Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
October 22, 2001
The story of empire spans the centries
The price of empire is the expectation to intervene when trouble brews in the outlying
provinces. In order to protect strategic, economic and national interests, the empire invests vast human and financial resources to maintain control over what it believes to be its domain.
Today this is called Pax Americana. Some 2,000 years ago it was called Pax Romana. The empire was much smaller then and Roman legions had to march on foot to potential trouble spots.
One such hotbed of insurrection was the province of Judea, where the local people believed they owed no allegiance to anyone but Yahweh.
A revolt broke out in the year 66AD and for the next four years the Jewish nation was convulsed in war. The final catastrophe happened when Jerusalem was captured in 70AD and a fire destroyed the famous Temple.
The historian Josephus recounts how the legionnaires carried the sacred treasures of the Temple like trophies in a triumphal procession through the streets of Rome. This included the Menorah (the seven branched candelabra), the shewbread altar, the silver trumpets and the purple curtains which had veiled the Holy of Holies. The victory parade also included a multitude of Jewish captives.
The spectacle was designed to impress upon the Roman citizens the gravity of the danger of Judean terrorism from which Vespian, the new emperor, and his son Titus had delivered them. Among the spectators who lined the streets there must have been members of the fledgling Christian Church.
We can be sure that they must have been anything but elated. The evidence of Jewish rebellion must have been a reminder that Jesus, the founder of their faith, had been a Jew executed for sedition against Rome.
In fact Tacitus had written: "Christus, the founder of the name, had undergone the death penalty in the reign of Tiberius, by sentence of the procurator Pontius Pilate, and the pernicious superstition was checked for a moment only to break out once more, not merely in Judea, the home of the disease, but in the capital itself."
If all this sounds terribly familiar, it might be because history tends to repeat itself. Yet this particular event might have been pivotal in determining the course of Western history and that of the Church in particular.
Up to this point nobody had thought of writing down the story of early Christianity. It was generally believed that Jesus would shortly return from heaven with supernatural power to bring to an end the oppressive existing world order. There was no need to record for posterity, because the final judgment was at hand and there would be no posterity.
But after the ruination of the Temple, the world had changed forever, as is now the common phrase.
The mother Church in Jerusalem, where the original community of Apostles and disciples had been established, had disappeared as a result of the war and there was now a good possibility that even gentile Christians would be suspected of having overt or covert links with subversive Jewish nationalism.
After all, Christianity at that time was still regarded as a Jewish sect, closely associated with the messianic aspirations to free the nation from the yoke of the evil empire.
It is at this time that the Gospel of Mark was written, specifically for the Christian community in Rome. Mark is at pains to transfer the responsibility of the crucifixion from the Roman governor to the Jewish leaders of the Sanhedrin and the rebellious cries of the mob.
For 2,000 years we have lived with the consequences of this interpretation.
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