What would Christ do in a “contemporary” society? How would he act if his nation’s institutions were threatened by alien forces and sapped by corruption from within? To find an answer, let’s look back to ancient Palestine, where 2,000 years ago people were torn by demonstrations, political assassinations, rioting, lawlessness, and “police” brutality.

In Palestine, much trouble arose from the confrontation of two establishments. One, the political, was dominated by foreigners: Romans, or worse yet, partisans of Herod. Allied with these were the nationals who were willing to accommodate aliens: publicans who profited as tax collectors, and Sadducees who cooperated in return for posts in the temple.

The second establishment, the religious and cultural, commanded the allegiance of nationals concerned for “God and country.” In addition to a host of commoners, this included Pharisees, who practiced “separation” from those who were ritually impure. It included Essenes, men who scorned aliens to practice communal living with compatible nationals. And it included Zealots, fiery patriots who carried daggers and plotted assassinations. Committed to defend his nation, a zealot would kill a Jew guilty of sexual contact with a Gentile, or, if need be, slay his own children to prevent their enslavement by foreigners.

Given such an alignment, incidents proved unavoidable. At times the religious-cultural establishment decried heavy taxation or brutalities in law enforcement. Yet more often protest reflected religious concerns, as when Romans desecrated the temple, or introduced nudity through the gymnasium, or brought images into Jerusalem.

To these varied provocations a creative people ...

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