JERUSALEM, Sunday, 4th April 33 – Last Friday Yehoshua ben Yosef was crucified bringing to an end a mission that was gaining in popularity across the length and breadth of Palestine.
On Thursday evening he was brought before the Roman governor Pontius Pilate on trumped up charges. Pilate while refusing to convict the Nazarene nevertheless succumbed to pressure from the high priest, Caiaphas to have Yehoshua crucified, according to sources familiar with last week’s events.
The high priests accused Yehoshua of blasphemy, alleging he had declared himself son of Yahweh, a sin punishable by death.
Yehoshuah’s torture and eventual death at the hands of security agents is less about his alleged blasphemy but more about the perceived threat he posed to the cozy relationship the Jewish elite had fashioned between themselves and Rome.
According to some of his friends Yehoshua, the carpenter’s son from Galilee, started preaching his version of Judaism about three years ago, shunning the existing structures of the church to minister to people wherever he found them.
His message of a forgiving and all embracing God challenging the old Jewish teachings of ritualism, retribution and entitlement as the chosen ones, it was feared would draw many people away from the temple reducing their income and influence with Rome.
In addition his message that a relationship with God had no need for intercessors did not rub the right way the Pharisees, who have used their position as protectors of faith to extract favours from the community.
The Jewish elite have for long been able to parlay their influence on the everyday Jew as leverage in negotiating with Rome to retain their privileged position in society despite the suffering of the masses under occupation.
In the face of Yehoash’s mounting popularity first in the countryside and increasingly in the major towns of Jericho, Bethlehem, Hebron and Jerusalem, and his refusal to work with the Pharisees and the Saducees, a plot was hatched to get rid of him once and for all.
Previous attempts to capture him and seen him slip through their fingers. According to sources familiar with the events an insider, Judah ben Iscariot, was enlisted to keep the security agencies abreast of Yehoshua’s whereabouts and help in his arrest.
Sources said the Romans had investigated Yehoshua before but were unable to find a link between him and the zealots, the rebel movement determined to eject the Roman’s from Palestine.
While the zealots also provided a source of discomfort for the Jewish elite’s collaboration with Rome, at least they recognised the authority of the Sanhedrin. It is suspected too that some members of the Sanhedrin were actively supporting them, hence the release of Barabas on Friday rather than Yehoshuah.
Particularly galling to the Pharisees was a recent attack on the annual trade expo in the temple in Jerusalem, where Yehoshua drove out the traders, whipping the more reluctant ones arguing that the temple, which he referred to as “my father’s house” was not meant for commercial purposes.
Other events like the reported raising from the grave of his friend Lazaraus, the healing of the sick, the driving of demons out of the possessed and the feeding of the multitudes among other works by the Nazarene gave Jerusalem jitters.
His predecessor Jonah ben Zacahria was beheaded ostensibly at the urging Herodia his wife, but Jonah’s increasing popularity among the Jews was at the heart of his problems.
Yehoshuah, though he had some Zealots among his number, was not known to advocate for violent revolution. His critics however saw him as a potential rabble rouser and feel he was not stopped soon enough.
It is not clear what will happen to his ministry, as Peter, formally Shimeon ben Jonah, the acknowledged successor is without charisma and inarticulate.
His followers are currently in hiding since Thursday night when Yehoshuah was arrested. Inside sources say they are hoping for a resurrection, an idea dismissed as worse than wishful thinking and would only do serious damage to their cause.
Pilate seems to have come out the winner of this affair.
On the one hand he has won the continued support of the Sanhedrin, having allowed them to execute their nemesis and crash his movement, and can now count on their support in pacifying the zealots.
PS. As we now know analysts got it wrong at the time. The apostles eventually regrouped, came out of hiding spreading the gospel and spawning the largest organised religion in the history of the world. Though it has suffered splinters and its influence is on the wane in Europe and the West, Jesus Christ’s message of redemption continues to draw crowds in Africa, South America and Asia. Happy Easter!