A Study in Jewish Nationalism Part 5: Rome and Jerusalem
World Zionist Organization | WZO
Resources »  » 
Author: Moses Hess

I. Hellenes and Hebrews

The spiritual views of a man, of whatever religion or race, are the products of his particular environment. But the roots of these conceptions, as well as those of social life in general, lie in the great web of organic life with which the social life is closely and inseparably connected; just as organic life itself is connected with the next life sphere, the cosmic.
There is no absolute line of demarcation between these three life spheres, just as there is DO difference between the material and the spiritual life. The three life spheres do, however, form sharply defined grades or epochs within the unified and indivisible universal life. And just as in each individual life sphere, so also in the totality of the universal life, every step toward a higher grade of life must have its antecedents in the lower grade. Compared with the higher order of life, the organic, the cosmic life sphere appears lifeless, especially on the border line which leads from the life of the cosmic bodies to that of the organisms. Here, on the surface of the already cooled-off and stiffened cosmic bodies, we see only the dead residue of the cosmic life sphere, out of which the higher organic life sphere developed. But if we observe the life of the cosmic sphere where it is still being generated and developed in universal space, we cannot deny to it attributes of the divine life-the life that is so beautifully described in our literature in the Words: "Last in creation, first in thought." The remarkable phenomena which were observed in the modern period, such as the splitting and other changes going on in the double comets of Bielasch and Liais, the solidifying of the cosmic dust, its assumption of the spheroid form and spiral movement, and finally the grouping of these bodies into sideral and planetary systems, these and other similar phenomena are life processes which can be as little explained by an external and one-sided mechanical gravitation theory, as the process of the division of the embryonic cell or the grouping of the organs in an organism.
Similarly, the human, the social life sphere, rises infinitely higher than the organic, but is in nowise different from it; just as organic life does not differ essentially from the cosmic. Here, also, we meet, on the border-line which leads from the organic into the social life sphere, the natural organic race which, compared with the higher humanitarian life, is spiritless. But in spite of this appearance of spiritlessness, the race is the root of the social life sphere, just as the cosmic bodies were the soil out of which the organisms grew.
Social life is, first of all, a product of the life of definite races, composed of different folk-tribes, each of which has formed its life course in a typical way, In the course of historical development, the typical views of life of the various races came in conflict with one another. From the friction of those antithetical forces were generated the first sparks of the spirit, which contain the germs, out of which higher and more harmonious forms of life will spring forth.
The unity of the human genus is a conception developed in the course of ages through historical activity, and not an original, natural idea, inherent in the human soul. It is not an immediate datum of organic life, but a product of the social historical development process. It has the variety of the primitive racial tribes as its antecedent, their struggle as its conditions, and their final harmonious cooperation as its aim.
The thus conceived unity of mankind presupposes a plan of the history of humanity, namely, that the multiple phenomena of social life will finally unite and cooperate in a not less harmonious manner than the varied and different phenomena of organic and cosmic life. This unified, divine plan of history is, at present, apparently in its last stage of historical development. But in antiquity, when the nations were still in the grip of natural life, it was only one people, the people of Israel, which, thanks to its particular genius, was able to perceive the workings of the divine plan in the history of humanity, as well as in the organic and cosmic spheres of life.
If we consider the plan of history, as mapped out in the sacred Scriptures of the Jews, without prejudice, we shall see in it, not only the conception of the unity of mankind, but also the unity of all life, cosmic, organic and social. Our sacred Scriptures presuppose the unity of God, in spite of the apparent variety which the word presents, and the unity of the human genus, notwithstanding the differences of races; because the total plan of the history of the world seems to have been always present to the spirit of the Jewish people, from the beginning of its history. The entire literature of the Jews is to be conceived only from this genetic point of view. Judaism is a historical religion, a historical cult, in contradistinction to Paganism, which is a natural cult.
The revelation of the Jewish spirit, which was an isolated phenomenon at the dawn of the history of humanity, would have been inexplicable and would appear supernatural, were it not for the fact that there existed originally different tribes, with typically individual mental qualities, which had evolved fundamentally different views long before the revelation of the Jewish spirit. This same remarkable manifestation of individuality is met in the divergent languages of primitive peoples. Primitive religions and primitive languages are, as Renan has rightly observed, race creations; though he himself had hardly any conception of the importance of the ancient Jewish historical religion. History corroborates the story of anthropology, that there were originally different human races and tribes.
If the various races and peoples that still exist were not primal, then, in such places as Western Asia, Northern Africa and Europe, where peoples have lived together for thousands of years, commingling through intermarriage and influenced by common climatic conditions, there should have been produced a type, in which there is no trace of their foregone ancestors. But all human races and tribal types, known to us either from historical monuments, or who still live to-day in their primitive homes, in spite of climatic and cultural influences, have reproduced their original types in such a way that the anthropologist can tell, at a glance, the different types of humanity, according to their physiological and psychical characteristics. The most ancient Egyptian monuments depict negroes as well as Indo-Germanic and Semitic types, races which have lived from time immemorial in the same land and which were likewise scattered in different countries and climates, yet their primal types have not undergone any perceptible changes.
The languages of those nations with whom our civilization originated belong to two primal races, the Indo-Germanic and the Semitic. The ancient culture of the former reached its culminating point in Greece; of the later, in Judaea. In these two countries the typical antithesis between the Indo-Germanic and Semitic races reached its highest point, and the fundamental differences in the views of life of these two races were expressed in the classical works of the Hellenes and Hebrews. We see, from those works, that the former viewed life as a multiplicity and the latter as a unity; the one, looked upon the world as eternal being, the other, as eternal becoming. The spirit of the one expressed itself in terms of space, that of the other, in terms of time. In the expression of the Greek spirit, there is the underlying idea of a perfectly created world; the Hebrew spirit, on the other hand, is permeated with the invisible energy of becoming, and the world, according to it, is governed by a principle which will begin its workday in social life, when it has arrived at a standstill in the world of Nature. The classical representatives of the natural Sabbath no longer exist as a people, and the God of history has dispersed his people, which foresaw the historical Sabbath, among the nations. But the two primal types of spirit, which no longer have classical nations as their representatives, have still many such individuals among civilized nations. The two giants of German literature, Goethe and Schiller, are the German representatives of the two types of genius-the Greek and the Hebrew of the natural and historical Sabbath. And when Heine divides all men into Hellenists and Nazarenes, he designates, unconsciously, these two types of spirit. Modern Jews, like the Indo-Germanic nations, have in Heine and "Boeme" their representatives of these two types of cultural life.
After the antithesis of the two spiritual tendencies reached its culminating points in two historical peoples, the conciliation of these two points of view became the task of the civilized nations.
The first attempt at a reconciliation of the two types of civilization was made by Christianity, followed by that of Islam, which contested the right to dominion of the former, in Asia, Africa and even in a part of Europe itself, namely, in Spain. Just as the process of conciliation started from the contact of the Hellenic and Jewish cultures, in the ancient Jewish fatherland, so in the meeting of Arabic, Jewish and European cultures in Spain, the second fatherland of the Jews, the final mediation process between the two types of universal history had its origin. But the spiritual spark which arose out of the friction of the two tendencies, and which became the germ of a higher harmonious tendency in which the natural racial antitheses of the historical peoples will ultimately find their reconciliation, this social light germ, the new revelation, was generated by the Jewish genius.
When pagan Rome brought the ancient Hellenic and Jewish cultural life to an end; there arose, from the ruins of the latter, a new view of the world; and when Christian Rome struck the mortal blow at the Arabic and Jewish cultural life in Spain, there arose again, in the mind of a Jew, from the ruins of the latter, the modern world view. Spinoza was a descendant of the Spanish Jews, who fled to Holland in order to escape the "holy" Inquisition.
II. Christ and Spinoza
From Judaism, permeated with the scientific spirit, Christianity will receive full justice and its importance will be properly estimated. The Jewish historian no longer finds it necessary to assume an attitude of fanaticism toward it. Graetz, in the third volume of his history, has shown how one can be a loyal Jew and at the same time an objective judge of that phenomenon which has been a source of persecution to the Jews for the last eighteen hundred years. A few quotations from that writer will show with what freedom of spirit and objectivity a Jewish historian, not a reformer, has characterized Christianity and its founder.
While Judaea was still trembling," says our Jewish historian, "lest the procurator Pontius Pilate strike a blow at the population, which might result in a rising in arms and great suffering, a strange event occurred. It was so small in its beginning that people scarcely noticed it, but gradually, through the force of circumstances, it assumed such proportions that it turned the history of the world into new paths. ...Israel was now to commence his mission in earnest; he was to become the teacher of nations."
"It was due to the strange movement which arose under the governorship of Pilate, that the teachings of Judaism won the sympathy of the heathen world. But this new form of Judaism, changed by foreign elements, became estranged from and antagonistic to the source from which it sprang. Judaism could hardly rejoice at her offspring, which soon turned coldly from her and struck out into strange, divergent paths. If Judaism does not wish to strip off its ancient individuality and become disloyal to its own convictions, it must continue its existence in opposition to the religion to which she gave birth. This new movement, this old doctrine in a new garb, or rather Essenism intermingled with foreign elements, is Christianity, whose advent and early development belong to the Judaean history of this epoch."
"As regards Jesus himself," says Graetz, "on account of his Galilean origin, he could not have stood high in that knowledge of the Law which through the schools of Shammai and Hillel had become preva lent in Judaea. His small stock of learning and his corrupt half-Aramaic language pointed unmistakably to his birthplace in Galilee. His deficiency in knowledge, however, was compensated by his intensely sympathetic character. Earnestness and moral purity were his undeniable attributes; they stand out in all the authentic accounts of his life that have reached us, and appear even in those garbled teachings which his followers placed in his mouth. The gentle disposition and the humility of Jesus remind one of Hillel, whom he seems to have taken as his model, and whose golden rule, "What you wish not to be done to yourself, do not do unto others," he adopted as the starting-point of his moral code. Like Hillel, Jesus looked upon promotion of peace and the forgiveness of injuries as the highest forms of virtue. His whole being was permeated by that deeper religiousness which consecrates to God not only the hour of prayer, a day of penitence, and longer or shorter periods of devotional exercise, but every step in the journey of life, which turns every aspiration of the soul toward Him, subjects everything to His will, and with childlike trust, commits everything to His keeping. He was filled with that tender, brotherly love which Judaism teaches should be manifested even to an enemy. Certainly no curse against his enemies escaped his lips, and his enthusiastic admirers have done him an injustice when they placed in his mouth a curse or even unfriendly words against his own mother. He reached the ideal of the passive virtues which the Pharisees inculcated: "Be of the oppressed and not of the oppressors; receive abuse and return it not; let the motive of all your actions be the love of God, and rejoice in suffering."
"Jesus must, from the idiosyncrasies of his nature, have been powerfully attracted by the Essenes, who led a contemplative life apart from the world and its vanities. When John, the Baptist--or more correctly, the Essene invited all to come to receive baptism in the Jordan. to repent and prepare for the Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus hastened to obey the call and was baptized by him. Although it cannot be proved that Jesus was formally admitted into the order of the Essenes, much of his life and york can only be explained on the supposition that he had adopted their fundamental principles. Like the Essenes, Jesus highly esteemed self-inflicted poverty, and despised the mammon of riches....Community of goods, a peculiar doctrine of the Essenes, was not only approved, but positively enjoined by Jesus, .for his close disciples had a common purse and shared their goods. Like the Essenes, he reprobated every form of oath. "Swear not at all," taught Jesus, "neither by heaven nor by the earth, nor by your head, but let your yea be yea, and your nay be nay" (James v. 12). Miraculous cures said to have been performed by him, such as exorcism of demons from those who believed themselves to be possessed, were often made by the Essenes. It was, therefore, not considered a special miracle that Jesus could do the same thing. We can also infer from the life that his friends led, that the founder of the sect embraced Essenism. Of his brother James, it is said, with all certainty that he led the life of an Essene, for he did not drink wine nor eat meat nor use oil, and always dressed in linen. But it would seem that Jesus adopted only the essential traits of Essenism, such as the predilection for poverty, the contempt for riches and property, the community of goods, celibacy, the fear of pronouncing an oath and the ability to exert a curative influence upon maniacs. The unimportant practices, such as the observance of strict levitical purity, the frequent taking of baths and the wearing of linen robes, he dropped. Even baptism did not play an important role with him, for we do not find it emphasized either in the stories told about him or in the sayings attributed to him."
"After John had been imprisoned by Herod Antipas in the fortress of Macharus, Jesus thought simply of continuing his master's work. Like John, he preached "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand," 3 without perhaps having then a suspicion of the part he was afterward to play in that Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus apparently felt that if his appeal was not to be lost in the desert, like that of the Baptist, but bring forth lasting results, it must not be addressed to the whole nation, but to a particular class of the Jews. The middle classes, inhabitants of towns of greater or lesser importance, were not wanting in godliness, piety and morality, and consequently a call to them to repent and forsake their sins would have been meaningless. The declaration made to Jesus by the young man who was seeking the way of eternal life, 'From my youth I have kept the laws of God; I have not committed murder or adultery, nor have I stolen or borne false witness; I have honored my father and loved my neighbor as myself, might have been made by the greater number of the middle-class Jews of that time. The description of the later writers of the corruption of the Jews and of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, in the time of Jesus, is pure fiction. The disciples of Shammai and Hillel, the followers of the zealot Judas, the bitter foes of the Herodians and of Rome, were not morally sick and were not in need of a physician. They were ever ready for self-sacrifice and Jesus wisely refrained from turning to them. Still less was he inclined to attempt to reform the rich, the friends of the Romans and the Herodians. From these, the yearning of the simple, unlearned moralist and preacher, his repro of their pride, their venality and inconstancy, would only have elicited mockery and derision. Jesus therefore determined to seek out those who did not belong to or had been expelled from the Jewish community. There were in Judaea at the time many who had no conception of the wholesome truths of Judaism, of its laws, its history and its future. They were publicans and tax-gatherers who were shunned by the patriots, as promoters of Roman interests, who turned their backs upon the Law, and led a wild life, heedless alike of the past and of the future. There were also poor, ignorant handicraftsmen and menials (Am-haaretz), who were seldom able to visit the capital, or listen to teachings which, indeed, they would probably not have understood. It was not for them that Sinai had flamed or the prophets had uttered their cry of warning; for the teachers of the Law, more intent upon expounding doctrines than upon reforming their hearers, failed to make the Law and the prophets intelligible to those classes, and consequently did not draw them into their fold. It was to these classes that Jesus turned, to snatch them out of their torpor, their ignorance and their ungodliness. He felt that he was called to save the 'lost sheep of the house of Israel.' 'They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.'
"Jesus, however, by word and example, raised the sinner and publican, and filled the hearts of those poor, neglected people with the love of God, transforming them into dutiful children of their heavenly Father. He animated them with his own piety and fervor and improved their conduct by the hope he gave them of being able to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Above all things, he taught his male and female disciples the Essene virtues of self-abnegation and humility, of the contempt for riches, of charity and the love of peace. He bade them become sinless as little children, and declared they must be as if born again, if they would become members of the approaching Messianic Kingdom. The law of brotherly love and forbearance he carried to the extent of self-immolation. 'If one smite thee on one cheek, turn to him the other also; and if one sue thee at law and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.' He taught the poor that they should not take heed for meat or drink or .raiment, but pointed to the birds of the air and the lilies of the field that were fed and clothed, yet 'they toil not neither do they spin: He taught the rich how to distribute alms-'Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth.' He admonished the hypocrite, and bade him pray in the secrecy of his closet, placing before him a short form of prayer-'Our Father,' which may possibly have been in use among the Essenes.
"Jesus made no attack upon Judaism itself. He had no idea of becoming the reformer of Jewish doctrine or the propounder of a new Law. He sought merely to redeem the sinner, to call him to a good and holy life and to make him worthy of participation in the approaching Messianic time. He insisted upon the unity of God, and was far from attempting to change in the slightest degree the Jewish conception of the Deity. To the question once put to him by an expounder of the law, 'What is the essence of Judaism?' he replied, 'Hear, O Israel, our God is one,' and 'Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself'; -these are the chief commandments. When a man approached him with the words: 'Good Master;' Jesus remarked: 'Call me not good, there is none good but One, that is, my Father in Heaven:' His disciples, who remained true to Judaism, promulgated the declaration of their master 'I have not come to destroy but to fulfill till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in nowise pass from the Law till all be fulfilled.' "
He must have kept the Sabbath holy, for those of his followers who were attached to Judaism strictly observed the Sabbath, which they would not have done had their master disregarded it. It was only the Shammaitic strictness in the observance of the Sabbath which forbade even the healing of the sick on that day, that Jesus protested 19ainst, declaring that it was lawful to do good on the sabbath. Jesus made no objection to the existing custom of sacrifice, he merely demanded-and in this the Pharilsees agreed with him-that reconciliation with one's fellow-man should precede any act of atonement. He lid not even oppose fasting when practised without ostentation or hypocrisy. He was so completely Jewish, that le shared the narrow views of his time, and, like the Jews of the period, thoroughly despised the heathen world, which included the Roman oppressors and their followers, the Oriental Greeks and Syrians. One must not throw holy things to the dogs, he taught, nor cast pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet and urn again and rend you. When a Canaanite or a Syrian Greek woman from Phoenician implored him to heal. possessed daughter, he replied harshly, "I was sent only .to the lost sheep of the house of Israel and it is net right to take the bread away from the mouth of the children and cast it to the dogs." To his disciples he repeatedly spoke: Do not follow in the paths of the heathens and do not enter the cities of the Samaritans. While Jesus thus confined himself to the bounds of Judaism, he had no intention to proclaim a new revelation or to originate a new covenant, but limited himself to the task of sowing the seeds of religion and morality in such hearts as had heretofore been barren of it. Jesus did not teach the immortality of the soul, in the sense of a continued existence of the soul after its liberation from the body and its sojourning in the abode of heaven, but emphasized the resurrection of the body at a definite time," in accordance with the teachings of Judaism current in his day. The resurrection of the just and pious was, according to him, to take place on earth, and as the beginning of the inauguration of a new order of things, the future world (Olam habba), which he, like the Pharisees and Essenes; identified with the Messianic era and the initiation of the Kingdom of Heaven. He, like the Pharisees, threatened sinners with eternal punishment in a fiery pit (Gehenna). The merit of Jesus consists in his efforts to impart inner force to the precepts of Judaism, in his upholding the Jewish doctrine of the Brotherhood of Man, in his insistence that moral laws be placed in the foreground, and in his endeavors to have them accepted by those who had hitherto been regarded as the lowest and most degraded of human beings.
His great design, the central point of all his thoughts, Jesus disclosed on one occasion to the most intimate circle of his disciples. He led them to a retired spot at the foot of Mount Hermon, near Caesarea Philippi, where the Jordan rushes forth from mighty rocks, and in that remote solitude he revealed to them the hidden object of his thoughts. But he contrived his discourse in a way that it appeared to be his disciples, who at last elicited from him the revelation that he considered himself the expected Messiah. He asked his followers whom they thought him to be. Some replied that he was thought to be Elijah the forerunner of the Messiah; others that he was the prophet whose advent Moses had predicted; upon which Jesus asked them, "But whom say ye that I am?" Simon Peter answered and said, "Thou art the Christ." Jesus praised Peter's discernment and admitted that he was the Messiah, but forbade his disciples to divulge the truth, or, for the present, from speaking about it at all. Such was the mysteriously-veiled birth of Christianity. When, a few days later, the most trusted of his disciples, Simon Peter, and the two sons of Zebedee, James and John, timidly suggested that Elijah must precede the Messiah, Jesus replied that Elijah had already appeared, though unrecognized, in the person of the Baptist. Had Jesus from the very commencement of his career nourished these thoughts in the depths of his soul, or had they first taken shape when the many followers he had gained seemed to make their realization possible? This is a puzzle which cannot be solved. Jesus never publicly called himself the Messiah, but made use of other expressions which were doubtless current among the Essenes. He called himself "the Son of Man," 13 (Bar-Nash), alluding probably to Daniel vii, "One like the son or man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of Days," a verse which, at that time, was made to point to the Messiah himself. There was yet another name which Jesus applied to himself in his Messianic character-the mysterious words "Son of God," probably taken from the seventh verse of the second Psalm, "The Lord has said unto me, thou art my son, this day have I begotten thee," a verse which was in certain Jewish circles interpreted to refer to the Messiah. Was this expression used by Jesus figuratively, or did he wish it to be taken in a literal sense? As far as we know, he never explained himself clearly on this subject, not even later, when it was on account of the meaning attached to these words that he was brought to trial. His followers afterward disagreed among themselves upon the matter, and the various ways in which they interpreted his words divided them into different sects among which a new form of idolatry unfolded itself.
Other appellations were employed by Jesus to designate his Messianic character, such as "Heavenly Bread" (Manna) and the "Bread of Life," expressions which were doubtless employed by the Essenes. He called followers "the salt of the earth." How Jesus expected to fulfill the Messianic expectations, is nowhere indicated. It is only certain that he thought only of Israel, whom he expected to deliver, both from the burden of sin and the yoke of the Romans of the pagan world, he thought as little, when considering himself the Messiah, as when he was only a disciple of John the Baptist. He probably pictured to himself the redemption of Israel in the following manner: that when the Jewish people, through love of God and man, through self-denial and the assumption of voluntary poverty, would rise, under his leadership, to a higher life, God, out of love to his people, would perform for them all sorts of miracles, such as the deliverance from the rule of the Romans, the return of the exiled tribes and final restoration of Israel to its former Davidic splendor.
When Jesus made himself known to his disciples as the Messiah, he enjoined upon them, as remarked already, to keep the revelation secret. Whether it was the fear of Herod Antipas, the slayer of the Baptist, that inspired this cautious measure, or whether he intended to wait until a larger circle of disciples gathered about him to reveal himself as the Messiah, cannot be ascertained. He consoled his disciples for the present silence imposed upon them, by the assurance that a time would come when "What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in the light, and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the house tops." What occurred was contrary to what Jesus and his disciples expected, for as soon as it was known (the disciples having probably not kept the secret), that Jesus of Nazareth not only came to preach the Kingdom of Heaven, but proclaimed himself as the expected Messiah, public sentiment rose against him. He was asked to give proofs and signs that he was the Messiah, which he was not able to do, and he was thus forced constantly to evade the questions addressed to him. Many of his followers were vexed at his assuming the role of a Messiah, and left him. In order not to be discredited in the eyes of his disciples, it was necessary that he should perform some miracle that would crown his work or seal it with his death. They expected, first, that he would appear in the capital at the time of the Passover Feast and there declare himself in the Temple, in the presence of all the people, as the Messiah. It is said that his own brothers entreated him to go to the capital, so that his disciples should at last see his great work. "For there is no man that doeth anything in secret and he himself seeketh to be known openly. If thou do these things, show thyself to the world." (John vii, 4.) And so Jesus was finally forced to enter upon the path of danger. How many years Jesus spent in Galilee is unknown; the Gospel sources seem to indicate that his residence there lasted only one year, so little did they know the actual events. According to later authorities, the time passed by Jesus in his native district was three years.
He wished to prevent any misconception as to his desire to change the Law, and his ready reply to the Pharisee who asked what would be required of him if he became his disciple was, "If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments; sell what thou hast and give to the poor." When he passed Jericho and came near to the capital, he took up his abode near the walls of Jerusalem, in the village of Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, where the lepers, who were forced to avoid the city, had their settlement. He found shelter in the house of one of these outcasts by the name of Simon, who, together with his fellow-sufferers, became his followers. The other followers that he found at Bethany belonged also to the lower class, such as Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha. The sources know only of one rich resident of Jerusalem, Joseph of Arimathea, who became a disciple of Jesus.
The account of Jesus' entry in Jerusalem as recorded in the Gospel is of a legendary character. It seems incredible that the people should one day have conducted him into the city in a triumphal march, and the following day have demanded his death. The one account, like the other, is pure invention, the first designed for the purpose of showing that the masses recognized him as the Messiah, the second, in order to throw the guilt of his execution upon the entire people of Israel. There is also little historical truth in the story that Jesus forced his way into the Temple, overthrew the tables of the money-changers, and drove out the dove-sellers from their stalls. Such extraordinary action would not have been passed over in silence by contemporary historians. N or is it anywhere mentioned that money-changers and dove-sellers had their tables within the precincts of the Temple. We know, however, that the Temple management sold the necessary wine, birds, or oil to those who brought sacrifices.
But it is just the most important facts in the life of Jesus, namely, the attitude which he assumed toward the people of Jerusalem, the Synhedrion and the sects, the question whether he really declared himself publicly as the Messiah, and how the declaration was received by the people, which are enveloped by the Gospel writers in such an impenetrable veil of mystery, that one cannot fail to suspect the legendary character of the whole story. There undoubtedly existed strong prejudices against him among the people of the capital. The educated classes could hardly be expected to accept an unlearned Galilean as the Messiah. Such a supposition would have contradicted the age-long tradition that the Messiah was to come from Bethlehem and be a descendant of the house of David. It is possible that the proverb, "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" originated at this time. Devout Jews, no doubt, took offence because he associated with sinners and publicans, eating and drinking with them. Even the disciples of John, the Essenes, were displeased.
The Shammaites certainly objected to his healing of the sick on the Sabbath, and would not have hailed one, who, in their eyes, violated the Sabbath, as the Messiah. Neither could the Zealots expect much of Jesus, who did not inspire his followers with hatred toward the oppressors, the Romans, but, on the contrary, preached non-resistance and willing submission to the Roman authorities as expressed in his saying: "Render, therefore, unto Cesar the things which are Cesar's, and unto God, the things which are God's" (Matthew xxii, 21). All these circumstances, which could by no means be reconciled with the traditional conception of the Messiah, caused the higher and the learned classes to assume an indifferent attitude toward him, and consequently he .could not have been received in Jerusalem with any marked degree of enthusiasm. All these objections, however, afforded no ground for any legal accusation against him. Freedom of thought and difference of opinion had, owing to the frequent debates between the schools of Shammai and Hillel, become a firmly established right, and one would hardly be prosecuted because of a difference in a religious opinion, provided, however, that he did not openly violate any of the authoritative laws or reject the accepted conception of God. It was just in this regard that Jesus laid himself open to accusation. The report had spread that Jesus had called himself the Son of God, an appellation which, if taken literally, undermines the very essential religious conceptions of Judaism; so that the representatives of the religion could not afford to pass the incident over in silence. But how was it possible for the tribunal to ascertain whether Jesus really used the expression, or what meaning he attached to the words? How could they discover the secret of his sect? It was necessary for this purpose to find a traitor from among his disciples. Such a man was found in Judas Iscariot, who, incited by greed, delivered to the tribunal, we are told, the man whom he heretofore had revered as the

Messiah. A Jewish source, of ancient origin and apparently trustworthy, seems to place in the true light the use made of this traitor. The Court required, in order to arraign Jesus either as a false prophet or as a seducer of the people (Mesith), the evidence of two witnesses, who had heard him call himself by the name "Son of God." Judas was therefore required to induce him to speak on the subject, so that the two witnesses, concealed nearby, should be able to hear every word. This extra 'ordinary process of obtaining testimony against a suspected person was employed only in one case, namely, when a person was suspected of being a seducer of the people.

According to the Christian sources, Judas' act of treachery consisted in this: that he pointed Jesus out to his accusers by giving him a kiss of homage while surrounded by his disciples and the masses. It is strange, however, that such a stratagem should be employed to identify a man who, according to the self-same accounts, had entered Jerusalem in triumphal procession and preached openly in the Temple! As soon as Jesus was seized by the soldiers, almost all of his disciples left him and sought safety in flight; Simon Peter .vas the only one who remained. At daybreak, on the 14th of Nissan; namely, on the eve of the Feast. of Unleavened Bread, Jesus was brought before the Synhedrion. It seems that the tribunal, before which he was brought to trial, was not the great Synhedrion, but the smaller one, composed of twenty-three members, for the one who presided at the trial was not the President of the Synhedrion, a member of the house of Hillel, but Joseph Caiaphas, the High Priest. The purpose of the trial was to determine whether Jesus really considered himself to be the Son of God, as the witnesses had testified. It is rather unbelievable that he was tried, as the Gospels relate (Matt. xxvi, 61), because he was supposed to have boasted that he was able to destroy the Temple and build it up again in three days. Such an assertion, if really made by him, could not have been the object of an arraignment. The accusation doubtless pointed to the sin of blasphemy (Gidduf blasphemia), and to the supposed affirmation of Jesus that he was the Son of God. To the direct question as to that point, Jesus gave no answer and remained silent. When the President repeated the question and asked him if he were the Son of God, he answered, "Thou hast said it," and added, "Hereafter shall ye see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of power and coming in the clouds of heaven" (Matt. xxvi, 24). On hearing this assertion, the judges concluded that he believed himself to be the Son of God. The High Priest rent his garments, and the Court condemned him to death as a blasphemer. From the accounts of the Christian sources, we cannot infer that according to the existing penal laws, the judges had pronounced an unjust sentence against him. The evidence was against him. The Synhedrion received the sanction of the sentence, or rather the permission to carry out the execution from Pontius Pilate, the Procurator, who happened then to be in Jerusalem.
Pilate, before whom Jesus was brought, asked him about the political side of his activity, whether he, as Messiah, had also declared himself King of the Jews, and when Jesus gave the ambiguous answer, "Thou hast said it," Pilate confirmed the sentence. The story reported in the Gospels that Pilate had found him innocent but that the Jews had insistently clamored for his death is legendary. When Jesus was scoffed at, and obliged to wear the crown of thorns in ironical allusion to the Messianic and royal dignity he had assumed, it was not the Jews who inflicted the indignities upon him, but the Roman soldiers, who sought through him to deride the Jewish nation. The Jewish judges manifested so little personal animosity toward Jesus that they gave him, as they gave to every other criminal, the cup of wine mixed with frankincense, in order to render him insensible to pains of death. According to the then existing penal laws, a blasphemer was first to be stoned and after his death, to be hanged for a short time on a tree. Jesus was executed in this manner. But the Christian sources would have us believe that he was crucified at nine in the morning, and that his torture lasted six hours, until three in the afternoon, when he expired. His last words were a quotation from the Psalms, in the Aramaic dialect: "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me" ("Eli, eli, lama shebaktani")? The Roman soldiers placed, in mockery, the following inscription upon the cross: "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews." The crucifixion and the burial of the body probably took place outside of the town, on a spot by the name of Golgotha, the place of the skulls, reserved for the burial of condemned criminals. How great was the woe caused by that execution! It was the indirect cause of innumerable deaths and interminable suffering among millions of the sons of his people. Millions of broken hearts and tragic fates have not yet atoned for his death. He is the only mortal of whom it can be truthfully said that he influenced the world more by his death than by his life. Golgotha, the place of skulls, became for a great part of humanity, a new Sinai.
The Jewish historian, in continuing his narrative, shows how, as a result of the Pauline trend of thought, which inclined toward the pagan view of life, there arose, already in the primitive Church, sects and difference of opinion, traces of which are to be recognized in the Gospel writings, the most ancient of which was composed, as late as the time of Bar Kochba (132-133). In order to conquer the pagan world, the daughter of Judaism was forced to make greater concessions to paganism than the latter made to Judaism.
Christianity represents a departure from the classical essence of both Judaism and Paganism. The Jewish view of the world was, and is, that the universe is a sacred creation of one Supreme Being. To Paganism, in its typical classical form, which reached its culmination in the Greek spirit, the divine unity, present in the world, appeared only as a product of the harmonious combination of multiple and various universal forces. The creative essence of Judaism did not disappear with its created classical culture, because the Jewish creative genius did not exhaust itself in its creation. Classical Paganism, however, saw its genius disappear with its culture, the roots of which lay only on the surface of life, and which were consequently swept away by the tide of barbarous tribes which flooded the ancient world during the closing period of antiquity. To the pagans, who saw the gradual disappearance of their own creative genius, along with the environment wherein it acted, it appeared, one day, that the divine harmony of the pluralistic world is no more divine and sacred but God-forsaken, and, finally, Paganism sought refuge in its opposite, the creative spirit of Judaism. On the other hand, only such Jews could satisfy the religious cravings of the Pagan world as had estranged themselves from their own world and were able to merge with the pagan environment so as to draw it along with themselves to the spirit which animated them-such Jews as did not look upon themselves as chosen children of a holy Being, but only as sinners and apostates. Thus there arose the double separation of the worldly element from the divine in Judaism on the one hand, and the divine from the worldly element in Paganism on the other; and as a result of the combination of a Judaism devoid of its element of worldliness and a Godless Paganism, there was born the Christian view, according to which a Jewish saint in the garb of a pagan man, had come to raise and prepare the nations for a better, divine world which, however, possesses all the characteristics of other-worldliness.
This other-worldliness, in the course of historical development, in the measure that the nations approached the Jewish historical religion, assumed more and more of a secular character. And the more Jewish, the more humane the pagan world became, the more could Jews participate in the culture of this world and contribute to its progress. And finally, when, after the long struggle between the pagan world of sensuality and barbarous force, on the one hand, and the spiritual, mystic, Jewish view on the other, the sun of modern humanitarian civilization shed its feeble rays upon a better and more perfect world, it was a Jew who was able to signal to the world that the final stage of the process of human development has begun.
Print Version   |   Send to Friend