Home » Columns » Manhunt For Ring Leaders

Manhunt For Ring Leaders

Publishing Date : 06 May, 2015

Benson C Saili
THIS EARTH, MY BROTHER…


Pilate seeks out Judas, Barabbas, and Simon Zelotes for inciting bloody insurrection

With the demise of his all-powerful mentor Aelius Sejanus, Pontius Pilate decided to win and cement the faith of the emperor. Flavius Josephus records that one day the Jews awoke only to find voltive shields – shields which bore an effigy of Tiberius Caesar – set up all over the “Holy City” of Jerusalem.  Outraged, they  straight off sent a deputation to the governor’s residence in Caesarea to register their disgust. Images of the emperor were considered by Jews to be blasphemous, an affront to the scriptural command to make no “graven images”. They demanded their removal forthwith.

Although Pilate initially refused to budge, he later relented and agreed to meet the protesters at a square in Jerusalem to listen to their petition. Unbeknown to the protesters, they were being lured into a snare as Pilate had stationed troops with concealed weapons around the perimeter. At his signal, the soldiers drew their swords and poised to attack.  Pilate then enunciated a warning to the protesters that if they   did not at once cease and desist from demonstrating, they would all be slain.  If Pilate thought they would immediately cower and retreat, he was grossly mistaken. According to Josephus, the protesters “laid their necks bare, and said they would take their death very willingly, rather than the wisdom of their laws should be transgressed”.  For the first time since he took office as governor of Judea, Pilate capitulated to the will of his subjects: he ordered that the shields be removed from Jerusalem and brought back to Caesarea.  The injury to his ego must have been enormous but there was no Sejanus to sweep the carnage that  would have ensued under the carpet.   

There was another such standoff with the Jews that is related by Philo. It also involved shields but this time the shields simply bore an inscription rather than the image of the emperor. The inscription, writes Philo, “mentioned these two facts, the name of the person who had placed them there (Pontius Pilate), and the person in whose honour they were so placed there (Tiberius Caesar).” Once again, when the Jews remonstrated, Pilate cocked a snoop at them. The affair was so potentially  tempestuous  that this time around, the sons of Herod, led by Antipas, got involved. They told Pilate to his face that if he did not withdraw the shields from the Holy City, they would report him to the emperor and set out before him “his corruption and his acts of insolence, and his rapine, and his habit of insulting people, and his cruelty, and his continual murders of people untried and uncondemned, and his never-ending and gratuitous and most grievous humanity.” Pilate stood his ground nonetheless and the sons of Herod had no choice but to write a letter to Tiberius, who immediately replied, ordering Pilate to remove the shields to Caesarea.

The intervention by Tiberius strained relations between Pilate and Herod Antipas which thawed only after the trial of Jesus (LUKE 23:12). All in all,  however, it was a telling lesson to Pilate – that Tiberius was no Sejanus.  From this day on, Pilate seemed to have exercised a modicum of caution in his dealings with the Jews, particularly  those of Jerusalem. For example, he had in AD 29, 30, and 31 minted coins which bore images with symbols of sacred artifacts used by Roman priests in their pagan religions and which the Jews understandably found offensive. Post-31 AD, no Pilate coin bore  any pagan symbols. Be that as it may, Pilate had not exactly mellowed as we shall soon see.

THE BARABBAS INSURRECTION

Sometime in AD 32, Pontius Pilate was at it again in his provocative bunglings against the Jews. He appropriated Temple funds to construct a water carrier to Jerusalem. When the  Jews rightfully demonstrated, Pilate responded with heavy-handed reprisals. It seemed this time around, he didn’t care a jot about possible repercussions from Tiberius.  In The Jewish Antiquities, Flavius Josephus documents the incident thus: “Pilate undertook to bring a current of water to Jerusalem, and did it with the sacred money, and derived the origin of the stream from the distance of two hundred furlongs (40 km). However, the Jews were not pleased with what had been done about this water.”

Judas Iscariot, who was the underground leader of the Zealots, the Essene military wing, and Theudas Barabbas (the disciple Thaddeus in the gospels, who is also the second Judas on the list) consulted with the then Essene Pope, Simon Zealotes, on the matter. The three Zealot top brass decided a protest should be staged during the forthcoming Feast of Dedication in November AD 32.  The “Anti-Pilate  Protest” would therefore be the theme of the festival. The Jews were accordingly rallied, with Theudas Barabbas  at the head of the protest march, which was dominated by the more belligerent pilgrims from Galilee. “Many ten thousands of the people got together, and made a clamour against him (Pilate), and insisted that he should leave off that design,” relates Josephus. “Some of them also used reproaches, and abused the man, as crowds of such people usually do.”

Pilate, who naturally operated on a very short fuse, felt affronted and dared against. His reflex inclination was to pounce. First, he sounded off a hypocritical warning he well knew would not be heeded.  Josephus: “So he habited a great number of his soldiers in their habit, who carried daggers under their garments, and sent them to a place where they might surround them. So he bid the Jews himself go away.” When the Jews stayed put, “boldly casting reproaches upon him”, Pilate “gave the soldiers that signal which had been beforehand agreed on; who laid upon them much greater blows than Pilate had commanded them, and equally punished those that were tumultuous, and those that were not; nor did they spare them in the least: and since the people were unarmed, and were caught by men prepared for what they were about, there were a great number of them slain by this means, and others of them ran away wounded. And thus an end was put to this sedition.” This is the carnage alluded to by the evangelist Luke with respect to the “the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices” (LUKE 13:1-3).

The demonstration had turned into an insurrection thanks to Pilate’s penchant for disproportional cruelty. Pilate’s forces did not escape unscathed nonetheless:  a few were killed.  Further incensed by the loss of his men, Pilate proceeded to issue a warrant of arrest for the three ring leaders. At the top of the wanted list was Theudas Barabbas, who had spearheaded the protest: he was charged with  murder as the life of a Roman  soldier  was far more precious than any number of  Jews.  Next was Judas Iscariot for being the leader of the Zealots overall. Simon Zealotes was third as he was at once a Zealot and their  spiritual leader in his capacity as the Essene Pope.

Meanwhile, Jesus, who was the political leader of the three as they numbered among his 12-man shadow government (called the 12 disciples), censured them for  provoking the Pilate  backlash. Part of this outrage he expresses in JOHN 10:11 thus: “The good shepherd lays his life down for the sheep (the demonstrators in this context); and the hireling (mercenaries, a cynical characterisation of the three ring leaders), and not being a shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, does behold the wolf (Pilate) coming, and does leave the sheep, and does flee; and the wolf catches them, and scatters the sheep;   and the hireling does flee because he is an hireling, and is not caring for the sheep (the three had gone into hiding instead of sticking their necks out for the sake of the demonstrators.)” Clearly, the three had acted unilateral, without seeking the opinion of  Jesus on the matter.     

SIMON ZELOTES IS DEMOTED

The disastrous riot against Pilate scandalised Simon Zelotes. Remember, Simon Zelotes had in September AD 31 succeeded John the Baptist (after his execution) as the Pope, or the Father of the Essene community. Now that his reputation was in tatters and a warrant of arrest had been issued against him, he could not be Pope anymore. Accordingly, Jonathan Annas (the disciple Nathaniel)  acceded to the papacy forthwith.  In the  Jesus movement, there were two factions – the Belligerent Faction, who advocated a forceful expulsion of the Romans, and the Peace Faction, who  preached co-existence with the Roman overlords. Simon Zelotes headed the former, whilst Jonathan  Annas headed the latter. As such, Jonathan was agreeable to the Roman authorities too.

As the new Pope, Jonathan took one more step: he decided to excommunicate Simon Zelotes and Judas Iscariot from the Essene fold primarily to placate Pilate (it is not clear why Theudas Barabbas was not excommunicated). Jesus was talking about this course of action when he said, “I saw Satan and Lightning fall from Heaven” – the proper translation and not the one we typically encounter which wrongly reads, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from Heaven” and into which the Christian  clergy have read all sorts of wishful meanings. As we have long explicated, “Satan” was the nickname of Judas as the leader of the Zealots and “Lightning” was the nickname of Simon Zealotes as the  head of the war  faction in the Jesus movement.  Once Simon Zealotes was excommunicated, it meant he would never ever be Pope again and Jonathan Annas would be practically uncontested as Pope.  

Now, just as being initiated into the Essene fold was referred to as “being born again”, excommunication was referred to as “dying spiritually”. Excommunication involved undergoing a ritual of symbolic death. An excommunicated monastic  was put through a burial rite, dressed in grave clothes, and put in his own tomb. In the case of a leader such as Simon Zelotes, the tomb was one of the caves carved out from the ends of the southern cliffs at Qumran. This cave has been found by archaeologists and has been dubbed “Cave 4”. This was a tomb reserved for the burial of  Popes. As the first Essene Pope, Menahem,  had been given the  titular name Abraham,  Cave 4 was also known as Abraham’s Bosom in his honour. The excommunicant was placed there for three full days and on the fourth day was brought out and  released into the wider world, with all connection with the Essene Community completely severed.

Simon Zelotes was subjected to the same ritual as  well. However, before it could run its course, there was a “divine” intervention. Exactly what was this?     

JESUS MOVES TO RESTORE SIMON

Whilst  he was Pope, Simon Zealotes went by another informal title, “Eleazer”. The title derived from Eleazer of the Old Testament, who succeeded his father Aaron as High Priest. The Pope was the de facto  High Priest of the Essene community.

In Greek, Eleazar is Lazarus. When Simon Zealotes, alias Lazarus, was demoted as Pope, he became a “Leper”. This did not mean a diseased person. In Essene jargon, “Leper”  was a term for a person who was not to be admitted into sacred surroundings (this definition can be found in a Dead Sea scroll called the Temple Scroll).  This was the fate of Simon Zelotes when he was excommunicated from the Essene fraternity.   Thus, when Jesus was feted in the house of “Simon the Leper” (MATTHEW 26:6-13/ MARK 14:3-9), it was actually in the house of  Simon Zelotes.

Now, although  Jesus did not approve of  the demonstration against Pilate, he still held Simon Zelotes  in very high esteem. Not only was Simon Zelotes his staunchest supporter politically but he was his father-in-law. As the Davidic messiah, Jesus must have therefore been under enormous pressure from his own wife Mary Magdalene and his mother-in-law Helena Salome to do something about the restoration of Simon Zelotes. Eventually, Jesus caved in.  The reinstatement  of Simon Zelotes is recorded in JOHN 11:1-53, a passage frequently  titled as The Raising of Lazarus. The Christian clergy has spun this as the act of summoning Lazarus from a state of natural death and have therefore dubbed it as a miracle. The fact of the matter was that it was the raising of Lazarus not from real death but from symbolic death.

Just to reiterate, when Simon Zelotes was excommunicated from the Essene fold, he figuratively died in that he was banished from all manner of fellowship with the Essene fraternity. Jesus now boldly stepped forward to unilaterally restore him to fellowship. This figuratively meant “raising him from the dead”. When Jesus performed the ritual to reinstate Simon Zelotes, he stepped onto the toes of the Essene top brass and from that day on they began to plot his demise (JOHN 11:53).

Exactly how was the restoration ritual performed?

NEXT WEEK: THE BETRAYAL

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