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Yeshua Travels to Jerusalem for the Passover

Festivals were very much a part of ancient life, and people were prepared to endure crowded conditions and long journeys in order to participate. People travelled in groups to Jerusalem for the Passover and the other two major festivals -- Shavuot and Sukkot. The large caravans in which many travelled also protected the temple tax which they brought from lands outside of Israel.[1] They came by land all the way from Babylon.[2] Caravans and ships also brought groups of pilgrims from Syria, Asia Minor and North Africa.[3] Galileans and Idumaeans also travelled in companies to Jerusalem.[4]

There is no reason to exclude secular ditties, jokes, and more wine than usual at night. The Jewish festivals were like Christmas: a blend of piety, good cheer, hearty eating, making music, chatting with friends, drinking and dancing. [5] As the travelers walked toward the Temple they sang Psalms. Singing the Psalms below is something Yeshua would have experienced many times in his life on these journeys.

How lovely is they dwelling place, O Lord of Hosts!
My soul longs, yea faints for the courts of the Lord;
My heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.[6]

Oh send out Your light and Your truth;
Let them lead me,
Let them bring me to Your Holy Hill
And to Your dwelling!
Then I will go to the altar of God,
To God my exceeding joy;
And I will praise You with the lyre,
O God, my God.[7]

I was glad when they said to me,
`Let us go to the house of the Lord![8]

The festive atmosphere started on the road, but the true feast came in Jerusalem. Today, we try to put activities like this in an exclusively “religious box” and view the participants through that lens. But, people are people and their trip to the Temple was their main opportunity for `splurging’ during the year. It was a religious pilgrimage that also included shopping. Pilgrims had their “second tithe” money to spend and it could only be spent in Jerusalem:[9]

for whatever you desire, oxen, or sheep, or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves; and you shall eat there before the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household. [10]

There are a wide range of figures for the population of Jerusalem around 30 CE, but most scholars place it at around 40,000 regular residents. But during the shalosh regalim (three pilgrimage festivals each year), which all Israelite males were to appear before Yahweh,[11] the number of pilgrims added another 300,000 to 500,000 people.[12]

Herod’s Temple was an awesome structure with walls soaring straight up as much as 120 ft. above street level. The Temple Mount enclosed a rectangular area of 35 acres. (Click on this link to view and print the diagram of the Temple.) In the middle of the enclosure, the Sanctuary building rose above the rest, its gold-covered roof glowing like fire in the rays of the desert sun. [13] Josephus wrote:

"To approaching strangers [the Temple] appeared from a distance like a snow-clad mountain; for all that was not overlaid with gold was of purest white." [14]

Pilgrims could see the blazing roof a long way off before they arrived in Jerusalem. When they arrived and walked to the Temple they crossed a plaza lined with shops to get to the main entrance to the Temple Mount (click on this link to view and print the drawing of the entrance). There was a 244 ft. wide stairway leading to the southern entrance to the Mount, but to go through the Temple’s gates one was required to be ritually pure. Levites were stationed at the gates to act as guards for security purposes as well as being responsible for maintaining ritual purity by checking visitors.

In an effort to facilitate contact between those in the city and those in the Temple, and to ease the difficulty of pilgrimage to the Temple, laws regarding uncleanness were relaxed on the feasts in Jerusalem and even within the Temple.[15] Ritual immersion was an important part of ritual purity. The Temple was filled with dozens of Jewish ritual baths (known in Hebrew as mikvaot) for the purpose of ritual purification. [16] These installations, however, could not have met the needs of tens of thousands of Jewish pilgrims from outside the city attending the festivities at the Temple. It appears that the Bethesda and Siloam Poolsto the north and south of the Temple Mount – were designed to accommodate almost all of the ritual purification needs of the large numbers of Jewish pilgrims who flocked to Jerusalem for the festivals.[17]

The huge stairway was sometimes called the "stairs of the rabbis" because that is where the elders and teachers, including Rabbi Gamaliel who was said to have been the teacher of Paul, gathered to discuss legal questions and make religious decisions.[18] This would have no doubt been a favorite stopping place for Yeshua to visit on his trips to the Temple.

We will continue with Yeshua’s Passover experiences in the next Real Yeshua Blog.

Jim Myers

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[1] Judaism: Practice & Belief 63 BCE – 66 CE By E. P. Sanders© 1992; Trinity Press, Philadelphia, PA; p. 128.
[2] Josephus, Antiq. 17.313
[3] Spec. Laws 1.69
[4] Josephus, War 2.232
[5] Judaism: Practice & Belief 63 BCE – 66 CE By E. P. Sanders© 1992; Trinity Press, Philadelphia, PA; p. 128.
[6] Psalm 84.1
[7] Psalm 43.3
[8] Psalm 122.1
[9] Judaism: Practice & Belief 63 BCE – 66 CE; p. 129.
[10] Deuteronomy 14.26
[11] Deuteronomy 16:16
[12] Judaism: Practice & Belief 63 BCE – 66 CE; p. 128.
[14] Josephus, War 5.5.6
[15] The Jewish People in the First Century Volume Two: Historical Geography, Political History, Social Culture and Religious Life and Institutions; Edited by S. Safrai and M. Stern in co-operation with D. Flusser and E. C. van Unnik; © 1976 By Stichting Compendia Rerum Iudaicarum Testamentum; Fprtress Press, Philadelphia, PA;p.891.


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