Archive for Herod

Timely Appearance of Jesus

Posted in Atheist, Bible, Hebrew scripture, history, random, religion, thoughts with tags , , , , , , on November 24, 2011 by chouck017894

In the timeframe accepted for Jesus’ existence on Earth, there were two Jewish sects vying for dominance of the Jewish faithful, the Pharisees and the Sadducees.  Both divisions of Judaism held that there was only one way—their priest-invented way, of course—to acknowledge a higher source.  The rest of the citizens throughout the Roman Empire followed less judgmental spiritual practices.

Prior to the undocumented event of Jesus’ birth there was in Palestine, c. 112 BCE, a Jewish school, the Chasidim  (Hassidim), meaning “the holy ones,” which became active and known as the Pharisees.  Their chief predisposition was to resist all Greek or outside influences which a clique of scribes felt could undermine their sacred interpretation of how followers were to kowtow to that interpretation.  In short, the Pharisees were therefore most emphatic in regard to what was to be presented as “Divine Law.”  The championing of “Divine Law,” which was to be exercised in all public affairs, called for obedience without regard to priestly or aristocratic families—the Sadducees—or the old-line statesmen or the heroes who had brought the Assyrian wars to a successful conclusion.  It was the inflexible Pharisees, however, despite their ban on outside influence, who brought ideas of salvation and resurrection into Jewish thought.

The Sadducees (or Zadokites), on the other hand, were aristocratic (largely descended through the older priest class), and they held that the priest-written Torah was binding in all matters.  Thus the Sadducees rejected the version of the “Divine Law” as it was interpreted and championed by the Chasidim scribes, and demanded obedience to the older ancestral customs and legal standpoints.  Equally inflexible as the Pharisees, the Sadducees did not believe in resurrection, in angels, nor in any personal continuance after death, a doctrine that clung closely to the original Torah theology.

By c. 60 BCE—as planet Earth entered the Age of Pisces—the rabbinical hierarchical system as had been instituted in Jerusalem had existed for about three centuries.  The Jews in Alexandria, Egypt, however, paid no allegiance to any form of rabbinical institution which had been responsible for the Talmudic presentation.  It was in that older presentation that heavy attention was placed upon customs as they had evolved in Judea, and which would later be collected (c. 200 CE) into the Mishna, a collection of decisions that had been laid down by priests in Jerusalem and which were aimed largely at prohibiting the rearing of children in Greek lore.  The priests in Jerusalem had virtually jack-hammered their priestly decisions into “legal” status.

The capture of Jerusalem by the Roman general Pompey in 60 BCE had been deemed necessary due to the aggressive power struggle between two sons of King Aristobulus who had recently died.  Years later, however, in 47 BCE, the Rome-installed Herod was driven from Jerusalem by one of the former King Aristobulus’ sons, Antigonus, and he then ruled as the last Hasmonean priest-king until 37 BCE when his reign was ended by Marc Antony.  Jerusalem’s struggle to disassociate itself from Rome galvanized even more after Antigonus was scourged, then bound to a stake and beheaded.  Herod was then reinstated to rule, and he sought to consolidate his position with the Jews by wedding Mariamne, a princess of the Hasmonean line.  Herod later bequeathed portions of his kingdom between three sons, and the Roman Emperor Augustus confirmed the will.  The division of the kingdom was not appreciated among the Jews.

Into this long simmering brew there appeared the Alexandrian Jewish philosopher, Philo (c. 20 BCE – 50 CE), considered the greatest Jewish philosopher of this timeframe.  For orthodox Judaism, as represented by Palestinian Jews of the time, the study of languages, especially Greek, was regarded as profane and worthy only for slaves and infidels.  But Philo was born into a wealthy and aristocratic Jewish family in Greek-founded Alexandria, thus his education had included Greek literature and philosophy, especially that of Plato, Pythagoras and the Stoics.  Philo’s writings were to exert considerable influence upon both Jewish and Christian thought, and his writings heavily influenced the Alexandrian Christian theologians Clement (no genuine documentation of him has ever been produced) and Origen (185?-254? CE).  Philo’s philosophic endeavors brought a breath of fresh air into the congested cell of orthodox Jewish thought.  Philo maintained, as did many of his contemporaries, that the major part of the Pentateuch (first five books of scriptures), especially its “historical” and legal portions, should be explained allegorically, for it was only in this way that its truest and deepest meaning could be understood.  This wise advice has been steadfastly ignored by the three interrelated western organized faith systems as they evolved.

A Jewish rabbi and teacher named Hillel rose to prominence from 30 BCE to c. 09 CE.  He was the first Jewish scholar to systematize the interpretation and explanation of scriptural law.  Hillel had to contend with a rival named Shammai, an eminent doctor of the Jewish law at the time of Herod, and he stood rigidly insistent upon a merciless interpretation of priest-written scriptural law.  The conflict between the two schools of thought was to endure for nearly one hundred years after Hillel’s death.  A persistent allegation is that Hillel’s teachings influenced young Jesus, for many of the sayings attributed to Jesus are startlingly similar to those of Hillel.  The vague timeframe projected for Jesus’ childhood as presented in the New Testament can be seen to loosely correspond to this general timeframe.  However, any contemporary historian, writer or Roman aristocrat in charge of that region’s affairs would have been intimately familiar with such interpretations of scriptural laws: in fact some aristocrats married members of the Herodian family.

In the timeframe of Nero (37-68 CE) and the marriage to his pro-Jewish second wife Poppaea Sabina, various Roman aristocrats, statesmen and authors were becoming alarmed over the Empire’s stability due to the constant uprisings instigated by Jewish agitators.  It was into this political unease during Nero’s reign that the first books known as Mark and Matthew suddenly appeared, which introduced into the Roman Empire culture the teachings that were attributed to a benevolent and tolerant Jewish man named Jesus.

Star Over Bethlehem

Posted in Atheism, Atheist, belief, Bible, Christianity, culture, faith, history, life, random, religion, thoughts with tags , , , , , , on December 12, 2009 by chouck017894

In the book of Matthew in the New Testament, written c. 70-75 CE, the “star in the rising” is routinely misinterpreted as some bright phenomenon standing in a stationary position above the town of Bethlehem to herald the birth of the “king of the Jews.”  Since Herod died c. 04 CE, any startling celestial happening had to have occurred before that, for Herod supposedly put out a contract on the infant’s death (told only in John).  There actually were a few astronomical configurations of interest in the indecisive time of Jesus’ birth from 12 BCE to 04 CE.

The  periodic appearance of the comet that is known today as Halley’s Comet made one of its visible passages in the year 12 BCE.  Interestingly, the comet would have appeared over the Middle East showing itself at 31 degrees North, which is very close to the latitude of Bethlehem.  Over the centuries various devout Christians, desperate to explain the “star” that allegedly guided the Magi to Bethlehem have seized upon this astronomical fact as the event alluded to in the birth story.  But it is certain that no astronomer, referred to as “Magi,” would ever have mistaken a comet for a star.  And there were two other comets in this general timeframe: one in 05 BCE and another in 04 BCE.  Nonetheless, comets are not repeated stationary happenings, so they simply could not serve the purpose of the myth.

There was, however, a less common but definitely not a supernatural occurrence in the heavens in 07 BCE: it was a triple conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Saturn in the constellation Pisces.  This event has intriguing elements that have made it attractive to writers of the Jesus birth account.  The planet Jupiter was considered the royal planet and the sign of kings, hence it could be used to introduce the “king of the Jews.”  In addition, the Romans regarded the planet Saturn as representative of the Jews, as did the Jews themselves.  Furthermore, the world cultures were very much aware that planet Earth had recently entered the Age of Pisces (60 BCE), and Pisces was considered to rule over the regions of Syria and Palestine.  These associations may well have played a role in concocting the birth story plotline, but it is unlikely that Magi—meaning astronomers—would have concluded that a savior-king was to be born in Bethlehem.  If such was the general interpretation then there would have been more than just three astronomer-travelers going to Bethlehem, for the natural phenomenon was predicted as early as 17 BCE in almanac books of the time.  In other words, it was not a “miracle” event.

Whoever the real authors of the New Testament accounts may have been, it is certain that the literati in Rome were quite familiar with several other myths in which stars were claimed to have announced the birth of an alleged divine being.  Probably the most well-known in Rome in the time when the NT was being written was of Mithras (or Mithra), a Persian divinity of light, whose holy day was Sunday and whose holiest day was December 25th—the date when the Sun begins its northerly movement after the Winter Solstice.  Magi and shepherds were said to have seen the star announcing the birth of Mithras and were guided to the birthplace to adore him.