Monday, May 9, 2011

The Jubilee Guide to Earliest Christianity

I have noted this before but it needs to be said again and again. The beginning of the original 'Gospel of Jesus' - the text in the hands of so-called 'Marcionites' - demonstrates how important the Jubilee concept was to the the original mevasser (= evangelist). When Jesus stands up in the Jewish house of worship called he is saying that he has come to announce the Jubilee. So far, the Pope and I agree.

However what most people don't understand is that the ancient Israelites had very specific understandings with respect to the Jubilee. I think most people are aware that the seventh year was as holy as the seventh day. It was called a sabbatical year. After seven consecutive 'sabbath years' the year that followed - the eighth as it were (the fiftieth from the first) - was called a Jubilee. This was the year that the redemption of Israel was to be achieved (cf. 11QMelchizedek). This was the year the messiah was supposed to appear.

I think the Pope and most informed people can follow up to this point in the discussion. This is basically all that the Jews remember about the traditions of their ancestors. However the Samaritans preserve a great deal more. While it is generally known that there are two ways to count the Jewish year (i.e. the 'religious year' which begins on the first of the first month and the 'civil year' which starts from the first of the seventh) there is much confusion with regards to when the Jubilee year starts.

We see in the Samaritan Arabic commentary on the Torah, on Leviticus 25:9. Slightly condensed and slightly re-arranged translation from my life long friend it seems Ruaridh Boid formerly of Monash University:

The High Priest and the King acting together are to send heralds out on the Day of Atonement (i.e. the tenth of the seventh month) to go into all countries over the next six months blowing the shofar in every land and region [not just Canaan] with the announcement [= bashâ’ir, plural of bashîrah] of the information of the approach of the Jubilee Year and the release of captives so that it reaches the whole nation”.

This is absolutely key to understand why the gospel is called 'the gospel.' The Arabic bashîrah = the Hebrew bassorah = Greek euangelion. The person doing the announcing of the Jubilee is the evangelist (= Arabic mubashshir = Hebrew mevasser or the bashîr). Notice carefully that the bashîrah is not the information, but the announcement of it. This is the connotation of the Greek euangelion.  The meaning of only becomes clear and sharp in the context of the Samaritan halachah. 

The point of all of this is that Jesus's purpose of Jesus's 'ministry' in the gospel is to announce the year that follows as the Jubilee.  This is the year in which he will be crucified.  It is the year in which he initiates his disciple into the mysteries of the kingdom of God.  It is the beginning of a new year of favor for Israel (at least theoretically). 

If we follow the earliest reference to the structure of the gospel narrative in relation to the Jubilee we see Clement of Alexandria declare:

And to prove that this is true, it is written in the Gospel by Luke as follows: “And in the fifteenth year, in the reign of Tiberius Cæsar, the word of the Lord came to John, the son of Zacharias.” And again in the same book: “And Jesus was coming to His baptism, being about thirty years old," [Luke 3 1, 2]. and so on. And that it was necessary for Him to preach only a year, this also is written: “He hath sent Me to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”  This both the prophet spake, and the Gospel.
The last citation comes from an unknown gospel - undoubtedly the Marcionite text - where Jesus does not read from a scroll for Isaiah but rather merely confirms his role as mevasser before an informed audience.  The reference to the exact year of Jesus's descent is without question pinpointed to the year 26 CE by Clement when he says that it is "in fifteen years of Tiberius and fifteen years of Augustus" - that is from 12 CE. 

Tiberius ruled as a colleague of Augustus in the provinces from 12 CE as Suetonius notes:

After two years he (Tiberius) returned to the city from Germany and celebrated the triumph. . . . Since the consuls caused a law to be passed soon after this that he should govern the provinces jointly with Augustus and hold the census with him, he set out for Illyricum on the conclusion of the lustral ceremonies; but he was at once recalled, and finding Augustus in his last illness but still alive, he spent an entire day with him in private." [Augustus 97:1; Tiberius 20-21]

The triumphal celebration mentioned here was on October 23, 12 CE and he became colleague shortly thereafter.  Clement clearly dates the descent of Jesus to the co-regency  from October of 12 CE - a date which would have coincided approximately with the Day of Atonement at the beginning of the Jewish civil calendar. 

Once this is established we have already seen that the Seder Olam identifies 26 CE as a sabbatical year and the calculations of the Samaritan Tulidah further identify it as a 'forty ninth year' - the year before a Jubilee.  It is difficult to shake understanding that Jesus's descent into Judea (AH 1.27.2) was understood to have begun in the coinciding beginning of the 15th regnal year of Tiberius and the Jewish civil calendar.  In this sense both the testimonies of Clement and Irenaeus (hostile) are correct in identifying the ministry of Jesus to have been confined to a year - this even though the religious calendar would divide the six month period from the descent on or around the beginning of the seventh month to the Question of the Rich Youth which we have previously determined to have been at the beginning of the first month.

When all of this is digested properly it becomes obvious that the destruction of the Jewish temple occured on the sixth sabbatical year after the descent of Jesus and moreover the next sabbatical year occurred in 75 CE and the first Jubilee since the events of the Passion would have been 76 CE.  My guess is that this may well have been the original publication date of the gospel.  This would make sense given the fact that it reinforces the reason the text is called a 'gospel' and moreover the publication would confirm the gospel message of redemption after the first sabbatical year from the destruction of the Jewish religion.  It all seems to explain why the text has this otherwise very unusual title. 

We can also explain why Alexandrian Christianity eventually fell out of favor with the Imperial government by way of this chronological system. The next Jubilee after the proposed date for the publication of the gospel would have been 125 CE and the next after that 174 CE - one of two proposed dates for the anti-Roman insurrection stemming from the region called Boucolia where the Church of St. Mark was located. I have always thought these events were connected with the persecutions that the Alexandrian Church faced throughout the reign of Commodus and the Severan Emperors. Some of the language found in the writings of Origen could well justify such a rebellion no less than the hostile report written by Celsus c. 177 CE.

We shall discuss all of this in our next post.

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