by miriam berg
Chapter IV

Galilee is the northwest section of Palestine, bordered by Phoenicia on the coast and the sea of Chinnereth on the east, which is also called the sea of Galilee or the sea of Tiberias or the lake of Gennesaret. The name of the region is shortened from Galil-ha-goyim, which means "district of foreigners", or "land of the heathen". It was never firmly held by the Jews, either in the time of David or in the time of the kingdom of Israel. It included the twenty cities which were given by Solomon to Hiram, the king of Tyre, in exchange for his help in building the temple at Jerusalem. But it had always been a crossroads for the Middle East, since it was on the caravan route from the coast to Damascus, the capital of Syria; it was fertile, compared with the rest of Palestine; and the sea of Galilee was extremely rich in fish.

It was to this region that Yeshua returned, full of his sense of mission after his discipleship with Yohanan. He first gathered a few followers from among the fishermen along the sea of Galilee. One of these was Simon, whom Yeshua nicknamed the "Rock"; his name has come down to us as Peter, from the Greek word for rock, petros. Another was Andrew, the brother of Simon. Two others were Yakub and Yohan, whose names have come down to us as James and John, also two brothers, the sons of Zebediah, or Zebedee as he is called in the gospels. These were both common names in Palestine; Yakub was the legendary ancestor of the thirteen tribes of Israel, and Yohan, or Yohanan, was the name of the oldest son of Josiah, the king who brought about the establishment of Yahwism in Judea. Yeshua nicknamed them Benai Regesh, which means "sons of thunder", or "sons of anger" in Aramaic; the phrase has come down to us transliterated into Greek as Boanerges. They must have had impetuous and tempestuous personalities, as we will see in other reported events in Yeshua's life. But it is interesting to see Yeshua's humor, in the little pet names he gave his followers!

His first recorded preaching was in Kephar-Nahum, or Capernaum, on the northwest shore of the sea of Galilee. However, it is unlikely that he actually began there; it is more probable that he travelled north along the western shore of the sea, through the fishing-towns of Tiberias and Magdala, and called his followers as he went. Nevertheless, we are told that in Kephar-Nahum he entered into the synagogue, and taught; and that his teaching astonished the crowds, because it was with authority. We are not told what he said, or even what the subject was; but the first words attributed to Yeshua in his teaching are these:

The time is at hand,
And the reign of God is near;
Repent, and believe this good news.

These words are clearly based on Yohanan's message, so we can infer from this that he believed with Yohanan that a great and significant time was coming to his country; he called it "the reign of God" and said that it was possible for everyone to belong to it, provided that they turned from their ways, so he therefore called it "good news" or good tidings. The word has come down to us as "gospel" from the Anglo-Saxon "God-spiel" meaning God-tale or God-message, or simply "good story". Yohanan does not use this word; so it must have been Yeshua's, or perhaps from his followers.

We cannot tell from these few words whether he believed that the coming event represented the end of the world; or even if he believed that God was about to punish the wicked. Yeshua is only telling his hearers that they must begin to prepare for the event, even if it means changing their whole lives. In the words of the prophet Zephaniah, "Seek ye the Lord; seek righteousness, seek meekness"; and of Amos, "Thus saith the Lord, Seek ye me, and ye shall live," called by one ancient rabbi the one commandment which encompassed all the other commandments.

But what is the reign of God? or what did Yeshua mean by it? The Greek word used is basileia, meaning "sovereignty" or "kingship". Yohanan had described the state of the world as being ready for God to lay the axe to the root of the trees and to separate the wheat from the chaff; and it was therefore incumbent on his hearers to begin to bring forth fruit worthy of God, by which he clearly meant ethical and moral behavior, as evidenced by his examples and by his own reproof of Herod at the risk of his life. By describing this as "good news", Yeshua must have meant that he sees it as an opportunity rather than a threat, that is, to Yeshua it was a matter for joy rather than fear to bring forth good fruit. But as of yet we have very little from Yeshua to go on; we can remember that his first recorded words, in his parable of his encounters with the devil in the wilderness, are to reject mere bodily satisfaction, by feeding it; and to reject power, even over all the kingdoms of the world; and to refuse to try to impress people by performing any signs or wonders.

But we can imagine him enlarging upon the thunderous message of Yohanan in some more positive way, such as: "The time has come, O Galileans; do not wait any longer for God to come to you; it is possible for you to accept God as your ruler now, right now. To do this, you must stop following the ways of the world, you must stop doing what earthly rulers tell you to do. You must choose between God and mammon; and rejoice in the opportunity to carry out the words of Amos and Zephaniah, and the words of Micah, to do justly and love mercy, and the words of Isaiah, Learn to do well, relieve the oppressed, care for the widow and the fatherless. And rejoice that the love of God is for you and the love of others is within you. This is good news indeed; whoever has ears to hear, let him hear."

During his speaking, a man shouted out at Yeshua from the crowd. He may have been what we would today call a heckler, but the gospels say that he was a madman, their theory being that anyone who didn't act normal was possessed by an evil spirit or a demon. The story also tells us that the man scoffed at Yeshua by saying, "What are you doing here, you Yeshua, you Nazarite? Who do you think you are, the son of God?" But Yeshua silenced him by a look and a word: "Hold your peace, and come out of him." This is the first of the reported exorcisms attributed to Yeshua; the Acts of the Apostles sums up Yeshua's life as one "who went about doing good, and casting out demons..."

Then Yeshua, with his first followers, went to the home of Simon and Andrew, where Simon's mother-in-law was sick with a fever. From this we can infer that Simon lived in Kephar-Nahum, and that he was married, although his wife is never mentioned in the gospels. We are told that Yeshua took Simon's mother-in-law by the hand, and the fever left her. This is the first instance of healings occurring in his presence reported in the gospels; and while we can speculate on how they happened, we can probably not explain them completely. Yeshua himself tells many of those who are healed that it is because of their faith. He tells many others that they should go and tell no one, so it is clear that he is anxious not to be acclaimed as a healer only.

But that evening the whole city gathered at Simon's door, bringing all the residents of Kephar-Nahum who were sick, and all who were supposedly possessed with demons. Now this is probably an exaggeration, but since we can be sure that people who are sick will balk at nothing to get cured, we can believe that there was certainly a large crowd that came that evening. And we are told again that Yeshua healed many of them who were sick, and also that he cast out many of the demons, who as before complained at him that he must think he was the son of God, but he rebuked them sternly: "Shut up, you; don't ever say that again." After this it is not surprising that the rumor of him as an exorcist and a healer "went out immediately everywhere into all the region of Galilee round about," as Mark quaintly puts it.

Now there occurred a little episode which gives us great insight into how Yeshua viewed himself. He had arisen early the next morning, and gone out into the desert to be alone; but he was followed by Simon and Andrew and the others, who urged him to come back because everyone was seeking for him. But Yeshua told them, "No, let us go elsewhere into the next towns, that I may preach there also; for to this end came I forth out of the wilderness." So Yeshua tells us plainly that he thought of his mission as preaching, just as the gospels say many times, that he went round about all the villages teaching. Josephus, the Jewish historian, tells us that there were 240 villages in Galilee, so Yeshua had a lot of places to visit.

On one occasion, he was approached by a leper, who begged Yeshua to cleanse him from his leprosy. This was one of the most dreaded diseases in the Middle East; the sufferer broke out all over with boils and sores, and their outer layers of skin died and fell off. Mark tells us that Yeshua was moved with compassion for the man, and he reached out his hand in the ritual gesture of the priests prescribed in the Old Testament, and told the man that he was cleansed. The book of Leviticus gives very detailed rules about the treatment of leprosy, and how to determine that it is cured; and so Yeshua may have been doing no more than assuring the man that he met the requirements. Yeshua told him to go home, and tell no one, but to show himself to the priest and to follow all of the rules prescribed in Leviticus.

But, as we might expect, the man went out and told all his friends and everyone he met, and who can blame him, he must have been overjoyed at his cure. This just further caused the crowds to pursue Yeshua, coming at him from every direction, as Mark tells it, so Yeshua again went out into the desert alone. He probably was upset that he was being sought after as a healer, rather than as a disciple of Yohanan and a teacher of the reign of God.

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