Saturday, January 28, 2017

5. The Rebel Jesus - The Rebel Followers of the Rebel Jesus


The Bible says Jesus had a core group of twelve followers who were called apostles, a name that comes from the Greek word for messenger. The Gospels disagree on their names. The number twelve may not be meant literally—it may simply be meant to evoke the belief there were once twelve tribes of Israel—or some apostles may have been known by two names.

Where "brother" is used below, it may mean a literal brother, a relative such as a cousin, or a best friend.

The Zealot

Simon, called the Cananean by Mark and Matthew, and the Zealot by Luke, is not mentioned by John. Cananean comes from the Hebrew kanai which was translated into Greek as zelotes. The Zealots were zealously devoted to God in their desire to drive the Romans out of Judea. The historian Josephus says the Zealots became Judea's fourth major sect after Judas of Gamala led a rebellion against Rome at the time of the Judean census.

The Sicarius

Judas Iscariot is identified by John as the son of Simon Iscariot. His epithet suggests he was a member of the sicarii, radical Zealots whose name came from their sicas, sickle-like daggers that they hid in their robes and used to kill Romans and Judean collaborators.

Some writers insist Iscariot meant Judas came from Kerioth. They note that Josephus says the sicarii appeared while Felix governed Judea, twenty years after the Gospels say Pontius Pilate sentenced Jesus to death.

But two better explanations exist. Josephus may be wrong. If so, the sicarii were less active before Felix's time and Josephus simply overlooked the earliest examples of Zealot assassinations. Or Josephus may be right. If so, early Christians may have identified the Zealot Judas, the sly betrayer of Jesus, with the sicarii, the most secretive and brutal of the Zealots. Then, a decade or two later, Mark recorded what he knew using the epithet for Judas that his readers would recognize.

The outlaw followers of the executed Baptist
Simon Baryona is best known as Peter, the Greek translation of the Aramaic name, Cephas, that Jesus gave him. Both Peter and Cephas mean "rock". Peter was a married fisherman in the town of Bethsaida, though we do not know if his wife died or he left her. (Yes, it is odd that for the last thousand years, celibate Catholics Popes claim they follow Peter's tradition.) Peter's death is not recorded in the Bible. Early Christians believed he died the rebel's death of crucifixion.

Jesus calls Peter baryona Matthew's Gospel. Traditional Christians say this means Peter was a son of Jonah, but baryona or biryona is the Aramaic word for outlaw or ruffian—in the Talmud, the Zealots are called biryonim.

Peter's brother Andrew was also believed to have died the rebel's death of crucifixion. The Gospel of John says Andrew was a student of the Baptist's who recognized Jesus as a messiah and introduced him to his brother.

The Sons of Thunder

James, son of Zebedee, is called one of the Boanerges. Strong's Concordance says that's an Aramaic term from bēn ("sons") and regesh ("of thunder, tumult"). James is the only apostle whose death is recorded in the Bible—in Acts, Rome's agent Herod Agrippa has James killed with a sword.

The other Son of Thunder is John, James's brother, the only disciple believed to have died of old age.

Who were the Sons of Thunder? Thunder was the voice of God, so Sons of Thunder were Sons of God who opposed the Romans with their many gods.

The tax collector and five others

Whether the remaining six apostles were associated with rebellion, the Bible doesn't suggest. They were Philip, Thomas the Twin, Bartholomew who is named in three Gospels and may be Nathanael to John, James the son of Alphaeus who is not mentioned by John, Thaddeus who appears in Matthew and Mark and may be Jude to Luke and John, and Matthew the tax collector who is not mentioned by John.

But Matthew's former job gives him a whiff of rebel—he went from serving Rome to serving the rebel that Rome would kill.