The Emperor Tiberius died in Italy in A.D. 37, leaving mad Caligula in charge of a massive Empire. Though Caligula never visited Jerusalem (contra the portrayal in the last couple of episodes of A.D.) he did nevertheless want his visage displayed in the temple in Jerusalem– a sort of in your face use of his face. Caligula only ruled from A.D. 37-41, and it was in A.D. 40 that he cooked up the idea of having a statue placed in the Temple in Jerusalem (and elsewhere for that matter). The statue made it to Syrian Antioch where the Governor Petronius received it. What happened next is related by Josephus—-[Caligula] “sent Petronius with an army to Jerusalem to place his statues in the Temple and commanded him that, in case the Jews would not admit them, he should kill those who opposed it and carry all the rest of the nation into captivity. . . .
The Jews got together in great numbers with their wives and children. . . and begged Petronius first for their laws, and in the next place, for themselves. And when they insisted on their law and the custom of their country, and how it was not only not permitted for them to make either an image of God or indeed any man and put it in any lesser part of the country, much less in the Temple itself, Petronius replied, ‘And am I not also,’ said he, ‘bound to keep the laws of my own lord? For if I transgress his orders and spare you, I will perish, . . . for I am under command as much as you. . . . Will you then make war against Caesar?’ The Jews said, ‘We offer sacrifices twice a day for Caesar and for the Roman people,’ but that if he would place the images among them, he must first sacrifice the whole Jewish nation. . . .
At this Petronius was astonished and had sympathy for them on account of the inexpressible sense of religion the men were under and their courage which made them ready to die for it. . . . Petronius immediately sent a letter to Caesar and informed him. . . that. . . he must permit them to observe their law and countermand his previous orders. Gaius answered that letter in a violent way and threatened to have Petronius put to death for his being so late in the execution of his orders. But it happened that those who brought Gaius’s letter were tossed by a storm and were detained on the sea for three months, while others who brought the news of Gaius’s death had a good voyage.”
So the threat of a disaster in the temple in Jerusalem was a real one because Caligula really was crazy. This portion of this episode is all too real, and it should be noted that Pilate had already been sent packing in about A.D. 36-37, so it was not him who had to deal with the crisis in A.D. 40 in Judaea.
Adhering more closely to the facts, and presenting us with a more plausible scenario is the story line about Saul and Peter and the inherent tension that Saul injected into the Jerusalem church community when he came back from Damascus a new convert to Christ. I like this portrayal of the ‘frisson’ between Saul and Peter, and the general skepticism as well of various of the disciples, excepting Barnabas, when it came to the genuineness of Saul’s conversion. This episode in fact begins with Saul’s escape from Damascus in a basket, and ends with Saul in the high priest’s jail in Jerusalem. The subplots involving Mary and Joanna, with connections in the priestly inner circle are interesting as well, though the idea that Chuza would choose to remain married to Joanna after her conversion and traveling with Jesus is not likely, and even less likely is the idea that Herod Antipas and his wife were somehow sequestered and had to stay in Jerusalem for months at a time (presumably because of the presence of the Emperor– which never happened) also stretches credulity much too far. On the other hand, the strong portrayals of Caipahas and his wife and their fight for survival in a volatile situation is interesting and plausible, as is the tete a tete between Pilate’s wife and Caipahas’ wife. They must have socialized if not butted heads at times. Equally interesting is the suggestion that Simon the Zealot might seek out some zealots if he truly believed a graven image was about to end up in the Temple. The speculation about Dan. 7 and the abomination that makes desolate is also plausible by Jesus’ disciples, since Jesus talked about this (see Mk. 13), and such a possibility might well have fueled speculation Jesus might be returning soon.
On the whole then, this episode does a good job of ratcheting up the tension in a variety of story lines, and presents us with plausible pictures of the earliest disciples and their struggles and issues. We may expect more of this next week.