The Political Jesus© 2005 Dr. Barbara Thiering (April, 2005)
In March of 6 AD Jesus was 12 years old. He had been born in March, 7 BC. (A reminder is offered that when calculating from BC to AD, subtract 1 from the BC date. This is necessary because no zero year was allowed.)
When Jesus was "born" in Luke's story in Luke 2:1-7 he was being given his Bar Mitzvah ceremony in its Essene equivalent, when a 12-year old boy was given his first initiation. It meant the beginning of spiritual "life", and he was dressed in a white robe. The ceremony took place in the Manger, the building south of the Qumran plateau where he had actually been born. At the time of his birth Pharisees were in control and he was classed as illegitimate. Mary had to go for the birth to the building where transport animals were stabled, part of which was used as a refuge for foundlings.
But in March of 6 AD the political situation changed, and the destiny of Jesus with it. The "fourth philosophy" of Judas the Galilean had staged an insurrection when the occupying Romans under Quirinius the governor of Syria imposed a census, necessary for their efficient administration. The militants had been decisively defeated and the Pharisee high priest dismissed. His replacement was Ananus the Elder, a hellenised Sadducee who was willing to co-operate with Rome. He was the father of five sons, all of whom would hold the high priesthood for short periods during the 1st century AD.
As soon as Ananus was appointed, Jesus became the legitimate heir of the line of David. As we have seen in "Virgin Birth" his pre-nuptial conception occurred at the time of the binding betrothal of Joseph and Mary. For more liberal Sadducees, this was enough to make him legitimate, while stricter Pharisees held that only the wedding ceremony could have that effect, and that his next brother James, conceived in wedlock, was the legitimate heir.
With Ananus in power, Jesus found himself hailed at the ceremony as a future crown prince and eventual Messiah of Israel. The Annas priests were now the religious leaders under the Romans, while the Davids worked with them but were not permitted to claim kingship, simply to represent the laity. At the age of 12 this release from social shame was enough to commit Jesus to the Sadducees, and consequently to their liberal views towards Gentiles. They did not require Gentile followers to be circumcised or to abandon their own ethnic identity. Jesus would carry the process to its logical conclusion.
In 17 AD Jesus was 23 years old, the age of adult initiation according to the Qumran school system of grades. In the story in Luke 2:41-51 it appears that he was 12 years old, but this is another example of the pesher, as was also the birth story. Years are being named in this way, according to the dating system then current. "When it was year 12", the reading in Greek, refers to the dating of years from Ananus, whose year 1 was 6 AD. In 17 AD the first son of Ananus, Eleazar, was high priest appointed by the Romans. He had very liberal views about both Gentiles and women, giving them higher status. When Jesus said "I must be about the concerns of my Father" (Luke 2:49 he meant that he was adopting the political views of Eleazar Annas, who as high priest was also the Pope to the ascetics, the Father. Jesus' attitudes, now formed, were contrary to those of his father Joseph on the question of nationalism. His political course was now set.
In 26 AD, twenty years after the Wrath of 6 AD, John the Baptist, the Teacher of Righteousness, began his ministry (See "The Period of Wrath" in The The Dead Sea Scrolls and Christianity section on this site). It was in the same year that Pontius Pilate became procurator, at once offending all Jews with his contempt for their religion. John, the son of the Zadokite high priest Zechariah who had been murdered during the insurrection, became a courageous preacher against Rome. But he did not advocate military methods, which were known to be useless. He followed the prophecies that had been held for centuries by the Essenes, believing that Heaven would intervene to defeat the Romans in a great final battle. By divine power alone the true Zadokite high priest and the true David would be restored to the temple in Jerusalem.
In the parables of the gospels, the true history of all the political leaders is being recorded. On the face of it, the parables look like simple stories with a moral meaning, such as "love your neighbour". The surface sense does have that meaning, but the moral lesson had been derived from actual historical events. It is from the pesher of the parables that much of the history can be learned. The parable of the Banquet records Herod's alliance with the representatives of Essenes, Pharisees and Sadducees. The parable of the Prodigal Son records Theudas' vacillations about military methods. The parable of the Good Samaritan is the story of John the Baptist, when he attempted to conciliate the "thieves" but was beaten by them in debate, then upheld by a Sadducee, the Good Samaritan. This was the current Annas priest, Jonathan Annas, who would play a central role in the life of Jesus.
The "thieves" were the same two men who were crucified with Jesus, Simon Magus and Judas Iscariot (See "The Resurrection" in this section). Judas, as the successor of Judas the Galilean, held that the Baptist's rhetoric was not enough. An armed uprising against Pilate must be planned, at whatever risk. With him was his superior, Simon Magus, a man of immense talent and intellect. He appears in the list of apostles as Simon the Zealot, also as Simon the leper of Bethany, and as Lazarus the leper. These were "thieves" from the viewpoint of the peace party because they continued to use the income from the mission, stored at Qumran, to buy arms. The backing of these leaders came from the ascetic orders or "tribes" of Ephraim and Manasseh, the names used in the pesharim for the opponents of the Teacher of Righteousness.
In the 20's AD a further political component was added, in the person of the man who would become Agrippa I. He was a grandson of Herod the Great, the son of one of the princes whom Herod had put to death in his insane final years. Like all the Herodian princes, Agrippa was educated in Rome, living in the house that Herod the Great had built near the south wall of the city. The house was called the Vineyard. Agrippa, born in 11 BC, was still a youth at the time of the Wrath, and he stayed in Rome to continue his education. With his country under the control of Rome, he saw that it was better for his prospects if he made Roman friends. His grandfather had given the Herods an entrée into the highest Roman circles, and Agrippa's social talents soon brought him into the same circles.
As he matured, he foresaw the possibility that he could regain the Herodian monarchy that had been abolished in 6 AD. It had to be given by permission of Rome. Agrippa began networking, turning on lavish banquets in his house, the Vineyard, inviting members of the imperial court. In 14 AD on the death of Augustus Tiberius became emperor. Agrippa as a youth had been accepted into his circles, being a close friend of his son Drusus. But as his entertainment expenses began to outstrip his allowance, Tiberius, always tight-fisted and cynical, refused to help, and Agrippa found himself banished from Rome for bankruptcy.
Back in his homeland, in his ancestral estate in Idumea, Agrippa planned suicide. He was rescued by his faithful wife Cypros, who asked for help from his sister, Herodias, who was married to Antipas Herod. They gave him a position in Tiberias, the capital of Galilee that Antipas had built and named in honour of the emperor. Agrippa, a sensitive man, felt the need for religious faith at this time, and turned to the rising preacher John the Baptist, who initiated him into the ascetic community. Agrippa from then on would invite the ascetics into his houses, arguing with them that the mission income stored at Qumran was rightfully his, since it had belonged to Herod the Great. But it had been controlled for many years by Antipas, and Agrippa could only claim it if he was appointed king.
In an increasingly tense situation caused by both Pilate and Agrippa, Jesus found himself forced to align with Simon Magus against John the Baptist. The Baptist, a stern moralist, had allied with the Sadducee Jonathan Annas against aggressive military methods, but he did not agree with his liberal views on sex and Gentiles. The Baptist held the Pharisee view about the legitimacy of Jesus, and affirmed that his brother James was the true heir of the Davids. That is the meaning of the Baptist's message to Jesus in Luke 7:19: "Are you the Coming One (the lay Messiah) or shall we look for another (James)?". Jesus could not retain his political influence in the Baptist's party. Moreover, Simon Magus had become his close friend, attracting him not by his militarism but by his intellectual strength.
Antipas Herod, urged on by his wife Herodias, had become increasingly hostile to Agrippa when he perceived his ambitions to regain the monarchy. Antipas, who maintained his own house on the Tiber Island in Rome, was in favour with Tiberius and Agrippa was out of favour, but that situation could change. In the homeland the two Herod relatives had different houses, and the two religious parties had to choose between them. Simon Magus frequented Antipas' house, being very hostile to Agrippa. Simon believed that his own great strength and political influence could bring him into the position of head of the mission, eventually to become head of a great world power.
Joseph the father of Jesus had turned emphatically against Herod kings at the time of Herod the Great's insult to the Pharisees, and Jesus followed his father in being anti- monarchist, although at the same time disagreeing with him on nationalism. These issues and his friendship with Simon Magus brought him into the house of Antipas. In that house, Simon Magus led "the men of Ephraim and Manasseh", named in the pesharim as opponents of the Teacher of Righteousness. In the same works, Jesus was derided by the Baptist-Agrippa house as the Wicked Priest, or Anti-Priest. Another of the abusive names for him was "Man of a Lie", which included the meaning "bastard".
Jesus was called the Wicked Priest because he was now, in his thirties, making his mark with a new doctrine. He was teaching that men born into the levitical tribe were not the only ones who could act as priests. The priestly function of the Messiah of Aaron could be combined with the lay function of the Messiah of Israel in one man, a layman. He would be given his position by ordination, not by birth, so any man of sufficient merit could be ordained as a priest, and even a high priest. Jesus himself, the chief layman, could be "the high priest of our confession", the title given to him in the Epistle to Hebrews. This was a shocking claim to a society that ranked levitical priests as different from and far above laymen.
It was even more shocking when, on the Day of Atonement in 32 AD, a solemn day observed by the sectarians in their own sanctuary, Jesus seized the heavy elaborate vestments of the supreme high priest, put them on, and attempted to perform the atonement rite himself. The Transfiguration episode in the Synoptic gospels gives an account of it through its pesher (Mark 9:2-8). He was brushed aside and put in his place, but the Qumran sectarians never forgave him. Five years later, when they wrote their pesher on Habakkuk, they "found" a prophecy of the episode in a biblical verse, writing: "Its pesher concerns the Wicked Priest....at the period of a feast, at the rest time of the Day of Atonement, he appeared to them to swallow them up and to cause them to stumble on the day of fasting, the sabbath of their rest." (1QpHab 11:6-8)
Jesus as a priest would choose the doctrines that were associated with Sadducees, not with Pharisees. He would co-operate with Rome and be friendly to Gentiles. This put him at odds with Judas Iscariot, one of the men of Manasseh in Antipas' house. On their view, if Jesus was to be allied with their anti-Agrippa party, he should also espouse militarism.
At the same time he was personally at odds with Jonathan Annas, the current Sadducee. Jonathan at this time was only a deputy to Caiaphas, the Pharisee high priest; the two different viewpoints in the leadership reflecting those of all Jews. Jonathan lacked the personal integrity and humility of his brothers, and laid far too much stress on his own superiority as a levitical priest. Jesus' claims to a high priesthood threatened him. Although the two men entirely agreed on politics, they were in tension on the question of priesthood.
All these factors came together in the great personal crisis in Jesus' life, the crucifixion and apparent resurrection. Simon Magus as leader, Judas Iscariot as his deputy, and Jesus as the third man, were crucified by Pilate after an uprising. The first two were militants, but Jesus was not, and was crucified out of an act of treachery. He was substituted for Theudas- Barabbas, who had been the third militant. Simon rescued Jesus, and remained his friend and associate for another 11 years after the crucifixion.
In 37 AD, on the death of Tiberius, Agrippa regained the monarchy through his friendship with Gaius Caligula, the new emperor. On his grand return to his homeland, he was popular with some because of his charm and generosity. But he had learned far too much from Caligula, who in his insanity claimed to be literally a god. In March 44 AD Agrippa staged an extravagant spectacle in Caesarea, appearing at dawn on a roof, clad in a glittering silver garment, with a pre-arranged shout from the assembled masses hailing him as a god. Within five days he was dead, from agonising stomach pains. The story in Acts 12: 21-23 gives what Josephus only implies, that he was poisoned. All the mission parties had joined together against him, led by Simon Magus, "the angel of the Lord", who had arranged for the poison to be administered by the king's eunuch.
As soon as he was dead, the factions that had combined against him split up, now in permanent schism. The anti-monarchists retained their anti-Roman political views, even under the benign emperor Claudius who had succeeded to the throne after Caligula was assassinated in January 41 AD. They retreated to Damascus, to which they had fled to escape from Agrippa. These now continued the Qumran tradition, their differences from one another put aside as they faced the greater power in the west. They produced the Damascus Document, retaining the rules that had governed the village Essenes.
The Sadducee pro-Roman element, turning to the west, now included Jesus, who had lived in monastic seclusion since his recovery from the crucifixion. His teaching of peace with Rome and full equality of Gentiles was freely expressed in Antioch, in the north outside the country. He would not again be accepted in the homeland. On January 1, AD 44, his party of Gentiles adopted the new name, Christian. Some would retain some loyalty to Jerusalem, others would renounce Jewish identity altogether. A man named Simon, with the title "the Rock", Peter, a member of the village Essenes, was one who retained some loyalty to Jerusalem, but agreed with Jesus on the full equality of Gentiles.
Agrippa I left a young son, aged 16 at the time of his father's death, who became Agrippa II. He had a timid, pliant nature, easily led. His twin sister Bernice was a much more dominant character, and would figure prominently in subsequent events in the homeland. Within the houses of Agrippa, a young man called Saul acted as tutor to the princes. He was always loyal to his master, and like Agrippa I had varied in his attitudes to Rome. He had believed that Jesus, the layman who thought he could be high priest, was indeed wicked. But at the time of a council in Damascus, when Saul had been sent to spy out enemies of Agrippa, he met Jesus himself. The spiritual power of Jesus brought the young man to a conversion. The transition of Saul to Paul was a swing to an opposite viewpoint on both politics and ministry.
As tutor to Agrippa II, Paul persuaded him to adopt his opinions, and the young king soon called himself Christian. Both Peter and Paul belonged in his court, for Peter also had frequented the house of Agrippa I, although he had joined in the plot against him. Once Peter and Paul influenced the houses of Agrippa II to adopt a Christian doctrine, Jesus himself belonged there. He left behind his friendship with Simon Magus, and they were now political opponents.
As a member of the entourage of Agrippa II, Jesus the Beloved Son came to the Vineyard. When there was reason for the young king to go to Rome his religious advisers went with him. Through the rest of the reign of Claudius (41- 54 AD), and then in the tyrannical reign of Nero (54-68 AD), the Christians developed their centres of mission in Agrippa's houses, first in Ephesus and finally in Rome. In AD 61, as a result of further conflicts in the homeland, they moved to a new base in Rome. In AD 64, when Nero was looking for scapegoats for his setting the great fire, the Christians were readily available, for many of them, led by Peter, were being held in prison for public rioting at the times they thought a fulfilment of the prophecies should come. Many Christians were strung up and burned alive in Nero's gardens. Peter himself was crucified, upside down at his own request. Paul was under arrest on a different charge, his involvement with the trouble-making governor Felix. He was executed on the orders of a Roman court at about the same time as Peter's death.
Jesus remained in Rome, concealed in the catacombs when the political dangers became too great. He was protected by the successors of Peter and Paul. At some time between 70 and 73 AD, as is given through the pesher of the book of Revelation, he died, and his son Jesus Justus inherited his titles.
Jesus was not a divine figure, not a Son of God. He was a noble reformer, standing out against oppressive and destructive religion in his own day. He was a part only of a great institution that preceded him and followed him. The choices he made, within his own circumstances, were those that the finest of human beings make, responding to that within us that we have always thought of as divine.
(A more detailed presentation on the Jesus' activities after the Crucifixion with photos and word for word pesher is contained in Section 7 on this site.)