Chapter 1 of “The Gospel According to the Romans” introduces key factors regarding the social structure and day-to-day environment of 1st century Palestine: Palestine was a province of the Roman Empire and, as such, was under the military occupation of a Roman Legion. The figurehead ruler might be a local king, but real power rested with the Roman governor.
Palestine was unique in the Empire in having only one local god, and this god was considered superior to all other gods, to the extent that Jews were not allowed to worship any but Yahweh. Normally the Romans just added the local gods to their own pantheon and expected the natives to allow the worship of Roman gods alongside their own. This was not acceptable to religious Jews.
So the local leaders had to choose between four approaches to the Romans: that of the Sadducees – active collaboration, favored by the wealthy, powerful and venal; of the Pharisees – resentful acquiescence while ignoring sacriligious Roman factors like pigs, shaved chins and graven images; of the Essenes – retreat from Roman influence into remote, self-sustaining and traditional communities; and of the “Fourth Philosophy”, the Zealots – armed resistance, assassination, robbery, and province-wide uprisings.
But not all Jews were religious. The novel’s protagonist, Matthew Levi, was born and raised in another province, Syria, and has long been friends with individual Romans. Chapter 1 sees him interviewed by the governor, Pontius Pilate, for a position as tax collector in Capernaum. As the Roman agent in a small town he will also be expected to send reports about any anti-Roman sentiment or activities he hears of. In effect, any tax collector will be a spy.
Christians say Jesus was dead and buried for three days. But Friday night to Sunday morning is only a day and two nights. A tour operator trying to sell that package as ‘three days’ would be prosecuted. So what’s up with the Christians?
Jonah, three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish
A case can be made for the Roman practice of inclusive numbering. They would have said our week was eight days, running from Sunday to Sunday. They based their own week on the public market day which was held every eighth day throughout the Roman Empire, and they therefore said the week was nine days. They were brilliant engineers, but not strong in pure mathematics.
However Roman numbering doesn’t deal with the issue of Biblical prophecy. Christians are at pains to say that Jesus was correct in all his prophecies. Here is the prophecy by Jesus that causes them to say he was buried for three days:
“For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matthew 12:40)
Christians will wriggle and wriggle to claim that late Friday plus Saturday plus early Sunday equals three days, but there is no way they can find the necessary three nights.
Clearly, if Jesus was prophesying about himself, a Sunday morning resurrection fails to meet the criteria. He failed to stay under long enough.
Sorry, but the claim of accurate prophecy must be disallowed.
Jesus attracted a wide range of Jewish followers, both men and women. Inasmuch as he was trying to get all Israel to turn away from foreign influences and back to the Mosaic Law, he was talking to all parts of Jewish society.
It would be reasonable, then, for his closest followers to include representatives of the various philosophies and social classes, and to be a cross-section of Jewish male society. When Jesus debated with “the Pharisees”, for example, there is no reason to think that they weren’t members of the Twelve.
Jesus and the Twelve
In “The Gospel According to the Romans” I identify the Twelve in this way:
The fishermen James and John, and Andrew and Simon Peter – illiterate, unaffiliated with a particular philosophy, but anti-Roman
Judas Iscariot (or “the Sicariot”) and Simon Zealotes (“the Zealot”) as Zealots – part of the armed resistance to the Romans
Little James and his brother Judas Thaddeus as Essenes who avoided Romans
Philip and Bartholomew, Pharisees who argued about correct attitudes regarding the Law and the Romans
Thomas, a Sadducee willing to make allowances for the Romans
Matthew, a foreign-born Greek-educated Jew who had worked for the Romans – a lost sheep who was returned to the flock
This covers the range of Jewish men. Jesus also had a diversity of women among his followers, such as the three who lived in Tiberias at Herod Antipas’ court: Mary Magdalene; Joanna the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza; and Susanna. A couple more, Mary and Martha, were sisters of Lazarus, close associates of Jesus, and assistants at the resurrection of Lazarus.
The man we call Saint Matthew, being the tax collector “sitting at the receipt of custom” in Capernaum, is by definition a Roman agent appointed by Pontius Pilate. As such, he has the additional function of keeping an eye on the Zealots and other religious fanatics who head the insurgency against the Roman occupation. ‘Ragheads’, the Romans call them. After Jesus recruits Matthew to help purify Israel and overthrow the Romans – ‘Pigs’, the Jews call them – Matthew continues to feed information to Pilate.
The local tax collector in Capernaum was - by definition - a Roman agent
Matthew himself tells the story. He is a Greek-speaking Jew, born and educated in Damascus, with a skeptical fascination for religion and politics. He is an irreligious opportunist and has friends on both sides in the conflict. He dines with the Roman military, spies for them, and wants Roman citizenship. But he also lives with Jesus, preaches for him, and falls in love with Mary of Bethany. Whichever way he turns he will cause the death of people he likes, and, in either camp, whoever suspects him will kill him.
By contextualizing the words and actions of Jesus within the Roman Occupation of Palestine and the repeated Jewish insurrections, a strangely modern picture emerges in ‘The Gospel According to the Romans’: a charismatic religious fundamentalist, opposing an occupying superpower.