JOSHUA BEN JOSEPH
Joshua ben Joseph was a very remarkable man. Born into a working class family, he came from the village of Nazareth whose liberal-leaning residents gave rise to the saying, can any good come out of Nazareth? The religious leaders saw Nazareth as a morally loose and unruly town.
Nazareth was a tiny place nestled in a small valley surrounded by low hills, a place of such little consequence that it is hardly mentioned in historical records of that time. However, it was a beautiful, picturesque village, secluded by its low-lying location in a natural basin. On the hills five hundred feet above the town, one could see to the north the plateaus of Zebulun and Naphtali, and the mountains of Lebanon with snow-covered Hermon towering above them all. To the west could be seen the coast of Tyre and the blue waters of the Mediterranean.
Mt. Carmel, the historic scene of the struggle of Elijah with the prophets of Baal was visible, and to the south you could see Megiddo and the whole plain of Esdraelon which was the scene of many of the most memorable battles of Israel. Tabor and the hills of Gilboa where Saul and Jonathan lost their lives were also visible. Mt. Ebal and the land of Shechem lay in the background with the uplands of Gilead and Samaria.
The young master must have spent many hours on these hills as a child marveling and imagining the many historical events which happened within sight of his young eyes.
He no doubt came in contact with many diverse peoples because Nazareth was located half-way between the Mediterranean Sea and the Sea of Galilee, right on the caravan routes which connected the two seas and which also connected the Silk Road between Egypt and Damascus. Nazareth was a “truck stop town” used by weary travelers to feed their camels and beasts of burden, rest and eat, and possibly have their cartwheels and yokes repaired – something which Joseph, a tradesman would do.
Mary’s Well is reputed to be located at the site where the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and announced that she would bear the Son of God
The Silk Road was an enormous and extensive interconnected trade route which blossomed on an unprecedented scale soon after the Roman conquest of Egypt in 30 BC. Regular communications and trade between India, Southeast Asia, Sri Lanka, China and the Middle East, Africa and Europe was established.
The early years of Joshua ben Joseph were certainly filled with the meeting and interaction of travelers and merchants from all walks of life: noblemen and commoners alike used these main arteries for transit to various parts of the Roman Empire and beyond.
Joseph, his father, was a carpenter. Having spent a few years in the construction and cabinet making industry, working in close association with carpenters, framers and cabinet makers, I can say that they are a happy, calm and good-natured bunch. They are sturdy men with good physiques, strong in the arms from lifting and pounding nails all day. They enjoy outdoor work and are seasoned from laboring in the heat, cold or rain.
They are gregarious and work well in a team environment. They are emotionally stable and assertive, generally men of action and not introspective dreamers.
In the New Testament, Joshua’s countrymen called him the son of Joseph, the carpenter. The Greek word used is tekton, which means not only a skilled craftsman, but one who designed homes or buildings, or more than likely what we would call a contractor.
The Son of Man was not born in a palace or in the home of a wealthy merchant or nobleman. His upbringing was commonplace. He grew up in the normal way a child of his time would grow up. He learned to walk and talk and was educated in the same way as other children. He was, in fact, an average citizen of his time – that a man from such humble beginnings could rise to such a level and accomplish so much is extraordinary.
Mary and Joseph, knowing that their oldest son was also a child of great promise and destined to be a great spiritual leader, were no doubt much more attentive and alert to their child’s upbringing, and took extra care for Joshua’s rearing. It is said that Mary treasured all these things in her heart, referring to the words of angels and shepherds alike who prophesied about the new born babe.
The Young Master’s Education
The normal education for a child at that time was home schooling. The father would educate the children at home using the Hebrew Scriptures as his guide. Memorization was the acceptable method. Often, a rabbi or teacher from one of the synagogue schools would begin tutoring a child at the age of 8-10. After a child had completed his home education he could be admitted to one of the synagogue schools.
The common language of the Roman Empire was Greek and Aramaic was the mother tongue of Joshua. When his father started his training at the age of 5, the young boy would learn all history, ethics, politics and religion from the standpoint of the Law and the Prophets. Unlike the Greeks of their day, the Israelites did not learn of philosophy, art, science, and physical education.
The Son of Man’s education was such that he became very familiar with and in fact would have memorized huge portions of the Hebrew texts which would account for his thorough knowledge of the Levitical Law. That he had to learn and study and formulate his later ideas is something which may sound foreign to some believers. That he attained what he accomplished on earth through hard work, study and research would seem more likely than any miraculous or magical knowledge.
Due to the strict Pharisees’ interpretation of the 2nd commandment not to make any graven images, it was considered idolatry, a transgression of the law, to paint or sculpt – so art was mostly foreign to the Jews of the early centuries. Physical or strenuous activities were likewise looked upon as heathen.
The Greek gymnasium schools combined physical exercise with scholarly pursuits. The Greek word gymnos means naked and the athletes trained in the nude. The Greeks worshiped beauty and they intertwined the aesthetic appreciation of the body with sport, religion and philosophy.
The Greek and Roman Gods
The Romans were still worshiping strange gods and legendary heroes. The Mystery Cults, so-named due to their secretive, members-only nature, were flourishing at that time. One had to be initiated to learn of their secret practices. They included the Dionysians, the Orphics, the Eluesinians and the Mithraic cults. They worshiped such gods as Apollo, Dionysus, Zeus, Jupiter, Pan, and a host of other gods and goddesses in various rituals and philosophies which have since been lumped together under the term paganism.
Among practices considered to be pagan: human and animal sacrifices; divination; worship of nature gods, sirens, nymphs, gods, goddesses; astrology, magic symbols and amulets.
The Greeks had art, science and philosophy. The Romans had an advanced political and legal system. The Jews however had the most developed systematic religion in the world. The advanced state of their monotheistic faith was fertile ground for the planting of the seed of the new religion which the Son of Man would soon proclaim.
The Reluctant Messiah
The divine side of the Master’s dual nature had perfect knowledge and omniscience. The human side, however, had to learn and grow and progress like any one of us. His discernment and ability to understand and comprehend the scriptures was phenomenal. The fact that he understood perfectly what the Levitical law represented in no way detracts from the fact that God the Father did not download knowledge, language and learning into his brain.
What the Master accomplished in his short lifetime is absolutely amazing when we consider the depth of his learning and scope of his understanding. At the age of 12, he astonished the rabbis with his understanding. In fact, the New Testament recounts that all who heard him were amazed and marveled at all the wonderful things he said.
He was unlike the teachers of the law for he spoke as one with authority. The Son of Man summed up over 1000 pages of law and prophecy with the profound yet simple command to love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself.
The rabbinical law with its 613 rules and regulations enslaved his people into religious bondage; the Pharisees and Sadducees who ruled Israel’s everyday life were exacting masters of its commands. Said the Master to them, you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law!
The Jewish people had long waited for the expected Messiah, the redeemer who would come and overthrow the yoke of the tyrannical Romans. The Romans brought law and order and even prosperity to the world, but they were cruel and heartless masters.
Their widespread use of crucifixion as a political and social deterrent and means of control is legendary. In 73 BC, a band of 78 escaped gladiators – which grew into a band of over 120,000 – wandered throughout Italy effectively waging war against the Romans under the guidance of the famous gladiator-general, Spartacus. Crassus, the Roman general, eventually slaughtered all but 6,000 of them in a final battle. To frighten other slaves from revolting, Crassus crucified the 6,000 survivors of Spartacus’ men along the Appian Way from Capua to Rome.
We get the word excruciating from the Greek ex – out of and cruc – cross. Crucifixion was not only an excruciating way to die, it was also meant to humiliate and degrade the victim due to his public nudity. The body was not usually permitted to be buried but would very often be thrown into Gehenna which was a huge pit outside of Jerusalem used to dump garbage as well as the newly executed.
The Romans were so cruel that they even crucified the dogs who failed to alert the city of Rome of an attack by the Gauls. This became an annual tradition each August as the wholesale slaughter of dogs was continued as a grim reminder to all.
Against this background, the passion play was enacted. The Jews were groaning under the Roman oppression and felt that according to scripture the redeemer would come and set them free from Rome. They believed that He would sit on the throne of David and the government would rest upon his shoulders. The Messiah they were expecting was to be a super-human worker of signs and wonders; one who would do greater miracles than Moses; a lightning-bolt-and-thunder avenger who would smite their enemies and restore Israel to its rightful place in the world.
After all, weren’t they the Chosen People? The God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob would surely hear their cry and set them free. These Hebrews read in their holy books that the prophesied Son would be a political and social deliverer that would rule with an iron scepter.
However, even his closest followers were doomed to face disappointment and disillusionment when their beloved leader not only did not become king and make them his right-hand men but met with utter disaster when he was arrested, tortured and murdered.
After the people saw the sign he performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, he withdrew again to a mountain by himself.
Much of their hopes would be dashed by this reluctant Messiah who refused to be made king over them and instead busied himself about his Father’s business setting up a spiritual Kingdom in a very quiet and circumspect way. Joshua did not set up a seminary or religious center to attract followers. Nor did he write his ideas down in a brilliant book so all could read and follow. He did not set himself up in public office so he could influence nations nor did he re-organize any of our economic, social or political systems – all of which was certainly within his power and abilities.
What he did do was band together a group of ordinary men and women who roamed about the countryside teaching and preaching wherever hungry hearts were to be found.