San Francisco Review of Books
“As in Daniel’s other novels Judas Son of Simon is history shared and the early stages of Christianity explored in a manner that makes them irresistibly fascinating…Daniel’s gift for storytelling is fully unleashed here as he re-writes stories we have all learned and in doing so makes them so very much more real and tenable. Another very fine book from this young and sophisticated religious historian.”
This is “The Mona Lisa of Galilee” a 2000-year old floor mosaic, called this because of the artist’s skill in capturing the subject’s beauty. It is located in Sepphoris. During Jesus’ childhood, Sepphoris was Galilee’s capital and largest city. Many mistakenly think Jesus grew up in a tiny rural village. But Nazareth was a suburb or Sepphoris, only three miles away. During Jesus’ childhood, Sepphoris was undergoing a tremendous building project. This is likely one of the main reasons Joseph and Mary moved their family to area. Sepphoris had plenty of employment for Joseph. Joseph and Jesus were not “carpenters,” as has been mistranslated. The correct translation is “builder.” Even the word “mason” would be a more accurate than “carpenter.” The Greek word used in the New Testament for Joseph and Jesus is “tekton”. From it we get our English words “technician” and “architect (meaning head builder)”. There is little wood in Israel, and homes are not built from wood. In Galilee, homes and other buildings were built of stone, such as black basalt. Herod Antipas rebuilt Galilee’s capital, Sepphoris, in Greco-Roman style. It is likely Joseph, and perhaps even Jesus, worked as builders in Sepphoris. Although I have little evidence to back it up, I wonder if Joseph, Jesus, and family, could have specialized in the construction of synagogues. We also have indications of Jesus’ familiarity with theatre in Sepphoris, because he frequently used the Greek word “hypokrites” meaning actor. In Greco-Roman theatre, the actors wore masks, hiding their faces. They were literally two-faced. So, when Jesus called the Pharisees hypocrites, he was calling them actors, hiding their true selves behind a false façade.
At its peak, Antioch was the capital of the Seleucid Empire and was the third largest city in the world, having a population of 500,000 souls.
Greek culture dominated, including its polytheistic religion worshipping Zeus as “king of the gods.” Tyche, the mistress of fortune and luck, was Antioch’s patron goddess.
Antiochean Jews did not live in a separate neighborhood or ghetto, but dwelled alongside their gentile neighbors, mingling with them to a greater degree than in any other city, actively seeking converts among the Greeks. Language was not an obstacle, because all prayer, worship and even the study of Jewish Scripture was done in Greek, not Aramaic or Hebrew.
Although few gentiles submitted to circumcision or fully obeyed the Torah’s dietary rules, nonetheless many worshipped Yahweh, were allowed entrance into the Great House and other synagogues, and were respectfully called “God-fearers” by their Jewish friends (Greek – phoboumenoi ton Theon). This gave the Archon and Council of Elders added political influence with the Emperor.
Circumstances began to deteriorate for the Jews when Antiochus Epiphanes (Antiochus IV) became emperor. A fierce advocate of Greek culture, he viewed Jewish religion to be barbaric and incompatible with “civilized” Hellenic society.
Epiphanes came to power in 175 BC. Seven years after taking the throne, Antiochus desecrated the Jerusalem Temple by placing a statue of Zeus in the Holy of Holies and sacrificing pigs upon the Temple’s altar. The Emperor abolished Jewish worship, the observance of Sabbaths and festivals, outlawed circumcision and destroyed copies of the Scriptures.
Epiphanes forced Jews to worship Zeus and to eat pork that had been sacrificed to the idol. Those refusing were executed. Anyone who circumcised their newborn son was killed, along with the child.
The Angel of Antioch takes place during Antiochus Epiphanes’ reign – 1100 years after the Prophet Moses and 200 years before the crucifixion of Yeshua Ha’Mashiach (Jesus the Christ).