September 7, 2008

Bible facts you may not know...

OK children, it's time for Sunday School. And today I'm going to give you a historical "background briefing" so certain things will make more sense to you than they did to me in my long-ago youth...

1. Centurions. The Roman Army had an interesting way of doing things. Almost every officer in a Legion was a Centurion. That is, the commander of a "century" of 80 men. (Originally 100, hence the name.) And he would always lead his century in battle. But he might also be a staff officer, or a supply officer, or even the commander of a whole cohort. Or fill some important civilian office. It was as if every officer in one of our brigades was also a platoon commander, and went into combat with his platoon. (No REMF's!) That's why the centurions we meet in the New Testament can be important men, with houses and servants, even though the name implies that they are very junior officers.

2. The two kingdoms. After the reign of Solomon, the Israelites split into a northern kingdom, Israel, and a southern kingdom, Judah. The northern kingdom comprised 10 of the 12 tribes. Yet the two kingdoms were about equal in size. This used to bewilder me. The answer is that the Tribe of Judah was about as big as the other 11 tribes put together!

3. The "Lost Tribes of Israel." The Kingdom of Israel (10 tribes) was conquered by the Assyrians in 720 BC. Many of the people were removed and dispersed around the Middle East, especially to Media, in present-day Iran. They weren't really lost, everybody knew where they were. Many probably rejoined the general Jewish population later, but the tribal identities were mostly severed. They became just Jews.

4. The Southern Kingdom of Judah was conquered by the Babylonians in 586 BC, and much of its population was also dispersed. This was the Babylonian Exile. When the Persians conquered the Babylonian Empire in 537 they let various displaced populations return to their homelands. The people of the Kingdom of Judah then returned to Judea and rebuilt the Temple in Jerusalem. From "Judea" we get the word Jew.

5. Samaria. The center region of the old Kingdom of Israel, Samaria, after it lost much of its population and had strangers settled on it, diverged in its religious practices. The Samaritans were, to Jews in the time of Jesus, heretics. The Jews hated the Samaritans almost more than they did the Romans. So Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan was a shocking story.

6. Galilee. In the Second Temple Period, after the Babylonian exile ended, there were Jews in Judea, (roughly the old Kingdom of Judah) and also up north on the western side of the Sea of Galilee. This region was called Galilee (roughly the north part of the old Kingdom of Israel) and this is where Jesus was raised. Jews in Galilee went, if they could, to the great festivals in Jerusalem, especially Passover. However, there was a big problem, because Samaria was in between Judea and Galilee.

In summer Galileans would hike to Judea through Samaria, which took about 3 days, and was dangerous. In the cool of winter they would follow the valley of the Jordan River, which took about 5 days.

7. Pharisees pestering Jesus. One gets the impression from the Gospels that Pharisees were lurking in every field, waiting to catch people breaking some tiny regulation, and then shrieking "Gotcha." Sort of like a Monty Python Spanish Inquisition. Actually, it was Jesus they wanted to catch out, not the average Joe. He seems to have driven them crazy. In exactly the same way that Sarah Palin is driving lefties crackers right now. He was so real they could not ignore him.

Who were the Pharisees? Too complicated to go into today; here's the Wikipedia link.

Posted by John Weidner at September 7, 2008 7:05 AM
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