Monthly Archives: April 2009

Taxes the easy way

Working on tax return preparation for the past two days got me to thinking about this episode from the ministry of Jesus:

24 When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax went up to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the tax?” 25 He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?” 26 And when he said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. 27 However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.” (Matthew 17:24-27 ESV).

Fishing is still important on the Sea of Galilee. Our groups usually have at least one meal of the famous St. Peter’s Fish when we are in the Galilee.

A fish from the Sea of Galilee with a coin in its mouth. Photo by F.Jenkins.

A fish from the Sea of Galilee with a coin in its mouth. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Mendel Nun spent more than 50 years fishing the Sea of Galilee. He became an expert in the history of fishing on the Sea.  His article, “Cast Your Net Upon the Waters: Fish and fishermen in Jesus’ Time” (Biblical Archaeology Review, 19:06), includes information on this episode. Because this is a lengthy quotation I will leave it full width for easier reading.

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The musht is the only large fish in the lake that moves in shoals, which of course is a key to the identification of the fish in the story in Luke, although not the only one.

The flat shape of the musht makes it especially suitable for frying. The skeleton consists of an easily detachable backbone and relatively few small bones, and thus it is easy to eat. It has long been known as St. Peter’s fish. Recently, it has even been exported under this name. But, alas, the name is a misnomer.

Presumably the fish got its name because of an incident recorded in the Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 17:24–27). In this episode, the tax collectors come to Capernaum to collect the half-shekel Temple tax that each Jew was required to pay annually. Jesus tells Peter, “Go to the sea and cast a hook, and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel; take that and give it to them for me and yourself.”

The musht was probably given the name St. Peter’s fish because of this miracle. However, this cannot have been the fish Peter caught with a hook and line. The reason is simple: Musht feeds on plankton and is not attracted by other food. It is therefore caught with nets, and not with hook and line. The fishermen on the lake have, since time immemorial, used a hook baited with sardine to fish for barbels, which are predators and bottom feeders. Peter almost surely caught a barbel. There can be only one explanation for the confusing change of name. It was good for tourism! The Sea of Galilee has always attracted pilgrims; musht (today raised mostly in ponds) is part of the unique local cuisine. It is delicious, especially when freshly fried. In ancient times, just as today, the fishing boats delivered their catch to the eating places on shore. Indeed, the proverbial metaphor for speed in the Talmud is “as from the sea into the frying pan.” This expression was part of daily speech in Tiberias and clearly refers to musht and not barbels; the latter are best when boiled.

The first Christians were local people and were therefore familiar with the various fish. They of course knew that the fish Peter caught could only have been a barbel and not a musht. However, as pilgrims began to come from distant regions, it no doubt seemed good for business to give the name “St. Peter’s fish” to the musht being served by the early lakeside eating houses. The most popular and easily prepared fish acquired the most marketable name! But even if Peter did not catch a musht, he deserves to have his name associated with the best fish in the lake.

The empty tomb

The women who came to the tomb of Jesus on the first day of the week found the stone rolled away from the tomb. When they entered the tomb the body was not there (Luke 24:1-3).

The two men (Matthew says angel) said,

He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” (Luke 24:6-7 ESV)

Several tombs of the type in which Jesus was buried have survived the centuries. This one was discovered during road construction a few years ago near Mount Carmel.

A Roman Period tomb with a rolling stone. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A Roman Period tomb with a rolling stone. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The women told the apostles what happened when they went to the tomb.

1 Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” (John 20:1-2 ESV)

The Gospel of John records the reaction of Peter and the other disciple [John]:

3 So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. 4 Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, 7 and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples went back to their homes. (John 20:1-10 ESV)

I asked Frank and Norm, two living disciples, to stoop and look into an empty tomb much the way Peter and John did on that first day of the week.

Two disciples look into an empty tomb. Photo by F. Jenkins.

Two disciples look into an empty tomb. Photo by F. Jenkins.

The tomb of Jesus

The New Testament describes the tomb and burial of Jesus:

When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb. (Matthew 27:57-61 ESV)

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre likely contains the empty tomb of Jesus. Since 1810 the tomb has been covered by a monument that hides the original appearance of the tomb. In fact, even in the 4th century Constantine changed the natural appearance of the area by cutting away some of the natural stone.

The tomb is similar to other tombs from the first century. This one is small, but that would be consistent with the fact that it was the personal tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. The museum of the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum in the Old City has a model of the tomb showing a side view. From right to left one enters the tomb when the rolling stone is moved away. The first room serves as a vestibule. The second room contains a bench or shelf cut into the rock. This was called the arcosolium. The wrapped body would be placed on this bench.

Model of the tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Photo by F. Jenkins.

Model of the tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Photo by F. Jenkins.

Believers appreciate the loving care Joseph gave the body of Jesus.

The house of Caiaphas

Jesus observed the Passover of the Jews somewhere in the upper city of Jerusalem, the present Mount Zion. Scholarly consensus locates the house of Caiaphas at a site near the Cenacle on Mount Zion. Another site, further down the slope toward the Pool of Siloam, is held by some as the house of Caiphas. It is  called St. Peter in Gallicantu (cock-crow). According to this tradition, it is the place where Jesus was taken after His arrest (Matthew 26:57). If correct, this would be the site of Peter’s denial of the Lord.

The late W. Harold Mare says,

Whatever interpretation is accepted, one is impressed with the ancient stone stairs that run from the vicinity of the Cenacle down past the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu to the Pool of Siloam, stairs that are thought to be from the Jewish period. It could be that these were the very stairs used by Jesus as he went down from the Last Supper to the Kidron Valley and on to Gethsemane (John 18:1). (The Archaeology of the Jerusalem Area. Baker, 1987)

My understanding is that Jesus would have observed the Passover and instituted the Lord’s Supper in the Upper City. He then went with His disciples to Gethsemane. From there He was taken to the House of Caiaphas. Jesus may have taken these steps in both directions. Here is a photo of those stone stairs that I made in 1979.

First century steps leading to the Upper City. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

First century steps leading to the Upper City. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Jesus Tomb Unmasked

unmasked_thumbExpedition Bible has produced a high-quality DVD entitled The Jesus Tomb Unmasked. This is an expose of the Discovery Channel “documentary” about the Talpiot Tomb. You remember the claim that this was the tomb of Jesus and his wife Mary. The Jesus Tomb Unmasked may be ordered as a DVD, or watched online free. Information here.

The film features several of the scholars who were quoted in the Discovery Channel film. In this film they say their comments were taken out of context in The Lost Tomb of Jesus.

HT: Todd Bolen, BiblePlaces Blog.

A place called Gethsemane

Gethsemane is a place well known in the minds of Christians, for according to the Gospels it was there that Jesus prayed alone to the Father before his arrest and trial. The word Gethsemane means oil-press. It is the name of an olive orchard on the Mount of Olives. Not many olive trees remain on the mountain originally named for them. This photo was made in the modern Garden at the Church of All Nations.

Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Take time to meditate on the events of that night.

Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to His disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and distressed. Then He said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.” And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.”

And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour? “Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” He went away again a second time and prayed, saying, “My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done.” Again He came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. And He left them again, and went away and prayed a third time, saying the same thing once more.

Then He came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Behold, the hour is at hand and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners.  “Get up, let us be going; behold, the one who betrays Me is at hand!” (Matthew 26:36-46 NASu)

The Way of the Cross – Via Dolorosa

Numerous events from the last day prior to the crucifixion of Jesus are recorded in the New Testament (Matthew 26-27; Mark 14-15; Luke 22-23; John 18-19). As early as Byzantine times Christians began to follow the final steps of Jesus on specified days. Over the centuries many changes were made in the route and the stops. The traditional Via Dolorosa, as known today, was fixed in the 18th century.

Jerome Murphy-O’Connor says,

The Via Dolorosa is defined by faith, not by history. (The Holy Land, 5th edition, 37)

He continues,

The present Way of the Cross has little chance of corresponding to hsitorical reality… (38)

According to tradition, the third station of the cross is where Jesus falls the first time under His cross. It sounds reasonable, but the Gospels make no specific mention of this.

Roman period street near 3rd station of the cross. Photo by F. Jenkins.

Roman period street near 3rd station of the cross. Photo by F. Jenkins.

This photo shows the street in front of the third station. The plaque in Hebrew, Arabic and English provides the following information about the street.

Paving stones, apparently from the Second Temple Period (ca. 100 B.C.C. – 100 C.E.). The street was found in its entirety 3 meters below the existing level and was partially restored by the Municipality of Jerusalem … 1980-1981.

This means that the street Jesus might have walked is at least 10 feet below the present street level.