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Born with a Bang: A rival arises in the bosom of Jesus’ own family

Publishing Date : 08 December, 2014

Benson C Saili
THIS EARTH, MY BROTHER


Herod the Great was appointed King of the Jews by the Roman senate in 40 BC. But it was in 37 BC, when he captured Jerusalem which Antigonus the beleaguered Hasmonean ruler of Palestine had held on to, that he became undisputed King. That is why official history chronicles his reign as spanning the years 37 BC to 4 BC. In truth, however, his reign commenced in 40 BC.


Based on their reading of the apocryphal book of Enoch, the Herodians (and much of the Jewish establishment) naively reckoned that the world had been created in 3941 BC (Year 0) and that it was going to last for a total of 4900 years, or approximately 5000 years, before God came down to assume direct rule of Earth, a setup called a theocracy.

In line with this reckoning, therefore, the year  41 BC  marked exactly 3900 years since creation and the onset of the final, 1000-year epoch, a millennium. As such, the apocalyptic Last Judgement was expected to occur between 960 AD and 1000 AD. When Paul in his epistles stressed that “we are in the last days”, he essentially spoke in this context though mistakenly so of course.  


Now, in those days, a generation amounted to 40 years. Herod therefore called the first 40 years from 41 BC as Generation 1. Generation 1 was to be dedicated to an indoctrination of the world – disguised as evangelising – with the notion of the Kingdom of God.  Herod’s aim was for his descendents to rule not only Palestine but the whole wide world so that when God (not Jesus, please take note) descended to establish a theocracy, he would find a Herodian on the planet’s geopolitical throne.


Joseph, Theudas Barabbas, and their fellow Essenes took very strong exception to such a scenario. As far as they were concerned, God had to find a Davidic King on the world throne when he came circa 1000 AD. If this prospect was not to come to pass, it was only because Jesus, the next in the Davidic line of succession after his father Joseph, was a divisive figure: he was not universally recognised by the Jerusalem establishment owing to the questionable circumstances of his birth. In order to ensure the Davidic succession was not forever jeopardised, Joseph set about siring a son in a manner that perfectly conformed to the prescribed dynastic procreational parameters so that this son was acknowledged  by all and sundry as a fitting Davidic heir.  Of particular importance was that the son had to be born in the right  month – September, the holiest month in the Jewish calendar. Joseph did not intend to disinherit Jesus: he was simply hedging his bets.

JAMES, THE COMPROMISE MESSIAH
Jesus had been born on Sunday March  7 BC. According to Essene dynastic procreational rules, Joseph had to wait for six years before he sired a second-born (he would have waited for only three years had Jesus been a daughter). And so it was that in December 1 BC, Joseph resumed sexual relations with his wife Mary (since for dynastic families sex was purely for procreation and not for pleasure as per strict Essene chastity rules, the couple had not copulated in the intervening years). Nine months later, they were blessed with a baby boy as per their wish. Joseph gave him the name Cleopas, after one of his two younger brothers who were twins. He would, however, become best-known by the titular names Jacob and James in adulthood.


Since James was born at the prescribed time, he was straightaway hailed as the Jewish messiah by the High Priest of the Jerusalem temple Joazar, at the expense of his elder brother Jesus. The Essenes, however, still held  that Jesus was the rightful messiah irrespective of the scandalous nature of his birth. The controversy was to linger for a long time to come, both among the Jews and within Jesus’ own family, with Mary inclined, at least initially,  towards a recognition of  James and Joseph gravitating towards Jesus. More will be said on these family dialectics as the Jesus Papers progress.   


To the Essenes, it was the birth of James that marked the beginning of the countdown to 1000 AD and not the year 41 BC. Hence the year in which James was born was designated AD 1 (it was not called that before: it was called 754 AUC, that is, 754 years after the founding of the city of Rome). The years 41 BC to 1 BC were therefore unilaterally re-designated as Generation Zero by the Essenes. It was the first 40 years from AD 1 that became Generation 1. This revised outlook explains why this period was characterised by fevered evangelising and ministration by Jesus, John the Baptist, and the apostolate.      

ZECHARIAH IS KILLED
During the reign of Herod Archelaus, the dynamics radically changed at Qumran. First, the Diaspora Essenes became much more influential and increasingly assertive. The Diaspora Essenes, who included the Theraputae, were doctrinally more liberal than the rigid Palestinian Essenes, the latter of whom included Simeon and Joseph the father of Jesus. Because of their relaxed moral rules, the Diaspora Essenes were cynically branded as “seekers-after-smooth-things”. Second, schisms emerged, renting asunder the solidarity that held firm all along. There was a peace faction on the one hand and a belligerent faction on the other.


The belligerent faction was led by a fire-breathing nationalist known as Judas of Galilee, who had arrived at Qumran in AD 4 as commander of the Zealots, the private though ragtag guerilla army of the Essenes. Barabbas too was initially a member of the belligerent faction, as was Judas Iscariot, both of whom would in time become disciples of  Jesus.  

The  belligerent faction was privately sponsored by Herod Archelaus and supported by High Priest Joazar.  Its aim was to drive away the Romans  and therefore win independence for Palestine.  In order to effectively inculcate to his army  the art of war, Judas of  Galilee wrote up a war manual, now called the War Scroll and which was among the Dead Sea find. It was under Judas of Galilee that the Zealots became a household name.


The peace faction was led by Simeon, the Essene’s  second-ranking (Abiathar) priest who also went by the title Angel Gabriel. It included Joseph and Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist who sat at the apex of the  Essene priestly hierarchy. Its aim was to act as a check on the insurrectionist propensities of the belligerent faction though to no avail.


Now, Archelaus seemed to have a kind of split personality. Although he professed a predilection to free the Jews in the behind-the-scenes counsels with the Essene high command, he ruled his subjects with an iron fist. He was said to be even more callous than his deceased father.

The peace faction therefore had justification to suspect that he was actually working in cahoots with Rome as an  agent provocateur whilst pretending to be allied with the Essenes. As a result, the peace faction convinced Barabbas to defect from the pro-Archelaus belligerent faction and join forces with them in a plot to eliminate  Archelaus and  depose a supine Joazar from the priesthood.

This conspiracy was broached at a top-secret meeting where Zechariah, Simeon, and Joseph were  in attendance early in AD 6.  Also present was Annas, the “new kid on the block” who was tipped to replace Joazar as High Priest. Annas, who in future  would part-preside over the trial of Jesus,  had undertaken to recognise Jesus, now on the cusp of 12 years of age,  as the Davidic messiah, a position that had consistently been the stance of the Essenes.


The meeting was a stormy and fateful affair. For reasons that are not amply chronicled in the records of the day, sparks flew and violence ensued. In the process, Zechariah was killed by an agent of Judas of Galilee. Joseph’s younger brother  Ptolas, Cleopas’s twin, also died in this same scuffle. As the spiritual leader of the Essenes – and probably as a term simply of veneration – Zechariah was also known as the Teacher of Righteousness, a titular distinction that is regularly encountered in the pages of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Shortly thereafter, his only child, young John the Baptist, was named as his successor. In other words, Little John was the new Zadok Priest, Archangel Michael, Lord God, and  Teacher of Righteousness, all titles of which his father had carried. He was to be mentored and chaperoned by the patriarchal Simeon. Meanwhile, Annas was briefed to hold fort for Little John  till he was 30, the age of high priesthood.   

ARCHELAUS IS DEPOSED
Herod Archelaus was vindictive to a point of self-destruction. Josephus relates that he “used not the Jews only, but the Samaritans also, barbarously; and this out of his resentment of their old quarrels with him”. When he had 3000 protesting Jews slaughtered in the temple whilst his father was in his death throes in 4 BC, he was petitioned before Roman Emperor Augustus Caesar. The Jews bemoaned to the emperor that they had had enough of Herodian tyranny and would rather they were directly ruled by a Roman authority than a dynasty of dubious Jews. They bid the emperor that Judea be overseen by the Roman governor in charge of Syria, one reason Archelaus was put on an open-ended probation.   It was apparent that this probation now seemed to have run its course.  


In AD 6, things came to a head. Once again, Archelaus was arraigned before Augustus. Josephus: “In the tenth year of Archelaus's government, both his brethren, and the principal men of Judea and Samaria, not being able to bear his barbarous and tyrannical usage of them, accused him before Caesar.” As he sailed to Rome to answer to the charges preferred against him, Archelaus was almost certain this was a one-way voyage.  The Qumran sage Simeon had indicated to him that that might well be his fate. Archelaus had had a dream in which he saw “nine ears of corn, full and large, but devoured by oxen”. Seeking an explanation to this riddle, he consulted Simeon, who Josephus acknowledges as the greatest fortune teller of his day. Simeon spelt out to him that he would rule no more than 9 years, after which an eerily dark chapter would dawn in his life. Exactly five days later, Archelaus was summoned to Rome, distressed that AD 6 was his 9th year on the throne.  


The glory days were certainly over. At Rome, Augustus confirmed the inevitable. He had given Archelaus more than ample time – or was it ample rope? – to prove himself and he had been an absolute fiasco. He was dethroned and banished to Vienna in modern-day France, where he would die in obscurity. The Jews were now going to be given what they had requested of Caesar in 4 BC. Judea, along with Samaria and Idumea, was annexed to Syria. It was to be overseen by the governor of Syria and directly administered by a Roman procurator. The first such procurator was Lucius Coponius though the most famous is Pontius Pilate.


Now that Judea had come under direct Roman rule, Augustus commissioned Publius Sulpicius Quirinius, the governor of Syria, to conduct a census there for purposes of assessing potential tax income (LUKE 2:2). All Jews who owned property in Judea were required to return home for the census. This included Joseph, who although officially domiciled in Galilee (for strategic purposes) actually had property in Jerusalem bequeathed to him by his father Jacob-Heli.  At the time though, Joseph was already in Judea, at Qumran, with Mary and young Jesus, who was being prepared for his Bar-Mitzvah ceremony which had fallen due now that he was 12 years old.


The AD 6 census was the first one of its kind in Palestine. Judas of Galilee, the Zealot commander, vowed he would resist it to the death. To him, Rome was consolidating its rule over the Jews rather than relax it. Besides, he was indignant that his secret allies Archelaus and Joazar had been deposed. So having disposed of Zechariah, Judas of Galilee broke ranks with fellow Essenes and incited a full-scale revolt against the incoming Roman administration (ACTS 5:37). The upheaval was promptly put down by Coponius and Judas was captured and killed. The bulk of the insurrectionists, however, simply melted into the civilian population Al Qaeda-style.    


The failure of the Judas uprising meant the belligerent faction at Qumran had lost out in the bigger picture and the peace faction had triumphed. In the event, Annas, who was allied with the peace faction, replaced Joazar as High Priest, trusted by Coponius to foster harmonious relations between Jews and Rome.   That, however, did not mean that the Zealots were no more. They remained very much a cornerstone of the Essene institutional edifice as they were central to a future popular revolution that was always imminent. In fact, following the demise of Judas the Galilean, another Judas promptly took his place.   
     He was Judas Iscariot.
     
 
NEXT WEEK: JESUS COMES OF AGE

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