La Terra Santa di Gesú

Gerardo Ferrara, writer, historian and expert in the history, politics and culture of the Middle East, in this article, he examines in detail the characteristics of the land and the socio-political moment that saw the birth of Jesus.

Gerardo Ferrara-September 16, 2022-Reading time: 6 minutes
Model of the second temple

Testo del articolo in inglese qui

Man mano que ci avviciniamo ai Vangeli, ci facciamo un'idea del paesaggio sociale di quella che oggi conosciamo come Terra Santa al tempo di Gesù. The history of this land and of the people who have inhabited it during the centuries gives a background to the life of Christ on earth and provides a precious interpretative framework to review and explore all the richness contained in the Writings.

A land that is always full

At the time of Jesus, the Holy Land was not called Palestine. The name, in fact, was attributed to it by the emperor Hadrian only from 135 A.D., at the end of the Third Jewish War. It was never more than a unicumThe ancient Kingdom of Israel, in fact, had ceased to be an independent State for a long time and was divided between the Giudea, immediately subject to Rome and governed by a praefectusand the other two historic regions, namely Galilee and Samaria.

La Giudea rimaneva comunqueva il cuore del culto ebraico, in quanto in essa, a Gerusalemme, aveva sede il Tempio, cui affluivano in massa tutti i giudei sparsi nel mondo.

Samaria, instead, a central highland of what is today known as Palestine or Israel, was inhabited by the Samaritans, a population fruit of the fusion between the colonies made by the Assyrians in the 5th century B.C., at the time of the conquest of the Kingdom of Israel, and the proletarians of the place, deported by the conquerors, who had been deported at the time of the conquest of the Kingdom of Israel, at the time of the conquest of the Kingdom of Israel, and the proletarians of the place, who had been deported to Assyria by the conquerors, who had deported the notable Israelites. The miscegenation had given rise to a cult that was first syncretic but which later became monotheistic, although in contrast to the Jewish one. In practice, both the giudei and the Samaritans considered themselves the only and legitimate descendants of the patriarchs and depositaries of the Covenant with Jahweh, of the Law and of the cult. The first, however, had their own center of worship in Gerusalemme, the second in a temple on Mount Garizim, near the city of Sichem. We know from the gospels, but not only, that Jews and Samaritans detested each other.

The Galilee

The Galilee was an area with a mixed population: villages and Jewish cities (such as Nazareth, Cana) were located next to cities of Greco-Roman culture, therefore pagan (e.g. Sepphoris, Tiberias, Caesarea di Filippi). The population of the region, even when of faith and Jewish culture, was despised by the inhabitants of Giudea, who were more pure and refined. Several times, with regard to Jesus, it is said, as written in the Gospels, that "nothing can come good from Nazareth or from Galilee". Among the other things, not only the Gospels but also the few rabbinical writings of that time tell us that the Galileans were also bewildered by the way they spoke. The Hebrew and Aramaic languages (the lingua franca spoken throughout the Middle East at the time), like all the Semitic languages, had many guttural letters and aspirated or laryngeal tongues. And the Galileans pronounced many words in an amusing rhythmic way or to be heard by the giudei. For example, the name יְהוֹשֻׁעַ, Yehoshu‛a, was pronounced by Yeshu, from which the Greek transcription Ιησούς (Yesoús), poi passata al latino Jesus.

The Galilee, in any case, constituted a kingdom vassal to Rome and was governed by the tetrarch Erode, a king of pagan origins, who was literally placed on the throne by Augustus. Erode, notorious for his crudeness but also for his cunning, had done everything to win the sympathies of the Jewish people, including enlarging and opening the Temple of Jerusalem (which had been rebuilt by the people of Israel after the return from the Babylonian Cattivity). The works of completion of the structure were still in progress while Jesus was alive and were finished only a few years before 70 A.D., when the sanctuary itself was destroyed in the course of the destruction of Gerusalemme by the Romans commanded by Titus.

However, further north-east, beyond the eastern shores of Lake Galilee, there was a confederation of ten cities (the Decapoli), which represented instead an ellenized cultural island.

Tempio's distruzione and the diaspora

The diaspora, i.e. the dispersion of the Israelites to the four corners of the globe began between 597 and 587 B.C., with the so-called "Babylonian Cattivity", i.e. the deportation of the inhabitants of the Kingdoms of Israel and Giuda to Assyria and Babylon, and with the destruction of the temple built by Solomon, on behalf of King Nebuchadnezzar. In 538, with the Editto of Cyrus, king of the Persians, a part of the giudei had been able, once they had returned to their homeland, to rebuild the Temple, and numerous Hebrews were either resettled in Babylon or were forced to live in other regions, a process that continued in the Ellenistic and Roman eras.

It was Rome itself, however, to put an end - and for almost twelve years - to the national and territorial aspirations of the Jewish people, with the bloody three Jewish Wars.

The first of these (66-73 A.D.) culminated with the destruction of Gerusalemme and Tempio, as well as other cities and military fortresses such as Masada, and the death, according to the historian of the time Giuseppe Flavio, of more than a million Hebrews and twenty thousand Romans. The second (115-117) took place in the Roman cities of the Diaspora and provoked a multitude of victims. In the third (132-135), also known as the Rivolta of Bar-Kokhba (by Shimon Bar-Kokhba, commander at the head of the Hebrew ribelli, proclaimed at first a messianic persino), the Roman war machine passed like a compressing roller over all that it was hiding, destroying around 50 cities (including what was left of Jerusalem) and 1000 villages. Not only the rebels, but almost all the Jewish population that survived the first Jewish War was killed (600,000 people died in the first war) and the damnatio memoriae condusse alla cancellazione dell'idea stessa di presenza ebraica nella regione, che fu fu romanizzata persino nella topografia.

The name of Palestine, in fact, and more precisely of Syria Palæstina (the true and proper Palestine was, until that time, a thin strip of land, corresponding more or less to the ancient Gaza Strip, where the ancient Philistine Pentapoli was located, a group of five city-states inhabited by a population of Indo-European language historically hostile to the Hebrews: i filistei), fu attribuito dall'imperatore Adriano all'ex provincia della Giudea nel 135 d.C., after the end of the third Giudaic War. The same emperor had Gerusalemme rebuilt as a pagan city, with the name of Aelia Capitolina, placing temples of Greek-Roman divinities above the Hebrew and Christian holy places (Hebrews and Christians were then assimilated).

The Holy Land as Gesù's pedagogy

The Holy Land has been defined more and more times by the Fifth Vangelo. Last, in order of time, to make reference to this purpose was Pope Francis, who, welcoming in the Vatican, in January 2022, the Delegation of the Custody of the Holy Land, said: "far conoscere la Terra Santa vuol dire trasmettere il Quinto Vangelo, cioè l'ambiente storico e geografico in cu cu cui la Parola di Dio si è rivelata e poi si è fatta carne in Gesù di Nazareth, per noi e per la nostra salvezza".

And that the Holy Land is a little bit the Fifth Vangelo is shown by Gesù's own life and by his traveling through this land instinctively to fulfill his mission.

Sappiamo che tale missione di Gesù è l'abbassamento di Dio verso l'uomo, definito in greco κένωσις (kénōsissvuotamento"): Dio si abbassa e si svuota; si spoglia, in pratica, delle proprie prerogative e dei propri attributi divini per condividerli con l'uomo, in un movimento tra cielo e terra. This movement supposes, following a discesa, also an ascent from earth to heaven: the théosis (θέοσις), the elevation of the human nature that becomes divine because, in Christian doctrine, the human being is Christ himself. In practice, the abbassamento of God leads to the apotheosis of man.

The abbassamento of God for the apotheosis of man we see it in various aspects of the human life of Jesus, from the birth to the death in cross to the resurrection. But we see it purely in his preaching the Vangelo for the Land of Israel, from the beginning of his public life, with the battesimo in the Giordano fiume on behalf of Giovanni Battista, when he went with decision towards Gerusalemme. Curiously, the battle in the Giordano took place at the lowest point of the Earth (just off the banks of the Giordano, around Gerico, 423 meters below sea level) and the death and resurrection in what was considered, in the Jewish tradition, the highest point: Gerusalemme.

Gesù, therefore, climbs, like Giordano (whose Hebrew name, Yarden, means "he who climbs") towards the Dead Sea, a desert, dark and low place that symbolizes the abysses of sin and death. Then, however, he goes out, ascends to Gerusalemme, where he would have been "raised" from the earth. And he ascends, as all the Hebrews have done before him, in a pilgrimage. By extension, we find this idea of "climbing" in the modern concept of 'aliyah), a term that defines both the immigration into Israel by Hebrews (but also by Christians) and immigration and settlement (immigrants and migrants are defined by 'olím  - dalla stessa radice "''at" - that is 'coloro che salgono'). In addition, the name of the Israeli band El Al means "towards the top" (and with a double meaning: "high" is the sky, but "high" is also the Land of Israel). An ascent in all senses, therefore.

The authorGerardo Ferrara

Writer, historian and expert on Middle Eastern history, politics and culture.

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