The childhood of Jesus Christ
12. The child Jesus
10. THE SUCCESSION OF HEROD THE GREAT
Herod the Great died one week before Passover in the year 4 A.D. He had suffered a painful final illness; some say he was poisoned, others think he was consumed by intestinal worms!
We know that the paranoiad king felt betrayed by those close to him, and that he had wanted to punish the Jewish people. Fortunately his sister Salome, who at first instigated many executions, eventually was able to save many of the condemned Jews .
Herod had made several wills, which favored different members of his family according to his mood at the moment.
At his death they had to wait for the last will to be confirmed in Rome from the mouth of Augustus himself.
While waiting for this ratification, one of his sons, named Archelaus, was provisionally named King of Judea, and was acclaimed by the people. Herod had prepared his funeral ceremony, and had chosen his tomb, which was prepared in the manner of the great Egyptian Pharaohs. He was carried by an army of slaves on a bed of gold inlaid with precious stones to his funeral fortress: the HERODIUM.
Augustus divided the kingdom of Israel among three of his male heirs:
Later he was to marry the young dancer Salome II, who asked for the head of the Baptist. Of delicate health, Philippe died very suddenly, and Salome (within minutes) married Aristobule III of Chalcis, king of Armenia, with whom she had 3 children.
The Reign of Archelaus
Archelaus had not yet ascended to his father's throne before he made his first great political MISTAKE..., .. At his father's funeral, he asked the people what would give them most pleasure?
Some asked for fewer taxes, others wanted the heads of Herod's counselors .... As all was refused, Archelaus had to suppress a bloody revolt at the very beginning of his reign, after which,
3.000 cadavers littered the square before the great Temple! ...
In the following months, the royal palace of Jericho was in flames!
In Judea, 2000 mercenaries, former soldiers of Herod could not find an employer, so they attacked the royal troops and a shepherd named Athronges proclaimed himself governor of Judea!
In Galilee, Judas of Gamala, (the son of Ezechias, executed by Herod Antipater II), also proclaimed himself king ... The situation in Palestine was appalling: everywhere people robbed, raped, murdered and refused to pay taxes!
A Jewish delegation went to Rome to speak to the emperor, but Augustus refused to place Palestine under the direct authority of Varus, the Eastern governor, who was based in Syria.
For 8 years Archelaus was supported by Augustus as King of Judea and Samaria, and also Governor of Rome. Strengthened by this support, Archelaus dismissed two high Priests in turn, both of whom had who dared to reproach him for his immoral attitude and especially for marrying his beautiful sister: Glaphyra.
We can see that Archelaus did not have his father's charismatic power and authority! Augustus eventually acceded to the complaints, and in 6AD, the Roman general Varus of Antioche, at the head of three legions, entered Palestine to re-establish order and dismiss Archelaus.
In these battles, Flavius Joseph tells us that thousands of Jews and renegades were killed, or executed shortly after. 2000 Jews were punished by the popular Roman method of crucifixion!
A forest of crosses appeared at the entrance of the cities, and all along the roads of Judea and Galilee. Archelaus was brought back to Rome, and was then exiled to Vienna in Gaulanitis, where he died. Henceforth a Roman Procurator governed Samaria and Judea, which were attached administratively to the Province of Syria. In Nazareth, Jesus was exactly nine years old...
11. N A Z A R E T H
Do you know about the land of Galilee? What a contrast with the stones and burnt sand of Judea!
Imagine many fields of wheat, barley, or millet so high that an 8 year child can hide in it in summer without needing to bend down!
Imagine the grapevines, burdened with bunches of grapes so big that one must hold them with two hands so as not to drop them! Their grapes are so juicy that they splash you in the face when you bite them!
Also, hundred-year-old olive trees provide shade for thousands of sheep and lambs, to resting from the rays of the sun, under the attentive eye of the shepherds and their dogs.
The paths are dusty and the tired traveler likes to cool off and to quench his thirst in one of the many streams that run down the hills to the Lake of Galilee.
In the middle of this scene, between two small valleys, one comes suddenly upon Nazareth, nestling against the hills, a town like many others in Galilee, but one that one day would "change the history of the world. "
Nazareth doesn't have a palace, just a small synagogue where inhabitants come at the hour of Prayer. It is a place that the children know well, since it is under the shade of these stones that they come to listen to the rabbi, who teaches them to read, write and sing.
Five kilometres to the north is the town of Sepphoris. It was made the capital of Galilee by Pompey at the time of the first Roman invasion, until Herod Antipas gave the title to Tiberias, the new city beside the lake, created to please Tiberius, the new Emperor. Because Sepphoris was important, Antipas surrounded it with a heavy fortifications.
Midway between Nazareth and Sepphoris, there was a fountain of 'living' waters, (according to a crusader who visited it before the terrible defeat of the Hill of Hattin by the army of Saladin). The water is very pure and refreshing, and thus the surroundings produce abundant vegetation.
Four kilometres southwest of Nazareth is Jaffa, the city with massive stone ramparts, behind which farmers and shepherds came to find shelter from hordes of invaders and thieves.
- There were invasions by Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians and Greeks.
- Roman invasions occurred in 63 BC, 70 BC and 135 AD .....
- There was also the conquest of the Persia army of Khosro (or of Chosroes II) in 614AD.
- Numerous Moslem conquests occurred, and 9 crusades from the west...
- Earthquakes in 1170 AD lasted 3 months and ruined the entire land .
There are indeed few corners of the planet that have been coveted as highly, destroyed, robbed and every rebuilt time.
And yet Jesus grew up in the midst of it all; here he took his first steps. He spent sixteen years of his life here, as a modest worker in wood, a humble craftsman using his hands in the service of others...
By accepting Mary into his house, Joseph had confirmed the promise of marriage he had made in the small synagogue in Nazareth before his friends and neighbors, all of whom were invited for the feast.
Did they live in one of those small cubic buildings, or in one of these underground caves excavated in the rock that pilgrims come from all over the world to see?
... No one knows for certain!.
Like other children of His age, the child Jesus learnt to read the new writing derived from the Pheonician alphabet. He apparently had only His friends and his rabbi to learn from, yet He was very gifted for His age, with His amazing memory for the sacred texts. Mary sometimes had fun when He told her that He had corrected His teacher in the quotations, but of course she pretended to disapprove.
His friends were for the most part His neighbors in the village:
Ephraim - Benjamin - David - Daniel or Jonathan
All considered Him a little too serious and too good a student! The girls probably had a soft spot for Him, for His sweetness, and sincere and discerning way of listening were very appealing. They were called:
Myriam - Estrella - Rachel - Sarah or Mary, and many others? ...
Their images have disappeared like grains of sand, yet they were there twenty years later to see and hear Him, when He said:
- "Blessed are the pure in heart..." And they remembered.
12. T H E Y O U N G J E S U S
Joseph had his workshop very near the house. Jesus went there often to watch His adoptive father
cut, sculpt and shape wood with great skill. Then, when He took a piece of wood and borrowed the tools, Joseph let Him carve something too, and smiled when He transformed a piece of wood into an animal or some other familiar object. He would show it to Joseph, and then, proud of His own work, He would run to show it to Mary so that she could admire it too.
He liked to have fun with the donkey, especially in the evening, when the beast was exhausted from pulling logs of wood all day. Jesus approached him and looked directly into his eyes, speaking to him while comforting and stroking his head and ears. Finally He would give him a great armful of fresh grass, picked especially for him ...
Jesus knew how to make the fire for Joseph to heat the iron and melt it. With Joseph, Jesus learnt the trees and to choose them according to their qualities:
- The cypress, with large green leaves and the scaly cones, has very fragrant wood, and is practically indestructible.
- The oak is the favorite tree of the carpenter because of its quality and its long life.
- The turpentine tree has shaggy leaves similar to those of the walnut tree. The perfume is as pungent as that of the eucalyptus.
- The carob tree can survive long droughts and protects the soil from erosion. After the pretty red flowers have died, edible pods appear, that are given to the animals to eat, or that very poor people as food, (as in the parable of the prodigal son.)
- And many others, such as the olive trees of Jerusalem, the fig trees or date palms of Jericho, the almond tree, the pistachio tree, the plane tree, or the majestic cedars of Lebanon ...
Every morning early, He went to the market with Mary. He would stop before the spices, the pots of honey, the boxes of fish, the displays of fruit and vegetables, and the beautiful varieties of sheep or goat cheeses .
He watched the baby animals, such as chicks and ducklings covered with down; He stood beside their enclosures, and spoke softly to them, trying to caress them with His finger tips...
With Mary, He went for water from the only fountain in the village. They chatted with neighbors about the latest news of Rome, Jerusalem, Sepphoris or Cesarea...
Kneeling beside her, He listened to Mary as she read long passages about the history of the Hebrew people. He listened and watched her carefully, saying nothing, yet maybe He already knew all these things ..
The Virgin of Vladimir - Russia 18th Century
13. JESUS in the Temple at the age of 12 years
At twelve years of age, a young Jewish boy becomes legally "a son of the Law". This ceremony still exists today, (called a Bah Mitzvah), where the young boy answers the priests' questions about the sacred texts in the presence of his family. Then they congratulate him and shower him with sweetmeats and flower petals.
Even though it is not in the gospel of Luke, this is probably when his three day disappearance and discovery in the temple in Jerusalem occurred. This amusing story is probably taken from Mary's memories and confidences.
Each year, the Holy Family went with many of their neighbors, parents and friends to Jerusalem to celebrate the great feast of Passover in the temple in Jerusalem.
During the long walk, the children moved along the line, talking to one friend, and then another.
Every year about ten thousand pilgrims came from the four corners of the world to crowd into the temple. Jesus, who had gone there every year, knew the layout of the temple perfectly.
But this time we do not know why He went to sit among the doctors of the law, the Scribes and the great intellectuals of Jewish society. Carried along by His prodigious, precocious memory, He began to debate and even question their views about the Sacred Scriptures!
Mary was upset, but she knew that the hand of the Lord was on Him. Joseph, the head of the family, was very worried. Yet not a word of reproach came from his lips when they found Him seated among the professors and wise men, who were listening to Him with eyes full of admiration.
His mother said:
- "Son, why have you done this to us?"
He was visibly troubled by His parents' worry, and replied:
- "Why did you search for me? Did you not know that I had to be in my Father's house"!
Mary's maternal instinct had perturbed her. But what does a mother do who loses her child and finds him again? She takes Him in her arms and forgives Him .
Jesus was moved by this proof of Mary's devotion; he had not wanted to worry her. He returned therefore with them to Nazareth and Luke says in : v 51... He was obedient to them...
14. JESUS' HIDDEN LIFE
The incident in the temple is the only mention of the thirty years of Jesus' hidden life. It is such a pity! However, it was certainly Jesus' will, for it gave more importance to His teachings.
God has left us a mysterious heritage:
- What is the origin of the world, of life and its evolution?
- What caused the glacial periods and the disappearance of the dinosaurs?
- Why does a fetus grow; why are there cells? How does the natural immunity of the body really work?
- We marvel at the incredible possibilities of the brain in its constant evolution.
- Why do stars exist and the universe expand?
There are the millions of things of which we know nothing or very little! The Swedish philosopher Swedenborg said that: "the more one travels along the road to knowledge, we realise that we know less and less... "
Alas man doesn't use still his knowledge to do good, but to destroy and to dominate men and beasts...
"Fortunately" said Schopenhauer, " man can do what he wants, but he cannot always have what he wants..."
The life of Jesus is an example of his humble acceptance of the laws governing our material needs
and our integration into the particular society to which we belong.
For many years Jesus continued to work in wood like Joseph, his adoptive father. How many years did they work together? No one knows. One day, Joseph fell ill, and surrounded by Mary, Jesus and his family, his soul went into Eternity.
Jesus was moved when he saw Mary cry. He took His mother in His arms, He held her close and told her that the house of the Eternal Father is beautiful, and that all those that leave having accomplished the Father's will do not die, but wait for us in another world:
A marvelous world, free of hate, fear, horror, selfishness, money, war and thirst for power: .. A paradise!
He told her also... that the prophecy of Simeon was right, that He would suffer a lot, so that she would be known for generations as:
"the Mother of Sorrows";that her heart would be broken, but she must never rail against the injustice of men, at their ingratitude for all the good He would do
He explained the meanings of the Scriptures and why God the Father sent His Son into this world to show the way of truth. He reassured her about the meaning of death, of resurrection and of the place He had reserved for her in the sky, at His side.
She didn't understand everything that He wanted to tell her, but she was glad that He was there beside her, even though time seemed short, and clouds were appearing on the horizon .....
When he came back from work, she made His meal and He stayed with her as by lamplight, she kneaded bread, spun wool or mended a tear in His tunic.
When night came, they walked together up the side of the hill, to breathe the fresh air and watch the stars in the sky. Taking Mary's arm, He showed her the beautiful and brilliant constellations of our galaxy.
He knew all these worlds and called them by name;
He knew how they moved, and when they were formed!
Often He spoke of the incredible distances that separated them.
He explained the quotation from the book of Job 9 vs. 9:
"He made the Bear, Orion, the Pleides and the constellations of the south".
" Father, all those you gave me I would have in my company where I am, to see this glory which is your gift ot me, because of the love you bore me before the world began." (John ch17 v 24.)
On the Sabbath, they went to pray to God in the small synagogue in Nazareth. Sometimes they went instead to Sepphoris or Jerusalem to celebrate the important festivals.
For now He worked in wood, He was a carpenter: a simple craftsman! His hour had not yet come!
He made yokes for oxen, wagons and plows for neighbourhood farmers, beams for their houses, troughs for the animals and sometimes boats for the fishersmen of the lake.
15. JESUS' FAMILY in the Gospels
Sometimes we read with surprise about the "brothers" and "sisters" of Jesus in the Gospels.
In Mark 6 vs. 3 "Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, Juda and Simon? Are not his sisters our neighbours here?"
The term "brother" in the Jewish religion can have several meanings. It applies in three cases:
- to true 'blood brothers'. In this case the Bible often takes care to make this clear. For example: Deut. 13 vs 6, "your own full brother, the son of your mother or your son "
- to cousins in the same family. Jesus had among His disciples two cousins: James and Judas. Also, Simon (named "the zealot", and a member of the resistance), who was from Canaan, near Nazareth was a "brother".
- the term "brother" or "sister" was also given to all the members of the same religion or community.
However, there was no mention of brothers or sisters of Jesus at the time of His escapade in the temple. It is strange that Jesus on the cross would ask John, his disciple, to care for His mother, if He had had a 'blood brother or sister'!
Probably at the beginning His ministry, the members of His family did try to make the poor carpenter see reason. Jesus, tired of their insistence and their lack of faith and of confidence in Him, said:
Mark 3 vs 32: " The crowd sat around Him, and He said, looking at them, "These are my mother and my brothers. Whoever keeps God's will, is my brother, my sister and my mother. ."
- Finally, there is another theory (which is hard to verify). This is that Joseph was a widower with children when god asked him to care for Mary. In this case, the children of his first marriage would have become the stepbrothers and stepsisters of Jesus!
We do not know why none of the four writers of the Gospel explained this important detail. Thus we tend to favour the use of "brother" as meaning "cousin" in this case.
16. THE MISSION OF JOHN THE BAPTIST
John the Baptist had lived in the mountains and lonely places for a very long time alone. One day, God spoke to him, (perhaps through an angel?), asking him to prepare the way for the coming of the Son of God. He was to preach the good news to everyone, baptising them in the name of God.
John, (who was a true cousin of Jesus,went out into the whole region, preparing the people for Jesus' arrival.
- "Another will come whose sandals I am unworthy to untie. He will baptize you with fire and the Holy Spirit. He will gather up the good grain in His granaries and burn the straw (the wicked men) in a fire that will go out not. Every tree which does not produce good fruits, will be cut and thrown into the fire."
In Israel, John the Baptist's the influence was widely felt. He performed no miracles, but lived like the prophets and hermits, of olden times. That is why the people believed that John was a great sent by God. He had to insist that he was not the Messiah, at a time when Palestine was being subjugated by Rome!
Clothed only in camelskin robe, tied with a leather belt, he ate only wild honey and locusts!
At that time in Israel, there were several kinds of locusts. They were cooked in salty water and they tasted like shrimps or snails. Locust legs were also soaked in honey or vinegar as a special delicacy.
John fasted, prayed and spoke to the crowds who came to see him. Even the Pharisees were there, not to be baptized, but to spy on him and to challenge him. John was provoked into calling them "a race of vipers..."
He knew how to respond to them. When they said they were the "children of Abraham", he said they were to be replaced by the "stones of Galilee" who would become the new "children of Abraham", who would lead to a wonderful, enlightened future.
He did not ignore the Roman spies and the police of Herod Antipas, (the Tetrarch of Galilee), whom he reproached openly for having married Heriodiade, the wife of his half brother. All were watching this unusual man and watched for a chance to arrest him for disturbing the peace.
The river Jordan's source is on Mount Hermon in the Lebanon and it runs through Lakes Merom and Geneseret to the Dead Sea. This river flows very rapidly, with excavated rocks scattered about in it. There are many whirlwinds of waters but that enlarges on the end of its course and calms himself before entering into the Dead Sea, that is the saltiest sea in the world.
But the Jordan was in fact the eastern border of Israel. If there was danger of attack or pursuit, the Israelites could leave the country by crossing to the other side, as Jesus did after the second attempt to stone Him.
John the Baptist was a great friend of nature. In the evening, (when pilgrims who came to listen and be absolved from their sins) had gone, he would go down to the banks of the river and watch the deer, the gazelles and the many different coloured birds coming to drink, rest and feed there.
He spoke to the birds and took care of injured animals, sharing with them the bread and cakes that the devout women gave when they came to hear him; however he preferred to fast to be pleasing to the Lord.
But John, (the son of Zacharias), recruited disciples also, including Andrew, brother of Simon Peter, and another disciple whom John the evangelist does not name--perhaps through modesty? But it is probably he himself, because so much that he witnessed is described as one who had seen it firsthand.
It was HE, the last of apostles, who attested seeing the Spirit come down from the Sky like a dove, landing on Jesus' head after He was baptized, declaring:
- 'This is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world'.
The same evangelist wrote: 'The Father loves the Son and gave everything into His hands. He that believes in the Son will receive the eternal life but the one that does not believe will know the anger of God within him."
The two disciples of John the Baptist abandoned him as their spiritual master and followed Jesus to His new home in Capernaum,a small village beside the lake.
Andrew (the brother of Simon Peter), and John (the future Evangelist) were the first two apostles to witness the events which were the beginning of Jesus' public life.
As was written in ISAIAH ch 40 vs. 3 in the Old Testament:...A voice cries out:"Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our Lord."
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