Saturday, April 16, 2011

Easter Week Meditations - Intro

Getting straight to the point, what is this set of meditations and what am I hoping to accomplish? I was raised, from an infant, in a Christian church. The basics of the Easter story have long been familiar to me. Sometimes familiarity can lull one into thinking one knows what there is to be known of that which is familiar. Am I unique in this? I'm thinking ... probably not. So I'm hoping to tear back a bit of the veneer of familiarity that dulls our understanding of these events and help us see and understand these familiar people as real people, who had real thoughts, feelings and motives by providing some historical and cultural context, showing the continuity in the flow of events and trying to get into the likely thoughts and feelings of the people within what they knew at the time and were experiencing. And now to start ...

Judea and Jerusalem in the time of Jesus's life in Earth were not happy places. Judea was part of the Roman Empire, and the Romans were not benignant rulers. Romans considered themselves superior to those they conquered. In both the conquest and the ruling, conquered territories were seen as places to be plundered and exploited. While not particularly prosperous, Judea was very important to Rome. First, it was a crossroads for trade from the east and south. Rome was dependent on trade for much that it needed and even more that it wanted. Second, Judea was in the border area with the Parthian Empire. Corresponding roughly with modern Iran and Iraq, the Parthians had stopped Roman advance to the east, and at one point briefly pushed the Romans back, all the way to the coasts of modern northeast Syria and Lebanon. The threat of war was a constant of life, with Judea being a potential battleground and an area through which troops and supplies would necessarily move in the event of war.

So the Roman grip on Judea and Jerusalem was not loose. Adding insult to the injury, Jerusalem was not the provincial capital. That honor belonged to the recently enlarged artificial port city of Caesaria.

As mentioned in the Gospel accounts, the death and resurrection of Jesus happened around the time of Passover. The Jewish religious calendar, given in Leviticus 23 and Deuteronomy 16, could be roughly grouped into spring and autumn observances and festivals. Passover, with the week-long Unleavened Bread immediately following, started the series of spring festivals; First Fruits was observed at the start of harvest, with Pentecost 50 days later. For observant Jews, participation in Passover and Pentecost were mandatory. With Jewish people being scattered all over the Roman and Parthian Empires, going to Jerusalem annually wasn't practical for many. Those so situated usually observed religious festivals locally with other Jewish people. They had the goal, however, of making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem at least once in their lifetimes, for Passover particularly. Such a pilgrimage being a significant undertaking, the custom was not to just stay for the 8 days of Passover and Unleavened Bread, but to stay from Passover through Pentecost, 2 or 3 months. This means that Jerusalem at the time of Jesus's death and resurrection and of the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2) had tens or hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from all over the world in addition to its normal population.

From the viewpoint of the Roman rulers, the Passover season was an annual time of tension. Despite their religious purpose, people are people, and "situations" could occur. Of course, the crowds of people carrying substantial amounts of money - on which to live during their months of pilgrimage - attracted robbers and thieves. And people who chafed at Roman rule and sought opportunities for acts of rebellion could find the crowds of pilgrims useful to camouflage their presence and activities.

So Jesus's last public acts and preaching and His death and resurrection took place in a very complex and volatile context.

No comments:

Post a Comment