This is the end of the Book of Mark so tomorrow we’ll being with…
The Resurrection of Jesus
1 And when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him.
“Sabbath was past” – about 6:00 p.m. Saturday evening. No purchases were possible on the Sabbath.
“Spices” – embalming wasn’t practiced by the Jews. These spices were brought as an act of devotion and love.
“That they might come and anoint him” – the women had no expectations of Jesus’ resurrection.
2 And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulcher at the rising of the sun.
3 And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulcher?
“Who shall roll us away the stone…? – setting the large stone in place was a relatively easy task, but once it had slipped into the groove cut in bedrock in front of the entrance it was very difficult to remove, as it probably weighed several hundred pounds.
4 And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great.
5 And entering into the sepulcher, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted.
6 And he saith unto them, Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him.
“He is risen” – the climax of Mark’s Gospel is the resurrection, without which Jesus’s death, though noble, would be indescribably tragic. But in the resurrection He is declared to be the Son of God with power (Rom 1:4).
7 But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you.
8 And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulcher; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they anything to any man; for they were afraid.
9 Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils.
10 And she went and told them that had been with him, as they mourned and wept.
11 And they, when they had heard that he was alive, and had been seen of her, believed not.
12 After that he appeared in another form unto two of them, as they walked, and went into the country.
16:12-13 – a shortened account of the two going to Emmaus.
13 And they went and told it unto the residue: neither believed they them.
14 Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen.
“Eleven” – Judas Iscariot had committed suicide (Matt 27:5).
15 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.
“Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” – the Great Commission is found here and in all the Gospels (Matt 28:19-20; Lk 24:47-48; Jn 20:21), and in Acts 1:8.
Jesus’ final words are our “marching orders.” They are important because apart from believing the gospel of Christ no one shall enter heaven (Jn 3:36; Rom 1:18).
16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.
“Baptized” – baptism does not save, nor is it required for salvation. Notice that in order to be “damned” one has only not to “believe.” Nothing is said about not being baptized. All the believers in the book of Acts are referred to as being baptized.
17 And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;
18 They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.
19 So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God.
20 And they went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.
The Ending of Mark
There are several different endings to the Gospel of Mark found in the various Greek manuscripts.
Most Greek texts and several ancient translations conclude with the ending familiar to us as Mark 16:9-20. The earnest Greek manuscript with that ending is from the 5th century, but evidence from the church fathers suggests that it was already in existence during the 2nd century.
Many scholars feel, however, that the vocabulary and themes of the traditional ending are inconsistent with the rest of the Gospel.
In the two oldest Greek manuscripts and in a number of ancient versions, Mark’s Gospel ends at 16:8.
Clement of Alexandria and Origen show no knowledge of any ending of this Gospel account beyond verse 8, and Eusebius and Jerome affirm that nearly all Greek manuscripts known to them were concluded with this verse.
Most scholars believe that this is indeed the point at which the original Gospel probably ended and suggest that the other endings very likely developed during the 2nd century, after the Gospel of Mark was read alongside the other Gospels and appeared, by comparison, to lack a satisfactory conclusion.
Despite its abruptness, Mark 16:8 is arguably an appropriate ending for the Gospel, since one of its motifs is the fear caused by God’s powerful work in and through Jesus (see, e.g., 5:15,33; 9:6).
The women’s fear suggests that God had performed one more climactic, powerful work, confirming the testimony of the empty tomb and the angelic announcement that Jesus had indeed arisen from the dead, just as he had promised (8:31; 9:9,31; 10:34).
Archaeologists have found skeletons that are over a million years old, but would it be possible for clothes to last over 2,000 years?
I would have to say that wouldn’t be very likely. Yet, in regards to clothing that Jesus wore, certainly because Jesus was and is life.
Remember the lady with the blood disease, how when she touched His garment He knew someone touched Him because power was taken out of His body (Mk 5:21-33).
Everything about Jesus is mysterious and powerful, his touch can heal or even rejuvenate.
Tomorrow we’ll read the last chapter of the Book of Mark and…
Jesus Before Pontius Pilate
1 And straightway in the morning the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council, and bound Jesus, and carried him away, and delivered him to Pilate.
“Straightway in the morning” – the working day of a Roman official began at daylight.
“Morning” – Friday of Passion Week.
“Held a consultation” – apparently to accuse Jesus before the civil authorities for reason rather than blasphemy (see Lk 23:1-14).
“Pilate” – the Roman governor of Judea from 25 to 36 A.D., whose official residence was in Caesarea, on the Mediterranean coast. (In 1961 archaeologists working at Caesarea unearthed a stone contemporary with Pilate and inscribed with his name).
When he came to Jerusalem, he stayed in the magnificent palace built by Herod the Great, located west and a little south of the temple area. Mark uses the Latin word “Pretorium” to indicate this palace in v. 16, and it was here that the Roman trial of Jesus took place.
2 And Pilate asked him, Art thou the King of the Jews? And he answering said unto him, Thou sayest it.
“Pilate asked him” – judgment in a Roman court was the sole responsibility of the imperial magistrate.
3 And the chief priests accused him of many things: but he answered nothing.
4 And Pilate asked him again, saying, Answerest thou nothing? behold how many things they witness against thee.
“Answerest thou nothing” – if Jesus made no defense, according to Roman law, Pilate would have to pronounce against Him.
5 But Jesus yet answered nothing; so that Pilate marveled.
6 Now at that feast he released unto them one prisoner, whomsoever they desired.
7 And there was one named Barabbas, which lay bound with them that had made insurrection with him, who had committed murder in the insurrection.
“Barabbas” – probably a member of the Zealots, a revolutionary Jews group.
“Insurrection” – nothing from other sources is known about this insurrection, or uprising, though Mark speaks of it as if it were well known. Under the Roman prefects such revolts were common (see Lk 13:1).
8 And the multitude crying aloud began to desire him to do as he had ever done unto them.
9 But Pilate answered them, saying, Will ye that I release unto you the King of the Jews?
10 For he knew that the chief priests had delivered him for envy.
11 But the chief priests moved the people, that he should rather release Barabbas unto them.
12 And Pilate answered and said again unto them, What will ye then that I shall do unto him whom ye call the King of the Jews?
13 And they cried out again, Crucify him.
14 Then Pilate said unto them, Why, what evil hath he done? And they cried out the more exceedingly, Crucify him.
15 And so Pilate, willing to content the people, released Barabbas unto them, and delivered Jesus, when he had scourged him, to be crucified.
“Scourged” – the Romans used a whip made of several strips of leather into which were embedded (near the ends) pieces of bone and lead.
The Jews limited the number of stripes to a maximum of 40 (in practice to 39 in case of a miscount), but no such limitation was recognized by the Romans, and victims of Roman floggings often didn’t survive.
16 And the soldiers led him away into the hall, called Praetorium; and they call together the whole band.
“Pretorium” – the word was used originally of a genera’s tent, or of the headquarters in a military camp.
“The whole band” – the soldiers quartered in the Pretorium were recruited from non-Jewish inhabitants of the Holy Land and assigned to the military governor.
17 And they clothed him with purple, and platted a crown of thorns, and put it about his head,
“Purple” – probably an old military cloak whose color suggested royalty.
“Crown of thorns” – made of a prickly plant (the Greek word means simply “briers”), of which there are many in the Holy Land. Both robe and crown were parts of the mock royal attire placed on Jesus.
18 And began to salute him, Hail, King of the Jews!
19 And they smote him on the head with a reed, and did spit upon him, and bowing their knees worshipped him.
20 And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple from him, and put his own clothes on him, and led him out to crucify him.
21 And they compel one Simon a Cyrenian, who passed by, coming out of the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to bear his cross.
“A Cyrenian” – Cyrene was an important city of Libya in North Africa that had a large Jews population.
“Alexander and Rufus” – only mentioned by Mark, but referred to in such a way as to suggest that they were known by those to whom Mark wrote. Rufus may be the same person spoken of in Rom 16:13. Otherwise, who would care to know the names of this man’s children?
“Bear his cross” – men condemned to death were usually forced to carry a beam of the ross, often weighing 30 or 40 pounds, to the place of crucifixion. Jesus started out by carrying His (Jn 19:17), but He had been so weakened by flogging that Simon was pressed into service.
22 And they bring him unto the place Golgotha, which is, being interpreted, The place of a skull.
“Place of a skull” – it may have been a small hill (though the Gospels say nothing of a hill) that looked like a skull, or it may have been so named because of the many executions that took place there.
23 And they gave him to drink wine mingled with myrrh: but he received it not.
24 And when they had crucified him, they parted his garments, casting lots upon them, what every man should take.
“Crucified” – a Roman means of execution in which the victim was nailed to a cross. Heavy, wrought-iron nails were driven through the wrists and the heel bones. If the life of the victim lingered too long, death was hastened by breaking his legs (Jn 19:33).
Archaeologists have discovered the bones of a crucified man, near Jerusalem, dating between 7 and 66 A.D., which shed light on the position of the victim when nailed to the cross.
Only slaves, the basest of criminals, and offenders who were not Roman citizens were executed in this manner. First century authors vividly describe the agony and disgrace of being crucified.
25 And it was the third hour, and they crucified him.
26 And the superscription of his accusation was written over, THE KING OF THE JEWS.
“His accusation” – it was customary to write the charge on a wooden board that was carried before the victim as he walked to the place of execution, and then the board was affixed to the cross above his head. THE KING OF THE JEWS.
The wording of the charge differs slightly in the Gospels, but all agree that Jesus was crucified for claiming to be the king of the Jews.
27 And with him they crucify two thieves; the one on his right hand, and the other on his left.
“Two thieves” – according to Roman law, robbery was not a capital offense. Mark’s term must signify men guilty of insurrection, crucified for high treason.
28 And the scripture was fulfilled, which saith, And he was numbered with the transgressors.
Mark doesn’t include many Old Testament quotations, writing as he is for a non-Jewish audience, but these words are from Is 53:12.
29 And they that passed by railed on him, wagging their heads, and saying, Ah, thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days,
30 Save thyself, and come down from the cross.
31 Likewise also the chief priests mocking said among themselves with the scribes, He saved others; himself he cannot save.
32 Let Christ the King of Israel descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe. And they that were crucified with him reviled him.
“They that were crucified with him” – one of the criminals later repented and asked to be included in Jesus kingdom (Lk 23:39-43).
33 And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.
34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
The words were spoken in Aramaic, but with some Hebrew characteristics, one of the languages commonly spoken in the Holy Land in Jesus’ day. They reveal how deeply Jesus felt His abandonment by God as He bore the sins of mankind.
35 And some of them that stood by, when they heard it, said, Behold, he calleth Elias.
“Elias” – the bystanders mistook the first words of Jesus’s cry (“Eloi, Eloi”) to be a cry for Elijah. It was commonly believed that Elijah would come in times of critical need to protect the innocent and rescue the righteous.
36 And one ran and filled a spunge full of vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink, saying, Let alone; let us see whether Elias will come to take him down.
37 And Jesus cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost.
“The loud voice and gave up the ghost” – the strength of the cry indicates that Jesus didn’t die the ordinary death of those crucified who normally suffered long periods of complete agony, exhaustion and then unconsciousness before dying.
38 And the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom.
“Vail of the temple” – the curtain that separated the holy place from the most holy place (Ex 26:31-33). The tearing of the curtain indicated that Christ had entered heaven itself for us so that we too may now enter God’s very presence (Heb 9:8-10, 12, 10:19-20).
39 And when the centurion, which stood over against him, saw that he so cried out, and gave up the ghost, he said, Truly this man was the Son of God.
40 There were also women looking on afar off: among whom was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses, and Salome;
41 (Who also, when he was in Galilee, followed him, and ministered unto him;) and many other women which came up with him unto Jerusalem.
42 And now when the even was come, because it was the preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath,
43 Joseph of Arimathaea, an honorable counsellor, which also waited for the kingdom of God, came, and went in boldly unto Pilate, and craved the body of Jesus.
“Arimathaea” – see note on Matt 27:57.
“Kingdom of God” – see note on Matt 3:2.
“Craved the body of Jesus” – He wanted to give Jesus’ a decent burial. Many criminals didn’t receive such.
44 And Pilate marveled if he were already dead: and calling unto him the centurion, he asked him whether he had been any while dead.
“Marveled” – crucified men often lived two or three days before dying and the early death of Jesus was therefore extraordinary.
45 And when he knew it of the centurion, he gave the body to Joseph.
“He gave the body to Joseph” – the release of the body of one condemned for high treason and especially to one who was not an immediate relative, was quite usually.
46 And he bought fine linen, and took him down, and wrapped him in the linen, and laid him in a sepulcher which was hewn out of a rock, and rolled a stone unto the door of the sepulcher.
“Sepulcher which was hewn out of a rock” – Matthew tells us that the tomb belonged to Joseph and that it was new, i.e., it had not been used before (Matt 27:60). The location of the tomb was in a garden very near the site of the crucifixion (see Jn 19:41).
There is archaeological evidence that the traditional site of the burial of Jesus (the Church of the Holy Sepulture in Jerusalem) was a cemetery during the 1st century A.D.
However, there is also good evidence that the “Garden Tomb” was also used in the 1st century and that an early church was once constructed over the site as well.
47 And Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses beheld where he was laid.
The Shroud of Turin Controversy
No other artifact in the history of scholarship has been the subject of as much debate and study as the Shroud of Turin. This piece of linen cloth is said to bear the front and rear images of a man apparently crucified in Roman fashion.
His injuries correspond to those suffered by Jesus. Proponents argue that this is the actual burial cloth of Christ, while opponents see to it as a clever hoax.
The History of the Shroud
The Shroud of Turin or Turin Shroud (Italian: Sindone di Torino) is a length of linen cloth bearing the image of a man who appears to have suffered physical trauma in a manner consistent with crucifixion.
There is no consensus yet on exactly how the image was created, and it is believed by some to be the burial shroud of Jesus of Nazareth, despite radiocarbon dating placing its origins in the Medieval period. The image is much clearer in black-and-white negative than in its natural sepia color.The basic historical details, as we know them, are as follows:
– The shroud’s first known appearance was in France in the 1350s.The original owner died in 1356 without having revealed where or how he had acquired the cloth.
– A fire in 1532 damaged the cloth, and repair patches were added.
– It has been housed in Turin since 1578.
– Some theorize that the shroud is the same as the Mandylion, a sacred relic of Constantinople that was said to have borne the divine and miraculous imprint of Jesus’ face.
The Mandylion is said to have been discovered in 525 in Edessa in eastern Turkey. It found its way to the Byzantine capital in 944 A.D.
The shroud disappeared from Constantinople in 1204, when a crusader army looted the city. The leaders of the expedition were French, which could explain the shroud’s westward journey.
Basic Facts About the Shroud
The shroud is a swath of linen cloth measuring 14 feet 3 inches by 3 feet 7 inches. The figure on the cloth is naked, with hands folded across the pelvic area. He is bearded and between 5 feet 10 inches and 6 feet 1 inch in height. The cloth bears a number of extraordinary features:
– It’s purple stains may be from blood.
– Potsherds or coins may have covered the eyes. Some argue that the outline of a coin from the time of Pontius Pilate is present, but the fabric is so coarse and the image so unclear that substantiation is difficult.
– The image is barely visible up close, and only a rough outline can be discerned by standing farther away. However, when photographed and viewed in negative, the shroud reveals a clear image, formed in such a way that a three-dimensional reconstruction of the man’s appearance is possible.
– The image, on the very surface of the cloth only, is said to be no more than two fibrils (filaments or fibers) deep.
– It was not painted on. Rather, some of the threads were themselves changed to produce the image. Adherents suggest that at the moment of the resurrection Jesus’ body radiated energy and fixed his image upon the shroud.
– The traces of flogging on the body are said to accurately depict Roman scourging. The 100+ lash marks evident on the image have a dumbbell shape, conceivably reflecting the use of a Roman flagrum.
– The shoulders are said to exhibit abrasions that could have been the result of the victim’s having carried the crossbar of a cross.
– Studies on the soil and pollen preserved in the fibers suggest that the cloth originated in or near Jerusalem.
Supporters of the shroud’s authenticity argue that no individual in the Middle Ages could have had the expertise to deliberately create such a piece.
In 1988, however, British scientists released the results of carbon 14 testing that dated the cloth to between 1260 and 1390.
The shroud was judged to have been proven a fraud, yet subsequent researchers have argued that the sample for the carbon 14 test was taken from a part of the shroud that had been repaired and not from the original fabric.
In 2002 the shroud underwent substantial restoration, including the removal of the repair patches from 1532.
Some researches fear that this process will limit or invalidate any further testing.
The enigma of the shroud continues. It remains either the most significant archaeological artifact ever found or one of the most ingenious forgeries in history.
It would be something else to find out that the shroud was the actual one that Jesus wore. And if it is ever proven you know it would be worth millions and millions of dollars, if not billions.
I can’t find anything that states whether the shroud was seamless or not, like the robe Jesus had worn:
Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took his garments, and made four parts, to every soldier a part; and also his coat: now the coat was without seam, woven from the top throughout.
They said therefore among themselves, Let us not rend it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be: that the scripture might be fulfilled, which saith, They parted my raiment among them, and for my vesture they did cast lots. These things therefore the soldiers did (Jn 19:23-24).
There are many, many debates on things around Jesus, such as which one of the three Jerichos were they talking about? Was there one or two Upper Rooms? But we know that there is only one Jesus Christ and only one true God.
Another subject that has and even larger debate is…
Anointing of Jesus at Bethany
1 After two days was the feast of the passover, and of unleavened bread: and the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might take him by craft, and put him to death.
“Passover” – the Jewish festival commemorating the time when the angel of the Lord passed over the homes of the Hebrews rather than killing their firstborn sons as he did in the Egyptian homes (Ex 12:13, 23, 27).
The lambs/kids used in the feast were killed on the 14th of Nisan (march-April), and the meal was eaten the same evening between sundown and midnight. Since the Jewish day began at sundown, the Passover feast took place on the 15th Nisan.
“Unleavened bread” – this feast followed Passover and lasted seven days (Ex 12:15-20, 23:15, 34:18; Deut 16:1-8).
2 But they said, Not on the feast day, lest there be an uproar of the people.
“Not on the feast day” – during Passover and the week-long fest of unleavened bread the population of Jerusalem increased from about 50,000 to several hundred thousand. It was thought to be too risky to apprehend Jesus with so large and excitable a crowd present.
3 And being in Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at meat, there came a woman having an alabaster box of ointment of spikenard very precious; and she brake the box, and poured it on his head.
14:3-9 – in John’s Gospel this incident occurred before Passion Week began (see Jn 12:1). Matthew and Mark may place it here to contrast the hatred of the religious leaders and the betrayal by Judas with the love and devotion of the woman who anointed Jesus.
“A woman” – we know from John’s Gospel (12:3) that she was Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus.
“Alabaster box” – a sealed flask with a long neck that was broken off when the contents were used.
“Spikenard” – a perfume made from aromatic oil extracted from the root of a plant grown chiefly in India.
“Paused it on his head” – anointing was a common custom at feasts (see Ps 23:5; Lk 7:46). Mary’s action expressed her deep devotion to Jesus.
4 And there were some that had indignation within themselves, and said, Why was this waste of the ointment made?
5 For it might have been sold for more than three hundred pence, and have been given to the poor. And they murmured against her.
“Three hundred pence” – practically an entire year’s wages. This was no small sacrifice on Mary’s part.
“Given to the poor” – it was a Jewish custom to give gifts to the poor on the evening of Passover.
6 And Jesus said, Let her alone; why trouble ye her? she hath wrought a good work on me.
7 For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but me ye have not always.
“Ye have the poor with you always” – this didn’t express lack of concern for the poor, for their needs lay close to Jesus’ heart. Don’t let this confuse you, it is better to give to the poor then to a non-needy person. This was an entire different situation, this is Jesus Christ and it was in preparation for his crucifixion by their customs.
8 She hath done what she could: she is come aforehand to anoint my body to the burying.
“To the burying” – it was a normal Jewish custom to anoint a body with aromatic oils in preparing it for burial. Jesus seems to anticipate suffering a criminal’s death, for only in the circumstance was there no anointing of the body.
9 Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her.
10 And Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, went unto the chief priests, to betray him unto them.
11 And when they heard it, they were glad, and promised to give him money. And he sought how he might conveniently betray him.
12 And the first day of unleavened bread, when they killed the passover, his disciples said unto him, Where wilt thou that we go and prepare that thou mayest eat the passover?
“The first day of unleavened bread” – ordinarily this would mean the 15th of Nisan, the day after Passover. However, the added phrase, “when the passover lamb was being sacrificed,” makes it clear that the 14th of Nisan is meant because Passover lambs were killed on that day (Ex 12:6).
The entire eight-day celebration was sometimes referred to as the feast of unleavened bread, and there is evidence that the14th of Nisan may have been loosely referred to as the “first day of unleavened bread.”
13 And he sendeth forth two of his disciples, and saith unto them, Go ye into the city, and there shall meet you a man bearing a pitcher of water: follow him.
14 And wheresoever he shall go in, say ye to the goodman of the house, The Master saith, Where is the guestchamber, where I shall eat the passover with my disciples?
“Where is the guestchamber…?” – it was a Jewish custom that anyone in Jerusalem who had a room available would give it upon request to a pilgrim to celebrate the Passover. It appears that Jesus had made previous arrangements with the owner of the house.
15 And he will shew you a large upper room furnished and prepared: there make ready for us.
16 And his disciples went forth, and came into the city, and found as he had said unto them: and they made ready the passover.
17 And in the evening he cometh with the twelve.
18 And as they sat and did eat, Jesus said, Verily I say unto you, One of you which eateth with me shall betray me.
19 And they began to be sorrowful, and to say unto him one by one, Is it I? and another said, Is it I?
20 And he answered and said unto them, It is one of the twelve, that dippeth with me in the dish.
21 The Son of man indeed goeth, as it is written of him: but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! good were it for that man if he had never been born.
22 And as they did eat, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and brake it, and gave to them, and said, Take, eat: this is my body.
23 And he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them: and they all drank of it.
24 And he said unto them, This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many.
25 Verily I say unto you, I will drink no more of the fruit of the vine, until that day that I drink it new in the kingdom of God.
26 And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives.
27 And Jesus saith unto them, All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered.
28 But after that I am risen, I will go before you into Galilee.
29 But Peter said unto him, Although all shall be offended, yet will not I.
30 And Jesus saith unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this day, even in this night, before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice.
31 But he spake the more vehemently, If I should die with thee, I will not deny thee in any wise. Likewise also said they all.
32 And they came to a place which was named Gethsemane: and he saith to his disciples, Sit ye here, while I shall pray.
“Gethsemane” – a garden or orchard on the lower slopes of the mount of Olives, one of Jesus’ favorite places. The name is Hebrew and means “oil press,” i.e., a place for squeezing the oil from olives.
33 And he taketh with him Peter and James and John, and began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy;
34 And saith unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful unto death: tarry ye here, and watch.
35 And he went forward a little, and fell on the ground, and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him.
36 And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt.
“Abba, Father” – expressive of an especially close relationship with God.
“This cup” – the chalice of death of God’s wrath that Jesus took from the Father’s hand in fulfillment of His mission. What Jesus dreaded was not death as such, but the manner of His death as the One who was taking the sin of mankind upon Himself.
37 And he cometh, and findeth them sleeping, and saith unto Peter, Simon, sleepest thou? couldest not thou watch one hour?
38 Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation. The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak.
“Enter into temptation” – be attacked by temptation. Here the temptation is to be unfaithful in face of the threatening circumstances confronting them.
“The spirit truly is ready” – when that part of man that is spirit is under God’s control, it strives against human weakness. The expression is taken from Ps 51:12.
39 And again he went away, and prayed, and spake the same words.
40 And when he returned, he found them asleep again, (for their eyes were heavy,) neither wist they what to answer him.
41 And he cometh the third time, and saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest: it is enough, the hour is come; behold, the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.
42 Rise up, let us go; lo, he that betrayeth me is at hand.
43 And immediately, while he yet spake, cometh Judas, one of the twelve, and with him a great multitude with swords and staves, from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders.
44 And he that betrayed him had given them a token, saying, Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is he; take him, and lead him away safely.
45 And as soon as he was come, he goeth straightway to him, and saith, Master, master; and kissed him.
46 And they laid their hands on him, and took him.
47 And one of them that stood by drew a sword, and smote a servant of the high priest, and cut off his ear.
48 And Jesus answered and said unto them, Are ye come out, as against a thief, with swords and with staves to take me?
49 I was daily with you in the temple teaching, and ye took me not: but the scriptures must be fulfilled.
50 And they all forsook him, and fled.
51 And there followed him a certain young man, having a linen cloth cast about his naked body; and the young men laid hold on him:
52 And he left the linen cloth, and fled from them naked.
53 And they led Jesus away to the high priest: and with him were assembled all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes.
14:53-15:15 – Jesus’ trial took place in two states: a Jewish trial and a Roman trial, each of which had three episodes. For the Jewish trial these were:
1. The preliminary hearing before Annas, the former high priest (reported only in Jn 18:12-12, 19-23).
2. The trial before Caiaphas, the ruling high priest, and the Sanhedrin.
3. The final action of the council which terminated its all-night session.
The three episodes of the Roman trial were:
1. The trial before Pilate.
2. The trial before Herod Antipas.
3. The trial before Pilate continued and concluded.
Since Mark gives no account of Jesus before Herod Antipas, the trial before Pilate forms a continuous and uninterrupted narrative in this Gospel.
54 And Peter followed him afar off, even into the palace of the high priest: and he sat with the servants, and warmed himself at the fire.
55 And the chief priests and all the council sought for witness against Jesus to put him to death; and found none.
“Council” – the Sanhedrin, the high court of the Jews. In the New Testament it was made up of three kinds of members: chief priests, elders, and scribes.
It’s total membership numbered 71, including the high priest, who was presiding officer, Under Roman jurisdiction this council was given a great deal of authority, but they could not impose capital punishment.
56 For many bare false witness against him, but their witness agreed not together.
“Many bare false witness against him” – in Jewish judicial procedure, witnesses functioned as the prosecution.
“Their witness agreed not together” – according to Deut 19:15, a person couldn’t be convicted unless two or more witnesses gave testimony, which assumes that their testimonies had to agree.
57 And there arose certain, and bare false witness against him, saying,
58 We heard him say, I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and within three days I will build another made without hands.
59 But neither so did their witness agree together.
60 And the high priest stood up in the midst, and asked Jesus, saying, Answerest thou nothing? what is it which these witness against thee?
61 But he held his peace, and answered nothing. Again the high priest asked him, and said unto him, Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?
62 And Jesus said, I am: and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.
63 Then the high priest rent his clothes, and saith, What need we any further witnesses?
64 Ye have heard the blasphemy: what think ye? And they all condemned him to be guilty of death.
“Blasphemy” – the sin of blasphemy not only involved reviling the name of God (see Lev 24:10-16) but also included any affront to His majesty or authority (see Mk 2:7, 3:28-29; Jn 5:18, 10:33).
Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah and, in fact, to have majesty and authority belonging only to God was therefore regarded by Caiaphas as blasphemy for which the Mosaic law prescribed death by stoning (Lev 24:16).
65 And some began to spit on him, and to cover his face, and to buffet him, and to say unto him, Prophesy: and the servants did strike him with the palms of their hands.
66 And as Peter was beneath in the palace, there cometh one of the maids of the high priest:
67 And when she saw Peter warming himself, she looked upon him, and said, And thou also wast with Jesus of Nazareth.
68 But he denied, saying, I know not, neither understand I what thou sayest. And he went out into the porch; and the cock crew.
69 And a maid saw him again, and began to say to them that stood by, This is one of them.
70 And he denied it again. And a little after, they that stood by said again to Peter, Surely thou art one of them: for thou art a Galilaean, and thy speech agreeth thereto.
“Galilean” – Galileans were easily identified by their dialect.
71 But he began to curse and to swear, saying, I know not this man of whom ye speak.
72 And the second time the cock crew. And Peter called to mind the word that Jesus said unto him, Before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice. And when he thought thereon, he wept.
The Upper Room
Christian tradition, supported by Cyril of Jerusalem (c.310-386), identifies thee site of Holy Zion Church in Jerusalem as the place where the upper room was located. This may well be correct, but the story is complicated and details are disputed by scholars.
First, it is unclear whether there were one or two “upper rooms.” Mk 14:15 and Lk2 2:12 each speaks of an upper room where the Last Supper was held, but Acts 1:13 uses a different Greek word to refer to the upper room where the disciples met after the resurrection of Jesus.
Even so, the two rooms may well have been one and the same.
The traditional location of the upper room at Holy Zion Church is called the Cenacle or, in Latin, the Coenaculum.
It is located outside the Old City near the Zion Gate and may be seen on the 6th century Madaba Map, an ancient mosaic map on the Holy Land. The Cenacle is also (erroneously) referred to David’s Tomb.
Holy Zion Church was damaged in the 948 war, and this allowed Israeli archaeologist Jacob Pinkerfeld to investigate the site. He concluded that a Roman-period synagogue had stood on the spot, arguing that the building had a niche that could have been a repository for Torah scrolls and that it was oriented toward the temple mount.
Christian scholars responded that this was probably a Jewish-Christian church built after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. to commemorate the site of the Last Supper (the present-day Holy Zion Church being a later structure built at the same site).
They note that the building appears to have been constructed from reused stone from the fallen temple of Herod and that it is actually oriented toward the Holy Sepulcher (obviously implying that the builders were Christian).
Since then numerous scholars have weighted in on to both sides of the issue, some favoring the interpretation of the structure as a synagogue and others as a church. The debate is also complicated by questions involving comments by ancient writers.
No one is suggesting that the actual building where the Last Supper took place has been located, but only that remains of a church that commemorated its location have been unearthed.
We should note debate here centers not upon the of the historicity of the Last Supper account but simply upon whether or not the traditional identification of its location is accurate. The traditional Cenacle still remains the strongest candidate for being that location.
In chapter 14 Jesus prepares for the Last Supper, so tomorrow we’re going to look at…
Signs of the End of This Age
1 And as he went out of the temple, one of his disciples saith unto him, Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here!
13:1-37 – the Olivet discourse, as this chapter of Mark is commonly called, falls into five sections:
1. Jesus’ prophecy of the destruction of the temple and the questions of the disciples (vv. 1-4).
2. Warnings against deceivers and false signs of the end (vv. 5-23).
3. The coming of the Son of man (vv. 24-27).
4. The lesson of the fig tree (vv. 28:31).
5. Exhortation to watchfulness (vv. 32-37).
“What manner of stones” – according to Josephus (Antiquities, 15.11.3), they were 37 feet long, 12 feet high and 18 feet wide.
2.And Jesus answering said unto him, Seest thou these great buildings? there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.
3 And as he sat upon the mount of Olives over against the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately,
4 Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign when all these things shall be fulfilled?
The disciples thought that the destruction of the temple would be one of the events that ushered in the end times (see Matt 24:3).
5 And Jesus answering them began to say, Take heed lest any man deceive you:
6 For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.
7 And when ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars, be ye not troubled: for such things must needs be; but the end shall not be yet.
8 For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be earthquakes in divers places, and there shall be famines and troubles: these are the beginnings of sorrows.
9 But take heed to yourselves: for they shall deliver you up to councils; and in the synagogues ye shall be beaten: and ye shall be brought before rulers and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them.
“Beaten” – infraction of Jewish regulations was punishable by flogging, the maximum penalty being 39 strokes with the whip (see 2 Cor 11:23-24).
10 And the gospel must first be published among all nations.
11 But when they shall lead you, and deliver you up, take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye: for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost.
12 Now the brother shall betray the brother to death, and the father the son; and children shall rise up against their parents, and shall cause them to be put to death.
13 And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.
14 But when ye shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not, (let him that readeth understand,) then let them that be in Judaea flee to the mountains:
“The abomination of desolation – see Dan 9:25-27; and see the notes in Matt 24:15.
“Standing where it ought not” – see 2 Thess 2:4.
“Let them that be in Judea flee to the mountain” – see note on Matt 24:16.
15 And let him that is on the housetop not go down into the house, neither enter therein, to take anything out of his house:
“The housetop” – see note on 2:4 and Lk 17:31.
16 And let him that is in the field not turn back again for to take up his garment.
17 But woe to them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days!
“Them that are with child, and to them that give suck” – representative of anyone forced to flee under especially difficult circumstances. A nursing baby and its mother might perish under such conditions.
18 And pray ye that your flight be not in the winter.
19 For in those days shall be affliction, such as was not from the beginning of the creation which God created unto this time, neither shall be.
“Affliction, such as was not from the beginning” – see note on Matt 24:21.
20 And except that the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh should be saved: but for the elect’s sake, whom he hath chosen, he hath shortened the days.
21 And then if any man shall say to you, Lo, here is Christ; or, lo, he is there; believe him not:
22 For false Christs and false prophets shall rise, and shall shew signs and wonders, to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect.
23 But take ye heed: behold, I have foretold you all things.
24 But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light,
“Tribulation” – see v. 19 and note on Matt 24:21.
25 And the stars of heaven shall fall, and the powers that are in heaven shall be shaken.
The description in vv. 24-25 doesn’t necessarily refer to a complete breakup of the universe. It was language commonly used to describe God’s awesome power and frightening judgment on a fallen world (Eze 32;7-8; Joel 2:10, 31, 3:15; Amos 8:9.
Yet, it doesn’t mean that God won’t tear up the entire universe. He made it, He can certainly destroy it and create it. As He said after the end He will create a new heaven and a new earth (Rev 21:1-2).
26 And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.
“Coming in the clouds with great power and glory” – a reference to Christ’s second coming (see 8:38; 2 Thess 1:6-10; Rev 19:11-16, 22:12-13).
27 And then shall he send his angels, and shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven.
“Gather together his elect” – in the Old Testament God is spoken of as gathering His scattered people (Deut 30:3-4; Is 43:6; Jer 32:37; Eze 34:13, 36:24). This post-tribulation even is probably the gathering of those who managed to be saved through the Great Tribulation.
It is debated whether Jesus’ second coming is before or after the Great Tribulation.
I believe that Jesus will come back before that Great Tribulation, which is the last 3½ years of the 7 years. I believe this partly because:
And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they?
And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb (Rev 7:13-14).
I believe it is the non-believers/heathens/pagans that will experience the Great Tribulation. Yet, Jesus may not come until after the 3½ years, but nobody but the Father knows (v. 32).
28 Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When her branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is near:
29 So ye in like manner, when ye shall see these things come to pass, know that it is nigh, even at the doors.
30 Verily I say unto you, that this generation shall not pass, till all these things be done.
31 Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away.
32 But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.
33 Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is.
34 For the Son of man is as a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch.
35 Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning:
36 Lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping.
37 And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch. 1 After two days was the feast of the passover, and of unleavened bread: and the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might take him by craft, and put him to death.
The Imperial Cult
The Roman imperial cult was essentially a “religion” based upon the deification of Roman emperors. It had its origins in eastern and Greek practices, in which kings were often said to be gods.
Roman emperors were regularly deified after their deaths by an act of the Senate.
The attribution of deity was seen as the highest possible manifestation of gratitude and honor, and participation in the imperial cult was a religious way of expressing gratitude for the benefits experienced during that emperor’s rule.
There was no expectation that the deified emperor would continue to intervene in human affairs, and sacrifices were also made to the “genius,” or spirit, embodied in his current, living successor.
The imperial cult had both a religious and a political function, serving as a unifying factor in the empire and as a test of loyalty. Refusal to participate in the cult by offering sacrifices In honor of the emperor could result in execution.
The New Testament’s central confession that “Jesus is Lord,” as well as references to Christ as “Savior” and the “Son of God,” while based upon Jewish and Christian theology, also served to undermine the lofty assertions of the imperial cult.
The silver denariu mentioned in Mk 12:15 bore the image of the emperor Tiberius and the inscription “Augustus Tiberius Caesar, Son of the Divine Augustus,” reflecting both the deification of Augustus and Tiberius’s desire to highlight his filial relationship to his deified predecessor.
The imperial cult placed early Christians in the empire in a dilemma. On the one hand the cult was fundamentally a manifestation of the antichrist, while on the other, Christians were called upon to respect the institution and power of government (Rom 13).
This quandary was anticipated in the Jews’ question about paying taxes, and Jesus’ answer pointed to a paradox of the Christian life: Believers, though in the world, are not to be of it.
The first amendment of the United States Constitution gives us freedom of religion. The Roman Empire was the same, sort of, tomorrow we’ll look at…
The Parable of the Husbandmen
1 And he began to speak unto them by parables. A certain man planted a vineyard, and set an hedge about it, and digged a place for the winefat, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country.
12:1-12 – most of Jesus’ parables make one main point. This one is rather complex and the details fit the social situation in Jewish Galilee in the 1st century.
Large estates, owned by absentee landlords, were put in the hands of local peasants who cultivated the land as tenant farmers. The parable exposed the planned attempt of Jesus’ life, and God’s judgment on the planners.
2 And at the season he sent to the husbandmen a servant, that he might receive from the husbandmen of the fruit of the vineyard.
3 And they caught him, and beat him, and sent him away empty.
4 And again he sent unto them another servant; and at him they cast stones, and wounded him in the head, and sent him away shamefully handled.
5 And again he sent another; and him they killed, and many others; beating some, and killing some.
6 Having yet therefore one son, his well-beloved, he sent him also last unto them, saying, They will reverence my son.
7 But those husbandmen said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance shall be ours.
“The inheritance shall be ours” – Jewish law provided that a piece of property unclaimed by a heir would be declared “ownerless,” and could be claimed by anyone. The husbandmen assumed that the son came as heir to claim his property and that if he were slain they could claim the land.
Which is exactly why the crucified Jesus, they thought if he was dead then they could rule.
8 And they took him, and killed him, and cast him out of the vineyard.
9 What shall therefore the lord of the vineyard do? he will come and destroy the husbandmen, and will give the vineyard unto others.
10 And have ye not read this scripture; The stone which the builders rejected is become the head of the corner:
11 This was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes?
12 And they sought to lay hold on him, but feared the people: for they knew that he had spoken the parable against them: and they left him, and went their way.
13 And they send unto him certain of the Pharisees and of the Herodians, to catch him in his words.
14 And when they were come, they say unto him, Master, we know that thou art true, and carest for no man: for thou regardest not the person of men, but teachest the way of God in truth: Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not?
15 Shall we give, or shall we not give? But he, knowing their hypocrisy, said unto them, Why tempt ye me? bring me a penny, that I may see it.
16 And they brought it. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? And they said unto him, Caesar’s.
17 And Jesus answering said unto them, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. And they marveled at him.
18 Then come unto him the Sadducees, which say there is no resurrection; and they asked him, saying,
19 Master, Moses wrote unto us, If a man’s brother die, and leave his wife behind him, and leave no children, that his brother should take his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother.
20 Now there were seven brethren: and the first took a wife, and dying left no seed.
21 And the second took her, and died, neither left he any seed: and the third likewise.
22 And the seven had her, and left no seed: last of all the woman died also.
23 In the resurrection therefore, when they shall rise, whose wife shall she be of them? for the seven had her to wife.
24 And Jesus answering said unto them, Do ye not therefore err, because ye know not the scriptures, neither the power of God?
25 For when they shall rise from the dead, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage; but are as the angels which are in heaven.
26 And as touching the dead, that they rise: have ye not read in the book of Moses, how in the bush God spake unto him, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?
27 He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living: ye therefore do greatly err.
28 And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all?
“Which is the first commandment of all?” – Jewish rabbis counted 613 individual statutes in the law, and attempted to differentiate between “heavy” (or “great”) and “light” (or “little”) commands.
To God, a sin is a sin while we live on earth. The level severity of sins committed on earth change if you go to hell, see Lk12:47-48),
29 And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord:
30 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.
31 And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.
32 And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he:
33 And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbor as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.
34 And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God. And no man after that durst ask him any question.
35 And Jesus answered and said, while he taught in the temple, How say the scribes that Christ is the Son of David?
36 For David himself said by the Holy Ghost, The LORD said to my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool.
“The LOD said to my LORD” – God said to David’s Lord, i.e., David’s superior – ultimately the Messiah. The purpose of the quotation was to show that the Mesiah was more than a descendant of David – he was David’s Lord.
37 David therefore himself calleth him Lord; and whence is he then his son? And the common people heard him gladly.
38 And he said unto them in his doctrine, Beware of the scribes, which love to go in long clothing, and love salutations in the marketplaces,
39 And the chief seats in the synagogues, and the uppermost rooms at feasts:
“Chief seats in the synagogues” – a reference to the bench in front of the “ark” that contained the sacred scrolls. Those who sat there could be seen by all the worshipers in the synagogue.
40 Which devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayers: these shall receive greater damnation.
“Devour widows’ houses” – since the scribes were not paid a regular salary, they were dependent on the generosity of patrons for their livelihood. Such a system was open to abuses and widows were especially vulnerable to exploitation.
41 And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much.
42 And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing.
“Two mites” – the smallest coins then in circulation in the Holy Land.
43 And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury:
44 For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.
The Lost Cities of Africa (3 of 5)
Location: Sudan Date of Construction: c 750 B.C. Abandoned: c 350 C.E. Built By: Kushites Key Features: Pyramids; Temples of Amun and Apedemak; Royal Baths; Bronze Head of Augustus.
Beyond the borders of ancient Egypt another civilization rose and fell and rose again, lasting almost half as long as that of the Egyptian pharaohs and producing fabulous arts and crafts and distinctive architecture of its own, yet it has kept very much below the popular historical radar.
The Kingdom of Kush had, for much of its history, its capital at ancient Meroe, a city fabled by ancient authors and marked by its distinctive pyramids and exotic tomb treasures, but which met its end in an industrial-ecological crisis that offers a stark warning to our modern world.
The Land of Kush
The kingdom to the south of ancient Egypt has gone by many different names, but is best known as Kush (sometimes Cush), in the land of the Nubians.
Here along the upper reaches of the Nile, from the First Cataract down to the far south, in what is now Sudan, Africans built a long-lasting civilization that both drew inspiration from and contended with the mighty Egypt in a relationship characterized by constant struggle and occasional fruitfulness.
The first Kushite kingdom from around 2400 B.C. centered on Kerma, relatively far down the Nile (i.e. to the north, nearer ancient Egypt).
It was able to flourish during a period of relative instability and weakness in its powerful neighbor, but when new dynasties reestablished control over Egypt they also regained their dominance over the lands to the south.
Kush was a valuable source of agricultural products and, crucially, gold. New Kingdom (1539-1075 B.C.) pharaohs took hundreds of kilograms of gold in tribute from Kush each year.
Later phases of Kushite development saw its center shift further away from Egypt and towards sub-Saharan Africa, initially geographically when the Egyptians reasserted control and moved the capital south to Napata, and later culturally as well, when the capital eventually moved to Meroe.
The collapse of the New Kingdom and the disarray of Egypt’s Third Intermediate Period once again allowed Kush to develop as an independent kingdom, with its capital at Napata and a dynastic cemetery established at the nearby site of El-Kurru.
The power of this Napatan kingdom grew until Nubian kings were dictating terms to the Egyptians, culminating in Kushites taking complete control of Egypt and establishing the Twenty-Fifth Dynasty, which ruled, at first in tandem with northern dynasties and later in sole power, from 747-656 B.C.
The Rise of Meroe
Invasion by the Assyrians and later, re-establishment of native Egyptian dynasty, forced the Kushites back into their own lands and attempts by Kushite kings to reconquer territory to the north were repulsed.
From around 750 B.C. the city of Meroe (on the east bank of the Nile, about 124 miles northeast of modern-day Khartoum) had become an important administrative center for the south of Kush and when the Egyptian pharaoh Psametik II raided far into Kushite territory in 591 B.C., sacking Napata, its strategic benefits became more obvious.
The Kushite King Aspelta relocated the royal court to Meroe, although the royal burial ground remained at Nuri, close to Napata, where it had been established around 690 B.C. Eventually, around 270 B.C., the royal burial grounds were also relocated to Meroe, and it remained the capital of Kush until around 350 CE.
A rich and powerful city far to the south of territory familiar to the Egyptians and the successive masters of Egypt – the Persians, the Greeks and eventually the Romans – Meroe became a fabled land.
The Persian emperor Cambyses sent a huge expeditionary force up the Nile, lured by the promise of great booty, but it turned back, defeated by the harsh terrain. Classical writers such as Herodotus and Diodorus Siculus spoke of Meroe in terms of wonder.
It was said to sit on a great island in the Nile, possibly reflecting the fact that in reality it was surrounded on three sides by water.
The Ptolemies managed to maintain the integrity of Egypt’s borders and keep Kush at bay. They were succeeded by the Romans, with whom the Kushites enjoyed a relationship rivalled only by the Parthians for longevity.
The two empires got off to a bad start in 23 B.C., when the brutal suppression by Rome of a rebellion of mainly Nubian subjects triggered a Kushite raid in which a statue of Augustus was torn down, its bronze head removed and buried beneath the entrance to a temple in Meroe, so that everyone crossing the threshold would symbolically trample upon it.
The head was recovered in 1912 by British archaeologists excavating Meroe and now sits in the British Museum in London, testament to Kushite ability to match Rome in force of arms.
To avenge this insult a force under the prefect Gaius Petronius penetrated deep into Kush, sacking Napata and taking thousands of slaves, but Kushite resistance eventually forced the Romans to retreat behind their borders and they never threatened Meroe again.
City of Industry
The pre-eminence of Meroe was largely economic. One of the economic foundations of Kush was its iron industry. It was rich in ore and manufactured iron for export as well as domestic use.
For instance, iron tools helped increase agricultural productivity, allowing Kush to develop a mixed farming economy that made full use of the tropical wet season, as well as providing weapons to its formidable armed forces.
Meroe was the center of iron smelting, supplied with water from the Nile and, crucially, a rich source of wood for charcoal production in the form of dense acacia groves. It has been described as the “Birmingham of ancient Africa,” attested to by ancient slag heaps, such as the one on which Meroe’s Lion Temple sits.
Trade in iron but also gold, domestic products such as cotton textiles, and commodities from far-flung parts of Africa was another source of wealth.
In the early days of Kush, trade depended on passage up the Nile to the Mediterranean and thence to the rich markets of the ancient world, but as its center shifted south, so new trade routes independent of Egypt opened up.
The north-south trade route was superseded by an east-west axis. The growth of trade routes along the Red Sea, mediated by Greek and Nabatean merchants cut out the need to travel via the Nile, while the increasing use of camels from the 2nd century B.C. opened caravan routes extending across the whole of sub-Saharan Africa.
Meroe became part of a lucrative trade network stretching from West Africa to India and China.
Pools and Pyramids
Meroe may have been home to up to 25,000 people. Excavations have revealed the remains of a quay by the river, several palaces and a number of temples, including both Egyptian ones (the biggest temple was to the chief Egyptian god Amun) and indigenous ones, such as the lion-headed Apedemak.
One notable find – a brick-lined pool 23 feet square and 10 feet deep with lion-headed spouts around the sides – was labelled the Royal Baths by the colonial era archaeologists, and although aspects of Meroitic Kushite culture were influenced by the Hellenistic powers to the north.
This description may reflect typical colonial chauvinistic attitudes i.e. the assumption that an African culture must have borrowed or copied European models. It is now thought that the ‘baths’ may actually have been a water shrine of some sort or even a swimming pool.
The primary cultural and religious influence on Kush was undoubtedly Egyptian. The most notable expression of this influence was in the adoption of pyramids for the royal tombs.
Although the very steep angle of Kushite pyramids was inspired by Egyptian private tombs of the New Kingdom (1550-1070 B.C.), rather than by the classic royal pyramids of Egypt’s Old and Middle Kingdoms (27th to 17th centuries B.C.).
When the tombs were excavated in the 19th and early 20th centuries, no mummies were found (they may not have survived or the Kushites may not have practiced mummification), but rich troves of grave goods were uncovered.
Most spectacular of all were the finds of the treasure hunter Giuseppe Ferlini in 1834, who destroyed many pyramids in his hunt for loot, but successfully uncovered the tomb treasures of Queen Amanishakheto, including much exquisitely crafted jewelry.
After the capital moved to Meroe, Kushite culture became increasingly African and the tomb treasures of Meroe help to illustrate this cultural evolution. According to Dr. Salah el-Din Muhammed Ahmed, director of fieldwork at the National Museum in Khartoum:
From the graves and from the images painted on tombs we can see that people looked much more African than Mediterranean.
The jewelry is really of an African nature – like anklets, bracelets, ear studs and earrings – and you can still find the style of the jewelry used by the Meroites on tribes of the savannah belt south of Khartoum.
The Line of Queens
One of the most intriguing features of ancient Meroitic Kush was the importance of its queens, known via the Greeks as kandakes, which in turn was mistaken as the personal name “Candace” by some ancient writers.
The kandake shared power with a qore, or king, but he was often a purely ceremonial figure, while his consort was commander-in-chief, prime minister and chief priestess. She might even lead the armies of Kush into battle.
One famous legend tells of how Alexander the Great led his armies to the walls of Meroe but halted and turned back when confronted by Queen Candace and her legions.
Probably the most famous kandake was Amanirenas, who ruled from c 40-c 10 B.C. and led numerous campaigns against the Romans, eventually forcing them to limit their ambitions for conquest and guaranteeing Kushite independence for another three centuries.
The End of Meroe
Exactly what happened to Meroe is unclear. Traditionally it was thought that the rising power of the kingdom of Aksum (also Axum) in Ethiopia led to the decline of Kush and that Meroe fell to the invading Akumsite king Ezana c 350 CE.
A stele erected at Meroe bears testament to his triumph. But it is now generally believed that Meroe was already largely abandoned by this time and that by then the region was mainly inhabited by the pastoral Noba tribe.
So what had happened to the glories of Meroe and its thriving population?
The rise of Aksum may well have contributed to the decline of Meroe, by cutting its access to the lucrative trade routes of the Red Sea, but historians now suspect that Meroe’s iron industry was the true culprit.
Extensive deforestation to produce the charcoal needed to fire the furnaces may have led to ecological collapse. Top soil eroded, rainfall declined and the region became arid and unproductive.
In combination with the failure of the trade routes and pressure from the Noba, this was too much for Meroitic Kush and it collapsed. Ancient Meroe stands as one of the world’s first examples of a civilization destroyed by untrammeled industrial development.
The Kushite kandake Amanirenas was a formidable queen and a courageous general. When the Romans imposed their control on the stretch of the Nile between Egypt and Kush, Amanirenas and her son led an army north to capture the territory, enslave the populace and carry off the statue of Augustus.
In defending Kush against Gaius Petronius’s punitive expedition she lost an eye, but succeeded in halting the Roman advance. Eventually the Romans were forced to sue for peace, the emperor Augustus himself meeting with her representatives.
According to legend, they presented him with a bundle of arrows and the message:
“The kandake sends you these arrows. If you want peace they are a token of her friendship and warmth. If you want war, you are going to need them.