Jesus was a child immigrant refugee

An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. Matt 2:13-15

Herodium fortress covered the flat top of this mountain. White marks down the left side are from the archaeological dig that (perhaps) revealed Herod the Great’s tomb in 2007.

Jesus was a child immigrant refugee who crossed the border into Egypt, fleeing violence in his homeland.

Just a few kilometers from the traditional site of Jesus’ birth at Bethlehem are remains of the Herodium, a palace-fortress that Herod the Great built as a safe haven in case his Jewish subjects revolted. The fortress sat atop the hill on the above picture, close enough to Bethlehem for soldiers stationed there to keep an eye on town. It may have been soldiers from Herodium barracks who came down into Bethlehem to slaughter baby boys under age two (Matt 2:16).

Bethlehem from Tantur

Ancient Bethlehem lies just beyond the modern “separation wall” that divides Israel from the West Bank today. The Church of the Nativity is at the top of the ridge, among the sunlit buildings.

We have no record of this massacre outside of the New Testament. But such brutality is entirely within character of this king of the Jews who befriended Rome and aligned Judea with the empire. Placed in power and kept in power by Rome, Herod ruled 37 BC to 4 BC and was ruthless against any internal threat. Pathologically paranoid, he executed his first wife and two sons—prompting Caesar Augustus to say, “better to be Herod’s pig than his son.” Ponder the edge to that statement in a Jewish context!

But Caesar still backed Herod. That’s how empires work, with local rulers—sometimes tyrants—propped up in client states because they serve interests of the empire. “He may be a bastard,” President Franklin D. Roosevelt once said of Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza, “but he’s our bastard.”

Not long after spilling blood in Bethlehem, Herod lay dying—perhaps of syphilis—at his winter palace near Jericho. Believing that his son Antipater was plotting against him, Herod ordered the man to be executed. Knowing that many of his subjects would rejoice when he died himself, Herod ordered leading citizens of Jerusalem to come to Jericho. There he locked them in a stadium with secret orders that they be executed when he died. Otherwise, Herod knew, he would depart “without such mourning as people usually expect at a king’s death” (Josephus, Antiquities 17.6). Mercifully, no one carried out those executions when Herod died.

It was from this murderous villain that baby Jesus and his parents fled. Like today’s undocumented children fleeing violence in the land of their birth, Jesus sought safe haven in a nearby country–in this case Egypt, where his forebears once had been slaves.

Pray that nations receiving children and families who flee violence today will respond with the nurture and compassion we would want for the Christ child. 

© 2014 J. Nelson Kraybill *******************************************    IMG_0417

Join me on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land! See:
From Nazareth to Rome: Holy Land, Empire and Global Mission, with Pastor Nelson Kraybill – November 3-15, 2014

Holy Land (Jordan, Israel & Palestine) with Pastor Nelson Kraybill – November 5-16, 2015

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The first apostle was a woman

The twelve were with Jesus, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources. Luke 8:1-3

For centuries, popular portraits of Mary Magdalene made her out to be a prostitute. She more likely was a woman of exceptional character and conviction. Luke says “seven demons” had gone out of Mary, perhaps indicating that she was a survivor of mental illness, abuse or trauma. Christian imagination unfairly conflated Mary Magdalene with the woman of suspect reputation who anointed Jesus’ feet (Luke 7:36–50).

The synagogue found at Magdala in 2009 had stone benches against the outside walls, and some floor mosaics survive.

The synagogue found at Magdala has stone benches against the outside walls (in the far room), and some floor mosaics survive.

Archeologists recently excavated a place that Mary Magdalene probably knew well: a first-century synagogue at the village of Magdala on the west side of the Sea of Galilee. Discovered in 2009 when a hotel was under construction, the synagogue and adjacent buildings at last are open to the public. Only part of the floor and foundation of the synagogue are intact. But with just six synagogues from the biblical era remaining in all of Israel-Palestine, the place is priceless.

In the first century Magdala was a fishing village on the west shore of the Sea of Galilee.

In the first century Magdala was a fishing village on the west shore of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus was based at Capernaum during his Galilean ministry. Disciples Philip, Andrew and Peter came from Bethsaida.

We cannot be certain that Magdala was Mary’s hometown, but her name makes the connection probable. The Gospels tell of Mary’s extraordinary devotion to Jesus. She apparently was a person of some means who, along with other women, funded the itinerant ministry of Jesus and the twelve (Luke 8:1-3). Among the women financiers was none other than the wife of Chuza, the steward of Herod Antipas! Did “that fox” know his steward’s household was helping to fund Jesus?

When the four Gospels name women disciples, Mary Magdalene usually comes first. She is the only disciple recorded as being present at the crucifixion, the burial, and the resurrection of Jesus. The Gospels of Mark and John indicate that the risen Christ appeared first to Mary Magdalene. She carried the news that Jesus was alive to the rest of the disciples in Jerusalem, an act for which Early Church authors called her the “apostle to the apostles.” Mary Magdalene was the first apostle.

It is possible that Mary Magdalene and other women in the disciple band had their profiles diminished by a patriarchal church. Nowhere is such devaluation more evident than in the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas (second century AD). When Peter asks Jesus about Mary Magdalene’s role in the kingdom of God, this Gospel has Jesus say, “I shall lead her, that I may make her male, in order that she also may become a living spirit like you males. For every woman who makes herself male shall enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Gospel of Thomas 114).

Let the church today repent of devaluing women as disciples and leaders. Let us restore Mary Magdalene to the position she deserves: the first apostle, the natural leader of the women who followed Jesus just like Peter was natural leader of the men.

© 2014 J. Nelson Kraybill *******************************************

_EPI9254.tifJoin me on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land! See:
From Nazareth to Rome: Holy Land, Empire and Global Mission, with Pastor Nelson Kraybill – November 3-15, 2014

Holy Land (Jordan, Israel & Palestine) with Pastor Nelson Kraybill – November 5-16, 2015

I invite you to enter your email address in the designated box at the edge of this webpage (if you have not already subscribed), and click Follow. You’ll get a notice every three weeks when I put up a new blog post.