Tag Archives: Rodeo

The Final Days of Jesus

The Holy Sepulchre By Berthold Werner

I liked this book, The Final Days of Jesus. Its author, Shimon Gibson, is an archaeologist based in Jerusalem. He has dung up bits of the ancient city, shimmied into ancient mortuary caves and even found an ancient shroud, so he knows what he is talking about. With a name like Shimon I guess that he is Jewish, but he takes his profession seriously, so his book is mostly religion neutral, although there is a mournful note when he writes about the destruction of the second Temple in 60 C.E.

Temple Mount by Yupi666

Temple Mount by Yupi666

The book begins with that walk down from Galilee. At the end of this trek (no fifteen mile drives to the mall in those days), He stays at Martha and Mary’s house in Bethany. There is a rich crop of Beth villages around Jerusalem: Bethany, Bethlehem, Bethabara, and Bethphage (which apparently means “house of green figs.”) Gibson discusses in some detail the rituals of purification and anointing at that time and shows that Jesus’s anointing by Mary is consistent with the practices of the time.

We then walk down the steep slope of the Mount of Olives into Jerusalem, its skyline dominated by the Temple “which dazzled those who entered the city from afar” as it “gleamed all over with gold and polished stones.” The well-to-do had nabbed the hills of Upper Jerusalem for their palaces and forts while Jesus characteristically stayed with the people in Lower Jerusalem.

Dividing the city in two is the Tyropoeon Valley: Tyropoeon apparently means cheese-makers who, of course, were blessed in the beatitudes according to the Life of Brian. In Lower Jerusalem is the Siloam Miqwa’ot (ritual purification pool of Siloam). Gibson describes the care to separate the pre and post purified with different steps and even different sides of the street. In an age before antibiotics and immunization, and the prevalence of diseases like leprosy, a concern about hygiene is understandable.

Gibson downplays two events of Holy Week: Jesus’s arrival on Palm Sunday (p18) and when Jesus chased the money lenders out of the Temple precincts (p48). He argues that anything smacking of insurrection would have swiftly been jumped on by the forces of law and order, both Jewish and Roman. The Last Supper Gibson reckons took place somewhere near the Siloam Miqwa’ot and not in the tourist stop off, the Cenacle, whose Gothic arches were clearly built in Crusader times and is just too big. Why wouldn’t Jesus and the Disciples just have hunkered down there rather than schlep up the Mount of Olives? Gibson suggests that the real room was too small and they were just camping out like many other Passover visitors. The choice of Gethsemane as that evening’s camp site would have been down to its proximity to the lower city and its accessibility through the Siloam Gate. It would also have been comparatively comfy as the whole hill was an olive grove: the name ‘Gethsemane’ is derived from the Aramaic for “olive press.” Once He had been arrested, Jesus would have been taken down the Kidron Valley into the city and up to Caiaphas’s house somewhere in the Upper City.

Madaba map by By Brandmeister

Madaba map by By Brandmeister

Joseph Caiaphas, High Priest and chairman of the Sadducees, belonged to an influential family and held the job from 18 to 36 CE. It was given to him by one Roman, Valerius Gratus and fired from it by another, Vitellius, Governor of Syria, at the same time as Pilate was removed as Præfectus.” We know that Pilate really existed as there is an inscription mentioning him on a piece of stone found at Caesarea. Also, we’ve found the Caiaphas family tomb. Both fellows were career bureaucrats whose lives, their rise and fall was routine for the time, except for that minor nuisance around 30 CE which, for them, was probably simply a matter of keeping the riffraff in their place. I wonder what they would make of their fame down the ages principally due to the man they had had executed.

Gibson puts Christ’s trial in a complex of buildings near Herod’s Palace called the Essenes’s Gate, which had been built to provide a quick escape for the royals should the masses become too revolting. Here is the nice tie to the visionary folk, who lived at Qumran and wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls, and shared many of Jesus’s ideas. The gate complex centered around a small courtyard with a raised platform, so would have suited Pilate for a quick summary trial. If it really was the location of the trial, then the story about Barabbas and the guilt of the Jews cannot be true. The Essenes’s Gate was far too small for a decent crowd to claim the guilt of Christ’s murder for themselves and their children. Neither was there a custom of releasing a prisoner at Passover Time. Sad to say that the Holocaust, centuries of pogroms and hatred may be all down to a few lines by a scribe trying to suck up to the Romans.

Gibson describes the horrendous business of crucifixion in some detail including the bent nail left in some poor sod’s ankle. During the siege of Jerusalem in 60 C.E. the Roman soldiery got so bored with nailing people up they “amused themselves by nailing their prisoners in different postures; so great was their number, that space could not be found for the crosses nor crosses for the bodies.” What must the screaming and groaning have been like?

Golgotha Cross Section by Yupi666

Golgotha Cross Section by Yupi666

The Roman soldiers probably did not think much of the Jewish religion. After all, Alexander the Great and his Greeks had beaten the Jews in battle, and then Pompey’s legions had done it all over again. Any normal people would have signed up for the winning gods. The Romans and Greeks believed in essentially the same capricious, amoral Marvel characters. As ingénues, those Romans didn’t realize that they were just the latest in a long line of military powers – Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians – who had been awesome in the day, and were no more. The Jews and their faith would outlive them too. Nowadays, we also prefer Marvel heroes and Mammon, and don’t have much time for the meek or the venerable.

The location of Golgotha, the site of both the Crucifixion and the tomb in the garden, Gibson reckons has always been known, as it was on a prominent outcrop overlooking a main route to the city, all the better to show off Rome’s might. It was pointed out to the Roman emperor Constantine’s mum, Helena, when she visited the city in 326-8 C.E. As she had bought the empire’s piggy bank with her, she brought up everything and anything to do with Christ, including those pieces of the true cross carried by the Frankish kings of Jerusalem, some 800 years later. She had her son tear down the temple to Athena which was standing on the hill of Golgotha and build the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which has been a place of pilgrimage and veneration to our times.

The big question is did Jesus just die that horrific death, knowing his life and work destroyed in the maw of imperial justice, or did God stretch out his hand and bring him back to life? This is a matter of belief: science, in the form of archaeology, cannot  answer yea or nay. For most of its existence the Christian tradition has stood by Jesus at the Siloam Pool with the humble folk. In time, of course, the folk from the upper city came down to help (themselves). The official religion of Constantine shattered into many fragments and became such strangers that epic bloodshed was countenanced by the words of the Good Shepherd, mildest of men. But it wasn’t all bad; even a Borgia pope left the marvel of Michelangelo’s Sistine chapel and Barbarini – the pope who had Galileo summoned to the Holy Offices of the Inquisition – sponsored Allegri’s Miserere Mei.

 

Both chapel and chant are some of the artillery of art made for the Counter Reformation. That shock and awe campaign flowered into Baroque and is in part theatrical and therefore man made. I have had many sublime theatrical experiences: the sunrise in the Tennessee Williams play, Camino Real: Much Ado in the garden of St. John’s, Oxford when the toasting summer had run dry of Pimm’s,

Clown Song in Twelfth Night
When that I was and a little tiny boy,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain;
A foolish thing was but a toy,
For the rain it raineth every day.

Read More →

Texan Rodeo

A cowboy on a bucking horse

By Jiminie, I like, nay, love “Ro-de-o.” Perhaps an earlier pre-rodeo me might say, “Now I’m a confirmed fan of Rodeo”, but we’re in Texas at the Ro-de-o. Yeee Harr!

The arena is huge, at least the size of a football field, enclosed and dark. Nested in four beams of white light, a lone horseman on chestnut mount holds a great Stars and Stripes. The flag is taller than the man mounted on his horse. The Star Spangled Banner is playing and most of the audience is singing along, many with their right hand across their heart. This is followed by an impromptu yet personal prayer thanking the Lord for being American and most of all a Texan. This leaves you in no doubt that you are in the land of patriots and believers.

The Star Spangled Banner in the Rodeo Area

The Star Spangled Banner in the Rodeo Area

Now, down to business. There are gates at either end of the arena. The wild riders are carefully seated on their horses or bulls, locking hold of the harness with stout rope and rough leather gloves. The gate is flung open and the horse and rider launch into the void. The mustang jumps, arches and rolls; the rider balances like a tightrope walker with only his grip holding him to the horse. After ten seconds or so, which must be a deal longer for him, two compadres sidle up either side of the beast, one going for the mustang’s harness and the other offering a welcome shoulder and the rider swings on behind him. Their horses are magnificent; their professionalism and timing superb.

The acceleration, the exhilaration

The acceleration, the exhilaration

After a few horses, comes the next event: calf wrangling. These are not petite little pets. They are waist high on a man, and very much have a mind of their own. So as soon as they are released into the arena, they run hell for leather. The cowboy only has a moment to jump and catch him. They wrestle awhile until the weight of the man will turn the calf’s head and the animal tumbles over. One time, the animal was on his way down when he jinked and twisted out the wrangler’s grip and plumb got away.

Sheep Wranglers

Sheep Wranglers

Then it’s the turn of the little fellas. They are kitted out for contact sports and seem kind of small in this vast space with these big men, but they will be treated respectfully and kindly. The comperes wrangles the row of 4th and 5th graders into some kind of order. They are interviewed, “Say, what’s your name fella?” and shown their mount. Not for them a steer; one fall, one blow on the head and that would be goodnight little tyke. That eventuality would be followed by a sure and swift vengeance from the most formidable creature hereabouts – a Texan Mom.

They get up close and personal with an ornery sheep. The child is carefully mounted onto the animal gripping the fleece with all their eight year old might, the handlers retire and they’re off. As the sheep does do much in the bucking and kicking line, just runs, the might just has to hang on for dear life for five seconds or so, sometimes slipping over the animals head and frequent rolling down under the beast, belly side. Then comes the prize giving. The little man who got kicked in the head got a special big trophy. They might want him to come again.

The original Daisy Dukes

The original Daisy Dukes

Refreshments can be had from the hawkers who patrol the bleachers and then there is the industrial sized bar. There, there are the young Texans females. These bodacious teens wear Daisy Dukes and well tended boots, check shirts and pushup bras for showing off the begins of the best present their mother will ever give them. They are as prime an animal as any you will see in the arena below: Svelte and willowy with cumuli of sleek, glossy, lustrous hair; flawless skin the color of wheat toast and  generous, scintillating smiles.

The odd thing here is that there seem to be parallels to another sporting contest held on the other side of the Pacific; that would be Sumo. The rodeo arena and the sumo dohyō are both holy places made of earth, both have elaborate customs and ceremonies, and both are out and out contact sports for big men. As I’ve written before, I do not think killing animals just for sport is justifiable.

Sumo arena

Sumo arena

A day out the Ro-de-o just goes to show you don’t have to slaughter an animal just to have a good time.