19 August 2015

On Moral and Ethical People

I do not trust moral people. Moral people are only moral because of what other people think. They are only “moral” as long as the Authority which dictates their morality is in place and watching.  Take away Authority, or worse, have Authority release them from their morality for a “just cause”, you get a Gitmo, an Abu Ghraib, a My Lai, a Kahrizak, an Evin, a 1988 prison massacre, institutionalized prison rape by guards, a Porajmos, a Holocaust, a Holodmor, a Medz Yeghern, Manifest Destiny, national exceptionalism, ethnocracy, neoliberalism, trickle-down economics, austerity for the masses, a war on poverty replaced by a war on the poor, religious fundamentalism, complexionism, the worst atrocities committed by humanity.

Ethical people, on the other hand, realize that the only person to whom they can really be true is their own self.  But I don’t trust absolutely ethical people either.  A truly ethical person knows that sometimes the only ethical thing to do is to set aside their ethics temporarily, the distinction here being that they come to that decision on their own.  They are flexible.  An absolutely ethical person is so committed to their own ethics that nothing, no change of circumstances, no amount of compassion, no amount of empathy, will cause them to change.  The result of the latter is the same as Authority releasing its charges from their restrictions.

18 August 2015

Kendra's Law

People who have struggled together have stronger connections than those who are most content. Most people don't do what they believe in; they do what's convenient and then they repent, seeking absolution they don't deserve. 

Like the Muslim who shows neither compassion nor mercy (like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia or the Islamic Republic of Iran), the Christian who goes around with a 2x4 in each eye and a stone in each hand (like the entire American Christian Supremacist Right), the Jew who loudly condemns the Holocaust while carrying out Israel's genocide against the Palestinians (the overwhelming majority of Israelis), the "heathcare provider" in business to reap profit by denying healthcare to as many as possible, the banker who steals with impunity while a guy convicted of selling an ounce of weed does twenty to life.

Visiting Day (poem)

Fingers touching
Through the glass
Their only caress

Khalil Gibran's "The Prophet", Chapter IV: Children

'And a woman who held a babe against her bosom said, "Speak to us of Children." 
And he said: 
Your children are not your children. 
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself. 
They come through you but not from you, 
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you. 
You may give them your love but not your thoughts. 
For they have their own thoughts. 
You may house their bodies but not their souls, 
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. 
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. 
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday. 
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth. 
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far. 
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness; 
For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.'

Solitude (poem)

Inside the wall
Of solitude
Reaching out
Not touching
Cold and hungry
Not searching


Still (poem)

Thinking of you
I only regret
That what could've been
Never came to be
Not through any fault
Of yours or mine
But only because
Of other things
In each of our lives

Remembering that
Makes me want to die
A little death
And be reborn
In your arms

Look at Me (poem)

I don't want to be
Your declaration of independence
I don't want to be
Your father confessor
Or your counselor
Or your therapist
I don't want to be a substitute
For your husband
Or your dad
I don't want to be
A stand-in
For the brother you never had
I don't want to be
A player
In the script you write
And direct
I don't want to be
The fulfillment of your
Emotional or sexual fantasies
And to tell you the truth
I don't even know how
To be any of those things
Those desires are yours
I only know how
To be me
But deep inside
I am everything
You want me to be
And if you let me
I will love you
But if you can't
Please tell me
And release me
So I can walk away
To find someone
Who can

How the PRC has become the British Empire and the IRI the Qajari dynasty

(Originally posted to FB 5 May 2010)

In recent months, the regime has prepared the launch of 8-10 billion euros of energy bonds. Last week, the first phase of the issuance (valued at 250 million euros) was the first step to test the reaction of international capital markets, minus the U.S. and the U.K., to the government-backed 8% rate of return over 3 years, which, on the surface, appears a promising investment.

In this short note, a number of observations are made pertaining to the risks involved in participating in the scheme to both foreign and domestic buyers of the bonds. Given the absence of reliable data on the cost of the bond-generated revenue, a degree of speculation in the assessment is unavoidable.

Even taking into account the relative ease at which the market accepted government bonds a few years ago, the new bonds are quite different on many levels.

The last (and only time) that the government issued bonds the value was 1 billion dollars (less than 700 million euros). At that time the global economic environment was quite positive compared to the present day liquid-short banking sector. The emerging economic slowdown in the euro zone triggered by the Greek debt and similar situations in Portugal, Poland, Ireland and Spain have elevated the cost of borrowing and exacerbated the liquidity shortage barring the Chinese and Malaysian financial systems, which lessens the appeal of these bonds to Western institutional investors beyond what the sanctions have done already.

In Iran, since 2001, the energy sector has been showing serious signs of diminishing productivity and falling returns to new investment for the following reasons, which have made it the second least productive industry in the leagues of top 10 oil-rich economy (Nigeria is the least productive).

Since 1999, the level of investment in the oil industry has been about one-third of what it should have been to maintain the productivity of the oil fields/wells compared with the average investment-output ratio for the region. The Majlis’ (Iranian Parliament’s) own calculations, as well as the Minister of Oil’s statement in February 2010, reported a 70 billion dollar shortfall in investment over the last 9 years. The issuance of 8-10 billion euros, about 14 billion dollars, will not be remotely enough to address the collapsing infrastructures in Gachsaran, Khoramshahr, Ilam, Nazar Tapeh and Pars oil fields. The money will only be a temporary means of risk-sharing to involve foreign capital, and at a time when sanctions will make investment even less profitable if they involve the energy industry as a means to pass some of the risk to foreign buyers.

The energy sector will almost certainly be affected by sanctions since all Sepah (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps) business interests are to be targeted, and in recent years, through creeping takeovers, Sepah-owned companies are now the largest entities in the Iranian oil industry. After the dispute with Total of France and an Italian company which refused to re-structure payments based on kickbacks, and the shock Total managers in France received when the kickbacks to officials during the second administration of President Khatemi were leaked by the “reformists” in Tehran, Western interest in future deals declined further, especially when the direct involvement of Mehr Investment in the Pars fields Phases 11-16 resulted in explicit demands for a 12 percent off-the-books contract payment in cash. 

Three months after President Ahmadi Nejad was elected in his first term, the government agreed with China National Petroleum Corporation. (CNPC) on a 20 year deal which effectively transferred pricing option to CNPC and agreed to a barter-based payment which allowed China to pay 50-65% of the value of oil purchased in Chinese goods. A year and half after the exit of Total and other European firms, CNPC replaced all the companies with a nominal undertaking of 5 billion dollars investment over 11 years. Three years after the agreement, China has invested less than one billion dollars of which 700 million dollars have been in distribution and delivery facility to Chinese vessels and almost nothing in the production infrastructure.

In 2009, pursuant to a split between the Sepah commanders in Mehr Investment and Khatemolanbia, which had received a sum of 8.9 billion dollars from the special oil account despite objections from the Parliament’s less influential members, informed the leadership that unless a further 22 billion dollars of credit was not provided, they will not be able to deliver targets for which the 8.9 billion dollars had been transferred to them. Given the massive leakage of oil and gas money to the Far East, government, Mr Hosseini first, mentioned the issue of energy bonds as a means to make the Iranian oil and gas industry the pioneer in the application of sequential-pressurization, a technique that Sepah has opted for because of its low level technical requirement but one that enables, at best, a 10-15 percent reclaiming ratio of available oil instead of 40-60 percent as experienced using more advanced methods used in Sakhalin, North Sea, and Mexico.

It is almost certain that a substantial amount of the revenue raised through the bonds will go to the Sepa, where accountability and performance assessments are most difficult to implement.

The highest risk associated with the new bonds (“energy investment shares” as the government calls it now) is that in the case of a partial sale when some of the bonds are not taken up by buyers, the value of those purchased will see a high discount as an investment that was not assessed as worth investing, and this will see a loss of value. The guaranteed return on the bonds will not guarantee an automatic pay off if the investment does not generate improved productivity that can finance the buyback. In the event of shortage of hard currency, buyers will be left with promissory notes which will have a declining valuation as the delay increases.

The most likely winners of the scheme seem to be U.A.E. banks which have shown interest in the bonds and two Chinese banks which have indicated a take up of 3-7 percent of total bonds each. In all cases, such a concentrated purchase by institutions which have close links to their national governments has the potential for acquisition of strategic control or at least interests in the Iranian energy sector which is and will be for some time to come, the lifeline of the economy.

Another excerpt from Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran

(I posted this in my FB Notes back in September 2009, and after finding I didn't have it here was inspired to post it after reading a story about increasing conversion to Christianity in Iran.)

"...She was talking about the teacher who taught Islamic morality and translation....Her voice took on a serious tone as she began to describe his recent lecture on the difference between Islam and Christianity...On one side [of the blackboard] he had written, in large white letters, MUSLIM GIRL, and drawn a vertical line in the middle of the board. On the other side, in large pink letters, he wrote CHRISTIAN GIRL. He had then asked the class if they knew the differences between the two. One was a virgin, he said at last, after an uncomfortable silence, white and pure, keeping herself for her husband and her husband only. Her power came from her modesty. The other, well, there was not much one could say about her except that she was not a virgin. To Yassi's surprise, the two girls behind her, both active members of the Muslim Students' Association, had started to giggle, whispering, "Now wonder more and more Muslims are converting to Christianity".

13 August 2015

European colonies in the Americas, 1776

Most Yanks are completely oblivious to the fact that there were many more British colonies in North America in 1776 than just the thirteen represented in the stripes on the U.S. flag.  In addition, fourteen colonies joined the rebellion in 1775 that became a revolution.  So, while fourteen rebelled against Great Britain, seven did not.

Once I got to writing a list of these, I couldn’t stop myself from going all-out and listing all the colonies of European powers in the Western Hemisphere in 1776.

The rebellious colonies are marked with an asterisk.

Maine was part of Massachusetts Bay until 1820.

Vermont seceded from New York in 1777 as New Caledonia initially, then became the Republic of Vermont, which it remained until entering the Union as a state in 1791.

Gardiner’s Island is a small island in the bay of the same name at the eastern end of Long Island, New York.  Its owner had been granted the status of independent colony by the Crown as early as 1639, when the rest of what is now New York was the New Netherlands.  After the revolution, the island came under the jurisdiction of the town of East Hampton, New York.

Officially the “Three Lower Counties on the Delaware River”, when it declared independence from Great Britain, the already autonomous colony seceded from Pennsylvania as Delaware.

West Virginia at the time was merely western Virginia, and remained so until seceding from the secessionist commonwealth in the Civil War to become its own state in 1863.

Rupert’s Land was the one part of North America still owned by a proprietary company.

St. John’s Island became Prince Edward Island in 1798.

Illinois Country is roughly equivalent to what became Northwest Territory, or the Old Northwest, in 1787.  Until 1763, it was Upper Louisiane east of the Mississippi River.

The colonies of East Florida and West Florida were established in 1763 when Spain traded them to Great Britain for Louisiane west of the Mississippi River.  After they reverted to Spain in 1783, Spain retained the division.

The territory north of West Florida to the Ohio River, what had once been Lower Louisiane east of the Mississippi River, was Indian territory, but affairs involving Great Britain were handled out of the West Florida capital of Pensacola.

Norwegian colonies

In North America


British colonies

In North America

*Massachusetts Bay (which then included Maine)
*New Hampshire
*Rhode Island and Providence Plantations
*New York (which then included Vermont)
*Gardiner’s Island
*New Jersey
*Three Lower Counties (now Delaware)
*Virginia (of which West Virginia was then part)
*North Carolina
*South Carolina
Rupert’s Land (owned by Hudson’s Bay Company)
Quebec (including Illinois Country)
St. John’s Island (renamed Prince Edward Island)
Nova Scotia (then including New Brunswick and Cape Breton Island)
East Florida
West Florida (nominally including the unorganized territory north to the Ohio River)

In the Caribbean

Jamaica (and Caymans)
British Lesser Antilles (Antigua, Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitts, Nevis, St.
            Vincent, Anguilla, Montserrat)

Viceroyalty of New Spain

In North America

Reino de Mexico
Captaincy-General of La Florida (formerly, until 1763)
Luisiana (under the Captaincy-General of Cuba)
Captaincy-General of the Internal Provinces (Las Californias, Nuevo Navarra, Santa Fe de
            Nuevo Mexico, Tejas, Nuevo Vizcaya, Nuevo Extremadura, Nuevo Leon, Nuevo
Nuevo Reino de Galicia
Captaincy-General of Yucatan
Captaincy-General of Guatemala (Guatemala, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras,

In the Caribbean

Captaincy-General of Cuba (including Luisiana, the former Louisiane west of the Misssissippi)
Captaincy-General of Santo Domingo
Captaincy-General of Puerto Rico
Spanish Lesser Antilles (Trinidad, Tobago)

In the western Pacific

Captaincy-General of the Philippines (Philippines, Marianas, Carolines, Moluccas)

Other Spanish colonies

In South America

Viceroyalty of New Granada
            Intendency of Caracas (became the Captaincy-General of Venezuela in 1777)
Viceroyalty of Peru
Viceroyalty of the Rio de la Plata
Captaincy-General of Chile

French colonies

In the Caribbean

Saint Domingue (now Haiti)
French Lesser Antilles (St. Lucia, St. Martin, Guadeluope, Martinique, Saint Barthelemy)

In South America


Dutch colonies

In the Caribbean

Dutch Lesser Antilles (Aruba, Sint Maarten, Bonaire, Curacao, Saba, Sint Eustatius)

In South America


Danish colonies

In the Caribbean

Danish Lesser Antilles (Virgin Islands: St. Thomas, St. Jan, St. Croix)

Portugese colonies

In South America

Viceroyalty of Brasil
            State of Brasil
            State of Maranhao e Piaui
            State of Grao-Para e Rio Negro

Russian colonies

In North America

Russkaya Amerika (Alaska, later Colony Ross in California and Schaffer’s short-lived
colonies on Oahu and Kaua’i in the Hawai’ian Islands)

The Great Commandment, or Mitzvah, a history

The Great Commandment (Great Mitzvah), or Summary of the Law (Summary of the Torah) in the Book of Common Prayer, is one of the best known exegeses of the Torah put into the mouth of Isho bar Yossef the Nazorean (Jesus Christ) by the authors of the gospels. 

Most Christians believe, and most Christian theologians teach, that this conjoining of two separate positive prescriptions was unique to Isho.  It was not.  Nor was the question about which commandment, or mitzvah, of the Torah is the greatest.  Both go back at least two centuries, maybe longer. 

The Great Commandment, or Great Mitzvah, is, both by its essence and its history, inextricably bound with the Golden Rule.

The examples proceed by the order in which they were written, not the time period in which the events they depict take place, thus the gospels follow Paul.

Several examples come from works of the early Christian period known as “church orders”, which dealt with moral issues, church polity, the calendar, and liturgy, to varying degrees from document to document.

Antecedents in the Torah

Both prescriptions in the Summary of the Torah quite naturally originate in the Torah.

‘Hear, O Yisrael: Yahweh your God is one Yahweh.  You shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might.’ (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)

‘You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am Yahweh.’ (Leviticus 19:18)

In the same chapter of Leviticus, that prescription extends to cover foreigners among the Israelites in their land, and by doing so in effect extends the mitzvah to love to all humanity.

‘The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am Yahweh your God.’ (Leviticus 19:34)


This deuterocanonical work, part of the Septuagint Tanakh, the canonical Old Testament of the Roman and Eastern churches, and the Protestant Apocrypha, tells the story of Tobit, who was taken captive to Nineveh in Assyria, and his wives Hannah and Sarah, the archangel Raphael, and the demon Asmodeus.

Composed in the late third century BCE, the work is related to the Jewish wisdom literature written in this same time.  It contains the oldest known Jewish expression of the Golden Rule:

‘And what you hate, do not do to anyone’. (Tobit 4:15a).


Formally titled Book of the All-Virtuous Wisdom of Joshua ben Sira and also known as the Wisdom of Sirach, this work from the early second century clearly belongs to the wisdom category of Jewish religious literature.  It contains a paraphrasing of the Golden Rule in which the message is identical:

‘Judge your neighbor’s feelings by your own, and in every matter be thoughtful’. (Sirach 31:15)

Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs

This is an apocalyptic work originally written in the mid-second century BCE, which in its final form circa 200 CE included many Christian interpolations that Jewish scholars have nonetheless easily separated out.  Though all the full copies we have are in Greek or Latin, it was originally written in Aramaic or Hebrew. In form, it is the final testaments of the twelve sons of Jacob. 

In three places, the work gives versions of the conjoined mitzvot which together make up the Great Mitzvah.

‘But love Yahweh and your neighbor.’ (Issachar 5:2)

‘I loved Yahweh; likewise also every man with all my heart.’ (Issachar 7:6)

‘Love Yahweh through all your life, and one another with a true heart.’ (Dan 5:3)


Written during the reign of John Hyrcanus (134-104 BCE) and originally composed in Hebrew, it purports to be secrets revealed to Moses by Yahweh atop Mount Sinai/Horeb/Paran.  It covers the same time period as Genesis, but is greatly expanded.  Noah’s last words (Jubilees 7:20), Avrahim’s last words (Jubilees 20:2), and Yitzak’s final words (Jubilees 36:4) all include the admonition to the hearer(s) to “Love their neighbor”.

Hillel and Shammai

The earliest story of someone asking a teacher about which mitzvah is greatest of all involves the two sages who were the last two Zugot and the first two Tannaim, founders of the two major schools of the Pharisees in the first century CE, Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai.  It is this story which specifically ties the Golden Rule and the Great Mitzvah together.

In the tale, a proselyte comes to Shammai asking to teach him to whole Torah standing on one foot.  Shammai tells him he is crazy, because there are 613 mitzvot in the Torah, plus all the commentary on and rulings about each mitzvah.  So the proselyte goes to Hillel to make the same request, and Hillel responds by standing on one foot and saying:

“Whatever you do not want done to you, do not do to others; all the Torah rests on that.  The rest is just commentary”. (Talmud, Shabbat 31a)

It is this story which binds the Golden Rule and the Great Mitzvah together.

Doctrina Apostolorum, early 1st century

This work, an exposition on the Two Ways, the Way of Life and the Way of Death, or the Way of Light and the Way of Darkness, is basically an earlier version of the Didache’s first six chapters.  It probably originated as a Jewish catechetical manual in the late first century BCE or early first century CE, and has only been made “Christian” by a doxology appended onto the end.

In the document as we have it today, the only part of it that points to Christianity is a doxology appended on the end.  It may have first been an Essene document, though other sects had versions of the two ways.  Its first chapter (Doctrina Apostolorum 1:2) contains the following:

‘The way of life is this: first, you shall love the eternal God who made ​​you; second, your neighbor as yourself, and what you do not want to be done to you, do not do to another’.

The third prescription matches Hillel’s version of the Golden Rule in its negative prescription.

Flavius Philo Judaeus, early 1st century

In The Decalogue 22:108-110, Philo writes that love of God and love of one’s fellow humans are both necessary to be righteous.  Without specifically citing the two prescriptions that make up the Summary of the Torah, he arrives at the same end, with exponentially more words.

In Every Good Man Is Free 12:83, Philo writes that Jews center their lives on and judge events by the threefold basis of ‘the love of God, and the love of virtue, and the love of mankind’, the two prescriptions of the Great Mitzvah with love of virtue added under influence of Hellenistic philosophy surrounding him in Alexandria.

James the Just, mid-1st century

Probably called Yaakob bar Yossef in life, he was Isho’s eldest brother and succeeded him as leader of The Way, the Nazoreans.  The Church anachronistically refers to him as the first Bishop of Jerusalem.  Yaakob wrote what most scholars consider to be one of the authentic general epistles, meaning that he himself actually wrote it.  His offer to this conversation is: 

‘You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”’ (James 2:8)

Paul of Tarsus, mid-1st century

Self-described as the Pharisee son of a Pharisee, Saul of Tarsus, better known by his Roman name Paul, attended a school in Jerusalem headed by Gamaliel, son of Hillel the Elder.  In his letter to the church at Galatia in Asia Minor written in about 53 CE, Saul, said:

‘For the whole Torah is summed up in a single mitzvah, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”’ (Galatians 5:14).

In his letter to the Christians at Rome, Saul included the following:

‘Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the Torah.  The mitzvot, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other mitzvah, are summed up in this decree, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the Torah.’ (Romans 13:8-10)

Didache, late 1st/early 2nd century

The first six chapters of the Didache (short for, The Teaching of our Lord through the Twelve Apostles to the Gentiles)match those of the Doctrina Apostolorum in essential content, but surpass them in verbiage, its additions being obvious Christian interpolations.  Written in the mid-first century, its overall length is greater also, extending to sixteen chapters, almost all of it clearly deriving from or at least patterned on Jewish antecedents.  Nearly identical to its predecessor, its version of the greatest mitzvot is:  

‘Love the God who made you, love your neighbor as yourself, and do not to others that which you would not wish them to do to you’.

The gospels

None of these were written before the end of the Great Jewish Revolt of 66-70 CE that ended with the almost complete destruction of Jerusalem (according to Josephus, nothing left standing but the western wall of the city and three of its towers).  The Temple was completely burned and its mound fortifications completely dismantled, all of them.  Three of them (Matthew, Luke, John) may not have reached their current form until the end of the second century.

The Summary of the Torah in the gospels

In all three Synoptics, this passage quotes Deuteronomy 6:5 followed by Leviticus 19:18.  Also known as the Great Mitzvah, this comes, in Mark and Matthew, after an exchange in which someone from the crowd asks Isho about which mitzvah of the Torah is the greatest.  Luke places the exchange much earlier and orders this story a bit differently.

Only Mark begins the summary with the Shema Yisrael:

‘One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which mitzvah is the first of all?”  Isho answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: Yahweh our God is one Yahweh; you shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other mitzvah greater than these.”’  (Mark 12:28-31)

Almost immediately, the scribe rephrases the summary back to Isho:

‘Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; and ‘to love him with all one’s heart, and with all one’s understanding, and with all one’s strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’—this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”  When Isho saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.’ (Mark 12:32-34)

The version in Matthew was included in the service for the Eucharist in the Book of Common Prayer of the Anglican churches from the sixteenth century until the later twentieth, and still does in some communions.  In the original service, at least beginning with the second BCP of 1552, the service began with the Decalogue followed by the Summary of the Torah.

‘When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him.  “Teacher, which mitzvah in the Torah is the greatest?” He said to him, ‘You shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  This is the greatest and first mitzvah.  And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two mitzvot hang all the Torah and the Prophets.”’ (Matthew 20:34-40)

In a different take, Luke puts the summary in the mouth of the lawyer, or scribe, who asked Isho the question.

‘Just then a lawyer stood up to test Isho.  “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  He said to him, “What is written in the Torah? What do you read there?”  He answered, “You shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”  And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”’ (Luke 10:25-28)

When the lawyer then asks, “But who is my neighbor?”, Isho replies with the Parable of the Good Samaritan, asking at the end, “Which one of these was a neighbor to the victim?”.

The scribes had traditionally interpreted such references to “neighbor” as referring solely to one’s fellow Jews, even of other ethnic groups, though not Samaritans.  The parable may have originated as a polemic against worldly and self-absorbed clergy, with a lay Israelite following the priestly Cohen and the clerical Levite.  A Samaritan was substituted for the Israelite here to demonstrate that even a despised outsider could be a neighbor more than one of higher religious status.  This expansion of the definition of “neighbor” would have been consistent with how the Pharisees were trying to redefine “neighbor” in the first century to include all fellow humans.

The pericope of the rich man

All three of the Synoptics include a very similar summary in the exchange presented as taking place on the road through Judea to Jerusalem in which someone asks what he must do to have eternal life.

Then someone came to him and said, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?”  And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the mitzvot.”  He said to him, “Which ones?” And Isho said, “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 19:16-19)

As he [Isho] was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Isho said to him, “Why do you call me good?  No one is good but God alone.  You know the mitzvot: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” (Mark 10:17-19)

A certain ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Isho said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.  You know the mitzvot: ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother.’” (Luke 18:18-20)

This are the same passages which end with the rich man sad after being told to give up his possessions, with Isho saying, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God”.  Which is another way of saying that wealth is the date-nut trapping the monkey’s hand inside the coconut shell because he won’t let go of it.

Note the inclusion in all these passages Isho saying that there is no one good but God, God in the third person and in a separate category entirely.

Love your enemies

In a couple of place in the gospels, the writers go beyond love of neighbor or love of resident alien to love of one’s enemies.

From Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’. (Matthew 5:43-44)

From Luke’s Sermon on the Plain: ‘I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.’ (Luke 6:27-28)

A new mitzvah

In two places in his conversation with the disciples after the Last Supper, Isho gives admonitions to them that mirror those of the Patriarchs of Jubilees and of Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs to their children and grandchildren.

‘”I give you a new mitzvah, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”’ (John 14:34-35)

‘This is my decree, that you love one another as I have loved you.’ (John 15:12)

Golden Rule in the gospels

There is a close version of the Hillel’s saying in Matthew’s version of the Sermon on the Mount, but with a positive rather than negative prescription:

“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the Torah and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12)

In Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Plain, the Golden Rule is given more simply as:

“Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:31)

Rabbi Akiva, c. 120 CE

In the early second century CE, Rabbi Akiva ben Joseph, a significant contributor to the Mishna and the Midrash halakha and, later, spiritual leader of the Bar Kokhba War of 132-135, said of the mitzvah in Leviticus 19:18 that:

“‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’ is the greatest principle of the Torah”.  Which is almost exactly what Saul of Tarsus wrote to the church in Galatia.

Epistle of Barnabas, late 2nd century

The epistle lays out the Way of Light in chapter 19, giving both prescriptions of the Summary of the Torah but separated by several negative prescriptions on morality and behavior.

Love him who created you: glorify him who redeemed you from death.  Love your neighbor more than your own soul.

Didascalia Apostolorum, 230

This church order includes the Summary of the Torah and the Golden Rule in its opening paragraphs.

‘Love God who has made you, with all your heart, and glorify him who has redeemed you from death, which is the first mitzvah.  But secondly, love your neighbor as yourself, which is the second commandment, those on which hang all the Law and the Prophets. All those things that you dost not wish to happen to you, do not do to others.’

Apostolic Church Order, 300

This church order also begins its discussion of the Way of Life with the Summary of the Torah and the Golden rule..

First, love the God who made you, and glorify him who ransomed you from death, which is the first mitzvah.  Secondly, love you neighbor as yourself, which is the second mitzvah: upon which hang all the Torah, and the Prophets.  Everything that you not wish done to you, do not do to another; that is, what you hate do not to another.

Apostolic Constitutions, 375

Book VII, Chapter II of this compilation is based largely on the Didache, including the Two Ways, generally following its source, but heavily edited.  The exposition of the Way of Life begins with the Summary of the Torah and the Golden Rule.

‘Love the Lord God, who is the one and only God, besides whom there is no other, with all your mind, and with all your soul; and your neighbor as yourself.  And whatsoever you are unwilling to have done to you, that do not do to another.’

11 August 2015

On the #IranDeal

Here's a historical reminder for the Republican Party, ex-future Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer, eight administrative district (of the State of Israel) activists, and those others who oppose the #IranDeal :

When President Abraham Lincoln (R-Illinois) issued the Emancipation Proclamation on 1 January 1862, freeing all slaves in territory recovered from the rebellious Confederacy from that time forward, that was an executive action, just like President Obama’s agreement with Iran.  

So, to the argument of no precedent, I reply, Kiss my shiny pale ass (but wear sunglasses or you may go blind from the reflected glare).

Of course, given this present mutant state of the GOP, its members would no doubt like to repeal the Emancipation Proclamation as well as the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments.  You are not “patriots”; you are traitors.

As several venues have pointed out, including numerous satirical comedians and websites, the hardliners in both countries together oppose the deal, which is a good reason to favor it.  Yea, yea, Booboo and his crowd oppose it too, but they don't get a vote.  Not unless the Republican Congress (and ex-future Minority Leader Schumer) grants a veto to the head-of-government of a foreign country, in which case they should all be tried for treason.

05 August 2015

A Country Club (poem)

and on the first day
the day of the sun
man created god in his own image
in the image of man created he him
doing not what he believes
but believing what he does
not practicing what he preaches
but preaching what he practices
doing what’s convenient
so that then he can repent

and when the man came
to show man the true way
man assassinated the man
by legal decree
from a kangaroo court
then killed the truth he brought
thru legend and rumor and myth
resurrecting him from the dead
sitting him above at god’s right hand
safely out of reach

isho the galilean prophet-king
is now jesus the divine redeemer
demigod avatar to the gentile race
and the church promises
everlasting life to all
who bow to its decrees
but you first have to join the club
and pay your weekly dues
while the messiah ben david
wearing his thorny crown
looks on in despair

(Written some thirty years ago when I was pre-seminary at university in the 1980's.)

04 August 2015

The 'real Jesus Christ'

The Scripture passages used herein are taken from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, © 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.


I have to confess this essay is inspired in part by a few lines from a song by the 1980’s British punk band The The called “Armageddon Days Are Here Again”.  The lines are “They’ve forgotten the message, and worship the creeds”; “If the real Jesus Christ were to come back today, he’d be gunned down cold by the CIA”; and “If he ever found out who’s hijacked his name, he’d cut out his heart, and turn in his grave”.

Once upon a time, and up until not very long ago, I believed that individual known to most English-speakers as “Jesus Christ” never existed as an actual, real, in-the-flesh human.  A big part of that was the Misty Mountain of falsehood and fabrication that has been piled so deeply on top of any base that might have existed that the “real Jesus Christ” is farther beyond all possible hope of recovery than the actual historical figure behind the legend of King Arthur.  That doubt was related to, though not dependent upon, my atheism.

Light began to slice its way through the impenetrable fog, and I began to doubt my doubt.  Not my doubt about theism, but about the historical existence of a real human behind the legend and myth of Jesus Christ.

First, I had to ponder the fact that, in spite of there being a near equal amount of concrete evidence (in other words, virtually none), and with that splinter of a fragment of a section of truth likewise buried under a nearly equal amount of self-serving fraud, forgery, and fakery, I still believed that there was a real person behind the legend of “King” Arthur, I had to sort of reassess my then-current assessment. 

Some people are quite comfortable with the cognitive dissonance of holding completely contradictory notions in their head and denying any inconsistency, but I am not one of those humans.  I have sort of a phobia of self-deception.

My last year at Dalton State I took an early American lit class in which we studied at one point the growth of the story of Hannah Duston’s capture by and later escape from a party of Abenaki in 1697 Massachusetts.  Cotton Mather of Salem witch trial infamy wrote the initial story, which in the following century and a half grew faster and beyond recognition than the Universe after the Big Bang.

Don’t get me wrong; the Jesus Christ of the creeds is utter fiction with zero trace of anything real remaining alive.  Christ the Vampire (or maybe Zombie Jesus) in a very real sense.  The Jesus Christ of the gospels is almost entirely fictional also, but at least there’s a trail of bread crumbs to reconstruct enough of the puzzle to get some of a picture, even if many of the pieces remain missing.

The final kicker came during a wandering mindless harangue by one of the idiots whom I was forced to endure in what was called “chapel” at the mission I stayed at while homeless.  In order to drown out the noise, I began reading the only thing available, and came across the first chapter of Galatians.  What convinced me that there was a real person behind the legend of Jesus Christ was the fact that Paul conceded to James the Just, his chief antagonist as he saw it, the status of “brother of the Lord” is what convinced me. 

No one as pompous and egomaniacal  as Paul of Tarsus would make such a concession were it not beyond question that that status was a cold, hard fact.  And if there was a brother of Jesus Christ, then there must have actually been a Jesus Christ.  There is some evidence outside of the New Testament that such a person existed, which, unfortunately have been weighed down by “pious fraud” in terms of interpolations.

Keep in mind that at the time I came to this conclusion I was a strong positive atheist.  This acceptance that such an actual person actually existed and upon whom the myth and legend of Jesus Christ are based came not as a defense of a belief but rather in contradiction to what I disbelieved at the time.  Of course, I’ve written elsewhere that belief and faith are antithetical to each other, but that’s another story.

Who was the real Jesus Christ?  We can never know for sure; we can only examine the world in which he lived and the impressions he left upon those who knew him, whether first- or second-hand, and that is as close as we can come.


Of the three mentions of events relating to the life of Jesus Christ present in the second major work of Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, published around 90 CE, the first and most direct is also that which has been most heavily interpolated by Christian monks.  Called the Testimonium Flavianum, its fraudulent additions are so obviously forged and inserted that I am not going to bother.  However, I will supply what most scholars believe to be closest to the original:

Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.

An Arabic copy dated to the tenth century is worded more or less the same, but adds after “did not forsake him” the following: They reported that he had appeared to them after his crucifixion and that he was alive; accordingly, he was perhaps the Messiah concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders.  Not an endorsement of those beliefs, just reporting them.

The second is the account of John the Baptist, which Josephus places in the months preceding the outbreak of war between Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilaea and Peraea, and Aretas, king of the Nabataeans that took place in 36 or 37 CE, a few years after the death of Jesus Christ, rather than afterwards as per the gospels.

Third is the opportunistic judicial murder of James the Just and several companions by the new high priest, Ananus ben Ananus, that took place when the seat of procurator was physically vacant in 62 CE.  The text as we have it refers to James as the “brother of Jesus, who was called Christ”, not an endorsement of Jesus’ status but rather a designation of which James was meant.


In his Annales of 116 CE (Book 15, Chapter 44), Tacitus tells of emperor Nero blaming the Chrestianoi of Rome for the Great Fire, for which suspicion had fallen (almost certainly inaccurately) on him.  He describes their namesake, Chrestus, as having suffered crucifixion under Pontius Pilatus.  Later copies have the words “Christianoi “ and “Christos”, but textual critics agree these are not original. 


In his Lives of the Twelve Caesars, Suetonius reports in Claudius 25 that the Jews were expelled from Rome because of rioting stirred up by “Chrestus”.  In Nero 16, he echoes Tacitus’ report about the aftermath of the Great Fire, saying it was blamed on Christianoi.

The Acts of the Apostles reflects the first of these entries in describing Paul’s meeting of Aquila and Priscilla (18:2-3) who had left Rome for Corinth after Claudius expelled all the Jews of Rome, though the passage in Acts does not give the cause.  At the time of the expulsion, Jews made up some 10% of the city’s populace.  The Roman writers Cassius Dio and Paulus Orosius also speak of the expulsion.

On Christus/Chrestus vs. Christianoi/Chrestianoi

Evidence from several sources demonstrates that outsiders and even some insiders (such as, for example, Clement of Alexandria and Justin Martyr) in the first few centuries of the Common Era used these terms interchangeably.  This, and the account mentioned above about Aquila and Priscilla make various speculations about the Tacitus and Suetonius entries about “Chrestus” referring to someone other than Isho the Nazorean rather fanciful.

Jesus and John the Baptist

All four of the canonical gospels show themselves eager to reduce the figure of John the Baptist from the status of prophet in his own right to that of a mere forerunner of Jesus, and one who predeceased him at that.  However, Josephus’ account places the death of John some three or four years after that of Jesus, shortly before Antipas’ disastrous war against Aretas.  That John had his own following that continued independently of that of Jesus and his successors is evident from writings of Early Church Fathers, Jewish Christian, and the Mandeans.

A final thought on the historicity of Jesus

My last word about this is that while there is no direct empirical evidence either for Arthur the Soldier or for Isho the Nazorean, and the fact that supporters of both have over the centuries twisted facts into legends that have metamorphosed into elaborate myths, there are enough ripples, however small, in their respective times (separated by half a millennium), to show the path of a tiny pebble, even if it’s original trajectory remains lost.

Now, let’s examine some of those ripples, and the pond whose surface they disturb.


First, however, these are some terms I will be using throughout this piece and am providing the explanation here in order to not clog up what I am trying to say afterward.

Tefillin are two are two small boxes that Rabbinic Jewish males wear on their foreheads and left arms when saying their daily prayers.  Each contains a small scroll with the same three passages from Deuteronomy (6:49 and 11:13-21) and Numbers (15:37-41) relative to the practice.  The most important verse of all these of these is the first, Deuteronomy 4:6 – “Hear, O Yisrael, Yahweh our God is one Yahweh”, known by its Hebrew name, Shema Israel.  In the first century, that one verses made up the entire scroll, and most Jewish males wore boxes or pouches much smaller than today’s version as part of their daily attire.

Tzitzyot (singular tzitzit) are long fringes Jewish wore at each of the four corners of a tallit, a large rectangular white cloth worn in the first century CE as an outer garment that could be used as a bed sheet and was often used as a burial shroud, a multi-purpose garment in the same way that Highland Scots once used their file mor, or great kilt.  Nowadays, the usual tallit is a shawl worn at prayers.  The relevant verses are Numbers 15:38 and Deuteronomy 22:12.

Mezuzot (singular mezuzah) are small boxes that Rabbinic Jews affix to their doorposts containing a small scroll with the two passages of Deuteronomy worn inside the tefillin.

Karaite Jews, who accept only the Tanakh, but not the Mishna, Talmud, Gemara, Targumim, or any other extra-biblical writings, interpret the passages of Deuteronomy that Rabbinic Jews use as prescriptions for their use do not wear tefillin or affix mezuzot to their doorposts, which they interpret to be figurative.  Many Karaites instead put a small plaque with the Ten Statement (mistakenly called “Commandments” by Christians since the Geneva Bible of 1560) on their doorpost.  They do, however, wear tzityot on their prayer shawls.

A few relative terms on religious literature

On occasion, new editions of scripture come about because older copies of different works are discovered, and new translations are done based on those older, more “truer” copies.  Quite often, however, new “translations” are carried out in pursuit of a version that is more in line with the doctrines of a church organization. 

For example, while English-speakers had a perfectly good and well-written translation into English of the Old and New Testaments as well as the Apocrypha in the Geneva Bible, the prelates of the Church of England and its head (the monarch of England as “Defender of the Faith”) felt it not supportive enough to Episcopal polity and set about making another translation, in truth plagiarizing much of its predecessor’s contents.

Here’s a point of information for all die-hard users of the King James Version: yes, the translators of that edition included the Apocrypha, so if your Bible does not contain it, you are using the King James Abridged Version.

Also, for those who like to quote chapter and verse, for that you have the Geneva translators to thank as they were the ones who came up with the system that now everyone, regardless of denomination or even religion, uses.

Since the first religious writer composed the first religious scripture, copy mistakes and editing to either remove mistakes or, much more usually, “correct” passages no longer in harmony with updated theology and doctrine.  In the latter case, it is much like soap operas or science fiction novel series inserting a storyline to correct a discontinuity in the overall timeline of the larger story to bring it into harmony.

One of the most notable examples of the latter was the use of two episodes in the fourth season of Star Trek: Enterprise to explain why Klingons in Star Trek: The Original Series had smooth forehead while those in the reboot of the franchise beginning with Star Trek: The Next Generation had ridged foreheads.  The truth was that the latter was creator Gene Roddenberry’s original vision for Klingons, but in the late 1960’s there wasn’t enough funding. 

This type of adjustment in fiction is recalled a “retcon”, from “retroactive continuity”.  In the religious world, a retcon is usually treated as if it never happened and that the scriptures have always been as they were, are, and always will be.  This is called “pious fraud”, or in layman’s terms, pure forgery.

Copyist mistakes and corrections of spelling and grammar aside, there are two basic types of editing that have, and sometimes still are (especially when doing a new or more modern translation), used to alter text. 

Redaction is the removal of a word, phrase, passage, or even whole pericope.

Interpolation is the insertion of a word, phrase, passage, or even whole pericope.

Not all redaction and interpolation is malicious or done of an ulterior motive.  Take, for example, the famous story of Jesus and the Adulterous Woman in the Gospel of John.  That story was not part of that gospel even in its original form before the second writer (the gospel has at least two or three).  The story itself, however, is mentioned by Papias in the early second century, and others claim it was part of the Gospel of the Nazarenes all along.  Since the latter, used by a Jewish Christian group in Palestine, never made it into canon, the only way for the story to exist for posterity was to interpolate into one of the canonical gospels.

Two examples of the former motivation (“pious fraud”) are the Trinitarian formulae inserted into the Great Commission at the end of the Gospel of Matthew and the fifth chapter of 1 John.  As late as the early fourth century, Epiphanius the baptismal formula in the Great Commission as being “in the name of Jesus” rather than “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”.  The other is the insertion in verse 7 of the two clauses, “There are three that testify in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one. And there are three that testify on earth”.  Even that contains later interpolation as the word “Holy” is not found in the earliest copies after the original interpolation.

Canonical means a work has been approved at the highest levels of a religious body, at either the equivalent of ecumenical councils or the equivalent.  Though the Christian canon is often thought to date from ancient or very early medieval times, none of the Christian organizations officially adopted a canon until the sixteenth century (Calvinists held out until the seventeenth century).  The same is true of Rabbinic Judaism.

Deuterocanonical means “of second canon”, and refers to Old Testament-era works accepted by some branches of Christianity but not others.  The most prominent and easiest to show example is what Protestants call the Apocrypha, made up of books accepted by the Roman Church as canonical but not by themselves; “deuterocanonical” is the more precise term.  Eastern Churches accept a few more works than Rome, and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church even more, such as 1 Enoch.

Apocryphal, in terms of scriptural canon, means of doubtful veracity.  Accurately speaking, this applies to the hundreds of works written by devout Jews and Christians from the third century BCE through the second century CE, or even later in some cases.

Antilegomena were/are New Testament-era writings used in some parts of the Early Church whose authenticity was disputed or rejected by other parts of the church.  Some, such the Revelation of John the Divine, and the Epistles of James, even the Gospel of John, eventually found universal acceptance, while others, such as the Didache, the Shepherd of Hermas, and the Sibylline Oracles, did not.

Pseudepigraphal means writings falsely attributed to a noted person from the past in order to give their words greater weight.  But though the great majority of apocryphal works are indeed pseudepigraphal, not all is, and some pseudepigraphal even made it as universal canon.  Among the more noted of the Tanakh are the passages of Isaiah known as Second and Third Isaiah, First Isaiah being the original first thirty-nine chapters, and the entire book of Daniel.  In the New Testamental, works that are pseudepigraphal but nonetheless canonical include six epistles attributed to Paul of Tarsus, 2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John, and Jude.

Apocalyptic means revelatory of that which is hidden.  It is not always a prophecy about the future; every time one of the prophets writes about a visit to heaven, that is an apocalypse.

Eschatological refers to the end times, sometimes to death and the afterlife, but more often to the end of the world.  This is the more precise term for what most people mean when they use the term “apocalyptic”.

Predictive means foretelling, accurately or otherwise, future events.

Retrodictive is foretelling past events.  Yes, that’s right, past events.  It is one sure way to make sure that a prophecy comes true, especially if that prophecy is spoken by, say, a messiah or prophet or savior.  A really good example of this is the “Little Apocalypse” in the Gospel of Luke, in which the author portrays Isho predicting that Jerusalem will be surrounded by armies, written years or even decades after it actually was.

Instead of  predicting the surrounding of Jerusalem by armies, the author of the Gospel of Mark (which the author of the Gospel of Matthew follows) has Isho retrodict the “abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet”, which itself had by then been two centuries past, a mistake Isho would have been most unlikely to make.

The book of Daniel fits several of these categories.  It is certainly pseudepigraphal, as it was written in the second century BCE after the First Judean Civil War that led to the Hasmoneans coming to power in Jerusalem and not by a sixth century BCE Jewish prophet in Babylonian Captivity.  It is apocalyptic in that it purports to reveal hidden knowledge.  It is retrodictive in “prophesying” about an “abomination of desolation” set up in the Temple or Jerusalem.  It is predictive, not accurately, however, in prophesying the downfall of the Roman Empire at the hands of the Messiah ben David. 

In a sense, it is even deuterocanonical, as Jews accept it as one of their Ketuvim (Writings) but never read it in synagogue, much the same way that the Eastern Churches finally accepted the Revelation of John the Divine but have never included any of it in their lectionaries.


In America today, there are two overall versions, each of which have their own variations within them, one the invention of those who apply their own bigotries to their definition of Jesus Christ, the other somewhat closer to the actual truth.

White American Jesus

The Jesus Christ that the Christian Supremacist Right in America follows is white and advocates libertarianism, misogyny, American jingoism, chauvinist Zionism, American and Israeli exceptionalism, white supremacy (read between the lines), patriarchy, homophobia (sometimes to an extreme degree), neoliberalism, plutocracy, corporatism, trickled down economics, guns, and a style of theocratic government which places a class of wealthy white ultra-conservative evangelical Christians atop all others in society imposing upon it strict guidelines of behavior supposedly guided by their twisted ideology which is all the while set up to ensure that they are impossible to keep, making it therefore possible to fine (rob), confiscate from, imprison, enslave, and execute (murder) at will any who might stand up to oppose them.

In other words, they stand for everything the “real Jesus Christ” hated; they’re the ones who’ve “hijacked his name”.  It is not the name of Yahweh written on their foreheads and left hands but that of their true god, wealth, or as the Revelation of John the Divine has it, the number 666.  All of them, every last member of the right-wing Christian evangelical movement.  Wealth is their ultimate god.  As for why so many are less than sound economically, well, part of the “prosperity gospel” is that their god grants material riches to those whom he favors, and the rest of the faithful are supposed to look up to and respect their “betters”, in the hopes that if they humble and abase themselves enough, and are submissive to power and obedient to Authority enough, maybe one day they too will be granted material prosperity also.

Someone should let them know that nirvana is samsara.

This version of Jesus Christ is known as White Jesus, American Jesus, or Republican Tea Party Jesus, and sometimes even as Supply Side Jesus.  And he is a complete ass.  Nor is he anything like the real Jesus Christ, who, by the way, would have no idea who the hell you were talking to or about if you addressed him as such.

Brown Palestinian Jesus

Who was the real Jesus the Christ, without the add-ons and extensions given to him throughout the centuries since he left (died, assumed to heaven, transported to a parallel universe)?

To start off, he was brown, maybe even dark brown, shorter than the average twentieth century American male, and Palestinian rather than European.  He probably had a large nose, a typical feature of Semitic people in the Southwest Asia.  He almost certainly wore a beard and mustache, but unlike as he is often portrayed, probably had short hair.  As he followed the Jewish version of the late ancient Israelite religion, he probably wore a kippah, tefillin, and tzitzit as part of his daily attire.

As for religious practices, he almost certainly attended synagogue every Sabbath, fasted Mondays and Thursdays (or at least did until starting his ministry), and went to Jerusalem for the major pilgrimage festivals whenever he could do so.

His first language was the Galilean dialect of Palestinian Aramaic, and he no doubt learned Hebrew also.  Given that the very Hellenistic and very Roman-friendly capital of Galilee, Autocratoris, was but a few miles from his hometown of Nazareth, he probably had at least a working knowledge of Greek and maybe even Latin.  Autocratoris had once been Sepphoris until it was destroyed after the uprising following the death of Herod the Great.  Herod Antipas rebuilt and renamed it upon becoming tetrarch of the Roman province of Galilaea and Peraea, making it his capital.  Shortly before the Bar Kokhba War of 132-135 CE, the name was changed again to Diocaesarea, in honor of Jupiter and of Roman emperor Hadrian.

Jesus did not go by “Jesus”.  Though Clement of Alexandria and Cyril of Jerusalem both argued, if not strongly, that Iesous, the Greek form of the name Jesus, was his actual given name, he very probably did not go by that, though Galilee in the first century was much more cosmopolitan than its neighbor to the south and many had at least a working knowledge of Greek in addition to the common language, Palestinian Aramaic. 

In older Hebrew, the name Jesus becomes Yehoshua.  By the final centuries BCE, the more common form was Yeshua, but the older form regained some popularity in the Hasmonean era, especially in Galilee.  The West Aramaic form of the name was Yeshu, and it is by this name that Jesus the Christ is referred to in the Talmud.  However, Palestinian Aramaic, especially in Galilee, shared more features with Eastern Aramaic than Western, in which the name was rendered Isho.  That is the name by which Syriac-language scriptures that the Oriental Orthodox Churches use call him to this day.

In the earliest days of the Church, before the books of the New Testament as most Christians know them were written, all in koine Greek, rather than “Jesus Christ” or “Jesus the Christ”, our subject was known as Jesus the Nazorean, or Isho Nasraya in his native tongue.  In his own day, when he was on the Earth, he went by Isho bar Yossef.  Throughout the remainder of this piece, I will be using the name Isho, or Isho the Nazorean.

Isho the Nazorean was a Galilean, not a Jew

The composer (or one of the subsequent editors) of the Gospel of John understood this, which is why he keeps referring to “the Jews” as antagonists of his protagonist.  It is not because he is a Christian attacking adherents to the parent religion.  The original author (there were at least two major writers/editors and possibly or three or more) was almost certainly from Palestine and would thus have been well aware of the difference.

In first century Palestine, the term Jew had two different meanings.  In a broad sense, it meant all those who followed the Jewish faith, those who had inherited that version of the Israelite faith by birth and those who had fully converted, got circumcised, followed the Torah.  In the Diaspora, there was little distinction between those of the Jewish faith whose families originated from different regions of Palestine, but in Palestine itself, this was not the case.

Among the non-Samaritan Israelites of Palestine, there were several different ethnic groups, divided by origins of their ancestors in the second century BCE.  To be a Jew in first century Palestine meant one came from the core territory of Judaea, called Yehud in Aramaic and Iudaeia in Greek and Iudaea in Latin.  The rest of the ethnic groups were made up of descendants of those in territories conquered beginning in the late second century BCE by the Hasmonean dynasts who ruled what was then called Iudeaia.

The first of these were the Idumaeans in the formerly independent land in the Negev also known by its Biblical name, Edom.  Second, were the Galileans, residents of Galilaea, or Galil ha-Goyim, “District of the Gentiles”, so-called because its original inhabitants were an Arab tribe known as the Itureans.  These Itureans were of the southern part of a broader domain; the northern Itureans remained independent of Yehud.  Third were the Peraeans, descendants of Nabateans, an Aramean group, living in territory east of the Jordan River conquered by the Hasmoneans in the early first century CE.

All three of these populations were forcibly converted.  To help cement their hold and get rid of undesirables, the Hasmoneans resettled hundreds of dissidents in Galilaea.  Others no doubt also moved there did so of their own accord, but those who voluntarily left the “holy land” were not looked upon favorably, so Jews, in the first century definition, had little trust for any Galileans.

Without grasping this cultural fact, it is impossible to understand things in the gospels such as the Parable of the Workers, or why the author of the Gospel of John, probably a Galilean who if he did not live in Galilee was almost certainly from there originally (or just very culturally aware), constantly spoke of the “Jews” as if they were a foreign people.

The Hasmoneans also conquered their neighbors to their immediate north a couple of years later the Idumeans, but treated the Samaritans as untouchables.  In large part this was due to rivalry going back to the ninth century BCE which had led to there being two Israelite kingdoms in Palestine in the first place.  Then there’s the fact that even after their Temple was destroyed, the Samaritans refused to accept the Temple in Jerusalem as their holy place.

Some of the anomosity was no doubt jealousy; Samaraea, called Samerina in Aramaic and Samareia in Greek, was the senior of the two, founded in the early ninth century by Omri the Israelite.  Before the conquest, it was also the wealthier and more cosmopolitan, and its Temple atop Mount Gerizim near Shechem dwarfed that atop Mount Moriah in Jerusalemin both size and in opulence.

An analogy from twenty-first century Palestine may illustrate the overall point of this section more clearly.  

The (genetically half Levantine, half European as it turns out) Ashkenazim make up the majority of Jews in both the State of Israel and throughout the world.  Despite there being many other ethnic groups of Jews, the rest are often lumped together under the name Sephardim because the Maghrebim, Mizrahim, Parsim, Temanim, etc. have adopted Sephardic liturgy and ritual.  The only real Sephardim are those who descend from the Jews expelled from Spain in 1492; the others are more properly called by their individual ethnonym.

For example, the Parsim are Sephardic in that they have adopted the liturgy and ritual, but they are remain Parsim.  In a similar way, first century Galileans were Jewish in that they worshipped the same deity as and followed the religious traditions of the Jews, but they were still Galileans, not Jews.


You won’t find Isho the Nazorean, “the real Jesus Christ”, by going to the creeds.  By the time those were composed, the real person Isho and his message had long been muddled and lost.  That actually began with Paul of Tarsus and the publication of the written gospels, though the latter do capture much of the essence, and even Paul’s writings in places.  (Several have opined that Paul’s emphasis on faith over works, especially vis-à-vis James’ contention that faith without works is empty, is in direct contrast to what Isho taught.  However, what Paul meant by “works” was diligently following the prescriptions of the Torah to such a degree that that was all that mattered; Isho taught the same thing, by deeds if not by explicit words, at least as he is reported in all the gospels.)

As early as the third century CE, for example, the first antipope, Hippolytus, launched his schism against the sitting bishop of Rome, Callistus, because the latter had the temerity to readmit sinners to communion after they had finished their period of penance.  As I recall from the gospels, Isho never even required “penance”; he forgave sins immediately.  While Hippolytus was in schism, Callistus was killed during a riot and became the first martyred pope.

The creeds of the Church had nothing to do with the “real Jesus Christ”, Isho the Nazorean, and even less to do with his message.  They are entirely about trying to harmonize what little remnants of Israelite theology remained in Christianity with the Hellenistic philosophies of the Gentiles.  The drafting and enforcement of the first of these came about by and for the needs of imperial Rome, by then based in Constantinopolis, the modern Istanbul.

The actual Nicene Creed

The actual Nicene Creed, adopted at the First Ecumenical Council at Nicaea in 325 CE, was a bit shorter, and thinner on Christological doctrine than the one which now bears that name.  Its text is as follows:

            We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of all that is, seen and unseen.
            We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father; the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father: God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one substance with the Father; through whom all things were made, both in heaven and on earth; who for us and for our salvation came down, became incarnate, and was made man; who suffered, and the third day rose again, and ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father; who will come again to judge the living and the dead.
            We believe in the Holy Spirit.
            But those who say: ‘There was a time when he was not;’ and ‘He was not before he was made;’ and ‘He was made out of nothing,’ or ‘He is of another substance’ or ‘essence,’ or ‘The Son of God is created,’ or ‘changeable,’ or ‘alterable’— they are condemned by the holy catholic and apostolic Church.  Amen.

The Council at Nicaea came about because of a theological dispute between two presbyters of the church at Alexandria, Athanasius and Arius.  Athanasius was a proponent of the now traditional doctrine of the Trinity of three distinct Persons who are coequal and eternal, while Arius held that Jesus Christ (Isho the Nazorean) was the incarnate Logos, subordinate to the Father.  Thus, though the validity of the doctrine of the Trinity was somewhat involved, the nature of the dispute was mainly Christological.

Since the doctrine of the Trinity only began to develop well into the second century CE, it is more precise to speak of a dispute between the Athanasians and the Arians, rather than as most church histories do by retroactively calling the former “Catholics”.

Ironically, the first Christians to include the Creed in their Eucharistic service were the Arians whom it targeted, doing so as a form of protest, though this probably took place after the Church adopted its successor which is often mistakenly called by the same name.

The Constantinopolitan Creed

Usually mistakenly referred to as the Nicene Creed, that which liturgical churches throughout Christianity recite as part of their Holy Eucharist was adopted at the Second Ecumenical Council at Constantinopolis in 381 CE.  It is thus  more accurately the Constantinopolitan Creed, or perhaps the “Niceno-Constantinopolitan” Creed.  Its text consists of bulletpoints of belief about the supernatural events of the gospels as well as the wholly Gentile doctrine of the Holy Trinity of which Isho the Nazorean and Paul of Tarsus would be appalled.  It reads thus:

            We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth,  of all that is, seen and unseen.
            We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all time: Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one substance with the Father; through whom all things were made; who for us and for our salvation came down from heaven and became incarnate by the Holy Spirit from the Virgin Mary, and was made man; who for our sake was crucified under Pontius Pilate; suffered death and was buried; who on the third day rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; who ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father; who will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and whose kingdom will have no end.
            We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father; who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified; who has spoken through the Prophets.  We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.  We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.  We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

The Council of Constantinopolis later in the century tweaked several points of the original, dropped the anathemas, and firmed up the definition of the Holy Spirit.

Athanasian Creed

The Athanasian Creed is a rather cumbersome composition of the sixth century, probably in southern Gaul, probably by Vincent of Lerins. The name of the one most responsible for the Church adopting the doctrine of the Holy Trinity as its official party line became attached in fairly short order.  Its Christology reflects doctrinal matters decided at the Third Ecumenical Council at Ephesus in 431.  Although used widely in the West during medieval and early modern times, it never caught on in the East.  The Episcopal Church used to inflict its recitation on its members on thirteen occasions throughout the church year.

Chalcedonian Creed

The Chalcedonian Creed, or Definition of Chalcedon, was adopted at the Fourth Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon in 451 CE.  It concerns itself solely with defining the two separate natures of “Our Lord Jesus Christ” in hypostasis, one individual existence.

The same Council also affirmed to the Virgin Mary the accolade “Theotokos”, variously translated into English, but most accurately as “Birth-giver to God”, rather than “Mother of God” (which would be Meter tou Theou) or “God-bearer” (which would be Theophoros).

Apostles’ Creed

The Apostles’ Creed of Western churches is an adaptation of catechismic answers to questions at the rite of baptism.  In form, it is a stripped down version of the Constantinopolitan Creed.

In the creeds, not only are both Isho the Nazorean, the “real Jesus Christ”, and his message entirely lost, but both theology and Christology are reduced to mere ideology.  They even leave out utterly the most singularly important point of the gospels, the primary reason for which they (at least the Synoptics) were written.


Christians worship a different God than did Isho the Nazorean.  Even though they make him part of their God.  Since the third century, and more so since the fourth century, Christians have even been worshipping a completely different God than their antecessors, especially those who came from the original Jesus movement in first century Palestine, the followers of the Way, the adherents of which were individually called Nazoreans in the beginning.

The English phrase “the Way” translates into Hebrew as “ha-Darekh”, as in The Way (ha-Derekh), The Truth (ha-Emet), and The Life (ha-Chayim).  In Chinese, the Way or ha-Derekh becomes Dao.  The Dao is not the same as ha-Derekh, despite the identical nomenclature (in translation), which is but a coincidence.

The Fallacy of the Holy Trinity

The God of the Christians is Trinitarian, a triune Godhead of three Persons said to be separate and coequal.  This Holy Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is wholly an invention of Gentile Christians that any first century Israelite, including Isho, would view as anathema.

Israelite here is more appropriate than “Jew”.  Although there were some so-called in the first century CE, the term referred strictly to those native to Judea and their descendants.  For example, look at the way the composer of the Gospel of John, almost certainly a Palestinian Israelite himself, used the word “Jew” in his work, almost as if they were a foreign people (which they certainly considered themselves). 

The Samaritans had a rough parity with Jews in terms of population both within Palestine and in the Diaspora.  Galileans, descendants of undesirables from Judea exiled to the District (Galil) of the Gentiles (Goyim) plus their forcibly-converted Iturean Arab neighbors, were barely tolerated by their Judean cousins, even less so than the also forcibly-converted Idumeans.

The Unity of God, of Yahweh, was the essential dogma of every variety of Israelite religion in the first century CE, whether Sadducee, Bet Shammai Pharisee, Bet Hillel Pharisee, Essene, Samaritan, Bene Tzedek (precursor to the Karaim), Hellenists, or one of the myriad others.  Devout male Israelites in Palestine, and perhaps some in the Diaspora also, wore the ultimate creedal statement of belief in the Unity on their left hand and foreheads daily.  This statement forms the foundation of the much-expanded modern Shema, which in the beginning was simply: “Hear, O Israel, YHWH our God is one YHWH” (Deuteronomy 6:4).

And yes, you read correctly; Israelite males in first century Palestine wore the name of Yahweh on their foreheads and left wrists (in what are called “tefillin”), just like the followers of the beast in the Revelation of John the Divine did with the “number of his name”, 666.  In fact, it was that very thing which the author of Revelation intended to call to mind.  Just as the fact that the Four Horsemen (Tyranny, War, Famine, and Plague) were intended to call to mind the Four Craftsmen (Elijah, Righteous Priest, Messiah ben Joseph, and Messiah ben David) of Rabbanite Jewish eschatology based on Zechariah 1:18-21.

Speaking of that awesome number that scares the crap out of so many superstitious fools, it represents wealth.  Period.  The reason it does in Jewish philosophy going back past the turn of the era is that it is the number of “talents” the mythical King Solomon (not the real Prohibition era bootlegger of the same name from Boston) received in tribute and taxes every year.  Having “666” written on their foreheads and hands meant those people in Revelation worshipped wealth, and probably advocated libertarianism, neoliberalism, and trickle-down economics.

While it is true, as I have written elsewhere, that the Alexandrian philosopher Julius Philo Judaeus posited in his early writings what could have been a rudimentary precursor to the Holy Trinity of the Christians, the other two “persons” (the Logos, the Word or Reason, and Sophia, or Wisdom) were for him no more than emanations of the One True God.  That was the beginning of his attempt to harmonize and synchronize Israelite religious philosophy with Platonism.  One of Platonism’s central cosmological themes was that of the Logos as a medium between The One and Creation.  Like Israelite religion in the first century, Platonic philosophy held Wisdom to be a quasi-persona, separate from the Logos. 

But for most Pharisees, Essenes, Sadducees, proto-Karaites, Samaritans, Hellenists, Galileans, Idumeans, and other Israelites in first century Palestine, there was just God.  In his subsequent writings, Philo equated Logos with Sophia (he wrote in Greek).

In first century Israelite mystical and philosophical thought, the Logos (Memra in Hebrew) and Sophia (Hokhma) equate not merely to each other but also to Understanding (Sapientia/Binah) and the Presence (Shekhinah).  All of these were, and still are, considered emanations of God that are aspects of the Holy Spirit (Pneuma Hagion, Ruach ha-Kodesh), the means through which the transcendent Lord God Almighty is immanent in Creation.

Adherents of the Doctrine of the Holy Trinity, particularly evangelicals, point to two New Testament passages in particular to support the claim that followers of Jesus have always believed in the Trinity.  First is the Great Commission in chapter 28 at the end of the Gospel of Matthew, whose verse 19 reads (in RSV): “ Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”.  Second is the fifth chapter of the First Epistle of John, who seventh verse reads (in KJV): “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.”  The problem with these two verses is that both are interpolations, or redactions, inserted by scribes committing “pious fraud” with a retcon in the name of synchronizing Scripture with later doctrine and dogma.

Regarding the first of these proof verses, the majority of scholars believe the entire Great Commission is an interpolation, but even if it is not, passages in the writings of Eusebius of Casesarea in the fourth century CE prove that the Trinitarian citation is clearly more recent (perhaps an interpolation of an interpolation?), for where that is in later examples, Eusebius cites the disciples being told to baptize people “in the name of Jesus”.

As for the second, more modern and more accurate translations consulting the earliest manuscripts leave out the entire clause and reorder the verses of the chapter.  For instance, its foreign nature is so apparent that the RSV (NT first published in 1942) leaves it out entirely, which the NRSV does also but offers it in a footnote.

Some authorities claim that the final verse of 2 Corinthians, 13:14, is an interpolation, but this is probably not the case.  However, the verse, which reads (RSV), “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all,” does contain an interpolation since all early manuscripts do not contain the modifier “Holy”.  Which, it must be said, would contrast every other reference to “the Spirit” in Paul’s legitimate writings.

Some claim this verse is an affirmation of the Trinity, others point out, correctly, that the “Lord Jesus Christ” is separate and contrasted to “God”, and comes at the beginning rather than the middle of the list.

So, you may be asking, or at least thinking, “Whence the Trinity?”.  My reply, “Wholly and completely from Gentile religious motifs”.

Throughout the ancient world the Great Queen or Great Mother was often depicted as a Triple Goddess in the forms of Maiden, Mother, and Crone.  The Greek goddess Hecate figure in three of these: Hebe-Hera-Hera-Hecate, Kore-Demeter-Hecate, and Artemis-Selene-Hecate.  The Egyptians had Hathor-Nephthys-Isis.  The Canaanite version was Qadesh (Asherah)-Astarte-Anath.  Mesopotamians had Inanna-Ishtar-Astarte.

The original Mystery Cult involved the Trinity of Osiris, Isis, and Horus.  Its Hellenistic counterpart involved the Trinity of Serapis, Isis, and Harpocrates.  Other Egyptian triads included Amun-Mut-Khonsu, Ptah-Sekmet-Nefertem, and Khnum-Satet-Anuket.

The Greeks had several trinities, including Zeus-Poseidon-Hades, Helios-Apollo-Dionysus, and Persephone-Demeter-Triptolemus.

At the top of the pyramid in ancient Rome was the Capitoline triad of Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva, whose temples graced the top of what is now Al-Aqsa Mount from around 135 CE to the fourth century, when their temples (now Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa Mosque) became churches, along with the former temples of Venus (Holy Sepulchre) and Mercury (Upper Room).

Hinduism’s supreme god above all others, Brahman, is usually described as a Trinity of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva.  The female counterpart is the trinity of Parvati, Durga, and Kali.

The ancient Irish had multiple trinities.  One most often cited is the trinity of the war goddesses Morrigan (from Mor Righean, or “Great Queen”), Badb, and Macha.  Other accounts name Anann (the Mor Righean with her personal name) as the chief warrior goddess who is first among equals, the others being Badb, Macha, Nemain, and Fea.  The other most often mentioned triune deity is Brigit.

Other Irish trinities were Brian-Iuchar-Iucharba , Glon-Gaim-Coscar, Creidne-Luchtaine-Giobhniu, Ethur Mac Cuill-Tether Mac Cecht-Cether Mac Greinne, and the sovereignty goddesses Eriu-Banba-Fodhla.

So, this whole “mystery” that the Church has been pushing since Athanasius in the fourth century CE and the Ecumenical Councils that began that same century, the “mystery” of the Holy Trinity which no one can really explain these days was not that much of a mystery to Gentiles in the early Common Era.  Because their pagan religions were its source.

Athanasius promoted his doctrine of the Trinity so strongly because his theory of atonement, that it came about with the incarnation, required that Christ (referring to the mythical figure now) be fully divine and fully human at the same time.

Interestingly, although standard Israelite religion in ancient times centered on the unity of God, which led them early on into a rather sophisticated religious philosophical doctrine called “dialectical monism”, Qabbalah mysticism did eventually create a doctrine of Four Persons taking up positions on four of its eleven sefirot on the Tree of Life.  Hokhmah represents the Father, Binah represents the Mother,  Tif’eret represents the Son, and Malkhut represents the Daughter. 

I guess that would be called a Holy Quadrinity?  The argument could easily be made that traditional Christianity both East and West has its own Holy Quadrinity, adding to the more orthodox and approved trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit the Theotokos or Mother of God, the Virgin Mary.

Back to my original point: this is not the God whom the Galilean prophet Isho the Nazarene worshipped when he was actually around.  Christians morphed that God into something unrecognizable, recreating the God of Isho, the God of Jesus, in their own image.

Footnote:  The Gloria Patri, also known as the Lesser Doxology, which begins “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit” once began “Glory be to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit”, and that did not change until after the Ecumenical Councils (Nicaea, 325, and Constantinopolis, 381) in the fourth century.  The original is not invalid under the orthodox doctrine of the Holy Trinity, but the newer is preferred as it is more supportive of the Doctrine of the Holy Trinity, another example of Christian retcon.


Now that we have discussed a little of what the god of first century Jews and Samaritans was not, let’s discuss a little of what he was.

This is a brief account of how the god of the Israelites metamorphosed from his original form as one of several deities in the Levantine  polytheistic pantheon into the sole monotheistic One True God of the Samaritans, Jews, Christians, and Muslims of today.

Southern Levantine deities

The first Israelites were polytheists.  Their first chief god was not Yahweh but El.  That this was the case is evident from their name, Yisrael in Hebrew, which means “triumphant with El”.  El was the chief god of the Levantine pantheon, those deities known collectively as the Elohim, who were worshipped by the Canaanites, Phoenicians, Arameans, Amorites, and other West Semitic peoples, including the Israelites.

El was the father of all the gods and their chief.  In the Tanakh, El is often referred to with an epithet, such as El Shaddai (translated Almighty; means Destroyer), El Berith (of the Covenant), El Roi (the Omnisicent), El Olam (the Eternal), El Tzevaot (of Hosts), El Elyon (Most High), Toru El (Bull El), El Qaniyunu (the Creator), El Gibbon (the Warrior), El Elehe Yisrael (of the gods of Israel). 

Use of El referring to the god of Israel is almost entirely confined to the Book of Genesis, with the exceptions being twice in the Book of Psalms.

His consort was Athirat (Asherah).  El had seventy sons, known as the “sons (or children) of El”.  To each of these was allotted one of the seventy nations of humans on Earth.  Israel was given to Yahu (Yah earlier, later Yahweh) just as Edom was given to Qaws, Moab to Chemosh, Ammon to Milcom, Tyre to Melqart, Sidon to Eshmun, Byblos to El, Shechem to Resheph, Jerusalem to Shalim, Philistia to Dagon, Carthage to Hammon, the Nabateans to Dushara, etc.

A triad of gods comparable to the Greek triad of Zeus-Poseidon-Hades at the apex of the Bene El:  Hadad, a sky god of storm; Yam, god of the sea; and Mot, god of death and the underworld.  As for goddesses, the two most prominent after Asherah were Anath and Ashtart (Ishtar).

Shachar and Shalim were the twin gods of dawn and dusk, respectively; Jerusalem is named for the latter (it does not mean “city of peace”).  Attar was the god of the morning star.  There was the group of divine midwives who were only known collectively as the Kotharat.  Shapash was goddess of the sun, while Yarikh was god of the moon.  Eshmun was the god of healing.  Resheph was protector against plague and war. 

Dagon was imported early on from Mesopotamia and became integrated into the Levantine pantheon as the father of Hadad.  Tammuz (Dumuzi in Sumer) was a later import whom the Phoenicians called Adoni, or Lord; to the Greeks he became Adonis, and in that guise returned to the Levant, particularly during the era of the Mystery Cults.

The preeminent human cultural hero of the stories that have survived is Danel, a generous king famous for his wisdom, whose popular stories gave flesh to the also mythical Solomon and whose name in somewhat corrupted form became Daniel, the exile in Babylon.

The central story of Levantine mythology is the rivalry between Hadad and Yam, whose name in some sources is Yaw.  When El decides to step down as king of the gods, he makes Hadad king in his place after the latter defeats Yam.  In a later conflict with Mot, Hadad dies, and Yam is resurrected to become king. 

During Yam’s kingship, Attar attempts to take the throne, but fails, and falls from heaven to Earth, much the same as “Lucifer, thou son of the morning” in Isaiah 14.  Most High, Elyon in Hebrew, was a title of El when he was king of the gods, then of Hadad when he ascended, and, of course, Yam during the brief time he was king.

Although Baal could be a title for any of the gods, if used alone it almost always meant Hadad (its literal definition is “master”).  In fact, Baal in later centuries was the only way in which the lay people were permitted to refer to Hadad, his priests keeping his name to themselves, exactly like the Jewish (and presumably Samaritan) priests of Yahweh did.

Another deity imported into the Levant, at least by the city-state of Ebla, was Ia, a Levantine form of the Akkadian-Babylonian god Ea, who in turn was borrowed from the Sumerian original, Enki.  Many tablets of religious writings from the city replace El with Ia atop their pantheon.  Some claim that “Ia” should be transliterated as “Yah” instead, but they are in a minority, and even those who did were not suggesting that Yah was the same as Yahweh.  If not, it is still quite possible that Ia later morphed into Yah, which became Yahu, then Yahweh.

Interestingly, the Egyptian pantheon included a lunar deity whose name was Yah.

The god Dagon came to Ugarit, where inscriptions to him were first identified, via the city of Ebla, where he served the same role as Hadad did among the West Semitic peoples.

Regardless of who their early god was or from whence the later one derived, by the ninth century BCE when the Israelites were a major power in north Palestine, their chief god was Yahweh.  And alongside him, they worshipped a divine consort, Asherah.  Asherah’s chief epithet was Qadesh, the Holy One, by which name she entered the Egyptian pantheon in the eighteenth century BCE.  Presumably by this time, El had been reduced to functioning merely as a generic word for “god”.  Tammuz is another deity whom we know had a popular cult among the Israelites of that era.

“Houses of Yahweh” and cult motifs

Archaeologically, three pre-Babylonian Conquest temples to their national god, each termed “House of Yahweh”, have been found in Palestine.  The largest and most opulent is that at Samaria, where Yahweh and Asherah were worshipped side-by-side.  Omri and his son Ahab also built temples there to Hadad, and several other deities, undoubtedly the major deities of the local pantheon and many imports, such as Tammuz.  It was built in 878 BCE.

The other two known places called “House of Yahweh”, both rather small, have been found in the south, one a shrine in a citadel at Tel Arad, near the modern city on the border of the Judean and Negev deserts, and the other a temple at Tel Motza, on the western outskirts of modern Jerusalem.  The shrine at Tel Arad dates from about 820 BCE; the temple at Tel Motza about the same date.

Archaeologists have concluded almost universally that Jerusalem was uninhabited until the return after the exile to Babylon, so there is no “First Temple” to find.

Horned altars identified as Israelite have been discovered at Dan, Megiddo, Beersheba, and Ekron, indicating outdoor shrines, but no temples in those cities.

There was a fourth House of David, though not in Palestine.  It was in Egypt, at the military colony of Elephantine, built in about the year 650 BCE.  From surviving papyri, we known that Yahweh was worshipped there along with his consort Anath-Yahweh, plus Bethel, Haram, Eshem, Nabu, and Anath-Bethel, as well as Khnum (whose temple was adjacent), his consort Satet, and his daughter Anuket.

Three inscriptions and images at Kuntillet Arjud, c. 800 BCE, depict Yahweh, Asherah, El, and Baal (presumably Hadad).  Two inscriptions mention “Yahweh of Samaria and Asherah” and “Yahweh of Teman and Asherah”.  Teman, of course, need not refer to a city as its literal meaning is “the South”, just like “Samaria” could refer to the kingdom based out of the city.

Again, inscriptions at a tomb in Khirbet al-Qom in the Har Yehuda west of Hebron dating to about 750 BCE mention “Yahweh and Asherah”.

Given this preponderance of evidence, there is no other conclusion but that before the Persian period (and well into it) the Yahweh cult among the Israelites north, south, and in Egypt was polytheist, though almost certainly the henotheist variety.  That this is the undeniable case does not preclude the existence of Yahwist fanatics pursuing monotheist worship of their deity.

The “House of Yahweh” at Samaria was destroyed, along with the other temples, in the Assyrian conquest of 722 BCE.  Both in the South fell to Nebuchadnezzar II in 586 BCE.

That left the House of Yahweh at Elephantine as the only remaining temple of the Israelite religion to the Israelite national god.  A temple which he shared with several other deities, including his consort.

Beginnings of monotheism

The change in Israelite religion from henotheism to monotheism came with the arrival of their new Iranian overlords. 

Iranians were the original monotheists.  They were monotheists centuries before the Israelites, or any other peoples for that matter.  The fact that the Israelites became monotheists because of the Iranians may be why Koroush Kabir, aka Cyrus the Great, is the first person referred to as a “messiah” in the sense of “savior”.

The deity of the Iranians, revealed to them by the prophet Zartosht (Zarathustra, Zoroaster) was called Ahura Mazda in ancient Persian, “Ahura” being a title, and Assara Mazas in the Aramaic language that became the official language of the empire.  The name “Mazas” looks suspiciously like “Moses”, which could very well be its Greek form.  One of the phrases recurring throughout the teachings of Zartosht is the “law of Mazda”, which would be “law of Mazas” in Aramaic.

When the change came about, no record shows, but when the new temples called House of Yahweh were constructed in Palestine in the fifth century BCE, there was only one deity worshipped there, Yahweh.  Under the influence of their overlords, the Israelites both north (in Samerina) and south (in Yehud) became firmly monotheist.  The Temple in Samerina was built in 450 BCE at the newly reoccupied Bronze Age site of Shechem, where it was placed atop the adjacent height of Mount Gerizim.  The Temple of Yehud was built in 425 BCE on Mount Moriah in the eastern part of the newly reoccupied Bronze Age site of Jerusalem. 

The temple at Elephantine remained until it was burned down in 411 BCE by the priests of Khnum, the most likely explanation being that the priests of Yahweh had recently ceased to sacrifice to Khunm also, which pinpoints their switch to monotheism.  The temple was rebuilt four years later, but there is no record, written or archaeological, of how long it remained in use.

Allegory of the Golden Calf

Many have suggested that the “golden calf” portrayed in Aaron and Miriam making for the Israelites at the foot of Mount Horeb/Sinai/Paran was be an image of Hathor, Egyptian goddess of fertility, inebriation, and musics (i.e., sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll).  Her usual icon, after all, was of a cow.  Of course, even while reiterating that the whole Exodus is a myth, I suggest that this particular part of the myth is an allegory of a return to worship of El, whose usual icon was a bull, as supreme god rather than Yahweh.

Turn of the era dualism

At the three centuries at the turn of the Common Era (2nd-1st centuries BCE and 1st century CE), there was a strain or strains of Judaism that had crossed the line into dualism, but a dualism the mirrors more the variety expressed in Mazdaism, the modern form of Zoroastrianism, which began to develop in this time period, in opposition to the then dominant strain, Zurvanism.  In Mazdaism, Ahura Mazda is the supreme creator, with the Spenta Mainyu over Asha, basicially the "light side of the Force", and Angra Mainyu over Druj, or the "dark side of the Force".  In the Jewish version, Yahweh is the supreme creator, with the good angel Michael over the Way of Light or the Way of Life and the evil angel Beliar over the Way of Darkness or the Way of Death.

One of the most notable examples of this occurs in the Essene War Scroll, which describes the War of the Son of Light and the Sons of Darkness.  But it is not just an Essene phenomenon, as the same dichotomy appears in several apocalyptic works of the era, and even in the Christian Didache.  Another apocalyptic work in this period featuring the "Two Ways" was the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs.

Use of “The Name”

In the first century CE, Jews still used the name Yahweh, at least in their worship at the Temple in Jerusalem, and perhaps also at the one in Leontopolis in Egypt.  Elsewhere, it was used, but not as commonly.  One of the complaints of first century  Samaritans about the Jews was, in fact, that they still did this.  By 200 CE, the Jews had likewise ceased its use entirely.

The most common reference in the Tanakh to the Supreme (or only) Deity is “Elohim”, a plural version often used as a singular.  What’s tricky about its use is that at various points in the Tanakh, “elohim” clearly refers to “the gods”, though this has been retconned out in other places.

Yahweh is not the only god

It is a widespread misconception that the Tanakh holds that there is only one deity.  In truth, several passages allude to other deities or mention them explicitly, some by name, and not in a way to suggest other deities do not exist. One of the latest examples of the Tanakh is found in Micah 4:5, following the preceding messianic passage: “For all the peoples walk, each in the name of its god, but we will walk in the name of Yahweh our God forever and ever.”

As late as the first century CE, Paul of Tarsus affirmed the existence of other deities in his First Epistle to the Corinthians (8:5), “Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords…”.

The Name

In this case, I mean specifically the one represented by the four Hebrew letters transliterated as YHVH.  Earlier forms of The Name were Yah and Yahu, both of which can still be found in personal names and in words like Halleluyah.  When the Masoretes of Babylonia were putting the Tanakh into its current from the seventh thru the eleventh centuries BCE.  By the time, superstition about saying the Name aloud was throughly engrained in Jewish culture, even that of the non-Rabbanate Masoretes, who were Karaites.  In order that no one pronounce The Name accidentally, when pointing the Tetragrammaton, the Masoretes substituted the vowels for the word Adonai, which means 'Lord', which is how we get 'Jehovah', which too many evangelicals (and other for that matter) forget was pronounced 'Yehowah'.  The actual Name, if transliterated into English, would be Yahuweh, but most seem more comfortable with the modern form, Yahweh.

The Tanakh, or Old Testament, is not a history book.  The greater part of it, in fact, represents only a minority of Israelites and their descendants.  The only books of the Tanakh held in common among all the Israelites (Pharisee Jews, Sadducee Jews, Essene Jews, Hellenist Jews, Samaritans, etc.) at the turn of the era, for instance, were the five of the Torah.  The Torah is a collection of religious laws and rules of practice collected over hundreds of years combined with a number of myths and legends woven into a single story.  In other words, a foundation myth.

The Prophets and the Writings come solely from the point-of-view of the Jews, as opposed to the Samaritans, sometimes specifically opposed to the Samaritans, and are therefore not reliable as a witness to the body of Israelites as a whole.

Adam, Eve, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekkah, Hagar, Esau, Jacob, Leah, Rachel, Ishmael, and the twelve sons of Jacob are purely mythological.  So are Moses, Aaron, Miriam, Joshua, Caleb, and everyone else mentioned by name therein.  The central action driving the story in the Torah, the Exodus, never happened.  The “children of Israel” never went down into Egypt and became slaves, though the ancestor of the nation of Israel probably was a “wandering Aramean”, as we will find.  The following is their true story, in brief, at least to the end of Roman rule over the Levant.

Pre-Israel history of Canaan

People of Canaan, especially craftsmen, artisans, soldiers, and farmers, began migrating to Egypt in great numbers about 1800 BCE.  By 1725 BCE, their numbers were large enough to establish the Fourteenth Dynasty, of Canaanite origin, ruling Lower Egypt.

In 1650 BCE, the Fourteenth Dynasty fell to the invading Hyksos, a multi-ethnic horde ruled by its own Canaanite dynasty, which replaced the deposed Canaanite dynasty at Avaris.  The Hyksos’ Fifteenth Dynasty was followed by the Sixteenth, then the Seventeenth.  The forces of Pharoah Ahmose I of the Eighteenth Dynasty in Upper Egypt expelled the foreigners back to the northeast in 1530, besieging the bulk of them in the city of Shahuren in the Negev, which he destroyed after a three-year siege.  In other campaign, he destroyed the city of Jericho, which was not inhabited again until the ninth century BCE.

To protect his line of supply, he established a line of forts known as the Way of Horus from Lower Egypt to Gaza.  Gaza became the seat of Egyptian holdings in Retenu, the Egyptian name for the Levant, which in twenty-five years reached into southeastern Anatolia.  After the Battle of Megiddo in 1457 BCE, the Egyptians moved their capital to what is now Beth Shean and was Scythopolis under the Roman Empire.  Beth Shean is at the conjunction of the Jordan and Jezreel Valleys in northern Palestine.

The rise of the Mitanni, then of the Hittites, reduced the northern territory of the Egyptian empire, but only as far south as Kadesh in central Syria, which traded hands more than once.

Egyptian domination and often direct rule of all Palestine and southern Syria continued until the advent of the Sea Peoples and the invasion of Palestine by the Philistines in 1175.  Even then, it wasn’t until the Philistines destroyed the city of Megiddo, a stronghold of Egyptian imperial rule, in 1130 that Egyptian control left Palestine entirely.  After that date, southern and central Palestine were all but deserted except for the Philistine cities of Gath, Ekron, Ashkelon, Ashdod, and Gaza, and northern Palestine was only lightly populated.

Where did everyone go?  Well, there is a clue in the autonym of the Phoenicians who ruled most of the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea: “Kananayim”.

Israel in Canaan

So, when did the Israelites arrive?  Many point to inscriptions on the Merneptah Stele and the Great Karnak Temple depicting a campaign in 1207 BCE against the Canaanite city-states of Gezer, Yanoam, and Ashkelon allied with a nomadic tribe of people called the Isiriar.  They identify “Isiriar” with Israel, much the same way some scholars once mistakenly equated the “Habiru” with the Hebrews.  This identification because of the similarity of the two names is probably just as flawed.  In fact, Isiriar is closer to “Assyria” than to “Israel”.

By the beginning of the ninth century BCE, the hold of the Philistines over northern Palestine had slipped, and a group of Arameans known as Israel (“My father was a wandering Aramean”, Deuteronomy 26:5) had managed to infiltrate from the Aramean kingdom at Damascus founded around 1115 BCE.  In 883, Omri, king of Israel, made himself king over the northern and central regions of Palestine.  Five years later, Omri founded the city of Samaria as his capital, and began to rebuild Gezer, Hazor, and Megiddo.

Among the surrounding kingdoms and empires, the kingdom Omri founded was known as Samerina in the Aramaic which was then the lingua franca of Southwest Asia, and was also called Bit Humria, or House of Omri, and its people called Samaritans.  Not long after Omri founded Samerina, another kingdom to the south, at first known as Bit Dawid, or House of David, came into being, probably in the central highlands.  In certain inscriptions, it was also called Teman, meaning “the South”.

Hazael, king of Damascus, destroyed the city of Gath in 830 BCE, opening up the south for immigration and settlement.

Independence of the kingdom of Samerina/Bit-Humria lasted until Assyria finally imposed direct rule in 740, making Megiddo their provincial capital.  The Samaritans, as Sargon’s records refer to them, rose up against Assyrian rule along with the Arameans and Philistine in 722 BCE, only to have their capital at Samaria destroyed, its citizens, at least the elite, deported.

This left Teman/Bit-Dawid, now more commonly called Yehud, as the only free, though tributary, client kingdom of the Israelites.  In fact, Yehud was probably the name of the kingdom’s capital city; Jerusalem, once a major Canaanite city and regional power, was uninhabited in the Late Bronze and Early Iron Ages.

In 650, refugees from Samaria, and perhaps some of their cousins from Yehud, established a military colony on the island of Elephantine on the border of Egypt with Nubia.  It was the chief of a group of military colonies which included settlements in Migdol, Tahpanhes-Daphnae, Pathros, Noph, and the capital at Memphis.  The Egyptian papyri refer to the new inhabitants as Arameans, as they undoubtedly spoke that language.

The Chaldean dynasty of Babylonia conquered Assyria in 626 BCE, and did the same with Palestine in 597 BCE.  After Yehud rose up in 586 BCE, Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon destroyed the “city of Yehud”, deported its population, and attached it to Samerina as a sub-province.


Koroush Kabir (Cyrus the Great) of the Achmaenid Empire of Iran overthrew the Chaldean Empire in 539 BCE, gaining with that its imperial territories, including those in Palestine.  The territories of the Levant became the satrapy of Abar Nahara.  Yehud remained a sub-province of its northern cousins.  Many of the exiles and dependents began to trickle back to the west.

The Samaritans built a large and elaborate Temple to Yahweh atop Mount Gerizim near Shechem around the year 450 BCE.  The Iudeians followed suit in Jerusalem atop Mount Moriah in Jerusalem in 425 BCE, but it was much smaller.

Sidon rebelled against its Iranian overlords in 343 BCE, and a large portion of the people of Yehud, though not its governing majority, supported it.  After the revolt failed, Artaxerses III removed the survivors from the Yehud contingent to the satrapy of Hyrcania, roughly modern Gilan, Mazandaran, and North Khorasan (i.e., Media).

Egypt and the Levant fell to the Macedonian and Greek armies of Alexander the Great in 332 BCE.  The Jews, residents of Yehud (Iudeia in Greek), assisted in the conquest of Tyre, and were rewarded with two sections out of the five in the new city of Alexandria in Egypt.  The Samaritans rebelled the next year, and found Samerina (Samareia in Greek) occupied by Macedonian troops.

After Alexander’s death, both Samareia and Iudeia fell at first under the Antigonid dynasty based in Macedonia, but were under the Ptolemaic dynasty by 301 BCE.  Onias I ben Jaddua had been high priest since about 320 BCE, founding the Oniad dynasty.  Samareia adopted a cosmopolitan stance, and prospers, while Iudeia remained more conservative.

Samareia passed to the Seleucids out of Damascus in 208 BCE, at the beginning of the Fourth Syrian War.  Ten years later, Iudeia followed suit.

The Great Sanhedrin separated the office of Nasi (its head) from the high priesthood in 191 BCE.  Prior to that date, the two had been held simultaneously.

In 168 BCE, the Aramaic-speaking Nabateans established a kingdom in Transjordan with their capital at Petra.  The displaced Idumeans moved to the Negev.  The same year, the Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV attempted to conquer Egypt but was turned back by the armies of the Roman Republic which had allied with the Ptolemaic Empire.

Here the record gets a little murky about what happened next.  According to Hasmonean propaganda (enshrined in the Books of the Maccabees), Antiochus invaded the Temple compound, robbed the treasury, and erected an idol of himself in the Holy of Holies.  This was the purported “abomination of desolation”. 

According to another account, Menelaus the high priest robbed the treasury himself to pay off debts accrued from bribing Antiochus to replace his brother Jason with himself.  In this version, Antiochus’ invasion was to put down a revolt.

The Maccabees

The actual First Judean Civil War of 159-153 BCE, referred to by some as the Maccabean Revolt, was not a revolt against the Seleucids but a largely internal civil war between factions in Iudeia.  The civil war coincided and was intertwined with internal strife among the Seleucid dynasty.  It ended with the Hasmoneans (aka the Maccabees) in the seat of high priest.

In the midst of the fighting, the would-be Onias IV fled to Egypt in 154 BCE, where he was allowed to build a temple in Leontopolis.

The Seleucid Empire’s power in Palestine collapsed in 116 BCE, and the ruling Hasmonean high priest, John Hyrcanus, took the title of Basileus, or King.  He conquered the Idumeans in 110 BCE and forced them to convert to Judaism.  Two years later, he conquered Samareia, destroyed the city of Samaria, and burned the Temple atop Mt. Gerizim.

His successor, Aristobolus I, conquered the southern part of the kingdom of the Iturean Arabs in 104 BCE and forced its inhabitants to convert.  He also began exiling political undesirables there from his own kingdom.  The area was called Galil ha-Goyim (District of the Gentiles).

The Second Judean Civil War of 93-87 BCE began with Pharisee-supported rebels taking advantage of a war between Alexander Jannaeus and the Nabateans.  After he lost that war, Jannaeus returned to defeat the rebels, then crucified 800 of them and slitting the throats of their families in front of them.

In 81 BCE, Alexander Jannaeus formally annexed Galilee (Galil ha-Goyim).  After the Roman conquest and the rise of Herod the Great, Samaritans too began to migrate there.

The Third Judean Civil War of 66-63 BCE ended with the conquest of the Levant by forces of the Roman Republic under Pompey.

Client of the Roman Empire

In 63 BCE, Pompey restored the losing pretender, Hyrcanus II, as high priest, but not as king.  Instead, he installed Antipater the Idumean as procurator.

Aulus Gabinius, proconsul of Syria, rebuilt the city of Samaria in 57 BCE.

In 47 BCE, Hezekiah ben Garon declared himself King of the Jews and began a revolt in Galilee which was put down by Herod, son of Antipater.  Afterwards, Antipater made Hyrcanus ethnarch, while his son Herod became ruler of Galilee and his son Phasael ruler of Jerusalem.

At the end of the Fourth Judean Civil War which lasted 40-37 BCE, Herod son of Antipater became King of the Jews.

Because of his support during Anthony’s Civil War, the victorious Octavius, now Caesar Augustus, grants the city of Samaria to Herod, who renames is Sebaste, in 30 BCE.

In 13 BCE, Herod moved into the newly built capital city of Caesarea Maritimi.  In 10 BCE, he rebuilt the Samaritan Temple on Mt. Gerizim.

In 4 BCE, the students of two Jewish teachers, Judas ben Sepphoraeus and Matthias ben Margalus, cut down the Roman eagle over the gate into the Temple in an act of rebellion intended to provoke a revolt.  It only got their teachers crucified.

Herod died later that year, and revolts broke out in Perea, Iudaea, Galilaea (led by Jacob ben Hezekiah), and Idumaea (led by Herod’s cousin Achiab).  In the aftermath, Sepphoris lay in ruins, its populace was sold into slavery, and over two thousand rebels crucified.

When the dust settles, Archelaus inherited Judaea, Samaraea, and Idumaea as ethnarch, Antipas inherited Galilaea, Peraea, and Decapolis, Philippos inherited Ituraea (Arabs), Trachonitis, Batanaea, Gaulanitis, and Panaeas, and Salome I inherited Paralia (Philistia).

Direct Roman rule

Ten years later, in 6 CE, Octavius Augustus removed Archelaus and made Iudaea into a Roman entity, a sub-province of Syria.  Publius Suplicius Quirinius, proconsul of Syria, ordered a registration of citizens for the new territory, and Judas the Galilean, probably related to Hezekiah ben Garon, rose in revolt.

The former province of Assyria called Adiabene, centered on Arbela (Arbil in modern Iraq), exists as an independent kingdom that is officially Jewish in religion from 15 CE to 116 CE, when it is conquered by Rome.

The Samaritan Prophet and his followers occupied the summit of Mt. Gerizim in a bid to form a province of the empire separate from Iudaea in 36 CE.  The prefect, Pontius Pilatus, put down the relatively mild revolt so brutally that he was recalled to Rome.

Theudas the prophet, probably of Judea, led his followers to the wilderness around the Jordan River, claiming to be the Messiah in 45 CE.  Cuspius Fadus, procurator of Iudaea, easily put down the minor revolt. 

Another revolt, against procurator Tiberius Julius Alexander, a Jew from Alexandria, followed the next year, 46 CE, under Jacob and Simon, sons of Judas the Galilean.  It lasted until 48, when both sons were captured and crucified.

Rumors of the desecration of the Temple in Jerusalem at Passover in 49 CE led to widespread rioting that ended in the death of thousands under procurator Ventidius Cumanus.  Sympathetic riots in the Jewish section of Rome led to the expulsion of the entire community, at the time some ten percent of the city’s populace.

Serious warfare between Galileans and Samaritans broke out in 52 CE, under Cumanus again, when extremists led by Alexander and Eleazar ben Dinaeus invaded Samaria in supposed revenge for an alleged transgression leading to the crucifixion and beheading of several of the leaders on both sides.

A charismatic individual known to history only as the Egyptian Prophet led an uprising in 58 CE that ended in a climactic battle on the Mount of Olives.

The Sikarii rose up against procurator Porcius Festus in 59 CE.  This was the first time they are mentioned.

The Great Jewish War began in 66 CE.  The violence of the uprising caught the Roman completely by surprise, and the rebels swept them from the region.  There were six major factions of rebels, often fighting each other more than the Romans: the Temple Guard and priests, Galilean Zealots, Judean peasants, Judean Zealots, Sikarii, and Idumeans.  They had significant help from the kingdom of Adiabene in northern Mesopotamia, modern Arbil.

The Samaritans joined the revolt in 67 CE, but their effort was swiftly put down by Syrian legate Sextus Vettulenus Cerealis, who destroyed their Temple and the city of Sebaste.  Galilee was retaken in 69 CE.  Jerusalem fell in 70 CE after a lengthy siege exacerbated by infighting among the various factions.  The final holdout, Masada, to which the bulk of the Sikarii had relocated after seeing Jerusalem was to be surrounded, fell in 73 CE.

Jerusalem was utterly destroyed.  The only parts left standing were the western wall of the city (NOT the western wall of the Temple) and three towers.  The Temple Mound in particular was singled out for complete dismantling as the gold in the Temple had melted and some fallen through the cracks when the Temple was burned.

Captives not crucified or enslaved were exiled to North Africa, becoming the ancestors to the Maghrebim.

After finishing the campaign at Masada, where he was Titus’ second in command, Tiberius Alexander, now prefect of Egypt, destroyed the Temple of Onias to prevent it becoming a focal point for revolt.

Later centuries under Rome

The Kitos War of 115-117 was a revolt of the Jews in Cyrenaica, Aegyptus, Cyprus, and Mesopotamia, supported by Adiabene, quelled by Lusius Quietus, procurator of Iudaea.  Libya was virtually depopulated by slaughter and evacuation, and the Jewish quarter in Alexandria completely destroyed.

In 122, Hadrian established Colonia Aelia Capitolina on the former site of Jerusalem, largely for veterans of the Tenth Fretensis Legion, stationed in Palestine since the Great Jewish Revolt.  Ten years later, Simon bar Kokhba and Rabbi Akiva led an uprising that lasted until 135.

After the war, Hadrian merged all the provinces in the area as Syria-Palestina and finished Aelia Capitolina.  It included a freshly rebuilt mount with a wall around it and temples to Jupiter and of Juno and Minerva atop it.  Nearby was a grotto to Venus, a shrine to Asclepius (later claimed as the pool of Bethesda), and a temple of Mercury.

The refugees from this war became the first Jews of Arabia, later growing into some thirteen tribes in western central Arabia and four groups in the south.

The remaining Jews in Judea were largely evacuated to Galilee.

The province of Syria-Palestina was divided into Syria Coele (essentially Syria as we have it today), Syria Phoenice (Phoenicia), and Syria Palestina (the remainder) in 193.

From 260 to 273, Syria-Palestina was part of the secessionist Palmyrene Empire.

The Jews of Galilaea revolted from 351 to 352, led by a messianic pretender.

Prior to a series of revolts by the Samaritans in Palestine against Rome in the later fifth and early sixth centuries, Samaritans had a rough parity with Jews both inside Palestine and across the Diaspora. 

The first of these was the Justa Uprising of 484, which ended with their Temple atop Mt. Gerizim destroyed.

Next was the Uprising of 495 in which they destroyed the Christian basilica atop the mountain and slaughtered the monks.

Lastly, there was the Ben Sabar Revolt of 529, which had the goal of creating an independent state and which Flavius Petrus Sabbatius Iustinius put down with the help of Christian Ghassanids, slaughtering and enslaving tens of thousands.  Afterwards, Justinian outlawed the practice of Samaritanism.

Yet another revolt, this time of Jews and Samaritans together, lasted 556-572, and began with a wholesale slaughter of Christians in Caesarea.

The Jews in Palestine rose up against the Imperium Romanum as allies of the Sassanids under Nehemiah ben Hushiel and Benjamin of Tiberias, Nehemiah being killed by Christians in Jerusalem the same year.  The revolt spread to include the Jews of Tyre, Damascus, Cyprus, and Edessa.  After the fall of Jerusalem in 614, the area becomes a Commonwealth under the Sassanid Empire.

The Jews of the Levant rose against the empire as allies of the Sassanids of Iran, and became a commonwealth of the Sassanid Empire in 614, led by Nehemiah ben Hushiel and Benjamin of Tiberias.  The revolt spread to include the Jews of Tyre, Damascus, Cyprus, and Edessa.  The commonwealth established by the rebels held out until a year after the final defeat of the Sassanids by Rome which ended the seven centuries of wars between the two great powers.  Palestine became Roman again in 629.

Eight years later, the region fell to the armies of the Caliphate, and, except for the interregnum of the Crusader states, remained until Islamic rule until 1919.


To get a better picture of the pond into which the pebble known as Isho the Nazorean dropped, we are now going to focus on the immediate political events and cultural features which shaped Palestine in the first century CE.

Political events during the Hellenistic era

The politics of Judea, Samaria, Egypt, Syria, Rome, and surrounding kingdoms set the stage for the events of the First Century CE.

The so-called Oniad dynasty began with the ascension to the high priesthood at Jerusalem of Onias I ben Jaddua in 320 BCE, just after Alexander’s conquest.  Onias was, in fact, the son of his predecessor, who was the scion of a ling unbroken since Joshua ben Jehozadak, who became high priest about 515 BCE.  But Onias I opened up the door to Hellenizing ideas and practices which later factions used as wedge issues.

In 242 BCE, Joseph ben Tobiah was appointed tax collector for the entire region of Palestina and founded the Tobiad dynasty, which became rivals to the Oniads for political control. 

Political divisions in Iudeia, as the province was known to the Diadochi successors of Alexander, revolved around pro- versus anti- camps on the subject of Hellenism and over being pro-Ptolemaic versus pro-Seleucid.  While Samareia shared the latter dispute amongst themselves, as a whole they embraced Hellenism and its cosmopolitan culture with open arms, its land and people being traditionally more liberal, with the Jews were generally more conservative.

The Great Sanhedrin, the deliberative body of Iudeia, separated the post of its head, called the Nasi (literally, Prince) from that of the high priesthood in 191 BCE.

After the First Judean Civil War, 159-153 BCE, the Hasmoneans came to power as nativists and anti-Hellenists, but they ended up even more Hellenist than their Oniad predecessors or even their Samaritan cousins.

By 116 BCE, Seleucid power in the region had weakened to the point where the current high priest, John Hyrcanus, was able to proclaim himself Basileus (King).

Just to review, Hyrcanus conquered Idumea in 110 BCE and Samaria in 108 BCE.  Aristobolus I conquered what became Galilee in 104 BCE.  Alexander Janneus conquered Perea in 90 BCE and formally annexed Galilee in 81 BCE.

Ethnic groups in Palestine in the first century CE

Jews and Samaritans had a rough parity in at the time of Isho the Nazarene, alias Jesus Christ of Nazareth.  There were about 2 million of each.  Each of the two major groups also had a rough parity in Palestine, at around half a million each. 

The half million Jews in Palestine were divided into four ethnic subgroups: Jews proper, Idumeans, Pereans, and Galileans.  In first century Palestine, the term “Jews” had two meanings: first, it meant the followers of the Israelite religion who were not Samaritans; second, it meant the “racially pure” Jews who were neither converts nor descendants of converts.  Jews proper were the second group, the “racially pure” descendants of those who had always lived in Yehud/Iudeia or who returned from exile in the east.  Idumeans were descendants of those in Idumea conquered in 110 BCE.  Galileans descended from Itureans and exiles from Judea.  Pereans descended from Nabateans.  To everyone outside Palestine, or in Palestine but outside the Jewish community, all four of these groups were simply Jews.

Understanding the points in the paragraph above are absolutely essential to grasping the meaning behind the “Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard” in Matthew 20:1-16.  While the parable easily transfers across time and cultures, to the Isho bar Yossef of first century CE Galilee, this is what it would have meant, particularly in the context in which Matthew places it.  Just after this, Matthew relates the the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee, asking Isho to sit them on his right and left in his kingdom, then the healing to the two blind men who hail Isho as the Son of David, then the Triumphal Entry.

The Samaritans, the descendants of those who had always lived in or were originally from Samerina/Samareia, either had no such subgroups or they have gone unrecorded.  They also descended to some small degree from central Mesopotamians and Macedonians who had been imported as colonists by one imperial power or another.

The Diaspora

In the Diaspora, Jews had no such divisions, or if they did their common links were more important outside Palestine.  And while some disparity between Jews and Samaritans was noted in Alexandria, elsewhere in the Diaspora the two seem to have been intertwined.

The largest Diaspora community of Jews was in Egypt, where the number of Israelites was equal to that in Palestine, one million, centered on Alexandria, its population allotted two of the city’s five sections.  Those one million almost certainly included a number of Samaritans.  The second largest expat community was in Syria, with the two biggest centers in Antioch and Damascus. 

To the east, there were large groups in Babylonia and in Iran, particularly in Hyrcania, the northern satrapy made up of modern Gilan, Mazandaran, and part of northern Khorasan.  There were communities in every major city across Anatolia, in Cyprus, Cyrenaica, Greece, Italy, and the coastal regions of France and Spain.

Both Jews and Samaritans had substantial presences in Rome, and later Constantinople, the population in Rome estimated at 10% of the total.  At the time of Octavius Augustus, the population of the city was about 1,250,000, of which 10% would be 125,000.

The Samaritan Diaspora followed much the same pattern as that of the Jews.

In 15 CE, the royal family of Adiabene (Arbil), a client kingdom of the Arsacid (Parthian) Empire of Iran gained full independence, and declared their realm officially Jewish.  Adiabene supported the rebels in the Great Jewish Revolt with money, men, and supplies, and even sent an armed contingent to break the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE that arrived too late.  The kingdom led the struggle against Trajan when he invaded northern Mesopotamia in 115 CE, which coincided with the Kitos War in which the Jewish populations of Cyrenaica, Cyprus, Egypt, and Mesopotamia (the Roman province in the south) rose against Rome.  For Adiabene, the war ended in 117 CE with it as part of the new Roman province of Assyria.

The survivors of the Great Jewish Revolt of 66-73 CE became the founders of the Jewish communities in western North Africa later known as the Maghrebim.  The Bar Kokhba War of 132-135 spurred emigration of Jews from Palestine into the Arabian Peninsula, where they begat the Temanim in Yemen, Aden, Habban, Hadramaut, and Oman in southern Arabia as well as the three Jewish tribes of Medina and the ten Jewish tribes in the Hejaz.

Jews and Samaritans

Both Jews and Samaritans worshipped at local synagogues, which in the Diaspora were called proseuches from the third century BCE through the first century CE.  Both used the same lunar calendar.  Both observed the Sabbath and the three great festivals of Pesach (Passover), Shavuot (Pentecost), and Sukkot (Booths), as well as Yom Kippur.

One of their main differences was how membership in each group was inherited.  Jews were mostly matrilineal, while Samaritans were entirely patrilineal.  The change for the Jews dates back to a prescription of the Mishna in the second century BCE.  Jews also accused Samaritans of not being racially pure enough, while Samaritans accused Jews of corrupting the religion of Yahweh with innovation.

Jewish sects

At the top of Jewish society under the Roman Empire were the Temple and the Great Sanhedrin, the High Priest being top official at the former, the Nasi over the latter.  The Temple shared the top of Mount Moriah with the Royal Stoa, where the Great Sanhedrin met and where the banking and law courts were located. 

Anecdotal evidence suggests that male Jews, at least in Palestine, wore their tefillin and tzitzit as part of their daily attire.

According to the Talmud, in the latter days of the Temple there were around twenty-four separate forms of Judaism, meaning sects, some large, some small.

The Sadducees were the religious faction mostly of the wealthy and powerful.  They held sacred only the five books of the Torah, like the Samaritans.  They were matrilineal, and either believed there was no afterlife or taught that it was irrelevant to conduct on Earth.  Their power base was the Temple in Jerusalem, where they held the high priesthood.

The Boethusians were either a splinter of the Sadducees or the latter’s leading family, because their doctrines were the same, Torah-only, no afterlife, etc.

The Pharisees were by far the largest sect of the Jews in Palestine.  In addition to the Torah, they accepted the Prophets and the Writings, though these were not yet codified.  In addition, they followed the Mishna, or Oral Torah.  They also framed the Jewish doctrine of the Ruach ha-Kodesh, or Holy Spirit.  They fasted on Mondays and Thursdays, and they definitely wore their tefillin and tzitzit daily. 

Of the main sects, the Pharisees were the ones most eager to convert Gentiles.  They had members in several communities of the Diaspora.  Two major factions developed in the early first century CE, Bet Hillel (House of Hillel) and Bet Shammai (House of Shammai), that became almost separate sects. 

The power base of the Pharisees was in the Great Sanhedrin, where they held the seat of Nasi (its head) exclusively.  By maintaining the Great Sanhedrin and the Palestinian Patriachate after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE, the Pharisees gave birth to modern Rabbinic Judaism.

The Essenes differed from other Jews in Palestine in a number of respects.  First, they may have been patrilineal.  They also followed a solar rather than lunar calendar.  They had a highly developed astrology and an elaborate angelology.  They valued celibacy, though they did not require it, and they were mostly vegetarians.  They forbade oaths and animal sacrifice.  They practiced voluntary poverty and daily immersion.  In addition to the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings, they had several others works, some unique to their sect, as scriptures, such as Manual of Discipline, the Damascus Document, and the War of the Sons of Light and Sons of Darkness.  They lived in common where possible, in cities throughout the Near East, and their most important center was the community at Qumran.  

Documents found at the Qumran site show that their most common autonym for themselves as individual members was Ebionim (“Poor Ones”).  They also called themselves followers of the Way, the Holy Ones (“saints”), Children of Light, and a few other monikers.  Collectively they called themselves the Yahad (“community”).

The Bene Sedeq were a small sect claimed by some Karaites as their forerunners.  Many argue that the latter (Karaites) have to have such antecedents as they have remain patrilineal while the rest of Jews have been matrilineal since the second century BCE.  The Karaites also do not wear tefillin or use mezuzot, though they do wear tzitzit, and do not accept the Mishna.

The Hemerobaptists were a sect that believed daily baptism was necessary to be cleansed of sin, but on the other hand they did not believe in an afterlife.

The Nasareans were forerunners of the Mandeans.  This sect, found mostly in Perea, was strictly vegetarian.  They followed the same calendar and observed the Sabbath.  They believed in all the Patriarchs, but they shunned the Torah.  The Mandeans of today reject Jesus the Nazarene for John the Baptist.

The Therapeutae of Philo lived communally in the desert near Alexandria and were widespread across the Mediterranean world, doubtlessly including Palestine.  They used the Torah, the Prophets, the Psalms, and some writings unique to themselves.  They assembled weekly for worship and sermons in synagogues divided by sex, and every seven weeks held communal meals serving each other.

The Herodians believed Herod the Great was the long-awaited Messiah.

The Bana’im were a sect similar to the Essenes which appeared in Palestine in the 2nd century CE that are mentioned in the Mishnah.

The Hellenistai used Greek instead of Hebrew in their Scriptures and worship.  They produced the Septuagint as their Tanakh, and it contains more books than the Hebrew canon.  They were more cosmopolitan and syncretistic to varying degrees, and very liberal in their iconography in their synagogues.  By far the largest group, they were overwhelmingly in the Diaspora, but there were some in Palestine also.  The Diaspora counterpart to the synagogue from the third century BCE thru the first century CE was the proseuche; after that the name synagogue took over.

The additional books to the Hebrew canon contained in the Septuagint include: Tobit, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach (aka Ecclesiasticus or Wisdom of Jesus ben Sira), Baruch, Letter of Jeremiah, I Maccabees, II Maccabees, additions to Esther, and additions to Daniel (Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Young Men, Susanna, Bel and the Dragon).  Some copies also include III Maccabees, IV Maccabees, Odes of Solomon, Prayer of Manasseh, and I Enoch.

Converts and followers

Most Jewish sects, but especially the Pharisees, eagerly converted Gentiles.  Inside Palestine, a full convert was called a ger tzedek, and in the Diaspora a proselyte.  A worshipper of Yahweh who followed the seven Noahide Laws without fully converting was called a ger toshav in Palestine and a theophobe (God-fearer) in the Diaspora.  The latter in modern times are referred to in English as a righteous Gentile.

Noahide Laws

There were seven of these: 1. Do not commit idolatry; 2. Do not blaspheme; 3. Do not murder; 4. Do not engage in sexual immorality; 5. Do not steal; 6. Do not eat of a live animal; 7. Establish courts/legal system to ensure justice.

Samaritans and their sects

The four important points of the Samaritan version of the Israelite religion were One God (Yahweh), the Torah, the prophet Moses, and Mount Gerizim as the chosen place for the center of Yahweh worship.  They have the Samaritan Chronicle, much of which corresponds to the Book of Joshua, but they do not consider it sacred.

The Sebuaeans observed Pesach and the Feast of Matzot (Unleavened Bread) in late summer, Shavuot in the fall, and Sukkot in the spring.

The Dositheans, named for their founder, Dositheus, reputed to be the teacher of Simon Magus, believed in the afterlife and practiced asceticism, vegetarianism, and celibacy.

The Gorothenes are given in a couple of sources as a sect, but nothing is said about that which makes them separate.


The Hypsistarians, “worshippers of God Most High”, were a group of strict monotheists who lived and practiced across Anatolia and the southern shores of the Black Sea from 200 BCE to 400 CE.  They called the deity they worshipped Hypsistos, a term found for the Hebrew deity in the Septuagint, and their beliefs may have originated from the conflation of Zeus Sabazios with Yahweh Tzevaot.  They did not follow the Torah, much less the Mishna.

Jewish Christian sects

Although these sects are certainly post-Isho, they originated in Palestine shortly after his departure from the scene, basing themselves on how they perceived his teachings.  These are included as a footnote to the description of first century Judaism.

The Ebionites were circumcised, observed the Sabbath, celebrated the three festivals, considered Jerusalem their holy city, and would only accept at their tables Gentiles who had converted to Judaism.  Some practiced vegetarianism.  They rejected Jesus’ pre-existence, virgin birth (most but not all), divinity, and the atoning nature of his death.  Many Ebionite rejected his physical resurrection.  They accepted the Torah, the Writings, the Prophets, and the Gospel of the Ebionites in Hebrew, which was very similar to the Gospel of Matthew.  They also produced the Recognitions of Clement and the Clementine Homilies.

The Nazoreans were very close to the Ebionites, but they accepted the virgin birth.  They had their own gospel, the Gospel of the Nazarenes.

The Hebrews believed in the pre-existence of Jesus, the incarnation, and the virgin birth.  They had their own gospel, the Gospel of the Hebrews, written in Greek.  It spoke of the Holy Spirit as the Divine Mother and portrayed Jesus as appearing first to James the Just, his brother, after the resurrection.  This sect was probably based in Egypt.

The Osseans, or Elchasaites, were from Perea.  Among them, celibacy was forbidden, marriage mandated.  They reject the writings of Paul, the Apostles, and the Prophets, and followed instead the Book of Elchasai as their primary source.

The Cerintheans were a quasi-Gnostic sect in the Roman province of Asia (formerly Phrygia in western Anatolia) who believed the universe was created by a demiurge who was good (as opposed to the evil demiurge of Valentius), distinguished between Isho and the Messiah (which they said descended on him at the baptism), had their own gospel similar to Matthew, accepted all the Jewish scriptures, worshipped the same god of the Jews from the Tanakh, and instructed his followers to follow the halakha of the Torah.


The Gnostics were extremely diverse, in several sects mostly originating among Jews and Samaritans from the late first century.  They are included here because they worshipped in synagogues, even though most of their sects rejected both the Tanakh and the Jewish god.  Often the various sects were a blend of Judaism in the negative and of various Hellenistic philosophies, such as Platonism, Stoicism, and Pythagoreanism.  Creation of the world by a demiurge was a primary feature, and matter was usually considered evil.  The sect called the Simonians are of particular interest since they were supposedly founded by the Samaritan figure in the Acts of the Apostles called Simon Magus.

Apocalyptic and popular Judaism

Palestine and much of Judaism was under the influence of apocalyptic visions of utopian and dystopian futures.  Much of this came out in the forms of literature imitating scriptures.

The apocalyptic, of which the Daniel is a prime example, and pseudepigraphic, of which Daniel is also a prime example, literature of this period provides additional insight into the true ideas of the religion of the Jews at the time.  Some of the more prominent examples include the Assumption of Moses, the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, 1 Enoch, 2 Enoch, the Apocalypse of Abraham, Jubilees, the Sibylline Oracles, and the Martyrdom of Isaiah.  These books were widely popular at the time, some quoted directly or referenced implicitly in the New Testament as well as being found at Qumran.

Others found or mentioned by Church Fathers include: 3 Enoch, 2 Baruch, 3 Baruch, 4 Baruch, 3 Esdras, 4 Esdras, 5 Ezra, 6 Ezra,  5 Maccabees, 6 Maccabees, 7 Maccabees, 8 Maccabees, 1 Meqabyan, 2 Meqabyan, 3 Meqabyan, Adam Octipartite, Apocalypse of Abraham, Apocalypse of Adam, Apocalypse of Elijah, Apocalypse of Sedrach, Apocalypse of the Seven Heavens, Apocalypse of Zephaniah, Apochryphon of Jacob and Joseph, Apocryphon of Melchizedek, Apocryphon of the Ten Tribes, Ascension of Moses, Book of Asaf, Book of Noah, Cave of Treasures, Conflict of Adam and Eve with Satan, Apocyphon of Jeremiah, Eldad and Modad, Enochic book of Giants, Epistle of Rehoboam, Apocalypse of Daniel, Apocalypse of Ezra, History of Joseph, History of the Rechabites, Jannes and Jambres, Joseph and Aseneth, Ladder of Jacob, Letter of Aristeas, Life of Adam and Eve, Lives of the Prophets, Prayer of Jacob, Prayer of Joseph, Psalms of Solomon, Questions of Ezra, Revelation of Ezra, Rule of the Congregation, Rule of the Blessing, Signs of the Judgment, Sword of Moses, Testament of Abraham, Testament of Isaac, Testament of Jacob, Testament of Job, Testament of Solomon, Treatise of Shem, Vision of Ezra, Visions of Heaven and Hell, and Words of Gad the Seer.

The point of sharing all these names is to demonstrate just how much first century Judaism was nothing like the picture we get from the New Testament or from the Talmud.

Paganism in first century Palestine

Palestine in the first century was not the haven of heaven as it is often portrayed in movies, theology courses, sermons, popular religion, etc.  According to Josephus, the “haven of heaven” was anything but; he coining of the word “theocracy” to describe the state under which he lived (and suffered) until 70 CE was not a compliment.

There was very much paganism, some syncretistic, some purely pagan, even at the heart of Judaea in Jerusalem. 

For example, Plutarch and Tacitus describe Jews engaging in Dionysus worship as portrayed in II Maccabees.

As in the past, Tammuz was worshipped in widely in Palestine, mostly in the syncretistic form of Adonis.  In fact, the cave in Bethlehem now celebrated as the birthplace of Isho the Nazorean served that function for Adonis-Tammuz in the first century, and later for Mithras.

In the city of Sebaste (Samaria), there was a temple dedicated to Serapis and Isis from the second century BCE; keep in mind that the Samaritans’ holy site was Mount Gerizim.  In the early second century, the temple in Sebaste was rededicated to Demeter and Persephone.  The city also hosted an Augustaeum, a temple to the divine Augustus, and a temple to Kore, the maiden form of Persephone.

The capital city of Iudaea province, Caesarea Maritimi, sported a Mithraeum, a temple complex to the god Mithras.  Mithras was a Mediterranean mystery deity, only partially based on the Iranian god Mitra.  In the first century, the cult of Tammuz-Adonis held a cave near Bethlehem to be the birth site of their deity; in the mid-second century it had been taken over by Mithraists for their deity.

The five-sided pool of Bethesda depicted the Gospel of John was actually an Asclepieion, a healing pool dedicated to the god of healing, Asclepius.  It was adjacent to the Fortress Antonia, which abutted the Temple Mount.  Asclepius, as the healer, was often given the title “Soter”, or Savior.  Herod Agrippa I, King of the Jews 41-44 CE, constructed a shrine to Asclepius there.

After the Bar Kokhba War, Hadrian constructed a full scale Temple of Asclepius and Serapis at the site, which included the small healing pools of the Asclepieion, a large pool dedicated to Serapis and another to Fortuna. 

This Serapeum was included in his new, entirely pagan, city of Aelia Capitolina.  He also rebuilt the former Temple Mount, but with temples to Jupiter on one hand and to Juno and Minerva on the other on its top.  There was a temple to Venus above a grotto that also served for Asclepius worship, and a temple to Mercury in the Upper City.

At the visit of the empress mother Helena in the fourth century, these became, respectively, the sites of the Jewish Temple, the Royal Stoa, the Holy Sepulchre, and the Upper Room.  In Bethlehem, the birthplace of Mithras became the birthplace of Jesus.

In the fifteenth century, the Ari (Isaac Luria) declared that the western wall the Hadrian built for the compound of the temples of Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva was the western wall of the Jewish temple compound, even though that had been entirely dismantled.  According to Josephus, who was there and saw it happen, the only structures left standing, besides Fortress Antonia, were the western wall OF THE CITY (the former temple was in the east of the city) and three towers.

The synagogue in the capital of Galilaea province, Autocratis (formerly Sepphoris, later—post Bar Kokhba War—Diocaesarea), displayed the zodiac on its floor.  Scores of synagogues around Galilee, in fact, picked up that design for their own floors.  These may be signs of the survival of the Essenes, or other Jews and Samaritans may have picked it up from them.

Medusa and winged cherubim are depicted in the synagogue of Capernaum, the very one in which Jesus visited so often.  As is the Seal of Solomon (now called the Star of David).

The Samaritan synagogue at Scythopolis (Beth Shean) includes a depiction of Leda and the Swan who raped her (Zeus metamorphosized).

The second century synagogue at a the border city of Dura Europos in far eastern Syria had frescoes showing fifty-eight scenes from the Tanakh, including Moses as the Lawgiver, the sacrifice of Isaac, Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt, the visions of Ezekial, and many others.  There were also depictions of Moses with three nymphs, Ares supervising the Exodus, Aphrodite, and Victory bringing laurel wreaths.

Orpheus is depicted in synagogues not only around the Mediterranean, but in Palestine itself, in Judea as well as Galilee.  In some of these depictions, he is portrayed as King David.  Later, Christians borrowed the motif for Jesus.

In several synagogues both in Palestine and around the Mediterranean, God is depicted as Helios in his chariot, apparently at that time considered the ultimate motif for that.

Other motifs in synagogues of the first through seventh centuries included the Ark of the Covenant, menorahs, horns, vines (symbol of Dionysus), palm branches, peacocks, centaurs, griffins, the Four Seasons, Ares, Fortuna, a gorgon head, Pegasus, Amazons, Queen Penthesilea, King Lycomedes, Odysseus, Achilles, Atalanta, and Meleagros.  Not just in the Diaspora, not just in Palestine, but wherever Jews and Samaritans lived.

From Josephus, we learn that atop the gate to the Temple courtyard itself stood a Roman eagle, which first century Jews no doubt despised as a pagan symbol.  We have graphic evidence of that being the case, in fact.  In 4 BCE, but before the death of Herod the Great, two religious teachers, Judas son of Sepphoraeus and Matthias son of Margalus, were crucified after their students, inspired by their exhortations, cut down the eagle and burned it.  After it was replaced, there were no more attempts at redecoration.

Mystery Cults

As can be seen from the list of pagan sites above, the Hellenistic mystery cults of the ancient Mediterranean and Middle Eastern world were well-represented in Palestine.  In some cases, there was even a past connection to former local religious practices.  Most pagan worship in first century Palestine was, in fact, of the mystery cults: Orpheus, Mithras, Demeter and Persephone, Dionysus, Kore, Venus-Astarte and Adonis-Tammuz, and Serapis and Isis and Harpocrates.

Tammuz, of course, had a long history in Palestine, and among Israelites.  He was identified with Adonis, which was the Greek version of him.  In some places, Adonis-Tammuz was equated with Asclepius, who was equated in the southern Levant, including Palestine, with Eshmun, the ancient Canaanite-Phoenician god of healing.

The Serapian mysteries were quite ancient, dating back to very old Egypt, where they began as the mysteries of Osiris.  Osiris, in turn, was the foundation for Serapis, a syncretistic deity introduced by Ptolemy after he took control of Egypt in the late fourth century BCE.  The name Serapis derives from Aser-Apis, the merging of Osiris (Aser) with Apis, god of grains, herds, and the dead.  By the first centuries BCE/CE, Serapis was further merged with Asclepius.  Isis was such a popular figure already that her name didn’t change, but Horus became Harpocrates.

Merkava mysticism

The mystical themes which gave birth to the full Qabbalah began in the first century BCE, with the Merkabah school.  The basis of the Merkabah was the Vision of the Chariot (merkabah literally means “chariot”) in Ezekial 1:4-26.  Two other passages in Ezekial, 3:12-15 and all of chapter 10, are of particular interest, but so is the entire book.  The vision in Daniel 7 and the Vision of the Throne in Isaiah 6:1-8 also played a role.  A passage in the noncanonical, but  widely popular in the first century, 1 Enoch 14, also influenced Merkabah mysticism.  Traces of it in the New Testament include the “third heaven” vision of Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:2-5; much of the Epistle to the Hebrews; and the entire Revelation of John the Divine.

For most of the first century CE, religious life of Judaism centered on the Temple at Jerusalem, at which sacrifices were made twice a day.  Remember, though, that the Jewish day starts at nightfall the evening before, and runs until the following nightfall; nightfall is defined as when three stars have appeared.  Samaritans centered their worship on their Temple at Shechem.

In the first century, not all Jews and Samaritans reckoned the day from nightfall to nightfall.  The Essenes followed a solar calendar, and so reckoned day from dawn to dawn.  Most of the Diaspora, living among the goyim, did likewise.

This is written primarily for Gentiles, though others may be interested.  I have used the name Yahweh rather than later euphemisms because in the first century, that’s what they did.

Prayer times

So the first service of a Jewish day was at Arvit, or Ma’ariv, which did not involve any further slaughter but did include burnt-offering of any further already dead animals not yet burned.  The second, at nine in the morning, was Shacharit, and was the first sacrifice of the day, involving both slaughter and burnt-offering.  The third, at three in the afternoon, was Mincha, and it also involved a sacrifice with slaughter and burnt-offering.  On holidays (Yom Tov), Chol ha-Moed (intermediate days of Matzot and Sukkot), and Rosh Chodesh, the Temple priests performed a supplementary sacrifice almost immediately following that at Shacharit called Mussaf.

With the advent of synagogues in the second century BCE, the elders, scribes, and rabbis modeled their services after those at the Temple.  At first, these were short and simple, and were mostly the same as those used at the Temple.  However, in place of actual sacrifice, the leaders devised a prayer that came to be called the Amidah, which in its original form was much, much shorter and thinner than its modern-day counterpart. 

The synagogues also initiated the reading of Torah passages to their congregations, following a three-year cycle in Palestine, later adding Haftarah readings of the Prophets after the Pharisees became more influential.

Religious calendar

At the core of the Jewish, and Samaritan, religious calendar is Shabbat, the Sabbath day, the seventh day of the week.  Shabbat is the primary, and weekly, feast day of the Israelite religions, so important that the day before it, the sixth day, came to be called the Day of Preparation.  It celebrates the creation of ha-Olam, ‘all that is’.

In Palestine, and perhaps elsewhere, Mondays and Thursdays were observed as fast days.

The new moon marks the beginning of the month, of which there are thirteen, marked by a feast day called Rosh Chodesh.  Though this is called a “minor” feast, it is still an occasion that was marked by an additional sacrifice.  The ceremonies of Rosh Chodesh not directly connected to the sacrifices were held on the Mount of Olives.

The three great pilgrimage festivals of the Israelite religions are Matzot, the first day of which is celebrated as Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot.

Major feasts

The festival of Pesach, or Passover, began in the late afternoon of 14 Abib/Nisan, the day before the start of the festival of Matzot.  Without keeping in mind that the sacrifice was the most important part of every religious occasion, some of the prescriptions in the Torah can be a little confusing.  So, the day of Pesach was when the Passover sacrifice was actually slaughtered, the ceremony beginning immediately after the Mincha sacrifice. 

The Seder and other ceremonies took place starting at the sundown immediately following, which was a new day, 15 Abib/Nisan and the first day of Matzot.  In the beginning, Pesach was an offering of “first fruits” of the flock, but it came to commemorate the liberation of Israelites from slavery in Egypt described in the book of Exodus.

The festival of Matzot, or Unleavened Bread, originally marked the beginning of the barley harvest, and this is still commemorated in the name for the second day of the festival, Reshit Katzir, or ‘beginning of the harvest’.  Each worshipper made an offering of green barley to sanctify his crop, a sheave of it along with the Pesach sacrifice.  The first day, 15 Abib/Nisan, was taken up by the commemoration of Pesach, which was held as a sabbath, as was the seventh day, and, of course if Shabbat fell during the Chol ha-Moed, that day also.

In later times, Pesach and Matzot came to be the time to watch for the reappearance of Elijah the prophet to herald the coming of the kingdom of Yahweh.

Sefirah, or ‘Counting of the Omar’, is the time between the end of Matzot and Shavuot, a counterpart to the Christian season of Easter (as opposed to Easter Day).

The festival of Shavuot, or Weeks, also called the Feast of First Fruits and Pentecost, originally served to mark the beginning of the wheat harvest.  It falls on 6 Sivan.  Later it came to commemorate the giving of the Torah to Israel through Moses on Mount Sinai/Horeb/Paran.

In later times, Shavuot came to be the time to watch for the appearance of the Messiah ben Joseph, the forerunner of the kingdom of Yahweh.

The final festival of the year, Sukkot, or Booths, also called the Feast of Ingathering, originally marked the end of the fruit harvest.  Later, it commemorated the forty years of Wandering in the Sinai.  It began on 15 Ethanim/Tishrei and lasted seven days, the first observed as a abbath.  The seventh day is called Hoshanna Rabbah and has its own special features, but it remains part of the Chol ha-Moed of Sukkot.

The festival of Shemini Atzeret, literally the ‘eighth day of assembly’, immediately followed Sukkot on 22 Ethanim/Tishrei, but it is a separate festival in its own right.

By the first century CE, Sukkot had become the time of expectation for the Messiah ben David, and along with him the Righteous Priest.

Other major observances

Yom Teruah, which literally means ‘blowing the trumpet’, takes place on 1 Ethanim/Tishrei, and its most significant feature, other than it being a sabbath, is the blowing of the shofar.  It primarily signals the beginning of the Yamim Nora’im, or ‘Days of Awe’, of which there are ten leading up to and including Yom Kippur.

Yom Teruah is better known by its later name, Rosh Hashanah, and for Rabbanite Jews signifies one of their New Year Days (there are four in all throughout the year).  Karaite Jews and Samaritans do not recognize this, however, and continue to use the older, Biblical name.

Yom Kippur, or ‘Day of Atonement’, in Temple times was originally primarily a priestly observance, but by the first century laity took part in the fasts and many of the prayers, which had by then grown to last all day long.  Its chief feature in its early use was the ritual cleansing of the Temple, its altars, the sacred vessels, and priestly garments.  Yom Kippur also marked the one day of the entire year when the chief priest entered into the Holy of Holies, and the sending of the scapegoat to Azazel in the desert.

Minor feasts

Although Judaism now observes several other minor feasts and fasts, these are the only two most Gentiles will have at least heard of (check out the Wikipedia page on Jewish holidays; there are several I had no clue about).

Hanukkah, literally the feast of the ‘Dedication’, also known as the Feast of Lights, lasts seven days and eight nights, from 25 Kislev through 2 Tevet.  Its observance began by ordinance of the Hasmonean high priests to commemorate the cleansing and rededication of the Temple after their victory in the civil war.  Its signal feature is the hanukkyah, a nine-branched candelabrum in which a new candle added to those lit each night; the one in the center and higher is lit every night and supplies the flame for the others.

Purim, observed on 14 Adar, also known as the Feast of Lots, was instituted to commemorate the deliverance from genocide of all the Parsim, the Jews of Iran, at the hands of Haman, vizier to Persian Shahanshah Ahasuerus (possibly Artraxerses).  The heroes of the fictional tale are Mordecai and his adopted daughter Esther, Jewish like himself but one of the queens of Ahasuerus.

Temple prayers in the first century

Since the prayers for accompanying the Shacharit sacrifices are the most comprehensive, we will start here.


After the sacrifice(s) had been slaughtered but before they had been offered, the priests issued a call to prayer, and the worshippers responded.  The exchange is known as the Barokhu.

Blessed be Yahweh, who is to be praised.

Blessed be Yahweh, who is to be praised forever and ever.

Then followed the Ten Debharim, or ‘Ten Statements’.  Note: Debharim, not Mitzvot, or ‘Commandments’.  No one called them that until the Geneva Bible of 1560.

I am Yahweh your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.

You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or on the earth beneath, or in the water under the earth.

You shall not carry the name of Yahweh your God superficially.

Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is reserved to Yahweh your God.

Honor your father and your mother.

You shall not kill.

You shall not commit adultery.

You shall not steal.

You shall not bear false witness.

You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor.

The earliest liturgical version of the Shema Yisrael, now composed of four passages (two of which are adjacent in the Torah), followed afterward.

Hear, O Israel: Yahweh our God, Yahweh is One.  Love Yahweh your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.  Keep these words in your heart, and teach them to your children.  Discuss them sitting in your house and walking down the road, and when you lie down and when you rise up.  Bind them as a sign on your hand, and wear them as an emblem on your forehead.  Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

The following two blessings were incorporated into synagogue ritual after the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE.  The first is the benediction of the Torah, second is known as Avodah, and the third as Hoda’ah.  The first became part of the Torah ritual even while the Temple stood, the second and third were incorporated into the Amidah after it no longer did.

Blessed are you, Yahweh our God, who have chosen us from all nations and given us your Torah of the truth.  Amen.

Accept, Yahweh our God, the service of your people Israel, and receive with favor their fire-offerings and prayer.  Amen.

At this point, the worshippers prostrated themselves and gave thanks privately, after which the officiating priest gave the following blessing:

We gratefully thank you, Yahweh our God and God of our ancestors forever and ever. We proclaim your praise evening, morning, and noon.  We will always put our hope in you. May your name be blessed and exalted, our King, continually forever and ever.  Amen.

After this, the congregants stood up and the officiating priest offered the sacrifice upon the altar and burned it.  As it burned, the Levites sang the Psalm of the Day: Psalm 24 for Sunday, Psalm 48 for Monday, Psalm 82 for Tuesday, Psalm 94 for Wednesday, Psalm 81 for Thursday, Psalm 93 for Friday, the Day of Preparation, and Psalm 92 for Shabbat.

On Shabbat, Yom Tov, Chol ha-Moed of Sukkot, and Rosh Chodesh, the Levites would here lead the singing the Lesser Hallel, Psalms 113-118.

When the burning was finished, the priest, if it were Shabbat, said the following prayer in honor of the Temple Guard and section departing for their homes.

May Yahweh who causes his name to dwell in this house, cause to dwell among you love and brotherliness, peace and friendship.  Amen.

Then the priest, extending his arms with his hands forming in what most people know as the Vulcan salute, gave the Aaronic Priestly Blessing, or Birkat ha-Kohanim.

May Yahweh bless you and keep you.  May Yahweh make his face to shine on you and be gracious to you.  May Yahweh lift up his countenance and give you peace. Amen.


The prayers for the afternoon sacrifices were very limited.  They were probably limited to the Barokhu, the Avodah, the Hoda’ah, and the Birkat ha-Kohanim.


There was no more slaughter at this time, marking both the end of the Temple’s day and the beginning of the “secular” day, though if any slaughtered animals had not been burned, that was done at this time.  Prayer was limited to the Ten Debharim and the Shema, with the Priestly Blessing to close.


On those occasions (Shabbat, Yom Tov, Chol ha-Moed, Rosh Chodesh) when extra sacrifices were called for, they were performed immediately after those of Shacharit, most likely accompanied by the same prayers as at Mincha.

Synagogue prayers

These followed, and still follow, the same pattern as services at the Temple, in the same order of service.  In place of sacrifices, however, the elders and scribes developed the series of benedictions that came to be known as the Amidah, or Tefillah.  Originally, like the Shema, this was much shorter, and there were fewer petitions.

The synagogues also instituted the practice of publicly reading the Torah to the laity at regular services on Shabbat, Mondays and Thursdays, Rosh Hodesh, and Yom Tov, at both Shacharit and Mincha.  Later, with the rise of the Pharisees, readings from the Prophets called Haftarah were added to Shacharit on Shabbat and Yom Tov and fast days.

Services in the beginning were very short, even with the readings.

Amidah in the first century

This is approximately the Amidah, or Tefillah, of the first century, shorter in overall length as well as in each of its individual benedictions.  It has expanded to such an extent that it is more common called the Shemoneh Esrei, or ‘Eighteen Blessings’, though it actually has nineteen.

O Yahweh, open my lips, that my mouth may proclaim your praise.
Elohim make speed to save me; Yahweh make haste to help me.

Blessed are you Yahweh our God and God of our forefathers, God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob; who bestow beneficial kindnesses and create all that is.  Amen.

Heal us, Yahweh our God, and bring complete recovery for all our sicknesses, for you are the faithful and compassionate Healer.  Amen.

Bless, Yahweh our God, this year and all our crops; bless us with dew and rain on the face of the earth; and satisfy us with your goodness.  Amen.

Have mercy, Yahweh our God, upon your people Israel, upon your city Jerusalem, upon your dwelling place Zion, and upon your Temple and habitation.  Amen.

Answer our voice, Yahweh our God, free us and have mercy upon us, and accept our prayer; and from before yourself, do not turn us away empty-handed, for you hear the prayer of your people Israel with compassion.  Amen.

Kaddish in the first century

Now mostly identified in popular culture as the prayer for mourners, it began as the closing for a rabbi’s teaching session.  This form, which now goes by the misnomer Hatzi-Kaddish (‘Half-Kaddish’) is, in fact, the original complete prayer.

Glorified and sanctified be God’s great name throughout the world which he has created according to his will.  May he establish his kingdom in your lifetime and during your days, and within the lifetime of the entire house of Israel, speedily and soon. 

Amen.  May his great name be blessed forever and to all eternity. 

Blessed and praised, glorified and exalted, extolled and honored, adored and lauded be the name of the Holy One, blessed be he, beyond all the blessings and hymns, praises and consolations that are ever spoken in the world.  Amen.

Temple sacrifices

The book of Leviticus lists five types of offerings made in the Temple on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem, some ritually prescribed and communal, others private and individual.  Since the Torah prescribed these, they were also offered in the Temple on Mount Gerizim in Shechem.

Burnt-offering:  These were the most common types of offerings in the Temple, with a certain number mandated as communal offering throughout the year.

The animal was slaughtered on the north side of the altar, as a libation of wine was poured over the altar.  The slaughtered animal’s blood was sprinkled on the altar, and then the entire carcass was burned; thus it was known as a whole offering. 

Every weekday, two lambs were sacrificed, one at Shacharit and one at Mincha.  In the succeeding lists, the sacrifices were divided between those two times.  On Shabbat, the burnt-offering was doubled at two lambs per sacrifice.

For various reasons, individuals offered animals for burnt-offering, such as first-fruits.  These could be a bull, a ram, a lamb, a goat, a turtledove, or a pigeon, depending on the wealth, or lack thereof, of the individual.

Grain-offering: Also known as a ‘gift-offering’; these offerings by individuals were wheat that had been baked, griddled, fried, or roasted into bread along with olive oil and salt but no honey or leaven.

Peace-offering:  This was supplied by an individual and could be an ox, a sheep, or a goat.  It differed from the burnt-offering in that only the fat and entrails were burnt; the rest of the meat went to the priest, except for what the worshipper ate during the following two days if it was a free-will offering.  Peace-offerings were accompanied by unleavened wheat cakes made with olive oil.  There were three types of peace-offering: Thank-offering, votive offering, and free will offering.

Sin-offering:  This was for the case of unintentional sins, and there were three levels.  The high priest had to offer a male bull.  Other leaders had to offer a male goat.  Common Jews, referred to as “Israelites”, offered a female goat, lamb, pigeon, or turtledove, or, only in the case of the very poor, a wheat-cake.  In the case of priests and Levites, the entire carcass had to be burnt; in the case of Israelites, the fat and viscera were burned while the priests got to keep the meat.

Trespass-offering:  Also called guilt-offering, this was for fraud committed in ignorance, and often involved money rather than food or drink, depending on the degree of seriousness.  In serious cases, the Torah prescribed a ram as a guilt-offering.


In few cases in world history have humans forgotten the message for worshipping the creeds like they have in the case of the man known to most, in English anyway, as Jesus Christ.  That should really be “Jesus the Christ” because the latter is not a surname, but a title.  It is the Greek version of the Hebrew word meaning “The Anointed”, whose English rendering is usually “Messiah”.

Before we get to that, however, we need a little lesson on what exactly a Messiah is, or at least was expected to be in Isho’s time.

The Four Craftsmen (or Four Carpenters)

In the first century CE, the Jews, most of them anyway, were waiting for not just one Messiah, but four, or at least four eschatological figures who’s coming would herald wars and rumors of wars ending in the establishment of the kingdom of heaven on Earth. 

This scheme of four figures was based upon the passage about the Four Craftsmen in the first chapter of Zechariah, verses 18-21.  According to the Talmud, since the time of Simon the Just (high priest Simon I in the late third century BCE), these four have been identified as Elijah the Prophet returned, the Messiah ben Joseph, the Messiah ben David, and the Righteous Priest. 

Interestingly, the Hebrew word kharash translated as “craftman” in this passage specifically refers to a “craftsman of wood”, or a carpenter, corresponding to the Greek word tekton used in that place in the Septuagint, as well as in the New Testament to describe the secular occupation of Isho the Nazorean.

Some of the pseudepigraphal and apocalyptic Jewish literature which flourished in the last two centuries BCE and the first century CE supply different, though related, designations for three of the four figures, all but Elijah.

The Prophet Like Moses, the Son of Man, are other eschatological figures that will be discussed later.

Elijah the Prophet

Elijah, the First Craftsmen to appear according to tradition, is to be the forerunner of the whole cycle of events.  Jewish mysticism holds that after being assumed into heaven, Elijah became the archangel Sandalphon, anchoring the root of the Tree of Life opposite his likewise-assumed predecessor Enoch at the top as the archangel Metatron.

The two main passages of the Tanakh used to indicate Eljah’s position as one of the Four Craftsman and as the Forerunner is Malachi 3:1-3 and 4:5-6. 

Pesach (Passover) and Matzot (Unleavened Bread) are the time of Elijah.  At the seder on Pesach (Passover), Jews set out a cup of wine in hopeful anticipation of his arrival.

Messiah ben Joseph

Also known as the Suffering Messiah and the Messiah ben Ephraim, the Messiah ben Joseph is the Second Craftsman.  His function is to prepare the way for the one who is to come after him by waging war against the Messiah ben David’s potential enemies.  Tradition holds that it will be he who leads the forces of righteousness against the armies of the “destructive one” in the war of Gog and Magog depicted in Ezekial 38-39, dying in the final battle. 

Rabbinic tradition names the leader of the armies of Gog and Magog as “Armilus”, whom the Gentile world worships as God and Messiah.  In Ezekial, Gog is the leader of Magog, but by the first century CE popular usage had turned Gog of Magog into Gog and Magog among Jews as well as members of the nascent Christian movement.

Most textual scholars have determined that passage on Gog and Magog is an interpolation from the second century BCE, reflecting the concerns and political situation of that time.  In Revelation, the war against Gog and Magog takes place after the thousand-year reign following the Battle of Armageddon against the Beast (Antichrist), False Prophet, and the Devil at the end of the seven-year Tribulation.

Two of the chief passages of the Tanakh with which the Messiah ben Joseph is identified are the Mourning for the “Pierced One” (Zechariah 12:10-14) and the Songs of the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 42:1-4, 49:1-6, 50:4-9, 52:13-53:12, and 61:1-3).  Others are Psalms 22 and 44 and the vision of the Seventy Weeks in the ninth chapter of Daniel.

Shavuot (Feast of Weeks), or Pentecost, is the time of the Messiah ben Joseph.

Messiah ben David

The key messianic figure of most Jewish eschatology in the first century CE was the Messiah ben David, or the King Messiah, referred to in some eschatological literature as the Messiah ben Judah.  The Messiah ben David is the Third Craftsman.

Several passages in the Tanakh relate to the Messiah ben David in Jewish tradition.  The most important are Psalms 2 and 110, but Psalms 45, 72, 89, and 132 are also associated with the Messiah ben David, if not quite as directly.

Among the most relative of many passages in Isaiah include 2:2-4 (about the future “house of God”); 7:10-16 (the Immanuel verses); 9:1-7 (about the righteous coming king); and all of chapter 11 (about the future peaceful kingdom).

The relevant passages in Jeremiah include 23:5-8 (about the righteous branch, or descendant, of David); 31:31-34 (foretelling the new covenant); 33:14-18 (combined prophecy of the righteous branch and the covenant with David).

The coronation of the Branch, the scion of the House of David, is foretold in Zechariah 6:9-15.

The vision of the two sticks in Ezekial 37:22-28 prophesies that Joseph and Judah will be reunited as one under the Messiah ben David.  This follows immediately after the vision of the valley of dry bones.

The Messiah ben David is represented in the vision of the menorah and two olive trees in the fourth chapter of Zechariah as one of the latter.

Sukkot (Feast of Booths) has been identified with the coming of the Messiah ben David since at least the first century BCE.  This is based on the passage in Zechariah 14:16-21 which follows the description of the “Day of the Lord”, the final battle when “all nations” come against Jerusalem and the people of Judah, and Yahweh takes his stand on the Mount of Olives.  Then the survivors of the nations come to Jerusalem to keep the feast of Sukkot.

The hymn at the beginning of the fourth chapter of Micah (and the near identical passage at the beginning of the second chapter of Isaiah) is another passage associated with the expected kingdom of the Messiah ben David.  This passage contains the famous line, “And they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nations shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore”.

The Righteous Priest

In the interpretation contemporary with the time of Isho the Nazorean, the Righteous Priest, elsewhere called the Messiah ben Levi and the Priestly Messiah, was expected alongside the Messiah ben David but subordinate in authority to him.    The Righteous Priest is the Fourth Craftsman.

The chief passages identified with the future Righteous Priest are 1 Samuel 2:35, Zechariah 4:11-14 (the two anointed ones), and Zechariah 6:12-14 (where he becomes high priest).

The fourth chapter of Zechariah tells of the rebuilding of the Temple of Yahweh, represented by a lampstand with seven branches (a menorah).  On either side of the menorah are two olive trees which represent two “anointed ones”: the Messiah ben David and the Righteous Priest who will oversee the Temple.  The menorah itself represents the rebuilt Temple of Yahweh in which the Righteous Priest will lead the worship of Yahweh.

In the original prophecy the olive trees stood for Zerubbabel the governor of the Iranian province of Yehud (Judah) and Joshua (Iesous in Greek, or Jesus), but had been repurposed by the second century BCE to indicate the Messiah ben David and the Righteous Priest.  The author of the Revelation of John the Divine later repurposed the motif yet again for the “two witnesses” in the first half of his “Great Tribulation”.

The figure of the Righteous Priest was/is identified with the mysterious Melchizedek, king of Salem and priest of El Elyon (God Most High) whom Abraham encounters in Genesis 14:7-24.  The Targum and the Talmud further identify Melchizedek with Shem son of Noah.

Prophet like Moses

The Samaritans to this day await the Taheb, their name for the Prophet Like Moses foretold in Deuteronomy 18:15-19.  Not much was said about this eschatological figure in the time period in which we are talking about.

Son of Man

The seventh chapter of the pseudepigraphal, apocalyptic, predictive, retrodictive, canonical (for Christians), and deuterocanonical (for Jews) work called Daniel introduced the figure of the “Son of Man” as an eschatological figure.  The vision of the Son of Man comes after the vision of the Four Beasts, which represent four great empires.  But here the Son of Man serves merely as a representative figure.

In the final verses of the chapter, the author prophesies that his Son of Man will destroy the fourth empire, which is unlike the other three, and bring its ruler before his throne in Jerusalem for judgment.  This fourth empire has always been equated with Rome, which probably places this passage no earlier than the first century BCE, though the previous century is possible, as the Roman Republic was the ally who forced Antiochus IV of the Seleucid Empire to turn back from his invasion of Ptolemaic Egypt in 168 BCE.

His stopover in Jerusalem on the return to Damascus occasioned the alleged “abomination of desecration” in which Antiochus supposedly erected a statue of Zeus in the Holy of Holies in the Temple.  In real life, Menelaus the high priest claimed that he stole the money from the Corban, the money dedicated to the Temple, from the treasury, which would have been considered a desecration, especially by the avaricious priests.  What actually happened was that Menelaus used the money to pay the back debt he owed Antiochus for enthroning him over his brother Jason, whose bribe was less “sufficient”.

In chapters 38-71 of the pseudepigraphal, apocryphal, apocalyptic, and canonical (for the Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox) work known as 1 Enoch, the Son of Man develops into a pre-existent figure who dwells with Yahweh.  In this the figure corresponds somewhat to the concept of the Logos as interpreted by Julius Philo Judaeaus.

Also called the Chosen One, the Righteous One, and the Anointed One (or Messiah), in this section (called the Book of Parables or the Similtudes).  Since Messiah is one of this figure’s titles and Yahweh makes him king and judge of all the earth, there can only be one Anointed One with whom to equate him: the Messiah ben David.

In the thirteenth chapter of the deuterocanonical work 2 Esdras, the vision of the Man from the Sea, the figure representing the motif of the Son of Man (and therefore the Messiah ben David, though the author does not make that precise connection) transforms into an individual concrete person, pre-existent and dwelling with Yahweh but now also human. 

Son of God

In the Similtudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71) again, we find the Chosen One first referred to as the “Son of God”, though not in the same coequal sense of orthodox Trinitarian doctrine.  For one thing, “Son of God” was a ceremonial titles of the Davidic kings, and may have been used by their successors, the exilarchs (or nasis) of Babylon.  And the presentation in 1 Enoch is of one who is divine but not deity.  From the kingly Messiah who was a mere mortal scion of the line of David ruling over just the restored and reunited Israel, the journey to a divine universal savior (some might say rather “journey to the dark side”) was now complete.


When Philo borrowed the Platonist nomenclature of the Logos in formulating his philosophical explanation of Judaism for Gentiles, he undoubtedly drew from Hellenistic Jewish philosophy as seen in 1 Enoch, as I mentioned above, which ties it to the expected Chosen One.  In the mystical terminology of Rabbinic Judaism, this designation became “Memra”.  Both terms can be translated “Word”, though they can also be used to stand for “Reason”.

Philo presents his Logos as a mediator between Heaven and Earth, an instrument or Hand of God on one hand and an advocate for humans on the other.


The Nehushtan derives from the Torah passage named “Parashah Chukat” (Numbers 19:1-22:1), in which Yahweh sends fiery serpents (nachashim) to plague the Israelites until they repent and save themselves by looking toward a bronze serpent fashioned by Moses mounted atop a pole, upon which the poison would vanish.  The full name in Hebrew for the Nehushtan was Nachash Bareach

The earliest Qabbalistic works described the Teli being that around which the stars and everything revolve; rabbis identified this Teli with the Nachash Bareach as well as with the Messiah, who is often called the Nachash ha-Kodesh, or “Holy Serpent”. 

Though these particular Qabbalistic works were published centuries after the first of the Common Era, strong evidence demonstrates the ideas were already around, perhaps through the Merkava.  The Merkava is the body of literature revolving around mystical philosophy about Elijah’s Heavenly Chariot and the beasts who pull it.

Expectations of the Essenes

The Damascus Document, found in Old Cairo decades before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran, in which fragments of it were also found, relates that the community at Qumran, for which the name Damascus is code.  This colony, along with the extinct sect of the Essenes, was founded 390 years after the Babylonian Exile, or in 196 BCE, and that the Teacher of Righteousness came twenty years later, in 176 BCE. 

The Essenes considered the Teacher of Righteousness to be Moses incarnate (the prophet like Moses in Deuteronomy 18:18-19), and they also wrote of him as the Suffering Priest.

For the future, the Essenes did not look for Elijah, but they did look for a priestly Messiah ben Aaron (Deuteronomy 33:8-11) and a kingly Messiah ben Israel (Numbers 24:15-17).  In their scheme, the Messiah ben Aaron would take precedence over his more secular counterpart.

Expectations of the Samaritans

The only eschatological figure for whom the Samaritans of the first century CE looked was the Prophet like Moses, whose cult never gained much traction among mainstream Jews, at least not in the first century CE.  However, that is till this day the sole future savior looked for by the Samaritans.  They refer to this figure as the Taheb.


Elijah is the only Jewish eschatological figure with which Isho is never identified in any work of the New Testament, that role early on having been assigned to John the Baptist.

Isho as the Messiah ben Joseph

Isho is indirectly identified with the Messiah ben Joseph in the story of Philip and Simeon the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts of the Apostles 8:26-40.  Here, Simeon is in his chariot reading about the Suffering Servant and Philip explicitly identifies Isho (Jesus) with that figure.  In fact, all four gospels, 2 Corinthians, 1 Peter, Romans, Hebrews, and Galatians quote the Servant passages, particularly the fourth, in reference to Isho the Nazorean in some way.

The cry of Isho from the cross in Matthew and Mark, “My  God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”, likewise identifies Isho with the Messiah ben Joseph, along with other references to Psalm 22.  The passages in which the writers of the gospels show Isho predicting his own suffering and death also point to this Messiah rather the Messiah ben David.

Abraham Abulfia, one of the two founders of Ecstatic Qabbalah who lived in thirteenth century Spain before fleeing to Messina, Sicily, then Malta, accepted Yeshua ben Yosef (Isho, or Jesus) as the Messiah ben Joseph.  Abulfia identified himself as both Messiah ben David and as Melchizedek, the eschatological figure of the Righteous Priest.

As a side note, the other founder of Ecstatic Qabbalah, was Isaac ben Samuel, originally of Spain and later of Acre in the Levant.  He is also noted for stating that the universe was, as of his own time, 15,340,500,000 years old, seven centuries before any scientist posited anything close (it’s actually 13,800,000,000 years old).

Isho as the Messiah ben David

This being the main focus and central point of the gospels collectively, these points will be discussed elsewhere.

Isho as the Righteous Priest

The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews explicitly identifies Isho the Nazorean with how many interpreted the Righteous Priest in verses 5:10 and 6:20, and in the entirety of chapter 7.  However, the exact wording he uses, “high priest after the order of Melchizedek” ties the term to the definition of the Messiah as priest-king in Psalm 110.

In Peter’s speech at Solomon’s Portico after he has healed a lame beggar in Acts 3:11-26, the author portrays Peter referring to Isho as the prophet foretold by Moses (in Deuteronomy) who would be like him.

In the speech of Stephen the protomartyr before the council of the high priest in Acts 7, the lead character of the periscope refers to Isho as the Son of Man and as the Righteous One, both titles straight out of 1 Enoch.

Isho as the Son of Man

The title Son of Man as used in 1 Enoch is overwhelmingly the favored title of Isho the Nazorean in the gospels, coming in at being used to refer to him eighty-seven times to the seventeen uses of “Son of David” and the thirty-two uses of “Son of God”. 

Clearly, 1 Enoch had a huge influence over the writers of the gospels, both the original authors and their editors, most so than indicated by its rejection from the canon, although one could make the case that is has indirect canonicity through the statistic just cited.  In addition, the work is quoted in the Epistle of Jude and the Epistle to the Hebrews, influenced the secondary and tertiary stages of the development of Christian soteriology, and was cited by the  Church Fathers Tertullian, Origen, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Augustine of Hippo, Justin Martyr, Athenagoras, and several more.

Isho as the Logos

As for Isho’s identification with the concept of the Logos, the Second Editor of the Gospel of John clearly does so, as does the interpolator who inserted after “There are three that testify:” in 1 John 5:7 this: “There are three that testify in heaven, the Father, the Word (Logos), and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one.  And there are three that testify on earth:”.

Isho as the Nehushtan

The editor/contributor of the Gospel of John who wrote the third chapter lines “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15) thus explicitly identifies Isho with the Nehushtan, and also bears witness that this concept of a Jewish Messiah existed then.

Isho as Chrestus

Literally meaning “good one”, “good servant”, or “useful implement”,  Chestus in Latin, or Chrestos in Greek, was a common name among Gentiles that could simply mean “good”.  It is used this way seven times in the New Testament.

In Greek, the word frequently followed the name of a deity as an epithet, as in Osiris Chreistos, Helios Christos, or Mithras Chrestos.  It was also used on tombs of dead humans.

Because of its similarity in spelling, this word was often confused, even by devout and in some cases quite knowledgeable believers, with Christos, the Greek translation of Messiah, for which there was no equivalent in Latin, unlike Chrestos-Chrestus.  Also, many who did know the difference still used the two words interchangeably.

In Book 2 of his Stromata, Clement of Alexandria wrote “All who believe in Chrestos (a good man) both are, and are called, Chrestianoi, that is, good men (Chrestoi).”

In the famous acrostic in the Sibylline Oracles of which the initials spell Icthus, or “fish”, the title is spelled “Chreistos” as in Iesous Chreistos Theoi Uios Soter Stauros (“Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior, Cross”).  Here, Chreistos could correctly be translated either way.

Justin Martyr also referred to himself as a Chrestianos, rather than a Christianos.

This Codex Sinaiticus, one of the earliest almost complete collections of the books of the New Testament, sheds some light on Tacitus’ use of “Chestianoi” rather than the more modern “Christianoi”.  There are three families of ancient manuscripts of the New Testament which scholars have classified by their text-type which also share certain phrases and passages not found in later texts, and they are missing some too, such as the Pericope Adulterae (story of the Adulterous Woman).  These three families of manuscripts have been designated the Alexandrian family, the Western family, and the Byzantine family.

The Codex Sinaiticus belongs to the Alexandrian family, the one almost universally recognized as generally being least tampered with by perpetrators of “pious fraud” to create a foundation for later ideology (this also applies to the Western family in some cases).  Where texts such as those of the Western and Byzantine families have the word “Christianoi” in the three places in the New Testament translated into English as “Christians” (Acts 11:26, Acts 26:28, 1 Peter 4:16), the Codex Sinaiticus has the word “Chrestianoi”.

Some argue that these discrepancies are a sign that the whole thing was made up.  I would just the contrary; that these discrepancies are a sign that the existence of a human individual upon whom the religion of Christianity is a reality, and that the nascent movement did not come from a mass production factory or a replicator.

Messianic pretenders of the Roman era

In terms of royal succession to a throne, to be a pretender means merely that one is a claimant, without judging the validity of the claim.  For instance, Charles Stuart, known as Bonnie Prince Charlie to his supporters, was called the Young Pretender, and by the rules of primogeniture he certainly had a better claim to the throne of Great Britain than the sitting monarch, George Welph (George I).

Several messianic pretenders rose up during the Roman era of  Palestine in the decades preceding and succeeding the time of Isho the Nazorean.

The first was Hezekiah ben Garon, a general of the former Hasmonean king Hyrcanus II, who rose against the Roman procurator Antipater, a Jew of Idumean descent, in 47 BCE, proclaiming himself King of the Jews.  His rebellion was put down by Herod the Great, then governor of the province of Galilaea.

After the death of Herod the Great, King of the Jews, in 4 BCE, revolts broke out in Iudaea (Judea), Galilaea, Peraea, and Idumaea.  Those in Peraea and Iudaea were led by messianic pretenders: Simon, a former slave of Herod, in Peraea, a man named Anthronges in Iudaea, and Judas ben Hezekiah (aka Judas the Galilean) in Galilaea.  The one in Idumaea was led by Herod’s cousin Achiab, who claimed the throne through that link.

The messianic pretender Judas the Galilean was back out in 6 CE, this time leading a revolt against Iudaea having been made a province under direct Roman rule.

Those were the rebellions led by a messianic pretender that took place in the decades before the time of Isho the Nazorean; several came after.

The Samaritan Prophet led his people in a rebellion against the prefect, Pontius Pilatus, taking his final stand atop Mount Gerizim, near Shechem (now Nablus), in 36 CE.  The brutality with which he put down this insurrection led to Pilate being sent back to Rome.

The revolt of the messianic pretender Theudas in Iudaea took place in 45 CE under procurator Cupius Fadus.

In 46 CE, Jacob and Simon, sons of Judas the Galilean, revolted against the procurator Tiberius Julius Alexander, a Jew from Alexandria.  The uprising lasted two years.

In 58 CE, a messianic pretender known to history as the Egyptian Prophet led a revolt that ended with a climactic battle on the Mount of Olives outside of Jerusalem.

Led by an unnamed messianic pretender, the Sikarii came out in 59 CE against procurator Porcius Festus, who made sure his troops slew them to the last man.

Three of the many, often infighting, leaders of the Great Jewish Revolt of 66-70 CE were messianic pretenders.  First was Simon bar Giora, a peasant leader from Iudaea.  Second was Menachem ben Yehuda (Judas the Galilean), leader of the Sikarii and grandson of Hezekiah ben Garon.  Third was John ben Levi of Giscala, leader of the Galilean Zealots.

In 115, a messianic pretender named Lukuas rose up in Cyrenaica, leading his armies in a swath of devastation that left Libya virtually depopulated, the two Jewish sections of the five in Alexandria burned, and inspired uprisings in Cyprus and Mesopotamia, before he was killed an his army destroyed near Jerusalem.

The last major Jewish revolt against Rome under a messianic pretender, Simon bar Kokhba in this case, broke out in 132, lasting until 135.

One of the two leaders of the revolt against the Roman empire under Heraclius (614-629) during the last Roman-Sassanian war, Nehemiah ben Hushiel, was a messianic pretender.  He was the son of the Exilarch, or Nasi, of the Jews of Babylon, and therefore of Davidic descent.


What the creeds leave out completely, in their Hellenistic obsessions with doctrine and dogma and defining the undefinable which had little to do with the actually message and more to do with internal bickering, is the most important point of the Gospels, at least the Synoptics.  The undeniable goal of the writers of the gospels, and their later editors who interpolated and redacted and reorganized many parts of the originals, and their primary purpose, was to present Isho the Nazorean as the long-awaited Messiah ben David.

Indeed, the Gospel of Matthew, and thus the entire New Testament, begins with the words, “An account of the genealogy of Isho the Messiah ben David…”.  The geneaology fabricated by a later editor follows after, differing in several places from the fabricated geneaology in the Gospel of Luke.  Neither are original to their gospel, though both are probably older than virgin-birth stories which follow the first and precede the second.

The real opening of the gospels

In their original forms, the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke began with the same story as the Gospel of Luke and the Gospel of John; the baptism by John.

In Book I, Chapter 6 of The Instructor, Clement of Alexandria reports that all three of the Synoptic gospels in the earliest copies then available (160 CE) began with the baptism of Isho by John at the Jordan River.  Origen, also of Alexandria but in the early third century CE, wrote in his Commentary on the Gospel of John in 234 CE that his subject also began with that pericope, or story (sans the prologue about the Logos). 

Furthermore, both also reported that the original voice from heaven after Isho was baptized did not say, “You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased,” but instead said, “You are my Son; this day have I begotten you.”  This quotes word-for-word one of the two most important Psalms (Psalm 2:7) in which Jews of the first century CE saw the Messiah ben David foretold.

Several Church Fathers testified that this was the original wording for the account in Luke, including Clement of Rome (First Epistle to the Corinthians; 96 CE), Justin Martyr (Chapter 88, Dialogue of Justin with Trypho, a Jew; 165 CE), Methodius (Part 9, Chapter IX, The Banquet of the Ten Virgins; 300 CE), and Lactanius (Book IV, Chapter 15, The Divine Institutes; 300 CE).

Even Augustine in arguing with Faustus, admitted that this was the original reading of Luke, though he claimed his opponent in error when the latter said the same about Matthew.  A very old copy of several books of the New Testament, the Codex Bezae Cantabrigensis, however, proves Faustus correct on both counts.

Epiphanius of Salamis quotes the baptismal account in the Jewish Christian Gospel of the Hebrews with the same wording, as does Jerome the account in the also Jewish Christian Gospel of the Nazarenes

If all of that isn’t good enough, even the canonical Epistle of the Hebrews says as much at 1:5 (‘For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you”?) and at 5:5 (‘So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the One who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”’). 

The Acts of the Apostles supports this wording at 13:32-33, in which the writer portrays Paul of Tarsus saying during a sermon at Antioch of Pisidia, “And we bring you the good news that what God promised to our ancestors he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising Jesus; as also it is written in the second psalm, ‘You are my Son; today I have begotten you.’” 

Of course, the writer of Acts has Paul quoting the verse in the context of the resurrection rather than the baptism, but it is another witness to those specific words, as opposed to the corrupted later version, being applied to Isho the Nazorean.  The writer’s portrayal of Paul saying that Isho became Son of God by the resurrection is entirely consistent with what Paul himself wrote in his Epistle to the Romans (1:3-4), that Isho “was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead”.

In the prayer over the cup of sanctification in its tripartite communion blessings, the Didache (or Teaching of our Lord through the Twelve Apostles to the Gentiles) refers to David and Jesus (Isho) by the same term to describe their relationship to the Jewish God.  That term, pais, can be translated either as ‘child’ or as ‘servant’.  Many translators into English refer to “David your servant” and “Jesus your son”, but the actual text makes no such distinction and there is no justification for assuming different statuses, other than the hindsight of later theology.  The only correct way to translate the term ‘pais’ is to use the same English word for both men.

The Road to Gulgalta

All four Gospels begin what Christians call the first Holy Week with the Triumphal Entry of Isho and his entourage into the city of Jerusalem.   As they have been written, the gospels all place this event on the first day of the week, with Pesach falling on the seventh day, thus coinciding with the weekly Shabbat, or Sabbath.  I contend that, at least before it was written down, the Passion story was placed in the season most proper, that of Sukkot.

Sukkot, not Pesach-Matzot

The truly greatest miracle of the gospels, far greater even than the reported Resurrection, is the unbelievably astonishing feat whereby spacetime was warped so that a week which began in early fall on 15 Tishrei ended in mid-spring on 15 Nisan.  That kind of reality bending feat is worthy of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the Chronicles of Amber, and several different episodes of Star Trek from different series across the franchise, combined.

The crowds in Jerusalem, there to greet Isho and company according to the gospels, are pictured, six days before the actual festival, mind you, crying out, “Hosanna!” and “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”.  They are also described as carrying “palm branches”.  For such things to have actually happened in Jerusalem around the time of Pesach, even six days before it, would be like Christians carrying sprigs of mistletoe and singing Christmas carols around a decorated evergreen tree at Easter. 

It is not just these ceremonies; the eight-day sequence of events, Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday in Christian parlance better fits the progress of Sukkot than Pesach-Matzot.  Even the blood and water flowing from Isho’s side after he is pierced with the spear reflect Sukkot as celebrated in Jerusalem in the first century CE.

Many of these traditions still go on, but I use the past tense here because we are talking about what happened in the first century CE.

The central ritual feature of the whole period, at least as far as lay participation went, the one which gave the festival its name, was the sukkah, or booth.  These were temporary shelters built for use during the festival, primarily for eating but sometimes for sleeping also, particularly in the Temple period when pilgrims to Jerusalem needed somewhere to sleep.

The other major feature was the four species carried by each worshipper.  These four species were a palm branch, a willow branch, a myrtle branch, and a citron fruit.  Bound together, these were referred to collectively as the luvav, Hebrew for ‘palm branch’.  While the luvavim were used daily by those worshipping in the Temple, in the rest of Palestine they were reserved for the first day of Sukkot only, even elsewhere in the city of Jerusalem.

The messianic festival

The feast of Sukkot, literally Booths or Tabernacles, originally went  by the moniker of the Feast of Ingathering (Chag ha-Asif), and its original purpose was to carry out and celebrate the finish of the fruit harvest, the last of the Palestinian year.  The booths originally housed the farmers or laborers performing the harvest, staying near their crops. 

As Israelite society became sedentary and more urban, agrarian symbols lost their meaning, and to preserve the feast, the priests made it symbolize the mythical wandering in the Sinai desert after the mythical Moses received the Torah on Mount Sinai-Horeb-Paran commemorated on Shavuot, along with the Messiah ben Joseph.

During the so-called “Second Temple” era, especially beginning in the later second century BCE when the great festivals came to be identified with messianic figures, Sukkot came to symbolize expectation of the coming of the Messiah ben David and to be thought of as the time he would appear, particularly given the above-mentioned passage in Zechariah 14.

The designation “Second Temple”, by the way, is a misnomer since there was no “First Temple”, Jerusalem being uninhabited from the Late Bronze Age through the Early Iron Age.  The Jews have not been the only ones stretching the truth about their chosen spiritual center.  Shechem (modern Nablus), the holy site of the Samaritans, was likewise uninhabited from the Late Bronze Age through the Early Iron Age.  Something about Philistines.

Sukkot is the only festival that the Torah named as a time of joy.  In fact, another name for the festival is Zeman Simhatenu, or ‘Season of Our Joy’.  In the Temple era, it was the greatest of all the festivals of Judaism, especially in Palestine, so much that it was most commonly referred to simply as “The Festival”.

Order of Sukkot festivities

In the first century CE, Sukkot was a seven-day affair, as it still is in Palestine.

The first day was a sabbath, and no work was done.  Before the Shacharit sacrifice, the priests and Levites placed willow branches upright around the altar with their tips hanging over.  For the first day, the sabbath at the beginning, these had been gathered the day before from the village a few kilometers outside Jerusalem known as Motza.

(Note: Israelites had inhabited Motza since the destruction of the Philistine city of Gath in 854 BCE by Hazael, Aramean king of Damascus.  So, unlike Jerusalem, it was indeed inhabited before the Babylonian Exile, and hosts one of only three known sanctuaries titled “House of Yahweh” of the pre-Exilic period; the others are at the town of Arad and the city of Samaria.)

Before offering the slaughtered animal(s) as burnt-offerings, the priest made a libation offering of wine, just as he did with every burnt-offiering.

On the first day of Sukkot, the burnt offering was thirteen bulls, fourteen lambs, and fifteen rams, plus a goat kid for expiation of sins. 

Immediately after the Shacharit sacrifice, Levites sang the group of psalms known as the Lesser Hallel, Psalms 113-118.  The congregation, holding their luvavim, would wave them back and forth as they sang along. 

The Mussaf sacrifice followed immediately after Shacharit, as is did every Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh, and Yom Tov.  Unique to Sukkot, however,  after the Mussaf sacrifice and its prayers were finished, the shofar would sound, and the priests, Levites, and Israelites (as lay people were termed) would then circumambulate around the altar reciting Psalm 118:25-26:  “Hosanna (‘Save us’), we beseech you, O Yahweh!  O Yahweh, we beseech you, give us success!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of Yahweh.  We bless you from the house of Yahweh”.

Though the number of circuits may have at one time been seven, by the first century there was just one on this day and the rest until the seventh day.  After this, most or all the lay people returned to their homes to prepare to the festivities later that night.

The Mincha sacrifices, though not closed, were more of a temple rather than a public affair, and usually were.  And for those celebrating Sukkot at the Temple, rest was certainly needed.

Outside the compound atop the Temple Mount, in the city of Jerusalem and across much of Palestine, the people had their own popular ceremonies for this, the greatest of all feasts, including parading through the streets with their luvavim and singing the Hallel.  But unlike the worshippers at the Temple, those celebrating outside the compound put away their luvavim after this first day, as mentioned above.

The days following the first day were called the Chol ha-Moed, or ‘festival weekdays’; the same pattern followed at Matzot.  Each of the Chol ha-Moed, of course, began at sundown, when the Arvit ceremonies and prayers were conducted.  But it was at midnight, when the gates of the compound were thrown open, that the real festivities began.

Simchat Beit ha-Shoeivah

Hebrew for ‘Rejoicing at the Place of the Water-Drawing’, these festivities took place in the Women’s Court at the temple, which indicates the participation of those not normally allowed in Temple ceremonies in the Court of the Israelites, such as women, lepers, and Nazarites. 

For several hours, everybody parties.  There was no solemnity allowed.  Four giant menorah lit up the Court of Women and the whole Temple Mount, even the entire city of Jerusalem.  By the descriptions, it sounds like Clark Griswold’s Christmas lighting. 

Accompanied by lyres, harps, cymbals, and trumpets played by Levites, dancers danced and whirled while holding torches in either hand.  People drank, ate, watched, sang, laughed.  At various points in the night, Levites sang the Songs of the Ascents (Psalms 120-134).

At cockcrow, two priests keeping watch at the Nicanor Gate, between the Court of Women and the Court of Israelites, called out, “Our ancestors in this place turned their backs on the altar of Yahweh, and their faces to the east, worshipping the Sun; but we turn to Yahweh”.

Nisuch ha-Mayim

Hebrew for ‘Pouring of the water’, this ceremony was unique to the Chol ha-Moed of Sukkot; at no other time were burnt-offerings preceded by any libation but wine.  After the shout from the Nicanor Gate, priests, Levites, and people processed from the Court of the Women atop the Temple Mount to the Pool of Siloam south of it, which lay some six hundred meters from the base.  Worshippers carried their livavim and sang the Lesser Hallel.  After the high priest filled a pitcher with water, about a quart of it, the whole crowd returned to the Temple.

As he entered the gate of the Temple compound, the high priest cried out, quoting Isaiah 12:3, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation!”.  Upon arrival at the altar, he would take the pitcher of water in one hand and a pitcher of wine in the other, then simultaneously pour both out over the altar as a libation offering.

Chol ha-Moed

Every day of Sukkot was the same (bulls, fourteen lambs, fifteen rams), except that the number of bulls sacrificed was one less each succeeding day, plus a goat kid for expiation of sins. 

Immediately after the Shacharit sacrifice, Levites sang the group of psalms known as the Lesser Hallel, Psalms 113-118.  Again the congregation, holding their luvavim, would wave them back and forth as they sang along.

Every day, priests, Levites, and Israelites circumambulated the altar after the Mussaf sacrifice reciting Psalm 118:25-26, once each day, for the first six days.

Hoshanna Rabbah

Though not a sabbath, the seventh day evolved into something special and acquired the name Hoshanna Rabbah (‘Great Hosanna’).  In Temple times, it stood out in a couple of ways. 

First, the Great Hallel, Psalm 136, was added onto the end of the Lesser Hallel following the sacrifices of Shacharit.

Second, each previous day of Sukkot, the priests, Levites, and people circumambulated the altar after Mussaf once; on Hoshanna Rabbah, however, they did so seven times.  At the end of the seventh circuit, all present beat their luvavim on the ground several times, then tossed the branches, after which they finally consumed their citron fruit.

Shemini Atzeret

Literally the ‘eighth day of assembly’, the day after Hoshanna Rabbah was a separate observance in its own right, a full sabbath.  In Temple times, this served primarily as the day for the ritual cleansing of the altar, vessels, priestly garments, etc.  The burnt offering for the day was a bull, a ram, and seven lambs, plus a goat kid for expiation of sins.


The Hakhel ceremony was prescribed by the Torah, in Deuteronomy 31.  During Sukkot at the end of every Shemita, or ‘sabbath year’, the Torah, or at least a representative portion of it from Deuteronomy, was read to the people on the second day of the festival.  Trumpets blew all over Jerusalem so that even those not able to attend would know it was about to proceed.

According to the Talmud, the portion read was composed of the following passages from Deuteronomy : 1:1-6:5; 11:13-21; 14:22-27; 26:12-15; 17:14-20; and 28:1-69.

The real time of the Passion

In every one of the gospels, on the first day of the week, Isho and his homeboys and their posse come rolling into town (Jerusalem), and they are surrounded by people waving luvavim and singing, “Hosanna, we beseech you, O Yahweh!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of Yahweh!”.  Given what you have just learned above, what day of the Jewish year could this be, what one single day in the of the Jewish calendar, and on no other, would these things be happening?  That’s right, the first day of Sukkot.

Does this mean that the series of events that led to Isho’s crucifixion actually took place during Sukkot?  No, of course not, just that originally the story his disciples weaved after his departure probably took place within the framework of Sukkot rather than Matzot.  Besides that regality of the imagery, Sukkot rather than Matzot was the time of the Messiah ben David.

In Matthew, the crowds cry out, “Hosanna, Son of David!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”.  In Mark, they cry, “Hosanna!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”.  Luke has the crowd shouting, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord”.  John has, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, the king of Israel!”.  All of these ejaculations are intended to evoke the idea and imagery of Sukkot, the feast of the Messiah ben David.

The ties between the feast of Sukkot and the Christian Holy Week and Pascha do not stop with the entry on the first day.  The very length of time, one week and one day or eight days, is the same in both.  Sukkot is a seven-day festival with a separate feast, Shemini Atzeret, appended to the end of it.  The Christian Holy Week is likewise a seven-day observance, with a separate eighth day celebration, Easter, tacked onto the end.

Interestingly, Sunday was both the first and the eighth day of the week for the Romans, who did not officially adopt the seven-day week until the fourth century CE.  From the time of the Roman Republic, the days of their week had been dies Solis, dies Lunae, dies Martis, dies Mercurii, dies Iovis, dies Veneris, dies Saturi, and dies Nunindae.  After the adoption of the seven-day week, dies Nunindae was dropped and what had been the eight day now fell on dies Solis.  Thus dies Solis, or Sunday, became both the first and the eighth day, much like the aces in a deck of cards being both the lowest and highest cards of their respective suits.

Problems with timing at Passover

Several contradictions within each of the Four Gospels and with each other argue against the placing of the Passion at the time of Pesach-Matzot.  Problems other than Hosannas and luvavim on the first day of the week, I mean.

One is that Christians forget that for Jews, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday were the same day, not two different days. 

John quite correctly refers to that day as the Day of Preparation, as Friday always was and still is for Jews the Day of Preparation for Shabbat.  Shabbat is so central to Jewish religious life that the only other day with a name in the first century, other than a number, was the day whose main purpose was to prepare for Shabbat, to do things ahead of time, like cook.  By noting that the Shabbat following the day of the crucifixion was a day of especial solemnity, it is apparent that the writer of that gospel is placing the first day of Matzot coincidental with that day.

The Synoptics, on the other hand, place the events of the day that was/is Maundy Thursday-Good Friday on the first day of Matzot, which was and is an especially solemn, if celebratory, occasion.  Indeed, they seem to suggest that the fictional Last Supper was the Passover seder, which was eaten on the eve that began Matzot. 

The Synoptics also refer to that day as that on that the Passover sacrifice was slain on, which is a clue that while the writers and editors may have been Jewish, they were most certainly not from Palestine.  A Jew from Palestine would have known that the Pesach sacrifice, and therefore Pesach itself, took place at dusk (literally, ‘between the two evenings’) on 14 Nisan, a separate occasion from the first day of Matzot, 15 Nisan, according to Leviticus 23:5.

The reasons for the Passion being moved from Sukkot to Pesach-Matzot are discussed below.

Cursing of the fig tree

While this seems rather petty and vindictive, this pericope is more roundabout allegorical than straight-on empirical.  Often incorrectly described as always a symbol of Israel in the Tanakh by Christian evangelicals who do not know what they are talking about, the fig tree is in fact rather a symbol of prosperity and plenty whenever it is mentioned.

For example, Deuteronomy 8:7-9 – “For Yahweh your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron and from whose hills you may mine copper.”

And 1 Kings 4:25 – “During Solomon’s lifetime Judah and Israel lived in safety, from Dan even to Beer-sheba, all of them under their vines and fig trees.”

And 2 Kings 18:31b-32a – “Thus says the king of Assyria: ‘Make your peace with me and come out to me; then every one of you will eat from your own vine and your own fig tree, and drink water from your own cistern, until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of grain and wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of olive oil and honey, that you may live and not die.”

And Micah 4:3b-4a – “…they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore; but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid.”

This passage in Mark comes after Isho and his disciples exit the Temple after looking around on the first day of “Holy Week”, i.e. Sukkot, but precedes the Cleansing of the Temple on the next day.  In Matthew, it also takes place as the group exits the Temple but after the cleansing.  In truth, this brief account is probably a reference to a passage in First Isaiah, Isaiah 34:4b – “All their host shall wither like a leaf withering on a vine, or fruit withering on a fig tree.”

More on the fundamentalist fig tree fantasy down below.

Cleansing of the Temple

If this really happened in real life, in real life as opposed to what my Shakespeare professor at Dalton State College called “the green world”, this is what got Isho crucified.

At this time, the Temple and its compound were not just the center of Jewish worship, they were the Jewish seat of government.  While the Temple and its priesthood held sway in religious matters, the Great Sanhedrin, at the head of which sat the Nasi, literally ‘prince’, governed all other matters of Jewish life not covered by the Temple or directly subject to Rome. 

The Sadducees dominated the Temple and the Pharisees the Great Sanhedrin, which met in the Royal Stoa on the south side atop the Temple Mount.  The Royal Stoa also housed the treasury, much of the bureaucracy, and the money-changers.  Although at some times various natives had overall supervision of the Temple, at the time Isho is supposed to have “cleansed” the Temple, it was directly under the aegis of the Roman provincial governor, in this case, Prefectus Pontius Pilatus.  An attack on the Temple, therefore, would have been an attack on Rome.

Lest ye think otherwise, shortly before the death of Herod the Great, a good friend of Rome as well as being King of the Jews, students of two rabbis, Judas Sepphoraeus and Matthias bar Margalus, cut down and burned the Roman eagle above the Temple gate.  For this, Herod, acting on both his royal authority and as representative of Rome, had the two teachers and the students involved burned alive.  An actual Roman would have crucified them instead.

Given the lack of tolerance the Romans had toward dissent, especially from non-Roman subjects, it strains credulity that Isho rampaged through the Temple on Monday morning and then hung out not only the rest of the day but of the week teaching on Solomon’s Porch.  Clearly, moving the Temple incident back further from the crucifixion is meant to put distance between cause and effect, Mark placing it on Monday, Matthew and Luke on Sunday, and John divorcing the event entirely from “Holy Week”, moving it all the way back to Isho’s early ministry.

Of the three Synoptics, only Mark places the Temple-cleansing on a day it could have taken place.  The first day of Sukkot is a sabbath, meaning no work or business took place, yet Matthew and Luke place the event there.  Mark, mindful of that fact, places it on the second day of the feast, the first day business could have been done, and in doing so provides another clue that the original Holy Week coincided with Sukkot. 

Since it was probably the Gospel of Mark which first transferred the Passion from Sukkot to Matzot, the writer probably realized why the story had first been told that way and just simply left it.  To the writers of Matthew and Luke, the delay probably did not make sense, and immediately cleansing the Temple as his first act seemed more dramatic.

Withered Fig Tree

The day after the Temple cleansing in both Mark and Matthew, the disciples see the fig tree which Isho cursed, and it is already withered.  The ensuing discussion is about faith and not really relevant to historical events.  But given that the fig tree was used so often as a symbol of prosperity and peace, its withering is a harbinger of things to come. 

This sign belongs not to the fourth decade of the first century, but to the aftermath of the Great Jewish Revolt a few decades later.  More evidence of the time of Mark’s composition.

Parable of the Wicked Tenants

Upon Isho’s return to the Temple, the “chief priests, scribes, and elders” accosted him to basically ask, “Who the hell do you think you are?”, and he responds with this parable, which is in essence a retrodictive prophecy.  It is worth pointing out that the quote from the Tanakh here (“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone”) is Psalms 118:22, of the Lesser Hallel which were sung in their entirety throughout Sukkot.

Give unto Caesar

In chapter 3 of Book 4 of his Antiquities of the Jews, Titus Flavius Josephus describes a riot that took place over Prefectus Pilatus using Temple treasury money to build an aqueduct to bring more water into Jerusalem.  Many of the Jews who had gathered at his judgment seat to protest this were killed, and undoubtedly some of them killed some of the Roman soldiers who had been hidden among them in disguise. 

This sequence of events puts the exchange between Isho and the group of Pharisees and Herodians that ends with Isho saying, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” into a whole new light.  In the Synoptics, the question seems out of the blue, but in the context of the aqueduct controversy, which Josephus indicates took place at the same time, it makes perfect sense, and given that, it may be a survival or recreation of an actual conversation that took place at the time.

Question about the resurrection

The Synoptics portray this question coming from the Sadducees, saying these do not believe in the resurrection, or “life after death”.  In fact, however, what the Sadducees believed was that a person should not conduct themselves one or another expecting a reward after death but to do the right thing for its own sake.

This teaching goes back to Antigonus of Sokko, founder of the sect, who was himself a disciple of the high priest Simon I the Just.

The gospels ascribe a similar teaching to Isho, in which he is shown saying, “Whoever saves his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will save it”.  While many, even most, assume that aphorism refers to martyrdom and its rewards, in the context of first century Judaism it is more likely a Jewish way of formulating the Mahayana Buddhist principle that “nirvana is samsara”, restating the words of Antigonus of Sokko.

The Summary of the Torah

Also known as the Great Commandment, this comes, in Mark and Matthew, after an exchange in which someone from the crowd asks Isho about which of the mitzvot of the Torah is the greatest.  The Gospel of Luke places the exchange much earlier in his account and orders this story a bit differently, but it is essentially the same.

The earliest story of someone asking a teacher this question has a student coming to ask the teacher Shammai to teach him to whole Torah standing on one foot.  Shammai tells him he is crazy, because there are 613 mitzvot in the Torah, and commentary and rulings about each of the mitzvah.  The student then goes to Hillel to make the same request, and Hillel responds by standing on one foot and saying, “Whatever you do not want done to you, do not do to others; all of the Torah rests on that”.

There is a close version of the Golden Rule in Matthew’s version of the Sermon on the Mount, but that is outside of the scope here.

In all three Synoptics, this passage, also known as the Summary of the Torah, quotes Deuteronomy 6:5 followed by Leviticus 19:18.  Only Mark begins the summary with Deuteronomy 6:4, so that the full quote is, ““The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: Yahweh our God, is one Yahweh; you shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’  The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other mitzvah greater than these.”

The scribes interpreted such references in the Torah to “neighbor” to refer solely to one’s fellow Israelites, which to first century practitioners of Judaism would have meant fellow Jews, even of other ethnic groups, though not Samaritans.  Luke follows its account of this exchange with the Parable of the Good Samaritan, demonstrating that even that this despised outsider could be a neighbor more so than one of the acceptable crowd, meaning that the care one human showed another was more important than their bloodline.

In the early second century CE, Rabbi Akiva ben Joseph, a significant contributor to the Mishna and the Midrash halakha and, later, spiritual leader of the Bar Kokhba War of 132-135, taught that the mitzvah of Leviticus 19:18 (‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’) is “the greatest principle of the Torah”.

All three of the Synoptics include a very similar summary in the exchange presented as taking place on the road through Judea to Jerusalem in which someone asks what he must do to have eternal life.  In the Matthew passage (19:16-26), Isho responds, “Do not kill, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not bear false witness, honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as yourself”.

This is the same passage which ends with the rich man sad after being told to give up his possessions, with Isho saying, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God”.  Which is another way of saying that wealth is the date-nut trapping the monkey’s hand inside the coconut shell because he won’t let go of it.

In the mid-first century Didache (short for, The Teaching of our Lord through the Twelve Apostles to the Gentiles), the greatest mitzvot are given as:  "You shall love the God who made you, you shall love your neighbor as yourself, and do not to others that which you would not wish them to do to you."  The third prescription matches Hillel's own Summary of the Torah; the Gospel of Matthew includes it also, but makes it a positive prescription rather than a negative one.

Little Apocalypse

This lengthy pericope found in Mark 13, Matthew 24, and Luke 21 is also known as the Olivet Discourse, because of the location in which the gospels portray it taking places, the Mount of Olives.  The Mount of Olives had, and still has, eschatological associations with the Messiah ben David for the same reasons as Sukkot, based on the same passage, Zechariah 14.  In Jewish tradition, it is where the resurrection of the dead after the Messiah ben David comes will begin, and thus many Jews today want to be buried there.

Its other name, the “Little Apocalypse” derives from its length in comparison to the much longer Apocalypse of John the Divine.  As a type of religious literature, it is a retrodictive prophecy, a prophecy after the fact, which greatly ensures its realization.  Given that fact, we have yet another piece of evidence that Mark, at least in its current form, is post-Jewish War.

After “foretelling” the destruction of the Temple, Isho warns of false prophets and fake messiahs, of which there were an abundance in the first century.  He then goes on to describe some of the events that will signify the sequence of events is about to begin, and that “you”, meaning his disciples, will be arrested and persecuted.

Abomination of desolation

After this, in Mark and Matthew, the writers have Isho warning the disciples to stand in the holy place when they see the “abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet”.  This is a major sign that the writer(s) of Mark, and of Matthew which is based on it, were not Palestinian.  Had they been Palestinian Jews, they probably would have known that this “prophecy” (itself a retrodiction of events in second century BCE) had taken place two centuries before, after Antiochus IV’s defeat of the rebellious high priest Menelaus.

The writers of Luke either left the original story as it was or else decided to be less cryptic and less wildy inaccurate.  In Luke, the prophecy is of the destruction of Jerusalem, as occurred in 70 CE at the end of the Great Jewish War. 

In Wars of the Jews, Josephus describes how a holy man named Jesus ben Ananias appeared in Jerusalem in 62 CE predicting the destruction of the city, repeating over and over the words, “Woe to Jerusalem!”.  He continued prophesying for eight years, eventually dying in the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE when he got hit by a catapulted projectile.  More about him later.

According to Josephus, who was actually there and witnessed the destruction, nothing was of the city was left standing but three towers and the western wall of the city.  Not “of the Temple Mount” but “of the city”; the Temple Mount was entirely dismantled in order to recover the gold that had melted when the Temple burned.  The modern “Western Wall” is an artifact of the Roman temple compound constructed after the Bar Kokhba War of 132-135.

In all three versions, Isho then predicts the coming of the Son of Man, which, as we have seen above, is the same as the Messiah ben David.

Nothing but a fig leaf

What follows after has been the occasion of much silliness on the part of Western Christians, especially of the evangelical variety, and much misery in the Southern Levant.

The author(s) of Mark, and of Matthew and Luke which follow it, have Isho using an analogy of the fig tree, to which Luke adds “and all trees”, saying that “just like when you see it beginning to bud you know spring is near, so when you see these things I have described, the end is near”.

The early nineteenth century Anglo-Irish divine John Nelson Darby, in the epiphany he had upon hitting his head after falling off his horse, decided, upon no real basis whatsoever, that the “fig tree” referred to Israel, and that when the Jewish people had returned to Palestine and erected an independent nation, that would be the signal of the end times.

Thus was born Christian Restorationism, which begat Jewish Zionism, which begat Christian Zionism, the latter two having begotten misery, racism, death, forced relocation, destruction of native culture, and almost every other aspect of genocide.

The discourse ends with an exhortation to keep watch, and  the statement that no one but the Father knows when these things will happen, not even the Son, tends to suggest that Father and Son, maybe not so much on the same level, at least not to Christians of the first century, at least not the writers of the Synoptic gospels.

Anointing at Bethany

In Mark and Matthew, this story takes place “two days before the Passover and the festival of Unleavened Bread”, which for them would begin at nightfall on our Thursday night, making this night our Tuesday, while the version in Luke comes much earlier in that gospel and in John takes place on what would be our Saturday night (meaning that Passover began Friday night).

In the first two, nearly identical accounts, the supper is being held at the house of Simon the Leper in Bethany.  While they were eating, a woman broke open a jar of nard ointment which was extremely expensive and poured it over Isho’s head, anointing him like a king (or a priest or a prophet) would be anointed.  To objections from several present, Isho replies, “Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me.  For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me”.

In the Matthean version, the key phrase, “and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish” gets left out.  The phrase is key because it is a direct reference to Deuteronomy 15:11, which states, “Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.”  By leaving out that phrase, Matthew makes it seems as if Isho is saying, “Why are you worried about the poor? They’re always hanging around”, which, with the phrase in place, is not the case.

Placing a very similar account much earlier, Luke not only moves it in time but also space, relocating it from Bethany in Judea to Nain in Galilee.  The house here is that of Simon the Pharisee, and rather than a kingly anointing, the woman is a sinner washing Isho’s feet with her tears, then anointing his feet with the ointment.

In John, the story moves back to Bethany in space, but “six days before the Passover” in time, meaning our Saturday night and the last respite before the events of “Holy Week”.  The setting now is the house of Lazarus, whom Isho had recently raised from the dead, and the woman is Mary his sister.

In the Lucan version, in the same chapter and same town (Nain), Isho had resurrected the dead daughter of one of the townswomen, and the combination of those two pericopes, interrupted by another story of messengers from John the Baptist, is a rough parallel to the two Johannine stories of Lazarus.

The gospels, by the way, are the only source for such a place as “Bethany” having existed in Judea near Jerusalem.  There is no other record of it.

The Last Supper

For various and sundry reasons, this could not have actually been the seder, the ritual Pesach dinner.  For one thing, there is only one cup of wine (two in the Lucan version) instead of the four in a seder.  Although, if it had been four cups, it’s no wonder the disciples kept falling asleep in the Garden of Eden, sitting around in the dark, quietly, waiting.

A major reason for the shift in time of the Passion narrative between the original oral tradition from Palestine and the written version from Alexandria came about in part because Gentiles had no tradition of being thankful for food the same way Jews (and, presumably, Samaritans) did, at least on Shabbat and Yom Tov.  Indeed, Paul of Tarsus wrote about problems with this in the church at Corinth in 1 Corinthians 11.

Since the Gospel of Mark was the main source upon which the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke drew for their outline, and since Mark was probably composed in Alexandria, I believe it was there that this change occurred.

It is clear from Paul’s description that here we have the “Lord’s Supper” as a full meal, of which we have a witness of its liturgy in The Teaching of the Lord through the Twelve Apostles to the Gentiles, or Didache of the very late first or early second century CE.  The Didache gives three benedictions said separately, one over wine, one over bread, and, after supper, a thanksgiving over a cup of wine corresponding to the Birkat ha-Mazon, or ‘Grace After Meals’.

None of those benedictions mentions the death, much less the resurrection, of Isho, no epiclesis, no anamnesis, no Words of Institution.  In fact, they are very Jewish in form and content, and point to the actual origin of the “Lord’s Supper”.  In the late Temple era, especially in the first centuries BCE/CE, fellowships of the devout formed to share communal meals with prayers of praise and thanksgiving.  These were called chavuarh (‘fellowship’) meals, and roughly corresponded to early Christian agape (‘love’) meals, which were the original “Lord’s Supper”. 

From these chavurah meals come the original form of the prayers still used at meals of devout Jews and at Shabbat for most Jews.  The prayers in the “Concerning the Eucharist” section of the Didache follow the same format and have much of the same content.

To impress upon Gentile believers the gravity called for at a Eucharist ceremony, Hellenistai Jewish believers in Egypt borrowed imagery from their pagan neighbors and, in addition to removing the “Eucharist” away from the meal, invented the Last Supper to provide a model for the communion meal and to be an occasion on which for it to have been inaugurated.  Such communion meals, isolated from actual meals, were common in the Mystery Cults were common, that of Osiris, and from his Serapis, being barley bread and beer.

Two other motivating factors in shifting the Passion story from Sukkot to Pesach-Matzot were a desire to distance Isho from some of the more martial aspects of the Messiah ben David and a better familiarity with the latter feasts than with Sukkot, Pesach-Matzot, particularly Pesach, being much more popular in the Diaspora than Sukkot.

Some will argue that the Words of Institution in Paul’s discussion of the problems with the Lord’s Supper at Corinth are proof that such has always been part of the story.  However, this section, 1 Corinthians 11:23-25, is clearly an interpolation by a much later editor.  The two-fold version of these, like the ones in Mark and Matthew, bears witness that these are of much later age than Paul’s missive.  Only in Luke’s account do we have three benedictions.

The Words of Institution were not, in fact, used in Eucharistic prayers until after the First Ecumenical Council at Nicaea in 325.  Vestiges of the meal exist the prayers for cheese and olives with the Eucharist prayers in the Apostolic Tradition, and in the cup of water and the cup of milk and honey offered to the newly baptized along with the cup of wine after the bread in the same document.


Like Bethany, the Garden of Gethsemane was completely fictitious, but it does serve as a vehicle for bringing Isho and his Galilean homeboys back to the Mount of Olives, the site where the Messiah ben David was supposed to make his stand.  Only Matthew and Mark mention the “Garden of Gethsemane”, which supposedly lay at the foot of the Mount of Olives. Luke makes the place of the encounter Mount of Olives proper, while John removes the action even further away to “a garden” unnamed across the Kidron Valley, which would be in the vicinity of Motza.

First “trial”

Many commentators suggest the Isho’s first “trial: before the Jewish leadership, this took place before the Great Sanhedrin of 71 elders.  If this had the case, however the presider would not have been the current High Priest, Joseph ben Caiaphas, but Gamaliel I, who was the current Nasi, the official at the head of the Great Sanhedrin, at the time.  Ananus, who had been forbidden to have anything further to do with even purely Jewish jurisprudence due to his excessive blood-thirstiness (too bloodthirsty for the Romans is bad).  His son, also named Ananus, proved just as bad. 

In 62 CE, there was a short interregnum between the outgoing procurator Porcius Festus and incoming procurator Lucceius Albinus.  The high priest at the time, Ananus ben Ananus, son of the same Ananus of gospel infamy, took advantage of the opportunity to rid himself political rivals.  Chiefly, he went after the leaders of the Christians at Jerusalem, Yaakob (James) the Just, brother of Isho, and several others.  He had them executed as heretics by stoning, for which Albinus removed him from office, at the request, by the way, of other (non-Christian) Jews. 

The fact that the gospels insist on referring to the high priest as Caiaphas when that was Joseph’s father who had never been high priest demonstrates the origin of this part of the story originated from folks who were from elsewhere.

Trial before Pilate

After  Jesus ben Ananias appeared at Sukkot in 62 CE predicting the destruction of the city, the priests and elders of the time were a little upset.  Afraid any trouble he caused would be blamed on them, they turned him over to the new procurator, Lucceius Albinus.  When Albinus questioned him, Jesus ben Ananais refused to talk, so he had him flogged.  Jesus ben Ananias never screamed, but just kept repeating, “Woe to Jerusalem!” over and over and over.  Albinus eventually decided he was just crazy, rather than dangerous, and let him go.

Several features of Isho’s trial and crucifixion portrayed in the gospels as unique and given a special meaning were actually common to all capital cases.

When Pilatus washed his hands after passing sentence, this was not a declaration that the Jews had overcome his wishes and were about to crucify Isho against his will.  Instead, he was merely repeating what all Roman officials did after condemning someone to death, every time they did so.  The hand-washing signified his personal absolution of the impending death because he was only following the law.

The flogging was standard before a crucifixion, both to further humiliate and to hasten death, in the latter case a form of mercy.  As for the wild fantasies of fundamentalist evangelical and traditionalist Catholic Christian mythologists, there was no need to entwine metal balls and fragments of bone in the leather for the whip to rip skin.  Anyone who doubts that has never seen a leather bullwhip strip a coffee table of its surface in the living room of a frat house in the midst of a drunken stupor.  Or viewed photos of the backs of former slaves in the antebellum American South.  In fact, if the condemned had been flogged with such a device, he would have been dead long before he was crucified.

Two men named Jesus

The riot described by Josephus as being over the aqueduct controversy was quite likely the same riot mentioned in the gospels as the one in which Barabbas and the two “bandits” (Dismas and Gestas according to the Gospel of Nicodemus) whom the gospels portray as crucified with Isho were arrested.  The Greek word here usually translated as ‘bandit’ did not mean thief or robber but rather ‘terrorist’.  In other words, Barabbas and his friends were political rebels.  That is the company in which Isho was crucified, and the sign above his head on the cross certainly implied that he belonged in that company.

Josephus, by the way, does not place the incident, nor his brief sentences about Isho, in a particular time of year, and though his account in Antiquities does not give the location, the same story in his earlier Wars of the Jews tells that it took place in Jerusalem.  The only times Pilatus, or any other Roman governor, came to Jerusalem from Caesarea, bringing the legion of course, was to keep the peace at the major pilgrimage feasts.

The earliest extant copies of the Gospel of Matthew give the name of the Barabbas character as Jesus Barabbas (Jesus bar Abbas).  Many have opined that this is to contrast him with the main character, Jesus Barjoses (Jesus bar Joses), or to suggest that Jesus Barabbas was an alter ego of the other Jesus. 

The pericope has to have some metaphorical meaning other than its plain words, because under no circumstances would a Roman governor have freed a political rebel from a subject people, certainly not one who had killed.  No such custom as the gospels suggest about a condemned prisoner being released at Pesach existed, and in any case, when the gospel story was first composed, if not written down, it probably took place at Sukkot.

I believe this story within a story is an allegory of how the people of the Jewish religion in Palestine chose the way of the sword over the way of peace, and was probably written after the Great Jewish Revolt of 66-70 CE.  I believe this story was an essential part of rewriting the job description, so to speak, of the Messiah ben David.

The Crucifixion

Carrying the cross to the site of one’s crucifixion was standard.  Only instead of the whole cross, crossbeam and upright, usually just the crossbeam was involved, particularly if the site was one especially marked out for that purpose, as the names Gulgalta (Golgotha) and Calvariae Locus (Calvary) would indicate.

As for the crosses themselves, rather than being tall, often depicted as at least twice the height of the average human, the uprights were not much higher than the average person, leaving the condemned person at roughly eye-level.

Condemned prisoners were stripped completely naked, no loin cloths for the sake of modesty as is usually portrayed in art or on crucifixes in churches.  After all, nothing but sanitized, polite death for Christians.

Death occurred for a variety of reasons, including cardiac rupture or failure, hypovolemic shock, acidosis, arrhythmia, pulmonary embolism, sepsis, dehydration, and animals, the last two depending on how long the torment lasted.  Asphyxiation, claimed by some to be a result of crucifixion, was in fact not.  The reason for leg-breaking, as in the case of Isho’s fellow travelers, in addition to the extra pain, was that it caused fat embolisms and killed quicker.  Several of these could cause death within a few hours, contrary to some opinions stating that our subject died too quickly.

In the Alexandrian-type edition of Matthew 27:46-50 gives the following account of the death of Isho:  ‘And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “This man is calling for Elijah.”  At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink.  But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.”  And another took a spear and pierced his side, and out came water and blood.  Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last.’

Three things need to be pointed out here.  First, Isho and his two mates would not have been having some of the conversations the gospels portray them having anymore than they would have been singing “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”.  Second, the spear in the side gives a plausible reason for him to have died so quickly.  Three, the blood and water pouring out of his side is both a messianic sign and yet another tie to Sukkot.

The rush to get Isho and his two red shirts (Dismas and Gestas) down from their crosses before sundown had nothing to do with an approaching Pesach, or any other holiday.  According to Josephus, such was the standard practice for executions in Palestine, even by the Romans, due to the strict religious prohibition in the Torah against leaving the body of a condemned person up after sundown.

All four gospels agree that one Joseph of Arimathea provided the tomb in which the protagonist our this story, Isho bar Yossef the Nazorean, was buried.  There probably was not a whole lot of celebration in the house where everyone was hiding that Hoshannah Rabbah.


This is the original ending of Mark, without the add-ons from later decades and centuries, and keep in mind this was how it was first composed in the third quarter of the century.  This, according to the writer from Alexandria is what happened on the Shemini Atzeret.

‘When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him.  And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.  They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?”  When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back.  As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed.  But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”  So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.’

That is how the first written, written and still surviving, gospel ended.  That was all that needed to be said.  Had none of the other gospels been written, the idea that Isho has been resurrected from death would have still existed among those who believed.  Combining the longer, and later, ending of Mark with the passage interpolated into 1 Corinthians 15 (:3-11), these disciples saw, or truly believed they saw, the resurrected Isho, in this order: Mary Magdalene, Cephas (Peter), two disciples on the road, the Twelve, some five hundred disciples at the same time, then to Yaakob the Just, and, last of all, to Paul of Tarsus.  As far as history goes, it does not matter whether it actually happened, all those people believed it did, and that is history.

Personally, I put the resurrection into the same category as out-of-body-experience (OOBE).  I've had an OOBE, so I don't have to wonder if OOBE is a real thing.  However, I wouldn't expect anyone to take my word for it, especially someone who doubts such things.  I guess you could always ask Connelly Davies, but then you'd have to trust her word too.

So, who was Isho bar Yossef the Nazorean?

When I was at university, a girlfriend of mine told me that out of all the characters in the 1982 movie The Big Chill, the one who reminded her most of me was Alex Marshall.  You know, the dead guy, the one who’s suicide kicked off the events of that weekend.  She said that what she meant was who she thought he was from what the others said about him.

Some of the things the gospels portray Isho saying we can dismiss as the product of later doctrinal needs, but other encounters, parables, pericopes, etc., show who those who may have known him thought him to be.

What I get from the gospels is that the real person Isho bar Yossef, called Isho the Nazorean and claimed by some to be the Messiah ben David, didn’t give a  damn about human convention, about what’s appropriate and polite, about bourgeois pretentions of the wannabe bourgeois, about the vanity of leaders, about the greed of the few in the face of the needs of the many; anything that got in the way of humans being human to other humans, Isho had absolutely no use for whatsoever. 

One of the most popular of the stories, now in the Gospel of John, was not originally part of it, but had been around since at least the early second century, when Papias of Hieropolis wrote it in a letter of about 125 CE that he found it in the Gospel of the Hebrews.  That story is known to scholars as the Pericope Adulterae, the story of the woman taken in adultery.

In its earliest version, the local elders bring the woman and drop her at Isho’s feet, tell him they’ve caught her in flagrante delicto, then depart after telling him they leave her judgment to him.  The later, more elaborate version, interpolates more details before they leave.  In it, they remain, and Isho, instead of answering them, stoops and starts writing on the ground. 

The version we have now in John doesn’t say what he writes, but Matthew offers a hint.  I believe in the fuller story, Isho was writing, “He who has looked on this woman lustfully…”, before they interrupted to ask again what should be done.  Looking up, Isho says, “Let whomever is without sin among you cast the first stone”.  Then he continued writing, “…has already committed adultery with her in his heart”.

When Isho looks up again, there is no one around but he and the woman, and the original story picks up again with Isho asking her, “Did anyone condemn you?”.  “No,” she replies.  “Then neither do I,” Isho smiled.  “Go, and sin no more”.

Some of the stories about may or may not be factual, but they can still be truthful, like the line in the movie (and graphic novel) V for Vendetta which I paraphrase as, “Artists use lies to tell the truth; politicians use the truth to tell lies”.

Take, for example, the story of Isho and the Samaritan woman at the well.  Did this actually happen this way?  Doubtful.  However, the story is in John because people believed that this is something Isho would do.  Luke includes the Parable of the Good Samaritan because people believed Isho would have told that story.  Likewise with every encounter the gospels portray of Isho speaking with, touching, and healing Gentiles or their servants or their children.

Isho and his disciples were hungry on Shabbat, so they went through the fields picking grain to process and eat, on Shabbat.  When accosted, Isho replied that Shabbat was given for humanity, not humanity for Shabbat.  That line of reasoning is relevant even today, say, in the case of marriage.  “Marriage was made for humans, not humans for marriage”.

If Isho did not actually tell the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man, it’s a story those who knew him or knew of him much closer in space and time than I thought he would have told.  The point of the story is that material prosperity, not really a sign of heavenly favor.  When I was at the mission, as a “client”, I would get amused at the preachers getting excited about this story because it had to be literal since it named Lazarus.  Then they would start talking about how sorry they were that so many people were going to go to hell, but they would have this glint in their eyes that reminded me of a line from the song “Blood Upon the Risers” that goes, “The medics jumped and screamed with glee, and cracked a knowing smile”.  That glint.

Isho’s attitudes toward wealth are best summed up in a couple of quotes, a couple in addition to the camel and the needle.  Again, it’s not really important if he literally said these, but they probably represent what he thought and felt.

The first is when Isho said “You cannot serve God and wealth”.  That’s pretty unequivocal.

The second is the version of the Beatitudes in Luke, as follows:

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.  But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your consolation.

“Blessed are you who are hungry, for you will be filled.  But woe to you who are full, for you will be hungry.

“Blessed are you who weep, for you will laugh.  But woe to you who are laughing, for you will mourn and weep.

“Blessed are you whom people hate, and exclude, and revile, and defame; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.  But woe to you of whom all speak well, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.”

As for all those people waiting for the Darby-invented Rapture and the coming of the kingdom, well, if those people were paying attention, they would know it’s too late.  At least according to Luke 17:20-21.  Here a group of Pharisees asks Isho when it’s coming, and he replies, “You won’t see it coming because you can’t.  No one can say, ‘Look, here it is’ or ‘Look, there it is’, because the kingdom of God is inside each of you”, with the concluding line, “…waiting for you to find it”, remaining implied but unspoken.

Whoever wrote that section of Luke definitely meant “inside each of you” and definitely not “here among you” because he (or so I assume) used the word “entos”, which only refers to an interior.  Even to his enemies, or at least his sometimes bitter rivals, Isho is portrayed as being gracious and generous.  In fact, scholars agree that the polemics against the Pharisees, mostly in Matthew, date from a time that represents later social situations.

Isho touched and ate with “sinners”, the poor, the sick, the lame, even Gentiles and Samaritans, and, God forbid, women.  Neither he nor his disciples fasted, unlike the Pharisees and John the Baptist’s disciples who fasted often (at least twice a week for the former).  In several purported quotes, Isho is shown to be much more concerned with the spiritual essence of mitzvot rather than their literal obedience, which was sometimes both liberating and restrictive. 

For instance, in that quote from Matthew I inserted into the Pericope Adulterae, even just lusting is adulterous; however, since lust (not lechery, mind you) is a natural force, one which keeps the species going, the fact that one does so merely puts on the same level as every other person on the planet.  Maybe you never thought of it from that angle, I guess I’m just a little weird.

None of those things are what a “good Jew” of first century Palestine would have done, so, refer back to the third paragraph of this conclusion.  One can easily see him on a raft in the middle of the Mississippi River, saying to himself as Huckleberry Finn did, “All right then, I’ll go to hell”, rather than doing as society then would want him to do and turn in his friend Jim as a runaway slave.  And now maybe we know what the “H.” in “Jesus H. Christ” stands for: Huckleberry.

I wrote the following around three decades ago, back when I believed, really believed, in everything the creeds taught and the church decreed.  I named it “Country Club”.

and on the first day
the day of the sun
man created god in his own image
in the image of man created he him
doing not what he believes
but believing what he does
not practicing what he preaches
but preaching what he practices
doing what’s convenient
so that then he can repent

and when the man came away
to show man the true way
man assassinated the man
by legal decree
from a kangaroo court
then killed the truth he brought
thru legend and rumor and myth
resurrecting him from the dead
sitting him above at god’s right hand
safely out of reach

isho the galilean prophet-king
is now jesus the divine redeemer
demigod avatar to the gentile race
and the church promises
everlasting life to all
who bow to its decrees
but you first have to join the club
and pay your weekly dues
while the messiah ben david
wearing his thorny crown
looks on in despair

The Jesus Christ of the creeds?  I do not have much use for that pompous ass, especially since he has never really existed.  The human Isho, the guy whose character I can glean from what was written in the first century or passed down from the first century to be written later, whether what was said in the lines or what was said between them, that guy I like.  

I’ve called him Isho throughout this to break the hold of the myths and legends and fraud attached to the name “Jesus Christ”, but if you happen to be more comfortable thinking of him with that name, so be it.  Yehoshua, Yeshua, Yeshu, Joshua are okay too, even Jesus Huckleberry Christ.  Think about it: having a beer with Huck.  

And what the hell, if I run into you somewhere on the street or on the Metro, and you need someone to talk to, someone to have your back, someone to tell you that you are human when society says you’re not, then I’ll be your Huckleberry, because that’s what he would have wanted, and because it’s the right thing to do.  Even if I have to go to hell.

(P.S.: Don’t worry about the last sentence; hell is a myth.)