THE STORY OF YESHUA
by miriam berg
Jericho is one of the oldest inhabited sites in the world,
with archaeological evidence of habitations there as long
ago as 8000 B.C.E., nearly ten thousand years ago. It is
situated 840 feet below sea level, in a pass rising up from the
Jordan river and about six miles west of the river, near a copious
perennial spring called the 'Ain es Sultan, which accounts
for its habitability. The city was destroyed several times: by
the Amorites from the east in about 1900 B.C.E., and by a Canaanite
people from the north in about 1400 B.C.E., but there is no
archaeological evidence for the famous story of Joshua and the
walls came tumbling down, which should have been about the middle
of the twelfth century B.C.E. It was rebuilt during the time of
the northern kingdom, lasting until it was destroyed again by the
Babylonians in the sixth century B.C.E. The city was rebuilt by
the Romans further south, near a stream flowing into the Jordan
called the Wadi Qilt. In the Middle Ages and modern times the
city, now known as Ariha, has spread back up to the waters of the
'Ain es Sultan.
On the final leg of his trip to Jerusalem, Yeshua decided to
make a trip eastward to Jericho. Possibly this was to meet
some of his disciples and followers who had taken the route
down the eastern side of the Jordan river through the region of
Perea. Or it may have been in order to pay a farewell visit to
the region round about the Jordan where he had been baptized into
Yohanan's movement only a little more than a year before, since
that was only a few miles south from Jericho.
On the way he was again encountered by some Pharisees who tried
to trap him with a trick question. This time the question was
about grounds for divorce. There were two schools at that time:
the one following the great rabbi Hillel, who taught that divorce
could be gotten by the husband for any reason he didn't want to
continue the marriage; and the other following Rabbi Shammai, who
was stricter in observance of the Torah than Hillel, and taught that
divorce was possible only for infidelity. Hillel's position was in
a way more liberal, but was certainly to the greater disadvantage of
the wife. Anyway the Pharisees asked Yeshua, "Is it lawful to
divorce your wife for every cause?" apparently to find out which of
the two schools he sided with. Yeshua asked them what Moshe had
commanded, and they replied that Moshe had specified that the husband
should write a get, a kind of certificate of divorce,
and send her away, which permitted her to marry again. This
commandment is found in the first verse of the twenty-fourth chapter
of Deuteronomy, and may be taken to support either or both Shammai
and Hillel, since the reason may be any cause for disfavour,
or any uncleanness. This law was actually intended originally
to keep the husband from simply kicking out his wife; it was an
unfortunate fact of the time that the husband had complete power
over the continuation of the marriage, and the wife was regarded
as little better than a chattel. But Yeshua cuts this law
to the quick:
He set up this procedure only because of your
In other words, their unwillingness to stick with a marriage.
Yeshua then goes on:
But from the beginning of creation, Male
and female made he them. Therefore a man shall
leave his parents, and unite with a wife, and
it shall be as if the couple is one being. So
I say unto you, What God has joined together,
no man should tear apart.
So is he siding with the school of Shammai, or is he siding
with Hillel? Or is he going further than either, and saying
divorce should never happen? Is he merely describing an ideal
marriage? Is he dodging the question? His first remark seems
to imply that if their hearts were not so hard, if the reign of
God were in their hearts, they would not even want to divorce
The disciples must have had some of these same questions,
because when they got back to the house they were staying
at on the way to Jericho, they asked him themselves for
more explanation. Yeshua answered,
Every one who divorces his wife, and marries
another woman, commits adultery against her;
and whoever marries a divorced woman is also
Mark actually makes an error here, and refers to the wife
divorcing the husband, but that was not possible for the Jews
in Palestine. Matthew makes it seem that Yeshua supports
Shammai, by making infidelity the only grounds for divorce,
which Mark and Luke do not.
It seems most likely that what Yeshua is saying here, just as
he was in the Great Sermon, is that if you leave one person
because you want sex with another person, that is adultery,
because sex is not the most important reason for marriage. The
most important reason for marriage is the fulfilment of each others'
lives in a spiritual sense, and sex should not be used as a reason
for abandoning that commitment. Perhaps we can extend "man does not
live by bread alone" to "man does not live by sex alone." Yeshua
means, If you want a divorce, get one; but it is an act of spiritual
violence. You cannot claim that you are free from adultery if you
break a commitment to one person because you are attracted to
Then the disciples, who couldn't imagine being committed to a
marriage they couldn't get out of, said to Yeshua, "But if
that's the case, it's not a good idea to even get married."
Yeshua told them,
This is not possible for everyone, but only to those
who have attained the reign of God. There are some
people who can be faithful to a commitment from the
day they are born; there are others who learn it from
experience; and there are some few who can learn it
from the teachings of the prophets and put it into
practice in their lives. So if you can, do it.
It is not possible that Yeshua was telling people not to marry,
or not to have children, or not to cleave one to another. The
Greek word eunuchia which is translated "eunuch" or castrated
person can equally well be translated "celibate" or "one who is
free of sexual addictions". Therefore Matthew's harsh wording
can be translated as in the above passage. But the whole thinking
of Yeshua on this subject is unclear, and we have reported his
words as well as we could.
Then there happened one of the sweetest episodes in the life
of Yeshua. The parents in the crowds brought all their
children to him, for him to lay his hands upon. The disciples
thought this would bother Yeshua, and they tried to prevent it,
shouting, "Get away from there!" and "Leave Yeshua alone!" But
when Yeshua heard this, he was indignant at the disciples, and
Let the children come to me; do not stop them
or keep them away; for they are what the kingdom
of God is made of.
And I say unto you, Whosoever
does not receive the reign of God as if he were a
little child will not reach it.
Then he took them in his arms one by one, and blessed them, and
gave them back to their parents.
But we can notice that his simple and direct statement above
was modified by Matthew as follows:
Unless you turn, and become as little children,
you shall not enter into the kingdom of God.
And the gospel of John modifies it even further, as follows:
Except a man be "born again", of water and the
spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
So there is a clear theological progression from the form of the
statement in the gospel of Mark to that in the gospel of John,
and the concept of being "born again" is almost certainly not
from Yeshua himself.
Next day as they were walking along the road to Jericho, there
came a young man and kneeled before Yeshua, asking, "Good
master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" This must
have been one of the leading questions of the day; the lawyer asked
the same question as they were passing through Samaria; and Yeshua
told his disciples earlier, "Whoever seeks to find his life shall
lose it." But Yeshua reacts negatively to the way he is addressed,
and corrects the young man:
Why do you call me good? there is no one good,
except for God.
If there was ever a disclaimer of divine authority, this was it.
But then he goes on to respond to young man's question:
You know the ten commandments: do not kill;
do not steal; do not commit adultery; do not
bear false witness; do not defraud; honor your
father and mother.
The first four of these have been called the foundation upon
which all human society is based; they are also found in the
Code of Hammurabi, who was a ruler in the Euphrates Valley half a
millenium before Moshe. But here again Yeshua quotes from the
Torah in order to explain how to find life. The young man answers,
"Master, I have kept all these commandments since my childhood."
Yeshua looked at him and loved him, so Mark says, and then said:
You lack one thing still: go and sell everything
you have, and give it to the poor; and then you
will have your wealth invested in the reign of God;
and then come and follow me.
What a challenge! On the way through Samaria he had told his
followers to do this: treasure in heaven is not used up, nor can it
be stolen, nor can it be eaten by insects. All three gospels tell
us that the young man was rich, and perhaps thought by coming to
Yeshua the people would think more highly of him; but Yeshua
unerringly pointed at his weakness, for his face fell, and he went
away unhappy at this advice, for he didn't want to give up all his
After he had gone, Yeshua looked around at all of them, who
were thunderstruck by his words, and repeated his assertion
that there was a conflict between God and mammon, between
wealth and practicing his and Yohanan's teachings:<
How difficult it is for people who trust in riches
to enter into the reign of God!
It is easier even for a rope to go through the
eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to reach
the kingdom of God.
It is the addiction to wealth that he is criticizing, and not wealth
itself. In the parable about the rich man and his barns he stressed
that it is ultimately futile to accumulate great wealth for yourself,
and the parable about the supper and the poor and homeless has made
it clear that to Yeshua the reign of God consisted of carrying out
Yohanan's instructions to the multitudes: He that has two coats, let
him give one to the person who has none; and let him that has food
do likewise. We can inquire endlessly into the rationale for
these actions, but there is no doubt that they are what Yeshua
Anyway the disciples could not believe their ears at Yeshua's
words, and exclaimed, "But no one can do this!" Yeshua looked
at them, thought a moment, and said:<
No man can do this by himself, but with the help of God;
for all things are possible with God.
Simon then said to him and to the others, "You know, Yeshua, we
have abandoned everything, and come with you." Yeshua smiled at
him and answered:
There is no one who has given all their goods
to the poor, but who shall receive a hundredfold
more in value from being under the reign of God,
which, even if he is persecuted for it, is the
same as eternal life.
Matthew and Luke attribute a saying to Yeshua that when the
son of man sits upon a throne of glory, so shall the disciples
sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
But this saying cannot be from Yeshua. Never has he said he would
sit upon a throne. He has consistently described the days to come
not as days of glory but as days of destruction and disaster. In
Jerusalem perhaps we shall get a closer glimpse at what he meant;
but he cannot have promised his disciples twelve thrones because
not only were the twelve tribes long vanished but it contradicts
all his prior teachings: they are to put themselves last, and be
the servants of everyone, and deny any title such as rabbi, or
master, or Abba, or judge.
Nevertheless, the very next day Yakub and Yohan come to Yeshua
and ask him to do for them whatever they are going to ask.
Matthew says it was their mother who asked it. Either way,
Yeshua must have been suspicious of the question, and he asked what
it was they wanted. They said, or she said, "Please promise us
that we two, Yakub and Yohan, may sit on either side of you in your
glory, on your right hand and on your left hand." This interminable
obsession with their rank and power! it must have exasperated and
disappointed Yeshua. In Kephar-Nahum he had told them to quit
jockeying for position and just take care of each other and other
people, as salt seasons and yeast leavens. So he says to them
You haven't the slightest idea what you are asking for.
Can you drink of my cup, or be baptized with
He surely must have meant the cup of travail and suffering, and of
his coming death as the baptism by fire which he foresaw as they
left Galilee. They chorus back, "We can, Master." So he sighs
again and tells them,
Perhaps you can drink of the cup of suffering,
and endure the baptism of fire; but to sit on a
throne of glory, I don't care whether it is on the
right hand or the left, I cannot give to you; only
God decides that, and whoever it is must deserve it.
This conversation angered the rest of the disciples, because
they didn't see why Yakub and Yohan should be any higher than
the rest of them. Yeshua patiently called them together and
tried once again to explain to them about humility:
The kings of the earth lord it over their
subjects, and exercise authority over them.
But it must not be so among yourselves;
whoever would be great among you must be your
servant; and whoever would be first must be
the servant of servants.
For the son of man did not come to be
served, but to serve others, and to give his
life so that others might be saved.
How many times has he tried to explain it to them! and any
lesser man would have been completely discouraged by now at
their lack of understanding.
There is one last healing which occurred in Jericho which has
the same hallmarks that the others have had: it is not claimed
as a sign, and it is attributed to the person's faith. It was
like this: A blind beggar, whom Mark names bar-Timaeus, which is
Aramaic for "son of Timaeus", hears that Yeshua is passing by, and
cries out for Yeshua to help him, and the rest of the crowd try to
shut him up. It is the only place in the gospels where Yeshua is
called the "son of David", but that was an oriental way of praising
someone and did not refer to Yeshua's ancestry. Anyway Yeshua calls
him over to him, and asks him what he wants. When the blind man
answers that he wants his eyesight back, Yeshua tells him, as so
many times before:
Go your way; your faith will heal you.
Matthew tells us that he "touched his eyes", from which we can guess
that here, as in Beth-Saida, he rubbed spit on the man's eyes to
remove the cataracts. All the gospels say in Greek that he "regained"
his sight; even in the gospel of John, Yeshua uses spittle and clay
to heal a blind man. Then bar-Timaeus followed along with Yeshua.
Finally they arrived at Jericho, and entered into the city.
The crowd had heard he was coming, and had filled the streets
to get a look at this preacher whose fame had spread throughout
tine. Yeshua was passing by a tall many-branched sycamore tree,
which is a wonderful climbing tree, looking a little like a menorah,
the Jewish candlestick used to celebrate Hanukah, and he spotted a
short well-dressed older man clinging to a branch, looking down at
him as he passed. Yeshua also noticed that there were many persons
in the crowd who were pointing to the man in the tree and muttering
below their breath. Somehow, Yeshua had heard the man's name, and
he called out to him:
Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down from that tree;
for today I must stay at your house.
Zacchaeus did indeed make haste, and came down from the tree, and
happily led Yeshua to his own house. We can guess that he was
very pleased to be the host for Yeshua's stay in Jericho. But
the crowd was less pleased; Zacchaeus was a rich tax-collector,
and disliked by the residents of Jericho. But Zacchaeus stood
at the table, serving the guests himself, and finally announced
to everyone in a loud clear voice: "Look, everyone: today I am
giving half of my goods to the poor; and if there is anyone
whom I have cheated in his taxes, I will restore his own to him
fourfold." No doubt there was applause from the guests and
from the crowd, and there must have been a pleased look on
Yeshua's face; here was someone who heard his teachings about
riches and took them seriously. But Zacchaeus was merely doing
what is prescribed in the Torah, the twenty-second chapter of
the book of the Exodus, where anyone who has deprived someone
else unfairly is to restore to them fourfold, or fivefold.
Then Yeshua told everyone,
Today is the reign of God come into this house,
and it is a cause for rejoicing, since Zacchaeus
is also a son of Abraham.
Zacchaeus is not heard of again, either in the gospels, or in
the rest of the New Testament. Perhaps he continued to live
quietly in Jericho, giving half of his income to the poor, and
without taking from anyone more than they owed, in keeping with
the teachings of Yohanan as well as Yeshua.