Jesus could most certainly not have been the messiah, yet here were these Nazarenes insisting that he was, and that he had come back from the dead. Now they were being called Christians by the Greek speakers, a name that meant “those belonging to the messiah”, christos being the Greek word for the anointed chosen one. (In Hebrew/Aramaic “meshiach.”) In addition to claiming that Jesus the Nazarene was the messiah, the Christ, they made outrageous claims for him. He was the great high priest as well as the king of Israel, he had died on a cross, but had risen from the dead, and worst of all, some of them blasphemously claimed that he was both human and divine, his mother being Mary, a hair dresser or seamstress or something like that, having been a virgin and they claimed that the Almighty, blessed be He, was his father.
Such a mingling of human and divine is a repulsive blasphemy worthy of Zeus or Apollo or one of the other demons that the Greeks worshiped. There is no priest-king, dying and rising, human and divine messiah in the Torah. The messiah will be a man, a descendant of David who will rebuild the temple, establish peace and righteousness and then die. There is nothing about doing away with circumcision or dietary laws, or the inclusion of the goyim in the Torah. These fanatics went about the communities of Israel not only in the Land itself, but throughout the Roman and Persian empires. They had even reached the trading communities of Hebrews in Arabia and far away India, where they infected the gullible with their blasphemies.
Normally, sane people wouldn’t give this nonsense about a crucified, human, divine, virgin- born, day-laborer being the Messiah, king of Israel, but these charlatans claimed to work miracles and to heal the sick. What nonsense! This Saul was the worst of them, the most aggressive. The man never slept. He practically lived on the road, travelling everywhere, disturbing the communities of Israel throughout the empire, as well as any gentiles who would listen. He even claimed to have raised the dead! Now he was calling himself Paul and putting on the airs of a Roman citizen.
There had been a riot in the Hebrew community of Rome. “Since the Judeans constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, (the Emperor Claudius) expelled them from Rome.” (Suetonius, Divus Claudius 25) The Romans could tolerate almost anything except civil disorder, especially in their beloved city. Now these Nazarenes were rioting in Rome and the Romans had called these rioters “Judeans” (Jews). The dangerous gaze of Rome turned evermore intently on the religious feuds of faraway Judea. The elimination of the founder of this sect had clearly not worked. The sect now had a second founder: Paul. Something more had to be done.
Right around this time, (about 57 AD) Saul/ Paul had returned to Jerusalem and had been arrested by the Romans after causing a riot in the Holy Temple itself. This provided an opportunity. Some members of the Judean faction took a solemn oath “…that they would neither eat nor drink till they had killed Paul.” (Acts 23:12) Paul was taken into protective custody and hustled off to Caesarea, the thoroughly Greco/Roman city on the coast. There he was kept in protective custody for more than a year. He was about to be released, but knowing that his life was in danger, he claimed Roman citizenship, and appealed to the Emperor and, by law, he had to be sent to Rome under armed guard.
He lived under house arrest in Rome for two more years and was finally acquitted, having preached this Christian blasphemy in Rome during a comfortable imprisonment in his own rented home. He seems to have travelled to Spain according to the early Christian authors. Then he probably went back to Jerusalem and then returned to Rome where he was re-arrested during the great persecution of the Christians by Nero after the burning of the city in July, 64 AD. He was executed, as was St. Peter, in Rome, probably in the year 65or 66. But the harm had been done. It was already too late.
The deaths of the ringleaders of the Nazarenes did nothing to stop the inevitable. Disturbingly, there had been strange omens in Jerusalem.” Forty years before the destruction of the Temple, the western light went out, the crimson thread remained crimson, (meaning that the Yom Kippur sacrifice was unacceptable) and the lot for the Lord always came up in the left hand. They would close the gates of the Temple by night and get up in the morning and find them wide open” (Jerusalem Talmud).
Coincidentally, the Temple was destroyed in 70AD, 40 years after the crucifixion of Jesus. In Josephus’ history, the Wars of the Jews (Book VII, Chapter II, Section 1) We read:
“(A) certain prodigious and incredible phenomenon appeared; I suppose the account of it would seem to be a fable, were it not related by those that saw it, and were not the events that followed it of so considerable a nature as to deserve such signals; for, before sun-setting, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding of cities. Moreover, at that feast which we call Pentecost, as the priests were going by night into the inner [court of the] temple, as their custom was, to perform their sacred ministrations, they said that, in the first place, they felt a quaking, and heard a great noise, and after that they heard a sound as of a great multitude, saying, “Let us remove hence.”In the same year, 66 when Peter and Paul were executed in Rome, in retaliation for attacks on their representatives and anti-tax protest in Judea, the Romans plundered the temple and slaughtered 6,000 residents of Jerusalem.
That was the final straw, Judea rose up in revolt and after four years of war, Jerusalem was reduced to rubble and the temple was destroyed. Between 500,000 and 1,000,000 people died in the siege of Jerusalem and 90, 000 plus were taken to Rome to be sold as slaves. The enslaved exiles and gold plundered from the Holy Temple built the great Roman colosseum, whose ruins stand to this day. The Romans destroyed the temple on Tisha b’Av the anniversary of its destruction by the Babylonians, six centuries earlier. Whether this was by design, coincidence or divine plan, who knows?
This was not quite the end. Israelite life continued in the rest of the Holy Land and throughout the Greek and Middle Eastern worlds, but rebellion still simmered. The Kitos war, or the “Rebellion in the Diaspora”, broke out in 115. Perhaps a million more died in these Israelite rebellions in Libya, Egypt and Cyprus, as well as in the Holy Land and even in Iraq and Iran where Israelite life had been established for more than 500 years. During these years there were sporadic attempts to reestablish sacrifice on the temple mount in the ruins of the great temple, but things were never the same.
Things finally came to a head in the revolt of Bar Kochba (132-136). The revolt initially met with success, but, in the end, the Romans triumphed. Jerusalem was utterly destroyed and the Roman city of Aelia Capitolina was built on its ruins. Israelites, including Nazarenes of Israelite origin, were banned from the city. It was at this point in history that Christianity and Judaism diverged and ultimately became inimical.
Rabbi Akivah ben Joseph, one of the foremost thinkers of Judaism, in his late 90s gave Simeon bar Kosevah the name “bar Kochba” or “son of the star.” This is a reference to the one possible messianic prophecy in the Torah: “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel.” (Numbers 24: 17) In changing the name Kosiva to Kochaba (star) the aged rabbi was proclaiming him the messiah. Others weren’t so sure. They called him bar Koziva, son of the lie. The Nazarenes who believed Jesus of Nazareth had been the messiah were probably among them. Thus they were expelled from the territory controlled by the rebels, and if they didn’t leave they were killed for not assisting the rebellion, according to a later Christian historian, Eusebius of Caesarea.
In 136, the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple were complete and there has been no temple sacrifice for two thousand years. The consequences changed not only the life of Israel, but the future of the entire globe. Two types of the religion of Israel were positioned to survive the end of the temple and its rituals of sacrifice: rabbinic Phariseeism which revolved, not around priest and sacrifices, but around rabbis and synagogues; and Christianity, the absurd heresy of the Nazarenes, which claimed to be a temple not made with stones in which the Messianic thanksgiving sacrifice was offered by its new priesthood, the bishops and their assistant the elder (presbyter in Greek, hence priests).
The rupture was final at this point. Israel was forgotten. The Pharisees and their rabbis assumed that they had the only claim to the heritage of Israel. The Christians, however claimed to be Israel, and at the beginning of the Christian era, they probably were, at least genetically. The religion of the Pharisees became what we know as Judaism. The heresy of the Nazarenes became the world wide religion called Christianity that today embraces a third of the world’s population.
Judaism persisted by means of its synagogues and rabbis. Christianity flourished by means of its hierarchical structure, its universal interpretation of the religion of Israel and the Hebrew Scriptures by claiming that the Torah had taken flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.
Next week: History, Read it and Weep.