Wednesday, April 13, 2022

What makes Luke's Gospel unique? Caligula and the authenticated Temple archives!

Luke's Gospel is a record addressed to the High Priest in Jerusalem. It can be shown that it was the time when Gaius Caligula was the emperor. He wanted to destroy all Jews and followers of Christ. 

The book was designed to provide undeniable facts to a political and religious leader of the Jews. The high priest was a pawn of Rome, chosen by Rome to act in Rome's interests to control the Jews. Luke's book, however, provided fact after fact, known to all Jews and believers, that showed why Rome's policy was dead wrong. Furthermore, it showed why the high priest in this case should be acting against the well-known misdeeds of his priestly father and brother, also recorded in the gospels.  

The book is addressed to “Most Excellent Theophilus” chapter 1:3. He was the ethnarch (Roman designated high priest and native ruler). He  ruled as high priest from 37 to 41 CE. He is mentioned in Josephus as the son of Annas of the NT.

This title (kratiste) shows the book was written in this period of intense persecution. The evangelisation of the world had started with force. Areas like Britain outside the empire became a safe haven. 

Emperor Tiberius had recognized that Christ must be a god as he had reports and dispatches showing that the Resurrection had taken place. The Senate objected to this divine status. They said that in Roman law the Senate alone had the legal right to define who was a god. So Tiberius forbade anyone to persecute believers while he lived.

Caligula, the would-be 'god'

Then Caligula had Tiberius killed in 37 CE and became Emperor Gaius. Caligula saw the danger to the whole infrastructure of Rome. It was based on paganism. Paganism was based on the whim of men in the Senate. Its fall was inevitable. It was only a question of time, not logic. 

Romans were confronted with genuine miracles and a genuine resurrection from the dead, followed by many others, Matt 27:52.

And the tombs were opened and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep arose, and came out of their graves after his resurrection and went into the holy city, and appeared to many.  

Caligula's single-mindedness to act is described as madness. Flavius Josephus, a eye witness of events, says the emperor had a madness of hubris, an overpowering insolent pride, Antiquities 19,1. Its malevolent power 'extended through all the earth and sea.' It 'filled the empire with more evil than history has ever known.

Among all the earth, Caligula said, 'the Jews and their institutions are my worst enemies.' Leg, 256. Why?

Philo, the Jew of Alexandria, says Caligula was 'beside himself with vanity, not only saying but thinking he was god. He then found among the Greeks or the outside world no people fitted better than the Alexandrians to confirm this unmeasured passion craving for what was beyond mankind's nature.' (Leg 162.) 

What motivated such extremism? Why did the Alexandrian Greeks act so enthusiastically? The core of this madness was a desire for absolute autocracy. That reflected his ancestor, dictator Julius Caesar. 

Caligula wanted to set himself up as the indisputable political and religious head of the entire empire. He drank precious pearls dissolved in his drinks; he ate golden bread and golden meat. He had sex with everyone from the prostitute Pyrallis to almost every woman of rank in Rome. They were all his sex slaves. He had homosexual relations with many men. He had incest with his sisters. (Suetonius: Gaius 36.)

Note: his contemporaries considered he increasingly developed his character of inordinate pride, hubris. It was applauded by some groups and nations. It was not seen as a clinical or medical conditions as recently some writers diagnose centuries after the event to explain it away: glandular disorder, hyperthyroidism, interictal temporal lobe epilepsy, encephalitis, schizoid illness etc.

What was his motivation for all this?

Despot or Absolute Sovereign?

Caligula's dilemma may be summed up in one Greek word. That word is Despotes. It means Absolute Sovereign. It is used of a head of a household which had slaves. The slaves' lives and treatment including torture and death were totally in his hands. Roman law gave a master of slaves absolute control as objects and possessions.

The term was not used between freemen. The officers of Caesar might be addressed as lord, kurios in Greek, but not despotes. That term was reserved to the Caesar Gaius, the only one in this period. Why only one? Because the word despotes was usually confined to the supreme god of the universe, the Creator of all.

To call someone despotes implied that all other creatures were his slaves, obedient subjects, bought and owned by him. 

Augustus then Tiberius simply called themselves first citizen, princeps. They said they were chief priest of religion (Pontifex Maximus) or recalled they had been consul, the chief magistrate. That was not enough for Caligula. He insisted he be referred to as despotes, Absolute Master, by Romans, his officers and even his friends, like king Herod Agrippa.

Jews avoided the term despotes whenever they could. That would be confounding the power and dignity of Almighty God with a pagan.

There was one major exception. Jews applied the title despotes to one of their own. Inside the Temple of Jerusalem, the chief priest (not the high priest) was referred to as despotes or oikodespotes (Absolute Sovereign of the House). The Temple was a City-State and the person in control of all its thousands of guards and the high priests was the Chief Priest. He was Teacher of the high priests and Levites. All had to obey him as he spoke the oracles of the living God.

Jesus, the Anointed Chief Priest, was addressed by these titles and he  refers to himself as oikodespotes, Luke 13:25, Matt 10:25, Luke 14:21. Peter and Jude in the NT refer to him as despotes, Absolute Master (2Pet 2:1 and Jude 4). Gentile converts also in Rome referred to Jesus as Despotes (1 Clement 40). In history the larger family of Jesus and his brothers and sisters is referred to as the desposyni, blood relatives of Jesus, the despotes

When a Jew or Nazarene or a gentile convert referred to Jesus, he said despotes. They had been bought back, redeemed from their sins, by the Master. Sinners are bought at a price, 1Cor 6:20, 2Peter 2:1. They considered themselves willingly slaves (doulos) of all that is good. Even James the brother of Christ refers to himself as a slave of Jesus the Anointed, James 1:1.  

But the pagans in Rome and elsewhere, cheek by jowl with Jews and Nazarenes, were forced to call Caligula despotes. The implication was that he ruled by crude muscular power of his will and his depraved sexual whims the entire world, reduced to utter slavery. His sense of power was that of a tyrant, who could disregard all law and abrogated all power and decision-making to himself.    

When Caligula was claiming the title of Despotes, he was confronted with Jews and Gentiles for whom the only person deserving of the title was the resurrected Jesus who redeemed them. Caligula had redeemed basically no one. He had saved no one from sin. He had no future to offer them. He was the creator of no one. 

The confrontation of a divine Sovereign and a man wanting to be the despot on earth led to an inevitable confrontation of authority. Who would win: the emperor with his mighty legions and his brutality or Jesus of Nazareth? 

The crux of it was either servile adherence to brute force or conscientious resolve to adhere to the good and become obedient to the proven God of the Universe. 

Attack on Rome's foundations

Gaius Caligula was clear-sighted about the danger for the Roman constitution. He had his ego-centric, personal solution to prevent Rome's collapse. Absolute divine power. It was his response to a legal and theological threat posed by the resurrected Christ to the continued existence of Roman power. He foresaw its possible fall or even immediate collapse. He acted in the only way he knew.

His childhood and youth of abuse and disdain emboldened him to fear no one in accomplishing his goal of unique power. He wanted everyone to fear and venerate him, even when he put on a show. When he was 7 years, his father, the war hero Germanicus, was poisoned, to remove him from succeeding Tiberius. He learned the lesson: be strong and resolute in desires and selfish conviction. Trust no one. Use every means to control or eliminate enemies.


Caligula, as emperor, collected a chest of so much poison to deal with his senatorial and other enemies, that, when it was later thrown in the sea, a huge quantity of fish was killed (Suetonius, Gaius 49). He denounced the whole Senate as agents of Sejanus, the would-be overthrower of Tiberius. The plot was exposed at the last minute. Caligula was also on his death list. 

He learned introspection. He remained silent when his mother, Agrippina, was exiled, and when his elder brothers disappeared.  Who could he trust but himself? His character was revealed as emperor. He exercised brutality, forcing many of Rome's elites to fight as gladiators, and relishing the bloodshed. He would stop at nothing.  

From whence could he assure his power? What could he do to save his Rome against the rising tide of Jews and non-Jews believing in Christ, a god totally excluded from pagan pantheism? It was undermining the pagan system on which the whole Roman constitutional structure and authority was built. 

The logic was undeniable. Educated people and even common people, as Tertullian later records, began to question and then mock the pagan gods. These Roman 'gods' had to have the approval of the Senate to be 'official'. And then they could be worshipped. It was an ancient legal privilege that could override even an emperor's wish, they told Tiberius, who favored Christ. 

Poor gods! They had to pray to the Senate to get approval! 

The followers of Christ and his resurrection had their own independent proof. The followers were everywhere and where themselves performing miracles of healing and even raising the dead to life. So say the Roman public records and petitions to the later emperors. 

They were unstoppable ... or were they? Caligula spent all his energy to stop them, with his plan. 

Julius Caesar wanted to be emperor-dictator and simultaneously high priest (Pontifex Maximus) of the pagan gods. He fused the two previously separate offices of State. 

Caligula went further; he wanted to be god, not just a priest of god, an absolute theocrat of the world, free of all restraint, custom and law. He set up his own mystery cult of worship, hymns, prayers and subservience. He impersonated the gods. At night it culminated in the veneration and adoration of the emperor-god. His child, he declared, putting her on the lap of the idol Jupiter, was the incarnate offspring of both the god Gaius and the god Jupiter. 

He acted like a god of the legends. He restrained himself from no sexual desire; no act of sadism was beyond his command; all despoiling of wealth, all denigration of rich and helpless, all desecration of the beautiful,  all humiliation of persons provoking jealousy were at the command of his hand.  

The Roman Senate was reluctant to declare him a god with godlike power despite his dramatic impersonations talking as a brother to god-idols in the pagan temples. 

The Senate saw the danger again. Assent would wipe out their power of nominating gods forever, at least while the obviously mortal Gaius lived. As absolute god, only Gaius's voice and actions would matter for all the inhabitants of the world.  The senators would become an absolute irrelevance. What would happen when he died? Would it be possible to regain their authority they had abdicated? How would they ever say again that their assent mattered when it came to defining the gods? Without Senate-defined gods how would the Roman Empire survive?

Global Gamble

How could Caligula become the god of the Empire if the Senate refused to recognize him as such? He first set about bringing the Senate to heel. He humiliated them. He brought them to their lowest political ebb, openly sleeping with their wives and deriding them in public. But still they did not agree to this final step. That would have been an act of suicide.

How could Caligula save the Empire if the Senate did not comply? 

He had to act in two directions: 

  • make everyone accept him as a god and 
  • secondly destroy the Jews and Nazarenes.

He wanted to set up a gigantic statue of himself as Jupiter at first in Rome and then inside the Jerusalem Temple. The latter would have led to a full-scale Jewish revolt. That would be good grounds for the destruction of the population by his legions.

This was a monumental gamble. It would be like setting off a world war as the Jews had allies and lived throughout the Roman Empire, in every town and country. Josephus describes in detail the consternation of the population when this lethal decision was announced. Much of the population felt that they had no real means of defense. Any protest would be met with slaughter. 

The future of pagan Rome seemingly rested on one man who had an impossible puzzle to solve, how to save the foundations of empire. How can Rome stay pagan? How can Rome kill off the anti-pagan opposition?

The Greek Egyptian Slave

We know of one person who had Caligula's ear from morning to night.  That was Helicon, formerly an Egyptian slave, given to Tiberius. 

He became Caligula's chamberlain. These eastern slaves were much treasured in Rome for their corruption, their craftiness, and their knowledge of mysteries and magic arts. Helicon had received a golden education, a skilful use of language and expertise in word play. He knew how to make himself indispensable and welcome. 

He never left his side.

When Caligula awoke, who was there? Helicon.

When he went to the baths, who was there? Helicon.

When he went for  walk, who accompanied him? Helicon.

At the gymnasium, Helicon was his assistant. 

He was always there to amuse, to show off his inventive mind.

In Alexandria of Hellenistic Egypt, Helicon had drunk deeply from the well of anti-semitism. He knew how to revile them, turn their customs to ribaldry, and mock their religious fanaticism. This interaction was also the occasion to flatter Caligula's obsession with his own divinity.

Philo the Jew calls Helicon a scorpion. He was aided in this theocratic flattery by two other Alexandrians of the same ilk.

How would Caligula solve his dilemma of becoming fully a god, if the Senate still refused? 

Helicon had the solution. No people knew more about divinities and deification than the Egyptian priests. They were fully indoctrinated in the process. They held the mysteries.

All that was required was for the emperor to go there to their sacred temples, and the priests would perform the act.

Caligula prepared for his voyage to Alexandria in his fleet. Once fully recognized as divine, he would undertake the journey on to Jerusalem. There he would see his giant likeness in the Temple's Holy of Holies with the words:

To Gaius, the new Jupiter, god manifest (epiphanes).  

The year was 41 CE. The ground for this great sanctification had already been prepared in the years previously. (Philo Leg 250)

Egyptian deaths

Egypt had a large colony of Jews. It was also one of the first areas that had a large group of believers in Christ in the early years after the Resurrection. 

In 38 CE, Flaccus, Rome's prefect in Egypt, ordered that Jews make statues of Gaius to be set up in all synagogues, Antiq 18.8.1 (258). That caused a riot. The extensive Jewish and Nazarene population of Alexandria were deprived of their citizenship that they held since Alexander the Great. They became Untermensch. Property was pillaged and ransacked. Men were slaughtered in the streets, some torn limb from limb, some burned. A famine was induced so that their Jewish families perished. 

Flaccus, whom Caligula disliked, had been appointed under Tiberius, five years earlier, possibly under the influence of Sejanus an arch-antisemite. Tiberius being dead, Flaccus used oily flattery and acts he thought would anticipate Caligula's own plans. He may have thought this attack on Jews, who he knew to be opponents of Caligula's theocratic ambitions, would curry him favor. 

Flaccus turned out to be one of the greatest persecutors of the Jews including the believers in Christ. Mark is considered the evangelist to the Alexandrian Jews. Philo also writes about the Jewish Therapeutae, those who could heal, much like the early believers' miracles elsewhere. Philo does not call them 'Christians' for the simple reason that this term had not yet been invented. 

It would not take Flaccus much reflection to realise such people were enemies of Caesar Gaius.

Flaccus Avillius succeeded Sejanus in his hatred of and hostile designs against the Jewish nation. Philo: Flaccus 1.

It was eventually more than persecution.

He had determined to destroy {the Jews} utterly in his desire for glory. Flaccus 116.

But  Emperor Caligula liked neither the worshippers of the true God, nor Flaccus. He was removed and died in disgrace.

As for the idolatry, Caligula ordered his statue and image to fill every synagogue, everywhere in the Empire. It was intolerable to Jews to have an idol there in their own sacred buildings where idolatry was utterly forbidden. This decree was enforced with deadly strength. Jews everywhere were humiliated and scorned. It was that or death.

A delegation of Alexandrian Jews led by Philo went to Rome. They soon realized that nothing would stop Caligula. He mocked them about not eating pork. They saw he was determined to destroy all Judaism and Christianity. Caligula asked Philo and his delegation:

Are you the god-haters who do not believe me to be a god, a god acknowledged among all other nations but not to named by you? Leg 353. 

I have got the nature of a god. Leg 367. 

Philo concluded: 'He has set himself against God.' 

He challenged the very existence and right for any trace of the Creator God to remain in his all-pagan world.

Caligula ordered that the huge, 40 foot (12 meter) statue of Zeus, the father of the gods, built by Phidas around 400 BCE at Olympia in Greece, be moved to Rome.  Caligula's face would be substituted so all could see him as the god of gods. 

That extraordinary action would involve opposition from worshippers of Zeus/ Jupiter around Greece and the empire. Many called the awe-inspiring idol 'god' and worshipped it. They stood in fear of their god of gods, Zeus, their god of lightning bolts. It inspired them to war and valor. 

When Caesar's workmen came, some said the god laughed. Some warned that it prophesied the deadly fate of anyone who tried to move it. Then Caligula's ship to bring the idol to Rome was destroyed by thunderbolts.  Meanwhile Caligula looted all Greece of its rich and ancient treasures saying they belonged with him as a god. (Dio LIX, 28.)

He was told this giant idol could not be moved without destroying it. 

Violating the Sanctuary
As for Israel, he then ordered Petronius, his Viceroy and powerful commander in the provinces of the East to build a similar statue of himself. With massive military force, and an exterminatory war against Jews if necessary, he must set up this image of Caligula as god in the Temple in Jerusalem.

This was an extraordinary act of desperation and Roman anarchy. 

The Temple in Jerusalem was not under Roman law. It was an autonomous City-State. It had thousands of its own armed guards. Its legal status was so defined by Julius Caesar himself when he made a treaty with the Maccabees. They had saved him from defeat in the civil war against Pompey and Crassus, both profaners of the Temple. It was perhaps the only morsel of territory, and only some 200 meters square, within the confines of the Roman Empire where Roman law and military might did not apply.

The Temple complex was built like a four-square fortress rising steeply from the Kidron valley ravine. No gentile was ever allowed to enter into its walls. The holy House had further multiple layers of protection. Those who could prove by genealogy that they were Israelites and had purified themselves ritually were allowed inside the outer Court of Israel. No one else, whatever their status. Priests who could prove that their ancestors held hereditary rights to perform specific Temple duties were allowed into the Court of Priests. Any Israelite who was not a priest who ventured there was liable to be put to death. 

At the center of the Court of Priests lay the Holy Temple itself. This was a long room divided into two sections. The first was called the Holy Place. Only specially chosen priests were allowed in there for the rituals. Further inside, another room was separated off by a thick curtain. This was the Holy of Holies. Only the High priest was allowed to enter and then only on one day of the year: the Day of Atonement.  

All around these courts, affixed every few meters to the chest-high barriers, were multilingual warning notices, 90 by 60 cm. In red letters they alerted any unauthorized person who dared entered into a court where he was not permitted that he would be responsible for his own death. 

Because of this holiness, the Temple was cherished and protected by the huge Jewish and Israelite Diaspora as well as all the inhabitants of the Land. The Maccabees had fought many bloody battles to free it from gentiles like the Syrian dictator, Antiochus Epiphanes. They purified it, rebuilt and rededicated it. The Israelites intended to keep it holy.

King Herod himself was not allowed to enter the Temple, even the outer court. He was not Jewish. When Roman legions were stationed at their Fort Antonia just a few hundred meters away, they were never allowed into the Temple. In 70 CE, when Roman legions under Titus surrounded the Temple, Titus called upon the besieged Jews to surrender. He said that in all the years of Roman control, Romans had never violated the Decree of Caesar and the laws of Rome. They had always allowed the high priests to govern. They had authority to forbid by force strangers and foreigners from entering. Even Roman citizens would be killed for violation of the rule. Wars 6.2.4 (124).

But Caligula some three decades earlier, in his desperate attempt to assert his planetary godhead, was determined to abolish this Roman law. He made himself  out to be greater than Julius Caesar. Caligula was prepared to break all Roman laws and customs when he insisted that an idol of himself as Jupiter be displayed inside the Temple. 

For the Jews from the time of the restitution of the Temple to its destruction in 70CE, the sanctity of the House was something to be be defended with the very life and breath of the nation. 

The sole Roman emperor who ruthlessly planned and attempted to violate it was Caligula. He must have concluded that the action was essential to his own existence and that of the Empire.

He wished to turn the Temple of God to his own temple as god. It would conform as all the synagogues in the empire and display his image. He would rule the world from Jerusalem. The richest building in the world would would be his own capital. There was no construction in Rome or the empire that was comparable with it. Titus was later to confess:

This holy building is the most beautiful structure ever built by the hand of man.  
                                                                                (Jesus, James, Joseph, p viii.)

Caligula's motive was not one of mere avarice. His long-term strategy was to defile it, and its God, who opposed the gods of the pantheon. The Jerusalem God and his castle, a furlong square, threatened the destruction of his plan for worldwide divine domination. Thus a square section of land, 185 meters by 185meters, perched above a perilous ravine was the focus of attention of the Emperor who saw it as the sole threat to his theocratic mastery. 

Philo of Alexandria, who around 39 CE led the Jewish delegation of Alexandria to speak to Caligula in Rome, was aghast that, after defiling all synagogues, only one building was left.
The Temple in the Holy City, which alone was left untouched being judged to have rights of sanctuary, he was proceeding to convert and transmogrify into a temple of his own to bear the name of Gaius, the new Zeus. 

Lack of law was leading the world into dark evil.
Do you deem God worthy of nothing in our world here below, no country, no city, but even this tiny area hallowed for Him and sanctified by oracles an divine messages you propose to take away, so that in the circumference of the great earth no trace or reminder should be left of the reverence and honour due to the truly existing veritable God? ... Don't you know that you are opening the springs of a flood of evil, in these strange and monstrous actions which it is unlawful either to do or conceive? (Philo, Leg 347.) 
Another witness, Flavius Josephus says Caligula's eventual death saved his country and nation from extermination and genocide:
...our own nation was brought to the very verge of ruin, and would have been destroyed but for his sudden death. .. the story provides good evidence of God's power. Antiq 19,1, 1, (16).

The logical conclusion is that Caligula could have ruled his empire by terror, bloodshed and with extreme brutality. That rule by fear had succeeded in his early years. That terror did not involve defiling the Temple. But it is obvious that far more than rule by terror motivated Caligula. He did not want just power, utter obedience and mindless subservience. 

He was on a mission: to destroy Christianity and Judaism. Proof? There was no reason to insist on the desecration of the Temple if all that Caligula wanted was to be an emperor who was feared and obeyed. God was his target.

His plan to desecrate the Temple with the Abomination of Jupiter was to assert his divinity. He had to prove that he was greater than Christ and specifically the prophecy of Christ. In fact he wanted to prove he was greater than God Almighty. He was more than a ruler. He was an ideologue with the aim of destroying the God of the Bible and facts about Christ.

He failed.

What he actually proved was that God Almighty of the Bible rules the universe and this planet Earth. 

The Abomination

In the century after Caligula, the writer Pausanias described the great idol of Zeus at Olympia at Elis.

The god sits on a throne, and he is made of gold and ivory. On his head lies a garland which is a copy of olive shoots. In his right hand he carries a Victory, which, like the statue, is of ivory and gold; she wears a ribbon and—on her head—a garland. In the left hand of the god is a scepter, ornamented with every kind of metal, and the bird sitting on the scepter is the eagle. The sandals also of the god are of gold, as is likewise his robe. On the robe are embroidered figures of animals and the flowers of the lily. 

The position and monstrous-size throne made the idol even more impressive to the pagan worshippers who entered. It included scenes of violence and rape that pagans took as a natural attributes of gods.

The throne is adorned with gold and with jewels, to say nothing of ebony and ivory. Upon it are painted figures and wrought images. There are four Victories, represented as dancing women, one at each foot of the throne, and two others at the base of each foot. On each of the two front feet are set Theban children ravished by sphinxes, while under the sphinxes Apollo and Artemis are shooting down the children of Niobe.

So was this the end of his fanatical venture? Not in the least. Caligula doubled down everywhere, provoking even more violence and raising the stakes to say in effect, 'Accept me as God or accept the destruction of the known world'.

World War

His policy affected not only the Jews in Israel, nor only the millions of Jews scattered throughout the Roman Empire, but much more.  Petronius, Rome's commander in the eastern provinces of Israel and Syria, knew that greater dangers would be ignited. 

Parthia was a huge empire to the east that had defeated Rome and decimated its legions many times previously. Moreover Parthia was favourable to the Jews and the Temple because many Jews and Israelites lived there and had transferred vast amounts of wealth to rebuild the Temple.
Parthian Jews every year dispatched envoys ... conveying to the Temple a great quantity of gold and silver amassed from the first fruits. (Philo Leg 216)

Petronius divided his armies into two sections. One was to deal with the Jews and their expected national revolt. The other half would defend the frontier with Parthia. In Egypt the populous Jewish colony of Alexandria was already defending itself, as best it could, against this rabid antisemitic persecution. 

In the West, Britain was showing its support against the tyrant. In 39 CE Caligula sent his legions there against the Kelts and Germans. His armies massed on the Channel coast. He made a show of preparing an invasion against Britain, a stronghold of early Christianity and resistance to Roman paganism. (Christianity and Celtic Druidism that focused on ultimate truth were the only religions banned in the Roman Empire.) 

The leader of the small tribe of the Canninefates at the mouth of the Rhine derided Caligula's military arrogance at even thinking of invasion. Why was Britain so important to him? He wasn't known as a great, battle-hardened war leader.

Yet now, due to him alone, the civilized world was about to explode into war and violence everywhere. Why? It was all based on Caligula's decision to deify himself and erect statues of himself as almighty god of the world. 

Why would Caligula do this? Why cause world war on all fronts? For what advantage? 

The prophecy of Christ

Caligula wanted to show he was greater than Christ who prophesied in 30 CE that he would destroy an abomination of desolation if it was put in the Temple, Matt 24:15. Caligula wanted to be greater and attempted to prove the prophecy wrong.

When you therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, ... the let those in Judea flee to the mountains... As the lightning comes out of the east, and shines as far as the west, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.

Then the legions suddenly left Britain alone. The conquest was off. Why? The public secretly mocked him for this decision to reverse his invasion plans. Did Caligula realise it was more strategic to attack Israel and crush the anti-pagans at their source in Jerusalem? He would need all his troops there rather than set off wars in both east and west. 

He planned to be declared a god in Egypt according to ancient rites. Then he would rule as god of all the world from Jerusalem. There his goal was genocidal to all who would not believe him and deicidal of the Sovereign Authority of the Temple.

But as Philo wrote:

It is easier for God to change into a man than for a man to become God. Leg118.


Caligula made great preparations for this event. He would not take his fleet of ships directly to Egypt. Only the grain cargo ships did that. He would make a procession around the coast of the Mediterranean and be acclaimed in each port and feted as divine. 

For Egypt he had prepared in secret a huge idol of himself as Jupiter. This would be taken with him.

Nothing seemed able to stop his plans. 

But then a dagger did. He was assassinated in 41 just before he could travel there. 

Training a high priest

Some commentators speculate that Theophilus was some unknown Christian convert. Not so. The Bible shows he was high priest and trained by a Temple Teacher to follow the rituals with exactness and purity. Luke does not say anywhere that he was a Christian. But he does say that he had this training.

Luke uses a word that shows Theophilus had priestly training: catechetized, 1:4. 

A high priest had to maintain a difficult balance between the orders of Rome, the instructions of Caligula's friend and deputy King Agrippa, and the survival of the Jewish people. He learned his metier by repetition under a Teacher.

The expert teacher had to be sure he managed the operations in the Temple in a way that conformed to the precise instruction of the Torah and the Hebrew Scriptures. Disobedience to God would endanger the whole people. 

In this fight with a would-be Jupiter, attention to detailed obedience was essential. 

Who was Theophilus?

What happened when Annas and Caiaphas retired as priests or died? It is not sure that Caiaphas was of real priestly stock. Caiaphas is always mentioned in conjunction with Annas who was the retired high priest. He was very rich and had married the daughter of Annas. He acted as a substitute for Annas who had been deposed in 15 CE. His son Eleazar lasted only a year. The next high priest was equally short in office before Caiaphas re-established the family line. His background is obscure but he had good relations with the Romans. Whatever the evidence he tried to deny that Jesus the Christ rose from the dead and was the true priest. What is known is that his father-in-law, Annas, expected him to produce a male child that would become priest by virtue of Annas's bloodline. There is no indication that Caiaphas produced a male child. He was deposed under Tiberius in early 37. Caiaphas's policy of denial failed.

So what would happen to the high priesthood? The family held on to the various offices of high priests. It would fall back to the other sons of Annas, who seem to have been much younger. 

The first son, Jonathan, was nominated high priest. He lasted for only a few weeks in early 37 CE. The outcry of the public was so strong he had to be removed. Theophilus, perhaps ill- prepared for the post but clearly less of an anti-Christian ideologue was put into the office of high priest. 

Thus Luke stresses that Theophilus had to be trained to be acceptable to the public who knew the resurrection was a fact. He had to be sure of the facts of the Messiah, if he were to stand up against Roman propaganda and attack. Who was his teacher? James the brother of Jesus had taken over the post during his work in Galilee. He stayed in the Temple until his death in the 60s. He was of the special lineage of chief priest, a royal line of teachers, stemming from David and his son Nathan.

Luke reproduces the details of his miraculous birth to the aged Mariam, a daughter of Aaron. He produces the priest-list that shows Jesus taking office 'as he was beginning to be about thirty' -- the official age to become Chief Priest according to Hebrew reckoning. He lists the miracles. He describes the Council of 70 Elders that Jesus set up, Luke 10. And he provides proof of the resurrection according to Hebrew records and detailed Roman legal procedures. He finishes with the witness of believers in the Temple, giving absolute proof of the events.  

Luke writes to Theophilus as if he were a State librarian accepting a valuable artefact. The Temple held the archives of the nation. So at least we know that high priest Theophilus did not refuse to admit authenticated, witnessed records, either during the reign of Gaius Caligula or later when it came to the books of Acts of the Apostles. 

The later Theophilus 

Proof that this Theophilus was the high priest is shown when Luke wrote Acts. There Theophilus is not called Most Excellent (kratiste). Why? Because he was no longer high priest in the 60s.

Calling someone by such a title would be considered illegal, even treasonous, to the political leader and high priest in office. He only could carry this honorific title. Paul addresses the Roman governors by this title kratiste in Acts. That shows it was a political form of address of the highest order. The ethnarch of the Jews held such an office but with the Roman conquest was subservient to Rome. But he still retained the political title -- while in office.

Luke's Gospel carried the facts that everyone knew to be true. Truth was victorious. There were many records, many eye-witnesses, as well as Luke himself, who was acquainted with all the facts from the beginning, Luke 1:1-. Their belief and conviction in them was tried in the fire of utmost danger when the whole nation was on the verge of Caligula's genocide.

This word kratiste is living proof that Luke’s Gospel was written as an authentic record, sent to the high priest personally, to be kept in the Temple archives as proof of events. 

As required by Hebrew law, the gospel is authenticated by multiple honest witnesses. It is a record of the history of Israel, validated by Jews, the high priest, imperial Roman authorities and undeniable events of history such as Caligula’s planned extermination of the Jews. It explains the otherwise unexplainable behavior and extremely costly strategy of Caligula. 

Caligula's great gamble would make no sense UNLESS he was scared about losing his throne and empire because of the prophesied Return of Christ, recorded in Matthew, Mark and Luke: to destroy the Abomination of Desolation. Luke wrote to Theophilus the words of Christ:

Settle therefore in your hearts not before what you shall answer: for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries will not be able to gainsay, nor resist. You shall be betrayed and hated of all men ... but a hair of your head shall not perish. Luke 21:14ff. 

Nazarenes in the Temple

In the first seven years after his father, Annas, who had been a principal agent in having Christ crucified, the priesthood was unable to persecute the Nazarenes. In this period, Tiberius decreed that they should not be killed.

We know from Luke that the disciples were continuously in the Temple.  So under the high priesthood of Theophilus they were not banned. 

They were continually in the Temple, praising God. ch24:53.

Was Theophilus popular with the people of Israel? No. We have good evidence that he did not stand firm with the Nazarenes against the theocratic attack of Gaius. 

But first what happened to Caligula? Did he reach Egypt?

Parthian signals

Gaius was anxious to reach Egypt as soon as possible. This can be seen from the urgency of his orders to Petronius his Commander in Syria to complete the giant idol of himself and erect it in the Temple, regardless of the cost in lives and the danger of war with Parthia and other countries.

Were events in Parthia signalling success or danger? Caligula had benefited from the Parthian Peace process of Tiberius until his death in 37 CE. A mutually beneficial truce had been forged with Artabanus II but then a war over the buffer State of Armenia took place. Decades of dispute followed. 

Artabanus seized the country when Artaxias died, the nominee of Germanicus, Gaius's father. Then Artabanus was forced to concede it as the Roman general Vitellius marched towards the Euphrates. Rome sowed discord and revolt among the cities and tribal adversaries of Artabanus and tried to replace him by a Roman puppet, Tiridates. Artabanus fled to the court of King Izates at Adiabene, who together with his mother Queen Helena had converted to Judaism. Artabanus, however, fought back and regained his throne.

Then in the autumn of 40, events seem to favor Gaius, the Roman 'god'. The Parthian emperor Artabanus was again deposed, this time by the Megistanes, bicameral body of the Assembly and Senate of Magi and Wise Men. Who would rule? Rivalry between his sons presaged a civil war. Seleucia and other cities wanted independence. 

Was this the divine moment to act?

Caligula took major risks to achieve a tight timetable. What was the deadline? Why was he in such a hurry at the start of year 41? Was it to coincide with an Egyptian festival of deification? Was his Temple glorification planned for a Jewish festival like Passover, the time when Jesus died and rose again?

To fit in with a timetable where he would present himself in Jerusalem in the Spring after visiting Egypt would mean setting out from Rome months before. He planned a glorious itinerary where at every step, every port, the crowds and authorities would worship him with pomp.

The Rome-built idol was ready in January. But to travel directly across to Egypt in winter was not only dangerous but foolish. Ships were often lost in storms. So Caligula planned to take his fleet around the coast of the Mediterranean. 

Plans were set to leave on 25 January.

Saturday, March 19, 2022

You can't understand Christ in the Temple without Rome's bronze law plates

Julius Caesar played a major role in the life and death of Jesus Christ. He was of prime importance in the existence and preservation of the Temple, even though Julius Caesar was long dead by the first century CE!

While the Temple existed, the Romans were unable to destroy Judaism and the Nazarenes. Why? Because in the period of one of the Roman civil wars, the Jews chose to help Julius Caesar against his rival Pompey. 

It turned out to be crucial for Rome and for the ruling Jerusalem priesthood that put their soldiers at Caesar's disposal. At this time the government in Israel had gained an unstable measure of freedom under the Hasmoneans and they then threw their weight on Caesar's side. Why? Their motivation makes the outcome a vital factor in NT history.

Jewish support was effective. Caesar, from an unsure situation where he shared power and then fought his former allies, gained unchallenged supremacy. He was grateful to his helpers in Jerusalem. He gave his thanks to receiving Jewish arms at a critical time. He made certain pledges to the Hasmoneans and the Jews when the Romans later occupied the land of Israel as a military power. They were not mere words that blew away with the wind.

Caesar's decrees had the support of the Roman Senate. They were so important they were engraved on bronze plates and exhibited in Jerusalem and elsewhere. Bronze plates with written law or declarations were used for millennia to show international agreements that must stand throughout time. Abraham was said to have made an agreement with the Jebusites about the future of Jerusalem and immortalized it on bronze plates. (See Jesus, James, Joseph, p580).

Without an understanding of these Roman bronze plates, much of the New Testament does not make sense. Happily we have an exact transcript of what they said.

A Roman bronze law plate

You will find these bronze plates described in detail in the fourteenth book of the Antiquities of Flavius Josephus. 

It is quite extraordinary that so many Bible commentators have not understood the significance of these plates. They represent fully-fledged legal pledges of the Roman military Dictator and his Senate into the future. The whole of the history of Israel in the first century BCE and beyond into the persecution of the early Nazarenes depends on them. Not least because the Senate also pledged to their continuance long after Caesar was deceased. It had international powers. The Senate was the body that sent and received ambassadors and appointed governors to provinces abroad.

While the plates stood, the Senate and Rome where obliged to follow its words as law. Their destruction brought about the demise of the entire city of Jerusalem. It resulted in its disappearance as the capital of the Jews, not for a few years, or a few centuries, but for a millennium or more.

The story of the Roman bronze plates is a question of law but also of greed, cheating and international chicanery.  

Battle Background

In the first century BCE, the Maccabees (the Hasmonean dynasty) had gained Israel's independence from the Hellenistic empire of the Seleucids of Syria. In the last days of the Hasmoneans, a struggle broke out between two family factions, brothers Hyrcanus II versus Aristobulus II. When both sides sought help and arbitration they made a foolish mistake which cost the Israelite nation dear. They turned to Rome's general Pompey to arbitrate. He was then warring against the Armenians, to the north. 

Instead of acting as a peacemaker, he seized on the opportunity to gain control of Israel. He conquered Jerusalem in 63 BCE. And then he entered the Temple's Holy of Holies to see if it was really empty. This sacred place is entered only by the High Priest on one day in the year, on Yon Kippur. The sacred ornaments including the Ark of the Covenant had long disappeared in previous wars. 

Hasmonean independence was ended.  Rome, not the Seleucids, was the master. Israel was again a land occupied by foreign armies.

Rome was then led by three men, the triumvirs. Pompey was the rival of super-rich Crassus. Julius Caesar was a military hero in Rome but he was in debt to Crassus. While it is said that Pompey did not steal riches from the Temple or further desecrate it, his act horrified the Jews who had fought tooth and nail to gain freedom from the Syro-Grecian empire of the Seleucids that had tried to wipe out Judaism by forced Hellenization.

Gold-mad Crassus, already possessing the equivalent of more than 200 tonnes of gold, planned to invade the Parthian Empire in the East and pillage its treasures. On his way east, he arrived in Jerusalem. He pillaged the Temple of an equivalent amount of gold plus silver. Antiq 14, 7,1, (105) 

In Parthia he met his fate. Both he and his legions were destroyed.  

So when Pompey and Caesar struggled for ultimate power, the Hasmoneans threw their support to Caesar, not the Temple-defiler, and promised to help. Pompey died in Egypt in 48 BCE. Caesar then chose Hyrcanus as high priest and leader of ethnic Jews.  

Embossed on Bronze

Caesar then made the following legal promulgation according to Josephus book 14 chapter 10,2 (190).

2. "Caius Julius Caesar, imperator and high priest (Pontifex Maximus), and dictator the second time, to the magistrates, senate, and people of Sidon, sends greeting. If you be in health, it is well. I also and the army are well. I have sent you a copy of that decree, registered on the tables, which concerns Hyrcanus, the son of Alexander, the high priest and ethnarch of the Jews, that it may be laid up among the public records; and I will that it be openly proposed in a table of brass, both in Greek and in Latin. It is as follows: 

I, Julius Caesar, imperator the second time, and high priest, have made this decree, with the approbation of the senate. Whereas Hyrcanus, the son of Alexander the Jew, hath demonstrated his fidelity and diligence about our affairs, and this both now and in former times, both in peace and in war, as many of our generals have borne witness, and came to our assistance in the last Alexandrian war, with fifteen hundred soldiers; and when he was sent by me to Mithridates, showed himself superior in valor to all the rest of that army; - for these reasons I will that Hyrcanus, the son of Alexander, and his children, be ethnarchs of the Jews, and have the high priesthood of the Jews for ever, according to the customs of their forefathers, and that he and his sons be our confederates; and that besides this, everyone of them be reckoned among our particular friends. I also ordain that he and his children retain whatsoever privileges belong to the office of high priest, or whatsoever favors have been hitherto granted them; and if at any time hereafter there arise any questions about the Jewish customs, I will that he determine the same. And I think it not proper that they should be obliged to find us winter quarters, or that any money should be required of them."

Thus the Hasmoneans under Hyrcanus II were made hereditary high priests and ethnarchs, or secular rulers. 

Along came Herod
Being high priests for ever is not something that Caesar or any human can guarantee. For one, it depends on the family having the reproductive powers to have children, and two, that any male child surviving to adulthood would fulfill the stringent requirements of the office. This included being free from a long list of physical deformities. Other factors such as the will of Rome's rulers also come into play.

When Herod received the power as king from the Roman Senate, he saw the high priesthood as a rival to his office. He did two things. He married Mariamne, the last legitimate daughter of the Hasmoneans. Then he made sure that her brother, the young, potentially very popular high priest, was assassinated by drowning by his Gaulish bodyguards. The Hasmoneans were then bereft of any legitimate candidate for high priest.

Herod then thought he could select whomsoever he wished to be high priest. He made priests of men who had no right according to the laws of the Temple. So Josephus.

As Rome's agent, Herod exercised royal power in Judea. He had ultimate control of who would be high priest, whether it conformed to Hebrew law or not. The choice conformed to his will as someone loyal to the pagan gods but also a fervent restorer of paganism. Judea was in a dire spiritual situation. 

Consider the religious and political implications of these events. What would happen to true worship in the Temple? We need to look at the dilemma from the point of view of the faithful Jews.

Who makes high priests?
When Julius Caesar proclaimed that the Hasmoneans were to be forever high priests, he was exercising his own religious authority as the Pontifex Maximus, the chief authority of all religions in the Roman Empire. Before Caesar, the holder of the office was a priest separate from secular and military powers. Traditionally the Pontifex Maximus remained in Rome. When Caesar gained the office that all changed. After his military victories, he had all secular and religious power combined together.

A faithful Jew could ask: Is that how it works? Does a pagan, in fact the chief of the pagans, have the delegated authority of God to name the high priest in the Jerusalem Temple, dedicated to the Supreme God of the Universe?

The subjection of all forms of Judaism to the power of Rome was how Romans thought was the natural order. Herod assumed he had the legal power to name whomsoever he wished to be high priest, following the end of the Hasmonean dynasty.

Did he have God's approval, according to the Jews faithful to Jehovah?

Certainly not. 

Hasmonean bronze plates
Bronze plates enunciating law and rights have along history. They were used in the Temple even before the Romans arrived to try to legitimize royal and priestly power. One set of bronze plates did not jibe for some Jews. Josephus makes it clear that neither the Hasmoneans (who had become corrupt and Hellenized) nor the Pontifex Maximus had powers to convince a certain group of Jews or provide any approval above Hebrew custom. Bronze decrees were often brazen attempts to overthrow God's laws written in minds and consciences.

The Hasmoneans were of a minor branch of the tribe of Levi and were not themselves fit to be high priests. Their glory lies in the facts of history. They refused to succumb to pagan Hellenism that the Seleucids wished to impose and thus to wipe out all forms of Judaism. They revolted. They fought the huge Seleucid Empire and won the independence of the nation with the help of the Parthian Empire in the East. 

But the revolt led by brave warriors did not give them divine rights to be high priests. Nor as it turned out later did it give them any right to claim to be kings or ethnarchs. The right of the high priesthood was always given to the sons of Aaron and their offspring. The throne of Israel was appointed to the offspring of King David.

The Hasmoneans saw things differently. They recorded their views on bronze plates in the Temple grounds. They claimed they were 'high priests and hegemons for ever' (eis ton aiona), I Macc 14:41. 
  • Their word must be obeyed by all the people; 
  • none should gainsay their words or else they would be punished; 
  • the Hasmoneans should be clothed in purple and wear a gold buckle. 
These powers were conceded by their former imperial masters and confirmed by the Seleucid King Demetrius to Simon Maccabeus. They were written on bronze plates set up within the Temple in a conspicuous place so all could see them, v45.
They had overstepped the mark.

So where were the authentic priestly and royal dynasties at the time of the Hasmoneans and Julius Caesar?

The third parties
Let's go back to the time of the triumvirs, before Caesar was sole ruler. When Pompey conquered Israel, there were two last surviving Hasmonean brothers struggling for power: Hyrcanus and Aristobulus. Caesar decreed that Hyrcanus, son of Alexander, and his offspring should be perpetual priests. 

But neither brother was of legitimate priestly or royal descent. When Pompey first arrived and entered into the dispute, there was another party who made claim to both royal and priestly offices. In Antiquities 14, chapter three, we read (41) that Pompey came to Damascus:
And there it was he heard the causes of the Jews, and of their governors Hyrcanus and Aristobulus, who were at difference one with another, as also of the nation against them both, which did not desire to be under kingly government because the form of government they received from their forefathers was that of subjection to the priests of that God whom they worshipped; and [they complained], that though these two were of the posterity of priests, yet did they did they seek to change the government of the nation to another form, in order to enslave them.
Who were members of the nation against both Hasmonean brothers? They wanted to change the Hasmonean form of government that was trying to enslave them? The Greek τὸ ἔθνος, ethnos, refers to an ethnicity, a genealogical family and dynasty. They were not a part of the Hasmoneans. These people, this tribe, were reclaiming the ancient rights of the pure priesthood who should have direct Aaronic blood, and royal Davidic blood if they should be considered for the kingship. They wanted a royal and priestly system based on freedom, not Gentile-style autocracy. 
They were not the third party in the dispute but the legitimate, first claimants. 

The legitimate claimants
This is a key historic event that should be at the forefront of biblical commentators and historians when they discuss Christianity. Both the priesthood and the secular power of Israel were in the hands of imperious imposters! They were supported by all the might and power of the Hellenizing Seleucids and then pagan Rome. 

This true genealogical claim hearkens back to the Return from the Babylonian exile. Then Ezra led a group of purified priests and made sure that they did not have mixed blood with the surrounding pagans. Some of the priests had even married the native (pagan) girls of the land. Ezra made sure that these priests either divorced from these pagans or were expelled from any office in the priesthood -- forever. He told them that one of the main reasons for the Babylonian conquest and their exile was that their forefathers had mixed with pagans.
The royal line was the inheritance of a different tribe, that of Judah. The royal line was the offspring of Zerubbabel who became the leader after the Return. While his sons were not crowned kings because they were still subjects and under control of the powers of Babylon and then Persia, they provided leadership up to a point into the empire of Alexander the Great and later the Seleucids. When the Law of God indicated that they should not stay in Israel, a country riven with war, idolatry and rape, they exiled themselves in Egypt. They could thus preserve their offspring and ensure it was not polluted by rapine.

It is clear from this passage of Josephus, however, that, when the land of Israel was returning to independence, the legitimate clans were not allowed by the Hasmonean power-holders to regain their offices. Their representatives, however, made it clear to Pompey in Damascus (outside Israel) that the Hasmoneans were not legitimate.

This passage from Josephus indicates and presages the rise of the legitimate Aaronic priesthood of the family of Jesus as High Priest and Davidic line of the 'king of the Jews' of the New Testament, the New Covenant.

Priestly polemics
For Israelites in Israel and those exiled broad it was the essential part of their faith and adherence that the priesthood should follow the instructions of the Torah, the books of Moses. The Temple priesthood represented a connection of the people with the Creator God and the covenant their families had made at Sinai. It opposed all forms of paganism. A falsified priesthood may have sat well with religious and political authorities in Rome but for many Jews it was an insult and sacrilege.

After the demise of the Hasmonean dynasty, the effort of Herod trying to foist his own choice as high priest would have not resolved the dilemma. It would have made the sacrilege and public outrage even worse. The Hasmoneans had no legitimate offspring. The people that Herod chose as his high priest had even less. Where was the authentic Aaronic dynasty and how could it be installed again with Herod's acquiescence?

It should be recalled that Aaronic priests were always a minority among the Levitical priests that made up the tribe. Aaron had two surviving sons when the total number of male Levites was more than 22,000, Num 3. 

The solution was forced on Herod. It was not his choice. The undisputed dynastic claims made the choice inevitable. It was thrust upon him from Egypt of all places.

A man and his family arrived from refuge in Egypt and settled in Israel. The Land was now at peace, although it was ruled by a ruthless conqueror. For the priesthood it was important that their families and especially their virgin daughters should not live in a place of open warfare. Civil war was replaced by Roman law and administration.

Out of Egypt   
Simon Boethus arrived from Egypt and caused consternation. One surprising result of his arrival was that Herod had to divorce his queen! Why?
  • Was it money? Was Simon super-rich? No. 
  • Did he have an intimate political relationship to Caesar? There is no evidence of any relationship. 
  • Did he blackmail Herod in some way? Not at all. Simon was known for his piety and adherence to the laws of God.
Simon was from a family of modest means. It was not wealth or politics that caused Herod to take real notice of him. 

Here's what Josephus records:
There was one Simon, the son of Boethus, a citizen of Alexandria, a priest of great note there; this man had a daughter who was esteemed as being the most beautiful woman of her time ...  Herod was stricken with her beauty. Antiq bk 15, 9, 4 (320).
What was the brutal Herod to do? Use his authority to abuse her? Be thus stigmatized by violence and tyranny? Simon was of a dignity (social standing) too inferior to be allied to him, but too considerable to be despised, says Josephus. Curious. Herod wielded enough brutal power to do what he wanted. But here with Simon, he did not exercise it. Simon had a social standing but not riches or political power.

What dignity did Simon have that an abuse of his daughter would have provoked a revolt?

What was the context of popular discord that Herod had already stirred up? The dignity that Simon possessed was not riches or powerful friends but a pure genealogy. Even Josephus, who held Hasmonean loyalties, had to admit Simon was a 'priest of great note'.

Herod immediately deprived Jesus son of Phabet of the high priesthood, and conferred that dignity on Simon, says Josephus. Thus it is clear that Simon had the standing of a pure Aaronic pedigree. No one objected when such a person became high priest. Then Herod did something that was illegal.

And so Herod joined in affinity with him [by marrying his daughter, Mariamne] says Josephus. It was not permitted for an Aaronic high priest to give his daughter to a non-Israelite. Herod threw up a cloud of false information about his origins. What could Simon do against the desires of an autocrat? For someone who Josephus describes as having little dignity, he drove a hard bargain: his daughter became Herod's first lady to the exclusion of all others.

Simon now held the title of high priest and ethnarch. By marrying into the family with the greatest priestly genealogical claims, Herod, the product of a disreputable line as far as Israel was concerned, sought to capture some of its legitimacy and make his offspring the heirs to his kingdom. That this was his motive is shown by the fact that he divorced his queen, his previous wife of Samaritan extraction (also named Mariamne) and made Simon's daughter his queen.

The previous high priest was a man of little breeding. Simon was a popular choice, and one that could not easily be reversed, as history shows. He remained high priest for some two decades.  

As Josephus tells the story it is about beauty and kingly power but the record shows much more was involved. Why is Josephus reticent in saying the word 'priestly pedigree'? Why use the word 'dignity'? Josephus confesses his own bias as narrator: he had some minor Hasmonean blood and therefore supported their cause; he was a Pharisee (as distinct from supporting the Nazarenes or Esseans) and he was a leader of the bloody and fruitless revolt against the Romans (which Simon and his family were not). To say more about Simon would reveal the inadequacy of his own positions by comparison.

The elevation of Simon to the high priesthood coincided with the golden revival of Jewish fortunes, the Parthian peace process. Peace with Rome's major rival, Parthia, meant neither side wasted resources on war. Trade blossomed. Simon led the rebuilding of the Temple and its glorification. With the influx of vast quantities of treasures from Israelites in Parthia and around the world the Temple became the greatest construction project in the Roman Empire. It was the result of a geopolitical agreement of peace between the kings of Parthia and Emperor Augustus of Rome. Herod merely submitted to Rome's geopolitical plan. In Israel other amazing construction projects with no parallel elsewhere in their ingenuity followed. Herod took the praise. 

 The Temple and the Plaque
With the end of the Hasmoneans, the legitimate Levitical priesthood had gained the high office in the Temple. The City State, recognized by Julius Caesar, continued as an autonomous entity of the high priest. The high priest held all powers within the Temple. The Hasmoneans had been ethnarchs as well masters in the Temple itself. But now under Roman occupation, the ethnarchy of the land of Israel outside the Temple complex was subject to Roman occupation and Herodian control. 

The sanctity of the Temple remained. No Roman, nor any Gentile was allowed within its inner courts, such as the Court of the Israelites, and certainly nowhere near the Court of Priest and the Temple itself. That included the powerful King Herod himself. What restrained him? Roman law and the bronze plaque showing the agreement and decree of Julius Caesar and Rome's continuous adherence to its principles. In other words, Augustus made it clear to Herod that the Temple and its grounds were off-limits to him because major geopolitical agreements were involved.  

The Despot of the House
But was Simon the sole master inside the Temple? Simon was the High Priest (Cohen haGodol) and as such was responsible for the rituals and daily services of sacrifice.  The Hebrew Scriptures speak of several high priests and they are ruled by a Chief Priest (Cohen haRosh). He was quite often a relative, that is a fellow Aaronic priest, sometimes with royal blood too. The Hasmoneans seem not to have followed this or demoted the latter to a subservient position as a military commander.

The Chief Priest was the Teacher of the high priest. As such he could discipline the high priest if he did not follow the rules of the Temple. The Chief Priest was in charge of all aspects of the Temple, including its security and the thousands who served as Temple guards, opened the gates at the appointed time and made sure that only Israelites of verified pure pedigree were admitted and they were all properly purified. He was in charge of the Temple treasury and the Temple archives. 

The Chief Priest was the Absolute Sovereign of the Temple, God's House. The Greek term, used in the NT, is oikodespotis -- literally House Despot, whose voice had to be obeyed as the voice of God. The term despotis was not used by observant Jews of any man but only of God, the supreme power of good. No human outside the Temple wielded such power over Israelites, not even the Caesar. The customary exception was that of the head of a family with slaves as this described that absolute authority on a much smaller scale. He had total power of life, torture and death over his slaves under Roman law. They were his objects. 

Caesar's bronze plates state Roman Law that no one in the Empire had the right to violate the sanctity of the Temple. That had to be observed by all Roman soldiers in Jerusalem. Within the whole Roman Empire there may therefore have been one area that lay outside any force of Roman power. That was the tiny enclave of the Temple. The House of God itself was a fortress, built square with sides one Roman stade long. That is 185 meters or 600 feet. Its wall rose 140 meters from the Kidron valley. Josephus Wars 5,5,1 (188.) Jesus, James, Joseph, p439ff.

Besides this impressive battlement, certain other land was attached. This included the wine and olive press gardens on the east side of the precipitous Kidron valley. Gethsemane was connected by a holy bridge. Both the bridge and the area of Gethsemane were Temple ground. The ownership of this land dated back to the time of King David. Only priests were allowed to use this area. That is why the fraudulent high priests made such a clamor when Christ crossed the Kidron on a donkey just like his ancestor David. 

The ride on a mule was no random choice. It was an assertion of royal legitimacy. It reflected the historic event when King David rode from his palace on the Mount of Olives on the bridge to the Temple area to quell the rebellion of his son and his military commander. He then crowned Solomon king as his legitimate successor, and the high priest anointed Solomon over the sacred Gihon spring, the site of the Temple. Jesus, James, Joseph, p429ff.

The ride was an assertion by Jesus that he was a Davidic king of the Temple and rightful priest. 

The fraudsters had to react. Jesus re-affirmed his genealogy to Pontius Pilate's question 'Are you a king?' 'You said it! I am king,' John 18:37. But not of Caesar's world. He was king and priest of the Temple, the last remaining parcel of Israelite sovereignty. Pilate's praetorium lay outside this zone and Jerusalem proper. To the fraudsters' questions, he said nothing. He did not have to justify the claim; they had to give grounds for theirs. 

Inside the Temple, Jesus could call on all loyal priest-guards and Israelites. Outside he was on Roman occupied ground. Inside he was designated by right as military commander. He is called Commander many times in the NT but readers would not know it from almost all English translations. 

In Luke 5:5 Simon Peter at his first meeting calls Jesus epistatis, usually translated as Master. It means much more. The Geneva Bible has a note: The word signifies him that is made ruler over anything. The original Weymouth has Commander. The Julia Smith or Jonathan Mitchell Literal translations also have Commander. The same word is used in the Greek Septuagint in Jeremiah 29:25 as 'overseer in the Temple' in 2Chron 31 :12 it is ruler-priest and elsewhere taskmaster in charge of construction.

The lexicon says it means chief or commander. Chief and commander over what? The Temple.  It was a fortress. The commander had absolute command.

Some translations have Rabbi! That is false and an outright distortion of the Greek. The Greek for rabbi is literally rabbi! If Peter wanted to say Rabbi, he would have said Rabbi. That shows the confusion among churches that have not come to grips with the technical terms of the NT and its Temple context.  

The Greek translators knew Greek history and usage. The term epistatis is a special, technical political term used for centuries earlier and also later. He is the head of a city. In this case the Temple-city. He was in charge of fortification and security and all aspects of the politics.  He was thus Superintendent of the city's assembly -- which is called the ekklesia in Greek! He holds the key to the city and is their military commander. That is the way the term ekklesia is used in the NT. 

It is used of the Congregation of the tribes of Israel, Acts 7:38. It is the political assembly of Israel. In the NT it is used of a Greek political assembly, Acts 19:32, 39, 41. Yet many people today think it means 'church' in the style set up in the Middle Ages by the Catholic church. In the NT it means the political assembly of those who recognized the kingship of Christ. The ekklesia abroad were run by his designated Ambassadors (the Greek word is apostolos). When Peter and others address Christ as epistatis they acknowledge he is king, military commander and keeper of the archives (canon). He was absolute, sovereign ruler, despotis.

What this is saying is that firstly Jesus is the designated, hereditary leader and Sovereign of Israel. Secondly in the Roman context, he is Ruler of the Temple, an independent City-State, recognized by Rome as separate from their own laws and religious obligations.

That came into conflict with the Roman quislings, their high priests chosen to be guardians of Roman control of the people. It was these fraudulent high priests, working for Rome, that denounced Christ as undermining their authority. But Pontius Pilate knew his Roman law and that Christ was the real King and Chief Priest of Holy Jerusalem. He declared him innocent of any charge. He knew the genealogies of Christ made him the hereditary Ruler. 

And Christ also made clear that outside Holy Jerusalem, for example, as a prisoner inside the praetorium of Pilate, he was not an active king. 'My kingdom is not of this world (kosmos)' -- the Roman world. Inside the Temple fortress it was different. 'If my kingdom were of this (Roman) world, then would my officers (hyperetai) fight' to deliver me. John 18:36. That would mean taking on the whole Roman world. It would incite a world war with Jews and Israelites in the Diaspora and with the Parthian Empire. Jesus the king (as Pilate confirmed) was totally in Rome's hands without help inside the Roman hall of judgement of the legionary garrison. He showed Jesus to the mob outside as 'the King of the Jews'. They demanded punishment and refused clemency. 

Pilate showed his power by scourging Christ with a multi-thronged whip with attached jagged metal pieces.  Hoping this would satisfy their illicit desires to humiliate and eliminate Christ, he had soldiers hit the bloodied Jesus and say 'Hail the king of the Jews!' striking him several times across the face with their hands, John 19:3.  Pilate then presented him with a crown of thorns to the mob: 'See the man now!

Pilate tried further to get out of the dilemma, when Christ as God's legitimate High Priest, told him that he, Pilate, governor from Rome, had no authority except that which was allowed by God. Those that demanded his death had the greater culpability, John 19:11. They demanded his death and Pilate gave the order.

Jesus was crucified. A green tree (xulon), Acts 5:30, was used as a stake. 

What was at stake at his trial before Pilate? 


The fraudulent high priesthood depended on a bronze plaque, initially favoring the Hasmoneans. It was given by the Pontifex Maximus, the chief of all pagan religions of the Roman Empire. When asked about giving tribute to Rome, Jesus asked for a coin of Tiberius, bearing his effigy and title as Pontifex Maximus. 'Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's' was his reply, Mat 22:21. All the Universe belongs to God, the Supreme Sovereign and Creator.  Jesus, James, Joseph, p325. 

Jesus said he was come to bear witness of the truth. After extracting the forensic facts, Pilate asked 'What is truth?' John 19:37-8. Surely, factual truth was vital in judgement.

Jesus could prove his genealogy as a king from David. He could prove his fitness as Chief Priest from Aaron. What the fraudulent high priests and the Roman governor decided was based on politics.

They thought their politics would save the day.

They were wrong.

Truth is eternal.  Truth saves. 'I am the Way, the Truth and the Life' John 14:6.