THE STORY OF YESHUA
by miriam berg
Jerusalem was called longe clarissime urbium orientis, "by
far the most famous city in the East", by Caius Plinius Secundus,
a Roman soldier and naturalist, known as Pliny the Elder, who
was born in 23 A.S.D. and thus was six years old when Yeshua was
teaching in Palestine. At least part of its notability is due to
its natural defenses: it is situated on a spectacular limestone
ridge jutting southwest in the hill country of Judea,
unapproachable on three sides because of steep slopes, and
well-watered from the spring of Gihon at the foot of the eastern slope
in the valley known as the Kidron, and from another spring known
as En-rogel on the south, where the Kidron valley and the valley
of Hinnom come together to drain to the salt sea.
The first inhabitants, called the Jebusites, had kept their
independence all through the occupation of Palestine by
Joshua and the leaders who followed him, who are called
"judges" in the Hebrew scriptures. Finally David laid siege to
the city, and one of his soldiers named Joab climbed through
the conduit from the spring of Gihon to the city and lowered
its defenses so that David could enter. David then renamed it
the City of David, or the Stronghold of Zion, and made it the
capital of his empire. His son Solomon built the temple north
of the fortified ridge, and later kings extended the city
limits to the west and northwest, called the Upper City.
From Bethany, Yeshua and his followers would have approached
the city from the east, passing through another little
village called Beth-Phage, which means "house of custom" or
counting-house; some say it means "house of fig trees". Here
Yeshua borrowed a mount to ride the rest of the way. Mark says
that it was a colt, but Matthew calls it an ass and says that it
was to fulfil a prediction from the book of Zechariah that the
messiah would enter the city riding that way to rescue the people
from Persian rule. As they went along the roadside on the slope
of Mount Olivet, Yeshua paused, and looked across the Kidron valley
to the city on its limestone ridge. He began to weep, and uttered
another poignant lament over the city's fate:
If you had known in this day, if you had been
able to learn the things which belong to peace!
but you are not able to see them. For the days
shall come upon you, when your enemies will build
up a bank around you, and block you in on every
side, and shall dash you to the ground, and your
children with you; and they shall not leave in
you one stone upon another; because you did not
hearken to the words of the prophets, or of
Yohanan, or myself.
If this does not prove that his overriding concern was for saving
the city from Roman destruction, then perhaps nothing can. It is a
painful repetition of the emotion he showed on the border of Galilee
and Samaria as he began his own fateful journey to Jerusalem.
Then they had to descend through the Kidron valley and to
ascend on the other side. When they reached the eastern
gate, called the Sheep Gate, the crowds that had gathered to
welcome the Galilean preacher and healer spread their garments in
front of Yeshua, and others spread branches which they had cut
from the fields. And the crowds were all shouting as he entered
through the gate, showing how popular he had become; some of them
were shouting, "Blessed is he that comes in the name of our God!"
which was a way of greeting a prophet of Yahweh; and others were
shouting, "Blessed is the kingdom of our father David!" Still
others were crying out "Hosanna!" which does not mean "Hurray!"
as we usually think but is Hebrew for "Save us, Lord!"
The amazed Pharisees were indignant at this, and called out
to Yeshua, "Stop this rabble; why do you permit them to
scream such things?" Yeshua answered with a famous epigram:
No, I tell you; if they should be made to keep quiet,
the very stones of the pavement would cry out.
Matthew reports his response a little differently, but equally
pungent, a quotation from the Psalms:
Haven't you read the scripture, Out of the mouths
if babes and sucklings comes genuine praise?
And Matthew tells us that when he had entered Jerusalem, all
the city was stirred, asking, "Who is this?" And the crowds
were all saying to each other, "This is the prophet Yeshua,
from northward in Galilee!" once again showing that the view
of the people of the time was that Yeshua was a prophet.
Mark then says that he walked around the city, looking at the
temple, and all things there were to see: the pool of Beth-zatha,
called the pool of Bethesda in the gospel of John;
the temple itself, enlarged to huge proportions by Herod the
Great and surrounded with walls, porches, gates and porticoes;
the Antonia Tower named after Marc Antony, formerly the Maccabean
castle but converted into a fortified residence by Herod; the two
great arch walkways from the temple over the Tyropoeon valley to
the western ridge; the much larger royal palace on the western
ridge built by Herod and occupied by Pontius Pilate, the Roman
governor; the Herodian street from the temple along the eastern
ridge, past the pool of Siloam which comes from the spring of
Gihon, to the southern gate of the city, at the extreme tip of
the ridge overlooking the valley of Hinnom. After that he went
back out of the city and returned to Bethany with the twelve to
stay there another night.
* * * * *
The gospels tell us that the next morning Yeshua went to a
fig tree on the way to Jerusalem and, finding no fruit on
it, cursed it, saying, Let no man eat fruit from you ever
again. People have tried to point out that it was the month of
Nisan, the first day of spring, which wasn't the season of figs,
and how could he have expected to find any fruit on it. But it
is certain that Yeshua never said any such thing. The story
grew out of a literalization of his parable of the fig tree,
told on his way to Jerusalem while he was passing through
Samaria; what he had meant as a picture of an angry farmer ready
to cut down a barren tree grew into the tale of an actual event
where Yeshua was supposed to have cursed a tree and it withered.
Perhaps Yeshua's followers were all too superstitious and
credulous; after all, he has told them repeatedly that he would work
no signs or wonders. Even one of Yeshua's later followers, an
Alexandrian from Egypt named Augustine, cried out, What had the
tree done that was wicked? why should it have been punished?
Anyhow, the next morning after they came back into Jerusalem
they went into the temple itself. The temple proper consisted
of a smaller version of Solomon's temple: ten cubits high, ten
cubits wide, thirty cubits long, with an inner room into which only
the priests were supposed to go. A cubit was about the length of
a man's forearm, from the elbow to the fingers: about 19 inches,
so that ten cubits is about 16 feet, or five meters. In the
courtyard were many tables of officials who exchanged the coins brought
by the travellers from other parts of the world into the coins
required by the temple priests. There were also many merchants who
sold doves and pigeons for sacrificing by the priests for all sorts
of reasons. Only the birds inspected by the priests and passed as
"unblemished" could be sacrificed. It was a vicious circle conducted
by the priests. All in all, the place was more like a noisy
marketplace or carnival than a place for contemplative worship.
Suddenly something snapped within Yeshua. He strode swiftly
around the courtyard, his face suffused, fire darting from his
eyes; there was a clashing and clattering as he overturned the
tables of the moneychangers, and cries and yells as one by one he
seized the merchants by the arms in his powerful grip and shoved
them toward the gates, flinging their bushel baskets of dead birds
and animals after them. The pilgrims and visitors were petrified;
what was happening? It was all too sudden. Then the rulers of the
temple swooped angrily towards Yeshua, their own faces black with
scowls, and shouted at him, "What is the meaning of this? What do
you think you're doing?" Yeshua stood straight, glaring back at
them, breathing heavily, his hair mussed, his robe dishevelled, and
hurled the words of Isaiah and Jeremiah into their faces:
Is it not written, My house shall be called
a house of prayer for all the nations?
But you have made it into a den of robbers!
Once more he quotes the Hebrew scriptures as the basis for his
action. Mark says that he wouldn't let anyone bring so much as a
tin cup through the courtyard after that. And the chief priests
and the scribes backed off, for they were afraid of the people,
he was so popular with them.
That was his first direct action after he arrived in Jerusalem;
and it turned the indignation of the chief priests and scribes
at his entry into a red rage, and they went inside and began
to plan how to bump him off. But at the end of the day Yeshua went
out of the city, back to Bethany with his disciples.
And that night as they ate dinner, Simon said to Yeshua,
"Master, that fig tree that you tried to find fruit on this
morning? on the way home, it looked like it had withered to
me." Mark tells us that Yeshua answered:
Have faith in God. I tell you, whoever says to a
mountain, Lift yourself up, and dump yourself
into the sea: let him not doubt, but believe that
it shall come to pass, and it shall.
However, it seems unlikely that he actually said this, since it
would be like telling someone to jump off the pinnacle of the
temple and expect the angels to bear him up, or to expect someone
to rise from the dead in order to persuade others of the teachings
of the prophets, which notions Yeshua has preached against. And
it is difficult to see what this has to do with the fig tree,
anyway. What is more likely is that he said something like this,
although it is difficult to see what it has to do with the fig
You must have confidence. It is like a man
who wanting to move a mountain of earth from
his farm, confidently went to work a cupful at
a time; and other men came and helped him a
bucketful at a time; and then a cartload; and
finally the mountain was cut down, and the
earth dumped into the sea.
After all, the word "confidence" does come straight from the
Latin words cum fide, meaning "with faith". This parable
is also found in Chinese teaching; and there is an old Chinese
proverb which goes: The journey of a thousand miles begins with
a single step. This is not to suggest that Yeshua visited China,
merely that it is more in keeping with his style to have given
the disciples this teaching as a parable rather than as a
commandment which would have been impossible to execute.