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Three Ranged Against Jesus

Publishing Date : 18 May, 2015

Benson C Saili

They were Judas Iscariot, Jonathan Annas, and Herod Agrippa

March AD 33 was a momentous month in the life of Jesus. Not only did he seal his marriage with Mary Magdalene but he publicly proclaimed himself as the King of the Jews. The marriage was as political as it was a social compact.  It’s political import was to prepare him for his symbolic coronation as the King of the Jews when he was anointed by his “queen” Mary Magdalene as per the ancient monarchical custom that went back to the time of ancient Egypt. Why was Jesus so intent at asserting his status as King of the Jews?

Let us first recall that at the time, both Jesus and his immediate younger brother James were contending for the Davidic kingship. Historically, the Pharisees (and conservative Jews) promoted James, whereas the more politically influential Sadducees (and Hellenistic Jews) rallied behind Jesus. The Pharisees clamoured for James because he was born procedurally as befitted a Davidic heir, in September, the holiest month of the year, in 1 AD. On the other hand, Jesus was born at the wrong time of the year for a Davidic heir – in the month of March 7 BC, which was six months out of kilter. To them, the unusually early birth suggested hurried sexual relations between his father Joseph and his mother Mary, which amounted to fornication. The Sadducees, however, reasoned that Jesus was conceived when Joseph and Mary were already betrothed and since betrothal was practically marriage itself as it needed a formal divorce to terminate, Jesus was effectively born within wedlock.

In the 30s AD, it was the Pharisaic stance that held more sway. When Jesus in AD 29 broke away from the movement of John the Baptist to form a kind of opposition party to his wayward cousin, John, who held the position of Pope – the Father of the Essene community – responded by de-recognising Jesus as the Davidic heir and embracing James in his stead. Jesus had also estranged himself from the current Pope, Jonathan Annas, when he unilaterally restored Simon Zelotes to the Essene fold following his excommunication, which  stemmed from his involvement in the bloody riot against Pontius Pilate.

Hence Jonathan Annas, whose brother-in-law was the Jerusalem Temple High Priest Joseph Caiaphas,  turned against Jesus and began to root for James as the Davidic messiah.  For the first time therefore, Jesus was at odds with the Sadducees, who had consistently backed him hitherto.  

Jesus did not take the matter lying down. He hit back by de-recognising James as his Crown Prince and elevating his second brother Joses, short for Joseph. This course of action caused a rift in the family as Mary,  their mother, was of the inalienable view that James was the legal heir to Jesus. In fact, Mary   had from the very beginning preferred James as the Davidic heir since he did not have the baggage of perceived moral scandal that Jesus had thanks to the questionable circumstances of his birth.  As such, Mary and some of her children (she had five sons and three daughters) on occasion tried to disrupt Jesus’s campaigns as the Davidic messiah (MARK 3:21/31 and 6:4).


In gospel times, there were two Herods who both directly and indirectly influenced Jewish affairs in Judea. They were Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee, aged 53 in 33 AD,  and his cousin Herod Agrippa I, aged 44. Agrippa was a grandson of Herod the Great, the deceased father of Antipas. Agrippa’s sister Herodias was married to Antipas, which meant the two Herods were at once cousins and in-laws.  

The two Herods both were highly ambitious men.  Each wanted to be the political King of the Jews (Jesus was the ceremonial King) subject to the sanction of Rome. Of the two, Antipas had the brightest prospects: as ruler of Galilee and Perea, he was already a quarter-king, the meaning of the term tetrarch. Agrippa’s chances were to all intents and purposes bleak.

He had been declared bankrupt whilst he resided in Rome at only age 25 and was consequently banished from Rome. He settled in metropolitan Judea.  But Agrippa believed this tarnish would not endure. Whilst in Rome,  he had established very close bonds with people who were close to Roman emperor Tiberius Caesar.  He fell into debt because of his lavish entertainment of  distinguished Romans to banquets at his home in order to gain political influence, his single aim being to regain the Herod monarchy that had been abolished by Caesar Augustus in AD 6.

He tactfully cultivated close friendship with  Drusus, the son of Tiberius,  and Gaius, the grandson of Antonia, the most powerful Roman  woman of the day who was also the sister-in-law of Tiberius. Antonia, who was close friends with his mother Bernice, became his godmother. With such powerful connections  right in the nucleus  of the Roman Empire, Agrippa was hopeful that in the fullness of time he would be favourite for king at the expense of his uncles, notably  Antipas.    

The relations between the two most eminent Herods were fickle. They kept blowing hot and cold. Antipas had been persuaded to extend  a financial lifeline to the broke Agrippa by his wife Herodias when he verged on committing suicide on account of his insolvency  but this  generous gesture did little to endear him to his cousin. Instead of  lending support to Antipas as the future king, Agrippa decided to enter the fray too as a contender in his own right when he was not King Herod’s son but a grandson and therefore quite  distant in the line of succession.

Since Agrippa was based in Judea as opposed to Antipas, who was based in Galilee, he was closer to the theatre of realpoilitik. He knew which  alignments in Jewish political dynamics were the more opportune and expedient. Flavius Josephus writes glowingly of him, characterising him as “naturally noble in spirit”, but he was a political prostitute who changed alliances on a whim.  For instance, when John the Baptist was alive, Agrippa aligned with him against Jesus. But after the Baptist’s death, he began to gravitate towards Jesus and to the extent where Antipas, who had always been aligned with Jesus, now played second fiddle. 

Thus when Jesus decided to proclaim himself as the Davidic messiah to send a unequivocal message to James and company that he was the real king in waiting, he was aided and abetted in this regard by the equally royal figure of Agrippa.

Meanwhile in Rome, things were happening. In AD 19, Germanicus, the adopted son of Tiberius and his anointed heir,  had died. That  made Germanicus’s son Gaius Caligula as next in line. In AD 33, signs began to emerge that Tiberius was set to name Gaius as his heir.  The Qumran community were therefore aware that if  Gaius became emperor, it was almost a given that he would appoint Agrippa as the client King of the Jews. It was on account of such a scenario that they began to rally to Agrippa at the expense of Antipas. Since Agrippa also needed the support of Jesus  in his monarchical ambitions, he decided to openly project him as the Davidic King of the Jews.  


The incident in which Jesus rode astride a donkey into Jerusalem is commonly referred to as “The Triumphant Entry” in allusion to the euphoric manner in which he is supposed to have been received by pilgrims to the Passover. It is recorded in MATTHEW 21:1-17; MARK 11:1-11; LUKE 19:28-39; and JOHN 12:12-19.

The notion of the incident having taken place in Jerusalem derives only from the surface reading of scripture. The gospels were written in a code language called pesher and some of the terms the writers employed do not carry the meanings we superficially attribute to them. In pesher, Jerusalem (in plural form)was a code name for Qumran. It is at Qumran that the Triumphant Entry  took place. In fact, much of what you read in the gospels happened at  Qumran and the surrounding areas, the collective code name of which was the Judean Wilderness.  

The evangelist who relates the incident most accurately is Matthew. Matthew documents that there were two animals involved, a donkey and a colt (a young donkey). This is significant as it correctly suggests that the Triumphant Entry   did not involve one person but two. The one of course was Jesus and the other was … Herod Agrippa.  

Invariably at this time of  the year  (the Passover season), a harbinger ceremony was conducted at Qumran. One of the Herods and a Davidic heir mounted donkeys  and led a procession in mimicry of the   coronation of a king. The involvement of the Herods arose because they saw themselves as the future monarch  either as  subordinate to Caesar (as Herod the Great was) or simply as a monarch in their own right in a world were Rome was no longer in power. In the latter,  a Herod would be the political monarch  and the Davidic heir would be the ceremonial king subordinate to the Herod. Accordingly therefore, Agrippa rode on the donkey (being senior) and Jesus rode on a colt.

To the mainstream Jews, however, it was Jesus who stole the limelight  as the ceremony evoked that of the Old Testament whereby King David instructed his son Solomon to ride in a procession on a donkey so that he could proclaim him as  heir to the throne (1 KINGS 1:28-34). The shouts “Hosanna” and chants of “the coming kingdom of David” was a clear enough message that the pilgrims recognised Jesus as the real King of the Jews. It was a triumphant affair indeed.

The ceremony began at the Mount of Olives, a code name for  the Manger, the Qumran house in which Jesus had been born,  and concluded at the temple, that is,  the  Qumran sanctuary and not the Jerusalem temple.


The Qumran temple also served as a treasury, where tithe money was stored. Part of this money came from Essene missions abroad. Since foreign money was “unclean” and had to be converted to “holy money”, the money changers did proliferate within the temple precincts. Jesus had always resented this commercial element, which seemed to override the main thrust, the spiritual element. Now that he had been officially instituted as the Davidic King, he decided to show  his outrage by turning over the tables of the money changers. His message was that the temple was fundamentally a house of worship and not a bureau de change.

The money changers had turned the temple into a “den of robbers” as they exploited the pilgrims by charging highly inflated exchange rates.  

Jesus’s action naturally incensed the Herods, particularly Agrippa. The Herods had a vested interest in activities going on at the temple as they had a stake in the foreign exchange business there. In fact, the rivalry between Agrippa and Antipas primarily had to do with who had the most control of this business. The Herods were not a spiritual people: they were dynasts. To them, religion was secondary to commerce. None of the two was king and thus none felt subordinate to the other. Whoever had the finest rapport with the Essene Pope and the Treasurer-General had the lion’s share of the business that was taking place at the temple.

Presently, the Pope was Jonathan Annas and the Treasurer-General was Judas Iscariot. Jonathan Annas’s loyalties now lay with Agrippa, whose odds of becoming king with the change of the monarchical guard in Rome were brightest. Annas had promised all the monthly tithes that came from the Diaspora to Agrippa and Jesus had taken very strong exception. He would rather the tithes went to Simon Zelotes, who had been the head of the Diaspora mission before his excommunication and demotion from Pope. But Jesus had reinstated Simon to the Essene top brass and therefore was of the position that Simon was deserving of the tithes.

Agrippa and Simon Zelotes hardly saw eye to eye: they seemed to be mortal enemies. Jesus was not only devoted to Agrippa’s foe but he was now sabotaging the foreign exchange business, a lifeline of the Herods.  Furthermore, he had alienated himself from Jonathan Annas by openly laying claim to the position of Pope so that he could be the Priest-King, the Melchizedek. In the event, Agrippa and Annas banded together against him. Judas Iscariot, who Jesus had also antagoinised, closed ranks with the two. Judas was a monarchist and as the Essene’s keeper of the purse had always pandered to the financial exigencies of Agrippa. The stage, thus, was now set for  the trio to teach Jesus a lesson.  

Herod Agrippa I, with Agrippa riding on the donkey and Jesus on a colt. Agrippa accompanied Jesus to endorse him as the Davidic King at the expense of his brother James, who was contending for the same status.  




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