The Passion and the Cross. Jewish Palestine at the time of Jesus

The events surrounding the suppression of the Jewish revolt by Titus are a real hecatomb of Jews who spill over into the world. Some Christians had already fled the city, and in the following decades Christians of Hellenistic origin, people professing Christ but without all the baggage associated with Judaism, will pave the way for the development of the new religion. When deacons are appointed, they all have Greek names, and the last one, Nicodemus, is a proselyte, that is, a man without any Jewish background - says Maciej Münich, Ph.D. - researcher of the origins of Hebrew statehood and the archaeology of Israel.

TVP WEEKLY: What is the most interesting and at the same time still intriguing mystery of the New Testament, or perhaps even a discrepancy between the Gospels?

Inconsistencies are many. We are dealing with four texts, three of which are synoptic Gospels, coming from a single source and written decades after the events of Jesus' life in Judea (the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke - ed.), and the fourth even later (John). They all give slightly different versions of the events, which paradoxically proves their reliability for us. If there were no contradictions, we would have the irrefutable proof that one author copied directly from another, and here it is exactly the opposite.

For me personally, the most intriguing mystery is the source of the description of the "slaughter of the innocents," that is, the order given at the time of Jesus' birth to kill the boys of Bethlehem. We know that Herod the Great was a man obsessed with power, who even murdered his own children and wives for fear of being deposed. So is the aforementioned annihilation of infants a symbol of his dynastic politics? There are no references to this event in the documents, although I am not convinced that such an act, i.e. condemning children from a small village near Jerusalem to death, would have been described anywhere. So we still do not know much about this event, we do not know the details because there are no references to it.

Now let us move on to the more mundane things: don't you wonder what kind of wine was drunk at the Last Supper? White or red, sweet or dry?

Certainly not dry, but sweet and diluted. In those days, wine was not drunk the way it is today. Honey was added to it, it was seasoned with herbs and, above all, it was served diluted, in a 1:1 ratio. And not only that: anyone in the Jewish community who drank wine without water was considered to be someone who wanted to get drunk, not just someone who was thirsty. After all, there are remnants of this in today's Mass in the Catholic Church, where a few drops of water are also symbolically added to the wine. Also, the type of wine, red or white, is of course nowhere explicitly described, but since the earliest records speak of "blood of the grape," we can assume that the answer to the question is: red.

Although wine is an alcoholic beverage, it did not quite have the function we associate with alcohol today.

Alcoholic beverages in the Middle East served primarily to quench thirst, but also as a drink that was much safer for health than poor quality water, causing poisoning. A little alcohol reduced health risks, which is why large quantities of beer or wine were drunk in ancient times. But beer and wine were different then than they are today - first of all, they were cloudy and weaker. In the climate in question, everything ferments quickly. So, from the beginning, the wine is simply fermented grape juice and later becomes a more refined drink served at feasts. Since this is the Last Supper, there is also a wine motif here that comes directly from the tradition of the Passover and the four cups drunk at that feast to commemorate the liberation of the Jews from Egyptian slavery. Except that at the time of the feast of Jesus and the apostles, there were only three cups. The fourth was the one in Gethsemane, which Jesus asked to be set down, knowing that it ended the feast and began the Passion.
Last Supper by Leonardo (Wikimedia, public domain)
And the bread broken by Jesus?

It is certainly not the bread to which we are accustomed. The bread eaten in that time and place was probably flatbread - a round, risen wheat dough baked in the Middle East. But even here there is doubt, depending on which Gospel we look at. One Gospel is about Passover bread - unleavened, that is, not the pita mentioned, but matzo, a flatbread made only of flour and water. It was such unleavened bread that the eldest at the Passover meal dipped in the gravy of the lamb and passed a piece to the youngest. We know this symbolism also from the Last Supper, when Jesus speaks of the betrayal of the one to whom he hands the soaked piece of bread.

  Our idea of this moment is shaped by the work of Leonardo da Vinci. How much truth is there in it?

"The Last Supper" is an image as beautiful as it is unrealistic in the context of first century Jewish culture AD. The apostles are seated nicely at the table, while in the time and place in question, during the feast one usually sat on the floor in the so-called Turk's position. The fashion of low benches and dining in a semi-recumbent position comes from the Hellenistic world. It seems that in this way a more sumptuous, solemn meal could be taken. But certainly not at a traditional table. Consider the scene in which the wanton washes Jesus' feet with her tears and dries them with her hair. It would be absurd if she were to look for them somewhere under the table between the legs of the others.

As for the table itself, we recently had a lively discussion in the editorial board about another scene, the one from Mel Gibson's "Passion" in which Jesus, as a carpenter, makes such a piece of furniture. But a carpenter, which he was, is not the same as a joiner.

In fact, there is such a scene in Mel Gibson's film, and the piece of furniture made by Jesus is more like our modern table, which the Jews did not use at that time. However, this does not change my opinion that the film itself is very successful in conveying the realities of the time, if only because Jesus speaks Aramaic and not English, as in no other film before. As for the profession of carpenter and joiner, at that time there was no such clear distinction between the two in the language. The word used to describe the profession of Jesus of Galilee referred to anyone who worked with wood: both the one who cuts a tree and prepares it for use, and the one who makes a radon or a carriage piece, and the one who inserts a beam under a ceiling.

Or the beam of the cross? The common conception of crucifixion, as it turns out, is also a bit wrong.

This was a punishment reserved only for slaves and rebels. If a Roman citizen committed a serious offense and was to be sentenced to death, he had the privilege of a much more humane execution, beheading by the sword. This is how St. Paul died in Rome. The cross as we think of it today, the symbol of Christianity, was not necessarily a cross. If it was used for a one-time execution, it could simply be a stilt. So if Golgotha was to be a permanent site for the execution of such sentences, one might expect there to have been stakes already permanently placed there. Thus, the condemned did not carry a cross, but a transverse beam, which was placed on the buried stake, either in a special depression that formed a true cross, or by placing it on top, which would resemble the letter "T".

And who did the flogging and nailing? Is it correct to assume that it was Roman legionaries?

Here we open a rather complicated topic of politics in Judea in the first century AD. In the 1530s, when Jesus was crucified, these territories did not have the status of a separate Roman province, but were part of the province of Syria. Judea was under the authority of the Roman procurator Pontius Pilate. Previously, during the reign of Herod the Great, Judea had its own army, which acted as an ally of the Roman army. The soldiers were recruited mainly from the inhabitants of Caesarea and Sebaste, and it was unlikely that there were Jews among them. Was the sentence carried out by the Romans? We do not know for sure. There were no Roman legions stationed in Jerusalem at that time, and if there were soldiers there, it was only to protect Pilate, who was overseeing the Passover. For the Roman procurator did not reside in Jerusalem, but in Caesarea Superior. The New Testament does mention Roman soldiers, for example, the centurion Cornelius of the Italic cohort, but even this does not refer to legionaries who came from Rome. So to the question of who were the soldiers at Golgotha, I would answer: We do not know, we have no sources about it.

Is there any doubt about the Way of the Cross itself, the Passion, and the location of the Lord's tomb?

Let us begin at the beginning, that is, at the place of the judgment and the pronouncement of the sentence: There are two possible locations. If we take into account the version of the Gospels that the judgment was pronounced by Pilate, a Roman authority who had to be stationed somewhere, it could have been Herod's palace. Today there is the so-called Citadel of David, which has little to do with King David himself, but is a Mamluk fortress built on the foundations of Herod's residence. But there is also another possible location of the place where Pilate "washed his hands" It is the Antonia fortress on the northern edge of the temple plateau, where the Roman governor may have stayed for a few days. When the Way of the Cross began, it probably led to the area of the quarry. Today, when we walk the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem, we are not leaving the city itself, but the place of execution was once outside the city. At the seventh station, we leave the city walls and walk all the way to Golgotha. Interestingly, Emperor Hadrian later built a temple to Aphrodite on the hill with a statue of the goddess, which was a thorn in the side of the Christians. The whole thing was demolished only during the reign of Emperor Constantine the Great. Later, tombs were found in the quarry hollow, one of which may have been the tomb of Jesus. If we want to follow the topography of Jerusalem, this route more or less coincides with the records in the New Testament.

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Jesus himself, before he was condemned to death, must have been quite a strange figure to the Jews. A man who, during the occupation, called for loving enemies rather than fighting them.

We assume that it was an ethical imperative for the Jews at that time to go to war against the occupying power, but it is not that simple. Their attitude toward the Romans varied according to their social status or religious beliefs. Today we can name as many as four groupings comparable to today's political parties. There were the Sadducees, the economic elite, who certainly had no interest in revolt and for whom cooperation with the Romans was not a problem. The Pharisees, representatives of the religious middle class, for whom the main problem was religious matters and the fact that they were ruled by impure pagans (goys), but who were therefore not inclined to revolt. The third group were the Zealots - they came from the poor population and, having nothing to lose, were the most radical. For them, revolt against the Romans was the most important dogma. The fourth grouping, the so-called Essenes, were a religious faction of Judaism who lived in separate, closed communities, subordinate to the superiors and had a community of material goods. So we see that Jesus' teaching was somehow disturbing to the three major groups. To the Sadducees, he was an innovative revolutionary; to the Pharisees, he was a dangerous leader who undermined religious affairs; and to the Zealots, he was a denier of the need for a bloody struggle against the occupying power. If we look at this conflict from the side of the references in the New Testament, we find, of course, mainly religiously motivated disputes with the Pharisees.

How did the fifth group, the Christians, function in Jerusalem over time?

They were, first and foremost, good Jews. The first apostles preached in the synagogues and differed from the other followers only in their conviction that the Messiah had just been on earth. In principle, this did not break dogma and did not bother the other Jews. Their religion was still essentially Judaism. The head of the church and the first bishop of Jerusalem was James, who was condemned to death by stoning by the Sadducees and defended by the Pharisees.

The first decades of Christianity in Judea were an extremely violent time. The prevailing attitude was far from that of a Good Samaritan and extended to terrorist acts.

The sicarii - radical opponents of Roman rule who secretly murdered collaborators - are indeed a bloody chapter in Israel's history. But things were not yet so terrible at the time of Jesus. The famous Herod the Great was quite an efficient ruler who had everything in hand with a strong hand. The later period, the first decades of the first century, which coincide with the ministry of Jesus, is a transitional period. During this time, the division of the empire occurs, and Herod's sons rule states the size of our three counties. The rulers of Judea also become less and less important. When Herod Antipas is deposed by Emperor Caligula in favor of Herod Agrippa I, a very troubled period in the history of Judea begins. This is reflected in the lives of the inhabitants, chaos and crime increase. Even the parable of the Good Samaritan is not a fairy tale, but refers to the earlier reality of gangs roaming the streets and robbing people. Just a dozen years after Jesus, social unrest increases, and Roman-Jewish tensions rise to the point of an uprising against the empire in 66. The reason for the conflict is both political (the power of the Romans) and cultural. Cities like Caesarea resembled what we would call "multicultural" today - a melting pot of different faiths, languages, identities, Greek-Phoenician-Roman-Hebrew and whatnot. The dispute between Greeks and Jews before 66 was one of the reasons for the revolt.
Isenheim Altarpiece by Matthias Grünewald and Nikolaus Hagenauer (c. 1506-15): The Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. photo. Own work, Public Domain, Wikimedia
Was Hellenization the biggest problem for the Jews? Apparently, the biggest upset was caused by the fact that uncircumcised boys were practicing Greek-style: naked in the gymnasium.

This was the main cause of the rise of the Maccabees, but this was somewhat earlier, in the 2nd century. Hellenization of the Jewish world had already taken place since the conquests of Alexander the Great, but again we should beware of simplifications in terms of a black and white picture of "oppressive" Hellenization versus defense of tradition by the Jews. This can be seen, for example, in the Greek names of the Jewish priests. Hellenized was the elite for whom such a - as we would say today - modern lifestyle was in some way attractive. Herodion, the place created by the Jewish king, was built in such a way that at the foot of the Jewish fortress there is a Roman-style villa.

What happens to the Christians after the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70?

The events surrounding the suppression of the Jewish revolt by Titus are a real hecatomb of Jews who spill over into the world. Some Christians had already fled the city, and in the following decades Christians of Hellenistic origin, people professing Christ but without all the baggage associated with Judaism, will pave the way for the development of the new religion. When deacons are appointed, they all have Greek names, and the last one, Nicodemus, is a proselyte, that is, a man without any Jewish background. Later, after another Jewish revolt in 132-135 AD, Jerusalem is transformed into a Roman city, including the new name Aelia Capitolina, and the Jews themselves are forbidden to enter the place under penalty of death. The subsequent defeats of the Jews mean a considerable weakening of the Jewish-Christian current. The Hellenists take the lead in developing a new religion.

- interviewed by Cezary Korycki

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and jornalists

Maciej Münich, Ph.D. - researcher of the origins of Hebrew statehood and the archaeology of Israel, author of, among others, "The Image of Yahweh as the Ruler of Sickness in the Hebrew Bible, against the background of the Near Eastern deities" (2004) and "Resheph - God of the Ancient Orient" (2011), also published in English under the title "The God Resheph in the Ancient Near East" (2013), as well as many scientific articles on the history and culture of the Holy Land and the Near East.
Main photo: Jacopo Tintoretto, "Crucifixion", painting from 1565. Photo. The Yorck Project (2002) 10,000 Meisterwerke der Malerei (DVD-ROM), distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH. ISBN: 3936122202., Public Domain, Wikimedia
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