THE THIRD SESSION is the climax: Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. These were turbulent times under the notoriously harsh Roman regime. Taxes were heavy, and any hint of public disorder was brutally suppressed. The Jewish community itself was fragmented. Apart from the mainstream rivals, the Sadducees and Pharisees, there were Jewish fringe groups of violent ultra-nationalists on the one hand (Zealots; Sicarii), and of religious reformers on the other (Essenes; perhaps followers of John the Baptist; and of course those that believed in Jesus of Nazareth).
The Temple in Jerusalem had been rebuilt centuries earlier, but King Herod (‘the Great’), a client king under Rome, revamped it on a sensational scale in the late 1st century BC. We refer to both versions of the restored building as the “Second Temple”, and its 600-year time frame as the Second-Temple Period. It terminated with the Roman devastation of the Holy City in 70 AD, some forty years after Jesus’ death. With the Temple gone, animal sacrifice became defunct, and the Jewish priests lost their leadership status. Synagogues became the place where the Jewish religion was practiced at a communal level, and “rabbis” (teachers: see Mark 9:5 and elsewhere) emerged as the spiritual leaders of a transformed kind of Judaism.
This was the land and the time that saw the birth of the Christian faith.
But I get ahead of myself. Jesus’ last week in Jerusalem was the season of the popular Passover pilgrimage, when the city was inundated by huge numbers of Jews from elsewhere in the country and abroad. Roman security was at its peak, and public disorder would not be tolerated. The Jewish high court, the Sanhedrin, would have been very careful not to rile the Romans. In this session we’ll look at what I like to call the “Easter geography of Jerusalem”, tracing Jesus’ footsteps in that last fateful week.
People often ask about the authenticity of historical and holy sites. We have a great deal of archaeological evidence, and sometimes written sources, that support the identification of this or that ancient site. Holy places of any religion tend to be a more sensitive issue, and you will often hear the word “traditional” applied to such places. Some may have a strong case for authenticity; some may be authentic but their authenticity cannot be proven; and some are demonstrably just traditional. The “bingo!” sites are always exciting, and we’ll see some of them in our time together. But even less-provable locations may offer a profound spiritual experience as ‘remembrance places’ for many pilgrims because of the events they represent. And centuries of prayers and tears often leave an aura of sanctity around a site, even if its claim to be “the site” of an ancient event is dubious.
© Mike Rogoff 2020