Part 4 The New Deal
From the Dead Sea scrolls, we discover Herod’s plan for the kingdom. He contrived to obtain at least six hundred thousand members to form a New Israel, the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. This political project required a massive evangelism lasting over forty years.
Herod the Great had a grand scheme of a vast worldwide membership. This involved sending evangelists out all over the world. The participants of this system of social security were ritually baptized after an application and payment to Herod’s ministers of the prescribed fees. Annual contributions would be collected and recorded by the scribes.
They proved their membership by showing a white stone token with a new registered Hebrew name whenever entering homes for the weekly gatherings or at synagogues or temples and applying for social benefits. The temple tax collectors now collected an annual contribution that brought great wealth to the government, Herod, and his administrators.
“The missionaries… with their leather wallets full of white stones, would come back with the same wallets full of money, in foreign currency. Once put into Jewish currency by the money-changers [porters of the temple], it would be stored in vaults, ready to be used by Herod for his vast building projects, or any subsequent causes.”
“Herod’s scheme of initiation into a new form of Judaism was immensely successful. Jews everywhere were willing to join the worldwide society whose meetings were held in the evenings in private houses. Entry was for members only; they had to show at the door an admission token in the form of a white stone from the river Jordan which the missionaries gave them at baptism. On the stone was written their new Jewish name.”1
Herod had been sending out his Pharisee missionaries and teachers, who supported his idea of a vast kingdom of God on earth, for some time. It was a system of social security (Corban) and commercial affluence. Those ministers preached a prosperity gospel with a religious stamp of approval and statutory enforcement of the taxes required for its support.
“Jerusalem was a major city in a cosmopolitan culture. It contained not only the Temple, but also a large arena for chariot and horse races (a hippodrome), a stadium for athletic contests (a gymnasium), and massive Theaters.” 2 People needed to be entertained, lulled with security, excited and pleasured into pacification and apathy.
“…In 20-19 BCE. Herod the Great set in motion plans to make the Jerusalem Temple the largest… in the world… stretched a quarter of a mile long by a fifth of a mile wide. … Twenty thousand functionaries were employed in its servicing....” 3 Most people did fine under Herod’s government, as most people do fine under existing governments of the world today. Business was good, money flowed, and success and prosperity was plentiful or just around the corner. The temple, as a government building, supplied a gate for vast funds for social welfare and public projects.
Herod subsidized games and festivals all over the world. Everywhere, there were civic projects providing employment. They were building roads, providing services, and delivering water by miles of aqueducts in cities and the countryside. With “improved irrigation, the kingdom became much more productive agriculturally. And when famine struck at home, Herod supplied grain from its own funds.”4
Herod had his enemies, but they were quickly dispatched, condemned as anti-government conspirators, or generally frightened into silence. Herod’s kingdom was not yet conquered by Rome, but was merely a client kingdom of its Pax Romana.
“The year 2 BC marked the 25th anniversary of Caesar Augustus’s rule and the 750th anniversary of the founding of Rome. Huge celebrations were planned. The whole empire was at peace. The doors of the temple of Janus were closed for only the third time in Roman history. To honor their emperor, the people were to rise as one and name him pater patriae, or Father of the Country. This enrollment, described in the Book of Luke, which brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem, has always been a mystery since no regular census occurred at this time. But the pater patriae enrollment fits perfectly.”5
All Jews did not despise the Commander-in-Chief of a mighty, multinational military force that kept the peace throughout the world, but many would learn to hate him. Rome had united the nations of the world. The benevolent benefactor, Augustus Caesar, was loved by the people of Judea. Things were good or getting better. Taxes were getting higher, but so were profits. The concept of inflation began to insidiously creep into their lives. Eventually, a series of devastating recessions would bring down the economy of Rome and those who were plugged into its flow of power and benevolence.
Herod’s annual Temple-tribute was transported to Jerusalem and filtered through the porters, or money-changers, who had worked there since before David. Augustus had mandated that no civil magistrates would touch these sacred funds. Because Judaism was not just about faith and religion but also a jurisdictional kingdom, they were also exempt from the draft. They were sometimes excepted from appearing in courts of law on similar grounds or had their own courts, free from Roman control.
“His reign gave them a third of a century of peace and prosperity and the new harbor at Caesarea increased trade. But Herod’s lavish building programs cost immense sums of money and taxes were necessarily high. By the standards of the time he was not a bad ruler. He was brutal but far less so than the Hasmonaeans. Herod’s greatest asset was in fact the very thing for which Jews most criticized him -- his half-hearted attitude towards Judaism. Augustus had realized Herod’s true value when he gave him Samaria and the coastal strip for although Herod was careful not to offend the Jews he did not oppress the Samaritans and non-Jews. A Hasmonaean ruler would certainly have persecuted them and similarly a non-Jewish ruler would have had little sympathy with the Jews.”
“Herod’s greatest fault was his ungovernable passion both in love and hate. This coupled with his constant fear of losing this throne led to most of his ‘crimes’ especially those committed within his own family.”6
There were rebels, malcontents, and doomsdayers as always. There were tax protesters, religious zealots, and extreme fundamentalists who spoke of moral declines, collapsing economies, and other calamities to come.
“The Zealots were a splinter group of the Pharisees. The Pharisees were content to ignore the Romans. The Zealots were not. They wanted to drive them out. They planned to establish the Kingdom of Heaven on earth - a kingdom ruled by God and not by man. When Jesus said ‘Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s’, the Zealots would have agreed with him. For all the produce of God’s land belonged to God and this included the Roman tribute. The main Zealot center was Galilee. The revolt really started when Galilee was annexed to the Roman province in 44 C.E.”7
The Roman and Jewish system was prepared for these rabble. As long as the people were generally comfortable and divided, the local courts and guardians could handle the riffraff and rebels that resist the progress of society and its liberal morals.
These chosen Rulers were the protectors of the peace and the authoritarian benefactors of their common welfare. There was debt, corruption and abuse, as always, with a regular promise of amendment and reform, as always. The human return and slothful addiction to the same ancient systems that had corrupted Babylon and Sodom created a swamp of sinking bureaucracies that ate up the substance of the people as a dog eats up his own vomit. As mires will do, the more the people struggled with their avarice, without the humility of repentance, the deeper they sank.
But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog [is] turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire. 2 Peter 2:22
The Romans had developed clever ways to advance revenue for their enterprises and expeditions. They created something like stock companies. Those who invested were rewarded with great profits in mining and trade ventures. This is how they built those giant ships and funded mining expeditions to Spain. They also financed their wars by paying dividends and stock interest with the spoils. The English did this for centuries in both war and peace, which formed the underpinning of modern stock markets. The Romans relied on, what we call, temples to handle the complexities of such investments, premiums, and profits.
As things became less lucrative, with the increase of avarice, sloth, and corruption, new methods were devised. Charity was handled, at first, by the private sector or the philanthropy of these temples, which acted more like giant corporate brokerage houses rather than B-movie pagan temples. There was an equal amount of superstition, but mystical deities alone would not have held the attention of the practical Roman entrepreneur.
The Christians, who were considered Jews by Rome and derived their status from the Kings of the Jews recognized by Rome, could not apply for the immunities and granted benefits bestowed by the Father of Rome in exchange for their allegiance to the same. Christ clearly instructed us to the contrary, forbidding his followers to pray to any father on earth nor call upon any man as Father upon the earth8.
He instructed them to only apply to the Father in Heaven9 and to love one another as He loved them. John had told men how the Kingdom worked. If we have two coats and a brother had none, then we are to share in charity and in hope. The Apostles were clearly taught that they should not apply to other fathers of earth, nor for the gifts sacrificed to these worldly idols, nor covet their neighbors goods, and, above all, to stop the taking of oaths.
These patrons of other nations set their tables with benefits and dainties, privileges, and entitlements and call all to eat with them of the sacrifices laid upon those civic altars, but the Bible tells us that these tables are a snare that legalize our bondage under those exercising authorities. The Kingdom of God is an alternative taught by Abraham, instituted by Moses, and ordained by Christ. Joseph’s brothers, through envy and jealousy, found themselves with no alternative but to apply to the Pharaoh. Had they loved their brother, they would have remained free and blessed. The same choice remains with every man today. If we are to be Christians, with Christ as our Lord, then we must set aside envy, sloth, jealousy, and avarice and learn the ways of love and charity, hope, and faith. The laws and systems of men cannot license sin in God’s eyes or judgment. We must learn to live by virtue and the perfect law of liberty.
1Jesus and the Riddle of the Dead Sea Scrolls by Barbara Thiering,
2Jesus Within Judaism by James H. Charlesworth.
3Jesus, The Evidence, Ian Wilson
4The Old Testament World John Roberson and Philip Davies.
5The Star of Bethlehem by Crag Chester, Imprimis D/96 Hillsdale College.
6Living in the Time of Jesus of Nazareth by Peter Connolly
8Matthew 23:9 And call no [man] your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.
9Matthew 6:9 After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.