Archive for the ‘First-Century Power Players’ Category

Another Book with Janette Oke?

Friday, August 10th, 2012

Ellen writes:

I downloaded an e-book that you and Janette Oke wrote. Another Homecoming. I’ve never spoken with her but have read lots of her books. Impressed that I didn’t hear a split-voice in it. Smooth . . . good  job. Blessings!

Dear Ellen,

Another Homecoming was our second work together, and it’s great to know that even in this initial effort you could not find the ‘seams’. When I study our later works, there is a greater sense of smoothness and flow to me and to Janette. It’s nice to know the roots of this were there in our first efforts.

Maggie writes:

I hope you will continue this series – it has really helped me understand what it was like in that area right after Christ was crucified. Your historical insight and information is most, most helpful too. Please come out with the next . . . and keep going. We need good historical novels about Christianity’s history so much.

Dear Maggie,

I am so pleased to hear that you have found such a heartfelt connection to the message behind these books. Unfortunately, due to Janette’s health issues, we are not writing any more books together, at least for the present. But I too would very much love to see the series continue, so hopefully this will change in the near future.

Maggie writes back:

Thanks for writing. Couldn’t you go on and be writing ‘the next one’ in the series . . . just in case? I do think this particular series is worth it. We were talking in church today about this particular period in Christian history — it’s one not covered so much in the Bible and is very important. Anyway, don’t give up this commission. 

Thank you for the very kind note, Maggi.

While I am not restricted by the publishers, I do feel like this is something I have started with Janette and very much want to continue with her, if and when she feels able.

Peggy writes:

I loved The Centurion’s Wife! The imagery that you get from reading this book really made the story of what happened after Christ’s crucifixion come to life. I could picture myself in the story. What would I do if I were in the same situation?

And

Renee Ann writes:

I just read your book, The Centurion’s Wife and I was truly blessed by this wonderful story. I really can’t say enough about it. I plan to blog about it and look forward to reading more of your books.

I shared the link on Facebook and this is what I wrote about it:

This is an amazing story of the centurion whose son Jesus healed. The story takes us behind the scene and into the life of this centurion. Wonderfully written, this book is a must read. I had chills reading the last couple of chapters. It brought me close to tears on several occasions.

I read other Davis Bunn books, but it was the first I read co-authored by Janette Oke. I’d give this book a 10 if there were more stars. 

Dear Renee Ann and Peggy,

Thank you so much for the lovely notes. I’m thrilled that Centurion’s Wife touched you in this way. Our aim from the beginning was to bring a clear sense of emotional life to this amazing passage, and it’s so good to know that you were impacted in this way.

Readers Comment About First-Century Power Players Blog Series

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

Sandra writes:

I’ve been reading with interest your series on first-century power players referred to in the Acts of Faith series. I’m writing a paper on the same period and would appreciate knowing some of the reference works you used.

Dear Sandra,

Thanks so much for your note. As a novel does not require a bibliography, I rarely keep track of my book sources – perhaps in the future I should change this. A couple of special sources do come to mind, however.

Bethany House Publishers has recently put out two books on the world and culture that Jesus knew, as well as a massive Bible history reference book. All of these were most helpful, as was a book entitled 1AD, available in the UK in paperback, written by an Oxford trained historian.

Also ‘Pilate’, from Doubleday, a great source book for studying the political structure of the time, as was ‘The Trial’, a look at the legal process that Jesus went through prior to The Passion.

Vicki writes:

I just finished reading part 10 of your blog series, “First-Century Power Players,” and they have all been so helpful in explaining the power structure of ruling Jewish body. But it is the 10th blog that brings us into the picture and is so very powerful. Thank you for the blogs and your books.

Dear Vicki,

Thank you so much. These blog posts were the result of my studies with an Orthodox rabbi in Israel, who has come to know the Lord with all his family. A remarkable man, and a wonderful teacher. It is so good to know that his teachings have resonated with so many readers, and come alive in this trilogy.

Jane writes:

I wanted to let you know my husband and I were discussing your 10-part overview, particularly your last one, #10. I get so tired of hearing people wanting to get out of here and always saying the rapture is right around the corner.

Our Lord said to “occupy until He comes.”  Sure I would like to get out of here but I don’t live to do that!  He’s give us all a mission to fulfill.

We loved particularly The Damascus Way because of what you did with the caravans and Paul’s conversion. You do such a good job explaining that era. We both love the history and the “what could have happened” in all 3 books. It makes it much more of a reality. Thanks again for all your research!

Dear Jane,

Thank you so much for the lovely comments. I am indeed glad to know our stories have brought a new light to this vital segment of the Holy Book. Again, thank you for writing, and my best to you both.

Reader Inhales 15 Davis Bunn Novels in a Month

Friday, May 6th, 2011

I hope you’ll enjoy these notes from readers. I certainly find them encouraging!

Mary writes:

Davis, did I call your books mesmerizing? I could also add addictive! I’ve read 15 books in a month & a half. Off to the library today to try to find some more. God speaks to me through your books. The message He’s been giving me is the importance of friends/allies in the battle that we’re in against the forces of darkness.

Dear Mary,

Wow, fifteen in four weeks!  That must set a new record. It sounds as though I need to accelerate my output just to keep up with you. In all seriousness, thank you so much for this very kind and thoughtful note, Mary.

Jane writes:

I want to encourage you, if you aren’t already aware of it, to go see a movie called the Grace Card.  Lou Gossett Jr. and a friend of ours, Mike Joiner, stars in it. I know you are in the middle of some movie things but would encourage you, if you can and haven’t already seen it, find the time to see it. It is Christian based, as well as steeped in racial problems.

Mike is by trade a comic, but a serious and committed Christian and goes to our church. This is way out of the box for him but not unwanted and very much a “God thing.”

Dear Jane,

Thanks so much for the lovely emails. And thanks also for the suggestion to check out your new favorite film. I am posting this on my blog, so that others can see as well. It is wonderful to learn of a new film that has created such a powerful response, especially one that carries a positive message like this.

Chris writes:
You spoke at a luncheon in SW Florida in 1991, and signed a copy of The Presence (great book!).

Dear Chris,

Thanks so much for your note. I actually do remember that luncheon, as well as the occasion. A woman named Barbara had organized it around her efforts to combat pornography in S Florida, and asked me to speak after the publication of the sequel to the presence (based on the story of finding a runaway teen). The audience was great, the people truly wonderful.

JK writes:

I have recently come upon your books. I cannot stand all of the junk that is out there–although I must say that I do like Janette Oke. I got one of your books–Shenandoah Winter–and could not put it down. I was so disappointed when I finished it because it was over. I was so drawn into the book with all of the details and the story line. I was right there with the characters. Your knowledge of the area and the insights that you brought out. Also, the fact that you put faith into the story also were all things I really enjoyed.

I ordered two more books and have finished the one and am into the second one. Now I am back to order more. I really enjoy your writing.

So, I am writing to say, “thank you” for being so good at what you do. Thanks for mixing detail in the surrounding areas, details in the court scenes, details in the way people respond and react. Thank you for sharing your talent with me. I am a big fan and want to read everything now.

Dear JK,

Thank you so much for the wonderful note. I am indeed grateful you would give my books a try, and delighted to hear they have lived up to your standards. In case this helps, more recent books that other fans of Shenandoah have written to say they enjoyed include the following three:  My Soul To Keep, All Through The Night, and The Book Of Hours.

What This Means for Us: First-Century Power Players, Part 10

Friday, February 18th, 2011

To help you better understand the historical-cultural context of the Acts of Faith series (The Centurion’s Wife, The Hidden Flame, and The Damascus Way), I’d like to introduce you to the primary Judean authorities at the early part of Acts. This is Part 10 of 10.

What This Means for Us

Our Lord was absolute master of the universal message. What he said to these groups two thousand years ago has equal and profound importance to us today.

The hunger for the Lord’s return is as real today as it was twenty-one centuries ago. Yet Jesus based his Kingdom message around one simple fact: Our hope is found not in yearning for an other-worldly tomorrow but in drawing near today.

Jesus acknowledges that of course we long for his return. Yet his teachings on the kingdom of heaven relate to God’s presence in the here and now. Jesus sought to realign the disciples’ attention away from two false expectations: First, that God’s Son would overthrow their oppressors with sword and bloodshed, and second, that the Kingdom’s arrival was to be a future event. Jesus repeatedly instructs his followers to focus upon drawing nearer to God now.

The reason for this is starkly simple. Tomorrow never comes.

When Jesus began his ministry there was a great passion for the end times. They were oppressed. They were servants and slaves and beggars in their own land. They did not control their destiny. Their masters were godless, scornful, oppressive, cruel, uncaring. The times Daniel described and Isaiah predicted had to be drawing near.

Yet when the answer came in the form of the living Savior, he overturned their doctrine with the same force as he did the Sadducees’ money carts. Do not concern yourself with the timing of future divine events. Forget these discussions about tomorrow. Stop obsessing over future signs. Because the Kingdom is here. The Kingdom is now.

By setting our sights upon some future day, some distant hour when the heavens split open and all our problems vanish in the blink of a divine eye, we miss a vital point. Jesus wants us to find him where we are. In the dust of this hard road, he is. In the pain of earthly existence, he dwells. His kingdom is now.

By seeking an intimate walk with Jesus through his Holy Spirit, by seeking the kingdom in this very hour, we open ourselves to a festival moment.

Our quest should be to find him in the here and the now.

Not tomorrow.

Not when our pain is gone.

Not when life is easy.

Now.

Here are links to each of the books in the Acts of Faith Series. I believe it will enhance your understanding of first-century power players to read the novels as you work your way through this series.


To make sure you receive every article in this 10-part series, please subscribe to my blog via e-mail or your feed reader by clicking this link: http://feeds.feedburner.com/DavisBunn

Back to the Pharisees: First-Century Power Players, Part 9

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

To help you better understand the historical-cultural context of the Acts of Faith series (The Centurion’s Wife, The Hidden Flame, and The Damascus Way), I’d like to introduce you to the primary Judean authorities at the early part of Acts. This is Part 9 of 10.

Back to the Pharisees

The Hebrew word for Pharisee is Pirush and means an interpretation.

In Matthew 15 these Perushim come to Jesus and demand to know why his disciples violate the tradition of the elders, referring to the body of teachings developed around the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. Today these teachings take up a vital portion of the Talmud, the rabbinical teachings, and are referred to as the Mishnah.

The Pharisees based their life upon these interpretations. And here is the vital key to understanding their response to Jesus: They did not see these as interpretations at all. The Pharisees considered them to be divine revelations, holding the same authority and authenticity as the sacred texts themselves.

This view of Scripture still holds among the religious Jews of today. Orthodox Jews consider the Talmud on par with the Torah. The Talmud is the key to understanding the Scriptures, they believe, and without the Talmud right thinking is not possible.

So when Jesus responded with new interpretations, when he dared to correct their thinking, when he rebuked them for making their interpretations into stumbling blocks for the common man, they were absolutely consumed with rage.

But their rage over Jesus’ teachings goes even deeper. So deep, in fact, that they were willing to establish a union with their avowed enemies. Two groups that hated and fought each other for centuries now united to ensure the death by crucifixion of one man.

Remember, the Sadducees said there is nothing beyond death. The kingdom of heaven? Then build it here on earth. Live a moral life. Follow God’s law today. Because today is all there is.

In contrast the Pharisees lived for God’s return in the Messiah. They studied the prophetic end-time texts and argued over the smallest scrap of detail. The earthly realm was of little or no importance.

Jesus came and told them they were both wrong.

The Sadducees heard him speak of heaven with personal intimacy, as one who had only recently arrived from there. He rebuked the Pharisees for both misunderstanding the concept of the kingdom of heaven and becoming so obsessed with the end times they lost sight of the suffering that surrounded them

And so these two factions conspired to murder him. What choice did they have?

There was a man named Nicodemus who was one of the Pharisees and an important Jewish leader. One night Nicodemus came to Jesus and said, “Teacher, we know you are a teacher sent from God . . .” John 3:1-2 ncv

Nicodemus was not the sole member of the Sanhedrin to follow Jesus. But he was certainly in the minority. The other council member we know of who shared his devotion was Joseph of Arimithea, the man who played a vital role in Jesus’ burial. Joseph was a Pharisee like Nicodemus. We know this because the Scriptures tell us that Joseph was “waiting for the kingdom.” That single descriptive phrase tells us a great deal, since the Sadducees did not believe in the hereafter.

Rabbinical sources indicate that Nicodemus was an extremely rich man. He gave his sister a million gold dinars for her dowry. His niece received four hundred dinars a month just for perfume. But he was also a curious man, so driven by his hunger to know more about this prophet that he would risk everything to speak directly with Jesus.

This exchange comes very early in Jesus’ ministry. Which means the Pharisees had heard of him, and one of their own traveled out into the provinces to speak with him.

Travel from Capernaum to Jerusalem required one week. What is more, the Sanhedrin rarely stepped foot out of Jerusalem. The official limit of their power base was Judea, and Capernaum was much further north, beyond Samaria, up near the borders of the Syrian province and the Parthian empire. Yet this wealthy, powerful man came to Jesus. And what he says here is more than astonishing. “We know you are a teacher sent by God.” A truly amazing statement.

Nicodemus has effectively admitted that the ruling council recognizes Jesus as holding divine authority. The Sanhedrin knows by what Jesus is doing, and because of his moral conduct, that he truly is a man of God. Yet the majority of this council chooses to reject him.

Jesus said, “You are an important teacher in Israel, and you don’t understand these things?” John 3:10 ncv

The oldest known Greek texts of John’s gospel state that Jesus calls Nicodemus the teacher of Israel. That indicates the highest teacher. We know that the Sadducees controlled both the Temple and the ruling council. But their connection to the common man was virtually nil. They did not bother to teach anyone outside their very limited circle. What this suggests is that Nicodemus was the most powerful Pharisee on the Sanhedrin, their senior scribe. This makes the exchange between Jesus and Nicodemus all the more remarkable.

Nicodemus has asked Jesus to explain the second birth. He chides this man for not understanding. This is a vital point for us.

“I tell you the truth, unless you are born from water and the Spirit, you cannot enter God’s kingdom. Human life comes from human parents, but spiritual life comes from the Spirit. Don’t be surprised when I tell you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wants to and you hear the sound of it, but you don’t know where the wind comes from or where it is going. It is the same with every person who is born from the Spirit.” John 3:5-8 ncv

Nicodemus would have fully accepted the concept of immersion. As a matter of fact, he practiced it himself. As is commanded in Leviticus and elsewhere, devout Jews visited the ritual baths at least once a week. I recently went to one such bath in Svat, a city in the hills between Galilee and the Lebanese border, that has been in use for over twenty-five centuries. So it was not the concept of immersion that was alien to Nicodemus, it was the purpose.

In this passage, Jesus ties together the truth of baptism to receiving the Holy Spirit. Our learned man would have been deeply conflicted. On the one hand, such immersions would have been a natural component of participating in any major festival. And these festivals, at least in their biblical form, were intended to draw man closer to God.

Yet Jesus suggests here that when a person enters the water and is born anew into God, the Spirit also enters in.

Nicodemus would have known about the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is mentioned throughout the Old Testament, beginning with his presence above the waters in Genesis one. The texts Nicodemus knew inside and out were interpreted to mean the Holy Spirit appeared only to God’s chosen messengers. Now Jesus was saying that this intimacy, this divine indwelling, was available to all believers.

Here are links to each of the books in the Acts of Faith Series. I believe it will enhance your understanding of first-century power players to read the novels as we progress through this series.


To make sure you receive every article in this 10-part series, please subscribe to my blog via e-mail or your feed reader by clicking this link: http://feeds.feedburner.com/DavisBunn

Coming next: What this means for us

The Sadducees and Jesus: First-Century Power Players, Part 8

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

To help you better understand the historical-cultural context of the Acts of Faith series (The Centurion’s Wife, The Hidden Flame, and The Damascus Way), I’d like to introduce you to the primary Judean authorities at the early part of Acts. This is Part 8 of 10.

The Sadducees and Jesus

The Sadducees considered themselves devout Jews, though they had worked out an elaborate theology which permitted them to remain in active alliance with the pagans who ruled the land God had given the Jews. Their thinking went like this: God in his wisdom has separated himself from humans. Jews must remain devout and wait until God reinserts himself into the world.

The Scriptures foretold how this would happen in very precise terms: Elijah would be sent to earth to proclaim the Messiah’s arrival. Until this happened, until God acted, the Sadducees were free to make the best of a bad situation.

So Rome is in control? Fine. The Sadducees would make Rome their ally. In return, Rome’s governor would keep the Sadducees in control of the Sanhedrin. The Roman army would keep the oppressed Jew, in particular those pesky Pharisees and the troublemaking Zealots in Samaria and Galilee, in line.

The Romans used the Sanhedrin to keep a finger on the Jewish pulse. When the Zealots began making trouble in earnest, when so-called prophets preached about a kingdom other than Rome, the Sadducees on the ruling council told Rome about it. Anything that threatened Roman control also threatened the Sadducees’ hold on power. They used one another.

The Romans were utterly ruthless when it came to anything that threatened their power structure. On the other hand, the Romans were also masters at the art of compromise, playing one faction against the other. This is why the Romans insisted upon both Sadducees and Pharisees having places on the ruling council.

Even though the Sadducees were their allies and the Pharisees their foes, even though the Romans made sure the Sadducees held the upper hand on the council and controlled the Temple, the Pharisees played a very useful role: keeping the Sadducees from too much power. So long as both sat upon the Sanhedrin, they fought each other. So long as they were at odds, the council could not unite against the Romans. This tense and fractious balancing act lasted almost two hundred years.

Until that moment an obscure prophet entered the Judean stage and overturned the Roman power base. Alone save for a handful of disciples, armed only with his voice and with hands that reached out with miraculous power, Jesus changed everything.

When the Sadducee-controlled Sanhedrin came to Pilate and demanded the crucifixion of this pesky prophet, Pilate wanted no part of it. Yet he agreed.

Why?

Once this troublesome prophet was gone, Pilate thought, the Sanhedrin and the Sadducees would remain.

And what was more, they would owe him.

Here are links to each of the books in the Acts of Faith Series. I believe it will enhance your understanding of first-century power players to read the novels as we progress through this series.


To make sure you receive every article in this 10-part series, please subscribe to my blog via e-mail or your feed reader by clicking this link: http://feeds.feedburner.com/DavisBunn

Coming next: Back to the Pharisees

The Zealots: First-Century Power Players, Part 7

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

To help you better understand the historical-cultural context of the Acts of Faith series (The Centurion’s Wife, The Hidden Flame, and The Damascus Way), I’d like to introduce you to the primary Judean authorities at the early part of Acts. This is Part 7 of 10.

The Zealots

Between World War Two and the founding of Israel in 1948, a group known as the Haganah operated in Israel. Some of these men and women were religious Jews and some were not, but all were united by the goal of a free Jewish state. They in turn were opposed by some religious Jews who protested that Israel should be restored only by the miraculous hand of God and the coming of the Messiah.

The parallels between the Haganah and the Zealots of two thousand years ago are nothing short of astounding.

The Zealots’ single-minded determination to overthrow Rome put them totally at odds with the Sanhedrin, the ruling Jewish council. As their popularity grew and their reach extended, they vied with the Pharisees as being the Sadducees’ most hated foe.

Since the Maccabeus revolt of three hundred years earlier, numerous groups had been talking rebellion. But the Zealots were different. They were organized. They were disciplined. And their numbers were growing.

Twenty-eight years after the death of our Lord, the Zealots actually managed to defeat three Roman legions and rule all of Israel for six years. Then Valerian and his son Titus, both of whom would go on to become emperors, arrived with three legions from Rome and another six from Africa. After defeating the Zealot armies, they laid siege to Jerusalem.

The Zealots held out for almost two years, slaughtering the Sadducees when they wanted to surrender. In 72 ad the Romans finally broke into the city and burned Jerusalem to the ground, destroying the Temple utterly. The Romans then literally salted the earth so the Jews would never again use Jerusalem as a rallying point, fulfilling Jesus’ prophecy that no two stones would remain atop one another.

The Zealots initially were attracted to Jesus, hoping he would prove to be the leader they yearned for. The Scriptures do not tell us their response when Jesus told them this was not his purpose on earth. But we can safely assume they were bitterly disappointed. Even so, we know at least one of them was among our Lord’s closest followers. Simon the Zealot was paired with Judas Iscariot when they were sent out on their first evangelism mission.

Here are links to each of the books in the Acts of Faith Series. I believe it will enhance your understanding of first-century power players to read the novels as we progress through this series.


To make sure you receive every article in this 10-part series, please subscribe to my blog via e-mail or your feed reader by clicking this link: http://feeds.feedburner.com/DavisBunn

Coming next: The Sadducees and Jesus

The Sanhedrin: First-Century Power Players, Part 6

Monday, February 14th, 2011

To help you better understand the historical-cultural context of the Acts of Faith series (The Centurion’s Wife, The Hidden Flame, and The Damascus Way), I’d like to introduce you to the primary Judean authorities at the early part of Acts. This is Part 6 of 10.

The Sanhedrin

The Sanhedrin was the Jewish ruling council. While the Romans were the absolute political power over Israel, the Sanhedrin was the governing body over daily Jewish life.

Above the Sanhedrin loomed the Roman power structure—Pontius Pilate as the Roman provincial governor and Herod Antipas, whom the Roman emperor had appointed. But the common Judean individual had no connection to Rome, other than avoiding the soldiers on street duty during the high holy days. The power to affect their lives was held by the Sanhedrin. No secular Jew was permitted to sit upon this ruling council. And the council was dominated by the Sadducees.

Unlike Greece, which had ruled Israel until the Maccabeus revolt some two centuries earlier, Rome did not insert itself into provincial daily life. Greece wanted all its conquered subjects to become thoroughly Greek—clothing, language, competing in their games, worshiping their gods in Greek temples.

Rome did not care what god a conquered nation worshiped, so long as that temple did not incite revolt against Rome. Rome cared about four things—collecting taxes, protecting Roman roads, defending the borders, and ensuring Rome was supplied with plenty of local produce. Other than that, Rome pretty much left the provincial structures in place.

There were several notable exceptions, including one that holds special significance to believers: The Sanhedrin could not condemn a man to death for sedition—this is why the ruling council had to petition Pontius Pilate to crucify  our Lord.

Also in Jesus’ time, the southeastern borders of the province known as Judea marked the limit of Roman power. South of the Golan hills, rising only thirty miles east of Capernaum, began the vast Parthian empire. Precisely where the Roman province of Syria began and the Parthian kingdom began depended upon who had won the latest battle.

But this was not why Rome was so worried about Judea. So concerned, in fact, that in Jesus’ time the emperor Tiberius decreed that Pontius Pilate answer directly to him, an astonishing development almost unknown in Roman history. All other provincial governors answered to the Roman Senate.

The reason for this anxiety is not mentioned directly in any known historical document. But the alarm and the decrees are real, because they are referred to by numerous authorities dating from that time. And from this we can presume the real reason.

Jews were everywhere. Contemporary historians estimate that Jews made up about five percent of the total population of Rome, making them the largest minority in the empire’s capital itself.

Not only that, they held positions of influence. Accounts suggest that the majority of these Jews were Hellenized, assimilated into the Roman or Greek cultures, so they were Jews in name only—particularly in the eyes of the Pharisees. But not all of them had left behind either their heritage or their worship of Jehovah.

We do not have any account of a Daniel arising to influence the Roman emperor of the time. But one rather astonishing legend has managed to survive the two thousand years separating us from them.

But first I need to explain one aspect of Roman law. In direct translation from the original Latin, it outlawed the crime of atheism. In its original form, atheism was not a worship of no god. It was worship of a god that defied Roman rule. And other than promoting outright revolt, the worst way it could be displayed was through proselytizing.

As Christianity began to spread across the empire, certain rulers came down very hard on these new believers. The ruling emperor and the provincial governors, if they disliked Christians enough, could sentence them to death by any number of means—scourging, crucifixion, torture, the arena games, and on and on, a tragic litany of martyrdom that began with the stoning of Stephen. This law stayed in place right down to the moment when the Roman emperor Constantine converted to Christianity on his death bed, and with virtually his last breath revoked this foul law.

What is extremely interesting is this fact, which has only recently been uncovered: The law was not originally written against Christians. It was first directed against the Jews.

Whether Jews actually went out and sought converts, even among the Jewish community, is doubtful. Rabbinical sources from this period suggest there was little contact between the devout Jewish community and the Hellenized Jews, both because of religious differences and because of economic barriers. Poor devout Jews had nothing whatsoever to do with rich Jews, who were deeply involved in the Roman culture and did not believe in God. Even devout Jews, aliens living on the fringes of an empire occupying their homeland, would not have attempted to convert Romans to Judaism.

And yet it happened. Thirty-seven years before Jesus carried his cross up the rise to Golgotha, a certain woman in Rome became a secret follower of this Jewish God. Disgusted by the obscene idol worship at many Roman temples, which reflected the wicked culture that dominated the empire, she sought a spiritual path lined by morality and directed toward a God who cared—who cared for her.

The problem was that this woman happened to be the sister of Caesar.

Further, she decided to make her decision public. She had no choice, not after her brother the emperor declared himself a deity and ordered all his subjects to offer temple sacrifices in his honor. Which, as a God fearer, she could not do.

The emperor was furious at his sister’s declaration of allegiance to this Jewish God. He responded by banning all Jews from Rome. The women and children were simply expelled. All men between the ages of eighteen and forty, married or single, were given the choice of either joining the Roman army or facing crucifixion. Thirty thousand of these recruits were shipped out all over the empire, most never to be heard from again.

This emperor finally died and was replaced by another who opposed the severity of his predecessor’s decision. With the decree revoked, Rome within twenty years again held a significant population of Jews. By the time Jesus began his earthly ministry, many Jews once more held influential positions in Rome.

But also at that time, Tiberius came to power, and he was so fearful of how these Jews might respond to a revolt in Judea that he decreed his newly appointed governor, Pontius Pilate, answer directly to him. As noted earlier, Pilate was the only provincial governor to have this direct access. This was both good and bad. If Pilate succeeded, Tiberius might well lavish him with more power. If he failed, the Roman Senate, which despised him for usurping their power structure, would not have left his toenails intact.

There is no doubt that the Sanhedrin, the ruling council in Jerusalem, was totally aware of their unique position. Recognized by Rome, along with their control over the Judeans, the Sanhedrin used their power to their own benefit. Such as when an obscure prophet from Galilee rose to a position of prominence among the local population and their authority was threatened.

Pilate, who was trapped between a local council that battled him at every step and an emperor who had ordered him to maintain calm in Judea, had no choice but to publicly wash his hands over the fate of the most innocent man who had ever lived.

Here are links to each of the books in the Acts of Faith Series. I believe it will enhance your understanding of first-century power players to read the novels as we progress through this series.


To make sure you receive every article in this 10-part series, please subscribe to my blog via e-mail or your feed reader by clicking this link: http://feeds.feedburner.com/DavisBunn

Coming next: The Zealots

The Scribes: First-Century Power Players, Part 5

Friday, February 11th, 2011

To help you better understand the historical-cultural context of the Acts of Faith series (The Centurion’s Wife, The Hidden Flame, and The Damascus Way), I’d like to introduce you to the primary Judean authorities at the early part of Acts. This is Part 5 of 10.

The Scribes

The first-century scribes are often portrayed as simply copying the text of the Scriptures. But the scribes were also responsible for education. They specialized in the intricacies of the Law, maintaining the exactitude of the holy texts and their interpretations.

Scribes were most often Pharisees but could also be Sadducees. It is widely believed that all the scribes referred to in the Gospels were Pharisees, so we will focus our attention upon this group.

These scribes were obsessed with the end times. They might spend entire lifetimes in endless discussions over the apocalyptic texts, such as the visions of Daniel.

The Pharisees and their scribes were concerned enough about Jesus’ early teachings that they went out into the countryside and searched for him. At that point, the Sadducees basically ignored him.

Why?

Because Jesus began talking about the kingdom of heaven, which he claimed was close at hand. They easily dismissed a poor Galilean, and a Nazarene at that, and his talk about heaven.

In contrast the Pharisees lived for this, their scribes in particular. So when Jesus began his teaching on the kingdom, revealing his vision at odds with their own, he came into direct conflict with the scribes.

These Pharisee scribes had a checklist, one developed over generations. They knew precisely how the Messiah was to come and how the end times were going to unfold. To be a Pharisee and a scribe meant that they had memorized these texts, imbedded them into the fabric of their daily life. They had it down cold.

When they heard Jesus say the kingdom of heaven is here—it is now, and when he chided them for becoming lost in minutia and forgetting their responsibilities to the people, they were incensed. From that moment on, they conspired to shut him down.

Here are links to each of the books in the Acts of Faith Series. I believe it will enhance your understanding of first-century power players to read the novels as we progress through this series.


To make sure you receive every article in this 10-part series, please subscribe to my blog via e-mail or your feed reader by clicking this link: http://feeds.feedburner.com/DavisBunn

Coming next: The Sanhedrin

Jesus and the Pharisees: First-Century Power Players, Part 4

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

To help you better understand the historical-cultural context of the Acts of Faith series (The Centurion’s Wife, The Hidden Flame, and The Damascus Way), I’d like to introduce you to the primary Judean authorities at the early part of Acts. This is Part 4 of 10.

Jesus and the Pharisees

The Pharisees were by far the closer of these two dominant forces to the lowly, the oppressed, the voiceless, the lost. They were connected to the very people Jesus came to save. They also were vitally interested in the center point of Jesus’ teaching—the kingdom of heaven. The issues surrounding the end times were the most important single component of their biblical studies.

And, ironically, it was toward this group that Jesus aimed his fiercest criticisms. He called them whitewashed tombs, swallowers of camels, blind fools, filth, goats, trumpeters, dirty plates, mumblers on street corners, and the like.

What was even worse, he flaunted their rules—healing on the Sabbath, allowing his disciples to pick wheat on a holy day, casting out demons. This, according to the Pharisees, revealed that he was in league with unclean spirits. Worse, this son of a Nazarene carpenter dared call himself a king.

But the deed the Pharisees could never forgive was this: Jesus publicly accused them of getting God’s message all wrong. In return they accused Jesus of destroying the Scriptures, though he had stated that not one comma in the Holy Book was ever to be altered. What Jesus was denying them was the power of interpretation, their reason for being.

Here are links to each of the books in the Acts of Faith Series. I believe it will enhance your understanding of first-century power players to read the novels as we progress through this series.


To make sure you receive every article in this 10-part series, please subscribe to my blog via e-mail or your feed reader by clicking this link: http://feeds.feedburner.com/DavisBunn

Coming next: The Scribes