THE STORY OF YESHUA
by miriam berg
Pesach, or Passover, is the most important holiday in
the Jewish calendar, because it commemorates the Exodus, which
was the event of the escape of the ancient Hebrews from
Egypt where the Torah says that they had been enslaved by the
pharaoh, or ruler of Egypt. Pesach is thought to mean "festive",
or perhaps "leaping over"; "passover" refers to the passing over
of the Hebrew houses during the last plague on the Egyptians
told of in the book of Exodus. No certain evidence has ever
been found for the events there described, although it seems
from historical research that Rameses II was the "pharaoh of the
oppression" as he is called, and that the Exodus took place
under his successor, Merneptah, who was not as strong a ruler as
Rameses II had been. It is easy to believe that the Egyptians
would not have recorded such a defeat for their rulers, or that
one of them had been drowned in the waters of the sea of reeds,
which has mistakenly come to be known as the Red Sea, and that
that is why we have no record of the Exodus in Egyptian annals.
An interesting speculation is that the plague of darkness and
the plague of hail and fire was a memory of the explosion of
Santorini, a volcano near the island of Crete, which blew up in
about 1500 B.C.E., which was not in the time of Moshe, however.
Be that as it may, Moshe had instituted the holiday and the
traditional explanation was embedded in the Hebrew scriptures by
the time of Josiah, the king in the sixteenth generation of
David's dynasty, who held one of the most festive Passovers in
the history of the southern kingdom to celebrate the return of
the nation to Yahwism.
Mark tells us that two days later there was the feast of
the passover, although it is not certain two days after
what. According to our reckoning it was now the fifth
day of the week after Yeshua entered Jerusalem: the first was
when he entered and looked around; the second was when he
kicked out the moneychangers from the temple; the third was
the day of his confrontations with the chief priests, scribes,
and Sadducees; and the fourth was the day of his discourse
against the scribes and Pharisees and the discourse on the
events of the future.
The feast of Passover was also called the feast of unleavened
bread because part of the ritual was that only bread not
raised with yeast could be eaten. By now the chief priests
and the scribes had reached their limit, probably because of the
denunciatory things Yeshua had said about them; and they planned
how they could arrest him secretly, and kill him. But they
didn't dare to during the feast, because they were afraid of an
uprising of the people if they arrested such a popular preacher.
Up to now we have heard nothing about the disciple named
Judas Iscariot, except for his being mentioned in the
lists of disciples by all the gospels. Nor does the
gospel of John tell us anything either about Judas prior to
this point; he is simply not mentioned. So it is difficult
to know why it was that he went to the chief priests and made
a deal to turn Yeshua over to them in an unguarded moment,
when the people would not be around to protect him. Had he
decided that Yeshua was a danger to the Jews in Palestine?
had he become disillusioned because Yeshua had worked no
sign and organized no army to throw out the Romans? was he
hoping that in such a moment of danger Yeshua would finally
demonstrate his military intentions and power? The surname
"Iscariot" is thought to come from the Roman term sicarii,
meaning "dagger-man" or assassin, which is what they called the
Zealots, so that Judas may have been a Zealot himself, although
he is not called one by any of the gospels. Whatever the reason,
he apparently made this agreement with the chief priests, and
they agreed to pay him for helping them to arrest Yeshua.
On the day of the feast, the legend is that Yeshua sent
two of his disciples into the city, to find and follow a
man bearing a pitcher of water, and that the man would
have a room in his house where they could have the Seder, or
passover celebration, together. They did so, and found the man,
who remains unnamed in the gospels, and came that evening for
the meal, which was hedged about with great ritual: the meal
consisted of a lamb roasted whole, matzos or large crackers of
unleavened bread, and red wine symbolizing the blood of the lamb;
with many prayers before partaking of anything. The head of the
household blessed the meat, and the wine, and the bread; and the
ritual prescribed that everything must be consumed at that meal;
nothing was to be left over. The head of the household poured
a large cup of wine, and after blessing it, he drank from it,
and then each member of the household also drank. Then he
broke the unleavened bread, and served a portion to each
person, and passed around a bowl of bitter herbs and another
of a sauce made of dates, figs, and almonds, called haroseth,
which was symbolic of the mortar which they had to make for the
bricks during their slavery in Egypt. Then everyone took another
cup of wine and they all chanted several of the Psalms. It was
a ritual of thanksgiving.
At this last meal which the disciples had with Yeshua, he
acted as the head of household, but apparently without
following the Seder ceremony exactly. However, it is
likely that the actual writers of the gospel narratives were
not familiar with the proceedings, since none of them was
living in Palestine when they wrote. Mark reports that while
they were eating, Yeshua announced that he knew that one of
them was going to betray him to the authorities, quoting from
the 41st Psalm, verse 8:
One of you shall betray me, even he that eats with me.
They were shocked and sorrowful, but could not tell whom he meant.
Luke tells us that he began the service by saying:
With great desire I have wanted to share this
passover with you before I suffer; but now I
say to you, I will not eat anything, unless and
until the kingdom of God comes upon the earth.
Then he took the first cup of wine, and after reciting the
prescribed prayer, instead of drinking it he passed it
Take this, and divide it among yourselves; for
I also say to you, I will not henceforth drink
of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of
So it would appear that, according to Luke, he neither ate nor
drank anything at his last meal.
Mark, Matthew, and Luke all report at this point that he
broke the unleavened bread and passed it around, and told
them that they should consider it to be his body. They also
report that as he passed around the cup of wine, he told them
that it was his blood. Did he really mean to tell them that they
were to eat his body, and drink his blood, as the gospel of John
was to say, many years later? Or did he merely mean that they
were to take their bread and wine together in remembrance of him,
as indeed Luke tells us he said as he passed them around:
This do in remembrance of me.
Did he mean that after priests had said some prayers over the bread
and wine they would become transformed into his real flesh and blood?
This seems to be a form of ritual cannibalism, practiced by many
primitive peoples, in which the eating of a god, or of an enemy,
or of a warrior who died valiantly enabled one to take on the virtues
of that person. Nothing in any of Yeshua's teachings hitherto, nor
in any of his parables, nor in any of the Judaic teachings in the
Hebrew scriptures, serves to corroborate this paganistic practice in
any way. In fact it would seem to be contradicted by his teaching
that it is what comes out of your mouth that matters, not what goes
into it, as he told the Pharisees regarding handwashing. The Yeshua
who quoted Hosea twice, that God wanted lovingkindness and not
sacrifice, and twice told his adversaries to go and learn what that
meant, could not have in any way said that he himself was to
be a sacrifice to win God's forgiveness, especially not the God who
watched over every sparrow and counted every hair on their heads
and fed the birds of the air and watered the anemones of the hillsides!
Whoever it was who first made this monstrous suggestion about how to
worship Yeshua, it could not have been Yeshua, it could not
have been the man who said, as Matthew quotes him as saying:
Not everyone who says unto me, Lord, Lord, shall find
the reign of God; but he who does the will of our
father God. (Matt. 7:21)
Thus all the succeeding centuries of Yeshua-worship appear
to have been based upon a misinterpretation of something he
said at his last meal with his disciples. The man who said,
Call no man master upon this earth; and, Why do you call me good?
only one is good, even God; and Blessed rather than I is the one
who hears the word of God and does it, could never have commanded
his disciples to perform any kind of cannibalistic ritual even in
his memory. This dreadful practice must have grown out of their
memories of that last meal where we are told that he ate nothing,
he drank nothing, but he shared his cup of wine with all of them
and he broke the bread and passed it around in accordance with
the ancient Passover ceremony.
After the passover meal, they went out of the city and
across the brook Kidron to Mount Olivet. And while they
were resting on the mountainside, Yeshua said to all of
them, quoting from the book of Zechariah:
All you shall leave me; just as it is written,
I will strike down the shepherd,
and the sheep shall be scattered abroad.
Simon shook his head vigorously, and told him, "Even if all of
the rest of them desert you, I will never." Yeshus looked at
him sadly, and said,
I tell you truly, Simon, that before the
cock crows two times tonight, you shall deny
knowing me three times.
Again Simon protested, saying, "I will die rather than deny you."
Then all of the others shook their heads and insisted that they
would never leave him either.
Luke records an enigmatic conversation between Yeshua and
the disciples after the meal, following the prediction that
Simon would deny him three times. He asks them all:
When I sent you out without wallet or sandals,
did you lack anything?
They answer, "Nothing." So far, so good. But then Yeshua tells
them, according to Luke:
But now, if you have a purse, better bring it,
and also bring a wallet; and if you don't have one,
then you should sell your coat, and buy a sword.
For they are coming to arrest me,
even as it says about Jeremiah in the book of Isaiah,
And he was reckoned with transgressors.
Here is the Achilles' heel of the Synoptic gospels: did Yeshua
tell his followers to get swords, and does that mean that he
was planning to resist arrest? or to do battle with the police?
What else could he have meant? Did he say, Sell all that you
have and give to the poor, when he was teaching freely, but
change his tune to, Sell your coat, and buy weapons, when his
life was threatened? Then Luke tells us that the disciples
answered, "Look, here are two swords." To this Yeshua responded:
It is enough.
The Greek words ikanon estin do mean, That's enough,
but did he mean, Two swords are enough; or, No more of this!
as some translators think? Neither makes much sense; he can
hardly have expected to resist arrest with only two swords,
nor does the pungent response "No more of this" seem appropriate
if he told them to buy swords. It is a most difficult passage
to explain; one possibility which is consistent with his earlier
teachings is that Luke misreported Yeshua's urging his followers
to remain non-violent even if he was arrested, something
like this(my emendation):
Look, even if you were
to take a purse of gold,
and also a wallet; and even if you were to sell
your cloak, and buy a sword; I tell you all for
the last time, what is to be must be, that I am
about to be arrested, and executed as if I were
Then when they told him that they already had swords, he gave
up, and told them that he had had enough. It was his later
followers who found the quotation in Isaiah II which they applied
to Yeshua, "For he was reckoned with transgressors"; but it is
clear that Isaiah was referring to Jeremiah when he wrote.
A little way further up the canyon of the Kidron river was a
glade called Gethsemane. It enclosed a natural cave in which
Yeshua told the disciples to wait while he went apart to pray
taking only Simon and Yakub and Yohan with him. Here the story
rises to a peak of intense emotion: he tells the three closest
disciples to wait and watch, and he goes forward and prostrates
himself on the ground, praying that the hour might pass from him:
Abba, Father, all things are possible for you;
remove this cup from me; nevertheless, not what
is my will, but what is your will.
Abba is an affectionate Hebrew word for "father." He knows
that Judas has gone away to lead the soldiers there to arrest him;
and he foresees that they will convict him upon little or no
evidence, and that he will be executed soon. This knowledge tears
at him: he has striven for months to bring his people to a fresh
and vital understanding of the teachings of the prophets in order
to stave off inevitable disaster; but he will be dead soon, pain-
fully executed, without any sure knowledge that his teachings will
be promulgated any further. So he expresses a fervent wish that he
could escape this fate, in a Psalmic image of a cup of suffering;
but finally gives his tortured assent to this fate. Luke makes
the scene more fantastic by saying that there was sweat in the form
of great drops of blood falling upon the ground. This phenomenon
was known to ancient medicine: blood vessels dilated by great
emotional pressure, in some cases causing drops to exude through
Mark and Matthew report that he returned to the other three
and found them fallen asleep. He woke them up and begged
them to keep awake and watch, and then went away again to
repeat the same prayer. A second time he returned and found them
again asleep, rubbing their eyes groggily when he woke them the
second time. He went away one more time, and this time when he
returned he was composed, and said to them:
Arise, let us be going; for the one who is to
betray me is now catching up with us.
And indeed, at that moment Judas arrived at the head of a band
of men bearing swords and staves. How brazen Judas must have
been! the man whom he had followed for a year, facing him quietly
there on the side of Mount Olivet! How could he have done it?
what had turned him against the preacher who had moved crowds
throughout Palestine, from Dan to Beer-Sheba? Anyway, Judas went
up to Yeshua, and kissed him, which was a signal he and the chief
priests had agreed on to enable them to identify Yeshua and
arrest him. As the men laid hands upon Yeshua, he chided them:
Have you come out to get me as if I were a bandit,
armed with all these swords and staves?
I was with you every day in the temple teaching,
and you did not try to seize me.
But this is your hour now, the hour of darkness;
even so, I tell you that you cannot hide from God.
How these words must have shamed them! or perhaps they were too
dull to catch them, too slavish to the religious leaders. But
then his prediction came true, and all the disciples forsook
him, their teacher whom only short moments before they had
pledged never to desert, and they all fled away from there.
There are a couple of verses in Mark here, which suggest to
us that Mark may have been actually a witness of these events,
and not just a ready scribe tagging along with Simon as he
travelled around the Great Sea in later years reminiscing about
Yeshua. It says in the gospel of Mark, following the arrest of
A certain young man followed with him, having
a linen cloth wound around him, covering his
nakedness; and they seized him also, but he
wriggled out of the cloth, and fled naked.
Tradition says that this young man was Mark himself. There is
no certainty, and it may well be doubted; but why else would
the author of Mark have reported this apparently insignificant
and irrelevant detail? In one of Paul's epistles, too, the
name of Mark appears; so he may indeed have been one of the
earliest followers of Yeshua. Or perhaps this detail was made
up later to lend authenticity to the gospel; but it is tempting
to believe it, and difficult otherwise to explain it.