3.2 Who’s Who
So who else should we know about in this world that God chose to live in?
The Gospels talk of Pharisees and Sadducees; there are a couple of Kings, both called Herod (which is confusing); there are Roman officials who deal with Jesus and later with Paul.
As we saw the Jewish faith had emerged and adapted and developed over centuries. Because of their history, the local synagogue, with a teacher was – as it were – the local “church”, and there was the “cathedral” in Jerusalem, the Temple which Herod was rebuilding as a massive Grade 1 building, which dominated the city, a mark of Herod’s greatness as a philanthropist. At the time of Jesus, it was nearly finished, but it would soon be destroyed by the Romans (Ad 70).
Jesus grew up and probably spent most of his adult life in Galilee, where the villages were mostly Jewish in population but the towns more mixed. Joseph was a carpenter – possibly involved in building houses. Jesus was linked to the Lake, where fishermen plied their trade.
Jesus’ cousin was John the Baptist; he dressed, deliberately, like Elijah but he would not have been too unusual – we know there were wandering “prophets”, as well as communities of religious people, like the Qumran Community whose papers have been found, who set themselves apart, waiting for God’s Kingdom.
The Pharisees were a mixed group and we see this in the way that Jesus can be positive about some and scathing about others. There were local teachers, though the leadership in Jerusalem was more strict and they were generally not too keen on the Roman Occupation.
The priests, High Priest, and Sadducees however were a more elite group who had accommodated to the Romans; they were the religious leaders in Jerusalem and demanded the tithes and taxes due to them from the people.
When Jesus came to the Temple he overthrew the tables of the money-lenders – the Temple had its own currency and people got a poor rate of exchange before they could buy a sacrificial animal.
Jesus, in his teaching is called a “Rabbi”, a teacher, though there are questions about how he has learnt what he knows, and there are comments about how he teaches with authority.
Herod Antipas, who ruled Galilee basically did what the Romans demanded, but Judea, around Jerusalem, had become a Roman Province after Herod the Great died. It had a Roman Governor and Pontius Pilate seems to have been unpopular and with good reason.
Roman soldiers were garrisoned in various towns, and could demand that the local people helped carry their baggage for a mile – walk the extra mile said Jesus to show them up.
There were numerous resistance movements, and Roman repression was ruthless. Crucifixion was the public, barbaric form of execution, deliberately public and barbaric, to be a warning to others.
When Jesus was crucified there was Barabbas and two others who were what Mark calls ‘bandits’ / ‘insurgents’ what we might call terrorists.
Some made a living working for the Romans, like the tax-collectors who were despised for this.
Some of the best land was owned by absentee landlords; most people lived at subsistence level and poor harvests could lead to destitution. Disability, blindness, etc often meant begging. Leprosy and skin diseases made you unclean and so cast-out. Trauma, violence, despair, all contributed to mental health issues, and there was a general belief in demons and the demonic
The religious leaders expected the people to keep the purity code, but that was so difficult if you were poor.
When the gospels talk about a group called “sinners” they mean the poor who could not purify themselves, those whose jobs meant they were always unclean, and so beyond saving.
Night-watch shepherds (probably unclean) are told of Jesus birth; Jesus is accused of associating with and eating with the “sinners”; He heals a centurion’s slave, and affronts the powers that be by riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, clearing claiming to be King and Messiah.
But his understanding of Messiah is not a conquering King who will drive out the Romans, and this may explain why some of the crowd turn against him. This is a real, turbulent and different world in which Jesus reveals the love and truth of God.