April 12, 2009


Christos Anesti: When He rose, empires fell. (Jerry Bowyer, 3/21/08, National Review)

Rome needed money to buy off the urban mob, and Herod needed Rome to keep down the Palestinian rabble. And so when the people came to Jerusalem to make their offerings to God, they were met at each step in the process of religious devotion with another checkpoint at which tolls were extracted. The journey to Jerusalem often meant crossing a Roman checkpoint — ka-ching! Since the trip was long and hard on the animals, it was better to travel light and buy the sacrifices in Jerusalem — ka-ching! You can’t use pagan Roman coins for that sort of thing, of course, so off to the money-changers — ka-ching again. Tithes, offerings, sacrifices, festivals, Rome got her cut — ka-ching, ka-ching, ka-ching, ka-ching, ka-ching. In fact, that’s the only reason there even was a temple or a King Herod. Rome would have long ago plundered it and killed him, except you don’t kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.

If the temple was the bridge between heaven and earth, Herod was the troll who lived under the bridge. Every pilgrim was forced to pay the toll. That’s what kept Herod in power: no ka-ching, no king. Ordinary Jews hated the regime, and the anger was boiling over, but Herod didn’t care what they thought; he had Rome on his side.

Into this world steps the young son of a Galilean entrepreneur. Joseph was a tekton, a skilled contractor. His adopted son, Jesus, was a rabbi, who gathered around him a small group of apprentices (mathetai, disciples) and set off for Jerusalem. Along the way he said and did things that implied that the temple was losing its status as the exclusive provider of access to the presence of God. Most Jews had already come to similar conclusions. They knew the Temple was corrupt, and turned to small-group Torah study as an alternative. Jesus adopted and intensified this new worship model. He created a network of small, nimble, and self-replicating clusters of people who could study and pray together and care for the poor. In his words: “Wherever two or more are gathered in my name, I am there in the midst of them.” This threatened the Templar monopoly.

The Temple hierarchy was enraged by this. Their livelihood was at risk. Eventually Jesus went a step farther and staged a protest in which he overturned the foreign-exchange tables at the Temple where Roman coins were swapped for Jewish ones. The Temple was forced to shut down. That was the last straw. Jesus had demonstrated in a graphic, physical way that the Temple really did run on money. Even worse, he had demonstrated that during the time that The Temple, Inc. ceased to function the world still rolled along just fine without it.

Such knowledge could destabilize the entire world.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 12, 2009 4:32 AM
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