Jesus' visit to Rome

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FransJVermeiren
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Jesus' visit to Rome

Post by FransJVermeiren » Sat Aug 11, 2018 8:28 am

The temptation of Jesus, which Mark gives in its most condensed form (1:12-13), is traditionally explained as a period of fasting and purification in the Judean desert prior to Jesus’ ministry in Galilea. Maybe these verses are telling a different story, however.

Nestle-Aland translates as follows:

(12) The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. (13) And he was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to him.

I translate with a slightly different emphasis:

(12) Immediately the spirit sent him out to the devastated place. (13) And he stayed in the devastated place for forty days, tested by Satan; and he was among the wild beasts; and the envoys took care of him.

I believe we should not turn to supernatural explanations if an earthly explanation is possible.
Let me start with the ἄγγελοι of verse 13 who can be heavenly creatures, but human messengers as well, for example delegation members, representatives or envoys. If Jesus is treated well by this kind of people, maybe he is on a mission, and it is his fellow envoys who take good care of him.
Then maybe the ἔρημον is the destination of this mission. The traditional translation of ἔρημον in the NT is ‘desert’ or ‘wilderness’, but the word can describe any desolate, abandoned or devastated place, also through human intervention and/or in an urban context. Josephus uses this word and the related ἔρημία several times in the ‘abandoned or devastated by human intervention’ sense (for example War 2:504, 4:452, 5:573). In War V:25 ἔρημία is used to describe the part of Jerusalem that had been laid waste by fire during the civil war. Similarly the ἔρημον qualification can also apply to Rome, certainly after the devastating fire of 64 CE. Then ἔρημον can be seen as a cryptic derogatory term for Rome.
This devastated place is the home of Satan, the Roman emperor.
The θηρία, an encrypted name for Roman military, probably are, as they are mentioned together with the emperor, members of the Praetorian Guard.

This explanation may be less crazy then it looks at first sight if we turn to the longer version, for which I use gLuke (4:1-13).
Is there anything in this additional verses that could point to the Roman emperor, the Roman empire or Roman imperial ideology? I believe the answer is positive, and most clearly so in the verses 5 to 8. In verse 5 the devil (not Satan here, but ὁ διάβολος) shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the οἰκουμένη, the Roman empire, and makes a very cynical proposal: he will hand over his empire to his opponent if the latter worships him. This of course is the very last what any Essene or Zealot would do, because ‘we have only God as our master’ was the core of their ideology. Jesus answers with this Zealot creed in verse 8. The Roman imperial cult and the Roman/Essene struggle for world dominion are the background of these verses.
Verse 3 and 4 about the stone and the bread can also be seen in the light of Roman/Jewish opposition. Maybe the (building) stone is the symbol for the eye-catching Roman construction activity, while the bread represents the basic needs of the people. The ‘stone and bread’ remark of the emperor can also be interpreted as cynical: if your God is so powerful, let him turn our expensive building projects into alleviation of the basic needs of your impoverished people. From Jewish side verse 3 has the undertone of severe criticism of Roman policy.

The extension in gLuke does not have to be historical, but it shows how ‘Luke’ interpreted Mark’s temptation fragment for what is was: a small account of a confrontation of Jesus with the center of Roman power.

P.S. Maybe there is also a play on words between ἔρημον and Ρώμη – gLuke gives ἐν τῇ ἐρημῳ.
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The practical modes of concealment are limited only by the imaginative capacity of subordinates. James C. Scott, Domination and the Arts of Resistance.

FransJVermeiren
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Re: Jesus' visit to Rome

Post by FransJVermeiren » Wed Aug 15, 2018 6:53 am

For the analysis above it would of course be interesting if a surviving account would exist of a mission to Rome in that period, preferably a religious mission. Such an account is present in Josephus. In his Life 13-16 he reports on the following mission to Rome in 63 CE:

Soon after I had completed my twenty-sixth year it fell to my lot to go up to Rome for the reason which I will proceed to relate. At the time when Felix was procurator of Judaea, certain priests of my acquaintance, very excellent men, were on a slight and trifling charge sent by him in bonds to Rome to render an account to Caesar. I was anxious to discover some means of delivering these men, more especially as I learnt that, even in affliction, they had not forgotten the pious practices of religion, and supported themselves on figs and nuts. I reached Rome after being in great jeopardy at sea. For our ship foundered in the midst of the sea of Adria, and our company of some six hundred souls had to swim all that night. About daybreak, through God’s good providence, we sighted a ship of Cyrene, and I and certain others, about eighty in all, outstripped the others and were taken on board. Landing safely at Dicaearchia, which the Italians call Puteoli, I formed a friendship with Aliturus, an actor who was a special favourite of Nero and of Jewish origin. Through him I was introduced to Poppaea, Caesar’s consort, and took the earliest opportunity of soliciting her aid to secure the liberation of the priests. Having, besides this favour, received large gifts from Poppaea, I returned to my own country.

LCL No. 186, p. 7 and 9
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The practical modes of concealment are limited only by the imaginative capacity of subordinates. James C. Scott, Domination and the Arts of Resistance.

FransJVermeiren
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Re: Jesus' visit to Rome

Post by FransJVermeiren » Fri Aug 17, 2018 12:36 pm

Further studying the temptation pericope recently, I came across a second mission to Rome in Josephus, based on a religious issue once again. Maybe this story is helpful in understanding the most obscure part of the ‘Temptation of Jesus’ passage, Luke 4:9-12 (and parallel in Matthew 4:5-7).

This fragment in Luke goes as follows:

(9) And he [the devil] took him [Jesus] to Jerusalem, and set him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to him, “If you are a son of God, throw yourself down from here; (10) for it is written, ‘He will give his angels charge of you, to guard you,’ (11) and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’ ” (12) And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’ ” (13) And when he had ended every temptation, the devil departed from him until an opportune time.

(my emphasis)

Josephus’s account of the mission, which took place in the early 60’s, goes as follows (Antiquities XX, 189-196)

About this time King Agrippa built a chamber of unusual size in his palace at Jerusalem adjoining the colonnade. The palace had been erected long before by the sons of Asamonaios and, being situated on a lofty site, afforded a most delightful view to any who chose to survey the city from it. The king was enamoured of this view and used to gaze, as he reclined at meals there, on everything that went on in the temple. The eminent men of Jerusalem, seeing this, were extremely angry; for it was contrary to tradition for proceedings in the temple – and in particular sacrifices – to be spied on. They therefore erected a high wall upon the arcade that was in the inner temple facing west. This when built blocked not only the view from the royal dining room but also that from the western portico of the outer temple, where the Romans used to post their guards at the festivals for the sake of supervising the temple.
At this King Agrippa was indignant, and still more Festus the procurator; the latter ordered them to pull it down. But they entreated him for permission to send an embassy on this matter to Nero; for they said, they could not endure to live any longer if any portion of the temple was demolished. When Festus granted their request, they sent to Nero the ten foremost of their number with Ishmael the high priest and Helcias the keeper of the treasury. Nero, after a full hearing, not only condoned what they had done, but also consented to leave the building as it was. In this he showed favour to his wife Poppaea, who was a worshipper of God and who pleaded on behalf of the Jews. She then bade the ten depart but detained Helcias and Ishmael in her house as hostages. The king, on hearing this, gave the high priesthood to Joseph, who was surnamed Kabi, son of the high priest Simon.

(my emphasis - I consider the 'bold' and 'bold + underlined' phrases in both fragments to be related - see below.)

LCL 456, p. 103-107

Contrary to the other parts of the temptation story (bread and stone / authority over all the kingdoms) this part explicitly plays in Jerusalem, and the issue discussed is a certain part of the temple, the πτερύγιον, traditionally translated as ‘pinnacle’. Literally πτερύγιον means ‘little wing’ and is the diminutive of πτέρυξ, ‘wing’ or anything ‘like a wing’ or ‘that covers like a wing’. It is not difficult to imagine that the additional high wall, recently built as a privacy shield, was described as something ‘that covers (the sacred operations in the temple) like a wing’. So maybe also this part of the temptation passage does not point to something that happened in Jesus’ mind in solitude, but to a religious/political incident between Agrippa II and Festus on one side and a powerful ultra-religious faction in Jerusalem on the other. This quarrel led to a mission to Rome. The last sentence of this part of the temptation (verse 12) ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God’ is the core argument of the envoys of the religious party: by spying on the holy sacrifices to God in the temple, Agrippa II tempted God himself. The phrase συντελέσας πάντα πειρασμὸν ὁ διάβολος (‘when the devil had ended every temptation’ or ‘when the devil had ended the whole test’) in verse 13 may be the correlate of Νέρων δὲ διακούσας αὐτων (‘Nero, after a full hearing’) in Josephus.

The following verses in Luke (4:14-15) may also be significant in the light of this political interpretation of Jesus’ temptation.

(14) And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee, and a report concerning him went out through all the surrounding country. (15) And he taught in their synagogues, being extolled by all.

These verses say that news about Jesus spread over the region at his return, and this news raised his reputation to great heights. Did he gain great respect by staying solitarily in the Judean desert, seeing (or hearing) a series of psychedelic hunger visions and telling about them afterwards? Or did the news that he (and his fellow envoys) had won their case before the Roman emperor – the release of their fellow messianist Paul or a victory over Agrippa II in their dispute over a shielding wall in the temple complex – provoke great enthusiasm? The fact that Agrippa II had recently (since Nero’s rule) become vassal king of the parts of Galilea where Jesus was active, suggests that probably the successful mission against Agrippa’s order raised Jesus’ fame to great heights in the region.
Following the mission to Rome for the release of priests, Josephus mentions the revolutionary atmosphere in Palestine. Mark and Luke do likewise immediately after the ‘temptation’ pericope (Mark 1:14; Luke 4: 16 ff.), Matthew also has some verses in between (Matthew 4:17).
I conclude with a schematic overview of the temptation/missions fragment and its aftermath in Josephus and the gospels. I consider Jesus’ preaching of the ‘kingdom of heaven’ (in Matthew)or the ‘kingdom of God’ (in Mark) as well as his activity in the synagogue, reading a messianic fragment from Isaiah (in Luke), as seditious activities, preparing his Galilean audience for rebellion against Rome in the sixties of the first century CE.

Events Josephus Gospels
Missions to Rome Antiquities XX:189-196
Life 13-16
Mark 1:12-13
Matthew 4:1-11
Luke 4:1-13
Jesus’ victorious return Luke 4:14-15
Subsequent revolutionary activity Life 17 ff. Mark 1:14
Matthew 4:17
Luke 4:16-21

www.waroriginsofchristianity.com

The practical modes of concealment are limited only by the imaginative capacity of subordinates. James C. Scott, Domination and the Arts of Resistance.

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