by miriam berg
Chapter XXVIII

Could Yeshua have actually been a Zealot, after all? It is an intriguing line of argument: he was executed as a Zealot; he was crucified between two men who are called "robbers" in the translations but the Greek word lestai is the same as the word Josephus uses to refer to the Zealots; and two of his disciples were Zealots, Simon called the Cananaean, which is Aramaic for Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, which comes from the word sicarii, which is Latin for Zealot, and Simon himself is called "bar-Jona", which was a slang word for bandit or Zealot. The teachings on universal love, according to this reasoning, come from Yohanan rather than Yeshua; so does the use of the quotation from Hosea about mercy and sacrifice; the saying about tribute to Caesar actually meant that nothing from Judea should be given to Rome, because it was God's, and it too was a saying from Yohanan; the reports of the trial have been tinkered up by the authors to blame the Jews for Yeshua's death and to show that the Romans were not responsible, when such a proceeding was unlikely and it is probable that the Romans knew what they were doing when they executed Yeshua as a rebel. Why else would the Romans have executed him as a rebel unless they considered him to be a rebel, and why would they have considered him a rebel unless he had led an insurrection? The gospels themselves refer to "the" insurrection, not "an" insurrection, when telling us about Bar-Abbas.

The difficulty with this line of reasoning is that it assumes that the only certain fact in the gospels is that Yeshua was executed as a rebel, and that everything else was distorted or falsified to free him from this charge so that he would be acceptable to the Gentiles. Thus, the visit to his home town actually culminated in a fight, in which Yeshua and his disciples were driven out of town; he threatens Chorazin and Beth-Saida with destruction for not supporting him; Matthew is correct in reporting that he said he had come not to bring peace but a sword; there is violence in many of the parables; Luke retains a clue in Gethsemane when he tells his disciples to sell their cloaks and buy swords; further, the disciples were already armed, as they tell Yeshua, "Here are two swords"; they resisted arrest, one of them slicing off an ear of one of the police, and the flight of the disciples was not flight but escape while Yeshua was captured. At the trial Pilate asks the priests if he were a Galilaean, which was a euphemism for Zealot. Furthermore, the chief priests could have executed Yeshua themselves for blasphemy if that is what they thought he was guilty of; the stoning of Stephen in the Acts of the Apostles proves that they had that authority. These invidious interpretations all assume that the reports in the gospels are completely distorted to hide these facts; but there is too much historical detail which remains to have been invented by the gospelleers.

Be that as it may, the gospels all report that a man named Joseph, from a place called Arimathaea, came to Pilate and entreated that he be allowed to bury Yeshua in his own tomb. This is a surprise; this man has not been heard of before, and is never heard of again, although a British legend has it that he came to England and founded the church at Glastonbury. There is a village named Ramathaim several miles to the west of Jerusalem, and it is supposed that Arimathaea meant this village. It was the home of Elkanah, the father of Samuel, the kingmaker who anointed both Saul and David. Pilate is surprised; it usually took two or three days before a person died of crucifixion. He asks a centurion if he were already dead, and when the centurion said it was so, Pilate allowed Joseph to take the body. Then the story says that he took the body down from the cross, and wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid it in a tomb which had been hewn out of a rock, and rolled a stone against the opening. We are not told where this tomb was, whether it was in Ramathaim, or in Jerusalem, although the gospel of John says that it was a brand-new tomb in the same garden where he was executed. We are told that the burial occurred on the day before the sabbath, which would have been the sixth day of the week. Since the sabbath started at sundown, Yeshua had to have been buried by sundown. He had been arrested less than twenty-four hours before, if we accept the reports in the gospels; and he had entered Jerusalem to the cheering of crowds less than one week before.

However, this story of the tomb is completely unlikely. Pilate would not have done this, since it was the practice of the Romans to throw the corpses of those executed as rebels into a common grave, if not into the valley of Hinnom. Even then, of course, it might have been expected that the devoted followers of Yeshua would have retrieved the body in order to provide it with a decent burial; Judah Maccabee's brothers had retrieved his body for burial, and the Gibeonites had retrieved the body of Saul from hanging on the wall of Beth-Shan, 50 miles to the north of Jerusalem. Matthew in fact tells us that the chief priests came to Pilate and asked that he set soldiers to guard the body so that it would not be stolen by the disciples. There might indeed have been such a tradition, because both the Jewish leaders and the Romans might have believed that his followers would use some such excuse to make another insurrection.

Wherever the tomb was, though, the rumor spread soon after his death that he had been resurrected, and that he had been seen by many of the disciples. The gospels first report that Mary Magdalene, and another Mary, and Salome the mother of Yakub and Yohan, came to the tomb and found it empty. None of the Synoptics say that Yeshua was seen, only that the tomb was found empty. Matthew inserts his explanation that the chief priests told the soldiers to spread the rumor that the corpse had been stolen by the disciples.But the gospels completely contradict each other about where and to whom the sightings of Yeshua occurred. Matthew tells of only one appearance, in Galilee, on the mountain where he had named them as disciples. Luke reports two appearances: the first to two of them, not named, on the third day after the execution, outside of Jerusalem; the second to all of them in Jerusalem the same day, appearing suddenly in the midst of them after vanishing from the first two. John reports that the first appearance was to Mary Magdalene; the second was to ten of them in Jerusalem, Thomas being absent, when he also appeared through the walls since the disciples had locked themselves in; the third was eight days later, when Thomas was this time with them, and after doubting it Yeshua asked him to touch his wounds and put his hand into them to be convinced. Mark, in an appendix which was almost certainly added later, summarizes the appearance to Mary Magdalene and the two appearances in Luke. But Saul (Paul), the man who traveled around the Great Sea preaching the worship of Yeshua, gives a list of all the appearances which does not include a single one of the reports contained in the gospels; he includes an appearance to Yakub, called Yeshua's brother, to Simon alone, to five hundred of them in Jerusalem, and to himself, which he elsewhere reports as a light and a voice. So none of these reports can be trusted; no two witnesses agree; it seems certain that these could have been little more than what today we would call hallucinations or people seeing ghosts, or thinking they saw ghosts, the more so since there is no agreement among them.

Whatever it was that happened after Yeshua was executed, it is improbable that his corpse came back to life. Perhaps he was not really dead, and revived in the cold air; but that is not the same as rising from the dead. If he had risen, why wouldn't he have gone to the temple and said, "See, here I am, back from the dead; this proves I am the son of God?" But No, we are told only that he appeared to a very few persons, and then disappeared into the skies. It is impossible to give any credit to these rumors of the resurrection.

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It is a possibility that Joseph of Arimathaea was actually Yosef, the father of Yeshua, and that he had written a bill of divorce to Mary according to the commandment in Deuteronomy some years earlier and gone to live in Arimathaea, and that Yeshua's harsh opinion of divorce came from his sorrow over this separation. This might also explain the similarity between the legends of Yosef, who planted his staff in the ground, and it then bloomed, and Joseph who came to Glastonbury in the British Isles and planted his staff in the ground and it also bloomed. It is an interesting hypothesis, but there is no direct evidence.