by miriam berg
Chapter III

Yeshua ben Yosef was still a young man when he came to be baptized as a disciple of Yohanan in 28 A.S.D. He is said to have been about 30 years old, which was the minimum age for becoming a rabbi; but since he is also said to have been born during the reign of Herod the Great, who died in 4 B.C.E., he must have been older than that. His father Yosef ben Yakub was said to have been a carpenter or builder of houses, and Yeshua was said to have followed that trade also. Mark calls Yeshua a carpenter, and Matthew calls him the carpenter's son. However, the Greek word used is tekton, which can mean either woodworker or stonemason. Still, it is clear that Yeshua was a member of what we would today call the working class.

Yosef is said to have been from a town called Nazareth in Galilee, and that place is referred to as the hometown of Yeshua. But there is some doubt that there was a town by that name at that time; no such place is referred to in the Old Testament, nor does it appear in any contemporary records. The reference to Yeshua as a "Nazarene" may simply be a corruption of the term "Nazarite", which was a Hebrew term for one who had taken a special vow of service to God. The term came from the Hebrew word for 'abstain', since they were to abstain from wine, from cutting their hair, and from touching a corpse, as it is prescribed in the book of Numbers, chapter 6.

It is also said that Yeshua was born in Beth-Lehem, a town in Judea about six miles south of Jerusalem. The name means "house of bread"; it is famous in the Old Testament as the place where Rachel, the mother of Joseph and Benjamin, died, and where David, the hero-king who had united Israel and Judah, had been born; and the prophet Micah had predicted that the coming messiah would be born in that village. And it is further said that Yosef was descended from David himself. But these traditions are open to doubt; neither is referred to at any time during the career of Yeshua as given in the gospels; nor are they referred to in any of the writings of Paul, the preacher who organized followers of Yeshua all around the Great Sea, nor in any of the rest of the New Testament. The gospel of John, in fact, tells us that these legends, of the birthplace of Yeshua and the ancestry of Yosef, were not known during the time of Yeshua, when the priests and elders are arguing that Yeshua cannot be the messiah since he is from Galilee. And the genealogies given by Matthew and Luke do not agree with each other, either in names or in number of generations; they do not even give the same name for the father of Yosef. Nor can they be confirmed by any of the rabbinical writings. So it must be that these legends were invented by the followers of Yeshua to support their claim that he was the messiah, since it had been written that the line of David would rule perpetually over Judah.

We are told that Yeshua had always been interested in religion and Jewish law and history. It was said that when he was twelve years old, he had stayed behind in Jerusalem after his bar mitzvah, the Jewish ceremony of initiation into adulthood, listening to the rabbis in the temple and asking them questions. We can only guess at his questions: What was God like? Why did he punish Israel? Why didn't Israel and Judah stay united, if they were all descended from Yakub? Why are some men wicked and prosper, and others suffer even though they obey the ten commandments? If we are God's chosen people, why are we subject to the Romans? Has God perhaps chosen the Romans instead of the Jews? These, and dozens of questions like them, the youth Yeshua must have asked of these rabbis; we are told that all who heard him were amazed at his understanding.

We are also told that when Yosef and Miryam returned to Jerusalem and searched for him and finally found him, they scolded him, whereupon he asked them, "Why did you worry about me? Didn't you realize that I would be here, among the teachers of our religion?" This phrase is translated in the King James version as "about my father's business", whereas the Revised Standard version translates it as "in my father's house". However the Greek says literally, "among these that are of God". In any case his question to them reveals his deep and early interest in religion and ethical values.

We hear nothing more about young Yeshua until he appears in the wilderness of Judea, 60 miles south of Galilee, to be baptized by Yohanan. Where was he during those years? Had he been a member of the Essenes? Or had he been a member of the Qumranian sect? We don't know; but even if he was, and their orders required that a prospective member serve a postulancy of one year, followed by a novitiate of another year for the Qumranians and two years for the Essenes, he must have left them to begin his preaching, since their teachings required withdrawal into the desert and separating themselves from the rest of society. There is also a tradition that he went to India to study, but there is no evidence for that; and when we study his actual words, we find that all his images and ideas come from the Hebrew scriptures. In fact, we will find that he knew the Old Testament extremely well.

However that may be, since Yeshua came to become a disciple of Yohanan, we can assume that he believed in Yohanan's teaching: that there was a day of destruction coming, and that men must adopt a new and ethical way of life, which Yohanan had called metanoia, from the Greek for "new being", or "complete change of heart and mind". As we will see later, Yeshua praised Yohanan as being the "greatest of those born of women"; the probability is that Yohanan was remembered, not because he was the forerunner of Yeshua, but because of Yeshua's high opinion of Yohanan.

What were his thoughts as he stood in the bank of the Jordan, ready to be immersed, and begin a new way of life? Was he thinking about the end of the world? Was he already planning to become a preacher like Yohanan? We can never know; but we are told that as he was coming out of the water, he felt as if he saw the "heavens rent asunder", and a dove descending, and heard a voice speaking to him. This must have been what we would today call a "mystical experience", or a visionary one; but since there is no evidence that anyone else saw or heard anything, we can conclude he must have told this experience to his followers, in order for them to tell it to us.

And it must also be that Yeshua told them what the voice said: "You are my beloved son; this day have I begotten thee." This is a quotation from the second Psalm, and is quoted this way in both the Acts of the Apostles, and in the Epistle to the Hebrews, although not in the gospels. This makes it certain that the voice was to Yeshua, and that Yeshua's "sonship" with God began at the time of his baptism, whatever that sonship meant to him. It may have meant no more than, "You are a child of God; today you have come alive!"

Yeshua then went out into the desert alone, presumably to meditate on this experience. Mark says that he was "driven forth", and that "he was with the wild beasts, and the angels ministered unto him"; all three tell us that he was "tempted by Satan". But since Mark wasn't there, nor were Luke or Matthew, they can only have learned this from Yeshua or one of his followers; and so we can conclude that Yeshua must have told them about this experience also: "When I was in the desert alone, I felt tempted to turn stones into bread, so that people could be fed; but I remembered Deuteronomy, that man does not live by bread alone. And I also felt tempted to seek rulership over the kingdoms of the world; but again I remembered Deuteronomy, that we are to worship God, and to serve only him. And finally I felt tempted to show some sign to the people, such as jumping off the roof of the temple, to make them follow me; but once more I remembered Deuteronomy, that we are not to tempt God, but to follow in all his ways. Thus all these temptations seemed to me to be from Satan, the great adversary of mankind; and I rejected them."

Satan represents the force in the world that tempts people to do what they know is evil. Originally, it was not a proper name, and was translated from stn, the Hebrew trigram for "adversary", or "tempter", to the Greek word diabolos, meaning "slanderer". Judaic thought never accepted the tempter as equal to God, but subordinate to him. It was from the influence of Persian thought, after the Persian conquest in 586 B.C.E., which was duallistic with both a good and an evil force, called Ormuzd and Ahriman, that the concept took on its present personification as Lucifer, in the form of a satyr, a Greek mythological being. But it is certain that Yeshua must have known that the people held the concept, whether he believed it literally himself or not.

But one of the hallmarks of this story is that in each case when Yeshua searched for some way of responding to these temptations which he labelled Satanic, he found a passage from the Old Testament, from the Hebrew scriptures, from words attributed to Moshe, the great Hebrew lawgiver, known today as Moses, who lived about 1250 B.C.E. Yeshua did not invent new responses; he searched for and found answers in the accumulated wisdom of his people.

Then the news must have reached Yeshua that Yohanan had been arrested. This must have come as a shock: his revered teacher, whose movement he had just joined, seized and taken away from them, for preaching moral behavior! But Yeshua knew what he had to do; Yohanan had preached in the wilderness, but that was not enough. So when he heard that Yohanan had been imprisoned, Yeshua returned into Galilee, and began preaching Yohanan's message to all the people in their villages.

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