For centuries pilgrims have walked the Via Dolorosa, “the way of sorrow” in Jerusalem, following the path Jesus took on Good Friday. Starting at the judgment seat of Pilate at the Antonia Fortress in the eastern part of the city immediately north of the Temple, the path follows 14 “Stations of the Cross” to the ultimate location at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the traditional site of the crucifixion and burial.
Several years ago, I walked this road. Though historically anachronistic, some of these roads did not exist during the time of Christ; nevertheless, it leaves one with a profound sense of historical gravitas.
Crucifixion on Good Friday
Following Pilate‘s sentence, Jesus was led away to be crucified. Crucifixion was a form of torture and execution developed by the Persians between 300-400 B.C. and practiced by many ancient societies, including Carthage, India, Scythia, Assyria, and Germanic tribes. The Phoenicians were probably the first to use a transverse cross beam rather than just an upright stake in the ground. From the Phoenicians, the Romans adopted this practice as the primary means of execution of rebellious slaves and provincials who were not Roman citizens. (more…)
THE TRIAL OF JESUS
Beginning Thursday night and extending into Friday morning of Holy Week, the trial of Jesus, which led to his crucifixion, was, in reality, a series of about half a dozen trials distributed across several locations in Jerusalem.
Some of these locations are captured in the tradition of the Via Dolorosa, the Way of Sorrow, a series of sites that Christian pilgrims take through the streets of modern Jerusalem commemorating the last hours before Jesus arrived at Golgotha on Good Friday.
For 2023, sunset tonight, April 5, marks the beginning of Passover. Exodus 12 in the Hebrew Bible tells the story of Passover from the life of Moses. Ten plagues were visited upon the Egyptian pharaoh (starring Yul Brenner in “The Ten Commandments,” but he was much better in “The King and I“) to get his attention to release the Children of Israel from bondage.
The final plague was the death of the first-born son visited upon the land by the angel of death. The Jews were to smear the blood of a sacrificed lamb upon their doorposts so that the angel of death would “Passover” them unharmed. Pharaoh relented and released the Israelites. The Israelite slaves took the road out of Egypt; the Greek for “road out” is Exodus.
Seder of Passover
In making their hasty exit, the Jews did not have time to let their bread rise, so in commemoration, they celebrate the Passover Seder (“order”) meal with unleavened bread (matzo), bitter herbs, and roast lamb to be eaten in traveling garb.
The term Passover is often used interchangeably with the term Feast of Unleavened Bread, at least in St. Luke’s Gospel (Chapter 22:1,) though the first century Pharisees marked the seven-day feast to begin on the day after Passover. Nevertheless, only unleavened bread was eaten during the seven-day celebration following Passover. In present-day celebrations, all yeast is to be removed from a Jewish house during this time.
Amid the bustle of Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter, Maundy Thursday is easy to overlook. Few calendars label it, and some churches don’t observe it at all, though it may be the oldest of the Holy Week observances. It’s worth asking why and how generations of Christians have revered this day.
The Middle English word “Maundy” comes from the Latin mandatum, meaning “command.” The reference is Jesus’ words to his disciples in John 13:34:
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.“
Jesus spoke those words at the Last Supper, which took place the Thursday before Easter.
HISTORY OF THE SANHEDRIN
The Greek word Συνέδριον, sunedrion, means literally “sitting together” and is usually translated as “council.” It is referred to in the New Testament alternately as “the Great Law-Court,” “the Court of Seventy-One,” and “the rulers and elders and scribes.”
It was the supreme theocratic court of the Jews. It reflected the local autonomy that the Greek and later, the Roman powers granted the Jewish nation during their successive sovereignty over the Land of Israel.
Origin of the Sanhedrin
Its origin can be traced back as far as 200 B.C. during the “Intertestamental Period,” that period extending about 400 years after the close of the Old Testament to the beginning of the New Testament writings. We hear about it during the Hasmonean period, following the Maccabean Revolt — which you can read more about in the History of Chanukah — and there are references to it in the Mishnah section of the Talmud. But there is no reference to this body in the original Old Testament. The council had about 70 members, plus the ruling high priest. Three professional groups composed the council:
- High priests — the acting high priest and former high priests, and members of the chief-priestly families
- Elders — tribal and family heads of the people and the priesthood
- Scribes — legal professionals
HISTORY OF PALM SUNDAY
The week we now call Holy Week or Passion Week starts this weekend with Palm Sunday. Why was this week so important that three of the gospel writers (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) devote a full third of their contents to reporting this week, and The Fourth Gospel (John) dedicates its entire last half?
Jerusalem, which had an average population of about 50,000 at the time of Jesus, had at least tripled in size because of the influx of pilgrims celebrating the Jewish holiday Passover. Early Sunday morning, Jesus made his dramatic public entry into the city. This was the end of any privacy and safety his ministry had afforded previously. It marked the beginning of an inevitable collision course with the religious and political authorities: both Jewish and Roman. (more…)
April Fools’ Day, or All Fools’ Day, is the name given to the custom of playing practical jokes on friends on that day or sending them on fools’ errands.
The origin of this custom has been much disputed; it is in some way a relic of those once universal festivities held at the vernal equinox, which, beginning on the old New Year’s Day celebrations of March 25, ended on April 1.
Another view is that it is a farcical commemoration of Jesus’ trials during Passion Week in Jerusalem when he was sent from Annas‘ House to Caiaphas‘ Palace to Pontius Pilate‘s Praetorium to Herod‘s Hasmonean Palace and back to Pilate again… which culminated in his crucifixion on Good Friday, which may have been April 1. (more…)
There isn’t much history, as the first celebration of this geek holiday was in 2011. World Backup Day is barely a decade old.
But the need is genuine, now more than ever before. Especially in light of this salient fact: April Fools’ Day. March 31, the day before, is an excellent time to check your backups. On the eve of the day, famous for pranks, this might be your last chance.
You may have learned at the University of Hard Knocks that it’s not a question of “if” you’ll lose your data, but “when.” Having a redundant copy of it can make all the difference, and you may be able to skip the course at U of H.K. on Pulling Your Hair Out.
HISTORY OF HEROD ANTIPAS
Herod Antipas was the son of Herod the Great (whom we met in the Christmas story) and Malthake. After his father died in 4 B.C., he was made tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea in the Trans-Jordan area of Palestine, which he ruled as a client state of the Roman Empire.
Like his father, he loved great and artistic architectural works. He built the beautiful Tiberias (named after guess who) as the capital of his kingdom on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, which was renamed to Sea of Tiberias. Similar to his father, you could say he was an Italophile. Jesus appeared before him during his many trials on Good Friday, having been sent to him by Pilate. But after the audience, Antipas sent Jesus back to Pilate.
The Roman governor who presided over the trial of Jesus and ordered his crucifixion had a complex background. The name Pontius Pilate provides two valuable clues to his background and ancestry.
The family name, Pontius, was that of a prominent clan among the Samnites, hill cousins of the Latin Romans. They had almost conquered Rome in several fierce wars. The Pontii were of noble blood, but when Rome finally absorbed the Samnites, their aristocracy was demoted to the Roman equestrian or middle-class order rather than the higher senatorial order.
Pilate’s praenomen, his personal name Pilatus, proves almost conclusively that he was of Samnite origin. Pilatus means “armed-with-a-javelin.” The pilum or javelin was six feet long, half wooden, and half pointed iron shaft, which the Samnite mountaineers hurled at their enemies with devastating results.
Its hardened iron tip could pierce shields and body armor. The Romans quickly copied it, and it was this pilum, in fact, during the Late Republican period, that made the Roman Empire possible.
By the way, the picture at the top is called Ecce Homo, “Behold the Man.” It depicts Pilate gesturing to Jesus in the gospel narrative from the Latin Vulgate translation of John 19:5 and is by Italian painter Antonio Ciseri. It hangs in the Pitti Palace in Florence, Italy, where I saw it many years ago on Easter Day.
As Passion Week begins this coming weekend, what was the historical climate of Easter Week almost 2,000 years ago surrounding the last week of the life of Jesus of Nazareth? If he was a man “born to die,” not just in the usual sense but also in some unique sense, then what was the torrent of turbulence — religious, political, military, social, and economic — as he entered Jerusalem?
The events at that time in ancient Palestine are rarely linked to the larger context that controlled the province: the Roman Empire. Nevertheless, Jesus’ career culminated in a “tale of two cities” — Jerusalem and Rome. In this series on Easter, we’ll discuss:
The Events of Easter Week
- Palm Sunday: what was the climate of the city when Jesus entered?
- The Trial: what occurred during the trials, and what laws were involved?
- The Crucifixion: what was involved on Good Friday?
- The Resurrection: what do we know about it?
In Colorado, we have a saying; we begin the first day of Spring like we began the Fall: with snow. This symmetry is relevant as the beginning of Spring and Fall coincide with the Equinox. This word is comprised of two Latin root words, aequus and nox, meaning “equal night,” referring to the fact that daylight and nighttime are equal in duration.
Date of Spring
This year, the vernal equinox (Spring) occurs on March 20 at 21:25 UTC. This means Temps Universel Coordonne, or Coordinated Universal Time if you don’t speak French, roughly equivalent to Greenwich Mean Time if you’re British, or Zulu Time if you’re a pilot.
The Autumnal Equinox occurs six months later. Since each equinox occurs simultaneously, whether in the northern hemisphere or the southern hemisphere, though the seasons are reversed, it is becoming common to call the (northern) vernal equinox the March Equinox and the Autumnal Equinox the September Equinox.