by miriam berg
Chapter XXII

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 tree either:
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.

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