Jesus was a story teller. While teaching, he used stories to illustrate a point or points that he was trying to make. As far as we can tell, the stories were always fiction. Some leave the reader scratching her head trying to figure out the point. A good example of a head scratcher is the parable of “The Leaven” found in Luke 13: 20-2; in Matthew 13: 33; and in Thomas 96. One which seems to be extremely clear at its telling is “The Good Samaritan” found in Luke 10: 30-35.
In our age and time, we sometimes find the parables difficult to understand. One of the causes of this confusion is that we superimpose our 21st Century culture and values over those of the first century; this causes the parable to become somewhat misunderstood. We also fail to understand what was driving first century culture in the Promised Land. For example, let’s look at the parable of the Good Samaritan, which Jesus told to the officious official who asked him to define “neighbour”. The facts of the parable were well known by all who listened to Jesus that day. They knew that Samaritans were considered evil in Judea and he would get his “comeuppance” in the story. Facts about the story: Samaritans were hated in Judea because they were considered human “mongrels” as some of their ancestors married foreign brides. As a general rule, all Samaritans were up to no good. Here the victim lay naked and “half dead” so a passerby could not distinguish him from a Galilean, Judean or Samaritan by simply looking at him. We can assume he was one of the Jewish peoples and not a Gentile because no mention is made as to whether he was circumcised, a procedure reserved for Jewish men. The priest and Levite were men who participated in the Temple rituals and were probably on their way to Jericho after their stint at the Temple. People listening to Jesus tell the parable would know that if the priest or Levite stopped and touched the naked man, and if he was dead, then the two men would have to go through a time-consuming ritual cleansing. When Jesus disclosed that the hero of the piece was the hated Samaritan, the listeners were shocked!
Jesus always told parables to illustrate what God demanded of us in a perfect world. Many of Jesus parables begin with the following words, “the Kingdom of Heaven is like…” In other words, if we want a world like God’s heaven, we need to change the way we do business with each other here in this world. And that includes the Samaritans whom we don’t like.
Some parables are incredibly vague like the story found in The Parable of the Shrewd Manager in Luke 16: 1- 14. Here is a parable which seems to support theft and dishonesty. It is a tough one to figure out. Parables always have hidden meanings and information. When we look at the shrewd Manager with 21st century eyes and values, it does not pass the smell test of our sure knowledge of Jesus and his mission. If I set this parable in front of a person and said it was a parable of Jesus, most would not believe me.
It's a pity that parables are out of style in today’s world. The last good parable I heard and remembered was one narrated by the late Tommy Douglas when he was leader of the CCF Party in Saskatchewan. Douglas used a well-known implement known by every farmer in Saskatchewan: the cream separator. Essentially it was the rich who had their mouths glued to the cream nipple on the separator and sucked up the cream leaving little for the working man. He used to get many laughs using this parable and it helped him win in Saskatchewan. Perhaps our Medicare system partially owes it birth to the cream separator.
(To listen to Douglas about the parable of the cream separator watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IE5fOJfKRNk&ab_channel=TommyDouglasTube )
Parables were powerful tools of teaching in Jesus’ day and could be again today.
To understand the circumstances around Jesus’ death and the events which went on in Jerusalem around Passover 30CE (please note that the terms BC and AD have been replaced by BCE meaning Before Common Era and AD by CE meaning Common Era), we need to understand the political nature of the Holy Land when Jesus lived. The Holy Land was occupied by the Romans. That included all the land known as Judea in the south, Samaria in the centre, and Galilee in the north. There was an alliance between the invaders from Italy and the local Jewish leadership. It was an unholy alliance where the Roman and the Jewish leadership (known as the Sanhedrin) ruled their people in the Promised Land by force; governance was for the benefit of the leadership, not the people. They were like the Quisling group who ruled occupied Norway for the Nazis in World War 2. The Jewish people had been suffering since 63BCE (since Emperor Pompey’s siege of Jerusalem), and by the time of Jesus death in about 30CE, they had been suffering nearly 100 years. The Promised Land was in a state of turmoil with all sorts of men emerging calling themselves Messiah. From reading the scriptures it appears that Jesus first mission to the Children of Israel was to modify the rules they lived by, emphasizing a more humane approach. Concepts like “loving your neighbour” were planks in the major platform of his mission. Jesus knew that to bring about change he needed to go to the capital of the nation and preach his good word. He set his face to go to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51–56).
During the time of Jesus, our Jewish brothers and sisters worshiped one God who was known by many names. The people around them worshiped many gods. They were pagans, a religious group who practiced worship of the earth through a myriad of gods such as Zeus, Poseidon, Thor and so on. The Children of Israel were in constant rebellion against the pagan emperor of the Roman Empire. To back them up on this theme, the scriptures have one important admonition: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me" (Exodus 20:2 and Deuteronomy 5:6). During the Roman occupation there was constant unrest in the Holy Land. There was unrest in other places of the Empire as well, but nothing compared to the rebellion in the Holy Land.
Forty years after the Crucifixion, one final rebellion was held and Rome came in with a large force and put an end to the unrest. Jerusalem was destroyed, the Temple pulled down and nearly 100 000 Jews were enslaved and moved out of the country. Over one million citizens of Judea were killed in the uprising. The Jewish homeland was destroyed until 1948 when the modern-day State of Israel was formed.
The reason ethnic Jews were found all over the world is summed up one word: diaspora. The diaspora was a “dispersion” of people – it took Jews from the Holy Land and forced them to live in other parts of the Empire. It was in those foreign places where the Jewish people were forbidden to own land and needed to become economically dependent on trades to survive. Freedom was denied to them and often the laws protecting the native peoples did not extend to them.
To see the extent of discrimination one needs to look no further than movies like Ivanhoe or Schindler’s List. In our immediate past two centuries, antisemitism was wide spread in Europe. Harsh living conditions existed for many Jews. Poland treated their Jewish population brutally. Before the advent of Hitler’s antisemitic policies and programs, there was wide spread antisemitism in Germany and Austria. Hitler did not invent antisemitism. His lackies extended discrimination to the gas chambers at Auschwitz.
Even today with all the history behind us, there is still antisemitism in Europe, Russia, USA and Canada and other places.
In Matthew’s gospel (chapter 16: 13-20) Jesus wants to know, “who do people say is the son of man?” All through the gospels he refers to himself as the “son of man”. Now he’s been preaching throughout Galilee, where he’s known as the guy from Nazareth. In other words, when he asks, “who do people say I am?” he wants to know, do they still see me as the kid from Nazareth of someone else after all my preaching and medical interventions? The answer Jesus gets is somewhat complex and often does not compute with our understanding as to Jesus’ true identity. In most instances Jesus referred to himself as the “son of man” which is an interesting title as he seems to perceive himself as more human than divine. It is certain that over the lifetime of Christianity, Jesus was more often seen and referred to as the Son of God.
On the surface, this question looks like a pop quiz by Jesus on his disciples. After wandering the countryside with him they should know who he is. In fact, they do know who he is. In their minds he’s still the stone worker’s Joseph’s son called Joshua (or Jesus), his mother is Mary and he had brothers and sisters. When asked, the disciples offer a number of identities for the son of man: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, and so on. Then he got with his comrades and asked: who do you say I am? Silence except for Peter who answered, “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God.” That was the answer Jesus was looking for. From then on Simon had the nickname, Rocky.
Why was identity so important to Jesus?
In the Mediterranean region where Galilee and Judea are located your identity comes from your family, and for boys, especially your father. This is hard for us to comprehend in a time and place where we carve out our own identities. My father was a buyer for a large company. My brother trained as a teacher. I was a teacher and a preacher. In Galilee and Judea boys were supposed to be a chip off the old block. You could not be the Messiah unless people understood your new identity. If he was to have an affect on change, he needed to be seen as the Messiah, and others needed to reflect that view.
Do you remember Luke’s gospel account (verse 4) of Jesus returning to Nazareth after he had been away a considerable amount of time? In fact, he was hardly recognized by the locals. 16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me…” He then informed them that God’s Spirit was on him. That caused considerable angst amount the locals who said aloud, Isn’t that Joseph’s son? “All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. 30 But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.” A prophet is never recognized in his home town. Jesus could not be the Messiah with that hometown identity.
Another reason for changing his identity is what people thought of his home town. Nazareth for most people was a little by-way village on the edge of Galilee. In (John’s gospel 1: 45-46) Philip (he was the Greek disciple) went and found Nathanael and told him, “We’ve found the One Moses wrote of in the Law, the one preached by the prophets. It’s Jesus, Joseph’s son, the one from Nazareth!” Nathanael said, “Nazareth? You’ve got to be kidding.” But Philip said, “Come, see for yourself.”
With all this going against him, including his clouded parentage and birth, Jesus needed this new identity.
For this Blog I have depended on writings of the Jesus Seminar and Dr John J Pilch, a medical anthropologist.
Every society in the world has conventions for social behaviour. When I was growing up, my parents were racist. They came from British stock so anyone who did not fit their white, Eurocentric mold of a “proper Canadian” was looked down upon. Professional training like medicine or law was revered. Wealth was important but it didn’t matter how you got it. Honesty and high morals were talked about, but in the end didn’t they count unless you got caught. All religious leaders were honoured and never suspected of being anything else but virtuous men. Being poor, or having a non-white skin colour, was dishonourable in their minds. In Quebec, where I grew up, if you were English you needn’t bother to learn French; the French had to learn English if they wanted part of the greater society.
In the decades since, these old interpretations of honour and shame have changed. Judgements about skin colour, ethnicity and language are slowly being replaced by more tolerant and accepting views. From time-to-time white supremacy still rears its ugly head; anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim epithets are being heard less commonly. In Jesus’ time the culture of the day centred around Honour/Shame and it was practised by all societies bordering the Mediterranean Sea. In the past and presently in Canada we still have the concept of Honour/Shame and it is constantly renewing itself, hopefully with increasingly positive changes.
The essential core of Honour/Shame in Jesus’ time was the need to keep a person’s good reputation intact. On the other side, one of the objectives in an Honour/Shame society was to try to erode another person’s honour. This was done in many ways but in the gospels, we see one method practised many times. Remember the parable of the Good Samaritan? An expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Now the expert in the law already knew the answer. Jesus answered him and said, “What is written in the law? He answered, “You shall love the Lord 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.” He goes to ask, “And who is my neighbour?” That last question is a “gotcha question” and Jesus avoids answering it directly by telling a parable. The whole idea of the gotcha question was to catch someone like Jesus off guard and thereby erode his honour. We see it all through the gospels.
In Jesus’ day everyone was ascribed honour. The trick was to add to it and not lose any. Honour in Jesus time was also attached to his family and how they behaved. In the parable of the Prodigal Son had a father who lost much honour by giving in to his youngest son request and welcoming him home with much love. Everyone listening to the story felt the son should have received a good beating from his father.
The concept of Honour/Shame was shared by all societies in the Mediterranean in early Christian times. It was also incorporated dreadfully with the Roman method of capital punishment designed to bring as much shame to the felon as possible. Crying out in pain was dishonourable and certainly crucifixion was incredibly painful. As crucifixion was done in the nude, despite the best efforts of the Renaissance painters to cover the genitalia with a convenient loin cloth, being seen nude was a major dishonour.
When we read the scriptures, we need to be on the lookout for the concept of Honour Shame. It comes up many times.
Question: We know the Romans took care of laws for their own citizens and for their Empire but were there laws and enforcement for civil laws for other people?
Someone once asked me if there were laws to protect the ordinary people of Jesus’ day. We know there were laws that were enforced to protect the Citizens of Rome and the Empire. But what could an ordinary farmer in Galilee, for example, do to protect himself from a stronger citizen who was doing him wrong? I do not recall ever having read an historical account of a civil judicial system for the conquered people of the Roman Empire. Although the Sanhedrin, the Jewish court used to settle disputes, did have judges empowered to do that job between people who conformed to Old Testament rules, the court did not cover local disputes like tax gouging, theft, and revenge. These local disputes, which did not fit in with edicts of the Old Testament, needed another remedy. To give you an idea of how these arguments were settled, there is an echo of past practices in today’s world.
Do you remember the movie “The Godfather”? At the very beginning of the film, the Godfather was holding court on his daughter’s wedding day. Tradition within the Sicilian community, which is in the Mediterranean Basin like The Promised Land, allowed members of the community to request a special service from the local strongman - The Godfather. Amerigo Bonasera, a member of The Godfather’s extended “family”, whose daughter was assaulted by two young men who had subsequently escaped punishment in a US court, petitioned the Godfather for help. He wanted the boys punished. The Godfather was reluctant to help because Amerigo Bonasera had not paid him due deference over the years. There were all sorts of rules when petitioning The Godfather, not unlike today when dealing with the King of England. In terms of The Godfather, you needed to pay deference and esteem to him at the beginning of your request, then state your request, then again pay more deference and esteem to him before leaving. Amerigo Bonasera did this by their end of their meeting. In Jesus’ day, the Holy Land had many Godfathers who played a role in gaining justice for the “little guy”.
There is even more to the story of The Godfather as it applies to Jesus. People in the first century treated God as their Patron. Just look at the three parts of the Lord’s Prayer Jesus taught in Matthew. The first part, “Our father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy Kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”, establishes the proper esteem and due deference to God the Patron before requesting a favour. The prayer goes on to say, “Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil;” this is the request we make to God. Then we finish with another flourish of due deference and esteem: “For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory for ever and ever. Amen.”
Now please don’t confuse God with the Godfather played in the same movie played by Marlin Brando. God is not that character! But the form of the Lord’s Prayer takes on the attributes as if you are asking a local Patron for help. It always amazes me how new information about the first century gives us more insight into the Bible and the people of Jesus’ day.
Before discussing divorce in the Old or New Testament we need to clearly understand that women in both Testaments were considered chattels, that is property owned by men. Marriages in both Old and New Testaments were arranged by families and were an economic union rather than a Romeo and Juliet love match. Men could easily divorce their wives. Jesus called on men to not divorce their wives. He is specific in Matthew’s gospel 19: 5-9 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate.” 7 They said to him, “Why then did Moses command us to give a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her?” 8 He said to them, “It was because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”
So, what was Jesus concerned about? Divorced women usually had no place to go and were subject to physical attack on the street and were vulnerable because they could not defend themselves and had no family structure to defend them. Being deprived of funds they had little access to clothing, shelter, or food. Jobs were not available to women in those times. Theoretically, when women were cast out of a marriage for whatever reason, their lives were at risk unless they could find a relative to take them in: a father, son, brother, uncle and so on. Although there are plenty of examples of men divorcing their wives there are no records of women divorcing their husbands.
We can see in the Old Testament where marriages were important. There is a very famous match in the book of Ruth between Ruth, a Moabite and Boaz, a Judean. Inter-marriage between people of different races and cultures was frowned upon by the Judeans. This was the Judeans’ main beef with the Samaritans – the Samaritans intermarried with the Babylonians and were considered “mongrels.” Ruth’s marriage to Boaz had to be approved by the men at the gates of Bethlehem. When it was, it was then approved by the community. Boaz and Ruth were great grandparents of King David.
In Jesus’ time, when a woman was divorced by a simple letter from her ex-husband, she often had no place to go. Dr. Brandon Scott, a distinguished member of the Jesus Seminar reflected that every time the word “widow” was used in the New Testament it reflected a divorced person and not a widow as we know it today. Remember the poor widow at the Temple who put all her money into the donation tube was most probably not a widow but a divorced woman (see Mark 12: 41–44).
It must have been hard for a woman to be married in Jesus’ time where the husband had the power to dump you out on the street if you did not please him. So how do modern Christians follow the teachings of Jesus in today’s world when marriages do not work but there are all sorts of ways a divorced woman can support herself and children? When we look at the core of Jesus’ teaching it has as its main driving force the concept of Love. In the first century married men and women could have fallen in love and therefore the marriage most probably could have continued well. Look at Joseph and Mary’s relationship. It must have been pretty good as they produced at least 6 children that lived. What Jesus was worried about were wives who were dumped simply for their ex-husbands to find a “better squeeze.” If Jesus lived today, he would worry about the injustice done and not worry about ending unhappy relationships.
First Century marriages had unique rules all their own. Unlike depictions of matchmakers like Yenta in Fiddler on the Roof, matchmaking in Jesus’ day was controlled by fathers or the male head of the family. After a marriage deal was struck between the respective heads of the households, marriages then occurred in two stages. The first stage was the agreement to the match, sealed with dowry money paid to the father of the groom. Dowry money was determined in a particular time and place with the understanding that adding another woman to the family would cost the man’s family to keep her. After stage one the two children did not co-habit (which made Jesus’ mother’s pregnancy a major slipup, incidentally.) Today we would refer to stage one as a couple being engaged. The second part was the week-long party of the wedding celebration itself, as described in the wedding at Cana. The bride and groom then moved in together to the groom’s father’s home.
When a “this century” fundamentalist Christian boasts about the sanctity of marriage in Jesus’ time, he or she don’t know what they are talking about. First century marriages do not reflect the Leave it to Beaver family. They were continually trying to make good economic gains for their respective families and not let their money stray too far from them. Although young boys were often contracted to be married when the girl was still a pre-adolescent child, he usually took his bride home when he was about 18 after the second stage of the wedding. Girls were often promised in marriage when they were children and the second part of the celebration occurred whenever menstruation began. Incidentally, that form of arranged marriage (waiting to co-habit until she was old enough) has been implemented continually down through the ages. In our Canadian heritage, Samuel de Champlain married a 12 year old girl (Héléne Boullé) but he did not cohabit with her until she was an older teenager. In the meantime, she lived with the nuns in a convent in Quebec City.
Back to the wedding ceremony - it must be understood that during the wedding celebration proper, all festivities were controlled by the mother of the groom; this opens the story of the wedding at Cana to some interesting speculation. For all intents and purposes, she was the wedding planner. That was her job!
When looking at the wedding at Cana, judging by the reaction of Mary (aka “the wedding planner”) to the celebrants having run out of wine, the wedding may well have been for one of her own sons. Running out of wine at a first century Jewish wedding was a faux pas of gigantic proportions, especially if you were the groom’s family. Family honour was at stake. And there was an order to the quality of the wine served. Good wine was served first then followed by the plonk after the guests were tipsy. Was the wedding at Cana for one of Jesus’ brothers? He had four: James, Joses (a form of Joseph), Simon, and Jude. Or could it have been for Jesus himself?
What other evidence is there? In John 20: 17 Mary Magdalene is described as “clinging” to Jesus. In first century Jewish culture, women touching men was only done between married folk. But the most powerful evidence comes in two ways: in the first place, none of the gospels ever say Jesus was NOT married. In a day and age when most men were married, can we assume that he was by the silence from of the gospels? The second indicator can be seen the morning after his death. Mary Madeline is first at his tomb. Every one of the four gospels has her there. In the first century, it was the wife’s responsibility to prepare the body for burial. The body had to be washed, anointed with perfumes, and wrapped in linen cloth before it could be placed in a burial place. So why was Mary there on that first Easter morning? Could she have been his wife?
Over the 20 centuries, much has been written and many theories have been developed as to the marital status of Jesus of Nazareth. These are, at best, theories. In the end, if I had to answer the question, “Was Jesus married?” my answer would be: “I don’t know.” Perhaps he was, and perhaps he wasn’t. That’s what makes this such an interesting question.
Question: I get the sense that there were several groups of Jewish believers in Jesus’ time, each believing in the fundamentals of Judaism with unique added perspectives belonging to each individual group. Who were they, and what did they believe?
It is interesting that we know so little about the persons who were the people of Jesus in his time. Like modern day Christianity, there were many different groups of believers who all contributed to the mosaic of the society of the day. Their differences were based on their view of religion or their birthright. Generally, the majority population were too engaged in the struggle to feed themselves and their families that they didn’t have a specific religious group; this is much like it is today, where many people do not necessarily support a particular Christian denomination. 2000 years ago, all the groups below were made up of men.
Pharisees: I put Pharisees first because when the diaspora occurred - when Rome expelled most of the Jewish population from the Holy Land in the year 70 CE - the Pharisees took over the religious leadership of the displaced Jewish population. In Jesus day they were the rabbis, the teachers in the synagogues. Jesus was also referred to as a rabbi, so he quite possibly was himself a Pharisee. They believed in the resurrection of the body after death. They were also known as legal experts. Jesus criticized the Pharisees when they were too legalistic and put fancy arguments in place of human needs. Some Pharisees were also part of the Sanhedrin, the ruling religious group in the Temple.
Sadducees: They tended to be wealthy and of the elite class. They did not accept any interpretation of the Hebrew scriptures (Old Testament) that was not written down in the verses themselves. They rarely went out and were closely tied to the Temple. They made animal and plant sacrifices in the Temple and were concerned about Temple purity (I wounder what they said about Jesus’ rant against the money changers in the courtyard of the Gentiles). The Sadducees were also influenced by Greek culture and education.
Zealots: They were not so much tied to a religious doctrine but rather promoted the concept of a free Israel and Judea, especially free from Roman occupation. Many were caught and crucified as being enemies of Rome. Consequently, many Zealots walked around armed. It is believed that Simon, one of Jesus’ disciples, was a Zealot and belonged to this group. In 66 CE the Zealots rose up and took the city of Jerusalem. Four years later the city was recaptured and destroyed, along with the Temple.
Essenes: In the 1940s and 1950s – in my lifetime - an incredible discovery was made in caves near the Dead Sea. The discovery was the Dead Sea Scrolls. Found by a shepherd, the clay containers held Old Testament scrolls, the oldest in present day history. They were the library of a community called the Essenes who lived an austere life in the desert. John the Baptist seems to have been a member of this group.
Priests: They were usually wealthy and occupied an upper-class positions in the country. They believed only in the written Torah, aka the five books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy). They rejected any oral tradition. Many priests were also members of the ruling body called the Sanhedrin.
Levites: They were part of the tribe of Levi and inherited their status as a birth rite. Levi was the third son of Jacob and Leah. The Levites worked in the Temple when Jesus was alive. Jesus used a Levite in his parable of the Good Samaritan as someone who should have known better.
Scribes: Men who were able to write in Hebrew. At the time of Jesus, the language of the day was Aramaic. It was the Scribes who could write in Hebrew. They were passionate about their craft and their exclusive knowledge. A lot of their time they spent as copyists, creating new scrolls as the old ones wore out.
The Promised Land took up very little geography when compared to other nations of the Mediterranean Region. Rome controlled every nation boarding on the Mediterranean Sea. There were between 40 and 50 states. Why was the Mediterranean Sea so important? Because it was the Roman Empire’s superhighway system transferring both goods and ideas. Today it would be the Internet and the Amazon Delivery system. It was also about control and having the ability to get troops around to ensure the vassal countries were following Rome’s rules. Later, Rome built a road system where the Mediterranean Sea did not exist. Roads crisscrossed all over the Empire. People could move about and ideas could spread with ease. Evolving Christianity used Rome’s roads and sailing vessels.
What did the Promised Land have which made it so important to the Romans? The Children of Israel lived at the crossroads of caravan routes from the east. It was a transfer point. There was lively trading between the far east and the Mediterranean shore. Judea was the trans-shipping point for goods, transported from land to water. Spices, silks, incense, mastic (as a medicine), tea, dyes, perfumes, porcelain and other Far East goods were highly valued in the west. It was a lucrative trade. Countries who allowed caravans of trade goods to cross their land could also exact a percentage of the value of the goods for simply crossing their land. Taxes! The population of Israel (Galilee) and Judea was not large enough to muster an army to beat off the conquerors. So, the people of the Promised Land became subjects of a conquering nation like Rome.
The problem of Roman conquest in the Holy Land was two-fold: people who had faith in one God were conquered by a pagan nation and this did not mesh with Israelite faith rules; and Rome treated the land and people as a vassal state with the purpose of providing food for Rome, especially grain. In the Promised Land, most farmers enjoyed farming their own land. Farms were small. Farmers could grow enough to feed themselves and their own families and have a little left over to sell. Taxation, before the Romans, collected a per-capita “poll tax”, as well as an income tax paid in flour, meal, cattle, sheep, fowl, and other provisions. There was also a Temple tax. People could afford the taxes. After the Roman conquest, there was an additional poll tax and a percentage tax as high as 3%. on crops. This proved to be a tipping point for the local farmer and many were forced to sell their farms simply to pay their taxes. As a consequence, farms became very large and many farmers were absentee landlords. Local farmers became share croppers.
When we think of industrial size farming, with specialized crops, we think of the 21st century. Not so! In Jesus’ time, in the Promised Land, many farms were owned and controlled by men who held the debts of Judean and Galilean framers. The farms grew in size. As a result, the farms were turned to specialized crops to satisfy the needs and demands of the Roman population. This specialization focused on grain crops, olives, grapes for wine making and certain spices.
Because of this large-scale farming, old traditions of the Children of Israel were lost. There was a tradition where, every 50 years, one year would be set aside to forgive debts and return land and property to original owners or to their descendants, among other merciful acts. These so-called “Jubilee years” went undeclared under Roman rule. Many other rules that the Israelites and Judeans had which governed their day-to-day lives were lost as the Promised Land became more Romanized. By the year 70CE, when Rome burned the City of Jerusalem and expelled the majority of the Jewish people to the hinterland of the Empire, all rights were lost until 1948, when the modern state of Israel was born.
Over the years colours have been added to the worship service. It is especially evident when looking at a minister’s stole – the strip of colourful fabric worn over the shoulders and hanging down to the knees. When I was growing up our minister did not wear a stole of any colour. He wore a black academic gown with three stripes on each arm (he was a Rhodes Scholar.) I do remember a coloured cloth hanging from the pulpit or scripture lectern. Other than that, the sanctuary was colourless except for the flowers in the front of the church. Today churches are much more colourful. In fact, there are seasons of the church, and each has now been ascribed a colour. In the United Church of Canada, they are as follows:
Blue: Included the First Sunday of Advent until December 23.
White: Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Baptism of Jesus, Transfiguration Sunday, Easter Season and Trinity Sunday, All Saint’s Day and Reign of Christ Sunday.
Green: It is the most prevalent colour in our tradition. It includes all ordinary times: Seasons of Epiphany and Pentecost but not the day of Pentecost which is red.
Purple or Black worn from Ash Wednesday and all through Lent.
Red from Palm Sunday to Maundy Thursday
Black is worn from Good Friday to Holy Saturday
Red is also worn on the Day of Pentecost and any special services.
Orange is Creation time which begins in September and runs until Thanksgiving Sunday
The colours in this Blog represent the seasons of particular events in the Christian calendar. For
example Easter events are colour coded purple.
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