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Palestine was the land in which Jesus performed His ministry and the centre of which was Jerusalem, the Holy City. The people were Jews - men of peace, worshipping the one God they called Yahweh. At the time of the Easter Story, it was part of the Roman empire but internally it was ruled by their own leaders; the high priest, Caiaphas, and his father-in-law Annas, by their king Herod and Pontius Pilot, the governor, who was responsible to Rome. So Jesus knew, as He presided at the last supper, that these men, with Judas, would bear the special share in the responsibility for His trials, suffering and death.

There were roughly 3 million citizens in the 150 by 75 miles country, so small that Rome made it subordinate to Syria. The remnants of the 12 tribes farmed in the sub-tropical climate in a rainy and dry season. Good quality fruit grew in abundance - plenty of domestic animals and wild animals in the mountains such as lions, hyenas, foxes, jackals and mountain goats.

By the time of the Feast of the Passover, around early April, the crops were ready for reaping - lentils and beans, followed by barley and other grains. Rain at this time could ruin his crops so the farmer appealed to Yahweh for mercy in the Temple and so offered Him the first fruits of each of his crops.

The Jew was clean and conscientious of doing business with the Gentiles, but he would not fraternise with them. He always looked upon separation from Jerusalem as temporary, no matter how long he was away. The Jew was very sensitive to joy or pity - very sentimental - would not fight in an army that battled on the Sabbath. The Temple at Jerusalem was the centre of all Jewish life and the Jews paid a tax of half a shekel a year for the maintenance of it. Roman gold coins circulated to make the Jerusalem shekel obsolete and had the image of Caesar Augustus and the words "Caesar Augustus, son of the god, father of his country". The Jews spurned the worship of false gods, in accordance with the first commandment and any graven image was felt to be a violation.

The Temple was the royal palace as well as being the Supreme Court of the land. Two of the many laws were the rite of circumcision and observance of the Sabbath. For a woman, wearing apparel and ornaments were strictly controlled and for men the carrying of many objects were forbidden. But there was much disagreement between the rabbis as to the interpretation of the laws. Children were taught the rules of the Sabbath before they were taught to add or subtract. The Jew believed in oneness, one God, temple, nation, people, tribe, family and this led to the one symbol of his allegiance with God - the Ark of the Covenant. They believed of course that to obtain salvation all he had to do was to keep the Ten Commandments contained therein and obey them.

The story of the Temple begins with David followed by Solomon. The Babylonians invaded the land in the 6th century BC, broke down the walls of Jerusalem, wrecked the temple and took most of the Jews prisoners, leaving the poorest behind. Eventually the Persians freed some 42,000 Jews who returned to their homeland. The Jews now began to lose their pride. Their women married Gentiles - they spoke with the language of their neighbours; Aramaic, instead of Hebrew.

After the 4th century BC the reign of Palestine fell to a succession of High Priests. Jerusalem was held by a succession of rulers strong enough to take it - Alexander the Great, Ptolemy, the Syrians, the kings of Egypt and finally the Caesars. The Jews were permitted to worship as they pleased and local authority remained in the hands of the High Priests who were assisted by a board of elders called the Sanhedrin.

Herod the Great began to reign as king of Palestine in 40 BC, appointed by Rome. He was cruel and ambitious, built great buildings and palaces, professing to be a Jew and sacrificed in the Temple but cheerfully bent the knee to Rome. He married the daughter of the High Priest and eventually had her and their two sons killed. He married ten times and murdered several members of his family on any whim or suspicion. He rebuilt the Temple inside which was the Court of the Priests containing the Altar of Holocausts. Further inside was the Temple proper consisting of a roomy vestibule with two chambers, the outer of which was called the Holy and the inner the Holy of Holies between which was a huge hanging veil hiding the eyes of all except the high priest who officiated on one day - the Day of Atonement.

It took Herod six years to rebuild the main structure of the Temple but another forty-six years for the decorations. To the Herods, religion was a social custom - whilst Herod was building the Temple at Jerusalem he was also building pagan shrines for the Romans at Caesarea. As Herod lay on his deathbed he heard of the birth of Jesus, the Messiah, in Palestine and so ordered the slaughter of all male babies up to the age of 2. He died and was succeeded by his son Herod Antipas who was also a bad man.

The current Procurator or Governor of Palestine was Pontius Pilate, an ambitious man but with no marks of greatness, appointed by Tiberius, who ruled Rome, in AD 26 at Caesarea. It is felt that his appointment was due to his wife, Claudia Procula, who may have been the granddaughter of Caesar Augustus. She, too, was ambitious, superstitious in matters of religion, worshipping many gods, including Tiberius, but did not interfere with the Jews. Pilate was an atheist and was given the power to pronounce the sentence of death which he used regularly, especially as he despised the Jews.

Caiaphas was appointed High Priest by Pilate's predecessor and was the son in law of Annas. The Sanhedrin was the Supreme Court in Palestine, composed of priests, scribes and elders- probably the finest minds in the country. It was called the Great Sanhedrin and met in a large square room in the Temple called the Council Chamber. It had supreme authority in religious matters and was allowed to make and enforce laws on internal affairs. It could pass sentence of death on Jews and Gentiles who were not citizens of Rome, but this had to be reviewed by the Procurator (Pilate). He could either affirm or call the accused before him with the accusers and hear the case. Whatever his ruling the Sanhedrin was powerless. If confirmed the Governor often forced the prisoner to undergo the Roman form of execution - crucifixion. Our dear Lord was thus sentenced and died for our sins.

WF (Used with permission)

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