Saturday, March 20, 2004

THE-MEL-GIBSON-AS-HOLOCAUST-DENIER MEME rears its ugly head again. In The Nation, Katha Pollitt has an essay on The Passion of the Christ which is provocatively titled "The Protocols of Mel Gibson" (via Bible and Interpretation News). It includes the following paragraph (my emphasis):
You'd think it was impolite to make anything of the fact that Gibson's father is a Holocaust denier who claims the European Jews simply moved to Australia. True, we don't choose our parents, but Mel Gibson has not only not dissociated himself from his father's views but indirectly affirmed them ("The man never lied to me in his life," he told Peggy Noonan in Reader's Digest; pressed to affirm that the Holocaust was real, he replied that many people died in World War II and some were Jews--the classic Holocaust-revisionist two-step). Nor would it do to dwell on the "traditional" (i.e., ultra right-wing) Catholicism Gibson practices, which specifically rejects the reforms of Vatican II, presumably including its repudiation of the belief that "the Jews" are collectively responsible for the death of Christ.

As has been pointed out in the link in the header to this post, Gibson has explicitly affirmed in his interview with Diane Sawyer that the Holocaust happened:
MEL GIBSON: Do I believe that there were concentration camps where defenceless and innocent Jews died cruelly under the Nazi regime? Of course I do, absolutely. It was an atrocity of monumental proportion.

DIANE SAWYER: And you believe there were millions, six million, millions?


Now Pollitt has a lot of criticisms of the movie that are correct (and a lot that I suspect are correct but won't know for sure until I see it myself). Why couldn't she stick to those? Why does she have to be so eager to find some reason to make Gibson a Holocaust denier as well? The inaccuracy in this paragraph undermines an understanding of the movie that otherwise is supported with some good arguments.

UPDATE: I should add that The Nation seems not to have e-mail addresses for communicating with its editors or individual writers. Instead it has a form for letters to the editor which demands an intrusive amount of personal information. That's not a good way to encourage feedback and corrections. If anyone out there has an e-mail address for Katha Pollitt, I'll be happy to drop her a note to alert her to my comments in this post.

UPDATE (21 March): Mark Goodacre points out some additional flaws in the article and concludes "This is a very poor piece of journalism."
TWO ARCHAEOLOGISTS (Andrea Berlin and Jodi Magness) comment on historical questions relating to Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ (posted on the Archaeological Institute of America website, via Bible and Interpretation News). They discuss language, costumes, torture methods, crucifixion, and historical context, and conclude:
As director of The Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson was compelled to make narrative choices: when and where to start the story, what to emphasize, how to draw out each person�s essential characteristics. The end result is a movie that conveys a tremendous amount of pain and suffering, but also one that is, in many major and minor respects, unmoored from documented realities. Gibson strives to convey a theological message by recreating a convincing ancient context. The message that people take away from the movie should not, however, be mistaken for verifiable historical fact.

Amen to that.
A MAIMONIDES CONFERENCE begins tomorrow at Yeshiva University and NYU to commemorate the 900th anniversary of his death. (Via Protocols.)

UPDATE: Sorry, that should be "800th anniversary."

Friday, March 19, 2004

THE NEW YORK TIMES CORRECTS Frank Rich's Dowdification of Mel Gibson in its Columnist Corrections page!
A Frank Rich column entitled "Mel Gibson's Martyrdom Complex" from August 3, 2003 quoted Director Mel Gibson out of context regarding whether Jews might be upset by Gibson's movie "The Passion of The Christ." The quotation was taken from an interview by Bill O'Reilly on the Fox News Channel on January 14, 2003. The full text of his remarks follows: "It may. It's not meant to. I think it's meant to just tell the truth. I want to be as truthful as possible. But, when you look at the reasons behind why Christ came, why he was crucified, he died for all mankind and he suffered for all mankind, so that, really, anybody who transgresses has to look at their own part or look at their own culpability." The use of a partial quotation created the false impression that Gibson held Jews responsible for the death of Jesus.

Actually the Times hasn't made the correction. I'm afraid this is a parody. In reality, the New York Times doesn't have a columnist correction page, so it's been left up to Robert Cox to create and maintain one for them on his The National Debate website. I'm afraid the Times didn't like it. Go here and then just keep scrolling up to read the appalling and amusing story of their heavy-handed legal threats and embarrassing climbdown once they discovered they were facing a real and very public fight.

I am grateful to Mr. Cox for taking notice of this error. For the record, I e-mailed Frank Rich about it quite some time ago and never received an answer. I also e-mailed Daniel Okrent, the Public Editor for the Times, a few days ago and received a prompt and polite response from his assistant that Okrent had decided not to take on corrections of anything that was published before he took up his office on December 1st. He and his staff have been doing a fine job since then and that decision is perfectly reasonable. Nevertheless, corrections need to be made and, if the Times and other mainstream media won't or can't do it, the Blogosphere is ready to help out.

By the way, Robert Cox is the one who broke the original "Dowdification" story.
THE ZOHAR, volume 1, is reviewed by Jacob Neusner in the Jerusalem Post. Excerpt:
The Zohar, the apex of Jewish mysticism, has been dismissed by modern Jewish scholars, represented by German-Jewish historian Heinrich Graetz as nonsense, and rehabilitated by Israeli and European experts on Judaism as substantive.

Here the pendulum swings back: the Zohar is at best impenetrable, at worst nonsense. This translation proves that even those who know the text best cannot make it accessible, either in translation or in explanation.

That gives you the flavor of the review. I haven't read the Zohar in Aramaic or seen Matt's translation, so I can't comment on most of Neusner's criticisms. But I don't understand this one:
First, the text that is translated does not exist outside of Matt's own study: "If I could have located a complete, reliable manuscript... this would have provided a starting point." He ignores the standard printed text, but has composed what he calls "a critical text," which is "based on a selection and evaluation of the manuscript readings."

That means his translation correlates only loosely with the available printed versions.

It's standard practice to produce a critical, eclectic text, based on evalution of the manuscripts, when working on an ancient document. Often earlier printed texts of ancient documents are based on late and corrupt manuscripts and reflect the original text very imperfectly. If Neusner has criticisms of the specific critical text Matt has reconstructed, fine, and tell us more, but the concept of a critical text isn't new or controversial. It's the proper way to proceed if the objective is to produce a translation of (the best approximation of) the text that Moses de Leon wrote.
"Masada," the musical slated for a pre-Broadway run at Chicago's Ford Center for the Performing Arts/Oriental Theatre, Sept. 19-Oct. 24, has announced the principal members of its artistic team.


The show, set in Warsaw during World War II, spins around the efforts of a troupe of actors to perform a musical version of the ancient Jewish legend of Masada.

Sounds kind of interesting.

Gibson plans second biblical epic -19/3/04 (Ekklesia, UK)

Mel Gibson has revealed he is planning another Biblical epic � based on a Jewish revolt in 200BC, told in ancient Greek texts, the Apocrypha and mentioned in the book of Daniel.

Having conquered the US box office with "The Passion of the Christ," about the last hours in the life of Jesus, he is now turning his attention to the story of the Maccabean uprising.


"The story that's always fired my imagination ... is the Book of Maccabees," Gibson said. "It's about Antiochus, the king who set up his religion in the temple, and forced them all to deny the true God and worship at his feet and worship false gods.

"The Maccabee family stood up, and they made war, they stuck by their guns, and they came out winning," he said. "It's like a western."


The Maccabean revolt actually started in 167 B.C.E., which the story correctly notes in a part I haven't quoted. Other reports, like this one by Ananova, don't take such pains.

UPDATE: Maybe not. This Ha'aretz article (via Bible and Interpretation News) quotes the same exchange but concludes, "Gibson did not say he was planning another biblical film."

Thursday, March 18, 2004

MORE ON THE AKRON EXHIBITION (of From the Dead Sea Scrolls to the Forbidden Book). Some comments from an interview with Hanan Eshel:
I had the opportunity this week to meet with Hanan Eshel, an archaeologist and leading expert on the scrolls from Bar-Ilhan University in Israel. He attended the opening of the exhibit this week in Akron.

Eshel pointed out, for example, that in Chapter 22 of Genesis, God tells Abraham to take ``Isaac your son'' and offer him up as a sacrifice. That is what most of us read when we study Genesis.

But in one of the scroll fragments in the exhibit, God appears to be calling Abraham not to hurt ``Isaac my son'' at the moment before the sacrifice is to be carried out.

``Is Isaac being called the son of God?'' Eshel asked. ``Is God saying, `Don't hurt Isaac, MY son?' If so, it's outstanding.''

Such an interpretation would strengthen the connection between Isaac and Jesus.

The scrolls were composed from the second century B.C. to A.D. 68. Most predated the life of Jesus. Eshel said that ideas from the scrolls appear in the teachings of Jesus and St. Paul.

``The influence on Jesus was not direct,'' he said. ``But Paul was quoting the scrolls.''

Myself, I doubt that Paul can be shown to be quoting any of the nonbiblical Dead Sea Scrolls and I wonder if that's what Eshel was saying or if there's a misunderstanding somewhere. It is true, though, that sometimes the Scrolls are a useful backdrop to Paul's thought.

UPDATE: Stephen Goranson comments on the g-Megillot list.
VIGILIAE CHRISTIANAE has a new issue (58.1, 2004) online. Articles of interest include:
The 'Teachers' of Mani in the Acta Archelai and Simon Magus 1
Eszter Sp�t

In Quest of the Third Heaven: Paul & his Apocalyptic Imitators 24
J.R. Harrison

The Good Samaritan in Ancient Christianity 56
Riemer Roukema

Requires paid personal or institutional subscription to access.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

BIBLICAL INTERPRETATION: A Journal of Contemporary Approaches has a new issue (12.1, 2004) online. Table of contents:
Austin Busch

Ironic Representation, Authorial Voice, and Meaning in Qohelet 37
Carolyn J. Sharp

The Transfiguration: an Exercise in Markan Accommodation 69
Candida R. Moss

Book Reviews 90

Requires paid personal or institutional subscription to access.
NOVUM TESTAMENTUM has a new issue out (46.1, January 2004) with the following table of contents:
Karl-Heinrich Ostmeyer

ISA 5:1-7 LXX AND MARK 12:1, 9, AGAIN 12
John S. Kloppenborg

Rivka Nir

David M. Scholer


Requires paid personal or institutional subscription to access.
THERE'S A REVIEW in Brin Mawr Classical Review of:
Menachem Mor, Aharon Oppenheimer, Jack Pastor, Daniel R. Schwartz, Jews and Gentiles in the Holy Land in the Days of the Second Temple, the Mishna and the Talmud. Jerusalem: 2003. Pp. 200. ISBN 965-217-205-7.
Reviewed by Matthew Kraus.
ARAMAIC WATCH. In the article "Jim Caviezel's risky sacrifice" (BBC, also noted by Mark Goodacre) we are told:
Caviezel had to learn Aramaic, the ancient language that Christ would have spoken, and often spent 10 hours in make-up.

Caviezel may have been struck by lightning and he may have been blessed by the Pope, but he did not have to "learn Aramaic." He had to memorize some lines in Aramaic, which is not the same thing. Sheesh.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

"MEL'S JESUS: A 'Real Man' or Just a Toon?" Paul Flesher reviews Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ for Bible and Interpretation. Excerpts:
Jesus� determination not to simply give in to his situation but to defy the cruelty with which it takes place constitutes a key aspect of Jesus� character in this film. Jesus has agreed to God�s plan for humanity�s salvation, but he has not given in to the human agents who carry it out. He is not a weak, passive, or spineless figure who gives up his pride when he gives up his body. His defiance of the Roman soldiers forms an implicit judgment on their actions. In broader theological terms, his continually resurfacing determination to defy his tormentors shows that he has not lost his inner strength. Although he is the victim, he is the strongest person there. He actively carries out God�s will, using his strength to ensure those around him do what needs to be done even as he defies the cruel means by which they do it. This is not the feminized Jesus the twentieth-century inherited from the Victorians, but a male Jesus who displays his macho strength to the end.

So how is the audience who views Jesus� suffering supposed to react to this macho Jesus? They are supposed to be changed. Gibson makes this clear by adding non-biblical scenes in which bystanders in the film are changed, perhaps even converted into followers, by witnessing Jesus� suffering and his reaction to it.


Finally, to people who get immersed in the film�s story--both believers and others--this is an effective and compelling portrayal of the Passion. In the context of modern filmmaking, however, the continual beating of Jesus constitutes part of the �more! more!� character of its portrayal of violence. It reduces the man to a cartoon rather than elevating him to his divine nature. In Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, cartoon characters (�toons�) are depicted as living actors, not drawn characters, who pursue lives off the set. Their value to the film industry in Roger Rabbit is that they can absorb without effect large amounts of beating, pain, and injury. In the past couple of decades, the increasing sophistication of special-effect technology has given human actors in film the same ability. That is, the effects enable them to become like toons; they can survive car wrecks, explosions, falling from high buildings, being shot, and then just shrug it off and continue to fight. Has Gibson�s twenty-first-century Jesus become a toon? Several times in the film Jesus undergoes beatings and physical torture each of which would kill a person. He not only does not die, but he continues to be conscious, to be mobile, and to struggle with his fate. Does this film present Jesus as a �real man,� or has it reduced him to a human, live-action toon?
I'VE UPDATED yesterday's "Abortion and the Torah" post with some readers' comments.
ZOHAR TRANSLATION WATCH: Somehow I missed this Chicago Tribune article on Daniel Matt's ongoing new translation of the Zohar, but it's reprinted by the Fort Wayne News Sentinel. It is very long and not only tells about the project, it gives a fascinating profile of Margot Pritzker, its patron, and a good overview of the scholarly study of the Zohar. A definite Read It All.
Heiress sponsors scholar translating ancient Jewish text


Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO - (KRT) - Every weekday morning, Daniel Matt turns on his computer, stares at the tree-lined slopes outside his study window and waits for the words to come with which to describe the indescribable.

It is a routine he is pledged to maintain for the next 15 years or so, thanks to what has to be every scholar's dream come true: a wealthy patron, Margot Pritzker, who has freed him from the grunt work of the academic life. He has no more blue books to grade, and he no longer sits through endless faculty meetings at the Graduate Theological Union, whose campus lies just below Matt's home in the hills of Berkeley, Calif.

Now his sole responsibility is to convey the insights of a medieval Jewish mystic who wrestled with a truly heavyweight problem, a paradox that has troubled believers of many faiths: How can the limited human intellect possibly grasp the infinite nature of God?

Even the automobile parked in Matt's driveway bears witness to his single-minded focus on the question. Its license plate reads ZOHAR.

That is the title of a sprawling, multivolume work by long-ago author Moses ben Shem Tov de Leon, whose doctrines shaped Kabbalah, Judaism's mystical tradition. Such are the vagaries of history that a knockoff version of Moses de Leon's ideas is currently faddish in Hollywood, with Madonna and Dolly Parton announcing themselves disciples of Kabbalah.

Yet though the range of its influence runs from the pious to the trendy, there was no adequate English translation of the Zohar before Matt's long-awaited version. The first two volumes have just been published to choruses of scholarly praise. "Masterful," gushed Elie Wiesel. "Superbly fashioned," added Harold Bloom, America's veritable dean of literary studies.

Still, when the cheering dies down, that will leave Matt with 10 volumes to go. "On a good day," he says, "I can do 20 lines."


Taking the rabbi's suggestion to heart, Pritzker not only studied alongside her son, she kept at it afterward. She learned Hebrew and, over the years, she and Poupko worked through the Torah and read Midrash, the ancient rabbis' biblical commentaries.

"One day, Margot asked if there was a mystical tradition in Judaism and could we study some," recalls Poupko, whose current title is Judaic scholar, Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago. "I said yes, but there's a problem."

The problem was that the Zohar wasn't written in Hebrew but Aramaic, a related but distinct Semitic language from antiquity. By general consensus, the existing English version, more a paraphrase than a translation, didn't begin to capture Moses de Leon's voice. Wooden where it should be poetic, that earlier version was marred by a prudish toning-down of the sensual images he employed to convey his understanding of the Almighty.

For instance, Matt's translation renders one such passage with language intended to preserve the erotic quality of the Zohar's word picture:

"When He flings and streams seed, He does not woo the female, since She abides with Him."

The earlier version, made in England in the 1930s and known as the Soncino edition, says merely:

"When the seed flows forward, He does not court the Female."

Pritzker resolved to sponsor a fresh translation of the Zohar that was more faithful to the spirit of the original. Poupko consulted scholars in the field and the nearly universal verdict was that Matt was the only one for the job.

"He has the voice of a poet, the soul of a mystic and the intellect of a computer geek," Poupko says. The latter virtue enables Matt to toggle back and forth as he translates, comparing obscure terms in the Zohar with a huge database of Jewish religious literature he has downloaded.


Monday, March 15, 2004

Archaeologist recounts 1979 discovery of tomb that held oldest fragments of the Bible (Salt Lake Tribune)

By Bruce Nolan
Religion News Service

��� NEW ORLEANS -- As often happens in other fields, the find of Gabriel Barkay's career as a biblical archaeologist rose at the intersection of careful calculation and happy accident -- provided in his case by a bored 12-year-old helper who whacked the stone floor of an Israelite burial vault with a heavy hammer.
��� His name was Nathan. Too scattered and mischievous to be of much help, he had been dispatched to clean a worked-over corner of Barkay's dig just outside the old city of Jerusalem, a largely overlooked archaeological site that Barkay thought might yield material for his dissertation.
��� But the stone floor turned out to be the ceiling of a concealed void beneath. And Nathan's hammer blow punched through to a repository containing hundreds of vessels of pottery, personal jewelry and other effects untouched for 2,600 years.
��� Among them was the find of finds -- two tiny, tightly rolled silver scrolls.
��� Carefully unpeeled over time, they revealed faint scratchings that took Barkay's breath away:
��� YHWH. The earliest appearance in Jerusalem of the unspeakable Hebrew word for God.
��� That find came in 1979 and still ranks on many scholars' lists as one of the most remarkable in modern biblical archaeological history.

ABORTION AND THE TORAH: Irwin N. Graulich argues in the Jerusalem Post ("On abortion, a Jewish compromise,") that the Torah takes a particular position on abortion.
But if abortion is neither cosmetic nor murder, then what is it?

Exodus (21: 22-23) states, "If men shall fight, and they collide with a pregnant woman, and she miscarries, but the woman lives, the punishment on the men is financial, as determined by judges. But if the woman dies, there should be capital punishment."

These verses clearly illustrate that the fetus is not a full life. If it were, capital punishment would be called for, as mentioned in the second sentence. We are also shown that the fetus is not a worthless piece of tissue, since financial remuneration is required by the offenders. In addition, there are later references to the health of the mother taking precedence to the life of the fetus.

This biblical approach is the Jewish position, and it is equidistant between the pro-choice and pro-life stances. It states that abortion is not murder � and not nothing! The only way to enforce this compromise is to allow an immoral act, while at the same time to discourage it strongly, which is exactly what is done in Israel in the majority of cases.

This is perhaps a possible interpretation but I'm afraid the exegesis of the passage is not so straightforward. A key phrase is the one he translates "and she miscarries, but the woman lives." This is a paraphrase. A literal translation of the Hebrew would be "and her offspring comes out but there is no harm." (There are variants for the word "offspring" but the general idea is clear.) Now this could mean what Mr. Graulich says it means, but it could also mean something like "and she gives birth prematurely but there is no harm (to mother or child)." Then in v. 23, Mr. Graulich freely paraphrases, "But if the woman dies, there should be capital punishment." A literal translation would be "But if there is harm, then you shall require life for life," (and vv. 24-25 goes on to add, "eye for eye, tooth for tooth, ..." etc., i.e., the lex talionis). This puts the matter in a rather different light. It seems to me that the most natural reading of the passage is that if two men fight and cause a woman to give birth prematurely, but there is no harm to mother or child, there is a monetary fine. But if either mother or child are harmed, the lex talionis is invoked and the men are to be punished with the same injury they inflicted (on either mother or child), up to and including death. Mr. Graulich's interpretation is not impossible, but it seems difficult to reconcile with the fact that the "offspring" or "child" is mentioned along with the mother and that there is eye-for-eye punishment for any kind of "harm" inflicted, without explicitly distinguishing between mother and child.

I'm not saying that Mr. Graulich's position on abortion isn't perfectly defensible in itself, but it certainly isn't clear that that's what Exodus is saying.

UPDATE (16 March): Reader Tobias Robison e-mails:
I'm sure you're aware that orthodox rabbis rule differently on abortion, and even your "literal" translation of this obscurely worded sentence is only one of several possibilities. I think it is more telling that the torah, despite its massive number of specific commandments, never says anything explicit about abortion, nor about how to determine when life begins. Abortion is certainly not explicitly included in any specific list of major crimes.

Yes, I'm aware the passage can be and has been read in different ways. I was giving the interpretation that makes the most sense to me in context. I think it works better than Graulich's reading.

Reader Raphael Malyankar e-mails:
I am no Torah scholar, but your reading of Exodus 21 is non-traditional in at least two ways: first, the accepted meaning of 21:22-23 has long been injury to the woman; second, your interpretation of vv. 24-25 as lex talionis (punishing with the same injury they inflicted) is also non-traditional. Additionally, your alternative exegesis seems a bit awkward, because conflating v. 24-25 with v. 22-23 leads to the rather odd interpretation that lex talionis applies only in the specific circumstances of the woman who miscarries or goes into labor as a result of an inadvertent blow during the course of a fight between two men.

In a second message he adds:
For "meaning of 21:22-23" below, read "meaning of injury/harm in 21:22-23". Miscarriage (or, if we adopt the alternative exegesis, labor) is clearly a tort.

Let me take those points in order. Since Graulich was arguing from the authority of the biblical text, I was aiming for the best exegesis of the original sense of the passage in Exodus. For my purpose, traditional interpretations are only relevant in so far as they may give a better understanding of the original. If Graulich has been arguing from, say, Talmudic authority, that would be a different matter.

As for the relation of vv. 24-25 to vv. 22-23, the passage is clearly a unit; there's no conflating involved. This doesn't mean that the lex talionis applies only to this particular case, but rather that it is applicable to this case. The basic principle is assumed in the Pentateuch and is applied here to this case; to bloodshed/murder in Genesis 9:6 and Exodus 21:12; to injury in general in Leviticus 24:19-20, and to consequences of perjury in Deuteronomy 19:16-21. It is a limiting principle well known in ancient Near Eastern law but applied more fairly in the Pentateuch than, say, in the Code of Hammurapi ## 196-205, where it is restricted along class lines. For more, see the "Lex Talionis" article by H. B. Huffmon in the Anchor Bible Dictionary 4:321-22.
MORE ON THE AKRON EXHIBITION: The From the Dead Sea Scrolls to the Forbidden Book exhibition reopens in the John S. Knight Center in downtown Akron tomorrow. And, according to this article, "Akron exhibit draws back veil that surrounds scrolls," in the Akron Beacon Journal, it has some new objects on display.
But the Akron show will have something the other cities didn't -- everyday items from the time of the people in the Second Temple period.

The items are on loan from the permanent museum collection in the Flora Archaeological Center at Ashland Theological Seminary.

Ashland is also acquiring one of the scroll fragments by partial donation from Bath Township art dealer Bruce Ferrini, who owns the scroll fragments and most of the ancient writings and manuscripts of the Old and New Testaments on display at the Knight Center.

The Ashland items include a limestone ossuary, similar in style and shape to the so-called ``James ossuary,'' which had been widely held out as the possible burial box of Jesus' brother.

They also include an ancient foot-washing basin with a prominent foot rest and alabaster anointing jar; more than a dozen ancient ceramic lamps that cover a 2,500-year period from the time of Abraham to the early Christian Church; everyday cosmetic pieces used by women of antiquity; a marble tombstone of a Roman woman believed to be from the 4th century; and flasks that people in ancient times used to carry water, olive oil, ointment and wine.

``The written material is the most exceptional, but the items from our collection illuminate life among the people of the ancient world,'' said O. Kenneth Walther, curator of the Flora Center and a professor of Greek and New Testament at Ashland.

``Our objects, most of which would have been used in everyday life, complement the exhibit because they give you a fuller picture of life in those times. Rarely do people get an opportunity to see this type of display -- this kind of comprehensive history of writing with the complement of ancient artifacts.''

Kind of careless of them not even to mention that most scholars think the "James Ossuary" is a forgery.

Sunday, March 14, 2004

PONTIUS PILATE IN THE NEWS. New Testament Professor Warren Carter gives his take on the historical evidence in "A Place for Pontius Pilate" (Kansas City Star). Looks pretty balanced to me. Also includes some material on Pilate in later Christian tradition. Excerpt:
Pilate and the Jerusalem leaders are allies. Making alliances with local leaders was a common strategy Rome used to rule its empire. Along with taxes and military power, it was an effective way of establishing control. Mutual interests of wealth, power and status held these alliances together under Roman control.

The Roman governor appointed the high priests in Judea. The chief priest, Caiaphas, was a political appointment who held power at the pleasure of his Roman masters. Of course, there were tensions and struggles within these alliances. Together they sought to maintain a system in which 3 percent of the population ruled for their own benefit at the expense of the rest.

Maintaining this alliance required good political skills. If the Jerusalem leaders viewed Jesus as a threat to their power, Pilate knew to take their concern very seriously. Their interests are Pilate's interests.

But there are other political games to play. On one hand, Pilate needs to keep them happy by granting their request to remove Jesus. On the other hand, he needs to show them that as the Roman governor he is their superior and they are dependent on him.

The Gospel of John's account especially highlights this dimension where Pilate seems to taunt them about their dependent status. In Luke's account, Pilate can be seen making them beg him to execute Jesus.
THIS CHRISTIAN VILLA from late antiquity, found in Netanyahu, has been in the news lately. It has some nice mosaics, but unfortunately this article in News 24 South Africa, doesn't have photographs. Excerpt:
The villa, dated to between the 5th or 6th centuries AD, is the first to be found in the area, said archaeologist Marwan Massarwa of the Israel Antiquities Authority. Remains of other Byzantine settlements dot the Mediterranean coast.

The site, discovered by road workers building a highway off-ramp, includes two rooms with well preserved mosaic floors. The foundations of walls of adjoining buildings were also discovered.

The first room, apparently a central courtyard, has a mosaic with faded black and red leaves coming off a wavy branch and surrounding a black, red and yellow geometric design on a white background.

In a second room - which is still being excavated - the archaeologists found a mosaic made of small stones depicting red flowers surrounded by grey, red, white and yellow parallel lines.
NAZARETH VILLAGE, a living-history recreation of life in first-century Nazareth, is discussed in this article, "A Window to Jesus' World," in the South Bend Tribune. Excerpts:
In Nazareth Village, the sheep stray in the streets, weeds grow among the wheat in the donkey-plowed furrows, and you can see the lights from a city on a hill four miles away.

A synagogue, a wine press and some houses are already built with scrupulous faithfulness to first-century materials and methods. A watch tower for the fields is under construction.

People from all over the world are coming to visit the real-world reproduction of life in Jesus' Nazareth, about 500 yards from the traditional site of his boyhood home.

"Up to now, there has never been an authentic setting you could step into of the world Jesus knew," said Michael Hostetler, executive director of the project, in a telephone interview from Nazareth. "What we have now is a living laboratory of what Jesus saw and knew."


"In the daytime, our staff will cook and weave and do carpentry work," Hostetler said. "They will be out plowing with donkeys.

"Last year we added the olive press building," Hostetler said. "There's none other in the world like it. This year we hope to build a watchtower, which is part of the agricultural way of life. Around harvest time, the people would come to the watchtower and sleep over. They wanted to protect the harvest from animals and from possible theft."

"There's sheep and mules roaming around," Troyer added. "We follow the harvest season. It makes the Bible come alive."

The setting provides, among other things, real-life experience of sowing seed, seeking sheep, and keeping oil lamps burning, images Jesus used in his parables.

"This is, as close as we know, an exact replica of housing in Nazareth in the Galilee area in the time of Jesus," Troyer said. "We worked with the top archaeologists on this.

The project has a website at