History Articles

History of Rosh Hashana

September 21, 2006 /
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ROSH HASHANA

Rosh HaShana designates the beginning of the Jewish new year. “Rosh” is Hebrew for “head” and Rosh HaShana refers to the head of the year on the 1st day of Tishri, the seventh month. Judaism has a solar/lunar calendar system, in which the lunar reckoning predominates. The first in the cycle of months is Nissan (which has nothing to do with the automobile manufacturer), the month in which Passover occurs. However, solar years are reckoned to begin at Rosh HaShana. The new year is heralded with the blowing of the “shofar” or ram’s horn by the “baal t’kiah” (meaning master of the shofar-blast). Some scholars have suggested (perhaps “speculated” would be a better word) that the Jews marked the beginning of the year at this time subsequent to the period of their Babylonian Captivity, in following with the Babylonian custom. It also marks the day on which God is said to begin examining the record of each person’s actions during the preceding year; Jews are called upon to take an “accounting of the soul” with the aim of correcting defects in one’s behavior — the ultimate goal is to help “repair the universe.” The audit is considered to end on Yom Kippur, on the 10th day of Tishri, which we will examine next time.

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian
www.billpetro.com

History of Patriot Day: 9-11-2001

September 11, 2006 /
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HISTORY OF PATRIOT DAY

With the following words and many others, President George W. Bush designated September 11 to be regarded as Patriot Day, or America Remembers:

By the President of the United States of America
A Proclamation

On this first observance of Patriot Day, we remember and honor those who perished in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. We will not forget the events of that terrible morning nor will we forget how Americans responded in New York City, at the Pentagon, and in the skies over Pennsylvania — with heroism and selflessness; with compassion and courage; and with prayer and hope. We will always remember our collective obligation to ensure that justice is done, that freedom prevails, and that the principles upon which our Nation was founded endure.

The President inaugurated this observance on September 4, 2002 and repeated it the next year, following a joint resolution approved December 18, 2001 along with the US Congress, intending that it be firmly planted into the consciousness of the American people, and each year recalled to our memory “that more than 3,000 innocent people lost their lives when a calm September morning was shattered by terrorists driven by hatred and destruction.”

As the fifth anniversary of this event occurs, what most people call September 11th or just 9-11, I am reminded of the article I wrote in the wake of it, and the one I wrote a year following. Should we remember these kind of events, recalling history? The words of the Oxford don C.S. Lewis are particularly relevant.

Most of all, perhaps, we need intimate knowledge of the past. Not that the past has any magic about it, but because we cannot study the future, and yet need something to set against the present, to remind us that the basic assumptions have been quite different in different periods and that much which seems certain to the uneducated is merely temporary fashion. A man who has lived in many places is not likely to be deceived by the local errors of his native village; the scholar has lived in many times is therefore in some degree immune from the great cataract of nonsense that pours from the press and the microphone of his own age.

– from “Learning in War-Time” (The Weight of Glory)

Lest we forget

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian
www.billpetro.com

History of Labor Day

September 3, 2006 /
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HISTORY OF LABOR DAY

Labor Day is the day we celebrate the process our mothers went through in order to deliver us at birth. Sorry, wrong holiday. Labor Day is the day we celebrate the achievements of the American labor movement. While it is still disputed whether the holiday was first proposed by Peter J. McGuire, the leader of the Brotherhood of Carpenters, or Matthew Maguire, a machinist — observances of the holiday go back over a century.

The first Labor Day celebration was September 5, 1882 in New York City and was organized by the Central Labor Union. The legislature of New York first deliberated a bill to establish a regular holiday, but Oregon was the first to pass it on February 21, 1887. It was first proposed as “a street parade to exhibit to the public the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations.”

But it was on June 28, 1894 that Congress made the first Monday in September an official Labor Day holiday. In 1909 the Sunday preceding was designated as Labor Sunday, dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement.

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian
https://www.billpetro.com/

History of the 4th of July: Thomas Jefferson

June 30, 2006 /
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HISTORY OF THE 4th OF JULY: THOMAS JEFFERSON

Perhaps no one person is more associated with the 4th of July in American History than Thomas Jefferson, probably because he penned the immortal Declaration of Independence.

As my friend Clay Jenkinson says in his book Thomas Jefferson: Man of Light, “The Third President is the Muse of American life, the chief articulator of our national value system and our national self-identity. Jefferson was a man of almost unbelievable achievement: statesman, man of letters, architect, scientist, book collector, political strategist, and utopian visionary. But he is also a man of paradox: liberty-loving slaveholder, Indian-loving relocationist, publicly frugal and privately bankrupt, a constitutional conservative who bought the Louisiana Territory in 1803.” Even by 1782, as an admiring French visitor observed, Jefferson, “without having quitted his own country,” had become “an American who … is a musician, draftsman, astronomer, natural philosopher, jurist and a statesman.” He knew about crop rotation, Renaissance architecture, could dance a jig, play the fiddle, or tie an artery.

Though friends in their youth, disagreements separated Thomas Jefferson and our second President John Adams in later years. They were eventually reconciled toward their twilight years and though they never saw each other again after Adams left the White House to be replaced by Jefferson, in the last 14 years of their lives they exchanged 156 letters, some of them quite warm. This correspondence is generally regarded as the intellectual capstone to the achievements of the revolutionary generation and the most impressive correspondence between prominent statesmen.

They both died on the same day, July 4th, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, two of the last three signers. At the age of 91 John Adams collapsed in his favorite reading chair and died that afternoon, his last words were, “Thomas Jefferson still lives.” But Jefferson would have said “wrong, as usual.” In his last days his health had failed and he passed in and out of consciousness. On the 4th of July, 1826 just a few hours before Adams died — in his home in Monticello, Virginia — surrounded by his daughter and some special slaves, shortly after noon, at the age of 83, Thomas Jefferson died. His last words were, “Is it the 4th?”

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian
www.billpetro.com

History of Independence Day

June 29, 2006 /
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HISTORY OF INDEPENDENCE DAY

Independence Day, or the Fourth of July is the adoption by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, of the Declaration of Independence, proclaiming the severance of the allegiance of the American colonies to Great Britain. It is the greatest secular holiday of the United States, observed in all the states, territories and dependencies.

Although it is assumed that the Continental Congress unanimously signed the document on the 4th of July, in fact not all delegates were present and there were no signers at all. Here is what really happened.

The congressional delegate from Virginia, Richard Henry Lee, introduced in the Continental Congress, on June 7, 1776, a resolution “that…body declare the United Colonies free and independent States, absolved from allegiance to or dependence on the Crown or Parliament of Great Britain…” On June 10 a committee of five, headed by Thomas Jefferson (the actual writer), was appointed to prepare a declaration suitable to the occasion in the event that the Virginia resolution was adopted. Jefferson’s version was revised by Benjamin Franklin and John Adams before it went to the Congress where they did some editing of their own.

Congress approved the resolution July 2; the declaration composed by Jefferson and amended by his committee was adopted July 4. That evening John Hancock ordered Philadelphia printer John Dunlap to print 200 broadside copies of the agreed upon Declaration that was signed by him as President and Charles Thomson as Secretary. These were distributed to members of the Congress and distributed to the 13 colonies and elsewhere. The Declaration was read in the yard of the state house July 8. New York did not even vote on it until July 9. The signing was even more gradual, and it is somewhat misleading to speak of the “fifty-six original signers of the Declaration of Independence”.

By August 6, most of those whose names are on the document had signed, but at least six signatures were attached later. One signer, Thomas McKean did not attach his name until 1781! Some of those who signed were not even in Congress when the Declaration was adopted, and some who voted for it in Congress never did get around to signing it. Robert R. Livingston was one of the committee of five; he helped to frame it; he voted for it; and he never signed it.

The first anniversary of the declaration was observed only in Philadelphia, Pa., by the adjournment of Congress, a ceremonial dinner, bonfires, the ringing of bells and fireworks. In 1788, after the requisite number of states had adopted the constitution, Philadelphia celebrated July 4 by elaborate festivities, including a grand procession.

Boston, Mass., first observed the day in 1783, and thereafter this celebration replaced that of the Boston Massacre, March 5. The custom spread to other cities and states, where the day was marked by parades, patriotic oratory, military displays and fireworks. In present time, games and athletic contests, picnics, patriotic programs and pageants, and community fireworks of pyrotechnic expertise are characteristic of the 4th of July.

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian
www.billpetro.com

History of Memorial Day

May 25, 2006 /
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MEMORIAL DAY

The city of Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, an American village on the National Historic Register, claims to be the birthplace of Memorial Day, as does some 24 other towns in America. But Boalsburg’s claim goes back to a practice at the end of the Civil War. It does have an local museum, and a history that stretches back over two centuries. It’s claim is supported by pointing out, on a large sign near the center of town that:

The custom of decorating soldiers’ graves was begun here in October, 1864, by Emma Hunter, Sophie Keller, and Elizabeth Myers.

Named for David Boal who settled here in 1798. Village laid out in 1808. Boalsburg Tavern built in 1819. Post Office established 1820. First church erected 1827. Home community of three United States ambassadors.

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian
www.billpetro.com

History of Cinco de Mayo

May 3, 2006 /
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CINCO DE MAYO

Cinco de Mayo is frequently regarded as the Mexican equivalent of the United States 4th of July. This is incorrect. In actuality, it is the equivalent of the 5th of May. Nevertheless, a number of important things have occurred in Mexican history on the 5th of May, indeed, on a number of different May 5ths throughout the years. One of these is the commemoration of the last Beer Bust held at Sun Microsystems. But this is relatively insignificant historically. Of greater importance is the battle of Cinco de Mayo that occurred in 1862.

Juarez, who had been Zapotec Indian minister of Justice in Juan Alvarez’ cabinet in the 1850’s, entered Mexico City on January 11, 1861 and promptly expelled the Spanish minister, the papal legate, and members of the episcopate. Additionally, he took steps to enforce the decrees of 1859 disestablishing and disendowing the church. He could not have known at this time that almost a century later, “antidisestablishmentarianism” would become the longest word in the English dictionary. Although Juarez was recognized by the United States and had received both moral and military aid from the US, there were over $80,000,000 in debts at that time to Europe alone. The Mexican Congress in July 17, 1861 decreed the suspension for 2 years of interest payments on the external national debt, and 3 months later a convention occurred between Great Britain, France, and Spain calling for joint intervention in Mexico.

As European forces advanced, and particularly the French troops, their advance was checked at Puebla on May 5, 1862.

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian
www.billpetro.com

History of May Day

April 27, 2006 /
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HISTORY OF MAY DAY

May Day is many things to many people. Etymologically, it is the international call for help. It is a corruption of the French imperative “M’aidez” meaning “Help me!” As a holiday it is claimed by many. It is known in the pagan world as “Beltane,” a fertility celebration, one of the four high holidays in the pagan calendar, Samhain on October 31 is another. Beltane is the day of fire commemorating Bel, the Celtic sun god. The early Anglo-Saxons began their celebration on the eve before, feasting the end of winter and the first planting. It was a time of revelry — note the song from Camelot “It’s May, it’s May, the lusty month of May” — with the selection of a May Queen and the ribbons of the Maypole. But this day’s celebration of the revival of vegetation goes back to the Roman practice of visiting the grotto of Egena. The people of ancient Rome honored Flora, the goddess of flowers and springtime.

In 1886 it was co-opted as an international workers day to celebrate the 8-hour workday movement, following national strikes in the US and Canada. Later, the French declared May 1 the International Working Men’s Association holiday in 1889. Some countries consider May Day a bank holiday. This “Labor Day” is on one of the non-holy days in the calendar.

Occasionally, May 1st also marks the National Day of Prayer in the U.S. This day of non-sectarian prayer is observed on different days, but goes back to 1775 when the first day of prayer was declared when the Continental Congress “designated a time for prayer in forming a new nation.” President Lincoln’s proclaimed a day of “humiliation, fasting, and prayer” in 1863. In 1952, a joint resolution by Congress, signed by President Truman, declared an annual, national day of prayer. In 1988, the law was amended and signed by President Reagan, permanently setting the day as the first Thursday of every May.

A pagan festival, a labor day, or a day of prayer. May Day is many things to many people.

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian
www.billpetro.com

History of the Players

April 16, 2006 /
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SO WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO OLD…

You may be asking yourself, “Self,” you ask, “where are they now?” and well you might ask. What happened to our players AFTER the events in the Easter story?

HEROD ANTIPAS

You may remember that I had said Antipas’ taking to wife his brother’s wife Herodias led to his ruin. Actually it led to his death. Her ambition pushed him where he would not have otherwise gone. Antipas’ nephew, and Herodias’ brother, Herod Agrippa (who we meet in the Acts of the Apostles as one of the early persecutors of the new church) had spent and borrowed much money while he was in Palestine. He lived much of his time in Rome and was a close friend of the future emperor Gaius (Caligula). While riding in a chariot with Caligula, he commented that he could not wait until the then emperor Tiberius was no longer Caesar so that Caligula might have his rightful place. A loyal slave overhearing this relayed it to Tiberius who had Agrippa thrown into prison.

When Caligula finally did become emperor he released his friend and replaced his chain with a gift of one equal in size made of gold. He also made him a king of certain areas of Palestine. When Herodias learned that her undeserving brother had been made a king, she pushed her husband to go to Rome to appeal for the same boon. The tetrarch Antipas was mellowing with age and was unwilling. However, after much prodding from his wife, he began his journey. At the same time that he was appealing before Caligula, the emperor was reading a letter from Agrippa, accusing Antipas of treason against Rome, having entered into alliances with Sejanus, the Parthians (current enemies of Rome), and of gathering a large number of men and arms. When questioned about this army, Antipas admitted to having collected this militia. Caligula promptly confiscated all his property and exiled him for life to Gaul, though allowed Herodias, since she was the sister of his beloved Agrippa, to go free. To her credit, she accompanied her husband into exile, where he died shortly thereafter. He had ruled from 4 B.C. to A.D. 39, longer than any tetrarch in Palestine, save Agrippa II, son of his enemy, Agrippa.

PONTIUS PILATE

Three years after the affair with Jesus of Nazareth, in A.D. 36, after having served 10 years as military and political prefect of Judea, a revolt started in Samaria. An obscure pseudo-prophet with Messianic ambitions had promised the Samaritans that he would uncover some sacred temple utensils that Moses has supposedly buried on their sacred Mt. Gerizim. The multitude that gathered came armed with weapons and Pilate ordered his troops to block the ascent. It came to a pitched battle. Pilate, having won, executed the leaders of the uprising. The Samaritan Senate complained to Pilate’s superior, the proconsul of Syria, who ordered Pilate to return to Rome to answer the charges against him. However, the emperor Tiberius died before Pilate reached Rome. Whether he was tried by the emperor Caligula, we do not know. Nor do we know what ultimately happened to him. Perhaps he was banished to Gaul. Some medieval legends have his restless corpse, accompanied by squadrons of demons, disrupting localities of France and Switzerland, causing storms, earthquakes, and other havoc. The early church father Tertullian claimed that Pilate “was a Christian in his conscience”, and the Greek Orthodox church canonized his wife, while the Ethopian church even recognizes a St. Pilate and St. Procula’s Day on June 25. Saint or sinner, Pilate probably spent the rest of his days as a retired government official, a pensioned Roman magistrate emeritus, enjoying a less than sensational fate.

THE SANHEDRIN

The Pharisees had two main schools of thought, those that followed the rabbi Hillel, who stressed moderation and a certain amount of compromise, and those who followed the stricter rabbi Shammai, who would allow no cooperation with the foreign overseers. The school of Shammai eventually found expression through the Zealots, who ultimately fomented the rebellion against the Romans in A.D. 66 leading to the complete destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in A.D. 70. It was the school of Hillel that was able to survive and modern Judaism traces its roots back to this school.

The Sadducees did not proselytize as did the Pharisees, and as they only drew their membership from the aristocracy and the high priesthood, their party did not survive the destruction of A.D. 70.

Joseph, called Caiaphas was high priest until A.D. 39, when he was deposed by the imperial legate of Syria, Vitellius, (who had removed Pilate). The emperor Caligula eventually became jealous of Vitellius’ success in the East had had him removed from office. It was only through much grovelling and servility before the emperor that his life was spared. Pilate would have been pleased.

THE FOLLOWERS OF JESUS

Two historical facts remain; the tomb was empty, and the lives of the disciples were changed. It should be added immediately that an empty tomb does not prove a resurrection, although a resurrection would require an empty tomb. Its occupancy, indeed, would effectively disprove it. Nevertheless, the disciples claimed that Jesus raised from the dead and appeared to many. As they spread the good news (Greek: euaggelion “good report”, to the Latin “evangelion”, to the English “evangelical”) this brought them into conflict with the Sanhedrin who were amazed that these unlearned men had filled Jerusalem with their teaching. The faith spread to all points and in Antioch they were first called “Christians”. This comes from the Latin ‘christiani’, like the word ‘caesariani’ meaning slaves or members of the household of Caesar.

The faith eventually arrived in Rome and first came into disfavor under the emperor Nero. A number of persecutions under various later emperors as well did not destroy this faith but seemed to refine and purify it as its martyrs became witnesses (for the word martyr in Greek means witness). In the early part of the 4th century the Roman emperor Constantine, before a battle was impressed to fight under the sign of Christ, and was victorious. Later, he made Christianity the state religion. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian
www.billpetro.com

In part from Paul L. Maier’s In the Fullness of Time

History of Good Friday

April 13, 2006 /
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GOOD FRIDAY

For centuries, pilgrims have walked the Via Dolorosa, “the way of sorrow” in Jerusalem, following the path Jesus took from the judgement seat of Pilate at the Antonia in the eastern part of the city through several “stations of the Cross” to the ultimate location at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the traditional site of the crucifixion and burial.

Following Pilate’s sentence, Jesus was led away to be crucified. Crucifixion was a form of torture and execution practiced by many of the ancient societies, including Persia, 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. During the Jewish revolt in A.D. 66 for example, the Romans crucified 3,600 Jews, many of them of the aristocracy.

The victim was first scourged with a ‘flagellum’ to weaken them before he was hung on the cross. Near the top of the cross was affixed the ‘titulus’ or inscription identifying the criminal and the cause of his execution. Above Jesus’ cross in Greek, Hebrew (Aramaic), and Latin were printed the words “Jesus of Nazareth, king of the Jews”. The Latin acronym INRI comes from this; “Iesus Nazarethis Rex Iudaeorum”.

By the way, Jesus’ middle name was not “H”, as in “Jesus H. Christ”. Rather it comes from a misunderstanding of the letters “IHS”. This is an abbreviation of Jesus in Greek, “IHSOUS”, and should properly be written with a line above the ‘h’ signifying an abbreviation.

Death by crucifixion was painful and protracted. It seldom occurred before thirty-six hours, sometimes took as long as nine days, and resulted from hunger and traumatic exposure. If it was decided to hasten the death of the victim, his legs were smashed with a heavy club or hammer. However, Jesus died within just a few hours. The New Testament, rather than dwelling on this painful death, simply recounts that “they crucified him”.

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian
www.billpetro.com

In part from Paul L. Maier’s In the Fullness of Time

History of the Trial of Jesus

April 13, 2006 /
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THE TRIAL OF JESUS

HOUSE OF ANNAS

Jesus was brought before the powerful ex-high priest for a hearing prior to formal arraignment before the son-in-law Caiaphas. Jesus knowing this to be essentially a lower court inquiry blunted Annas’ questions by answering that what was known about him was “…public record”.

PALACE OF CAIAPHAS

As it was after dark and the gates of the Temple were locked, certain members of the Sanhedrin met in the south west quarter of the city at tthe palace of the high priest Caiaphas, whose name means “inquisitor”. It was difficult to find a solid charge to stick on Jesus as the witnesses that were found could not agree, and according to Jewish Law, a minimum of two witnesses had to concur on a charge. A number of charges and questions were put to Jesus, but he refused to answer. Since no proven evidence had been introduced, Jesus was not legally obligated to answer, and Caiaphas knew it. If Caiaphas could not introduce a proven charge the case would collapse and Jesus would be more popular with the people while the Sanhedrin would be embarrassed. The high priest devised a plan that would create seventy witnesses. He prefaced his final question with the dreaded “Oath of the Covenant”. A reply of silence would be criminal, a false answer would be damnable. He said, “I adjure you, by the living God, that you tell us whether are you the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus not only answered affirmatively, but added that he was the Son of Man, an Old Testament title for God’s vice-regent on earth, a peer as it were, a divine being.

The high priest, hearing what he believed was blasphemy in his presence, tore his garments. He asked the assembled members of the Sanhedrin, seated in a semicircle around him, for their vote. The vote proceeded from the youngest to the oldest, so the elders might not unduly influence the younger members. The Temple police then beat the prisoner, which was standard operating procedure for the condemned. One problem remained; night trials by the Sanhedrin were illegal except in monetary cases. Therefore, the full council met again the next day, shortly after dawn for a roll call vote. A final complication arose. To avoid hasty convictions, the Jewish law postponed sentencing until the day following the trial. But this was illegal as the next day was the Sabbath, when only acquittals could be returned. However, in this emergency situation, this could be disregarded.

The Jerusalem Talmud tells us that forty years before the destruction of the Temple (A.D. 70) the right to inflict the death penalty had been taken from Israel. As it was now Friday, April 3, 33 A.D., the Sanhedrin had to have the judgement ratified by the Roman provincial ruler, Pontius Pilate, who reserved the ‘jus gladii’, the law of the sword.

PILATE’S PRAETORIUM

The Roman prefect’s usual residence was in the Roman capital, Caeserea, on the coast. As it was the time of the Jewish Passover, and the numbers of people in Jerusalem grew, Pilate journeyed to the Jewish capital to keep an eye on things. In front of the governor’s Jerusalem residence, Herod’s Palace, the members of the Sanhedrin gathered. As it was the beginning of the Jewish holiday, they remained outside the Gentile residence so as not to defile themselves. Pilate asked, “What charges do you bring against this man?” If the Sanhedrin were expecting the governor to rubber-stamp their judgement, they were disappointed, for this was the ‘interragatio’, the opening formula of a Roman trial. Pilate began to try Jesus himself. Since the Jews could not tell the governor that Jesus was guilty of blasphemy, a religious charge that would make no difference to a Roman, they produced three charges: subverting the nation, forbidding tribute money to Tiberius Caesar, and claims of Messiah.

The first charge was serious, but needed proof, and Jesus had seemed to avoid politics. The second Pilate knew to be a lie, as the Pharisees themselves protested the tax. The third was the gravest. It was “maiestas”, high treason, the most heinous in Roman law (see earlier historical note on Pontius Pilate). After questioning the accused, Pilate could not get to the truth of the matter, and as it was now after dawn the crowds outside who were aware of the proceedings were getting noisy and ugly. Pilate heard someone mention something about Jesus being from Galilee. This would be to Pilate’s advantage, for Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee was in town and Pilate could easily and legally transfer the venue from the ‘forum delicti’, the place of offense, to the ‘forum domicilii’, the place of residence.

HEROD ANTIPAS’ HASMONEAN PALACE

The Sanhedrin could expect a more favorable decision from Antipas since he had aided them before in affair of the votive shields. And Antipas was genuinely pleased to see Jesus, about whom he had heard much. However, Jesus would provide him with no sport. Although he appreciated that Pilate would do him this boon, he could not suffer the unpopularity of putting to death another prophet after killing John the Baptist. So after allowing his troops to give Jesus a gorgeous robe and then mock him, he sent the accused back to Pilate. The gospel writers tell us that after this Antipas showed his gratefulness to Pilate in friendship.

PILATE AGAIN

At this point, the gospel of St. John tells us, Pilate took the initiative and suggested flogging Jesus as an object lesson and releasing him. This practice of ‘fustigatio’ was to serve as a warning against further wrong doing. This did not satisfy the Sanhedrin, who were beginning to see Pilate equivocate and suspected an actual release. It was at this point that they pulled out their trump card, the ace up the sleeve. “If you release this man you are no friend of Caesar, everyone who makes himself out to be a king opposes Caesar.” This was the key that would link the religious and the political. Pilate’s status as ‘amici Caesaris’ was in danger. His political career would be over, if not his life as well. He had already been warned once by the emperor himself. Pilate then passed sentence against this “king of the Jews”: constructive treason – implied maiestas.

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian
www.billpetro.com

from Paul L. Maier’s In the Fullness of Time

History of Passover

April 13, 2006 /
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HISTORY OF PASSOVER

This evening at sunset marks the beginning of Passover. Exodus 12 in the Bible tells the story of Passover from the life of Moses. Ten plagues were visited upon the Egyptian pharaoh (starring Yul Brenner, but 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. The Jews were to smear the blood of a lamb upon their door posts, so that the angel of death would “Passover” them unharmed. Pharaoh relented and released the Israelites.

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, bitter herbs, and roast lamb to be eaten in traveling garb. This Feast of Unleavened Bread is a major holiday in the Jewish when Jews from all over the world return to Jerusalem. During Passion Week, which was at Passover, the Jerusalem of Jesus’ time would have tripled from its population of about 50,000.

Could “The Last Supper” (made famous by da Vinci’s painting) that Jesus had with his disciples in the Upper Room have been a Passover meal? It seems likely. It was at about the right time in the calendar. Some churches commemorate this meal by using unleavened bread for their Communion Eucharist.

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian
www.billpetro.com