly family and had to appoint high priests during his reign. When Rome deposed Archelaus in AD 6 and sent a prefect to govern Judaea, it also began to appoint the high priest. Thereafter it sometimes granted the right to a member of Herod’s family, but sometimes this right was retained by the prefect (later procurator), or by the legate of Syria.

During a sixty-year period (AD 6-66), the high priests were always chosen from one of four families of aristocratic priests. The high priests as political appointees did not have quite the prestige and authority of the hereditary high priests of earlier periods, but nevertheless they had some prestige and a lot of authority.

For the most part, they governed Jerusalem successfully.
In Jerusalem, then, even when Judaea was under ‘direct’ Roman control, Jewish leaders were in day-to-day control. The magistrates were Jews who ruled by Jewish law, the schools were Jewish and the religion was Jewish. The high priest and his council had a wide range of responsibilities: they were required to organize payment of tribute and to get the money and goods to the right person. Jerusalem was policed by the Temple guards, commanded by the high priest.

The high priest was a suitable ruler because the office was traditional and thus was held with great reverence, and the prefect considered him the ideal spokesman for and to the population of Jerusalem. Granted, there were cases when people did not like a high priest (the mob hunted down and killed a former high priest when revolt broke out in AD 66), but whether the high priest was good or not, respect for the office was deep and genuine.

First Herod and then Rome took control of the priestly vestments and released them only during special occasions. With them on, the high priest wielded too much power. Cases concerning control of the vestments, and with it the appointment of the high priest, more than once went directly to the emperor for decision.

Who controlled the vestments and the office really mattered, because the man in the office was not only a mediator between Rome and her subjects, but also between God and man. He was the one who, on the Day of Atonement, would go into the Holy of Holies and make atonement for the sins of himself and all Israel.

The Romans considered the high priest to be the reasonable official for them. If people wanted to deal with Rome, they went to the high priest. If Rome wanted to communicate with the people, the prefect summoned the high priest. If anything went wrong, the high priest held full responsibility. But he was only the first among equals: responsibility to prevent trouble fell, to some degree, on all the leading citizens.

In short: Rome’s rule over Judaea at our period was rather ‘indirect’: it governed through client (puppet) kings or resident governors, who in turn, utilized local aristocrats and magistrates down the food chain – be it the local village elder or the Temple high priest.

The prefect’s main duties are to maintain domestic peace and collect tribute: in Judaea – specifically in Jerusalem, both tasks are turned over to the priestly aristocrats, while the prefect would usually limit himself to monitoring for potential trouble and moving out only when things spiralled out of control, under normal circumstances.

If the high priest did not preserve order, the prefect would intervene militarily, and the situation might get out of hand. As long as the Temple guards, acting as the police, carried out arrests, and as long as the high priest was involved in judging cases (though he usually did not execute anyone), there was little possibility of a direct clash between the Jews and the Romans.

But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. So from that day on they made plans to put him to death. (John 11:49-52).

To keep his job, he had to remain in control, but any decent high priest – and Caiaphas, it seems, was pretty decent – had to care about the common populace as well. He had other obligations than just the need to prevent clashes with Roman troops. As the man in the middle, he should also represent the views of the people to the prefect, and should stand up for Jewish customs and traditions.

Around AD 36, Pilate’s career in Judaea came to an end. The governor of Syria, Lucius Vitellius, intervened in the Jewish affairs during the Passover festival of AD 37 and removed Caiaphas from office. The man who had ruled the longest of the nineteen high priests of the first century was succeeded by his brother-in-law Jonathan, a son of Ananus, who himself ruled for only a year before being replaced by his brother, Theophilus (AD 37-41).

In November of 1990, a family tomb was discovered in Peace Forest in North Talpiot, Jerusalem. The crypt contained four loculi (burial niches), with twelve intact ossuaries (boxes containing human bones), as well as some coins. The coins, as well as the writing on the ossuaries, help date this tomb as being from around the 1st century AD.

On one of the ornate ossuaries (left), measuring 74 cm long, 29 wide, and 38 high, two inscriptions were found: on the side was written Yehosef bar-QYF’, with Yehosef bar-QF’ written on one end. This ossuary contained the bones of two babies, a young child, a teenage boy, an adult woman, and a man about 60 years of age. Another ossuary from the same tomb also bore the inscription QF’.

After some study, the bones were buried again back on the Mount of Olives – because burial is so central to the Jewish faith, there has in fact been some recent controversy between archaeologists and ultra-Orthodox Jews over human remains uncovered in digs: it is now a rule that uncovered remains are to be promptly turned over to the Ministry of Religious Affairs (presently the Ministry of Religious Services) for reburial – while the ossuary is currently located in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

Those who favor the Caiaphas interpretation (based on Josephus, who mentions his name as Joseph Caiaphas) propose that QYF’/QF’ should be read as Qa[ya]fa’, while those questioning it think that it should be vocalized as Qofa’ or Qufa’ instead.

Patrick lives in Japan. He supports the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite according to the Missal of Bl. Pope John XXIII.

The photo shows, “He Is Guilty Of Death” by Vasily Polenov, painted in 1906.

The Question Of Sin

Have you ever thought what the world would be like if sin were absent? No armies, no wars, no police, no courts, no jails, no locks, no passwords, no scams, no weapons. Life would be Absolute Bliss.

The Apostle John speaks here about the age-old problem of sin. In these few verses John mentions the word, sin nine times. Why? Because it’s such a problem and it’s something that affects every person. It affects us in such a way which is detrimental to our well-being.

By speaking of sin nine times John is highlighting the fact that we cannot brush it under the carpet as if it doesn’t really matter. He brings it out into the open by talking about it.

We all live in a world where every living creature has an enemy. A caterpillar must watch out for the birds; the frog has to watch out for the snake, the antelope must watch out for the lion. The tuna has to watch for the shark.

What about people? People have any enemy as well. The enemy is real, it’s not imagined. It’s like a virus which affects everyone; and the enemy is called Sin.

As John highlights public enemy number 1; he also introduces the theme of saying and doing. A person’s Christian life is to amount to more than mere talk; we must also walk the walk, living out what we believe.

If we are in fellowship with God, if we are walking in the light, our lives will back up what our lips are saying. But if we are living in sin, walking in darkness, then our lives will contradict what our lips are saying, making us hypocrites.

The Bible calls the Christian life a walk. This walk begins with a step of faith when we trust Christ as our Saviour. But salvation is not the end it is only the beginning of a spiritual walk. Walking involves progress, and Christians are supposed to advance in the spiritual life.

Just as a child must learn to walk and must overcome many difficulties in doing so, a Christian must learn to walk in the light. God’s light. But the fundamental difficulty is the matter of, you’ve guessed it, sin.

Sin, tries to stop completely, or interrupts our walk with God. Our sin causes us to stumble and fall and sometimes not get up at all.

Of course, sin is not simply outward disobedience, sin is also inner rebellion or desire. In the second chapter of this letter we are warned about 3 things. The desires of the flesh; desires of the eyes, and about the pride of life, all of which are sinful. Sin is also the breaking of God’s law and refusal to submit to the law of God. Living in independence of God’s law is the very essence of sin.

Suzannah Wesley was the mother of John and Charles Wesley and she had 17 other children. She herself came from a family of 29. She had a huge impact on the lives of both John and Charles.

One day as a young man, John asked his mother this question; he asked her; ‘can you give me a definition of sin’? Not many children ask their parents that.

This was her answer; ‘whatever weakens your reasoning; impairs the tenderness of your conscience; obscures your sense of God, takes away your relish for spiritual things; or increases the power of flesh over the spirit; that becomes sin’. Fairly comprehensive. There is no better definition I know. If we only ever pinpoint sin; I don’t commit adultery so I’m OK; or I don’t steal so I’m OK; I’m not a jealous person so I’m OK; I don’t gossip so I’m OK. Then we become Pharisaic in our outlook.

But when we look at the big picture of how we live out our lives like Suzannah Wesley did it leaves no wriggle room. Our problem today is that we have lost the ability to define things for what they are and what they were. There are now in Western Society very few absolutes in a world instead defined by relativism. But the bible speaks of absolutes and always has. There is a clash then with what the bible says and what the world wants and desires.

Governments and people deal with issues today without any idea of definition. Because concerning the definition of a moral issue you have to draw on something or somebody from which to give you the moral compass you need.

You cannot just decide to make up a moral code, which of course is what is happening today. Today there are very few things that are labelled wrong or bad. Society today is re defining what sin is. It is being made up as it goes along and it’s a road that leads to disaster. One of the things I love about the bible is that it tells us the way it is. It doesn’t conceal bad behaviour even by the saints.

The mighty Abraham the friend of God, who had great faith; became weak in his faith when he went down to Egypt and told a series of lies to the pagan Pharaoh that his wife Sarah, was his sister. And then foolishly through his impatience married the slave Hagar in order to have a child from her. In both cases God forgave Abraham his sin, but Abraham had to reap what he sowed.

God will remove our sins, we know this because of what Jesus did, but he does NOT change the result, as many of us I’m sure can testify. No one can unscramble an egg. Moses killed an Egyptian soldier in a fit of rage; and then had to live many years of his life on the run. God forgave him his sin, but he still lived in fear. You can easily trace King David’s gradual downfall from when he had his illicit affair with Bathsheba who was married to another man. God forgave him, but his family soon after started to disintegrate. The kingdom started to break up.

The fact that Christian’s sin bothers a lot of people. They forget the fact that their receiving the new nature does not eliminate the old nature they were born with. The old nature which originates in us, beginning inside our mother’s womb fights against the new spiritual nature, which we receive once we trust in Jesus.

No amount of self-discipline, no amount of man-made rules, and no amount of self-help programmes can control this old nature. It holds to us like a limpet on a rock. Only God’s Holy Spirit can enable us to put to death the old nature and produce the Spirit’s fruit in us through the new nature.

Sinning Christians like Peter, woman at the well, Moses, Abraham, David, Sarah, Jacob, are not mentioned in the Bible to discourage us, but to warn us.

Why do you keep preaching to us Christians, about sin, an angry church member said to the minister? After all, sin in the life of a Christian is different from sin in the life of an unsaved person. Yes, indeed said the minister, it is different it’s much worse. All of us therefore, must deal with our sins if we are to enjoy the life that is real. And how do we do that you may say?

Well. we do a couple of things. One is we can decide to cover our sins. Mark Twain said; ‘we are all like the moon. We all have a dark side, we want no one else to see’. The trouble with little sins is that they don’t stay little. Light produces life and growth and beauty, but sin is darkness; and darkness and light cannot exist in the same place. If we are walking in the light, the darkness has to go. If we are holding to sin, then the light goes. That is the reality.

How do Christians try to cover up their sins; the answer is by telling lies. We want our Christian friends to think we are spiritual people so we lie about our lives and try to make a favourable impression on them. We want them to think that we are walking in the light, though in reality that is not the case.

Once a person begins to lie to others, they will sooner or later start to lie to themselves and verse 8 deals with this. The problem now is not deceiving others, but deceiving ourselves.

The scary thing is that it is possible for a believer to live in sin, yet convince himself or herself that everything is fine in their relationship with God. The classic example is of King David and his adulterous affair with Bathsheba where he foolishly thought everything was fine with God and with life afterwards. He would continue on tending his royal vineyards as if nothing much had happened. You can read about that in the book of Second Samuel.

God cannot be mocked. But the spiritual decline becomes still worse. The next step is trying to LIE to God verse 10. We have made ourselves liars; now we try to make God a liar. We contradict his word, which says, ‘that all have sinned’; and yet we maintain that we are the exceptions to the rule. We apply God’s word to others but not to ourselves. We believe the message is for someone else in the pew behind us, not ourselves. Many who lean strongly to the left in politics hold to this view.

The whole process starts out with the believer telling lies and ends up with them becoming a confirmed liar. It begins as a role they play; then it becomes a longer role and then, the very essence of their lives. Eventually their character becomes eroded. Sin is lethal. Even the smallest dose is lethal. What do we do? We can try to cover our sins or we can confess our sins.

God is light. He is pure, perfect and Holy. Therefore, it is impossible for him to close his eyes to even the smallest sin. That smallest sin has to be dealt with because it’s wrong and it offends God’s holiness. But God is love too. He wants to save sinners and fill them with his love and grace and truth. How then can a holy God uphold his own justice and still forgive sinners?

The answer is in the sacrifice of Christ. At the cross God in his holiness judged sin. But God in his love offers Jesus Christ to the world as a sacrifice to atone for our sin and become our Saviour.

God was just in that he punished sin, but he is also loving in that he offers forgiveness through what Jesus did at Calvary. Jesus finished his work on earth; the work of giving his life as a sacrifice for sin; that’s why He cried out from the cross; ‘it is finished’. But he has an Unfinished work in heaven. For he represents us before God’s throne.

As an Advocate he intercedes for us and helps us when we sin. When we confess our sins to God, because of what Jesus does for us in heaven, God forgives us. When we get to heaven we will need someone to speak up for us. Someone who is on our side. That’s what an advocate does. Because Christ our advocate lives for us at God’s right hand, he can apply his sacrifice to our need’s day by day, hour by hour.

This is where the Cross and Resurrection dovetail perfectly together. The cross is dead without the resurrection. The resurrection is meaningless without the cross. All he asks is that when we have failed, we do Not try to cover sin up. Instead in faith we confess our sins. To confess sin means much more than simply to admit them. To confess sin, means to say the same thing about it that God says about it.

Confessing is not simply praying a lovely wee prayer, or making pious excuses. True confession is naming sin; calling it by name for what it is. It’s simply being honest with ourselves, acknowledging that we are all steeped in sin from our birth and falling on God’s infinite mercy.

Rev. Alan Wilson is a Presbyterian Minister in Northern Ireland, where he serves a large congregation, supported by his wife. Before he took up the call to serve Christ, he was in the Royal Ulster Constabulary for 30-years. He has two children and two grandchildren and enjoys soccer, gardening, zoology, politics and reading. He voted for Brexit in the hope that the stranglehold of Brussels might finally be broken. He welcomes any that might wish to correspond with him through the Contact Page of The Postil.

The photo shows, “Christ and the Adulteress Woman,” by Domenico Morelli, painted in 1969.

Jesus The Teacher

We heard recently the way Jesus shatters our illusions in how we see life and how we live it out. Where we skilfully over many years erect various types of spiritual illusions to safeguard ourselves from the real truth that Jesus confronts us with. Shattering our false illusions is part of Jesus job to get us to see past ourselves and to focus our attention on him.

Great teachers not only dispel myths and shatter illusions; great teachers make you think; whether you want to or not.

One of the qualities that many of us tend to gloss over when we think about Jesus is the fact that he was a truly great teacher.

In fact he was the greatest teacher who ever lived. He taught in ways no one had ever heard before. And what he said touched people deeply. If we cast our minds back to primary school or secondary school days whether its 5 years ago or 65 years ago I have no doubt that we can all remember a teacher who impacts upon us for good or for ill through their teaching.

In my experience some were excellent and some; well they could do much better.

In Belfast we had a French teacher who would be lying down on top of his desk with a pillow under his head, casually staring up at the ceiling, and greeted each one of us in French as we entered the room. ‘Bonjour Alain, Bonjour Henri’, and so on. Then he would go outside for a quick smoke and proceed to teach us as he inhaled on some Russian cheroot.

Or some of the art teachers. Art was great fun; because some of the teachers just let you go ahead and express what you feel on canvas. So it was all a bit random without any structure.

We had a maths teacher Mr Steele and when I think back he was more of a philosopher than a maths teacher.

Any way one day the class was misbehaving and by way of punishment he got a glass bowl filled it with water and put a pen in the bowl.

Then he told us for the rest of the period to write down 20 observations of the bowl, the water and the pen.

 

Well you can imagine for a 14 year old it was mental torture.

I have no idea how many observations I noted down. But the one thing I learnt much later on was that a persons Mind is influenced by how much they observe and understand truth.

In order for us to function effectively as Christian’s and think clearly, our Minds must be Cleansed, refreshed, and renewed so that we can receive deeper transforming truth. Jesus as the greatest teacher who ever lived was a master at mind renewal.

He knew that the mind is the gateway through which we process and apply truth. But truth is accessible only to the receptive mind. The key being; A person must be willing to learn. In other words they must be open to the truth.

An old Chinese proverb states: when the person is ready, the teacher appears.

But how do we know if we really want to learn.

Are we ready for the mysteries of God’s kingdom and what it means to love the Lord with all your heart, soul and mind.

Like youngsters learning to read; when will we be done with basic picture books and be instead ready for things that will stretch and challenge our minds spiritually. For many Christians we go a certain distance and then we put the blockers on and go no further.

Jesus as a great teacher used parables as mind renewing tools to stretch and challenge our thinking.

He used parables to make people think differently about God’s kingdom and to test whether they wanted to enter into his kingdom.

He knew exactly what he was saying, how he would say it, when he would say it and to whom he would say it and he could literally read a person’s mind.

He knew their thoughts and he knows our thoughts of each person in church this morning. So when Jesus spoke to the people he did so for a reason; not to confuse them; but to get them to use their minds; their logic; their powers of reasoning.

Test and see what I am saying. He said; ‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked through the dough’.

‘The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field’.

‘Again the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.’

These sayings brought light and insight to the eyes of those seeking God; but cast a veil of darkness and mystery over critics and cynics. Nothing has changed. For many people their minds became dull; because their hearts have become hard.

They miss the opportunity to look beyond themselves and the obvious.

Jesus goes on to say why he speaks to people in parables.

‘This is why I speak to them in parables otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts; and turn, and I would heal them. But blessed are your eyes because they see and your ears because they hear.’

Words spoken by the great teacher in Matthew 13.

There you have Jesus message of the good news in three words;

Firstly To Understand, To Turn and be To be Healed. This is the process of how change generally speaking comes in a person’s life.

Salvation comes to those who allow their minds to be open in the first place; in order to change their heart so that they understand the message; and who turn away from their misguided illusions, to God.

So first you must ask yourself this question; am I ready for such a turning away from myself, to God?

Because when all is said and done Salvation involves belief in God and a heart felt turning away from sin.

And the point where we must all start from is being totally honest with yourself and know your failings and sinfulness.

When we do not love God with all our heart mind and soul we sin. Which means that I constantly sin against God because I do not love him with all my heart mind and soul.

I want to but I can’t, because there is still part of me that wants to do my own thing; without God. Maybe others feel the same way.

And who of us can honestly say that we love our neighbours as ourselves.

 

Is my mind prepared to be Open and then pierce through the layers of illusion, confusion, doubt and cynicism, like stripping away the layers of skin around an onion.//////

There is only one way to find out. Through your mind think carefully to what Jesus is saying; is the hidden truth breaking through.

If so will you allow it to shape your thoughts and renew your mind? And If the truth does Not appear before you and remains difficult to find; all is not lost; unless you give up the search.

My advice to you is; don’t give up the search. With Jesus treasure hunters become treasure finders.

The seeker is rewarded; but the cynic goes home empty handed.

One difficulty that people encounter is that they claim they cannot find God.

They say: I want to find him, but I can’t; or he simply isn’t there.

Well, we are told in the bible that God is omnipresent; meaning he is everywhere. So if he is everywhere why can I not find him? God of course can hide himself from us if he wants to and one of the reasons he does that is because of our sins. So we need to get that sorted out. Our sins get in the way of us growing in our faith. It doesn’t mean however that God has disappeared.

David tells us in Psalm 66; if I has cherished sin in my heart the Lord would not have listened.’ Cherished here means to aim for sin and to look forward to it. It doesn’t mean the actual presence of sin in our lives, because sin is always present in our lives at some point.

But there is a huge difference a gulf, between the element of sin and actually looking forward to sinning; cherishing and holding on to it.

Proverbs 8 tell us; those who seek me find me.

And Jeremiah in chapter 29 puts it well when he says; you will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. ‘I will be found by you’, declares the Lord.

Sometimes our search for God may grow cold and we think that, that’s it. The search has ended. But then something miraculous happens. One day God taps us on the shoulder and he says; its me. I’m here now.

You were looking for me and now I’m here. So what are you going to do.?

The reality is of course that God was always there but he has chosen to come to us at this particular point and time in our lives. This happened with countless people in the bible when God turns up unexpectantly.

One such incident happened with Mary the teenage mother of Jesus.

The angel Gabriel was sent to Nazareth to speak to her when she was engaged to be married to Joseph. Gabriel knew her name; do not be afraid Mary you have found favour with God.

You will be with child and give birth to a son and you are to give him the name Jesus.

After listening to all this, what was Mary’s reaction when God turns up right before her eyes.

She said, I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said. God appears taps Mary on the shoulder using an angel. Mary had no idea this would happen or the full consequences of what Gabriel had outlined. God turned up unexpectedly with Mary, but always at the right time in a person’s life.

She was a good virtuous Jewish girl although she wasn’t necessarily seeking God.

As a good Jewish girl she knew of the existence of God. She knew that he was omnipresent. She knew that he was the maker of heaven and earth; but She didn’t expect him to turn up in the way he did.

This can be a very sobering moment in a persons life; God turning up and whispering your name; and you know that its him. But what happens next? What did Mary do? She accepted God at his word and believed it to happen.

She had the opportunity to keep her mind shut and convince herself that this was all a bad dream and things like this don’t really happen. But she didn’t.

In submission to God she turned to him not away from him.

Or little Zacchaeus who climbed up the sycamore fig tree to see Jesus passing through.

His situation was different from Mary’s in that he was looking for Jesus although perhaps not in a deep spiritual way; more in a casual way.

He went looking for him among the crowd of on lookers and found him. How did he react when he found Jesus; he told everyone that he would give back the money he acquired to the poor in fact he would give back four times he needed to.

I have no doubt that Zacchaeus was a happier man giving money to the poor that taking it from them; because Jesus in those few moments with Zacchaeus had turned his life around.

Both Zacchaeus and Mary had allowed the great teacher to open their minds and heart and turn towards him. The truth was in front of them; they could see it and they knew it to be true.

So whether we are seeking God like Zacchaeus or not expecting God like Mary what will be your response?

You see the scary thing is that God is still around. I think we all know that and accept that.

But what happens if and when he turns up in our lives and we know and hear him speaking the truth. Jesus speaks the truth and we know deep down he is right.

Jesus can turn up most unexpectantly. Are you prepared to allow your mind and heart to be changed by him? He may turn up just the once and give you that one opportunity.

Who is teaching you how to live your life rightly? Yourself; your boss, your friends, your family. Can they be trusted? Can they be always trusted to have your interests at heart?

Alan Wilson is a Presbyterian Minister in Northern Ireland, where he serves a large congregation, supported by his wife. Before he took up the call to serve Christ, he was in the Royal Ulster Constabulary for 30-years. He has two children and two grandchildren and enjoys soccer, gardening, zoology, politics and reading. He voted for Brexit in the hope that the stranglehold of Brussels might finally be broken. He welcomes any that might wish to correspond with him through the Contact Page of The Postil.
The photo shows, “Christ and Nicodemus,” by Fritz von Uhde, painted ca. 1896.

Nahum The Carpenter, The Sixth Epistle

It is now over two years since Ezekiel left for Corinth. Ruth and Nahum have had several reports that he is healthy and doing very well in Greece. Ruth is hoping he would be home soon.

Ezra and Elizabeth have become a very popular couple in their community. They are invited to many social events and are often seen either walking hand in hand or riding on their horses. They make a very interesting couple as Ezra is quiet, and a little bit shy, however when he does speak people listen.

Elizabeth is out going and a confident conversationalist, they truly compliment each other.

Elizabeth has completed her medical training and even though she is very young she has quickly created a reputation of a caring, tender, compassionate and clever medical person. More than just a nurse!

People say that she has a special ability to diagnose your problem before she even examines you. People are coming from around the country to the hospital where she works and actually asking for her. Fortunately, the medical men in the clinic respect her abilities and often ask for her opinion as well. Ezra likes to tell her she has God-given abilities!!! She laughs him off.

Later that summer Ezra confided to his mother that he wanted to ask Elizabeth to marry him and how should he go about it??

This made Ruth smile, almost giggle! Ezra asked what is it? Oh Ezra she replied it brings back such fond memories of your dear sweet father and me!

He said, please tell me.

She began by saying that when they were children they went to the same school, although boys were in one room and girls in another. Your dad had to leave school when he was thirteen as his father needed him in his shop, after he quit school Nahum was almost never seen, he worked all day in the shop and then went home helped his mother and went to bed. His father was not a well man.

One day I asked a friend of Nahum’s to come to his shop with me. We were now about 15 or 16, Ezra was shocked to see us, but so proud to show us his father’s shop and the work they did. We were impressed. We invited Ezra to join a group of friends who met on Friday nights, we usually had a fire, some food and maybe, if we could get it a wee bit of wine. We always had a good time. He agreed to come.

One cold, rainy Friday night some months later he showed up with a parcel in his hands. He chatted with his friends and then when he saw me alone he came over and in his shy manner he said, I made you a gift, if you don’t like it, it is ok. He surely lacked confidence!

He gave me the package and when I opened it he had made me a leather broach, four different coloured leaves with a black dot in the middle! It was beautiful and I still have it!!! With tears in my eyes, I said Nahum this is beautiful I would never ever give it back; I leaned over and gave him a kiss on his cheek. It was the beginning.

After this we started seeing each other whenever we could and we had become good friends. About two years later I said to him did you ever think about getting married. He jumped up and said for sure! When would you like to do it?? I said hold on, I did not say I wanted to get married, I was just asking.

We talked some more and I explained what I knew about getting married. In the new Christian Church you had to have a priest, minister or disciples marry you, it was law. Also it was proper for the man to ask the girl’s parents for permission to marry their daughter.

This information set him back a bit, but I could sense from his manner and actions that there was a determination behind that shyness.

One evening when he knew I was out, he came over to my house.  I had told my parents he might be coming over one of these days so please welcome him, so they were prepared.

The poor guy came in and my parents greeted him warmly, suspecting what he wanted. They gave him a mug of wine. When they realized he was struggling they tried to help him and asked if there was something he wanted to say? He stuttered and stammered and said no, no,  I better be going.

My mother went over to him and said, come sit down beside me and have another mug of wine. She comforted him and after a while he blurted out that he loved their daughter, he thought she was the loveliest, smartest and most special girl in the whole world and he wanted her to be his wife. My mother and father hugged him and amid tears they said they would love to welcome Nahum into our family.

We were married a few months later and we have been so happy for over 23 years.

My mom said, oh Ezra, I am so sorry, I got carried away there!  I said mom, that is a beautiful story and it makes so much sense,   dad is still the same person today, Thank you for sharing.

My mom then told me to go see Mr. Goldman, the jeweler, and ask him to make a gold ring. She suggested that I try and put my little finger near Elizabeth’s ring finger (without her noticing) so I could tell Mr. Goldman the approximate size. She said I should speak with Elizabeth’s parents and ask them if I could marry their daughter. Then propose to Elizabeth.

Although shy like his father, he had no problem speaking to Elizabeth’s parents seeking their permission. They, like Ruth’s parents over 23 years ago said they would love to have Ezra as a son in law.

A few days later Elizabeth accepted his proposal but said she would like to wait until their wedding to wear his ring, but she did love it. Ezra understood.

They decided to wait to get married until Ezekiel returned. Fortunately the wait was not long, as a few months later he returned with six fellow disciples so the marriage took place with Ezekiel assisting and Isaac performing the wedding ceremony.

Hananiah and Juthine agreed to have the ceremony and reception at their farm. It was a beautiful day and the charming young couple was pleased that so many of their friends and relatives attended.After a short trip to a country home for a few days the young couple returned home and set up their new apartment in a friends large home about two miles outside of town.

It was a very pleasant cozy home, but the distance meant they usually rode their horses to work and into the city.They were both establishing their positions in life. Ezra was gradually taking over Nahum’s shop and making favourable changes and improvements resulting in more business and more income.

Elizabeth was continuing to grow her reputation as a healer of the sick. She now had started using new methods, new herbs and new remedies to treat the ill. People appreciated her compassionate manner too.

Nahum the Carpenter should now be called Nahum and Son, but they never got around to changing the name. Ezra was continuing to grow the business.One day he was working outside when two boys, Samuel and Ethan, who he had seen at some of the Christian services were walking by bare foot. He called to them and asked where are your sandals?  They smiled and said we don’t have any! He asked where are you going. They replied they were just out for a walk, nothing else to do.

Ezra called them over to his shop and asked if they would like to help him. They jumped at the opportunity. He told them to sweep the shop, smooth the sand at the entrance way and put the garbage in the cart and to sort the pile of leather, stacking it by size. It took them a few hours and when they finished he gave them each a pair of sandals.

They were so excited to receive such a gift for so little work. He asked them where they lived and they explained they lived with their mom in a small apartment nearby. Their mom worked as a servant for a wealthy family. They had no money, but mom was able to bring home food every day so they were well fed. They were both still going to school. His father had died when they were young.

Ezra asked them if they would like to come by every other day and help him, they happily agreed. This was the beginning of a lasting relationship.

As Ezra and Elizabeth were beginning their lives, another couple was at the other end of the spectrum. They were elderly, lived on a small farm on the outskirts of town. They were now unable to work their farm and had hired a young neighbour boy to look after their small herd of sheep and flock of chickens.

Their names were Yohanan and Mariamme. The farm had been in Mariamme’s family for generations and it was expected it would be handed down to her heirs too. Unfortunately Mariamme had two miscarriages, the second one resulting in her being unable to bear children.

The couple was very bitter about this situation and was angry with God for his lack of love shown to them.

Several months ago they reluctantly came to a Christian service where they met Isaac and listened to his teachings of this man Jesus and became members of his church.

Having seen them a few times at the services, Isaac and Nahum asked if they could visit them. The old couple welcomed them warmly into their home a few days later.

Nahum and Isaac told them they understood their anger. They also explained that this man Jesus told them to believe in him and to put their trust in him and they would find peace and love. They also told them that they believed God had a plan for everyone and maybe someday they would understand why they were childless.

Following a very enjoyable evening both Nahum and Isaac complimented the couple on the size and majesty of their home and expressed their admiration for it. Mairiamme told them her grandfather had built it for his own family and also added a small apartment on the rear of the home so his eldest son and his wife could remain at home and help run the farm.

Since they had no children, Yohanan and Miriamme lived only in the main part of the house, the apartment was used for storage.

When they left, Isaac and Nahum were pleased that their visit was able to add some comfort and hope for this very nice couple.

Time would prove them correct.

 

John Thomas Percival continues working with wood and pondering about the early history of Christianity.

 

The photo shows, “Jesus Ministered to by Angels,” by James Tissot, painted 1866-1894.