Give Unto Caesar, 1 — R.S. Notley

The retorts of Hillel and Jesus exemplify innovative developments in Jewish thought during the Second Temple period, developments that were established on the biblical notion that man was created in the image of God — Imago Dei (Gen. 1:27).

One of the charges brought by the high priest, Caiaphas, and his retinue, against Jesus was that he had encouraged the people not to pay taxes to Rome (Lk. 23:2). It seems that the episode which lay behind this false charge was an exchange between the chief priests and Jesus a few days earlier in the Temple precincts (Lk. 20:20-26; Mk. 12:13-17; Mt. 22:15-22).

Through his Parable of the Wicked Tenants (Lk. 20:9-19; Mk. 12:1-12; Mt. 21:33-46), Jesus had warned the leadership of the Temple of the inevitable consequences of their abuses of power. Those in authority recognized the thinly veiled critique. However, they could not move openly against Jesus because of his popularity among the crowds of Jerusalem; they “tried to lay hands on him at that very hour, but they feared the people” (Lk. 20:19; cf. 22:53; Acts 5:26).

Instead, the chief priests attempted to trip Jesus up by questioning him in public concerning the obligation to pay taxes to the Roman Empire. These taxes were a bitter pill for the Jewish nation to swallow. They represented the loss of freedom and subjugation to a pagan nation. Josephus reports that only a few years earlier, a certain Judah of Gamala (Acts 5:37) had instigated an uprising in the Galilee in reaction to the census for taxation initiated by Quirinius, the governor of Coele-Syria (cf. Lk. 2:2):

(Judah) incited his countrymen to revolt, upbraiding them as cowards for consenting to pay tribute to the Romans and tolerating mortal masters, after having God for their lord (War 2:118).

The family of Judah played a prominent role in the Jewish resistance movement of the first century. His father, Hezekiah, had been sought by the Romans for his brigandry in the countryside. The younger son of the Idumean Antipater — Herod — captured the rebel and summarily executed him without trial. Young Herod’s actions impressed the Romans and angered the Jewish religious leaders — foreshadowing similar actions when he would become king. Later Judah’s sons were crucified by Tiberius for anti-Roman activity. Finally, members of his family — Menachem and Eliezer ben Yair — led the Jewish revolt in 66 A.D. which tragically led to the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem.

Check back Friday for part 2.
See also Jerusalem Perspective

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