Chapter Eighteen


       In Acts of the Apostles, chapters 3 and 4, the reader is told that
Peter and John were the two active apostles engaging in preaching and
healing activities in the Temple. The gospels present us with a picture of
three of Jesus' closest disciples, Peter and the sons of Zebedee, (the "sons
of thunder"), as a sort of triumvirate, destined to lead the other
disciples. Now here in Acts, we are presented with the activist leadership
being assumed by Peter and John. Curiously, James, the brother of John,
appears to have taken a back seat to them. What is even more curious is
that shortly James the brother of John disappears from the scene to be
replaced SUDDENLY by another James, YA'AKOV, the brother of Jesus. The
gospel narratives have given a negative picture of Jesus's immediate
family. They are either presented as being at best neutral concerning
Jesus' mission, or at worst antagonistic to it (Mark 3:21).Conversely we
see a picture of Jesus antipathetic to his family (Mark 3:32-33). Certainly
this cannot be the historical case since we see later on that Jesus' family
became very involved with the movement. The gospel writers wish to present
Jesus and the Jews, even his close friends and family, in a light of
antipathy and misunderstanding regarding each other so a clear picture of
Jesus actual relationship to his kin does not emerge.

           However, we have only to remember from chapter 8, that sev-
eral of Jesus' early disciples were his own cousins , namely Matthew,
James - the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus-Lebbaeus-Judas.

       Add to this the propensity of Luke to smooth over the evolution of
Nazarenism into Christianity and present this evolution as well as a well
ordered succesion of events unhampered by strife or internal conflict when
quite the opposite was true. There existed within Jesus' group of
followers, from the begining, internecine quarelling and issues that had to
be resolved. For some reason it was embarassing to Luke, the sole Biblical
historiographer of the movement, to deal with the issue of Jesus's family,
so he merely introduces James later on as though all along he were a
natural part of the new movement.

       The reader is told in Acts 3:1 that Peter and John went to the
Temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. This is probably the morning
service called SHACHARIT in Hebrew. From here we see that the disciples
still were comporting themselves as ordinary observant Jews with no
difference between them and other Jews except that they believed the
messiah had come and was imminently to begin his reign.

       On this occaision Peter effected the faith healing of a cripple which
drew public attention to him. He used this attention to preach to the
people about repentance in preparation of the messianic age. The Temple
police, lead by the Sadducees, arrested Peter and John. Luke said the charge
was "preaching the resurrection of the dead" (4:2)!!! This was hardly a
crime and the real reason, covered up by Luke, probably was the preaching of
militant messianic zealotism as well as repentance. Luke reports that about
5000 more Jerusalemites joined the Assembly of the Faithfull; perhaps what
actually happened was that a large number of these Jerusalemites expressed
sympathy with the arrested Nazarenes and some may actually have been
spurred on to join the movement by their anger at the arrest.

       At the trial of Peter and John, they admit to being followers of
Jesus. Looking upon Peter and John as "unlearned and ignorant men" (4:13),
the Sadducees warned them to cease and desist teaching in the name of
Jesus, and they released them "because of the people" (4:21), that is, out
of concern of a possible riot.

       Thus Luke continues to present a Jewish people, at least the Jews of
Jerusalem, as being fairly sympathetic to the Nazarenes. How we must ask
ourselves could the people who supposedly cried "free Barabbas" and "his
blood be upon us", as the Christian scripture would have people believe,
possibly be the same people who warned the authorities to let Peter and
John go free "or else". They sound more like the people who cried "Hosanna
- Save us!" as Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Christian
documentors have tried to over-write the original tradition of Jesus and
his folowers, and of their relationship to their fellow non-Nazarene
Israelites, a sympathetic relationship, but enough of the unedited
original tradition remains embedded within the text of the New testament
itself. This documented original tradition could not be entirely
eradicated; at best, it could merely be glossed over.

       Meanwhile all who joined the Nazarene Assembly of the Faithfull sold
their possesssions (in anticipation of the end) and distributed the money
so that "neither was there any among them that lacked" (4:34). Selling
assests and distributing the proceeds was expected of all those who joined.
There is an embarassing story in Acts 5:1-11 about a man and wife who were
believers and who held back some of the money they had received and in
consequesnce met an untimely death by the hand of heaven. No doubt, the
real perpertrators were the movement's "collectors" who dealt harshly
with any members who were deemed disloyal. At any rate, this story has no
logical place in the narrative of Acts other than as a cover up for the
very violent nature of the messianic movement known as Nazarenism.

       Soon the fame of the movement began to spread, possibly mostly
through the stories of the faith healings done by the apostles. Prev-
iously only the Jerusalemites had been drawn to the Nazarene group but
shortly people from the surrounding towns and villages began to come to the
apostles and join the Assembly.

       The continued preaching of the apostles coupled with the growth of
interest in the Nazarenes on the part of the people caused the Sadducees
to arrest the Nazarene leaders (we are not told exactly who was arrested
this time - Acts 5:18). However these apostles managed somehow to escape
from prison (Acts attributes this escape to angelic interference) and
returned to the Temple court to to continue preaching and encourge the
people. Returning to the Temple area, the Sadducean police again arrested
the apostles with the intent to bring them to trial for subversion. (Again
Luke points out that the arresting officers were carefully circumspect not
to cause a scene when they made the arrest "for they feared the people,
lest they should have been stoned" Acts 5:26).

       Having brought the apostles before the minor Sanhedrin, the High
Priest, acting as prosecutor, charged them with incorrigibly teaching
subversion against the state and Empire in the name of a man whom the Roman
governor had executed for sedition, after having been warned several times
to cease and desist. In turn, Peter accused the High Priest and other
Sadducees of having been the ones responsible for handing Jesus over to the
Romans and collaborating in his execution. Upon hearing this, the Sadducees
immediately called upon the court to have the apostles put to death for
anti-government conspiritorial activities.

       At this point, the famous Rabbi Gamaliel, descendent of Rabbi Hillel
who framed the Golden Rule as it appears in the MISHNAH and after whose
interpretation of the Law, Jews today follow, arose in the courtroom to
speak in the apostles' defense. Gamliel pointed out that in the recent
past, several supposed messiahs had arisen in Judea who attracted a
following, promising the initiation of the Kingdom of G-d. These men, he
continued, had shown themselves to be impostors after being killed by the
Romans and having their following dispersed so that their messianic
pretensions and their movements came to nought. Gamliel cautioned
tollerance, pointing out that the Nazarenes and their teachings would
also come to nought if they were not divinely inspired; there was no need
for further bloodshed so long as the apostles were not preaching outright
violent revolt against the government. As far as he could ascertain, they
were merely teaching that one dead Galilean holy man had come as the
messiah and would someday return as the Son of Man to usher in the
messianic age. But most Jews believed the Son of Man would ultimately come
to redeem Israel. Should the whole nation be punished for this belief?
Better, Gamliel cautioned, to leave the Nazarenes alone and see what
would become of their movement. He also said, perhaps tongue in cheek as a
tease to the Sadducees (Gamliel WAS a Pharisee after all), that if the
Nazarenes just happened to be guided from Above, then the Sadducees would
be fighting against Heaven. The High Priest and his entourage, realizing
that they looked like fools in front of their Pharisee colleagues, agreed
to let the apostles off with a whipping and a further admonishment not to
continue their teachings in the name of Jesus. Far from being deterred, the
apostles looked upon their repeated arrest, and subsequent beating as a
test of faith from Heaven, and continued unabated the teaching of
Nazarenism in the Temple court. The continued preaching paid off with
remarkably good results; we are informed that the movement grew and that a
large number of KOHANIM, priests, joined the Assembly of the Faithfull
(Acts 6:7). This is not surprising. We remember that during the Temple
take-over, there was no active opposition from the lower clergy, many of
whom were simple men of Galilee, and it is probably these who now came
forward to show their defiance of the aristocratic Sadducean High Priest
and his followers.

       Luke informs us now that when the Nazarene movement had become
considerably larger, a major argument broke out between the native
believers and the diaspora believers because the latter's widows were being
financially neglected. We are not specifically told how and when
non-native, Greek-speaking Jews were added to the group of believers but we
remember that there was a large considerable body of immigrant Jews from
the diaspora living in Jerusalem. We recall, from chapter 11, that Jesus
was approached by certain Greeks at his entry into the City. They had come
to the Greek-speaking disciple, Philip, who introduced them to Jesus. Soon
after Jesus' death, they were probably attracted to the movement as were
the native Jerusalemites, and they may have again approached their
"contact" man Philip to enquire about the story of the Ressurection. In
the incident we are discussing, there is an individual named Philip who
may or may not be the same disciple. What links the Philip mentioned here
with the Philip of the Twelve is that we remember that the disciple
Philip was responsible for providing the daily food for the Nazarenes.

       When the controversy over the neglected widows broke out, the Twelve
decided to appoint special overseers to ensure that money and food were
more fairly distributed among the "Grecians" as well as among the
"Hebrews". These men were called "deacons", from the Greek DIAKONEIN,
meaning "one who serves tables and distributes". Seven men were chosen for
this office. From their names, it appears that they were mainly diaspora
Jews, chosen as a sort of "affirmative action" display to molify their
countrymen. One of their number was named Philip. Another significant one
was Stephen who is described as "a man full of faith, and of the Holy
Spirit" (Acts 6:5).

       Aside from his deaconian duties, Stephen spent his time also
preaching in the Temple, trying to gain converts for the movement. Upon a
certain day, various diaspora Jews were present, who for some reason had
built up a resentment againist Stephen. This resentment is specifically
against Stephen, NOT against the Nazarenes in general. The complete story
of how the resentment arose is obscured by Luke. He merely reports that
these Greek-speaking Jews made a citizens' arrest and brought Stephen up on
charges before the minor Sanhedrin.

     "This man ceaseth not to speak blasphemous words against this
      holy place (the Temple), and the law:For we have heard him say,
      that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall
      change the customs which Moses delivered us."
                          Acts 6:13-14

       This, of course,is a reflex of John 2:18-19 where Jesus DID make
such a claim to destroy and rebuild the Temple. We also recall that there
were many Jews of that day who felt the Temple was defiled and wished to
see it replaced by the messianic Temple. Most notable among the people who
thought this way were the Essenes. Luke seems to have molded this story and
edited it for his own Pauline purposes. Nowhere was it considered
blasphemy, or even a minor sin, to voice the opinion that a third Temple
(nessecitating the removal of the Second) would ultimately come into being.
The prophet Ezekiel specifically tells us that this is to happen in
messianic times. So how is Stephen guilty of blasphemy unless this story is
being used by Luke as an opportunity to issue a negative polemic against
the non-Nazarene Jews of his day. In answer to the issue of speaking
against the Temple, Stephen quoted the verses in Isaiah 66:1-2, namely that
heaven itself cannot contain G-d, how much less a building of stone. The
idea that the Temple is really a focal point of G-d's holy Presence on
earth is comepletely lost.

       Luke also puts into the mouths of Stephen's accusers that Stephen
spoke against the Torah, saying that Jesus would change the Law of Moses.
Nowhere do we find such an incident reported of Stephen. Up to that time we
are given to understand that the Nazarenes were good Torah observant Jews
who merely believed that the messiah had come in the person of Jesus, and
who waited for his return. The charge of Torah defamation sounds too much
like a later Paulinist anachronism than an accurate historical account,
unless Stephen WERE actually some early antinomian thinker pre-dating Paul.
This seems most illogical and unreal. We will return to this point

       Acts reports that immediately after answering to the charges,
Stephen went into a harrangue against the court, verbally abusing the
judges. We are not told what prompted this outburst. Up to this point,
Stephen had been speaking quite rationally. Whatever actually DID happen at
his trial, Stephen was found to have done something worthy of death. Acts
reports that he was taken out and stoned, his clothing having been placed
in the custody of a man named Saul who held some sort of judicial civil
service post for the Sadducees. (This story is, in fact, Luke's bridge
between the founding of the proto-church and the introduction of Paul the

       We are informed that immediately after the death of Stephen, the
authorities began to harrass and attack the Nazarenes "except the apostles"
(Acts 8:1). One has to wonder who among them was molested if not the
apostles who were THE LEADERS of the movement! Behind this entire glossed
over presentation, which makes no absolute historical sense, is a reality
that can no longer be captured. We can only speculate.

       Stephen belonged to a group of non-native Jews who had been at-
tracted to Jesus and his original followers. When we are introduced to this
particular clique of Nazarenes, it is already on a note of strife and
dissention. It is as though these particular believers, apart from the
natives, were the more militant and the less controlled. Luke himself
reports that the apostles had no wish to become personally embroiled in
their disputes (Acts 6:2-4), and for this reason, they created the
deaconage, letting the "Grecians" work out their own problems. The
persecution of these non-natives caused them to flee Jerusalem and be
scattered throughout the Land of Israel. Probably some of them went abroad
and returned to their own countries where they engaged in spreading the
Nazarene "gospel", - that is, the story of Jesus, his ressurection, and
the coming Kingdom, as well as some sort of militant messianism which set
the authorities against them.

       As to the native Israeli Nazarenes, "the apostles", we may assume,
when we hear later on that "the churches of Judea had rest" (Acts 9:31),
that the authorities had no problem with them because they continued to be
law abiding Israelites who, by then, were confining their activities to
preaching and healing.

       Thus Acts has set the stage for a schism in the making. As yet, the
Assembly of the Faithfull is one body of believers. But there already
exists two distinct groups, separated by culture and temperment. How this
difference affected the religio-political thinking of the "Grecians" is
still unknown. But the incident of Stephen tells us that they were already
begining to fall out of favor with those Jews who were not Nazarenes, and
that eventually this antipathy would impact on the movement as a whole.

       As to the matter of the charge of "changing the Law of Moses", at-
tributed to Stephen, I wish to add a few thoughts.

       The diaspora Jews were possibly less stringent in their observance
of the "ritual" Torah than their Israeli-native brothers. Now, as
Nazarenes, they had the justification of the paradigms instituted by Jesus
himself, to fall back on. It is important to remember what separated
Jesus from other teachers of the Law - he relied on his own authority in
interpretation rather than on the traditions handed down by the Sages of
Israel. He had allowed his disciples to pick ears of corn on the Sabbath.
He had healed on the Sabbath when he might just as easily have waited until
the conclusion of the day. He had justified this behaviour by stating
that the Sabbath was created to satisfy the need of people, not vice versa.
While the majority of Israel, including the disciples of John the
Baptizer, observed the national days of fasting, Jesus alleviated his own
disciples of this obligation, claiming that since the messiah dwelt in
their midst, and would shortly reveal himself to the world, the time of
fasting in commemoration of national calamities was passed.

       In general, he had stressed the importance of the so-called
"ethical" commandments over the that of the so-called "ritual" com-
mandments, which he said were empty ceremonials when not imbued with proper
inner religious motivation. In contradistinction, the Sages had laid down
the principle that MITSVOT do not require KAVANNAH (inner spiritual
motivation), else a Jew could easily shun his responsibilities by
claiming that he did not have the proper mood or frame of mind to carry
them out. The Rabbis realized that most people are simple, not on some high
religious level most of the time. Nevertheless they insisted that people
must give charity and show that they loved their neighbor as themselves
regardless of their mood at the time. They also hoped that the doing of the
MITSVOT, ritual or ethical, would of itself imbue the individual with the
proper "feeling" over the course of time.

       Jesus had said that what issues forth from the mouth defiles more
than what enters the mouth. In so saying, he stressed that evil gosip was
possibly worse than eating TREYF, but he himself never deviated from the
KOSHER laws. He may have said that the Sabbath was made for man but he
realized that it was made for man TO OBSERVE in a uniform Jewish way.
However, he failed to take into account that people cannot be their own
rabbis. If he himself was able to remain within a HALACHIC framework while
taking the non-stringent view of that framework, others, parroting his
words, could build upon those words, a path leading away, not merely from
stringency in observance of the Torah, but a path leading away from the
Torah itself (which, under Paul, ultimately happened).

       There exists the possibility that the "Grecians" took this view of
Torah laxity to extremes in their daily lives, and tried to convince others
of the logic of it, especially as they believed the End of Days was

       This is speculation of course, but if it were the actual histor-
ical case, it would go a long way in explaining the anger of the "norm-
ative" Jews who held to the strict Pharisaic application of the Law, that

       "You are not called upon to complete the work, yet you are not
        free to evade it."
                          Avot 2:21

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