Sunday, April 16, 2017

Didn't Jesus do away with all the rules? part 5

Letter to Grace Uberlaw continued:

Before I can launch into a discussion of the Pharisees, there really is a bit more I must tell you about the Temple. As you remember, the First Temple, built in 957 BC by King Solomon, the son of David and Bathsheba and replaced Mishkan Tent (the Tabernacle) constructed in the Sinai Desert by Moses. The new Temple, was an amazing structure. It was soon sacked by Pharaoh Shoshenq of Egypt only thirty or forty years after it was finished. It was patched back together, but was thoroughly restored by King Jehoash of Judah in 835 BC at considerable expense, only to be plundered again by the Judeans themselves in an attempt to bribe Sennacherib, King of Assyria around 700 BC. At that point, he had already deported the northern tribes of Israel. It was completely destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC (or 425 BC according to rabbinical Jewish commentators.) Some of the Judeans returned from exile in Babylon in 583 BC after about sixty years in exile. They rebuilt the temple in 515 BC, but it was a mere shadow of the splendor of Solomon’s Temple and the Ark of the Covenant had been lost or hidden, probably during the Babylonian invasion of Judea sixty years before. At the heart of this new but poor reconstruction was an empty room, the Holy of Holies. The Ark of the Covenant was gone.

The few old men who remembered Solomon’s Temple from childhood before they were exiled, wept for sorrow when they saw how much shabbier this second Temple was when compared to the first. Nonetheless, the Persians were decent rulers at the time and there was a pretty boring period of almost two hundred years of relative peace. The real center of Jewish life remained in Babylon, the New York City of the ancient Mideast. Jerusalem was a bit of a backwater with its sleepy, shabby Temple. However, peace never seems to last forever.

The Temple was almost destroyed again in 332 BC when the Jews refused to allow the worship of Alexander the Great. They schmoozed Alexander who was calmed down by shrewd diplomacy and a lot of flattery.  Alexander died in 323 BC, and the Greek Ptolemies, descendants of one of Alexander’s generals, were the new rulers of Egypt and the adjoining area. In 198 BC, Antiochus, a descendant of Seleucus, another of Alexander’s generals, became the dominant local power. He ruled Syria and edged the Egyptian Ptolemies out of the Holy Land among other places. Antiochus wanted to make everyone Greek. He insisted on the worship of the Greek gods in the Jerusalem Temple, built a theater and gymnasium (Oh the Horror!) in Jerusalem and forbad circumcision. One of his successors a few years later zealously enforced the process of Hellenization (Greek-ification as it were.) He forbad the observance of Sabbath and circumcision. He set up the image of Zeus in the Jerusalem Temple and had Greek priests sacrifice pigs (the favorite food of the Greek gods) in the Temple itself.

Enough was enough! Not long after, a Jewish priest, Mattathias of the Hashmon Family, killed a Greek official who was trying to enforce the worship of the Greek gods in the hill town of Modein. In about 167 BC, the people rose to join him and his sons in a war of independence and eventually they expelled the Syrian Greeks. His son Judas Maccabaeus, (Maccabeus is a nickname that means “Hammer” because he hammered the Greeks) re-dedicated the Temple in 165 BC. The feast remembering the restoration of the Temple is called Hanukkah.  Around 63 BC, Pompey the Roman general conquered Jerusalem and desecrated the Holy of Holies by entering it, but left the Temple standing. The Jews then revolted unsuccessfully against Roman rule in 43 BC. At some point in all this revolting, the Hasmoneans, better known as the Maccabees, expanded the Temple platform on top of Mount Moriah, probably for military purposes. They also arrogated the position of High Priest and king to themselves.

High Priests were descended from Zadok the priest and kings were descended from David. The Temple platform, a sacred space built by Solomon, was 500 cubits (750feet) square. It was not a rectangle and was not to be used for any purpose but the worship of God. The Hasmoneans/Maccabees managed to defile the priesthood, the monarchy and the Temple. And it gets worse.

Along comes Herod the Great. He was a hack politician who had inveigled himself into the Maccabee family, married the last princess of the dynasty, killed off the rest of them and petitioned Rome to make him King of the Jews. Around 20 BC, he rebuilt the Temple from top to bottom and expanded the 500-cubit platform to the size of 24 football fields almost 145 acres. The front of the central shrine was said to have been plated in gold. It was reputed to be the most beautiful building in the ancient world, a magnificent monument to the glory of …Herod. It was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, during the Siege of Jerusalem. And since about 690 AD has been the site of a Muslim shrine and the El Aksa mosque. Jews pray at what remains of the western wall of the Herodian expansion.

History. Read it and weep!

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