Monthly Archives: April 2015

The Vibe of the Cross

The cross aka the crucifix aka the tree is the instrument of death which the Romans believe is appropriate to use to execute Jesus. No one today is one hundred per cent sure on what this cross looks like, or whether it is even shaped like a cross. Some believe that, as wood is scarce in first century Judea, the cross will have been one simple upright post. Some believe this upright post has a T-bar across it. Others believe the cross is Y shaped, or shaped like an X. Historians can’t agree on whether criminals are nailed or roped to their crosses, or whether they have a small ledge to rest their feet. No one is entirely sure if the victim is attached first to a crossbar which is then hung on an upright beam or whether the whole shenanigans is in place before the crucifixion begins. One thing is certain, the cross is a brutal instrument of torture and the last place anyone would want to breathe their last. Death comes from (among other vibes) suffocation, blood loss and heart failure and if it is too long in coming, it is sped up by smashing the victim’s legs with large hammers. The gruesomeness of the Crucifixion combined with the innocence of Jesus only helps emphasize the generosity of the gesture: not only does Jesus take one for the team and be punished for every wrongdoing ever done (and that will ever be done) by his followers, he does it by going through one of the most painful and drawn out executions devised by one of the most brutal regimes ever to come to power. As for the cross itself, it is such an unpleasant vibe for the earliest followers of Jesus that they prefer not to look at anything that reminds them of it. In fact the first crosses to appear as a Christian symbol surface around two hundred years after the crucifixion. A gruesome vibe, despite no one being entirely sure what it looked like or how it worked.

General vibe of the cross: Execution by torture

Factvibe: The Jehovah’s Witnesses aren’t fans the cross as they believe it constitutes worshipping an idol

It may look nice on a silver necklace, but the original cross vibe was less pretty

It may look nice on a silver necklace, but the original cross vibe was less pretty

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The Vibe of the Centurion at the Cross

Often dismissed as a bit player in the epic events that unfold in the final mortal hours of Jesus Christ, the Centurion is the first pagan on earth to acknowledge that Jesus is Son of God. As a centurion, this man might have come from anywhere in the Roman empire, which, at that time, stretched from the Scottish borders in the north to Egypt in the south, and from Portugal in the west to the Caspian Sea in the east. He would have commanded a minimum of eighty men, perhaps as many as four hundred and eighty. He would have followed religious rituals and would have offered sacrifices to effigies of his gods at altars set up in their honour. He would have been stationed in a barracks in Jerusalem, part of a military machine that had the local Roman proconsul, Pontus Pilate at its head. His single one line utterance at the foot of the cross, as reported by the gospel writer Matthew is the emphatic full stop to the Crucifixion. Jesus is dead. Now what? As fans of the Bible will know, the vibe doesn’t die there. Jesus has unfinished business to attend to and this is by no means the end of his story.

General vibe of the Centurion at the Cross: Belief

Factvibe: Some believe that the centurion was called Longinus and after his conversion, he became a monk and died a martyr.

The Centurion - pagan vibes come face to face with Jesus

The Centurion – pagan vibes come face to face with Jesus

The Vibe of the Scribes

Often bundled together with their friends and cohorts, the Pharisees, the Scribes actually have a very different vibe. Where the Pharisees are a religious party that sits in the Jewish council of the Sanhedrin, the Scribes are professional lawyers. However, both put their energies into the spoken vibe of the Jewish Scripture – the Torah, unlike the Sadducees who only believe it if it’s written down. Every town and village in Judea has at least one Scribe who drafts legal documents, and write or read letters for local illiterates. Some Scribes sit in the Sanhedrin that meets in the Jerusalem Temple where their religious position is identical to the Pharisees, which is why they often get mixed up. The reality is that many Pharisees aren’t scribes, and some Scribes aren’t Pharisees. Both however see Jesus as a threat to their cosy status quo and do their level best to catch him out. However this generally leaves them looking red faced and foolish. It looks like the Scribes and their allies have the last laugh when they see Jesus strung up on a cross, but then Jesus comes back to life and rains on their parade. However, the Scribes and Pharisees make a good fist of their defeat and, after regrouping, establish the vibe of Judaism that survives today.

General vibe of the Scribes: Legal Eagles

Factvibe: Scribes wrote using ink made from lamp soot

Writing, along with keeping the laws are the general vibes of they who call themselves Scribes

Writing, along with keeping the laws are the general vibes of they who call themselves Scribes

The Vibe of the Sanhedrin

Every group of people needs organization and the organization vibe in first century Judea centres on the Sanhedrin, a group of twenty-three men who meet every day except on the Sabbath and during festivals and who deal with religious matters. Although every city in Israel has one, the main Sanhedrin meets in the Jerusalem Temple. Its seventy-one members convene in the Hall of Hewn Stones and have the last word in decisions concerning religious, civil and criminal vibes. Made up of a heady mix of religious bigwigs (High Priests), tribal leaders (Elders) and legal professionals (Scribes), the Sanhedrin’s vibes are overseen by a single High Priest. At the time that Jesus is tried before the Jerusalem Sanhedrin, the legalistic Sadducees have the majority of seats while the more esoteric Pharisees have the minority, despite there being more Pharisees than Sadducees in Judea. The High Priest is a Sadducee called Caiaphas while most of the Scribes are Pharisees. In emergency sessions, the Sanhedrin meets at the house of the High Priest, which is where Jesus is brought to explain who he is and what his plans are. He says very little during his trial but refuses to deny the vibe that he is the Son of God, an act that infuriates the assembley. Long since stripped by Rome of their power to hand out the death sentence, the members of the Sanhedrin pack Jesus off to the highest ranking Roman official in Judea, proconsul Pontius Pilate and demand that he be put to death. After this high point (or low point, depending on where you stand), the Sanhedrin takes time out from the Bible before reappearing to condemn a Jerusalem church deacon, Stephen, for blasphemy and ordering his stoning. A feisty vibe and a boat that definitely doesn’t enjoy being rocked.

General vibe of the Sanhedrin: Jewish court

Factvibe: The Sanhedrin didn’t finally disband until 425AD.

Who is the law? They is the law. The vibe of the Sanhedrin

Who is the law? They is the law. The vibe of the Sanhedrin

 

The Vibe of the Sadducees

Sadducees

Traditionally lumped together with the Pharisees, the Sadducees’ vibe couldn’t be more different. Where the Pharisees are men of the people, the Sadducees are the ruling elite. Where the Pharisees believe in the vibe of the law, the Sadducees only believe in what has been written down. Where the Pharisees believe in everlasting life, the Sadducees believe death is the end. Where the Pharisees believe in miracles and other supernatural events, the Sadducees think it is all bunkum. However, thanks to their wealth and status, the Sadducees help rule Judea, sitting on the governing council, the Sanhedrin. They also collect taxes, manage relations with the Romans, equip and lead the army and sort out local disputes. In fact, their only moment of agreement with the Pharisees is over the question of Jesus. They see him as a threat to their power base and agree that this threat has to be removed. An elitist, legalistic ‘because I say so’ vibe with an unpleasant sense of entitlement thrown in.

General vibe of the Sadducees: Rich Pedants

Factvibe: Some Jews believe that the Sadducees take their name from Zadok the Priest

The Sadducees, bringing with them the vibe of the ruling elite

The Sadducees, bringing with them the vibe of the ruling elite

The Vibe of the Pharisees

The Pharisees

Forever branded as religious zealots, history has not been kind to the Pharisees. Their vibe is in fact, a holy one. The Pharisees are the torch bearers for Jewish purity. It is they who keep the Jewish vibe strong, by keeping to all the laws and following every ritual to the letter. However, this can easily be seen as religious one-upmanship and the Pharisees have won themselves a reputation for being legalistic sticklers and the kind of people you wouldn’t want to be standing next to at a party. Jesus has a particular problem with the Pharisee vibe as it doesn’t leave much room for new ideas – the Pharisee Bible is very much a closed book. Jesus is much more interested in matters of the heart and the inner vibe rather than loud prayers, ostentatious public generosity and comprehensive knowledge of the Old Testament laws. The Pharisees sit in the Jewish Council, known as the Sanhedrin and get along well with the Scribes whose job it is decide what is and is not permissible within the law. However, when they realise that the vibe of Jesus is about to reach tipping point, they buddy up with their long term opponents in the Sanhedrin, the wealthy and conservative Sadducees and begin mobilizing the Jewish mob and their Roman overlords to shut Jesus down.

General vibe of the Pharisees: More religious than spiritual

Factvibe: The 1st Century AD Jewish historian Josephus was a Pharisee.

The Pharisees: a bit of a 'closed book' vibe.

The Pharisees: a bit of a ‘closed book’ vibe.

The Vibe of the Thieves on the Cross

Forever immortalized as pickpockets or housebreakers, there is more to the two men crucified next to Jesus than a life of crime. Back in ancient Rome, there are many ways of dispatching with society’s outcasts – stoning, beheading, throwing off cliffs are all alternatives. The cherry on the cake, so to speak, is crucifixion, a punishment reserved only for those who are an actual danger to national security. Fearing that Jesus and his followers might eventually overthrow the Roman government in Judea, it makes sense that the officials would make an example of him, killing him in a brutal and public fashion to put others off. The vibe of the two men who die alongside him is no doubt very similar. These men would have been leading a revolt, they were rebels, no doubt fighting against the unwelcome presence of Roman soldiers in their own backyard. However, once they are nailed to their crosses, the robbers have time to reflect on their own lives. One curses Jesus and tells him that, if he really is the Son of God he should save himself and them. The other is clearly less cynical and recognises that Jesus is not only an innocent man, but that he might actually be who he (and the sign hanging above his cross) say he is: King of the Jews. He asks Jesus to put in a good word for him upstairs and Jesus comes straight back to him, assuring him that they will both end the day in Paradise. The thieves are both still alive when Jesus dies and their legs are broken to help them die more quickly. A brutal vibe, but still one with a Hollywood ending.

General vibe of the Thieves on the Cross: Saved by the bell

Factvibe: Some Christians believe that the repentant thief was called Dismas and his unrepentant partner was called Gestas.

The Thieves on the Cross had more of a Rebel leader than a house breaker vibe

The Thieves on the Cross had more of a rebel leader than a house breaker vibe

The Vibe of Simon of Cyrene

Like the vibe of the hapless member of the audience who gets dragged on stage at a show, Simon of Cyrene no doubt wakes up on the morning of the Crucifixion with no idea that it is even happening. He’s simply there in the crowd at the right (or wrong) time and is jumped on by opportunist Roman Soldiers to keep the show on the road. Hailing from the Libyan seaport of Cyrene, Simon is in Jerusalem with his two sons, Alexander and Rufus. The vibe of Judaism is high in North Africa and there is a sizeable Jewish community in Cyrene. The reason Simon is in town is because it is the Passover and Jews from all the known world have made a pilgrimage here to offer sacrifices at the Temple. However, this happens to be the weekend when the leaders of Jerusalem’s Jewish Community have decided that enough is enough. They can’t listen any longer to Jesus claiming to be the Messiah, the Son of God or any other divine being and so they have successfully put pressure on the local Roman government to execute him. And it is right in the middle of this execution that Simon stumbles, no doubt curious as to what everyone else is looking at. He arrives just as Jesus, bleeding and exhausted from a brutal flogging collapses under the weight of the wooden crossbar that he has been forced to carry to his place of execution. Seeing that their prize prisoner can’t actually make it the rest of the way up the hill, some Roman soldiers grab Simon at random and force him to carry the cross for Jesus.   An absolutely unexpected, ‘did this really happen?’ moment that transforms a non entity from the margins of the Jewish world into one of the key players on the central stage of the most dramatic events in world history.

General vibe of Simon of Cyrene: Bystander takes centre stage

Factvibe: Later, Paul describes Simon’s wife as like a mother to him, and sends greetings to Simon’s son Rufus in his letter to the Romans.

An unexpected moment of weightlifting - the vibe of Simon of Cyrene

An unexpected moment of weightlifting – the vibe of Simon of Cyrene

The Vibe of Caiaphas

As the leader of the Jerusalem Sanhedrin, the highest ruling body of Jews in the city, Caiaphas has much to lose if the vibe of Jesus spreads. Consequently, he needs to shut him down, and fast. Unfortunately for Caiaphas and his cronies, the Sandhedrin doesn’t have the power to hand out death sentences but this is clearly the only plan that the Jewish leaders have in mind. As a Sadducee, Caiaphas has no time for miracles, the afterlife or any supernatural nonsense, and as leader of the ruling elite, he even less time for a carpenter and his bunch of blue collar henchmen. Caiaphas is on good terms with the Roman administrators of Judea, no doubt because they give him an easy life in exchange for keeping his people in order. He is clearly gifted in this task as he has been High Priest for eighteen years. However, he is utterly unequipped to deal with the reality that a growing number of people under his rule believe emphatically that Jesus is the son of God – the Messiah who will rid them of their Roman overlords once and for all. Unable to persuade Jesus to change his story, Caiaphas accuses him of blasphemy – one of the most serious crimes in the Jewish lawbook – and packs him off to his friend Pontius Pilate who rules Judea for Rome. In doing this, Caiaphas must take on the responsibility of being the single most influential player in bringing about the death of Jesus Christ. He no doubt celebrates a job well done as Jesus dies horribly on a Roman cross, but his glee is short lived. Not only do Jesus’ followers claim that their leader comes back to life, the miracles performed in his name take place in front of so many witnesses that even Caiaphas realizes that the game is up. All he can do is tell Peter and John not to spread the word about Jesus but, given that his warnings to their leader also fell on deaf ears, he is rendered completely powerless. Caiaphas’ vibe ends here, but the vibe of the man he sent to his death is getting ready to take on the entire known world.

General vibe of Caiaphas: Christkiller

Factvibe: Caiaphas’ first name was Joseph.

Caiaphas - definitely guilty of celebrating too soon

Caiaphas – definitely guilty of celebrating too soon