Imagine yourself in a discussion about politics. Your party is not in power; its representatives are in the minority. But they are a loud minority. They are forever criticizing the other party and its leaders and, though you are not in politics yourself, you frequently join in the criticism.
The other party, you like to say, is totally wrong on foreign policy. They are wrong about national defense. Their administration is rife with corruption. They seem to care more about appeasing foreign governments than they do about the welfare of their own people. Members of your party are always saying that they never met a tax increase they didn’t like. You just can’t understand how these people stay in power.
In your region of the country almost everyone agrees with you. But get out of your region, and other viewpoints dominate, and you find it horribly frustrating.
No, you are not a Republican living in the South or in the Midwest. You are a Jew living in the Galilean region of first century Israel. Since the Roman occupation in the forties, there has been a growing divide between the liberals who dominate the South and the nationalist movement in the North, where you were born and raised.
When you were young, you learned to read and write in the synagogue and the rabbinical school, and now you and your friends love to read the inflammatory books that have been published in the last few decades. They predict the downfall of the dominant party and the emergence of a leader – a messiah figure – who will renovate the country’s morals and put an end to government corruption once for all. Because of the Roman occupation there is a profound absence of free speech, so these books had to be written anonymously. So the authors wrote under the names of the heroes of ancient Israel – names like Enoch, Abraham, Moses, and Ezra.
These books contained a strange blend of hope and despair.1 Their authors dreamed of the overthrow of the collaborators, the liberation from foreign powers and the emergence of a great national leader. He is described as the king, the Son of David,2 and was expected to drive the Gentiles – the Roman oppressors – out of Jerusalem, and expel the corrupt national leaders from the country.
One of these books includes a prayer: “May God cleanse Israel . . . the day he chooses to lead in his anointed one” (his Christ).3 Others of these book promised the advent of a divine being who existed before coming to earth. He is called Messiah, the righteous one, the chosen one, and the Son of Man.4
There had been no prophetic voice in Israel for over four hundred years. Some people were saying that the prophetic age had come to an end. But you – and thousands of Galileans like you – still hope for the promised prophet, the one like Moses, and the promised King, the descendent of David, to come.
When you were a child, there was a serious uprising in Galilee, led by a man named Judas – Judas, the Galilean, people called him. Thousands of people thought that he might be the one, the one who would cleanse Israel. But the uprising was crushed, and Judas was killed. But the nationalist feeling continued, especially in the north. That part of the country was a pot almost at the boiling point.
Do you have the picture? First century Israel was very political and very religious, and there was no separation between the two. In that time, the political ideologues were the religious extremists – very much like the Taliban in Afghanistan now. These extremists loved the four national treasures of Israel: the temple (how it irked them that the other party – the corrupt Sadducees – controlled the temple; the Torah (they knew it well and regarded those who didn’t as uneducated rabble); the promised land (they had a fire in their belly to expel the foreigners and regain possession of it); and the king.