by Billy O’Reilly and Martin Dugard (a summary by Pat Evert)
BOOK I The World of Jesus
1 – BETHLEHEM, JUDEA MARCH, 5 B.C. The current monarch, a dying half- Jewish, half- Arab despot named Herod, is so intent on ensuring the baby’s death that his army has been ordered to murder every male child under the age of two years in Bethlehem. What matters most is one simple fact: king of the Jews or not, the infant must die. The first is that a great star will rise. The second is that the baby will be born in Bethlehem, the small town where the great King David was born a thousand years before. The third prophecy is that the child must also be a direct descendant of David, a fact that can easily be proven by the temple’s meticulous genealogical records. Fourth, powerful men will travel from afar to worship him. Finally, the child’s mother must be a virgin. The wealthy foreigners travel almost a thousand miles over rugged desert, following an extraordinarily bright star that shines in the sky each morning before dawn. On a normal day their garb distinguishes them from the people of Jerusalem. The Temple was first built by Solomon in the tenth century B.C. It was levelled by the Babylonians in 586 B.C., and then the Second Temple was built by Zerubbabel and others under the Persians nearly seventy years later. Herod recently renovated the entire complex and expanded the Temple’s size to epic proportions, making it far larger than that of Solomon’s. The Temple and its courts are now a symbol not just of Judaism but of the evil king himself. Jesus and his parents have already traveled to Jerusalem twice. Two complete strangers, an old man and an old woman— neither of whom knew anything about this baby called Jesus. Herod’s kingdom is different from any other under Rome’s iron fist. Let others condemn him for murdering more than a dozen infants. He will be adored by the Jewish people but will become a threat to those who profit from the populace: the high priests, the scribes, the elders, the puppet rulers of Judea, and, most of all, the Roman Empire.
2 – ROME MARCH 15, 44 B.C. Julius Caesar is the most powerful man in the world, so mighty that he has not only changed the number of days per year but will soon have the month of his birth and the entire calendar renamed after himself. He has long been devoted to keeping the masses happy. One way to do this is by ensuring that popular entertainment is available to one and all, distracting them from any issues they might have about their government. To ensure his popularity with those armies, Caesar gave each soldier his own personal slave, taken from the ranks of the Gauls they had just defeated in battle. Everyone is unafraid to walk freely through the streets of Rome, so that one and all can see that he is not a tyrant. “I would rather die,” Caesar has noted, “than be feared.” The Liberators are in the minority— just sixty men among nine hundred — the population of Gaul has been devastated by Caesar’s wars. Of the four million people who inhabited the region stretching from the Alps to the Atlantic, one million have been killed in battle and another million taken into slavery. Caesar’s revenge began as an act of war but soon turned into a genocide that killed an estimated 430,000 people. He prefers to walk among the “comrades,” as he calls his troops, rather than ride a horse. Caesar is also well known throughout the ranks for his habit of rewarding loyalty and for his charisma. But Pompey’s murder is not the end of the war, for his outraged allies and sons soon take up his cause. In the end, Caesar will win the civil war and take control of the Roman Republic, much to the joy of its common citizens, who revere him. Yet four years of conflict will pass before that day arrives. One wrote of Caesar, “that he was so often able to save the lives of fellow citizens who had fought against him.” Cleopatra and Egypt need Caesar’s military might, while Caesar and Rome need Egypt’s natural resources, particularly her abundant grain crops. It could be said that Caesar and Cleopatra make the perfect couple, were it not for the fact that Julius Caesar is already married. Cleopatra gives birth to a son on June 23, 47 B.C. She names him Philopator Philometor Caesar— or Caesarion for short. A year later, Cleopatra travels to Rome, where she and the child live as a guest of Caesar and Calpurnia’s at Caesar’s Trastevere villa. When Caesar is forced to return to war, Cleopatra and the child remain behind with Calpurnia, who, not surprisingly, despises the Egyptian woman. Caesar, the master statesman, is being outmaneuvered by a woman less than half his age, and with no army at her disposal. Thousands of men have died in Rome’s civil war, all in an attempt to control the Roman Republic, but should all kill themselves [instead of Caesar]. Caesar sees the faces of enemies, but even more faces are those of friends, Julius the God is quite mortal, as his murder clearly shows.
3 – PHILIPPI, NORTHERN GREECE OCTOBER 23, 42 B.C. the Nazis would one day borrow from the basic tenets of Roman occupation: a local official appointed to serve as a puppet ruler, a network of informants to flush out any pockets of rebellion, and the appearance that normal life was being maintained in spite of subjugation. The new emperor will teach his stepson, Tiberius, to reign with an iron fist, so when the day comes that he is named emperor, he will maintain his own ruthless hold on power— brooking no opposition, crushing any rebellion, and flogging, stripping, and publicly nailing to a cross any man who poses a threat to Rome. Antony flees to Egypt with his long-time lover the once-powerful queen Cleopatra, who chose to ally herself with the warrior rather than Octavian. So it is that the new Roman Empire is ruled by just one all-powerful man who believes himself to be the son of god: Octavian, who will soon answer to a new name. All hail Caesar Augustus.
4 – JORDAN RIVER VALLEY, JUDEA MARCH 22, A.D. 7 But Archelaus, as the new king was known, struck back hard, showing that he could be as cruel as Herod. Archelaus boldly asserted his authority by ordering his cavalry to charge their horses into the thick crowds filling the Temple courts. Wielding javelins and long, straight steel and bronze swords, Archelaus’s Babylonian, Thracian, and Syrian mercenaries massacred three thousand innocent pilgrims. Mary, Joseph, and Jesus saw the bloodbath first hand and were lucky to escape the Temple with their lives. They were also eyewitnesses to the crucifixion of more than two thousand Jewish rebels outside Jerusalem’s city walls when Roman soldiers moved in to quell further revolts. Herod the Great’s kingdom of Judea was split into four unequal parts after his death. Three of those parts went to his sons, one each to Herod and Philip and two to Archelaus. Upon the exile of Archelaus in A.D. 6, Rome sent prefects to be governors to oversee the land of the Jews. Jerusalem is ruled by the local aristocracy and Temple high priests, who mete out justice through the Great Sanhedrin, a court comprised of seventy-one judges with absolute authority to enforce Jewish religious law— though, in the case of a death sentence, they must get the approval of the Roman governor. The worst rebellion was in 4 B.C., when Jesus was just one year old. For, while the Roman Republic kept its distance from Judean politics during the reign of Julius Caesar, the Roman Empire rules the Jews in an increasingly oppressive fashion. This is not the easiest or shortest way home, though it is the safest. The most direct route means two days’ less travel. But it leads due north, through Samaria, a region notorious for racial hatred between the Samaritans and the Jews, and along mountain passes where murderous bandits give vent to that prejudice.
5 – JERUSALEM MARCH 23, A.D. 7 The need to dig deeper into the meaning of God overwhelms every other consideration. He is not content merely to learn the oral history of his faith; he also feels a keen desire to debate its nuances and legends. So deep is this need that even now, days since his parents departed for home, Jesus is still finding new questions to ask. ‘FOREIGNERS!’ reads the inscription, DO NOT ENTER WITHIN THE GRILLE AND PARTITION SURROUNDING THE TEMPLE. HE WHO IS CAUGHT WILL ONLY HAVE HIMSELF TO BLAME FOR HIS DEATH WHICH WILL FOLLOW. Ritual animal sacrifices are a constant of Temple life. An animal is slaughtered in order that an individual’s sins might be forgiven. The rich smell of blood inevitably fills the air. So Mary and Joseph gasp in shock at the ease with which he is discussing God. For if the boy is inferring that God is his actual father— literally, not just figuratively— then it is tantamount to blasphemy, being a claim to divinity, and no different, in their eyes, from the claims of Caesar Augustus. Fish is almost as rare as red meat in young Jesus’s diet. Crucifixion, Roman- style, was not just a barbarous way to kill, but also a process of mentally and physically destroying the victim — it was understood he would receive far more than thirty- nine lashes. It was a death so horrible that it was forbidden to execute Roman citizens in this manner. Antipas has made the revitalized city his home and is determined to make it even more regal than Jerusalem. For while Sepphoris is the very picture of prosperity, many in Galilee are starving. While his father, Herod the Great, had grave faults, he also performed many constructive acts. Not so Antipas, a callow man who has never known want and who always expected to be given a kingdom. Galilean outrage against Rome has been building for decades. The people have been levied with tax after tax after tax. Antipas is nothing if not “a lover of luxury,” and he uses these taxes both to rebuild Sepphoris and to finance his own lavish lifestyle. No men are more despised than the tax collectors, who not only extort funds from people with very little but also publicly abuse and even torture those who fall behind on their payments. Peasants are often forced to sell their children to creditors as debt slaves or to sell their farms and work the land as sharecroppers. Some lose their homes and inheritance and become beggars; Mary’s innocence will inevitably be shattered in the shabby confines of that outlaw village. She will grow up to be a prostitute, doing what she must do to survive. They stop loaning grain or oil to friends and relations, fearing that their own supply will run out. They ignore the Jewish tradition of forgiving debts. The people long for the glory days of King David, so many hundreds of years ago, when the Jews were their own masters and God was the undisputed and most powerful force in all the cosmos. The promise of God’s deliverance is the one shaft of daylight that comforts the oppressed people of Galilee. But as he passes his thirtieth birthday, Jesus of Nazareth knows that silence is no longer an option.
BOOK II Behold the Man
6 – JORDAN RIVER, PEREA A.D. 26 The end of the known world is coming, John preaches. A new king will come to stand in judgment. Wade into the water and be cleansed of your sins, or this newly anointed ruler— this “Christ”— will punish you in the most horrible manner possible. But there is something about John’s nonviolent message that makes him a much greater threat. Jesus of Nazareth is about to end years of self-imposed silence about his true identity. For the first time, Pilate sees with his own eyes the power of the Jewish faith. Pilate now finds a new strategy for dealing with the Jews. He forms an uneasy bond with Caiaphas, the most powerful high priest in the Jerusalem Temple. No one dares criticize them in public. But John defiantly commands the Pharisees and Sadducees either to be baptized or to burn in an eternal fire. Jesus does not clarify his identity. He is a simple carpenter, a builder who has labored his whole life. He has memorized the Psalms and Scripture. He pays his taxes and takes care of his mother. To a casual observer, he is just one of many hardworking Jews. There is no obvious sign of his divinity. John the Baptist’s work is now done. But along with that, his fate has been sealed.
7 – VILLA JOVIS, CAPRI A.D. 26 Perversely, just as he enjoys sex and watching others have sex, he also finds delight in watching his victims scream for their lives. The best way to keep these children silent is to kill them after he uses them. Tiberius is a man without a conscience, a life of cruelty, depravity, and drunkenness. The man who once studied rhetoric and who loved the mother of his child was emotionally destroyed. Never again would he act in a humane manner. So it is that Pontius Pilate honors that “sacred trust” by strengthening his bond with the high priest Caiaphas, the figurehead of the Jewish faith and the most powerful man in Jerusalem. According to Tiberius’s orders, Pilate is not to meddle in matters of Jewish law. Antipas keeps his mouth shut and accumulates as much wealth as he can. Such is life in the Roman Empire, which has begun its slow decline into ruin. There is little justice or nobility among the ruling class. And so the Jewish peasants look for a savior, a man promised to them by the prophets. Now there is cautious conversation about a new man, one far more powerful than John.
8 – JERUSALEM APRIL, A.D. 27 This is Passover in Jerusalem. It has been this way since the rebuilding of the Temple. Unfurling his whip, Jesus prepares to launch his ministry. Ledger sheets within the Temple’s grand vaults keep tally of all debts, and those who cannot repay suffer severe indignities: the loss of a home, loss of land and livestock, and eventually life as a debt slave or membership in the “unclean” class. The slums of lower Jerusalem are packed with families who were driven from their land because they could not repay money they borrowed from the Temple. So while Passover might be a holiday about faith and piety, it is also about money. Many wish they could burn the ledger books and loot the Temple vaults. And in four decades, the sons and daughters of Israel will do just that. Since his baptism and time spent fasting in the desert, his ministry has been a quiet one. Jesus is such a force that not even the strongest man dares step in his path. Men, women, and children scatter before Jesus and his whip. “Get out of here,” he screams to the money changers and the men selling livestock. “How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!” But those poor and oppressed who have witnessed Jesus’s act of defiance know they have seen something very special. No one blocks Jesus’s path as he leaves the Court of the Gentiles and walks toward the Temple itself. Jesus has made a deep impression in a short amount of time. The Nazarene is comfortable in public. He enjoys people and speaks eloquently, often using stories to illuminate his teachings. Temple officials have begun to watch him closely. The Pharisees, those men who obsess about all aspects of Jewish law, are paying particular attention. Now Jesus is telling him that God is about love, not rules. And that the Son of God has come to save the world, even insinuating that this is his true identity. Then the Nazarene adds talk about being reborn, as if such a thing were humanly possible. Rather than answering Nicodemus’s questions, Jesus is raising even more. Indeed, the synagogue is so important to the Jewish faith that there are more than four hundred synagogues in Jerusalem, allowing believers to gather in a less formal setting than the Temple itself. In the synagogue, there are no high priests or clergy, no standard liturgy, and anyone is allowed to play the part of rabbi, or “teacher.” Also, there is no money on the tables. There are rumors that he commits the “sin” of speaking to Samaritans. Even more confusingly, no one can explain how this man with no medical knowledge healed a dying child in the fishing village of Capernaum. The passage that Jesus reads refers to an anointed deliverer, a man both prophetic and messianic. In their eyes, Jesus exalting himself as the man sent by God to preach the good news is offensive. Even Jesus’s family members do not believe he is such a man. Jesus uses words such as famine, widows, and leprosy in a way that enrages the entire synagogue. Three times he has declared himself to be the Son of God, a blasphemous statement that could get him killed. It is a statement that cannot be retracted, just as he can never return to the humble and quiet life he knew growing up. There is no turning back. Nazareth is no longer his home, and he is no longer a carpenter. Jesus will never write a book, compose a song, or put paint on canvas. But two thousand years from now, after his message has spread to billions of people, more books will be written about his life, more songs sung in his honor, and more works of art created in his name than for any other man in the history of the world.
9 – CAPERNAUM, GALILEE SUMMER, A.D. 27 His commitment to Jesus has flagged. But now Jesus is back, standing before him in his boat. Rather than rejoice, Simon is terrified. From the moment Jesus first stepped into his boat, something deeply spiritual about his presence made Simon uncomfortable. He feels unholy in comparison, even more so after hearing Jesus’s teachings about repentance and the need to be cleansed of all sins. Simon wants this man out of his life immediately. “Don’t be afraid,” Jesus tells Simon. “From this day on, you will catch men.” All of the children are from Galilee, except one. He is from a town called Carioth— or “Iscariot,” refers to him openly as a friend. One day that will change. But Jesus does not back down. Instead, he asserts himself. For the poor and oppressed people of Galilee, the sermon he will soon preach from a mountainside outside Capernaum will define their struggle in a way that will never be forgotten. Jesus is telling the crowd that they should defer to God in all matters. And the words he speaks are like an emotional rejuvenation in the hearts of these Galileans, who feel oppressed and hopeless. Jesus is astonished. This admission could end the man’s career or even get him killed. But Jesus turns to the centurion. “I tell you the truth,” he says with emotion. “I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.” Their name means “separated ones,” in reference to the way they hold themselves apart from other Jews. The Pharisees, who have appointed themselves guardians of Jewish religious law, believe that their interpretations of Scripture are authoritative. But now Jesus has chosen to interpret the Scriptures himself. And that is threatening to the establishment, as the people of Galilee are eagerly listening to Jesus. And now Jesus is saying that he has the authority to obliterate sin. She goes, but not for long. Mary isn’t selected by Jesus to serve as one of his twelve disciples, but she follows them as they travel and never returns to the life she once knew. The last days have come for John the Baptist. He has been in the dungeons of Machaerus for two long years. The months in isolation have given John time to reflect on his ministry. He is still a young man, not yet forty. But the longer he remains in prison, the more it appears that he might eventually be executed.
10 – GALILEE APRIL, A.D. 29 The Pharisees and Sadducees are frustrated at every turn, for Jesus is a spiritual and intellectual rival unlike any they have ever faced. Judas apparently believes in the teachings of Jesus, and he certainly basks in the Nazarene’s reflected celebrity. But his desire for material wealth overrides any spirituality. Judas puts his own needs above those of Jesus and the other disciples.
11 – JERUSALEM OCTOBER, A.D. 29 The governor walks a fine line during these festivals: if the Jews revolt— which they are wont to do when they gather in such large numbers— he will take the blame, but if he cracks down too hard, he could be recalled to Rome for disobeying Tiberius’s order that these people be treated as a “sacred trust.” Pontius Pilate has been prefect of Judea for three years. Caiaphas is a master politician and knows that the emperor Tiberius not only believes it important to uphold the Jewish traditions but is also keeping the hot- tempered Pilate on a very short leash. Pilate may be in charge of Judea, but it is Caiaphas who oversees the day- to- day running of Jerusalem, disguising his own cruel agenda in religiosity and piety. Yom Kippur atonement ceremony, Rome, in turn, usually stays out of the Temple’s business. The former helps Pilate keep his job. The latter increases Caiaphas’s power. Both men know this and are comfortable with the arrangement. So while Caiaphas’s four predecessors served just one year as high priest before being deposed, Caiaphas has now been in office for a dozen years— and shows no sign of going anywhere soon. The last thing Pilate or Caiaphas needs is a messianic figure to upset this careful balance of power— which is precisely why Caiaphas and the religious authorities plan to arrest Jesus the minute he sets foot inside the Holy City. Others, meanwhile, gossip that Jesus is now being hunted. He talks about his father and that he came from above. But he hasn’t come out and publicly said the words “I am the Christ.” And now comes the ultimate symbol: if Jesus chooses to ride into Jerusalem at Passover astride a donkey, he will be sending a powerful message. He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.” The disciples begin the search for a donkey. Jesus of Nazareth has six days to live.
BOOK III If You Are the Son of God, Take Yourself off This Cross
12 – OUTSIDE JERUSALEM SUNDAY, APRIL 2, A.D. 30 Many of the travelers stop here for their ritual mikvah, purifying themselves for the final three miles of the journey. Anticipating the smell of roast lamb that will hang over Jerusalem as the Passover feasts are being cooked in ovens, “We are going up to Jerusalem,” joining the long caravans of pilgrims en route to the Holy City. He then calls the disciples together, imploring them to focus on serving others rather than fighting for position. They stay at the home of Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha, rather than risk traveling after sundown and on the start of the Sabbath. This will be their base throughout Passover week, and Jesus and the disciples plan to return here most nights for the promise of a hot meal and easy rest. This is the sign everyone has been waiting for. This is the fulfilment of Zechariah’s prophecy as they witnessed the grand moment when Jesus the Christ rode triumphantly into Jerusalem. This is his day. Jesus’s whole life has pointed to this moment, when he will ride forth to stake his claim to the title “king of the Jews.” Suddenly Jesus begins to weep. These men know him better than any other. Yet the disciples still do not understand who he truly claims to be. But will they make that incredible leap to believe that Jesus is God in the flesh?
13 – JERUSALEM MONDAY, APRIL 3, A.D. 30 It was a coronation of sorts, a celebration. But to the authorities, the exhibition is cause for great concern. With Jews pouring into Jerusalem by the hundreds of thousands, even the smallest confrontation could quickly get out of hand. His actions are methodical, and his every movement shows that he fears no soldier or guard. “My house will be called a house of prayer,” Jesus says, quoting Isaiah, the prophet who foresaw so much of the Nazarene’s life. “But you are making it a ‘den of robbers.’” If the Pharisees’ interpretation is correct, Jesus is actually comparing them with forces of evil. His outbursts in the Temple are an aggressive act against the religious leaders rather than a passive prediction that the Temple will one day fall. Caiaphas knows that Jesus is playing a very clever game by using the crowds as a tool to prevent his arrest. This is a game that Caiaphas plans to win. But to avoid the risk of becoming impure, he must move before sundown on Friday and the start of Passover.
14 – JERUSALEM TUESDAY, APRIL 3, A.D. 30 The disciples will remember the events that take place today for as long as they live. They will quote Jesus again and again— not in sentences but in paragraphs and pages. The next twelve hours will be so exhausting that Jesus will make tomorrow a day of complete rest. But it will also be a time of challenge and triumph unlike any they have ever known. New life is everywhere, even as death approaches. This week, these priests and Pharisees are wearing robes that are even more resplendent than normal, choosing their most colorful and expensive garments as a way of setting themselves apart from the drably dressed pilgrims. Jesus, meanwhile, still clothes himself like an average Galilean. So the walk from Bethany down into Jerusalem often gives him an unwashed appearance by comparison to that of the Pharisees, many of whom have bathing facilities and ritual pools. Jesus does nothing to hide his native tongue. If anything, it works to his advantage, for it so often leads the religious leaders to underestimate the Nazarene as just another pilgrim from Galilee. Their movements are now being closely tracked by the religious authorities, so their arrival is noted immediately. “Tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. The crowd is awed. The high priests are stunned into silence. The authority of the religious leaders is that they are the chosen ones. For Jesus to state publicly that they are not is an enormous defamation of their character. Jesus has now defeated the sharpest minds in the Temple. Know that one of Jesus’s own disciples is making plans to provide the Passover Lamb. All he wants in return is money.
15 – JERUSALEM WEDNESDAY, APRIL 4, A.D. 30 “You will be handed over to be persecuted, and put to death, and you will be hated by all the nations because of me.” If Jesus just admits that he is the Christ, then he would triumph over the Romans. Surely the religious authorities would then be eager to align themselves with Jesus. All this talk of death and execution might come to an end. So Judas has decided to force Jesus’s hand. If the Nazarene truly is the Messiah, then he will have no problem saving himself from Caiaphas and the high priests. However, if Jesus is not the Christ, he will die. Either way, Judas’s life will be spared. For Judas truly believes that he is smarter than his compatriots and deserving of reward in this life. If Jesus is God, that will soon be known. The next few hours will tell the tale.
16 – LOWER CITY OF JERUSALEM THURSDAY, APRIL 4, A.D. 30 Tomorrow three teams of killers will be needed, for three men have been condemned to die. Once in the room, Jesus begins the evening by humbling himself and washing each man’s feet with water. “Surely, not I, Lord,” they say, one by one. It will be a bloody death, on a Roman cross, with all the pain and public ridicule that implies. The people who have heard his marvelous words in the Temple courts will see him humiliated, and they will not understand how a man who claims to be the Son of God can allow himself to be crucified. It is as if they are willing to believe parts of his teaching and to wonder at his accomplishments, but they cannot accept the dark side of his message. Inside, the interrogation of Jesus commences. Moments later, he is surprised by a sudden and hard blow to the face. The end has begun.
17 – JERUSALEM FRIDAY, APRIL 7, A.D. 30 The high priest is in his mid-fifties, a man whose entire life has revolved around procuring wealth and power. he is also a Sadducee, a member of a wealthy Jewish sect that believes only in the Pentateuch, It is a lesson Annas learned when he was removed from his position by Pontius Pilate’s predecessor, Gratus, for imposing and executing capital sentences, which had been forbidden by the imperial government. Everything about Jesus’s interrogation is illegal: it takes place at night, Jesus is asked to incriminate himself without a lawyer, and Annas has no authority to pass sentence. It is also highly unusual for a prisoner to be brought to the high priest’s personal residence, rather than to the prison cells at the Roman barracks. The high religious court of the Sanhedrin must assemble immediately. Confront the Sanhedrin in yet another illegal trial, he is bloodied and bruised. His face is swollen. Exhaustion and weakness caused by a loss of plasma make it difficult for him to stand, let alone form the coherent arguments that might save him. They tolerate the litany of lies, trusting that an accusation worthy of a death sentence will eventually be revealed in these proceedings— even if it takes all night. Technically, bearing false witness is a crime punishable by death, but the Sanhedrin is willing to conveniently sidestep that legality for tonight. “Are you the Son of God?” the priests demand. “Yes,” he tells them. “It is as you say.” But now there is no vote. The verdict is passed by simple consensus. No, it is a small handful of men who enrich themselves through the Temple. To them, a man who speaks the truth is far more dangerous than a mass murderer.
18 – JERUSALEM’S UPPER CITY APRIL 7, A.D. 30 There is no gap between the blows. The instant one executioner pulls back his whip, the other unfurls his lash across Jesus’s back. Jesus is in the early stages of shock. In him, they see the memory of a man who publicly humiliated them in the Temple courts just three days ago. They can see his suffering now, yet they have no sympathy whatsoever. Jesus must die— the more painfully, the better. The humiliation at Pilate’s palace now complete, the procession toward the place of execution begins. Should Jesus die before reaching the place of execution, it is the exactor mortis who will be held responsible. So a pilgrim bystander, an African Jew named Simon of Cyrene, is enlisted to carry the crossbeam for Jesus. The Romans use the wrist location because the nail never hits bone, instead passing all the way through to the wood with just a few sharp swings of the hammer. Nor is there a footrest. Instead, when the moment comes that his feet are nailed into the wood, they must first be flexed at an extreme angle. The spike passes through the fine metatarsal bones on its way into the wood but, amazingly, none of the bones break, which is extremely unusual in a crucifixion. Each time a victim takes a breath he must fight his own body weight and push his torso upward using his legs, thus allowing his lungs to expand. In time, the victim, exhausted, can breathe neither in nor out. The man who once preached the Gospel so fearlessly, Jesus of Nazareth is dead. He is thirty- six years old.
19 – JERUSALEM’S UPPER CITY APRIL 7, A.D. 30 a Sadducee named Joseph of Arimathea steps forth and Nicodemus the Pharisee. Somewhat shockingly, Joseph and Nicodemus are publicly declaring their allegiance to the teachings of Jesus. By law, Joseph and Nicodemus will be declared impure and must undergo a seven- day cleansing ritual. Jewish tradition dictates that all bodies be examined three days after apparent death. Thus the tomb will be reopened and Jesus will be observed on Sunday. Alone in the darkness of the tomb, Jesus of Nazareth finally rests in peace.
20 – PILATE’S PALACE, JERUSALEM SATURDAY, APRIL 8, A.D. 30 For the first time, Pilate notices that Caiaphas is actually terrified of Jesus’s power. And so it is that a Roman guard is placed at the tomb of Jesus, just in case the dead man tries to escape. The disciples have proven themselves timid, still stunned that their messiah is dead.
21 – JESUS’S TOMB SUNDAY, APRIL 9, A.D. 30 Unlike all other self- proclaimed messianic figures, Jesus became a noted personage in the history of Jerusalem and beyond. Those opposed to the new Christian faith mocked believers for worshipping “a criminal and his cross” and parodied Christianity as a form of madness. However, Christians began crossing themselves on the forehead and chest (“the sign of the cross”) as a way of warding off demons. By the fourth century, the cross was more commonly viewed with pride, as a symbol that Jesus had suffered a lowly death for the benefit of all mankind. Known as the apostles, the men paid a tremendous price for their faith. Peter was sentenced to death on the cross around A.D. 64–67. Andrew preached Jesus’s message in what is now the Ukraine, Russia, and Greece. Thomas is thought to have been speared to death near Madras, in India. Bartholomew preached in Egypt, Arabia, and what is now Iran before being flayed (skinned alive) and then beheaded in India. Matthew may have died in Ethiopia, murdered just like all the rest for his fervent preaching. Little is known about what happened to the others, except that each apostle spent his life preaching and was killed for doing so. The last to die was John died in A.D. 100 in Ephesus, in what is now Turkey. He was ninety- four and the only apostle not to have been martyred. There is also a rumor that Pilate and his wife, Claudia, converted to Christianity and were killed for their faith. Claudius and Nero, who continued the ruinous policies that eventually led to the downfall of Rome. However, long before the empire’s collapse, Rome turned away from its pagan gods and began worshipping Jesus Christ. Christianity was officially legalized throughout the Roman Empire in 313.
By A.D. 70 they had surrounded the city with four Roman legions. Pilgrims arriving to celebrate Passover were allowed into the city— then not allowed to leave, which put considerable pressure on Jerusalem’s limited water and food supplies. Somewhere between six hundred thousand to one million men, women, and children were stuck inside the city walls. Those attempting to escape were promptly crucified, and their crosses left on the surrounding heights for the residents of Jerusalem to witness the fate that awaited them. Thousands were eventually nailed to the cross during the siege, so many that the Romans ran out of wood. Trees had to be logged and carried to Jerusalem from miles away in order to accommodate the tremendous number of crucifixions. The Temple itself was burned to the ground, and much of the city was leveled. To this day, it has never been rebuilt. Not only were almost six hundred thousand Jews slaughtered and almost a thousand villages leveled by its end, but worship practices such as reading the Torah, performing circumcisions, and observing Sabbath were outlawed. Jordanian army flushed every Jew from the old city, killing all those who would not leave. Finally, at the conclusion of the Six- Day War, on June 10, 1967, more than two thousand years after its destruction by the Romans, all of Jerusalem was once again in Jewish hands.